ALL ABOARD the express line for an exceptional dining experience where there is a new view served with every delicious course. The Napa Valley Wine Train is more than just a train – it’s a deluxe restaurant on rails, gently rolling throughNapaValley wine country while passing by almost 50 wineries on its round-trip fromNapa toSt. Helena.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a collection of early 20th century dining cars, dessert cars, a wine-tasting car, lounge cars and 5 locomotives that keep it chugging along 36 miles of track. The last car is the Vista Dome Car, which is the most romantic. The galley car has windows into the kitchen where you watch the chefs preparing your food. Interestingly, one locomotive has been converted to run on natural gas, making it environmentally friendly and unique in railroad operation.
The original antique railway cars have been sumptuously restored with dark wood-paneling, windows covered with red velvet curtains, and shiny white linens on the tables. The setting was reminiscent of our favorite old romantic movies in which the characters traveled by luxury train. We felt a little like Jimmy Stewart and Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, who met and fell in love on a train. Unlike the movie, no bad guys were after us. Instead it was all great guys (and gals) – great cooks and servers providing great food for an overall great time!
Like the wonderful luxury trains of the past, The Napa Valley Wine Train has excellent cooks, led by Chef Kelly Macdonald. Their cooking and presentation talents are tested each trip as the train bumps and rocks along, and they pass with flying, err, rolling colors! Watching the servers balance their laden trays while navigating the narrow, crowded aisles and rocking motion was exhilarating. When the food arrived safely, we were even more impressed.
The Napa Valley Wine Train prides itself on using locally grown produce and other sustainable food products. As a “sustainability” provider, they seek to minimize the negative effects of farming. Their meats come from animals that are humanely raised and no growth hormones are used. Fish are line-caught. These restaurateurs are among the leaders of an aggressive recycling movement inNapaValley.
Our dinner trip consisted of five courses, starting with a handsome and tasty charcuterie plate that was a feast on its own. Consisting of fresh mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, proscuitto, boiled shrimp, pate, grapes, a veggie variety and crackers, it went perfectly with the local zinfandel. It was relaxing sipping our wine and munching on the charcuterie while the train crept along. We hardly realized any time had gone by when the salad course arrived. The mixed salad presentation was running over with fresh taste and color. After we finished our salads, the server brought us a glass of three-flavored sherbet to cleanse our palates.
We had a little break until the entrees were served – thank goodness. We ordered the lamb chops and seared tuna. Both dishes were perfectly presented and prepared with the lamb as pink and succulent as you could want. The shrimp-covered tuna was fresh and beautifully cooked. We shared each other’s meals and still had plenty of leftovers…to take back to our dog, Boomer.
Coffee and desserts followed a little later after we reachedSt. Helenawhere the train stops and heads back in the opposite direction. We shared an absolutely delicious chocolate cake and crème brulee.
The Wine Train rolls for both lunch and dinner. There are two seatings for each meal with everyone boarding at the same time. The early diners head to the vintage dining cars and have dinner while the later group is served appetizers and enjoys wine tasting in the lounges. At the half-way point inSt. Helena, the train changes direction back to the depot inNapa. The locomotive uses a separate track to move from the original northbound direction to the southbound direction. This is when the early diners move to the lounge cars for their dessert – and the now-very-happy-early-wine-tasters-late-diners head to the dining cars for their meal. After dinner many folks go out to the observation car to watch, drink more wine, and take photos.
The wine tasting car was steaming with activity. We attribute that to the fact that they offer four tastes of wine for $10. Their on-board Wine Bar stocks approximately 30-40 boutique Napa Valley Wines.
There’s something about The Napa Valley Wine Train, besides the wine tasting car that makes the passengers very friendly. You can have a romantic and intimate time or bring a group – it’s the ideal place. You may even make new friends while walking through different parts of the train, which the conductor invites you to do.
We met a group of gals who were visiting fromOhio, and they asked us to take a group photo of them. We also met a solo tourist fromJapan, who was enjoying every moment, even though her English was limited. And we met plenty of other couples like us, looking for something different, something that’s fun and rewards you with superb food and wine.
The Napa Valley Wine Train features a variety of trips and special dinners, including the ultra-romantic Moonlight Dinner, on evenings when there is a full moon. The night we went, there was a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. There are also wine tasting tours, where the train makes stops at different wineries.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a great place for any occasion. Several people we spoke with told us they come to the wine train often and bring out-of-town friends when they visit. We can understand why. It’s not just a meal – it’s a ticket to ride. So all aboard for an evening of elegant nostalgia, food and fun!
The NapaValleyWine Train
1275 McKinstry Street