Monday, February 21, 2011

Rotisserie & Wine

During my little exploratory excursion to downtown Napa last month, I noticed a new restaurant at the Napa Riverfront complex (which is designed to be a live/shop environment, with condos over restaurants and shops. The shops are slowly appearing, and the restaurants are really starting to take root, as well); actually, I noticed a few new restaurants, but the one I had not heard of was "Rotisserie & Wine"

This is a restaurant by celebrity chef Tyler Florence partnered with Jeremy Fox (of Ubuntu fame -- not sure what happened there, but he up and split and became Florence's creative director). The general premise is very "Napa Valley" -- take down-home country cooking and give it an upscale twist (like practically everything else here). As the name suggests, there is a focus on rotisserie meats and a fairly large wine list. Essentially, the aim is "country comfort fusion" -- decor includes moonshine-jug shaped glowing-coil hanging lights. Servers wear plaid flannel shirts and speakers play classics from Guns n' Roses and Michael Jackson, though you can't really hear it from inside due to the general noisiness and proximity of everybody and everything. Considering the reasonable the size of the restaurant, the tables are oddly packed like sardines in one corner of the room (while the other half is devoted to a sort of "lunch counter" style eating and the namesake rotisserie ovens). This lends a feel of casual coziness, but detracts from any sensation of privacy or personal space.
I can only describe this genre as part of the new, hip "so casual it's not casual anymore" trend going around -- you know, the type of hipster thing where you pay a premium to go to an exclusive place where you can partake of blue-collar entertainment and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Rotisserie & Wine isn't really that, per se, but in the same trendy vein. The beers and wines, however, are a notch above PBR -- with pricetags to match. I didn't recognize many of the wines on the list, but they sounded intriguing, with about half hailing from local regions and half international (mostly France). If someone else were footing the bill, I'd be tempted to try some. For example, I have been really enjoying all of the Santa Lucia Highlands pinots I've had recently, but I'll be damned if I'm going to spend $105 for a bottle like the one they sell here.

I came because the food sounded interesting, although it was a bit dismaying that the one meat entree I wanted -- prime rib -- they were all out of (at 7 pm?). They were also out of my second-choice charcuterie plate, as well as the olive assortment. Since I'm actually not really a fan of rotisserie chicken (and certainly not for $22), we opted for one entree of curry BBQ lamb ribs, and two smaller dishes of duck confit waffles (the Napatastic equivalent of "chicken and waffles") and farro verde, a buckwheat or spelt-like grain served up risotto style with foraged mushrooms and bits of fried sweetbreads. This started out with two delicious (but small) ladyfinger-like cornbread sticks served with sweet and delicious honey butter. This was more like cookies than like a bread serving.

The lamb ribs were a bit lackluster -- a decadent amount of fat with very little meat (seemed even more than usual for lamb) and the lamb flavor overwhelmed the curry BBQ flavor, which smelled enticing but really got lost in the flavor of lamb grease. The side dishes were more interesting; the foraged mushrooms were delicious and the sweetbreads were cooked perfectly, battered crisp and light and salty on the outside with that sweet, succulent creaminess within. The duck confit went well with the waffles and bourbon maple syrup, though the portion went down mighty quick and easy for a $14 dish. Still, when all was said and done, these three dishes together packed Sarah and I to the gills and we couldn't squeeze in dessert.

I might possibly come back and try this place again, if I had guests who were interested and somebody was willing to pay for the wine, but the overall lack of menu variety, the cramped quarters (I was basically a participant of the date happening at an adjacent table), and the expensive wines are deterrents.

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