Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review December 2007
Cook St. Helena
By “The Elusive Epicurean”
Not a holiday goes by that some relative doesn’t remark upon my love of cooking, and come to the inevitable conclusion that I should pursue a career as a professional chef.
I find this uproariously funny. For one, having lived with a slew of career foodies, and read my share of voyeuristic kitchen non-fiction (reference one Anthony Bourdain), I know this: Being a professional cook is hard work. This knowledge always leaves me looking at Aunt Bessie or Uncle Howard and thinking, “Are you daft?”
Further, Aunt Bessie and Uncle Howard have got it all wrong. I do not love cooking. I love eating. If the universe saw fit to give me a personal chef, I would not miss sautéing, mincing, or puréeing. But, since this person has yet to arrive, a demanding palate (and even more demanding budget) dictates that I cook. As chores go, cooking’s not so bad. It ranks far above ironing. And, I cook.
Thus, therefore, when I have a stunning meal, prepared by someone else, I am so very appreciative. Cook St. Helena always leaves me very, very appreciative. If you have not yet eaten there, go. If you have, but just happen to be hungry, go. If you think you might possibly be hungry at some point one day in the near or distant future, then schedule it. I command you.
Cook St. Helena’s small storefront on Main Street is easy to miss, so keep your eyes out for diners pacing the sidewalk waiting for a seat at what is clearly a local favorite. Enthusiastic greetings ping-pong around the room whenever a regular shows up, which is often.
It’s easy to see why Cook, is popular, (with its cozy, friendly French bistro feel). Wine bottles line the walls, and a marble-topped bar gives a diner-gone-luxe vibe while at the same time welcoming solo diners or those who want a sneak peek into the petite kitchen.
My companion, who shall be called Miss Guinness, began with the beet salad, composed of red and yellow beets, mache, ricotta salata and sherry vinegar ($9). Very simple, and very good. The soup was cream of tomato ($8), which I ordered without the least trepidation. I was in good hands: I was not reminded of that red and white can. The prospect of a daily dose of Cook’s soup had me momentarily considering relocation. It was that good.
Next, I chose the braised short ribs ($23), served with scallion whipped potatoes. Tender and flavorful, the ribs were the perfect winter comfort food. Cook’s pastas are all housemade. Miss Guinness could not resist the Handmade Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream ($16), also available with either marinara or sage brown butter. There was some debate over the sauce, but in the end she went with the gorgonzola cream, which, happily, was neither overwhelming nor heavy. The gnocchi themselves were light, not leaden, and I eagerly cleaned Miss Guinness’ plate after I finished everything on mine. But, not to worry, I still had room for a lovely Panne Cotta.
So, Dear Reader, if after all the tinseling and bedecking of this festive season, you dread the very thought of rummaging through your fridge, there is an answer: Cook St. Helena. Visions of sugar plums will dance in your head.