Napa Palisades Saloon – Business Review

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By Craig Smith

Chuck Meyer, one of the four friends who teamed up to open Napa Palisades Saloon, has been in the restaurant business for over twenty years. “In this crazy business,” he said, “it’s almost shocking when the plan comes together and the business is what you wanted it to be. This is absolutely closer to what I had in mind in concept than any restaurant I’ve
ever opened.”

What he and his partners, Kevin Sprenger, John Lohman and Charlie Crebs, wanted was a modern day saloon to support their fledgling brewery. “We’re a group of local guys that live here in Napa. We built a place that our friends and neighbors would feel at home in,” said Meyer. While lots of businesses say they are for locals, these guys mean it. “We didn’t want anything pretentious. If tourists want to come here, that’s great, but we want the place to be full of locals every night.”

Chef Tim Brown, whose twenty years in restaurants include everything from soup kitchens to James Beard award-winning restaurants, is on the same page. “This is a gathering place where people feel comfortable. It feels like your living room.”

While multiple TV screens covering different sporting events hang on the walls, this isn’t really a sports bar. The beer and the food are too good for that moniker.

“With all the great craft beers that are around here, there’s been a big void in the market,” said Crebs. “You can drive twenty five miles in any direction from Napa and taste some of the best beers in the country.” Palisades has thirty two of them on tap, including 101 North Golden Naked Ale, Lagunitas Czech Pils and Drake’s Hefeweizen, as well as hard to find offerings like Heretic Brewery Gramarye and Carneros Brewing Negra IPA. Another dozen taps dispense wine and ciders.

They even brew their own beer, with Napa Palisades 24/7 Session IPA and Napa Palisades 1849 Gold Rush Red currently on tap. Their beers are currently brewed off-site, but will soon be made at the Saloon. Brewing on-site will allow them to get a mixed drink license, at which time they will showcase several whiskys.

The current trend in restaurants is to brew beer as a way of being allowed to sell mixed drinks, but these guys are serious beer guys. “We are doing this so we can brew beer, not just to get the license,” said Crebs. “We’ll also have the best R&D you can get – we can make a beer and find out instantly if people like it.”

Chef Brown has created a menu that far outstrips most pub food. The eight appetizers include a soup or two of the day, Shrimp and Grits with Bacon, Mushrooms and Smoked Chili Butter, and Reuben Croquettes, with Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss and 1,000 Island. On the Between Breads menu is the Saloon Burger with White Cheddar, Stout Braised Onions, Grandma’s Brown Pickles and The Sauce. There’s also a Lamb Burger, Chicken BLT and Falafel Burger, all served with tantalizing ingredients. The six Plates & Bowls include Pot Roast, Braised Niman Ranch Tri-Tip, Potatoes, Winter Vegetables and Gold Rush Red Jus. As you would expect, the sides tie everything together.

1000 Main Street, Suite 100, Napa  |  (707) 296-1552   |

Mon. – Thurs. 11:30am to 11pm | Fri. 11:30am – Midnight | Sat. 9:30am – Midnight | Sun. 9:30am – 10pm


Don Perico Reopens in Dwight Murray Plaza Following the Quake

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By Craig Smith

Marco and Berenice Castaneda, owners of Don Perico Mexican restaurant, now in Dwight Murray Plaza at 1116 First Street, are long-time Napa residents. Like most people in Napa, they were jolted awake at 3:20 a.m., August 24, 2014, when the earthquake shook Napa to its core. “It was scary,” said Marco Castaneda. “We looked around the house to make sure everything was safe, then went to the restaurant.”

Castaneda knew things were bad as soon as he got downtown. The streets were strewn with broken glass and, in some cases, large sections of buildings that had collapsed during the shaking. Water leaks from burst pipes, some of it gushing, was evident everywhere. Shell-shocked, but busy, merchants were already helping each other make sense of it all and restore order. Castaneda opened the front door of Don Perico, and used a flashlight to look around. “It was pretty bad,” he said. Large areas of the ceiling had collapsed, and rubble was everywhere. It was obvious that, had the quake hit during dinner the night before, people would have been seriously injured, or worse. Castaneda wound his way through the mess, turned off the gas, and looked around. He realized there wasn’t much else he could do right then. Still, it never occurred to him that the restaurant was doomed at that location. “I knew the damage was bad, but figured we’d be open again in a couple of months.”

Shortly after moving from Mexico,  Castaneda started his restaurant career as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant in Bakersfield..  He worked hard, paid attention to everything about the business, and was promoted repeatedly over the next ten years. His boss wanted to open a restaurant in Napa and invited Cataneda to be his partner. At the time, Castaneda had no savings, but saw this as an opportunity to make a better life for his wife and family. He borrowed from relatives and made the plunge. Don Perico opened in Napa in January of ’94. As the years passed, Castaneda bought out his partner until he was eventually sole owner. The restaurant has been a local favorite, almost since opening. The year of the earthquake was also their twentieth anniversary.

