Remembering Donna Scala

donnaThe last time I saw Donna Scala, co-owner with husband Giovanni of Napa’s popular Bistro Don Giovanni, she was full of plans to renovate the restaurant.

Which is notable mainly because she’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor and given just months to live. That was earlier this year and as it turned out the end was even nearer than we thought. She died today.

I knew Donna only as a customer; for about the last 12 years I’ve been meeting a group of friends at the bistro for lunch once a month. But even that limited contact made a huge impression. Short, bubbly and blonde, Donna could fill up any room. You could always tell if she was in the house by the throaty, sexy laugh emanating from the kitchen. (Or, if things weren’t being run in keeping with her high standards, the equally recognizable sound of a sinner being summarily set straight.)

But any storms soon blew over and Donna would be back doing what she did so well, circling the restaurant, stopping to hug regulars and catch up on the latest from the many wine country boldface types who frequent the bistro. If there was something new on the menu, Donna made sure you at least had a taste. And she always had something pertinent to say about whatever was the topic du jour in the Napa Valley.

For me, a person who carries the scars of eating lunch alone in the girls’ bathroom for all of 9th grade (High school: The worst, non?), it was a special thrill to be greeted by Donna, ever-glamorous in her crisp chef’s whites (often with a hint of lace peeking out at the lapel) and shorty Western boots. I quoted her a few times in stories about California food and wine and was always tickled by how open and funny she was.

The last time she stopped by our table we knew she was ill and she knew that we knew. But we talked mostly about other things, including her plans to update the restaurant. Just for a moment she looked at us and her eyes shone with unshed tears. “I love you all,” she said.

And we loved you, Donna.



Bistro Don Giovanni

The bar at Bistro Don Giovanni /Michelle Locke

Just off Highway 29 on the outskirts of Napa, Bistro Don Giovanni is popular with locals and visitors.

The food here is rustic and hearty. Eat indoors in the big, warmly decorated dining room or dine in a glassed-in terrace where a log fire crackles in winter. On warm days, you can sit on the shady patio overlooking fields of vines.

Until her untimely death in 2014, you would often find Chef Donna Scala bustling in and out of the kitchen making sure that everything on the plate is perfection. These days a photo of Donna and her trusty Vespa looks down from the walls of the restaurant. Staff still put out the same menu standbys like the roast chicken and grilled burger as well as seasonal highlights like the peach Back Door Salad.

The wine list is extensive _ a bottle of Mason Sauvignon Blanc is a good accompaniment to most meals _ and there’s also a full bar offering seasonal cocktails. Try the Blondie Mary if it’s on the menu.


Address: 4110 Howard Lane, Napa, California
Phone: 707-224-3300
Prices: Entrees run from about $13 to $30

  • Don’t miss: The fritto misto appetizer, crisply battered veggies and seafood + spicy aioli

Silverado Resort and Spa

Like golf? A lot? Then the Silverado Resort and Spa is worth checking out. This luxury hotel has not one but two 18-hole, par-72 PGA championship golf courses.

Golf not your bag? Not a problem. In addition to acres and acres of lushly maintained grounds, the hotel features a 16,000-square-foot spa where you can get gussied up or simply chill out.

Specials are available, like the girlfriend getaway package in which four people share a two-bedroom fireplace suite with wine tasting, a spa gift and wine tasting for four at a nearby winery, all for about $200 per person per night.

The Vinecdote Vitals:

Address: 1600 Atlas Peak Road, Napa
Phone: 707-257-0200

Price: Rooms start at about $150
Don’t miss: Golf!