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    Napa: Beyond the Wineries

    By David Landis–

    It used to be that a trip to the Napa Valley meant bypassing the sleepy town of Napa, heading directly to the bucolic hills and wineries of the Valley.

    Not anymore.

    The town of Napa is now abuzz with activity—prominent restaurants, one of the region’s best food markets, a plethora of wine tasting rooms, hip hotels, haberdasheries, a river promenade, even a jazz club—and more. In fact, a weekend trip to the Valley isn’t complete anymore without a stop in this delightful burg.

    Years ago, downtown Napa was a shell of its current self. Floods, wildfires, and an earthquake made locals take another look at how to preserve the town for the future. Credit several Napa visionaries—Harry Price (who inspired the downtown river walk, now named for him), former Mayor Jill Techel, and developer Todd Zapolski—for turning lemons into lemonade. What happened? A revitalized and energized walkable downtown with a gorgeous flood-control river promenade and vitality on every corner.

    The Gay Gourmet recently spent an extended weekend discovering how inviting this town is, and I’ve collected some of my personal favorites for my loyal readers.

    One of the anchors of Napa’s new downtown is the design-forward Archer Hotel Napa, which was home base for our extended weekend jaunt. Located on First Street, smackdab in the middle of downtown, this hotel has a lobby that opens into a captivating three-story atrium in its lobby; the celebrity chef-driven Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant (overseen by Executive Chef Francisco Lopez, Jr); a rooftop spa (which just re-opened with gemstone treatments) and swimming pool; and my personal favorite, Sky & Vine, the hip rooftop bar and restaurant. Oh, and did I mention how dog-friendly the hotel is?

    First things first: our suite—with panoramic Valley views on three sides—had a modern mid-century vibe with an inviting living room to read a book while sipping the best of the Valley; a generous kitchenette with ample counter space, complete with (of course!) a wine cooler, a refrigerator, Keurig coffee machine, and microwave; a gorgeous modern two-sink bath, separate bathtub and shower and private toilet area; and a colorful backlit art mural wall separating the bathroom from the main bedroom. For the pooches, the suite also has its own dog bed and recommendations for pet-friendly wineries nearby. (Alphonse and Gaston approved!) The king-size bed was comfortable enough for two grown men to sprawl comfortably. Best of all? Our suite included a beautiful balcony with its own fireplace where we could enjoy cocktails while admiring the mountain—and city—views.

    While they don’t take reservations, the hotel’s rooftop Sky & Vine is the hip and happening place to be. We even had cocktails (with the dogs!) while a storm powered through downtown. Luckily, half the bar and restaurant is covered and the other half offers firepits and magnificent views from every corner. The food is what you would expect—but elevated: bar food with quality ingredients. Sky & Vine has a full bar with innovative craft cocktails like the Pisco-inspired Cusco’s Escape, as well as a wine list that is small but well-curated.

    My personal food recommendations are the red pepper hummus with just enough zing served with homemade pita bread, as well as the yummy and moist smash burger with a 7-ingredient secret sauce and American cheese on a brioche bun, accompanied by extra crispy fries. Our party also enjoyed the jumbo shrimp cocktail (and they do mean “jumbo”) and “Frankie’s hot wings” with celery, carrots, and ranch dressing. Ask for server Riah, whose welcoming style (and handmade Negroni) made our day. Peter Triolo, Archer Hotel Napa’s dynamic Food & Beverage Director, even told me they’re about to open a second bar devoted to whisky and will install a pizza oven soon. All in all, Archer Hotel Napa is a luxurious, relaxing, and delicious must.

    While staying at the hotel you can either have breakfast downstairs or, as we did, opt to walk down the street on your morning dog walk to Starbuck’s.It’s at the corner of First and Main and has an ample outdoor dining area. Nearby, there’s a charming riverfront park, Veteran’s Memorial Park, at Third St. and Main—close enough for one’s daily dog outings. (Just make sure your dog is leashed and that you pick up.)

