Design Dish: Delicious Edge at Miminashi Napa
All photography by Robert McClenahan
When news spread that Chef Curtis Di Fede was going to open an izakaya-style Japanese restaurant in Downtown Napa, heads turned. A Japanese izakaya is usually a dive bar hidden in dark alleys, smoky from skewered meats grilling on a tiny binchotan - a 180-degree pivot from Oenotri where Di Fede made his name crafting authentic, ingredient-driven southern Italian cuisine. To help realize the vision of his new restaurant Miminashi, Di Fede enlisted long-time friend Michael McDermott who is a veteran Wine Country branding specialist. Together, they re-interpret the Japanese pub experience in the same respectful, bold way as chef’s food, and his journey.
McDermott said they wanted to “create an international zone – to transport people.” Guests enter this zone at the entrance with a dramatic poplar door hand-carved with tiny Mt. Fujis that recall the substantial and ornamental doors of a Japanese temple.
Inside, two peaked atriums representing Shinto and Buddhist temples soar 19-feet, balanced by weighty 5-inch thick wood bar and tables. It’s the perfect yin and yang of lofty sky and earthy gravitas tied together with warm layers of natural materials. With Shinto’s over-arching emphasis on simplicity and living daily in harmony with, and respect for, nature, the larger atrium shines a light on Di Fede’s pure, ingredient-driven dishes. The smaller atrium is a longer, tighter and more delineated climb, evoking Buddhism’s path to enlightenment through discipline and study, not unlike Di Fede’s three-year journey and 12 trips to Japan to capture the authenticity of the cuisine. The two spaces join above the central 22-foot arrow-shaped bar, cleaving the space like a knife, said McDermott, “an essential form to cuisine and to Japanese culture.”
At night, the spaces turn deliciously dark and intimate like a true izakaya, enabled by the low, eight-foot ceilings and the compression, a bold move by McDermott in an industry where height is prized. The open binchotan grill in the corner adds a fire of authenticity while highlighting the drying ingredients that will be used for Miminashi’s house-made dashi broth. There is limited seating here for omakase, the chef’s tasting menu.
Di Fede brings to Wine Country what we’ve all been longing for, a range of unique, umami-loaded Japanese bar food and comfort foods served up in casual digs. We loved the skewer selection: chicken, beef, some veg, and lots of adventurous, flavoursome morsels of offal, all seasoned simply and grilled perfectly.
The menu also offers up popular drinks-friendly comfort foods like ramen noodles, rice dishes, dumplings, okonomiyaki pancakes and potato salad, plus the familiar such as sashimi or grilled cuts like porterhouse and rib eye, all prepared with chef’s unique take on Japanese food. The consistent thread that shone throughout the dishes was impressive restraint that showed the purity and clarity of each ingredient.
The selection of the Miminashi name had less to do with the edgy backstory – about a talented but naive blind minstrel who’s lured by spirits – than the tension it created between the “sweet and friendly and dangerous and challenging” that drove all the bold moves in this project.
Miminashi is open for dinner daily from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. or on Friday and Saturday, until midnight. 821 Coombs Street in Downtown Napa.