It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when downtown Napa was an uninviting place singularly lacking in charm. For fine dining and picturesque settings you went upvalley to Yountville, Oakville, etc. But over the last 10 years or so there’s been a transformation from scrubby to spiffy; the downtown dining dilemma these days is deciding which of the many restaurants to pick. A number of good ones exist and more are coming _ the latest excitement has been the opening of Morimoto Napa, a project of the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto.
A number of hotels have opened recently; I recently stayed at the Napa River Inn where the rooms are elegant but comfortable. If you can spring for it, get one with a river view. To start your day, there’s breakfast at Sweetie Pie’s, which like the hotel is in the historic Hatt/Napa Mill complex. (And if you stay at the inn, breakfast is free and can be delivered to your room.) There are cakes and pastries in abundance; I always find myself ordering the breakfast croissant. Hot, savory, flakey, yum. (Did you know there are no calories in food you eat while within sight of a body of water? It’s the same principle as eating standing up at the fridge apparently.) If wine tasting is on your agenda, there are a number of tasting rooms downtown. For $20, you can buy a card that will give you access to 14 tasting rooms for a mere 10 cents per initial visit.
Wine for a dime, I’ll drink to that.
Lots of options for lunch and if you’re sticking to the mill district, a place to try is the Napa General Store where you can pick up that lazy susan made from a barrel head you’ve been looking for and enjoy soup and a sandwich on the back deck.
By this point it’s possible a little exercise is called for; I’d advise a leisurely stroll along the riverfront. Look for a grassy peninsula just south of the First Street bridge. This was once part of Napa’s Chinatown _ it’s a little-known fact of wine country that in the early days, much of the work of the vineyards was done by Chinese men who had come to California to work on the railroad. Many of the early caves of wine country also were created by Chinese workers. Fierce discrimination against the Chinese in California in the 19th century put an end to that. Napa’s Chinatown survived until 1929, when residents were moved out to make way for a yacht harbor that never was built. A plaque in the middle of the bridge commemorates the old settlement.
After all that intellectual, physical and palate-al activity, I’d have a nap. What better activity to do in Napa (sorry) and that way you’ll have the energy to attack dinner. Many choices _ Celadon is close by as is Angele, try the french fries. If you’re up for a bit of nightlife, there’s Silos , a jazz club offering live entertainment.
Eight hours of sleep and you’re ready to go again. I hear there are some places upvalley that are worth a look … but first, maybe just one more cup of coffee on the banks of the mellow Napa River.