I spent a considerable amount of time in the ‘90’s in Napa. Although it totally dates me and makes me sound like some old fuddy duddy about to embark on some story of yesteryear, it is important to set up my perspective on Napa. I used to regularly visit family that I had living in Napa, and I even lived there for almost a year after college so I could take advantage of free-rent and figure where I would end up for grad school. Napa already had a world-renowned reputation for wonderful wines and equally complementary cuisine. So when I look at the Napa of today, it isn’t like this has dramatically changed, but I do think the whole experience has definitely been elevated to a new level. I actually haven’t spent that much time in Napa in recent years probably because the whole aura of Napa is somewhat lost on me, but on a recent getaway without the kids for some quality time with some girls friends, I revisited the whole Napa experience and saw how much more of a destination it had become. The food in Napa has always been excellent and my palate has definitely matured since my 20’s, but I’m so excited to see how dynamic and modern the food scene has become.
I don’t think Torc has much of a reputation outside of Napa, but when I previewed the menu for dinner, I was quite excited to see a collection of dishes that seemed to represent the fresh, farm to table sensibility of California cuisine. The space is open and airy and was actually the former location of Ubunto which had quite a reputation a few years back serving supposedly delicious and exclusively vegetarian menu. Torc is a Gaelic word for boar, hence the restaurant logo.
My 5 other dining companions had filled up on some leftover lasagna and supposedly weren’t very hungry. I, on the other hand, had waited and was anxious to take tour of the menu. Unfortunately, no one else expressed much interest, and I didn’t want to be the lone piggy, so I held back on ordering too much. Deep down though, I knew these girls were just kidding themselves. They all appreciate food and when there is delicious food staring back at them, they won’t be able to resist. Nevertheless, we ordered a sampling and the appetizers came shortly thereafter.
The Hamachi Crudo, admittedly, did not have the typically delicate looking preparation. I usually love Hamachi, but this particular execution wasn’t very memorable, not that it tasted bad. The ingredients included seasonal produce like empress pluot and avocados and it was seasoned with chile sambal and coriander. From the list, you’d expect some interesting flavors, but it somehow was missing something. Overall, the Hamachi and all of the individual components tasted fine, but something was still missing when you put them together.
The Shishito peppers were pretty typical with maybe a teeny tad bit too much of salt, but not offensively so. These always make for a nice snack to start any meal.
The deviled eggs looked quite like a homage to Dr. Seuss with its green-colored filling. It turned out to be spinach flavored yolk topped with pickled onions and specks of pancetta. It was creamy and savory with a nice touch of sweetness from the onions.
Many of us were eyeing the Lobster Risotto. I had considered ordering two (which tells you how much of a piggy I am), but I demonstrated restraint and even though I’m glad we just ordered the one, my instincts were right in that this was very good dish. Risotto definitely seems out of place on a summer menu, but this particular preparation was surprisingly light. It was creamy without being too heavy and cheesy, and the addition of fresh corn added a nice bit of texture and summer flare to the dish. The lobster was a fair portion and more importantly, it was well-cooked and tasted fresh.
Next up was the strozapretti which was a housemade half-opened swirly shaped pasta mixed with jimmy nardello-tropea onion sugo, date, pecorino toscano and topped with some jamón crackling. I liked the interesting shape of the pasta, and the sauce itself tasted good but it could have used a little more substance. The sauce lacked the heartiness that would have gone well with this kind of pasta.
This was a mix of various types of mushrooms including hen of woods and king trumpet mushrooms and tossed with some croutons for texture. It was a solid side dish to complement our main entree.
Our last entrée was the short rib dish which was perfectly cooked resulting in a super moist and tender piece of meat. It was well-seasoned and the assortment of vegetables and potatoes helped to balance out the overall richness of the meat. There was summer squash, morel mushrooms, and magic myrna potatoes. It really was quite fatty, so I am very glad that we shared the dish amongst the 6 of us, because I am sure I would have put myself closer to a heart attack had I finished that dish on my own.
The panna cotta dessert was a delightful way to end the meal. The panna cotta was heavier and creamier than I like, but this allowed the combination of sweet strawberries and basil to really be highlighted. I truly enjoyed the fresh strawberries as they were the best part of the dessert.
Overall, the food was delicious and very well prepared. There were a few dishes that could have been even better, but I can’t help but have high expectations for restaurants in Napa. Even though this place is overrun with tourists, I think the standards are really high and you can’t get away with mediocre food just because you get a lot of visitors that span the spectrum. I did enjoy the meal, and I would recommend it to friends looking for good food in a open and modern space in the heart of downtown Napa. As I had surmised, we cleaned off each and every plate and finished the meal feeling extremely satisfied.
1140 Main St.
Napa, CA 94559
PAFO Ratings for Torc:
Ambiance 3½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars