I’m not sure I would ever have predicted it, but the most exciting restaurants opening in Napa and Sonoma this year are all influenced by Japanese cuisine. As I look ahead to my next California trips, these spots are definitely on my must-visit list.
After leaving the acclaimed Italian bistro Oenotri, chef Curtis Di Fede took several trips to Japan. Inspired by izakayas, which offer small plates in a casual, pub-like atmosphere, he decided to open his own in the town of Napa. Di Fede’s links to local farmers, fishermen and ranchers result in the best ingredients for daily housemade noodles, charcoal-grilled yakitori and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). Wine director Jessica Pinzon’s wide-ranging list also has great sake selections. 821 Coombs St.; miminashi.com.
Two Birds One Stone
Yakitori with California style is the emphasis at this restaurant, opening in June next to the Freemark Abbey winery in St. Helena. Douglas Keane (an F&W Best New Chef 2006) and Sang Yoon of Lukshon in Culver City masterminded the menu, which ranges from deviled eggs with shichimi togarashi to chicken thigh skewers off the hardwood grill. The wine list will offer a selection of wines on tap from local producers; plus, anyone bringing bottles from Napa or Sonoma gets free corkage. 3020 St. Helena Hwy.; twobirdsonestonenapa.com.
Sonoma’s most anticipated opening of the year launches in May. This Healdsburg inn and its restaurant are the vision of chef Kyle Connaughton—who’s cooked both for Heston Blumenthal at England’s The Fat Duck and for French superstar Michel Bras in Japan—and his wife, Katina. Guests have wine and snacks in the roof garden, then come downstairs for one of three different 11-course menus. Japanese donabe (clay pot) cooking will be a key part of the experience. 131 North St.; singlethreadfarms.com.