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Back to Life

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This has been the longest I have ever gone between blog posts, and I’m somewhat embarrassed. It’s a vicious cycle, really. You think, “well I’ve gone this long without posting, who will notice anymore?” Or, “I’m going to take 100 photos for my future blog post about this” and then realize you don’t have enough storage on your phone. I promised I would never let myself go this long without connecting with my dear readers, but then life happens and your hobby blog suddenly falls lower and lower on the list of priorities. But I’m back, and I’m going to be better than ever!

Let me give you a brief culinary recap of my life since my last post:

  • I went to Seattle for the first time in my life and realized how much I miss living in a real city (but I still love you, Napa). I was there for a business trip, but stayed a little longer to indulge in all the culinary delights that the city has to offer.
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One morning in Seattle (clockwise from top left): salmon pierogi, Hom Bow, lots of fish at Pike Place Market, Rose and Puget Sound oysters from Taylor Shellfish, and the Starbucks Roastery. Damn.

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Fresh summer fruits from a market on Vashon Island, WA

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Cider tasting at Dragon’s Head on Vashon Island, WA

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Best brunch ever at Revel (clockwise from top left): ramen, savory monkey bread, spicy kimchi bloody mary, BBQ pork waffle, SPAM rice bowl… I could eat this stuff every Sunday.

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Blanquette de Lapin at Bistro Jeanty: Pancetta wrapped rabbit loin and braised leg with pappardelle pasta morels and truffle oil

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Ratatouille at Bistro Jeanty

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Okonomiyaki at Two Birds One Stone

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Roasted whole chicken at Ad Hoc

  • I ate a lot of delicious meats. Let’s just say, I know someone at Fatted Calf.
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Said Fatted Calf employee (aka my boyfriend @PeterPorker13) raging on shoulder chops at “Butcher’s Happy Hour” – first Thursday of every month in Napa; every Wednesday in SF.

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Fig and sausage stuffed quail from Fatted Calf

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Wagyu prime rib… and Yorkshire pudding… and roasted potatoes… and Christmas.

  • I made Gravlax for the first time (which warrants a separate post), for a super fancy New Years Eve dinner party that was hosted in my newly purchased townhouse! It has been taking up all of my energy and time, but it’s completely worth it.
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Before and after of my living room/dining room/kitchen (missing cabinet doors). It’s amazing what floors, lights and paint will do to an old space!

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Table setting for our first dinner party, on New Years Eve of course! I learned how to fold cool napkins just for this occasion.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, especially now that I finally have a massive open kitchen with plenty of counter space (as well as a dishwasher!!!).

I’ve also set some culinary goals for 2017, including, but not limited to:

  • learn to make sushi; more specifically, sushi rice
  • make homemade pasta, including ravioli
  • master the art of breaking down a chicken
  • eat more caviar
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My first go at sushi… looks pretty but I really need to work on the rice.

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Caviar is served best on homemade chips with Crème fraîche.

Local Innovation at The Bewildered Pig

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Last week I traveled to Mendocino with Canuck for an early birthday celebration! He let me do the majority of the planning – including two breweries (no, I don’t just drink wine) – but did suggest a dinner spot in Philo for our first night of the trip: The Bewildered Pig. I trust Canuck’s picks, especially when it comes to food, and after checking out their menu and hearing that his friend from culinary school is the sous chef, I got pretty excited about this place.

The Bewildered Pig is the brainchild of Chef Janelle Weaver and her partner, Daniel. After spending several years as an executive chef at a prestigious Napa winery, Janelle ventured out on her own culinary endeavor with the goal to create an unpretentious restaurant with a large focus on farm to fork, sourcing everything locally (their pigs come from down the street) and from their own gardens. The dishes are elegant yet casual, refined yet rustic, sophisticated yet simple; dualities that I learned Janelle possesses herself after chatting with her throughout the course of the night.

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The wine list is a combination of selections from Anderson Valley and Sonoma County and an extensive list of Old World favorites. Keeping with the local theme, I selected the 2014 Balo “Suitcase 828” Estate Pinot Noir. The wine was more feminine on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, bright red fruit and an element of freshness. But the palate was bold and earthy, reflecting more of a masculine tone. One of the things I love most about Pinot Noir (especially Pinots from Anderson Valley) is how androgynous it can be, which makes it a versatile wine for food pairings. Sure enough, it paired perfectly with nearly everything that we ate.

