First Taste: At Yountville's North Block, Wood-Fired Global Eats from a Momofuku Alum

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The tiny culinary mecca of Yountville is celebrated for its cuisine, though it has long been dominated by classic European and American styles.

North Block is a welcome new addition, adding a fresh dynamic with Asian and Indian influences and wood-fired cooking from a Momofuku NYC alum.


Located at the longtime hotel property North Block and in what formerly housed the restaurant Redd Wood, the restaurant is helmed by chef Nick Tamburo, who cooks many of the offerings on a Japanese grill. His inspiring presentations alone make the restaurant worthy of a shakeup from your usual visit to Yountville staples like Bouchon or Bottega.

The Vibe at North Block in Yountville

(Mariana Calderon Photography)

The dark and moody vibe is the signature aesthetic of prolific Napa-based designer Erin Martin, as are some of the industrial and upcycled elements like a chandelier constructed out of tube lights bundled together with wires.

This chandelier hangs in the restaurant's most interesting dining room, an indoor/outdoor space featuring a massive mural of larger-than-life storks, which cover both the walls and ceiling. Painted by Berlin muralist Michael Dute, the mural's contrast between navy blue and bright white carried through to the tables and chairs and a wine bottle statement wall. The brown tabletops are blackened on top and almost look charred, an ode to North Block's wood-fired cooking style.

We enjoyed our meal in the Mediterranean-inspired courtyard, which by contrast was much lighter and surrounded by greenery. But this greenery has been brought inside the main dining area too, complementing the green leather banquets, and there are more eye-catching, inventive light fixtures wherever you look. Next to the bar is a meat locker, but instead of being filled with the customary aging meats, it's stocked with raw, pink chickens (but more on that later).

The Drinks at North Block

The La Pasión Margarita.

(Maria Calderon Photography)

North Block has a solid wine list that highlights some great local producers, like Matthiasson and Lang & Reed. But since this is Wine Country and you can get these everywhere, we suggest a drink: North Block is absolutely slaying the cocktail game. Our first two cocktails were served in beautiful, Art Deco–style coupes that I wanted to steal for my home bar.

I ordered the Northside, made with Ford's gin, guava, lime, and mint. The guava and giant purple flower garnish transported me right to a Hawaiian vacation, as did the NB Old Fashioned with coconut and tiki bitters. Meanwhile, the La Pasión Margarita (Casa Noble blanco tequila, habanero, passionfruit) came out with a stunning ombre effect; bright yellow with a layer of deep purple on the surface. "Give it a stir," my server instructed, and it morphs into a pink-orange sunset.

The Food at North Block Restaurant, Yountville

Grilled swiss chard

(Maria Calderon Photography)

The menu is short and sweet, fitting on one page, yet I found it almost impossible to decide what I wanted, which is how we ended up ordering a little bit of everything and walking away painfully full. I suggest ordering some starters and your entree at the same time. Due to the wood-fired method, many of the main dishes can take 30 minutes to cook.

We started with some selections from the raw and cured section of the menu, ordering two polar opposites: the duck liver mousse and the big eye tuna crudo. The presentation of both of these dishes was impressive and stunning. Thin rye crackers were carefully stacked in the mousse like a set of dominoes, and matcha—a most unexpected addition—was sprinkled generously on top. It reminded me of the craggy, volcanic palisades that I often hike to about 30 miles north near Mount St. Helena. The mousse was rich and decadent, almost worthy of a dessert, yet super light on the palate.

The tuna crudo was the most beautiful color, reminiscent of a tequila sunrise, and it was sliced so thin that you could essentially scrape it into a spoonful. Unlike the mousse, this dish was quite fresh thanks to the fish and a fermented Meyer lemon kosho. It also wasn't too herbaceous despite the use of rhubarb, another ingredient I don't see on many Wine Country menus, which worked surprisingly well with this appetizer.

From the vegetables section, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to try the grilled Swiss chard, our server's recommendation, and it came out looking like an adorable mini bush with purple flowers. The chard was individually wrapped, like spring rolls, and stuffed with celtuce, radish, and herbs. It was extremely flavorful and was the best take on Swiss chard I've seen yet.

North Block's predecessor, Redd Wood, was known for its pizzas, and the tradition continues with some killer wood-fired sourdough pies, like the white-style pizza with spring onions, Fiscalini aged cheddar, and chive oil. When it arrived at our table, there was an intimidating amount of green onions, but the gooey and rich aged cheese ended up balancing them out perfectly.

The wood-roasted half chicken.

(Maria Calderon Photography)

I'm hoping I'm not the only person who sometimes orders something just because it looks really good at the next table. This was the case with the wood-roasted half chicken, which has clearly already emerged as North Block's signature menu item, even in the restaurant's infancy. I don't typically order chicken dishes when out to eat, usually opting for something more exciting like beef, lamb, or duck (and North Block's Duck a la Gray was a tempting offer), but this seemed like the appropriate time to gamble; I wasn't disappointed.

This dish is huge and is best shared. It comes out with a giant, naan-like flatbread, hot sauce, and yogurt. The menu said the dish came with rice, but there was none on our plate to be found. It wasn't until I cut into the chicken that I discovered it was actually stuffed to the gills—er, breast—with lemony matsuri rice. When I finally reached the meat, it was so incredibly moist that I melted a little inside.

We also ordered the smoked pork ribs topped with fire-engine-red drippings. I braced myself, assuming they were going to be overly spicy, but the opposite was true. The ribs were delightfully sweet with just a tiny kick thanks to a mixture of caramelized honey, chili, and chrysanthemum. They were crispy, not saucy and had the most perfect smoke to them. He may have just been caught up in the moment, but my husband declared these the best ribs he's ever had.

Every dish was so good that I felt empowered to choose the wood-roasted sweet potato with black sugar and black lime for dessert. Admittedly, it kind of looked like a slug, but it was the perfect combination of savory, sweet, salty.

Currently, North Block is open daily for dinner, but plans to open for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch soon.

// North Block, 6757 Washington St. (Yountville), northblockyountville.com

(Maria Calderon Photography)

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