By Stacey Bressler
Angèle could be the poster child for the “new” Napa. It is located in the historic and newly refurbished Hatt Building overlooking the steadily improving Napa River. When the weather permits, there is outdoor dining on a delightful little terrace where the river shimmers by. In the winter, diners are inside a cozy stone building that feels more like France than California. It’s one of my favorite spaces, exuding warmth and inviting smells. The bar is bustling enough to add a lively air, but not so loud that it interferes with dinner conversation. The tables are spaced nicely, adorned with white tablecloths and votive candles. But the main reason to come to Angèle is the food.
Welcome to A Diners Journal, a chronicle of the restaurants I visit. As a Napa Valley resident I am lucky enough to be able to enjoy many great (and a few not-so-great) culinary adventures and to share my observations and opinions with you.
Angèle’s Chef du Cuisine, Christophe Gerard, has an impressive resumé, which includes a turn as sous chef at Lespinasse in New York City (a restaurant I loved and miss). He certainly knows his way around a kitchen. My most recent visit to Angèle occurred on a rainly, cold, blustery evening. The classic French onion soup was the perfect warmer ($9) with richly fragrant steaming broth and plenty of wonderful melted cheese. Less successful was the “Velouté de Chataignes,” a chestnut Soup ($8.50) with fried sage. The soup was rich and creamy, but lacked flavor. Chestnuts possess a delicate flavor, but this soup was bland. A bit a salt helped, but it was not easily available. Angèle chooses not to put salt and pepper on the table. That’s fine, but if your server happens to be engaged at another table and you want to both add salt and eat your soup while it’s hot, this can be a challenge. A special dish of the evening, the cream of asparagus soup, was more robust than the chestnut soup with a good balance of cream and vegetable. If you like beets, the “Salade de Betteraves” ($8.5) is a great choice. Red beets, truffle vinaigrette and blue cheese make a winning combination. The “Salade de Roquette” composed of baby arugula, blue cheese and Asian pears with shallot vinaigrette was very fresh and crispy, though not as tasty as the arugula salad at Cook in St. Helena where the addition of toasted pistachios gives the salad a real zing. On previous visits I have enjoyed the pan seared sweetbreads with braised turnip and finished with a black truffle sauce ($13.50) and the wonderfully fragrant Manila clams steamed in pastis and saffron herb butter. The torchon of foie gras is also very good, though a bit pricey at $18.
Entrees are less expensive than one would expect after seeing the prices of the appetizers, with a range from $11.50 for a juicy hamburger with French fries to $28 for the outstanding “Risotto aux Truffles Noir.” I try to avoid excessive carbohydrate intake, but all those good intentions are forgotten when I see a plate of Angèle’s heavenly risotto with black Perigord truffles and Reggiano Parmesan. This dish makes the trip to Angèle truly angelic. No truffle lover should miss this! Less decadent but also wonderful is the “Poulet aux Marrons,” a robust chicken dish with celery root, chestnuts, mushrooms and foie gras thyme jus. My husband enjoyed a recent special of Kobe beef tartare with the classical accoutrements. The beef Bourguignon that passed our table smelled wonderful and hearty, as did the winter vegetable ragout with gnocchi and black truffles. But it’s that black Perigord truffle risotto that haunts my dreams.
When it comes to desserts, Angèle offers a cheese plate for $12 as well as several desserts in the $7 -8 range. Not being a dessert eater, I can only attest to the fact that the Espresso was very good. Others at the table seemed very happy with the banana gratin with almond crust. But were I to splurge, the perfect dessert for me would be another helping of that truffle risotto.
Angèle Restaurant and Bar
540 Main Street
Napa, CA 94559