Last Wednesday, Napa Noodles opened quietly, and curious Napans quickly flocked to the new pan-Asian noodle house.
Napa Noodles is the creation of Rick Zaslove, who also owns Eiko’s modern Japanese restaurant down First Street and its satellite in the Oxbow Public Market. The new eatery is a bright restaurant in the old Atlas Social space featuring not only a large array of noodles and soups from the cultures of the western Pacific Rim, but meats and poultry and side dishes.
Zaslove says he’s not a restaurateur — except de facto — and knows little about running the kitchen, but the lumberman likes to eat, and he eats out a lot.
He creates his restaurant to give customers what they want – not what the chef wants to fix, a rare approach among many of Napa Valley’s chef-driven restaurants.
Napa Noodles is what’s called a fast-casual restaurant in the trade. Customers order at a register, then take a number to their chosen table and the food is brought to them.
The concept reduces serving costs. “We want to create affordable food for locals from locals,” said Zaslove. But he emphasizes that it’s not fast food. “It’s like fine dining but the service is casual.”
Zaslove’s daughter, Allison Hallum, who manages the restaurants, also came from the lumber business. Her experience in the food business started at Eiko’s four years ago.
She says that her father partnered with the late Eiko Nakamura, who once ran Fujiya in the Napa Premium Outlets. “He wanted to open a restaurant, and created Eiko’s with her.”
For his first Napa restaurant, Eiko’s, Zaslove said, “I love Japanese food, but I liked the combination of both cooked and raw food, and a choice for everyone at the table to enjoy.” The result became a restaurant that serves both an extensive sushi menu as well as other dishes, like grilled salmon, tacos japonais, and fried calamari.
Before settling on the new Napa space, however, Zaslove and his daughter considered replicating Eiko’s elsewhere in the North Bay.
They also looked at creating a noodle restaurant in what became the Fieldwork tap room in the Oxbow Public Market. “They beat us to it,” Zaslove laments.
That almost happened in the site they now occupy, too. “A Japanese woman wanted to create a high-end Japanese restaurant here but I was able to move faster,” he said.
In converting the space, he turned to Shopworks locally, which designed Eiko’s and the Visit Napa Valley Visitor Center.
They lightened the space, adding touches of retro green, more individual tables and commissioned a giant map mural to identify the sources of the dishes. You can also sit at the bar if you want regular service.
There’s also temporary seating on the patio. Just after Labor Day, the city will begin construction to renovate the adjoining plaza.
Popular street food
The food is an eclectic mix of mostly humble dishes from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan and Hawaii.
The salads and starters include green papaya salad ($9.95) and sunomono (cucumber) salad ($6.95) with optional snow crab, and chicken salad ($11.95).
Appetizers include lumpia and pork or shrimp gyoza ($7.95) plus hummus.
The heart of the menu is ramen, soup, pho, tom yum soup, Korean kimchi jjigae soup and noodles like dan dan, Singapore, adobo panic and yakisoba, with Japanese curry, sticky ribs, “KFC” (Korean fried chicken wings), pork belly, kalbi short ribs, Da’kine fried rice, and a teriyaki roasted chicken plate that’s almost a Hawaiian plate lunch.
Prices start at $12.95 and top out at $16.95.
You can also order big hunks of roasted duck, braised pork belly, spicy pork ribs, kalbi short ribs and roasted teriyaki chicken for $13.95 to $16.95 for a half order to $21.95 for a whole.
Some of the dishes are spicy and a couple are vegetarian.
For the kids, choices include teriyaki chicken bowl, ramen, yakisoba and “magic unicorn noodles” that change color when a vinaigrette is added. They’re $6.95 to $8.95.
Side dishes include Chinese broccoli, bok choy and long beans for $7.95, and kimchi, house pickles and steamed rice for $3.95.
The chef is Tateki Noma of Eiko’s, whose family runs a ramen house in Tokyo, while Adam Ressler runs the Napa Noodles kitchen. They make all their stocks in-house and even some of the noodles.
Napa Noodles offers a wide selection of beers, including four on draft including sake. Hallum says they’re the only place in Napa to serve sake on tap.
The limited selection of wines is all from Napa Valley including Trefethen Dry Riesling, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier and Hall Sauvignon Blanc on tap coming soon.
Napa Noodles is at 1124 First St., Napa. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information visit www.napanoodles.com or call (707) 492-8079.