Deirdre Bourdet: December 2010 Archives

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.  

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.

Piero Fetes the Feast of the Seven Fishes

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By Deirdre Bourdet

One of my all-time favorite Italian culinary traditions is the southern regions' Festa dei Sette Pesci, the epic Feast of the Seven Fishes celebrated on Christmas Eve.   Unlike many other traditional meals, the menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes is not set in stone--nor is the number of dishes, despite the name.  Celebrants may serve seven, nine, eleven, thirteen different fishes at the meal, depending on what is fresh and available and inspiring to the cooks.  Italian-American Feasts of the Seven Fishes have also been known to sneak in some meat with the fish, as well.  A multi-course parade of creative seafood variations that incorporates meat products whenever delicious may not sound much like an abstinent religious observance, but then again we are talking about the Italians.  And it is a Festa, after all.


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.  

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