The first things you see when you enter the new Compline in downtown Napa are walls of wine. Walls and walls of such intriguing selections that you risk forgetting your dinner reservation as you study the labels.
That’s because this place on First Street behind the new Archer Hotel is more than a dining spot. Its full name, Compline Wine Bar, Restaurant and Merchant, speaks of its ambitious goal as a center for wine education, too.
We can come here to sip wine at the sleek bar capped by a chalkboard map of Napa Valley, talk wine in endless geeky joy with the staff experts, take monthly wine seminars and buy boutique wines to take home.
But to skip supper would be a sad mistake. Because with its excellent contemporary American cuisine and a hip but ultra-friendly vibe, Compline is a win for our increasingly sophisticated Wine Country dining scene.
Not that I’d expect (or accept) anything less from its owners. Ryan Stetins is a former Charlie Trotter wine director, while business partner and fellow Napa resident, Master Sommelier Matt Stamp, is formerly of the French Laundry.
Together, they’ve nailed what today’s dining clientele really wants: premium, inventive food and drink, but in an unfussy setting with no pretension allowed. Factor in Compline’s remarkably reasonable pricing, and this is a top destination, indeed, from its 90-seat dining room set with wood tables, to its indoor-outdoor lounge set with couches.
For the optimum experience, I recommend selecting which dishes you want, then leaving yourself in the staff sommeliers’ hands for wine pairings.
That way, you’ll find how exceptional a flute of French henriot souverain brut Champagne ($18) is with the hot, crispy duck fat fries ($7) and the Parmesan-stuffed gougères tossed with fried Brussels sprouts petals ($6). The bright, tingly bubbles are brilliant with the highly salty snacks.
And that way, you’ll discover an unusual gem, 2015 DeSante The Old Vines Napa Valley ($14). With only five barrels produced, it’s a compelling field blend of sauvignon vert, sémillon, sauvignon blanc, green Hungarian, golden chasselas and several other Alsatian white varietals not yet identified from their original planting as far back as the 1890s.
The wine’s herbal, lime rind notes go very well with a bowl of congee, the thin porridge dotted with ginger, scallion, sweet and sour spice, sesame seeds and two ample pieces of grilled, skin-on chicken ($12).
Dishes are easily shareable, and my table did, divvying up servings on the black pottery plates provided — and replaced for each course — by our attentive server.
And presentations are pretty. One friend, who oddly vows to go through life eating as few vegetables as she can, couldn’t resist sampling the crudité ($12), charmed by its graceful arrangement in a curved line on one side of the plate.
She liked it more than I was hoping, since it meant I had to give up some of the pristine watermelon radish, carrot, cucumber, purple and white cauliflower, turnip, celery fronds, flower petals and leafy herbs set on a swath of sumac yogurt.
Some entrées are designated for two, such as one night’s half duck that was plated with roasted marble potatoes, wild mushrooms and a splash of orange jus ($46).