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.

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Sausage Biscuit @ The Fremont Diner.

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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.

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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 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 …]

Breakfast & Lunch: Photos from Napa Valley Wine Country

Cachapas Pernil, Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, Oxbow Market, Napa

Though I had been to Pica Pica Maize Kitchen before, I hadn’t actually tasted the cachapas pernil (#7) until I attended the Napa Valley Chefs’ Market a few weeks ago. The yellow corn pancake is just sturdy enough to provide the exterior, with a flavor profile that’s slightly sweet. The cachapas pabellon (#3), which is shredded skirt steak with plantains, is also a tasty alternative.

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Market Burger, Market Restaurant, St. Helena

As far as cheeseburgers are concerned, the Market Burger is an adequate choice, although the shredded Fiscalini cheese in the photo above reminds me of McDonald’s diced onions. This shredded cheese aesthetic has never really appealed to me, especially since a well-melted slice of cheese features so much more panache.

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Chicken and Waffles, Fremont […

Breakfast & Lunch: The Black-Pepper Brisket Hash @ The Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros

Yolk so shiny, it picks up the ceiling fan.

One of my favorite breakfasts in wine country is the black-pepper brisket hash at the Fremont Diner in Sonoma Carneros. Earlier this week, I made a specific point of ordering this dish on my way out to Mendocino County, a road trip that usually pushes lunch back to the late afternoon. This brisket hash is a 100-mile breakfast if there ever was one. The potatoes are crispy, yet tender, and cooked with fresh herbs, while the brisket features a smoke-and-black-pepper pungency that I would best describe as addictive. Of course, the simple sunny-side up egg is the crowning garnish of any great breakfast dish. I have to admit that, for many years, I was not a proponent of sunny-side up eggs, but the croque madame at RN74 really encouraged me to reconsider this opinion. I have now seen the [… 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 …]

Breakfast & Lunch: Black Pepper Brisket @ The Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros

Knife optional.

I first became acquainted with the Fremont Diner’s smoked black pepper brisket when I ordered their breakfast hash a few weeks ago. That particular plate of hash was just heavenly and it’s definitely in the running for the best breakfast in the Napa Valley, although I’m not ready to bestow any lofty titles just yet. I have many more breakfasts to consider in the meantime, and I’ll delve into the specific greatness of the Fremont Diner’s brisket hash when the time is right. For now, I submit the lunch version of their smoked black pepper brisket, which is pictured above with a bowl of cheese grits and a bullet of shaved and pickled fennel. The brisket is fork tender, pungently smokey, and peppery enough to live up to its name. To my tastes, this lunch plate doesn’t have the star power of the breakfast hash, however, [… read more …]

Biscuits with Sausage Gravy @ the Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros


Biscuits with Sausage Gravy @ Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros

There’s not much of a breakfast culture here in the Napa Valley, at least compared to the dinner scene. I think that mornings tend to be reserved for sleeping it off from the night before, or else having a little “hair of the dog” at a Napa Valley tasting room at 10am. Bouchon Bakery does a brisk morning business, of course, but I don’t consider that breakfast. For one, there’s no bacon at Bouchon Bakery, and eggs are merely an ingredient, not a main course. But there is breakfast out there, and I’m going to cover all of the best options this summer. As an early teaser, I submit the biscuits and sausage gravy from the Fremont Diner in Sonoma Carneros, which also uses its terrific cream biscuit recipe for a few other applications, including the biscuit with country [… read more …]

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


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 …]