Napa & Co
A celebration of farm bounty and wine-country cuisine in the heart of downtown
photographs by gus cantavero
In the era of small plates, a well-composed entrée is a lovely change of pace.
On a recent summer evening at Napa & Co, the wild striped bass was seared, crispy-skinned, and surrounded by a sprightly green sauce made of green garlic and a starchy green legume. Tender fresh-shelled fava beans were scattered through the sauce, and frilly hen-of-the-woods mushrooms added earthiness to this springlike meal. My mother-in-law, a woman of good sense, transferred a taste of the bass to each of our bread plates and then ate with an almost alarming alacrity. She liked it. So did we.
I ordered the Long Island duck breast, which boasted succulent pink flesh beneath crackling, fatty skin. The slices rested on a bed of lentils that were cooked exactly to the tooth and mixed with pistachio nuts. Small coils of fiddleheads composed around the dish offered a fresh, green snap, and the accompanying port-soaked cherries suggested a soft and sweet complement. A bonus of pickled ramps added vinegar and crunch. I loved everything about this dish. And the portion of duck was so generous that I offered my dining companions a second slice.
Then there was the roasted heirloom chicken, with a golden-brown crisp skin that crunched beneath the knife. The flavor-packed meat was so moist it spurted. It came with Anson Mills polenta that was creamy yet just-firm, and wilted escarole that gave the presentation a welcome touch of bitterness. A lemon-garlic vinaigrette was the sauce here, a pleasing accent.
The menu also offers a wide selection of “Snacks, Sides and Such”—a good assortment of local, regional and European salads and small plates, and we were tempted by many. We also eyed the list of artisan cheese, an inviting mix of samples made from cow, goat and sheep milk. (available for dessert too.) We tried the shrimp and grits, huge Maya shrimp, heads on, over delectable blue- corn grits with fresh corn kernels and flavorful shiitake mushrooms. Though tender, the shrimp were a tad salty for our table. The duck and foie gras meatballs were surprisingly lackluster but gained a surprising oomph from sweet-savory cranberry preserve and parsnip purée. A bowl of roasted shishito peppers provided a simple, spicy counterpoint and was enjoyed by all.
But the entrées were all spot-on. The seasonings were just right, the flavor combinations wonderful. Kudos to Executive Chef Arik Bensimon, who is executing the farm-to-table fare the restaurant has been lauded for since Mary Schaffer and her husband Charles Morgan opened it in 2006. Bensimon was the sous chef under the previous executive chef, Bill Taibe, and stepped into the role in 2009.
On this night Napa & Co had a place-to-be air about it. Contemporary and sophisticated yet casual, the restaurant’s sage and chocolate tones gave off an urbane earthiness. And the crowd was clearly enjoying themselves. At the bar, a group of women dined comfortably over glasses of wine. In the dining room, guests ranged from families with well-behaved children to suit-wearing businessmen having a dinner meeting. A party of young couples at a nearby table added a touch of fun and glamour to the space. This fashionable scene, framed by the room’s now famous eighteen-foot wall of wine, seemed to play out with practiced ease.
Perhaps it was the wine. Like its namesake, Napa & Co stands for wine, and its “By the Glass” menu features fifty samples, with an emphasis on California varietals—though the bottle selection from France, Spain, Italy and Chile is plentiful. Much like the food offerings, the “By the Glass” selections change frequently. Not sure what to pick? “Flights”—three 3-ounce tastings that on this evening included “Pinot Envy” and “Chic Chardonnay”—tantalize, while educating the guests.
Interior of the main dining room
The menu also recommends wine pairings for each entrée. (Schaffer, also Napa’s sommelier, had tried removing the pairings from the menu, but servers soon informed her that customers missed her suggestions. The pairings were reintroduced soon after.)
Our waiter was a pro, circling our table as we decided what to have, zooming in when we needed him, and answering every question about pairings and other wines on the menu. My friend asked for a viognier from Argentina to go with the heirloom chicken and deemed it quite good. My mother-in-law opted for a Gewürztraminer from Alsace to accompany the sea bass. My duck breast was paired with a California Pinot Noir.
Utterly satiated, we barely glanced at the simple and homey dessert menu and asked for our check. But what’s this? Our waiter returned bearing champagne flutes. He heard we were celebrating a birthday. Dry, fruity, fizzy, and no singing—a most fitting way to end a meal at Napa.
Napa & Co
75 Broad Street
Mon.–Fri., 11:30a.m.–2:30 p.m.; 5:30–10 p.m.
Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.