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In Increasingly Food-Centric Napa, Oenotri Is The New Varietal of Italian

Photography by Meg Smith

In Napa, there’s a restaurant called Tuscany. Located in the heart of downtown, the 12-year-old establishment is the kind of Italian joint that serves tiramisu and has a cover band at night.

This is Napa’s old idea of Italian. The new one is represented by Oenotri—a restaurant with Neapolitan-style pizza, house-made pastas that are judiciously sauced, roasted meats, and earnest talk of regionality and staying true to Italy’s soul. Opened in 2010 by Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde—two chefs who met while working at Oliveto in Oakland—the restaurant will resonate with anyone eating their way through SF, where places like Flour + Water, Locanda, and Cotogna rule the roost. But in Napa, which is just getting its foodie foothold, Oenotri 
is a standout.

One of the biggest differences is that its 650 label–strong wine list doesn’t dwell on Napa Cabs. Oenotri unabashedly celebrates Italian wines, with only 40 percent of its list being domestic. “When we first opened, a lot of locals came to us and said, ‘I want my wine on your list,’” says Di Fede, who, with the help of wine director Sur Lucero, is starting an Oenotri wine club. “But now a lot of the winemakers here enjoy drinking 
our Italian wine—it’s something else to try, something else to taste.”

Also noteworthy is Oenotri’s pizza, which rivals anything in the Bay Area. Should you think you’re experiencing wood-fired burnout, hit the refresh button because Oenotri’s lamb merguez sausage pizza showered with ricotta salata is top-notch. If it’s not on the rotating menu, not to worry—the crust, twice-basted with olive oil, has an addictive crispiness to it and would be delicious topped with just about anything.

The interior of the restaurant boasts the de rigueur open kitchen and exposed brick walls, but better yet is the large back patio that lets you soak up some of Napa’s warm nights. There, try any of the antipasti selection, much of which highlights local ingredients. In fact, if you have something with a tomato in it, it’s likely to have come from just a few blocks away. Di Fede and Rodde farm five acres of the now-defunct Copia’s abandoned gardens and land, including 1,000 tomato plants, 250 lemon trees, and 250 olive trees. “We said we’re not going to talk the talk without walking the walk,” says Rodde. “We’re looking to have 80 percent of our produce come from our own farm by the spring.”

Not from their farm is the house-butchered pig made into a perfect porchetta perfumed with black pepper and fennel, thickly sliced, and tossed with Calabrian chiles. Order this too and a Barolo to go with it.

Di Fede, who grew up in Napa, says they considered other locations in which to open Oenotri, but he’s glad they chose here. “We were thinking of towns in the South Bay and Peninsula, but we decided those places were saturated. What we’re doing with Italian food, no one else is doing here,” he says. “It used to be a place people drove right by.” That was then. This is now.

Oenotri
, 1425 First St. 
(at Franklin), 
707-252-1022, Napa, CA