Secrets of Wine Country
Our Insider's Guide to Sonoma County and Napa Valley Travel
Updated February 20, 2010 - Jack

Welcome to our ever-improving guide to Wine Country. We love your feedback! Besides this page, there are currently four main sub-pages that make up this section of the website: Visiting Wineries; Bonus Secrets; Weather, Traffic and When to Visit; and Where to Stay. You can access them from the left column on this page.

This is the Food/Dining page
Are you looking for...
 •  Napa Valley Lunch spots? Click here.

 •  Sonoma County Lunch spots? Click here.
 •  Picnic Supplies? Click here.

 •  Casual Dinner ideas?
Click here.
 •  Brunch? Click here.
 •  Great Local Foods? Click here.


Serious Dinner
A Serious Dinner in wine country is usually an expensive multi-course affair which will take 2.5-4 hours.
Note: You really can come to wine country just for the great food. You don't even have to drink wine; some restaurants offer interesting selections of alternative beverages like locally brewed beer.

The French Laundry
The French Laundry in Yountville is one of America's greatest restaurants. It's now also very expensive – allow about $500 per couple excluding beverages. The chef, Thomas Keller, now also oversees Per Se in NYC.

How to Get a Reservation at The French Laundry You must call exactly 60 days before the date you wish to dine on. Be prepared to accept any time for lunch or dinner (it's the same menu). Start calling at 10am Pacific Time. Keep hitting redial – you may get lucky. Another chance is via OpenTable.com and here's a link for tips.

Interior at Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg, CA
Cyrus in Healdsburg is the restaurant more people have raved to us about than any other. You can have as many courses, in any order, from anything on the menu. They have a great cheese course, too. This is the Sonoma County restaurant to dress up for; they are really going for the sophisticated, elegant diner. Our new, very positive review, is here. Chef is Douglas Keane.

Other top recommedations:
Meadowood's Restaurant
Ubuntu (open for lunch, vegetarian)

Other Serious Dinner Choices include:
Auberge du Soleil
Farmhouse Inn
Terra (dinner only)
Press (dinner only)
Redd (open for lunch & brunch)
Martini House (open for lunch on weekends)
Cafe La Haye (dinner only)
Dry Creek Kitchen (open for lunch)
John Ash & Co (open for lunch)
Madrona Manor
(dinner only)

How to Dress for Serious Dinner: Jacket usually optional - (tie not at all necessary) Napa tends to be slightly dressier than Sonoma.

Dining Hints
in Napa & Sonoma
Almost all restaurants that would be visited by a tourist are open for dinner Sunday night. This is because people tend to arrive in Wine Country on Friday and go home on Monday (although many of the SFers/Silicon Valley'rs go home Sunday afternoon or evening). So, restaurants in wine country, if they close at all, are closed on Tuesday most often. Also, some restaurants are closed during the first two weeks of January.

Make your weekend restaurant reservations well in advance.
This is particularly important for special event and holiday weekends.

Eating Like a King on a Prince's Salary: Many of the "serious" dining choices are only open for dinner, but a few are open for lunch, and sometimes offer a less expensive menu.



Bouchon
Dining Picks in Wine Country
There are a lot of wine country restaurant guides. We're not out to be the most comprehensive – we'd rather cut to the chase. So here are our picks, suggestions and thoughts:

Romantic Restaurant Choices:
(not in order)
Madrona Manor, Cyrus, Auberge de Soleil, Meadowood Restaurant, The Farmhouse Inn, Ubuntu.

Small & Quiet Destination:
The Farmhouse Inn.

Steak and Cab?
Press.

French County Dining in wine country? Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty (Yountville)
Bistro Ralph (Healdsburg), Bistro M (Windsor), The Fig Cafe (Glen Ellen)

Hearty Portuguese?
LaSalette.

Got to have the best local Italian?
Santi.

Need a palate cleansing dinner?

Hana (go for the Omakase).

