Photos by Megan Menicucci
The Westin Verasa is one of our favorite places to stay in Napa, combining an ideal location—just steps from vibrant downtown Napa, Oxbow Public Market, and the famous Napa Wine Train with upscale comfort. The hotel provides rejuvenating accommodations with plush furnishings, ensuring a comfortable and relaxing stay. The 24-hour WestinWORKOUT® Fitness Studio is a well-equipped on-site gym with Peloton bikes and a variety of other exercise equipment—an excellent place to stay active and maintain your wellness routine while traveling. Conveniently located just off the lobby is La Toque, one of Napa’s finest restaurants led by renowned Chef Ken Frank. La Toque boasts a coveted Michelin Star, and is also a recipient of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for their wine list and beverage program. Very few restaurants in the world can claim both! For more casual dining, the hotel also features Bank Café and Bar, providing a variety of bites and beverages throughout the day and a great place to enjoy a cocktail in the evening.
The Westin Verasa is a great choice for meetings, weddings, and social gatherings. The hotel offers versatile event spaces and is supported by skilled event coordinators and talented catering professionals who ensure that special occasions are memorable. The heated outdoor saltwater pool is the perfect spot to exercise, or relax, and the spacious patio features fire pits and ample seating. Whether you prefer a refreshing morning swim or a late-night dip, the pool is available for guests to enjoy from 8am to 11pm. The Westin Verasa offers a resort-style experience that allows guests to feel like locals. The hotel concierge is at your disposal to assist in planning your adventures, assisting with outside reservations, and shipping home wine purchases. For those looking to for adventures that don’t involve visiting a winery, there are two championship golf courses guests have access to; the Eagle Vines Golf Course and Chardonnay Golf Club, which meanders through 150 acres of Chardonnay vines. Balloons Above the Valley offers hot air balloon flights above Napa’s vineyards, followed by brunch. For further relaxation, guests have access to the GC Day Spa, just a short walk from the hotel. The heart of downtown Napa, an easy 10-minute walk from the hotel, is full of great shops, galleries, restaurants, and tasting rooms to explore. Staying at the Westin Verasa, guests have everything at their fingertips, making it a fantastic choice for travelers looking to experience the best of Napa Valley.
By far, one of the best restaurants and dining experiences in all of Napa Valley—is La Toque. Located in The Westin Verasa, La Toque is not just a restaurant; it’s a culinary gem. Known for its commitment to using the freshest ingredients, expert wine pairings, and unforgettable dining experiences, La Toque is a true epicurean journey guided by the expertise of renowned Chef Ken Frank. Whether you’re a seasoned food enthusiast or looking to celebrate a special occasion, dining at La Toque will delight the senses and leave a lasting impression. An early pioneer of seasonally driven fine dining, Chef Ken Frank has been in relentless pursuit of deliciousness since his teenage years living in France. Chef Ken first achieved national acclaim in 1977, as the 21-year-old Chef of La Guillotine Restaurant. A pioneer for the time, he insisted on using only the freshest and best seasonal ingredients. He went on to work as the original opening chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica, considered the Los Angeles birthplace of “California Cuisine.” In 1979, at age 23, he left Michael’s to open the first La Toque on the Sunset Strip, aiming to create the kind of restaurant he wanted to work at—authentic, creative, welcoming, and delicious. From the outset, La Toque distinguished itself for Ken’s attention to seasonality, hospitality, and thoughtful wine pairing. In 1998, he finally heeded the call of wine country and moved to Napa Valley, where he opened a new La Toque in Rutherford. Ten successful years later, Chef Ken moved La Toque to its current home in the Westin Verasa.
The Chef’s Tasting is La Toque’s crown jewel, a prix-fixe menu that invites you to experience Napa Valley at its best. Leave the decision-making to Chef Ken Frank as he shares six ever-changing courses inspired by the seasonal richness of land, sea, and sky. Typically, the Chef’s Tasting includes four savory courses, one cheese course, and a dessert. For the complete La Toque experience, I highly encourage you to put yourself in the hands of Wine Director Mike Lee, and enjoy the wine pairings. Mike’s palate and knowledge of wine and spirits is legendary, the pairings take an amazing meal to an even higher level! La Toque is one of only 93 restaurants in the world to receive Wine Spectator’s highest honor, The Grand Award. The pairings at La Toque are considered by many to be the ultimate food and wine experience. The culinary team and Sommeliers taste together daily, constantly looking for combinations that elevate both the food and wine.
On our visit, we had the pleasure of dining with good friends, and vintners, Monty and Sara Preiser (co-founders of The American Fine Wine Competition, vintners/co-proprietors of Napa’s Shadowbox Cellars, and Marla and Geoff Bedrosian, proprietors of Domaine de la Riviere in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley). It was a meal worthy of being “The Last Supper,” especially when I proclaimed that Chef Ken’s Tajarinall’Ortiche with Fresh Australian Black Winter Truffle, paired with a 2015 Barolo, Cascina Dardi as something that I would want on the menu for my last meal on earth! Chef Ken Frank is one of the foremost truffle experts in the U.S.; anything truffle-related that he prepares is sure to impress!