    Downtown, there’s also another hotel property worthy of note: the River Terrace Inn. While we didn’t stay there, the rooms look gorgeously appointed and its riverfront location just off the beaten path gives the hotel a quiet elegance. We did make it to Alba, the Inn’s restaurant, to enjoy cocktails (with the dogs) on its cozy, lounge-like patio overlooking the Napa River. According to the restaurant, the menu “highlights shareable, seasonal small plates to pair with wine and craft mixology, featuring Napa Valley local products and natural ingredients.” The terrace offers lives music on Fridays and Saturdays and the inviting firepits are welcome on those chilly autumn or winter Napa evenings. Best of all, the terrace hosts monthly “yappy hours” for our four-footed pals!

    Another place to stay downtown is the charmingly renovated Victorian, The George. We didn’t stay there, but our friends raved about the sumptuous accommodations, the proximity to downtown, and the delicious breakfasts.

    While you’re downtown, be sure to take a stroll along the river promenade (there are numerous restaurants with outdoor terraces—more on that later) and head over to the Oxbow Public Market,a mini Ferry Building type marketplace filled with gourmet food eateries and offerings. Some of my favorites include: modern Japanese cuisine at Eiko’s at Oxbow, Hog Island Oyster Bar, Kara’s Cupcakes, and Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant. The surrounding neighborhood now sports the grassy Oxbow Commons for leisurely meandering, numerous indie restaurants, bars, shops, and wine tasting rooms—well worth an afternoon of browsing. Check out Model Bakery, Whole Spice, Fieldwork Brewing, Napa Valley Distillery, and the Culinary Institute of America at Copia for starters. Also downtown and worth noting is the Blue Note Napa jazz club at Napa’s old Opera House (re-opening November 11). It’s an outpost of the famous New York club and has live performances regularly.

    So, let’s get to the food. It used to be that to find great food you’d need to head towards Yountville or St. Helena. Not so anymore. Downtown Napa is now a foodie destination as well.

    Along the riverfront, a not-to-be-missed foodie haven is the splashy and sophisticated Japanese-California eatery Morimoto Napa, located on Main Street with a giant patio overlooking the Napa River. Their COVID protocols are exemplary: vaccine cards are a must and the host takes everyone’s temperature upon arrival. The wine list tends toward California offerings. Besides a well-balanced Negroni, our party ordered the Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, a perfect, dry and clean complement to the start of our meal. The restaurant has more than twenty sakes on order: our friends selected the house hot sake, which they declared a winner.

    Morimoto’s menu is prime for sharing, so our party ordered several starters. Hot edamame with a dusting of sea salt began our meal, and next we sampled the tasty and popular rock shrimp tempura, served with crème fraiche two ways: with tangy wasabi aioli and spicy kochujang sauce. We continued with Morimoto’s tofu miso soup—among the best anywhere—with a white miso broth, not overly salty and abundant with large chunks of silky tofu. We then shared four pieces of immaculate maguro sushi that melted in our mouths; a super fresh tempura shrimp roll and soft-shell crab roll; and a perfectly-cooked braised black cod with a ginger-soy reduction, a dish for which we wanted to lick the plate. The cheesecake souffle was calling our name for dessert, but, alas, we were too full to indulge.

    Also along the riverfront is the French-inspired Angele Restaurant.We had been there on a previous trip and loved it, but a rainstorm intervened this weekend and we weren’t able to visit. Next time! Another great downtown spot is the Italian restaurant Oenotri, with a beautiful courtyard patio. There, we sampled a buttery homemade pasta sprinkled with black truffles, alongside a Provence-style Lobo rosé wine from a local Napa Valley winemaker. For dessert, we opted for the cheese plate, which included: a buttery San Joaquin Gold cow’s milk; a mellow Point Reyes Bay Blue; and the semi-soft Boschetto al Tartufo, a sheep’s milk from Italy—all delicious!

