Cuisine at Alila Napa Valley’s Violetto Restaurant Elevates the Spirit

Chef Thomas Lents celebrates the union of old and new world techniques and sensibilities. 

An exceptional, intellectually satisfying dining experience awaits at Violetto,  the restaurant inside the white Georgian-style 1907 building that anchors the Alila Napa Valley resort. A few weeks after the restaurant’s mid-May 2024 grand opening party, executive chef Thomas Lents and his team pulled out all the stops for my photographer and me with a mash-up of the four-course prix-fixe menu and seven-course chef’s daily tasting menu. The wine pairings, a revelation themselves, started with a Krug Grand Cuvée Brut.

Krug Grand Cuvée Brut champagne.

Intricate but not Overthought 

Based on northern Italian cuisine, Lents’s food is intricate but not overthought. Dishes like the chilled sweet pea soup with spring onion and mint toast and the trofie al pesto (trofie is a Ligurian pasta) with razor clams, nasturtium, and fino verde basil are fun to deconstruct as you savor. Or just savor. 

Razor clams pasta dish with wine pairing.

Making Comparisons

If you know your northern Italian cuisine, you may find yourself comparing the mostly California-raised ingredients (some from the restaurant’s on-property garden) with their Italian counterparts. And how Lents’s training in French cuisine (per his bio, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Lents was the first American chef de cuisine the renowned French restaurateur Joël Robuchon hired) comes into play.

Soft grays and browns prevail at Violetto.

Gifts and Supplements

We began with three supplemental items from the prix-fixe menu: smoked trout tartlets topped with trout roe, griddled tramezzini (taleggio and mortadella panini with mustard and pickled vegetables), and potato rosti and caviar. Following these treats came a three-part dish among the tasting menu’s “gifts from the kitchen”: fava beans and chickpeas with sliced olives in a Zinfandel vinaigrette, a frico (cheese crisp) topped with California-grown Piedmontese beef, and a vegetable-based brodo (consommé) with maitake and Parmesan. 

Clockwise from top left: smoked trout tartlets, griddled tramezzini, potato rosti and caviar, and three-part “gifts from the kitchen.”

Calming Broth

The broth exerted a calming influence as we paused to finish our Krug Champagne split before heading into the main event, the tasting menu’s seven courses, plus a delightful detour (the chilled sweet pea soup) to the prix-fixe menu.

Agnolotti de Violetto.

Old Ethos Modernized

For the record, and with good reason — we were too distracted by the food and wine to photograph — the image of the Agnolotti de Violetto comes courtesy of the resort. Chef Lents visited our table to explain the thought behind this “nose to tail and stem to seed pasta of the house” and how the dish is his “nod to the old ethos but a modernization” of it. 

“We’re trying to take the same concept of making agnolotti,” said Lents, “basically using leftovers, and relate that to zero waste in the modern way.” To that end, Lents works roasted meat, mortadella, and other scraps into the dish. “Plus saving all the stems and seeds from our garden, drying them out along with the mushrooms, and making a powder to enrich the pasta dough.” 

Violetto occupies the ground floor of a 1907 Georgia-style structure.

Worthy of Support

We could go on more about Violetto, but suffice it to say we appreciated the return of fine dining to Alila. Given the cost and the current era’s unease with formality, some folks question whether high-style repasts like this matter anymore. Count me among those who think they do. An evening like the one Lents and crew deliver elevates the spirit. Celebrating the union of old and new world techniques and sensibilities — and nicely priced given the quality, knowledge, and passion involved —  it’s worthy of support.


30-second clip of tasting menu and other dishes, plus wine pairings

Tasting Menu

In addition to Violetto’s tasting menu, there are à la carte and prix-fixe options.


1915 Main St., St. Helena 94574

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