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Taylor's Automatic Refresher

Napa's Favorite Burger Stand Comes to the City

When wine country yearns for a burger, fries and milkshake, they wouldn't pound down a quarter-pounder any sooner than they would guzzle a gallon of cheap Gallo. They do what they've always done- take a classic style, and reinvent it with fine, fresh ingredients in a clean, uplifting decorum. The three-foot red neon sign inside this popular Ferry Building burger joint commands diners to "EAT", and ours is the second leg of the original Taylor's in St. Helena to follow that suggestion. It's as popular for its rare, succulent and sustainable burgers as it is for its wine list of Napa and Sonoma burger wines (meaning affordable and unobtrusive) and 1950's charm. The brainchild of winemaker Joel Gott (also the owner of the upscale Calistoga Palisades Market), Taylor's is one of wine god Robert Parker's favorite places to cleanse the palate.

And now, we Southerners have a chance to get refreshed as well. The chatty ambience echoes around the large room's café au lait walls and ample windows onto Market Street, where ties loosen on the downtown crowd and children suck thick, luscious Double Rainbow milkshakes through straws. The counter service is casual, friendly, and informative; even the squeaky clean teenager working the register made sensible menu suggestions. Diners will be hard-pressed to navigate an eclectic menu of burgers, seafood, and on occasion, pulled pork, featuring classic and simple joys like grilled cheese and tuna melt, and California favorites like the rare ahi burger and the chicken and roasted poblano chile sandwich.

Rather than simply order the burger (1/3 of a pound of freshly ground beef from Golden Gate Meat Company) we allowed ourselves to be upsold to the Western Bacon Blue Ring. Here, the flavorful beef is accentuated by mild bacon, tangy, not-too-sweet barbecue sauce, a thin bite of red onion, and the crown of it all, a lone onion ring stuffed with the balance of pungent blue cheese. A Sciambra egg bun keeps it all together, but it's spongy, and lacks the integrity to match its contents. Though obviously cut from fresh potatoes, the French fries were served cool, crispless and undersalted.

To balance this heavyweight, we also tried their famous fish tacos: good, but not the splash that their reputation had promised. The fresh mahi mahi had a mild flavor and flake, but the "Mexican slaw" that topped it was mere shredded cabbage, and the salsa was adequate, but not robust. The jalapeño-cilantro sour cream drizzle was too light and underspiced to imbue as much flavor as we would have liked.

Taylor's gets points for offering cherry and vanilla syrup to mix with soft drinks, and a meal wouldn't be complete without a shake. Chocolate enthusiasts will not be disappointed, but their White Pistachio is what they're known for best. Both, like a fine merlot and the meal itself, are decadent and satisfying.