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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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  http://www.frenchbluenapa.com for more information.

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.

Brassica: new Cindy Pawlcyn eatery in St. Helena

About a 25-minute drive from The Inn On First, a Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa Valley, opened a new restaurant: Brassica.  A Mediterranean eatery and wine bar.  Same location as her prior restaurant, Go Fish, with a few changes to the interior, but basically the same decor.  Some great comic posters on the walls (be sure to look at them all if you can), with a huge outdoor eating area (hadn’t seen that before when it was Go Fish) in the back of restaurant.

Loved the food.  We were fortunate to be with our friends Juliana and Joshua from San Francisco who love good food as much as we do, which also meant a wider sampling of what she had to offer.  We started with the Eggplant Fries that Paul Franson had written about in his NapaLife Newsletter, and they were yummy.  Not your crunchy potato fry, but a crisp exterior with a soft center and a lovely spiced yogurt sauce.  We also ordered the Serrano ham with Idiazabal cheese and almonds appetizer and the Yellow Fin Tuna with capers, mint and breadcrumbs.  Both were just delicious and great starters for our meals.  We almost hated to share and wanted to hoard each small plate for ourselves.

For main courses we enjoyed the Lamb Kebabs with tomatoes and eggplant, the Grilled Quail with braised figs, Baked Penne Bolgonese, and the Winemaker Pork with sweet peppers.  We kept nibbling off each other’s plates, and with each bite stating “No, that is my favorite.”

She has a large tapas-style menu (this seems to be more popular these days) ranging from $4 to $15, and main entrees run from $18 to $35.  There are a lot of wines by the glass as well as a nice selection unique soft drinks to choose from.  We chose the Five Easy Pieces for dessert, a selection of mini-bites, and they were the perfect ending to the meal.   If you happen to be in the St. Helena region for lunch or for an early dinner after wine-tasting and before you come back to the Inn for the evening, visit Brassica.  You’ll enjoy it.

What’s a vegetarian to do? Or a pescatarian?

First of all, inform your innkeepers early about your food preferences.  That is most important so that we can plan and work around your needs.  We’ve been able to accommodate gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, kosher, vegetarian, pescatarian, and vegan dietary needs.   I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can be done; and the more notice we receive, the better we can prepare something hot and delicious for your stay.  I’m a huge carnivore, but at times I like to order as a vegetarian or pescatarian at restaurants and have found that I have plenty of options.  The most obvious restaurant is Ubuntu, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in Napa (this is not a “crunchy-granola” kind of dining establishment with overcooked and saturated in butter vegetables, but rather a high-end, beautifully presented, and incredible rich in flavor restaurant), that offers vegan options; comparable to Greens Restaurant is San Francisco.  Angele and Zuzu’s can also accommodate most dietary needs.  Again, if your innkeepers know ahead of time, we can inform the restaurant and they can better prepare something with great flavor and quality.   All of these restaurants provide fish and vegetarian options and typically will adjust their dishes for your needs.  Angele has worked with me when I didn’t want any meat or fish, and I enjoyed a beautiful white asparagus and white wine risotto with morel mushrooms.  Zuzu’s offers small vegetarian and fish dishes that their tapas-style menu can accommodate many needs, as does Elements.  Ad hoc in Yountville is another restaurant that can adjust the menu around your needs, although with a pre-fixed 4-course meal advance notification is a must.  Martini House in St. Helena is well-known for its 7-course mushroom tasting menu.  I’ve also worked out plenty of vegetarian and pescatarian options at any of the Italian restaurants (Allegria or Don Giovanni).

Bistro Jeanty: a taste of France in the Napa Valley

Sitting on Washington Street in Yountville, Bistro Jeanty welcomes you to a taste of France.  We entered a small dining room decorated much like you would see in Paris at a cafe, and then walked out onto the side patio, a large area for dining outdoors.  The menu is very “french” with menu items that still make my mouth water: foie gras pate, beef tartare, tomato soup with pastry crust, and cassoulet.  We weren’t going to order dessert but the chocolate galette and the creme brulee were just too tempting to miss.   The portions here are very large on everything.  You may find that you want to share and not order individually.  We wanted to sample a little bit of everything, stating that we would take the left-overs home for lunch the next day.  The flavors were too good to set aside and, sadly, it meant we finished everything on our plates.  Which means, I suppose, that we’ll have to go back and try some other things.  For food in solid French fashion, Bistro Jeanty is the place to eat.