Downtown Napa: Après-wine

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

I know, Andy Warhol meant a different, bigger and more populous downtown when he famously said, “Uptown is for people who have already done something. Downtown is where they’re doing something now,” but hey, it only takes one visit to Downtown Napa to see that they’re doing a lot of somethings there right now!

If the city of Napa is a default capital of California Wine Country, Downtown Napa is its beating heart. In honor of the city’s 175th Anniversary, Downtown Napa Association created a program of celebratory events for the locals as well as visitors to participate in and enjoy. However, any day here, in Napa, is a holiday, filled with the world’s best wines, exquisite California cuisine, historic architecture, well developed parks and pedestrian areas, an exemplary waterfront, and abundant public art displays, both permanent and temporary—everything that makes life beautiful!

Wine: Chateau Buena Vista

A very new, sparkling in more than one sense, lavishly decorated, and welcoming, Chateau Buena Vista is the latest edition to the winemaking and winetasting empire, founded by a wine country visionary, Jean-Charles Boisset. Displaying an enormous amount of time-honored select wines from Buena Vista, California Historic Landmark and the Golden State’s first premium winery, in operation in Sonoma since 1857, the flamboyant tasting room in Downtown Napa graces the historic 1929 Gordon Building.

The newest Napa tasting room offers quite a few experiences to its guests, none of them short of amazing discoveries, including those specifically curated for celebratory dates, like the upcoming Mother’s Day 2022:

Mother’s Day Champagne and Chocolate on May 7 and 8. Heritage Sparkling Rosé, Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, and La Victoire Brut Rosé Champagne are paired with three handcrafted confections from Earth and Sky Chocolates (owner/chocolatier, Robbie Schmidt).

Champagne and Caviar pairs the bubbly with black caviar from the firm’s own JCB Collection.

Cabernet and Chocolate offers the best Cabernet Sauvignon from four distinct appellations of Napa Valley paired handcrafted chocolates.

Champagne, Caviar, Cabernet, and Chocolate (enough said!)

A Taste of Buena Vista is a unique tasting experience encompassing four exemplary varietals from both Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Chateau Buena Vista is located at 1142 1st St, Napa, CA 94559. Phone: (707) 703-5677. Website: https://buenavistawinery.com/chateau-buena-vista-napa/.

Food: Oenotri

True to its Southern Italian roots, Oenotri (Greek for “vine cultivators”) serves fresh, flavorful fare made with seasonal, locally sourced produce, including from the restaurant’s own 5-acre farm, so the menu changes daily. A go-to place for the local gourmands, who came to appreciate its house-made salumi, artisanal pizza and handmade pasta, the restaurant is hiding inside a downtown courtyard shared by a few businesses, with enough space for a covered outdoor seating.

The service here matches the excellence of food and drink, and Oenotri’s knowledgeable servers will gladly share any information on daily specials. Adding to the list of Italian and Napa Valley wines, many from small family producers, and some available only at this restaurant, masterfully prepared cocktails round up a comprehensive beverage program.  

With exclusive olive oils from Napa Valley growers, fresh breads baked in house, and creative pizzas from an imported Italian wood-burning oven, simple-sounding traditional dishes reach a high level of culinary sophistication.

Giardino pizza features shaved seasonal asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and onions on a bed of crema with Parmigiano-Reggiano; Squid Ink Linguine with shaved tuna heart, garlic, and parsley is topped with a row organic egg yolk; and Swordfish with Asparagus is garnished with Ruby Red grapefruit, finger lime, salmon roe, sugo, and micro basil.

Elaborate desserts include Chocolate Panna Cotta with coffee crema and Cenci cookies, and Pineapple Sorbetto with coconut Arborio rice pudding and lime.

Oenotri is located at 1425 1st St, Napa, CA 94559. Phone: (707) 252-1022. Website: https://www.oenotri.com/.

Food: Tarla Mediterranean Grill + Bar

It would be hard to find a better place for a hearty lunch in Downtown Napa than Tarla Mediterranean Bar + Grill with its lavish menu of Turkish and Greek specialties, always delicious, redolent of aromatic spices, shareable, and served both indoors and outside.

