Story & Photo By: Elizabeth Smith // Carpaccio at Bistro Don Giovanni

Viva l’Italia!

Immigrants to the Napa Valley include a large number of Italians who arrived in Napa Valley as early as the mid-to-late 19th century. Along with their family heritage came traditional family recipes, some of which remain on menus today. Whether they be old-world style regional dishes or Italian-inspired creations with a Napa Valley twist, many feature farm-to-table ingredients with all-star wine lists showcasing local vintners. Here is a list of some of Napa’s best, each of which has ranked as a fan favorite in Napa Valley Life Magazine’s Best of Napa Valley Readers Choice Awards.

BISTRO DON GIOVANNI

Winner: Best Italian Restaurant – NVL 2022 Best of Napa Valley Readers Choice Awards

For over 25 years, Bistro Don Giovanni has been one of Napa Valley’s most treasured Italian restaurants. Fondly dubbed “Don G’s” by Napa locals, the bistro serves homestyle, house-made Italian cuisine in its casual indoor and outdoor venue just north of the city of Napa. Customer favorites include carpaccio, Mamma Concetta’s meatballs, grilled octopus salad, short rib ravioli, gnocchetti (lamb ragu and truffle pecorino), pollo alla diavola with broccoli di Ciccio, and prosciutto di Parma and margherita pizzas. Indulgent desserts like tiramisu, bostini trifle (vanilla custard, chocolate cake whipped cream, clear caramel, and toasted almonds), gelato, sorbetto, and tiramisu complete the meal. Although not an Italian dessert, Don G’s is known for its signature top-shelf butterscotch pudding made with dark muscovado sugar, The Macallan 10-Year-Old Scotch, and topped with whipped cream and chocolate. The restaurant offers various old- and new-world wines and beers, plus creative Italian cocktails like the Firenze spritz and blood orange negroni. // www.bistrodongiovanni.com

         

BOTTEGA NAPA VALLEY

Bottega Napa Valley in Yountville, a Michael Chiarello restaurant, is a visitor and a local gem. It is Chiarello’s nod to his southern Italian roots, offering a menu of what he describes as “an integration of seasonal, global flavors and sustainable living.” Popular dishes include Insalatina di Cavoletti di Bruxelles (shaved Brussels sprouts with whole Meyer lemon dressing, Marcona almonds, sieved egg, and Pecorino Romano), Tagliarini Bolognese al Centro (winter wheat pasta with tomato braised pork belly, finished with red wine and topped with Calabrian gremolata and Chianti-soaked Pecorino), Rigatoni al Coniglio (balsamic-marinated rabbit and caramelized mushrooms with pancetta and house-made ricotta), and Costolette di Manzo (smoked and braised short rib in espresso agro-dolce and creamy ancient grain polenta with Calabrian pepperonata). Bottega’s innovative wine list changes frequently. “It is a base of the classics, a dash of impossible-to-finds, a sprinkling of rising-star newcomers, and a handful of newer varietals quickly making their way onto the scene,” said Chiarello. // www.botteganapavalley.com

FOODSHED TAKE AWAY

Foodshed Take Away is the partnership of Napa natives and high school classmates Giovanni Guerrera and Sean Pramuk. While living and working in Rome, Italy, Guerrera conceived the idea of a community restaurant and teaching kitchen that incorporates Napa Valley agriculture and the area’s best natural resource, its people. Napa locals know Foodshed for its Roman-style street food pizza, whose dough goes through a 48-hour fermentation process to create a unique crunchy and chewy sourdough crust. Not to be missed is the burrata cheese pizza with tomato, olive oil, and oregano or the pepperoni pizza with tomato, fresh mozzarella, roasted fennel, and red onion. Foodshed also offers a variety of Italian-style dishes like minestrone soup, tascas (sandwiches with house-made bread) and plates (ala carte without bread), contorni (eight-ounce sides), and desserts like polenta almond cake, brutti ma buoni, and tiramisu. Weekly specials include a farro salad, lamb sausage pizza, and cannellini bean soup. In addition, Foodshed offers family- style dinners to go, catering, and a wine bar and bottle shop with over 100 wines. // www.foodshedpizza.org

