I was never a fan of the progressive dinner, but the Oxbow Market converted me. Located in the city of Napa, which has undergone an amazing renaissance over the past decade, it bears a close resemblance to San Francisco’s Ferry Building in the range and breadth of its offerings. Arrayed in the main hall is a succession of eateries offering fresh, local and sustainable food—as appealing to the eye as they are on the palate.
We began with the amazing bivalves from the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island was founded in 1983 by three marine biologists committed to growing delicious, healthy oysters for Bay area consumers. The shellfish—nearly three million annually—are raised in the cold waters of Tamales Bay, fifty miles north of San Francisco. The original Hog Island Sweetwaters were flat and juicy, while the Pacific Golds from Morro Bay were more compact, and briny enough to make you whistle.
Moving on from there, we stopped at Ca’ Momi Enoteca for a dish of fluffy spinach gnocchi, washed down with glasses of Inama Soave and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti. The climax of the evening took place at Oxbow Wine Merchant and Wine Bar, with a platter of three artisanal domestic cheeses: Humboldt Fog Goat, Point Reyes Toma, and an exceptional aged sheep’s cheese. Master Sommelier Peter Granoff, one of the partners in the operation, was on hand to provide advice on wine selections.
Other dining options at Oxbow include Kitchen Door, a restaurant opened by Napa chefs Todd Humphries and Richard Miyashiro; C Casa, an “innovative taqueria”; Pica Pica Maize Kitchen and Bar, featuring the cuisine of Venezuela, and a branch of the famous St. Helena landmark, Gott’s Roadside. Rounding out the selections are a seafood market, a bakery, a charcuterie and butcher shop, a gourmet coffee store, a shop selling sustainably produced beef, and—inevitably—a storefront selling freshly made cupcakes.
Oxbow is committed to bringing back the tradition of the great public food markets of Europe (and those which used to exist in the United States). It’s easier to do this when you have the bounty of the Bay area within reach, and 150 local farmers to supply you with the best possible ingredients. Grab a glass of wine, watch the Napa River flow by, and you’ll agree it’s a goal worth pursuing.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, which will be published in November by Lyons Press; for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.