Mustards Grill: Yountville, CA
Back in January when I visted the Napa valley, I drove past Mustards a few times. I was intrigued because the words STEAKS, CHOPS, RIBS, GARDEN PRODUCE and TOO MANY WINES edge the restaurant’s awning.
After 3 days of driving past Mustards, which is right on St. Helena Highway (the main road through the valley), I visited their website and discovered that Cindy, the founder and executive chef of the restaurant (and a girl raised in Minnesota), planted an organic garden years ago when it was an unusual thing for a restaurant to have.
She says of gardens, “I feel it’s important for freshness and flavor and it brings people closer to their food.” After more than 20 years the garden has turned into 2 acres that provide the restaurant with 20 % of their produce year round. You can read more about their gardening practices which include natural fertilizers and pest control here.
Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
I visited the garden, which is next to the restaurant, before I went inside. I saw lovely leafy greens growing in raised beds. They had a variety of vegetables growing in raised beds as well as a small hoop house. It’s great that their garden is right next to their parking lot; it encourages and allows guests to have a wander before or after their meals.
They also have a huge wine menu. The wine menu is the size of the W volume of an encyclopedia (remember them?) and it features wines produced in the fertile valley and the rest of California. While I didn’t have any wine, I would have enjoyed a glass, it was a sunny afternoon, the location was perfect and I was feeling leisurely.
It seems that Mustards have featured items that change regularly, if not daily, which they often post about on their facebook page. When I visited they were featuring some different Latin American dishes, the recipes came from a cookbook, possibly written by someone connected to the restaurant (but I don’t remember). I decided on a tortilla and black bean soup, and I was very tempted by the tres leches cake. I also had a simple mixed green salad which I found fresh and fun to eat since I’d just visited the greens in the garden.
But the best flavor of the meal was simple and happened by accident. The waiter brought a fresh chunk of crusty bread and plunked it right down on the white tablecloth. He also set down a dish of soft butter, a tiny dish of sea salt and a small pepper grinder. It was presented in such a way that it reminded me of how you sometimes get olive oil and black pepper in a little dish, which is perfect for dipping bread. So I thought, “Oh cool, here you can smear butter on the bread and then dip it in the sea salt and freshly ground black pepper,” so that is what I did. And it was amazing.
Only after I had gobbled up all of the bread made perfectly flavourful by the salt and pepper, did I realize that they weren’t suggesting dipping the bread in those three things, they were just placing salt, pepper, and butter on the table. Oh well…I discovered a wonderful new way to eat bread.
Pleasant Surprise: YES
At a quick glance this restaurant looks a bit like a roadside attraction and perhaps at one point it was a greasy spoon spot, but it has been transformed. And taking something old and giving it new life is something that I love!
Mustards holds onto its roadside diner identity and feel by offering large portions of comfort food…BBQ pork, steak and garlic mashed potatoes and they’ve also left the outside looking a bit boxy. But they’ve transformed a diner into a spot for fine dining…there’s lovely dark wood work, black and white tiled floors, windows everywhere to let in as much light as possible and white tablecloths. They also added a garden and made the restaurant a place that celebrates fresh ingredients.
Perhaps I’m delighted by this because it’s a bit of what my parents have done and are trying to do at Solar. They aren’t aiming to make it a fine dining establishment, but they have re-purposed an old drive in, invented tasty menu items (baked hot wrap anyone?), planted a raised bed vegetable garden and introduced a once a week FarmerChef special.
The C factor (Comfort+Coziness): 5
I liked that there were lots of windows; it helped create a cheerful environment and it also provided views of the gorgeous golden hills. The staff was welcoming and friendly. I felt comfortable dining by myself, but I would have loved to have shared the meal with someone. It would have been fun to linger over a glass of wine with a friend.
Ho hum…if someone had joined me I probably wouldn’t have made the bread+butter+sea salt+black pepper mistake, but I’m glad I did that because it was delicious. :)
Overall Rating: 14+
If you ever find yourself driving along Highway 29 between Napa and St. Helena, stop at Mustards Grill. I think you’ll enjoy browsing the garden, eating yummy food and finishing off a day of vineyard visits with a glass of wine.