Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ken Frank's Bank Cafe and Bar, Napa

Dropping into downtown Napa city on a reporting assignment, my wife and I lunched at Bank, an eatery helmed by chef Ken Frank that serves as a casual, affordable companion to his Michelin-starred La Toque. This proved to be a yummy move.

Like La Toque, Bank Cafe and Bar is located in the riverside Westin Versasa Hotel in Napa's revitalized downtown. Instead of the foie gras and truffles you are apt to get at dinner in La Toque - and boy are they worth it - you might get a really good burger, a salad or something else on the light side at Bank. It was a sunny day, so we ate outdoors in the Westin courtyard. The hotel swimming pool was on one side, balconied courtyard rooms were on the other and a fountain burbled nearby in the middle of the open expanse, happily drowning out some of the cell phone chatter from a worried-looking wedding planner at a table near us.

We shared a crispy shrimp starter, lightly battered, juicy and tasty, placed atop a bed of just hot and spicy enough slaw. Then, I tucked into a grilled vegetable sandwich while my wife lunched on a fresh-cut ham and cheese sandwich. We split a seasonal green salad. The cuisine was simple, fresh and full of flavor. A half-bottle of 2007 Grigich Chardonnay went beautifully with the food and allowed us to feel safe about driving after lunch. We came away satisfied but not boozy or overfed from a lunch that was nicely paced and well-presented by Bank's attentive, young staff. The bill, for $94.18USD, was more than we had been planning to spend. Considering the quality, it was fair value. If we eat there again, as I hope we will, we will order less food; portions are ample, so it won't be a hardship.

Frank made the move two years ago to the Westin from a free-standing restaurant space up-valley in Rutherford, and seems to be making it work. Combined with his dinnertime mastery of California French fare in La Toque, he is one of the brightest lights in a Napa Valley crowded with stars.

Bank Cafe and Bar, Westin Versasa, Napa (, 1314 McKinstry St., Napa, CA 94559 USA, tel. 707.257.5150,

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