Reimagining Mexican Cuisine at C Casa in Napa

As Kathryn Bergen takes me around the new C Casa restaurant at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, she explains that she “always wanted to create a restaurant.”

It’s an interesting statement, considering that she opened her first C Casa 12 years ago, just feet from where we stand today.

The original C Casa was a modest 400-square-foot board tucked into a row of other Oxbow dining halls. The new C Casa spans over 5,000 square feet, including a patio overlooking the Napa River. It replaces the former Kitchen Door restaurant that has been moved to Clay and Randolph Streets next to the Archer Napa Hotel.

I always wondered why C Casa didn’t have more space and more noise. Bergen is an incredible talent, with a huge dedication to her profession and its components. The tortillas are made by hand, using non-GMO white corn. Eggs are free from The Hen Pen Farms of Napa Valley, all-natural Duroc pork, Black Angus beef, free Sonoma poultry, and seafood are sustainably grown and bison farmed in the Colorado Collection.

Bergen also uses only non-GMO pressed canola and local grape seed oil, and all menu items are gluten-free, with many dishes that can be customized as vegan. The flavors are huge, with recipes elaborately layered with herbs, spices, aioli, and handcrafted vinegars.

Inside the new C Casa, you’ll find an informal take-to-counter taker and a full-service restaurant with a full bar. For Taqueria, you can get your food and eat it in the communal seating areas of the market, as you did in the old C Casa, or eat it away.

As always, the classic 6-inch open-faced tacos are divine, in rainbow arrays of grilled steak, prawns, salmon or mahi mahi, carnitas, and sweet potato with black beans or duck with spinach and orange. Chicken is also unusual. Juicy rotisserie bird is rubbed with spices, hand pulled and topped with a pile of mixed greens, lemon and cumin vinegar, Cotija cheese, avocado, Fresno peppers, pico de gallo, garlic, chipotle aioles, and fleur de sel ($9).

I constantly crave a beef taco stacked with tender beef that’s been slow cooked with ancho, chili, garlic, bay leaf, Mexican oregano, and cumin, then sliced ​​and topped with mixed greens, lemon, cumin, vinegar, avocado, and citrus pickled onions, garlic aioli, lemon crema, Fresno peppers, cilantro and fleur. DeSel ($11). It’s big, messy, and delicious.

If you’re looking for a more relaxing restaurant experience, settle in to the elegant white leather Mexican chairs and admire the baroque-tiled open kitchen with rotisserie and wood-burning oven. I immediately suggest ordering a cocktail like the refreshing Casarita made with Herradura Silver tequila, Licor de Naranja, fresh Moro orange juice and lime juice, organic blue agave nectar and blood orange wheel garnish ($14). Or try a strong Smoky Strawberry Negroni with Banhez Espadin Mezcal filled with strawberry, Campari, Carpano vermouth and a delightful touch of bitterness ($16).

Start the meal with guacamole, chips, and sauce ($19). It looks expensive, but the brutal part can feed four. The homemade chips are light and wonderfully crunchy, the chunky guacamole is topped with Fresno peppers and the dish is topped with a dusting of cotija and charred corn sauce. On the side: Avocado-tomatillo tart and spicy chipotle-tomatillo sauce.

C Casa has the most delicious grilled mesquite corn I’ve ever had. The cobs are cut into three pieces and strewn with a colorful mixture of cotija, spicy tagine seasoning, furikake, pico de gallo, lemon zest and a dollop of garlic aioli. The dish is arranged with slices of lime and gives you a dramatic finish from the peel on the cob ($10).

Like many C Casa dishes, the Caesar salad is “reimagined” (one of Bergen’s favorite words). A thick stick of romaine hearts is grilled to give a slightly charred edge and topped with pickled bright pink onions, crunchy capers, salty Cotija cheese and a little boqueron that I eat like dessert. Dip everything into a creamy, spiced sauce ($11).

Where else in Wine Country will you find Bison Chili Relleno? I’ve been to many bison farms – free range animals usually have a great life until their last day, and the resulting meat is fleshy but sweeter, richer, and lower in calories and fat than beef. Here, ground beef is sautéed with lots of melted Oaxacan cheese, stuffed in a mild poblano chile, then roasted and smothered in chipotle aioli, pico de gallo and ranchera sauce and served with cumin rice and cilantro lime ($28).

For a more decadent meal, go to the Duck Confit Enchiladas ($29). Velvet poultry is a sumptuous match for sticky Oaxacan cheese, grilled tomatillo, chorizo/goat cheese, black bean and avocado salsa, lemon cream and spring salad. I like to go big and add a side of white corn kernels mixed with lots of fontina cheese and charred corn sauce ($7).

To balance out this heavier dish, the zero-grain Prickly Pear Spritzer hits the spot—a sparkling, sparkling caffe mixes Fever Tree ginger ale, lemon, mint, and a bit of Prickly Pear syrup for the perfect palate cleanser ($9).

Interestingly, for someone who says she dreamed of having a restaurant one day, Bergen has proven that she is really up to the challenge. Along with the original C Casa Café in Napa, C Casa opened in San Ramon three years ago and the second restaurant in Emeryville. These spots sure are a lot more casual than the new Nappa masterpiece. But for her first “real” restaurant, this is already a real feat worthy of the destination.

Carrie Sweet is a restaurants and food writer based in Sebastopol. Read her bi-weekly restaurant reviews on Sonoma Life. Contact her at [email protected]

%d bloggers like this: