Summer is in full swing in Napa Valley and with it comes a booming restaurant scene that boasts some of the top cuisine in the country. North Block, which was recently named a Travel + Leisure “World’s Best” (#1 Resort Hotel in California), debuted in Spring 2021 as a singular destination in the Napa Valley for food, drink, and lodging.
Located at the north end of Yountville, an epicurean dream with fine dining establishments that include the famed French Laundry and Bouchon among others, North Block is a stunning, modern boutique hotel that’s ideally located walking distance away from tasting rooms, art boutiques, restaurants and more.
In addition to its beauty and charm as a hotel property, it has also opened the doors to its new restaurant, North Block, a full-service dining concept helmed by Chef Nick Tamburo (formerly Momofuku) and concepted by local designer Erin Martin.
“People have required zero encouragement to get back out to restaurants. Everyone is so ready to try and get back to normal life that we have been pretty busy since day one, and have only gotten busier since then,” explains General Manager Andy Wedge. “We are currently open for dinner seven nights a week and are eager to be able to expand to breakfast and lunch service as soon as the industry-wide staffing challenges improve.”
The property, which opened during the pandemic, needed to make some pivots to ensure a successful opening, but is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as summer brings about new excitement for travel and dining.
“We needed to pivot the traditional approach in order to conduct service and train staff to prepare for a less (literally) hands on approach during the pandemic, all while having to adjust our expectations for daily covers at a new concept,” he continues. “Luckily our staff has been flexible with the ever changing service requirements and the response to the new restaurant has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Chef Nick Tamburo’s menu features dishes cooked on a Japanese grill infused with raw and smokey elements, in addition to naturally-leavened pizzas that are truly addictive. The wood fired sourdough pizzas include the spring onion with fiscalini aged cheddar and chive oil, and the duck sausage with tomoato, mozzarella, basil and chili oil. The menu also offers a selection of raw and cured plates such as the big eye tuna crudo and the sliced kampachi with preserve perilla, apricot and ginger threads.
Main entrees include seafood dishes grilled black cod with shishito pepper broth and poached rockfish with spot prawns and summer squash. Carnivorous mains feature smoked pork ribs with caramelized honey and chili; duck a la gray with dry aged liberty duck; and flannery beef dry aged strip lion with confit hen of the woods mushrooms.
Alongside craft cocktails, the wine list spotlights rising star winemakers in Napa and Sonoma and a selection of European wines.
We sat down with Head Chef Nick Tamburo to talk about the opening, menu inspiration and more. Here’s what he had to say.
What prompted the move from Momofuku in NYC to Yountville to open North Block?
My partner, Emma, and I were in NYC during the worst days of the pandemic, both unemployed and looking for work. At that point, NYC was very much in lockdown and we were trying to figure out what was next. She was offered an amazing opportunity to open a new restaurant here in Napa and we decided to make the move out West. I was contacted out of the blue about running the kitchen at North Block and jumped at the chance to lead my own team again and bring some exciting food to Yountville.
What inspires the current menu?
The menu at North Block revolves around the wood fired oven we inherited and we try to utilize it wherever possible and weave elements of smoke and fire throughout the menu. Much of our meat, fish, and vegetables are either cooked in the oven or grilled over Japanese charcoal. Seasonality and the amazing California produce drive our creativity and keep us inspired, we love working with vegetables and seafood most of all.
What do you envision this opening summer season to look like at the restaurant?
As we move into summer we are getting excited about ingredients like peaches, summer squash, and cherries. We’ve already started incorporating them into the menu. I’m also excited about a lot of the more esoteric herbs that we love working with like lemon verbena and rose geranium. We use a lot of preservation techniques here to try to coax new flavors out of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
What are some stand-out dishes on the menu now people shouldn’t overlook? Talk about the wood fired, naturally-leavened pizzas — they’re delicious!
We are really proud of our sourdough bread and naturally leavened pizzas. Working on developing a great pizza has kept me inspired and grounded over the past year or so. I’m always pretty excited about our raw fish preparations and of course, vegetables, like the grilled swiss chard that we stuff with lettuce, purslane and fermented daikon and the fried corn that we serve with corn mousse and trout roe.
Our chicken that we roast in the wood oven has been a huge hit with our guests, it comes with a flat bread that we brush with garlic oil and fennel pollen, a fermented Fresno chili hot sauce and yogurt sauce. It’s inspired by the Halal carts of NYC.