Thursday, February 6, 2014

Napa Region Italian Food Tour!

Two weeks ago, my husband, mom, and I traveled to Napa Valley for the sole purpose of eating Italian food. My husband is a chef and he was researching. On our trip, he toured the kitchens of both Oenotri and Bottega, as well as talked to the head chef at Bistro Don Giovanni. At each restaurant, we reviewed the food, the ambiance, the service, and whether or not they were allergy friendly.

Among the 6 restaurants we visited, we enjoyed 4 of them. The other two should be ashamed to call themselves Italian restaurants, or even restaurants for that matter.

Before I let loose with my reviews, here is the final order:

1) Oenotri (Winner!)
2) Bottega
3) Bistro Don Giovanni
4) Clemente's At Val's

and way, way below:

5) Della Santina's Trattoria
6) Ristorante Allegria
#1 Oenotri
Location: 1425 1st St, Napa, CA
Food: 5 Star/Service: 5/Atmosphere: 5/Allergy Friendly: 5

Walking in, the atmosphere was very modern. It didn't necessarily strike me as "Italian" but it was very nice. The staff was friendly and let my husband into the kitchen to talk with the Sous Chef and learn more about the restaurant. On first glance, the menu was definitely Italian and creative. They change their lunch and dinner menus daily. My husband's experience in the kitchen was very exciting! He learned that they make all of their own salamis, sausages, and pastas. They have an off sight garden for their vegetables and a cave to age the salami. They also grow some of their greens in the kitchen.

I ordered the Hudson Ranch Pork Spezzatino with polenta, chives, and parsley. The pork was braised and incredibly tender! The polenta was creamy, cheesy, corny, and well seasoned. The flavors in this dish were very traditional and epically memorable. I'm still thinking about it two hours later!

My husband ordered the Escarole Salad to start. The salad came with a tasty lemon anchovy vinaigrette. The dressing was mild but flavorful. After the salad, he ate the Panini. The bread wasn't traditional panini bread and was more of a mini baguette. The bread was little charred but it played well with the gaminess of the pork. He said there was perfection in every bite. For dessert, he ordered the Hazelnut Torta and said it was absolutely amazing.

My mom ordered the Paine Farm Squab and fell in love with the flavors, especially in the black lentils that accompanied the meal. The only criticism we would have towards this dish is the portion of squab is incredibly small. My mom had to eat some of my left over pork dish to fill up!

So far, this restaurant seems to be the epitome of Napa's Italian food. Oenotri's is not to be missed if you are in the region. In fact, you might come to Napa just to eat here.
#2 Bottega
Location: 6525 Washington St, Yountville, CA
Food: 4 Star/Service: 5/Atmosphere: 5/Allergy Friendly: 3

The grounds surrounding the restaurant are absolutely breathtaking! I'm sure many weddings must take place here. The restaurant itself was also incredibly nice. Brick walls and reddish stone floors surrounded the rooms. The water glasses where unique and kept the water cool all meal long.

My mom and I have some allergies, which the waiter was very understanding about. Unfortunately, there was some confusion and my mom (who is allergic to black pepper) ended up with pepper on her food. I'm highly allergic to bell peppers and our waiter got confused about the peppers. We are also gluten free. They do have a gluten free menu available but no gluten free pasta which is disappointing because the pasta dishes looked delicious. For an upscale restaurant, I would like to think they could afford to carry gluten free pasta.
The menu is very Italian and very well thought out. Each of the dishes sounded unique and interesting. My husband learned that the meats are cured in house. The octopus is shipped in from Florida but is still tenderized in a concrete mixer with baseballs.

My husband loved the sourdough bread. It was warm, soft, and incredibly tasty.

After reading in the Bottega book about how the octopus is tenderized, my husband had to order the antipasti octopus. He, and my mom who normally hates octopus, fell in love with it. My husband described the texture as if he was eating butter because it melted in his mouth. It was very juicy. My mom said it reminded her of the texture of lobster. The onions that accompanied the octopus were sweet and tangy, playing well off the seafood.

We also ordered the antipasti calamari. This was also incredibly tender and perfectly salted. It was crispy and the grilled lemon on the plate added a sweetness to the dish. The sauce that came on the side wasn't necessary.

For our main courses, I ordered the Sonoma Duck. The huckleberry was sweet and tasty and the duck was cooked perfectly. However, the duck could have used more of the sauce. I felt it lacked that extra bit of flavor that could have made it perfect. The black rice risotto was absolutely beautiful as it perfectly combined salty and sweet. While I did really enjoy this dish, I have to admit, I've enjoyed the same kind of duck elsewhere. I didn't find the dish all that unique in the end.

My husband ordered the Lobster Cavatelli. He said it was very light and had a strong urchin flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. The lobster was nicely cooked and melted in his mouth.

My mom enjoyed her pork dish as well (once it came out without the black pepper), but again, she didn't find that it stood out.

In the end, I'm giving Bottega 4 stars because while the restaurant was tasty and has plenty of hype, I find myself missing other restaurants I went to more.
#3 Bistro Don Giovanni

Location: 4110 Howard Lane, Napa, CA
Food: 5 Star/Service: 4/Atmosphere: 4/Allergy Friendly: 5

This restaurant was the very first stop on our tour and we absolutely loved it! The service was on the slower side but they were packed and we weren't in a rush, so we didn't mind. The waitress was wonderful and helpful. My mom and I both have some allergies and there were no mess ups. The atmosphere was nice and the Italian opera music playing in the background definitely added to the experience!

