Pizza, short ribs at Redd Wood in Yountville

05/19/2013 12:00 AM

05/19/2013 8:28 AM

Whether you're visiting the Castello di Amorosa winery in Calistoga, or any of the other 350 brick-and-mortar wineries and 200 tasting rooms in the Napa Valley, lunch is always a good idea.

The choices are plentiful, the restaurants terrific. There are so many Michelin stars in the valley that at night it looks like a constellation.

Yountville is particularly restaurant-rich, with interesting extremes. At the high end is Thomas Keller's French Laundry, with a nine-course tasting menu for $270. Not to worry – that includes the tip.

At the low end is Tacos Garcia, a city-licensed taco truck that sets up in a parking lot alongside a dive bar. Both are along Washington Avenue, the town's main drag.

Somewhere in the middle is Redd Wood. It's a "casual wine-country pizzeria" opened in January 2012 by Richard Reddington.

Think of it as the younger, hipper sister of the more adult Redd, the chef's Michelin star-holding dining house nearby that offers "an updated interpretation of wine country cuisine with influences from Asia, Europe and Mexico."

Reddington's impressive résumé includes posts at Masa's and Jardiniere in San Francisco, and Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley.

In an email Reddington said, "I think Redd Wood speaks to the way people want to eat right now. They want food that's honest and well-executed, but without the fuss and in a casual environment."

We had grabbed a table beneath an umbrella in the courtyard shared by the restaurant and the affiliated North Block boutique hotel.

The lodging describes itself as "an unpretentious wine country escape" offering "refreshing antidotes for the modern world." We can attest it has a very cool lobby, as that's where the Redd Wood hostess sent us to find the restrooms.

Lunch was costlier than we'd expected, though we've had more damage done at other Napa Valley restaurants that aren't as good. But we were in Yountville, after all, where apparently it's not unusual for four alternating servers to tend a table for two. Like at ours.

The to-the-point lunch menu showed six appetizers (wings, meatballs; $5-$14), four salads (roasted beets, romaine-anchovy; $12-$13); charcuterie-cheese plates ($15-$35); four house-made pastas (bucatini, gemelli; $15-$18); and two main dishes (roasted chicken, $24; glazed beef short ribs, $26).

The main attraction is the nine pizzas, creatively constructed and topped with the likes of goat cheese, smoked mozzarella, ham and bacon, Calabrian chili, capers, shaved garlic, leek and arugula.

We decked out a basic Margherita pie of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato with house-made Italian sausage and maitake mushrooms ($14; the add-ons were $3 each). The maitake, a.k.a. "hen of the woods," was first cultivated in Japan. It's known for its healthful properties and savory flavor.

The blistered, wood-fired pizza crust had satisfying chew and subtle smoke, and melded perfectly with the succulent fresh mozzarella, Neapolitan-style sauce (whole peeled tomatoes, salt, olive oil), spicy sausage and delicate mushrooms.

The daily special sounded irresistible – short rib-stuffed ravioli in a sauce involving veal stock, butter and mirepoix (a mix of finely diced celery, onion and carrot). The al dente pasta was house-made, the short rib meat dark and deeply flavored, the sauce rich but light – one of the best dishes we've seen in recent months.

We closed lunch with scoops of creamy, house-made mint chocolate chip and dark rum-raisin ice creams that were neither dense nor overly sweet ($7 for two scoops). Next time: Meyer lemon Italian ice.

Most Napa Valley restaurants pride themselves on wine lists heavy with local vinos. Though Redd Wood maintains a 200-bottle selection, its wines-by-the-glass list showed only two Napa Valley choices out of 21 entries.

"Our wine list is ever-changing," general manager Donald Wetherell explained later. "We have a very Italian menu, so the wine list is 50-50 Italian-to-Californian. We didn't want to highlight just Napa wines, so we offer California wines in general."

Inside, Redd Wood is a contemporary, muscular space of wood, metal and leather, with the bar as the focal point. Most of one wall in the banquet room is covered in pinned-up pages from glossy food, wine, fashion and architecture magazines, a simple but chic decorating touch.

"When some the pages (get torn or worn), we go through a stack of magazines we keep in the office, rip out pages and put them up," Wetherell said. "We call it the wall of Pinterest."

REDD WOOD

Where: 6755 Washington St., Yountville

Hours: Open daily. Breakfast is 8-10 a.m.; lunch is 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; midday menu is 3-5 p.m.; dinner is 5-10 p.m., until 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Food: 4 stars

Ambience: 3 stars

How much: $$-$$$

Information: (707) 299-5030

Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

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