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

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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

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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 Torta Cubano @ Solbar, Calistoga

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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

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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 [… read more …]

Scouting Bay Area Sandwiches, and a Couple Other Half-Formed Thoughts

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Hella Tasty: The Tri-Tip Sandwich with “The Works” (#84) @ The Brazil Fresh Squeeze Cafe, Berkeley. In this case, “The Works” includes fresh cheese, grilled onions, pineapple, jalapeño, lettuce, tomato, and cilantro-garlic sauce. One of the great sandwiches of the Bay Area, for sure.

Personally, I don’t think the apocalypse is upon us. If the world didn’t implode when Sandra Lee prepared her infamous Kwanzaa cake in 2003, then I think we’re probably good through 2012, and well beyond. However, with December 21st less than a fortnight away, it’s still as good of a time as any to clear out my “to do” folder. And why not? A couple of these photos have been in turn-around for months, so it’s time to finally give them some daylight. Other pics were part of a sandwich run-down that never really developed a decent angle or hook. So, yeah, I just [… read more …]

My Top 10 Chicken & Waffles in the Bay Area

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Chicken & Waffle @ The Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland.

Here’s 10 versions of chicken and waffles taken from around the California Bay Area. I’ve ranked them according to my own personal preferences, although the middle of the pack could easily be shuffled on any given day. I’m pretty adamant about the top two on this list, however, and have long championed the Brown Sugar Kitchen and the Boon Fly Cafe as my favorites in this category. The Boon Fly Cafe actually offers my favorite version of fried chicken in the Bay Area (Ad Hoc’s fried chicken included), although some of the other restaurants on this list are certainly close contenders. In the waffle category, it’s a bit of a different story; the Brown Sugar Kitchen is the hands-down winner, and every other restaurant is a distant second. Even going simply by the photos, you’ll notice [… read more …]

Silverado Brewing Company to Shutter in November

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Get it while you can: The Fish and Chips @ Silverado Brewing Company, St. Helena.

If I could just editorialize on this latest bit of news, I think it’s shameful that the Silverado Brewing Company has to close its doors at the end of November, since Kendall Jackson has decided to cancel the restaurant’s lease. According to what I’ve heard around the valley, one possible reason for this decision is to give Freemark Abbey, which is owned by Kendall Jackson, more of a presence on Highway 29. Although unfortunate, this explanation does make some sense, since SBC certainly enjoys the best location on the lot (SBC is well-positioned along Highway 29, while Freemark Abbey is tucked into the back corner of their own property). However, this is a terrible trade-off for the Napa Valley, which will lose one of its key up-valley restaurants in favor of a very [… read more …]

Where Does Great Bacon Come From?

For me,

It begins with a gunshot, point blank just behind the ear. The targeted Mulefoot Hog remains blissfully unaware, even until the very end. Once the pig is down, its throat is slit to let the blood. Meanwhile, the other hogs react only briefly to the sound of the gunshot, looking up for just a moment, vaguely curious, and then continuing to feed on delicious fallen fruit. As their former sibling is dragged from the pen with the aid of a wench, life goes on without incident or trauma.

I don’t like to shill too often. However, Slow Food Napa Valley is co-hosting a benefit dinner at the Bale Grist Mill this Saturday evening, in which two Mulefoot Hogs will be prepared and enjoyed in myriad fashions. As a local board member of SFNV (as well as the webmaster), I’ll be there to help out and to [… read more …]

The Tri-Tip Sandwich @ Buster’s Southern BBQ & Bakery, Calistoga

Buster's tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad and the best cornbread muffin.

Buster’s tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad and the best cornbread muffin.

Although the Napa Valley certainly offers plenty of great restaurants, many of these same places aren’t really great options for lunch. At least not for those who have a true wine-tasting agenda. For the wine enthusiast who only gets to Napa once or twice a year (or maybe only once every couple years), time can be precious, especially during tasting room hours. On average, Napa tasting rooms begin to shut down at about 4:30pm, which gives visitors about a six- or seven-hour window of wine tasting each day. Granted, proper planning will ensure that one can swirl plenty of wine in that time, but a quick, yet filling lunch can also help to restore order along the way.

Fancy, crowded, sit-down restaurants tend to chew up a lot of clock, although I do [… read more …]