The Napa restaurant community traditionally hasn’t embraced Big City interlopers. Think the fancy Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar, which closed in July 2015, three years after New York restaurant and design firm AvroKO poured millions into the downtown project.
AvroKO then put lots more money into an even fancier new concept for the site, NineBark, which lasted less than a year.
Then, there was City Winery up the block from NineBark, a restaurant and music venue from a New York group who invested $4 million in renovations. City opened in April 2014, and closed in December 2015.
The new Gran Electrica may break that back East curse. An offshoot of the Michelin Bib Gourmand New York restaurant by the same name, it fits the Wine Country bill. The vibe is casual chic-meets-quirky, the menu is inventive with its Mexican cuisine, and prices are reasonable. Too, with signatures like tortillas made in-house, and premium California ingredients like Llano Seco pork, Five Dot Ranch beef and Bassian’s Farm chicken, this Brooklyn-based group speaks our locavore language.
Partners Tamer Hamawi, Elise Rosenberg and Emelie Kihlstrom get things off to a great start with the design.
The former 1313 Main restaurant has been transformed into a hip hangout that’s pretty with an entry wall of windows, lots of wood, skylights, exposed duct work, a 20-seat bar trimmed in elaborately patterned tile.
It’s open and airy, but still cozy thanks to the 125 seats broken up into several dining rooms.
I especially love the interior wall hung with custom made, Napa-landmark-themed Day of the Dead black-and-white wallpaper, and the hot pink-and-gold Madonna and maize mural on the patio wall.
Your meal absolutely should start with the homemade chips, salsa and guacamole combo ($12). Each is good on its own, but are terrific together, abundant with zippy flavor.
A smallish serving of thickish chips are sturdy enough to scoop the creamy-chunky guac spiked with lime, cilantro, avocado leaf, garlic and onion, all scattered in spiced pepitas and pickled red jalapeño.
A drizzle of the thin, red salsa of roasted tomato, chipotle, garlic and onion, and yum.
A cocktail is another must — perhaps a frozen margarita from the Day of the Dead Napa Valley Wine Train-decorated slushy machine ($12), or a vibrantly flavored marg like the Margarita De Ruibarbo of Chinaco Blanco tequila, Merlet Trois Citrus triple sec, rhubarb, tarragon and lime with a beet salt rim.
There are some five dozen tequilas, American and Mexican craft beers, international wines and rare finds like Mexican wine.
If you haven’t had Mexican wine, you should try it — regions like Baja are doing some notable stuff such as the 2016 Pétillant-Naturel, Bichi “Pet Mex” Rosé ($55), a dry, sparkling pink field blend of as yet unidentified grapes.
The goofy packaging belies the quality, done with a wacky naked gladiator label and beer bottle cap.
The playful, full-flavored mood continues with chef Ignacio Beltran’s cooking. Hailing from Mexico and previously of Ad Hoc in Yountville and Meadowood in Napa, he grows his own herbs on the patio, for exotica like epazote and edible flowers.
I like the sharp oregano-fennel-mint notes the epazote adds to a quesadilla de setas stuffed with the herb, mushrooms, queso Oaxaca, garlic and cilantro ($10). A side of pickled radish, carrot and red onion brings spark and crunch, while drizzles of salsa verde add zing.
Where: 1313 Main St., Napa
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 5 to 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Contact: 707-258-1313, granelectrica.com
Price: Moderate, entrées $8-$20
Corkage: $25; waived with bottle purchase
Summary: This offshoot of the New York restaurant of the same name indeed makes Mexican cuisine “electric” and exciting.