Cook’s: California Fresh meets Italian.

We were encouraged to try Cook’s in St. Helena as we were told it was a great value for flavor, freshness, and price.  Heading up valley for a 30-minute drive, we were awed once again by the beauty of Napa Valley, the grapes beginning to grow, the vineyards waking up with new life, and the lovely hillsides that framed it all so nicely.  Arriving in St. Helena we found the restaurant along Main Street and were happy to see how small, intimate, and inviting it was.  Sitting down at table we opened the menu and found, to our delight, that everything looked tempting.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  Sometimes you go to a restaurant and you see some standards, and one or two things look inviting.  This menu took the standards of Italian cooking and added a California Fresh (using local, fresh, seasonal ingredients) twist.  The calamari we ordered was lightly battered and fried so that you could taste the light seasoning and still taste the calamari.  Simple greens with a housemade vinaigrette came next for Jamie, and a roasted beet salad for me.  Yummy!  Because I had such a hard time deciding, I asked if I could have a taste of the Bolognese Sauce (the prime indicator for me of how good the Italian food is: if you can’t do that right, then you shouldn’t be cooking Italian!), and they gladly provided a small dish on the side with my bread.  I sopped up every last bit and was loathe to share with Jamie because I wanted to be greedy and hoard it for myself.  (I did share…a little).  My main course was Rissoto with a homemade sausage and Jamie ordered the seafood stew with fresh clams, shrimp, scallops, and calamari.  Both dishes were great!  You could taste how fresh, clean, and pure the flavors were in the food.  Not too complex, but with enough flavor to keep you engaged.  Sometimes chefs (including myself) try to add too much complexity to a dish- it is flavorful, to be sure, but hard to distinguish what is in the dish and you can lose interest in how everything fits together.  With the food from Cook’s, the flavors really stood out, as did the freshness of the ingredients.  My comment to Jamie: “There was a purity and freshness about the food that I really enjoyed.”  We definitely enjoyed ourselves and will return.