William Kelley gives his verdict on Terra...
Originally published in Decanter magazine in partnership with Hine Cognac
Terra restaurant, St Helena
1345 Railroad Ave, St Helena, California 94574, USA
Tel: +1 (707) 963 8931
- Rating: 9/10
- Restaurant and bar open Thursday to Monday, dinner only, from 6pm and 5.30pm respectively.
- Booking for restaurant recommended
- Set menus from $89
- Gluten free options available
- Wine to try: Stony Hill’s Chardonnay
This elegant, turn-of-the-century farmhouse feels like an oasis of calm amid the hustle-bustle of wine country. Eating out in Napa can become fatiguing – too sweet, too rich, too much – but I always leave Terra refreshed and reinvigorated.
After working at restaurants in Tokyo, chef Hiro Sone collaborated with Wolfgang Puck, chef-proprietor of Spago in Beverly Hills, to open Spago Tokyo in 1983. By the end of 1984 he and new wife and partner Lissa Doumani had moved to Los Angeles, Sone working as Spago’s chef de cuisine. Doumani’s family once owned Stags’ Leap Winery and her connections drew the couple to Napa, where they opened Terra in 1988.
This history is important because it marks Terra’s menu: the tired concept of ‘fusion cuisine’ hardly does justice to Sone’s mastery of Japanese and Californian culinary idioms. Ezo abalone and scallops, for example, are married with snail butter, seaweed and king oyster mushrooms in one savoury course. Combinations like this are synergistic, not arbitrary.
It’s the seafood dishes – and others featuring lamb, duck, pork and vegetables – that showcase Sone’s talent for imbuing his food with the satisfyingly savoury deliciousness the Japanese call umami. Nothing exemplifies that better than the restaurant’s signature dish: grilled sake-marinated Alaskan black cod paired with shrimp dumplings in shiso broth; the firm, buttery cod takes on a deep mahogany glaze which works brilliantly with red wine.
In Terra’s formal dining room, Sone allows guests to compose their own menu, choosing four ($89/£72), five ($109/£88) or six courses ($126/£102) from a list divided only into savoury and sweet. Across the hall at the more relaxed Bar Terra, all those dishes are available – joined by others such as tempura hen-of-the-woods mushrooms ($15.50/£12.60) and fried rock shrimp ($18.50/£15).
The well-chosen wine list suits the cooking and domestic wines take pride of place. Mature vintages of Stony Hill’s Chardonnay (1995-2011, $72-$160/£58-£128) make for an excellent pairing with many of the seafood and vegetable dishes. For heartier courses look to older Napa Cabernets from the likes of Dunn Vineyards (1988-1999, $150-$250/ £122-£203), Etude (1992-1995, $175-$200/£142-£162) and Diamond Creek (1993, $250/£203). There are plenty of young wines too, but Sone’s cooking cries out for the complexity of older vintages. Corkage is $20/£16.25 a bottle if you want to bring your own.
William Kelley is Decanter’s US correspondent, based in the Napa Valley
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