Inside Napa: Which Hillstone entity will occupy the old Napa Valley Grille in Yountville?

I’m a Rutherford Grill junkie for the most part. Like many folks who live here in the Napa Valley, this culinary juggernaut is part of my weekly dining routine, and they know me by name. I actually began to get hooked on the place several years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, where the Houston’s locations are as mega-profitable as their sister location in Rutherford (all of these restaurants share many common menu items, though they do offer a few exclusive ones, as well). As a diner with a dotcom bankroll, I used to frequent the Century City Houston’s just about whenever I could, and when I finally dropped out of the entertainment biz to join the ranks of the kitchen, I decided that I needed to work at the newly-opened Houston’s location in Santa Monica. My logic at the time was that a new restaurant might still be hiring, and that they might gamble on someone with zero kitchen experience.

Long story short, my two years at Houston’s Santa Monica offered me a great education in organization and cleanliness. Those restaurants are impeccable, if there was ever any doubt. And I will always admire the ability of every Houston’s location, including the Rutherford Grill, to generate big covers and turn big profits; their formula is so dialed in, it’s uncanny. If Hillstone Restaurant Group was a publicly-held entity, I would certainly invest heavily in that operation (HRG is still owned by the founder of the original Houston’s Restaurant, which if I remember correctly, was established in Nashville a little over 30 years ago). In a difficult industry, Hillstone is the model of consistency and success, though I will admit that the menu itself can be somewhat pedestrian, at least compared to many other spots in the Napa Valley (but well-executed, don’t get me wrong). That said, I’ve long claimed that the Rutherford Grill cheeseburger was the best in the Napa Valley.

• • •

Although I meant to mention this item several months ago, I am overjoyed that the wretched Napa Valley Grille (no relation to the Rutherfod Grill) finally went belly up in its old Yountville location (unfortunately, there are still other NVG locations in the country, including Los Angeles, the site of one of my worst meals of all-time). Although I never once set foot on the NVG’s Yountville property — grudges being what they are — I’m pretty sure that it offered the same, woefully sub-standard fare as their Los Angeles location. I always wondered who the hell ate the NVG (maybe just tourists), and I pitied those sad saps for choosing so poorly in such a target-rich environment. For as many years as I’ve lived in the Napa Valley, I almost never heard anyone mention their dinner at the Napa Valley Grille. It was weird. I’m sure that, given its key wine-country location, the restaurant saw many first-time visitors, but I’m guessing that poor experiences probably caused a lot of people to remain mum and never return (maybe they were also embarrassed at their own poor judgment).

• • •

With Hillstone Restaurant Group having recently applied for a liquor license at the old Napa Valley Grille location in Yountville, there has been some speculation as to what will emerge in that prime restaurant space. Having once worked for the company (I still know the spinach dip recipe, among others), my immediate guess was that it would be Gulfstream, the company’s seafood concept. When I was living in Los Angeles, Hillstone built a Gulfstream location right across from Houston’s Century City (and thus replacing Steven Spielberg’s abysmal eatery, The Dive). I always felt that the Napa Valley’s coastal proximity could lend itself to such an angle, especially with oyster bars becoming such a hot commodity these days.

However, having gone to culinary school with some current Hillstone employees, I’m told that the new Yountville location will most likely resemble (a) the South Beverly Grill, which just opened in Beverly Hills last month, or else (b) R + D Kitchen, which now has three locations, two in Southern California. More than that, the company has allegedly purchased enough surrounding property to construct a hotel concept (the adjacent Exxon station has been defunct for a while now, and would conceivably present easy pickings for such an endeavor). Frankly, I’m incredulous at the sheer scope of this project, but I understand that this plan presents a real distinct possibility, so I’m going with it for now, since I love a hot rumor. And if that wasn’t enough, it gets even a little better still: This new Younvtille location (name still unspecified) will also serve pizzas (apparently). Yountville needs pizza.

4 comments to Inside Napa: Which Hillstone entity will occupy the old Napa Valley Grille in Yountville?

  • I love the Rutherford Grill as well! I sometimes feel bad for passing up other restaurants with more acclaim, but RG just does it right all the time. I’m a big fan of their veggie plate that comes with a whole artichoke grilled to perfection. When I feel like some meat, their french dip with prime rib is hard to beat. I agree with you–sometimes pedestrian food, but always very well excuted.

  • El Gordo

    Hillstone does rock, no doubt about it. You forgot to mention that their wine program is one of the best deals in the Valley. Cheap prices and no corkage?! Just had a GLASS of Kistler chard there for $16?!! Crazy talk. BTW for the true Napa locals, Norm (owner of Trancas Steakhouse and Red Hen Cantina) bought NVG’s pizza oven and outdoor furniture. It’s all going into his new pizza joint in Brown’s Valley in the old Zin’s Valley spot. Also, doesn’t Piero have pizza in Yountville? Thoughts anyone?

  • ThirstyReader

    Interesting details, thanks. Piero does have pizza, but it could be nice to see some different styles, hopefully. I guess this potential plan could resemble Bardessono, in the sense that it was also described to me as a “resort”… We’ll see. Hillstone is great at making a buck.

  • Chrissy Robbins

    making a buck is what got this country in the state its in now! What about good old fashioned coffee shops with good old fashioned fry cooks. I’m not popular with the eat healthy group, but I do believe everything in moderation. Just what we need, another way too expensive spa/hotel/restaurant.

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