Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Difficult wine pairings with Japanese non-sushi at Himawari

My favorite Japanese non-sushi in the Bay Area is now officially Himawari. Filled with Japanese families, this hole-in-the-wall place in downtown San Mateo has not disappointed yet. Their ramen soups, agedashi tofu, and fried chicken are just some of the perfectly executed dishes served. But it's notoriously non-obvious which wines to pair with them, outside of the always-safe Champagne. So I asked my friend and wine director at Donato Enoteca - Eric Lecours - for recommendations. Given that Eric has lived in Japan, is married to a Japanese, and was the one who introduced me to Himawari, who better to ask for wine pairing advise?! Here is what he suggested.

Delicious spinach ("goma ae"), amazingly non-stringy and non-chewy texture (as spinach can easily get), with the intensely good sesame dressing.
Paired with: Napa Sauvignon Blanc (slightly grassy with a bit of residual sugar).

Best-ever fried chicken ("chicken kara age"). I guess this is Japanese version of KFC, but soooo much better. Super crispy on the outside, and dripping moist on the inside. Dipped into the Japanese mayo, once you start, you can't stop.
Paired with: crisp (but with some fat) Macon Blanc (white Burgundy) or a nice Fleurie (Beaujolais, France).

Himawari have the best agedashi tofu I've ever had - the sheet of dry seaweed, the bonito shavings, the crispy tofu, the scallions, dipped in an intense broth.
Paired with: Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve (from Alsace, France)

Profoundly satisfying, clear-broth Ramen ("shoyu ramen") with pork cuts and seaweed. I saw tiny Japanese kids devour whole bowls by themselves! (Also, try dropping in a few pinches of roasted garlic shavings, conveniently available at every table.)
Paired with:Baumard Savennieres (Chenin Blanc, Loire, France)

Intensely flavorful, spicy garlic Ramen with ground pork ("tan tan men").
Paired with: Dr Loosen "Blue Slate" Kabinett Riesling (Germany, slightly sweet).

Himawari food is as good as you get in Japan. There is always a line outside, and they don't take reservations, so come early, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bay Area sushi secret revealed - Ocean Blue Lounge in Sunnyvale

To my wine friends, pairing wine with sushi is old news. They will often forgo Sake and opt toward extravagance - grand cru white Burgundy, Sancerre, even Pinot Noir (quite nice with tuna and unagi). I often stick with Sparkling. This full-bodied Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta "Prestige" Cuvée from Lombardy, Italy is wonderful and relatively affordable for a Champagne-quality sparkler (under $40). And here is a gem of a place that is a total hush-hush secret in the Bay Area... Even on Friday nights, you don't need reservations - there is plenty of space, a row of Japanese-trained Korean sushi chefs (who speak both Korean and Japanese), an army of good-looking Asian waitresses to take care of you, and even a mega-screen playing Asian pop videos. I know I will be kicking myself for revealing it, but for you my readers, I must!

The place is called Sushi Club Ocean Blue Lounge and is located on El Camino Real on the border of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara in the hole-in-the-wall shopping area full of hall-in-wall ethnic (mostly Indian) joints. The trendy lounge belongs far more in Vegas or on a cruise ship or maybe Santana Row. But there you have it, in the middle of low-end plaza, with 6 fancy sushi chefs standing guard to serve you the freshest, fleshiest, most delicious nigiri outside of LA (which I consider to be a sushi mecca). I've tried a few other things at Ocean Blue (tempura, rolls, etc...) - not bad, but it's the raw fish that a self-respecting foodie must go for. Huge fish-to-rice ratio. Ask the chefs what's the freshest fish that day. And unlike many other expensive fancy sushi places around Palo Alto, this one is very reasonably priced.

Paired with Franciacorta, it's a "ahhh, get outta here!" good. Now I will never have the place to myself!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Converting the Chinese into wine drinkers, one at a time

My Chinese mom-in-law ("maya") drinks beer. Sometimes Shaoxing wine, when pops-in-law is here. They drink Shaoxing sweetened with dry fruit, ever since they poured it to Rona when she was a kid. Ironically, maya doesn't really like sweet - she likes bitter.

She didn't grow up on proper red wine. The other day, Kathy O. (a friend) made this luscious chocolate raspberry cake for A.C.'s birthday party, and they gave me a chunk of that gorgeousness to take home. Chinese generally don't like rich, sweet, decadent desserts (just go into any Chinese bakery to see what I mean). I had some Super Tuscan left over from the Oasis visit the day before. I forced maya to have a bite of the cake and a sip of the wine. You should have seen expression on her face. Shocked: "it's not sweet", and then "gen hao chi" ("delicious!"). The 2006 Badia di Morrona "Taneto" Toscana (Super Tuscan), a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, and Merlot, tasted exactly like chocolate and raspberries - it was like a liquid twin of the cake, with refreshing tartness balancing off the sweetness in the cake.