Comfort Food & Local Beer:
Note: Other than the Silverado Brewing Co - the emphasis is heavily on the beer.
Silverado Brewing Co.
(St. Helena)
Bear Republic Brewing Company (Healdsburg)
Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa)
Third St. Aleworks (Santa Rosa)
Napa Valley Brewing Co (Calistoga at Calistoga Inn Pub)
Anderson Valley Brewing Company (Boonville)
Sebastopol Brewing Company - (Sebastopol)
Hopmonk Tavern (Sebastopol)
*More Brew pubs*

Places to Eat Outside - Napa Valley:
Wappo Bar (Calistoga) - especially during late August and September, Brix (we've never been there), Julia's Kitchen (COPIA), Auberge du Soleil , Go Fish (but call to see if the patio is open) and, of course, Taylor's Refresher (Saint Helena).
* Note many of the larger restaurants in Napa offer some outside seating in the warmer months.

Places to Eat Outside - Sonoma County:
Barndiva (Healdsburg), Dry Creek Kitchen (Healdsburg), Madrona Manor (Healdsburg), Willi's Seafood Bar (Healdsburg), Mirepoix (Windsor), Willi's Wine Bar (Santa Rosa), The Girl & The Fig (Sonoma), Rosso & Bianco (Geyserville), Taverna Santi (Geyserville), Auberge de Soleil (Rutherford).

Great Pizza?
I don't think we love anyone's pizza, but here are the best ones...
Restaurants with Wood-Burning Ovens: Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Manzanita, Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Bistro Don Giovanni,
Zazu.

Lighter or more casual Dinner:
Santi (Geyserville), Bouchon (Yountville),
Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar (Healdsburg).

Best Raw Bar:

Bouchon, Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar.

Best Seafood:
Cyrus, Go Fish, Hana.

Craving Caviar?
Cyrus.

Super high quality meats from far away?Press.

Local Ingredients focus?
Barndiva, Seaweed Cafe, The Farmhouse Inn.

Craving Foie Gras?
The French Laundry, Cyrus, The Farmhouse Inn, La Toque Restaurant

Need a Cheese Course?
Cyrus, The Farmhouse Inn

Charcuterie Mad?
Santi, Zazu.

Best Bar:
Barndiva, Martini House.

Near Bodega Bay?
Seaweed Cafe
.

Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner in Wine Country? (most of the restaurants are closed, so think hotels) Auberge de Soleil, The Girl & The Fig, Meadowood, Hurleys

Healdsburg Dining Menus
This is a website where you can view most of the restaurant menus in Healdsburg.

Late Night Dining:
We need to mention that wine country is not a late night dining destination. Especially in Sonoma County, it's hard to find food after 9:30-10pm. If you are planning on eating late, do your homework.

How to Dress for a Casual Dinner:
Casual Smart. You can wear jeans, but there’s no reason for doing so. Wearing a tie looks more out of place than a T-shirt.


Restaurant Reservations: Although Opentable.com is a great resource for Wine Country restaurants, we've found phoning the restaurant directly often reveals a reservation not offered at Opentable.


Corkage
Something many don't initially realize when dining in California is that you can bring your own wine to lunch or dinner. You are charged a "corkage fee" ranging from $5 to $25 (or more at very high-end places, like The French Laundry. Some restaurants discourage you from bringing your own wine by charging a high corkage fee). Some places waive a corkage fee if a bottle is also purchased from the restaurant's wine list.

Three general rules apply:
  •  You never bring a wine already on the restaurant's wine list.
  •  You don't bring cheap/grocery store wine.
  •  You tip as if you purchased the wine at the restaurant (so you have to make a guess, but!), adjusting for corkage cost.

My own, fourth rule would be:
  •  Don't bring wine to a restaurant with a very good wine list unless it's a very special wine. It's important to reward the restaurants that make the effort to have a strong wine list, especially those that price them fairly.

Update: Read Jack's comprensive article on Corkage here.


Restaurant Wine Lists
in Wine Country
So, one thing you might expect to find at the better restaurants in Napa and Sonoma are wine lists featuring older vintages of California wines. Ha! An older vintage might be a 1998 (a lousy year!) at most restaurants.

