• Cafe La Haye, 140 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA www.cafelahaye.com

Especially when you are in Napa, it is not uncommon to bump into places that seem like holes in the wall, but turn out to be refined eateries. Café La Haye, with its mere twelve tables, is one of them.

Despite its sophistication (and prices), it immediately looks like a home run bistro. The menu is all on one page and, although we change our reservation three times, the owner, Saul, is extremely accommodating and goes above and beyond to ensure our expectations are met.

All the items on the carte promise to be full flavored dishes. To enjoy this rich tasting cuisine one must be in the mood. But we haven’t had lunch today… so for us it’s perfect.

The starter is our favorite. We could have been happy just having this first dainty course. Ricotta gnocchi with lobster, moistured in a velvety butternut squash soup, reminds us of our favorite from Parma, Italy. Delicate, airy, soft. We literally dry the plate, cleaning its borders with a piece of bread.

Pappardelle, a kind of egg handmade pasta, with caramelized fennels and Swiss chards takes us back to Italy. The roasted pork sauce is not loaded with cream or butter, just a copious handful of Grana Padano cheese ties the meat and noodles together. We like it.

It hurts to admit that the meat is not unforgettable. The pork chop is good, but it comes with a heavy smoked tomato polenta sauce (which tastes like grits) that uselessly adds a different texture to the dish and blurs the juiciness of the chops. Adding to the heartache, the T bone steak, with shallot butter, broccolini and fried potatoes, is too greasy.

After this course we undo the first button of our jeans. Admittedly, its not their fault;  the same sensation would be felt when one eats their body weight in sushi. It is one of the rare occasions when we don’t have the courage to ask about the tart of the day. We found ourselves wondering: “Why didn’t we just order a second portion of gnocchi and leave?”

It could have been better if…We had stopped after the first course.

Note: Portions are abundant. If you don’t feel like an opulent libation, share one entrée and save room for dessert.