The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga. Served with huckleberry sauce and pine nuts.

In my experience, people from Napa tend to discuss Calistoga with an air of levity. Is this fair? I’m not sure, but there may be a few reasons for this attitude. Perhaps it’s mainly because Calistoga has remained somewhat rustic, despite the tourism boom that seems to have affected the rest of the valley. Or maybe it’s because Calistoga is the very last stop to the north before you cross from Napa County over into Sonoma County (surprisingly enough, Calistoga is actually two miles closer to Healdsburg than it is to the City of Napa, which says quite a bit about our geography).

As the culinary centerpiece of Solage Resort & Spa, Calistoga’s Solbar is easily the town’s finest restaurant, having maintained its Michelin star since 2009. Though Solbar can easily be overlooked because [… read more …]

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 …]

Creme Brulee French Toast @ Alexis Baking Company, Napa

Crème Brûlée French Toast @ Alexis Baking Company, Napa.

The concept of “crème brulee French toast” underscores something that I realized long ago: Breakfast and dessert share a common kinship. After all, aren’t breakfast and dessert both typically heavy on eggs, cream and sugar? And isn’t a double chocolate chip muffin really just chocolate cake in disguise? And isn’t an apple turnover just another form of apple pie?

Under these circumstances, the idea of crème brulee French toast is perfectly logical to me; It represents the full-circle evolution from pain perdu to bread pudding to custard. Alexis Baking Company usually offers its crème brulee French toast on the weekends, although I have also been able to order it during the week, usually on a Friday.

And if you happen to stumble upon ABC’s crème brulee French toast during strawberry season, consider yourself all the more fortunate.

[… read more …]

Kurobuta Pork Chop (and Three Other Courses) @ Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford

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Third Course: Kurobuta pork chop with apples, kale, whole-grain mustard spaetzle, cipollini onion, and apple cider sauce. Kurobuta is Japanese for Berkshire.

Here in the Napa Valley (and I believe in other parts of the country as well), January is Restaurant Month. There’s quite a few deals being offered throughout the area, but the best, by far, is the two-course lunch at Auberge du Soleil. This year, lunch at Auberge in January will cost you $20.14 — just a penny more than last year.

I will admit — at the risk of over-populating California — that today was another 70-degree day, not a cloud in the sky, with a slight breeze. Sorry if you’ve been trying to catch a flight out of New York; I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not to drop the top on my convertible (full disclosure: I don’t own a [… read more …]

Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga. The fried pickles are an indulgent touch.

There’s a lot to like about Solbar’s double cheeseburger, including the signature fried pickles that send this dish over the top. All of the other elements hold their own nicely: The cheddar cheese is sharp and beautifully melted, the Bibb lettuce is impeccable, and the patties always arrive in pairs (the option for a single cheeseburger, or even a simple hamburger, is not featured on the Solbar menu). I appreciate the fact that Solbar offers a double cheeseburger as its default burger option, though. There’s no half-stepping with this decision. If you feel like having a burger for lunch, then be prepared to fully conquer your craving. Of course, the two planks of fried pickles will play a strong supporting role in this endeavor.

Revisiting the Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga. Serves two.

When I launched this blog back in 2008, I didn’t have a camera, a fact that seems positively foolhardy to me now. A food blog without photos? What’s the point of that? Surely I had given myself far too much credit as a writer in those early days. After a year of blogging, however, I finally realized that photos were essential to this medium (duh), and I invested in a decent DSLR.

Five years later, I wouldn’t dream of posting a restaurant review without photos. To that end, I’ve been spending the last few weeks at the Accidental Wino cleaning house, deleting those half-formed posts that either don’t contribute much or that have become irrelevant over the years. But I’ve also come across several early posts that were pretty well written, but which lacked the artwork to make [… read more …]

Sunday Brunch: The Redd Lobster Club @ Redd, Yountville

Baller brunch:

Baller Brunch: The Redd Lobster Club @ Redd, Yountville.

Here’s another meal that didn’t make the cut from my forthcoming ebook: I submit the Redd Lobster Club, available Sundays at Redd as a brunch-only item. This sandwich is a cool $27, which is what initially piqued my interest when I was researching brunch menus.

Redd’s Lobster Club is essentially a BLT with the addition of poached Maine lobster and lemon aioli. The sandwich itself features a fair amount of lobster, and the ingredients are sound, to be sure. However, I’m not wild about the use of crustless brioche, which seems almost too delicate for the task.

Whether on a burger or on a sandwich, I always feel like I have to race against brioche, trying to eat it before it becomes overly soggy. By the same token, I also have a general issue with shoestring fries, which despite [… read more …]

The New Torta Cubana @ Bistro Sabor, Downtown Napa

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The Torta Cubana @ Bistro Sabor, Napa.

I was cleaning out some virtual folders when I discovered yet another photo that I had to cut from my forthcoming ebook. Too bad, it was a nice pic, if just a little off-topic for my purposes.

If you’ve been reading this blog since early 2011, you may remember an earlier post about this torta. But one thing has changed since then: The Latin fries, pictured above, have replaced sweet potato chips, and the although the chips were fine, these fries are stellar.

I’m a French fry junkie, and in most cases, I think that seasoning fries with anything other than salt is usually a mistake. I’m definitely not a fan of the famous garlic fries at AT&T Park; to be honest, I think all that raw chopped garlic is off-putting and kind of silly.

But Bistro Sabor really hits the mark [… 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

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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 …]