610 & 644 1st Street, Napa,  CA 94559. (707) 226-6529
Open 7 days a Week

I've always been a big fan of Napa. I have fond memories of wine tasting, dining and staying at cute little bed and breakfasts there in my twenties and thirties. But the last year or two, I've notice a sharp change in Napa. Sure, Napa's always been noted for being a wee bit snooty compared to other wine destinations like Sonoma County but it seems like it's surpassed that and now sports a pronounced Godzilla sized ego. It seems as its popularity has increased, Napa's businesses and clientele have morphed into pretentious, ill-mannered, obnoxious gremlins.
Case in point, Mr.S and I decided to take a lovely day trip on Saturday sans kidlets. We wanted to idle around somewhere for the day and perhaps soak in some of the lovely weather over a cup of coffee and a delicious lunch. We decided to check out the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. Oddly enough, despite having been to Napa numerous times I've never been to the Oxbow. The best way I can describe it is that it resembles a mini SF Ferry Building. It's a lovely 40,000 square foot marketplace with tons of natural light, a variety of specialty food purveyor kiosks and several gourmet dining counters where you can order food and drinks. There are tables scattered throughout the facility and outdoors on the patio where you can sit down and eat. (A glorified food court, if you will.)  There are also a few sit-down restaurants along the perimeter.
Some of the food vendors and a sampling of what they carry:
Hog Island Oyster Bar (fresh oysters, oysters Rockefeller, chowder, oyster po' boy)
Pica Pica (arepas, empanadas, cachapas)
Ritual Coffee
C Casa (spiced lamb tacos, whole chile crusted duck, seasoned ground buffalo meat tacos)
The Kitchen Door (curried deviled eggs, duck banh mi sandwich, whole roasted chicken)
Ca' Momi (VPN certified authentic Neapolitan pizza, baccala alla veneziana, tagliatelle al ragu)
Gott's Roadside (ahi burger, chili spice-dusted sweet potato fries)
Three Twins Ice Cream (cardamom organic ice cream)
Model Bakery (giant English muffins, cookies)
The Fatted Calf (charcuterie and butcher shop)
Napa Valley Distillery (fruit-based distilled spirits, shrubs, tonics and syrups, vintage barware)
Whole Spice (300+ bulk spices and blends)
Poor House (gifts, housewares)
Annette's Chocolates (truffles, brittles, chocolate sauces)
Five Dot Ranch (natural beef)
Oxbow Produce and Grocery
Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant
The Monkey Flower Group
Kanaloa Seafood
Marshall's Farm Honey
The Olive Press (olive oils, balsamic vinegars, tapenades)
Cate & Co (gluten-free pastries, breads and treats)
Kara's Cupcakes
We spent the first half hour of our visit browsing around. I bought some amazing brittle at Annette's Chocolates. The flavor sounds a bit wonky but it works really well together- Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Chip Brittle. It's tart, sweet and spicy all at once. I love it! There's a couple of other intriguing flavors sold there as well- Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts, Triple Nut Bourbon with Pistachios/Almonds/Pecans, and Chardonnay Wine Brittle. The lone salesgirl that was working there was of no help. When I asked her a question about the brittle, she responded with a curt, "Um, I don't like brittle," and seemed put out that there was a customer in the shop. I probably would have bought more stuff had she been less surly and more helpful.
After purchasing the brittle, we wandered over to Pica Pica for lunch. I had read about the arepas and really wanted to try one. Mr S ordered the Pulled Pork Pernil with sliced tomatoes, avocado, pica’pun (a hot sauce) and garlic aioli. I ordered Shredded Beef Pabellón with plantains, black bean spread and queso fresco along with a cup of passion fruit fresca. We also shared an order of garlic yucca fries. The meal was disappointing on many levels. First of all, it took us over 20 minutes to get our food (this is food counter, not a sit down restaurant). There was only one other customer so it wasn't as though the place was hopping. They had four girls working back there who moved slower than molasses. The arepas we got were soggy and you couldn't pick them up (which is how you're supposed to eat them), they would have fallen apart instantly. We ended up having to eat ours with a fork. This wouldn't have been too bad if they tasted ok, but honestly they were on the mediocre side. Neither Mr. S nor I finished our meals. My beef arepa was too sweet and the yellow corn pocket was dense and sat in my stomach like a bowling ball the rest of the day. The garlic yucca fries weren't crisp but they still tasted ok. I wish we had been offered some kind of dipping sauce however as they were a bit boring.

