Happenstance brought a handful of old friends to Napa and unexpectedly, the four of us found ourselves at Rotisserie and Wine, the newly-opened restaurant in downtown Napa by television darling, Tyler Florence. Of more interest to me however, is that Jeremy Fox, a favorite chef of yours truly, has been hired by Tyler to head up the kitchen in this meat-centric, waterfront establishment with a decidedly Southern bent. They have only been open two weeks and already it is jam-packed, but with a full capacity of barely a hundred diners, it is not surprising that without a reservation, there is a bit of a wait. While waiting, the service staff, thematically clad in jeans in plaid, work hard to ensure comfort with drinks and a menu for early perusal. It is the costume of the waiters and overalls and plaid donned by Jeremy which gives the restaurant an almost hick feel to it. The bulk of the space is taken up with the open service area where diners can see Tyler directing the staff. My friends noticed that Nancy Silverton was also waiting for a table with her friends, so even the famous don’t necessarily get preferential treatment.
After almost a half-hour wait, the four of us were given a counter spot. While this was not necessarily conducive to sharing the food, it did give a great opportunity to witness the action in the kitchen. While perusing the menu, some corn sticks arrived. I have a feeling these were comped; I didn’t see them on the menu and I’m not sure they were offered to everyone. About four inches long, these warm fingers of goodness provided a fantastic start. A crisp, crunchy exterior gave way to a sweet, tender crumb so light and delectable. Sighs were heard as one friend immediately commented, “I could eat these for breakfast every day of the week.” This was also my first glimpse at another aspect of the restaurant which charmed me, the place settings. Classic and elegant with a Victorian aesthetic, it is the sort of thing my Grandmother would have swiped to keep and I personally covet.
The menu is broken up into Snacks, items To Share, Fixins, and The Rotisserie. Separate from all these categories was a highlighted offering of something called The Meat Board. Snacks include a handful of individually-priced bites that can be ordered including Kale Chips, Olives, Scrapple, and the two snacks we ordered, Cheese Puffs (gougère) stuffed with bacon Mornay, aged Vella jack cheese, and chives and Deviled Jidori Chicken Egg, a deviled egg made with maple, sherry, celery, and candied bacon bits. The gougères, large with a delicate crust, oozed with rich and creamy bacon Mornay sauce. It would be very easy to eat an entire place of these. The deviled eggs’ filling was probably the most creamy and smooth ever tasted. The maple flavor was subtle and slightly sweet. I appreciated the micro greens garnish, giving a crisp bright contrast to the stalwart egg.
Shortly after our three tantalizing “bites,” The Meat Board arrived. Unlike most restaurants offering various cured charcuterie salamis and sausages, here it is terrines and potted meats. I would be very interested to know who was the brainchild behind its inception but there is no doubt that it is Jeremy who is adding the final touches which make this platter the shining highlight of the evening’s meal. Not only did we have the vantage of watching him cutting and plating and decorating, but the skill and artistry is not lost on the other staff in the kitchen as several stopped to view the master in action. Like watching a Da Vinci with a paintbrush, Jeremy layers slivers of radish into flowers and creates a mille fleur garnish with truffles and slivers of mushrooms. The plating is not just decorative, every delicately-placed leaf, perfectly dotted mustard, and stacked and layered vegetable is a part of a whole creating an incomparable platter of the most stunning terrines I have tasted.
On the platter was a Game Bird Terrine, laden heavily with porcini mushrooms and served with red wine jelly. Rich and earthy, the delicacy of the game meat was punctuated with the porcini but heightened by the truffle mille fleur garnish and red wine jelly. A large slab of country pâté had been carefully dressed with a bit of olive oil and micro greens and consumed with the toasted, country bread from nearby Model Bakery with dots of grain mustard and Moutarde Violette. But it was the Duck Liver Mousse on the board that surprised me the most. With the texture and lightness of whipped cream, concentrated richness of liver was accented with fried sage, frizzled leeks, and decorated with chunks of pickled beets and vegetable crudité. This is a restaurant riding on the laurels of its ability to roast giant hunks of meat, but I have no doubt that the restaurant’s appeal and reputation will grow based entirely on this amazing platter of potted meats.
Almost ten items made up the To Share section of the menu and for me were the most intriguing and reasons I want to go back. I am dying to try the Uni Toast with Shaved Pine Mushroom as well as the Sonoma Duck Confit with Cracklin’ Waffles. Instead we opted with only a Beets and Avocado salad, made with red quinoa, Fuyu persimmons, and pistachios to accompany our Rotisserie selection, Beef and Bones, prime rib eye saddled up next to a horizontally-severed marrow bone, Yorkshire pudding, and horseradish. I suppose my only complaint about the prime rib is that instead of one, large thick slice of rare meat, two thinner slices were served. Good prime rib is good prime rib and we all wanted to order this more for the marrow which was crusted with bread crumbs. It was all very good, but hardly memorable considering everything else the restaurant has to offer. Other rotisserie meats for potential future visits include Sonoma BBQ lamb ribs, Petaluma chicken, and a stuffed porchetta.
Sadly, no Fixins were ordered on this trip and again, the Fixins and To Share menu options are what will bring me back; Arbuckle grits draped with lardo, Hudson Valley broccoli with pine nuts, capers, raisins and Vella dry jack, Mac & Local Cheeses, and David Little’s potatoes…
While I stepped away to take a phone call, my friends ordered dessert. I was only surprised because I was more than full at this point and would have been quite content to call it a night but was more than pleased after taking a few bites of what they ordered; a classic slab of apple pie à la mode and a panna cotta, dressed with Balsamic vinegar and served with cookies. The apple pie is about as great as it comes. The apples were crunchy and perfectly spiced but it was the crust that shines. Too often I am left disappointed by a pie due to a soft or soggy crust and this does not disappoint. The panna cotta is another nice surprise but more for the cookies for me, although the panna cotta was perfectly prepared and made that much more interesting with the vinegar. The cookie we all loved with pig-shaped with a bacon flavor to it. I also greatly enjoyed the gingerbread as we had been sent a complimentary glass of Aloroso Sherry which made for a great combination and a lovely way to end the meal.
That this restaurant is a mere block away from my new job could be my downfall. As part of the revitalization of downtown Napa, it faces the riverfront and outside chairs show that once the warmer summer evenings arrive, outside service will obviously increase the number of people which can be served and will make this a destination for those looking to expand beyond the standard Napa standard of Cal-French or Cal-Mediterranean fusion cuisine. While the name of the restaurant implies that meat and wine is the draw (and I regret that I completely forgot to take a note on the glass of wine which I ordered), it is the Southern cuisine-inspired sides which will tantalize and ultimately please.
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