On my last trip I followed Food & Wine’s restaurant recommendations and they were spot on.  Sharing them with you so you can eat as well as we did!

I also included, at the end, a list of the top female chefs in Northern California as they have made a major impact on the restaurant scene and the farm-to-table food we eat.

Their favorites

  • Oenoti

    Serves rustic southern-Italian cuisine, paired with a full bar and an extensive wine list that includes sought after bottles from Italy and Napa Valley.  Both of the chef-owners, Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde, are Napa natives and trained under salumi genius Paul Bertolli at Oakland’s legendary Oliveto. Bertolli’s influence explains the sensational house-made charcuterie (there are more than 20 types) and wood-fired Neapolitan pizza with toppings like local lamb sausage and fresh burrata cheese. oenotri.com

  • Redd

    Minimalist, modern Yountville restaurant.  Even though chef Richard Reddington dislikes labels like “fusion food” and “global cuisine,” his wonderful food has a strong Asian bent.  Don’t skip the hamachi sashimi on sticky rice and glazed pork belly with apple purée, burdock and soy caramel. With Christian Moueix at Napa Valley’s Dominus Estate, Reddington developed the house wine, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet and Merlot, appropriately named Redd Wine. reddnapavalley.com

Their “splurge” list

  • Auberge du Soleil

    Oh what a wonderful hotel, and if you have the money to stay here, don’t go anywhere else.  They pioneers three decades ago, bringing world-class food to a region previously known only for wine. The restaurant is both rustic and refined, with exposed wooden beams, abstract paintings and a gorgeous terrace that offers unmatched vistas of the valley. In the kitchen, chef Robert Curry prepares seasonal, regionally sourced dishes like meyer lemon glazed duck served with farro and artichokes. aubergedusoleil.com

  • The French Laundry

    Chef Thomas Keller took over this world renown restaurant in 1994, and I had the privilege to eat there two years later.  A meal I will never forget.  And it has become one of America’s best, if not its best, restaurant, and a pilgrimage destination for food lovers from around the globe. Keller mixes French training and military-like precision with whimsy and humor—his signature Oysters and Pearls, for instance, features oysters and white sturgeon caviar laid on a bed of tapioca pearls. The 60-seat restaurant offers only nine-course tasting menus (with a vegetarian option) per night, each $270. frenchlaundry.com

  • The Restaurant at Meadowood

    Located in a sprawling resort amid mountains and vineyards, The Restaurant at Meadowood is the peak of wine country-chic, and the kind of place that leaves you speechless. Talented young chef Chris Kostow arrived at this famous wine country resort in 2008 and has since transformed its food. His superlative modern Californian menu owes as much to his garden as to his mastery of avant-garde cooking techniques, seen in dishes like thinly sliced breasts of squab topped with cocoa nibs and grated frozen foie gras. meadowood.com/dining/the-restaurant/

  • La Toque

    The formerly neglected downtown in the city of Napa is now one of the valley’s most vibrant areas: In 2007 the Oxbow Public Market opened, and in 2008 Ken Frank relocated his outstanding Rutherford-area restaurant La Toque across the street from the market, in the Westin Verasa Napa. The swank restaurant is renowned for wine director Scott Tracy’s excellent pairings (like quail with chestnut gnocchi and premier cruPommard) chosen from an over 900-bottle wine list. Frank is also a wine collector’s best friend: He creates tasting menus to go with bottles from customers’ cellars—“As long as I get a taste,” he says. latoque.com

And the classics

  • Bouchon

    Down the street from mega chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is his ode to traditional French bistro cooking, which offers immaculately executed comfort dishes like a croque madame, fragrant roast chickens, and sublime steak frites. Bouchon looks the part, too: The space features a red awning, curved bar and tiled flooring that recalls an idealized Parisian brasserie. bouchonbistro.com

  • Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

    This weeknight standby by Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Brassica) is popular for its eclectic comfort food, like the Oysters Bingo (a supergarlicky twist on Oysters Rockefeller) and the Mighty Meatloaf, served with horseradish barbecue sauce. For a break from wine-tasting, the caipirinhas with whole chopped limes and sugarcane syrup can be had at the zinc-top bar. cindysbackstreetkitchen.com

  • Terra

    Husband-and-wife duo Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani are Napa royalty both by blood (she’s the daughter of master vintner Carl Doumani) and by distinction. Their outstanding Terra restaurant has mesmerized the Bay Area since it opened in 1988 in a beautiful century-old fieldstone building. He takes care of the French cuisine, with Asian influences like sake-marinated cod and shrimp dumplings in shiso broth; she handles updated classic desserts, like bête noir chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream. In early 2011, Sone and Doumani opened Bar Terra next to their dining room, serving seasonally inspired drinks prepared with fruit from the couple’s orchard. terrarestaurant.com

  • Tra Vigne

    This nearly 25-year-old St. Helena standby is beloved for its shade-covered courtyard and rustic Italian dishes that range from antipasti like the mozzarella al minuto (handmade as soon as it’s ordered, served with grilled bruschetta) to a wide assortment of house-made pastas like sage-infused pappardelle with braised rabbit ragu. The nearby Pizzeria Tra Vigne doesn’t charge a corkage fee—perfect for a post-winery-hopping evening.travignerestaurant.com


