Napa In the Spotlight

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Home / Napa In the Spotlight

Town of Napa

The town of Napa blends an exciting urban vibe with a wine country lifestyle. Encircled by one of the most famous wine regions in the world, Napa distills the best of the Valley and presents it in a lively and accessible center filled with culinary adventures, wine experiences and world-class entertainment. It’s a place where you’ll casually mingle with luminaries from around the world who are drawn to this fabled destination.

Straddling the Napa River, the downtown scene mixes historic buildings, sleek new restaurants and boutiques and pays homage to its bountiful agricultural setting with the bustling Oxbow Market, an enclave of gourmet goodness near the riverbank. Patterned after San Francisco’s Ferry Building and other great public markets, Oxbow offers local culinary delicacies, wines and artisan shops galore for you to discover.

Among the the fine dining experiences to be found in the town of Napa is exciting newcomer Ubuntu, identified by the New York Times and The Wine Spectator as one of the best new restaurants and Jeremy Fox as one of 10 best new chefs for 2008 by Food & Wine magazine.

The Michelin-starred La Toque, under chef Ken Frank, has moved to Napa and received rave reviews. The pairings created by Frank, sommelieir Yoon Ha and wine director Scott Tracy are exceptional. The restaurant is easy to find-just look for a giant, glowing chef's hat (or toque) over the entrance.

The town is the epicenter for music, theater and entertainment in Napa Valley with something for everyone. The Napa Valley Opera house, located in the historic downtown, brings a wide variety of national and international performing arts productions from Herb Alpert to Bebe Neuwirth and George Winston to Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Symphony, in its 75th season, performs in nearby Yountville with a concert series that features world-class guest soloists such as Chris Botti and conductor Carlo Ponti, Jr. in traditional, classical and pops programs.

It’s easy to be transported in Napa, whether by rail on the famous Wine Train, or on the river, where excursion boats cruise the waterway. And there is a private airport for small jets and aircraft if you’re whisking in to see Jay Leno work the crowd at the Napa Valley Wine Auction at Meadowood.

If your game is golf, there are several great courses including the beautiful Silverado Country Club with two 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship golf courses on 360 acres. Explore the tranquil side of Napa on the Silverado Trail and find hidden gems like the exotic, Persian-inspired Darioush Estate Winery or the newest ultra-premium winery, the dramatic Black Stallion Winery.

Just south of the town of Napa is the Carneros region, where the sea breezes from the bay create the perfect climate for Pinot Noir. You’ll find the vineyards of Saintsbury, Etude and Acacia and the majestic chateau of Domaine Carneros. The nearly invisible Artesa Winery with its modernist design is literally carved into the hillside, yet you can sip your wine from its terrace and drink in the panoramic views of the Bay. Take time out to wander among the 2,000 one-of-a-kind art pieces at the di Rosa Art Preserve where art and nature meld in harmony. Also on this art and wine-filled stretch of road a unique dining experience can be found at Farm at Carneros Inn, the high-concept restaurant owned by Plumpjack, a partnership of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Gordon Getty.

You can find the Napa that is yours and yours alone; a blending of the things you love and the new discoveries you can make at every turn.

Dining Out

It’s not the norm for vegetarian restaurants to generate much excitement outside of the vegan community, but Ubuntu has shot to national prominence, attracting confirmed carnivores and veggie-heads alike.

When the New York Times’ food critic Frank Bruni named it one of the top 2 best new restaurants in the country in his March 2008 feature, Restaurants that Count, “foodies” began flocking in droves to the combination restaurant and yoga studio. That’s right, there’s a yoga studio upstairs that is part of the enterprise.

Ubuntu had already enjoyed considerable success by simple word-of-mouth (so to speak) among enthralled diners who became overnight evangelists for the place and Bruni discovered what these converts knew, that the food was incredible. “It’s also proof that you can do away with all flesh and hold onto hedonism, at least if you keep enough butter, cream, cheese and wine at hand,” said Bruni. “Ubuntu is where virtue meets naughty sensuality. It’s the Angelina Jolie of restaurants.”

