Treat your taste buds (without busting your budget French Laundry–style) over a multi-course meal at the Conservatory at Greystone, located on the castlelike grounds of the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus. Open for reservations only on Friday and Saturday nights, this “crop-up,” created by C.I.A. graduate Larry Forgione, showcases a serious farm-to-table philosophy with a constantly rotating tasting menu developed, prepared, and served by culinary students, for just $65 ($105 with wine pairings; students can’t accept tips, but gratuities go back into the nonprofit program). A recent menu featured Napa Valley pastured lamb, seared Nantucket scallops and ricotta cheese gnudi, and a whimsical dessert trio of red-velvet whoopie pies, kettle corn, and maple-bacon truffles. Arrive pre-dinner to browse the sprawling Spice Islands Marketplace, a foodie’s paradise overflowing with kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, plus a Flavor Bar, where you can refine your palate with various tasting exercises.
Tuck into playful, pub-inspired cuisine at 1226 Washington, a local favorite since opening last fall in Calistoga. Three separate spaces — a tavern with bar and table seating; a dining room in a high-ceilinged cottage; and a garden area — offer the same locally sourced, internationally inspired menu. Belly up to the tavern bar for the signature veggie burger (the recipe for which is a closely guarded secret, $16), accompanied by a draft from Northern California breweries like North Coast and Bear Republic. For a more refined experience, settle in at a cozy table by the fireplace in the dining room, and try the seared scallops over chard ($18) accompanied by a locally sourced (and surprisingly affordable) wine list, with more than a dozen selections in the $20 to $30 range, plus eight reds and whites on tap.
Savor fresh regional flavors at Torc, open since November in a beautiful, light-filled space that was formerly a yoga studio. In his first solo venture since studying with Alain Ducasse and Michael Mina, chef Sean O’Toole (look out for him in the open kitchen) highlights ingredients foraged, hunted, or purveyed in Northern California: Think violet-artichoke soup with hedgehog mushrooms ($10), pork with cheddar-cheese grits ($25), and black-truffle risotto ($32), plus imaginative desserts like pineapple French toast with coconut-lime sorbet ($10) and a citrus-lime praline tart with smoked ganache ($9).