    Other recommended dining spots include the local’s (and my) favorite, Bistro Don Giovanni (BDG). This Yountville mainstay boasts a luxurious outdoor dining lawn adjoining the vineyards. From start to finish, the food is authentically Italian. We had a lovely lunch, starting with glasses of: sparkling Domaine Carneros Brut by Taittinger; Monticelli Brothers red blend; Ott rose; and a Negroni with 209 gin, which might become my new go-to gin (although I am partial to the Napa Valley gin, Loch & Union).

    From there, we tried the pear and insalata misto salad with candied walnuts, pomegranates, butter lettuce, goat cheese, and a muscatel vinaigrette—as well as the reliable Caesar salad with homemade, crispy croutons. BDG’s moist, homemade focaccia is served with its own olive oil and well worth the drive alone. Whenever I return, I can’t resist BDG’s mouth-watering Mandilli handkerchief pasta—light and airy—with a piquant Genovese basil pesto. It’s a dish that is utterly addictive. Since this second course was a pasta, I had to order a glass of my favorite Chianti, the Tenuto di Arceno, a light but dry example from the Chianti region. My husband opted for the traditional pasta Bolognese (he finished every bite) and our friends chose the special fettucine with sausage, porcini mushrooms, tomato, and Parmigiano. For dessert, we sampled the aromatic sea salt caramel gelato with the hard chocolate shell; and the creamy single malt butterscotch pudding. In short, everything on the menu deserves a five-star rating.

    Perhaps a new fave is the glamorous RH Yountville, which I’ve written about before. But it’s so good, it bears mentioning again. Lunch there is like taking a trip to Provence or Tuscany. At the outdoor tables, you’re nestled among hundred-year-old olive trees—but the inside also beckons with luxurious chandeliers and a fountain that enchants adjacent diners. This time around, we chose the Mosel white wine (dry, but slightly sweet), the Whispering Angel rosé (dry, with strawberry notes), the Roederer sparkling rosé, and the Pierre Sparr ruby red sparkling rosé, a Cremant that was more full-bodied. For lunch, we split RH’s smashburger with “sharp American” cheese and a dijonnaise sauce, a just-off-the-farm green salad with feta cheese and avocado, the creamiest potato purée you’ve ever tasted, a tender lobster roll on a brioche bun, and crispy French fries. Put RH on your foodie destination list now!

    So that’s it on the Napa food and travel front for this issue. Next time, we’ll continue our Napa sojourn with winery visits to Alpha Omega winery, Artesa,and Domaine Chandon! Stay tuned!

    Bits and Bites

    Thanksgiving notes: This year, One Market Restaurant offers its classic three-course Thanksgiving menu on Thursday, November 25. For $85 per person or $49 per child 10 & under, the menu will feature dishes such as a Caramelized Pear & Arugula Salad, Roasted Willie Bird Turkey, and Pumpkin Tart. Pickup for orders is November 24 only. Villon Executive Chef Jason Fox at the San Francisco Proper Hotel has curated a four-course prix fixe menu, showcasing the seasonality of California ingredients ($105 per person, $40 for children under 12). Festive beverages are available, including vintage bourbons or reserve wine pairing ($45). The San Francisco Proper offers indoor and heated outdoor seating. International Smoke’s Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry will celebrate Thanksgiving with a buffetof fall classics and sweets on Thursday, November 25, from 11 am–6 pm. Highlights include Roasted Cauliflower with tahini, pomegranate and pistachio; Cedar-Smoked salmon, Wagyu Prime Rib with smoked beef jus and horseradish cream; Smoked Turkey with cranberry and truffle gravy; Apple Cobbler; Pumpkin “It’s Its”; Inga’s Pecan Pie; and a special menu of kids’ bites including Chicken Tenders, Mini “Rib-Wiches,” and Macaroni and Cheese.$89 per person and $39 for kids 12 and younger. You can also enjoy International Smoke in your home with its International Smoke Thanksgiving Feast to Go menu. There will be pick-up orders and delivery of International Smokevia MINA Family Kitchen.Order by Tuesday, November 23, and pick up inside PABU Restaurant at 101 California Street; delivery via Tock ( ). Highlights include Butternut Squash Soup with toasted hazelnuts and pumpernickel croutons; Truffle Caesar Salad with onion crema, truffle vinaigrette, and parmesan; Smoked Turkey Breast with truffle gravy; Asiago Stuffed Potatoes; Cornbread Stuffing; and Apple Crumble Pie for dessert. $299 per package that serves four. There will be minimal heating and prep required at home, and instructions will be included. For its annual Day of Giving, Wednesday, November 17, Gott’s Roadside will donate 20% of all sales from its locations in St. Helena, Napa, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Marin, and Walnut Creek to local education foundations. Gott’s focuses its charitable efforts on K–12 education in the Bay Area. Last year, the company donated more than $14,000 from its Day of Giving. 

