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Napa Notes– Plan a Summer Escape

What’s better than a family outing to bond with the kids?

How about a family adventure where the kids are in a whole separate space? Where adults do their thing, kids cause their trouble, then everyone reunites at the end to share stories and get all warm-and-fuzzy for the photo album?

If you’re thinking like this, you should be thinking Napa Wine Train this summer. Over several weekends through August, the train turns into therapy, with its Family Date Night series. Parents are treated to a quiet, uninterrupted gourmet dinner in a 1915-1917 classic Pullman Dining and Lounge Car, while children are entertained by a professional care provider in a separate railcar with games and movies.

Napa Wine Train

For the grown-ups, Executive Chef Kelly Macdonald creates a custom meal, paired with selections from the more than 100 wines onboard, served while you soak up the 25-mile track traversing the wine country landscape. For the kids, it’s a rugrat-respectful repast topped off with ice cream sundaes.

Dining on Napa Wine Train

Details: Family Date Night on the Napa Wine Train, July 10, and 24; August 8 and 22. Tickets are $99 per adult, with one child free per adult ($15 fee for each additional child). http://winetrain.com.

Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve been to Napa. Several interesting destinations could help turn your train ride into a complete weekend.

Oenotri. This is one of Napa’s newest restaurants, and certainly its most exciting for adventure palates, with an inspired rustic Italian menu. Forget spaghetti and meatballs, you’re in for pici (thick pasta) with Paine Farm pigeon livers, sage and peas.

Oenotri's Monterey Bay Sardine pizza

Chef-owners Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde both worked at Oakland’s famed Oliveto, so there is artisan salumi, and unexpected ingredients, such as lamb tongue over purple artichokes and mache, wild nettle linguine, and duck egg carbonara, plus crispy cockscombs, bottarga (cured fish roe), and squab dish paired with wood-oven roasted cherries.

Curtis Di Fede, left, and Tyler Rodde, Oenotri

Oenotri, 1425 1st Street, Napa, 707-252-1022, oenotri.com.

Grace’s Table. Just opened in January from chef-owner Mauro Pando, this tiny, stylish café “celebrates flavors from around the world.” Pando previously was top dog at Grand Café in San Francisco, and before that, chef de cuisine at Scala’s Bistro and executive chef for LuLu, so expect mostly American dishes, touched up with a bit of French and Italian. Periodically, there are South American specials, reflecting Pando’s Argentine-Peruvian heritage.

What’s good? It all is, but don’t miss the moist cornbread served in an iron skillet and smeared with lavender honey butter; the cassoulet, nurturing and rich with duck confit, boudin blanc sausage, lamb, garlic sausage and butter beans under a breadcrumb crust; or risotto, the creamy rice studded with Cedar Creek short rib, baby carrot, turnip, favas and Swiss chard, all laced with tangy Teleme cheese.

Grace's Table, 1400 2nd Street, Napa, 707-226-6200, gracestable.net.

Sweetie Pies. Who needs dinner, when there’s dessert? The glass display cases in this dollhouse-size shop tucked in the historic Napa River Inn building brim with more than 100 temptations, as coffee cakes, quick breads, cheesecakes, cookies, tarts, cupcakes, marjolaines, yodels and so much more.

Sweetie Pie chocolate cake

Yes, there’s real food here, too. Breakfast and lunch offer fluffy quiche, chicken-goat cheese-pesto panino, and a delicious barbecue pulled pork sandwich topped with tangy sauce and a mound of creamy coleslaw. A chalkboard lists daily specials, including salads and sandwiches.

Yet those dishes will take up valuable stomach real estate, perhaps better reserved for elaborate sugary creations like the fudge cake filled with ganache, almond praline and caramel, then enrobed in fudge frosting.

Sweetie Pies: 520 Main St., Napa, 707-257-7280, sweetiepies.com.

Napa River Inn. The historic Napa River Mill is old, from 1884. But the grand brick hotel was recently renovated to remarkable three-Michelin-star splendor, including the best suite we’ve seen in ages – the Captain Hatt, which was originally the library and anteroom for Hatt Hall. There’s a separate sitting parlor, fireplace, and wet bar, plus a powder room with a slipper-foot tub.

Napa River Inn Captain Hatt suite

Your stay includes breakfast from Sweetie Pies Bakery, and you can add on indulgences a spa treatment at the new La Pelle Skin Spa, then wrap up your evening with live music at Silo‘s Jazz Club on the hotel’s street level. Pets are welcome, too.

Be sure to ask about special packages for Napa Wine Train tours.

Napa River Inn, 500 Main St., Napa, 707-251-8500, napariverinn.com.

Tip: “I Left My Hertz in San Francisco…” Forget about a rental car. Napa’s downtown is a perfect walking weekend, with most everything mere steps away. And for convenient door-to-door service to your hotel and back home, think Pure Luxury.

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