Michael Warring and his wife Ali Gulczynski opened their Hiddenbrooke Plaza restaurant, Michael Warring, in June 2012 which is the same month that my wife and I purchased our home in Hiddenbrooke and moved here from Berkeley. After our first visit to his restaurant, we were thrilled to have a dining experience right down our street as fine as anything we experienced at Chez Pannisse. Since then, we visited a couple times a year and tell ourselves each time that we need to go there more.
Every time we visit we try to snag a place at the counter closest to where Michael works. There we can pretend he’s cooking just for us, as if dining with only 16 other people could be any more intimate. But another bonus with sitting at the communal counter is being able to interact with other adventurous diners. Michael tells us that when he first opened he assumed that Hiddenbrooke neighbors would be his primary customer base. But he’s since learned that people living and visiting in Napa find him online and seek him out, filling his reservation book without the need to promote himself in the neighborhood. Or at all. A 2015 appearance on the local TV show “Check Please Bay Area” (see it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMzvLA1mLb0) furthered the restaurant’s fame.
During the pandemic, we embraced the meal kit approach that Michael and Ali launched. We closely followed his YouTube videos for preparation instructions and proudly shared our plating photos on social media. The more Michael taught us about ingredients and cooking, the more we realized what a skilled professional he really is. When we go we always choose to have Ali’s wine pairings. She does a magnificent job of blending local and international wines that match the tastes of each course.
The cheese course is a highlight at every visit. We learned when traveling in France that cheese is served from a cart or a plate after the meal with bread, never crackers. That revelation rocked my Ritz cracker with Hickory Farms cheese log perspective on fine dining. Michael’s toasted brioche with jam further elevates the cheese selection. I sometimes hear from Hiddenbrooke neighbors who are intimidated by the restaurant’s approach of multiple small courses with no published menu. We’ve experienced the opposite effect. Now when we dine elsewhere, we usually choose the chef’s selection when it’s offered. What Michael’s course choices reinforces is that you really only need a bite or two when the food has such intense, complex flavors. Honestly. I’ve never left there hungry. But I always leave invigorated by his menu choices and the flavors. And the one time we participated in their 12-course menu, I left there stuffed to the gills with the tastiest memories.