The city of Napa has historically played a rather stolid supporting role for the glamorous Yountville and St. Helena wineries and restaurants people associate with "The Napa Valley," providing the county with essential civic stuff (courthouse, government offices, jail) and a cheaper place to live for working class folks who couldn't afford the tonier hamlets upvalley. Sexy it was not.
Now, however, downtown Napa is drawing even our neighbors from upvalley to its awesome and ever-expanding array of date destinations. Here are three of the hottest spots for seduction.
Carpe Diem Wine Bar. Steve, Stephanie, and Scott have created something beautiful at the corner of Brown and Second Streets. Modern decor, creative comfort food, and a quirky, ever-changing wine list proved to be the holy trinity that lures Napa's tasteful 20 and 30 somethings out of the woodwork. The bar area is packed every night of the week with happy hour revelers and later-night solo diners looking for love in the form of harissa fries, Cabernet-braised shortrib sliders, globally inspired soups and salads, charcuterie, and other wine-friendly snacks. My current heartthrob is the asparagus flatbread with caramelized onion, truffled parmesan, prosciutto, chili, and an extra sunny side egg on top -- but my other part-time lover is the ostrich burger with Zinfandel-cranberry and caramelized onion reduction sauce, Brie, and truffle fries.
1313 Main. This is the place to take sophisticated wine and beer drinkers for some intimate pre- or post- dinner refreshment when you want to hear each other talk. The sleek decor and sexy tableware might seem snobby at first blush, but the knowledgeable staff is more than happy to help guide you to something you will like. The menu spans a full range of price points, and includes both the famed (e.g., Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon) and the obscure (Bokisch Graciano, from Lodi), available by the glass, bottle, or 2-ounce pour for those who love variety. The selection of composed cheese and charcuterie plates exhibit the same attention to detail. I'm obsessed with the Mona sheep cheese from Wisconsin, paired with a salted fig compote, roasted almonds, and olive breadsticks from Panevino. All the cheese and charcuterie plates come with fabulously thin, bias-cut slices of baguette garnished with fresh thyme, another little touch that makes me very happy.
AVIA Hotel. Everyone loves the AAA Four Diamond AVIA Napa on First Street downtown. Even if you haven't booked a room here, you can enjoy the make-out options at the Riddling Rack lobby bar, and/or the rooftop-like Terrace on the second floor, which is fully equipped for all your needs with privacy curtains, a firepit, and swings. The suggestively lit Riddling Rack bar is a great spot to meet up for naughty conversation and international bubblies by the glass, but a tasteful selection of snacks and the full menu from the hotel's main restaurant are also available if you decide to park it there for the evening. During the summer, the outdoor Terrace hosts live music Thursday and Friday evenings, with drink and food service available; the rest of the year it's just a gorgeous spot to visit with or without drinks from the Riddling Rack. In terms of food: the cheese plate is always stunning, but if you want something a little lighter, go for the seasoned popcorn in your choice of truffle, parmesan, salt & pepper, or all three at once. They say it's more fun with three.