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Napa Valley: Gastronomy to match the grapes

Linda HayesSpecial to the Aspen Times Weekly

NAPA, Calif. Napa Valley chefs have it made. What they cant pluck from their own organic gardens or conjure up in their splendid commercial kitchens, they procure from a wealth of local farmers, growers, artisan producers and purveyors who often tote products to their door.Up and down the valley, the best of what they have to offer comes together at restaurants (OK, ones a burger stand) like the five below. Paired with a sampling of the local grape? Divine.

For more than 25 years, Cindy Pawlcyns restaurants, including the now-legendary Mustards and Cindys Backstreet Kitchen, have been mainstays on Napa Valleys dining scene, and her latest is Go Fish.Pawlcyn named the place after the childrens card game and themed it after classic West Coast fish houses, albeit with fishy paintings by San Francisco artist Charley Brown on the walls and oversized chalkboard dividers depicting fanciful ocean scenes. With 150 seats, plus another 100 on a patio out back, its a whopper (and, judging by the enthusiastic din that greets you when you walk in, a whopping good time).No matter if your reservation is for one of the casual booths up front, or a table in the depths of the dining room, youll be reeled in by the sleek, marble-topped bar, which hosts a vibrant cocktail scene and fronts the restaurants raw bar, but is first and foremost a Japanese sushi bar.There, sushi master Ken Tominaga rules, his silver sushi knives flashing as he meticulously slices slivers of the freshest fish possible, some of which is imported from his native Japan. Off the menu, delicacies like medai (Japanese butterfish), kampachi (amber jack), mongo ika (cuttle fish) and toro (blue fin tuna belly) may be ordered as sashimi or nigiri. Rolls are a specialty, and theyre stunners, especially Kens Roll with shrimp tempura, avocado, spicy tuna and pine nuts, and the soy paper Geisha Roll with ebi tempura, tuna, shiso, cucumber and gobo root.For a real treat, simply let Tominaga create for you what he will.If you prefer your fish cooked, executive chef Victor Scargle is your man. Hell fete you with tasty dishes like wood-grilled Monterey Bay calamari, sweet shrimp macaroni and smoky cheddar cheese, and salt-crusted Gulf prawns with sweet and sour dipping sauce. Seasonal sake and picks from the bountiful wine list pair perfectly.

You cant spend 10 minutes in Napa Valley without hearing buzz about Ubuntu. (If youre a foodie worth your fleur de sel, youll recognize the name from the pages of your favorite cooking magazines and The New York Times dining section.)Seems the impeccable, as-beautiful-to-look-at-as-they-are-to-eat dishes that come out of chef Jeremy Foxs equally impeccable kitchen have caused a culinary stir. The catch? Its all vegetarian. Or, more delicately, farm-to-table vegetable cuisine. No meat, no fowl, no fish. And, most amazingly, no missing it.Ubuntu means humanity toward others in Zulu and owner Sandy Lawrence endeavored to make the notion ring true in every aspect of the restaurant. Set along the town of Napas Main Street, its housed in a historic, 19th-century building thats been renovated with a contemporary edge. Old stone walls pair with reclaimed wood flooring and tabletops, including the trestle-style community table, which was handcrafted from windfall redwood and fir. The surprise ingredient? A full-fledged yoga studio set above the kitchen and up a flight of stairs from the dining room.On to the food. Fox has an exceptional touch with organic fruits, grains and vegetables, some of which comes from the restaurants two-acre, biodynamic garden, some from local farmers. Bites include lightly fried sunchokes with romesco sauce and marcona almonds flavored with lavender sugar and sea salt. Cool plates range from slivers of garden radishes and local chevre laced with mustard and Banyuls vinaigrette to artichokes with dreamy, creamy burrata, salsa verde and Meyer lemon.Hot plates get more creative still. Vadouvan-spiced cauliflower comes in a little cast-iron pot, falafel tucks into North African-spiced flatbread, hickory-smoked Anson grits come topped with barbecued Brussels sprouts and an intriguing sauerkraut and Emmental pizza is finished with shallot confit and a lightly fried egg. Pair them with a selection from Ed Puccios 200-bottle wine list. Top the whole thing off with pastry chef Deanie Foxs vanilla bean cheesecake in a jar.



