If you’re jonsin’ for a getaway with a couple of your besties (which somehow always seems to include a little…ok a LOT of wine) then girlfriend…gather your gal pals and get your butts over to Napa. You make think you know Napa but if you haven’t been there in the last year or two, there’s a whole new Downtown Napa scene going on that you’ll really want to be part of!
I always knew there was world-class food, good shopping, luxe hotels and of course, no shortage of acclaimed wineries, but shhhhhh-just between us, I always thought it was a bit on the “missy” side. After last week’s girlfriend getaway, I can honestly say that Napa is in the midst of an exciting renaissance that includes some fab new eateries, alternative wine tasting venues, a newly reenergized Oxbow Public Market and a full roster of special events such as the upcoming third annual BottleRock Napa Valley –an unparalleled mashup of almost 100 music and culinary superstars to be held May 29-31, 2015. And that’s just for starters. They have already broken ground for the Archer, a luxurious five-story hotel that will anchor the new Napa Center, a distinctive mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment in the heart of downtown.
So roundup your posse, pack your bags (but leave plenty of room for your shopping finds) and head over to explore the New Napa, now ground zero for girls who wanna have fun.
I loved, loved, loved our boutique hotel, the refreshing, unself-consciously hip Andaz Napa, which also managed to be one of the comfiest, most functional hotels I’ve stayed at in a long time. Perched in the heart of downtown, you can easily walk to everything so take full advantage of their oh-so-thoughtful free parking garage. This was just the tip of the wineglass of their many amenities, which also included a complimentary: welcome drink, daily newspaper delivery, access to the huge full-service fitness center next door, plush robes, Keurig coffeemaker with all the fixings, evening wine tastings, wireless Internet, a mini-bar filled with assorted waters, juice and sodas, snacks, local phone calls, uber-friendly service. My own personal fave, was their long list of “Forgot Anything” items, which they happily deliver with a smile. Bonus points for their lively roof deck bar with rocking chairs and communal fire pit.
The 141 spacious, Soho loft-like guestrooms, decorated in soothing shades of taupe and grey, feature hardwood floors, elegant white marble bathrooms with walk-in showers and rainfall shower heads, and luxurious Preserves 29 Grape Seed Age Protecting bath products (not that I need “age-defying” but others might!) Select suites also feature large soaking tubs and a dual sided glass fireplace. My only slight quibble was the parking roof view, so next time I’m going to dibbs the Tower Suite, which has a great view of downtown Napa as well as 12 ft. ceilings and soaking tub for two.
Brekkie- Model Bakery
It’s virtually impossible to make a bad selection at this famous neighborhood bakery serving breakfast & lunch, plus take-away cookies, cakes, cookies & artisanal specialty breads, but their “World’s best English Muffins” make unforgettable sammies.
Lunch- Atlas Social
This new gastropub (the latest venture from the talented hubby and wife restaurateurs behind the wildly popular Norman Rose Tavern and Azzurro Pizzeria) offers small plates sporting big flavors in a rustic/chic ambiance. Grab a seat at one of the communal tables and order a spread to share from the mouthwatering tapa-styled menu featuring seasonal dishes “from the farm, sea or ranch” which you can pair with a craft beer or an interesting selection from their well-curated wine list. Save room for the intense chocolate budino sprinkled with cherries and bee pollen.
Another relative newbie, Torc (Gaelic for boar) is found in the iconic space that once housed Ubuntu. Seasoned chef/owner Sean O’toole’s menu showcases the region’s finest farm (& forest) to table ingredients, which he lets shine in all their simple splendor. Standouts include a delicate Wild Herb Salad, an aromatic violet artichoke soup, a gorgeous halibut still-life anointed with freshly foraged morels and his signature heritage PORCHETTA anointed with five spice, mustard greens, Tokyo turnips, and basmati rice.
Or if you want to go super casj, David Lu’s Eight Noodle Shop makes a fun, tasty lunch or dinner stop. This still-wet-behind-the ears Asian street-food inspired eatery is still working out a few kinks, so the service might be a bit slow since all the food is made in a postage-sized kitchen, but if you nab a seat on the patio, chilling over a glass of wine, it’s all good.
It can be challenging to try and choose between all the tempting small plates; Korean sweet chili chicken wings, pulled pork steamed buns, greaseless crispy squid, Hamachi crudo with soy caramel and the wildly addictive charred edamame with 5 spice salt, so don’t. Trust me, you’ll polish them all off! If you’re still hungry opt for one of the heaping ramen bowls. Two chopsticks up for the sofrito flavored seafood ramen. But leave room for Lu’s amazing hot Okinawan doughnuts with tangy yuzu curd.
If you and the girls simply can’t agree on what you want to eat, head over to the Oxbow Public Market, where everyone will hum the happy song as they stroll the aisles. For a yummy progressive meal start with a six-pack of Hog Island Oysters, followed by an assortment of cheese and charcuterie and a wine flight, that you cobbled together with some help from the knowledgeable” staff at Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant. Save room to feel the Latin love behind C CASA’s unique tacos, grab some pristine sushi from Eikos and then finish off with one of Kara’s cupcakes or chocoholics will freak out over Anette’s Chocolates artisan crafted confections. Note: her Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Brittle makes the perfect gift for the boys back home
P.S. If one of your girls is gluten intolerant, point her in the direction of Cate & Co. where all the breads and sweeties are not only 100% gluten free, but they actually look delectable!
Fun alternative wine tasting options
If your crowd is anything like mine, it’s virtually impossible to get anyone to volunteer for the dreaded “designated driver” position, so here are two alternatives that will leave everyone smiling:
Hit the rails in style when you sign up for the Ambassador Tour on the Napa Valley Wine Train, where you will spend a delightful afternoon (over) indulging in a gourmet, multi-course lunch paired with fine wines while you leisurely chug down the tracks in the comfort of your exquisitely restored (think polished mahogany wood, sparkling brass accents, etched glass, plush seats) vintage Pullman railcars. My lunch, a baby lettuce salad sprinkled with candied nuts and smoked goat cheese followed by pristinely fresh Ahi tuna was scrumptious and beautifully presented. This tour includes a bus ride to two wineries: the granddaddy of them all, Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s first winery which opened in 1874, and the fantastical Raymond Vineyards, the Willy Wonka of wineries, complete with a biodynamic farm, roaming peacocks, luxury dog kennel, bocce ball court, and futuristic “blending room” where you can don a silver lab coat and create your own custom blend.
For the height of romance, check out their dinner tour which also includes a VIP after-hours tour of Grgich Hills Estate.
Or you can rent a bike and take an easy-peasy pedal to Judd’s Hill for a fun and informative Wine & Food Experience. Our wine educator, Bob, was most entertaining, and eliminated much of the mystery behind pairing wine with food, which started a lively debate as to who liked the Cab or the Petite Sirah better with Judd’s Hill award- winning BBQ sauce. There was no contest when it came to tasting their luscious Tardy Harvest Roussanne, partic after Bob said, “Just wait until you try it poured over pound cake topped with fresh berries.”
Fore more help in planning your trip, from itinerary ideas, hotel reservations, or to check the calendar for special events visit Downtown Napa.