By Stacey Bressler
RESTAURANT CUCINA A LA CARTE WILL BE CLOSING ITS DOORS EFFECTIVE DECEMBER 30,2005
There’s truth to the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Tucked in the back of the Vintage 1870 Building in Yountville, Cucina a La Carte is not visible from the street; so it has become a hidden gem for locals and those few tourists who stumble upon it or have gotten a good tip. But if you are looking for a good, inexpensive, healthy lunch, Cucina a La Carte is well worth finding.
Welcome to A Diner’s Journal. As a St. Helena resident who eats out frequently, I am happy to share my experiences with you. These are my own observations and subject to my personal likes and dislikes. My objective is to pass along the kind of information I would give to a friend who asked me about a place where I had recently dined.
The menu at Cucina a La Carte consists of fresh, great-tasting fare. There is always a daily soup, sometimes two - homemade and delicious at $3 for a cup or $5 for a bowl. I really love the vegetable soups because the veggies are still crisp, not over-cooked to a dull sogginess. The red pepper and tomato soup with basil is well-seasoned and satisfying. The salad platters are crispy and refreshing. The sesame chicken and Napa cabbage salad ($10) is as good a “Chinese salad chicken salad” as you will find anywhere. Ingredients taste pure and straight-forward, and the portion is ample. The honey mesquite turkey Cobb ($11) is also good, but I still think that Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena wins for the best Cobb in the area. The albacore tuna salad and spinach tortilla wrap ($9) becomes a meal in itself with lettuce, sliced cucumber, Swiss cheese, and alfalfa sprouts. It’s what we used to call “California comfort food” when I was living back in Boston. While Cucina a La Carte bills itself as a Franco-Italian restaurant, there is definitely a nod toward the East. The Pad Thai ($14) is not precisely what I’d expect from a true Thai restaurant, but I found it to be very tasty and full of good ingredients such as stir-fried chicken and shrimp, rice noodles, chopped peanuts, tofu, egg, other veggies, and a sweet and sour Tamarind sauce. The dim sum steamer ($7) contains four small offerings – one chicken dumpling, one shrimp sui mai, one Peking duck potsticker, and one Kalua pork potsticker. The presentation is very attractive and the spicy sweet chili sauce is delicious, but the dim sum itself was a bit bland. Another good bet for lunch is the roasted turkey sandwich ($9), a classic made hearty with smoked bacon, avocado, and basil mayonnaise on walnut bread. My lunch companions gobbled up the French fries, but those who prefer to limit the carbs can choose a garden salad or curried cauliflower to accompany their sandwiches.
Other dishes that passed by our table and looked (and smelled) really good included the prime rib French dip ($11) and the mushroom ravioli with porcini cream sauce, shaved asiago cheese, and white truffle oil ($11). I’ve already decided that on my next trip I want to try the Dungeness crab burger ($11). I can’t wait!
Cucina a La Carte serves a small selection of wines and beers. All of the wines are available by the glass or bottle. Prices are reasonable, with per glass prices ranging from $7 to $15, including are some local favorites such as Rombauer Chardonnay and Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon. There are two draft beers ($4) as well as five bottled beers ($3-$4).
I am sure there are desserts, but since I’m not much of a sweet eater, I cannot really tell you about them. The espresso and teas are good.
Hours at Cucina a La Carte are very limited, 11 AM to 2PM. There is a lovely outdoor deck for dining in the sunshine when the weather permits. There also seems to be a healthy take-out business. This is a great lunch spot and one of the best-kept secrets of Yountville dining.
Cucina a La Carte
6525 Washington St.
(in the back of the Vintage 1870 Building)
Yountville, CA 94599