post-lunch bliss

Friday, April 27, 2007

Today I take back everything I have ever said about crappy lunch places in Napa. Because I just had The Best Lunch Ever. It was so good that I basically gushed about it to every coworker I ran into between my car and my cubicle after I came back from eating. (Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the lunch because I was completely engrossed in my food.)

Yes, that's right: I am officially in love with BarbersQ, the newly-opened, barbecue-focused restaurant started by three chefs from Mecca in San Francisco. While this isn't a cheap-eats, hole-in-the-wall, paper-plate type of restaurant, it isn't a holier-than-thou, waiter-carries-a-crumber, fine-dining experience either. It sort of falls somewhere in between -- a fairly small restaurant (seats only 64, I think) with clean lines, no white table cloths, extremely friendly service, decent prices and really, really excellent food that is locally sourced (a fact which I absolutely love -- I like knowing my pig had a nice life before I ate it).

And it's not awkward at all to dine there alone, which is a huge plus for me since I eat by myself so often during the week. I just armed myself with a couple of food and travel magazines and sat at the bar. The bartender was attentive without being overbearing, and it genuinely seemed like he was excited to work there and excited about the food that was being served.

He told me the restaurant was founded around the chef's recipe for pulled pork, so of course, that's what I ordered. And I wasn't disappointed. The pulled pork sandwich came with a butter lettuce salad (by the way, I am obsessed with butter lettuce -- it is my favorite lettuce). And I also ordered a side of fries (which I ended up getting boxed up to bring home). The pork was so freaking good -- I didn't even need to put barbecue sauce or anything on it. It tasted like there was a hint of honey in it, and the meat was unbelievably tender.

Unfortunately, no room for dessert this time around. But the bartender did rave about the fried apple pie, which he explained as being like an empanada. (Um, I LOVE empanadas.) He kept telling me I should come back for dessert only, and he'd pour some dessert wines to match.

Honestly, it's all I can do to keep myself from running back there right after work and taking him up on that offer.

now that's a salad

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

At long last, a lunch spot in Napa that I am addicted to: Big D Burgers on the Silverado Trail. I've gone three times in the last week.

My usual order? This fabulous salad. Yes, it may not be perfect -- the beets are canned and the lettuce is iceberg (but at least not just the white part -- I hate that white watery inside part). But it has so much going for it -- the light raspberry vinaigrette dressing, the black bean burger patty (which is so, so good and only has 1.5 grams of fat), the kidney beans and chickpeas. It's a hearty meal. And it's only $6.99. And it sure as hell beats this crapola salad.

Other reasons why Big D is my new favorite lunch place:

1. There are no tourists. (I get extremely jealous of people who are on vacation while I am at work.)

2. The fries also kick ass. And you can choose from regular crinkle-cuts, twistie fries or garlic fries.

3. This is not a chain restaurant.

4. The to-go containers are not made out of Styrofoam.

5. Big D is very close to JV, which is a fabulous, fabulous place to shop for wine.

viognier tasting

Monday, April 23, 2007

Our tasting group met yesterday to sample some Viognier. It was a small crowd this time, so there were only five wines, and out of those five, I only really liked two. And both are priced under $10, which is fabulous since I'm sort of broke right now.

My favorite was the McManis 05 Viognier, California. (Really, this was no surprise. We drink McManis at home. It's damn good.) Their Viognier had everything I look for in a Viognier -- floral and citrus notes on the nose, with more citrus, good acid and a refreshing feeling in the mouth. Good stuff.

Not far behind was the Bridlewood 05 Reserve Viognier, Central Coast. Of all the wines we tasted, this one and the McManis were by far the freshest and liveliest. The Bridlewood had aromas of honey and peaches with a citrusy mouth.