I think I got a convert. One down, 1.3B (Chinese) to go!

P.S. The recipe to this wonderfully moist cake is here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jazz up that linguine with melted brie and creamy Chianti

It seems almost every one of my last few posts mentioned cheese. I didn't plan it, but it just so happens in an evolution of a wino that the love for cheese blossoms to wine-like proportions. How can it not, when cheese makes ordinary foods taste extra-ordinary?!

Take for instance this simple linguine with diced heirloom tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt-n-peppa. Now imagine melting a (un)healthy helping of triple-cream brie cheese (with rind removed) into the dish! The result is marvelously decadent and creamy pasta, out of this world (courtesy of Karen R., thanks!)

This would pair well with many Italian reds, but I would recommend the super aromatic and creamy 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva ($24).

Got cheese?

Oasis burger and why Facebook matters

If you are in the mood for a satisfying non-gourmet burger, in Napa Valley you certainly head out to Taylors (now renamed to Gott's). On the SF peninsula, you head to In-n-Out Burger, but in Palo Alto, you go to a place you would drive by a million times and never pay attention, next to Stanford Shopping Center on El Camino, there is a buried Oasis, frequented only by locals in-the-know, a total dive of a place that's been there for 50 years and it looks it, with all the charm of a 50 year old rugged good-hearted sailor. (Reminds me of the Garret in Cupertino, but Oasis has more personality IMHO).

I came there for an el-cheapo burger and fries, but I hadn't expected the crispy, smoky bacon overload of the awesome Blue Burger (blue for cheese). Nice fries too. I brought my own bottle of vino - don't expect a place like that to have killer selection. For $10 corkage, you'll be the only person in the whole damn "beer garden", sipping wine. But so be it. Me, Josh, Ami, and even their toddler Simon enjoyed the vino (Simon dipped a finger and smelled it curiously and then went for another dip - a reassuring sign of a future wino). I finally put a Super Tuscan to use (2006 Badia di Morrona "Taneto" Toscana, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, and Merlot), but had I known how much bacon they would put on the burger, I would have surely opted for a Rhone red (both Northern and Southern Rhone would have worked in slightly different ways).

So now... my foodie-and-wino friend Sonia told me about this place. Then I looked it up on Yelp, and it satisfied my selection criteria (4+ stars, 100+ reviews). But I would have never looked for it on Yelp, had she not told me. The point? Your social network MATTERS, and increasingly so, through the power of my facebook news feed, I find all kinds of relevant good stuff that I would have never paid attention to (videos, wines, restaurants). Wake up, people, who think that you life is just fine with the same old pre-digital age ways!

As for me, let me go check what's new on facebook! (And oh yeah, I'll be back at the Oasis soon.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru with Brillat-Savarin triple-cream anyone?

Ahh, living on the creamy edge of high life...!

North Berkeley wine is a full-service importer, retailer and wholesaler that specializes in fine wines from France, Italy and Chile.

At their portfolio tasting last week, I checked out a few Burgundies and Italian goodies from the Fall lineup (sounds like a fashion show, doesn't it?!), out of 100 or so different wines. Not many shook my world, but here are a few that are worth mentioning IMHO.

Two red Burgundies were head and shoulders above all French wines at the tasting:

1. Wine of the Tasting - Frederic Magnien 2007 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru. While in general I find most 2007 red Burgundies to be lacking power and plushness, even struggling at the Grand Cru level, this one was balanced, elegant, and quite good and charming, though not a powerhouse either, but one of the better red wines from Burgundy in 2007. Price? Don't ask! ($180/btl).

2. Gerard Raphet 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru "Les Combttes" - good intensity, creaminess and spice. $110/btl.

A couple of Italians.

1. Castello della Paneretta - Monstanto 2000 Terrine IGT - a 3L grand bottle from Tuscany, 50% Sangiovese, 50% Canaiolo - very nice, full bodied wine, entering its maturity, just plain tasty stuff. I kept going for more tastes. Awesome with herb crusted goat cheese. More rustic than elegant, I felt like grabbing the 3L by the neck and throwing a big Italian party. Kicker - over $250/btl... that could dampen the mood...

