Chef: Some people discover and follow their passions throughout their entire life. Stephen Rogers, the chef at Press as well as a former classical pianist and vocal coach, is surely one of them. Moving from music to food was more like a switch from one sensual pleasure to another. From beauty of sound to celebration of taste with food, the chef seems to follow his heart. Judging from the delicious food I had at Press, he brings his heart to the plate.
Atmosphere: Vibrant,cosy and unpretentious. Set in a vineyard while just next to the St Helena highway its location is both authentic and convenient. Entering in you pass a long walnut bar where you can savour a cocktail or a glass of wine before and after dinner (or lunch). The large dining room feels so spacious not only because of its size, but also the high ceiling built like stable roof. It is cosy though with large fire places and outside dining area, the place feels quite romantic. Walk to the back and you can watch the busy kitchen staff cooking vigorously. The Press is a popular place for the winery owners and locals with penchant for great meat, seafood and wine, so clothing is not as important. Nevertheless, if you dress smart-casual then you will feel that the evening is perhaps more special.
Food: It is all about tasty fresh food and wine. The Press has one of the best local wine cellars in Napa Valley. No wonder, when its owner is the current Dean and DeLuca proprietor Leslie Rudd, the penchant for great food and wine must display itself in his restaurant. The freshest seasonal ingredients, mostly locally sourced and cooked to satisfy high-profile taste
Start with a crab cake here as it is more than that. The Maine lobster and crab cake served with avocado emulsion on the side is stuffed with high quality seafood. There are no potatoes or any cheep fill-ups as in many versions of this Americanized Asian dish. It is rich, tasty, surprisingly refreshing and so Californian with avocado and sprouts accompanying the cake. With a glass of an aromatic and rich white wine, such as Sonoma Chardonnay, this is really tasty start.
If you prefer something lighter, then opt for the Butter lettuce salad with fine herbs and mustard vinaigrette. It seems simple, but the ingredients are so fresh and of high quality that you will love it. It is ideal before a steak or other meat main course as it leaves some space for all the animal stuff.
The steak at Press is delicious and many diners come here just for it. The Prime beef, including Rib-eye, is sourced from legendary Bay Area butcher Brian Flannery. Prepared at wood-fired grill the Dry-aged rib eye USDA Prime shows off its potential. The meat is full of flavour and cooked just right so some juice moistens the dry meat.
You can eat the steak just like that served with yellow corns and some greens or level the dining experience up with one of the Press’s seductive sides.
Go for either the Crispy onion rings, Creamed spinach, Truffle mac and cheese or the Roasted Maitake mushrooms as they are all excellent.
In a fish mood? The choice is interesting at Press so no disappointments here. I went for a Grilled Walu fish which I have never seen before and after being assured by the waiter that it is really good, I did not hesitate to make the dinner my first tasty encounter with walu. The Grilled Walu is served with California inspired cranberry bean, fresh garbanzo, yellow wax bean, tomato and garden basil. Such a bean and veggie party with a flaky and moist fish calls for a glass of white or even an older red wine from Napa. The 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellars was surprisingly good with it. I think the texture and depth of the beans made this pairing possible.
The bird-eating fans can go for one of the poultry mains. We had a lady chef, who relishes squab, dining with us. Naturally, she went for the Grilled Bandera Quail since it was the closest to her favourite food. Served on French lentils, Lacinato kale, Nueske bacon together with fresh and juicy figs it looked super-complex, but apparently it was delicious as the chef appreciated it a lot.
The food is delicious at the Press but I would advise to leave some space for desserts. The signature Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate soufflé with a jug of creme Anglaise and vanilla ice cream on the side is addictive. The chocolate-loving part of humanity will be surely enchanted by this soufflé. It is dense yet soft, balanced yet deep and can be customized to your taste by adding more of the liquid cream inside the hot soufflé or dipping your spoon into the vanilla ice cream with the chocolate.
The Press has also delicious homemade ice creams and sorbets and British sweet delight of Strawberry shortcake with rhubarb compote and Swanton organic strawberries.
Drinks: From classic cocktails to bar tenders own creations, you can have fun with drinks at the Press. I am a wine fanatic so I went straight to the cellar. The cellar of the restaurant is unique. It is rare to find old vintages of wines from Napa Valley, but this cellar is exemplar of this rarity. You can find over a century old wines here. You can be celebrating a special occasion as we did, but you do not need to since the prices are mostly quite reasonable. Go for a 1980s or 1960s vintages of top Bordeaux and expect to pay a fortune, but not with Napa. A bottle of wine from that period can cost you around US$150 and it still rewards with pleasures of a mature wine.
Starting with a bottle of white Chardonnay from Stony Hill 1989 vintage, I was assured that the local whites can age well. Not sure if all, but some for sure. It had a nutty almost oxidised taste, still good acidity and long aftertaste.
Moving to reds with a 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Heitz Cellars I was impressed how well the wine held itself. The Cab was soft with woody touch of a cigar box. The oldest bottle we tried that night was a 1966 Zinfandel from another legend in Napa’s wine production – the Martini winery. Zinfandel used to rule in Napa, but in the past 20 years it was not as fashionable as the local producers would wish so they planted more of Cab and Merlot instead. What a shame though as this grape is showing very well in this location. From 1966 with only 12% of alcohol this Zinfandel was still alive. It is interesting to drink anything under 14% of alcohol from California these days and with this Zinfandel you can taste that the alcohol does not need to be high in order for the wine to age well. The has reached its peaked though and I would not see enjoying it much in two years from now. Despite that fact, I appreciated it now in 2012. It had almost a bourbon aroma and subtle woodiness that makes it an interesting companion with a cigar. The acidity and tannins were declining but still held the body straight up with only a mild repository of fruit. A very unique and educational wine tasting, for sure, so be ready to go for something older at the Press and do not waste this opportunity to taste local history.
Cuisine: Modern American.
Visit: October 2012
Price: High (starters between $10-$20, mains in the $20-4$0 sphere).
Opening hours:Dinner from Wednesday – Monday: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM.
Address: 587 Saint Helena Highway, Saint Helena, CA 94574, USA
Contact: +(1) 707 967-0550