And then we get to the rest of the pack. I ranked the Cave de Chante Perdrix 05 Condrieu third even though I wasn't a huge fan. I didn't think there was anything inherently wrong with this wine; it was just made in a completely different style from the largely American Viognier that I am used to drinking. So instead of the bright, lively flavors I typically find -- and like -- in U.S. Viognier, this wine was much more austere. It was minerally, with some orange and honeysuckle. And a little bit of dirt/barnyard. (I guess I am not the big Francophile I thought I was when it comes to Viognier. This was one of the wines that I brought to the tasting, and I really thought it would do better. Um, especially since I paid $38.99 for it.)

Despite the difference in style, I still found the French wine better than the Jewel 05 Viognier, California. This wine didn't seem balanced to me. The alcohol was only 13.5%, but for some reason, it was much more apparent than in the other wines (and I think there were two at 14.5%, but you couldn't tell). I got alcohol on the nose, and the wine itself was a little soft compared to the others. And it tasted hot, too.

And coming in dead last -- way dead last -- was the other wine I brought: the Clautiere 05 Viognier from Paso Robles. This is wine I've had so many times (hell, he even worked at the winery last harvest). I know this wine -- it's usually fresh, floral, grapefruity -- the kind of thing you'd want to take to a baby shower or brunch. But this bottle was bad, bad, bad. It didn't have any of those characteristics at all. I think it was corked. There was no fruit. Just wet cardboard. And maybe some metal. Sad, sad, sad. This is what makes me so angry about TCA -- here I was, trying to introduce my friends to a fabulous, little-known Paso winery that I personally adore and so few people have experienced, and now they will probably walk away thinking Clautiere just isn't up to par. But it is -- when the wine isn't corked. Argh.

back in the kitchen

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I haven't cooked very much at all since we moved. (Unless you count lentils and rice, which is my fallback meal -- it's cheap, fast and super-easy to make. And I cook it all in one pot, which makes cleanup simple, too.)

I don't consider myself a very skilled cook. I think that's because growing up, my mom, a woman who never wanted to have a full-time job and preferred to stay home and be a mom, cooked a lot. I wanted a career and no kids, so I thought the key to that would be to avoid the kitchen as much as possible. Which is exactly what I did until my last year of college. (And those early attempts were scary. I consistently overcooked everything because I was afraid of giving myself food poisoning. I had no notion of spices. I also made chicken a lot. So just imagine how great those meals were: bland, overcooked chicken. Tasty.)

I still chop slowly. I have trouble with timing. And I constantly have to ask him if something looks right (he's a much, much better cook than I am).

But I like cooking. I like the prepwork. And I like making things without using a recipe or a book.

Which is what I did Friday night. Finally, a real dinner sans lentils! There was baked English sole seasoned with Meyer lemon, fresh rosemary and cayenne; rotini with mushroom and Asiago cream sauce; and a side of roasted asparagus. All without using a recipe. (Unfortunately, my camera was out of batteries, so I had to take a photo with my Treo. This photo is awful and doesn't do the meal justice. This dinner was good stuff! We didn't even have leftovers -- it was that good, thank you very much.)

Still feeling inspired, I made breakfast this morning -- scrambled eggs with onions, asparagus and Asiago cheese. I also have some hominy and white bean chili going in the slow-cooker right now. (Although that was a near-disaster. The recipe called for a jalapeño, which I seeded and chopped up. Then I proceeded to grind up some cumin seeds, and the grinding made me sneeze, and then I touched my nose, which immediately set my nose on fire, and then I tried to wash my face, which immediately set the rest of my face on fire. For about 10 minutes, I thought I was going to die.)

Taking a break now ... and thinking about what I want to make later on this week.

meet allie

Friday, April 20, 2007

One of the perks of working at a winery: The dogs. (Unfortunately, no winery cats here. Sadness.) We actually used to have dogs here all the time, until one of them pooped in the cellar and another one got in the way of the forklift.

But today we have a visitor. She spent the morning sitting on my lap while I typed away here at my computer. What a cutie.

overcast, under-rested

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When the weather is like this, I want to stay in bed.

And apparently, some travel writers do, too: We hosted two today (a couple who writes stories together), and the man kept falling asleep right in the middle of their private tasting with our founding winemaker. I've never seen anything like it.

