Friday, December 31, 2010

Contemplative New Year's Eve Post... For Once, Not About Food

New Year’s Eve has long been one of my favorite days of the year.  I love the notion that we begin each year with a fresh start and energized hope to create a better future. 
The line dividing December 31st from the future rest of our lives is, admittedly, completely fabricated—but so is most of human happiness.  Manipulating our minds into states that let us welcome joy, closeness, and confidence has helped people get through life since human brains evolved enough to experience sadness.  As my younger, more cynical self learned in Social Psychology class, there’s nothing wrong with a little self-delusion to make you feel better about life.  Lasting happiness and positive change require a whole lot of directed thinking, in fact.
So the artificiality of New Year’s doesn’t bother me.  Its arbitrarily fixed date at the end of the calendar just operates as a periodic reminder for you to step back from your life and assess what you’d like to do with it.  The end of the year timing makes it easier for you to ditch the attitudes and habits you’d like to shed, symbolically leaving them in the now oh-so-distant past of “last year.”  Once you’re out of school, life is woefully lacking in that kind of forced chapter break.  
So I make the most of the holiday and write my resolutions every year.  Even if I don’t wind up fulfilling them, I still feel better thinking that I’m moving on to better things.  And that’s more than half the battle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Miracle of (Truffle) Love

It was an early Christmas miracle... my awesome friend and PR woman extraordinaire Holly Krassner scored me a pass to the non-feast portions of the Napa Valley Truffle Festival! And it was tremendous.

I sat in on the Saturday sessions, following the Grower/Scientist curriculum.  The keynote speech by "Well-seasoned Traveler" Doug Duda kicked things off with fun tales of surly French farmers, overly friendly truffle dogs, and the people who squeal at every mention of the t-word.  Some high notes from the speech and ensuing discussion:
  • video footage of the annual truffle Mass in Richerenches, France, as the congregation deposits fresh Périgord truffles in the collection basket, and the priest blesses the Eucharist with the truffles sitting right up there on the altar next to the chalice;
  • it is legal to bring fresh truffles home to the US in your suitcase, so long as all the surface dirt has been removed;
  • two of the best ways to enjoy fresh Périgord truffles are the classic truffle omelet, and braised sliced celery root topped with truffles; 
  • are Scorpios truly more susceptible to the truffle's sensuous charms than other Zodiac signs? (A subsequent informal poll of the attendees proved inconclusive.)
Thanks to Todd Spanier, the Re dei Funghi (King of Mushrooms), Mr. Duda was able to brandish a real truffle as he delivered his concluding remarks.  Incredibly, no one charged the podium--though many rushed Todd afterwards to pose for a picture with his enormous truffles and silky golden cloths.

The first seminar session I sat in on addressed the science of truffle cultivation, and was led by the shy guy with the German accent who sat next to me at the keynote.  Dr. Alexander Urban, it turns out, is a full professor in the Department of Systematic Evolutionary Botany at the University of Vienna, and author of such sleeper hits as “Frontiers in Ectomycorrhizal Symbioses Explored with Molecular Phylogenetic Methods,” and more recently, “In vitro mycorrhization of clonally propagated woody plants.”  Fortunately, his passion for truffle studies is infectious, which greatly helped the audience digest the dense information on mycorrhizal organisms he presented.  I came away with what felt like a full college quarter under my belt, which I attempted to summarize here for 

Much remains to be deciphered about the truffle fungus' life cycle, particularly the mechanism or process that prompts the fungus to "fruit" and produce the truffle we all want to eat.  Dr. Urban ran through the long history of truffle cultivation attempts in Europe, and noted the key environmental factors essential for the survival of each of the three most desired species of truffles--Burgundy summer, Périgord black, and Italian white.  He showed us wildly varying sites in France, Austria and the Netherlands that all have successfully produced Burgundy and/or Périgord truffles, stoking our lust to break ground on our own orchards, stat.  Then he crushed us with the news that the Italian white, Tuber magnato, whose haunting fragrance and delectable peppery flavor command 4-5 thousand dollars per pound, has thus far resisted human cultivation of any kind.  Woe were we. 

Dr. Paul Thomas of the American Truffle Company stepped up to deliver a short overview of how his company helps would-be truffle farmers create, cultivate, and manage financially successful truffle orchards using lots of scientific monitoring and their accumulated research and experience from partnering with farmers all over the world.  But, since he couldn't very well give away the milk for free, he was pretty tight lipped about the results of his new research into the hormonal communication between truffle fungus and host trees that may prompt fruiting.

After hours of this torturous foreplay, it was finally time for our truffle lunch at La Toque

First course: a roasted chestnut and porcini mushroom soup, garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, truffled crème fraîche, and generous shavings of Burgundy truffles.

This dish was, quite simply, orgasmic.  The chestnuts had a subtle caramel sweetness that complemented and punctuated the warm earthiness of the mushrooms and pumpkin seeds, as well as the sexy funk from the tender Burgundy truffle slices.

If only I could eat this every day.  And by day I mean hour.

I'm providing a bonus close-up food porn picture for those cold and lonely nights.

The second course of truffle lunch was a juicy chicken breast roulade with black truffle slices tucked discreetly under the skin, and a wonderfully aromatic parmesan broth bathing a medley of black trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms and fresh kale.  This too was delicious, but after that mind blowing soup, it was kinda hard to notice.            
Dessert was a mignardise-type plate of chocolate covered almonds, white chocolate pumpkin seed brittle, and biscotti--none of which contained truffles, disqualifying the plate from appearing in this blog.

After lunch we were off to the brand new, just-planted Périgord and Burgundy truffle orchard at Robert Sinskey Vineyards' Ramal Road property in Carneros, which had been created in partnership with the American Truffle Company. 

Sadly, even I must confess that a truffle orchard in its infancy isn't much to look at.  Anticipating this lack of visual excitement, perhaps, American Truffle Company CEO Robert Chang had accompanied us to help explain the work that had been done, what was being done now, and what was expected in the future.  Bill Collins had also brought his 6-month old Lagotto Romagnolo puppy Enrico  Caruso (Rico for short) to cavort around in the mud and otherwise charm the assemblage with his antics.  Lagotto Romagnolo dogs are the traditional breed used for truffle hunting in Italy, and based on the rooting and digging he demonstrated that day, Rico clearly has it in his blood. 

