10 Things I’ll Eat Again in 2011:

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

End-of-the-year recaps present a great opportunity to “re-purpose” some old content (I learned this valuable euphemism during the dot-com era). Here are 10 dishes that I really enjoyed this year, in no particular order. I’m not saying this list comprises my top 10 dishes for the year, but some of them could definitely qualify. Clicking the photos will transport you back to the original article — and perhaps, a much simpler time and place.

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

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Flounder special @ Yuet Lee, San Francisco.

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The #6 Banh Mi @ Viet Nam, San Francisco.

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Black pepper brisket hash @ Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros.

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Chilaquiles @ Miguel’s, Calistoga.

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Señorita bread @ Star Bread Bakery, Vallejo.

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 …]

Reviewing Napa’s Michelin Star Contenders for 2011: Solbar @ Solage Hotel & Resort, Calistoga

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Smoked beef short rib with sweet corn, sugar snap peas, smoky bacon, crispy onions, and Texas toast (to help mop the plate).

As promised, I made my return visit to Solbar this week, after my lunchtime visit earlier this month. Geographically speaking, Solbar is the Napa Valley’s northernmost Michelin-star restaurant, located way past St. Helena and into Calistoga, which is the last stop before crossing over into Sonoma County. If you begin your journey from the City of Napa, driving all they way up to Calistoga actually takes you more than halfway over to Healdsburg, which occupies the heart of Sonoma wine country (Calistoga itself is a only few short miles from the Sonoma County Line). Because of Calistoga’s remote location up-valley, it can be quite easy for most people to simply overlook this little town, which is a crying shame. This “Saratoga of California” — [… read more …]

Photos: Three Lunch Options from Wine Country and Elsewhere…

As I’ve mentioned here before, my goal in life is to only eat well, whether that means cooking at home or dining out. With that basic principle in mind, I definitely try to document everything delicious along the way, although sometimes certain meals get lost in the shuffle. And sometimes I may repeat myself, especially when I have certain favorites that I’ll revisit when I have the chance. I’ve actually mentioned all three of these lunches in previous posts, but never presented a photo alongside the article (I only upgraded my camera last May). Eventually, I’ll insert these photos into my past entries, but I wanted to give them a little shine on the front page as well.

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

For the duck burger at Cindy’s, the real draw for me isn’t so much the fact that the burger is [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes: Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga

"A Night on the Town," dedicated to Schramsberg's legendary riddler of more than 36 years, Ramon Viera, who retired last December.

“A Night on the Town,” dedicated to Schramsberg’s legendary riddler of more than 36 years, Ramon Viera, who retired last December.

As a Napa Valley local, I’ve visited Schramsberg maybe half a dozen times over the last few years, but today I’ve finally decided that this winery offers the mother of all wine tours, hands down. The deep history, the unique property, and the world-class sparkling wines are practically unrivaled here in the Napa Valley, and for these three reasons, Schramsberg truly belongs in a class by itself. I’ll just leave it at that. Below, I’ve posted scans of my Schramsberg tasting sheet, with my scrawled notes included. It’s kind of a lazy approach, I know, but I have to drive up to Mendocino for wine tasting tomorrow morning, and it’s late. I will quickly acknowledge that the 2006 Schramsberg Brut Rosé ($41) crushes all of the local [… read more …]

Tale of Two Chilaquiles: Boonfly Cafe, Napa Carneros & Miguel's Restaurant, Calistoga

The Chilaquiles @ Miguel's Restaurant, Calistoga (minus the sour cream)

I was first introduced to chilaquiles while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then, I was working a prep cook at Houston’s Santa Monica, trying to get some real-world kitchen experience before heading off to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Since I was working mostly mornings at that time, the “family meal” at Houston’s was often chilaquiles, which I would best describe as breakfast nachos, for lack of better terminology. These meals would assume varying forms from day to day, based upon whatever was available in the kitchen at the time. That said, there are a couple fundamental rules as to what can be considered chilaquiles and what cannot. As the foundation of the dish, the tortilla chips themselves are inherently fundamental to chilaquiles, and proper chilaquiles should also feature eggs (since it [… read more …]

Cab Tasting Notes: My Favorite Napa Valley Cabernets for $50 or Less

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Having lived in the Napa Valley since 2005, and having worked in kitchens and wineries during that time, I’ve developed a pretty good palate for the local juice. As I’ve spent the years combing the Napa Valley for great wines, over the past few years, I decided to pay special attention to the Cabernets that were priced at $50 or less, hoping to one day compile a list of favorites. I submit the following 10 wines, listed in my order of general preference. Of course, prices are subject to change over time, but hopefully not by much.

• Martin Estate Bacchanal Cabernet ($48) : One of the great unsung wines in the Napa Valley, I have already placed Bacchanal into a blind tasting of Oakville and Rutherford Cabs, pitting it against the 2006 Groth ($58), 2005 Rubicon ($175), 2006 Pedemonte ($39), 2006 Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger ($90), [… read more …]

Tasting Notes: Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate

During the heights of harvest and crush, I’ll often promote Calistoga as a potential refuge from the Napa Valley’s tourist congestion (of course, it requires a trip up to Mendocino wine country to truly leave everything behind). But even in the winter, when things around the entire valley go calm, Calistoga still has its merits. For one thing, I could argue that it’s the most scenic area in the valley this time of year. When the vines themselves don’t present much in terms of foliage, the gnarled and burly vineyards of Calistoga offer much more personality than the slight, naked Cabernet saplings down valley. Not that I don’t love a great Napa Cab.

But it’s also important to remember that although Cabernet may be king, it’s not the entire kingdom. Case in point: two of my favorite Calisotga wineries, Vincent Arroyo and Summers Estate. Aside from their remote northerly [… read more …]

Slow Food: The 3rd Annual Harvest Dinner @ Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park

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I spent Saturday evening at the Third Annual Harvest Dinner at the Bale Grist Mill, hosted in conjunction with Slow Food Napa Valley and the Silverado Brewing Company. The event was held to raise money for the mill, which was originally constructed in 1846, and is the only operating mill of its kind west of the Rocky Mountains. The majority of the feast was provided by Number Fourteen, a delicious American mulefoot hog raised locally by chef Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado BrewCo.

Number Fourteen enjoyed an amazing diet of local fallen fruits, spent grains from the SBC, and all sorts of other organically-sourced tidbits (including a “California” brownie to put him at ease on his last day). Through patience and diligence, Number Fourteen grew to become a prodigiously large swine, yielding enough tasty marbled flesh to feed 165 guests at the Bale Grist Mill Dinner. Of course, Number [… read more …]

The Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga. Serves two.

It occurred to me today that I should probably have a “Pigs are delicious” category on this blog, since I frequently order “the other white meat” at restaurants. Then, I realized that “pigsaredelicious.com” would also be an excellent name for a website. And since I had a coupon for a free domain registration, I figured that I better secure pigsaredelicious.com before someone else does (you can now access my blog through this alternate URL, if you wish).

Of course, the impetus for this alternate URL had sprung from my own personal mantra: my longtime readers are keenly aware that, unless the meal is fried chicken, then I will often select pork as my main entree. In recent months, I’ve had the pork osso buco at Redd, pork chops at Bistro Jeanty and the Rutherford Grill, the pork arrosto at Bottega, [… read more …]