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Good BBQ Eats in Napa Valley

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Some days you just don't want to slave over the barbecue pit or grill for hours perfecting those, succulent, smoky, fall off the bone, perfectly marinated and spiced barbecue ribs. And let's not forget the almighty sauce that makes you want to lick your fingers and the plate! Mmmmm mmmm good! 

So, now that your mouth is watering for some ribs, where are you going to get them in Napa Valley? See a few of the restaurants we've identified as having good barbecue in Napa. (in no particular order)

bountyHunterWineBar_barbecueRibs.jpgBounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ, 975 First Street Napa, CA 94559

While they are known for their famous beer can chicken, but it's the ribs and briskets that keep locals and visitors alike visiting this downtown Napa restaurant on a regular basis. (Okay, and the chicken too....) Order a slab of ribs, or share the Smokin' BBQ Platter with friends. Doing double duty as a wine bar, each menu selection also suggests the perfect pairing. We recommend you indulge in both!

Mustard's Grill, 7399 St Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94558, (707) 944-2424
If you're looking for some down home comfort food with a twist of Napa sophistication, look no further than chef Cindy Pawlcyn's restaurant "Mustard's Grill" also affectionately known as a "fancy rib joint with way too many wines". Order the Niman Ranch Barbecued Baby Back Ribs - perfectly cooked and tender rack of ribs with a sweet tangy barbecue sauce (ask for extra!) Not to go unnoticed are the sides - apple-golden raisin slaw and cheddar-jalapeno corn stix. Priced at $26.50, indulge to heart's content or take some home!

Tip: Don't forget about Fido. Ask to take the bones home and they'll doggie bag for you! Also, we hear the Mongolian Pork Chop is amazing!!!

Q Restaurant & Bar, 3900 D Bel Aire Plaza. Napa California 94558. 707 224 6600
Whether it's the ribs, pulled pork sandwich or brisket, take your pick and you'll be thanking us we pointed you in the right direction. It's located in a strip mall of sorts, but don't let the front facade fool you. Between the barbecue (if you're in the mood, fried chicken too) and a host of delicious sides (try the mac n cheese and collard greens) you'll wonder why you didn't know about this place before! View menu here.

smoakhouseGrill.jpgSmoakhouse Grill & BBQ,  
1755 Industrial Way, Suite 28 Napa, California 94559

This small outfit located off the main drag in Napa's Industrial Park specializes in classic Southern BBQ. We've got a special place in our heart, as do many others, for their St. Louis ribs and the out of this world "bacon chop" - a huge pork chop with the pork belly still attached.  Only open Wednesday - Saturday (11:30am - 8pm), it's best to get your orders in early before popular items sell out for the day. While they recently started a lunch menu, it is extremely limited, best bets would be their take-out, groups and catering menus. Recent article on them here.

Tip: Sign up up to be on their email list too, they send a newsletter announcing weekly specials!


New Napa Valley Restaurant: Empire Napa Grand Opening - May 18th

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empireNapa_Logo.jpgDowntown Napa continues to add sizzle to it's list of hot restaurants and wine lounges. Joining the ranks of Morimoto Napa, Carpe Diem Wine Bar, 1313 Main, Oenotri, and the Thomas and Fagiani's Bar is Empire Napa having it's grand opening this Saturday, May 18th.

Empire hopes to showcase the trademark Napa charm with a cosmopolitan sophistication as a new contemporary small plates restaurant and lounge. The menu will focus on high quality, fresh  ingredients with a host of influences including Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, French, and nostalgic Americana. Plates range from $5-$20 where an individual can easily enjoy a bite and something to drink in as little as 20 minutes or savor as many as 12 courses over three hours with cocktails and wines.

empireNapa_cocktail.jpgA sneak peek at some of the dishes on the menu:

  • Lemongrass Chicken Wraps, Peanut Sambal and Cilantro
  • Mushrooms, Crispy Sage Polenta, Spinach and Preserved Lemon
  • Lamb Belly, Moroccan BBQ Sauce and Pickled Cabbage
  • Mango Kulfi Popsicle with Peanut Caramel
Signature Cocktails ($12-$16):

  • French 75: Linie Aquavit, Lemon, Chardonnay
  • Daiquiri: Lemon Hart 151, Demerara Sugar, Lime Juice, Orange Bitters
  • Ukiah Sour: Mi Casa Blanco Tequila, Lavender Syrup, Lime, Bergamont Bitters

Perhaps even more exciting to those looking for more nightlife options in Napa is that Empire Napa will will be open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday 5pm-12am, and Friday/Saturday, 5pm-2am which will showcase some of the best DJs in the Bay Area.

Empire Napa, 1400 First Street, Napa, CA; (707) 687.1234

Best Food & Wine Destinations

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food_wine.jpegTraveler's Choice Awards 2011 by Trip Advisor

The votes are in and Napa, California was chosen as the #2 travel destination for food and wine by travelers on Trip Advisor in 2011. Are we really surprised? Not really. In fact, what's surprising is that Napa was not chosen as #1!

Trip Advisor sums it up well when it says "Everyone knows Napa as a wine destination, and it lives up to the hype. This is oenophile heaven, and you could spend days going from tasting room to tasting room. There's a flourishing restaurant scene, too, featuring everything from Michelin-starred standouts to tiny local bistros."

CLICK HERE to read the full article and see other destinations that topped the list for 2011.

Two Hot New Pairing Programs at Napa Wineries

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lmrwines.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

I enjoy wine tasting, but I definitely perk up substantially if there's food pairing involved.  Thankfully, there are plenty of other people who feel the same way, and our growing numbers are prompting great changes in the way wineries present their products to the public.  I recently had the good fortune to be invited to two of the best winery food and wine experiences in Napa, and can't wait to spread the word.  

Long Meadow Ranch
Adding a food component to their winery's tasting program was a no-brainer for Long Meadow Ranch Winery in St. Helena, which for many years has been producing grass-fed beef, premium olive oils, free-range eggs, and organic vegetables in addition to their wines--and which opened a Ranch-supported restaurant (Farmstead) next to their tasting room just last year.  LMR has just announced some new options for people interested in food as well as wine, with packages at practically every price point.

Rotisserie & Wine: So Much More Than the Name

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r_and_w.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Historically, the City of Napa--not to be confused with the Napa Valley in which it's located--has not been known for its wine tasting options, tourist attractions, or epicurean sophistication.  In the last three years, however, the city has welcomed the Oxbow Public Market, a remarkable community of over 20 tasting rooms, and a critical mass of excellent restaurants all within an eminently walkable downtown district.  The arrival last year of nationally renowned chefs like Tyler Florence and Masaharu Morimoto marked the end of Napa's status as the culinary ugly step-child of the Napa Valley, and a huge leap forward for all the other entrepreneurs fighting to put Napa on the food and wine map.

The Year of the Rabbit Joins The Food Truck Frenzy

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foodtruck.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

February 3, 2011 marks the first day of the Chinese zodiac's Year of the Rabbit.  People born in years of the Rabbit (1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, and 2011) are supposed to enjoy the good things of life, and have excellent taste.  In honor of this particularly noble year, Napa's Food Truck Friday will be featuring New Year's specials themed around the animal of the year.

