Farm-to-table is a huge national dining trend. Yet it’s such an everyday way of culinary life in California (spoiled us), we can sometimes forget how important it is.
The new Ninebark in Napa reminds us how much a difference exceptional ingredients can make, however. Chef Matthew Lightner likes relatively simple recipes, yet makes them into art like a salad of torn baby greens arranged with glittering orange trout roe, Marcona almonds, mild white baby turnip curry and bright red flower petals sprinkled in spiced bread crumbs. It’s little wonder he earned two Michelin Stars at his previous Atera restaurant in New York.
Fitting for relaxed Wine Country, this is fine but not fussy dining. Chicken and dumplings is an updated comfort dish, the moist dough studded with shrimp and doused in roasted chicken gravy. Black cod chunks are dressed in brown butter dashi and fish sauce with curls of braised kombu and sesame seeds (sort of a sushi/poke idea), and cedar smoked trout is served on skewers, bar style, in broth stocked with wild mushrooms and eggplant rounds.
Grilled broccoli, meanwhile, reminds of broccoli and cheese, yet in upscale mode, draped in smoked cheddar cheese and Green Goddess dressing with wild arugula. For charcoal roasted duck, think classic duck a l’orange, but cleaner and brighter with sweet-tart Valencia orange chunks and citrus sauce, heirloom spinach and black barley.
There’s a lot to explore here, since the restaurant spans three stories in the former Thomas restaurant owned by the same Ninebark team, and the experience varies a bit between floors. The more serious dining room takes over the second floor, anchored by an open kitchen where we watch the chef and his team meticulously build each plate.
The first floor is an upscale saloon, dramatic with an antique polished dark wood bar, and a menu of charcuterie, dipping spreads and craft cocktails. But the showstopper is the burger, in a rich mix of aged beef, brisket short rib, bone marrow, and tendon for chewy-good texture.
The third floor is a lounge, including roof seating overlooking the Napa River. Here, we eat dips like ‘nduja (spicy pork sausage) pureed with chile, goat cheese, herbs and spices spread on whisper-thin crackers, lovely salt cod beignets plump with garlic aioli, and a seasonal pickle plate that might include white and gold baby carrots, long white and green beans, mild red chiles, beet chunks and cherry tomatoes over ice.
Superior ingredients are what make an Old Ball Game cocktail spectacular, too. Single barrel rye whiskey is flavored with popcorn, toasted peanuts, Demerara syrup and leather tincture that your server will tell you is made from baseball glove leather, served over a sphere of ice cut like a baseball and a side of Cracker Jack. It’s a big drink, but smooth and buttery and completely divine.
For farm-to-table flair, few do it better than Ninebark.
Details: 813 Main Street, Napa, 707-226-7821
Tip: Tip: Make a green entrance to your farm-to-table feast, by hiring a private limo or Town Car for door-to-door service. Pure Luxury Transportation is a leader in environmental responsibility. As members of Green Ride Global™, Pure Luxury has committed to GHG emissions reductions from all areas of the company’s business operations of 20 percent over the next 5 years.