As we learned about expected yields of truffle orchards, we passed around some extra truffle-inoculated baby trees that hadn't made it into the ground.  Sinskey used two different types of trees for its orchard: live oak, which produces truffles more slowly at first but continues to produce for decades, and filbert (hazelnut) trees, which produce truffles faster than oaks, but also have a shorter productive life.  We got to fondle both.  The picture below is a baby filbert tree with truffle fungus in its roots, which costs about $20.

I was ready to buy one of those trees then and there, but wasn't sure I'd be able to raise my backyard's pH levels in time to get the tree in the ground before winter... and oh yeah, it takes 4-8 years for a tree to start producing truffles. So, not exactly the best impulse buy.  I put away my wallet.

Mr. Chang told us that Sinskey's was the first truffle orchard planted in Carneros, but noted mysteriously that there is another one in the works "near Kenwood," and that several other property owners "in the area" were also starting up some truffle farms.  He was optimistic about Carneros' prospects for truffles, but also very favorably inclined to the Calistoga area.  We shall see... in a decade or so.

The following day, I swung by the Festival's Epicurean Marketplace to check out the wares.  You may recall that this was the $15 portion of the event, but I have to say that this experience was worth far more than the price of admission.  The King of the Mushrooms was there with his queen, who live just a short drive away in San Mateo and who were full of advice on what to do with your real, fresh truffles.  They had set out an assortment of truffle samples they had made, from truffled white polenta squares to truffle infused San Francisco Vodka--a brilliant idea, by the way, that tasted as good as it sounds.  They also were selling fresh truffles right there on the spot... so I bought one.  It was my first, and it was beautiful.

You may be afraid to ask what I did with it, but I will tell you.  First I shaved off its tough outer "bark" with a paring knife to expose its tender, moist interior.  Did I toss these bark-like shavings? Yes, directly into a bottle of fresh vodka to steep for a few weeks.  I have big plans for those cocktails, and not a scrap of truffle went to waste.

So there it was, my denuded and fragrant little beauty.  I rubbed it in butter to protect it from the air until I was ready to chop it up and use it for my decadent dinner of buttery soft scrambled eggs, full on French baveuse style.  Once the eggs were almost set into their gooey custardy perfection, I julienned half the truffle and stirred the slivers in to heat through as the eggs hit their last minute of cooking.  I cook eggs this way a lot using truffle butter to finish them, but this was a totally different experience with the real thing.  Muskier.  Dirtier.  A sordid delight unlike any other.  When it was over, my girlfriend and I both needed a cleansing shower.

On the advice of the Mushroom King, I preserved the other half of my naughty little truffle beyond its natural two week freshness window by chopping it up and covering with cooled clarified butter, then storing in the freezer.  I will be breaking that badboy out at Christmas dinner.  Oh, yes I will.  Whether anyone else in my family gets some is another question entirely.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snuffling Towards The Inaugural Napa Truffle Festival...

Anyone who has engaged me in social conversation for more than five minutes--or read this article I wrote about Truffle Camp last year--knows of my intense passion for truffles. I rave about them at the slightest opportunity, usually in highly charged and inappropriate language.  I insisted upon a full day, driving rain, middle-of-nowhere detour on my trip to New Zealand so that I could spend the night on an isolated truffle farm and meet the crazy English dude trying to farm these musky miracles--and even though I didn't get a single truffle out of the experience (not a single one had grown that year), I was cranked up like a fiend the whole time.

Not surprisingly, then, I freaked out when I heard that Napa was going to host its very own Truffle Festival December 10-12, 2010 at the Westin Verasa.  An entire weekend of rooting around in truffle farms, truffle cultivation seminars, truffle cooking demos, truffle & wine pairing experimentation, and truffle eating benders prepared by a bevy of Michelin-starred chefs within stumbling distance of my home was almost too much for my reptilian brain to process.  But reality struck with the publication of the ticket prices... which made it abundantly clear that I would not be attending any of the main rooting, fondling, or gorging events--or indeed, any part of the festival besides the Epicurean Marketplace

Oh, to have $595 for the "cheap seats" Grower-Scientist Festival pass! Or, since I'm dreaming, the full $925 for the could-it-be-more-perfectly-named-in-my-honor Truffle Gourmand pass, which entitles the bearer to play scientist and hedonist, with access to ALL of the festival events... including the seven-course truffle orgy at the hands of a team of celebrity chefs 13 Michelin stars strong.  If ever there were a time for me to find a patron willing to sponsor my art of unbridled truffle lust, this would be it! Alas, with only four days left to liftoff, I suspect I will have to continue "creating" on my own dime.

I want to hate the organizers for pricing the passes so high--and seconds later grovel at their feet to let me into their weekend of blissful delirium--but then they had to go and donate a portion of the ticket sale proceeds to Feeding America and The Hunger Project, and make me feel totally guilty for my selfish gluttony.  Doh!  But good on you, Lexus and The American Truffle Company.

If anyone reading this does get to attend the Festival proper, please take lots of pictures, share them here so I can live vicarious through them, and... please, please... smuggle out a pinch of real Perigord truffle dust for me to nuzzle.

(UPDATE: Divine intervention! I got to go... check out my later post for the story of how cool the festival actually was.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Napa's Food Truck Friday Shifts Into High Gear December 3

Downtown Napa is not the only part of town that's buzzing these days.  The tight-knit Oxbow District on the east side of Soscol is bringing a totally different type of block party to town this Friday.  Capitalizing off the success and excitement of the first Food Truck Friday last month (aka "Circle the Wagons"), these trailblazing entrepreneurs have conspired to take December 3rd's event to a whole new level.

As before, the event is BYO wine and beer, and fabulous reusable Go Vino cups are available to purchase for a nominal charge.  That fact alone should be enough to get you to the party, but in addition, all the guest trucks from November's event are returning to rabble rouser/visionary Dim Sum Charlie's parking lot home this month, which is located at 728 First Street just a half block from the Oxbow Public Market.  (See my previous post on these guys if you're not familiar with them.)  You'll have another opportunity to peek inside Crossroad Chicken's truck to check out its wood burning oven (yes!), in which they cook chickens, pizzas, and whatever other tasty items they feel like.  Also don't miss Mark's the Spot, sure to be rocking the crowds again with their fried chicken sliders, chili-spiked French toast kabobs, and other "fine foods, prepared slow, served fast."  And Napa's very first non-taco food truck, Phat Salad & Wraps, will be dishing out tasty chargrilled meats and salads in their signature phat style.

