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 Torta Cubano @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill


The Cubano Sandwich @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill.

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the torta cubana: One school adheres to a traditional standard of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. The other school remains much more spirited and open-minded in its approach, with Mexican-style tortas that may include hot dogs, beef milanese, fried eggs, guacamole, and several other additional condiments. This latter style of sandwich is best embodied by the über-torta at That’s It Market in San Francisco. The That’s It sandwich remains a beast by anyone’s standard, and it has become infamous for its sheer, all-inclusive decadence.

In comparison, the traditional torta cubana, like the HBG version pictured above, seems almost subdued by nature, quaint in its conformity. At its essence, the traditional cubana lacks the comprehensive, hangover-curing potency of its Mexican cousins, but the [… read more …]

Last Looks: The Pork Cheek Sandwich @ Bovolo, Healdsburg

Gone, but not forgotten: The Pork Cheek Sandwich @ Bovolo, Healdsburg.

Gone, but not forgotten: The Pork Cheek Sandwich @ Bovolo, Healdsburg.

A random day trip to Healdsburg brought a bit of sad news yesterday, as I learned that Bovolo, the quirky restaurant located at the back of Copperfield’s Bookstore, is set to close tomorrow, June 15th. Bovolo has earned some nice reviews and accolades over the years, and its Pork Cheek Sandwich, pictured above, had much to do with the restaurant’s positive press. I feel somewhat fortunate to have eaten Bovolo’s Pork Cheek Sandwich, a tender amalgam of swine, roasted red peppers and salsa verde, before the dish disappears once and for all. Yesterday, I asked if this sandwich will be available at the new Bovolo location, and unfortunately, it will not. From what I gathered, the new weekend-only spot, will have mostly cold-prep items, which would eliminate much of what made Bovolo great.

• • […

The Buongiorno Pizza @ Diavola Pizzeria, Geyserville

Diavola oven.

Diavola Pizzeria’s awesome oven.

Rarely would I preempt a food pic with a kitchen pic, but the oven at Diavola Pizzeria in Geyserville is worth top billing. While most wood-burning ovens prove a bit more utilitarian in nature, modest little brick houses, the inset mantles and monkish figurines of the Diavola oven, along with its racy red exterior, certainly set this beast apart. But it’s not all for show, mind you; there’s also the pizza to consider. During my last sojourn to Sonoma, I ordered Diavola’s Buongiorno, which is pictured below. As its Italian name implies, the Buongiorno (that’s “Good Morning,” here in the Golden State) is an ode to breakfast, with strips of bacon, herbed new potatoes, creamy onions, and of course, a farm-fresh egg, cooked sunny-side up. In the interest of complete disclosure, I should mention that the Buongiorno pizza isn’t an everyday staple at Diavola, [… read more …]

Deep-Fried FTW: Scenes from the Sonoma Square Farmers Market

Always mustard, never ketchup: The Cajun Corn Dog @ Uncle Bill's Gourmet Corn Dogs, Sonoma Square Farmers Market.

The best things in life are fried: I learned this simple mantra very early on, when I used to work the fryer station at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans. We fried lots of delicious foods at K-Paul’s, including oysters, shrimp, soft-shelled crab, green tomatoes, duck skins, and of course, plenty of potatoes (K-Paul’s didn’t serve french fries, however. Instead, our potatoes were baked, halved, and then scooped. Once prepped, the skins and the “meat” were fried separately, with the little nuggets of fried potato “meat” being tossed into a rich cheese sauce, then spooned back into the fried skins. And in case you didn’t think it could get any better, this enemy of the arteries was the standard side item for the cheese-stuffed pork chop, which was blackened to [… read more …]

Six Pics: Some Bay Area Food for Thought

The Bear Burger @ Jodie's Diner, Albany Village. I think that's the name of this burger. Jodie's has dozens of off-menu items to choose from, and this burger is one of them. Regardless of its proper name, it's the cheeseburger at Jodie's that comes with a fried egg, and it can definitely compete with the Bay Area's best.

I just finished up Mother’s Day lunch and dinner service, which makes for a long but rewarding weekend in the kitchen. Before that, I found a few good things to eat, and they’re pictured here for your perusal.

• • •

The Bear Burger @ Jodie's Diner. Like any good burger, the Bear Burger warrants several napkins. Also, it's one of those burgers that's too risky to put down once you've picked it up, since you may only get one chance to gather all the parts at [… read more …]

Lunchtime: The Cheeseburger @ Super Burger, Santa Rosa

The Cheeseburger @ Super Burger, Santa Rosa. I snapped this picture at sunset, and the burger itself looks like the setting sun.

The Cheeseburger @ Super Burger, Santa Rosa. I snapped this picture at sunset, and the burger itself looks like the setting sun.

If you’re like me, then you’ve seen “Pulp Fiction” dozens of times, and you may have wondered, at some point, where the set designer sourced the film’s infamous Big Kahuna burger. As far as I know, having lived in Los Angeles for years and years, there is no actual Big Kahuna Burger. Too bad, because the burger does look mighty tasty on film. And so the question remains: if, in fact, Big Kahuna is fictitious, then what real-life restaurant provided that delicious-looking cheeseburger? I still have no idea, but I’ve pondered it plenty, enough to have given the burger its own back-story: In my own private mind-garden, Big Kahuna Burger is an old mom-and-pop-style joint in the San Fernando Valley, one of many post-war businesses to [… read more …]

Breakfast @ The Fremont Diner

Breakfast Sandwich @ The Fremont Diner.

Working nights in the kitchen can have its perks, such as being able to go out for breakfast any day of the week. With an old college buddy visiting the Napa Valley recently, a morning session at the Fremont Diner presented the obvious choice. Personally, I’ve already covered most of the Fremont Diner’s menu over the past couple of years, but it’s always fun to see someone marvel at all of the restaurant’s great, down-home selections. Besides that, I hadn’t been to the Fremont Diner in a while, so I was actually long overdue. Here are a few snapshots from Saturday (click photos for super-sized images).

Grits with Bacon @ The Fremont Diner.

• • •

Sausage Biscuit @ The Fremont Diner.

• • •

Salted Caramel Milkshake @ The Fremont […

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.

• • •

Flounder special @ Yuet Lee, San Francisco.

• • •

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

• • •

Black pepper brisket hash @ Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros.

• • •

Chilaquiles @ Miguel’s, Calistoga.

• • •

Señorita bread @ Star Bread Bakery, Vallejo.

The Chicken & Dumplings @ Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros

Up front: Chicken and nettle dumplings; In back: Biscuit with ham, mustard, and blueberry preserves.

I’ve been an early adopter of the Fremont Diner, having made my first visit there sometime in the summer of 2009, on the way out to a wine-tasting excursion in the Russian River Valley. Since then, I’ve covered their menu extensively within these pages, and my favorite dish remains the black-pepper brisket hash. My recent lunch of chicken and dumplings, pictured above, ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is good indication of the Fremont Diner’s overall consistency. It’s a nice dish for winter — plenty of chicken, well-seasoned broth, with nettle dumplings that are dense and slightly herbaceous. Still, I must admit that I was secretly hoping for light and pillowy dumplings, something more ethereal than earth-bound. Given the circumstances, I assume that any true Southerner would probably feel the [… read more …]