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Perfecting the Art of Pairing: Napa’s Ca’ Momi Osteria

Editor’s Note: This past fall I had the pleasure of participating in the grape harvest in the Napa Valley, one of the most appealing wine regions anywhere. Rather than simply wine touring, I sought to get a deeper understanding of the process of winemaking by participating in the harvest, shadowing Warren Winiarski of Arcadia Vineyard, Michael Silacci of Opus One and Chris Howell of Cain Vineyard and Winery to learn the secrets of making exceptional wine.  It was a fascinating and enlightening experience, learning how they sampled the fruit, made the critical decision to pick, brought in the fruit and carefully crushed and fermented it. In addition, I dined at wonderful restaurants, stayed in lovely hotels and met some fascinating characters. The following stories feature the highlights of the Napa Harvest—the insights, surprises and lessons learned along the way.

Nicholas O’Connell, MFA, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and founder of The Writer’s Workshop. He will teach a Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class in Tuscany (May 20-26).


After a full day of touring Opus One and walking through its vineyards, it was a pleasure to dine at Ca’ Momi Osteria in Napa. In the Napa Valley, the close connection between vineyards and restaurants makes it an ideal locale for food and wine pairing. Ca’ Momi proved a perfect restaurant for exploring the art of pairing as it offers an impressive array of its own wines as well as authentic Italian cuisine.
Located in a large, well-lit space in the heart of downtown Napa, Ca’ Momi is an appealing destination for everything from a quick Happy Hour aperitif to a full course meal. My friend Nancy Gaeden and I had the pleasure of enjoying the latter, sampling a full range of the restaurant’s offerings paired with its wines.
We started off our dinner with the restaurant’s spritzy, refreshing NV Prosecco. Then the first course arrived, pan-seared sweetbreads in marsala and butter, paired with the restaurant’s 2012 Reserve Chardonnay. The buttery Chardonnay amplified the rich, sweet flavors of the dish.
Next came a platter of beef tongue carpaccio. The tongue was richer than roast beef, with a concentrated, satisfying flavor. Like the sweetbreads, this is not a dish you’d find on the menu in most Italian restaurants in the U.S. but Ca’ Momi prides itself on its authenticity.
Between courses I walked back to the kitchen to take a look at the restaurant’s wood burning oven. It adheres to strict Vera Pizza Napoletana guidelines, with the pizza cooked for 90 seconds in the 900 degree oven. When one of the chefs opened the oven door, I got hit with a blast of heat. The flames inside looked like a vision of hell though the pizza from it tasted like something from heaven: crisp, smoky, slightly charred crust with a deeply flavored tomato sauce topped fresh organic ingredients. The restaurant’s 2013 Reserve Merlot-Carneros brought out all the flavors of the dish.
The restaurant and staff display an appealing Italian brio and attitude. “We serve traditional pizza Napoletana,” the menu states. “As in Italy, we don’t cut our pizza to preserve its integrity, and so you can slice it how you like. Chili flakes and parmesan on your pizza? These aren’t traditional condiments in Italy; we have an amazing house made olio picante!”
No chili flakes or parmesan were needed to enhance the flavors of this or the following course, a slow-cooked pork shank flavored with rosemary. This was amazingly succulent, especially when paired with the restaurant’s 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
We rounded off the meal with the restaurant’s honeyed, late harvest 2012 Passito Dolce, California, capping off an impressive array of wines to complement the outstanding cuisine. Go for just the pizza if you like, but if you do you’ll be missing out on some of the most authentic Italian dishes you’ll find outside of Italy.

Note: The preceding story is an excerpt from the forthcoming Crush: Apprenticeship in the Wine Trade by Nicholas O’Connell, M.F.A, Ph.D. He is the author of four books and contributes to  Newsweek, Gourmet, Saveur, Outside, GO, National Geographic Adventure, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sierra, and many other places. He is the founder of the online and Seattle-based writing program,



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