Napa Valley Barbecue @ Smoakville, Napa

The Brisket “Burnt Ends” Sandwich @ Smoakville, Napa. Nicely charred and piled high.

When it comes to the truly hidden gems of the Napa Valley, there are several wineries and maybe just a handful of eateries (some brick-and-mortar, some on wheels). Among the latter category, my recent favorite has been Smoakville, a tucked-away barbecue joint that you would probably never discover by accident, unless you took a wrong turn into a hidden cul-de-sac. The fact that Smoakville is geared mostly for take-out makes it all the more elusive – it’s a tiny storefront, with just one table inside and one single picnic table out by the curb.

Like any decent barbecue purveyor, Smoakville offers a small-yet-carnivorous menu, but one that also remains fool-proof, as every item is well-executed, right down to the side dishes, right down to the house-made pickles. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the Smoakville menu the [… read more …]

The Torta Cubano @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill

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The Cubano Sandwich @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill.

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the torta cubana: One school adheres to a traditional standard of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. The other school remains much more spirited and open-minded in its approach, with Mexican-style tortas that may include hot dogs, beef milanese, fried eggs, guacamole, and several other additional condiments. This latter style of sandwich is best embodied by the über-torta at That’s It Market in San Francisco. The That’s It sandwich remains a beast by anyone’s standard, and it has become infamous for its sheer, all-inclusive decadence.

In comparison, the traditional torta cubana, like the HBG version pictured above, seems almost subdued by nature, quaint in its conformity. At its essence, the traditional cubana lacks the comprehensive, hangover-curing potency of its Mexican cousins, but the [… read more …]

Seven Meals I Hope to Eat Again in 2013

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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 …]

“Hot Dog” by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963-1964

Hot Dog with Mustard, 1963. Oil on canvas

I’ve always admired the famous “Hot Dog” enamel by Roy Lichtenstein, pictured just below. Even though the hot dog itself resembles a logo more than anything edible, I can appreciate the way that Lichtenstein makes the hot dog appear to glisten and shine. In that sense, the painting is very appealing from its “theoretical taste” standpoint, as if the hot dog was freshly prepared and incredibly succulent. As cartoonish as it looks, it does seem delicious. The colors of the 194 enamel are also striking: ketchup red and mustard yellow. I wonder if this was largely a coincidence, or if Lichtenstein was really that in tune to food.

Roy Lichtenstein, Hot Dog, 1964 (enamel on plate).

Either way, Lichtenstein’s “Hot Dog” enamel remains extremely vivid in its execution. As an artist, Lichtenstein often borrowed his color palate from consumer packaging, incorporating schemes that featured powerful and [… read more …]