Every November, the Napa Valley Film Festival celebrates the bounties of the region through film, food, and wine. Now in its ninth year, the five-day event (November 7-11) is “different than any other festival” thanks to its culinary collaborations showcasing everything Wine Country has to offer, says co-founder Brenda Lhormer.
This year’s festival has a lot at stake as recovery begins for a region, and industry, that’s been rocked by change. Not only was the region itself devastated by natural disasters this time last year, affecting both the harvest and tourism, but the livelihood of the festival itself — the film industry — was shaken by sexual misconduct revelations that sparked the #MeToo movement.
Now more than ever, says Brenda, is the time to honor the people and the stories that make this corner of the world so spectacular. That’s especially true of its cuisine. “We’re so lucky to have the association with the Napa Valley brand,” says Brenda, who helped curate 13 culinary demonstrations that pair filmmakers with nationally recognized chefs, winemakers and even brewers (a first this year). In addition to the demos, daily “intermissions” allow guests to taste wine from partners while discussing the latest film.
Hardly surprising, then, that many of the selected films for this year’s festival have some connection to food. From a documentary that follows a female butcher based out of San Francisco to one that follows a Lebanese-based refugee on her journey toward opening a food truck, it’ll be hard to walk out of a screening and not have hunger pains. In honor of this partnership, we’re recommending some local restaurants (and even a bar!) that’ll pair nicely with some of this year’s films.
821 Coombs Street
In honor of Hiro’s Table, a documentary that follows the owners of 17-year old sushi restaurant Hirozen Gourmet located in a West Hollywood strip mall, it seems only proper to dine on great Japanese cuisine. While finding a traditional Japanese restaurant in Napa Valley isn’t easy, Brenda recommends Miminashi, a new wave yakitori spot that fuses Napa Valley style with Eastern flavors. Run by Curtis DiFede, who was named a “Rising Star Chef” in 2010 while working at Napa’s Italian restaurant Oenotri, DiFede made the switch to Japanese cuisine after visiting the country in 2016. Expect the traditional grilled meats from a yakitori spot, while also indulging in a regularly rotating ramen menu and seasonal salads. And don’t forget to save room for dessert: the team whips up their own soft serve (with its own dedicated soft serve window for those not dining in) featuring flavors like Nutella and black sesame.
709 Main Street
St. Helena, CA
Soufra tells the true story of Mariam Shaar, a refugee who has spent her entire life in the camp Burj El Barajneh just south of Beirut, Lebanon. The film follows her journey as she opens a catering business, and then a food truck, employed entirely by fellow refugee women. As inspiration — as there’s not a Lebanese food truck in Napa Valley — you can’t miss the Bruschetteria food truck run by Clif Family Winery. Owned and operated by the winery and fueled by ingredients from the Clif Family Farm, everything on the menu is inspired by local ingredients. Usually, you can find the truck parked outside the tasting room. Make sure to check out a host of other local food trucks from around the Bay Area on Thursday, November 8 at the Variety’s 10 to Taste event hosted by Tyler Florence.
Five Dot Ranch
610 1st Street Suite 2
In the film Angela Wilson: A Butcher’s Story, director Gaby Scott follows the owner of San Francisco’s independent butcher shop Avedano’s as she navigates a shifting city landscape. The film is likely to get you craving a nice juicy steak while you’re there, which is why we couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to stop than Five Dot Ranch located in the Oxbow Public Market. All the natural beef sold at the market is raised exclusively by the family who has been running the ranch for seven generations; they’ve been at the Oxbow Public Market since 2008. Grab a burger or pick your own steak from the meat case to have the team grill it on the spot.
1313 Main St.
Agave: The Spirit of a Nation journeys into Mexico to follow the families who have been distilling the agave plant for generations. With ample opportunity to get into the agave spirit (there’s two screenings as well as a culinary demonstration hosted by chef Brian Malarkey during the festival), a margarita will likely be in your future. When that moment arises, head to Napa’s Gran Electrica where you’ll have your choice of high-quality tequila and mezcal, plus dinner entrees like tostados, tacos, and mole. If the weather is nice, take advantage of the outdoor patio where a vibrant mural and heat lamps make things feel like you’re almost in Mexico … almost.
This year’s festival is switching things up a bit with the option to not only do a little wine tasting with your fellow festival-goers, but try a little brew with brewmasters as well. Sample from Napa Smith Brewery, Trade Brewery, Tannery Bend Beer Works, and more during an “intermission” on Sunday, November 11 or check out the culinary demonstration “The Art of Brewing from a True Brewmaster,” which serves as inspiration from the premiere of Brewmaster, a documentary that follows two men who aspire to get into the business of beer. Then grab yourself a cold one at Brenda’s local pick for beers, Fieldwork. The Berkeley brewery’s Napa taproom, located in the Oxbow Public Market, offers a wide selection of fresh pours from their expansive draft list, all named after the brewmaster’s favorite show “Gilmore Girls.”
Check out the entire film and culinary demonstration schedule online at Napa Valley Film Festival for more culinary journeys throughout the region.