It’s been a pretty remarkable year for Napa, with a record 13 new restaurants opening since December 2009. Several of those eateries have been heavy hitters, such as Morimoto, Fish Story, and now, Rotisserie & Wine.
Finally, significant spots that once might have focused strictly on San Francisco are giving this wine country town its due.
With the debut of Rotisserie & Wine earlier this month, chef Tyler Florence and partner Jeremy Fox have put their celebrity names behind what is essentially glamorous comfort food. It’s a good move – even as the country crawls out of its recession, the dining public still holds a fascination for well-crafted, familiar favorites like rotisserie chicken, biscuits and gravy, and stew.
Of course, this being Florence and Fox, the chicken is free range Petaluma, the biscuits come with the quizzical addition of Brussels sprouts, and the stew is made of Monterey squid and pork belly with Rancho Gordo beans, shellfish and Creole sauce.
And this being Florence, there is plenty of opportunity to buy things – the restaurant in the Riverfront building, is next door to the third outpost of The Tyler Florence Shop (cookbooks, gadgets, clothing, everything imaginable with the Tyler brand).
If it seems curious to see duck confit and waffles from Fox (formerly of the vegetarian Ubuntu just down the street), the inspiration comes from the partners’ Southern upbringing. They both studied at Johnson & Wales Culinary School in South Carolina, and worked at the “high class low country” Anson restaurant in Charleston, SC.
At the center are the open kitchen rotisseries, slowly roasting and self-basting signatures like Sonoma lamb, prime rib eye, stuffed porchetta, and specials like Marin goat ribs. The meat is succulent, glistening with a bit of good fat and dripping juices. And happily, it’s not a la carte: a few sides come along (chicken and potatoes, lamb and yams with banana, beef with Yorkshire pudding).
Diners add extra go-withs such as toothsome collard greens doctored with ham hock and hot pepper vinegar. There is mac-n-cheese, but most dishes aren’t so everyday – Arbuckle grits come draped with insanely rich lardo, baked peanuts, smoked brown sugar and molasses, while bright green broccoli is laden with pine nuts, tart capers, raisins and aged Vella cheese.
Some snacks are clearly playful, like the billowy cheese puffs done with bacon Mornay, aged Vella Jack and chives, or the deviled Jidori egg gussied with sweet maple, Sherry, candied bacon and celery. Others a salute to regional tastes - if you’ve never had scrapple, you can get it here, the fried pork trimmings slicked with smoked honey mustard.
For lighter eaters, well, you’re out of luck, unless a soup and salad fit the bill. Then, ready your taste buds for black cod and root vegetable chowder with citrus, dill and smoked cod roe; and a toss of beets and avocado with red quinoa, fuyu persimmon and pistachio, alongside a slab of uni toast with shaved pine mushroom, whipped butter, wild chervil and radish.
At dessert, things settle down a bit into more familiar territory. Even the most timid diner will be happy to load up on classics like homemade pie and chocolate cake, or a Dark & Stormy float with rum ice cream, ginger beer and lime granite.
For how fanciful the food is, the décor makes its own statement, too. The rustic mood starts with waxed concrete floors, flowing to wine barrel chandeliers and industrial pendant lights, set against iron and reclaimed wood furniture, vintage artwork, butcher shop woods, white subway tiles and marble counters.
It’s busy, this Rotisserie & Wine, from the complicated dishes to the eclectic décor. Yet Florence and Fox are clearly doing things right, since at dinner most nights, there are lines down the sidewalk for this equally busy, revitalized downtown Napa dining destination.
Rotisserie & Wine, 720 Main Street, Napa, 707-254-8500, rotisserieandwine.com.
Tip: Concentrate on a lovely evening out, for the dining and drinking, but not the driving. Pure Luxury Transportation provides door-to-door service in a private limo or Town Car.