But as I mentioned, this Friday will have even more love to go around, because the Napa trucks will be joined by their cousins from the next wine valley over.  Santa Rosa-based Street-Eatz will be dishing out their globe-trotting menu of international favorites--think agedashi tofu, chile rellenos, pulled pork with jerk sauce, chicken pesto sandwiches, and more.  Their fellow Santa Rosan truck Chicago Style Hot Dogs is bringing their Vienna brand beef franks and poppyseed buns piled high with tomatoes, peppers, onions, yellow mustard, celery salt, pickle spear, and electrifying green relish--or other creative combinations for those not seeking the classic Chicago dog. 
And, Napa will also get a fix of some much-needed Karma.  After nine years of business as an old-school (permanent location) Indian restaurant in Cotati, Karma Bistro took to the streets of Sebastopol and Petaluma this year, peddling a delectable assortment of fragrant curries, samosas, and chaat out of their roving truck.  Before you ask, yes, the chicken they use in all their dishes is Sonoma County's own free range cluckers.

Last, but certainly not least, Gott's Roadside is joining the party at 9pm, with live music by Mad & Eddie Duran, $3 pulled pork sliders, $4 ahi sliders, and free seating to Food Truck Friday patrons with the purchase of a beverage from Gott's (note that before 9, it's business as usual).  Although Gott's doesn't have a truck, they do have a roadside--and that's where the eating gets done.

Rain or shine, the Oxbow will be rockin this Friday, starting at 5pm.  I think everyone knows where they'll be. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Figgling with Delight

Figs are the truffles of the fruit world.  Musky.  Intense.  Highly suggestive.  Over the top.  The object of animal lust and cultish devotion.  Disturbingly delicious.  And, lamentably, only available in their prime for a brief period of time each year....

But that time is now, fig lovers!  Lusciously plump juicy Mission figs are falling off the trees in Napa right now, into the slavering mouths of their admirers.  I've been remiss in my fig worship this year, probably because of the late ripening, but I finally got to stuff myself with them recently at one of the Soup Week dinner parties.  And the inspiration for this post was born...

While officially the evening was celebrating soup (Chef Robin White's carrot soup with blood orange and ginger cream, to be exact), I was caught in the thrall of the chevre-stuffed neighborhood figs the hostess had roasted as a pre-dinner snack.  The roasting had amplified the rich caramel sweetness of the fruit, and massaged the flesh into a state of delectable submission, barely able to constrain the warm cloud of goat cheese within.  A teasing drizzle of honey and quick cuddle with the rosemary sprigs brought them over the edge... and right into my mouth.

I like to believe that no one knew how two-thirds of the figs wound up in one-tenth of the visitors' stomachs (until now), but I suspect I was not as stealthy as I imagined.

The final one-third of the figs, with which I had studiously avoided eye contact throughout the meal, turned out to be the star of our impromptu do it yourself dessert, dashing my (very tiny) inner Puritan's prayers that there would be no more depravity that night.  A pint of vanilla ice cream, a pile of spoons, and the surviving figs--which by this time had been bathing in their honeyed fig juices for well over an hour--proved to be all we needed for an outrageously delicious and satisfying finale.

Despite the spartan figginess of the picture above, this dessert was a fig-lover's dream.  Step one: scoop modest mouthful of vanilla ice cream onto individual spoon, ideally in fancy quenelle-shape.  Step two: select a succulent cheese stuffed fig and nestle it into the ice cream on the spoon, being careful to ensure no honey/fig juice is lost in transit.  Step three:

Unhinging one's jaw isn't strictly necessary, but it certainly helps accommodate overeager ice cream scoops and girthy figs.  Plus it makes for good party pictures.

Thanks, Linda and Quent, for indulging my figgish ways at your house.  Call me if you get another crop of your neighbor's figs... I've thought of a few more things I'd like to try.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dim Sum Charlie's is open... and they will love me long time

Thursday, September 23, 2010: NBC Thursday's season premieres of Community, The Office, and new show Outsourced; and, just as exciting to Napa residents (if not more), the night Dim Sum Charlie's opened its serving window to the public.

In case you missed my earlier post about this awesome place, Dim Sum Charlie's is Napa Valley's first Asian food truck.  It's also Napa's first dim sum eatery.  And Napa's first food truck that's actually an Airstream trailer. 

This 22-foot, classic 1958 Airstream has tortured dim sum loving locals like myself since it was spotted parked next to the railroad tracks at 728 First Street near the Oxbow Public Market.  Who is Charlie? Why is he never there when I stop by at lunchtime? When will he start doling out the dim sum and loving us long time?

Some of these questions remain unanswered, but the guys behind Charlie are Andrew Siegal and Clayton Lewis.  The idea for the late-night dim sum social scene was hatched on one of Andrew's trips to London, when he visited a rockin nightlife hotspot called Ping Pong Dim Sum, a place people gathered to socialize, drink, and snack on dim sum late into the night.

Andrew, the finance guy, hatched a plan to create what he describes as a "Route 66 meets Bladerunner" dim sum operation for downtown Napa, which until very recently has been utterly devoid of nightlife activities outside private homes.  He procured the battered Airstream and found the perfect property near the Oxbow Public Market on which to park it.  The Airstream and the dining area are set back off of First Street, and conveniently just east of the intersection with Soscol.  Yes, that is right next to the ongoing construction, which is currently limiting them to serving only after 6pm on weekdays (they open at noon on Saturday and Sunday, however, for your dim sum brunch needs). Stylin sail shades protect the long row of picnic tables from the sun, and decorative light strings and an outdoor fireplace keep things lit up after dark.  The location is entirely visible from the street, but feels delightfully secluded. 

Clayton Lewis is the funky glasses, chef-side of the Dim Sum Charlie's equation who helped Andrew restore and remodel the trailer into a shiny and fabulous dim sum steaming machine, and who now controls the kitchen operations day to day.  The entire menu is steamed to order (so all you fried lotus ball lovers like my mom are SOL), and uses  100% organic ingredients.  To ensure top-notch dim sum quality, they've partnered with one of SF's dim sum house elite--which shall remain nameless--and also plan to start collaborating with Napa rockstars like Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller of Fatted Calf.

In the four days they have been open to the public, I've been twice, and others have been there daily. Obviously, it's an instant addiction.  Tender rice flour coatings are neither too thick nor too thin, with just the right amount of chew and transluscency to please the eyes and the mouth.   Seafood, veggie, and meat fillings are pristinely fresh, perfectly seasoned, juicy, and truly delicious even without the standard condiment accompaniments (which are of course available on every table).  And, delightfully, the menu changes frequently to keep you coming back for more.

