Friday, May 28, 2010

Oenotri: Italian, with a twist

Folks often ask us what it's like to live at a Napa Bed & Breakfast.

"Do you ever eat at home, or do you just keep trying all the new restaurants?"

We do both. We love to cook and develop new recipes for our Napa B&B.

But one of the greatest pleasures of living in the Napa Valley is going out to eat, and experiencing all the wonderfulness of a great Napa Valley restaurant.

We've watched the progress of Oenotri and were very excited about another restaurant opening in Napa.

Walking in, it feels both welcoming and bright/open. Rough plank wood tables set a rustic mood, while the rest of the decor is simple and sophisticated. A great combination.

Overall sound level is a bit loud-- think more "bistro" than "quiet reflective spot". It's an atmosphere that feels at once exciting, and at the same time, relaxed. Kind of like a party at a friend's house. Lots of smiling faces.

The menu changes daily, and is posted online around 4 or 5 pm. Why so late? Because the chefs talk to their purveyors daily, and base their menu each night around what is fresh and in season. The dishes themselves are literally not finalized until mid-afternoon.

We sampled a mostaciolli made with Willis Farm pork ragu. It brought to mind some of our favorite Italian food: A simple combination of flavors and textures, perfectly matched. Spices came through subtly, but were never overbearing. The presentation was simple, in a round demi bowl with the pasta in the middle. No fancy garnishes, foam, or drizzles-- just food.

That pretty much sums up the whole place: It's all about the food.

As foodies, we're all over that.

We also had a pizza from their wood-fired ovens. It was topped with roasted cauliflower, salumi macinato, and torpedo onions. Incredibly yummy. Again, a wonderful blend of flavors, none taking center stage-- all working together to provide blissful bites.

We were amazed at the Salumi taster's menu. Salumi are Italian cured meats (charcuterie). While the word may look/sound like "salami", salami is just one kind of Salumi-- the term covers everything from Mortadella to Prosciutto di Parma to bresaola. Oenotri takes this very seriously-- they literally produce all of their charcuterie in house.

We were so impressed by the Salumi menu that we made a date to come back and just spend an evening sampling some of the nearly 20 different varieties, with "extra bites" like mozzarella di bufala, rabiola trelatti, and roasted almonds.

Desserts were another big hit. We tried the Valrhona chocolate cake w/pistachio gelato (as decadent as you could imagine, a perfect pairing with the Ritual Roasters coffee they served). We also nibbled on the bread pudding with roasted cherries-- delicately spiced, not overly saucy, and, in a word, wonderful.

But our favorite was the Bluebery crostata with Meyer Lemon Cream. Think about the most amazingly intense lemon meringue filling you've ever tasted (Cindy Pawlcyn's Mile High Lemon Pie comes to mind). Imagine the lemon filling as a thick liquid, garnished with fresh blueberries and a wedge of flaky Italian pastry. Now add just a hint of whipped cream, and you have one incredible way to finish a meal.

Service was exceptional-- they were so busy-- Every table was full, and everyone was ordering at once, thanks to a freak rain shower that forced attendees of the Napa Chef's Market to run for cover. Our food arrived within 15-20 minutes, and our server and host checked in on us regularly to see what we needed.

We left happy, full, and with big smiles on our faces.

And we'll be back. :)

- The Innkeepers
Napa Old World Inn

UPDATE: Went back a week later to try out the "Salumi" platter-- AMAZING. Truly. The chefs provided several different types of cured meats: 2 salami, a prosciutto that literally *melted* on your tongue (!), 2 different kinds of fresh cheese (one a yummy bufala mozzarella), a rustic liver pate that was the best we'd ever had (beautiful finish), a rillette that was also incredible, a "lardo" (yep, just what is sound like: cured fat), and a cotto salami that was divine. Easily the best assemblage of charcuterie we've ever had-- and this includes eating this way most every night when we were in Europe.

Had another pizza, similar to last weeks (house smoked bufala mozzarella, salumi macinato and baby torpedo onions). Boy, do these guys know how to do pizza!

Passed up the desserts, in part because we'd just picked up some organic locally grown strawberries, raspberries, and peaches from the Chefs' Market, and couldn't wait to get back to our favorite Napa Bed and Breakfast to have some fun with them in the kitchen!

We've gotten lots of great feedback from these restaurant reviews, so we'll start blogging our restaurant experiences more often.

Until next time . . . :)

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