Go Inside Napa Valley’s New Gathering Place, French Blue


Howard Backen, of the St. Helena-based Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, is known for crafting properties with soaring ceilings, elegant architectural details and light-filled spaces. But after designing more than 35 wineries, 18 restaurants, and a plethora of upscale homes, resorts and retail locations for the likes of Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma Home, Howard, his wife and interior designer Lori, together with vintner Leslie Rudd (also of nearby Press) and an all-star ensemble of Wine Country hospitality veterans, embraced the opportunity to create a place of their own.

This week, the trio infuse light and air into St. Helena’s former Vanderbilt building with the opening of their new restaurant French Blue.

Located along St. Helena’s Main Street, the owners sought to create an inviting gathering place for the local community. Howard bridged the indoor and outdoor spaces by incorporating natural materials and allowing plenty of sunlight to flood the restaurant. A signature ridge skylight and double-hung windows allow gentle breezes and the hum of Main Street to drift inside.

Lori outfitted the space with warm-hued floors, comfortable chairs and settees made of French wicker, and tables crafted from reclaimed white French oak. She deliberately kept the palette neutral, saying, “The focus should be on the people and the food, not the decor.” A long communal table near the fireplace anchors the dining room and invites guests to stay and mingle for a while.

In the market area, white up-lit shelving showcases hand-selected French Blue gift items and house-made foodstuffs.

The gorgeous design isn’t the only reason to plan a trip to French Blue. The seasonally-inspired menu from Executive Chef Philip Wang complements the fresh, natural design. Simply prepared dishes celebrate the vibrant flavors of freshly picked produce and eggs from nearby Rudd Farms. French Blue also features a carefully curated selection of cocktails and Northern California wines.

French Blue is open for dinner starting May 29, for lunch and dinner starting June 4, and all-day starting June 13. 1429 Main Street, St. Helena

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