Clockwise from top left: scallop-garlic, shrimp-pea sprout, and lobster-sea bass-shrimp
 Some of my favorite things--so far--are the Country-style Shrimp Almighty dumplings, the Scallop and Garlic dumplings, the White Fluffy BBQ Pork Bun, and the mysteriously named Barbecue Pork Rice Noodle "Snotty."  I can only guess at the origin of the Snotty's name, but I will say that the slippery, goobery texture of this layered noodle item is deeply satisfying.  And the barbecued pork has just enough naturally caramelized sweetness to carry the dish without requiring an off dry wine as a beverage choice.

BBQ pork bun says, "We love you long time!"

Speaking of which, what wine DO you drink with dim sum?  The Napa Twitter community certainly had a lot of pairing ideas this past week, and will be putting those ideas to the test this Thursday night (September 30th) for a Dim Sum Charlie's tweetup party coordinated by the Tweetup Queen herself, @CordairGallery---a.k.a. Linda Cordair of the Quent Cordair Fine Art gallery in downtown Napa.  I'm inclined to bring a dry Riesling or new world sparkler, but I may just grab a bottle of Mahoney Albarino from the neighboring Taste at Oxbow wine bar for something a little different... or maybe I'll just bring a six-pack of Tsingtao. 

Definitely RSVP here if you plan to attend this Thursday's tweetup, though, because the dim sum has been selling out every night since they opened, and is sure to vanish in a flash unless you let Andrew and Clayton know in advance how much food to prepare.  So RSVP, now.  And don't fret if you can't come after you've said you would, because I will eat your share for you.

For the time being, Dim Sum Charlie's is BYO with no corkage, and they sell waters and a couple of sodas--including Jarritos Tamarindo.  No bubble tea in sight, though.

If you can't make Thursday's tweetup, Friday October 1st is the Grand Opening party, and I'm sure much delicious merriment will be had that night as well.

The Airstream opens for business at 6pm WEDNESDAY through Friday, and at noon on Saturdays and Sundays (closed Mon-Tues) for now.  Follow @DimSumCharlies on Twitter for more updates, and to stoke the fires of dim sum lust until your time to get some arrives.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fish Story

I'm a seafood junkie.  Unfortunately for pescophiles like me, Napa Valley is not known for its fruits de mer--something entirely natural and obvious when you consider that the best local wines are reds with a good bit of backbone and bite.  Local menus tilt to the meaty side here, with maybe one fish option... unless you're at Morimoto or Go Fish, of course, in which case you're either ready to drop a ton of cash, or upvalley.  I don't find myself in either position very often, which is why the arrival of Fish Story at Napa's downtown waterfront is this fish fiend's dream come true.  High-end cooking, medium-end prices, and low-end pretension make it feel like the seafood restaurant I've always wanted in my neighborhood.  Especially because Stephen Barber--who was the chef at MECCA in San Francisco when I lived in the neighborhood--is running the show kitchen-side.

Naturally I had to check it out on opening night, along with my partner in crime and hundreds of other curious folks from near and far.  When I checked Open Table at around 11:45 that morning, there were still table reservations available at all prime dinner times.  When I arrived at the restaurant at 7:00, though, the hostess told me that they were fully booked for the evening.  Over two hundred and fifty seats reserved on a Monday night?!? Well done, Napa. Times they are a-changing.

Since my PIC and I prefer barside dining anyway, we hadn't bothered with reservations and just installed ourselves at the 10-seat horseshoe bar.  The bar/lounge space is very distinctly separated from the dining area, as if they are two unrelated restaurants.  The bar portion has over 20 seats inside--8 or 10 tall stools at the bar counter and another 10-12 seats at smaller two-tops--and probably another 10-15 seats outside on the front patio for those who want to drink outside and not necessarily commit to any food.  A quirky/freaky octopus fountain is on hand to charm and delight the denizens of the front garden area, and a well-stocked overhead bar challenges the indoor patrons to spot their liquor of choice based solely on bottle shape.  From what we could tell, the opening night bar crowd was a mix of curious locals and lucky tourists who happened in just in time to score a seat.  The bar was full by 7:15, and the staff had to bring out extra barstools to accommodate the parents of one of the servers.
If the full bar and cocktail menu don't suck you in, Fish Story also brews its own beer right there in the restaurant.  The shiny tanks are installed behind glass partitions on the way to the main dining room, to demonstrate they're truly the brew pub they told the ABC they are.  Fish Story ales are available on draft, as are a surprisingly large selection of local wines.  GM Treg Finney told us that the wineries provide the restaurant with special pressurized "kegs" of wine that keep the product totally fresh to the last drop.  There's also a pleasing selection of wines by the more traditional bottle and glass, from California as well as more distant lands.

But on to the fish, because that's why we're here. 

The favorite dishes of the night were the lobster roll, the scallop portion of the scallop dish, and the tuna tartare we ordered as an afterthought.  Tuna tartare is so ubiquitous and overdone that I almost never order it in a restaurant, even though raw tuna is one of the great loves of my life.  EVERYONE does a tuna tartare, and it's usually decent, but not particularly challenging or exciting.  Fish Story's interpretation, however, totally rocks the boat with unexpected textures and unusual flavors: crispy toasted hazelnut bits, hazelnut oil, and a microscopic brunoise of serrano peppers and citrus zest.  The menu description also mentioned asian pear, but I was too enthralled with the surprise hazelnut crunch (not mentioned on the description) to notice that sweetness.  Great stuff.  It went fast and I will definitely be back for more.

The lobster roll, that classic seafood house staple, was styled after the New England original--a buttered, toasted, split white bread bun with a Maine lobster salad filling, housemade potato chips, and a side of cole slaw. 

I am not generally a fan of mayonaise-based salads.  Fortunately for me, this lobster salad was made with a lot more than mayo--fresh chopped parsley, thinly sliced celery, and a bright lemony punch took this one up to a completely different level, and was gorgeous match with the Chablis we were drinking at the time.  The cole slaw was also surprisingly tasty and refined, thanks to the fine angel-hair strands of green and red cabbage, and the light tangy dressing that seasoned, rather than drowned its target.

But damn, we couldn't keep our hands off that butter-kissed bun.  Even after the lobster was gone, that toasty gift from god rocked the party.  Not a single crumb survived.