Our tasting menu was a curated mélange of the very best and freshest ingredients at that moment anywhere in the country and world, perfectly paired with top wines. An exquisitely choreographed experience like a Broadway show—this is the art of dining. The meal began with Chilled Kauai Blue Prawn with Savory Tomato “Cocktel” Broth, Pickled Cucumber, and Avocado Mousselline, followed by Beet Cured Montauk Fluke with Leche de Tigre, Lacto Fermented Cherry, Granny Smith Apple, Shish, and Koshihikari Rice paired with a 2014 Riesling. Next, we enjoyed Broiled Dover Sole on the bone with Preserved Lemon and Pantelleria Capers from a Mediterranean island off Sicily, paired with 2021 Vivier Chardonnay, Gap’s Crown Vineyard from Petaluma Gap, Sonoma. The pasta with truffles was next, I could go on all day about it, but better to book a table the next truffle season and enjoy for yourself! Next, we savored Pan Roasted Beef “Eye of Rib” with Porcini, Summer Squashes, Duck Fat Truffled Potatoes, Green Peppercorn Sauce, paired with 2015 Llamas Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley. Although we were getting full, the Crispy Buttered Crumpets with Truffled Brillat Savarin were decadent, and the Almond Butter Mousse Tart with Cherries and Chocolate Amaretto Ice Cream, paired with 2017 Sexton Vivier, Pineau de Californie was just what the doctor ordered.
La Toque has long been known for their extravagant ‘All Black Truffle Menus’ with fresh black truffles in every course. In January 2024, La Toque will celebrate the 42nd edition of this decadent menu! For the past decade, successful truffle cultivation in the Southern Hemisphere has given Chef Frank the opportunity to offer a “Summer Edition” of the famous ‘All Black Truffle Menu’ in July, using fresh Australian Black Winter Truffles, which he proclaims to be every bit as good as their European ancestors. To have aromatic fresh Winter Truffles in June is particularly exciting when paired with delicious ingredients such as foraged morel mushrooms or fresh sweet corn that are not available in January. La Toque is beginning to source small initial amounts of fresh truffles from successful “truffirès” in Northern California, but refuses to purchase Chinese black truffles from the Himalayas, which lack flavor and pale in comparison. Unfortunately, many people don’t know the difference and are either easily fooled, or compensate with truffle oil to cut costs. Chef Ken shuns the use of “truffle oil,” “truffle cream,” “truffle honey,” and “truffle salt,” noting these products desensitize your palate to the more subtle flavor of real fresh truffle. La Toque offers a Prix-Fixe “All Black Truffle Menu” in both January and July, and tables book up well in-advance.
As always, it’s the people that make the difference. Director of Operations Megan Menicucci’s rare gift for managing both the details and big picture make her an invaluable member of the La Toque team. Megan helped put together our experience—everything from the menu we would enjoy, the choice of our table, and dealing with dietary restrictions. From the moment we walked in, we were greeted like local regulars. Sous Chef Jason Rivas needed a job at 16 so he started washing dishes at a small steakhouse after school in Southern California. Next, he headed off to Culinary School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He moved to Napa and joined the team as Sous Chef in 2021, and now runs day-to-day operations in the kitchen. Pastry Chef Amanda Owens’ massive talent, work ethic and infectious enthusiasm have earned her the top pastry position at La Toque. She started in the La Toque kitchen in 2013, shortly after graduating from California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. In just a few years, she worked her way up through every station in the kitchen. When she needed a daytime shift to accommodate her son’s school schedule, the team created a prep position to ensure she could stay. That role also allowed her to explore her love of baking. When the Pastry Chef position became available in 2018, she asked to step up and take it on, which proved to be a fortuitous decision, as her delicious creativity has been delighting guests ever since!
Wine Director Mike Lee remembers his wine “light bulb” moment well: a glass of Cornas, at Harvest on Huron in Chicago. From that magical glass on, he knew he had found his calling.
Mike cut his teeth in fine wine working with long-time Michelin-starred chef Tony Mantuano in Chicago, where, he developed deep knowledge and fondness for Italian wines. He then moved up to become the Beverage Manager for Mr. Chow in Miami, and began making annual visits to Napa Valley. As Mike expanded his knowledge of California’s best wines and became friends with local winemakers, his visits became more frequent. In 2014, he relocated to Napa to work with Mick Salyer at Zuzu and at La Taberna, where he enjoyed exploring great Spanish wines more deeply before coming to La Toque. I highly recommend dinner at La Toque and staying at the Westin Verasa, so you will have either a very short walk or elevator ride to sleep off a fantastic dinner! ☐