Napa Valley Film Fest, Remembering Tra Vigne, Wine Country Barbecue

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City of Gold, a documentary about food critic and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold, will be playing at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

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The Wine & Food Affair is a great way to sip and sup your way through Sonoma’s Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys.

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Hush puppies, sweet potato tots, beans, ribs, brisket, and corn muffins at KINsmoke in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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KINsmoke recently opened in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Ribs at Juicy Pig in Guerneville. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

And…action! The ~NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL~ lights up Napa Valley from November 11th to 15th with more than 120 indie film screenings, plus glittering galas and plenty of food and wine events. This is Napa, after all. Food-centric films, including For Grace, about the opening of chef Curtis Duffy’s dream restaurant, Growing Farmer, the profile of an aspiring young farmer in the Salinas Valley, and City of Gold, a documentary about Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold (who will also host a discussion), join the lineup of films competing for awards. A series of vintner dinners and other tony culinary experiences round out the lineup. One- and five-day passes are available online, with prices starting at $95/day. $15 rush tickets to single films will be sold first come, first serve after pass holders have been admitted.

We’ve got an insider’s secret to meeting some of your favorite vintners and tasting some of their wineries’ best recipes: Sonoma’s annual ~WINE & FOOD AFFAIR~ on November 7th and 8th. The weekend event is a walk-around, sip-around tour through the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. A bit more sedate than some of the other tasting events of the season, this post-harvest event takes advantage of one of the most beautiful times in the vineyards. Tickets are $70 for the weekend and $50 for Sunday only. Details online.

Arrivederci to ~TRA VIGNE~. After nearly 30 years as one of Napa’s most legendary restaurants, it will close in December. One of its first partners, Kevin Cronin, reminisced about the decades of celebrity sightings, life-changing introductions, and first jobs for many of Wine Country’s elite. A Wine Country institution, it was hub for up-and-coming winemakers in the Napa Valley, as well as a see-and-be-seen spot for celebrities throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

“A lot of big names started their careers there,” he said. Michael Chiarello was the first executive chef, if that’s any indication. But after months of rumors, news officially broke that the restaurant will shut its doors on December 20th after property owner Bill Harlan decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease. And while the restaurant had lost some of its luster in recent years, the closure is a tough one for many to swallow.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Cronin, who left Tra Vigne in 2006 to open Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar with chef John Franchetti (also a Tra Vigne alum), but has kept close ties to the current partners. “It was like Camelot in the early days,” he said. “It was an epic time, and (the closure) is the end of an era,” he said.

The restaurant’s onetime guest list included Robert Redford, Robert Mondavi, Danny DeVito, and Francis Ford Coppola. Even Julia Child made an appearance once, asking to meet everyone in the kitchen and shake their hands. “She had an impact on every person she touched,” Cronin said. “She knew who she was supposed to be for people.”

Stories come easy for Cronin, who describes the property as one of the most beautiful in America. A life-changing moment for him: having dinner with Andre Tchelistcheff, one of California’s most important winemakers, credited with defining the enduring style of Napa wines. “He talked about pinot noir like sex. It was like magic, and one of the most amazing moments in my career,” he said. Rumors are already swirling again as to what’s next for the space, but from what we hear it will continue to operate as a restaurant. A large group of old-timers plan to meet at the restaurant on November 20th, Cronin said.

Barbecue You’ll Queue For: I’ll be writing a whole lot more about the exploding barbecue scene in Sonoma County, but there’s one spot that’s already got lines out the door. ~KINSMOKE~ opened on the Healdsburg Square less than a month ago, serving St. Louis-style ribs, brisket, smoked chicken, corn bread, and pulled pork. The former Center Street Cafe has been magically transformed into a Texas roadhouse, complete with rolls of paper towels on the tables and a secret sauce that’s so secret that even co-owner Brad Barmore had to beg for it—from his father-in-law. If the name sounds familiar, it’s the second Sonoma County restaurant for business partners Brad Barmore and JC Adams, who opened Windsor’s KIN restaurant in 2011. 304 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8440.

But wait, there’s more. ~COCHON VOLANT BBQ SMOKE HOUSE~ is opening in Sonoma this week, offering Texas-style barbecue that’s smoked over almondwood and sliced to order. Chef-owner Rob Larman has been running a mobile barbecue operation for the last seven years, so it looks like he’s already got his stripes. More on this spot after the doors open. 18350 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma.

Recently, I also headed to Guerneville to check out ~THE JUICY PIG~, a new barbecue spot from chef Ruben Gomez (most recently of Corks in Forestville). I’ve been hearing lots of great stuff about Gomez’s barbecue, and as we arrived, the smell of smoked meats was a solid sign. We loved the ridiculously cheesy mac and cheese, and the unbeatable Ruben’s Reuben ($14), with house-smoked pastrami, sriracha Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, and melted havarti and Gruyère on Costeaux’s pumpernickel. Strangely enough, the day’s soup—butternut squash—was one of the best bowls of soup we’ve ever had. I mean, ever.

The slow-smoked brisket and Niman Ranch pork ribs have potential, but seemed like they could have benefitted from just a little more fat and time to be as tender as we like. Sides also show promise, but could do with some additional seasoning. Overall, we’re looking forward to seeing how this one pans out, because West County could use a good barbecue spot. 16440 4th St, Guerneville, 707-604-7120.

~LA PERLA~, a sleeper Peruvian restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, was a huge surprise on the 2016 Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list, beating out spots like Sondra Bernstein’s Girl and the Fig and several others that dropped off the list. I stopped by La Perla last Sunday to see what all the hubbub was about and wasn’t disappointed. Though the restaurant has had its ups and downs in the kitchen, Sunday was definitely an up, with authentic ceviches, including prawns with mango, ginger, red onions and lime ($15), and ahi with coconut milk and plantain chips ($16). We also loved the beef heart skewers and papa rellena, a fried potato croquette with beef, onions, raisins, and olives ($10).

It turns out that the chef who cooked for us Sunday—a former Sazon employee—has departed, and the original chef has returned. We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out before giving it a final thumbs-up, but the ceviche is definitely worth checking out. 522 7th St., Santa Rosa, 707-324-9548.