Napa Valley's Newest Restaurant: Brasswoods Bar & Kitchen

Cairdean Estate owners Edwin and Stacia Williams continue to refine their vision for their winery and market “village” just north of Calistoga.

Adjacent to their 50-acre winery and vineyard are seven acres of what they refer to as the Cairdean Village. The village is comprised of outdoor picnic areas and shops that include an upscale deli-bakery, tasting room, boutique clothing shop, art gallery and recently reimagined, renamed and reopened restaurant, Brasswoods Bar and Kitchen, formerly The Farmer and the Fox.

“Our initial idea was to have a small vineyard estate and make a little wine,” said Stacia who is also the winemaker at Cairdean. “But our dreams have evolved over time and now include making a place that’s comfortable for locals and where visitors can come and get a sense of what it’s like to live in this beautiful valley. Opening the new restaurant under the guidance of Marcus and having nearly the entire crew from Tra Vigne join us goes a long way to fulfilling that dream.”

Stacia was referring to hiring their new general manager, Marcus Marquez, partner and former general manager at Goose & Gander in St. Helena.

“In a way it was really difficult for me to step away from the day-to-day at the Goose & Gander,” said Marquez, “but when I met Edwin and Stacia and learned about what they’re attempting to accomplish, it was just too exciting to pass up. Plus I love a good challenge,” he added with a smile.

To create a new restaurant in the Napa Valley that has a strong local following is the holy grail of success, keeping the lights on during the slower season and helping to draw in tourists who want to meet the locals. Only a few places have accomplished this lofty goal, one of the best being the recently closed Tra Vigne, where locals could be found dining or entertaining friends several times a week and where many of the crew members had been employed for years, which is nearly unheard of in what can sometimes be a high-turnover business.

“When I learned that one of the most established and high-performing restaurant teams in the valley were being released, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Marquez. “And when the majority of the team eventually agreed to come join us, we knew we had something unique. The recent opening of Brasswood has proven that to be true — the food, wine and energy here have been exciting.”

“When the crew first learned of the closing we all sort of went through the five stages of grief,” said Jennifer Bohr, general manager of Brasswood and former general manager at Tra Vigne. “It was a special place. Eventually we all just came to accept the ending of a great run, and then we all just felt deep gratitude for having been a part of it. When Marcus told us about the vision at Brasswood, little by little nearly the whole crew decided to make the switch. We all miss Chef Nash Cognetti, who isn’t here with us, but we know he’ll continue to do fantastic work in the valley. All of us who came over will strive to create a second home for locals with an environment that is comforting and polished but not pretentious, a place where people feel cared-for and respected and where the food and service are excellent.”

Echoing Bohr’s enthusiasm was a longtime Tra Vigne customer and Napa Valley winemaker and owner of Bevan Cellars, Russell Bevan.

“Tra Vigne was one of the great restaurants of Napa Valley,” said Bevan. “I remember growing up in Minneapolis and hearing commercials on the TV: ‘You can go to Napa Valley. You can try the world’s greatest wine. You can eat at Tra Vigne but you can’t pay with American Express.’ It was iconic to me before I even moved here. And when I got here, it was even better than that — it was a place where the locals could come, feel at home, get great service and fantastic food. The building, the people and the energy made it one of the special and unique places in the valley. When I heard they were closing, it was like a little piece of me died, but when I heard they were all coming over here, it was like I’d been given CPR. I was looking for my home again and I think I just found it.”

As for the food, the menu is an eclectic mixture of old and new with a distinct Italian leaning.

“Our style is California comfort food, but we also draw a lot from our culinary roots,” said Bohr. “On the menu we have mozzarella-stuffed risotto aranchini, but we also have Dungeness crab cakes, herb-crusted lamb chops and juicy, house-made rib-eye burgers.”

The wine list is Napa-focused with an extensive wines-by-the-glass selection that includes seven Cairdean wines on tap and 10 wines made by winery clients.

“Our liquor and spirits program is anchored with an extensive selection of scotch and whisky from around the world,” said Joshua Fisher, Brasswood’s sommelier. “And our wines by-the-glass tap program are exclusively from wines made by owner Stacia Williams. Our by-the-glass list is also complimented by the wines of 10 other winemakers who make their wines entirely at the Cairdean winery.

“We are thrilled to be making our wine at what is one of the most cutting-edge, high-tech wineries in the Napa Valley,” said Ron Haber, owner of St. Helena’s Haber Family Vineyards. “Not only are we able to make our wine at the Cairdean’s fantastic facility, we are also able to taste our wines with clients onsite and even have our wines poured by the glass here at the restaurant.”

The first few days of a restaurant opening can be challenging, but given the crew’s cohesiveness and familiarity, the guests on those nights seemed hardly to notice that only three weeks prior the restaurant didn’t even have a crew.

“The meatballs were a big hit,” said Stacey Radinger, vice president of sales at Dancing Hares Vineyard. “And the pan-seared flounder with shiitake mushrooms and tomato-lemon butter is delightful -- flaky and light. We used to eat at Tra Vigne once or twice a week, and we’ll really miss it. But we’re happy the crew is still together and obviously still producing excellent food and service. They’ve always made us feel like family.”

“The energy since the opening has been amazing,” said Edwin Williams. “It’s exciting to see so many people come in and enjoy themselves like they’re old family friends. It’s encouraging, and we hope that people come out and enjoy what we’ve built for everybody.”

Brasswood Bar and Kitchen is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Reservations can be made either through their website, www.cairdeanestate.com, calling 707-302-5101 or emailing jen@cairdeanestate.com. Corkage is waived for the first bottle and is $20 for each additional bottle.

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Originally published in The Weekly Calistogan, Feb. 2016