The Sweet Spots

Napa Valley is recognized internationally for its world-class wines and Michelin-starred restaurants offering a variety of culinary pleasures. Meals can be plentiful and filling, sometimes with multiple courses, leaving little room for dessert. However, not saving room means missing some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated sweets, which range from American comfort food classics to internationally inspired after-dinner delights. Below are a few suggestions not to be missed.


Bistro Don Giovanni has been one of Napa Valley’s most beloved Italian restaurants for over 25 years, serving homestyle Italian food in its casual venue to locals and visitors alike. Although not at all an Italian dessert, the restaurant’s Top-Shelf Butterscotch Pudding with whipped cream and chocolate is legendary. It has been on the menu for at least 20 years. Chef partner Scott Warner confessed it was too delicious to pass up, plus it fits with the restaurant’s comfortable ambiance. What makes Don Giovanni’s rendition unique is the recipe includes dark muscovado sugar – unrefined cane sugar with molasses – which adds a toffeelike flavor. This rich and moist sugar is combined with The Macallan 10-Year-Old Scotch. “Not enough to get you tipsy, but it makes the pudding a top-shelf flavored butterscotch,” said Warner. Unless one is extremely sensitive to wheat in scotch, it can also be a gluten-free dessert option. //


Eiko’s, downtown Napa’s fun and casual sushi bar and happy hour restaurant, has had a chocolate brownie on the dessert menu, along with deep-fried ice cream, for a while. However, the restaurant staff had a secret. They asked the cooks to take the brownie, coat it with tempura batter, and deep fry it. The Tempura Brownie recipe was so secret that even Director of Operations, Allison Hallum, did not know about it. “One day I saw my team eating one and I said, ‘Where did you get that?’ I had no idea we made it,” said Hallum. The staff began suggesting to guests to try the Brownie Tempura, and it caught on through word of mouth. To make it even more irresistible, the cooks add extra chocolate chips and remove the brownie’s edges, leaving only the soft, chocolatey center. The tempura is lighter than most deep-fried batters and does not overpower the decadent chocolate goodness. The Tempura Brownie is still not on the menu, but for those who know, it has become a house favorite. Added Hallum, “It’s a warm, deep-fried, gooey brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce drizzle. What’s not to love?” //


Fleetwood Calistoga, the newly opened restaurant in The Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, focuses on wood-fire cooking with an Italian and Mediterranean vibe, and now has a local and visitor following, those who want a dining experience akin to belonging to a wine country community. Chef Drew Glassell has created a casual, accessible menu with dishes made from locally sourced ingredients, both down-to-earth and adventurous. An example is the restaurant’s Italian-inspired dessert menu, which includes Polenta Cake. Polenta is made from medium to coarsely ground cornmeal and is often served as a side dish like rice or potatoes, but at Fleetwood Calistoga, Glassell uses it to create a cake, which can also be made gluten-free. It includes seasonal fruit, like huckleberry compote, as well as zabaglione – also an Italian dessert in its own right – plus amaretti crumbs. It is worth the drive to Calistoga to give this one-of-a-kind dessert and the rest of the menu a try. //


Mustards Grill, named for the Napa Valley’s seasonal mustard flowers, describes itself as owner and executive chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s “Deluxe Truckstop” on the southbound side of St. Helena Highway. After 38 years, the landmark restaurant’s clientele still includes locals, visitors, truckers, vintners, and winemakers. Mustards is known for its “heaping plate” comfort foods like the Famous Mongolian Pork Chop, Mustards Mighty Meatloaf, Truckstop Deluxe (“Always meat, often potatoes, rarely vegetables”), and its renowned Lemon-Lime Tart. “I wanted a lemon meringue pie that was a bit different, so we added lime, candied lemon peel, and a ridiculously large, brown sugar meringue,” shared Pawlcyn. “I always like to have a citrus dessert on the menu.” Pawlcyn’s version stands out both wonderfully and visually due to the height of the luscious meringue. It can also be made with a gluten-free crust. Fans of this dessert can enjoy it at Mustards Grill and at home, as the recipe is included in Pawlcyn’s James Beard Award-winning Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook. //


According to Napa Palisades Saloon’s chef JC Luna Morales, restaurant co-owner Carly Bond Meyer always wanted dessert on the menu. With the Saloon’s endearing moniker, “Beer Guys in Wine Country” in mind, founding chef Tim Brown, staying true to his rustic style, invented a dessert using beer, Beer-AMisu. “Tiramisu is a popular dessert that a lot of people are familiar with, then you add beer and give it a fun name – it’s the perfect trifecta,” said co-owner Chuck Meyer. Originally made with Campfire Stout, Luna Morales makes Beer-A-Misu with three layers of ladyfingers soaked in Napa Palisades own toasty flavored “Hey Porter!” coffee, a touch of vanilla, mascarpone, whipped cream, and cocoa, then leaves it overnight in the fridge. “The cream is a labor of love and can’t be left unattended, even for a moment while making it. We use as many locally sourced ingredients as we can, except for the ladyfingers, which are imported from Italy,” added Morales. Originally a secret item, the Saloon served it by request only. However, through word of mouth, it became a favorite and earned its spot on the menu. It is now the Saloon’s signature dessert. //


Napa Valley Bistro, under the leadership of Executive Chef and Principal, Bernardo Ayala and business partner, Ernesto Martinez, is one of downtown Napa’s most charming neighborhood restaurants due to its low-key atmosphere and unpretentiousness. Its organic and locally focused menu includes favorites like the award-winning Fallen Hills Lamb Burger. A meal at Napa Valley Bistro is not complete without an equally scrumptious dessert from its separate after-dinner menu that offers eight desserts, fortified and dessert wines, and a selection of coffees, hot chocolate, teas, and an espresso martini. Two of its desserts are standouts, the Vanilla Bean Natilla – tres leches, blueberry and guava compote, and cinnamon churros – with a suggested pairing of Royal Tokaji “5 Puttonyos”, 2013, and its Warm Chocolate Fudge Cake with vanilla bean ice cream, Muscat caramel sauce, and optional accompanying Graham’s “Six Grapes” Ruby Port. //


Tarla Mediterranean Bar + Grill, whose name means “field” in Turkish, describes its commitment to using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, as well as its bountiful menu of “culturally exciting eats” from Turkey and Greece. The menu also includes numerous Turkish desserts. It’s most popular is the Coconut Kunefe, the closest rival of world-famous baklava, which has been on the menu since Tarla opened ten years ago. What makes Tarla’s version so addictive is the addition of coconut in the recipe. It is made with multiple layers of buttered, shredded phyllo dough and coconut plus unsalted buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, then baked. Next, it is sweetened with a thick, hot syrup made from boiling water, sugar, and lemon juice, then topped with optional chopped pistachios. According to Tarla’s president, Yusuf Topal, this Turkish delight “is to die for!” //

Story By: Elizabeth Smith