Although many of Napa’s leading restaurants are inspired by European culinary traditions — an inheritance exemplified by Thomas Keller’s French Laundry — other culinary influences are increasingly in evidence. On our most recent trip, we enjoyed refined Japanese and Mexican food, appropriately paired with the valley’s wines.
Kenzo has become one of Napa’s hottest reservations thanks to a distinctive menu featuring both Edomae-style sushi and kaiseki delicacies crafted with ingredients flown in daily from owner Kenzo Tsujimoto’s native Japan. The fish is sourced from the acclaimed Toyosu Market in Tokyo. The slightly nondescript setting in downtown Napa belies the interior’s understated elegance.
The dishes are paired with cellar-worthy wines from the nearby Kenzo Estate winery in Napa Valley. High points of our kaiseki menu included dungeness crab okakiage and slow-roasted satsuma wagyu tenderloin with Kenzo Estate “Rindo” reduction. We savored every sip of the Kenzo Estate Sauvignon Blanc, which proved a majestic match with the crab. (I’ve learned over the years that the citrus notes balanced with the generous amounts of French oak found in fine Sauvignon Blancs are an ideal accompaniment to Japanese cuisine.) Unsurprisingly, the tangy tenderloin paired with a Kenzo Cabernet was stupendous.
Among our sushi tastings, my personal favorite was the scallop sushi paired with a youthful vintage of Montrachet. France’s finest white wine highlighted the creamy notes of the scallop and heightened the experience of underlying umami flavors.
1339 Pearl Street, Napa. Tel. (707) 294-2049
When a space opened up on the same block as several of his other restaurants in downtown Yountville, including the French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro and Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller jumped at the chance to expand his portfolio. Having reconnected with Susana Trilling, the owner of a culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico, he decided to partner with her son, chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, and to introduce the region’s gastronomic specialties to California.
La Calenda, named for the traditional festivals in Oaxaca, showcases Trilling’s familiarity with the gastronomic conventions of his hometown and displays real authenticity of flavor. The outstanding mole negro, a recipe perfected by his mother, takes three days to make and employs roughly 30 ingredients and five varieties of chile.
Most ingredients are sourced from Northern California producers, like beans from Rancho Gordo or produce from the French Laundry, whose culinary garden now has a plot dedicated to growing traditional Mexican herbs and chiles. However, the heirloom corn, ranging in color from white to blue to red, is imported directly from Oaxaca.
The cheery, pink-walled dining room is furnished with mismatched rustic-chic wooden furnishings. Most of the décor, including the clay pitchers, handblown glassware, wooden platters and mezcal copitas, has been sourced from Mexican artisans in Oaxaca and Guerrero. The lively and convivial atmosphere makes for a perfect setting to savor the big, bold flavors of the food. And the restaurant’s open kitchen grants diners the opportunity to watch the culinary team hand-press the homemade tortillas and slice grilled pork from a spinning rotisserie. Reservations are not accepted, so be prepared to wait.
6518 Washington Street, Yountville. Tel. (833) 682-8226