Austin to Napa
La Condesa Sets Sights on Napa Valley, opens Monday
This Monday, 2nd Street District’s contemporary Mexican fave, La Condesa, makes a West Coast leap to open a sister location in the idyllic landscape of Napa Valley. Having opened its doors in 2009, La Condesa took the Austin dining scene by storm, raising the culinary bar to new heights and helping establish the city as much more than just the Live Music Capital of the world. And it garnered a James Beard Award nomination for “Best New Restaurant” to boot. With an all-star team including owner Jesse Herman, Executive Chef Rene Ortiz, Pastry Chef Laura Sawicki and Mixologist and General Manager Nate Wales, the restaurant has re-introduced Mexican food as a seasonal, fresh, innovative cuisine; something die hard queso, fajita and enchilada fans never saw coming, but warmly received after a few visits.
While it may seem an odd choice to start in Austin and move on to Napa—at least it did to me—Jesse Herman explains that Napa was the best “next step” for La Condesa because of the philosophy behind the restaurant’s approach to food.
“We’ve always been an ingredient driven restaurant and there’s no better place in the world to be for amazing ingredient to be than here where you essentially have a 12-month season,” says Herman. “The quality is the absolute best, which fits our overall goal with the food we serve and we had a unique opportunity to plant some roots in a place like this.”
It doesn’t hurt that Napa is one of the most desirable places to visit in the country, which in many ways was another reason for the location selection. “If our restaurant group is going to do anything outside of Austin, we have to select places where people want to spend time,” says Herman. Napa Valley was a perfect fit.
Led by Executive chef and partner Rene Ortiz, the Napa menu will blend traditional and innovative Mexican techniques and ingredients, while showcasing signature dishes from the Austin location and new dishes that highlight Northern California's abundant produce and other local ingredients such as meat, game and fish. It will also follow its Austin counterpart in featuring a tequila and mescal-driven bar menu with a feast of seasonal artisinal cocktails from Nate Wales as well as a California-driven wine list.
While the Napa Valley location will serve favorites from the Austin menu, including various Taquitos, such as Arábicos, seared venison, pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel pollen yogurt and cilantro rolled in a bacon-fat tortilla; Hongo Y Huitlacoche Huaraches, crispy masa flat breads topped with wild mushrooms, huitlacoche, yellow corn, farmer's cheese, queso chihuahua, epazote and a dash of truffle oil, it will also showcase a provocative menu of its own inspired by local and seasonal ingredients from the bounty available in the California farming community. Menu items will include Tlacoyos de Flor de Calabaza, squash blossoms stuffed with blue corn masa, Rancho Gordo black bean-pasilla purée and locally made goat cheese; and Ceviche de Callos de Hacha, diver scallops marinated in lime juice and mixed with sour orange, carrot, habanero, crispy garlic, togarashi and baby coriander.
“Here you have an extremely sophisticated customer when it comes to food and that baseline level of knowledge for the every day customer allows you to be even more ambitious in regards to the food you make,” says Herman. “It’s more challenging, but it’s also pretty exciting.”
Pastry chef Laura Sawicki, a CIA graduate and alumnus of New York City's Craftbar and Marlow & Sons, oversees La Condesa Napa Valley's dessert menu with signature offerings including seasonal fruit pies; and Tarta De Chocolate Salada, a Valrhona dark chocolate tart with homemade dulce de leche, Maldon sea salt, honey-popped amaranth and rosemary-brown butter ice cream.
Jon Lail of Lail Design Group spearheaded the retrofit of the building and the architecture of La Condesa Napa Valley, while Herman and One Eleven Design's Joel Mozersky designed the restaurant's 3500 square foot interior. The building is steeped in local culinary history, having formerly housed the legendary Keller Brothers Meats. The design of La Condesa Napa Valley seamlessly integrates the restaurant's modern Mexican vision with locally inspired designed accents.
La Condesa Napa Valley officially opens on Monday, September 12 serving a nightly dinner menu with weekday lunch and weekend brunch services to follow.
And for those of you who were looking for the next big concept from the La Condesa folks to find its home in Austin, don’t worry, with plans to open a new Thai-inspired concept in the spring of 2012, they’ll still be around. And working as hard as ever to elevate Austin’s dining scene just another notch.