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Napa Travel: Dining Among the Vines

Passion, talent and natural resources guarantee good food

Tim Fish
Posted: June 29, 2004

Thomas Keller (left) at work in the kitchen of the French Laundry before a recent remodeling.
  Napa Valley Travel Guide  
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Wine Spectator award-winning eateries in Napa Valley

Most visitors to Napa Valley spend as much time planning their next meal as they do selecting the next winery to visit. If you like good wine, you also like good food. As you might expect, California's No. 1 wine destination also stands as a top food destination.

There is a bounty of restaurant options available to the valley's 5 million annual visitors, offering a variety of cuisines and more great meals than anyone could hope to sample in a few days.

In general, the restaurants we liked best have chef-driven kitchens and upscale dining, or are casual bistros that offer serious comfort food at good value.

Three upscale restaurants -- Julia's Kitchen, La Toque and Terra -- clearly stand above the rest. But there is also great pleasure to be had at the more relaxed Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Mustards Grill, Bouchon and Bistro Don Giovanni.

The most dramatic change in the Napa restaurant scene is that the valley's center of gravity has shifted southward. Ten years ago, Napa's best restaurants were in St. Helena and Calistoga, and tourists rarely lingered in Yountville or the city of Napa. Today, the southern end of the valley is booming with restaurants, while high-profile dining rooms are closing at the northern end. Two well-regarded spots -- Roux in St. Helena and Jan Birnbaum's Catahoula in Calistoga -- closed recently, and more are rumored to follow.

"There are fewer and fewer people heading north," says Cindy Pawlcyn, chef-owner of Mustards Grill in Yountville and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena.

Why the shift? For one, the city of Napa has the valley's largest population and since most of the new hotel development is taking place in the valley's southern end, tourists are increasingly using the city and its immediate environs as a base. As a result, chefs and other entrepreneurs -- also inspired by Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts -- are transforming the once sleepy downtown Napa into a happening food community.

Also, the success of the French Laundry brought culinary legitimacy to southern Napa Valley and helped spawn a wave of new restaurants and hotels in Yountville. Pawlcyn jokingly calls Yountville "Frenchville," because so many of the restaurants have French influences, including Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon and the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon.

Wine is something all these fine-dining restaurants have in common, whether it's a list deep in high-end California cult wines and classic French bottlings (Auberge du Soleil, La Toque) or a page or two focused largely on local favorites. What's more, nearly all chefs' menus are offered with glasses of wine, at an additional charge, to match each course.

If you plan to eat at one of the more casual restaurants and want to drink a special bottle of wine, take advantage of their generally liberal corkage policies by bringing your own. Most places charge a modest $10 to $15 to open a bottle brought in by a customer, and typically will waive even that fee if you buy another bottle from the list. Be sure to call ahead to inquire about the restaurant's policy.

The casual attitude extends to the dress code. Only a handful of restaurants "suggest" that men wear jackets, and jeans are acceptable at most restaurants. Again, call ahead.

We sampled a broad range of dining rooms throughout Napa Valley and have included only the top restaurants. Itinerant chefs threw us more than one curveball as we prepared this report. A new chef at the Culinary Institute of America's Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant (so-named in recognition of a donation by the magazine to the school) shows promise; Joachim Splichal's Pinot Blanc is between chefs; and the very serious Richard Reddington has left his post at Auberge du Soleil. Editor at large Harvey Steiman focused on the restaurants that have long-established reputations, including several kitchens that deliver a truly grand experience.

In the following pages, our three most highly regarded restaurants are featured first, followed by 14 more of our favorites, organized alphabetically. All accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard unless otherwise noted. Reviews are by me and Steiman.

Julia's Kitchen
Copia, 500 First St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 265-5700
Web site www.copia.org
Open Lunch, Wednesday to Monday; dinner, Thursday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $19-$27, menu $60

Whoever decided to contract the Patina Group to run this restaurant deserves a medal. Patina immediately installed chef Victor Scargle, who had been lighting up the San Francisco scene at Jardinière and Grand Café. Copia, the wine and culture center in Napa, is still trying to find its direction, but in a little more than a year Scargle has turned the restaurant into its centerpiece. His food and a wine list brimming with hot wines, some of the most interesting of them offered in special flights by the glass, make Julia's Kitchen one of the most alluring dining destinations in Napa Valley.

