Growing up in Connecticut, downtown Stamford was a desolate area at night that didn’t attract much foot traffic, let alone diners. In the past 10 years, the scene has completely changed with an influx of new, hip restaurants and bars – one of the first trendsetters to the scene was Napa & Company.
Originally opened under the direction of Bill Taibe, Napa brings the best of the Napa Valley of California to a small city in Connecticut. Just off Broad Street, one of the busiest streets in town, the pace is much less hectic inside. Wine bottles and crates greet guests as they enter the two-storied dining space. Sit down at the bar for a glass of wine sangria (warning, it’s delightfully good – and strong) as you peruse the menu, taking in the chefs pick of the best local produce and foodstuffs from area vendors like Urban Oaks Farm, Sono Baking Company, for that day’s artisanal cheese selection as you await your dinner date’s arrival.
While the dining area might come off as sleek, modern, and a bit too cold for your liking (especially if you’re dining at the early hour of 6 or 6:30pm), the hosts and wait staff are anything but (and just wait until 8pm when tables are nearly impossible to get, the room is awash in a warm, gentle red-brown glow, and conversations flow freely all about. Once you sit, immediately order a glass of wine to enjoy while you peruse the menu. The veal and ricotta meatballs are not to miss – and are perfect for sharing. Their whipped ricotta is equally delightful, especially when enjoyed along with the tender lettuces in the Urban Oaks mixed greens salad, or the roasted local beets (but sadly the restaurant no longer serves it with Wave Hill Bakery’s addictive Pain de Campagne; it’s a loaf from John Barricelli’s Sono Baking Company instead). If you’re craving something heftier, the grass- fed steak tartare is expertly prepared, with each mouthful nearly melting in your mouth (and it doesn’t hurt that it’s accompanied by black truffle toast). And even those who don’t like bones in their meat (or baby birds) will swoon after one bite of the skillet-roasted quail. The tender meat easily falls off the bone, and it’s the perfect match when enjoyed with a bite of the creamy polenta, bacon, and kale garnish.
Even if the starts and small plates have left you feeling rather full already, it would be a mistake to pass up any of the entrees. While I typically save comforting pasta dishes for the colder months, Napa’s tagliatelle Bolognese and sheep’s milk gnocchi are two dishes that I’ve come to enjoy all year round. I also have a weakness for burgers, partly due to the success of Napa’s Waygu burger which comes with red onion jam, black pepper mayo, smoked Gouda – and ridiculously good rosemary fries (and I’m pretty picky when it comes to fries). If meat is not your thing, never fear, as the menu features a couple of preparations from the sea daily, two of my favorites being the salmon and slow-roasted halibut each gently cooked so wonderfully moist easily flakes apart.
While many of Napa’s entrees run from $35 to $52 a piece, it isn’t a place that only those with padded wallets or an expense account should frequent. In fact, many young professionals (living on a budget) can be found there on Thursday and Friday nights, enjoying multiple glasses of wine and sangria with friends. These savvy dinners skip the entrees (though a small portion of the tagliatelle is well-worth its $19 charge) and instead opt for budget-friendly menu choices like a cheese plate, or sharing a salad and two small plates.
Whether you’re driving the I-95 corridor through Connecticut, grabbing a bite to eat after a business meeting at one of the many corporations now based in Stamford, or are simply looking for a fresh, flavorful meal featuring local produce and the best ingredients, Napa and Company is a no-brainer. While gourmands will appreciate the wonderful combinations of flavors incorporated into each dish, there still are dishes that are sure to satisfy even the youngest or pickiest diner.