3 new restaurants in Napa and Sonoma

Chowing down at the 2016's best new eateries in Wine Country

Two things in California Wine Country are always certain: A seemingly endless supply of fabulous wine, and a steady stream of new restaurants to serve food to drink with it.

I’ve lived in Sonoma County for the better part of the last decade, and I’m amazed by how many wonderful restaurants open here and in neighboring Napa every year. The first few months of 2016 have been no exception to this rule. Here, then, in no particular order, are the rundowns on three of my favorite eateries that have opened in Napa and Sonoma over the last few months.

Miminashi, Napa

The newest restaurant in Wine Country: Mimihasni, an Izakaya-style eatery in downtown Napa. The restaurant opened in early May and is the brainchild of Curtis Di Fede, one of the two restaurateurs behind another of the city’s beloved restaurants (Oenotri). This time Di Fede has delivered a restaurant that specializes in small plates and drinks—basically Japanese tapas.

The result: In a word, delicious.

How else to describe the Yakitori menu with options such as gizzard, beef tongue, heart, knee-joint meat, and arctic char belly? What more could one say about the savory pork stew donabe, with grapefruit kosho, carrots, braised fennel, and potatoes? All of these are among my early favorites. Another candidate is the California spin on Shoyu Ramen, complete with an Onsen egg, sugar snap peas, maitake mushrooms, chasu pork, asparagus, and Tokyo negi.

(Oh, since I’m sharing, the fried rice, with kimchee, blood sausage, peas, asparagus, and mustard greens, is amazing.)

Before you roll yourself toward the door, be sure to save room for a black sesame soft ice cream topped with tempura crispies. You won’t find flavors like those in many other places east of Hawaii. And that’s exactly the point.

Alfajores at Quinua

Quinua, Petaluma

Having lived for six months in Lima, Peru, my archaeologist wife and I learned firsthand about how delicious Peruvian food can be. Naturally, then, we were delighted when Quinua Restaurant Cocina Peruana, a Peruvian restaurant, opened earlier this winter in the Sonoma County city of Petaluma, about 30 minutes from our house.

Thankfully, the place did not disappoint.

That said, the type of food that Quinua serves is definitely closer to the kind of food you’d find in the Peruvian highlands—as opposed to the types of cuisine you might find along the towns that line the Peruvian coast. Sure, Quinua offers some seafood dishes (including ceviche, which is raw fish “cooked” in citrus juices).

But the majority of menu items comprise steak and/or chicken and potatoes—lots and lots and lots of potatoes. Like Papa a la Huancaína, a dish of boiled potatoes covered with Andean cream—a mix of milk, cheese, and Peruvian yellow pepper. And Lomo saltado, which features sautéed beef served with fried potatoes. Another great one is Aji de Gallina, chicken breast in a creamy sauce served over boiled potatoes. All three of these are traditional Peruvian dishes. Quinua does all of them well.

Without question, however, the highlight of my most recent visit to Quinua was dessert—specifically, the alfajores. Think of these cookies as bite-sized caramel sandwiches with dulce de leche between two shortbread cookies covered in powdered sugar. I wish every meal could end this way.

Viewfinder Tip: Always make reservations for meals in Wine Country—especially during summer and fall. Without them, wait times can exceed an hour.

Persimmon, Healdsburg

My home town of Healdsburg, in the northern part of Sonoma County, has become a bit of a foodie mecca over the last few years. We’ve got Michelin-starred celebrity chefs, amazing taquerias, even a place that serves beignets like the ones you get in New Orleans. One of the things we’ve lacked: good Asian food. That’s why Persimmon is such a big deal.

The pan-Asian restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Danny Mai, opened late last year. It has become one of the hottest tables in town.

Without question the best items on the menu are the most obscure. I like to start with the ginger-glazed pork belly with quinoa rice and Gochujang, a Korean condiment that packs a spicy punch. I’m also obsessed with the Chicken and Crispy Tofu Laksa with fishballs—a dish of Thai rice noodles served in sweet and spicy Thai curry broth. Many locals (aka my friends) love the bahn mi sandwiches, which change every day. Another highlight is Sichuan Mapo tofu, a Chinese staple but a rarity on menus in this part of the state.

It’s worth noting that the restaurant is family-friendly, too. Every time I’ve dined there I’ve brought my 4-year-old daughter. Mai and his staff always make her feel welcome with fresh-squeezed lemonade and special shrimp and avocado spring rolls. Their kindness has broadened her culinary horizons.

What is your favorite foodie destination and why?

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Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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