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Cox: In Napa, it's 'The Place'

  • The Chicken Marsala at Il Posto in Napa was a skin-on, boneless breast, pan-roasted, served on creamy polenta with a maitake mushroom and marsala wine sauce. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD)

The city of Napa's Il Posto — “the place” in Italian — will fly under the radar for most of the Valley's tourist trade. But it's just the place for local folks — that's you and me — to enjoy handcrafted Italian food in a clean, well-lighted place.

On a recent night, one large table was filled with a gaggle of 9- and 10-year-olds and their supervising adults. Nearby was a large family with grandparents, parents, young adults, and babes in arms. At another, a married couple held hands across their antipasti, and an elderly couple eased themselves into their chairs by the window. This is a good sign, because a restaurant that can appeal to people of all ages prioritizes pleasure and unpretentious comfort.

Our party really didn't know what to expect from Il Posto, although there was some good buzz about the place on the grapevine. The good buzz turned out to be accurate. It's a surprisingly serious Italian restaurant.

Il Posto Trattoria

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For example, let's get right to the best things on the menu — the desserts. I know a guy whose motto is “Eat dessert first.” He'd love this place. Strawberry Panna Cotta ($8, 3-1/2 stars) couldn't have tasted better, although typically this dessert is turned out of its ramekin onto a plate and you can enjoy its jiggle and shimmer. Il Posto's came still in its glassware. Pureed strawberries had been whipped into the custard and set in the glass with strawberry syrup. Little rhubarb dice were sprinkled over the top and it was accompanied by slivered marcona almonds.

Cannoli ($5, 4 stars) is an iconic Italian dessert, and this one is perfect. Too often, the cylinders of pastry that make up the cannoli are too thick and hard. If they're too thin, the wet filling can make them soggy.

These sweet, crunchy, lacy, frico-like gems are just right — easy to eat in all senses of the phrase. The filling is a lightly whipped Meyer lemon ricotta studded with chopped pistachios. Both desserts were exceptional.

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