Planning a trip to wine country takes some doing. There are decisions to make about what day to go, which valley to visit, which wineries to see and where to make your appointments, not to mention the wrangling required to figure out who’s going to drive and whose car gets donated for the occasion. On top of all this, one can easily overlook perhaps the day’s second most important decision: where to eat.
Luckily, there are experts to whom you can turn for help with this question. One of them for example is Ms Leslie Sbrocco, of KQED’s “Check Please, Bay Area” In addition to her roles as author and lecturer, Ms Sbrocco spends time every week reviewing local restaurants with average joe patrons. She has plenty of recommendations for where to eat when capping a perfect day in wine country. And her recommendations span the budget spectrum, from those on a shoestring to those eager to splurge.
For example, let’s say you’re wet behind the ears just out of college type, armed with a list of wineries that don’t charge tasting fees and a fuel efficient vehicle filled with a pool of gas money donors. How might you accommodate your restricted food budget without sacrificing taste and still complementing the overall experience? Leslie suggests stopping by the original Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena for a specialty burger (blue cheese burger, anyone?) and some sweet potato fries, or, put together your own gourmet picnic dinner with fixings from the Oakville Grocery (an assortment of breads, meats, cheeses and enough free samples to satiate those with little to no budget) and head to a local park for some outdoor dining. You can also grab food and dine at the picnic facilities at V Sattui Winery.
Now if you’re a wine patron with a bit more money to burn, and fabulousness trumps affordability on your criteria list, there are numerous mid-priced places that are sure to meet your needs. One highly regarded restaurant that Leslie recommends is Press, in St Helena, where the food philosophy includes the goal of providing “a warm, comfortable space for friends and family to share a meal—where time seems to slow down for a while.” Or Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa. At the south end of the valley, it makes for a convenient stop as you head back to the Bay on highway 29
Finally, if you’re in the mood to break the bank, and looking for the experience of a lifetime, you cannot overlook the French Laundry. Be prepared to experience a new level of service, see a new take on food, and to spend a couple months’ worth of mortgage payments on the tab (unless of course, you live in the Bay Area, in which case, the bill will only come to about twice what you’re used to shelling out for a fancy pants meal). In this case, your day of wine tasting will actually revolve around the meal since you have to make reservations at least a month in advance.
Alternatively, there’s Cyrus in Healdsburg, which even though it’s not technically in Napa, is listed among Leslie’s favorites. The intimate atmosphere and luxe prix fixe menu, coupled with an extensive Sonoma valley wine list, make it the perfect destination to wrap up a sumptuous wine country excursion.