There is no shortage of three-star dining destinations in Napa and Sonoma counties – that special expanse of land north of the Golden Gate Bridge that we lovingly refer to as “wine country.”
But about 10 years ago, I came upon a restaurant in the Napa Valley that changed my mind about wine country dining. The menu wasn’t all that extensive, but the food was expertly prepared, the service was top-rate, and the check was reasonable. Better still, no corkage fee was charged to patrons who wanted to drink a bottle they’d purchased earlier in the day or been saving for a special occasion.
The restaurant was – and is – the Rutherford Grill, and I have dined there on every visit to the valley since. Most of the time, I’m surrounded by local winemakers who are taking their families or clients out for a good meal – no doubt influenced by that generous corkage policy.
I also try to check out other restaurants, generally leaving the ultra-chic, ultra-pricey destinations to those with more fully funded 401k accounts than mine. Here are three reasonably priced spots that quickly have become personal favorites…
* NapaStyle Paninoteca & Wine Bar. This is a gourmet store in Yountville that also offers casual wining and dining. It’s about as laid-back as dining can be, and the various panini choices are tasty and reasonably priced. A great place to stock up for a wine country picnic, too. 707-945-1229
* Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria. Another restaurant with a name that tells you what’s inside. The salumi and sausages, cured in-house, are amazing. The restaurant is a bit out of the way, in the northern Sonoma County town of Geyserville, but worth the drive. 707-814-0111
* Scopa. A new addition to the Healdsburg town square dining scene, this restaurant specializes in Italian small plates (pizzas, antipasti, pastas, meat dishes) that are wonderfully flavored and satisfying. 707-433-5282