You might might assume that dining out in Napa or Sonoma Valley only entails rich meats and heavy cabernets —and that’s certainly available. You can also indulge in luxury experiences at, say, Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge in Yountville, or legendary places like Paul Hobbs’ Katherine Lindsay Estate near Sebastopol, where a newly launched tasting experience by chef Sam McKenzie will blow your mind.
But there’s so much more to sample and enjoy in Wine Country — much of which won’t blow your entire paycheck in one go. Here are five fun culinary experiences to check off your list next time you head north.
1 Love that lox: The destruction of the Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood by the 2020 Glass Fire was just one more terrible notch on the belt of a horrible year. But chef Christopher Kostow, who helmed the culinary mecca for years, made some lemonade out of those sad lemons when he opened Loveski Deli earlier this year. Kostow and his wife, Martina, opened their self-styled “Jew-ish” concept inside the popular Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. Expect chewy Montreal-style sourdough bagels (try the crusted nutritional yeast variety), interesting schmears (yellow chive and fermented onion) and matzoh ball soup ($10-$12) with a twist — fresh herbs and lemongrass. And the drool-worthy deli sandwiches are legit. Don’t miss the Loveski Reuben ($20) with hot corned beef, Swiss cheese, white kimchi and gochujang dressing.
Details: Oxbow Public Market, 610 First St., Napa; www.loveskideli.com
2 Mix it up. After a day of wine tasting, you’ll want a change of pace – and luckily, cocktail culture is legit in Wine Country. When you tire of the noble grape, duck into the basement bar at St. Helena’s Goose & Gander, where the ambience envelops you like a leather-scented hug. The drinks are spot on, with many leaning in a whiskey direction. Try a Walter’s Manhattan, a classic nod to original owner Walter Martini, who built this Craftsman-style bungalow in 1923.
Details: 1245 Spring Street, St. Helena; https://goosegander.com
3 Slice it splendidly: Calistoga’s fame grew out of its therapeutic mud and water, both of which you can partake of to this day. One spot to do that is Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, a historic property that underwent a massive reboot during the pandemic and reopened last year. While much was changed — in good ways — the opportunity to consume, soak and luxuriate in pure Calistoga spring water has remained, starting with the giant, beautiful hydration station in the lobby.
.But that’s not what this foodie list item is about. Head for House of Better, the Southwestern-inspired cafe on site, where the menu ranges from fish tacos to posole to flatbreads — and pie. Not just any pie. This special slice ($6.50) is apple with green chiles, walnut streusel and a cheddar-butter crust, served with whipped cream and red chile honey drizzled on top.
Details: 1507 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga; https://drwilkinson.com/house-of-better
4 Discover plant-based perfection: The town of Healdsburg has so much deliciousness crammed into its tiny downtown, it might deserve a foodie bucket list of its own. But if you truly want an experience, go directly to Little Saint, Single Thread’s casual offshoot. Tucked inside the former Shed space, Little Saint includes a mercantile, a coffee shop, music venue, bar and restaurant — with food that’s not only entirely plant-based, it’s astounding. Vegan phobic? You won’t be, after you taste the cashew ranch dressing served with the tempura zucchini.
Details: 25 N St., Healdsburg; www.littlesainthealdsburg.com
5 Get a Bear hug: The newest Auberge property in Napa is Stanly Ranch, a historic 712-acre ranch surrounded by vineyards near the Napa River. The luxurious hotel opened in April, and the resort’s signature restaurant, Bear, leaves a major impression. You can’t go wrong at any meal here, but if you’re brunching, don’t skip the savory buckwheat waffle ($26) topped with wild salmon gravlax, hollandaise and trout roe.
Details: 200 Stanly Crossroad, Napa; https://aubergeresorts.com/stanlyranch
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