It got so bad that I actually asked the guy if he wanted me to bring him a cup of coffee.

(P.S. Are we that boring?)


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Once when I was feeling bad, Shaya got me a card that said "Falafel?" on the outside and "I hope you feel better soon" on the inside. I had it up on my wall for months and only took it down when I moved.

I heart falafel and all of its friends. I heart the crispy exterior and soft middle. I heart the hummus and tahini and warm pita bread and the nice salad that goes with it. I heart combining all those wonderful ingredients to assemble my very own custom-made falafel sandwich.

And I heart finding a decent place for falafel here in Napa. (Seriously, finding decent food in Napa that isn't being served at an expensive, sit-down restaurant is a real feat. I am patting myself on the back now.) I went to Small World for the first time today at lunch, and it was yummy, yummy, yummy. I got a falafel platter for $8.99 -- about five or six little falafel patties with sides of hummus, baba ganoush (man, that was good baba ganoush), salad (which I drizzled with tahini), red onions, perfectly ripe tomatoes (I don't know where the hell these came from since it's not tomato season, but these were really, really good) and a basket of warm pita bread.

My belly is happy.

new york chardonnay

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Last May, when I was in New York to celebrate a friend's good news, I found myself at Best Cellars, a wine shop that specializes in $15-or-less wines that are categorized by descriptors like "fresh," "juicy," "big" and "sweet."

I was looking for a Fingerlakes wine to take home with me -- hoping for a Riesling (they seem to be all the rage when it comes to NY wines). Unfortunately, the store didn't have any, so I ended up with a Fingerlakes Chardonnay, the 2003 Salmon Run. (Salmon Run one of the labels produced by Vinifera Wine Cellars, which has been around since 1962. That's a long time -- 10 years older than Clos Du Val!)

I didn't know what to expect from the Salmon Run Chard. The store had put it in the "soft" category, which scared me (I immediately conjured up a flabby, over-oaked, dripping-with-butter wine). So I put off opening the bottle.

Until two nights ago. And even then, I admit I didn't have high expectations, especially since the wine was an 03, its color had darkened to a golden shade and I was worried the wine had become oxidized and had totally lost all of its fruit.

Man, was I pleasantly surprised. The wine was no butterbomb at all. There were nice floral and peach notes on the nose, and in the mouth, there was good minerality, a hint of apricot and a creamy yet clean feel. And this Chard was absolutely fantastic with food. (He was cooking -- we had a tofu and veggie stir fry with asparagus, mushrooms and rainbow chard -- some peanut oil flavoring and some heat to it. And the wine went really, really well with the meal.)

Definitely a good NY souvenir.

no lemon pun needed

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

After several weeks of travel and weddings and basically just running around (and having no time to blog, unfortunately), this weekend, I finally had some quiet time at home.

I decided to spend it in the kitchen, making lemon sorbet with fresh fruit from our Meyer lemon tree. (Really, there is nothing better than thinking, Oh, I need a lemon! and then just walking outside to pick one right off the tree.)

I used a recipe from Emeril Lagasse. It looked simple enough: Boil 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Let cool. Mix in lemon juice and zest. Put everything in the ice cream maker. And voilà -- lemon sorbet like the one in the photo.

Or not.

Unfortunately, I didn't take into account the fact that Meyer lemons are already pretty sweet. Adding a cup of sugar to that mix was just way too much. The resulting sorbet was probably the most unbalanced, overpowering thing I have tasted in a long time. The lemon was out-of-control strong, and the sugar just exaggerated the flavors. I felt like my teeth were being coated. And when the brewer/gardener/recipe taster tried it, he launched into a coughing fit. And couldn't stop.

"It's just so lemony," he said.

The only thing that can even remotely salvage this sorbet disaster is a whole lot of sparkling wine: Add one small scoop of sorbet to a Champagne glass, cover liberally with a Brut sparkler and (hopefully) enjoy.
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