Our other favorite bites of the night were the seared scallops that came as part of the "Day Boat Scallops and Kurobuta Pork Belly with fresh black eyed peas and Swiss chard" entree.  These luscious creatures were perfectly seared and seasoned, succulently moist with that incomparable oceany minerality... and of course gone in a flash.  You'll notice from the picture at right that the dish appears to come with four scallops.  But as you cut into one of the darker scallops, you realize that the kitchen has not in fact made a collossal error of overcooking, but rather... the thing you thought was a scallop is actually a huge piece of pork. Pork belly. Cleverly disguised as a scallop.  As someone who has never loved big slabs of pork belly on a plate, I would have prefered these pork pucks cut up smaller and cooked in with the peas, leaving the scallops alone (perhaps with some scallop reinforcements) on top of the porky beans.  But that's me.  The Kurobuta pork had great flavor, and pork belly lovers would probably cream their pants tat the opportunity to eat these massive hunks.  But.  For me, the two true scallops stole the show, and I will rave about them for many days to come.

Fish Story has a ton to offer, and I'm dying to get back and try their fluke ceviche with espelette pepper, olives, and Meyer lemon olive oil, as well as their chili-roasted Dungeness Crab, as well as their Tombo Tuna with grilled artichoke, olives, and onion relish.  I'm also tempted to go for their "Hook Line & Sinker" prix fixe menu, which (the night I was there) consisted of a cup of chowder or Little Gem salad, choice of grilled Idaho trout or shrimp and grits, and a butterscotch pudding for $27.  An embarassment of riches.  I'm sure their lunch menu--once they start serving next week--will have many other irresistible items as well. 

Opening night hiccups must be forgiven, and brand new restaurants always need a few months to find their sea legs.  I'm utterly convinced that Fish Story is destined for greatness on the Napa waterfront, and I am beyond stoked to have been there at the beginning.  It will only get better from here.

PS: check out this chicken purse we spotted next to us at the bar... I think its owner is a local so keep your eyes peeled for another sighting... AWESOME.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sweet Taste of Anticipation...

There are few things I love more than anticipating delicious things in my future.  (Obviously one is experiencing said delicious things, but the ratio of anticipated to actual is only rarely 1:1.)  I am a notorious stalker of not-yet-open restaurants and bars, constantly walking by in slow motion to peer into still-shuttered windows, searching the internet for clues and news about their future, browsing online menus, and the like.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time on such activities. 

And so this past week has flown by in a delicious haze of new restaurant lust, thanks to three Napa spots currently in the works, and to the actual opening of one of these objectified eateries tonight... I speak of course of Fish Story, the Napa venture of the Lark Creek Restaurant group.  But first, a description of the other tantalizing ventures that will continue to haunt me with their unattainable edibles and ambience.

Dim Sum Charlie's catered the rehearsal wedding for a friend of friends last weekend, to glowing praise.  As Napa has NO acceptable dim sum anywhere, let alone from a food truck, the positive report (from Diane of Napa Farmhouse 1885) sent all asian food lovers into a tailspin trying to find out where, when, and how soon we could get our mouths on some local har gao.  The where proved easy: the battered Airstream trailer has taken up residence behind the flood building on First Street just east of Soscol Avenue.  It has a lovely little dining area with picnic tables and shade just outside the service window (see picture).  When and how has proven more challenging... the website says only that the grand opening is "coming soon," and multiple plaintive email requests (not all from me, thank you very much) have met with no response.  The mysteriousness is both torturous and delectable.

Since Charlie wouldn't give it up, I turned my attention to the construction job on Main Street just north of Azzurrro Pizzeria.  I have been walking by this place for months (since my girlfriend moved to the neighborhood), and witnessed first-hand its razing, regrading, and rebirth into a stunning example of contemporary architecture. 

Ok, I admit, I didn't really get excited until the "NO PERSONS UNDER 21 ALLOWED" sign went up in the window.  But after that, I was enthralled.  I peered in almost daily.  And finally one day I was able to accost one of the construction workers as he was taking out the trash, and he told me the place was going to be a wine bar... named Cal Wine.

Fortunately, the address number had also been posted so I could look it up on the ABC License Query system to confirm the name.  Not so fortunately, the construction worker was correct--1313 Main Street in Napa, California will soon be home to a wine bar named Calwine.  But I'm not going to hold the generic name against it--when it opens, I'll be there.  It seems I'll have to rely on my own meanderings to figure out when that will be, though, because the internet silence on this place is deafening.  Do you know something about it?  Please share.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Fish Story.  Sustainable seafood, full bar, raw bar, swanky digs, and one of my favorite Bay Area chefs at the stoves had me hooked with the first press release last year.  Its prime location at the corner of Third and Main in downtown's new Riverfront building has required me to walk by countless times on my way to Angèle, Celadon, and Morimoto Napa (see my report on that awesome newcomer here).  With ever-increasing excitement, I watched the installation of funky glass lighting, the construction of the rounded bar, the addition of a tiny outdoor dining garden, and just last week, the stocking of the bar with actual liquor bottles--the surest sign that opening was nigh.

And indeed it is!  Tonight's the night... and I will be there to realize my fantasies and feast upon the glories of Stephen Barber's cuisine.  Kinda makes me want to shave my legs and put on sexy underwear.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pork and Buns

My girlfriend and I recently checked out Solbar for the first time (shocking, since it's been open for more than 30 days) and grazed through their lounge menu.  We totally wanted to order their cha siu bao pork buns, but our waitress talked us into getting the pork cheek tacos instead.  Those tacos were pretty fantastic with their tiny pickled Thai chili peppers and ripe avocado, but our pork bun craving remained in full force.  When we found ourselves at Redd's bar for dinner before the Charo concert in Yountville a few days later (an event that deserves its own post... ah, Charo), I took it as a sign from god that we should be eating pork buns that night. 

Redd's renowned open-face buns are only available at the bar, so you have to squeeze your way in among the drunken visitors and locals on the prowl to experience this porcine bliss--but it's well worth the effort.  Instead of the usual barbecued mystery meat, Redd uses smoky pork belly for the filling, diced into 3/4 inch chunks, crisped to a delicate crunchy perfection on all sides, and then glazed in hoisin sauce.  The steamed rice flour "bun" is more accurately a tender, toothsome pillow that cradles the ambrosial belly, soft taco style, capturing every drop of the bacon-laced plum sauce.  The accompanying pile of crisp julienned veggies in tangy rice wine vinegar makes a perfect foil for the rich morsels of sweet meaty delight.  We both piled the vegetables on top of the pork, folded the cloud-like bun around the assemblage, and inhaled.  Pure ecstasy.