  • Pluck and Pour

    This husband-and-wife-owned place serves southern Italian cuisine made with ingredients from their garden. The sommelier can guide you to great affordable wine. 1425 1st St., Napa, oenotri.com

Bars, Vineyards, Others (courtesy of WSJ and others)

  • Viader Vineyards And Winery – Loved this beautiful, boutique vineyard and the delicious, complex wines we tasted.  All tastings and visits by reservation only.  Female female owner and wine maker that was establish in 1989.  The first Viader® Proprietary blend was produced, capturing an ideal balance between two varietals. The Cabernet Franc contributes to the early approachability, elegant structure and violet-like aromatics while the Cabernet Sauvignon adds complexity and character adding backbone structure for long aging potential. The blend has been referred to as “Liquid Cashmere”.  The quote from Delia Viader says it all   “When you taste wine from a great vineyard, it has a distinct personality; a taste, a feel, a look; something that makes it different from any vineyard in the world. This distinct personality, however, is the sum of a variety of personalities within the vineyard itself. Understanding and interpreting those personalities is the greatest challenge in the evolution of a great vineyard and the wine produced from it.
    –Delia Viader, 1120 Deer Park Rd, Deer Park, CA 94576
  • Chateau Montelena Winery –   If you haven’t seen the movie “Bottle Shock” about this famous winery, you must watch it prior to going.  This winery is famous for winning the white wine section of the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine competition in 1979 when California wines were thought to be sub-par, especially among the French. Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay was in competition with nine other wines from France and California under blind tasting and shocked the world when they won first prize!  Beautiful vineyard and lovely wines.  http://montelena.com/ 

  • NOTES OF OAK / Whetstone Wine Cellar  – Outside of downtown Napa, the tasting room is in a French-style château set amid giant oak trees. It has a laid-back vibe; you feel like you’re visiting a fancy friend’s home. 1075 Atlas Peak Rd., whetstonewinecellars.com 
  • GAINING PERSPECTIVE / Gargiulo Vineyards This boutique winery abuts the legendary Screaming Eagle vineyards, but their wines are much less expensive and the views are stunning. 575 Oakville Crossroad., Napa, gargiulovineyards.com
  • OLD-WORLD LARDER / Napa Valley Olive Oil Company A true time capsule, this must-see market has been around since the 1930s and is exactly how I remember it as a kid. It’s perfumed by cheeses and salamis. 835 Charter Oak, St. Helena, nvoliveoilmfg.com
  • LATE BLOOMER / Miminashi This Japanese izakaya has a really cool design and an awesome cocktail program. It’s open until 11 p.m. on weekends, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago. 821 Coombs St., Napa
  • BEER ME / Mad Fritz Brewing The owner sources his hops and wheat from a lot of small farms nearby and makes wonderful wild ales and farmhouse-style ales. 393 La Fata St., St. Helena, madfritz.com
  • PLAY DOUGH / Redd Wood The menu is always changing, but I really like the chorizo and pineapple pizza. It’s also pretty kid-friendly—the staff will give children a ball of dough to occupy themselves. 6755 Washington St., Yountville, redd-wood.com
  • GET SCHOOLED / The Culinary Institute of America at Copia At this campus next to the Napa River you can take classes on wine, baking or pasta-making, or just grab a sandwich at the deli. 500 1st St., Napa, ciaatcopia.com
  • TALL ORDER / Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar This bar at the Archer Hotel has a great view of the valley—a rarity since there aren’t many tall buildings in Napa. Go at sunset. 1230 1st St., Napa, archerhotel.com
  • GO GREEN / Hudson Greens & Goods This produce purveyor at Napa’s Oxbow marketplace has the most dazzling market-fresh produce I’ve seen anywhere in the Bay Area. 610 1st St., Napa, oxbowpublicmarket.com
  • IN A JAM / Blue Note Napa You can see world-class jazz musicians in this intimate, small-town venue. 1030 Main St., Napa,

Thanks to Wine Spectator I found a great list of the top female chefs in Northern California.  And who most represents this group but Alice Waters for pioneering California cuisine.

  • Kim Alter – NIGHTBIRD – 330 Gough Street, San Francisco
  • Dominique Crenn – ATELIER CRENN – 3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco
  • Traci Des Jardins – JARDINIERE – 300 Grove St, San Francisco
  • Nancy Oakes – BOULEVARD – 1 Mission St, San Francisco
  • Cindy Pawlcyn – MUSTARDS NAPA VALLEY – 7399 St. Helena Highway, Napa CA.
  • Melissa Perello – OCTAVIA – 1701 Octavia St, San Francisco
  • Jennifer Puccio, Anna Weinberg, Emily Luchetti – CAVALIER – 360 Jessie St, San Francisco
  • Sarah Rich – RICH TABLE – 101 Oak St, San Francisco
  • Pim Techamuanvivit – KIN KHAO – 55 Cyril Magin St, San Francisco
  • Patricia Unterman – HAYES STREET GRILL – 320 Hayes St, San Francisco
  • Alice Waters – CHEZ PANISSE – 1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley CA

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