Oxbow Odyssey: A Taste of the Options at Napa's Newest Market

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by Courtney Cochranoxbow.jpg

If the flurry of construction that's been underway along the waterfront in downtown Napa is any indicator, the once-sleepy city is on the brink of becoming a major tourist destination. And the Oxbow Public Market (oxbowpublicmarket.com) - at just three months' old one of the newest additions to the downtown area - may be one of the city's most promising new arrivals.  Read on for the scoop on our favorite purveyors in this venue that looks poised to become the next big thing in a whole new Napa.

Spice Market
Whole Spice owners Ronit and Shuli Madmone bring a passion for the world's best spices to their charming shop inside the main Oxbow Market space.  With 300 different spices - many of which are certified organic - and 50-60 custom blends, Whole Spice is a veritable oasis of smells and flavors derived from the likes of the familiar - think allspice and vanilla - as well as the exotic - ajowan to zhug, anyone?  As you might expect, tastes, recipes and seasoning advice are doled out liberally.  

Antique Escape
With its small but expertly edited selection of heirloom culinary antiques, Heritage Culinary Artifacts affords Market shoppers a welcome diversion from caloric consumption.  Owner Lisa Minucci's global collection of wine-, food- and cooking-inspired objects emphasizes pieces that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional and includes the likes of antique wine glasses, vintage cake trays, food scales, wall hangings and bespoke copper pots.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of it looks good enough to eat.     

Model Citizen
A fixture in downtown St. Helena for over 80 years, Model Bakery opened its much anticipated second outpost in the annex wing just to the west of the main Oxbow building.  Owners Karen and Sarah Mitchell use organic stone ground flours and the best quality ingredients to create their signature artisan breads and decadent pastry products like the outrageously rich - and decidedly delicious - Chocolate Caramel Fleur du Sel Tart.  Sandwiches and coffee drinks round out the offerings at this welcome newcomer.

Big Winer
The Oxbow Wine Merchant - the Napa outpost of Master Sommelier Peter Granoff's wildly successful Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco - has all the makings of another wine retail hit.  With a plum location at the northwest corner of the Market, the large space draws abundant natural light courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the river basin outside, and a small but well-thought-out selection of small bites that partner well with the many adventurous wines available by the glass.

Cheese Please
Situated inside the same sunny corner space as the Oxbow Wine Merchant, the Oxbow Cheese Merchant offers a good selection of domestic and imported artisan cheeses.  The friendly staff is generous with tastes for those who feel the need to try before taking the plunge, and wine and cheese pairings are available - naturally - any time at Oxbow Wine Merchant's adjacent wine bar.  Looking for a cheese to enjoy with your wine at home?  Just bring the bottle by the counter and they'll fix you right up.  Talk about convenience.

Vittle Venue
Attention meat eaters:  The first retail outlet of standout Bay Area charcuterie The Fatted Calf can be found next door to Model Bakery in the western annex of the Oxbow.  There, owners Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller - who rocketed to cult foodie fame thanks to their popular stands at the Berkeley and Ferry Building farmers markets - sell and process the full lineup of their sustainably produced sausages, salumi, pâtés and confits as well as quail, chicken and various cuts of pork.  Daily sandwiches are also available.  

Cheeseburger in Paradise
Though we do our best to avoid hyperbole, we feel it's safe to say that the Oxbow wouldn't be a fabulous food space without an outpost of St. Helena's stellar burger purveyor, Taylor's Refresher.  At its can't-miss location on the southwest corner of the Oxbow complex, the critically acclaimed "fine" fast food joint deftly melds modern design with vintage flair reminiscent of the St. Helena original (founded in 1949).  Don't miss the splurge-worthy garlic fries, classic burgers and hand-scooped milkshakes.     

Sweet Sensations
Sweets lovers looking for the scoop on conscionable consumption will be impressed with the green regime at Three Twins' Organic Ice Cream in the main Oxbow building.  Featuring strictly organic ingredients, compostable dishes made from sugar cane fiber and spoons made from potatoes, the spot is one of the few certified organic "scoop shops" in the country.  And thanks to tasty flavors like Mint Confetti, Cookie Jar and Strawberry Je Ne Sais Quoi, patrons can enjoy seriously good sweets alongside a clear conscience.  

Coming Soon to the Oxbow

High On the Hog
Hold on to your hats, oyster fans!  The insanely popular Hog Island Oyster Company is coming soon to Oxbow, where it will occupy a large space at the north end of the main building.  Since its founding in 2003, the original Hog Island oyster bar at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Marketplace has been delighting Bay Area food fanatics with its sweet and succulent Tomales Bay-farmed oysters.  We expect similarly rave-worthy experiences for visitors to the Napa location, which opens later this year.  

Cool Beans
Ritual Coffee Roasters made a splash in 2005 with the opening of their now über-popular outpost in San Francisco's trendy Mission District.  The folks behind the beanery - who will open their third location inside the Oxbow's main building - credit their success to uncompromising attention to detail:  They select only the best green coffee beans from around the world, roast them under strict standards on-site, and put their baristas through an exacting training program.  The proof - and so much more - is in the coffee mug.

Don't miss these other outstanding purveyors: Pica Pica Maize Kitchen Venezuelan cuisine, Rôtisario mouth-watering rotisserie, Folio Enoteca & Winery casual menu paired with wine tastings, environmentally responsible (and superb) Kanaloa Seafood, Anette's Chocolate Factory - a Napa tradition, Fête entertainment supplies, Five Dot Ranch sustainably produced natural beef, Kitchen Library culinary books and periodicals, The Olive Press olives and oils, The Tillerman Tea Company, plus fresh farm stands.

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I'm still not too impressed with the offerings at Oxbow Market. It's certainly no San Francisco Ferry Market Building.

I tried recently the Pica Pica place and was disappointed with their offerings. Besides being very pricey, the food was heavy and not very tasty. I think the food needs more seasoning. And the offerings at the daily Farmer's Market was quite dismal. In general, I don't think I'll be a frequent customer to the places in the market itself

Best bets for people if they are coming to downtown Napa near COPIA is Taylor's Refresher (just outside the Market building) which makes beyond believable burgers. And if you're not burger fan, try their chicken sandwiches. I'm a personal fan of their Chicken Club sandwich.

Also really good is any of the offerings at the Model Bakery. They have the usual cookies, cakes, bars, and danishes, etc. In addition, their pizza, sandwiches and salads are really good as well!

I recently visited the Oxbow Market in March and even though I was disappointed that there wasn't more shops open, it has a lot of potential. I found the sales persons very knowledgeable and I really had fun in Whole Spice and Anette's Chocolate Factory.

I just think the center needs more time to develope. How can you go wrong with Taylor's Refresher and the Model Bakery?

I look forward to my next visit to see the progress!

Try Whole Spice; Shuli sells even small amounts. The spices are wonderful.

The market in general needs to grow, though.

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