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We started off the evening with a delectable amuse-bouche from the kitchen: Penny Royal Laychee Crostini with a Pea & Fava Pistou. (Side note: Penny Royal is a local farm and creamery that offers tours and tastings Thursday through Monday in their new shop on Hwy 128. They make a variety of cheeses that are also available at one of my favorite Philo wineries, Navarro Vineyards.) Our delicious cheesy bite was followed by a house made Mendocino County Heritage Pork country pâté with Dijon mustard and shallot chutney – the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy.

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On to the vegetables. Canuck selected “Celebration of Carrots” and I chose an assortment of seasoned radishes with salt and butter. The radishes were simple yet so satisfying, and it felt good to eat some raw vegetables after an afternoon of beer tasting (be sure to stop in Anderson Valley Brewery on your way into Philo). The carrot plate was indeed a celebration and quite possibly the best vegetable dish I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The plate is composed of a seven different uses and varieties of carrots: confit tiny Thumbelina and French, pickled rainbow, housemade carrot crackers, fried carrot fronds, carrot top pesto and garlic aioli. I talked about this dish to anyone who would listen for several days. I’m still holding out hope that Canuck will find a way to recreate it…

And as if those were not enough starters, we picked two more to share: smoked local black cod potato salad, and Gulf prawns with garlic lemon aioli and what Janelle and her team affectionately call “fluff,” an array of herbs, flowers and stuff. The cod is local (Princess Seafood out of Fort Bragg) and smoked by Angelo’s in Sonoma. It’s served with heirloom potatoes, confited in olive oil, and fresh shaved Petit Teton horseradish, bloomed mustard seeds, whipped crème fraîche, herbs, watercress… and probably a few other amazing things that I am missing. Not only was it beautifully presented (like all of the evening’s dishes), but the combination of flavors was beautiful to eat.

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Last but not least, we each ordered the Lamb Duo (despite the fact that Canuck usually prefers not to order the same thing as his dining partner). It was written on the menu with all of my favorite Spring things so it was impossible to resist. In hindsight, we agreed that it easily could have been shared considering the amount of food we had leading up to our entrées, but we still managed to finish the majority of our dishes. The Lamb Duo was composed of lamb loin and confit cap, sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, fresh tarragon, chives, lemon zest, fava beans, asparagus, fava leaf and garlic puree, served with a lamb anise hyssop reduction. I never imagined that all of these things could exist so cohesively on one plate, but it was near perfection.

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If you don’t already have enough reasons to visit Anderson Valley – the plethora of unique and inexpensive wineries, fishing along the Redwood lined highway, bountiful farms and orchards, whimsical seaside villages, adorable inns and a brewery in a town with their own made up language – add this dining experience to the list. The Bewildered Pig is truly a destination restaurant, worth every mile traveled, and I intend to make it a regular pilgrimage. In fact, I can’t wait to go back and see what other seasonal items they have on their fantastic menu.

Big thanks to Janelle, Izzy and the entire team for such a memorable evening!

Ad Libbing It

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I’m sure many of you have heard of the famed Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, and more recently the $300,000 worth of wine that was stolen from the prized cellar, and recovered in North Carolina shortly after. This happened on Christmas Day, days after Keller closed The French Laundry for four months for renovations. During the closure Keller opened a pop-up in Silverado Resort called Ad Lib, which was recently extended through October (and possibly beyond). Initially it was hard to get a reservation, but things have since settled down and you can usually get in on a Monday or Thursday without too much advance planning (or you can be like me and book a reservation six weeks in advance). I finally had my long-awaited first Thomas Keller dining experience last week and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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I was worried that Ad Lib might be stuffy and too fancy (à la The French Laundry) but it certainly had its own character, which was far from stuffy. Maybe it’s the young, flirty staff or the retro menu, but it has a very fun, laid back vibe to it that really puts the diners at ease. It also helped that my dining companions were three fabulously entertaining foodie fems: Miriam, Space Cadet, and MaeMae.

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We had a fantastic view of the golf course at Silverado Resort

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While the wine list at Ad Lib is quite impressive, we preferred to bring our own bottles and pay the $50 corkage fee (which was still far below any bottle we would have purchased). MaeMae brought a 2005 Mumm DVX Cuvée, which was the perfect start to the evening. And Miriam brought a Pine Ridge Epitome Cabernet Sauvignon, which she had previously used a Coravin on about a year ago, so we were taking a bit of a gamble with it. It was obvious some wine had been removed from the bottle so we told the sommelier that we had used the Coravin on the wine before we left – you know, to make sure that it was drinkable. I don’t know why we felt the need to lie, but in the words of Space Cadet, “our credibility came down to our cork. If it turned out to be corked, we would not only be caught in a lie but we would lose our credibility as badass industry bitches.” Thankfully, the wine was perfect.