Food Truck Fridays started in Napa last October as the semi-guerilla "Circle the Wagons" event, which gathered the first gourmet food trucks of Napa Valley all in one place, for one night only.  Phat Salads & Wraps, Crossroad Chicken, and Mark's the Spot all convened at Dim Sum Charlie's shiny silver Airstream trailer to support the fledgling food truck movement in wine country.  The night was such a success, they wound up making it a monthly occurrence on the first Friday of each month. 

Five Great Burgers in Napa Valley

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burger1.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Who doesn't love a great burger?  (Other than vegetarians, of course.)  People have their own particular preferences about type of bun, cooking temperature, and toppings, but there is a burger out there for every individual palate.  Check out these gems from the Napa Valley, and see which style will become your favorite.

Restaurant Month in California

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All around California, restaurants are celebrating the month of January with fabulous dining specials and savings for lunch and/or dinner. Splurge, savor, and save is the name of the game. See if your favorite restaurant or one you always wanted to try is on the list in the regions below.

Gold Country. You may not find gold, but with savings on food like these, you might as well have! Restaurant Week in Gold Country is January 32-30 with a grand finale on January 30th where the area's finest chefs will offer a unique opportunity to be an El Dorado Epicurean in a countywide progressive dinner. More Details

Monterey County. Catch some fresh seafood in Monterey during Restaurant Month. Participating restaurants are offering prix fixe dinner menus for $20.11 all month long. More Details.

Napa Valley - see our Food Writer's top restaurant picks for deals and steals. Or see the full list of Napa Valley restaurants and their specials here.

Santa Barbara Wine Country
  • Santa Barbara -Dubbed "Film Feast", the prix fixe restaurant program coincides with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival all happening January 27-Feb 6, 2011. Film goers and foodies are invited to choose from "Short" (two-course), "Feature" (three-course) and "Epic" (four-course) length seasonal menus at participating restaurants. MORE DETAILS.
  • Santa Ynez Valley - The foodie fun begins January 23rd and ends January 29th. It's this region's first time participating in Restaurant Month and they will be featuring special 3-course tasting menus for $20.11. A list of participating restaurants is listed, but you will need to contact restaurants directly for specific days, dining hours and to make reservations. MORE DETAILS.

Napa Valley Restaurant Month Deals and Steals

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boonFlyCafe_donuts.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet


Now is the time to dine in Napa Valley. The region's first ever Restaurant Month kicked off this January to complement Yountville's second annual Moveable Feast, offering sweet specials all over the valley. With over 30 participating restaurants--nearly all of which have different fine print on their deals--assessing the options can seem overwhelming. To save you time and headaches, I offer you my top picks for the most incredible, can't miss values on offer during this month only.

2010 Restaurant Retrospective

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Deirdre Bourdet

2010 will go down in Napa history as The Year of the Restaurant.  We saw no fewer than twelve new restaurants opening their doors within a half mile of each other, making the downtown region the new dining hot spot of the Valley.  Each new arrival brought something special to the eating scene that is worthy of note.  Here's my highly subjective take on what each new place has done for Napa, in roughly chronological order.

1.    Grace's Table Husband and wife team Mauro and Nancy transformed the modern Elements space into a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with neighborhood prices, satisfying global comfort food, and a warm welcome at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  No one else in town pumps out the variety of housemade jams, breads, stews, burgers, tamales, gnocchi, and salads at accessible prices like these guys do.

The Riddling Rack Is A No Brainer

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riddlingrack.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Cold wet weather makes me want to hole up at home with a bottle of red wine and some truffle mashed potatoes.  Home is easy, it's warm, it's reasonably attractive, and it almost always has some really good wine on hand.  But when I dragged myself out on a random weeknight for pre-dinner drinks at the AVIA Hotel's Riddling Rack, I discovered another comforting nook in town with these same attributes--one that's also way cooler looking, and has vintage Dom Perignon by the glass.  

Wake Up Call

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Where to enjoy the best breakfasts in Wine Country.

by Jill Silverman Hough

There's nothing like waking up in Wine Country, with the promise of a perfect day ahead. So, why not indulge in an amazing breakfast? Whether you like to ease into the day with coffee and a fresh-baked scone, or you're up for a three-course brunch, here are the spots to start your day off right.

Cantinetta Piero
The venue: A hotel restaurant, but the hotel feels like a bit of Tuscany.
The food: The two-course prix fixe breakfast starts with fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, a small pastry, and yogurt with fruit and house-made granola. Then, it moves to your choice of three egg dishes. Go for the side of artisan-smoked bacon, and linger over every bite.
The prices: $18 (30 percent off for locals).
The details: Breakfast Mon.-Sun. 7:30-10 a.m. 6774 Washington St., Yountville, (707) 299-5015, cantinettapiero.com.

Solbar
The venue: Michelin star-rated hotel restaurant, with a hip yet casual vibe.
The food: The on-premise garden influences the menu, and everything is expertly prepared. Lemon ricotta pancakes are crisp around the edges but light inside, thanks to whipped egg whites. Beef for the hash is house corned. Juices aren't just fresh squeezed, they're squeezed to order. And coffee comes in a personal French press.
The prices (entrées): $11-$17.
The details: Breakfast Mon.-Sun. 7-11 a.m., brunch Sun. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. 755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, (707) 226-0800, solbarnv.com.

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Time To Stop Beating Around the Bûche

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Growing up in California, I always thought a yule log was the crackling fire you tuned your televisions to while you opened your Christmas gifts.  I was stunned to learn that the yule log is not only a real cake consumed by many Americans, but the Christmas Eve dessert for families in France.

In contrast to the rest of the traditional Réveillon menu for December 24th--oysters, foie gras, truffles, and roast capon--the Bûche de Noël is a humble little creature.  Thin genoise cake, usually chocolate, is rolled around a flavored cream-based filling and then frosted and decorated with meringue mushrooms to look like a felled log in the forest.  Although some French seem to prize an ultra-realistic log, and others opt for a more cartoonish look, everyone's goal is clearly to make the cake look like a moldering piece of wood.

Trufflefest Napa Valley

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blacktruffle.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Last weekend the inaugural Napa Valley Truffle Festival brought a wave of truffle hunters to town, just in time for the start of the black truffle season.  With seminars and dégustations aimed at gourmands and geeks alike, the Festival drew a diverse crowd of truffle scientists, truffle purveyors, truffle farmers, potential truffle farmers, and truffle-obsessed foodies--united in their shared passion for mycorrhizal fungus.  

Change Is Afoot At the Oxbow Public Market

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oxbowmarketsign.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The Oxbow Market is one of my favorite destinations in the Napa Valley.  It has everything a foodie could want in one convenient, comfortable, and very social marketplace.  As a local, it's rare that I stop in without spotting at least one person I know.  With the fantastic new changes in the Main Hall this autumn, the Oxbow's cult following is about to get a lot bigger.  

One of the biggest issues for people visiting the Oxbow in the evening was the early shuttering of the stores, starting around 7pm.  Starting November 17th, the Oxbow will be open every night until at least 9pm, eliminating the need to eat an early bird supper or leave the building.  "Oxbow at Nite!" aims to make the market an anytime, any day kind of scene: it's not just for Tuesdays anymore.

