Imagine extracting the essence of Napa Valley and recreating it in restaurant form and sprouting it up in Westwood Village. OK, that's not exactly what the Napa Valley Grille is, but it may be as close as you are likely to find.
The truth is that Napa Valley Grille is not fenced in by the mere borders of a Northern California county. Its flavors are too diverse. And so are the patrons. Executive chef Taylor Boudreaux incorporates the recipes that he grew up on in his home state of Maryland and while growing up in Louisiana (and once you taste the blue crab cakes, you'll appreciate his roots and understand that regional cuisine is portable).
The restaurant, with its tall ceilings, large patio, white linen table cloths and proximity to a bustling business district along Wilshire Boulevard, naturally lures professionals for lunch. It is common to see jackets and ties during the early afternoon hours. The restaurant also caters to the student population of UCLA, however, and offers a generous happy hour, including wings and bargain prices on Pabst (not that you have to be a college student to appreciate a blue-ribbon pilsner).
But no matter what it is that brings you to the extreme Southern end, a misplaced enclave, of the Napa Valley, it is the food that will bring you back. Take for instance, the braised pears with burrata, prosciutto and oil and vinegar. It's an evolved take on the traditional prosciutto and melon. The textures are so much more delicate; the flavors so much more complex. It paired like twins separated at birth with a drier-side Moscato on the advice of my server, Mick -- who I might have thought was hired for his looks if not for his extensive wine knowledge and familiarity with the menu. The staff is headlined by general manager Tracy Thayer and includes a colorful crew of characters, like Fernando Cazares, who will regale you with stories of the old days at Palm Springs' Pal Joey's, frequented by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in their heyday.
As they are in season, chef Boudreaux prepared black truffles in a risotto that informed adjacent tables what they were missing. The portion, as I complained to the chef, was too large given that I was far from done dining. But for patrons with more modest-sized (read: normal) appetites, this is an entree as substantial as anything on the menu.
For dessert, let me heartily recommend the peanut butter brownie, featuring cashews and caramel, topped with powdered sugar and served with vanilla gelato. It's decadent and it's indulgent, and it's not for the ascetic. I ate every crumb.
If you want to finish an inspired meal like this properly, get yourself a glass of old tawny port -- go back two or three decades. The wine selection here is worthy of the restaurant's namesake. In fact, with the Napa-inspired artwork on the walls, it's not too hard to imagine yourself surrounded by vineyards. Of course, once you step out and hear the traffic on Wilshire, you'll remember where you're at: the far southern enclave of the famed wine region.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Fernando Cazares is the general manager of Napa Valley Grille.