Backed by his team and dedicated business partners, Keane is attempting to revitalize and reinvent an up-valley restaurant. The food they are offering is easy to understand, of good value and of high quality. Will it be enough to attract enough diners to achieve their goal of making this a sustainable model for the staff and owners? Time will tell, but it is encouraging to see business owners attempting to solve the growing dilemma of serving high-quality, affordable food while at the same time taking good care of their staff.
Already 2018 is feeling so yesterday when it comes to food and wine. Gone are the heady days when having a rosé paired with some house-made charcuterie seemed new and exciting. Now having a can of sparkling wine alongside an Uzbekistan oshi-sabo stew will become as common as enjoying a “clean meat” burger served with a ‘pét-nat.’
It’s tempting to layer in Keller’s legacy onto this new venture. However, it actually seems he’s stepping away from the limelight and instead putting the new chef front and center. And with his departure from the French-centric theme of his numerous restaurants, he’s created an affordable place to grab a drink with friends while enjoying a delicious — albeit not mind-bending — food experience. It’s as if Keller is saying that food can be many things and serve many moments of life, and at La Calenda it’s time to let the guard down. With that he and his team have created a welcome addition to Yountville’s food scene.
The Itkins — he a trial lawyer and she a geophysicist/chemical engineer — first came to the Napa Valley in 2008. Like many before them, they were smitten by the views as well as the lure of the vintner lifestyle, and so by 2012 they had purchased a 60-acre property in the rugged hills in the Diamond Mountain appellation just west of Calistoga.
…the vineyard is referred to as “Ne Cede Malis,” a Latin phrase found etched in one of the manor’s stained-glass tasting-room windows.
The full phrase, “ Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito,” originated from the Roman poet Virgil. The oft-quoted admonition is translated into English as “ Yield not to misfortunes (sometimes translated to ‘evil’), but advance all the more boldly against them.”
Within the Napa Valley there are now a total of 35 Michelin-rated restaurants, including 21 L’assiette (adding Charlie Palmer Steak Napa, Compline and Redd, which closed in October), eight Bib Gourmands (up from six in 2018 by moving Ciccio up from L’assiette and adding Gran Electrica to last year’s remaining six), four one star (same list as last year), zero two-stars and the two remaining top contenders kept their three stars (The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood, which has had three stars since 2011).
Napa Valley restaurants are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain qualified personnel. The causes are partly driven by the high cost of living but also appear linked to broader trends: lack of affordable housing, higher-paying alternative careers (e.g., construction) and slowing local population growth. These trends are exacerbated when coupled with the increasing number of Napa Valley tourists, resorts, restaurants and wineries.
There are many things to like about this new winery (high quality, decent pricing, support of small growers), but there are things that are also of concern (a blurring of the lines between restaurants and wineries, the use of imprisonment as a form of entertainment and the erasing of a prior iconic wine brand without any sense of gratitude or remembrance). However the bigger concern might be that the loss of a sense of place will harm other local businesses, especially if other wineries widely adopt such strategies.
The rash of restaurant closings in the Napa Valley continues. Last Wednesday, a Facebook post announced that Yountville’s Redd Restaurant would close five days later.
“We had been talking about it for about a week, but it became a reality pretty fast,” said Redd’s general manager, Guy Rebentisch, who has been with the establishment since its beginning.
Over the last year, the new chef at Yountville’s Ciccio, Peruvian-born Bryant Minuche, has quietly transformed the food from very good to outstanding with little or no fanfare. And although locals might lament how shining a spotlight on this already popular restaurant could result in even longer wait times for a table, it’s now just unfair to the dining public to keep the news under wraps.
On Sept. 1, Lee and Cristina Salas-Porras Hudson and their team opened the doors to Napa’s newest winery. Located on their 2,000-acre ranch just north of San Pablo Bay in Napa’s Carneros region, the winery, caves and tasting rooms form a village-like collection of structures where guests taste wines and learn about the history of both the property and the proprietors.
Napa’s newest restaurant, the hip and lively Gran Eléctrica, is grabbing well-deserved attention. New York owners Elise Rosenberg, Emelie Kihlstrom and Tamer Hamawi have joined forces with locals to craft modernized Mexican “street food” and super-creative cocktails served in a spacious indoor-outdoor dining room decorated with art inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday and mural art.
Working as a hired sales and marketing team, this group of wine experts provides a collection of selected, mostly local, wine brands the ability to obtain broader exposure throughout the United States. Other companies do this type of outsourced work, but what’s unique about Scale is that their team includes some of the world’s leading wine sommeliers.
The reviews, tentative at first, have begun to pour in: The San Francisco Chronicle placed The Charter Oak on its Top 100 Restaurants list of 2018, the Wine Enthusiast added them to its list of top 100 wine restaurants in America, and the prestigious James Beard Foundation nominated them as one of five of the Best New Restaurants in America. Beyond this impressive list, Food & Wine magazine recently included Hong as one of their Best New Chefs of 2018.
Lodi’s rapid rise is largely due to three factors: 1) the cost of land is relatively low; 2) Lodi is large (over 110,000 planted acres, compared to Napa’s 45,000), displaying a wide diversity of microclimates that can grow everything from heat-loving Zinfandel and Cabernet to cooler-climate varietals such as Kerner and Gewürztraminer; and, 3) the culture encourages wine experimentation.
Pawlcyn and her business partner, Sean Knight, had sold the restaurant and the liquor license for an undisclosed amount, and, at the time, the new owner was unnamed as well. The news of a second iconic St. Helena restaurant to close abruptly within a few weeks of one another (the building next door housed Terra restaurant, which closed June 2) sent a wave of concern throughout the Napa Valley’s culinary world, with many fearing some sort of domino theory of eatery Armageddon. However, the timing of the closure appears to be more of a coincidence than a harbinger of doom.
The world of food in the Napa Valley has never been more in flux than it is today. With major changes in demographics, technology and climate change all coupled with increased competition, limited labor and changing consumer preferences it often seems as though there are new revelations on a daily basis.
Owners Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone had created the benchmark for a style of modern California cuisine, fusing European and Japanese influences. And they had also maintained a consistently exceptional Napa Valley dining experience that was rewarded for decades by reviewers such as Michael Bauer and Michelin.