1. Ad Hoc
What started in 2006 as a temporary six-month pop-up by Thomas Keller has since become a crowd favourite brunch destination in Napa’s Yountville county, as the instant popularity made it impossible to shut the restaurant down. The format is simple: the prix-fixe restaurant boasts four sizeable, delicious courses during the week, and three for Sunday brunch, all served family-style. Their famous buttermilk fried chicken isn’t always on the menu, so be sure to call ahead of time to confirm and plan accordingly. The ambience is friendly and casual, and prices are reasonable, especially if you’re not ready to commit to spending big bucks on the tasting menu at the world-famous The French Laundry; Ad Hoc is your perfect gateway into the wonderful world of Thomas Keller.
Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington Street, Yountville, California 94599, USA; +1 (707) 944-2487; www.thomaskeller.com/adhoc
2. The Fremont Diner
In an area known for tasting menus by chefs who turn food into high art, The Fremont Diner stands out as a reminder of how just as enjoyable a pared down meal can be. Located on Highway 12 between Napa and Sonoma, the homey diner evokes quirky nostalgia from the moment you walk through its swinging doors, with its rusty pickup truck parked outside, rusty memorabilia, vintage road signs, and mismatched tables and chairs. The diner has earned itself a cult-like following since it opened its doors in 2009 and, on any given weekend, a wait for a table can easily exceed an hour, especially during prime brunch hours. The kitchen takes full advantage of the seasonal produce from surrounding farms, and the Southern comfort-focused menu features star dishes such as flakey buttermilk biscuits with gravy, a fiery Nashville-style chicken sandwich, and house-smoked black pepper brisket hash.
The Fremont Diner, 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, California 95476, USA; +1 (707) 938-7370; www.thefremontdiner.com
3. Scribe Winery
Ask the cool kids where they go in Napa, and 10/10 will point you in the direction of Scribe Winery, one of the hippest wineries in Wine Country, and the best spot to visit if you’re interested in trying California’s new wave of wines. Owners and brothers Adam and Andrew Mariani are fourth-generation California farmers who set out to pave the way for a fresh generation of winemakers and consumers, and have restored the grounds since purchasing the property in 2007, saving it from its prior life as a dilapidated turkey farm. Tastings take place at a historic 19-century estate house that overlooks rolling hills covered in rows of vines, olive, peach and palm trees. Scribe’s rustic minimalist aesthetic is embodied in its wines; chardonnay is skin-fermented and grapes not normally found in Sonoma, such as Sylvaner and Austrian St. Laurent, are harvested. There’s no fancy tasting room; instead, visitors gather around wooden picnic tables and sip on wines while snacking on nuts and produce grown on the property.
Scribe Winery, 2100 Denmark Street, Sonoma, California 95476, USA; +1 (707) 939-1858; www.scribewinery.com
4. Opus One
The story of Opus One is both historic and unlikely; Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the aristocratic owner of Château Mouton Rothschild near Bordeaux, and Robert Mondavi, a California winemaker who wished to have Napa Valley wines recognised as the greatest of the world, joined forces to redefine and evolve the course of fine wine production in the valley. Since its inception in 1978, Opus One has become an icon in the wine world, and no trip to Napa is complete without a visit to the luxuriously stunning winery. The colossal semi-circular stone structure sits at the end of a tree-lined driveway, creating an illusion that the building is rising out of the earth. As you look out across its vineyards from the upper terrace, you’ll immediately sense the vast beauty of Napa Valley. Winery tours are strictly by appointment only, and it’s highly recommended that you make a reservation at least a month in advance. Opus One produces one wine, and one wine only—a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and no two vintages are alike. If a US$280 per bottle price tag doesn’t stop you, their limit of six bottles per customer will.
Opus One, 7900 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, California 94562, USA; +1 (707) 944-9442; www.opusonewinery.com
5. The Charter Oak
Chef Christopher Kostow is the mastermind behind three-Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood, which has earned him a place amongst the world’s most elite chefs and restaurateurs, so when he announced the opening of The Charter Oak in 2017, it was no surprise that its arrival was met with much enthusiasm. Unlike its fine-dining, prix-fixe sibling, The Charter Oak’s a la carte menu is meant to be shared, and is split up into seasonal salads and entrees “from the hearth,” all of which have been licked with flames. The wood-fire grilling hearth sits in the center of the large 72-seater moody dining room made up of exposed brick, rustic wood, and dark slab tables. The restaurant is casual, but in the way a fine dining chef would see it; mustard is dehydrated and dusted over charred broccoli, and ears of corn are buttered and sprinkled with yeast salt. If you’re dining during the warmer summer months, be sure to precede your meal with at least one handcrafted cocktail in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard out front.
The Charter Oak, 1050 Charter Oak Avenue, St. Helena, California 94574, USA; +1 (707) 302-6996; www.thecharteroak.com
6. Acacia House
It’s impossible not to be dazzled by charm when you arrive at Acacia House, a restaurant set in a 1907 colonial-style Georgian mansion in the northern end of Napa Valley. Located on the grounds of boutique hotel Las Alcobas, the high-end restaurant by Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino serves a menu of bold and rustic yet refined dishes made with local, sustainable ingredients that reflect the bounty of Napa Valley. Cosentino exposes his meat-centric background through dishes such as lamb tartare with green harissa and mint, and crispy Iberico pork schnitzel with caviar dressing. While the chef is most known for his snout-to-tail approach to cooking, half the menu is made up of vegetable-forward dishes, such as local radishes with sea urchin, butter and sea vegetables, and mushroom risotto with hen of the woods and dried enoki mushroom “hay”. Diners have the option of sitting outside on an expansive porch that wraps around the main 50-seat restaurant, and the ambience is reminiscent of relaxing evenings spent enjoying a meal at a friend’s or family member’s home.
Acacia House, 1073, 1915 Main Street, St Helena, California 94574, USA; +1 (707) 963-9004; www.lasalcobasnapavalley.com