The Charter Oak opened in June in the space that housed Tra Vigne for years. It's the more casual operation from Chef Christopher Kostow. I had a chance to try it in September.
The cuisine's focused on simple foods cooked over the hearth at the center of the room.
Even on a Wednesday evening, the place was quite busy. The only seating available was an outdoor table. But after a brief wait, a single seat opened at the bar.
A beef rib grilled over cabernet barrels and served with beets dried over the fire, $26, was presented in a high rim dish. The geometry of the dish made it very difficult to use a knife to cut into the rib. The rib had deep meaty flavor accented with smoky char though it was a bit stringy. It would have been even better if served hot instead of room temperature. The beets had a leathery exterior that at first I thought might be the outer peel. No, it was just a dessicated layer that had toughened on the outside. The beets themselves were beyond firm and needed a steak knife to try to hack through them. They were so hard, piercing them with fork tines took some brute force. Though flavored with beef drippings, the textures made them inedible.
Of note, corkage is complimentary on the first two bottles of Napa Valley wine. Wines from outside the area or more than two will incur a $20 corkage charge.
In case one gets lost on the way to the lower floor restrooms, this art piece points the way.
At the three-month mark, service and food execution were still rough around the edges. I also noticed that the room had too much hazy smoke from the wood-burning fire and I was relieved to get out of there. I'm hearing more recent reports that the food has improved since then.
The Charter Oak
1050 Charter Oak Ave.
St. Helena, CA