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Eat: Napa's 1313 Main 

Wednesday, Nov 25 2015
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I'm a big trivia fan. I love pub quizzes, I routinely fall into Wikipedia K-holes, and I once took last place on Jeopardy!. Geography is my strong suit, and sports have always been my downfall. "Well, just learn it, then," someone once said to me. That sounds straightforward enough, but sports trivia is a self-contained universe seemingly equal in size to all other trivia combined.

That is how I feel about wine: It's my Achilles' heel, and the breadth of experience required to write knowledgeably about it is daunting. Increasingly, I trust my palate to know the great from the good, but my decade-plus of bartending made me more of a mixologist than a somm, and the learning curve is precipitous.

I spent a weekend in Napa visiting an old friend — as it happens, we initially bonded at a pub quiz by nerding out over world capitals — who I used to stay out all night with in Bushwick and who's now a mover and shaker in the wine industry. Apparently, it's good to leave your 20s behind: At every winery we went to, we got the royal treatment. Even at a house party where people were playing beer pong in the garage, someone fished a rare bottle out of an Igloo cooler, because that's how Napa rolls. When we sat at 1313 Main, the restaurant and wine bar downtown owned by calwine.com's Al Jabarin, our meal was consequently a parade of bonus pours and amuses-bouches from Chef Adam Ross (among them, one that made clever use of Champagne lees to create a doughnut smell). So, full disclosure: Weigh my analysis against the onslaught of goodies from having a well-placed amigo.

Chef Ross's pedigree includes stints at The Restaurant at Meadowood and Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, and 1313 has clear aspirations to become a wine country destination. There's some guidebook-baiting glitz, but for every flourish there are plenty of mushrooms and onions and other things plucked from the earth. Additionally, manager-sommelier Jordan Nova is knowledgeable and service-oriented enough to avoid letting the front-of-house slide into Vegas gimmickry.

The truffle-poached egg ($14) with potato mousseline and potato gravel had an incredible texture, with pencil shavings of truffles over eggs that were deceptively deep in their well. Pickled onions around the outer edge, like finger-holes on a rotary phone, kept this delicious dish from being excessively rich, but between the brioche stacked at right angles and the black plate, the presentation looked right out of 1988. A slightly vegetal hamachi crudo ($15), with sharp avocado mousse and sriracha chips, was equally tasty, cooled by a smear of whipped coconut.

Heaped like throw pillows, the herbed gnocchi ($16) were creamy and light. Their earthy balance of forest mushrooms, a bit of sear, and (I suspect) brown butter was a perfect starting point for the pea shoot salad with parmesan. From conception through execution, these lumps are a marvel. I'll always be slightly conflicted about foie gras, so it's a shame when it's buried beneath other things. Here, between the elderberries, the shiso, and the mustard seeds, it was too difficult to tease out the flavor. For $25, I wouldn't recommend this thrill-less sin. (Umami-philes take note: 1313 has an $18 burger, to which a $12 slab of foie may be added.)

Among the mains, a fennel-crusted salmon ($27) was strangely cured, and the asteroid belt of vegetables orbiting it took center stage: Early Girls, beets, and eggplant, on a cress puree. There's not a meat-eater on earth who wouldn't go gaga for the lamb saddle ($29), which came with what we called a "bacon salad" (it's lamb bacon over chimichurri, with braised cipollini onions). Along with the bavette steak (with bone-marrow, chanterelles, and Yukon Gold potatoes, $30), it was the biggest crowd-pleaser. The steak, by the way, comes buttered, and for their part, the whipped Yukon Golds are arranged like pats of butter in a row. More polarizing was the squab tart, chiefly because the presentation was straight-up goth. Cheerful peas and carrots couldn't compete with bird claws that extended almost past the rim of the plate, maximizing the drama. (I love this stuff, but it's definitely risky.)

We were fighting off the meat sweats by the time dessert rolled around — introduced with a palate-cleansing apple cider sorbet with candied green walnuts — but it would be remiss not to call out the white chocolate cremeaux with lavender meringue and raspberries ($10). Out of season or not, it was as dense with flavors as it was thick with textures.

In the wine column, we had a flinty, gunpowdery 2014 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner from Edna Valley, and a 2012 Valmaggiore Sandrone that began with red fruits and resolved into licorice. But nothing compared to the smoky, leathery 1996 Cantemerle Bordeaux, among the most luscious wines I've tasted. I tried to focus exclusively on educating my taste buds, but being among trivia nerds, I was seduced by a discourse on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

Although the wine bottles on three sides of the dining alcove are intendedto awe, 1313's service staff seems prouder of the restaurant's garden, a few blocks away. With every main, the staff was eager to plug the vegetables' hyper-local origins — and it shows in things that retained their crunch through various cooking processes. 1313 reminded me of RN74, Michael Mina's temple of precision, by way of AL's Place, with what I imagine to be well-tended rows of beets and radishes, harvested daily. That might not win the hearts of concierges who direct tourist traffic hither and yon, but in the end, it's the simplest elements that make a satisfying meal.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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