Even the bread was beautiful! And melt-in-your-mouth flakey.

Even the bread was beautiful! And melt-in-your-mouth flakey.

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We wanted to try as much food as possible without overdoing it, so I suggested ordering family style. We easily agreed on two orders of Caesar salad, a side of mac-n-cheese, a side of wilted greens, filet of salmon, chicken schnitzel, and beef wellington (serves two). The Caesar salad is prepared and served table side – sometimes by Keller himself if he’s around. Our salad artist for the evening was a lovely young lady named Erica, a newbie to Napa who is slated to work at The French Laundry once her stint at Ad Lib is up. She started by seasoning the salad bowl with peeled garlic, then she prepared the dressing using anchovy paste, an egg, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Space Cadet actually filmed it, which I encourage you to watch until you get bored (you might want to mute the sound unless you want to be subjected to our our snarky banter).

We had requested the sides to come out separately, before the entrées, but they began to bring out the beef wellington after they cleared our salad plates. There was some whispering and they quickly slid the cart away, but we all caught a glimpse of the drama. Apparently our silly server, Louie “made a mistake”. Clearly it worked out in his favor (and the rest of the kitchen staff) because they had an extra beef wellington to chow down on. In any case, they quickly corrected their error and brought out our mac-n-cheese and wilted greens. The mac was so yummy and surprisingly light, and the greens were perfectly seasoned. It made for a nice middle course before our much-anticipated main courses.

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The beef wellington was beautiful. They prepared it with a mushroom paté between the beef and the pastry, instead of the traditional foie gras. This made the dish lighter but also gave it an earthy quality, and the moisture from the mushrooms made the beef even more tender. It was outstanding. I was also a big fan of the salmon filet, which was cooked to perfection with a crisp exterior and coated in a delicious lemon-dill burre blanc. The schnitzel was pretty yummy, but a little too salty if you ask me.

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As we were finishing our entrées we noticed the waitstaff carrying what looked like a torch to a nearby table, and we realized it was someone’s birthday. Space Cadet spoke up and mentioned that her birthday was a few weeks ago, and that she would appreciate a sparkling surprise. Well, the staff must have been thoroughly entertained by us because they indeed brought us a slice of seven layer coconut cake with a sparkler in it, in addition to banoffee trifle and Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée – all of which they graciously comped. It was the perfect finish to a glorious evening of fine dining – with a little bit of ad lib, indeed.

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One Night at Animal

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I spent this New Years Eve in Los Angeles with my friend, KJ. We agreed that the best way to spend the night would be over a gluttonous dinner, preceded and followed by some delicious champagne. Since we were staying in West Hollywood, I suggested going to one of my favorite LA restaurants, Animal. I had only dined here once previously, but had also been to their other restaurant, Son of a Gun. I remembered being enchanted by their unique menus, and was very impressed with the wine selection. So naturally, it was the perfect fit for our New Years Eve meal!

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Animal’s menu is made of many small dishes that are meant to be shared, and luckily for me, KJ is as adventurous of an eater as I am. We poured over the menu for what seemed like half an hour before finally deciding on six choice dishes: chicken liver toast, jack rabbit larb, rib-eye carpaccio, farrotto with katsoubushi, sweetbreads, and veal tongue. It was the perfect combination of proteins and flavors.

Chicken liver toast

Chicken liver toast

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Jack rabbit larb, long beans, herbs, thai chili, crispy shallots

Rib-eye carpaccio, savoy cabbage, sesame, kochukaru

Rib-eye carpaccio, savoy cabbage, sesame, kochukaru

I brought a 2007 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages to enjoy the meal with, and while it may not have paired perfectly with everything it was certainly a delicious wine. We sipped on some Bordeaux Blanc and Macon-Milly-Lamartine while we let the red open up in the decanter, and they paired excellently with our first few dishes.

veal tongue, gherkin pickle, salmon roe, black mustard

veal tongue, gherkin pickle, salmon roe, black mustard, rye croutons, creme fraiche

Anson Mills green farrotto, katsoubushi, fine herbs, fleur de sel

Anson Mills green farrotto, katsoubushi, fine herbs, fleur de sel

"honey walnut" sweetbreads, JW's black sriracha, chili threads, scallions

“honey walnut” sweetbreads, JW’s black sriracha, chili threads, scallions

My favorite dish was the veal tongue. They prepared it like a piece of pastrami, served with pickled gherkins, salmon roe, and black mustard. When you put a little bit of everything in one bite, it was perfection. My second favorite dish was the farrotto: a porridge like dish topped with katsoubushi, or dried, fermented fish flakes – the same thing used in my favorite Japanese dish, Okonomiyaki. Even though I was nearly full by the time it came out, I couldn’t stop eating it. The rest of the dishes were also excellent, with the sweetbreads being my least favorite because the deep fried batter took away a bit from the meat flavor.

