California – and Napa Valley specifically – evolved gradually into the wine and dining mecca that it is now.
The California wine industry has been in full swing since the late eighteenth century, however, it didn’t reach significant peaks until immigrants arrived in the region. The new inhabitants of the West Coast dabbled in different grape varietals, but Prohibition stalled any growth in wine production.
It wasn’t until the well into the 1960s that winery business owners and wine producers teamed up with chemists who drastically changed the approach to viticulture and winemaking for years to come.
As the wine industry continued to flourish, so to did the restaurant scene across Napa Valley and beyond. The food you’ll find in California restaurants today is not the food you would have found 40 years ago.
In their book “Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed Our Culinary Consciousness,” Joyce Goldstein and Dore Brown consulted Darrell Corti, a Sacramento food and wine retailer, who described the general perception of California cuisine in the early 1960s.
“The concept of ‘foodie’ didn’t exist. When you went to a restaurant you wanted to eat something that was relatively familiar.”
Restaurants used frozen vegetables in their dishes, basked morsels of food in margarine, and implemented a host of other cooking techniques you won’t see practiced in the area anymore.
The dining landscape shifted as French chefs became inspired by nouvelle cuisine – a style of cooking that emphasized natural flavors and an innovative mindset in the kitchen.
Over the next decade, restaurants throughout the Golden State began incorporating fresh ingredients exclusively and building courses based on seasonality. Ultimately, this led to the farm-to-table movement and what is now referred to internationally as “California cuisine.”
When you visit a restaurant in the Napa Valley area, you can expect to witness a few cooking trends like…
• Grilling, primarily with mesquite
• Mixing various types of cuisines (i.e. Japanese and French)
• Dishes centered around chicken, fish, and other proteins instead of red meat
• Fresh and high-quality ingredients
For these reasons (and more!), Beau Wine Tours CEO Tom Buck compares choosing his favorite Napa Valley restaurants to choosing which of his children he likes the best.
It’s an impossible task.
With an expansive selection of restaurants offering unique dining experiences, picking your next meal is a feat of epic proportions.
From valley natives and residents to vacationing visitors, there is a dining experience for anyone making their way through the 30 miles of culinary innovation.
The Local Watering Hole
Goose & Gander
What to Order: The G&G Burger (made with grass fed beef, topped with gruyere, and served with duck fat fries…how could you say “no”?)
Where to Sit: On the spacious patio or right at the basement bar
If you’re hoping to eat as the locals eat, then Goose & Gander is the place to go. Located in St. Helena, CA, the casual public house is a hidden gem of Napa Valley.
Get tasty American fare and bar appetizers and pair it with a quaint mixed drink from the basement bar.
When you plan to visit Goose & Gander, be prepared to drink. The locals know the establishment like the back of their hands – and even end up there most nights of the week.
The Italian Getaway
Bottega Napa Valley
What to Order: The simply delicious Spaghetti Gragnano alla Sophia Loren Pasta
Where to Sit: The expansive patio complete with two stone fireplaces
When you find yourself in Yountville, you can’t pass up on a fantastically filling meal from culinary maestro Michael Chiarello. Combining seasonal and global flavors with his sustainable principles, the chef and owner of Bottega Napa Valley dazzles the palette of every patron that walks through his doors.
“He has that rustic, Southern Italian cuisine married with fresh ingredients from Napa Valley that you can’t get anywhere else,” Buck said.
An afternoon or evening within the rustic atmosphere of Bottega will provide a wholly farm-to-fork experience with signature chef specialties you’ll want to savor for a lifetime.
The Millennial Hub
What to Order: One word. Charcuterie.
Where to Sit: The courtyard
For a truly memorable time, visit downtown Yountville where Redd Wood – a relaxed, hip wine country foodie destination – serves up delicious dishes like their in-house charcuterie board with dried salami and mouthwatering cheese.
Though executive chef Richard Reddington is most famously known for his tenure at Michelin star restaurant Auberge Du Soleil, Redd Wood has gained a reputation of unpretentious sensibility and chic effortlessness.
“A lot of people don’t realize that he was the executive chef for Auberge du Soleil,” Buck said. “It helped put Auberge du Soleil back on the map in the early 2000s.”
According to Buck, the Redd Wood is North Block’s notorious millennial hangout spot. And it’s no mystery why.
From its elegant dining space complete with ornate decorations to a private dining area characterized by magazine wall-art, Redd Wood offers a different dining experience in nearly every room!
Before you leave, step out into the courtyard which puts on a mesmerizing display of citrus trees and rolling hillsides. The spot is the perfect place to go for brunch pre-wine tasting, a casual girls’ afternoon, and even a packed private party.
The “Dinner with a View” of Napa Valley
Brix Restaurant & Gardens
What to Order: Definitely, at least, one glass of a Cabernet Sauvignon
Where to Sit: Outdoor patio (you’ll see vineyards and majestic mountains)
Brix Restaurant & Gardens is Buck’s top choice for stunning outdoor dining. The French-inspired, contemporary classic venue sits on 16 acres of Napa Valley vineyards and gardens. You can’t go wrong spending an evening on the spectacular outdoor patio overlooking the Mayacamas mountains.
At Brix, the farm-to-table menu changes daily and incorporates fruits and vegetables harvested straight from the restaurant grounds. And the wine, well of course it’s plentiful and diverse! Choose from 800 bottles including a distinct Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon list.
The Quick Hunger Fix
What to Order: Ahi Poke Crispy Tacos and a Black & White Milkshake (why not?)
Where to Sit: Inside at a booth
Imagine this… You’ve been wine tasting all day, hopping from this winery to that winery, sipping this wine and that wine.
The cheese and chocolates haven’t been enough to sustain the Napa Valley adventuring you’ve been up to.
Well, then you’ve got to go to Gott’s Roadside.
Buck’s favorite Gott’s location is St. Helena.
“It looks like the old typical 50s drive-in experience,” he said.
The modern, drive-thru eatery was founded in 1999 by the Gott brothers, Joel and Duncan. Menu items are California-inspired and feature locally sourced ingredients such as Niman Ranch beef, Zoe’s bacon, Panorama Bakery breads, and Osprey Seafood.
Make no mistake. California wine country and Napa Valley are inundated with Michelin star restaurants. But the culinary extravaganza certainly does not end there. Whether you’re traveling with your spouse or a large group of friends, you’ll never have a problem finding a meal that satisfies your hunger, teases your senses, and creates an experience you’ll treasure forever.
The region’s culture and history of experimentation ensures that wineries and restaurants will continue to deliver new and exciting farm-to-table courses prepared by the best chefs in the country and world.