Brix Restaurants: when you want a lovely garden to sit in for lunch

Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Brix Restaurant.  As my friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC I wanted her to experience the beauty that the Brix Gardens enjoys while dining on incredible food.

Asparagus Salad Brix Butter Lettuce Salad Brix Brix Garden View





As it was a bit later in the afternoon when we arrived (2 pm) we were practically alone on the patio for lunch.  With spring blossoms everywhere in sight, as well as bud break beginning to show on the vines all around, the place could not have been more welcoming.  We ordered the cold beet soup with a vegan base and a beautiful floral design of creme fraiche on top.  It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm spring day.  I ordered the asparagus salad, with a variety of white and green asparagus, and a light lemony dressing with petite brioche croutons.  So far the meal was perfect.

Donna enjoyed the house salad with butter lettuce, english peas, and a garlic-yogurt dressing, although we were both sorely tempted by the tempura fried green beans and the steak tartare.  The dungeness crab salad was tempting, but we tried to keep it light.  We decided to split the lamb sandwich on housemade focaccia bread with the most lovely crisp french fries (okay, so maybe we tried to keep it partially light!).  The bacon pizza looked delicious as we saw it delivered near us, as did the lamb bolognese.

Prices range from $8 to $18, for soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees.  If you are here during the busier summer months I would suggest making a reservation and tell them you want to sit on the garden patio.  If you ate my breakfast  that morning you probably won’t be hungry again until 2 pm, which is a great time to sit and enjoy an afternoon break from wine tasting.

French Blue: if you’re in St. Helena and want to enjoy a nice lunch.

Just 15 miles north of The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the town of St. Helena, and right on main street (Hwy 29) lies a small restaurant called French Blue.  All white with blue trim.  (CLOSED TUE).  We had the option of eating a late breakfast or ordering off the standard lunch menu.

Jamie chose the soup, a puree of celery root with a drizzle of creme fraiche and we both enjoyed sharing that dish.  To begin I ordered the lunch salad of roasted beets with candied hazelnuts.  It was delicious.  For his main course Jamie chose eggs in tomatillo sauce on corn tortillas and thought the tomatillo sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the eggs.  I wanted the breakfast special with a flatbread with prosciutto and eggs (I love when other people cook me breakfast!), but I could see other plates coming out from the kitchen and wondered if I should have been more adventurous: rabbit rillettes terrine, chicken paillard, lamb tenderloin, and shrimp with harissa butter.

As a lunch stop I think this could be a wonderful afternoon pitstop to enjoy some great food in a fun ambience while you are in between wineries in northern Napa Valley.  Reservations are a must, unless you want to wait for 45 minutes or more for a table.  Prices range from $8 to $12 for starters and $9 to $25 for entrees.  Visit for more information.

The Fremont Diner: a hidden lunch gem in the Carneros region

About a 15-minute ride from The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is a small restaurant called The Fremont Diner.  Don’t expect cloth tablecloths or napkins.  Look for wooden tables, picnic tables outdoors in the afternoons, and a small counter that overlooks the kitchen (my favorite spot).  It has its own ambience of being homey and very, very down to earth.  Ribs, chicken, steak, homemade biscuits, grits, pecan pie, pumpkin pie.  This is diner food with upscale southern roots: chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, baked beans, collard greens, sweet potato fries, fried brussel sprouts.  And expect it to be crowded.  The word has been out on this place for awhile.

We sat at the counter as we wanted to watch all the action. While there we watch the pastry chef put together a pecan pie, and then chocolate chip cookies, and a bourbon-glazed pound cake.  It’s a wide open kitchen and gives you access to what they are doing.    This is a great lunch spot and we would recommend it to anyone who is spending time in the Carneros region that crosses both Napa and Sonoma borders.  It’s open from 8 am to 3 pm every day, and is open for dinner Thu-Sat, until 9 pm.  Visit their website for more information:

ALEX- upscale Italian comes to Rutherford

A 30 minute drive from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is a lovely restaurant named ALEX.  It is small, intimate, with a very comfortable elegant decor followed up with excellent service and superior food.  We usually don’t go up valley often for dinner unless a particular restaurant is calling for attention.  Alex, a new restaurant in Rutherford, connected to the Rancho Caymus Inn, is worth noting for those who want something more upscale and less crowded (read that quieter) than Bottega (don’t get me wrong, I love Bottega).  I’ll sum it up in one sentence: I enjoyed absolutely every bite!

From the fried vegetable platter with aioli, to the beet and potato gnocchi with gorgonzola cream.  I also was able to snag a spoonful of really delicious broccoli soup, a bite of the housemade burrata with speck, and the farro stew.  Oh my!, and that was just the starters.  We ordered the Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the side for the bread (worth the order) with its fruity flavor.  Then came the roasted rabbit with housemade fettucine (as are all the pastas), the veal and beef ragu with cavatelli, and the grilled octopus salad (love, love, love it), and grilled pork cheeks (yummy!).   The fireplace, the comfortable chairs, the overall setting, and the service, also set this place apart from so many others in the valley.  Quiet, quaint, romantic.