Pricing: Napa restaurants - Medium to High,
Sonoma restaurants - Very low to Medium.

Restaurants with diverse (i.e., world-wide) wine lists: The French Laundry, Cyrus, The Farmhouse Inn, Martini House

Restaurants focused on Local wines: Press, Zin, Bistro Ralph, but realize that all of Wine Country has many good to great local wines on their lists.

Cult Wine Availability
Even when you spot cult wines on a list, it's usually the most recent vintages – and why do you want to spend $200-$800 for a wine that's not ready to drink?! This is not to say that every once-in-a-while I don't see a fairly priced one that's ready to drink.

Bringing Your Own Wine
Yes, this can be done at every(?!) restaurant in wine country. You pay a fee called corkage. Click here to learn much more about this.

Anticipated Wine Country Openings:

Napa Riverfront Project (summer 2010) - Three New restaurants: Morimoto Napa, Tyler Florence's Restaurant, and a Seafood Restaurant from the Lark Creek Group.

Taverna Santi - Santa Rosa - (Spring 2010) The new location is next to the new Traverso's.


Recent Wine Country Openings

Farmstead
- St. Helena - The highly anticipated restaurant from Long Meadow Ranch with chef Sheamus Feeley.

Restaurant P30 - Sebastopol - Comfort Food, sustainable & local focus. Obsessive about ingredients.

Norman Rose Tavern - Napa - Owners of Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca, along with chef Reed Herrick offer Microbrews and American Comfort Food.

Cantinetta Piero - Yountville - At the new Hotel Luca offers housemade charcuterie, traditional Italian pastas, pizza & entrees.

a|k|a A Bistro - St. Helena - In the old Keller's Meat location, supports sustainable and organic farming. 50 wines by the glass, 600 on the list, and over 150 wines priced at $60 or below

Bistro M - Windsor - The new French Country Bistro from the owners of Mirepoix.

Cuvee Napa - Napa - New American, bistro style. Check out their wine list.


Less Recent Wine Country
Restaurant Openings...

La Toque - Napa - Relocation to the new Westin Riversiade

Bardessono - Yountville - Located in the new "green" luxury hotel. Open for breakfast. Chef Sean O'Toole focuses on using local ingredients and working with local farmers.

Neela's - Napa - Chef Neela Paniz of The Bombay Cafe's new restaurant. Searching for Indian food in Napa - this looks like a good bet.

JoLe: Farm to Table - Calistoga - focus on local and organic. Owned by husband-and-wife team Matt and Sonjia Spector who are also the chef and pastry chef respectively. Menu items are designed as smaller portions to have a tasting menu.

Bottega is Michael Chiarello's new restaurant (Tra Vigne, Napa Style) in Yountville - opened December 5, 2008

Diavola - Geyserville

Estate - Sonoma, where the General's Daughter was located.


Mondo - Sonoma - Lots of N. California beers on tap

New Chef: Stark's Steakhouse - Santa Rosa
New Chef: Bistro des Copains - Occidental

Taylor's Automatic Refresher - Napa (Oxbow)


Healdsburg Bar & Grill (new owner) - Healdsburg

Restaurant Closings:
Eloise, Odyssey, West County Grill, The General's Daughter, Plaza Farms, GG Surf & Turf, Movin Ahead Cafe (Chateau Souverain - closed for renovation), The Fig Pantry, Elements, Santi (moving to Santa Rosa from Geyserville - stay tuned.), Josef's (Closes end of April '10)



Ad Hoc Restaurant Yountville Ad Hoc - Located in Yountville (the building South of Redd), this is the new restaurant from Thomas Keller (The French Laundry). $45 pre-fixe for a four-course dinner. Open Thurs-Mon. (Reservations: 944-2487 - the answering machine doesn’t kick in until after eight rings and the phone is often busy.) Our review.

