Photo Purge: Scenes from the California Bay Area and Beyond

Gateway Market, Emeryville: Adorned with a fantastic mural alongside its parking lot, the Gateway Market is tough to miss on San Pablo Blvd. The artwork has a definite graffiti vibe, but the details are fantastic. Luckily, it hasn't been tagged over. The "W" in Gateway is pictured above (each letter has its own theme). Click on the photo to reveal all of the great flourishes.

Most of these pictures have never appeared on this site, although a couple did appear a few years ago, long before I sharpened my photo-editing skills. Many readers have emailed me about my approach to photography, and I must confess, my only real secret is to simply seek the best lighting possible. Truthfully, I’ve never had any formal photography training, but I did develop an eye for proper lighting while I was working (briefly, almost 15 years ago) as a grip in Los [… read more …]

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 …]

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 …]

There Will Be Pastries: Scouting Napa Valley's Breakfast Options

As I’ve continued to explore the culture of breakfast and lunch here in the Napa Valley, I felt that it was certainly worthwhile to mention a few of the better pastry options out there. After all, even if you’ve enjoyed a large breakfast in the morning, pastries remain a great take-away item, especially if you plan to spend the day wine tasting, when lunch can often get pushed back, or pushed aside altogether. Without a proper lunch, that same cheese danish that may seem gluttonous in the early morning can actually become your salvation in the early afternoon (and maybe help prevent you from drooling at the dinner table, as well). I speak only from personal experience: Don’t fear indulgence. Embrace it. So with that caveat in mind, I have seven pastries to consider below — many hailing from very different walks of life — but each noteworthy in [… 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 …]

The Fried Chicken Dinner @ Boon Fly Café, Napa

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Winner, Winner: The Fried Chicken Dinner @ Boon Fly Café, Napa Carneros.

Submitted for your approval, my long-overdue snapshot of the fried chicken plate ($21) at Boon Fly Café in Carneros (otherwise known as the best fried chicken in the Bay Area). Perfectly brined, perfectly cooked, with just enough breading to let the skin take center stage. It’s one of those spot-on comfort foods that always seems to taste even better than I had remembered. My only real complaint, if you can even call it one, is that the Boon Fly Cafe doesn’t offer its guests a proper Southern-style hot sauce (the restaurant does offer Tabasco, but nothing as food-friendly as Crystal, Red Rooster or Louisiana Brand). Without a decent sauce option, I always eat this fried chicken as it is — plain — and it’s absolutely delicious. But just once, I would love to bathe [… read more …]

Book Review: “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine”

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A longtime contributor to Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer represents the contingent of wine drinkers who eschews overly-alcoholic wines in favor of those with subtlety and nuance. Among wine critics, Kramer seems to be in the minority in this aspect, but those of us who share his tastes can take umbrage in the fact that Kramer is an outstanding, knowledgeable wine journalist. His book “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine” underscores this notion, and is an indispensible guide to the dizzying California wine landscape.

Kramer begins his book with a thoughtful introduction to California’s short history of serious wine production, including an insightful essay about the ever-changing approach of grape growing and winemaking. With origins rooted in the effort to maximize vineyard yield, California has slowly shed its farmer’s mentality and has begun to place quality ahead of quantity. Kramer touches upon the early contributions of UC Davis professors Amerine [… read more …]