By Deirdre Bourdet
Historically, the City of Napa–not to be confused with the Napa Valley
in which it’s located–has not been known for its wine tasting options,
tourist attractions, or epicurean sophistication. In the last three
years, however, the city has welcomed the Oxbow Public Market, a
remarkable community of over 20 tasting rooms, and a critical mass of
excellent restaurants all within an eminently walkable downtown
district. The arrival last year of nationally renowned chefs like Tyler
Florence and Masaharu Morimoto marked the end of Napa’s status as the
culinary ugly step-child of the Napa Valley, and a huge leap forward for
all the other entrepreneurs fighting to put Napa on the food and wine
I’m always a little skeptical of celebrity/TV chef restaurants, particularly those with coy, understated names. Although I was happy to see it open in Napa, Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine was not well positioned to impress me. I was beyond surprised to learn that beneath its star powered, unimaginative name lurks a truly original restaurant that I would happily eat at every week. The reason: compulsively delicious staples, rotating seasonal specials, a remarkably well-priced and eclectic wine list, and corn sticks.
I like cornbread about as much as the next person, but I am in love with the corn sticks at R&W. A fluted baking mold maximizes external crunch while keeping the inside creamy and moist, resulting in a kind of cornbread cannelé, or even a baked churro. Shortly after sitting down, all diners are greeted with a plate of corn sticks hot out of the oven, accompanied by a dish of honey butter the texture of perfectly whipped cream. DO NOT SKIP THIS BREAD–even if you plan to order the bacon Mornay-filled cheese puff, another must-have regardless of your appetite level or diet status.
Chef Jeremy Fox, whose gorgeous all-vegetable works of art as opening chef at Ubuntu always astounded me, now runs the kitchen for Tyler at R&W. Fox’s tenure at Ubuntu shows in the well-represented vegetable and salad dishes, as stunning to look at as they are to eat. Rest assured, though, he and his crew also turn out beautiful meats, ranging from the familiar (roast chicken with salsa verde) to the ground-breaking (rich spice-rubbed Sonoma lamb ribs with sweet potato puree and banana vinegar).
But despite the name, R&W is not really a rotisserie restaurant. Vegetarians, fish lovers, and people who just don’t feel like meat for dinner have plenty to choose from, without missing out on any of the kitchen creativity. Grilled fresh sardines with braised fennel and Old Bay remoulade made my night on my first visit, and the farro dish with runny Jidori egg, leeks, vermouth, and foraged wild mushrooms embodied all that winter food should be. Even the oh-so-trendy deviled Jidori eggs topped with sherry, maple, caramelized bacon, celery salt, and sprouts transcend their image, and deliver an objectively delicious experience.
“Rotisserie & Wine” grossly understates the reality. Go there with an open mind, and lots of stomach space, and don’t forget to order the cheese puff.
Rotisserie & Wine, 720 Main Street, Napa, 707.254.8500, www.rotisserieandwine.com