With two five-inch buns per order, sharing this dish is probably best... but you have to really like the person you're sharing with.  There's no way I would have given up that second bun to anyone less worthy.  Keep this in mind when you plan your own pork bun pilgrimage to Y-ville.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Napa Burger Battle

One week ago today, a small cadre of expert eaters assembled on the west side of town for an epic battle of beef, bun, and cheddar.  With nine contenders and seven categories of scoring, this contest was an all-day affair, requiring exacting standards, keen attention to detail, and some serious eating stamina (I should confess here that we only made it through seven of the nine nominees, as our stomachs began to beg for some winnowing of the list after about 3:00pm.)

Each burger was to be ordered medium, topped with cheddar cheese, and any other items the restaurant normally presented with the burger by default.  Each burger was then rated by the panel of judges on Plate Appeal (up to 5 points), Bread (5 points), Cooking Temperature (0 or 1, depending on whether it made it to medium or not), Meat Texture (5 points), Meat Flavor (5 points), Overall Tastiness (up to 10 points), and Extra Credit (up to 5 points) for particularly great things like value for money, or special bonus features.  The most any burger could score was 36 points.  The nominees were all located in or around downtown Napa, with all but one located within walking distance of one another.

Our journey began at Andie's Cafe, the small shack next to the carwash just off 1st Street west of the 29 on/off ramps. Most people associate this place with frozen yogurt, but many know it for its extensive burger menu. The 1/3 pound basic cheeseburger here arrived promptly and colorfully, loaded with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup on a toasted potato bun for $6.29.

The veggies were remarkably fresh, but the judges found the overcooked patty texturally unimpressive and without beefy wow factor.  A decent start, but with plenty of room for other contenders to seize the lead.

Next up, we drove into Napa proper and ditched the cars to complete our burgerous trek on foot.  We headed to Alexis Baking Company (aka ABC Bakery) to taste a truly fresh ABC potato bun.  Tons of local restaurants use this bun for their own burgers and sandwiches, and for good reason.  It is soft but chewy, with a delightful tang and pleasing exterior texture even when untoasted. 

The $11.95 cheeseburger we ordered "with everything," however, arrived with mayonnaise and mayonnaise alone... for which several of the judges docked the burger a few extra credit points.  The burger did come with a fresh Caesar salad and medley of pickled peppers, etc. that proved able palate cleansers, so some of that may have been recouped.  But from the burger standpoint, the best thing about the one we received was the bun.  Well past medium, the patty's tasty factor edged past Andie's by a slight margin, but still left a lot of room at the top.  And because of the messed-up order, we had nothing else to go on.

With two non-revelatory burgers behind us, the judges seemed peevish and restless.  We beelined for Celadon to experience the first "restaurant-style" burger of the day... and naturally, a round of cocktails from their excellent full bar to wash it down:  Strawberry vodka lemonade made with local berries, a Spa-tini made with house-infused lemon-cucumber vodka and ginger, and the Treetini composed of Veev acai liquor, muddled basil leaves, and sweetened lime juice.  All peevishness melted away.

And then the burger arrived... a glorious 7-ounce patty of American style Kobe beef chuck from Masami Farms, topped with shredded cheddar (per our request), sun-dried tomato mayonnaise, mesclun lettuces, ripe tomato, red onion, and a side of tarragon shoestring fries.  Hello, lover. 

It was delectable, and--at last!--still pink and juicy.  So juicy in fact, that it juiced all over the bread, the plate, and the eaters' hands.  Chef-owner Greg Cole stopped by to explain the details of his burger masterpiece, including the provenance of the spectacularly good potato-pepper roll that soaked up the juice with such ease.  Panorama in San Francisco produces these wonders with their absorbent but light interior, perfect toasty textures, and enough heft to stand up to a nearly half-pound chunk of meat.  With the use of premium meat, creative mayonnaise, and the large fries portion, Celadon's burger racked up a slew of extra credit points on top of the high scores for flavor and presentation.  And all for $14.

Elated by this delicious discovery (new to all judges present), the burger posse moved the 100 yards to Angèle, which was in the throes of lunch rush.  Once installed on the shaded patio, we again ordered the house burger with cheddar cheese, which comes with Angèle's deservedly famous and beloved fries for $14.

As at Celadon, the burger arrived thick, pink and juicy.  The ABC potato bun was perfectly toasted on all sides, producing a textural variety that the untoasted version only hinted at.  The choice of white cheddar met with mixed success at the judging table--some thought it was too mild, others loved its subtlety. 

The fries, as expected, were a smash hit, and vanished quickly in between bites of the juicy burger (which for me scored a 5 for 5 on meat flavor, and 9 out of 10 for overall tastiness--on a par with Celadon's). 

Originally we had planned to take a wine break at Trahan and Olabisi's tasting room after this burger, but since we'd already started drinking and were feeling spry, we powered on to Norman Rose Tavern without a moment's hesitation.

Over a round of beers, we examined the Norman Rose Five Dot beef cheeseburger, loaded with four slices of cheddar cheese, and garnished with a thick slice of green tomato for $10.95.  Similar to the situation at Angèle, the cheese prompted some dissent among the learned judges.  Some rejoiced in the luxurious volume of gooey tangy goodness, while others (buzzkills) felt it overwhelmed the burger.  The bun also met with mixed reviews, with some liking the fluffy texture, and others not so much. 

It was a perfect illustration of the power and importance of subjective preference in the burger realm.

Moving past our differences, our team rounded the corner to Grace's Table for the "Hand formed Meyer's Ranch chuck, housemade pickles, fries, and whole-grain mustard aioli."  The menu did not mention that the pickles were actually a medley of cruciferous and non-cruciferous veggies grown at the chef's house, or the possibility of getting half fries and half onion rings, or all salad if such was your desire--but we figured that out with no problem thanks to our server.

For $12, this was an enormous mountain of food, overflowing the large plate on which it arrived.  We dove in to the sixth burger of the day with gusto.  Fresh veggies, homemade fries, nicely cooked beef, and lots of burger juice prompted positives from all the judges.  The mustard sauce added a pleasant tang to the mix, and the pickled veggies refreshed our beef-bloated palates.