A proper list of signature cocktails, like Blood Orange Margarita (Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, blood orange puree), international and California wines, and craft beers takes it all up a notch, while Tarla (“field” in Turkish) seemingly signals a penchant for plant-based fare, and indeed, has a remarkable number of great vegetarian specialties on the menu.

Golden-brown Zucchini Cakes are fried with feta and scallions, and served with tzatziki sauce on a side. Baba Ghanoush of charred eggplant blended with Labneh cheese, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil is supplemented with grilled pita for dipping. Stuffed Eggplant with caramelized onion and red pepper comes with California chickpea rice and tomato sauce.

For meat eaters, there’s plenty of traditional dishes to choose from, like Beef and Lamb Doner Kebab or Chicken Doner Kebab (a.k.a. Gyro, cooked on a vertical rotisserie) upon grilled pita, topped with cabbage salad and tzatziki sauce, and garnished with Greek fries and spicy aioli.

And of course, to round up a satisfying lunch, there strong and flavorful Turkish coffee, beautifully served in fancy little cups.

Tarla is located at 1480 1st St, Napa, CA 94559. Phone: (707) 255-5599. Website: https://www.tarlagrill.com/.

Lodging: Napa River Inn

Located at the Historic Napa Mill red brick complex (founded in 1862), Napa River Inn is a cozy and extremely well situated hotel overlooking Napa River promenade studded with public art sculptures, and merely a short walking distance from all the main attractions of the city.

The hotel lobby, appointed in Victorian-era style, is charming and welcoming; guest rooms are spacious, clean, and tastefully decorated, some with balconies and fireplaces; the bedding and bathroom amenities are luxurious; and in the morning, fresh baked pastries from Sweetie Pies bakery downstairs are delivered to the door.   

Napa River Inn, one of the Historic Hotels of America, designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has many distinguished neighbors at the Mill. Besides the bakery, hotel guests can indulge in visiting Spa at Napa River Inn for massages, facials, body wraps, and other treatments; Angèle and Celadon restaurants, Silo’s Napa wine and music venue, Amelia’s Gift Shop, Vintage Sweet Shoppe, and Napa General Store.

Riverbend Performance Plaza is an outdoor gathering space for hotel guests and downtown dwellers alike, serving as a stage for art, theater, wine, food, and music festivals.

Napa River Inn is located at 500 Main St, Napa, CA 94559. Phone: (707) 251-8500. Website: https://www.napariverinn.com/.

Art: Public Art Displays

While Napa River Inn is a part of the Napa Art Walk, displaying changing art installations, there are quite a few permanent pieces located on the premises.

Fish On,” visible from the hotel rooms, was created by Terrance Martin. According to the Inn staff, the sculpture was supposed to be temporarily displayed in the city, and then returned to the artist. However, Harry Price, a City of Napa benefactor and real estate developer behind the Historic Napa Mill and Napa River promenade, acquired the sculpture from the artist and installed it permanently on the hotel grounds.  

Another great piece in the Inn’s Riverbend Plaza, is the Mosaic Fountain by Alan Shepp. The massive three-tier installation of vitreous-glass mosaic depicts Napa Valley’s agricultural might, its human and animal inhabitants, its viticultural bounty, and its river world, populated by the iconic California species.

At the time of this reporter’s visit, the fourth Napa Lighted Art Festival 2022 installations were positioned in various locations in Downtown Napa.

Right by the Inn, at Napa’s Riverfront, there were seven “Electric Dandelions” by Abram Santa Cruz of Los Angeles-based Liquid PXL, with their rapidly changing colors pulsating through the thin centrifugal tubes.

At the Veterans Memorial Park on Main Street there was an impressive display of “Lightforms,” five geometrical sculptures by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu of Hybycozo (Los Angeles) inspired by the Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic geodesic domes.

There was also a very impressive, interactive “Angels of Freedom” wings and halo by OGE Group of Haifa, Israel, that invited everyone to partake in creating an angelic image of themselves, and proved rather popular with the passersby, especially young couples and families with children.

Learn more about Downtown Napa happenings at: https://donapa.com/.