Quabili Pallow & Mantoo @ Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House, Oakland Chinatown

Quabili Pallow @ Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House, Oakland Chinatown.

It’s almost too hot to blog, but here we go: With any luck, my forthcoming ebook will be available for purchase by early August. It has been written, photographed, edited, re-edited, and it’s quickly becoming time to stop obsessing over every detail and to just push it out into the world. I’ll wait until it’s actually published before I reveal the title and subject matter.

Writing an ebook for the last three months has meant that I’ve been Napa bound nearly every weekend, and quite frankly, I’ve missed eating my way though the Greater Bay Area. The foods that I’ve been eating recently have been decidedly Western, so I was craving something more exotic, something from the other side of the world.

Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House not only fit the bill, but it also reawakened my taste for Eastern [… read more …]

The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty, Yountville

One of my all-time Napa favorites: The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty.

I’m in the closing stages of my ebook, and I’ve had to narrow the focus and edit out some material. Here’s some fotzelschnitten to savor.

• • •

Having already divulged my preference for Boonfly Café fried chicken over Ad Hoc fried chicken, I’m going to come across as a Thomas Keller detractor when I champion Bistro Jeanty over Bouchon Bistro.

Let me set the record straight: from a pure culinary standpoint, Thomas Keller is clearly the greatest chef in American history, bar none. But as far as Bouchon Bistro is concerned, it’s good, but for me, Bistro Jeanty is more of the quintessential Napa Valley restaurant.

While Thomas Keller has been a fixture in the Napa Valley since 1994 (when he purchased the French Laundry from Sally Schmitt), chef Philippe  Jeanty has been in [… read more …]

Three-Course Lunch @ Redd, Yountville


First, the Main: The New York Steak Sandwich, cooked Medium Rare, with Onion Rings @ Redd, Yountville.

Now that I no longer spend my days in a Michelin-star kitchen, the idea of fine dining has become more appealing to me. Perhaps familiarity does breed contempt — not that I hate fine dining. It’s just, sometimes you have to come up for air, right? Of course, even if more fine dining is my mission, I’m still going to opt for a steak sandwich if I see one, especially one that features my favorite cut of beef, the New York strip (the rib-eye is a close second, but I still favor the intense flavor of the New York, even at the expense of marbling). And also, I have a track record for ordering humble sandwiches from Michelin-star restaurants. The steak sandwich at Redd is dressed with arugula, caramelized onions, and [… read more …]

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena.

The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena.

The Chinatown Duck Burger at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen has long been one of my favorite burger variations in the Bay Area (by variation, I mean a non-beef burger). And what’s not to like? Freshly ground duck, grilled and smothered with an umami-rich shiitake mushroom ketchup, and garnished with just a touch of arugula for color. The duck burger is accompanied by a side of Chinese-style mustard sauce for good measure, and of course, french fries. An up-valley classic, for sure.

The Tacos Las Plancha @ La Morenita, Napa


Tacos Las Plancha (two carne asada, one al pastor) @ La Morenita Taqueria, Napa.

Even on weekdays, the parking lot of La Morenita Market remains a bustling hub of activity, perhaps the one small place in Napa that can remind me of my decade in Los Angeles. In the height of summer, the parking lot’s soundtrack is a melange of norteño music and Spanish talk radio, with pockets of folks congregated next to their vehicles, half-listening and half-socializing. It’s a relaxing scene, and one that always reminds me of “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago, even though the lyrics aren’t a literal match (not even by a long shot, actually).

Although stores like Target and Wal-Mart are definitely cross-cultural here in California, it seems like La Morenita Market fills in many of the gaps for Latinos; while Target and Wal-Mart might feature Spanish on their store signs, La [… read more …]

The Pulled Pork Sandwich @ BarBersQ, Napa


The Pulled Pork Sandwich @ BarBersQ, Napa. Delicious.And the Macaroni & Cheese is not to be over-looked.

Bacon has become the easy punchline these days. This ethos of  “add bacon to it, make it epic” is bound to jump the shark sooner or later. Not that I’m predicting an actual bacon backlash. Bacon will certainly not become disco (which I actually happen to love, but that’s for another time). But honestly, hasn’t bacon been either mixed, combined, or infused with just about everything feasible at this point? It’s officially become overkill, and as a result, bacon has been rendered (pun intended) a creative short-cut of sorts. A culinary crutch. Having pretty much seen it all at this point, I’m now looking for something more elegant from bacon — not just bacon for bacon’s sake. Is this a treasonous stance? Perhaps. But let’s just remember that there are other [… read more …]

The Pulled Pork Sandwich @ Slow, Berkeley


The pig has many forms.

Submitted for your approval, this sandwich from Slow in Berkeley represents my last unmentioned morsel from 2012. This post has been on my back-burner since December, and its completion kind of got lost in the holiday shuffle. I should mention that, in the realm of pulled pork sandwiches, the version at Slow might not have show-stopper looks, but it is very well made, and it’s under $7. In terms of accoutrements — that is, bread and fixins — the sandwiches at Slow can vary quite a bit, which is to the restaurant’s credit (Slow sources its bread from Acme, not a bad choice, either). On this day, the Niman Ranch pork was adorned with coleslaw, and the side of potato salad was delicious and bountiful.

The Torta Cubano @ Solbar, Calistoga


The Torta Cubano @ Solbar, Calistoga: Roasted pork loin, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, pickles. Salt and vinegar potato chips on the side.

The torta cubano at Solbar reminds me of two things: (1) the Monday-only banh mi at Auberge su Soleil, for being another Michelin-star take on an otherwise blue-collar sandwich, and (2) the infamous torta cubana at That’s It Market, which sets a certain everything-but-the-kitchen-sink gold standard for all other cubanas. Of course, Solage isn’t going to serve anything as wonderfully gauche as That’s It Market, but that’s not to say that the Solbar torta doesn’t have its own merits. The bread, for instance, is superior. It complements the sandwich perfectly. Beyond that, you have two kinds of pork, melted Swiss, and pickles. How could you go [… read more …]

Fried Chicken Sandwich @ BarbersQ, Napa


True School: The Fried Chicken Sandwich @ BarbersQ, Napa.

I don’t want to say that I’m obsessed with fried chicken sandwiches. For one thing, I prefer my fried chicken on the bone, so fried chicken sandwiches aren’t really my thing. Delicious? Yes; a priority? No. But the cult of Bakesale Betty has continued to occupy a small part of my mind, and it’s made me more aware of fried chicken sandwiches in general (for whatever that’s worth).

The blueprint for the fried chicken sandwich at Napa’s BarbersQ is almost identical to that of Bakesale Betty: One fried chicken breast, some coleslaw, bread. This is how it should be done. No need to reinvent the wheel. Of course, BarbersQ offers a more refined (that is, vastly more fresh) sandwich than Bakesale Betty, though at a slightly higher cost (then again, that cost does include fries).

This comparison presents one […

Seven Meals I Hope to Eat Again in 2013


Ramen’s Equal? The Bun Mam Soup @ Bun Mam Soc Trang, East Oakland.

If you’re reading this, then the world hasn’t ended. I, for one, feel relieved. There’s still so much great food to eat out there; I just wasn’t ready for our global unraveling quite yet. So, with the future confidently in mind (at least as much as it can be), I offer a handful of foods that I hope to revisit next year. Although I don’t like to repeat my meals out very often (as just one person, I’m trying to cast my culinary net as wide as possible), some foods prove so memorable, that they inevitably foster cravings. These are the same meals that eventually become my favorites, and they comprise the few times per year that I will eat “off the record,” just for the pure sake of eating, but without any official blog [… read more …]