Scargle loves to riff on the produce coming out of Copia's garden, assembling salads that zing with vitality, garnishing and completing dishes with pitch-perfect seasonal flavors. Tuna tartare, so often a tired idea, wears its cumin, yogurt and Meyer lemon additions like a silk blouse. Perfectly sautéed skate strikes an ideal flavor balance with crushed Yukon Gold potatoes and extra virgin olive oil. Winter greens are so vivid they outshine a nicely poached chicken breast in a clear carrot broth. And that's just in winter, when the garden is at its least impressive.

Pastry chef Nicole Plue uses the garden to add accents to her sorbets -- a touch of lemon verbena in the pineapple, a hint of rosemary in the pink grapefruit and rose geraniums in the strawberry make these desserts special.

A glass wall in the dining room affords views of the gardens, and distinctive celadon walls and stainless steel touches add interest to the rectangular space. In warm weather, additional tables are set up on a patio. An exhibition kitchen runs the length of one wall. A series of glass-fronted, temperature-controlled wine units occupies another side, holding wines such as Qupé Roussanne Edna Valley Alban Vineyard 2000 ($42). It's almost a summary of modern restaurant design, with one objective -- focus attention on the food and wine. The results on the plate should make Scargle a major star. --H.S.

La Toque
Rancho Caymus Inn, 1140 Rutherford Cross Road, Rutherford
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-9770
Web site www.latoque.com
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Menu $98
Award of Excellence

Even among chefs cooking in wine country, Ken Frank has an extraordinary interest in wine, and it shows in his food. No odd spices or tricky Asian flavors for him. Frank's flavor and texture palette relies on classically French techniques, which he varies with an American sense of freedom and whimsy. The results take to wine as seamlessly as Frank's light, fragile hollandaise sauce melds to white asparagus in one of the chef's perfectly rendered dishes.

No worries finding something to go with the asparagus -- a notoriously difficult food to match with wine. From the 860 selections on the ever-growing, savvy list, a half-bottle of Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc Los Carneros 2001 ($30), bright and tangy, did the trick for us. It also meshed well with the barely seared yellowtail (hamachi) and its savory sauce made with Jack Daniel's whiskey -- a brilliant touch. The formidable list is especially strong in mature California Cabernet Sauvignon, such as Dunn Howell Mountain 1987 ($230), and Bordeaux such as Château Léoville Las Cases 1959 ($600). Or go with La Toque's selections for each course (at a supplement of $56), which could include Olivier Leflaive Frères Meursault 2001 and Miner Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Garys' Vineyard 2001.

Frank's menu changes often, but it always follows the same pattern: two options for each of the five courses, plus an option for a cheese course as small or as extensive as you like. The extra charge depends on how many of the beautifully kept French and American farmstead cheeses you order.

The rustic dining room may not be the most elegant in Napa Valley -- it's in the otherwise middlebrow Rancho Caymus Inn on Rutherford Cross Road -- but for a complete food and wine experience, no restaurant in Napa Valley can match La Toque. Frank's food is impeccable, and the servers handle the complex menu options with aplomb. --H.S.

1345 Railroad Ave., St. Helena
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-8931
Web site www.terrarestaurant.com
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $19-$29

Chef-owner Hiro Sone is equally at home with French, Italian and his native Japanese cuisines. He cooks the best risotto in Napa Valley and coaxes intense flavors out of a long-simmered daube of lamb. He also dresses pristine hamachi slices with yuzu, pepper, hijiki and ponzu sauce in a dish that would make any sushi chef proud. And Napa Valley's most discriminating diners love to plunder a wine list deep in big name wines from Napa Valley, Burgundy and the Rhône.

Unlike many chefs who straddle the culinary dividing line between Asia and Europe, Sone keeps the cuisines compartmentalized. No shiso in the spaghetti for him. The Japanese dishes are Japanese. The Italian dishes sing with an operatic lilt, and his variations on French classics would have Escoffier nodding in recognition.

Take the impressively thick and tender grilled pork chop, accompanied by salsify slices, spinach leaves and blood sausage. It evokes the French countryside with its Cabernet Sauvignon sauce and goes just fine with a bottle of Emmanuel Rouget Bourgogne Rouge 2000 ($45). The broiled sake-marinated Alaskan black cod contrasts its sweet glaze elegantly with a meaty broth sparked with shiso leaf, a few flat shrimp dumplings adding an extra touch. It's pure Japanese. Danged if it doesn't make the red Burgundy sing just as sweetly.

