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.

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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 …]

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 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 …]

Napa Wine Label Quiz: How Many Snippets Can You Identify?

The idea for this wine quiz struck me as I was rummaging through my wine locker today. I have a modest amount of wine in storage, but when as many boxes are crammed into one space as possible, there’s limited room to maneuver, especially towards the back of the locker. In many cases, I could only see the very bottom portion of many of my wine labels (being that the bottles themselves are stored upside down). And so, in that same spirit, I’ve compiled 25 label snippets below, each one representing a Napa Valley winery. For many of the people who work here in the wine industry — as I once did — this quiz will probably be a breeze. I’d expect many of my Napa friends to score 20 or better, and a good local sommelier would likely miss only one or two at the most.

If you [… 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 …]

Slow Food Napa Valley: The 6th Annual Bale Mill Harvest Dinner

6th Annual Bale MIll Dinner

Good Times: The 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner.

The Napa Valley State Parks Association and Slow Food Napa Valley hosted the 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner on Saturday at Bale Mill State Historic Park. The event featured a silent auction, live bluegrass, whiskey, wine and beer, and of course, plenty of locally-produced food. About 160 guests enjoyed dinner and wine under clear Calistoga skies. Here are a few snapshots from the evening. Click any image for the full-screen view.

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The menu.

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At the trail head.

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Mingling around the silent auction, and enjoying whiskey, wine and beer.

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The Pickle Creek String Band.

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Wine dominated, but honey was also a hot item at the silent auction.

[… 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 …]

Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo's Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: [… read more …]