Carpe Diem: a wine bar in the wine country that really works.

Living in San Francisco for 14 years taught me an appreciation for wine bars and good food.  It gave you the opportunity to try new releases and new vineyards with a paired food item.  When the new wine bar, Carpe Diem, opened I was skeptical: do we really need a wine bar in Napa?  My answer is absolutely YES!  They are doing for me what San Francisco wine bars did: introduce me to small vintners here in the Valley and, even better, abroad.  Because I don’t want my palate to become “Napa only” I always appreciate when a restaurant provides non-Napa wines to enjoy so I can keep my palate fresh and open to new developments in the wine industry throughout the world.

The decor is right up our alley: modern, contemporary, with cool colors and muted hues.  The chef is doing some great work with small and large bites of food: the deep fried olives are a perfect beginning, and the pork rib sliders are scrumptious.  The cheese selection is not so intense that you cannot decide; the choices are clear, clean, and varied.  The nut and seed Dukkah was a new food item for me and I loved eating it, dipping the bread in olive oil and then into the nut and seed mixture.  The Italian Picnic Salad was unusual in presentation and that was what made it so much fun and tasty.  We also enjoyed the Corn Dogs and dipping them in mustard (what a nice dish to awaken the memories to carnivals from childhood).  That was part of the enjoyment: the food evoked conversations about other countries as well as past memories.  Now how nice is that?

The wine list, by the glass and by the bottle, is part of the joy.  Make sure to use the wine steward as he is knowledgeable and loves to introduce you to new wines.  When I tried a white wine he suggested with the sliders I was hesitant: but he was spot on.  There was a sweetness and a spiciness to the sliders that worked perfectly against the wine.

For those who aren’t “too hungry”, this is a great place to go.  For those who want a “full meal” this is a great place to go.  Yes, it suits both needs between all the dishes offered.  I look forward to seeing how the menu changes as well as the wine list over the next year.  I’m very happy that Carpe Diem is a new addition to our recommended list and is within walking distance of The Inn On First.


Why I push a “Vegetable Restaurant” upon my carnivore guests: Ubuntu

It takes time.  You have to know your guests.  With some I won’t even try; they usually have the look of “steak and potatoes” in their eyes.  But the adventurous ones, the food lovers, those who want to try something unusual and fun and delicious; these are the ones I will talk to about Ubuntu.  These individuals look at your warily at first when you invite them to consider a “vegetable restaurant” for dinner.  No, not vegan, not vegetarian; a restaurant that takes vegetables to new heights and brings new meaning to innovative dining.  I invite them to find a vegetable they are “tired of” and order it; because I assure you that the chef, Aaron London, will prepare the vegetable in such a way that you will be fighting over the dish for the last bite or final drop.  Who cares that it was named the Best New Restaurant in America by the NY Times in 2009?  Who cares that Michelin Rating gave it a single star?  Who cares that the local food critic in San Francisco gave the food 3.5 stars out of 4 and wrote: “Order anything.  You’ll be happy”?  Aaron London is bringing poetry and beauty to vegetables in a way that I never considered.  We have eaten there 9 times in 2 years; more than any other restaurant in Napa Valley; and we continue to introduce our family and friends to the restaurant.

So, Gary and Cynthia from Kansas were here with us recently to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.  After a few moments of talking to them I could see that glint in their eyes, the opening to new possibilities in their world, and so I began my quest to invite them to something new and wonderful in Napa.  They were intrigued.  Then I began to describe the curried coconut soup, the fava bean tempura, the flatbread piled high with greens and flowers, and the donuts with liquid chocolate pudding for dessert.  I told them not to be intimidated by the menu description, but rather to have the server explain the plates because then their mouths would water.  ”Intriguing,” Gary said.  ”Interesting,” Cynthia replied.  Hmm.  Not good enough.  Just then two guests came around the corner and asked Gary and Cynthia where they were going to have dinner.  They told the young couple they were considering Ubuntu, the vegetable restaurant.  The young couple responded with glee!  They had just eaten there the night before and had a marvelous meal.  Gary and Cynthia were sold and left for dinner.

I waited until after breakfast, hoping they were fully sated and satisfied with what I had served them, and then I dared to ask the question: “How was dinner last night?”  ”You were right,” Gary said.  ”The menu is a little intimidating and the server explained it to perfection.  Even better, the food was spectacular and we loved it.  I think it is one of the best meals I have ever eaten!”  Enough said.  And this was Gary and Cynthia from Kansas, meat and potato country.  Go.  Enjoy.  And try not to eat too many vegetables; you’ll want to leave some room for dessert.