When Christopher Kostow, the critically acclaimed executive chef behind the Michelin-starred restaurant The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, released his first cookbook in 2014, the title put a name to the movement that he more or less launched: A New Napa Cuisine. Less Eurocentric in its approach than The French Laundry but equally obsessed with technique and ingredients, these recipes are as close as one can get to sampling the terroir of California’s leading wine region. (“What doesn’t grow well in Napa Valley?” ponders Kostow. “It’s like the Garden of Eden out here.”) While Kostow is crazy busy running the kitchen at The Restaurant at Meadowood and his newer, more casual spot, the Charter Oak, also in St. Helena, his love for the Golden State runs deep and he explores it every chance he gets. What follows are the chef’s insider tips for making the most of your California trip.
Where to Eat
“The French Laundry [in Yountville] is always amazing. Restaurants are very trend-based, but they’re not trying to be current—they’re trying to be timeless. There’s something really cool about temples of eating, too. It’s event dining. There’s no substitute for feeling like, ‘Wow, I’m at this place.’ When a certain level of service and execution is there, the myth begets the myth. “On the more casual side of things, the Tuscan-style pizzas at Redd Wood [in Yountville] are really good. They do a take on a Hawaiian with pineapple and chorizo. Their cacio e pepe is also great.
“There’s tons of awesome fine dining in the Bay Area, too. If you were to pit San Francisco’s high-end restaurants against New York’s, it’s not even close. They’re not fancy-schmancy restaurants, either—they’re cool, they’re young, and the design, product, and cooking are better. Corey Lee’s food at Benu, for instance, is super unique and rooted in his own Korean heritage. James Syhabout’s food at Commis is just like his personality: monastic. There’s nothing superfluous; it’s all very well edited.
“If you want to cook on your own while visiting the Napa Valley, the St. Helena Farmers’ Market is really good, or there’s a little grocery store in town called Sunshine. They sell locally sourced meat, Andante Dairy cheese, Grove 45 extra-virgin olive oil, and, of course, wine.”
Where to Drink
“The Scholium Project [in the Suisun Valley] is doing really funky wines. They’ve always been ahead of the curve. The guys at Ferdinand [in Napa] are making really good wines. And Dan Petroski’s Massican label is freaking delicious. He’s the winemaker at Larkmead [in Calistoga], so he only makes two or three smaller Italian varietals under the Massican label.”
Where to Shop
“Main Street Books in St. Helena is about the size of two closets and about four times as expensive as a big-box bookstore, but I still love it. There’s a really literate, well-read community here, so a lot of great books come in and out. I’ve found cool coffee table books, including one on old California mining towns.”
What to Do for Fun
“I like going to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park [San Francisco]. The recent Ed Ruscha show was pretty cool—very Americana and graphic-forward. We also go to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito a lot. It’s under the Golden Gate Bridge, on the grounds of Cavallo Point, which was built on an old military base. It’s nice because we can spend the night there and even bring our dogs. “I also like to bring my kitchen team to museums to capture the idea of looking at beautiful things; it puts what we’re doing into context. Take the Getty Center in Los Angeles—even the building itself is cool. Or the Marciano Art Foundation, which just opened on Wilshire Boulevard. Their focus is on the promotion of younger, lesser-known artists.
How to Get Outdoors
“The Oat Hill Mine Trail [between Calistoga and Pope Valley in Napa] is a really nice hike. It’s an old mining path on the north end of Silverado Trail. We go hiking a lot in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, too. It’s one big loop, so a walk there really depends on how far you want to go. Life out here is pretty old-school, a Little House on the Prairie sort of existence, really.”