Napa Valley Dining

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Napa Valley Dining
With a climate suitable for growing much more than just grapes, Napa Valley boasts a dining scene that bursts with fresh, local flavor. Think high-end, artisanal, and innovative: Eleven Michelin stars were awarded to the valley in 2015.
By Courtney Humiston, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
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    Greet the Day
    Before a day of wine tasting, it's important to fortify yourself with a decent breakfast. Lucy Restaurant & Bar, inside the luxury Yountville hotel Bardessono, offers light and healthy breakfast fare, such as a spinach omelet or house-made granola. For some of the best views in Napa, and an inventive international menu, watch the day unfurl as you linger over breakfast on the terrace of the Auberge du Soleil.
    Photo courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
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    Seriously Good Pizza
    In Napa, where “small-batch” and “locally grown” are a way of life, and there are so many talented chefs, it's no surprise that pizza has become an artisanal affair. Oenotri, in downtown Napa, takes creative license with the toppings, which can include wild nettle and Asian pears, while the crust at Yountville’s Redd Wood is a sublime balance of chewiness and char. Locally owned Ciccio changes its menu every few days, according to what’s growing in the restaurant garden, and chef Polly Lappetito offers her own unique take on a traditional wood-fired pizza pie.
    Photo by Nikola Spasenoski/age fotostock
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    Michelin-Starred Dining
    Eleven Michelin stars were bestowed upon seven Napa Valley restaurants in 2015. The French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood—two of Napa’s most recognizable names—have secured a place in the culinary constellations with three stars each thanks to their extensive tasting menus. Terra (and Bar Terra, its easygoing little sister next door) serve inventive, Asian-influenced dishes, while the fare at La Toque will satisfy your cravings for elaborate and creamy French cuisine. The bistro-style menu of the beloved Bouchon includes oysters, escargot, and marinated olives.
    Photo by Hoberman/age fotostock
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    Shake It Up
    After swirling, sniffing, and sipping wine all over the valley, you might be craving something shaken or stirred. Niche bars serve craft cocktails that hold their own against the wines that dominate the region. The beautiful bar at Goose & Gander in St. Helena is as worthy of admiration as the innovative cocktails it serves. The modern mission-styled Sam’s Social Club specializes in house-made infusions and purees. The Agua Caliente, for example, uses habanero vodka infused in-house along with passionfruit puree and Demerara sugar. Michelin-starred Solbar, in the Solage Calistoga resort, is another top spot, making clever use of herbs and spices, among other things.
    Photo courtesy of Goose & Gander
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    Taste Wines Unique to Napa
    There are more than 400 wineries in Napa Valley, and many of them produce such small quantities of wine that whole seasons of grapes are confined to local glasses. The best way to taste some of these boutique wines is to visit one of the region's lively wine bars. Small-batch wines, generously poured, accompany multi-course dinners at Carpe Diem in downtown Napa. Nearby, the club-like vibe at 1313 Main draws a mixed crowd of locals and visitors. The bar has an extensive by-the-glass wine list, with guests returning to sample something new night after night.
    Photo courtesy of Stephanie Kendall/Carpe Diem Wine Bar
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    Eat like a Local
    Establishments like the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood may be the standard-bearers of Napa cuisine, but if you’re looking for something casual, comfortable, and more affordable, seek out one of the under-the-radar restaurants that attract a local following. In the town of Napa, a former riverfront boathouse now houses the bistro Angèle, serving French cuisine such as duck confit and croque madames. Locals travel to St. Helena for contemporary, seasonal American dishes on the patio of Archetype (formerly French Blue). To hear live music along with updates on the year’s harvest, head to the Farmstead restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch and eavesdrop on the vintners as they “talk crop” during the Growers’ Happy Hour.
    Photo courtesy of Archetype
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    Wine Country Picnics
    Packing a picnic is a tradition as old as wine country itself, especially in the warm, dry months between May and October. Few picnic settings can rival the hills of Napa’s public parks or the lawns of its wineries—though you should call ahead before bringing your spread. And there’s no need to compromise on quality just because you’re dining outdoors. The Oakville Grocery on Highway 29 has fed hungry travelers since 1881—it’s the oldest continuously operating grocery store in California. You'll find it stocked with California cheeses, charcuterie, prepared salads and sandwiches, and—of course—a good selection of local wines.
    Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger/Oakville Grocery Co
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    Perfect Pairings
    Wine, as they say, belongs at the table. But most tasting rooms offer only the wine. For a richer experience, visit wineries that pair their pours with finger foods or, better yet, an entire meal. At Robert Sinskey Vineyards, chef and cookbook author Maria Helm Sinskey pours new releases of Abraxas—a blend of pinot gris, pinot blanc, and gewurztraminer—alongside spinach and Parmesan tartlets crafted with produce from the garden. Round Pond Estate takes the concept further. Opt to sip their wines on the terrace with a four-course lunch of biodynamically farmed produce, vinegar and honey from the estate, and stone-crushed olive oil from a press just a short distance away.
    Photo courtesy of Olaf Beckmann/Round Pond Estate