Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

J.L. Sousa/Register

Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, just released his annual list of the top 100 Bay Area restaurants.

The list overlooks a lot of really good Napa establishments, but the two included, Oenotri and Miminashi, absolutely deserve to be recognized.

That’s high praise for Curtis Di Fede – he was the opening chef and an original owner/partner at Oenotri, and now owns and is chef at Miminashi, which celebrates its first year in business tomorrow.

Although Di Fede is a serious foodie, his family is steeped in the wine business. His great grandfather, Fred Abruzzini, was the third winemaker at Beringer.

His grandfather grew grapes, an uncle was cellar master at Trefethen, and his mom is a grape grower. But Di Fede’s passion has always been food.

His resume reads like an aspiring chef’s dream, beginning with attending the Cordon Blue of London.

He then did stints at Tra Vigne, Terra, and Bouchon here in the valley; The Fat Duck in London, rated the number one restaurant in the world at that time; and Commander’s Palace in Las Vegas, known nationwide as one of the best places for Creole cooking.

While it was mostly all positive, a couple of the places left him with a bad taste. However, those helped inform his restaurant vision.

In one of the kitchens he was in, the drama was constant and the environment tense.

“I hated it,” Di Fede said. “I decided that I would never run a kitchen that way.” He is also turned off by the atmosphere in most fine dining restaurants.

“The food might be incredible, but the places are too stuffy.” He was determined that the experience at Oenotri, and now Miminashi, would be fun for staff and customers alike.

“Miminashi has a wonderful bar, easy, clean food, and soft serve ice cream.” That makes for a relaxed experience.

The switch to Japanese food was an epiphany Di Fede had after spending time in Japan, really getting to know the cuisine. It has allowed him to stretch creatively and go in new directions.

“There was a niche in Napa for less expensive Japanese food that isn’t sushi,” he said.

Miminashi is a natural for both individuals and groups.

“We get a lot of solo diners who come in for a Ramen or rice bowl, while groups come in to share menu items.”

Just prior to opening Miminashi, Di Fede taught cooking classes on cruise ships for Bon Appetit.

He might still be sailing around the world, but met and fell in love with Jessica Pinzon, now his fiancé and manager of the beverage program at Miminashi.

Di Fede credits Pinzon and his management team with the success of the restaurant.

“The moment you think you can do it all alone, you’ll fail.”

821 Coombs Street. Lunch, M-F, dinner daily.

See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.

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