Sone and his wife, Lissa Doumani, whose father founded Stags' Leap Winery, opened Terra in 1988. Lissa is responsible for the desserts, including as light, airy and evocative a tiramisu as you are likely to find and a lovely brandy snap filled with orange rice. She is also the friendly figure greeting guests.

Terra was on its way to building a wine list of classic proportions when more than 600 cases of older wine, awaiting inclusion on the main list, were lost in a warehouse fire in June 2000. Friends of the restaurant dipped into their own wineries' libraries to replace at least some of the losses. At 400 wines it's not a blockbuster list, but eye-catching choices such as verticals of Dunn, Foreman, Silver Oak and Diamond Creek from the 1980s go well beyond what you find on the many current-vintage-centric lists out there these days. --H.S.

540 Main St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 252-8115
Web site www.angele.us
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost $11-$28

This French-style bistro may be little known outside Napa Valley, but it won't be so for long. Not only does it have owners with impressive track records, its kitchen delivers quality at a fair price.

The owners are Claude Rouas, who built Auberge du Soleil, and his daughters Claudia and Bettina Rouas, the latter former manager of the French Laundry. Chef Christophe Gerard trained at Taillevent in Paris. A former boathouse on the river in revitalized downtown Napa, Angèle has a casual atmosphere, with concrete floors and walls and rough-hewn wooden rafters, but there's plenty of warmth and richness in the classic French food on the table, such as an immaculate blanquette de veau, the old-fashioned veal stew with creamy white sauce. The wine list is solid, offering about 200 selections, split between France and California and mostly priced less than $40. --T.F.

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-1211
Web site www.aubergedusoleil.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Menus $79, $105
Best of Award of Excellence

After nearly four years heading the kitchen here, chef Richard Reddington gave notice in March. In his time, Reddington turned around a food program that had been coasting, instilling an ethic of using the best and freshest ingredients and of searching for subtlety on the plate. He also played beautifully to the extensive wine list, more than 1,000 labels strong. At press time, no successor had been named.

The country-chic dining room is perched at the top of the Auberge du Soleil resort, which spills down the slope of a small canyon facing the town of Rutherford.

The hefty wine list, always good, has become deeper as the resort's investment in earlier vintages pays off. The cellar book bulges with deep verticals of first-growth Bordeaux, some dating to the 1960s, and high-end Napa Cabernets, mainly from the early 1990s, but plenty of good choices in other categories can be had for less than $40. Though fewer in number, wines from Oregon, Washington, Italy and Spain serve as savvy alternatives. --H.S.

Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Lane, Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 224-3300
Web site www.bistrodongiovanni.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $12-$28

A favorite of vintners and local chefs, this bistro is busy and vibrant yet utterly unfussy and comfortable. There is a brightly colored dining room and open kitchen and, on warm days, porch seating, which offers views of vineyards and mountains. There's a hint of France on the menu, but it's largely devoted to that classic Italian fare that's rustic yet sophisticated, like oven-roasted whole fish and a hearty penne Bolognese with duck ragu. Pizzas, thin and crisp from the wood-burning oven, are perfection, with toppings such as wild mushrooms and prosciutto.

The wine list of nearly 300 selections focuses on Italy and California and ranges from hearty, good value reds and whites to collectibles such as Araujo and Screaming Eagle. --T.F.

Bistro Jeanty
6510 Washington St., Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 944-0103
Web site www.bistrojeanty.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15-$29

Père Jeanty
6725 Washington St., Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 945-1000
Web site www.bistropeople.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $10-$26

Owned by chef Philippe Jeanty, who made his name at the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon, these two bistros are just a few blocks apart. Bistro Jeanty prepares classic French country cuisine with a deft touch-cassoulet, coq au vin and the like. The more recently opened Père Jeanty takes a broader Mediterranean view, adding pasta and pizza to the mix of traditional comfort foods. Bistro Jeanty is warmer, more intimate and ultimately more successful because of its more focused menu. The wine lists are limited but nicely complement the cuisine of each restaurant, with Père Jeanty adding Spanish and Italian wines such as Antinori Toscana Tignanello 2000 ($98) to the lineup of Californian and French bottlings found at the bistro. --T.F.

