Like many others, I first went to Napa for the wine and came away wowed and dazzled by the food. Great restaurants use an astonishing array of fresh ingredients to create wonderful dishes, usually of the simple, vibrant ilk. Every return trip has meant exciting new (to me) venues, including Solbar in Calistoga and Morimoto in the town of Napa last month.
And as swell as it is to savor this gastro-utopia at a table, I actually prefer to eat at the bar, at least when there are just one or two of us. The full menu is available without fail. It’s generally a great perch for people-watching. The person behind the bar is usually a seasoned pro in food service — someone who has made this his or her profession, not the “I’m just doing this until I get enough acting/modeling gigs” types encountered at all too many restaurants. Plus they almost assuredly know how lucky they are to live in such a fabulous place and work at such a cool eatery.
But the big bonus is that this is where the people who do the truly important work in Napa tend to hang out. While the nouveau riche winery owners are regaling one another in the main dining area, the winemakers, vineyard managers and cellarmasters often are just enjoying a nice meal and a beverage (often a beer; as the saying goes, “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine”) at the bar.
I’ve had particular luck meeting such folks at two of Twin Cities native Cindy Pawlcyn’s superb restaurants, Mustards Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. But I’ve also encountered cool Napa-ites at Press, Bistro Jeanty and downstairs in the atmospheric bar at Goose & Gander.
Oh, and most recently, the octopus seemed a little more tender and the sake a touch sweeter at the convivial sushi bar at Morimoto.