By Monty and Sara Preiser
As promised, we continue to share our experiences with new finds and some old favorites. Today we touch primarily on dining, but won’t leave without some wines being mentioned as well.
Ca’ Momi is “Obsessively” Good
The old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover doesn’t quite fit here. It is more like, “You should always take the time to read the cover before making a judgment.” We admit we had passed by Ca’ Momi more than once because we thought it was a small operation in Oxbow Center (kind of like a mall if you are not familiar with the property) where customers ordered from the counter and found a table. Boy, were we wrong!
Our perception was guided by the relatively small open kitchen, which we thought limited any restaurant, but which we now know can produce some stunning food. Beyond that, owners Dario De Conti and Valentina Guolo-Migotto have acquired the bar and sitting area around which Oxbow foot traffic must flow, and have created a romantic setting on the outside walkway of the building. Even on the off season Monday night we visited, the bar was crowded with young, good looking Millennials, and the outdoor ambiance was set to receive them for dinner.
We had the good fortune that night to sit with Valentina and Dario while we dined, and their driving force was quickly apparent. It is their goal to present truly authentic regional Italian cuisine with organic ingredients whenever possible. While many ristorantes use these words, it is unusual when they are adhered to, especially in the U.S., where diners so often expect the restaurant to conform to their tastes rather than vice-versa. At Ca’ Momi, however, the motto is “Obsessively Authentic Italian,” and they lovingly stick by it.
Interestingly, Dario and Valentina also own a winery with the same name as the restaurant – Ca’ Momi. Neither they nor we will tell you these wines are designed to satisfy someone who only desires to buy expensive bottles. They are, instead, painstakingly crafted to well accompany the cuisine with which the owners expect them to be consumed. Once again, we were willing test subjects who were converted to believers, for time and again a wine that was pleasant alone, became a present with food.
Our favorite dishes:
– Pan fried sardines in white wine marinade with caramelized onions and pine nuts;
– Chickpea flower cake cooked in a wood burning oven and seasoned with pepper;
– Any of the cured meats and artisanal Italian cheeses;
– Classic Tuscan soup with veggies and cannellini beans;
– The Napoletana style (not Neopolitan) pizzas, which are actually “VPN” certified (Verace Pizza Napoletana) as to style, manner of preparation, and taste. There are so many pizza options it would take weeks to get through them. Take a night and try a few.
– And the best: Spezzatino (beef stew) and Polenta.
We do want to call attention to the spezzatino above and the 2010 Ca’ Momi Napa Pinot Noir ($26). They are spectacular allies.
The Ca’ Momi 2011 Napa Merlot ($22) went well with our soup, and we particularly enjoyed the tropical and banana nuanced 2011 Ca’ Momi Napa Chardonnay ($22) with the sardines. Just so you know they can produce the more complex wines as well, our proprietors offer an excellent 2009 Napa Cab Reserve for $58. But they are more than happy to show off their beautifully made lesser priced wines with their beautifully spiced food. Here is a place you cannot help but be happy.
Ca’ Momi, 610 First Street, Napa, California. (707) 257-4992
Marita’s Vineyard – More then Just a Wine
We recently spent a delightful afternoon at Marita’s Vineyard as the luncheon guests of Bulmaro, Sara, and Mara Montes (for whom the winery is named – Marita is the diminutive of Mara). We went primarily to review the wines, but left with a story just as equal in richness and longevity.
Wineries are born in many ways. Generations ago almost all vintners were farmers from birth while in this day and age a celebrity might simply stroke a check and purchase an ongoing brand in a heartbeat. However, there is a middle ground – the upwardly mobile vineyard worker who goes on to “make it” in business, and then turns back to his love of wines – only this time as the boss.
As you may have gathered, Bulmaro is that very guy. Coming to California from Mexico as a teenager who spoke little English, his hard work in the vineyards saw him promoted to Vineyard Manager at the prestigious Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and, subsequently, to the organization’s Vice President of Operations. In this key position, Bulmaro helped produce some of the world’s most respected wines for decades, including the iconic Insignias.
Retiring from Phelps in 2003, Bulmaro purchased acreage east of the town of Napa, and set about planting vines and farming it to his own demanding specifications. This dedication has culminated in the two wines his family now produces – Soma and Marita’s.
Soma ($86) is named for the two daughters (So = Sofia, who is also a bank manager, and Ma = Mara, who is also in the financial world and serves as the winery’s stately ambassador). It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and evidences cassis, black plum, and raspberries, all dancing within a velvet mouthfeel.
Marita’s Vineyard ($150) is named after Mara, who was inspirational to Bulmaro. It is one of the best wines made in the Valley, and the one that inspired us to first visit the family, and then pull out a credit card so we could own some. Showing even darker plums than its sister wine, there are chocolate notes throughout. We love a layered wine that noticeably evolves in the glass, and Marita’s does just that until it explodes on your back palate.
You can taste these wines by calling the winery and setting up an appointment. The cost depends on the number of wines and types of food to be paired. With Sara’s cooking, Mara’s instruction, and Bulmaro’s wines, it is an exceptional experience.
Marita’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 4164, Napa, California. (707) 259-5313
Tarla, the Mediterranean Cuisine Napa Needs
It looks like Napa (downtown Napa at least) is turning the corner toward its acceptance of ethnic cuisines (except for the disastrous loss of Neela’s, one of the country’s best Indian houses). Thai, Southern Comfort Food, Himalayan, Japanese, and, of course, Italian, are all thriving along with the ever prevalent wine country contemporary food. Now comes Tarla Grill, a welcome addition.
Located downtown on revitalized First Street, the menu reflects elements of the entire Mediterranean region, but is probably most influenced by Greece and Turkey, along with a fusion of these two nations. The wine list is more than adequate, and good news for all is that a full bar will soon be serving cocktails.
We truly enjoyed the meatballs with wild truffle-wild mushroom cream, and the caramelized diver scallops. Saganaki, a traditional Greek dish of flaming cheese, always pleases our palates, and this one paired beautifully with beer. The night’s clear winners for us were the mussels and clams in Calabrian chili, garlic, roasted lemon, and butter.
Service at Tarla is friendly, timely, and professional. We think this addition to the Napa dining scene will be around for a while.
Tarla Grill, 1480 1st Street Napa, California. (707) 255-5599
images from winery and restaurants’ websites
It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.
Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.