6534 Washington St., Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 944-8037
Web site www.frenchlaundry.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15-$27

It may be set in diminutive Yountville, but this is a French bistro with a big city feel. The dining room, a stylish den done in velvet and burgundy, mosaics and antique light fixtures, seems constantly abuzz and would be at home on any street corner in Paris. So too the menu, which serves classic bistro cuisine such as steak frites and steamed mussels. There's a modest but well-focused wine list, with a slightly higher than typical markup, devoted largely to France and Napa. The zinc-top bar is a favorite late-night hangout. The Bouchon formula has been so successful that chef Thomas Keller, who also owns the French Laundry up the street, has recently opened a second Bouchon in Las Vegas. The opening of Per Se, a version of the French Laundry in New York, was slated for May. --T.F.

7377 St. Helena Highway, Napa (1 mile north of Yountville)
Telephone (707) 944-2749
Web site www.brix.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $17-$31
Award of Excellence

With some of the best sunset views around and an impressive selection of top Napa wines, Brix is a reliable stop along the wine road. Although the kitchen's take on California cuisine is a little too predictable at times, it's not without satisfaction. The atmosphere is certainly welcoming. Step inside and browse the restaurant's retail wine shop. The dining room, with its polished wood highlights and peaked ceiling, recalls an elegant ski lodge. --T.F.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-1200
Web site www.cindysbackstreetkitchen.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $14-$26

Cindy Pawlcyn revolutionized Napa Valley dining back in the 1980s with Mustards Grill, which brought serious intent to a casual menu. Her new place in St. Helena plays on her strengths, such as birds and meats roasted with smoky wood or braised to soulful depths. Latin American dishes and a popular meat loaf are among the items that distinguish this menu from the one at Mustards. Here the bright, cheerful dining room is a perfect setting for meltingly tender wood-oven duck or the platonic ideal of a roasted artichoke with roasted lemon, not to mention the best mixed fry in the valley. Reflecting the sharp eye of a Napa insider, the wine list comprises 125 mostly California choices and aims for diversity and value, with offerings such as White Cottage Sangiovese Howell Mountain 1998 ($30). Desserts, cocktails and ales are also tempting. --H.S.

Cole's Chop House
1122 Main St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 224-6328
Web site www.coleschophouse.citysearch.com
Open Dinner, nightly
Cost Entrées $15-$42
Award of Excellence

Because Napa is Cabernet country, this steak house is a natural, and with its rough-hewn stone walls, bustling bar, loft and tall ceilings creating a distinctly urban feel, Cole's also offers a change of pace from the ubiquitous, cozy wine country bistro. The menu is as traditional as can be, but sometimes a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing is just what you need. The restaurant serves both Angus beef and Prime steak, the latter dry-aged for 21 days. Except for a little salt and pepper, they arrive unadorned straight from the grill. The moderately priced wine list of more than 200 selections includes a solid collection of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a handful of reds and whites from around the world. --T.F.

Martini House
1245 Spring St., St. Helena
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-2233
Web site www.kuleto.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $14-$36
Best of Award of Excellence

Innovative restaurant designer Pat Kuleto, who owns top San Francisco dining rooms such as Boulevard, Farallon and Jardinière, opened Martini House in 2001. Set in a 1923 Craftsman bungalow, the restaurant is at once cozy and dramatically stylish in Kuleto's trademark fashion, with features such as Indian basket light fixtures reflecting a design inspired by Napa history. The outdoor dining here is one of the more elegant alfresco experiences in the valley. Chef and partner Todd Humphries, formerly of San Francisco's Campton Place, creates a menu of what Kuleto calls "Napa cuisine," soothing creations focused on local, seasonal ingredients. The wine list has about 700 selections, with a strong showing of Napa favorites plus a wide offering of varietals and regions from around the world. --T.F.

Mustards Grill
7399 St. Helena Highway, Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 944-2424
Web site www.mustardsgrill.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15-$22

Mustards set the tone for the casual wine country restaurant when it opened its doors nearly 20 years ago, and it's still the best of the breed today. Relying heavily on spanking-fresh local ingredients and the aromatic tang of the smoke oven and grill, chef-owner Pawlcyn delivers smoky, juicy pork chops, rabbit and lamb shanks. The mountain of ultrathin onion rings still earns huzzahs, while desserts such as a warm, oozing, hazelnut truffle tart reward anyone with sufficient appetite. From the early days, it was a badge of honor for a Napa Valley winery to make it onto Mustards' list. It's titled "Way Too Many Wines," but it's actually a tightly plotted tour of the hot and new and the tried and true, chosen with care. It's broad rather than deep, and the prices are fair. A wine and food lover's visit to Napa Valley is incomplete without lunch or dinner here. --H.S.