In terms of the food, it was fantastic! I'm used to going to Italian restaurants and finding the usuals like veal parmesan, shrimp scampi, chicken marsala, spaghetti with marinara, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to see not a single one of these usual dishes on the menu. The owners are Italian (from Rome) and it really showed in the food. The chef takes a lot of pride in the flavors, which is obvious in every bite.

My husband is not normally a fan of pork but decided to break out of his comfort zone and order the pork chop "saltimbocca". He fell in love with it and was only sorry he was too full to finish! I ordered the gluten free version of the spaghetti with clams and my mom ordered the special of the day, a shrimp risotto. Both were absolutely delicious.

I'd highly recommend eating at this restaurant if you're looking for flavorful Italian food made from the heart.

#4 Clemente's At Val's

Location: 1531 3rd St, Napa, CA
Food: 5 Star/Service: 4/Atmosphere: 1/Allergy Friendly: 1

Neither my mom nor I were able to dine here. We both have too many allergies to risk quick to-go food. However, my husband tried the food here and raved about it.

"The minestrone soup is very flavorful! My whole face lit up from the very first bite. Everything else I ordered was also fantastic (the veal scallopini and the malfatti). My only regret is that I'm full and can't eat anymore!"

Do not disregard this takeout place just because it's in the back of a liquor store! The food was delicious, authentic Italian cuisine. The owners were friendly, although a little pushy about writing a Yelp review.
#5 Della Santina's Trattoria
Location: 133 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA
Food: 2 Star/Service: 3/Atmosphere: 3/Allergy Friendly: 1

Della Santina's was the 4th restaurant on our journey. Unfortunately, we were incredibly disappointed.

The atmosphere is quaint. The main room is intimate and has a charming fireplace. The artwork is a bit all over the place. On one side, you have an old fashioned portrait, on the other, a brightly colored modern picture of a baby laughing.

My family has some allergies, which definitely posed as a complication at this particular restaurant. We were informed that the majority of the food was pre-marinated. This was surprising, however, considering the food lacked flavor!

My husband liked the flavor of the bread that was delivered to the table and it was very soft. It was served cold though, which made it seem less welcoming.

We ordered the Antipasto Misto plate to share. The meats and mozzarella cheese were tasty. My mom ended up eating this as her meal because they couldn't accommodate most of their dishes for her pepper allergy.

I ordered the duck (Anatra Arrosto Con Risotto Selvatico). It was obvious that it had been pre-cooked and reheated, as it was over-cooked and dry. I'm unsure what the sauce that came with it even tasted like. There were no flavors that I can think of. Nothing stood out on the plate and it was all incredibly bland. The meal also came with a wild rice and a half salty-half not salty rainbow chard. The plate didn't look appealing. It lacked color and was mostly brown. An hour after the meal, I started feeling queasy. My mom tried a small bite of the duck and ended up feeling queasy shortly after as well.

My husband ordered the prawns (Gamberoni Dorati) which were nicely cooked but tasted like a shrimp omelet because it was coated in egg. The lemon sauce was extremely sharp and none of the flavors mingled well with each other. His dish also came with the rainbow chard.

Overall, the restaurant wasn't as repulsive as Ristorante Allegria in Napa, but it honestly wasn't much better. I would not recommend eating here unless you just want a meat and cheese plate in an intimate setting.
#6 Ristorante Allegria
Location: 1026 1st St, Napa, CA
Food: 1 Star/Service: 1/Atmosphere: 5/Allergy Friendly: 3

Allegria was our second restaurant of the trip and I'm sorry to say, we were incredibly disappointed.

The ambience of the restaurant is very nice. It has high ceilings, a balcony seating area, and small candles on the tables. American oldies music was playing in the background, which isn't exactly Italian but I've been to other Italian restaurants out in the US that do the same thing. However, it all went downhill from there. As we looked at the menu, we couldn't help but notice it lacked authentic Italian dishes. The majority of the food could barely pass as Italian. The bread was the first item brought out and it was served cold. After we ordered, the waitress came back to the table to ask us a question and patted me on the back and said, "How about the little one over here?" As a nearly 23 year old married woman, I did not appreciate being patronized.

The first items we ordered were the Caesar salad and the Bruschetta. The Caesar dressing was incredibly watered down and arrived with croutons on it (I am allergic and had told the waitress this). The dressing was mediocre at best. My husband's bruschetta was another disappointment. He could tell the tomato had been made the day before, as it did not taste fresh. The bread was also soggy.

The main meals we ordered were the salmon and the veal. The salmon was blackened, but incorrectly. It had been marinated in oil to be kept fresh. This led to the fish being black in other areas because the oil had attracted the flame suddenly when cooked. The inside of the fish was cooked correctly. The polenta that accompanied the salmon wasn't sure whether it was part of a main course or a dessert. It tasted more like a rice pudding with salt. My mom's salmon came with asparagus at her request. It did not taste good and the woody part of the asparagus had been left on the plate.

My husband's veal was cooked correctly. He said the spinach was beautiful and the mashed potato tasted fine. Unfortunately, the disgusting sauce ruined the entire meal. I tried the sauce as well and couldn't remove the taste for three hours.

After a terrible meal, we couldn't help but also notice the little things. When the bill arrived, the pen they handed us to sign had a large logo on it that was for another company and had nothing to do with the restaurant. Normally, I wouldn't even notice something like this but as I said, we couldn't help it after such a terrible meal.

Overall, I'm giving this restaurant one star. A word to the wise, do not eat here if you're looking for tasty food, let alone tasty Italian food!
If you enjoyed my reviews, be sure to check out my Yelp page!