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by Erika Lenkert

Food Lover’s Napa Valley

If you're a serious food lover, I don't need to tell you where to dine when you visit Napa Valley. You've probably had your hit list prioritized for months, if not years. But beyond the restaurant, there are other culinary adventures to be had between the vines. Whenever my foodie friends come to visit, I usually point them in the following direction—and then hear them reminisce about their visit for years to come. Throw a few of these delicious detours onto your itinerary and thank me later.

With so many chef residents, residents with chefs, and locals who love to entertain, Napa Valley probably has more hosts and hostesses per capita than anywhere else in the country. It's also got great culinary boutiques to ensure that tables are properly set by the time the evening's first corks are pulled. One of my favorites is no-nonsense Shackford's, which is where to get every little cooking gadget or utensil, including lobster bibs and sweet menu cards. In St. Helena, I reserve going to Vanderbilt and Company (1429 Main St., St. Helena, 707-963-1010, for when I am ready to spend some money. My mom started taking me there when I was a kid and even today I'm in awe of their collection of Italian pottery.

Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company (835 Charter Oak Ave. St. Helena, 707-963-4173) is one of those rare overly exposed tourist attractions that deserves its notoriety. Every time I take friends to this hidden broken down shack of a store they grab a gallon jug of olive oil and call me in a panic when it eventually runs out. While you can buy picnic items here, I never do, as I'm addicted to the food at The Oakville Grocery (7856 St. Helena Hwy., 707-944-8802, This gourmet deli and store is so overstocked with jams, jellies, crackers, salsas, and tourists that every visit is truly a grueling game of sardines. But I'll willingly get my toes stepped on and squeeze past gawking loiterers a gazillion times for the delicacies behind the deli case, including excellent and sandwiches and Caesar salads. While I'm not as enamored of the cooked food at Dean & DeLuca (607 S. Main St., St. Helena, 707-967-9980), the gourmet emporium is the hands-down best destination for every possible cheese you can think of, delicious olives, and so many gorgeously packaged gourmet products that you may as well pack an extra suitcase just for the booty you're bound to buy here.

Some of the most fun I've had in the valley has been hosting or viewing cooking demos. My favorites are held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (2555 Main Street, St. Helena, 707-967-2320, Not only is the converted historic winery a breathtaking place to wander (and snack in their enormous test-kitchen of a restaurant), but also its 1-hour classes, which are held multiple times weekly) are a great reason to part with $15 per person. Contact the CIA for reservations, dates, and times.

There's no better way to get up close and personal with Napa's local food lovers, chefs, and artisan producers than to nosh and shop through breakfast at farmers markets. Alas, they're finished for the year at of the end of October, but if you're scheduling a trip between May and next November, be sure to check out organic produce and readymade edibles on Tuesday and Saturday mornings at the Downtown Napa Farmers Market (in the COPIA parking lot, 500 First St, 707-252-7142, On Friday mornings the place to be is the St. Helena Farmers Market (Crane Park, off Hwy. 29; look for the signs, 707-486-2662).