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European cheat sheet for wonderful, winey weekend in Napa, CA

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco and you’d like to add on a couple of relaxing days to experience wine country but you’re in the throes of a dilemma trying to choose between the different regions, to say nothing of the hundreds of wineries, then the short answer is choose Napa. Napa is really rockin’ and that’s post-quake! Downtown is exploding with exciting new eateries, hip hotels, and eclectic boutiques with lots more big plans coming up. They’ve already broken ground for the Archer, a luxurious five-story hotel that will anchor the new Napa Center, a distinctive mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment located in the heart of downtown. Andaz Napa exterior Follow my suggestions below and I guarantee you’ll return wearing a huge, purple, wine-stained grin. Eat Brekkie – Model Bakery It’s virtually impossible to make a bad selection at this famous neighborhood bakery serving breakfast & lunch, plus take-away cookies, cakes, cookies & artisanal specialty breads, but their “World’s best English muffins” make unforgettable sammies. English muffin breakfast at Model Bakery Lunch – Atlas Social This new gastropub (the latest venture from the talented hubby and wife restaurateurs behind the wildly popular Norman Rose Tavern and Azzurro Pizzeria) offers small plates sporting big flavors in a rustic/chic ambiance. Grab a seat at one of the communal tables and order a spread to share from the mouthwatering tapa-styled menu featuring seasonal dishes “from the farm, sea or ranch” which can be paired with a craft beer or an interesting selection from their well-crafted wine list. Save room for the intense chocolate budino sprinkled with cherries and bee pollen. Cauliflower steak at Atlas Social Dinner – Torc Another relative newbie, Torc (Gaelic for boar) is found in the iconic space that once housed Ubuntu. Seasoned chef/owner Sean O’toole’s menu showcases the region’s finest farm or forest to table ingredients, which he lets shine in all their simple splendor. Standouts include a delicate Wild herb salad, an aromatic violet artichoke soup, a gorgeous halibut still-life with freshly foraged morels and his signature heritage Porchetta anointed with five spice, mustard greens, Tokyo turnips, and basmati rice. Pristine halibut at Torc Or if you want to go super casj, David Lu’s Eight Noodle Shop makes a fun, tasty lunch or dinner stop. This still-wet-behind-the ears Asian street-food inspired eatery is still working out a few kinks, so the service might be a bit slow since all the food is made in a postage-sized kitchen, but if you nab a seat on the patio, chilling over a glass of wine, it’s all good. It can be challenging to try and choose between all the tempting small plates; Korean sweet chili chicken wings, Pulled pork steamed buns, greaseless Crispy squid, Hamachi crudo with soy caramel and the wildly addictive Charred edamame with 5 spice salt, so don’t. Trust me, you’ll polish them all off! If you’re still hungry opt for one of the heaping ramen bowls. Two chopsticks up for the sofrito flavored seafood ramen. Do leave room for Lu’s amazing hot Okinawan doughnuts with tangy yuzu curd. For some gourmet grazing, head over to the Oxbow Public Market. Start with a six-pack of Hog Island Oysters, followed by an assortment of cheese and charcuterie and a wine flight, that you cobbled together with some help from the knowledgeable” staff at Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant. Save room to feel the Latin love behind C CASA’s unique tacos, grab some pristine sushi from Eikos and then finish off with one of Kara’s cupcakes or chocoholics will freak out over Anette’s Chocolates artisan crafted confections. Her Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Brittlemakes the perfect gift for the boys back home. Lively scene at Oxbow Market Note: If you’re gluten intolerant, check out Cate & Co. where the tempting breads and sweeties are 100% gluten free. Sip Can’t get anyone to volunteer for the dreaded “designated driver” position? Here are two alternatives that will leave everyone smiling: Hit the rails in style when you sign up for the Ambassador Tour on the Napa Valley Wine Train, where you will spend a delightful afternoon (over) indulging in a gourmet, multi-course lunch paired with fine wines while you leisurely chug down the tracks in the comfort of your exquisitely restored (think polished mahogany wood, sparkling brass accents, etched glass, plush seats) vintage Pullman railcars. My lunch, a baby lettuce salad sprinkled with candied nuts and smoked goat cheese followed by fresh Ahi tuna was scrumptious and beautifully presented. This tour includes a bus ride to two wineries: the granddaddy of them all, Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s first winery which opened in 1874, and the fantastical Raymond Vineyards, the Willy Wonka of wineries, complete with a biodynamic farm, roaming peacocks, luxury dog kennel, bocce ball court, and futuristic “blending room” where you can don a silver lab coat and create your own custom blend. Napa Valley Wine Train Or you can rent a bike and take an easy-peasy pedal to Judd’s Hill for a fun and informative Wine & Food Experience. Our wine educator, Bob, was most entertaining, and eliminated much of the mystery behind pairing wine with food. This started a lively debate as to who liked the Cab or the Petite Sirah better with Judd’s Hill award- winning BBQ sauce. There was no contest when it came to tasting their luscious Tardy Harvest Roussanne, partic after Bob said, “Just wait until you try it poured over pound cake topped with fresh berries.” Sleep I loved, loved, loved my boutique hotel, the refreshing, unself-consciously hip Andaz Napa, which also has managed to be one of the comfiest, most functional hotels I’ve stayed at in a long time. Perched in the heart of downtown, you can easily walk to everything so take full advantage of their oh-so-thoughtful free parking garage. This was just the tip of the wineglass of their many amenities, which also included a complimentary: welcome drink, daily newspaper delivery, access to the huge full-service fitness center next door, plush robes, Keurig coffeemaker with all the fixings, evening wine tastings, wireless Internet, a mini-bar filled with assorted waters, juice and sodas, snacks, local phone calls, uber-friendly service. My own personal fave, was their long list of “Forgot Anything” items, which they happily deliver with a smile. They get bonus points for their lively roof deck bar with rocking chairs and communal fire pit. Suite at Andaz Napa The 141 spacious, Soho loft-like guestrooms, decorated in soothing shades of taupe and grey, feature hardwood floors, elegant white marble bathrooms with walk-in showers and rainfall shower heads, and luxurious Preserves 29 Grape Seed Age Protecting bath products (not that I need “age-defying” but others might!) Select suites also feature large soaking tubs and dual sided glass fireplace. My only slight quibble was the parking roof view, so next time I’m going to dibbs the Tower Suite, which has a great view of downtown Napa as well as 12 ft. ceilings and soaking tub for two.

Janice Nieder

Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. Previously a specialty food consultant in NYC, Janice is currently a SF-based culinary tourism writer who has wined & dined her way through 90 countries. To keep things in balance, Janice also enjoys writing about her Girlfriend Getaways which include spa visits, soft-core adventure, cultural events, shopping, boutique hotels, and chef interviews.

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  1. Napa will always remind me of The Parent Trap! I didn’t know about the fantastic food. I guess it is a great place to tickle the taste buds!

  2. When in Napa, the Andaz was my “go to” hotel. In Napa proper, I like Angele (French) and Ristorante Allegria (Italian.) A short distance is the Farm at Carneros Inn (locally-inspired American cuisine) and a cute place to stay with individual cottages. Of course, Bouchon (French bistro) and Auberge du soleil (Mediterranean) have always provided me with stellar meals.

  3. Having been to Napa, I have to agree that there are many great places to eat and places to stay. I enjoyed a bed and breakfast location called The Candlelight Inn. It is a lot like The Andaz Napa that you described. I also enjoyed the Wine Train and am glad to see that you mention it in this post. An area not too far away for those that have a car would be Sonoma Valley which also has some great wines. It is actually between San Francisco and Napa Valley.

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