Yountville, the center of high-level gastronomy in Napa Valley, has long rested its reputation largely on French cuisine. Etoile, the restaurant at Domaine Chandon, started it all in 1978, and its original chef, Philippe Jeanty, continued it with his eponymous namesake bistro a few years later. The French Laundry has always followed a Francophile bent, first under the original owners, Don and Sally Schmitt, and then under Thomas Keller, who later opened Bouchon Bistro and Bakery.
Lately, however, several high-profile Italian restaurants are, if not changing the landscape, at least adding a different accent to the mix. Bottega, celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s latest project, has been wowing Yountville with terrific food and an exciting wine list since it opened in February 2009. The town (and foodies from near and far) are waiting impatiently for the long-planned Vita to open, perhaps as early as late summer. It's the new project from Laura Cunningham, who long managed service at Keller’s restaurants, and will focus on Southern Italian food.
Last night, my colleague James Laube and I dropped in on the most recent effort. Cantinetta Piero opened in November, part of the new Hotel Luca. Hotelier David Fink, who has Auberge Carmel, Bouchée and Luca in Carmel, all of which have earned big plaudits for their food, installed Christopher Vacca as chef de cuisine at Piero. His credits include stints in Washington, D.C., with Mark Miller at Red Sage and Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate, and in New York at David Burke and Park Avenue Cafe.
Unfortunately, it was the most disappointing meal I’ve had in Napa Valley in years. The housemade foccacia was dry and stale. The water (or the ice in it) did not taste filtered. None of the Tuscany-inspired food jumped out as special. It all lacked vibrancy, which should be the essence of Italian cuisine. Things tasted bland. The sauce on my pasta was dry. The fish was overcooked. The server’s attempt at filleting the roasted Pacific snapper left a minefield of bones in the lukewarm fish.
The wine list is heavy on Antinori wines and those of that other Italian maestro, Angelo Gaja, so we asked the manager, Michael Gaylen, to suggest a better value. We specifically wondered about the Jermann Pinot Nero 2006, which I had never tasted. He raved about it. When we tasted it, Laube and I winced. It reeked of brettanomyces, which makes wines taste exceedingly gamy. We both hate that. Turns out Gaylen had never tasted the wine after all.
He graciously took away that bottle and brought Val diSuga Rosso di Montalcino 2005. It was clean but totally nondescript. Non-blind, we both rated it 82 points. (I later looked up James Suckling’s rating for it: 81 points.) We finally settled on Altesino Rosso 2006, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet. Not a thrill, maybe 85 points, non-blind, and overpriced on the list at $45, but we could drink a glass or two.
There is too much talent at Cantinetta Piero for it not to improve. Either that or the other Italian places popping up in Yountville will swamp it.
Eric Moe — Bothell, WA — January 13, 2010 4:56pm ET
Loren Lingenfelter — Danville, CA — January 13, 2010 4:56pm ET
John Albritton — Irvine, CA — January 13, 2010 5:28pm ET
Daniel Rapp — Salt Lake City — January 13, 2010 10:51pm ET
Eric Swanson — Westlake — January 14, 2010 9:00am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — January 14, 2010 11:37am ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — January 14, 2010 3:58pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions