French Laundry Alum Does Takeout

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tunasalad.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The French Laundry stands for many things... culinary perfectionism, wine country elegance, technical rigor, epicurean prestige, pristine ingredients, and the elusiveness of dinner reservations.  This August, a former French Laundry chef launched a more accessible form of culinary talent in the Oxbow Public Market.  

Graham Zanow and his wife Andrea are both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  Andrea hails from Napa originally, so after several years of private chef-ing and other cooking jobs in various places, they settled in Napa and started Graham's Catering, an elite full service catering company with a passion for local and sustainable products. Last year the company catered meals for the Top Chef crew of celebrity judges, contestants, and crew members during the season 6 finale in Napa Valley, and this year, they opened a take-out storefront at the Oxbow Public Market.

At Graham's Take-Away, homemade freshness and flavor meet professional precision and creativity.  The storefront next to Ritual Coffee offers breakfast, lunch and dinner-appropriate items every day.  Mornings find homemade quiches, granola, and crowd pleasing favorites like banana or zucchini bread, as well as fresh organic yogurt and milk.  Lunchtime yields an assortment of composed grain, vegetable, and seafood salads, as well as daily changing sandwiches and wraps.  

Last week the specials board promised a mortadella wrap with smoked mozzarella, pickled shallots and mixed greens, as well as a roast beef and arugula wrap with horseradish, cheddar, and a red pepper mayonnaise, and a turkey sandwich on nutty whole grain ciabatta with goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh arugula (each $12).  In the refrigerated glass case I also spotted a roasted golden beet and papaya salad, a pesto-infused Israeli couscous salad, tangy peppadew peppers stuffed with herbed fresh chèvre, and an irresistible Provence-inspired seared tuna salad that had me at hello.  Other options included Graham's brown sugar sweet potato salad, a marinated calamari salad, and the new staple "everything potato salad" packed full of tasty additions.  Technical precision and microscopic mincing make the flavors hard to see, but easy to enjoy.

This masterful technique and superior quality of ingredients set these salads apart.  In my Provençal tuna salad, perfectly seared and perfectly seasoned rare ahi tuna was sliced into uniform chunks and tossed with a startlingly even dice of fennel and red onion.  Surgically halved baby tomatoes and black olives, whole capers, and tiny square specks of minced basil were the picture of geometric perfection, and rounded out the salad with fresh Mediterranean flavor and color.  The Zanows didn't skimp on the tuna, either, so a small container of that salad ($6) made a filling and healthy lunch entree.  

Graham's is not the place for a five dollar lunch, though you can get five chèvre-stuffed peppadews for that price, and six dollars scores you a small container of most salads.  French Laundry professionalism never comes cheap--but given the amount of work and pedigreed ingredients involved, it never should.  At least at Graham's you don't need a reservation.

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