By Stacey Bressler
There’s something wonderful about small plates. They are great for sharing and you get to try more dishes per meal. Maybe that’s why I have become so fond of Wine Garden. The menu is composed of small plates playfully grouped into sections such as “fingers,” “hands,” “forks,” “knives,” and “spoons” that let the diner know what to expect.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Wine Garden as much as I do. I was a great fan of The Diner which used to occupy this space and I still lament the lack of great breakfast venues. However, after four visits, Wine Garden has won me over. For starters, they have fresh Hog Island oysters that can be ordered on the half shell with caviar and lemon, fried crispy with a cornmeal crust or grilled with bacon and BBQ sauce ($9.95 for 4 oysters). While these preparations do not rival the incredible Oysters Pablo at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, they are mighty good. Fried food fans (and, honestly, who isn’t?) will also enjoy the shrimp hush puppies ($9). The calamari ($9) is certainly delicious, but not unusual like the tempura-style calamari at Martini House’s downstairs bar or the super crispy calamari at Kelley’s No Bad Days Café. As an alternative to fried fare, other fun starters are the Prosciutto “cigars,” seasoned green beans wrapped in that tasty imported ham ($6.95), and delicious deviled eggs with house-smoked salmon and caviar (a bargain at $4.95).
Moving on down the menu, I highly recommend the seared day boat scallops on celery root puree ($11). These are often offered as a daily special and they are cooked and seasoned to perfection. We also thoroughly enjoyed the grilled salmon skewers ($10 for two or $18 for four) with a well-seasoned herb-caper marinade. And the Dungeness Crab Louis ($10.50), perfectly off-set with citrus and English cucumber reminded me that it’s almost spring.
Wine Garden also does a great job with meats. The Liberty duck tamales come are accompanied by a superb mole negro ($10.95), though I would also like to see a wedge of lime included on this plate (you can request the lime like I did). The carnitas tortas, tasty little pulled Niman Ranch pork sandwiches on delicious little buns ($7.95 for 2) were a big hit with my husband. We also loved the miniature American Kobe beef brisket sliders served with barbeque sauce and cole slaw ($10.95 for two). But my favorite was the daily special Barbequed pork ribs! These four little beauties were dry-rubbed and tender with lots of flavor and only enough fat to keep them from being too dry. They were as good as the famous ribs at Mustard’s Grill. I only hope these become a permanent addition to the menu.
On the vegetable side, the little copper crock of winter vegetables ($5.95) was delightful. Filled with Brussel sprouts, carrots and other goodies, this dish was both satisfying and healthy. The classic Waldorf salad ($6.95) with crispy apples made me wonder why more restaurants don’t offer this. The macaroni gratin with aged cheddar, tasso ham and sun dried tomatoes ($6.95) also received rave reviews at our table.
Though we were all full, we had to try some desserts. Since I prefer savory dishes, I chose the cheese plate. There were three small pieces of cheese – Humbolt Fog goat’s milk, San Andreas sheep’s milk Camembert and Shelburne Farm’s 2-year cheddar – a good deal at $9.95. My husband, however, could not resist the “ode to The Diner,” two down-sized little milkshakes with flavors that vary with the season ($6). He said they were very good. The pineapple upside down cake for two ($9.95) smelled heavenly and our friends found that four people could share the portion without sacrifice.
One of the nicest touches at Wine Garden is the spring water. You may choose still or sparkling at no charge. After being gouged by overpriced bottled water at too many other restaurants, this is more than refreshing. I wish more restaurants would adopt this practice.
Wine Garden features wines made from grapes farmed by the Nord Family (owners of the Wine Garden). Many of these wines are offered in an interesting array of wine flights. These are three glasses which each contain a two ounce pour and are served in an imaginative contraption that resembles a half-moon. Whether your mood is sparkly ($13 for a flight of Mumm sparkling wines), light ($12 for a flight that contains a Sauvignon Blanc and two Chardonnays), or favoring the more traditional Napa Cabernet ($18 per flight), it’s a nice way to sample.
Wine Garden Restaurant and Wine Bar has changed a lot since its days as The Diner. The interior has been completely redone. It’s very pretty, though suffers from being too brightly lighted. I have asked the staff to tone down the lights each time I dine at Wine Garden (and they do so willingly). There is also a small outdoor seating area surrounding a fire pit that makes a most pleasant place to sip a drink on a summer night. This restaurant adds yet another casual dining destination to the Napa Valley scene. The consistently good food offers some nice additions to the standard fare and the prices are more than reasonable. Four people can graze until full for about $30 per person.
Wine Garden Restaurant & Wine Bar
6476 Washington St.