Thanksgiving Dinner in Napa Valley

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Restaurants That Will Be Open in 2012!
CLICK HERE to also see Napa Valley wineries open for tasting!

Spend more time with family this year. There's no need to slave all day in the kitchen cooking up everyone's Thanksgiving favorites. Leave the cooking and dishes to the chefs of Napa Valley! See what some restaurants have planned for the big Turkey Day!


Grill at Silverado Resort & Spa
Enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day Buffet in the resort's elegant Grand Ballroom, featuring an array of traditional holiday dishes such as Butternut Squash Soup; Marshall Farm Honey Brined Petaluma Turkey Breast; Herb Roasted Prime Rib; Lock Duarte Salmon; Roasted Sweet Potato Gratin; and Wild Mushroom Stuffing. MORE DETAILS

Meadwood Napa Valley

Sit down to an elegant feast prepared at Meadowood Napa Valley featuring two preparations of Free Range Turkey (Brined & Roaste Breast, Crisp Skin Leg Confit), Duo of Housemade Bread Stuffing (Chestnut and Sage, Italian Sausage), several other sides and a decadent dessert buffet that include favorites pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie, apple crumble, and an assortment of other treats. First seating is at 12pm. MORE DETAILS.

Napa Valley Wine Train
Thanksgiving on the Napa Valley Wine Train is a traditional Thanksgiving feast in a non-traditional (yet extremely memorable) atmosphere. We'll have all of the customary Thanksgiving fixings, and of course, a perfectly cooked turkey. Many guests have made Thanksgiving on the wine train their family tradition, returning year after year. Lunch Train is already sold out! So make sure to call and make reservations for the Dinner Train.
MORE DETAILS

Siena Restaurant at the Meritage Resort
Keep calm and gobble on this Thanksgiving at The Meritage Resort. Leave the cooking to our award-winning restaurant and enjoy this time of thanks with your family and friends.
Savor a prefixed menu by our Executive Chef Michael Collins that includes turkey carving at your table, choice of an appetizer, a dessert bar, and much more. Turkey leftovers will even be wrapped to take home for a turkey sandwich the next day! MORE DETAILS



Last Call for Martini House...

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Martini House sign.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

For nine years, Martini House has been the place for a sophisticated night out in downtown St. Helena.  The romantic garden patio, Pat Kuleto interiors, and semi-secret Cellar Bar offered a comfortable scene for everyone, and chef-owner Todd Humphries' seasonal wine country menu consistently hit the spot in every context.  The restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2008, three stars from the San Francisco Chronicle, and was constantly touted as one of the best special occasion spots in the Napa Valley.  

When the news broke last week that the restaurant had been sold and would be closing October 30, a shock wave of dismay and mourning struck the Bay Area.  Owners Todd Humphries, Pat Kuleto, and Richard Miyashiro have sold Martini House to restaurateurs Brian Bennett and Paul Fleming (a founder of P.F. Chang's and owner of several other successful restaurants), who plan to re-open a new restaurant concept in the Craftsman-style space after a period of closure.  Humphries and Miyashiro are also rumored to be plotting a new restaurant venture, possibly in burgeoning downtown Napa, but Martini House as we know it will be gone at the end of this month.

Oktoberfest in Wine Country

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wineriesofnapavly.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Just because Napa is known more for its grapes than its beer doesn't mean beer-lovers should look elsewhere for entertainment.  The number of local breweries is growing, and new opportunities to taste beer alongside (or even instead) of wine are popping up all around, just in time for October. 

The Wineries of Napa Valley tasting room next to the Visitor Center launched downtown Napa's first beer tasting bar at the end of September.  The casual tasting counter (separate from the wine tasting counter for permitting reasons) offers five Northern California artisanal brews on tap, available by the pint for $5 each, or as part of a tasting flight of four, for $8.  The current lineup includes Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic Brewery, Blue Star wheat beer and Scrimshaw pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company, Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company, and an organic California Blonde Ale from Eel River Brewing Company in Humboldt County.  I'm hard pressed to imagine anything more refreshing after a long day of wine tasting than a flight of these effervescent local beauties. 

The New School of Fish on the Napa River

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Lobster Roll.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The City of Napa straddles the Napa River, once a plentiful source of Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, bass, and sturgeon.  Although the river's edible bounty has diminished with human development of the area, the recent wave of seafood restaurants opening along both banks is restoring some of the river's former glory as the place to go for delicious fish.

Morimoto Napa led the way when it opened in the Riverfront building in August this year, bringing Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's deft and respectful style of seafood preparation.  Pristine freshness, creative compositions, and sophisticated flavors make this the go-to restaurant for sushi lovers in the North Bay.  (See our previous coverage here.)

Family-Style Dinners at Farmstead

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Photo by Kristen Loken
By Deirdre Bourdet

While some say the recession has officially ended, the focus on back-to-basics, close to home recession specials continues, unabated.  Farmstead Restaurant in St. Helena recently launched a series of moderately priced, family-style dinners aimed at starting some new monthly traditions for this fall.   Whether you're a fan of fish fries, intimate winemaker dinners, or whole hog roasts, Farmstead has a dinner for you.  And as always at Farmstead, the ingredients for these dinners are entirely local, sourced from nearby purveyors and from Long Meadow Ranch itself.  

Where to Lunch in the City of Napa

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By Deirdre Bourdet

For many, fall means back to school, back to work, and a brutal reality check to the hedonism and decadence of summertime.  In wine country, though, autumn ushers in harvest party season and every excuse you need to keep on keeping on with that summertime spirit--even if only for a day.  

The City of Napa's location at the southernmost portion of the valley makes it an ideal destination for busy folks on a shorter leash.  With about 20 tasting rooms and one working winery (Twenty Rows) within city limits, visitors no longer need to rely solely on Carneros wineries for their wine tasting needs.  And with a slew of excellent restaurants serving lunch on the weekends, Napa is fully equipped for an afternoon of deliciousness.

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.

Best Bets For Brunch in Napa

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By Deirdre Bourdet

I'm a firm believer in the classic mom maxim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day--particularly if your day begins in Napa.  Lining the stomach against all-day wine tasting, and feeding the brain in order to remember what you've experienced are both essential for optimal enjoyment of this food and wine paradise. Here are some of the best places in Napa proper to begin your taste adventure.

Domo Arigato, Mister Morimoto

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morimoto1.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

To the collective delight of sushi lovers in wine country (and really, the entire state of California), Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto opened the doors of his first west coast restaurant in downtown Napa this July.  From what I can tell the place has been packed every night since it opened... including the random Wednesday evening I finally made it there to sample some of the Iron Chef's creations.

The Next Generation of Napa Restaurant

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bistrosandor.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Napa restaurants seem to open in bursts these days, with multiple places launching more or less simultaneously.  Mid-June 2010 saw the arrival of Bistro Sabor, Carpe Diem, and the as-yet-still-in-soft-opening-mode Bui Bistro, all within three blocks of each other.  Each restaurant brings its own unique cuisine experience to the downtown restaurant scene, but all three share the modern look and casual style that seem to be the new trend in wine country restaurants.

Napa Farmers' Market Newcomers

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napa farmers market.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Farmers' market season has begun in Napa, and each week the number of tents and shoppers in the Oxbow Market parking lot seems to grow.  In addition to the perennial favorites, like Rodriguez Farm strawberries, Model Bakery pastries, and the Bolani people's bolanis and sauce, this season I'm drawn to a couple of relative newcomers with fabulous, unique wares on which to feed.

Go West, Young Gourmand

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uptown-theater.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

According to my friend Chris (@NapaChris on twitter), a New York Times reporter stopped in to his tasting room last week as part of an upcoming piece on Napa's developing  "West End" district.  Pretentious name aside, national coverage is well deserved.  This part of town has some of the best--and best priced--foodie fun Napa has to offer.

I don't know how the Times is planning to define the region, but I'd say the cool stuff is bounded by Seminary Street on the west, 4th Street to the south, Coombs Street to the east, and 1st Street to the north--a small area to be sure, but one that already boasts four note-worthy restaurants, a swanky boutique hotel, a newly renovated historic live music venue, several intensely social art galleries, and two of my favorite tasting rooms in Napa.

C Casa Es Su Casa

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cbistro.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

At last, at long last, C Casa has opened in the Oxbow Public Market in the place formerly occupied by Rotisario.  The rotisserie remains, but the space is otherwise transformed into a warm, contemporary tapas bar feel, with absolutely killer patio seating.  Dark wood, silver hardware, sleek leather seating, and well-placed accent mirrors create an inviting lounge space looking east toward the Copia building and the hills of Alta Heights.  Finally, someone putting the Oxbow's shaded terraces to good use!

The Pearl of Great Price

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By Deirdre Bourdet

The Restaurant Pearl has anchored the corner of Franklin and Pearl Streets in downtown Napa for almost fifteen years, and is much beloved by locals with a taste for internationally-inflected wine country cuisine.  The steak soft tacos, the Guerrero-style grilled corn on the cob, and anything and everything seafood on the menu have cult followings.  But as the restaurant name suggests, the oysters are the most unique and fabulous things to eat there...  and the most fabulous time to eat said oysters is in the winter, on a chilly Saturday afternoon during the Oyster Extravaganza.
By Deirdre Bourdet

Most visitors to wine country have experienced at least once the painful desperation of not having enough food in their stomach to carry them through the day's wine tasting agenda.  For people who don't live locally, filling that ravening hole can be an exercise in frustration and financial dismay.  Many restaurants are expensive, and many smaller less expensive eating establishments have strange hours or slow service that don't jibe with a tasting party's urgent need to feed.

Here are a few locals' suggestions for places to fuel up in Napa Valley without breaking the bank:

Hail Mauro, Full Of Grace

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2010-01-15 21.13.11.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

I love to be surprised.  The opening of a real Thai restaurant in downtown Napa made my month.  Further surprises in the Napa restaurant department seemed unlikely, especially given that the other two new places opening in town were both angling for local-friendly comfort food--by definition, not the stuff surprises are made of.   The endless hordes thronging Norman Rose Tavern for quality burgers and fried chicken every night shock no one.  But the discovery of another solid, interesting, and reasonably priced eatery just a block away--with no wait--totally made my weekend.

Tavern of Burgery Delights

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burger1.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The much-anticipated Norman Rose Tavern opened with a bang at the end of December, with crowds out the door and throngs around the bar.  No one expected any less for a new restaurant from the folks behind the deservedly and wildly popular Pizzeria Azzurro just a few blocks away.

The Tavern is the first restaurant open for business in the new Napa Square Building, in a quickly upscaling section of First Street in downtown Napa. It bills itself as offering "elevated American classics" like big chopped salads, fried chicken sandwiches, all-beef hot dogs from Fatted Calf, mashed potatoes, french fries, and of course... cheeseburgers.

Mini Bistro, Mega Delicious

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mini mango kitchen shot.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Mini Mango Thai Bistro opened this month in the downtown space last occupied by Bleaux Magnolia, and judging by the packed house and fifteen minute wait last Friday night, Napa's Asian food fans have already heard about it.  The place is indeed mini, as the majority of the seating at that location is outside on the fabulous (seasonal) patio.  But in a commendable show of restraint, the new tenants have not festooned the tiny indoor space with diminutive mangoes as you might expect from the name.  The look, like the cuisine, is minimalist and contemporary, with nary a mango in sight.

Delicious Deals

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From truly cheap eats to exquisitely high-value dining

By Sue Elliott

When business gets tough, restaurateurs get creative, coming up with delicious high-value offers to entice diners through the door. We've included many of the best deals here along with a handful of little-known, always-cheap eats.


Angèle Restaurant & Bar
The deal: Classics, $18-$20.
When: Sun.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m.
What you get: A hearty, traditional French one-dish meal. Current Classics include La Chaudrée fish stew on Sundays, ratatouille on Mondays, choucroute alsacienne on Tuesdays, coq au vin on Wednesdays, and chef's choice on Thursdays. The ingredients are fresh, the preparations meticulous.
Other deals: Half-off wines and beers that pair nicely with the Classics. That means Chardonnay on Sundays, "other reds" (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Côte Rôtie, Beaujolais, Crozes-Hermitage) on Mondays, beers on Tuesdays, and Pinot Noir on Wednesdays. Every bottle on the wine list is half-price on Thursdays.
Where: 540 Main St., Napa, (707) 252-8115, angelerestaurant.com.

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ
The deal: Pony Express Lunch, $10.
When: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
What you get: Fast and tasty. Choose any sandwich (pulled pork, beef brisket, shredded barbecued chicken, grilled veggies, or The Reubenesque), plus any side (such as fresh, crispy cole slaw), and any nonalcoholic beverage. The delicious meal is served in 10 minutes or less, along with three barbecue sauces.
Other Deals: Happy hour, weekdays 3-6 p.m. The $5 rib and cole slaw appetizer includes three Smokin' St. Louis Cut ribs. The $10 BBQ sampler is enough for a meal, with brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and slaw.
Where: 975 First St., Napa, (707) 226-3976, bountyhunterwinebar.com.

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Cold-Weather Dining Deals

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Winter is traditionally the off-season in wine country, though it's always been one of my favorite times to visit. Besides the lack of crowds, cold weather brings out local warmth and a slew of discounted activities and menus.

Here are two restaurant deals that should not be missed this year:

Truffling Toward Ecstasy

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By Deirdre Bourdet

My butterlust is only exceeded by my passion for truffles. Funky, mysterious, and mind-blowingly delicious, a single taste of the real thing will alter your life forever.

Needless to say, I've had La Toque's black truffle dinners in my calendar as soon as the start date was announced, and am now counting down to January 8, 2010 with breathless anticipation.

Frankie's Italian Deli & Grocery

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frankiesDeli.jpgNew Downtown Napa Deli

I had pretty much given up hope in finding a really good deli sandwich for lunch in downtown Napa. Too often workmates tried to lure me to makeshift deli places and each time I left disappointed and many times throwing my sandwich away on the sly. As a result, I decided to just part ways with this standard fare for lunch. And certainly, downtown Napa has plenty of other lunchtime options.

However, today I ventured into Frankie's Italian Deli located on 1502 Main Street at the urging of a friend who boasted she loved everything on the menu.  "Everything"?  Hmmm. I decided to order the Genoa sandwich which had Italian salami, provolone & anchovies, red onion, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette on a French roll. (had them add pepperonchinis too).  And my opinion on the matter?

The New Napa Tippling Points

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The Border Michelada.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Recession-special happy hours are still popping up at a fabulous pace, even though the recession tide has turned and is (officially) over.  Downtown Napa recently added a couple of new and exciting options for happy hour tippling, besides Pica Pica Bar with its fab $3 drinks and ceviche.

Pumpkin Lovin

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Pumpkin Cupcake Karas 3.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

This time of year you can't turn around without a pumpkin or nine staring you in the face. Every storefront has trotted out at least ten or twelve for the window display, and the Stanly Ranch Pumpkin Patch is rockin' and rollin' with its hay bale maze, giant sunflowers, and pumpkins of every size and color. Though the decorative pumpkin frenzy will die down after Halloween, the edible pumpkin bandwagon is just getting going in wine country. It's one of my favorite seasons for sweets.

Pica Your Poison...

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Pica-Pica-bar2.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Pica Pica Bar has opened in Napa's Oxbow Public Market! I was delighted enough to hear that they would be serving ceviche with wine and beer, but news of their ridiculously awesome happy hour made me make haste to the comfortable leather bar stools at the south end of the Oxbow building. From 3-6pm on weekdays, all alcoholic drinks (white or red sangria, most of the ten draft beers, Venezuelan-style fruit juices called batidos, and your choice of red, white or rose wine) are $3, and a varied assortment of ceviches and corn arepa "sliders" are also yours for the same price.

Open Studios, Open Mouths

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short_season_.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The sensory delight of Napa Open Studios begins September 19th. What better way to celebrate wine country's artists than with local wines and nibbles?

Although many venues are hosting special events, the offbeat G Studio in the upstairs of an old factory in Napa lets visitors meet the artists and their creations in the actual studio space where they work. The resident artists include Kate Salenfriend, Reuben Godinez, Katie Roberts, Deb Lubin, and glass maven Patti Wessman, whose fabulous tableware designs look straight out of that sexy wine country restaurant you've been dying to visit. Visiting artists Yvonne Henry, Heather King and Nancy Shapiro join the party for Open Studios this year. Walk around and chat with these crazy colorful characters about their inspiration as you sip seriously good wine (Bennett Lane, Bighorn, Tres Sabores, and many others), enjoy the late summer light streaming in the windows, and ponder the beauty of life.

Perfect Patios

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williseafood.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The heat is on! And few things are more glorious than summer dining alfresco in wine country. I offer only three recommendations here because there are far too many fabulous patios than I can do justice to in the space permitted.

Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar just off Healdsburg's main square has a blissfully shaded garden patio on which to sample their delectable and different small plates. Tuna tartare--normally a snore-inducing must-skip item for me--goes in an entirely new and awesome direction here with cashews and slivered chilies in a cool coconut milk sauce, served atop crispy taro chips. Pumpkin seed-cilantro pesto takes bacon-wrapped scallops to new levels of delicious depravity. If it hits triple digits on the patio, move inside to the bar and have Bob the bartender (or one of his compatriots) cool you down with a cucumber martini.

Summer Love

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Summer romances are as old as time, and like clockwork, I find myself falling in love every year around this time. I speak of course of fresh salmon.

Nothing says summer more enticingly than a huge piece of barbecued wild salmon, charred and smoky from the grill, its succulent pearlescent flesh crying out to be devoured. Unless you consider sweet and toothsome and absolutely impossible-to-say-no-to grilled corn on the cob... ; or the intoxicating fragrance of farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes seducing the unwary into $30 salads... or hunks of cold watermelon so juicy that you need a napkin just to think about putting a piece in your mouth.

In Memoriam: Ubuntu's Strawberry Sofrito Pizza

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strawberry sofrito sandwich.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Napa recently experienced a sudden, tragic, and devastating loss... Ubuntu took its strawberry sofrito pizza off the dinner menu. In my humble opinion, this dish showcased all the best qualities of the restaurant: uber-local organic ingredients, creatively prepared, internationally inspired, and perfectly executed. Who else would think to combine Napa's famous summer strawberries with onions and garlic, slow cook the mixture in olive oil for three days to a sweet, savory, caramelized nirvana, and then spread it on a thin-crust pizza with fresh burrata and pine nuts? It was bliss, and I was in love.

Grilled Ribeye with Red Wine Porcini Sauce

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recipeMerryvale.jpgSubmitted by Chef Jim Filaroski of J. Alexander's

Wine Pairing: Merryvale Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Summer's here and the time is right... for a barbecue!  Invite your friends over, uncork a bottle of Merryvale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and get the coals hot.  This great grilled rib-eye dish is sure to be a crowd pleaser and pairs impeccably with Merryvale's Cab.

Napastille Day at the Oxbow Market

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bastille_day.jpgLiberte, Egalite, Block Parté

by Deirdre Bourdet

'Tis the season of Independence Day celebrations, and Francophiles in the Napa area will be fête-ing le quatorze juillet (aka Bastille Day) at the Oxbow Market - this year. Live music, dancing, games, and--bien sûr--a wide variety of frenchy food specials will celebrate 220 years of Gallic freedom in appropriately hedonistic style.

Starting at noon, Toni Cordioli and his Accordion Gang will roam the market and transport you to Paris, only without the b.o. and pushy donation collection. Cooper masters from Nadalie USA will be there from 2-6 to demonstrate the fine art of barrel-making--an entirely different kind of French toast we rarely get to see.

Killer Bread

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recipe_KillerBreadSilos.jpgThis food item is the absolute best; cheesy, tasty, and makes your mouth water. The tomatoes are awesome with the sour dough bread and the cheese. Everyone orders and loves this item at Silo's Wine Bar and Jazz Club.

Recipe: Killer Bread

Wine Pairing: Pinot Grigio (favorite is by Luna Vineyards)

Chef Name: Linda Whitted

Ingredients:
butter, mayo, Parmesan cheese, garlic, mozzarella cheese, sour dough bread

Directions:
I cant tell you anything more or give details . . . its a SECRET!

Readers: Looks pretty good from the picture and easy to make.  Probably perfect as a snack or along with dinner. Would love to get some readers thoughts on how to make this since we aren't given any directions...

Silo's Wine Bar and Jazz Club
"Pairing Great Wines with Great Music"
530 Main Street
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 251.5833
www.silosjazzclub.com

Indulgence Within Reach

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bounty_hunter_winebar.jpegby Deirdre Bourdet

Far more could be said about the positive aspects of the recession than would fit on this blog, so I'll limit this discussion to some of the incredible discounts available these days on Napan indulgences.

One of my personal favorites is the all-day Monday happy hour at Bounty Hunter, where the entire stable of "house" brands is two-for-one by the glass... including the Waypoint Vineyards Beckstoffer/To Kalon wines, normally $20 a pop.  If you can make it in between 3 and 6 p.m.  on the other weekdays, the same deal applies.  Consider adding a "mini" barbecue sampler plate heaped with pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and coleslaw to your tab, and you've basically got dinner and two glasses of killer wine for $35.

