1314 McKinstry St.
Napa, CA 94559
Reviewed by: Monty and Sara Preiser
Food & Service:
You are looking to choose that special place for dinner. Maybe you want to impress a date, celebrate a lifestyle event, or are simply searching for not only the best all around restaurant in the Napa Valley, but perhaps the country. There is only one place that offers every element you could desire or imagine for an extraordinary evening, and that is Ken Frank’s La Toque.
Located in mid Valley, La Toque moved to downtown Napa in 2009 and is now a leader in what is a miraculous transformation of that sleepy village into a wine and food lover’s delight. Housed in the trendy Westin Verasa, La Toque is a trip back to a time when the ambiance of a hotel’s leading restaurant was romantic and enticing, when the service was always impeccable, and time spent dining was in and of itself an experience to remember. There are some that think dining in their hotel’s dining room is not cool, but these people are mistaken. For many reasons that all benefit a diner, some of the great culinary establishments in the world are in fact located in hotels. We love enjoying a phenomenal meal accompanied with wine, then being able to casually stroll back to our room (or to the bar for a nightcap). No cars, no traffic, no worries. How relaxing.
The Napa Valley certainly offers a number of fine places to dine, yet La Toque is probably not your best choice for a comfort food fix or for a quick meal. It is a place where the food is creative, fresh, and stunning. Where time is taken to be certain everything is perfectly prepared. And with four to seven courses (your choice), you will enjoy a perfectly timed period between the service of each dish to talk, sip wine, anticipate, and become hungry all over again.
While it is always easy as food and wine critics, and often helpful, to set forth general opinions, it’s even better to have some specifics to back up the generalities. With La Toque, that is a pretty easy task. While most establishments, for example, have one server taking care of a couple of tables, at La Toque you will have a staff of informed professionals nearby to serve your every need. Far from simply taking your order and serving your food, these pleasant, engaging people are also extensions of the chef. All have been taught proper timing and techniques, with each being able to intricately describe all twenty or so dishes offered each night, and then guide you as you make the tough decisions on ordering.
Wine service, as opposed to food service, is primarily handled by the super educated sommeliers on duty. Separating itself from most of the restaurants that strive to be major players in the fine culinary field, at La Toque the food and wines are periodically tested and tasted together, then paired for the menu only after reaching complementary perfection. Each dish offered, then, has its concomitant wine partner, and you have the option of choosing these wine pairings with your meal. You may also order from La Toque’s complete, creative, award winning, and fun-to-look-at wine list. Should you choose the pairing program (which is lots of fun), your glass is poured just prior to the service of each dish, and the sommelier will take a few moments to tell you why that particular wine was chosen to accompany what you have on your plate. It is so nice to learn how and why the wine works with the ingredients that comprise your meal. Of course, no matter which wine service you select, the proper stemware is employed, further enhancing your enjoyment. One more special facet about wine service at La Toque is that the restaurant does not feel constrained to use wines from only one region, but pairs each course with its best accompanying wine from any area across the globe. We have rarely seen a full wine program like this anywhere.
No matter how stellar the wines, if the food served in conjunction with them is not up to the wine standards, then the pairings don’t really offer much attraction. Fortunately, no such worries are necessary at La Toque, where contemporary California dining (featuring the freshest ingredients you can imagine), coupled with French service and influence is practiced on the highest level. As we mentioned, you can choose from the chef’s table menu featuring six or seven courses, or from the more standard menu containing three or four. The latter is plenty sufficient, and you can be sure it also includes cheeses or desserts.
A brilliantly conceived option allows you to select three or four savory dishes from any section of the menu, rather than having to opt for a salad, a fish, a meat, and so forth, as most places require. Further, the kitchen adjusts the portion sizes served based on the individual’s own course selections so everyone at the table can dine on what each has chosen without becoming uncomfortable. Choose three fish courses, three meat courses, or three veggie courses if you like – each for the same price, and all paired with their own wines. And you cannot find any chef doing a better job than Ken Frank with foie gras, skate, halibut, buffalo, lobster, beef, or lamb – all served creatively and with flavors unique to the dish and its surrounding sides. That being said, almost every dish served here is a masterpiece.
We usually each order three courses (knowing a fourth is included in the way of cheese or dessert) with the wine pairings, and make certain we are ordering differently so that by sharing we each taste six separate dishes, and six separate wines. A recent dinner looked like this:
-Seared Artisan Foie Gras w/ Pineapple Quince Chutney
2006 Royal Tokay, 5 Puttonyos, Hungary
-Mediterranean Gilt-Head Bream w/ Sweet Garlic Puree, Sauce Verte, & Tomato Confit
2009 Sancerre, Domaine Cherrier Pere et Fils
-Boneless Lamb Loin w/ Cumin Scented Carrot Puree & Chick Pea Fries
2006 Lagier Meredith Syrah, Mt. Veeder
-Beer Battered Alaskan Halibut & a Stuffed Piquillo Pepper w/ Saffron Bomba Rice
2008 Ramey Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
-Whole Farm Quail & “Lentilles du Puy” Braised w/ Snails & Bacon
2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Font de Michelle
-Colorado Range Fed Buffalo w/ its own “Pot Roast as a Terrine”
2006 Miner, “The Oracle”, Napa Valley
By now, your mouth should be watering, and there aren’t many more accolades to give. Suffice it to say that La Toque is the one dining room in Napa that reaches five stars for every aspect by which a restaurant should be judged – from ambiance, service and all the way to wine.
DinnerReviews.com© is proud to introduce Attorney Monty Preiser and his wife Sara Preiser. This dynamic couple reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers at their other home in Napa, where they publish the world’s most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants entitled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley. The guide has received accolades as the best (or indispensable) from many well know writers and travel sites.
The Preisers have been the food and wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal and numerous magazines, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.