First opened in July 2010, Carpe Diem Wine Bar was an instant success among the bustling downtown Napa restaurant scene. But when the earthquake hit in August 2014, its historic building (Alexandria Square) was forced to close—leaving the restaurant and other business tenants without a place to call home. Lucky for Napa, Carpe Diem is back in its original spot—and better than ever. (It did have a pop-up eatery at Oxbow Market during renovation.)
Chef/owner Scott Kendall, Chef de Cuisine Andrew Martin and General Manager Jim Foster reopened the doors this past July. The space is sleek and warm and now includes a full bar and a separate space for private parties. The extensive wine and beer list includes all sorts of by-the-glass choices as well as 30 beers on tap, including some made in the basement brewery manned by Kendall himself (we especially liked “The Bees Knees” honey wheat). The menu is set up for people to share both small and large plates.
Our specialty cocktails arrived in vintage glassware (found at estate sales and such): A sultry Negroni and a “Carter Beats the Devil” (think margarita with peppery, smoky heat), and we were off to a great start.
The “soup of the moment,” roasted heirloom tomato topped with a crouton and crystallized basil, was offered as a shot, cup or bowl (we chose shots). Served hot, it tasted like it was made the minute the tomatoes were pulled from the vine (Carpe Diem has four local gardens from which it gets all its produce).
The fresh, beautifully presented ahi tuna tartare was in a terrine with diced avocado and jicama, topped with sesame-ginger sauce, tobiko and wakame with taro chips on the side. A cheese and charcuterie platter (we chose three out of 10 items) consisted of Special Select Dry Monterey Jack (Vella), Brillat Savrin (Il de France triple cream brie) and 12-month aged prosciutto (Zoe’s). They came with candied walnuts, fig compote, pickled caper berries, mustard seeds and toasted bread; it looked like a bouquet—right down to the edible flower in the center. It was great fun to mix and match everything.
The tempura-battered crab and ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms were golden fried and came with red pepper relish and sweet, fresh corn polenta (with a delicious hint of pepper) spread onto the plate. We especially liked how they had the tiny zucchini squash still attached and fried along with them.
To accompany the next dishes, we ordered a glass each of Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc (earthy, lively) and Raeburn Chardonnay (butterscotch, toast, rich).
A larger plate of three, perfectly cooked and golden-seared diver scallops with carrot-ginger risotto combined with roasted carrots and toasted pine nuts was topped with crispy beets, which added a nice crunch to the sweet and savory dish.
While everything was incredibly enjoyable (including our excellent service), the true stand-out for us was the roasted wild mushroom brick-oven flatbread. Topped with fresh arugula, herbs, roasted garlic, cave-aged gruyere and white truffle oil, we ordered it “Carpe style” (a poached duck egg and crispy pancetta; you can get this with any dish)—and it was hands-down awesome. Flatbread doesn’t normally take me to the level of excitement I experienced with this dish, which was earthy, salty, crunchy, fresh and just wow. The Cabernet Franc pairing was a slam dunk, too.
Dessert was house-made “Twix” with chocolate-covered shortbread, a thick caramel drizzle and rich gelato with the perfect amount of sea salt—an ideal end to a fantastic meal.
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