An Unseen Side of Napa


Greetings from Napa Valley, California!

If’ you’ve been following my posts on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, then you know what a crazy experience these past two days have been previewing the Hilton HHonors Your Ticket to Paradise – Ticket to Dine Sweepstakes. I cannot wait to return to the area someday with Ben, although we do need to find some good craft beers around here for the man. Do those exist? Is that sacrilege?!

Anyway, the other bloggers and I are staying at The Embassy Suites near downtown Napa. It’s a 5 minute drive from not only the restaurants and nightlife downtown, but also the start of over 400 vineyards in Napa Valley.


The hotel has a boutique-y, Mediterranean feel, which is very different than any other ES I’ve ever stayed at and fits in well with Napa’s laid-back style.

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Better yet, they have free breakfast every morning and a free “Manager’s Reception” every night, where you can sit outside on their numerous outdoor patios and enjoy the swan pond and, cough, sculptures, with free wine and apps. :)

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After we all checked in yesterday afternoon, and got to chat over a glass of vino – locally made Sauvignon Blanc, natch – we headed out for a river cruise with Napa Valley Adventure Tours.

The 2.5 hour cruise down the Napa Valley River explores the surrounding wetlands and passes through downtown and some ridiculous river “neighborhoods.”

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I had no clue there was a river in Napa, but apparently it is a hot spot for sailors coming up and down the coast (you can get all the way inland from the bay) looking for a spot to anchor, as well as visiting wildlife like these Canadian geese we stopped to feed. As soon as they saw we had food, the entire flock came over to check it out!


By the way, I think that’s the Napa Valley Wine Train in the background, which I hear is a great activity for visitors!


The breeze off the water was ridiculously refreshing as we sailed past downtown Napa (adorable) while munching on a yummy meat & cheese platter that’s included in the price of the cruise.

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The river cruise was really low key, which was great after a crazy day of travel. It was also just neat to see another side of Napa that you don’t often/ever think of.


After cleaning up at the hotel, we headed to downtown Napa for dinner at Oenotri.


Oenotori is a seriously cool Italian restaurant, which feels swank yet cozy from the exposed brick, and warm lights.


The menu changes daily and is driven by local, fresh, and in-season ingredients. They make fresh pasta daily, and cook their wood-fired pizzas in an oven imported from Naples. Our meal here was absolutely unforgettable!


Before chowing down, we cheers’d to the weekend with a cold, crisp glass of bubbly. Remind me to drink this stuff more often, mmkay?


Afterwards we took our seats where a menu specially selected by Oenotori’s head chef had been laid out.


One of the main focal points of the “Ticket to Dine” sweepstakes package in Napa is checking out the local restaurants and if you win, which I hope you do, I highly recommend every dish I tasted last night.


Starting with the Housemade Saulmi. Each whisper-thin and salty bite of salami flavored with everything from pepper, to sundried tomato, garlic, lemon, and ginger was melt in your mouth delicious. Knowing my weakness for all things salami (I know) I devoured my fair share. :)


Some of those aforementioned wood-fired pizzas were next. Our end of the table started with this Margherita Pizza, which seeeeriously tasted like the pizza we had in Roma, but what I really went crazy for was the pizza with fingerling potatoes, fontina cheese, and cream that was eventually passed down from the other end. TO DIE!


The salad course was next, which included a Mixed Lettuce Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The other bloggers thought it was too salty, but I loved it. Look at that cheese!!


Following the salads was the PASTA course, aka my favorite course. The Fidei al Pomodoro with Parmesan & Breadcrumbs, was good and the addition of crunchy bread crumbs on top was brilliant…


but the Strozzapreti with Willis Farms Ragu was incredible. We’re talking hamburger helper on crack. And I mean that in the best way possible. It might have been my favorite dish of the night!


Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, the beef tongue came out. HA! No. I will eat a lot of things, but the thought of tongue on tongue (well beef tongue on tongue) just doesn’t do it for me.


What I did make room for was the Rosa Biancao Eggplant in Agro Dolce that came out with it, which almost tasted like candied eggplant. Sweet yet savory, I loved the firm, jelly-like texture of the eggplant, and I’m dying to know how the chefs did it!

Just when I REALLY thought I couldn’t eat another bite…


Lemon Verbana Panna Cotto with Arctic Glo Nectarines and Croccante Dolce, translation – lemon panna cotta (cream + sugar + gelatin) with shaved nectarines, and a sweet, crunchy sprinkle – came to the table!


I mean…!!! Each bite positively melted in my mouth. Sweet, creamy, and over the top decadent. Like I said, what a meal!


