Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Insider's Guide to Happy Hour In Napa: Part Two

You know that the City of Napa has arrived when there are too many happy hour deals to fit in a single roundup article.  So here we are again, with Part Two of the Insider's Guide.  As in Part One, I'm not trying to do a comprehensive listing of all the discounts, just sharing some of my personal favorites for cheap drinks and snacks during that happiest of hours.  As you may notice from my photo selections, I tend to fixate on the snacks... but really, the drinks are just as important for this shortlist.  And here they are:

Bui Bistro.  Anyone who reads my blog knows of my immense love for this place.  Chef-owner Patrick Bui grew up and learned to cook in France, so his versions of Vietnamese classics have a Gallic elegance to them that suits the tasteful decor of his Pearl Street restaurant.  He also pours plenty of well-priced Old World wines, chosen to show off the complex flavors in his cuisine.  During happy hour Tuesday through Sunday, all wines by the glass are $2 off, and the appetizers are $3 less than usual.  This means that you can order the swoon-worthy Saigon wings, 5-spice duck confit, or spring rolls for only $5 per order, and wash it down with a glass of Austrian Grüner Veltliner or prosecco for $6.  And since happy hour runs from 5-7pm, this really could be dinner. 
TRAGIC UPDATE OCTOBER 3, 2012:  Restaurant staff told me today that they have discontinued happy hour... please help me lobby to bring it back!  Keep asking for these awesome deals.

Bui Bistro's oh-so-succulent duck confit
infused with Vietnamese five-spice.
1313 Main.  This sleek new wine bar at the north edge of downtown is gaining a reputation for its late night bubbles and beats on the weekends, but it's also well worth a visit during happy hour.  Sunday through Wednesday from 3-6pm, a rotating selection of eight wines by the glass and five bottled beers are available two for the price of one, with mixing and matching allowed.  Their selection of wines ranges from local cult cabs to quirky international producers, and changes frequently to keep things interesting.  A short list of wine-friendly small plates created by Chef Sarah Scott (former executive chef at the Robert Mondavi Winery) can also be yours during happy hour for $5-6 off the normal prices.  Think snacks like muhamarra, green herb pesto, and apricot raita.  1313 has a sexy vibe, and lots of different seating options (including a fabulous back patio), so odds are you can find a spot that suits you.

1313 Main's rabbit terrine with red curry mustard,
pickled fennel, toast.
Uva Trattoria Italiana. Just down the block and around the corner from 1313 Main, downtown veteran Uva has been packing the locals in for twelve glorious years.  The music stage and dancefloor get put to good use on the weekends, but I prefer to go pre-music for happy hour in their spacious bar and lounge area.  Weekdays from 4-6pm -- except Mondays, when they're closed -- a selection of draft beers is $3, house red or white wine is $5, and well drinks are $4 (yes! they have one of downtown's rare full bar licenses).  To help line your stomach against the booze, check out the happy hour antipasti menu (all $5), which includes pizzas, baby back ribs, almonds & olives, and assorted other savory nibbles.  Tuesday nights are extra happy with a burger & pint deal for $10, as well as the usual specials.  On Sundays in November, you can score a classic margherita pizza and pint of beer for only $10, as well.  

Uva's pesto arancini; photo by Jade R. on
Fumé Bistro.  Fumé is like the north Napa version of Zinsvalley: friendly, non-fussy, comfort food with a twist.  Their offbeat location alongside Highway 29 on Byway East (turn off 29 at El Centro Avenue to get there) lends a clandestine feel to the place, though, and it consequently has a cultish following of locals.  Monday night is particularly famed for the "Five Dollar Burger" ($5.55) deal, which starts at 4pm and runs until closing.  The rest of the workweek also has its discounts: from 4-6pm, a small menu of prime drinking foods (like margherita pizza, polenta fries, onion rings with chipotle barbecue sauce, and fried raviolis) awaits, for only $4.50 per plate.  And from 4-6pm Monday through Friday, beers and well cocktails from their full bar are only $3.50.
For more happy hour suggestions, check out Part One to this guide, here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Handbook For Badasstic Country Ladies

Last weekend I discovered a new consignment store in downtown Napa with a fabulous collection of historic toys, sports memorabilia, and random old books.  The deceptively generic-sounding Napa Valley Buy & Sell is on First Street between Coombs and Randolph, and offers hours of entertainment to those willing to paw through the wares--particularly the books about food and sexuality.  These two departments were spectacularly well developed, making it clear that someone in charge over there has a penchant for the fun stuff. 

I scored two remarkable treasures on my first visit, for the princely sum of $4.32 total (including tax). The first was a 1961 hardcover edition of The Escoffier Cook Book, but the second was an even more exciting relic from another time and place: the 1888 edition of Maison Rustique des Dames, by Madame Millet-Robinet. This copy is in amazing shape considering its age, and came with a bonus prize inside: two carefully pressed four leaf clovers hidden within its 636 onion-skin pages.

Since this 1888 version was the 13th edition, I'm guessing the book was wildly popular back in the day.  A quick perusal of the table of contents for this two-volume hardcover reveals why.  (Note: this book is written in 1888 French, so forgive any inaccuracies in my 21st Century translations)

Part One discusses basic household maintenance, covering such essentials as how to hire your maids; how to put your kids to work on the farm; managing household expenses; bread baking; window washing; the care and cleaning of furs; preserving meats (including a subsection entitled "Method of killing and preparing the pig"); preserving vegetables; stocking the wine cellar; and an entire chapter dedicated to colognes and perfumes.  Bien sûr.  These ladies may have been in the country, but it seems that didn't stop them from living pret-ty darn well... the wines suggested by the author include such domaines as Romanée Conti and Lafite, for example.

Part Two is a Manual of Cookery, outlining different types of service style, basic knife techniques, and a wealth of presentation and garnish ideas.  Distinct chapters on hors d'oeuvres, meat, game, fish, vegetables, purées (presumably so popular that they deserve their own chapter), fried dishes (same), doughs, desserts, pastries, and an authoritative "List of foods that may be served for lunch" provide invaluable guidance to the country hostess with the mostess.

 Part Three, incredibly, includes a medical encyclopedia and covers topics ranging from what to include in the medicine cabinet, all the way to formal pronouncements of death. 

Engraving 116: "Goat in harness"

Part Four delves into all the various types of gardens one might desire, and Part Five gets down and dirty on the Farm... articulating the essentials of farm buildings, staffing, and proper feeding of the staff (which the book stresses at length), as well as the care and feeding of an array of different breeds of chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigeons, rabits, cattle, dairy animals, sheep, pigs, goats, and bees.  There's even a chapter on how to drive a horse-drawn carriage and tend your horse while traveling long distances in all manner of weather conditions. Tip: always light a lantern on your carriage right after sunset, or risk a fine of 15 francs if the police catch you.

The  book is full of priceless advice like this.  I'm thinking I need to translate and share the choicest passages and recipes on this blog to celebrate the pearls of wisdom Madame Millet-Robinet had to share with badasstic country ladies over 120 years ago.  Who knows how much of it might still be invaluable to modern "ladies" in rural communities like the Napa Valley?

Choosing where to begin, though, is gonna be tough... maybe "Management of a Dinner Party," where all the rules of engagement and feasting are made clear? Or perhaps "Enraged or Venimous Animal Bites And Insect Stings," sure to be a thrilling read full of terrifying medical advice....

Regardless of where I begin, this quirky little tome contains an embarassment of riches, and I cannot wait to taste them.