Deirdre's Top 5 Oxbow Market Snacks

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cupcake.jpgby Deirdre Bourdet

For those of you who love food emporiums as much as I do, here is my list of the top five things to hit on an eating romp through Napa's Oxbow Public Market.  Warning: may be habit forming.

The Best Shrimp Tacos north of Baja...

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La Taquiza sign.jpg

By Deirdre Bourdet

Who knew they would turn up in a suburban shopping plaza just off Highway 29 in Napa? Or that they would be offered alongside fabulous mushroom quesadillas and scarily good grilled octopus burritos?

La Taquiza is a gem. Though the restaurant name suggests that the fish tacos are the can't be missed signature item, do not be misled. Shrimp is the way to go here. Perfectly grilled to order, juicy, succulent shrimp, to be specific, buried under fresh shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, salsa verde, and a luxurious dollop of crema. All you need to attain nirvana is to anoint them with your condiments of choice--pickled onions, more pico de gallo, and/or one of the housemade salsas, as you prefer--and lift the Mexican masterpiece to your lips.

Cheap Burger no More?

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By Robert Farmer

Can somebody tell me what happened to Babe's Burgers? Actually, I think the official name was Babe's Burgers and Franks but everybody just called it Babe's. It's the little ramshackle shop along the highway (Hwy. 121, to be exact) that neatly ties together Napa and Sonoma valleys. You know the place. Or maybe you don't. That was the beauty of Babe's, it was beloved by some, completely off the radar for others. It was the kind of place that maintained an "insider" vibe no matter what restaurant was currently the talk of the valley - either valley. It was easily blown by when cruising along the Highway in the Carneros District, bouncing from one winery to the next.

Happy Hour at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar

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bountyHunterBBQ.jpgNAPA, CA - Locals or any in the area during the work week trying to save a buck (or two) on a light late lunch or early dinner should stop by Bounty Hunter Wine Bar in downtown Napa.  Bounty Hunter boasts 40 wines by the glass and a seven page wine list of wines from around the world.

The items on their regular food menu can start to add up, but their happy hour is quite the bargain.  Happy Hour is Monday - Thursday only from 3 to 6 pm and features:

  • 2 For 1 - Bounty Hunter Brands By-The-Glass
  • 25% off the Wine List
  • $5 Quarter Slab BBQ Ribs & Slaw
  • $10 Smokin' BBQ Taster Plate
  • (includes ribs, brisket, & pulled pork)

Stop by for a small respite from the worries of life.

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ
975 First Street
Napa, CA 94559
www.bountyhunterwinebar.com


Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery - Chocolate Bouchon Mix!

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bouchon.jpgIf you've ever been to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley Wine Country, then most likely you have tried their signature chocolate treat called "Bouchon".  It is chocolaty, brownie, cake-like goodness that no person should be without! If you have yet to go, definitely make this as a must visit, see, and taste for yourself stop next time you are in town*.  But what will you do until then???

Apparently, Bouchon Bakery has partnered  exclusively with Williams-Sonoma who are now selling the Chocolate Bouchon Mix directly to consumers.  "The mix combines Guittard cocoa powder, Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla and a generous helping of Callebaut chocolate chips".

It's only $18.00 and yields 18 bouchons.  Of course, you also have to buy the "bouchon mold pan".  Sigh...just looking at the picture is making me salivate all over again. I may have to order my mix tonight or since I live local, maybe just pop over to the bakery itself.

If there are any readers out there that have already tried the mix and have tasted the original, let us know if it tastes the same!

*Note: Bouchon Bakery is also located in New York and Las Vegas.

Nut Case

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erika_newheadshot.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Erika Heinemann is nuts.

You'd have to be to leave a comfy job as chef at one of Napa's best-known wineries to start from a business from home making and selling...nuts. Well, wine nuts, to be exact. Heinemann, a professionally trained chef who's logged time on the line at the French Laundry, left Duckhorn Wine Company several years ago to start Savvy Wine Food, a food-and-wine-pairing business headquartered in the Napa Valley.

Lunch Like a Local

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lunchLikeLocal.jpgby Courtney Cochran

Brenda and Dylan had The Peach Pit. Rachel and Ross had Central Perk. Even Carrie and Samantha shared many a gab fest in the same sunny Manhattan diner (what was it called??).

Whether we're talking 90210, 10010 or right here in wine country, there's an undeniable fascination with dining haunts frequented by our favorite locals. And, lucky for wine country travelers, the spots in our own backyard are much more accessible than their fictional TV counterparts.

Mat to Table

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By Courtney Cochran
Leave it to wine country dwellers to divine a venue where you can master downward dog, realign your chakras and dine on sustainably farmed eats and drink all in one place.  At Napa's new Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio (ubuntunapa.com), a daily roster of classes including Ashtanga, Hatha, prenatal and Vinyasa techniques is complemented by - what else? - vegetarian-inspired cuisine crafted from goods sourced from local farms and the spot's nearby biodynamic gardens.
by Courtney Cochranoxbow.jpg

If the flurry of construction that's been underway along the waterfront in downtown Napa is any indicator, the once-sleepy city is on the brink of becoming a major tourist destination. And the Oxbow Public Market (oxbowpublicmarket.com) - at just three months' old one of the newest additions to the downtown area - may be one of the city's most promising new arrivals.  Read on for the scoop on our favorite purveyors in this venue that looks poised to become the next big thing in a whole new Napa.

By Courtney Cochran

oxbow.jpgYou know how the saying goes: “they’ve got everything but the kitchen sink in there!” And though this is usually shorthand for the fact that “in there” is overrun with clutter and other useless artifacts left over from the year 1982, this couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of the brand spanking new Oxbow Public Market (oxbowpublicmarket.com ) in downtown Napa.

Oxbow is to Napa what the Ferry Building is to San Francisco:  a hedonist’s food and wine paradise, a meandering indoor/outdoor market fabulously chock full of retailers pedaling provisions befitting the gourmet lifestyle.  Goods available or on view at the $11 million marketplace include culinary antiques, an on-site micro winery (run by none other than Michael Mondavi), artisanal chocolates, olive oils, culinary literature, exotic bulk spices, and much, much more.  

There’s so much there, in fact, that you might even be able to score a kitchen sink.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you did.
Top Shops
  • The Fatted Calf – Choice cuts abound at this Bay Area cult-popular artisanal charcuterie and butcher shop.
  • Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – Yes, the St. Helena hamburger standout is present at Oxbow – and aren’t we glad it is.
  • The Model Bakery – This outpost of the popular St. Helena bakery ensures the smell of freshly baked bread wafts throughout the market.  Thanks.
  • The Oxbow Cheese Merchant – Just try to resist the goods at this shop run by Kate Arding, who helped start Cowgirl Creamery.

