Napa’s Compline nails magnificent wining and dining experience
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).
On another evening, duck was available as a single entrée, served as a breast with peas, carrots and cassoulet beans ($29).
New York strip is portioned for two, as well, but easily could feed more guests, the tender, juicy meat generously crowding a large platter with roasted squash, parsnip-celery root purée and cipollini ($48).
For a real standout dish, however, get the Rancho Llano Seco pork ($26). Chef Yancy Windsperger (Spago, Morimoto, and The Bazaar by Jose Andres) changes her menu frequently, yet the pork is a signature, and is superb.
Sourced from Chico, it’s prepared as succulent pulled shoulder meat and gloriously rich belly, its mouthwatering fat tempered by tart, thin-sliced apple and celery.
This is perhaps the best bread pudding I’ve ever enjoyed, too, the slabs fluffy yet dense with a crunchy crust over the custardy interior.
King salmon, on the other hand, didn’t wow us, since the seafood was rather fishy flavored, and ordinary with pistachio crumbles atop the blackened skin and simple partners of sweet roasted root vegetables, cabbage and a swipe of rutabaga purée ($30).
Yet then we got into the mushroom gnocchi, and pow. The pillowy pasta is perfectly al dente, and tumbled with a highly seasoned, buttery mix of king trumpet and maitake mushrooms plus a bit of kale and Parmigiano ($20).
Some of the mushrooms were roasted and some pickled, our server explained, and I loved the zingy kick the pickling added.
I used some of my bread pudding to get every last drop of the glistening sauce, and savored it all with sips of earthy, 2011 Pascal Granger Moulin-à-Vent Deschanes Beaujolais ($14).
Desserts wrap things up on another powerful note. Buttermilk panna cotta is brightened with huckleberry compote, milky crumb cookie ($8), while s’mores ($8) are pure elegant bliss.
A pond of melted dark chocolate ganache arrives stabbed with puffed, crunchy chocolate bar pieces, graham crackers and marshmallow chunks under a flourish of flower petals. It’s a great balance of sweet and slightly bitter.
On my way out, I found myself mesmerized by the wine shop, again.
Prices are reasonable - hand written in white chalk pen on bottles, with many in the $15-$30 range - and browsing for jewels might become my new indulgence.
If nothing else, stocking my own wine cellar will be just another excuse to come back often, and dine at Compline.
Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.