The Napa Valley’s Best Pizza: My Top 12

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Pizzas on Parade (clockwise, from upper left): Oenotri, Solbar, Redd, Pizzeria Azzurro, Auberge du Soleil, Uva, Cantinara Piero, Ca’ Momi, Boon Fly Cafe, Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Papa Joe’s, Bistro Don Giovanni.

If there’s one food that can achieve total global supremacy, pizza seems like the natural front-runner. You don’t ever have to sell anybody on pizza. It just seems to endear itself to everybody, like a wealthy uncle, or a gregarious bartender. Although pizza has only become popular here in America since World War II, different schools of thought regarding pizza have already emerged: Individual preferences towards pizza remain highly subjective, and plenty of effort has already been spent hashing out the pizza-related differences between Chicago, New York, and the rest of the country. However, I chose not to acknowledge any of those debates concerning thin crusts or deep dishes. For this segment, I set out to answer [… read more …]

Sugar Pie Pumpkin Cheesecake, Gingerbread Cookie Crust and Bourbon Eggnog Anglaise

The eggnog anglaise contains bourbon. You can also add a little bourbon to the whipped cream, if it's been that kind of a year.

The eggnog anglaise contains bourbon. You can also add a little bourbon to the whipped cream, if it’s been that kind of a year.

Back when I was working as a prep cook at Houston’s Santa Monica, a cracked cheesecake wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the entire world: It meant that some of the pieces couldn’t be served, and that they would become fair game for the cooks. Of course, for the unfortunate person who actually baked the dessert, it was a little more bitter than sweet, seeing an otherwise beautiful cheesecake suddenly develop an unsightly crack as it cooled: It usually meant having to bake another cheesecake in its place, in order to make up for the pieces that couldn’t be salvaged. On a particularly busy day, getting another cheesecake in the oven wasn’t always easy, especially when oven space could trade at a [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 7: “Pork Chops & Gravy”

About 10 years ago, I was living in Los Angeles, working at a dying start-up company called the Hollywood Stock Exchange. In 1999, there may have been about 80 employees at HSX, but by 2002, there were only about 20 of us left, occupying a massive, newly-remodeled building that housed about 50 surplus cubicles, all once inhabited by former co-workers. It was all rather surreal, and I have a bazillion bizarre stories about the dumb leading the rich during the dot-com era. But, long story short, when the HSX.com payroll was finally pared down from 20 employees to 10, well, it was finally my time to go. Luckily, I’d been tipped off about the hatchet dropping, so I had cleaned out my desk over the weekend, at least giving myself the luxury of a clean exit. On Monday morning, I parked out on the street, right [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 6: A Picnic @ Behrens Family Winery, Spring Mountain

S'more Pots du Creme: Scharfenberger Chocolate Custard, Graham Crackers, and Toasted Marshmallow Fluff.

Last Tuesday felt like the last warm day of 2010. Whether or not that proves to be true, tomorrow can only tell. It’s very possible that November or December might offer an odd sunny day here or there — that happens fairly frequently here in Northern California — but as far as planning a picnic was concerned, Tuesday just seemed like the last sure-shot bet of the season. Instinctively, and with the last vestiges of summer quickly fading into fall, I felt like I needed to plan just one last visit up to Spring Mountain. Among the many wines of Napa Valley, I love Spring Mountain Cabernet in particular, and if I had to name a handful of my personal favorites, I’d list Pride Mountain, Behrens Family, Terra Valentine and Paloma (although the [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 5: Cassoulet Meets Pizza!

White bean puree, topped with duck confit, duck cracklins, garlic sausage, and Gruyère de Comté breadcrumbs. Click any pic to zoom.

The idea of a “cassoulet” pizza popped into my mind the other night, if I remember correctly, somewhere between my second and third bottle of Cab Sauv. I’m a comfort food junkie above all else, and cassoulet ranks as one of my all-time favorite dishes, especially in the fall. As I thought about it further, the entire concept of “cassoulet pizza” soon began to reveal itself: The duck confit and garlic sausage would garnish the pizza, of course, but the white beans themselves would comprise the sauce, in the form of a light puree. More than that, I realized that this pizza should even feature breadcrumbs, a nice detail that could really help to spin a crispy, thin-crust pizza even further into cassoulet territory. I figured, why [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010, Round 3: Harvest Dinner, Napa Valley, Autumn 2010

The Main Event: Blackened Pacific Halibut with Crispy Pancetta New Potatoes, smothered in Sauce Anthony.

Here in the Napa Valley, hosting a dinner party this time of year can be a mighty tall order. The problem is finding enough guests with free time, since so many folks in the valley remain hopelessly preoccupied during harvest and crush. Among most of the people I know, they’re either working long days in the cellar, or they’re working long nights in the kitchen (tourism in the Napa Valley also hits its peak this same time of year). No doubt, as September yields to October, the typical Monday-through-Friday work schedule is a distant pipe dream for many, while eight-hour work days are also few and far between. However, in the spirit of Project Food Blog, I can definitely whip up some dinner-party-sized portions for my would-be dinner party. At worst, I can [… read more …]

Iron Chef Morimoto’s 10-Hour Pork Belly

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I’m not sure if the following recipe appears in Morimoto’s cookbook or not, but a couple months ago, when I tasted the delicious pork belly sliders at the pre-opening festivities at Morimoto Napa, I decided that I really needed to learn to more about the Iron Chef’s approach to swine. Fortunately, I have a friend and former chef-school roommate who has cooked at one of Morimoto’s East Coast restaurants, so he’s actually executed this pork belly recipe dozens of times, if not hundreds. As I found out, the recipe itself doesn’t really contain any guarded secrets or esoteric ingredients; instead, it simply relies upon patience and technique, which is often enough. To that end, Morimoto’s pork belly recipe sees 10 hours of total braising time, spread out over two days. If you wish to discuss slow food, then this is definitely it.

Three pounds of heritage pork belly: [… read more …]

Project Food Blog 2010: Round One

With nearly 2,000 participants registered for Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog, I certainly haven’t entered this competition expecting to become the next Food Blog Star. The statistics just aren’t in my favor — not by a long shot. Even if I actually believed that my blog was the most deserving blog in the competition, I still wouldn’t like my chances, just based upon the simple mathematics. There are just so many other great blogs out there, with many that I probably don’t even know about yet. However, I will go for the gusto regardless, and I’ll try not to think too far beyond the first round, which remains a long shot in its own right. I hope to one day make a career out of blogging, so I’m already pretty adept at living in denial. What do I really care about odds, anyway? Odds ain’t nothing but [… read more …]