And what a way to end our first day in Napa! Can’t wait to tell you about our trip to 2,200 feet, and wine tasting at three classic, yet really unique wineries out here.

Do I have to go home tomorrow?! ;)

Hope you’re having a great weekend, guys!

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  1. Joanna 07.21.2012


    I just discovered your blog a few days ago and have spent the past couple of hours looking through all your recipes! Love your blog. you may have inspired me to start one of my own (finally!). This Georgia girl loves your Iowa girl blog!

  2. WOW! Your trip sounds amazing….I want to go to Napa, but only if I can dine in that restaurant. That meal looks and sounds out of this world.

  3. Jess S 07.21.2012

    Oh so fun! I hope you get to go to Castello di Amorosa. It’s a beautiful Italian-inspired castle winery in the north part of Napa Valley, by Calistoga. We were there last summer and it’s amazing. Have fun!

  4. j3nn 07.21.2012

    WOW! Everything looks so amazing, but I’m with ya on the tongue. BLEK! No thank youuu. :) Salty salads = my love.

  5. Karen 07.21.2012

    Fun day. And yes…. there are plenty of microbrews out here. Put Lagunitas Brewing Company on your list for your next trip. (and Bear Republic, Sonoma Springs, there are more)

  6. Jen 07.22.2012

    Russian River is my favorite brewery near there. Their stuff is amazing! Especially their sours and IPAs. Definitely give them a try!

  7. Wow! What an amazing trip!! That pizza looks awesome!

  8. val 07.22.2012

    I love this post!!! It makes me happy.

  9. Amy 07.22.2012

    The pics tell a lot——amazing!!!! You are lucky IGE!!!

  10. Juan Navarro 07.22.2012

    What a great trip! you guys get to travel a lot. I love your recipes and your photography. I hope you can show us some photo tips sometime. I take pictures every time I cook… It drives my wife crazy. :-)

  11. Ann B 07.22.2012

    Looks like a lot of fun! My husband and I just got back from Napa a week ago, we went for a wedding. We had so much fun! Highlights of the trip were a wine tour, eating at Chef Morimoto’s restaurant, the wine train (yes that was the wine train in your pic and yes it is an amazing experience, the food was soooo good!) and the scenery!! Can’t wait to learn about the rest of your trip!

  12. That sounds like such an awesome trip! Especially that dinner…although I would probably baulk at the tongue too1

  13. Jaime 07.22.2012

    First off ….I love your blog and enjoy the fantastic recipes!!

    Now I have to be a party pooper….unless there is a rare breed I am unaware of, those are not Canadian Geese! I am Canadian and see them all the time, they look similar but Canadian Geese are black/grey/white.Sorry ;)

    Keep up the awesome blogging though!

  14. Lauren 07.22.2012

    I am BEYOND jealous of you right now. Ah, Napa! My paradise. :) Have a blast girl.

  15. Aww – Downtown Napa – my little second home. I absolutely love Napa and all the people there. Oenotri is one of my absolute favorites in Napa. Did you by chance step into the Gordon Heuther Gallery across the courtyard? Seriously cool stuff! Enjoy – can’t wait to hear there rest of the adventures. I am thinking hot air balloons!

  16. Linda 07.22.2012

    Wondering if you could share with us what other food bloggers were there with you. I would love to check them out as well.

  17. Amanda 07.22.2012

    It looks like the weather is lovely! Is that sculpture…peeing? lol

  18. Ksenija 07.23.2012

    wanna go, wanna go, wanna go… instead I am sweating in my over 90 degrees office and dreaming of a refreshing glass of white napa wine…

  19. Bek @ Crave 07.23.2012

    Very lucky girl! That meal looks scrumptious and the photos are glorious- ahh I wanna go travelling..damn responsibilities!

  20. […] hot air balloon ride and incredible dining experience were seriously awesome ways to kick off our trip to Napa Valley with the Hilton HHonors Your Ticket […]

  21. binda 07.23.2012

    IF you have time to check out the wine train, it is *totally* worth it. Get the Vista Dome Dinner package. AH-MAZING!

  22. Downtown Napa is such a surprising gem! I visit every couple of months and never knew there was a river either – until we sat drinking house-brewed beers and apps outside on the patio at Downtown Joe’s. Perfection!

  23. […] more mouth-watering photos and perspectives of this meal, check out Kristin’s post, An Unseen Side of Napa, on her blog Iowa Girl Eats. If this meal has your mouth watering, you’re in luck! Hilton […]

  24. Beth 07.24.2012

    Love your pictures! Just curious, what type of camera do you use?

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