ST. HELENA, Calif.
The story: Opened in 2005 by Napa Valley restauranteur Leslie Rudd, Press Restaurant in St. Helena has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, and this year has snatched Chef Trevor Kunk (formerly chef de cuisine of famed Blue Hill Restaurant in New York) as its new executive chef, bringing a fresh emphasis on vegetables to the menu of a steakhouse.
Why I went: Capping off a day in wine country with my out-of-town guests, I made reservations to dine at Press because of the buzz I’ve heard after Kunk’s arrival. I’ve seen the Press restaurant sign for years (I always make a stop at Dean & Deluca in the same lot, which is also owned by Rudd) but never dined there until now.
The vibe: A spacious and elegant dining room that has a fine-dining air but the comfort and casualness of California dining. The high ceilings of the barn-like roof is dressed up by glittering lights and large lamp shades, and the window wall looks out to an outdoor dining space.
The menu: Broken into these categories: raw, salads and appetizers, entrees, chops, seafood and sides. It actually didn’t register into my head that Press is primarily a steakhouse, with seven types of beef cuts, so I was a bit at a loss since I’m not a big beef eater (although that didn’t bother my friends who love meat). But with the arrival of Kunk, the salads and appetizers also shine, such as the string bean ($16) and heirloom tomatoes ($20) salads.
The booze: About 10 specialty cocktails are available for $13 each, but being in wine country, of course, the focus is on wine. Several are offered by the glass, but most parties order bottles that are housed in a temperature-controlled floor to ceiling storage wall right behind the long bar. The wine list is on a iPad that makes it easy to find something to pair with your dinner.
My favorite dish: While the meats were cooked perfectly and I enjoyed the Pacific Halibut with a tomato and corn succotash, the dish that sticks in my mind was the string bean salad with crunchy cucumber, zucchini and almonds. It was the egg yolk based dressing that had a nutty flavor that really bind all the ingredients into a well-balanced dish that was also quite pretty. (On a minor note, I also loved the cheesy breadsticks in the bread basket. They had a great savory flavor.)
Insider tip: If you like corn, be sure to be clear that you want to order the sweet corn with chiles and cheese ($14). We saw another table order it but when we asked for a side of corn, we got a simple dish of cooked sweet corn. I didn’t realize we had to be so specific, especially since regular corn isn’t on the sides menu.
The last bite: Press is a grand restaurant with professional and friendly service, and carries that price tag (most entrees are more than $40). But the flavors of the food, especially the vegetable dishes, lend itself to a creative and innovative taste of California.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Press, 587 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, Calif. PH: 707.967.0550. Open for dinner, Wednesday through Monday from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.pressnapavalley.com
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