Like a great cabernet, California's premiere wine region keeps getting better with age. With that in mind, Napa and Sonoma counties have welcomed new restaurants, tasting rooms, and other destinations over the last few months. Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the best of the best.
The Old Redwood Brewing Company in Windsor brings together winemaking and microbrewing under one roof—an atmosphere that feels like a wine tasting room but serves nothing but beer. Brewmasters—all of whom are local to northern Sonoma County—roll out new beers each month, most of which feature local ingredients. "The Fulton," for instance, was made with local honey; while "Windsor Wit" was made with local raspberries.
Insider Tip: After a lengthy session tasting beer, grab some grub at Jaded Toad BBQ & Grill across the plaza.
Local mixology legend Scott Beattie (of Cyrus and Spoonbar fame) is at it again, only this time he's working his magic behind the bar at Goose & Gander in St. Helena. In the kitschy-but-comfortable basement bar, Beattie mixes up signature spins on classic cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and Pisco Punch. Stay for dinner and try Chef Kelly McCown's bar bites in the pub-like dining room upstairs.
Insider Tip: Don't rely on GPS devices to get you there, as many of them have trouble finding the place.
Estate-grown olive oil, homemade tomato sauce, and, of course, Sonoma Valley wine are available in the Italian Villa Marketplace and Tasting Room, the newest offering from VJB Vineyards & Cellars in Kenwood. La Cucina, an upscale grocery store, located in a replica of a Tuscan villa, also sells freshly made antipasti, panini, and salads; on sunny days, enjoy the food with a bottle of VJB Cabernet on the picturesque piazza out front.
Insider Tip: The on-site espresso bar opens at 6 am, on weekdays.
Practice makes perfect for pastry chefs, and at The Bakery Cafe by illy, inside the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, chefs-in-training (and their instructors) run the show. In addition to serving breakfast pastries and other sweet treats throughout the day, the café recently started serving soups and sandwiches (on home-baked breads) for lunch. Coffee drinks, Dammann Freres tea and select wines are available, as well.
Insider Tip: Get items to go and have a picnic in the CIA's plaza or Bothe-Napa Valley State Park just up the road.
Healdsburg has welcomed six new restaurants since November 1, and arguably the most eclectic of the bunch is Taverna Sofia, which serves Mediterranean fare. The eatery, helmed by Chef Sofia Petridis-Lim, serves traditional Greek dishes like tiropita, moussaka, and baba ghanoush, as well as modern dishes made with local ingredients. The spanakopita here is lighter than most, because there's olive oil between layers of phyllo dough instead of butter.
Insider Tip: On warm days (even in winter!) ask to sit on the outdoor patio just off the plaza downtown.
Tufted-leather accents and a wine-bottle chandelier make the new tasting salon from Bello Family Vineyards in St. Helena as swanky as it is beautiful. The unctuous flagship Cabernet sauvignon, brainchild of renowned viticulturist David Abreu and acclaimed winemaker Aaron Pott, is pretty amazing, too. A horseracing theme is subtle but prevalent; the Megahertz Room, for reserve tastings, is adorned with trophies won by the Bello family racehorses.
Insider Tip: Call ahead to see if the winery is offering food pairings on the day you wish to visit.
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