The summer travel and vacation season is upon us, and the husband and I are looking forward to some trips coming up, the first being South Lake Tahoe in a few weeks with a group of friends. While brainstorming for restaurants to put on the itinerary, the group ultimately decided that we should cook our own dinners in the condo we’re renting, as we believe anything we cook will be much better than what we can get in the area’s restaurants.
This idea brought to mind our travels of the last few years, and how my husband and I realized that it was becoming more and more difficult to find happiness at restaurants in other cities. Europe, with the starches and boiled meat of Munich and the monotonous tomato-based dishes of Florence is another matter entirely and we’ll talk about it during a future column. But here in the states, I have found that the farther I travel from Napa, the less likely I’ll be satisfied with my order.
While eating at restaurants outside of Napa, the husband and I often find ourselves commenting on the food with statements like, “If this was served in Napa, I’d send it back, but I’ll give it a pass because we’re in Gilroy/Vacaville/Sacramento.” Eateries that brand themselves as ‘gourmet’ are usually mid-level by our Napa standards. And don’t get me started on the wine lists!
Are Napans in a culinary bubble? Is it because we are surrounded by such high-caliber restaurants that even the adjacent mom-and-pop shops are encouraged to step up their games? Is it because we have access to fabulous produce, whether it’s from the local farmers’ markets or our backyards? Are we immune to the sight of Masaharu Morimoto hustling down the street to grab a bite at Oenotri?
I think one of the reasons our tastes turn toward the fresh and innovative may be that we’ve kept so many of the chain restaurants at bay, which propagate overly fatty and salty food with a minimum of taste. It seems that every time I venture out of Napa, I’m greeted with strip mall after strip mall, covered in stucco and filled with the same old Chevy’s, TGI Friday’s and Olive Garden. So far, only a couple of these sort of restaurants have infiltrated Napa, giving room for independent and creative places like and Neela’s.
What do we Napans do, then, when traveling out of the area? Do we pack coolers filled with our favorite wines, produce and cheeses? Maybe we should embrace the fact that we’re out of our comfort zones, as if we’re on a gastronomic safari of sorts, and be all the more thankful for what we have when we return home.
Looking for restaurant ideas in Napa? Check out our "Bites Nearby" column and this .