But then we hit the wall.  Six burgers in five hours, sweltering heat outside, and bellies full of beef and booze conspired to bring us down.  We resolved to eliminate a few stops from our remaining hitlist: Cuvee, which didn't open until 5pm (still over an hour away), and Bounty Hunter, which only serves its cheeseburger once a week and thus should not perhaps get to be included in this roundup.  We piled into an air-conditioned car to drive the half mile to the Oxbow Public Market for our final cheeseburger of the day at Gott's Roadside.

The place was cool and quiet, a welcome haven from the inferno outside.  One judge bravely ordered a chocolate shake to wash down the burger, but after a few sips the scope of our overgluttedness became clear.  "I've never wanted a cheeseburger less," said another judge.  A sad and shameful moment for all the members of the panel.

With stamina taxed beyond human limits, the judges could not see past their personal peculiarities with the Gott's cheeseburger ($7.99).  The Niman Ranch beef chuck patty is topped by default with American cheese, which dismayed some who had grown accustomed to the cheddar topping of the day.  The iceberg lettuce on the bottom of the bun brought structural integrity and textural variety to the burger, but some disliked the warm lettuce factor.  The presence of homegrown homemade pickles and secret sauce (which contains relish) pushed the pickle limit for certain judges, while others enjoyed the vinegar and salt.  The seventh cheeseburger of the day was not the favorite, but I can't help but think it would have done better had it been consumed earlier in the day.

Lessons learned: (1) eating back to back burgers is a great way to compare beef texture, flavor, bun quality, and value for money; (2) eating more than five burgers back to back is a hideously bad idea; and (3) the company you keep during a burger orgy is critical to your ultimate enjoyment of the experience.

Thank you to my phenomenal fellow judges for an awesome day of unbridled gluttony in the name of science, and thank you to all the nominees for indulging our little contest with grace and hospitality. 

Can't wait for the Pizza Battle.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Patrick Bui is my hero

My banh mi blowout last week chez @Ish and @kristysf triggered a serious flare-up of my Vietnamese food obsession.  Thank god Patrick Bui opened a restaurant in Napa last year, so I can actually get a hit of authentic Vietnamese flavor without having to drive to the East Bay.  I've been there several times in the last couple of days to get my fix, most recently today for an early lunch with my honey.

As always at Bui Bistro, the food was spot-on, swoon-worthy, and so impossible to stop eating that I devoured every bite of our 11:30 lunch despite having had breakfast only 2 hours earlier.  Today's crack arrived in the form of banana blossom salad with chicken, and the grilled pork vermicelli bowl. 

I have fond memories of grilled pork vermicelli bowls from my summer of bar exam classes, when my best gay buddy and I used to walk into the Tenderloin in SF for cheap, awesome, feel-good Vietnamese lunches every day.  This Bui Bistro version was even better than those, though---it had fresher more flavorful veggies, and pork that didn't require a major suspension of disbelief to have it taste like pig meat.  The sweet, fish sauce-y marinade had caramelized into an enticing mahogany crust, and little crispy bits of black char at the edges of each piece confirmed (once again) that pork carcinogens are the finest tasting in all the world.

Even the delectable banana blossom salad with finely shredded cabbage, bosc pear, thai basil, and delicate paper-thin slices of chicken breast paled in comparison with the pork noodle bowl.  We ate all the salad too, of course, but the vermicelli went first. 

If anyone hasn't been to this place yet, go there NOW.  The menu has an impressive range of different flavors and presentations, ranging from classic pho, rice plates, and noodle bowls at lunch, to 5-spice duck confit (A MUST ORDER), Saigon sweet and sour wings, shaking beef, caramelized claypot fish, and eggplant chicken at night.  The ultra-fresh, delicious salads are fortunately served for both lunch and dinner.  On my next visit I want to try the Vietnamese cabbage salad with calamari, which our waiter accidentally delivered to us today instead of the banana blossom salad.  And perhaps the claypot fish, one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes of all time.

Food aside, though, I love this place because it is the ONLY restaurant in Napa where you can get French, German, Italian, and Austrian white wines by the glass (all $10 or less), one of which is an excellent gruner veltliner---my favorite varietal to pair with Vietnamese food.  The bottle prices are reasonable, and the selection is refreshingly different from every other place in town. 

Bui Bistro knows what it's doing, and I know that I'm hooked.  Can't wait for my next hit.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nom Nom for everyone

I've been watching a new show on the Food Network lately called "The Great Food Truck Race."  Each week, the food truck competitors travel to a different U.S. city, with an empty pantry and three (generally emotionally unstable) people to man the truck, and try to sell as much food as possible in two days using the uniform budget given them by the show.  The team with the lowest profit is eliminated.  So far, Nom Nom the banh mi truck from L.A. has been annihilating the competition.  Last Sunday in Santa Fe they had almost double the profit of the next-best team, and didn't even bother to create a new menu item in order to compete with the others for immunity--they really didn't have to.  This, in a city with an Asian population of only 1.3% (according to the 2000 Census).

Anyone who's ever had a good banh mi finds these results completely unsurprising.  Banh mi are, quite simply, phenomenal.  For the uninitiated, a banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich consisting of: a 6-8 inch piece of fresh baguette (true Vietnamese versions use shorter baguettes made with rice flour for added fluffiness), split lengthwise and spread with paté or mayo, then topped with a modest portion of warm sliced meat, sliced jalapenos, and--the pièce de résistance, a color, flavor & textural wonderland of tangy julienned veggies (usually carrot and daikon, sometimes cucumbers) and fresh cilantro. 

My favorite type is the 5-spice chicken banh mi, and I seize every opportunity/excuse to make it when I'm cooking for more than a few people.  It's easy because you can do 99% of the prep ahead of time, and just grill and slice the meat when it's time to eat.  Also because the leftovers (if any) can all be thrown together into one container for consumption in salad form the next day.

Watching Nom Nom kick some food truck ass inspired me to make my banh mi for some Napa friends at a dinner this week.  Eating the banh mi at said dinner inspired me to post the recipe here so that others may delight in it as well. 

I like to serve this with a Vietnamese cabbage salad and NZ sauvignon blanc, but do what you want.  New world pinot noir also works well, particularly if it has a sweet spice character to it.  I also once had an awesome dinner party where every guest brought a different bottle of bubbly to pair with the sandwich, and there wasn't a bad match to be found.  This is truly one of my all-time favorite staple recipes for barbecue season, and I haven't yet found someone who doesn't love it.

