I’ve never been to Napa Valley, but I’ve dreamed of the gorgeous hillsides, world-class vineyards, and earthy, sophisticated cuisine. In my mind, Napa is the epitome of relaxing destinations—a place to unwind and let your mind linger on the food and the local wine (and not much more).
Here in barbecucentric Charlotte, California cuisine is practically nonexistent. That is, until Napa on Providence opened in November 2012, taking over the space that Providence Café occupied for twenty plus years, and infusing the Charlotte food scene with a little spice of the northern California countryside. The vibe inside the remodeled restaurant is polished, warm, and inviting with a large bar area plus an attractive patio.
As the name suggests, Napa on Providence specializes in Californian cuisine, the root of which is fresh ingredients, simply prepared. Napa takes this tenet seriously–all dishes are made to order, from the sauce for the macaroni and cheese to the outstanding white beans with house-made sausage, which taste like they’ve simmered together for hours.
Everything is thoughtfully executed, all the way down to the drinking water they distill in-house and the hammered copper drinking glasses they serve it in. Even the house bread is special. The rolls are handmade by a retired Navy baker. They are dense and chewy and served in recycled cork baskets along with pomegranate honey butter. Once in season, the pomegranates will be harvested from a hundred year old tree at the foot of Napa’s patio.
Dinner at Napa starts with small plates, and sharing is encouraged. The food arrives at the table in rustic cast iron skillets perched upon stark white dishes, and each selection is beautifully composed. The small plate offerings include charcuterie, both grilled and raw oysters, and several salads. The meatballs are my personal favorite. Made from a mix of beef and pork, they are studded with small chunks of carrot, stuffed with house-made mozzarella, and served perched upon polenta cakes with homemade tomato pomodoro sauce.
The steamed clams with homemade sausage are very popular, and are served in a delicious salty white wine sauce with roasted garlic, fennel, and slices of charred crostini. Napa also offers a handful of pizzas, served on house-made dough and topped with fresh mozzarella. John, the bartender, raved about the pork pizza. It features porchetta with white cheddar, caramelized onions, and roasted red peppers. Speaking of John, I couldn’t ask for a friendlier more attentive bartender. His genuine excitement for the food and spirits was contagious.
There are several large plate offerings, each masterfully crafted: grilled swordfish, halibut, hanger steak, and even a Carolina cheeseburger. There are two pasta dishes: the popular lobster macaroni that’s made with Velveeta and beer and the bucatini featuring the homemade pomodoro, roasted garlic, and grape tomatoes (which I am dying to try). A house favorite (as well as one on my personal top picks) is the poulet rouge. It’s a roasted half chicken with a horseradish pan gravy served with roasted root veggies. Simple, rustic, and delightful.
Each night, there are chef’s specials available. I recently tried the roasted duck with cherry glaze, and as a person who doesn’t often favor game, I was very impressed. The risotto served alongside was fantastic. It had baby bella mushrooms and whole cherry tomatoes that added little pops of sweetness to the creamy rice.
Of course, Napa is known for its wine, and there is an abundance at the restaurant. There are nearly 80 varieties available, with bottle prices ranging from $33 to $175, and approximately twenty varieties available by the glass. At Napa on Providence, the drink specialties encompass more than vino–they also barrel-infuse several liquors, which are featured in handcrafted cocktails. I tried and thoroughly enjoyed the Napa Manhattan infusion: Woodford bourbon lightly infused with cherries, vanilla bean, and sweet vermouth. There are also specialty brunch cocktails, my favorite being the Napa Mimosa, complete with plump pomegranate seeds floating around in the bubbly champagne. Napa rounds out the beverage offerings with pod espresso beverages and loose leaf tea.
All great meals should end on a sweet note, and the dessert options are quite enticing. Currently, you can choose between a trio of crème brulee, lemon tart pie, a chocolate duo of lava cake and chocolate pot de crème, or follow my lead and get the warm caramel apple bread pudding, which I somehow managed to devour every last bite of.
Napa on Providence is open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner every evening, and brunch on Sundays.
Insider tip: Napa’s Perrin Points program rewards patrons for frequenting the restaurant. For every $250 you spend, you get $25 back to spend on food and drinks.
Napa on Providence provided us with gratis food and drink. Other than the delicious meal, I was not paid for this review. This blog post and comments within are based on my own honest opinions.