Torc offers affordable fare with a flair in downtown Napa

By L. Pierce Carson

Honoring his Celtic roots (and acknowledging that he’s about two-thirds Quebecois), O’Toole said his restaurant’s name celebrates the rituals of people dining together. While the word comes from an ancient Gaelic term for wild boar, Torc also connotes convivial feasting.

O’Toole has done very little to alter the attractive dining room that housed Ubuntu. The revitalized 19th-century stone and timber space features 30-foot ceilings, alterations to the floor plan and new fabric on the banquette seating. Torc’s new decor emphasizes comfort and warmth through the use of natural materials, dark wood floors, cozy chairs and reclaimed wood tables.

The main dining room can seat 90 guests, including 17 at the bar. In addition there are 20 rear patio seats (open seasonally) and a private dining room on a mezzanine level where a yoga studio was located. The restaurant’s open kitchen remains the same. Art from Bay Area photographer Andy Berry adds color to the restaurant walls.

ImageSource: Napa Valley lamb and squab from nearby Paine Farm — “we’re one of only three restaurants in the valley that get this squab.”

The chef is enthusiastic about his pasta, including the Liberty Farm duck tortelli served with blood oranges, celery root and black trumpet mushrooms, and the housemade strozzapreti (which translates to priest stranglers) tossed with Tellicherry peppers, cavalo nero and pecorino Romano.

Pastas ($14-$16) served on recent nights have included savory guinea hen agnolotti with black trumpet mushrooms and nettles and bucatini tossed in wild boar bolognese that incorporates both cocoa and a little lime juice.

While the kitchen serves up most dishes on the affordable side, diners can splurge with a traditional Piemontese tajarin that features flat egg noodles with Parmigiano-Reggiano and white truffles, still a deal at $47.

But half a tasty Maine lobster comes to the table at $19 and a free range chicken for two with coconut rice and spicy choy sum will only set you back $41.

Fish is always featured — sablefish, wild steelhead, ling cod and Petrale sole ($23-$26) have graced recent menus in preparations that included everything from shellfish ragout to grilled fillets that included beans, lemon broth, roasted pumpkin, matsutake mushrooms, artichokes and Shanghai cabbage, among other accompaniments.

Hudson Ranch heritage pork ($25) comes with toothsome cheesy grits and collard greens; a prime New York strip steak ($27) is dressed up with the addition of roasted beets and horseradish.

One of the kitchen’s most popular offerings is the Bengali sweet potato pakora ($5), a Southeast Asian fritter made with gluten-free chickpea flour, sweet potatoes and cumin. The addictive little fritters come with an equally habit-forming yogurt-truffle dip. Additional tasty bar snacks include the legendary Iberico ham ($15) and creamy deviled eggs ($5) with pickled onions and bacon.

A selection of first courses ($10-$14) includes Japanese Kampachi crudo, roasted beet salad, violet artichoke soup, chicory salad with walnuts and Dungeness crab with an herb salad and Buddha’s Hand gelée and zest — all of which demand a second visit.

The pastry chef’s desserts ($9) include treats like pineapple French toast with coconut lime sorbet, winter citrus praline tart with smoked ganache and lemon curd, plus milk chocolate bombe with pistachio ice cream. There’s always a daily selection of ice cream and sorbet as well as local and imported cheese.

Torc offers a dozen wines by the glass and a varied selection of Napa and Sonoma wines, plus a number of Old World bottlings. Three dozen domestic and imported beers and ales are available by the bottle and on tap.

A veteran of San Francisco’s Cotogna and Napa Valley dining rooms at Domaine Chandon and Bottega, general manager Jonathan Wendorf has brought together a knowledgeable service staff, eager to inform guests on both food and wine options and pairings.

Located at 1140 Main St., Napa, Torc serves dinner daily from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday brunch is slated to be offered starting the first weekend in February.

Pointing to $5 snacks and beer offered at a price point of less than $3, the chef says Happy Hour at Torc lasts all night long.

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