As a fairly new resident to Napa, I have had my work cut out for me when it comes to visiting all of the fine dining establishments the valley has to offer. A little apprehensive at first regarding where to even begin, I asked the more established locals where they choose to dine on a special evening out. I expected answers such as The French Laundry, Bouchon, or Bottega, those being the highly reputable places one hears about when not actually living as a local. But instead, the answer across the board was Zuzu, a funky, easy going, no reservations tapas restaurant located in downtown Napa right on the river. I was told when it comes to choosing a birthday dinner spot or just a casual night out with friends, this is the top choice; I was sold.
My first visit was with an old friend that had also become a new resident of Napa, so we were eager to become cool "locals" as soon as possible. We sauntered in on a Thursday night with no reservations at about 6:30pm and were immediately seated in their cozy dining room that is filled with unique artwork and a lively buzz of people all happily engaged in their food. We ordered a pitcher of their house sangria straight away, which came full of fresh fruits and rich in color; this started the meal off right. The menu selections left no room for disappointment, and narrowing down choices was a difficult task. The nice surprise however was that we would order 6 or 7 different tapas plus wine and still not come close to breaking the bank (almost all the tapas are under $11 each!) The owners insist on using local organic ingredients as much as possible, and try to incorporate several different styles of dishes from around the globe. The wine list reflects an eclectic taste as well, highlighting several smaller regions of Spain that are as unique as the food.
As our meal commenced, we were served our dishes one by one and allowed adequate time to savor each one along with our sangria that went down all too smoothly. We started with salad of pears and arugula, a Spanish pastry with tuna and a fried egg in the middle, and (my favorite) the Bacalao salt cod with white truffle oil. Each dish had its own mix of unique flavors and fresh ingredients to fit the season. We moved along to the lamb dish and sweet corn with bacon only to feel more and more satisfied with every bite. It was a relatively quiet dinner for two girls that usually can't stop chatting when they get together, but we were so impressed and focused in on the food, that we only looked up occasionally to exchange glances of pure bliss.
I have now been back three times in the past 2 months with different groups of people and had the chance to try several different dishes that have been added to the menu as the seasons change. Some of those current favorites are the lima beans with chorizo and saffron, and the queso frito with manchego cheese and roasted poblano chiles. They also offer a different fresh ceviche and paella dish each night that are well worth adding to the mix.
The true highlight of that first evening however was the dessert: Tres Leches with tequila lime sauce paired with a glass of late harvest Garnacha blanca from Priorat, a delectable finish to a perfect meal that literally left me speechless. Zuzu quickly proved to be a spot that is not only a must visit, but a must return, as much as possible!