The historic Auberge du Soleil (180 Rutherford Hill Rd., 800/348-5406, www.aubergedusoleil.com, daily 7 a.m.–11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:30–9:30 p.m., tasting menu $98) has an inn where you can stay the night, but some visitors come to the Auberge just for the food. The charming Mediterranean-style dining room has drawn visitors from all over the world for decades. Sunny yellow tablecloths, a central fireplace, exposed wooden beams, and wall-to-wall picture windows welcome diners to the restaurant.
Executive Chef Robert Curry, a legend of the Napa Valley culinary scene, uses the finest local ingredients to create his own take on Mediterranean/California cuisine. Choose one item from each course list on the short but exquisite tasting menu to create a four-course dinner. If you ask, they can also serve you à la carte items from any of the courses. After all that rich food and fine wine, you might find yourself at the inn’s desk, begging to be allowed to stay the night within staggering distance of the restaurant.
Another long-standing Wine Country favorite is the Rutherford Grill (1180 Rutherford Rd., 707/963-1792, www.hillstone.com, $10–30), which is more casual than many of its Napa Valley brethren. Some of the best seats in the house cluster outside the dining room on the wide porch; Covered by a collection of umbrellas, guests enjoy the pretty gardens while they wait for their classic grill fare—cheeseburgers, salads (with grilled items), bangers and mash, and a whole array of grilled meats—as well as an extensive and impressive wine list. Perhaps the best news of all?You can escape from the Rutherford Grill for well under $100 per person.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition