At Torc in Napa, Chef Sean O'Toole's dishes are little performances for the customers. Each starts with the absolutely best example of a main ingredient he can find, and then he adds enhancements that create interest, intrigue and enjoyment.
For example, he sources Morel Mushrooms ($17, ****) from the Sierra. Each is fresh, large and meaty, not the scrawny little ones you find at the markets, and certainly not the dried morels that are then soaked back to life.
Fresh morels are, all by themselves, a wonder of natural goodness, but O'Toole coaxes more from them. He lavishes a savory sauce on them and adds a lacy round of frico cheese crisp made of griddled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. They're paired with green and white spears of asparagus, plus a poached egg and bits of chopped mint leaf to give a hint of spring freshness.
Think about this dish for a moment — the egg, the asparagus, the morels, the fertile season of spring. There's subtext in this dish. O'Toole is a thoughtful chef, and he does stuff like this consistently.
Before Torc, his first venture where he's the proprietor, O'Toole worked with Michael Tusk at Quince in San Francisco and at Bardessono in Yountville. “Torc” is Gaelic for wild boar and is a nod to his Irish heritage. But his cooking is straight-ahead American-Californian with hints of other cuisines.
The building once housed Ubuntu, the vegetarian restaurant and yoga studio that made a big splash a few years ago. O'Toole has converted the studio space on the mezzanine level to a private dining area. The main room is rustic, no-frills, with hardwood floors and recycled redwood tables and two walls of gorgeous dressed stone.
The wine list could hardly be more eclectic. Here's a sample: Delamotte “Le Mesnil sur Oger” Brut Champagne for $65; 2012 Domaine Karanika “Terra Levea” Assyrtiko from Greece for $30; 2008 Terredoro Di Paolo Aglianico “Taurasi DOCG” from Campania, Italy, for $55; 2011 Kobalt Petite Sirah “Window Pane” from the Napa Valley for $42. Corkage is $20 for a first bottle, $35 for a second bottle. The list was put together by Cynthia O'Toole, the chef's wife.