Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review February 2012
Emmy Lou’s Diner “Nothing Could Be Finer”
By Dorothy and John Salmon
Knowing that one of our favorite chefs, Marco Ruiz, would be in the kitchen, we enjoyed a Tuesday night dinner at Emmy Lou’s Diner in the River Park Shopping Center at Imola and Jefferson. Emmy Lou’s Diner is owned by Marco’s good friend, Ruben Carreon. Due to the economic downturn we all faced in 2010, Marco’s beloved Pasta Prego closed, along with several other terrific Napa restaurants. In March 2011, Marco was at the River Park Shopping Center for a haircut and he stopped in to say hello to his old friend Ruben. As they commiserated about Pasta Prego’s closing, Ruben suggested that, since Ruben serves only breakfast and dinner at this local neighborhood diner, Marco might consider serving dinners there. Marco immediately took his old friend up on the offer and began serving dinner. For dinner, the lunch tables are cleared and white table cloths added which gives a touch of glamour to the typical diner atmosphere.
With some help from the local word of mouth, many fans of Pasta Prego followed Marco Ruiz to Emmy Lou’s Diner for dishes such as Marco’s amazing smoked salmon, served with capers and red onion on a sweet corn pancake with a lemon aioli sauce. As the locals told their friends that weeknights at Emmy Lou’s Diner was the place to be for fabulous food, the place began to hum. The neighborhood diner atmosphere actually makes the place more fun, and you will see some notable local regulars. On the night we were there, we ran into Dr. Lee Block and his wife, writer Moira Johnston Block and visited with the talented Thomas Bartlett, Napa Valley’s beloved and well known designer, whose work has been shown time and time again in Architectural Digest. Thomas joined us for some great stories and a glass of wine, making the evening more fun.
Marco Ruiz stopped by to say hello when there was a break in the action in his busy kitchen. Marco also caters large and small parties, weddings and special events. If you don’t feel like cooking dinner, consider stopping by and picking up your meal at Emmy Lou’s and take some great food home to eat by the fire. While we were at the Diner, we saw several people pick up their To Go orders. Marco is a sought after caterer. So, the next time you think about spending hours cooking for your next party, consider calling Marco instead. Full service catering is available by contacting Marco Ruiz at (707) 337-8546 or email him at email@example.com.
If you decide to eat at Emmy Lou’s Diner don’t expect a lavish setting. Emmy Lou’s is located in the middle of the River Park Shopping Center, sandwiched in between The River Park Jewelers and Personalized Haircuts, just down the way from the $1 Store, Hancock’s Fabrics and Cigarettes and More. You won’t be going for the décor, but the food is divine. Here’s a tip for Valentine’s Day: save taking the love of your life out for dinner at Emmy Lou’s Diner and buy some terrific jewelry with the savings. You will get one of the best meals in town, have money left for jewelry and make everyone happy. Emmy Lou’s is a great place for a party too. Invite several couples to join you for dinner and have a blast.
Emmy Lou’s seats about 56 people, including eight seats at the bar. Don’t let the atmosphere fool you. The food and service are terrific. We were greeted by Adriana, who has worked with Marco for over five years, as have many of his staff from Pasta Prego who you might recognize.
Adriana served us Sciambra’s fresh bread with a wonderful olive and garlic dipping oil. We ordered a bottle of Luna Vineyards, 2008 Napa Valley Pinot Grigio ($21). The wine list is not lavish but offers a sufficient selection of great local wines at reasonable prices. If you wish, you can bring your own wine for a $10 corkage fee.
We began our meal with an old time favorite, Marco’s fabulous smoked salmon, with capers and red onion, served on a bed of sweet corn pancake and an amazing lemon aioli ($10.50). John had never enjoyed this dish at Pasta Prego, but after one bite, said that it was amazing. John ordered the tomato soup ($5.50), which far surpassed the tomato soup that he grew up eating during the winter as a kid in Chicago. Dorothy ordered a small Caesar Salad
($5) just to see if it had the same Pasta Prego flavor. It did. When you go to Emmy Lou’s Diner, try the Rock Salad made with baby greens, red onions, tomatoes, cucumber and citrus vinaigrette ($10.50). It’s one of the best salads you will ever eat.
For dinner, John ordered the Risotto with tomato, asparagus and sausage ($18.95) and Dorothy ordered the Pasta Diablo; grilled prawns wrapped with pancetta on a bed of spaghetti, with broccoli, marinated tomatoes, garlic and olive oil ($20). The Pasta Diablo was one of Dorothy’s favorites at Pasta Prego and it is the same wonderful dish at Emmy Lou’s Diner. It is garlicky, beautifully presented, with big shrimp wrapped with thinly sliced pancetta and perfectly cooked asparagus. John thought that his Risotto was wonderful too. We finished the evening with Marco’s crème brulee ($5), which was as good as the rest of the meal, and probably the best crème brulee you will ever eat, and for sure the best
Since we live not far from Emmy Lou’s, we intend to become one of their regulars. Look for us when you come. Ignore the Budweiser and Corona neon signs and the big OPEN sign when you get to Emmy Lou’s and sit down for one of the best meals in Napa, served by friendly people, and prepared by a beloved chef in a funky neighborhood setting. Sometimes, ambiance is overrated!
Chicken Marsala (Serves 2)
1 double boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoon bread crumbs
¼ cup Marsala cooking wine
¼ cup veal stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 ounces of cooked spaghetti
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Cut the chicken in half. In a large skillet heat the olive oil, add the chicken, and sauté over medium heat until it’s a golden brown on both sides. Put the chicken in the oven for about 5 minutes, and then add the mushrooms sautéed until they are soft. Add the garlic, Marsala, veal stock and butter, reduced down for 30 seconds. Add more veal stock, if necessary.
Cook the spaghetti in salted water and drain well. In a large skillet add the olive oil, bread crumbs, and garlic, sautéed over medium heat for about 5 seconds. Finally, toss the spaghetti with all the ingredients.
Serve the spaghetti on the plate first, then place the
chicken on top and add the sauce on top of the chicken.