It’s nice if you walk in with a smile. We believe it’s nicer still if you walk out with one.

A restaurant’s name is many things. It needs to be memorable, easy to understand and pronounce, and an outward conveyance of what lies inside the doors. It speaks to the menu, the décor, the atmosphere. It becomes the face of the brand against which all marketing efforts stem from. And sometimes it speaks to the emotional investment the principals have in a restaurant. Atlas Social, housed in the now defunct Bistro Sabor’s old address in Dwight Murray Plaza, and the third installment of Napa downtown restaurants by Michael and Christina Gyetvan, have such an investment.

Joined by Pat Jefferies, long-time Napa restaurant go-to guy, and fellow native Napan by way of St. Helena and Italy chef Nick Ritchie, the Gyetvan’s wanted a spot that reflected those favorite things they experienced while traveling, a spot that conveyed those emotions felt when finding respite from  the towns and cities of Old World Europe over here to California. Communal tables, entering a restaurant as a stranger for a quick bite (hence the small plates reminiscent of Barcelona) and leaving as a friend, all stem from their memories of time abroad.

The Atlas Social name itself is both a nod to the Napa Valley (i.e. Atlas Peak) and a take on the idea of an Atlas being a representation of the world. Social? Well, that came from the idea of patrons come to share the food, the space, the good times, themselves.

Sharing comes naturally in the Carlos Fernandez designed décor. He has managed to strike a very successful marriage of a dark and warm interior lending itself to a calm atmosphere, with an old world-new world blend of lighting, tables and wall schemes. (This writer’s favorite is the entire wall as chalkboard. Fun, functional, simple and original.)

Front end staff get in on the sharing action too. According to Pat, known in Napa Valley as having either opened or been associated with several successful restaurant ventures, the Atlas Social crew is the “…best opening crew (he’s) ever had the pleasure of assembling.” And so, with that high level of expertise manning the floor, staff members approach patrons with the easy comfort that comes from being the best. Patrons, in turn, sense this ease and enter that friendly air by sharing the Atlas experience with staff.

Of these many things coming together admirably to create restaurant magic, in the end the food needs to shine. Nick Ritchie, flanked by kitchen staff that are all strong in their own right, has created an easily approachable menu. Each item is either a well-executed take on an old favorite, like the Ricotta Dumplings with smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce, a slight twist on a stand-by like the herb leaf fries, or something you likely haven’t seen before, like the Chef’s crispy fried egg with bacon jam. Each item is meant to not only resonate with the small plate style of food service, but more importantly to forward the idea that stuffed should not equal satisfied.

And so, with an array of plates redolent of various parts of the world in front of you, the last sips of a cold beer sitting beside the awaiting fresh glass of wine suggested from the by-the-glass menu at hand, Atlas Social tends to be a place that sparks a spontaneous smile. Which is exactly what Pat Jefferies is shooting for.