Duck Fat Fries and Ahi Tuna Nachos: Bottle Rock Napa Valley Favorites

For the past decade, Napa Valley’s Bottle Rock culinary scene has been a place where you’ll find chefs in action both behind the food booths and on the culinary stage.

This year’s Culinary Stage at Williams-Sonoma features an exceptional line-up of internationally renowned chefs, including Jose Andrés, David Chan, Roy Choi and Andrew Zimmern, who are paired with a performance band. Pair up and show off your general sillyness. However, I say this with caution, there is a noticeable lack of local chefs working the stalls and the menu has absolutely no creativity.

Unless you love fried chicken sandwiches and barbecue pulled pork. These traditional home-cooked meals make up the majority of the street food menu, and are comforting, easy to make, and priced under $20. It’s all right, but hmm.

For ten years, Bottle Rock has been an annual highlight, with new restaurants popping up and menus reflecting the innovation and fresh local cuisine that wine country is known for. New chefs and new restaurants have given their best performances, making each year even more impressive.

Maitake Salad with Chickpeas and Burnt Ends from Stateline Road Smokehouse at Bottle Rock 2023 (Heather Irwin)

I’ve been covering Bottle Rock for 10 years, so maybe I’m bored, but fried chicken and barbecue definitely seem to be popular staples. It’s not particularly exciting, but it seems to have the right mix of familiarity, filling, and affordability.

This is a natural progression as events become more accessible to a wider audience. Complex dishes that require tweezers and serving are certainly not festive food.

Wine country knows how to eat, so the food served at Bottle Rock always sounds like music to my ears. But I request chefs to keep an eye on their creativity.

Now that you’re hungry, here are some surefire bets.

1. Conline, Duck Fat Fries, $14: I’m not sure fries cooked in duck fat are that good, but these are definitely great fries if you want something a little greasy. The Togariishi Aioli served with it is exquisite.

2. Tarula, Chicken Pita Gyro, $18: This is definitely the best value I have found. A large, meaty gyro served with shredded lettuce, onions and garlic sauce. Easily shareable. Frozen lemonade is a great way to quench your thirst.

3. Stateline Road Smokehouse Maitake Mushroom Salad ($18): We wanted this to be a sure win for the much-anticipated Napa restaurant by Michelin-trained chef and Kansas City native Darryl Bell. Unfortunately the Kansas City burnt ends were dry and the sauce wasn’t particularly flavorful. The best part was the salad ($18) with a citrus dressing, chickpeas and a refreshing mix of vegetables.

4. Gerrard’s Paella, $24: Local chef Gérard Nebeski travels the festival circuit to provide much-needed fuel to a hungry public. His platter paella sticks to the ribs and is still great value.

5. Buckhorn BBQ, Garlic Pulled Pork Sandwich, $18: Tender rolls stuffed with tender pulled pork will keep you satisfied for hours. A few pushes of sweet sauce and this is the BBQ I want.

6. Press, Best in Show, Ahi Tuna Nachos, $22: Given the price and ingredients, I think this is shareable value. Fresh tuna, fermented peppers, radishes and black lime chips with crema were the favorites of the day. Do not order the buttered pretzels. For $5, yes. For $15? no.

VIP area offers upscale options such as wood-fired pizza and hi-lo corn dogs with caviar. Of all we tried, the Poke Nachos ($20) were the most interesting.

Headed by Masafuru Morimoto’s new Asian Napa restaurant, I was blown away by the gummy dim sum sampler. The restaurant’s stall also offers Orange Chicken ($24) in an 8-ounce container. TRUE. orange chicken.

Mustard, Gérard’s Paella and Tallulah have repeat menus within the VIP area.

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