    San Francisco’s famed Top of the Mark is now offering a “Champagne Experience,” a new partnership between champagne maker Piper Heidsieck and Astrea Caviar, with two new custom-made champagne carts.

    The craft-cocktail destination Comstock Saloon just re-opened October 26 and welcomed new chef Ian Begg of Naked Lunch San Francisco fame.

    Ice cream made with upcycled cookies, malty beer, and 14 years of ice cream ingenuity? Yup, only at Bay Area favorite Humphry Slocombe, which just debuted its Stout & Ginger Cookie Ice Cream. $1 from every sale goes to the nonprofit Food Shift.

    Fabrizia Lemon Baking Company wasn’t on the Gay Gourmet’s radar—but I recently sampled the company’s products with my friends Ellen and Dale. The limoncello biscotti have a softer texture (no dipping required) and a nice lemon flavor balanced with almond; they’d be delicious with a cup of vanilla rooibos tea. The company’s limoncello cookies are perfection: a nice lemon taste and we loved the chewy texture. And the limoncello itself? Marvelous!

    I like that young chef Sahana Vij has written a new book, Bake Away, about how baking fosters creativity and connection. Even better, she is donating 100% of the proceeds to No Kid Hungry, a campaign run by Share Our Strength. No Kid Hungry fights child hunger by distributing grants to schools, food banks, and community organizations across the U.S. to help them get what they need to feed our kids.

    AYO Almond Yogurt has come out with a new cookbook comprising thirty-six recipes for breakfast, snacks and desserts. The recipes are created by or inspired by fan favorite chefs and influencers and all include the company’s signature yogurt. 

    After occupying The Vault Space (now The Vault Steakhouse) as a pop-up, Trestle has now returned to 531 Jackson Street along with its $39, three-course prix-fixe menu that has been a best value San Francisco favorite since 2015.  

    The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel re-opened its restaurant, Fredericks, which honors the hotel’s founder. The restaurant has relocated to its original hotel location and Michelin-star chef Daniel Corey presides over the kitchen.

    The New York Times’ list of the top 50 U.S. restaurants includes these local favorites: Mister Jiu’s, Nari, The Marshall Store, and The Anchovy Bar.

    For More Information

    Visit Napa Valley:
    Archer Hotel Napa:
    Charlie Palmer Steak at Archer Hotel Napa:
    Sky & Vine at Archer Hotel Napa:
    Starbuck’s Napa:
    River Terrace Inn:
    Alba restaurant at the River Terrace Inn:
    The George:
    Oxbow Public Market:
    Culinary Institute of America at Copia:
    Morimoto Napa:
    Angele Restaurant & Bar Napa:
    Bistro Don Giovanni:
    RH Yountville restaurant:
    Alpha Omega Winery:
    Artesa Vineyards & Winery:
    Domaine Chandon Winery:
    One Market Restaurant:
    Villon at the San Francisco Proper Hotel:
    International Smoke:
    Gott’s Roadside:

    Top of the Mark at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel:
    Comstock Saloon:
    Humphry Slocombe:
    Fabrizia Lemon Baking Company:
    Bake Away:
    AYO Almond Yogurt:
    Fredericks at The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel:
    Loch & Union Gin:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    Published on November 4, 2021