Go Fish
Go Fish - This St. Helena, seafood restaurant is from Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen), Sean Knight, and Ken Tominaga (Hana), who is directing the sushi bar. Open for lunch and dinner daily - (707) 963-0700. (Go Fish OpenTable) Our review.


Lunch

We’ve been to all of these places either more than once or within the last year.
Restaurants listed below are open every day for lunch unless indicated otherwise.

Sonoma County: (roughly North to South)
Taverna Santi –Moving to Santa Rosa - look for opening in Late Feb, 2010. (Closed for lunch Mon-Wed)
BarnDiva* – Healdsburg (Closed Mon/Tues)
Willi’s Seafood* – Healdsburg
(Closed Tues) (*for the raw bar)
Bistro Ralph – Healdsburg
(Closed Sun)
bovolo - Healdsburg
Ravenous - Healdsburg (Closed Mon/Tues)
Mirepoix - Windsor (Closed Mon)
Willi’s Wine Bar – Santa Rosa (Closed Tues)
Rosso Pizzeria* - Santa Rosa
Hana* – Rohnert Park
(Closed for lunch Sun/Mon)
Jimtown Store – Alexander Valley
K&L Bistro – Sebastopol (Closed Sun)
Della Fattoria Downtown* – Petaluma (Closed Mon)
LaSalette* – Sonoma (Closed Mon)
The Girl & The Fig – Sonoma
(Last visit was so-so)
Willow Wood Cafe - Graton
Underwood Bar & Bistro - Graton
(Last visit had so-so food)

Napa Valley: (roughly North to South)
Wappo Bar & Bistro – Calistoga (Closed Tues)
Silverado Brewing Company – St. Helena
Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen* – St. Helena
(Closed Mon-Wed: Nov 1-Apr 30 only)
Market – Saint Helena
Go Fish - Saint Helena
Martini House – St. Helena
(Closed for Lunch Mon-Thurs)
Taylor's Refresher - St. HelenaTaylor's Automatic Refresher – St. Helena (read our review.)
Pizzeria Tra Vigne – St. Helena
(+ excellent place to take kids!)
Cook - St. Helena
(no website (still!): 1310 Main St. nr Hunt (707) 963-7088, closed Sun/Mon)
Auberge du Soleil
– Rutherford
Bouchon* – Yountville
Redd* – Yountville
Domaine Chandon – Yountville (Closed Mon/Tues)
Oakville Grocery (take-out) – Oakville
Ubuntu* – Napa (vegetarian)
Bistro Don Giovanni(r) – Napa
Julia's Kitchen - Napa
(closed Tuesday)
Angèle – Napa
Celadon - Napa
(closed for Lunch Sat/Sun)

*Our favorites
(r) Recommended to us


Wine & Food Parings: The latest Tasting Room Trend™ is Wine & Food pairings (costing about $20). Click here for more.


Barndiva
Brunch In Wine Country
Sonoma County:

Ravenette, 117 North St., Healdsburg 707.431.1770
Barndiva - Healdsburg
bovolo - Healdsburg (also breakfast)
Della Fattoria - Petaluma (quite casual)
Willow Wood Cafe - Graton
Seaweed Cafe - Bodega Bay

Napa Valley:
Redd - Yountville
Angèle(r) - Napa
The Boon Fly Cafe (at the Carneros Inn) (r) - Napa

And also these places (that we don't recommend):
Napa Valley Wine Train - Napa
John Ash & Co - Santa Rosa
Domaine Chandon - Yountville


Picnic
Cheese and Picnic Supplies
Picnicking at Wineries: Many wineries (the ones with tasting rooms) encourage visitors to bring a picnic lunch and dine at their picnic tables (with a bottle of wine purchased at their winery, of course). Some wineries require Picnic Reservations, so you might want to call in advance. This seems to be more and more popular each year.

And there are decent places to get something good for lunch no matter where you are (for the most part)


Where to get cheese and picnic stuffs
(Note, I’m not suggesting you buy wine at these places, but most have wine and there are some good wines available.)

