A Meat Lover’s Guide to Eating in Wine Country
November 14, 2016
There are over 400 wineries in the region we recognize as Wine Country in the United States, located just north of San Francisco. This includes Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Bennett Valley, and Russian River Valley. Long, dry summers culminate with a burst of heat before fall, creating the perfect climate for grapes.
As you drive down the one-lane winding roads, it truly feels like you’re in Italy or France, with rolling hills to the left and right and vineyards stretching for miles. It’s a great place to enjoy the weekend with your lover, a celebration with friends, or just a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle of city living.
To make your stay a little less stressful, we traveled Wine Country to find restaurants that have phenomenal meats to pair with the region’s spectacular wines. We did not come out disappointed! Whether you’re visiting for relaxation or fun, check out our meat lover’s restaurant guide to eating in Wine Country for tips on some of the area’s best restaurants.
In the established downtown of Napa lies Ca’ Momi, a restaurant where authentic Italian dishes change with the seasons and only the highest quality ingredients take stage. You won’t find any semblance of Italian-American here – the menu is filled with historically accurate recipes from different regions in Italy, often passed down from generation to generation. They also specialize in finding recipes that have been lost over time and bringing them back to life.
Offering Italian service is important to them as well, with every course laid out in the traditional dining format. Courses go from Antipasti to Primi and Secondi. Insalate & Contorni are meant to be consumed after Secondi, but are more like a side option than a dessert. They also serve APN and VPN certified Pizza Napoletana, which is an indicator of both technique and ingredient quality. The dough is a simple mixture of water, salt, yeast and flour, which is left to rise for at least 7-8 hours. The finished product goes into a wood burning oven at 900ºF, taking only 90 seconds to cook! This creates a little char and caramelization that’s unlike anything you’ll find in New York.
All of this, from kitchen to plate, helps preserve the integrity of true Italian cuisine, allowing people to experience here, in Napa, what they can experience in Italy. The focus is on enjoying the authentic flavors and textures of more than a few dishes rather than just one or two large, complex dishes.
The Bresaola & Rucola, a bright air-cured beef and arugula dish, was the perfect palate cleanser before delving into the Stinco al Forno con Patate. Our pork shank is braised with Nica pinot grigio, rosemary, sage, juniper and presented with roasted fingerling potatoes. As the food approaches, you can immediately smell the fresh rosemary. The flavor is deep from the browned outer crust on the meat to the soft pork fat and jus with mirepoix.
It’s worthy to note that just down the street from their brick and mortar, Ca’ Momi has a section within the Oxbow market. This trendy food emporium has everything from cheeses to bitters, coffee, an oyster bar and handmade soaps. In the southeast corner of the building, you’ll find Ca’ Momi’s all organic pastries, Pizza Napoletana and bar as well.
The County Bench
The County Bench is a relatively new, semi-casual eatery with high quality food near the downtown area of Santa Rosa. Michelin-starred chef Bruce Frieseke and the County Bench team draws inspiration from local farmers, fisherman, wine makers, and brewers for food and drink that is both approachable yet creative. The menu is ripe with smaller dishes and ala carte specialties, making it great for cocktails with friends or a tapas-style date. They serve both lunch and dinner most of the week with brunch on the weekends.
The main dining area boasts a high ceiling with linear wood work and several potted plants. There’s a modern feel to the space that doesn’t abandon its Wine Country origins. The bar is long with bright green chairs that tie in the green of lofty plants and the various greens you’re likely to find on your plate.
We had the Roasted Pork Sandwich and Ranch Bowl. The first has Niman Ranch pork collar roasted until it’s buttery and full of flavor. Incredibly fresh goat cheese adds a slight sourness that complements the romesco spread. The baguette is crusty and fresh. Their Ranch Bowl is anything besides what you’d typically call “ranch” in America. There’s not a single drop of creamy dressing on the pho rice, cooked in pho stock, and steamed cabbage. It’s like Asian meets farm to table. Vegetables are roasted soft with a depth of flavor. The Niman Ranch steak is juicy, tender and medium rare. We would highly recommend this option for anyone looking to try something new.
El Molino Central
When you drive from from Napa to Santa Rosa, be sure to stop at El Molino Central just outside of Sonoma. It’s like you’ve stepped from California right into Mexico! This roadside Mexican cafe features traditional favorites with high quality ingredients, despite its humble appearance. They only have seating on the patio outdoors with bright colors on all the trim and large picnic tables. The order counter has a note board above the kitchen with their menu written out by hand so they can erase whatever they run out of by the end of the day.
We ordered the Niman Ranch Beef Birria Tacos “Tatemada” and Rufina’s Pork Tamalaes. Three beef tacos with salsa de arbol and two Niman Ranch pork tamales with pickled vegetable relish. Simple, but the rich in flavor and full of spices. Do not pass this taqueria by!
In 1949, a burger stand opened in St. Helena called Taylor’s Refresher. It was quite popular with locals, becoming a staple in the area. Over time, the business was leased by other proprietors until two brothers came across the property in 1999. They decided to rebuild this piece of Wine Country’s food history from the ground up. Since then, they’ve changed their name to Gott’s Roadside and opened three other locations in Napa, San Francisco and Palo Alto. They will be opening up two new locations next year, one in Marin County and Walnut Creek.
Both brothers grew up in California, so the menu is inspired by various foods they grew up loving as natives. Western Bacon Blue Ring burger, the Kimchi Burger, Citrus & Avocado Chop salad. You’ll find a breadth of flavors and textures that respect the flavor profile concept with an added touch of excitement. The active brother in the business, Joel, also values his staff and their well being, making Gott’s a fantastic place to work. We found out firsthand that loyal employees and great ingredients leads to great food.
We opted in for the California Burger, though it doesn’t include what you’d expect to find on a “California” style burger. The traditional avocado is swapped for for a fried egg, swiss cheese, bacon, arugula, balsamic onions & mayo on a toasted egg bun. We fell in love with the balsamic onions. They’re a fantastic complement to the beefy flavor of the perfectly cooked patty. Arugula adds a fresh bite and the egg just screams delicious! No wonder this burger is at the top of their menu.
Oenotri has been a downtown Napa staple since it first opened almost seven years ago. The owners and operators, husband and wife duo Tyler Rodde and Lauren Duncan, take their farm to fork concept very seriously. It’s more accurately described as seed to table, with fresh, whole ingredients running the show from the kitchen to the bar. With Tyler running the kitchen and Laura running the front of house, the service and selection is impeccable.
Their restaurant has its own garden, with all produce they can’t grow themselves sourced from the area farmers market. They source whole animals for all their meats besides beef, with dishes changing to accommodate the various cuts they get from each animal. The pasta is made fresh daily (and it is spectacular!). They have an in-house salumi program run by Tyler’s team. They even make their own olive oil. This is a restaurant to be respect and celebrated for the wholesome, pure flavors they bring to the table.
Chef Tyler was a Featured Chefs at our 2011 Farmer Appreciation Dinner, making him a dear friend of Niman Ranch since the beginning. We’re excited to hear that their nano-brewery concept, Tannery Bend Beerworks, is coming to life this winter at 101 S Coombs Street in Napa. It’s a great place to stop if you happen to be a beer lover who finds yourself looking for variety amongst the plethora of wineries.
When we dined at Oenotri, we were lucky to catch their braised short ribs, only on the menu for a short period of time. Colorful cauliflower, potatoes and onions were topped with the braising jus and edible pansy petals delicately placed about the dish. The beef was fork tender and paired incredibly with a local pinot noir. With every bite and every sip, we fell deeper and deeper in love with Wine Country.