At the northern end of Napa Valley, in St. Helena and Calistoga, the roads start to get more windy, the oak trees thicken and the pace gets even slower. This quiet end of the valley welcomed two major new restaurants and one award-winning chef from Italy this summer. Here’s our take on all three.
Charter Oak (St. Helena)
Expectations were high when Christopher Kostow and Nathaniel Dorn of Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood opened the more casual, family-style Charter Oak this summer. Not quite cheap or completely casual, guests can expect elevated hearth-cooking—choose from family-style platters, single portions or try the tasting menus ($85 for dinner, $40 for lunch)—in a lofty dining room with a magical patio. Charter Oak’s bread alone, baked from a 20-year-old sourdough starter with house cultured butter, is worth the trip. Other standouts include fresh cheese malfatti (dumplings) in mushroom bolognese and a pastrami-like beef rib on the bone, grilled over Cabernet barrels and accompanied by beets dressed in rendered beef fat.
Acacia House (St. Helena)
Pulling up the drive to the stately white Las Alcobas hotel, which houses Chris Cosentino's newest restaurant Acacia House, already feels like a special occasion. The sunny, soothing space offers equally elegant menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring croissant milk toast in the morning and Iberico pork schnitzel for evening. Add in a little caviar and jamon Iberico and you've achieved the perfect, indulgent, weekend away.
SolBar, the restaurant inside Solage Calistoga, has a new face in the kitchen: Michelin-starred chef Massimo Falsini from Rome. Falsini is showing his creative side with dishes like agretti (an Italian herb informally referred to as “land seaweed”) with Jimmy Nardello peppers, jamón Ibérico and baked buffalo ricotta. But while he mashes up Italian and Californian ingredients in some plates, his pastas, whether its the potato gnocchi pomodoro or buffalo ricotta gnudi, taste like you’ve taken a flight straight to Italy.