Catching up with the latest and greatest in California’s Napa Valley. Like a fine wine, the Napa Valley itself gets better with age. I’m lucky enough to call California Wine Country home, and regularly keep tabs on new stuff on both sides of the Mayacamas Mountains. Here’s a rundown on some of the newest places to eat, taste, and relax in the Napa Valley.
The slogan at Heritage Eats, the Napa Valley’s newest eatery, says it all: “Slow and steady wins the taste.” This means food here is prepared slowly, with love, and it’s nothing if not flavorful.
Normally, one might expect food prepared “slowly” to take forever to prepare. In this case, however, Chef Jason Kupper has developed a fast-fine food concept—think cafeteria-style line kitchen with the kind of food that makes you moan and groan in delight. Kupper builds his menu around “Heritage Breed” proteins that hail from animals farmed sustainably (and in many cases, organically). Most of the produce he uses comes from a 50-mile radius of the restaurant (which is on the north side of town).
The best part: Both Kupper and his wife work the kitchen and the line.
The menu itself has a global theme. The crispy falafel pita sandwich comes with house-made harissa. The Jamaican Bao sandwich comprises Jamaican-style jerk chicken on house-made steamed bao buns. There’s a chicken tikka masala wrap inspired by street food from Mumbai. And my personal favorite, the cowboy steak wrap, is spiced with house-made barbecue sauce (and can include waffle fries).
No, the food at this joint isn’t fancy. But that’s exactly the appeal. In a destination where it’s tough to find good food at casual prices, Heritage Eats stands alone.
The courtyard at Cairdean Estate
For years, the old outlet mall at the north end of St. Helena was considered one of the Napa Valley’s biggest eyesores. Over the last 18 months, the property—across the street from Trinchero—has been reborn as Cairdean Estate, and now represents one of the most luxurious and varied destinations in the entire Valley.
The main attraction here is the tasting room—a chichi bar where visitors can taste more than a dozen different wines. Also on-site are a restaurant, a deli, a store, and a gallery. (The gallery is the only part of the place that wasn’t open by June 1, 2015).
All of these attractions are laid out around a beautiful courtyard with an old fermentation tank and a new fountain that looks as if it’s made out of ice.
I’ve spent the last few months appreciating Cairdean in different ways. First I frequented the deli, Butterscots, and fell in love with its home-baked pastries, including a curry-flavored brioche. In early June, I went back and spent some time poking around the store, dubbed Redolent Mercantile. When I visited, the store was peddling a number of high-end clothing and home décor items. The salesperson told me that eventually, it also would sell high-end cigars and whiskeys. You can bet I’ll be back for those.
Perhaps my favorite way to experience Cairdean is to sit in the courtyard, marvel at the fountain, and (pardon the pun) drink up the sun. With sweeping views of the northern part of the Valley, it’s a glorious spot, and a great way to spend an hour.
Technically, the spa at Solage Calistoga—it’s dubbed Spa Solage—isn’t new; it’s existed since the property opened last decade. But the facility earlier this year underwent a US$2.3-million refresh and expansion that more than doubled the size of the reception area, adding 2,500 square feet in all. The centerpiece of the expansion is a brand new “Relaxation Room,” a luxurious spot where men and women can hang out between the time they check in and the time that their therapist is ready to administer a massage.
The Relaxation Room feels more South Beach than Napa Valley; everything inside is white, including some mother-of-pearl walls. The overarching vibe, however, is total Zen, which is exactly what spa-goers want when they, well, go to a spa.
I also really like the new locker rooms. The old ones were a bit small, and the new iterations feature my absolute favorite bathroom amenity ever: Outdoor showers.
(For what it’s worth, the rooms at Solage, as well as Solbar, the restaurant, are better than ever, and still among the best lodging and dining experiences in the entire Valley.)
Viewfinder Tip: When you book a treatment at Spa Solage, allow yourself enough time to enjoy the mineral water pools behind the on-site bathhouse.
And more change is on the horizon. Over the next few months, the Napa Valley will see some additional changes worth mentioning here.
First up: The reopening of Chef Thomas Keller’s famous Yountville restaurant, The French Laundry. “The Laundry,” as we locals call it, has been closed all year for the first renovation since it opened in 1978. Chef Keller has said he anticipates the restaurant coming back online in October, which undoubtedly will bring much fanfare among local foodies.
Also on the agenda is the completion of the last of the flood remediation projects in downtown Napa. One of the last outstanding projects is a spillway that creates additional flood plain between two sections of the Napa River that come particularly close to touching. When the project is finished, the spillway will become a concrete promenade where locals and visitors alike can sit and enjoy fresh air (of course it also will carry floodwaters during rainy season).
Finally, big changes are coming to Calistoga, including an 80-room Four Seasons resort across the street from Solage. Add this to a recent US$20-million makeover at Indian Springs, which included the addition of Sam’s Social Club restaurant, and this tiny town truly is getting primed for the big time.