After lunch, we went to check the shops on the other side. We popped into the Model Bakery, where the cashier looked at me like I had just fallen off a turnip truck when I asked to purchase some English muffins. I guess at noon, they're already sold out - but as an out of-towner how was I supposed to know that?
The customer service was so subpar during our visit that I was beginning to think there was something wrong with ME. But then I noticed that as I wandered around the marketplace (waiting for the heartburn from my craptastic arepa to subside), almost all of the clerks and cashiers looked annoyed and inconvenienced with their jobs. It was like it actually pained them to help the people who were buying things. It was the weirdest thing. I heard no friendly greetings or thank you's and didn't see one smile. Not one. It wasn't only the staff at the marketplace that bothered me though and made me feel like I was in some weird pod person alternate reality- it was the customers too. The customers were obnoxiously rude and entitled. Examples- when I was waiting for my arepas, a woman walked up and picked up and moved MY belongings down the counter and sat down in the chair directly in front of me without an "excuse me," or anything.  Mr.S had a lady who was so absorbed in texting on her cell phone as she was walking that she ran directly into him and then look at him as though it was HIS fault. Also, when I was in the restroom I saw this woman in her 30's actually push women and children in line out of the way and take the next open stall. And that was just in the span of an hour and a half. WTF? What happened to manners and civility?
Mr.S and I were so disappointed with the poor behavior and attitude we saw exhibited at the Oxbow that we cut our trip short and decided to head home. On the way back, we stopped off for some coffee in Davis at Mischka's. The atmosphere was so nice that we decided to stay and sit at a small table outside enjoying our drinks and chatting for about an hour, then we decided to walk around a bit. What we noticed was that the Davis storekeepers and cashiers were pleasant, people were polite and cars even stopped to allow pedestrians to cross (unlike in Napa where it was like playing Frogger even if you're walking in a designated crossing area). It was such a different vibe, a BETTER kinder vibe and in a way, it salvaged our day. Mr.S and I rarely ever go to Davis but after our detour there Saturday, I think we'll visit more frequently. As for Napa...I've been left with a bad taste in my mouth after this visit and I think I'll be taking a break for awhile.
2 Responses
  1. MGoetzeler Says:

    This has been my experience at Oxbow, too. I lived in Napa for a while when I was younger and have family there. I've watched it morph into a nice town with a inferority complex with St Helena and even Calistoga. When Oxbow opened it was fantastic. Nice spice shop, great cheese, wonderful oysters. But the last two years I've noticed the "valley syndrome" with the service providers. They are better than you. Period. And the food is between average and not so good. I stopped going and enjoy Angèle Restaurant & Bar across the highway on Main Street.

  2. Ally Says:

    So true, Marlene. Thanks for sharing. I got a few emails from others too that grew up in the Napa area and lament how it's changed.

    The bf's brother just moved out to Napa recently so we've been going out there a lot more lately then we have in the past. Had some great customer service at Mustards Grill recently but that seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Given the choice, these days I prefer Healdsburg over Napa. Great wine, delicious food and the proprietors in Healdsburg are still friendly towards their customers & appreciate their patronage.

    I know my tiny blog post won't make an impact on Napa's attitude but I also speak with my wallet by spending my money at places that welcome my business and don't treat me as an inconvenience.


    PS I'll have to check out Angèle! ☺

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