Wine without food makes little sense. Similarly, visiting wine country without eating at a few great restaurants while there makes little sense, too. But the best places aren't always the ones written up in tourist guides. Here are five of Ray Isle's favorites.
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Caveau des Arches
One of the most appealing restaurants in the pretty town of Beaune, in the heart of France's Burgundy region, is this low-key but elegant spot located below street level in the barrel-ceilinged stone vaults of a 16th-century fortified bridge. The menu balances traditional Burgundian dishesescargot sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts, local-ham terrine with parsley and mustard creamwith more modern choices. In terms of wine, the list offers an expansive selection of Burgundies, from ultra-expensive bottlings from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti to wines that don't often make it to the U.S., such as Domaine William Fèvre's delicate, minerally Chablis from the premier cru Les Lys vineyard. 10 Boulevard de Perpreuil, Beaune, France; 011-33-3-80-22-10-37 or caveau-des-arches.com.
Chef Douglas Keane has won a landslide of awards for his luxurious cooking at this restaurant in the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, not least among them being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2006. Keane's menu combines the traditionally luxuriouscaviar, foie graswith less-expected Asian flavors, knitting them together with classic French technique. The wine list is vast, with equal representation of world-class wines from California (William Selyem, Araujo, Colgin) and Europe (Domaine Leroy, Château Rayas, Soldera). 29 North St., Healdsburg, CA; 707-433-3311 or cyrusrestaurant.com.
The casually elegant Salopian Inn, located at a bucolic crossroads in Australia's McLaren Vale (about 45 minutes south of Adelaide), draws on local ingredients for its incredibly fresh menu. Highlights include char-grilled Fleurieu venison with caramelized beetroot and game jus, and baked local fig-and-Roquefort cheese tart with a pear, arugula, walnut and crispy pancetta salad. Salopian has an unparalleled selection of recent and older vintages of McLaren Vale winesbut no wine list. Instead, diners make a visit to the on-site cellar and choose whatever bottles they might enjoy. Corner of McMurtrie & Main Rds., McLaren Vale, South Australia; 011-61-8-8323-8769 or salopianinn.com.au.
With more than 200 different Sicilian wines on its list, this ambitious restaurant, hidden at the end of a small street in the scenic town of Modica, ought to be a requirement on the itinerary of any Sicily-bound wine traveler. Delicious reinventions of rural Sicilian classics characterize the menu, for in-stance malfatti (a kind of freeform gnocchi) made with yellow squash and borage, a type of wild grass, and suckling pig roasted with cacao oil. Among the extensive wine choices are older vintages of top Sicilian wines like Donnafugata's intense Mille e Una Notte and Tasca d'Almerita's graceful Rosso del Conte. 14 Vico Napolitano, Modica, Italy; 011-39-0932-751-286.
This tiny restaurant sits on a side street in Falset, the gateway to Spain's Priorat region, a source for some of the world's most sought-after reds, located about two hours southwest of Barcelona. Chef Juli Mestre works ingenious twists on Catalan classics with dishes like codfish loin served with a red pepper mousse and scallops with black rice and prawn sauce. The 100-bottle list, devoted to the wines of Priorat and Montsant (the region embracing the Priorat), changes regularly. 3 Calle Nou, Falset, Spain; 011-34-97-783-0481.