You may have noticed the new sign at Napa Café. I mean, how could you not? Outsize and glowing-white, it's practically visible from Walnut Grove.
Well, the sign's just the tip of the iceberg. Beginning in July, Napa undertook a series of changes that run wide and deep through the heart of the restaurant. They include a new chef, a new menu, and an interior renovation that has yielded a totally new look.
For the past 17 years, Napa has anchored Sanderlin Centre, serving light, seasonal California-inspired fare. The wine list is just as important to Napa's identity; it strives to introduce Memphians to exciting wine from around the world — while remaining affordable and unpretentious.
"When it comes to European wine," says managing partner Rusty Prudhon, "people tend to think if they can't pronounce it, they can't afford it.
"We want to show them that delicious wine is within reach," he adds. "We want our wine to spark a conversation."
Those core concepts remain unchanged, but this new incarnation of Napa is more spacious and better executed, beginning with the bar. Cozy to some, the old bar struck others as claustrophobic and dark, closed in by a half-wall and ceiling drops.
By contrast, the new bar is wide open and well lit, with a rustic, reclaimed hickory bar top. It's the first thing you see when you walk through the door, and it graciously divides the restaurant into two main dining rooms. There are also a small lounge and a farmer's table, beautifully illuminated by track lighting.
- Justin Fox Burks
- Newly remodeled Napa Café
Maybe my favorite addition is the chef's table. Tucked into its own, neatly appointed room at the back of the restaurant, this L-shaped, reclaimed cedar wood table seats six, perfect for intimate celebrations and wine pairings.
Since coming on in July, chef Ken Lumpkin has kept many of Napa's greatest hits — don't worry, the tomato soup with dill and basil ($8) isn't going anywhere — while introducing a number of new dishes. Despite unpretentious labels, many are ambitious and demonstrate a welcome playfulness.
- Justin Fox Burks
Take the following dish, labeled simply "Scallops" ($28). It features three seared scallops served between chunks of charred mango (yum) and tiny oxtail dumplings. The whole thing is served with cumin-scented sweet potato puree and drizzled with umami broth.
"Say goodbye to marshmallows," says owner Glenda Hastings. "That cumin in the sweet potato — that's a game changer."
Of course, it wouldn't be supper at Napa without a stellar glass of wine. To pair with the scallops, Hastings recommends a bottle of 2013 Adelsheim Pinot Blanc ($40). This brisk, mineralic wine can stand up to the strong flavor of the oxtail, while playing nicely with the sweet potato and the mango.
Rotis Cuisine of India in Sanderlin Centre, opened in October to exactly zero fanfare, and the restaurant is seldom crowded. But I'm rooting for them, for one simple reason: The food is good. I have eaten there three or four times, and — what can I say? — the zesty appetizers and well-executed curries keep me coming back.
Not to mention, it is the only Indian restaurant in all of East Memphis.
For eight years before moving to Memphis, owner Madhu Ankisetty owned and managed Maharaja, a bustling Indian food restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi. He is from Hyderabad and demonstrates an easy fluency with the sharp, fresh flavors of North India — think coconut, cardamom, and tamarind. At Rotis, he prides himself on cooking every dish to order, as well as offering a wide range of vegan and gluten-free options.
I recommend starting with Paneer Pakora ($7.99). These semi-soft cubes of paneer cheese are battered with chickpeas and deep-fried, yielding a salty, crunchy crust and a warm, creamy filling. As if that weren't enough, the fancy fried cheese is served with two dipping sauces. The tamarind is good, but the spicy mint is great.
Another don't-miss-it dish is the Gobi Manchuria ($7.99), lightly fried cauliflower served in a sweet chili sauce. Besides being delicious (and vegan!), it showcases the way that Rotis tailors its spice levels to customer preference. "Medium" was just right for me.
From there, graduate to any of several curries, served family-style in handsome, stainless-steel bowls. In the event of an arctic blast, the butter chicken ($9.99), bathed in a silky tomato gravy, will warm you right up. But save room for the Channa Masala ($9.99), a fragrant and well-balanced dish of chickpeas, tomatoes, and onions.