Oakville Grocery Reopened

Tanned, Rested and Restored: Oakville Grocery Reopens

Oakville Grocery has had a long sojourn. The old girl had extensive reconstructive surgery, but like an aging silent-film-era starlet (the building was built before Tullulah Bankhead was even born, after all) who spends the off-season in Palm Springs with huge sunglasses on, waiting for her raccoon eyes to heal, she’s making her triumphant return to the spotlight, just as the season kicks into gear.

Some things don’t ever change. The iconic Coke sign is there (after having been carefully pulled away when the building was literally lifted) as is the line-up of cars belonging to self-centered assholes who decide to park in front of the building instead of using the parking lot.

You will surely recognize the old Oakville Grocery in the newly revamped one, but it’s bigger, cleaner and more modern. Our starlet tucked her eyes, lifted her cheek bones and got breast implants. The expansion has made way for a swank espresso bar, a much larger deli counter, and (here’s hoping) enough room to maneuver come the tourist season crush.

Another very welcome addition is the introduction of a beer garden to the back of the Grocery. The now much-larger picnic area, with its views of vineyards and mountains, provides an ideal setting in which to quaff a couple of cold Lagunitas drafts.

Chef Jason Rose, who’s heading the prepared foods portion, proudly shows off his new walk-in cold storage room (another addition made possible by the expansion) the way our aforementioned starlet might lift her hand to show you the new sparkler symbolizing her fifth marriage. His glee is palpable.

Rose left Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma, where he led the kitchen, in April to take on the role of Culinary Director for Dean & Deluca, Oakville Grocery and Rudd Oakville Estate and Edge Hill Winery. In a bit of it’s-a-small-world (when you’re Leslie Rudd, at least) Rose is good friends with Philip Wang, who is at another Rudd restaurant, French Blue opening in St. Helena next week. Wang came back to the area (he was at Carneros Inn from 2003-2005) to consult on the launch of the kitchen at Ram’s Gate, where he again teamed with Rose, who had been his executive sous chef at Caneros Inn.

Both chefs will benefit from the fresh produce coming out of the expanded Rudd Gardens on Mt. Veeder and Edge Hill, managed by the affable Omar Morgan. Rose’s mission has been to incorporate as many local producers as possible, including the very local Rudd Gardens. The trasformation of the prepared foods offering — items like cold fried chicken, cider slaw, and a Pacific salmon sandwich anchor the menu for the opening — is nearly as startling as that of the building itself.

“The shelves were holding up the walls,” says Rose, with only a hint of hyperbole. The building was basically taken apart and reassembled — the walls lifted and reinforced, and the interior completely rebuilt. Items were reused (old floorboards make good sign frames) and historical details kept in place wherever possible, such as the old familiar cooler doors on the soda case, and, sure to be one of the most puzzled-over features throughout the summer, an original brick well that was exposed during reconstruction. The well, which was filled in with cement many decades ago, can be seen through thick glass below a section of the floor near the wine section.

It’s a fitting feature for the grocery, which is looking back at the past for inspiration while moving swiftly to the future.