Go West, Young Gourmand

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uptown-theater.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

According to my friend Chris (@NapaChris on twitter), a New York Times reporter stopped in to his tasting room last week as part of an upcoming piece on Napa's developing  "West End" district.  Pretentious name aside, national coverage is well deserved.  This part of town has some of the best--and best priced--foodie fun Napa has to offer.

I don't know how the Times is planning to define the region, but I'd say the cool stuff is bounded by Seminary Street on the west, 4th Street to the south, Coombs Street to the east, and 1st Street to the north--a small area to be sure, but one that already boasts four note-worthy restaurants, a swanky boutique hotel, a newly renovated historic live music venue, several intensely social art galleries, and two of my favorite tasting rooms in Napa.
tastingroomextnight.jpgFor an offbeat, urban chic experience with zero pretension and 90 point wines, check out the joint tasting room for Olabisi and Trahan Wineries at 974 Franklin Street.  The space looks like a SOMA loft accented with burlap and wine pallet furnishings, and thanks to NapaChris, always has killer music going to enhance the delight of the wines themselves.  Don't miss the Trahan Rutherford merlot (seriously--this is no flabby fruit bomb) or the unusual 100% petite verdot.  On the Olabisi side, you'll find more delicious surprises, including two chardonnays with 91+ ratings for $35 and under.  

cejatr.jpgOnce you've tried Olabisi's Ceja Vineyard chardonnay, stroll down First Street and compare it against the chardonnay the Ceja family makes from the same land.  Ceja Vineyards opened its downtown tasting room in late 2008, pouring the family's excellent wines by the taste and glass, and hosting salsa dancing parties every Saturday night.  The pinot noirs here make mouths happy, so be sure to try both the Carneros and Sonoma Coast versions.

If hunger strikes and it's still breakfast time, stop in at ABC Bakery or Grace's Table for homemade baked goods, fresh produce, and hearty breakfast goodies.  ABC's potato buns are legendary for breakfast sandwiches, as are their enormous cookies and salads at lunchtime.  Chef Mauro at Grace's makes homemade doughnuts, jams from the fruit in his garden, huge buttermilk pancakes, and everything else on the menu too.  The man never sleeps.  Grace's is open breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.  (I wish I could have told that to Iron Chef Morimoto, who was recently spotted ordering a foot-long at Subway after discovering his hotel restaurant didn't serve lunch.)

Tour_de_Force_th.jpgWhen you've got a few hours before dinner, check out the art at Quent Cordair Gallery, which also hosts a myriad of social get-togethers for locals and "tweeps" who happen to follow the gallery.  If there's not a wine-themed BYOB tweetup while you're in town, stop in anyway and chat with Linda Cordair.  She can bring you up to speed on everything happening in Napa's social media scene, and talk about the art for sale, too.

Sweet-tooth-types must visit Anette's Chocolates for ice cream, coffee drinks, wine-infused chocolates, peanut brittle (including one with bacon!!) or just the ambrosial aroma these items create.  (Seriously.  Try the bacon brittle.)  

The deco-fabulous Uptown Theatre re-opened May 14th after a full decade of renovations at an impressively glacial pace.  Now it hosts live performances every weekend by bands ranging from BB King to the B-52s, by way of Lyle Lovett, Ani Di Franco, Cindi Lauper, the Gipsy Kings, and Toad the Wet Sprocket, among many others.  

AVIA hotel picture.jpgAnd finally, at long last, it's time to eat again.  Directly across First Street from the swanky boutique AVIA Hotel, Norman Rose Tavern and Oenotri provide Napa's liveliest dinner scenes.  If you don't have a reservation for dinner, get to know someone who does, or try your luck at the bar.  Both have lively bar scenes where you can order the full menu.

Norman Rose's burgers and sandwiches draw enormous crowds of locals and visitors every night of the week.  Oenotri next door is turning into a favored haunt for industry people, and has a constantly changing menu of seasonal delights from the southern coastal regions of Italy.  No matter what you feel like eating, be sure to order a margherita pizza from their genuine Neapolitan oven, which, like my addiction to their pies, is fired up 24/7.  Fortunately for those of us with a problem, the restaurant is only open for dinner.

Go west now, and ride ahead of the wave that is sure to follow the Times' exposé of this awesome little corner of wine country.


Thanks for writing the article Deirdre. We are honored to be part of the bloom that is Napa's West End. Good times await those who venture into our neighborhood for food, wine, art and fun!