Though it has taken a hit, Napa tourism is on the rise as vaccinations increase and county restrictions ease. Sunny weather and ample outdoor space make it an ideal destination for those seeking to ditch the fog (and their light sweaters) for wine, snacks, and vineyard views. Here are some of the most interesting restaurant and winery openings in Napa and Sonoma over the last six months, as well as a few to watch out for in the coming year.
Napa’s New Restaurants
Bay Grape Napa
The little Oakland bottle shop that could has grown up with a Napa outpost. It opened in the last week of March with an enormous patio for drinking wine and enjoying snacks. The snacks include bread from fellow newcomer West Won Bakery, a custom-made paté from Contimo Provisions, and local cheeses, cured meats, and olives, too. Owners Stevie Stacionis and Josiah Baldivino opened their second location with locals in mind, taking a space a little more off the beaten path (outside downtown Napa). To serve locals and tourists alike, they’re hosting local producers for by-the-glass offerings each week, including standouts like Massican, Enfield, Carboniste, and more. Guests can browse the bottle shop inside, then snag snacks and bottles of wines to enjoy on the patio out back. There’s no indoor seating currently.
Ace and Vine
A late-night destination has hit sleepy downtown Napa, known for its early last call. And notably it has the only gaming license in the city of Napa, making its debut as a California Casino, too. That distinction means there are only card games such as Baccarat, Blackjack, and Texas Hold’em played, but no slots; there’s a dining menu available for players. Meanwhile, an enormous 4,500-square-foot patio is family friendly, serving a very extensive menu of “Asian fusion” dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Cocktails, beer, wine, and fire-pits can also be found on the patio, which overlooks the Napa River.
Napa, notorious for its lack of Asian cuisine (with the exception of Morimoto, of course), has finally landed Empress M, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies at lunch and dinner. Big plate chicken, Mongolian lamb shops, and Empress roast duck are all headliners, with dim sum like chicken feet, taro puffs, bbq pork buns in support. Indoor, outdoor, and patio dining are all available, plus takeout.
A team with years at chef David Chang’s Momofuku empire under their belts has arrived in Yountville, carving out space for a restaurant in Yountville’s North Block hotel, the former home of Redd Wood. Chef Nick Tamburo (Momofuku, Momofuku Nishi, Momofuku Ko) and general manager Andy Wedge (Momofuku) have opened the patio for dining with a menu of “Californian” food, utilizing Asian flavors and local ingredients, while taking advantage of the restaurant’s inherited wood-fired pizza oven. That translates to dishes like grilled black cod with mahogany clams, green garlic broth, and snap peas, and pizzas like duck sausage with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and chili oil. The restaurant is now partially open for indoor dining.
Sonoma’s New Restaurants
Valley Bar and Bottle
Within Sonoma, despite its hospitality industry’s notoriously strict dedication to serving its own wines in its own valley, a new sign has risen. Valley Bar and Bottle Shop has opened on Sonoma’s square, bringing with it a laid-back natural wine-focused enclave in a Sonoma pinot world. Two veterans of Sonoma’s other idyllic hipster hotspot, Scribe Winery — chef Emma Lipp and manager Lauren Feldman — have embraced the zeitgeist of the Parisian wine cave (see SF’s Verjus for reference), with plates of olives, Don Bocartes anchovies, deviled eggs topped with umami-bomb xo sauce, and braised lamb with garbanzos and chilis. Sonoma winemakers like Martha Stoumen are mixed in with non-California daredevils like Hope Well in Oregon, and old world imports, too.
From Top Chef alum Casey Thompson comes Folktable, a bright and airy daytime restaurant located in Cornerstone Sonoma. Open for breakfast and dinner, its serving a menu of toasts and tartines, salads, as well as plates like chicken fat ginger rice with Dungeness crab and trout roe, and black truffle chicken handpies with fennel and mushroom. It’s now open for takeout and outdoor dining in the property’s sunny gardens.
House of Better
Calistoga’s new wellness resort, Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs now has a matching restaurant named House of Better. Trevor Logan of San Francisco’s now-closed Green Chile Kitchen, is leading the cause with Southwestern inspired food that is wellness adjacent but still craveable, like green chile stew with immunity broth, greens and grains with kale and quinoa, and grilled fish tacos.
West Won Bakery
A permanent location for a Napa farmers market favorite is now open with loves of sourdough, coffee, and sandwiches. Kyle Kuehner worked at Firebrand Artisan Breads in Oakland and Model Bakery in St. Helena to hone his craft before pulling the trigger on this downtown Napa spot. Stop by for loaves of bread like German rye, focaccia, baguettes, and roasted garlic and rosemary.
The Four Seasons in Calistoga is not messing around with its luxury accommodations, including a fine dining restaurant led by chef Erik Anderson. Anderson has helmed Michelin-starred restaurants like COI, where his decadent French technique has included ample caviar and even a tableside duck press. Anderson still plans to cook plenty of game birds, including California’s state bird; since it’s a hotel restaurant, Truss will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The property promises to be stunning; the restaurant is currently slated for a mid 2021 opening.
When it opens this spring, Fleetwood will be yet another addition to Calistoga’s increasingly robust dining scene. It will focus on wood-fired pizza and anything else that benefits from a little smoke and fire, like a roasted chicken with garlic cream.
Chef Dustin Valette (Valette, Valette Wine) will open a three-story restaurant, bar, and wine bar in downtown Healdsburg this summer called the Matheson. It’s actually the former location of Snowflake Bakery, operated by Valette’s great grandfather Honore Valette. Now it’s getting new life with preservation and a redesign by SF architect Cass Calder Smith, and a slew of talented food and wine professionals. The project includes a rooftop bar and lounge, sushi bar by Ken Tominaga (PABU, Hana Sonoma), a ground floor garden lounge overlooking Sonoma’s square, and a “wine wall” featuring 88 wines from local producers on tap. Stay tuned for a summer opening.
Chefs Kyle and Katina Connaughton will extend their thoughtful, farm-driven cooking to Little Saint, a completely plant-based restaurant that will open in the former location of Healdsburg’s SHED. The building was recently purchased by local couple Jeff and Laurie Ubben, and will also become a community gather place for music, art, film screenings, and more. Little Saint will serve lunch and dinner with produce harvested from its nearby farm, while a quick-service and retail component will be available seven days a week, alongside a bottle shop.
Napa’s bagel scarcity has now been remedied, thanks to the duo behind Winston’s Cafe and Paulie’s Bagels. Partners Paul Brown and Alex Macaraig will open a bagel shop and cafe serving diner-style food in the former home of Alexis Baking Co. in downtown Napa. They want to provide something for locals outside of the continued influx of high-dollar tourist destinations. Brown’s bagels are kind of their own thing, avoiding the inevitable pitfalls of trying to recreate an NYC bagel in Wine Country with a brown, “pretzel-ized” exterior. The cafe opens in September; order delivery all the way from Napa to Calistoga on Fridays and Saturdays til then.