Whether the words "light lunch" make your ears prick up or your heart sink, Napa Café gives you the option to go lean with bento box meals but still tuck into something indulgent when you're in the mood.
Each bento box consists of five components: a protein (usually three to four ounces of fish), a salad, a vegetable side, a small sweet bite like dark chocolate paté, and some sort of raw nuts or edamame. You can also specify if you'd like yours vegetarian, gluten-free, or nut-free.
Modeled after the single-serving boxed meals common in Japan, Napa Café's bento boxes have been available to those in the know for nearly two years but were only recently published on the menu.
Owner Glenda Hastings says the item gained popularity via collaboration with Mona Spa and Laser Center, where patrons can have a bento box delivered for lunch (hence its full menu title, "Napa Café Spa Cuisine Bento Box").
"Spa cuisine is really big in places like California, and I'd been wanting to do it for a couple of years," says Hastings, who describes spa cuisine as well-proportioned, wholesome meals that also delight the palate.
"I know people want to eat healthy, but they still want things to be gourmet, they still want to be satisfied," she says. "If you're a foodie and you're eating healthy, it's important that you're getting a lot of good flavors and textures and you feel satisfied."
Right now the bento box (which will run you about $15) is solely a dine-in lunch item, but Hastings wants to expand to take-out service and also add bento boxes as a healthy vegetarian option at dinner.
And as executive chef Rick Saviori (formerly of Thyme Bistro) prepares for spring, changes to the regular menu will bring lighter fare as well, like seared yellowfin tuna with a warm soba noodle salad, red onion, carrots, pickled ginger, and sesame ginger vinaigrette.
"You're going to see a heavy influence of seafood and fresh vegetables and vinaigrettes, not heavy sauces," says Saviori, who plans to unveil some new dishes around the week after Easter. "For instance, I'm doing a coriander-dusted redfish with a green gazpacho and a strawberry fennel salad. We're also doing a grilled lemon fish served with caponata and salsa verde and garnished with fried capers."
Of course, it isn't all lean fare at Napa. Hastings recently added a new sandwich to the lunch menu that sounds like a post-lunch nap on a plate: braised beef short ribs, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and fontina cheese on toasted brioche. Their dinner appetizers include Arancini, fried rice balls with smoked mozzarella and served with marinara, and a duck confit polenta. Desserts include sweet buttermilk pie, a chocolate peanut butter torte, and a Key lime and mascarpone cannoli. In other words, they also offer day-after-the-spa cuisine.
"I eat here every day," Hastings says, "and we laugh because the question is, 'Am I going to be sinful today or am I going to be good?'"
Napa Café is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. Also keep a lookout for extensive renovations, as Hastings celebrates her 10-year anniversary with the restaurant. A new entryway, expanded bar, and some other cosmetic touches are forthcoming.
Napa Café, 5101 Sanderlin, Suite 122 (683-0441)