Dining Outside at La Toque
La Toque boasts a couple of notable distinctions.
First, it’s one of only two restaurants in the town of Napa that holds a Michelin star. (Kenzo being the other one).
Second, it’s one of only two restaurants in that city to require proof of vaccination for all patrons entering the restaurant, no matter where they are seated. (The other is Morimoto Napa.)
Third, its entire staff is vaccinated.
If you’re at all skittish about dining at a restaurant these days, then La Toque may be a reassuring option for you.
That’s what I found when my husband and I dined there earlier this month. We actually sat at a table on the outside terrace. As Chef Ken Frank explained, though, some diners may not consider this “outside” enough, because the heated terrace with a roaring fireplace has a tight awning overhead, plus tall, slatted windows that for the most part are closed during chilly winter evenings. Because the tables are well spaced apart, and the staff approaches the tables masked, plus patrons are asked to don masks if they get up from their seats, it feels as safe as it can in these still rather precarious times.
Hot towels are brought to the table after you’re seated. There’s also a bottle of hand sanitizer on each table. Both are thoughtful touches.
Choose from the a la carte menu, a chef’s vegetable tasting menu ($98), or a chef’s tasting menu ($175) with wine pairings ($95). The latter is what we went with.
The terrace is an elegant space, done up with holiday lights and decorations. It’s plenty cozy, too, so you don’t even have to keep your coat on all night, as you might have to at other outdoor dining spaces.
A golden gougere amuse arrives, hiding a creamy, rich center of black truffle-infused mascarpone. If left to my own devices, I could surely eat half a dozen of these just like that. Next, another amuse of flaked smoked cod fortified with potato and crowned with the pop of orange trout roe.
The first course also afforded me my first taste this winter of local Dungeness crab. The fluffy meat was afloat in a matsutake shellfish suimono, a clear dashi broth with purity and vigor. Sliced, fragrant matsutakes and a poached, tender purple radish accented it.
That was followed by crusty, pan-roasted New Zealand John Dory in a foamed apple broth that lent autumnal sweetness to the mild, finely flaky fish. Charred cabbage and red onion-celery mostarda added touches of smokiness and piquancy.
When Frank approaches your table with a white truffle in hand, you know you’re in for a treat. To finish our agnolotti with cheesy fontina sabyaon and black winter truffle butter tableside, he generously shaved some paper-thin slices overtop on the house. It made you savor each and every supple agnolotti, filled with ricotta and porcini, as in a dream.
The final savory course was roasted New Zealand red deer with red wine-poached pear, spaetzle, and a swoosh of nutty tasting sunchoke puree. Though I’ve had venison many times, this red deer was markedly tender with a lovely sweetness to it.
It can sometimes be a challenge to stomach a heavy cheese course at the end of a meal. Thankfully, the one here is as petite as it gets. The 2018 Berner Hobelkase AOP Alp Satteleggli is a Swiss, raw-milk cheese without holes. Because the cheese is nearly too brittle to be cut with a knife, it’s shaved thin, then rolled up like a pirouette cookie. Milky, nutty and a little sharp tasting, it was served with quince compote and tiny 6-grain toasts that were as thin as the cheese.
Dessert was a tender Speculoos sponge cake married with intensely nutting tasting pistachio ice cream, bright tasting orange mascarpone, and supremely boozy brandied cherries.
Mignardises are brought to the table already tucked away in little bow-tied boxes to take with you.
Inside is a amaretto bonbon, chocolate sable sandwich, and a festive peppermint white chocolate confection.
It all made for a wonderful holiday feast in Wine Country.