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Dining in Napa, Sonoma, North Bay, and Sacramento

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'mktye said:

dry.gif I've never understood the fascination with In-N-Out. Good burgers, but not worth driving an hour+ to get one (and I know people who have!). I actually prefer Carl's Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger to In-N-Out. Of course, after eating either, I feel as if I am about to keel over for the next day or so! tongue.gif

But back to DC-Area burgers (on which I have nothing to add because I have not eaten a burger in the almost 2 years we've been back here)...

yes, when I finally got around to having an In n Out Burger for the first time last year I was a little underwhelmed - good but not the life changing experience some had painted it to be

on the very same trip though I did find the best burger I have ever eaten....at a roadside diner somewhere in Napa:

Taylor's Refresher 

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[The above link is now broken. For the benefit of readers across the country: In 2010, Taylor's Refresher morphed into Gott's Roadside, resulting in a contentious family feud - details can be found here, and for those pining away for the Taylor's of yesteryear, here's a remnant of their old menu.]

Screenshot 2017-03-04 at 4.35.56 PM.png

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September. I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share. They just prefer simple food done well.

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

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Here are a couple of places that they might enjoy:

Up the road from Napa in St. Helena:

Market -- Good food in a relaxed place.

Taylor's -- Great tuna burger and they have a decent wine list.

In Napa:

ZuZu -- Tapas with foods from Spain, Portugal, and the Mediterranean region.

Celadon

Pearl -- I did not get a chance to dine here, but it was very highly recommended by many different people on my last trip out there.

In Yountville:

Bistro Jeanty -- French bistro food. The steak tartar is wonderful.

Edited by mdt

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I'd second Market as being just what you say you're looking for. The "Champagne" battered fish and chips and the "Very Adult Macaroni and Cheese" were both as good as I've ever had.

Taylor's was fun - a roadside stand with picning tables serving some food that you would expect from a roadside stand (burgers, hot dogs, shakes) and some you wouldn't (the tuna burger MDT mentioned, for example). But my usual word of warning - don't go in the late afternoon if you have an evening reservation at the French Laundry. It took me four courses into my evening meal to get over the effects of the chili dog I had.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

Meadowood is near St. Helena, and if your parents have access to a car, have them consider John Ash & Co. at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, which is about a 45 minute pleasant drive over into Sonoma Valley. We each have our own idea of fancy pants - this is not the French Laundry - very pretty setting amidst the vineyards, and fabulous wine country food.

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My last trip there I enjoyed Pilar in Napa and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. Cindy's, in particular, has a very laid back, welcoming vibe.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

I was in Napa earlier this year and had a fantastic dinner at Bouchon. I expected it to be more fancy-pants than it was, but was pleased with the comfortable, casual atmosphere. The food is incredible (the oysters are a must) and the neighboring Bouchon Bakery is a great place to pick up some treats.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

I highly recommend Martini House in St. Helena. Really excellent food with an open kitchen along the back wall. Very nice bar downstairs. They had a great sommelier, but he zipped off to the French Laundry (who can blame him?) http://www.martinihouse.com/

Another great option would be Terra, also in St. Helena. Check out the sites for more information: http://www.terrarestaurant.com/

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

I have had several good meals at Bistro Jeanty which is right up the street from FL. You cannot go wrong with Bouchon. If you are up in St. Helena you might want to stop in at Market.

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I'll second the Market suggestion in St. Helena.

FWIW, I always found the wineries in Sonoma, much "friendlier" than most of the ones in Napa and usually less crowded as well.

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I've enjoyed tasting at Pine Ridge.

For dinner, Zuzu in Napa is fun for tapas, but maybe you're looking for something a little more upscale?

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

Bouchon is overrated IMO. It's good decent fare, but there are much better options in Napa Valley. If you kick up you price limit just a tad, go to Terra. You will not be disappointed.

As for wineries in Napa Valley, you might try heading up to Neal Family at the extreme Northeast end of the valley. They are kind of up on the mountain a tad... If you're willing to head over to Sonoma, I'd suggest Bella (certainly not the 'best' wine or winery, but the folks there are very friendly and the place is beautiful. I'd suggest a picnic there on their grounds.

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If you want nice scenery, pack a picnic and head up Oakville grade, off of 29, to Diamond Oaks. They have a beautiful wooded picnic area that overlooks the valley. The view really can't be beat. You do need to buy a bottle of wine to eat there, but they have a couple of good reasonably priced merlots and chardonnays. As a disclaimer, my sister's boyfriend's family owns the place.

I'm also partial to Cakebread and Grgich Hills which are close by on 29. Avoid Coppola.

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I love Frank Family Vineyards in Napa. Their tasting room isn't much, but their wines are really great.

However, Sonoma wineries often have less expensive tasting fees, and their wineries aren't nearly as crowded.

You can pick up a gourmet picnic lunch at Oakville Grocery. Marvelous!

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

Bouchon has some pretty good dishes here and there (the boudin blanc in particular) and is open very late unlike most of the other restaurants, but there are much better dining options. The best new restaurant in Yountville is Redd named after Chef Richard Reddington, formerly of Auberge du Soleil and Masa in SF. Excellent place - reservations likely required.