Redd draws you in. Out front, umbrella-topped tables in the shade of olive trees are regularly filled with folks sipping colorful cocktails such as the fruity Scarlet Fever, perhaps as a prelude to dinner, or perhaps not.Inside, the polished wood bar up front is a convivial spot for lingering over a glass of wine and catching up on local buzz. There are a few small tables, too, for hobnobbing more intimately over plates of pork and shrimp potstickers, prosciutto pizzas and fish tacos from a menu of small bites.The main draw, of course, is the white-on-white dining room which, in its bold simplicity, offers the perfect backdrop for some of the most sophisticated fare in the valley. For that, executive chef Richard Reddington is to thank. His contemporary take on classic wine-country cooking is deeply connected to the product available to him from local farmers, artisan producers and purveyors, but its also rooted to an impressive culinary past. Prior to the opening of Redd, his cooking experiences included time at Park Avenue Caf in New York, Postrio, Jardiniere and Rubicon in San Francisco, and Auberge du Soleil in nearby Rutherford.To the table, Reddington brings picture-perfect dishes that change with the seasons, and often hint of his taste for international flavors as well. For appetizers, theres succulent glazed pork belly with pureed apples, burdock and soy caramel, and fresh hamachi sashimi plated with sticky rice, edamame and a gingery lime sauce. After that comes Liberty Farms duck breast, a specialty served with root vegetables, potato puree and caramel-orange jus, petrale sole with creamy jasmine rice, mussels and chorizo, and wild striped bass with sunchokes, cipollini onions and sherry vinegar-bacon jus. All of which pairs beautifully with local and international wines offered by wine director and master sommelier Chris Blanchard and sommeliers Nick Hetzel and Adam Kim.

The urge to never leave the grounds of Napa Valleys glorious Meadowood resort has grown stronger still with the resurgence of the esteemed Restaurant at Meadowood.Recently restyled to add more of a modern edge to its signature white-beamed ceiling and French window walls, the serene dining room has just 48 seats, with a couple of dozen more on a seasonal patio. Tables set with Frette linens are topped with fine crystal and china, as well as honey and olives from Meadowoods hives and orchards. Settle at one of them for a meal by chef Christopher Kostow and youll understand the two-star Michelin rating.Kostow, a veteran of La Terrasse in the French Riviera, Campton Place in San Francisco and, most recently, Chez TJ in Mountain View, Calif., was recently voted a 2008 Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle for his fine, sophisticated fare. His highly seasonal, multicourse menus are filled with dishes that reflect the bounty of the surrounding locale.The Nearby Waters menu, for instance, might feature black cod poached in olive oil and served with melted leeks, black caviar and ocean froth, or Pacific Kampachi in vadouvan with crab, braised lettuce, peas and mint. The Pastures & Ranches menu tempts with creatively prepared Jones Farm rabbit loin, leg and rack plated with spring vegetables, ham hock broth and almond froth, or slow-roasted vitello tonatto flavored with shaved bonito and tat soi.Best of all is the chance to simply place yourself in Kostows hands and go with his chefs tasting menu. Each of eight courses from cold-smoked toro and osetra caviar to crispy suckling pig confit to an indulgent milk chocolate, slow-cooked banana and brown butter dessert is paired with wines from sommelier Rom Toulons 950-wine list.



Sometimes it just doesnt get any better than wrapping your hands around a plump, juicy burger and taking that first indulgent bite. The line for Taylors version regularly stretches out to the curb and anyone who has ever stood in it can tell you that its well worth the mouth-watering wait.A landmark in St. Helena (theres another in San Franciscos Ferry Building and a third recently opened in the new Oxbow Market in Napa), Taylors isnt your typical hamburger stand, nor is it a joint. Opened by Lloyd Taylor in 1949, and now owned by local winemaker Joel Gott and his brother Duncan, its a culinary gem honored with a James Beard Foundation Americas Classics Restaurant Award in 2006.Once you get through the line, the order window awaits. There, you can call out your burger preference. Texas Burgers (topped with Jack, guacamole, salsa and mayo on a toasted egg bun), Wisconsin Sourdough Burgers (grilled mushrooms, bacon, cheddar, mayo and barbecue sauce on grilled sourdough) and Western Bacon Blue Ring Burgers (topped with an onion ring, crumbled blue cheese, bacon, pickles red onion and BBQ sauce) are faves, and, like the rest of the line-up feature all-natural, hormone-free California beef.Ack! Dont eat meat? Try a fresh ahi tuna burger with ginger wasabi mayo and Asian slaw, a chicken club with Swiss cheese, bacon, romaine, tomato and pesto mayo, battered and fried mahi mahi with tartar sauce and slaw, classic Cobbs, Chinese chicken salads and more. Tack on a side of spicy sweet potato fries. Milkshakes in flavors like white pistachio or espresso bean are dreamy and theres also a beer list and wines by the glass or bottle.Your name will be called when your food is ready (you can watch it being made through the front window) and brought out on a metal tray. Gobble it up under the awning at the high community counter, or snag a picnic table out front.

Go Fish! 641 Main St., St. Helena707-963-0700, http://www.gofishrestaurant.netSushi bar $5-$48; entrees $8-$33Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Redd 6480 Washington St., Yountville707-944-2222, http://www.reddnapavalley.comLunch entrees $15-$25; dinner entrees $25-$32Open daily for lunch and dinner, and on Sundays for brunch Ubuntu 1140 Main St., Napa707-251-5656, http://www.ubuntunapa.comLunch entrees $12-$19; dinner entrees $9-$19Open daily for lunch and dinner Taylors Automatic Refresher 933 Main St., St. Helena707-963-3846, http://www.taylorsrefresher.comInexpensive. Burgers $5.99-$14Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Restaurant at Meadowood 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena707-967-1205, http://www.meadowood.comPrix fixe menus $70-$95 (wine pairings extra)Open Monday through Saturday for dinner


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