Oxbow Market Goes Public

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By Robert Farmer

A_pastries_Oxbow_Market.jpg

One of the best additions of any kind to San Francisco (where I reside) in recent years is definitely the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The public market, open every day and hosting an open-air farmers market three days a week, has simply revitalized the city’s waterfront. Now, I eagerly anticipate the same result in Napa, where the long-awaited Oxbow Public Market will make its debut Dec. 15.

Situated in Napa’s emerging Oxbow District the 40,000-square-foot marketplace on the riverbank will be a testament to the bounty of Wine Country. Dozens of tenants are already aboard—with more in the works—all of which represent the best in local food, wine, and artisinal craftsmanship for which the region is known and loved. Among the first-open tenants at the market are: The Olive Press, Anette’s Chocolate Factory, Tillerman Tea, and farm stands from Bera Ranch and DeSantis. The first couple weeks will bring in Folio Enoteca and Winery, Three Twins Organic Ice Cream, The Fatted Calf, Oxbow Cheese Merchant, and Five Dot Ranch, among others.

I will write much more about the Market as I get to know it better, but for now you can rejoice in the litany of mouthwatering goodness of it all.

A Diner's Journal - Mustard's Grill

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mustardsgrill.jpegEvery now and then I have to be reminded just how great Mustard's really is. We have so many wonderful dining establishments in Napa Valley and I somehow tend to think of Mustard's Grill as a tourists' place (probably because it was one of the first places I went to when I was a tourist), so we just don't go to Mustard's all that often. I've always enjoyed this place, but it took the suggestion of friends visiting here from Southern California to bring me back to my senses - and a really fun dining experience.

Top Napa Valley Bakeries

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The basic doughnut has been elevated to an art form at many of Napa Valley’s bakeries. In fact, all manner of pastries, including the undecorated croissant becomes the stuff of dreams. But it is the cakes that push your senses into the realm of fantasy. If you don’t believe us, you just have to drop by one of the places on WineCountry.com’s top bakery list. But hold on to your wallet and your diet, once you stand enthralled before the pastry case, you will throw common sense to the wind. Starting south, and heading north:
Sweetie Pies: Located in the Hatt building off south Main Street in Napa, this sensuous little bakery has a wide array of cakes for all occasions, cookies, and other baked delicacies. If you go for lunch (between 11 and 2 all days, except Sunday) try their Caprese panini. This pesto, tomato, and mozzarella sandwich is delicious, fresh, and leaves you room for a little something more. 520 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559 (707) 257.8817
ABC: In business for more than a decade, ABC, or Alexis Baking Company, practically started the gourmet bakery craze in Napa Valley. On Sunday morning, it is still the place to see and be seen for the up-and-coming crowd. And if you haven’t had one of their Pistachio cakes, you don’t know baking in Napa Valley. 1517 Third St., Napa, CA 94559 (707) 258.1827
Butter Cream Bakery: If it looks like Butter Cream is straight out of the 1950’s, it is. Pink vinyl banquets, an old-fashioned grill and counter, waitresses dressed in uniforms and a price list for doughnuts that still leave change in your pocket. 2297 Jefferson Street , Napa, CA 94559 (707) 255.6700
Bouchon Bakery: Superstar chef of Yountville and world, Thomas Keller, opened this tight little bakery right next to his Bouchon restaurant. If you can pass up the breads that this wonderfully aromatic place turns out, you have enough will power to conquer the world. 6528 Washington Street, Yountville, California (707) 944-2253
Model Bakery: The open glass windows of St. Helena’s main street bakery give you a birds-eye view of both the shopping action outside, and the pastry cases inside. If you love people watching with your tarts, coffee, and newspaper, this is a great place and on any given morning you are bound to see an upvalley vintner or two. 1357 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574 (707) 963.8192

Sweetie Pies and Bouchon are a featured treat in these WineCountry.com Exclusive Experiences:

http://www.winecountry.com/exclusive-experiences/offers/PG00003/
http://www.winecountry.com/exclusive-experiences/offers/UW00002/

Go Fish

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By Kimberly Wilson

Do you have an eight?
Nope, go fish.
Do you have a three?
Nope, go fish.

Remember this game? I'm sure you do. One could spend hours and hours playing. I particularly enjoyed it because for some odd reason I had a knack for beating my brother every time we played. There's a certain pleasure in telling someone to "Go fish". That being said, don't roll your eyes when I tell you to "Go Fish" on your next trip to Napa Valley.

Cindy Pawlcyn, chef and name behind Mustards Grill and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, has added another restaurant to her empire - Go Fish. Go Fish is a sushi and seafood restaurant located in St. Helena right off Highway 29, next to a local's hangout A&W. Whatever you do, make reservations or you might find yourself eating at the bar because there's not a table available until 10 pm that night.

FOOD
The food at Go Fish is prepared simply with the focus on quality of seafood, freshness and light seasonings. As a result, the fish actually becomes the focal point of your dining experience, as it should be.

Start off with a couple of sushi rolls or sashimi. The specialty Dragon roll (shrimp tempura wrapped with eel and avocado) - though a whopping $20 - was delicious and would definitely order again. However, if you are strictly a sushi roll fan, the choices are few compared to other sushi houses you might go to.

Be sure to order from the small plate's menu. My party ordered the salt encrusted gulf prawns accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce which was a fun diversion. Our request for the Peruvian Scallop Ceviche Inca corn was met with "Go Fish". Perhaps next time.

Venture into the fish selections featuring salmon, sturgeon and my personal favorite at most restaurants who dare to serve and prepare right - striped sea bass. Go Fish did not disappoint. The sea bass was cooked to perfection - wood-grilled, flaky, melt in your mouth lightly seasoned with a saffron vin blanc sauce. One is allowed to go fishing in any way they like - choose your own method of cooking (wood-grilled, steamed, or sauteed) and choose your own sauce ranging from a lemon caper parsley butter to curry inspired sauce.

Dessert, dessert, dessert....don't be foolish like the couple next to me and dismiss your server with "We'll stop in Yountville for dessert". Stay and try the out of this world roasted banana-rum ice cream sandwich. Paired with a cup of peppermint rose infused tea, desserts in Yountville will have to wait for your next dinner out.

WINE: Great wine selection - by the glass, by the half bottle and pages and pages of full bottle choices. If at a loss, try the Navarro 2004 Gewurztraminer with its slightly sweet, faint effervescence that nicely compliments the lightly-seasoned fish dishes.

PRICE: Expect to open your pocketbook a little wider than usual. Sushi ranges in price from $8 to $30. Entree selections range from $16 to $24. Add on some appetizers, side dishes, a bottle of wine AND dessert. My party of two barely escaped with a $150 tab.


To sum it up, GO FISH if you want a seafood experience to remember.

NAPA—After four days at Auction Napa Valley, I'm officially partied out. Every glass of wine has been drunk, every hand shaked, every plate cleaned, and my party dress is ready for a long soak—along with my aching feet. It's grueling work, all this festivity.

Each year, hundreds of patrons converge on the valley for the party of the year. They come from across the country, from Texas, the east coast, Los Angeles as well as nearer locales—Woodside, Sonoma, Napa and Palo Alto. And they're here for one main reason: the wine. (Okay, that and charity; the auction benefits health and youth services throughout the valley.) It's an exclusive club, really, only a few hundred tickets are sold. The lucky attendees then have the opportunity to bid on mind-boggling lots of equally mind-blowing Napa wine sell for thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars—even a million dollars. Names like Staglin, Grace Family and Screaming Eagle and so many others command top prices at the event, setting records each year for amounts spent on Napa wines and re-enforcing Napa's top-tier placement in the world of wine.

