Easter with the Iron Chef

In the Napa Valley we are blessed with dozens of exceptional restaurants locally, and we frequent them often. Within 15 minutes of our home in St. Helena some of our favorites are Farmstead, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, Tra Vigne, Brassica, Gott’s/Taylor’s Refresher, Market and Terra. A little further afield in Yountville, 15 minutes further down the Napa Valley, we have an equally great selection with restaurants such as Redd, Bouchon, Mustard’s, Bottega, Ad Hoc and Bistro Jeanty. But a 30+ minute drive to the town of Napa sometimes seems like going to another planet, and we rarely spread our wings that far just for a good meal.

Easter brunch gave us the opportunity to have a leisurely afternoon out, exploring fine dining options in Napa without having to drive home in the dark after several glasses of wine. We have enjoyed the multiple and tasty options at Oxbow Market in downtown Napa, and now wanted to see what the new dining selections on the Napa Riverwalk were all about.

For hundreds of years, the downtown streets of Napa have periodically flooded, sometimes with devastating results; but recent flood control and redevelopment efforts along with dredging of the river gave way to a more controlled flow and security for the local merchants. Up went high-rise (well, four stories in Napa is huge!) million dollar apartments and a new series of shops, galleries and restaurants called Riverwalk right on the banks of the muddy Napa river. We had eaten at and enjoyed the restaurants Angele and Celedon in the renovated feed mill on the water (Herb used to sell grain there, which he farmed when in FFA, for the Hunt & Behrens brand of chicken feed), but wanted to explore newer additions next door. Alas, Fish Story and Tyler Florence were closed, leaving only Morimoto, a contemporary Japanese restaurant, as an Easter brunch option. Perhaps the Iron Chef would be there in person to greet us?

And what a lucky find that was! We sidled up to the bar (all the locals eat at the bar in the Napa Valley – that way we get to try and share our and others’ wines) and ordered festive Japanese cocktails – Herb’s Japanese Manhattan with a touch of ginger liqueur was a hit! The backdrop over the bar featured old grapevines, sandblasted and hung in a huge glass box (“looks like the stuff we pulled out and chipped in the vineyard!”). We had a series of small plate appetizers, including pork gyoza, kakuni, Morimoto bone marrow and lobster wonton and duck meatball soup paired with our own Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc (we never travel far without one!) and a glass of local Syrah. The sushi and sashimi looked exceptional, but we’d hit our limit. After comparing histories and stories of river activity and Chef Morimoto’s active involvement in the restaurant, (unfortunately, he wasn’t in on Easter), with the native bartender, we agreed that it was an odd place for such up-scale expectations, “between the slew and the jail” and across the river from a row of used car lots. But we left satiated and fortunate to have Morimoto as such an exceptional restaurant option, even if it would take us 35 minutes to drive home. Add this one to your “must try” and take a bottle of our Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc when next visiting Napa Valley!