Doumani's family owned Stags' Leap Winery in Napa Valley (sold to
Beringer Blass in 1997), so, when they decided to open their own
place, the wine country where Doumani grew up was a natural draw
for the culinary duo. They called it Terra, which appropriately has
two meanings: "earth" in Italian and "temple" in Japanese. The
restaurant is housed in a historic 1884 fieldstone building in St.
Helena - and it's a structure that has led a varied life.
Originally a foundry, it's also served as a glove factory, a
chicken hatchery, and the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. Its last
incarnation before Terra was as the quite good restaurant La Belle
Hélène. Since Doumani and Sone want to make diners feel as if
they're invited guests in a private home, there's no sign on the
building now. While Sone puts out the food, Doumani plays a triple
role as pastry chef, front-of-the-house chatelaine, and general
Sone's cooking retains definite influences from his Japanese
ancestry, but tends to speak more of the South of France and
Northern Italy than of Oriental cuisines. California itself is
actually the major force at work in Sone's kitchen. "What we serve
comes from what grows around us," Sone explains. "Every morning
local farmers arrive at the kitchen door with just-picked produce."
On the menu, starters such as lamb carpaccio and duck rillettes
cozy up to mains such as broiled, sake-marinated Alaskan black cod
with shrimp dumplings in shiso broth
. For efforts like this,
Sone won a much-deserved James Beard award last year for Best
el molino pinot noir napa valley 1999 ($50)
hiro sone recommends this stunning pinot with his fried miyagi
oysters on pork-belly kakuni in black-vinegar sauce.