Finding a good and simple restaurant in Napa Valley is easier said than done. Many of them try to serve food that is beyond their capabilities or play on the highest level. Therefore it is no surpsise that Cook in St. Helena is one of the local winemakers’ favourites.
Walking into Cook on St. Helena’s Main Street, you immediately realise that this is a relaxed place. As you would imagine, it is quite common that some of the Valley’s most famous winemakers sit here over lunch or a relaxed dinner. This creates a lively and warm atmosphere that goes well with the food.
Because what the kitchen produces is comfort food that has both heart and soul. Even the simplest dishes such as a Caprese salad are turned into something special. Local heirloom tomatoes give this dish something most versions of it do not have: Flavour. As these tomatoes are incredibly ripe, they are packed with sweetness and umami. This simply makes you realise that this can actually be a very tasty dish. The same goes for deep-fried squid. Simple and to the point, these squid are served with a mayonnaise and some caramelised lemon. They are special in that they are of good quality and coated in a very thin and crispy batter. Combined with the shorter cooking time, this gives them a texture you always look for when ordering such a dish, but rarely get.
The mains here are at the same level, best demonstrated by a risotto with scallops, peas and porcini powder. The fact that the scallops are cooked perfectly and coated with an intensely flavourful powder of porcini makes this a killer dish. The risotto is a little overcooked, but gives a good background to the dish, which still remains lighter than you’d think and is beautiful.
There is a lot to like about Cook. Its a simple restaurant that attracts local celebrities like Sean Larkin and Paul Roberts among others. If you want to get a feel for Napa’s culture, this is a good spot to get started.