Middling Mediterranean Falls Prey To The Plague of Mediocrity

It can’t be easy to open a new restaurant in one of the most well-trod dining destinations in the world. But most restaurants that open in Napa Valley do not aspire to be crowned with Michelin stars or spawn series of cookbooks. Instead, restaurateurs hope to be consistent enough to attract a devoted local following and interesting enough to pull in the many summertime visitors. But doing simple things really well is what California is known for, so even these casual bistro-style restaurants should, we think, be pretty kickass. But we’ve noticed a trend towards mediocrity, as if in trying to be everything for everyone some wine country restaurants stay very safely in the middle of the road.

Tarla, a newish Mediterranean-themed restaurant in downtown Napa is a perfect example. The atmosphere, to the extent there is one, could have been imported from an OfficeMax.

Promisingly, the Chef, Gerry Castro, has a long history at The Culinary Institute of America and was most recently Chef de Cuisine at Farmstead, where he perfected the chop-and-add butter regimen of farm-to-table comfort fare.

And the food at Tarla isn’t all that bad. The Meze Plate is satisfying but uninspiring. The hummus is fresh but unseasoned; for the stuffed mussels, a cold, rubbery mussel sits awkwardly atop a bed of dry rice (okay, that was actually bad); a hunk of feta cheese and a few, also unseasoned, olives feel like obligatory additions.

I can’t say at this point that I expected a whole lot from the chicken kabob, but it still managed to disappoint. The chicken was unseasoned and on the dry side; the rice was fluffy but not as aromatic as one would hope (not aromatic at all, actually) and the salad was limp. “Everything is just kind of bland,” my companion observed.

If it weren’t for the pistachio bakala, I would not even consider going back. Light and flakey and moist in all the right places, it was truly a treat and a sign of hope, particularly for the spanakopita. I have it on good authority that the beef Doner Gyro is “The Thing to Get” and the lamb burger sounds promising as well.