By Stacey Bressler
A few months ago when the popular Green Valley Restaurant in St. Helena closed its doors, you could hear a collective gasp of horror from the local crowd. Happily, that gasp has turned into a contented sigh of relief with the arrival of Cook.
Welcome to A Diner’s Journal. As a person who loves good food and wine and eats out regularly, my purpose in writing this journal is to share some of my thoughts about dining establishments in the Napa Valley. I was a devotée of Green Valley and was very curious to try Cook as soon as it opened. After several visits, I can safely report that we have a winner. The décor has been polished, the menu expanded, and the prices have risen a little, but Cook is still a local favorite. Among the appetizers, the minestrone soup ($6) and the eggplant melezane ($10) are perfect to warm up a cold winter night. The salads are fresh and creative; crisp organic greens ($7), a Caesar with a real anchovy - if you wish ($7), wonderful hand pulled mozzarella ($9), are all winners. The arugula salad with toasted pistachios, pears, and pancetta ($8) was delicious though slightly overdressed, making the greens wilt a bit. The wonderful roasted pistachios were ample compensation. The fried calamari ($9) is good, but not exceptional.
The entrees are hearty and delicious. Braised shortribs ($21) are wonderfully rich and robust. The braised lamb shank ($19) is large enough to satisfy even a ravenous diner, though I found the lamb to be too fatty for my taste. The roasted poussin ($18) was perfectly done – moist and tender – and accompanied by artichoke, olive, and tomato confit that made for a very pretty plate. But for me the real stars here are the two fish dishes. The grilled salmon ($18) was done exactly as I specified – rare – and was as tasty as any I’ve found. Accompanied by while beans, mushroom stew, and veal jus, this salmon went beautifully with both white and red wines. At the time I was drinking a Russian River pinot noir and the combination was superb. The swordfish ($19) is served with pancetta and a red grape sage brown butter which bring out the flavors of each ingredient without overpowering the sweetness of the fish. Usually this dish also comes with whipped potatoes, but since I try to limit my carbohydrates, I had the fish solo. It was rich enough that the potatoes were not really missed, though the sauce was so good that I did sneak a little piece of bread to sop it up.
Since I don’t eat pasta, I can only report what other diners have told me about that portion of the menu. My husband enjoyed both the trenne carbonara ($13) and the fetticine Bolognese ($15). The risotto with teleme cheese, slow roasted pork, and toasted garlic ($16) smelled heavenly when it was served at a nearby table. I may just have to break my diet for that dish.
A special mention needs to go to the brussel sprouts. While they are called “daily specials” they have been offered the last three times I dined at Cook. Sauteed perfectly with pancetta, they are wonderful. In fact, I ordered them in place of an appetizer on one of my visits.
Desserts are not the strongest course at Cook. One of our companions declared the panna cotta to be “OK.” I am not a dessert eater, so I was thrilled to have a wonderful vanilla scented tea in place of a sweet.
Cook feels like it has been around for a long time. In part this is because the new owners wisely kept the same servers who used to be part of the Green Valley crew; in part this is because many of the “old dishes” are still on the menu. But mostly this is because the local diners are happy and welcoming to this St. Helena newcomer.
1310 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574