At this point in the evolution of Napa wine country, it’s pretty tough to get a bad meal, provided you’re willing to spend a few bucks. True, there’s a déja-vu-inducing familiarity to the menus, even of recently opened eateries, beginning with designer nuts and olives at the bar, proceeding to retro starters like iceberg wedge with blue cheese and the omnipresent deviled eggs (see, for example, Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga, Rutherford Grill, and Angèle in Napa, which fries its deviled eggs), and followed by carnacentric standards like short rib and roasted chicken for two with sides of mac ’n’ cheese and Brussels sprouts.
Well, and why not? American-accented and unpretentious, showcasing homey preparations of locally sourced seasonal ingredients—buttressed by a few dependable imports like NY strip and Hudson Valley foie gras—these hearty and comforting dishes provide the perfect scaffolding for the region’s robust wines.
TORC in downtown Napa, open since November of 2013, is a model of how to do this kind of menu up right. Chef/owner Sean O’Toole and his wife Cynthia, who runs the front of the house, are warm and welcoming, and the same is true of the physical place, which formerly was the home of Ubuntu, the Michelin-starred shrine to vegetarianism. It’s a huge room with an open bar and kitchen, and a private dining room on the mezzanine; the surfaces are all wood and stone yet the decibel level is kept to a human scale owing to the soaring ceiling and widely spaced tables. The house style is laid-back but attentive, up-to-date without being precious.