Sunset's guide to the most celebrated restaurant town in the world
If our Yountville Postcard or the town's shining set of Michelin stars has made you want to sample some of its superb food, you're in luck. January and February make up the (relatively) slow season in the Napa Valley. That makes it a little easier to book tables at Yountville restaurants. In fact, January is so slow that some restaurants, including the French Laundry, close up for a week or two ― make sure you check as you plan your visit.
Strategizing, in short, is still required. The toughest table to get remains one at Thomas Keller's 62-seat French Laundry. Tables open up two months in advance, to the day ― January 5 for March 5, say. The minute the reservation desk opens at 10 a.m., hopeful Laundry-goers hit the phones, and the restaurant seems to fill up within seconds.
If you aren't one of the lucky few who gets through to reserve a table, Thomas Keller himself offers guidance. "Check back with us the day before or the day you're in town." People's plans change, even when they're booked at the French Laundry. So on the day of your visit (or the day before), call to see if there have been cancellations. Another option: Try a Friday lunch. In fact, for almost all of the Yountville restaurants, lunch can be a more relaxed, easier-to-book meal than dinner.
Another tactic favored by Yountville locals: Grab a seat at the bar. Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Redd, and Bistro Jeanty all have convivial bars with the same menu served in the dining room.
Finally, if you're staying at one of the Napa Valley's inns or resorts, ask the inn manager or the resort concierge to help you get a table. Ideally, says Villagio Inn & Spa concierge Mary DuVoure, "Talk to me at the same time you book your room." But even at the last minute, they may be able to book you the meal of your dreams.
THE TOUR DE YOUNTVILLE
The mood Thomas Keller's "temporary" restaurant is now a permanent fixture, and that's a good thing. Ad Hoc raises family-style dining to a new level: no tater tots here, but four-course prix fixe meals that feature superbly done comfort foods.
Don't miss The artisanal-cheese third course.
Hours Dinner daily.
The info $45 prix fixe; 6476 Washington St.; 707/944-2487.
The mood Bistro perfection, jolly, Gallic, charming. We defy you to have a bad time here.
Don't miss Coq au vin, crème de tomate en croûte.
Hours Lunch and dinner daily.
The info $$; 6510 Washington St.; 707/944-0103.
The mood Lyon comes to Napa Valley, with "bouchon" connoting a style of bistro specific to the French city and the menu crowded with classic bistro fare. Great fun, especially late at night at the zinc bar.
Don't miss The boudin noir.
Hours Lunch and dinner daily; open till 12:30 a.m.
The info $$$; 6534 Washington St.; 707/944-8037.
The mood Next door to Bouchon is the world's best bakery, with an adjoining patio ideal for your morning latte, pastry, and newspaper.
Don't miss The pistachio-citrus brioche.
Hours 7 a.m.–7 p.m. daily.
The info 6528 Washington St.; 707/944-2253.
The mood A rambling, chocolate brown home that did indeed house a laundry in a past life. Now the elegant yet unfussy setting pairs superbly with the food showcased in Thomas Keller's nine-course tasting menu.
Don't miss Oysters and pearls (sabayon of pearl tapioca with Beau Soleil oysters and white sturgeon caviar).
Hours Lunch Fri–Sun, dinner daily.
The info $240; 6640 Washington St.; 707/944-2380.
The mood A Yountville local's hangout ― easier to book (and pay for) than the top toque joints, but with pleasing atmosphere and very good food.
Don't miss Any of Bob Hurley's risottos.
Hours Lunch and dinner daily.
The info $$$; 6518 Washington St.; 707/944-2345.
The mood Sleek, midcentury modern ― The Incredibles' Edna Mode would dine here. As for Richard Reddington's food, it walks a high-wire of adventure and ambition, and succeeds brilliantly.
Don't miss The glazed pork belly. Seriously.
Hours Lunch Mon–Sat, brunch Sun, dinner daily.
The info $$$; 6480 Washington St.; 707/944-2222.