2. Ronchi 2006 Barbaresco "Ronchi" (to be released winter 2011). Very tasty. Not super elegant or complex, but not super expensive either (should sell for under $40/btl). I am starting to like 2006 Barolos and Barbarescos, as they mellow out and show their true colors. In a year or two, 2006's should be as good as 2005's, but with more aging potential.

The Frederic Magnien's 2007 Clos de Vougeot was great with the luscious Brillat-Savarin (on the right-hand side in the photo above) cow-based triple-cream brie cheese from Normandy, France and another, thicker, soft and more pungent French cheese whose name I didn't get (that's the one that looks like a bowl of cheese). Here is a bit of wine-and-cheese pairing wisdom for ya: (as a generalization) I have observed that Burgundies go well with cow-based French cheeses, and Italian wines go well with sheep or goat based Italian and Spanish cheeses. Makes sense, doesn't it? - as Italian wines tend to have a zingy, even slightly salty quality to them - just try a young Pecorino cheese with Chianti, or Boschetto al Tartufo (truffle cheese) with Barbaresco - heavenly!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The history of Gaja Gromis property

Warning Warning - wine geekiness alert!...

In a recent Gaja and Burgers post, I talked about Gaja Gromis Barolo 2000, and raised a question about the connection of Gaja Gromis and Gaja Dagromis. For the wine geeks such as myself this connection needed to be explored. And since there was little-to-nothing on the internet regarding this topic, I emailed Gaia Gaja, the daughter of Angelo Gaja. She and I had recently met at a dinner at Donato Enoteca.

Dear Gaia,
I need a clarification. From my research on the internet, it is not clear what is the relationship between the Gromis Barolo, the Gromis Conteisa Cerequio Barolo, Conteisa Langhe and the Dagromis Barolo, and when some of the labels changed.

Dutifully Gaia responded. Here is the fascinating Gaja trivia that I learned.

In 1995 Gaja bought a propriety in La Morra. The property is 10 hectares, almost all included in the Cerequio vineyard. The winery (an obsolete building which they do not use) had a stock of older vintages. It took them a bit of time to understand what they had.

The propriety was named Gromis. The stock that was in the cellar was inspected, some vintages have not been sold because they did not like the quality, but some other vintages were very good (1970, 1982, 1989, etc) so Gaja released them with the label Barolo Gromis.

CONTESIA CEREQUIO BAROLO was the label Gaja devoted for the best Cerequio parcells (some vintages were already in the barrels at the moment of the acquisition, for example 1991 or 1993). So for those wines they took care of the last part of the ageing.

In 1996 Gaja decided to devote 4 hectars in the heart of Cerequio cru for the production of Gaja Conteisa Langhe Nebbiolo DOC which (like all of Gaja's single vineyards …Costa Russi, Sori San Lorenzo, Sori Tildin and Sperss) is a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, in this case 92% Nebbiolo and 8% Barbera.

The rest of the propriety was allocated to the production of Barolo Gromis.

Over the years Gromis has changed.

1. The name has been changed to Dagromis (which in Italian means "From Gromis").

2. Since 2001 the wine is produced not only with La Morra grapes but also with Serralunga grapes. Gaja family owns two proprieties in Barolo area - one in LaMorra and one in Serralunga (from which Sperss is produced). Serralunga gives quite austere and structured personality to Nebbiolo while LaMorra gives the most gentile and elegant character. Dagromis is the expression of both.

Much history and background information hides beneath a label that we so often don't pay attention to. One little question about Gromis led me down the path of deeper learning. The lesson in life - tug on the loose ends, you may just learn something!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Celebrating September 11 softly with my family

September 11 is my lucky day. It's my birth day. Or is it my un-lucky day? After 2001, I am not sure anymore. At least, everyone thinks it's memorable. I always feel mixed.

This year Rona was sick, so mom-in-law flew over to help take care, and I headed for a few hours to my grandma's in San Francisco to have dinner with my folks, whom slowly over the past several years I've been bringing into the world of fine wine. I suppose decades ago they brought me into the world of not-so-fine Ukraine, so it's only fair that I do something for them now. Even my 87 year-old grandma (and doing fine, thank you very much), who treated alcoholics for 30 years as a doctor in Odessa, and has given me many a raised eyebrow when hearing me talk about wine, doesn't mind sipping on some fine Barbaresco herself anymore. What's the world coming to!!!

Russian-Jewish meals always have an appetizer course, family-style, with lots of dishes overwhelming the table. Marinated herring is a staple, in addition to lots of veggie dishes, home-made pickled cabbage, salads, cold cuts, etc. By the time one is done with the appetizers, there is really no room to eat any more. That's when the eating begins in earnest.

