Postcard From Tom: California's Napa Valley

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winter is my favorite time to visit California's Napa Valley. The winery tours are more intimate, the roads are less crowded, and a diner's odds of landing a choice table are better than in spring, summer or fall. These relative newcomers to the restaurant scene recently landed in my little black (travel) book.

GO FISH (641 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-0700)

The name of veteran chef Cindy Pawlcyn's third hit restaurant in the area tells you all you need to know about this sleek sushi bar and seafood house, a showcase for West Coast treasures: Dungeness crab, local oysters, sand dabs and more. An understated nautical theme runs through the open and airy dining room, graced with sumptuous chalk drawings of fish and the sea. Entrees $17-$28.

REDD (6480 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2222)

Winemaker Robert Mondavi is a regular. The windows of the restaurant capture the Mayacamas Range. And cooking your meal is Richard Reddington, 42, a talent nurtured by his time spent in such celebrated American restaurants as Daniel in New York and Spago in Beverly Hills. Unlike so much of the competition, Redd's contemporary dining room and worldly menu don't scream "wine country." Two fond memories: rich glazed pork belly with matchsticks of apple, and pristine hamachi sashimi served on sticky rice with an electric lime-ginger sauce. Entrees $24-$32.

UBUNTU (1140 Main St., Napa; 707-251-5656)

The chef of one of the most enlightening places to eat in the wine country refers to the place as a "vegetable restaurant." You won't miss meat in the dishes created by Jeremy Fox, who relies on ingredients from a nearby garden and uncommon seasonings. From a luscious layering of pureed, roasted and raw cauliflower flavored with a French-style curry to creamy, cold-smoked grits arranged with Brussels sprouts and a barbecue sauce fueled with apple and beer, this is food that avoids cliches. So does the handsome setting. The communal table is made from fallen redwood trees; the floor is paved with recycled shipping crates. Entrees $10-$18.

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