A newcomer to the event, I spent the weekend trying to learn the ropes. On my first night, Thursday, a well-meaning veteran had this advice: pace yourself. I failed to listen. We drank through ten glasses of incredible Merlot at Duckhorn Vineyards, paired with food from Auberge du Soleil, with several dozen other guests out on the veranda, watching the sun set. Pacing was not in the cards that night. Nor the next.

Friday night, at Gargiulo Vineyards, just off Oakville Cross Road was even more festive. Despite the mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, we drank through much of the family's incredible collection of sparkling, Rose, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and "Super Oakville" Blend (a local version of Super Tuscan). Afterwards, Jeff Gargiulo passed out cigars and guitars from his personal collection for late-night-revelry. At 11pm, I was ready to head for home. My date stayed well into the night. Pacing, I thought, is for wimps.

But Saturday's auction, which this year raised a record $8.4 million dollars, is the big event of the weekend. And by then, I was tired, hot, sunburned and hung-over. I suddenly realized the advice of Thursday was more than well-intentioned: they were words to live by. Dragging myself to the massive tent set up at Meadowood, I arrived just in time to hear the Staglin lot sell for over a million dollars. Inside the tent, sweat rolling off my forehead and arms, I overheard someone say it was well over 95 degrees inside. The excitement was palpable, despite the heat. As bidders raised and lowered paddles, lots continued to go for $40, $50 and $60,000. I suddenly realized that the charities of Napa Valley, who receive this money, were in for a windfall again this year. Pacing, be damned, I was ready to celebrate with this incredible group of patrons and winemakers (Mike Grgich brushed past me as I entered, wearing his trademark beret). Geena Davis and Ryan Seacrest (of American Idol fame) were here…uh, somewhere. Friends from previous nights' dinners, old acquaintances and new introductions were made. We sweated, smiled and sipped through it all.

Exhausted, I crawled into my bed on Saturday night reminded once again of the words of my friend on Thursday night. Pace yourself. Next year, I thought. Next year.

The Pepper Monkey Goes to COPIA

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NAPA—Top Chef, the reality cooking show on Bravo, came to Napa last week for its penultimate episode, and here's what we've learned:

-Lamb is nice, but not thrice. Contestants were given $250 to spend at St. Helena's Sunshine foods for ingredients for their dishes, which were cooked in the kitchens of COPIA for an all-star panel of Napa chefs. Three of the four made lamb dishes. By the time the third (and ultimately losing) contestant Lee Anne Wong served up lamb, yet again, the panel was lamb-enting having to face another round.

-Never tell a French chef that you don’t like using butter or cream. D'oh! Contestant Howard Dieterle made the massive faux pas in Chef Philippe Jeanty's presence when he served up a plate of lamb, spinach and sunchokes, telling the crowd that he really preferred the creaminess of the chokes to using butter and cream. Jeanty cried foul, saying, "I'm French. I'm all about butter and cream." Ouch.

-Hold the black pepper, or you might just get flattened by Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen chef, Cindy Pawlcyn. Underdog contestant Dave Martin was given the moniker Pepper Monkey for his overzealous use of the spice in his truffled macaroni and cheese. Double ouch.

-Nice girls finish…last. The last woman standing at the end of the evening is perhaps the nastiest chef known to man, or woman kind. Hard as nails contestant Tiffani Faison says she isn't on the show to make friends. Good thing, cause she isn't.

-When serving a rare wine like, say, Shafer Vineyards Hillside select it's probably a good idea to make sure you dish pairs well. Especially when the company's chairman, John Shafter is sitting at the table. Several of the dishes had trouble with their flavors not bringing out the richness of the wine. Rookie maneuver.

-The "front of the house" dining area of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA may be a great place to eat, but the "back of the house" (restaurant lingo for the kitchens) are incredible to behold.

-Cooking for a room full of chefs is a wickedly difficult task. Contestant Howard got nailed for gritty mushrooms, while the "gummy" texture of Tiffani's gnocchi being discussed was, well, cringe-worthy. Featured Napa valley chefs included: Phillippe Jeanty of Bistro Jeanty; Keith Luce of Press; Greg Cole of Celadon; James Devitt of Budo; Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill; Victor J. Scargle of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA; Doug Keane of Cyrus; Todd Humphries of Martini House; and John Ash of John Ash and Co. (who we never saw).

Honeymoon Dining

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NAPA--One of the questions I get asked a lot is, "Where should I go to eat in Napa?" I usually answer by stammering, hemming, hawing and saying, uhhhh..... for about 20 seconds before the mental Roladex starts turning. It's such a hard question to answer without knowing a price range, occasion, food likes and dislikes, etc.

Scanning through our bulletin boards for inspiration the other day, found a "Where to Eat?" post that seemed answerable:

"We will be visiting Napa for three nights in August for our honeymoon. Since we live on the east coast and have never been to Napa, we are at a lost as to which resturants are "must" visit places. We are looking to stay around $10-20 an entree.

Ahhhh, young love. Ahhhh, the post wedding-budget. A few thoughts...

Frankly, the best place for breakfast is your bed. Hopefully our honeymooners are staying at one of the local Bed and Breakfasts in Napa. I've found that many of the local proprietors are closet chefs, making amazing Wine Country food. For brunch, we've got it on good authority that Brix (7377 St. Helena Hwy., Yountville) has an amazing spread. A little more intimate is the Boon Fly Cafe(4048 Sonoma Hwy., Napa). They've got really reasonable prices, dogs sitting on the porch, and a generally local clientele.

So, onto lunch. Grab a sandwich at the amazing Genova Delicatessen (1550 Trancas St., Napa). It's an authentic Italian deli with wonderfully fresh mozzarella, antipasti and the best homemde cannolis I've had since I left Brooklyn. Take a picnic out to the vineyards along Silverado Trail.

Dinner in Napa for under $20 a plate--at least at the "big" restaurants might be a stretch. If you really want to experience a top-tier restaurant like Redd, Pere Jeanty or Terra, sometimes making lunch reservations gets you in the door for an amazing experience for a lot less money.

Think about some of the less obvious choices for dinner. Places that are romantic and quiet...local...
Here are some of my favorites:

- Angele (540 Main St., Napa) has incredible outdoor seating in the summer
- Pilar (807 Main St., Napa) has amazing fresh, local ingredients in a bistro-like atmopshere
- Bouchon (6534 Washington, Yountville) comes up on my favorite list a lot. Amazing seafood.
- Martini House (1245 Spring St. St Helena, CA) is super romantic
- Julia's Kitchen (500 First St., Napa) I love Julia's, because its where you'll find the locals eating, along with many chefs. Classy, upscale food in the heart of COPIA.
- Zare (5091 Solano Ave, Napa) is also a lot of fun, with a focus on Mediterranean food.

What are some of your favorite romantic Napa restaurants? Tell us. Happy Eating!

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