Ubuntu is Zulu for “humanity toward others,” explains owner Sandy Lawrence, who learned the concept first-hand during her 20 years in the conference business in Capetown, South Africa. After moving to Napa, she started Lion’s Run Winery and with a background as an instructor in yoga, began to conduct informal yoga classes in the cave on her property that were followed by a potluck feast. The group outgrew the cave and the idea for some sort of new mingling of food and fitness was simmering in the background of her mind. Serendipitously, she came across a former retail space for rent on what has become Napa’s unofficial “restaurant row” in downtown, and the ideas coalesced.

In another providential stroke of timing, rising star chef Jeremy Fox came onboard, as did his wife Deanie, who is now Ubuntu’s pastry chef – and sending blissful diners into raptures about her desserts. Jeremy Fox was chef de cuisine at the Michelin 2-Star boîte Manresa in Los Gatos and previously at Charles, Nob Hill, Rubicon and at Michelin 3-Star Gordon Ramsay of London.

Fox is surprisingly not a vegetarian – nor is Lawrence – but has always had an interest in developing vegetable dishes. He turned his considerable talents and knowledge of the best in farm-to-table cuisine to creating a sensational menu that will transform your perceptions of vegetarian cooking. The restaurant offers no meat, fish or poultry (except for eggs), with ingredients sourced from local farmers and often from Lawrence’s own biodynamic gardens on Mt. George in East Napa, designed by legendary wine country master gardener, Jeff Dawson, who established the gardens at Fetzer and Kendall-Jackson and was the Curator of Gardens of Copia. Don’t expect the predictable tofu and brown rice found at most vegetarian spots, instead there is a wholly unexpected and inventive selection of dishes in voluptuous combinations.

The wine list complements the menu, with over 200 wines, most sustainably grown. There’s a good by-the-glass selection, favored by the “happy hour” regulars, the core of which are drawn from Lawrence’s former yoga classes and the wine community.

The seeming odd fusion of a working yoga studio and sophisticated dining somehow works and it doesn’t take long to accept the blend (the yoga classes are conducted during the day). And, to cultivate the spirit of Ubuntu, the space hosts eco-fashion shows, yoga workshops, tastings, music and poetry slams.

Something to know if you have young children is that if you go early in the evening, you’ll find lots of families there. A terrific kids’ tasting menu offers child-friendly dishes that will turn them into members of the “clean-plate club.” Sit at the community table, hand-hewn from a storm-felled redwood tree, where your kids can feel part of this group and make new friends.

All these disparate elements coexist harmoniously in this unique environment. So, go with an open mind because we think you will have a fascinating and pleasurable experience at Ubuntu.

Things To Do

Fridays - Darioush Artisan Wine & Cheese Intensive
Join Cowgirl Creamery owners Peggy Smith, formerly of Chez Panisse, and Sue Conley, a renowned Bay Area restaurateur, at Darioush for a private, seated tasting of some of the world's finest small-production artisan cheeses paired with a variety of our meticulously-crafted estate-based wines. 3 - 4:30 p.m. Reservations Required.

Cost: $65.
707.257.2345 ext. 130
4240 Silverado Trail Napa

Every Third Thursday - Napa Riverfront: Art and Entertainment on the River
An evening of live music, wine, food, special art exhibits and more spotlights over 35 top-rated restaurants, boutique wine tasting rooms, fine art galleries, and gourmet/specialty shops along the revitalized Napa River in downtown Napa. Come discover the Riverfront District - where the Napa Valley begins, 6 - 9 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Every Tuesday to Saturday - Tours of the di Rosa Preserve
Located on 217 scenic acres in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, the di Rosa Preserve: Art & Nature houses nearly 2,300 works of art in all media by more than 900 artists from Northern California in its three contemporary galleries. Tours from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cost: $10/$15
707.226.5991 x 25
5200 Carnernos Hwy (Hwy 121), Napa