Napa Valley Dining – Culinary Travel in California’s Wine Country

We think of California’s Napa Valley as one of the great wine centers of the world, but its other great boast is food. The Valley lies in the midst of some of the world’s most creative farmers and livestock growers, surrounded by an ocean of fish and the world’s most abundant variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, artisan meats and rare foodstocks. In the restaurants and markets of the Valley, all this bounty arrives every day astonishingly fresh, often merely hours old.

Situated in the heart of all this abundance, it’s no surprise that Napa Valley has become one of America’s great culinary centers. Chefs love the area for the freshness and variety of its foods. The five million visitors who come to sample the wine country treats every year have created a bustling culinary scene.

It could be said that the better part of knowing a wine is knowing what food it goes with.

Your knowledge of wines is not that extensive? Then let the people who prepare your food make the selections from the bewildering array of wines and recommend what goes best with your food. If you’re on a culinary adventure, there’s no better way to sample the Valley’s flavors than through the recommendations of the local eateries – they’ll all have good wines.

Yountville is considered the center for fine dining. Best of the best here is surely French Laundry, top-rated again by Michelin for 2010 as one of the few three-star restaurants in America. But Napa Valley is bursting with fine eateries. If you don’t know your way around study some of the many guides and reviews. These are available everywhere: your hotel, your custom tour service, the wineries and attractions you visit.

And don’t forget the locals for advice. Uncork29 for example offers a good list of restaurants rated by locals. They rate ZuZu in Napa even more highly than French Laundry (try the Moroccan Barbecue Glazed Rack of Lamb with Mint & Red Curry Oil).

Choose particular meals or foods you want to try and venture out to the restaurants famous for them. Of course add your special requirements into the search. If you’re looking for some quiet or romantic time, look for ratings on restaurants that include decor, view, etc. If you want some outdoors activity consider a bicycle tour of the valley, stopping at wineries and restaurants along the way.

As a visitor to Napa Valley, you can do more than just consume your dining experiences, you can create them as well. You can learn to cook, and learn to shop like a chef. You can take home newfound culinary skills to keep your Valley experience alive long after your trip.

Culinary demonstrations and schools abound in Napa Valley. The Culinary School of America in St. Helena offers recipes and samples, and teaches both food and wine skills in restaurant demonstrations of just a few hours, ranging up to week-long courses and more. The school also leads in cooking with local foods and sustainable farming practices.

Or how about Gourmet Retreats in Calistoga? Taught by a trained chef, here you can pick up culinary skills in as little as five hours or stay for five days. As with most offerings in the Valley, it’s up to you. And you don’t have to stay where you learn. Getting around Napa Valley is very easy, with trains, buses, tour companies, and rentals of every kind. You can base in one place if you choose and venture forth daily to your attractions.

Would you like to learn to shop for your food in the farmers market, and then learn how to turn the ingredients into a culinary delight? Cooking With Julie in Napa offers just this experience. You select from the season’s finest and freshest local produce, fish, meat, cheese, fruits and artisan foods. Then you turn these into a 3-course lunch with wine. Not a bad life skill for one day’s adventure.

Napa Valley is NOT going back to school. You have permission to relax, enjoy, consume. But it will be hard not to pick up tips and tricks about wine and food from your stay in the Valley. You’ll take a better way of culinary living home with you, to enjoy until your next visit here, when you come back for more.