Wine Tasting Notes, 2013: Chateau Montelena and Summers Estate, Calistoga

Although the Napa Valley has now become synonymous with wine, history shows that this area can sustain a wide array of crops. In the previous century, the Napa Valley was once home to vast orchards of walnuts, prunes, and pears. These crops became especially dominant during the 1920s and 1930s, with Prohibition mitigating the grape-growing industry (because home wine-making remained legal under the Volstead Act, plenty of wine grapes still existed in Napa during Prohibition — the only difference was that the emphasis shifted to lesser-quality grapes that could survive a cross-country trip by rail car).

If we turn back the clock 150 years and revisit the Napa Valley on the heels of the California Gold Rush, the original crop here was actually wheat, planted heavily throughout the mid-1800s, before the first wave of wine production began at the end of the century (the Bale Grist Mill in Calistoga, [… read more …]

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.

Silverado Brewing Company to Shutter in November


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 …]

First Looks: The G&G Burger @ Goose & Gander, St. Helena


The G&G Burger @ Goose & Gander, St. Helena. See that impressive sheen on the patty? That’s melted bone marrow. Don’t question it.

Will bone marrow become the new foie gras in California once SB 1520 comes to fruition on July 1st? Hmmm. I hadn’t really considered that idea until Bob, one of the bartenders at Goose & Gander (and former fixture behind the bar at Bistro Jeanty), had mentioned it to me this afternoon. It’s an interesting notion, and certainly something to mull over. And while I don’t think that bone marrow can actually “replace” the venerable foie gras at every level, there does have to be some sort of ingredient that can fill that “decadent” void here in California. Typically, if any chef wished to take an otherwise ordinary item and elevate it to something more hedonistic, foie gras was always the staple go-to ingredient. Foie [… read more …]

The Torta Cubanita @ La Condesa, St. Helena’s Main Street


The Torta Cubanita @ La Condesa, St. Helena.

As an advocate of the humble sandwich, I have to say, the selection of tortas at La Condesa in St. Helena is quite impressive, with lots of great variations and combinations of pork products to tempt the taste buds. I’ll eventually work through the entire menu. During my most recent visit, which actually led to an impromptu wine tasting venture to Sonoma, I ordered the Torta Cubanita, pictured above. Slow-cooked pork belly and smoked Berkshire ham highlight this panini-style sandwich, which arrives standard with leafy greens and house-made potato chips. As for other sides, how can you not order the $4 Mexican-style street corn? I, for one, cannot resist.

Not just corn on the cob.

Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena


The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A […

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

Eating Lunch Up Valley: Napa’s Best Taco Options

Al Pastor Tacos @ La Luna Market, Rutherford.

When I was working as a wine educator in Rutherford and Oakville, quick lunch options were unusually scarce. Aside from an occasional Dean & DeLuca sandwich, Mexican food was the only feasible option up valley — not that I ever complained all that much. Being a native of California, Mexican food will always be a staple for me, and the tacos on this page represent literally hundreds of past lunches, especially the tacos al pastor at La Luna Market, pictured above. Conservatively, I’ve eaten over one thousand tacos at La Luna (at an average of about eight tacos per week for over three years, you do the math). Of course, with that many visits to one taqueria, I’ve sampled La Luna’s entire menu several times over, but at this point, I’ve distilled my go-to selections down to just two choices: [… read more …]

Rumor Mill: The Martini House Saga May Finally Have an Ending

After breaking the news late last year regarding the October closure of the Martini House, I had also reported that Paul Fleming of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse had planned to move into the newly-vacated space. However, just a few weeks after this news broke, I soon learned that the Fleming deal had fallen through. Now, with the old Martini House property in turn-around, I’ve recently discovered that Hillstone Restaurant Group has apparently stepped in, and the new owners will allegedly be moving forward on the project rather quickly.

Hillstone, of course, is the same entity behind Rutherford Grill, and is also the same company that’s currently converting the old Napa Valley Grille space in Yountville. My sources mentioned that after the acquisition of the Martini House property, Hillstone also made an offer to Farmstead executive chef Sheamus Feeley, who had originally established his local following at the Rutherford Grill. However, it’s my understanding that Feeley will [… read more …]

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.