Restaurant at Domaine Chandon
1 California Drive, Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (800) 736-2892
Web site www.chandon.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Thursday to Monday; closed January
Cost Entrées $24-$34, menu $90
Award of Excellence

One of the first serious restaurants in Napa Valley, the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon still rates for its elegant, modern dining room overlooking the tree-lined winery grounds adorned with witty artworks. The French-inspired cuisine complements Chandon's wines as well as the list's pretty good batch of other California bottlings, which includes some venerable Napa Valley names. Most of what comes out of the kitchen is well-executed, but few items sing like the velouté of spelt (whole wheat kernels) with poached scallop and pistachio. This marvelous play of earth and sea is lovely with Chandon Brut Reserve. Service misses the small details but it is mostly fine. It all adds up to a pleasurable experience, especially with a flute of Étoile in hand. --H.S.

Restaurant Pearl
1339 Pearl St., Napa
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 224-9161
Web site www.therestaurantpearl.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $13-$22

Every neighborhood should have a friendly, unpretentious bistro as good as this one, located in an airy, art-filled corner of a small Mission-style office building on a busy side street on Napa's east side. Chicken thighs simmered with mild green chiles make a wonderful taco with hot, fresh tortillas and a spoonful of polenta. Puffy corn pancakes lift an appetizer of smoked salmon. A short, 50-wine list delves into some of the niftier corners of Napa Valley with wines like Havens Albariño Carneros 2002 ($35). --H.S.

Tra Vigne
1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 963-4444
Web site www.travignerestaurant.com
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $12-$26
Credit cards Visa, MasterCard

For many visitors to wine country, Tra Vigne is the quintessential Napa Valley restaurant, from its shady courtyard and Tuscany-meets-Hollywood interior to a menu that fuses Italy with the best of California. While the food and the wine list are short on excitement, they are long on comfort. The menu ranges from delicately flavored grilled calamari to house-made pastas to the restaurant's signature smoked and braised short ribs on creamy polenta. The wine list delivers a sound yet eclectic selection from California and Italy, with a carafe program that focuses on easy-sipping wines. In the summer, when the courtyard is open for outdoor dining, there are more than 40 wines poured by the glass. --T.F.

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St., Yountville
Map this and nearby establishments
Telephone (707) 944-2380
Web site www.frenchlaundry.com
Open Lunch, Friday to Sunday; dinner, nightly
Cost Menus $115, $135
Best of Award of Excellence

Napa Valley's most famous restaurant is missing from this report. The French Laundry, located in Yountville, closed temporarily in January while chef-owner Thomas Keller focused on the opening of Per Se, his new restaurant in New York. Per Se, after some delays, was scheduled to open in May.

Keller expects to reopen the French Laundry in May as well, with an expanded wine cellar, remodeled kitchen and an eco-friendly climate control system. The dining room is mostly unchanged, and Keller's menu will follow the same format as before. The French Laundry is famous for its extensive, theatrical meals of a dozen or more courses in small portions, each more elaborate, exquisite and witty than the last. But with Keller dividing his time between the two restaurants, and with some of the West Coast staff moving to New York to work at Per Se, it didn't seem appropriate to include the French Laundry without an up-to-date review, and it was closed when Wine Spectator was visiting restaurants for this story. --H.S.


All Seasons Cafe
1400 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-9111
Open Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday; lunch, Friday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $12 to $22

At All Seasons Cafe, a casually chic, old-time Calistoga atmosphere meets up with some of the best in contemporary Calistoga cuisine. The artfully prepared Mediterranean-inspired meals here are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate, offering both substance and finesse. Don't worry about finding the right wine to accompany your meal. All Seasons, both a restaurant and wine shop, boasts one of the best wine lists in Napa Valley. In addition to a fine roster of California and other West Coast selections, there is an impressive array of Burgundies to choose from. The list also features some 60 aged California wines going back to the 1960s, all quite reasonably priced. Current releases won't set you back either, with a markup of only $10 over retail. (6/6/2001)

Brannan's Grill
1374 Lincoln St., Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-2233
Web site www.brannansgrill.com
Open Lunch & dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15 to $28