Although we were stuffed to the gills, our waiter convinced us to splurge for the cheesecake pudding with passionfruit, which was surprisingly light and airy. No regrets! How can you not finish off a meal like this with something sweet?

cheesecake pudding, passionfruit, strawberry, graham

cheesecake pudding, passionfruit, strawberry, graham

The wait staff matched the outstanding quality of the ingredients and presentation, and at no point did we feel rushed to leave our table (we stayed for 2.5 hrs) – which meant a lot on New Years Eve! If you’re in LA, I highly recommend visiting West Hollywood to check out this fantastic restaurant. And be sure to order the veal tongue!

St. Clair Brown Winery

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I have been meaning to post about my favorite neighborhood spot, St. Clair Brown Winery, for a long time. To be honest, I think I was putting it off because I’m afraid of the place getting over-crowded. But I can’t hold back my love any longer; people must know about this local winery and test kitchen. If you’re anything like me, you will join the membership after your second or third visit – which will most likely be in the span of one week.

My first visit to St. Clair Brown took place before I even moved to Downtown Napa. I was taking measurements at my now apartment with Whitey, and we ventured three blocks down the street for some lunch and wine. I had heard about St Clair Brown from another friend a few days prior, so I was more than excited when I realized it was a mere five minute walk from my apartment. We feasted on a delicious lunch of farro salad, hummus, Burrata with strawberries, and of course, Rosé. I was hooked.

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Owners Laina Brown and Elaine St. Clair have built an extensive garden in front of the property, leading back to a patio adorned with umbrellas and strings of small lights, then opens up into the greenhouse-like kitchen with windows for walls. The inviting space can seat up to 30 on the patio, and another 8 or so inside. On a hot day the umbrellas are a welcome accessory, but at sunset the sky fills with pink clouds and makes a beautiful backdrop to the twinkling lights. But it’s the garden that plays the biggest role in this winery and test kitchen.

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The garden features seasonal and year-round greens, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. The majority of the menu is vegetarian and is sourced from the garden, and you can even pick which greens are used in your order, such as the farro salad – one of my favorite items on the menu (for obvious reasons). The rest of the menu components are purchased from local purveyors and combined with items from the garden to give it a true farm-to-fork feeling.

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farro salad

I’ve ordered the hummus nearly every time that I’ve visited, and I now have a hard time eating any other kind of hummus. They blend peanuts into it to give it a nutty flavor, and top it with a layer of lemon-infused olive oil, then serve it with a Model Bakery sliced baguette. Chef Norma Whitt has also created a seasonal Burrata dish (so far I’ve seen it served with fresh strawberries, tomatoes, or orange and fennel), as well as a pork rillette with apricot chutney. Naturally, the menu features seasonal produce, so I have been enjoying bowls of their gazpacho the past few weeks but I am excited to see the debut of autumnal dishes in the coming month.

Chardonnay

And let’s not forget about the most important part of St. Clair Brown: the wines. Winemaker Elaine St. Clair has strong relationships with several independent growers throughout the valley, so she is able to source small, high-quality vineyard lots from Oak Knoll, Coombsville and other areas of Napa Valley. The portfolio includes Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a sweet Muscat. My favorites are the Rosé (which is currently sold out), the Syrah and the Chardonnay. Admitedly, I wasn’t a fan of the Chardonnay when I first tasted it but it’s since grown on me and become one of my go-to selections.

The wine and food at St. Clair Brown is unique and delicious, but it’s the friendly staff that really makes the experience special. They make you feel like you are in your backyard, enjoying a home cooked meal with a glass of your favorite wine. And now that I am a club member, I can take advantage of my perks (free glass of wine, 10% discount on all menu items) every time I visit, and especially on Tuesday’s Locals Night when all glasses of wine are half off.

Sunset at St Clair Brown

This space is a preview of what is to come. Elaine and Laina are working to open a full service restaurant, brewery and winery across the street in their warehouse space in the next couple of years. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the area and you’re looking for a lunch-wine tasting combo, this is your spot. It won’t break the bank, it’s down to earth with healthy, fresh food that will fill you up without giving you that after-lunch wine-induced sleepiness. And if you’re a local, be sure to check them out on Tuesday night. You will probably see me there.

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