“People who love to eat are always the best people…” – Julia Child
Eat. Sleep. Drink. Repeat.
Napa Valley is the quintessential gourmet pilgrimage, a tasty paradise that titillates the senses and shocks the palate. Like a hungry dog, this region leaves you begging for more.
The art of eating and drinking in Napa Valley is serious business. Over the years, Napa has become my culinary mecca, a place to inspire my own taste buds. Nevertheless, it can be hard to navigate the 600+ wineries and 200+ restaurants.
So behold, Rachel’s Ten Commandments of Gourmet Gluttony…to eat local, like a local.
Commandment 1 – Bring your curiosity
It pays to be curious in Napa. Become a food explorer; wander the menu, travel into new dimensions of taste. Be adventurous. Do not hide behind steaks and seafood. Dive into chicken liver toast, quail, red wine rabbit, braised pork cheeks, roasted bone marrow. Always say YES.
Commandment 2 – Designate a driver
Be responsible. Tipsy is a one-way ticket to trouble. There are ample options for sober transportation (including Mom and Dad!). If you’re feeling active, ride a bike. Napa Valley Bike Tours offers a seriously fun and safe way to discover the region.
Commandment 3 – Always order dessert
And by dessert, I mean lemon meringue the size of your face. One of my all-time favorites, the Lemon-Lime Tart pie at Mustards Grill is stellar. With ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue and candied lemon peel, this is a dessert that is OK to share. For pie lovers, Petaluma Pie Company is another sweet delight.
Commandment 4 – Eat Your Greens
Farm fresh asparagus. Spring peas. Cocktails with arugula? Napa loves and supports its local bounty, with many local restaurants sourcing directly from their own farm to your table. Make sure to check out Long Meadow Ranch, where you can wander the gardens and see for yourself the colors of the seasons. If you want to drink your greens, try “Risky Business” at Redd Wood, made with arugula, black pepper, elderflower, and gin.
Commandment 5 – Ethical Meats Make Good Eats
Grass-fed beef simply tastes better. One of the most admirable things about Wine Country cuisine is its respect of the land and its animals. Many (if not most) of the meat served in local restaurants is ethically sourced, from purveyors like Long Meadow Ranch, Fatted Calf, Five Dot Ranch, Thistle Meats, Sonoma County Meat, and many more.
Commandment 6 – Food is Best Shared
Like Julia Child said best, people who love to eat really are the best people. For the last few years, The Hommels have “oohed” and “ahhed” over dishes, shared meals with new friends, and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Thomas Keller. Try the communal table…you are bound to meet fellow food nerds. Buy them a drink. Enjoy new memories.
Commandment 7 – Beer? Yes Beer
Sure, Napa is known for its world-class wine. But travel an hour north and beer nirvana awaits. Lagunitas, Russian River Brewing, Bear Republic, Stumptown Brewery. As a Belgian beer fanatic, I highly suggest the Belgium Beer Flight at Russian River in Santa Rosa. It is best to arrive early (and expect lines). The beer “bouncer” will walk you to a table, where you can sip, savor, and get sloshed in a dynamic (and cult like) tasting room of fellow hopheads.
Commandment 8 – Let Your Taste Buds Travel
How about Moroccan, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, or Thai? Napa has a stellar range of culinary delights from all continents. Zuzu excels at Spanish fusion, a local tapas spot that feels like a small Spanish tasca. Order the exquisite paella, fired live over oak and grapevine for an aromatic masterpiece.
Commandment 9 – Always Make a Reservation
Napa Valley is a premier tourism destination. With that, come hungry travelers. I suggest a few months out, to ensure a cozy table at your favorite restaurant. And if you’re after a spot at French Laundry, good luck. I am still working on that…
Commandment 10 – Slow Down and Savor
Whether it be bubbles or still, Napa is all about savoring. Domaine Chandon offers unparalleled views of this pastoral wonderland, with a stunning hillside terrace. Ideal for a picnic or lazy Sunday, the property oozes Wine County living. So remember…slow down, grab some bubbles, and embrace that inner glutton. Cheers to new and old traditions!