Calistoga
Palisades Deli & Café in the Depot.

Dean & Deluca
St. Helena
Dean & DeLuca - They have the largest selection of gourmet foods and cheese in the Bay Area.
The Model Bakery - on the main street has lunch items, great breads and pastries, as well as brickoven pizza.
Sunshine Foods on Hwy 128 at the south end of downtown St. Helena is the independent grocery store.

Bouchon Bakery
Yountville
Bouchon Bakery - Offers a limited selection of pre-made sandwiches and pastries, and lots of bread.

Oakville
Oakville Grocery – Takeout sandwiches, cheese, wood-oven pizza, etc., and big selection of Gourmet Foods.

Copia Deli
Napa
Sweetie Pies - Offers pastries, cakes and some lunch items. Their baked goods are wonderful. Recommended.
Alexis Baking Co. - Offers a limited selection sandwiches, salads and pastries. You must go in the morning.
Oxbow Public Market - Most of the stores now open, including: Model Bakery, The Fatted Calf, Oxbow Cheese Merchant, and Oxbow Wine Merchant should alone make for a nice picnic, but there are also a couple of interesting take-out options and you can also get ice cream from Three Twins and oysters from Hog Island.

Carneros
Viansa Winery & Marketplace - We haven't been to their new location, but they have gourmet Italian food.

Alexander Valley
Jimtown Store - They offer boxed lunches to go which should be ordered in advance - and they have a cafe with sandwiches and accompaniments as well as hot dishes - they post their weekly menu online. They are famous for their olive spreads.

Healdsburg
The Cheese Shop - For a great selection of cheese, olives, bread, etc. Closed Sunday.
Oakville Grocery - Takeout sandwiches, cheese, wood-oven pizza, etc., and big selection of Gourmet Foods. A very popular destination! Now owned by Dean & Deluca.
Downtown Bakery & Creamery - Renowned for their baked goods - although they never seem to impress us - they have lunch items available as well as pastries.

Dry Creek Valley (Near Healdsburg)

Dry Creek General Store - in the middle of the Dry Creek Valley, it's a convenient stop on the wine trail. Sandwiches are made to order and the "general store" has drinks, cheese & picnic items. Owned by Gina Gallo.
Closed Sunday.


Santa Rosa
Chloe's Cafe - Just off at the north end of Santa Rosa of Hwy. 101, but tucked away in an office building, the search will reward you with some wonderful picnic fare of French style sandwiches, tarts, pastries, etc. Ingredients are often seasonal and local (some organic). Don't miss the tarts.

Sonoma
Artisan Bakers - the renowned bread bakery offers sandwiches, pizza and a soup of the day as well as well as bread, cakes, and pastries. The sandwiches, pizza and soup are pre-made so their is no customization available.
Sonoma Cheese Factory - offers a deli with a selection of picnic items and they also have a restaurant - we have not been there.

Glen Ellen
Raymond Cheesemongers - John Raymond supplies some of the finer restaurants with a selection of cheeses which often includes the wonderful cheeses from Sally Jackson as well as Goats Leap.

Petaluma
Della Fattoria - sandwiches and salads are available to go with a selection of pastries/cakes and of course bread.

Four other places we’re not in love with, but you can get decent picnic items:

On Rt 12 to Sonoma from Santa Rosa:
The Gourmet Market at Ledson Winery 
 
On the way to Guernville from Santa Rosa:   
The Korbel Delicatessen at the Korbel winery (River Road)

Basque Boulangerie on the Sonoma square in downtown Sonoma serves sandwiches and pastries (and bread) to go. Warning: Some of their breads have PHOs in them.


Hwy 29, South of town of St. Helena: V. Sattui Winery's Cheese Shop and Deli is incredibly popular with seniors and college students. A recent visit resulted in tasting their most expensive cab (that they were pouring); it was the sweetest cab that I can recall tasting. They have a decent selection of cheese and pre-made salads, packaged foods and cold cuts. (We opt for Dean & DeLuca across the street.)




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