August 2015 Restaurant Openings: Ninebark, Oro, Estrellon

Add these August restaurant openings to your summer bucket list

It may feel like summer's winding down, but in the restaurant world, it's just starting to heat up. New York's beloved freewheeling, smoke-loving chef is dreaming up new dishes in Napa, while a James Beard Award-winning chef is veering off his French and Asian tracks to focus on Madrid-style feasts. Here are five big restaurant openings to watch out for this month:

Ninebark, Napa, California

After handing off Atera to Ronny Emborg, Matthew Lightner has found his way to wine country. "California has always been in the back of my head," Lightner explains. "Napa fulfills so many of my check boxes: proximity to the Bay Area, which is the gateway to the valleys and in the backyards of both San Francisco and Marin; the base for a lot of environmental diversity; the history; the opportunity for growth; and the people." Now, this won't be Atera 2.0, but rather a chance for the Michelin-starred chef to explore and experiment with all that's around him. He's grilling meat wrapped in green eucalyptus, smoking with local hardwood and shrubs, and focusing on seafood to create whimsical dishes like porridge topped with smoked fish.

Estrellon, Madison, Wisconsin

PSA: There will be lots of sangria at Tory Miller's Madrid-inspired tapas spot. The James Beard Award-winning chef is taking a break from the French and Asian dishes he's become known for to mix Midwest ingredients with Northern Spanish flavor. That means stacking Wisconsin summer sausage with Hook's raw-milk cheddar and pickles for more modern pintxo and cooking down Valencian paella dotted with chicken, shellfish and aioli.

Oro, San Francisco, California

Commonwealth's Jason Fox hopes to strike gold with halibut skin chicharrònes and an off-the-menu blind-tasting option at his casual, industrial-looking restaurant in Mint Plaza. Taking inspiration from local ingredients, Fox and chef de cuisine Travis Day, formerly of Central Kitchen and Yoshi's, have carved out a sizeable kitchen for themselves, where they'll be churning out house-made charcuterie. The idea for the blind tasting came from fellow chefs' hospitality: "Often we know chefs at other restaurants who are willing to take away the menu and just feed us—they send us food 'blindly,' and each course is a pleasant surprise," Fox explains. "We thought, Why not offer this to the public!?" As for drinks, wine director Kelly Evan's list veers Old World, with a sprinkling of California bottles, and bar manager Randy Mariani is doing twists on classic cocktails.

Willa Jean, New Orleans, Louisiana

John Besh's right-hand pastry maven, Kelly Fields, is getting a bakery and restaurant all to her own. The JBFA's Outstanding Pastry Chef semifinalist is bringing homespun pastries, breads and delicately sugared desserts inspired by her grandmother to this South Market District spot with Domenica and Pizza Domenica's Lisa White. Will Fields' beloved caramelized chocolate panna cotta sprinkled with toasted coconut make an appearance at the new bakery? Only one way to find out.

Esters, Los Angeles

Are Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan on a roll or what? Fresh off opening Cassia with Bryant Ng, Southern California's enterprising restaurateurs are teaming up with another husband-wife duo from within their Rustic Canyon family. Kathryn and Tug Coker are melding wineshop with wine bar at their art deco-era space. The couple is stocking more than 200 wines, ranging from funky biodynamic wines they found from a new Sicilian winemaker to Kathryn's favorite Burgundy bottle. However, the drinks don't stop at wine: Rustic Canyon's bar manager Aaron Ranf is shaking old-school cocktails made with local craft spirits.