IL POSTO TRATTORIA

Justin Graffigna always dreamed of owning his own Italian restaurant serving the food he grew up eating as a child. Il Posto Trattoria in north Napa is the realization of his dream. Il Posto – the place – is where Napa locals celebrate family, friends, food, and life. The restaurant serves rustic, old-school comfort food, like arancini, olive fritte (fried castelvetrano olives stuffed with Italian sausage), cioppino, rigatoni and meatballs, orecchiette (little ears – Italian sausage with red cabbage, cauliflower, Calabrian chiles, and fontina cheese), and tagliatelle with Papa (meat-based) sauce. “My kids call me Papa,” shared Graffigna. “When I made this for them as children, this what they called it.” His recipe originated with his grandparents. They made it with affordable ingredients available to them. As food sources improved in quality, the recipe evolved into what Il Posto serves today, an addictive, premium meat sauce. Il Posto also makes its own gluten-free pasta daily and will adjust menu items to accommodate other dietary requests. “You feel like you are in your own kitchen when you are eating here,” said Graffigna. // www.ilpostonapa.com

           

OLIVE & HAY

Olive & Hay in the Meritage Resort is one of Napa Valley’s newest additions. The restaurant’s ambience is casual yet refined, and the menu is a juxtaposition of rustic and modern. Executive chef Jose Mejia and his team, including maître d’hôtel Mounir Fahmy, create farm-to-table experiences using ingredients from their own gardens and local producers within a 20-mile radius, accompanied by an award-winning wine list. A few favorites include The Big Italian salad – Mejia’s rendition of an antipasto salad with garden fare, local charcuterie, and house-made Italian dressing – and the Linguini a Frutti di Mare made with scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, and white wine butter. One of the most popular winter dishes is the Veal Ossobuco – sausage-stuffed, braised veal served with creamy saffron risotto and roasted bone marrow caramelized with cippolini jam and topped with bright gremolata. In the spring, diners will enjoy Veal Milanese, a breaded and fried veal tenderloin topped with bright veal jus, lemon, capers, and cornichons. Olive & Hay’s goal is to provide a memorable meal that diners will recall years later. “Our menu showcases the journey of each ingredient, fusing homemade and homegrown, modern and classic, innovative and traditional Italian cuisine,” said Mejia. “We take a creative approach to classic Italian dishes using ingredients when they are at their peak.” Olive & Hay also eagerly accommodates special diets. // www.meritagecollection.com/meritageresort/dining/olive-and-hay

PIZZERIA TRA VIGNE

Winner: Best Pizza — NVL 2022 Best of Napa Valley Readers Choice Awards

Under the helm of original owner Bill Upson, Chef Anthony “Nash” Cognetti, and managing partner Cynthia Ariosta, Pizzeria Tra Vigne – or The Pizzeria – as the locals call it, has endured economic downturns, natural disasters, and the pandemic during the past 30 years. It is St. Helena’s gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy favorites like spaghetti and meatballs, minestrone soup, Caesar salad, and various classic and innovative pizzas (pepperoni, Positano, La Bamba, Romano), whose base is three-day-fermented, crispy-chewy sourdough crust. Tra Vigne is also home to the Original Mozzarella al Minuto, made-to-order, “gooey and warm” mozzarella on garlic-rubbed grilled bruschetta, drenched in Napa Valley Olive Oil, and topped with cracked black pepper and sea salt. Popular – and rarely found elsewhere – are Tra Vigne’s Piadine. “Bridging the gap between healthy and decadent, our Piadine offer the best of both worlds – our crust is topped with one of our salads (Caesar, Caprese, Insalata di Pollo),” said Ariosta. Seasonal dishes include woodfired asparagus and their Mercato and Sonoma fig pizzas. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options are also available. “We are currently working with the Blue Zones Project to add more healthy options in hopes of being one of the first restaurants in the Upper Valley to achieve Blue Zones Project certification,” shared Ariosta. // www.pizzeriatravigne.com

RISTORANTE ALLEGRIA

Ristorante Allegria is another favorite. Located in downtown Napa on lively First Street, it describes itself as “northern Italian influenced with California cuisine.” The restaurant is built inside a historic landmark, an old bank building built in 1916, whose most breathtaking feature is its 35-foot ceilings. Allegria has several dining areas, including the bar, the main room, “The Vault,” the Bella and Chardonnay rooms upstairs, and the spacious outdoor patio. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, from appetizers to desserts, including beloved favorites like calamari fritti, burrata, wild mushroom ravioli, rigatoni con salsiccia (sausage), salmone alla griglia (grilled salmon with polenta), and tiramisu. Specials include soup, salad, and a fish of the day. Allegria also has an extensive list of Napa, Sonoma, and Italian wines, and a full cocktail bar. The recommended attire is “casual elegance.” // www.ristoranteallegria.com