Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review June 2011
Avia Kitchen and Wine Bar
A Very Cool Hangout in Napa’s Hot West End
By Dorothy and John Salmon
For we who have lived in Napa for more than 20 years, the hip, new West End looks nothing like that part of First Street used to look. For we who dreamed of what the new Napa could become after the Flood Control Measure A passed, it is even better than we dreamed it could be. The upbeat shift that created the West End was given a big boost with the construction of the AVIA Hotel, and really bloomed when its doors opened in July, 2009. The Hotel proudly reports that it recently earned “AAA Four Diamond Status”, which is a really BIG deal after being open less than two years! The hotel is sleek, classy, and feels like a young, hip place to hang out for visitors and locals alike.
First Street’s West End is also home to The Norman Rose Tavern, Oenotri, Graces Table, The John Anthony Tasting Room, Napa Square, Gordon Huether’s Gallery, Wells Fargo Bank, Annett’s Chocolates and much more. It is a street filled with an enthusiastic air of “what’s next?” This spring, the West End will welcome new retailers, West End Napa and Napa Valley Toffee Co., adjacent to the AVIA Hotel. Locals and visitors can purchase sweets, do more wine tasting, and enjoy a coffee bar next to a “one-of-a-kind” furnishings made by Napa Valley artisans. Lynn Campagna of Napa Valley Kitchen Gallery will fill her 3,000 square foot location at Napa Square with “to die for” kitchen items.
Our son Rob is the winemaker for John Anthony Vineyards. So, we call the John Anthony Tasting Room our “hangout.” From there, we can walk next door to the AVIA for brunch, or dinner or a snack with our granddaughters, Gracie and Arden. At ages 6 and 10, they think that AVIA is the best place in town because they can take the elevator to the second floor outdoor terrace and eat ice cream while swinging on a swing. From the time we attended the hotel opening, we knew that great things were around the corner for this part of downtown Napa.
When you walk into the AVIA today, you first encounter the Riddling Rack lounge, where you can order from terrific selection of wines, cocktails, exotic Agave wines, sake, rum and rice infused vodka. You can pair your sake, Napa Smith Wheat beer, or local wine with Portobellos with black truffle aioli and a C.A.B. burger. You can also choose a selection of Fromage + Charcuterie plates with a mix of domestic and imported cured meats and cheeses and accompaniments, such as locally-produced honey, toasted baguettes, cured olives, whole grain mustard and tangy capers.
One of the best kept secrets in town is The AVIA’s wonderful Saturday and Sunday buffet of fresh market fruits, yogurts and house-made granola, steel-cut oatmeal and cereals, breakfast pastries, and local, artisan cheeses and charcuterie, plus chef-prepared omelets or scrambles, breakfast potatoes, bacon and sausages. Walking into the AVIA Kitchen (Dining Area) you will see a fireplace area with a long, dark, leather couch, coffee tables, and a friendly atmosphere where you will often see locals stopping by for a glass of wine after work.
Chef Chris Aken is The AVIA’s Executive Chef. He comes to the AVIA with experience in classic French Cuisine garnished with an eclectic mix of styles from work in Oklahoma City, Chicago, San Francisco and the Napa Valley.
We began our dinner with a bottle of one of our favorites, Luna Pino Grigio ($32). For starters, John ordered the Warm Mozzarella/Balsamic Vinaigrette Garlic Confit with Toasted Baguette ($12) and Dorothy ordered the “Springs Bounty” Salad with Roasted Apples, Baby Radish, Pickled Ramp and spring blossoms ($10). Both salads were delicious, and the service was friendly and prompt. The dining room is unique with a long tall table for dining, and smaller and larger tables to accommodate almost any size party. By the way, the AVIA also offers a large conference room for parties, meetings, conferences and holiday gatherings.
For our meal, John had the Grilled Flatiron Steak with crushed potatoes, sautéed spinach and Cabernet Juice ($26). Dorothy enjoyed the Risotto with Morel Mushrooms, spring vegetables and crispy Parmesan ($17). Since we just returned home from a week in Mexico with friends, where we did more than our share of eating and drinking the local flavor, we decided to pass on dessert. We know from past experience, however, that the desserts at the AVIA Wine Bar and Kitchen are terrific. So, do indulge. Stop by for dinner anytime or bring your friends and family for a weekend brunch and enjoy the hotel, downtown Napa and the new look of Napa’s West End.