“When we knew we couldn’t return to our original location, I started looking for a new place.” Finding a spot wasn’t easy, and Castaneda and his wife took part- time jobs in a wine-storage facility in American Canyon. One day, he was commiserating with the owner of the restaurant across the street from Don Perico.  After talking awhile, Castaneda offered to buy out the owner’s  lease. The two men agreed, and struck a deal. That turned out to be the easy part.

At the time, the building, which is also home to Kohl’s, was not locally owned. The parent company, based in Arizona, put Castaneda through the same hoops they would with a new, prospective tenant. His quick handshake with the now-former restaurant owner turned into five months of negotiations with the building’s owners.

Don Perico re-opened May 15th this year. The restaurant was scheduled to open at 5:00 p.m., but people were waiting by 4:30, so the Castanedas opened the doors early. For the first month after they reopened there was a wait to get a table for dinner almost every night.  The Castanedas are gracious, unassuming people, who are very grateful for everyone who dines with them. The support from the community has been humbling. Castaneda was recently given the American Dream Award by the Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Don Perico is warm and inviting, offering good, honest, Mexican food. Take the family, and enjoy a relaxed night out.

Jax Diner Open for 3 Months and Already Winning Awards!

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Jax White Mule Diner had only been open a couple of months when the 6th Annual Chili Cookoff rolled around in August.  Hardly enough time to have honed their chili recipe to a competitive level, or so you might think.  Jax’s chili not only won First Place with the judges panel, which included a few discerning Napa Chefs, it also won The People’s Choice Award, meaning the folks attending also thought it was the best.

Impressive. Especially since chili is just a small part of their breakfast and lunch menu. J.B. Leamer, founding owner of Jax White Mule Diner, remembers going to the local diner with his grandfather.  It was a center of community activity – a relaxed, affordable place to enjoy a good meal while catching up with family and friends.  Leamer loved everything about it, and for years thought that if there was ever an opportunity to open a place just like it, he would jump on it.

That opportunity presented itself when Leamer was wearing his hat as a realtor, showing a client the space at 1122 First Street in Dwight Murray Plaza.  “Gillwoods had just closed,” said Leamer.  “I realized downtown didn’t have a diner anymore.”  Leamer suggested to the client that he consider opening one in that spot.  One thing lead to another, and Leamer ended up making the plunge himself.

Opening a restaurant is always a big risk.  So far, Jax has been a huge hit.

“When I saw where they were located, I figured they’d be out of business in a month,” said Michael Holcomb, a local who owns several properties downtown.  “Then, I tasted the food.  I eat at Jax three or four times a week now.”

Because this is Napa, Leamer was able to assemble an enviable team to run the diner.  Chef Jason Buckley, who helped make the Napa Valley Grille a success before leaving California for a few years, has delivered on the classic Americana vibe Leamer had envisioned.  Bobby Cabrerra, for years a fixture at Downtown Joe’s, sees to it the kitchen runs well and that the service is top shelf.  Tony Morales, formerly with Silverado Resort and Spa and Celadon, is the Managing Partner, ensuring guests’ expectations are met.  Part of that is having the courage to occasionally follow the chef’s whims and go off-menu.  “We participated in BottleRock, and served Tater Tots smothered in cheese and crumbled bacon.  People loved them.”

“We’re really making old school new again,” said Leamer.  “Come in and enjoy our relaxed atmosphere with your neighbors while sharing great comfort food, beer & wine, while enjoying the game on one of the large screen TVs .  Jax is Napa’s place for Happy Hour, Wed-Fri from 3pm-7pm with $3 beer, $5 wine, special appetizers and dinner entrees per our clients’ request. Look for longer hours  Wednesday through Friday with a menu that will include fried chicken and other favorites.

JAX will accommodate your fantasy football draft or private event. Just give them a call at 707-812-6853. Open daily, 7am at 1222A First Street, off Dwight Murray Plaza, west of Main and First Streets, serving breakfast till 3pm.  Wednesday through Friday, open till 9pm.

As Morales says, “Come in, relax and get your mule on.”

Restaurant Review – Alex Italian Restaurant

Alex Italian Restaurant

By John & Dorothy Salmon

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John and I had a wonderful dinner at Alex in Rutherford with our good friend Mark Farley. It was an evening just before we left for Italy and Switzerland for a long-planned and much-anticipated vacation. Alex is located down the street from the Rutherford Grille, next to the Rancho Caymus Inn, where Ken Frank’s La Toque was located for many years before it moved to the Westin Verassa in downtown Napa.

Alex is romantic, beautiful and, best of all, quiet enough to actually carry on a conversation at your table, which is something hard to find in any restaurant. The food is remarkable. In fact, comparing it to the food that we thoroughly enjoyed on our trip to Rome and Florence, we think that it is the best traditional Italian food we have ever had! Why travel the 6,230 miles to Rome when you can get on Highway 29 and be there in minutes with no TSA, no airline delays and no overnight flights!

Alex is an intimate restaurant, with elegant decor and a staff that lavishes attention on its guests. The warm fireplace blazing in the corner will give the setting a magical feeling for the holidays, making this a special place where you want to take your friends and family. Or, if you are thinking of proposing to that special person in your life, this is the place, or to spend your anniversary or any special, romantic occasion.