For wine we ordered the Pahlmayer Jayson Chardonnay to start and finished with a lovely Italian red, Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  We finished the meal with a semifreddo di torrone, a light frozen whipped cream dessert with coffee.  It was perfect.

Prices range from $12 to $15 for starters and $15 to $30 for main courses.  If you don’t mind the drive and want something really nice and romantic, I would recommend this restaurant.  It’s worth the drive.

Named in Top 10 Romantic Inns for Wine Country

What an exciting time for us!  We are so happy that we were recently named in the Top 10 Romantic Inns in Wine Country.

The Inn on First, Napa— Jamie Cherry and Jim Gunther run this beautiful inn within walking distance of downtown Napa, and the reviews are rave, whether we’re hearing about Gunther’s fabulous truffles or Cherry’s hospitality. The inn’s 12 rooms invite intimacy, with fireplaces, spa tubs and no televisions. Each room is different, with rich-colored walls that will remind you of wine—especially in First Crush, Heritage Estate and Meritage. Everything is luxurious, from the plush towels and billowing comforters to the plump pillows and exquisite furnishings. Nightly rates start at $190 and include a full breakfast—something scrumptious dreamed up by Gunther, such as egg roll omelets, a roasted-tomato tart, a breakfast BLT with pancetta and basil oil or sweet potato Dutch pancakes topped with fresh mixed berries. This is not your typical B&B fare. These two guys know wine and food better than just about anyone and will help you plan your trip to the Napa Valley wine country—check out their blog on the website or, once you make your reservation, ask Cherry to help you custom-design an itinerary for your perfect trip to Napa. 1938 First St., Napa; (707) 253-1331;

Read more:

Fish Story: fresh fish only a 10-minute walk away

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a romantic getaway in the Napa Valley, is Fish Story, a restaurant dedicated to fish and seafood. Located downtown, with ample riverfront patio seating, Fish Story serves lunch and dinner daily. The menu features live Dungeness crab and live Maine lobster fresh from salt water tanks, fresh fish and shellfish all sourced in accordance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and non-seafood items, as well. We began with the BBQ’d oysters with a lovely relish of onion and bell peppers on top (not with BBQ sauce as is often served here in the Bay Area). One order was not enough and a second had to ordered as we enjoyed them so much. I enjoyed the Cioppino with fresh seafood and Jamie ordered the Seared Scallops. I am a bit picky about my Cioppino broth and was really pleased when I found theirs to be well balanced between tomato and salty brininess. Jamie found the Scallops to be tender, perfectly cooked, and well-seasoned. For dessert we ordered the Butterscotch Pudding (a staple of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group Restaurants) which is always a big hit with us, and the chocolate-peanut butter terrine that was scrumilicious! We really liked this restaurant and what it had to offer. Where Morimoto Napa seeks out new and varied ways to present fish, Fish Story is more traditional in its approach and delivers a solid, dependable menu that changes daily according to the catch of the day. Knowing, too, that they respect sustainable fishing practices makes you feel better while dining.

Oenotri: southern Italian cuisine that is still smokin’

Only 4 blocks and a 5-minute walk away from us is a small Italian restaurant called OH-no-TREE (Oenotri).  Southern Italian cuisine that is always presenting new items, great homemade pastas, and delicious sauces to tease your taste buds.  We recently took our friends, Alan and Shawn, to the restaurant.  As always we ordered the Margherita Pizza, certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana to be “authentic” (they are required to use specific flour, tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil), and it continues to make me happy.  Little cheese, with a focus on the olive oil and the sauce and crust.  I wanted to try the Plumcot salad with grapefruit and was pleasantly surprised by the flavor combination, as well as the light, cool beginning to the meal.  I followed it up with the roasted Quail with root vegetables, and had to share a bite with everyone at the table because the sauce was just superb.  There was an order of the Uova Purgatorio (Purgatory Egg) that was extremely spicy (yes, your mouth will be in purgatory- as long as you like it “hot”, you’ll love the dish as much as I did) and meant to be, with tomatoes and peppers cooked down to a thick puree with a poached egg on top and served with a side of toast points.  The pastas are always a hit, as they make their own and they are constantly trying out new sauces and combinations with seasonal vegetables.  The rice pudding with olive oil doughnuts for dessert and the chocolate budino finished the meal perfectly.  A note on the wine: ask them.  They have a knowledgeable sommelier who is always picking out great Italian wines for us. Price point runs from $13 pizzas on up to $20 entrees, and $8 desserts.  Reservations required as this is a hip and happening spot in Napa for locals and tourists alike.