5-Spice Chicken Banh Mi
(serves 4-6, depending on gluttony levels)

The Bread
2 French baguettes with light, fluffy texture
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or more if you want)
1 T 5-spice powder

Combine mayo and 5-spice powder, and refrigerate until ready to use.  If you want to thin the mayo out and make it a bit less rich, add the juice from 1/2 lime and stir it in before serving. 
Cut baguettes into even lengths--I like to cut each one into 6 pieces if possible so you can eat a greater number of sandwiches and feel more decadent.  Split each piece lengthwise and toast.

The Meat
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 T fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1.5 T sugar
6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 T five spice powder
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or 4 thighs and 2 breasts)

Combine the first five ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk to combine.  Put the chicken in a solid ziploc bag and pour the marinade over, making sure it coats all the pieces thoroughly.  Refrigerate 2-10 hours, whatever is convenient.  Leaving it in longer makes the soy sauce flavor more pronounced, which may be too much if you're using all thighs--their greater relative surface area makes them more sensitive to marinade flavors than thicker pieces like breasts.
When you're ready to serve, take the chicken out of the marinade and barbecue over medium high heat.  Let it rest a few minutes after cooking, then slice them into thin, 1/8 inch slices and serve warm.

The Veggies
1.5 cups julienned carrots (I buy the pre-julienned bag from Trader Joe's)
1/2 peeled seeded cucumber, julienned
some julienned daikon radish if you want--I usually skip it
2 T sugar
3T rice wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients, mix well, and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Drain off liquid before serving.

The Finishing Touches
1-3 (depending on your heat tolerance) fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced thinly
1 bunch of fresh cilantro sprigs (about 5 sprigs per sandwich is a good estimate)

Construction and Demolition

Letting everyone build their own sandwich avoids problems of including too much/too little mayo or jalapeno, or having a cilantro hater reject dinner altogether (offer mint as an alternative to these people).  Spread the 5-spice mayo generously on the toasted baguette, top and bottom. Layer the sliced meat on the bottom half, then add sliced jalapenos to taste, then a layer of the veggies, and finish with cilantro sprigs.

To preserve the roof of your mouth from brutal laceration (and to better appreciate the texture and punchiness of the sandwich fixins), hold the baguette with the smooth bottom side facing up as you eat it. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thrill of the day... so far

I just met the planning committee for "Sex On A Plate," a full-frontal, pan-sensory food and wine experience to be held in Napa next April.  The culinary masterminds behind Gilded Fork have combined forces with Napa social maven Linda Cordair and Linda's army of local friends and associates to produce a three-day celebration of the sexier side of cuisine. 


Tap into the mounting excitement (heh heh) via Twitter by following @foodphilosophy @ChefMark and @CordairGallery

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gott Tomatoes?

Last night my friend Ashley invited me and a group of other local bloggers to tour the vegetable gardens of Gott's Roadside in St. Helena. 

This garden is a new project for the Gott's team, having only been planted earlier this year, but it's already generating a lot of excitement as the first summer harvest rolls into the restaurants.  Every week, Landy the baby-faced garden meister sends out pounds and pounds of whatever is falling off the vine into the capable hands of Rick the Executive Chef, who transforms them into "tray gourmet" specials for the three Gott's locations.  So far this summer, we've seen zucchini fries, Szechuan green beans, fried green tomatoes, home fries with basil pesto, and homemade pickles from the garden cucumbers, all plucked from the organically farmed garden behind the St. Helena Gott's location. 

Bloody Butchers.
The focus of last night's garden feast, though, was tomatoes... the long-awaited, late-summer love apples that ruin you for tomatoes the rest of the year.  Landy introduced us to the 350 tomato plants that had provided the evening's entertainment, and let us taste the punchy, marble-sized "Bloody Butchers" that were just ripening, as well as a few other random sun-warmed veggie crudités calling out to us as we strolled the garden rows.

Landy harvesting snacks for us.

Back at the picnic area, Chef Rick had devised a parade of dishes celebrating the timeless, universal romance of tomatoes and bread.  Here's the lineup: Pa Amb Tomaquet, the primally delicious tomato-rubbed toast from the Catalan region of Spain; Tomato "Gottzpacho" inspired by the Andalusian classic; Tomato Cucumber Panzanella Salad from Italy; a Tomato, Zucchini and Chèvre Tart riffing on the savory staples of Provence; Scalloped Tomatoes, an updated version of the classic Southern Sunday dinner gratin; and the Kitchen Sink Tomato Sandwich, so named for its ideal eating location.

Every dish was a delight to eat.  Choosing a favorite among these was no easy feat, but I have to say my heart belongs to the Pa Amb Tomaquet.  Second only to the sliced tomato-Duke's mayonnaise-Wonder Bread Tomato Sandwich in simplicity, this soggy toast gets my vote for best taste of summer. 

For his version, Chef Rick gilled sliced levain bread from Model Bakery on his barbecue til it was toasty and slightly charred, then ran a cut garlic clove across one side of each slice.

Chef Rick grilling levain.

Next, you "grate" each cut tomato half (Rick used beefsteak, but any ripe juicy variety would work) against the garlicked side of the bread to shred and juice the flesh.

Once the tomatoes are worn down to their skins and the erstwhile toast is soaked with juice, you season the sodden mass with sea salt flakes, fresh ground pepper, and a drizzle of excellent olive oil.  Messy, juicy, and totally awesome.

This dish is only as good as the quality of its ingredients, though. Toothsome, tangy, charred artisanal bread... the warm allium bite of garlic...the seasoning and crunch of high quality salt and pepper... the round buttery mmmm of good olive oil... the sweet, sun-warmed juice from the tomatoes... and the fresh aromatics of any torn herbs you may feel inspired to toss on there, combining seamlessly into one of summer's finest snacks.  Napkins optional. 

It's a major craving-inducer when done well... so damn you, Rick!  And thanks.

Thanks also to Ashley Teplin for the great photos!

My fellow tomatavore attendees also posted on the glories of last night's feast.  Check 'em all out, because these chicks rock:

Literary Legacies
Napa Farmhouse 1885
Inspire Your Lifestyle
The Nest
Healthy Napa
I Heart Napa

A Blog of One's Own

What to say on the inaugural post?  Should I attempt to explain/justify this blog's existence, and its further cluttering of the online world? Should I try to explain what kind of vision I have for this collection of random musings and subjective commentary? Should I explain how this blog differs from my writing on the Food, Wine and Travel blogs of

Probably.  But I'm not going to go there.

Why this blog of my own? 

Why not?