Alex features plenty of daily house-made pasta and fresh, locally-sourced seasonal produce, meats and fish. Alex’s Executive Chef, Nick Ritchie, previously was the Chef de Cuisine at Bottega. Joining him at Alex is Stefano Particelli from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Co. in St. Helena.

Alex is magical and it was like stepping into a very elegant world of great Italian food and service, with perfect wine pairings and a real attention to detail. Owners, Alessandro Sbrendola, and his wife, Alessia, offer a dining experience influenced directly by their hometowns in Liguria and Romagna, Italy. As we sat down, Alessandro Sbrendola spent some time with us to provide advice on where to dine in Rome. As the evening went by and the incredible food was served, we doubted that the food in Rome could be any better. We were right, it wasn’t!

If you have traveled to Tuscany (or even dreamed about traveling to Tuscany) make reservations at Alex and you will feel like you are there. Alex seats 67 guests in a single, lovely dining room. Alessandro Sbrendola is a master sommelier who began his career in Italy before he moved to the US in the late 1990’s. He was the head sommelier at Valentino in Los Angeles, while also operating Wine Street, which offered wine classes and diplomas for aspiring sommeliers.

While catching up with Mark about our kids, life and local issues, we enjoyed Alex’s Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and their fresh and tasty bread, with a bottle of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc ($54). Mark ordered a great glass of an amazing, 2007 Tantara Pinot Noir from Santa Maria ($14).
Both were fabulous. If you bring your own wine, that is not offered on the menu, the corkage is $20.

For appetizers, Mark ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Piccoli Pomodorini ($13), which is an amazing cheese flan, with Pecorino cheese and warm cherry, tomato compote.   Dorothy ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Funghi della Campagna Trifolati ($14), Pecorino cheese flan, with sautéed wild mushrooms, and John ordered the Insalata di Campo ($11), Belgian endive, local greens, and radicchio with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, shaved pear and vinaigrette. Each was wonderful.

We were fortunate to have Alessandro Sbrendola come by to suggest the dishes that he loves the most. We tried them and we do as well! Frankly, after the bread, olive oil and wine, we were impressed. When the salads and first courses came, we were even more impressed, and trusted that whatever he suggested would be amazing. So, we ordered a pasta course next. Mark ordered the Gnudi di Ricotta con Salsa di Pomodoro e Basilico ($16); Ricotta gnocchi with tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil, which he thought was incredible. Dorothy ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara con Astice ($27); hand cut spaghetti with Maine lobster sugo, soft herbs and citrus, which was also amazing. John ordered the Lasagnette con Pesto alla Genovese ($16); individual lasagna with Genovese basil pesto and light béchamel.

Believe it or not, we tried more! Next came the Costolette alla Griglia ($27); grilled bone-in pork chop, with fall vegetable gratinata and marsala pork jus for John. Dorothy ordered the Anatra alle due Cotture con Frutta di Stagione ($29), duck two ways; pan roasted breast and confit leg, bloomsdale spinach with pine nut and onion soffrito, fruited duck jus. Mark had the Sogliola alla Vendemmia ($28); sauteed, local petrale sole with grapes, almonds and rosemary, heirloom, cauliflower velvet. All dishes were amazing, and we all said, over and over again how wonderful the ambiance, wine and the food is at Alex.

As we ended the evening, Alessandro brought over three desserts that were over the top. Since he knew we were writing away like mad and sure to tell everyone about Alex and its amazing food, he brought us the Semifreddo al Torrone ($9); a light, frozen, Italian nougat mousse with pistachios and warm, poached pear. We all swooned. Then came the Panna Cotta con Macedonia ($9); vanilla panna cotta with a seasonal fruit soup.We all agreed that it was one of the best we’ve had in Napa.. Lastly, we tried the Tiramisu ($9), made with Espresso-mascarpone mousse, house-baked lady fingers, covered in dark chocolate.

This dinner was definitely not part of Dorothy’s two month juice diet, but well worth the calories. Alex is amazing; fabulous Italian food, a wonderful setting, and THE place for romance. You will not regret it!


Sformatino di Pecorino – (Pecorino cheese flan)

Yield:  Makes about 8-10 – 4 oz. sformatinas

1 pint milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 lightly packed quart –
large diced ciabatta, bread, crust removed
2 cups finely grated Fulvi pecorino
8 egg yolks
pinch fresh black pepper (optional)

In a small sauce pot combine the milk, cream and pepper and bring to a boil. Whisk in the grated cheese. Strain through a large holed sieve directly in to another container containing the cubed bread. Let the bread soak in the cream mixture until it comes to room temperature. Using an immersion blender or tabletop blender, slowly add the egg yolks to the bread mixture and blend until smooth.egg yolks. When fully blended, pour into lightly greased 4oz. aluminum soufflé cups. Bake covered with aluminum foil at 300 degrees Fahrenheit au baine marie until just set and beginning to soufflé.

Invert to a warm plate to serve.