By Stacey Bressler
There are a few things that are guaranteed to make me smile: fuzzy kittens, pink roses, and the ambience at Kelley's No Bad Days Café. Kelley Novak is definitely her own person and this is decidedly her place. The atmosphere is fun and funky with a collection of kitschy salt and pepper shakers, a counter full of toys, and unbridled distain for gas guzzling Hummers.
Kelley is also a terrific chef. Having spent several years in Thailand, her dishes often feature Asian accents and seasonings. Kelley's Thai spinach salad ($9) is absolutely addictive. I'm not sure if it's the tender young spinach leaves, the roasted nuts, or the "secret" dressing, but I cannot get enough of this dish! I try to have other starters, and the daily soup specials — especially the tomato basil soup ($7) - are great; but I keep coming back to that Thai spinach salad. I must also say a few nice words about the Caesar salad. Too often this dish is bland and uninteresting, but Kelley's Caesar ($9) is fresh and authentic and you can get a real anchovy on request. The satay of the day with spicy peanut sauce ($8) makes a nice share plate, as does the crispy fired calamari with spicy chili aioli ($10). In fact, Kelley's calamari is consistently wonderful, well above the norm. When mussels are in season, Kelley does a terrific rendition which is spicy without being overwhelming at $11 for an appetizer or $21 for a larger entree bowl with French fries.
The seasonal menu varies and while I miss some of the winter dishes such as the salmon on basmati rice with red curry ($23) and the penne with Bolonaise ($19), the summer menu more than compensates with a wonderful seared Hawaiian Ahi tuna with soy wasabi ginger sauce ($22) and a grilled Alaskan halibut with Heirloom tomato beurre blanc ($24). I was a bit disappointed with the pan sauteed soft shell crab, which also featured the tomato beurre blanc ($24). The portion was ample, but the coating on the crab overpowered the sweet meat and the dish was slightly overcooked. Even so, I'm willing to give it another try. As red wine drinkers, my husband and I often choose meat for our main course. The grilled pork tenderloin with hoisin glaze and peanut sauce ($20) is a sure-fire hit every time, though it is not always on the menu. And the "manly sized" rib eye steak ($28) served at the next table looked and smelled divine.
Desserts are a house specialty (most are in the $8 range and change with the season). While I usually skip the sweets, Kelley's Grand Marnier truffle tart is worthy of an exception.
The wine list is small, but very well-chosen. Since Kelley is the daughter of Mary Novak and the sister of Beth Novak Milliken (respectively owner and president of Spottswoode Vineyard and Winery) this is to be expected. Corkage is $15.
Kelley's has recently re-opened after an expansion that has doubled their seating capacity. We sat in the "original" room with all of its eclectic clutter. The new room seems to be a bit more refined (in spite of the vivid colors) but the blaring sounds of Jimmy Buffett keep the entire place jumping. Kelley's is now open for lunch Tuesday - Friday, and dinner Tuesday - Saturday.
Kelley's No Bad Days Café may have a funky and eclectic decor, but there is some seriously good food to be had here.
August 20, 2005
Kelley's No Bad Days Café
976 Pearl St.
Napa, CA 94559