Napa welcomes a new restaurant to its downtown food and wine roster next week when chef Sean O’Toole returns with a contemporary American eatery in the space that once housed Ubuntu.
While it is not his first restaurant, it is the first culinary operation where he is not only executive chef but also proprietor.
A few years ago, O’Toole crafted the menus for the restaurant in Yountville’s Bardessono hotel, a post he held for two years.
Opening for dinner service next Monday, Torc is located at 1140 Main St., a street that many are now calling Restaurant Row. Represented on his family’s coat of arms and honoring his Celtic descent, the restaurant’s name, Torc, symbolizes O’Toole’s philosophy of the dining table — celebrating the rituals of eating together, whether for a quick bite or a more indulgent feast. While the word also comes from the ancient Gaelic term for boar, for O’Toole, Torc is an emblem of convivial feasting and hospitality.
The menu at Torc features “food I like to eat,” noted the chef over the weekend as he and his culinary and front-of-the-house teams prepare for the Nov. 25 opening.
“It has an international flair as I’ve worked in restaurants that served French, Italian and even some Indian dishes when I was at Tabla in New York. We’ll be cooking in the moment ... taking great products and putting them in dishes where they are best represented ... with sound execution and French technique behind it.
“I think you could say Torc is a casual contemporary American restaurant.”
A native of Boston, O’Toole has worked with noted chefs on both coasts, from Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse in New York to Bay Area operations with Michael Mina, Laurent Gras and Ron Siegel. A resident of Napa for more than four years, he spent two-plus years as chef for Hotel Yountville and helped open Cotogna in San Francisco. “This is the 10th restaurant that I’ve had a hand in opening in the past nine years,” he added.
O’Toole has done very little to alter the charming dining room that housed Ubuntu. The Bay Area architectural firm Abueg Morris simply revitalized the 19th-century stone and timber space. Lighting adjustments better feature the 30-foot ceilings and tables, alterations to the floor plan and new fabric on the banquette seating. Torc’s new decor emphasizes comfort and warmth through the use of natural materials, dark wood floors, cozy chairs and reclaimed wood tables.
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The main dining room accommodates 90 guests, including 17 at the bar. In addition there are 20 rear patio seats (open seasonally) and a private dining room on a mezzanine level where a yoga studio was located. The restaurant’s open kitchen will remain the same. Art from Bay Area photographer Andy Berry enlivens the restaurant walls.
O’Toole’s contemporary fare showcases ingredients sourced from his long-standing relationships with local producers and purveyors, including his close friend, celebrated forager Connie Green.
Torc’s opening menu items include Bengali Sweet Potato Pakora with Yogurt-Truffle Dip ($5); Violet Artichoke Soup with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Mint and Lemon ($10); Jamón Ibérico with Grilled Garlic Crouton ($15); Dungeness Crab Salad with Buddha’s Hand, Satsuma Mandarin, Avocado and Herb Salad ($14); Housemade Strozzapreti with Pecorino Romano, Tellicherry Pepper and Dino Kale ($13); Hudson Ranch Heritage Pork with Cheddar Grits, Collard Greens and Mustard Sauce ($25); Paine Farm Squab with Lentils, Grapes and Bacon ($17); Pacific Ling Cod with Creamy Brandade and Sauce Grenobloise ($23); and Roasted Chicken for Two with Black Spice, Coconut Rice and Spicy Bok Choy ($41).
Dessert includes items like Mt. Tam Cheese with Piment D’Espelette Marmalade and Pickled Chanterelles ($6), Quince Confit with Honey Shortbread and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream ($9) and Citrus Praline Tart with Lemon Curd and Winter Citrus ($9).
O’Toole said the menu will remain much the same through the end of the year, after which “things will change daily. I envision this as a community-based restaurant, not a showplace for me. I want a bustling restaurant that people will enjoy.”
The restaurant will offer about 80 wines by the bottle, including vintage Burgundies and Napa cult wines, as well as wines by the glass and an extensive selection of beers, and plans to offer cocktails in coming months.
O’Toole has assembled a dynamic front-of-house team. Jonathan Wendorf, who had been at Cotogna since its opening and worked in well-known Napa Valley establishments including Domaine Chandon and Bottega, is general manager. Assistant manager will be Brittany Klipper who was previously at Farmstead and Cavallo Point. The chef’s wife, Cynthia O’Toole, will serve as front-of-the-house ambassador and oversee Torc’s beverage program. She has worked at Kenzo Estate, Bardessono and the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco.
For the first month or so, Torc will serve dinner daily between 5:30 and 9 p.m. Weekend brunch service will begin in January. Also, early next year O’Toole will launch a to-go lunch program where a midday meal will be offered to go for $10, including beverage.
For reservations, call 707-252-3292.