Named for the founding father of Calistoga, Sam Brannan, Brannan's Grill is a relatively recent addition to the city's dining scene. With tiled floors and lots of carved wood, the spacious interior can be a bit noisy, but it is also quite attractive. Come here if you're hungry, for portions are large. The menu offers a diverse "comfort food" theme, with hearty, robust entrées like wild mushroom and gnocci ragout and smoked pork shop. The appetizers, however, generally lack the finesse of the main courses. The Napa-heavy wine list offers resonable prices and ample selections of most varietals, but is lacking in vintage depth. (6/6/2001)

Wappo Bar Bistro
1226B Washington St., Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-4712
Website www.wappobar.com
Open Lunch & dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entreés $14 to $24
Award of Excellence

Wappo is like a big country farmhouse, hidden just a few yards away from the main street in downtown Calistoga. Its large patio, sheltered by an enormous grape arbor, provides a perfect setting for alfresco dining. Husband-and-wife chef-owners Aaron Bauman and Michelle Mutrux have traveled widely, and the kitchen here is "globally" influenced, with hints of Brazil, Mexico, Asia, France and India. Portions are copious, but flavors are delicate, featuring such items as Lamb Shank Tagine with raisins, fava beans, coriander and harissa. The wine list is eclectic, with many good choices to fit the food, if a bit lacking in vintage depth; if you'd like to bring your own bottle, corkage here is just $8.50. (6/6/2001)

Pinot Blanc
641 Main St., St. Helena
Telephone (707) 963-6191
Website www.patinagroup.com
Open Lunch & dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15 to $27
Best of Award of Excellence

The creation of famed Los Angeles chef Joachim Splichal, Pinot Blanc has shaped its culinary identity around sophisticated cooking served with a touch of humor. Entries on the menu include "high-cholesterol foie gras with honey-thyme roasted quince" and "soup of yesterday." But the execution is nothing but serious, with attentive service and presentation backed by dishes brimming with flavor. Splichal calls his restaurant a country bistro, and in fact, selections such as oxtail potpie and duck confit with French lentils fit the description. But there is also great refinement as well as variety, from the seafood to grilled meats. A good selection of California wines is available to complement any meal here. Those seeking a French fix will find a number of interesting aged Bordeaux and Burgundies to wet their whistles. (6/6/2001)

Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant
2555 Main St. (Route 29), St. Helena
Telephone (707) 967-1010
Open Lunch & dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $18 to $32

Located in the century-old former Christian Brothers Greystone winery -- now the western campus of the Culinary Institute of America -- Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant offers a dining experience enhanced by Napa Valley history. Although it is run by the Culinary Institute, the Mediterranean-style cuisine at Greystone is prepared by professionals in three open cooking areas that feature the latest in both traditional and modern cooking technologies. Try the tapas (little Spanish plates) for starters. Larger, grilled whole fish, glazed breast of duck or braised lamb shank make fine main courses. On the wine front, a fairly extensive California list features current releases from many of the state's best producers. (Wine Spectator does not own or operate the restaurant, but as a donor to the Culinary Institute of America, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation was instrumental in the restaurant's creation.) (6/6/2001)

Napa Valley Grille
6795 Washington St., Yountville
Telephone (707) 944-8686
Website www.napavalleygrille.com
Open Lunch & dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday
Cost Entrées $14 to $27
Best of Award of Excellence

This spacious yet intimate dining room serves up views of the Mayacamas Mountains across the street as well as a Mediterranean-inspired Napa Valley cuisine. An extensive, mostly Napa wine list offers many fine foils for lunch or dinner. (6/6/2001)

Foothill Cafe
2766 Old Sonoma Road, Napa
Telephone (707) 252-6178
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Moderate

Foothill Cafe has more of the raw character of nearby Sonoma than the polish of Napa. This little hideaway, where local winemakers go to eat well and enjoy their friends' wines, is a casual place. Located at the southern edge of Napa city, the restaurant is really in the Carneros district. The food is gourmet macho -- sophisticated flavors in mammoth portions. The eclectic selection of well-seasoned fish and meat dishes, fresh vegetables and serious desserts has no easy label -- call it "Carneros cuisine." Although Foothill Cafe is only a mile off Route 29, you probably want to call for directions, as the restaurant is tucked inside a small mall outside the usual tourist routes. (6/6/2001)

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