Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant: still producing Grade A innovation and flavor.

Only a ten minute walk from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant; what we call a “small plates restaurant”, meaning you order to share.  Where else can you be tempted by the daily taco of the day (filet mignon with pomegranate glaze, or shrimp pad thai, or pulled pork with a chipotle sauce, or lamb with pickled slaw- every bite delicious!) that changes all the time according to the chef’s inventiveness and seasonal ingredients.

I’m a fan of their pork steam buns, the short ribs, and their filet mignon with red rice cake.  Yet by the time you get there these may be gone and replaced with some other yummy dish for you to choose.  The fried olives are still a favorite of mine, and the truffled popcorn is downright addictive.  You swear you will stop eating it, and yet your hands keep reaching.  Jamie loved the brussell sprouts flatbread (you know I’m a hater so I don’t touch the stuff!), and the soft housemade burrata with olive oil drizzle and toast points is always fun.

This restaurant is fun, exciting, and always busy, so reservations are a must.  With so many wines by the glass, too, it makes it really interesting to try new wines with these dishes.  We’ve even had guests return two nights in a row just so they could try out other dishes and different wines.  Stephanie and Scott, Owners, Hostess and Chef, make this must-eat stop in Napa.  Oh, and seriously, if they ever take the Twix Bar off the dessert menu I might consider picketing the establishment.

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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.

Angele Restaurant in Napa: a great place for romance and dinner

Just a 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a bed and breakfast in Napa, is the restaurant Angele.  With friends in town we decided to return to the restaurant as it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cuisine.  With a new chef in the kitchen I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can now report we weren’t disappointed.

The marinated beet salad called to me and I was enthusiastic with every bite, especially with the addition of fromage blanc (I have to admit I have a weakness for cheese in all its forms).  I split that with Jamie as our friends split the heirloom tomato sald with figs and prosciutto (gladly they shared and we loved it).  The quail was my main course, as it sounded just too yummy to pass up with figs and pancetta-leek au jus.  Just delicious.  Jamie obviously enjoyed the braised rabbit with tomato confit which he reluctantly gave up a bite to me.

Thankfully our friend ordered the Duo de Bouef with a small filet and braised shortrib and the pork shoulder with quinoa.  To my disappointment no one ordered the sea bass, and when it was delivered to the table across the way I was sorry we couldn’t squeeze in one more dish.  Check out the full late summer menu on their website.

We still think Angele is one of the great romantic restaurants in Napa, right along the river, with great food, perfect ambience, and wonderful service.  A great value for your money.

Angele: another great meal in a romantic setting.

It looks like a small Parisian cafe with candlelight throughout the restaurant and outside the small windows can be seen the lights mirroring off the Napa River.  It is a small, intimate restaurant that has an inviting, romantic appeal.   We began with cocktails (it is only one of 3 or 4 restaurants in historic Napa that serve cocktails)and they brought a lovely white bean dip with crositini as an appetizer.  A nice touch to get the meal started.  I ordered the leek and potato soup and was not disappointed by the creamy and velvety texture, and I followed it up with the sweetbreads that came with a fragrant, rich sauce on the plate that coated every piece.  On my first bite I was a little overwhelmed by the sauce that I scooped up with my first piece, and quickly learned to leave more of the sauce on the plate and let the sweetbreads with a light drizzle of sauce inform my palate.  Afterward it left plenty of sauce on the plate to sop up with the bread they served with the meal.  Jamie ordered the mixed green salad and followed it up with the sea bass.  The fish was cooked perfectly and came with a light sauce and some veggies on the plate that gave it a nice balance.

Our friends ordered the french onion soup (always a treat at Angele with the stringy cheese pulling at the spoon as you lift that first slurp to your mouth), the winter salad with apples and pears and nuts drizzled with a light vinaigrette, the creme fraiche gnocchi (light and airy pillow puffs that melted in your mouth) and the blackened cod (a nice white fish served in a broth).  We paired everything with a Saintsbury Pinot that was delightful (Pinot seems to be the one wine that will go with just about everything).  My only regret was that we had to run out at the end to get to our show at Silo’s (night club) so we could not fully enjoy the ambience of sipping coffee over dessert at the end.  Alas, another time.

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.

CIA, Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant

We drove up valley today to have lunch at the Culinary Institute of America, Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant,   (www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/default.asp), and as we drove past the vineyards we could see the beginnings of the mustard plants in bloom. Most people only ever see the vineyards in full bloom with grapes and never get to enjoy the winter beauty of the mustard flowers that grow in between the vines each year.  The bright green and yellow of the plants bring a spark of joy and pleasure to the dried brown vines that are waiting for pruning.  There is less traffic on the roads, the skies are crisp and blue with puffs of white and grey clouds, and the chill in the air makes you appreciate the fires that are burning at the wineries, in the restaurants, and even back at The Inn On First. The food at Greystone was great.  They had a broad assortment of items to choose from, imaginative and fun, and very seasonal.  I began with the mushroom toast, with a selection of wild mushrooms bathed with a light cream sauce on top of toast.  My disappointment was that the toast got soggy while eating; if they had just toasted it a bit more in the oven it would have held its crispness.  There was no disappointment with the flavor.  Overall, it was a great dish.  Instead of ordering an entree I selected another first course, the Cioppino.  Served in a creamy tomato sauce, with shrimp, oysters, fish, and crab, it was a delightful entree that warmed me up on a cold day.  It was also unusual in that it wasn’t a tomato-based stew, but rather it tasted a little bit like a Seafood Gumbo, but with a bit less spice.  I liked it.  Jamie enjoyed the seared bay scallops with risotto, with bits of bacon, potato, and celery.  Another friend ordered the quail with a slaw of grilled radicchio and roasted quince; a great combination of flavors.  For dessert I ordered the 3 cheeses that came with honey and fresh honeycomb, quince jelly, and candied pecans.  Yummy!  I am such a cheese lover.  Jamie, of course!, ordered the chocolate lava cake that oozed with chocolate as he cut it open.  Another yummy dessert!  We both loved the ambience, especially the open kitchen and the fireplace in the corner of the room blazing with warmth and light.  The wait support staff was attentive without being domineering; although our waiter was occasionally distracted (it was obvious they were understaffed).  It was a hip and happening place, which also meant it was a little noisier that I typically like it when I’m with a group of people.  It made it difficult on having a table conversation with others at the other end of the table.  One member in our party is well over 80 years old and I know she struggled to hear some of the conversation.  Good, solid food and presentation; worth the price of admission; may need some work on service.