We've scoured the Downtown Napa over the years and there's always a new gem, dish, wine or event to draw us back — whether on the way to sleepier Napa Valley towns, like St. Helena and Calistoga, or as destination in itself, like City Winery. Now we bring you two newer spots to add to your list: one, an eight-month-old restaurant at the former Ubuntu address; the other: a brand new wine and beer bar.
In November of 2013, Torc took over the address formerly inhabited by Ubuntu. And as much as we miss the late shrine to vegetarianism, Torc's food is every bit as destination worthy. Here are some of our favorites from chef Sean O'Toole (Cotogna, Quince).
Brunch Standouts: Two of the small "bites" charmed us most: doughnut holes ($6) oozing lime and lemon curd, dusted with lime rind sugar. And a savory counterpart, mini-Bengali sweet potato pakoras ($5), cooled by yogurt-truffle dip.
Dish Standouts: The concept of Louisiana Gulf shrimp "cocktail" ($15), essentially a cool, creamy horseradish panna cotta doused in spicy tomato sauce and topped with shrimp, is a creative twist on a classic. Although the flavor felt a bit muted in the cold preparation, it was still refreshingly unique. Plump Louisiana white shrimp shine in lush grits ($19) graced with green garlic, piquillo peppers and Southern tasso ham.
Dessert Wows: We tried three desserts and loved all of them, which doesn't often happen. For starters, we could swim in house brown butter ice cream ($7). The most layered dessert was a nectarine praline tart ($9), drizzled in praline spread with a mound of smoked lemon cream on top and olive oil cake inside — unusual, nuanced and delicious. Same goes for the lively strawberry parfait ($9; pictured at top), partnered with strawberry ice cream and dotted with rhubarb jam. The highlight on the plate is a sour-tart greek yogurt "roll" easily sopped up with vibrantly purple hibiscus angel food cake.
This newcomer opened just in time for the July 4 holiday weekend and owners, Colleen Fleming of Calistoga's Kelly Fleming Wines and former French Laundry sommelier Aubrey Bailey gave us an early peek.
Look for the Neon: Under twinkling, red-backed neon, CADET beacons from an alley at the intersection of First and Franklin in downtown Napa. Cadet means “trainee,” and as Fleming told us, it reflects their goal of approaching wine "wide-eyed and without judgment," ready to try new things and learn.
Wine & Beer Lists: With over 150 rotating offerings, including four wines on tap, six beers on draft, fifteen to twenty bottled beers and over 100 wines. Though the list will be international, reflecting Bailey's expertise from French Laundry days, they will focus on "the diversity" of California wines from the new generation of winemakers to under-the-radar classics.
Bites: There's also charcuterie from a hand crank Italian slicer, international cheeses, panini and other bites to accompany wine and beer.
The Vibe & the Music: They've invested in a quality sound system for an "energetic" — but not too loud — musical backdrop, also playing tunes from their extensive vinyl collections. Floor to ceiling glass allows plenty of light through the storefront, while navy blue, grey and cream colors impart a muted tone illuminated by glowing brass lighting and a back bar mirror, distressed for an antique look.
Industry Hangout: With plenty of industry and winemaker nights, Fleming and Bailey look to appeal to the industry, locals and visitors alike, with a relaxed, comfortable hangout.
930 Franklin St., Napa; 707-224-4400