Farther north in St. Helena, definitely try Market as previously suggested or Martini House. Both are outstanding in their way and offer dining at the bar if you're interested in a more casual experience. Market appears more homestyle since it offers things like Mac & Cheese, but believe me, it is the best M&C you will EVER have. They refer to it as adult-style and one dish easily serves two. We stopped in for lunch and had it along with the fried calamari made with tempura batter which also included fried red jalapenos and cactus (nopales) -- very unique twist and delicious with two sauces. The mac & cheese is made with Hobbs bacon and a local white cheddar from Fiscalini. Some sour cream and many different herbs & spices really make it extraordinary. Note that the co-owner (former head chef and recipe-creator) is Doug Keane who now spends much of his time over in Sonoma Valley at his restaurant Cyrus in Healdsburg. Doug is one of Food & Wine's 10 Best New Chefs so he knows how to cook. When you can splurge, I recommend Cyrus instead of French Laundry. It's pretty amazing. Also stay in the hotel where it is located if you can (Les Mars Hotel)

I posted previously about Martini House and after a recent re-visit (two weeks ago), it's as good as ever. They do extraordinary things with mushrooms of all types. Beau and I make a special trip to visit them every time. If you sit at the bar downstairs, see if Patrick is working the bar. If so, you'll definitely have a good time.

Wineries on the Silverado Trail are a lot of fun to visit -- most are much smaller than their counterparts on the more touristy Highway 29 side of the valley. Some of our favorites are Vincent Arroyo for excellent Syrah and Petite Sirah, Zahtila for Zinfandel and Casa Nuestra for the VERY low-key hippie-ish atmosphere. Good fairly inexpensive wine all around. They're all up on the northern end of the Silverado Trail. For the scenery, travel a bit further south, also on the Silverado, is Joseph Phelps which has good wine and amazing scenery. It's a huge operation so you'll be there with more than a few other visitors, but the views from the porch are lovely. More upscale than the three previously mentioned.

If you want to stay further south on the Highway 29 side and stay on the upscale side, Cardinale is a beautiful place with great wine and really lovely 360' valley views. If you can meet the winemaker, Chris Carpenter, you're in for a treat. Cardinale also offers Atalon and Lokoya wines.

You should consider stopping into the Oakville Grocery located in, of course, Oakville. EXCELLENT wine selections in the back from places you'll either not have time to visit or that don't offer tours/tastings. Don't let the hordes of tourists packing into the place be a deterrent. Dean & Deluca in St. Helena has an outstanding collection of local wine as well, but lacks the charm of Oakville Grocery which also offers great hot & cold deli sandwiches & other food items.

Wow... too many choices. Regardless of where you go, I'm sure you'll have a great time and be sure to post about your experience.

-Camille

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...You can pick up a gourmet picnic lunch at Oakville Grocery. Marvelous!
I'll 2nd that suggestion.

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love the oakville grocery suggestion, also the market one and terra.

thank you all. my head is spinning.

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love the oakville grocery suggestion, also the market one and terra.

thank you all. my head is spinning.

you could also check out this cia greystone student's blog - lots of restaurant reviews (bouchon, girl and the fig, etc)

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you could also check out this cia greystone student's blog - lots of restaurant reviews (bouchon, girl and the fig, etc)
Keep in mind that one day will not really offer enough time to spend in both valleys, so there is that choice between NV and SV with all the other valleys north of them (Alexander, Russian River, etc.) If in the town of Sonoma, then I enthusiastically second the suggestion by AlliK for 'The Girl and the Fig'. HIGHLY recommend their eponymous cookbook as well. I've been cooking my way through it and have been impressed with everything in it thus far.

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I love Frank Family Vineyards in Napa. Their tasting room isn't much, but their wines are really great.

I will second the recommendation for Frank Family. The people are very friendly and they make a very nice Chardonnay (not your typical CA Chardonnay).

After you pick up lunch at Oakville Grocery, head over to La Famiglia winery, buy a bottle of their wine, and enjoy one of their picnic tables [marriage proposal is optional, but it worked for paula and me :) ].

Jarvis is probably the CIA of Napa vineyards. You need to make an appointment for a tour, and the whole operation seems clandestine; however, the tour was pretty cool since the entire winery is built into the side of a mountain.

We missed the tour of Joseph Phelps. However, we did a tasting that included a very generous (and very free) pouring of their Insignia wine, for which they normally charge $10 per glass.

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I would also highly recommend touring Sonoma or Silverado Trail wineries -- they are generally less crowded, charge less (or nothing) to taste, and are more friendly/receptive. In Sonoma, I've had good experiences at Cline (very generous pours & many wines available to taste), Kunde, Gary Farrell, and De Loach. For something different, you could stop by Viansa -- an italian-themed winery in a beautiful location. They also have lots of food products to sample. The wines are relatively inexpensive and you can taste some lesser-known varietals such as arneis, primitivo, charbono, dolcetto, aglianico, etc.

For dinner, I've had good meals at Brix and the CIA (mentioned previously).

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After you pick up lunch at Oakville Grocery, head over to La Famiglia winery, buy a bottle of their wine, and enjoy one of their picnic tables [marriage proposal is optional, but it worked for paula and me :) ].

The La Famiglia winery was sold and is now the property of Diamond Oaks. The picnic tables are still there and the view is still awesome!

Congrats on the marriage proposal there . . . I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to do it.

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Just to continue heaping praise on Market - Camille-Beau is right - best mac and cheese I've ever had, hands down. And darn near the best fish and chips made with a sparkling wine batter.

My favorite winery visit was at Joseph Phelps. We signed up for some sort of extended tasting and ended up the only people in the group. We sat on their veranda and had extra pours of thingsthey don't normally do tastings with. These people love their wines.

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