It always thrills me to introduce new things into a culture. We moved to America 22 years ago. That's 2/3rds of my life, but for my folks the age-old ways of the old country are in their veins, including eating and drinking habits. Fine wine drinking isn't part of the repertoire. Russians tend to drink hard liquor - cognac, tequila, vodka (none of which I drink). So in the past few years as I got them to enjoy and understand more about wine, it's been a satisfying development.

The appetizer course is usually the toughest for wine pairings - I mean - what goes with marinated herring, for god's sakes?! I tend to resort to crisp whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc. This time, however, I chose Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2008, that I wrote about recently, and that I am still having a love affair with. That still wine is so minerally (as in mineral water), you literally see bubbles in the glass!

For the second course, my mom made central-asian Pilaf with lamb on a bone. Sweet pungent aroma and chewy texture is tamed perfectly by the classic pairing (that I'd written about before) with a Napa Merlot, with all of its mouth-coating "creamy cassis meets chocolate" opulence.

For the third course, it was "melt-in-your-mouth" tender veal on a bone. I uncorked the much anticipated 2000 Barbaresco Brin Balin from Moccagatta. This was the second time I had the wine - the first time it didn't show very well, but this time, it was a perfect match, just entering maturity, with aromatics that my family had never experienced in a wine (I think this was the first Barbaresco they'd ever had, so you can imagine) - faded flowers, sour cherries with a hint of plums, medium weight and refreshing acidity, and just pure intoxicating deliciousness that bridged us to the next course.

For the first time in the history of my family, I wedged in a cheese platter before dessert. Russians tend to think of cheese in a sandwich, or maybe grated over macaroni, but not as its own thing, and certainly not as dessert! But for me, Barbaresco with cheese is a mind-boggling pleasure, especially the slightly tangy sheep-based cheeses from Italy - soft young Pecorino, Boschetto al Tartufo (truffle cheese), and a wonderful mild semi-soft cheese whose name escapes me, and finally Idiazabal from Spain, all paired delectably with the Barbaresco. I would cut off a piece of each cheese slab and hand it to folks one by one with a few words of explanation. It's remarkable how slowing things down a bit and focusing someone's attention on a dish or an ingredient elevates the gastronomic experience to a whole new height. The mood, the food, and the wine must have been all right - as the cheese board was a huge hit.

We finally sailed through to grandma's wonderful apple cake with Russian tea. And then it was time to run back home to see how Rona was doing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gaja and Burgers

Angelo Gaja is an icon in Italy. His single-vineyard Barbarescos sell for over $300 a bottle on release. Since the 1970's, his impact on Italy's image as a world-class wine power has been felt perhaps more than that of any other Italian producer.

Several years ago, Lynette, a friend of friend, went on a buying spree and bought a lot of Gaja. With no space to store it. That's where Dan came in and generously offered to store the lot in exchange for once a year Gaja uncorking. Lynette agreed but only if Dan hosted a cozy dinner with gastronomic accoutrements worthy of Gaja.

And thus the annual "Gaja and Burgers" night was born.

Of course, Dan the gourmand would not make just any burgers. His are from special grass-fed beef, with all kinds of garden herbs inside, thick and grilled on a smoker grill to a juice-dripping perfection. Served on a bun with slices of heirloom tomato, shiso (in place of lettuce, this is a key move), and marinated pickles, with just a splash of mustard, oooh and uhhhh, Gaja never had is this good :)!

Dan's juice-dripping decadent, grilled to perfection, grass-fed beef burger. "Don't bother me, I am eating... and drinking Gaja!"

We opened Lynette's Gaja Gromis 2000 - a wine of impeccable Barolo typicity and balance, drinking perfectly now, and capable of lasting a lot longer! If that is intro-level Barolo for Gaja, then imagine what the single-vineyard legends are like! 2000 was a very highly rated vintage in Barolo, however, it also has a reputation for over-ripeness and lower acidity, not quite to the extent of 2003, but in that vein. Does it surprise you that Wine Spectator rated 2000 a 100-point vintage? Most Barolo lovers much prefer the 2001 and 2004 vintages. However, I've now had Gaja Gromis 2000 and Dagromis 2003 (same wine, re-labeled after 2000?) and both were fantastic. Gaja lives up to his reputation as the top Barolo / Barbaresco wine producer in the world. The quality of his wines shines through every bottling, even his lower-end wines such as Ca'Marcanda Promis (blend of Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese), Sito Moresco (blend of Nebbiolo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon), and many others.

Shhhh, don't tell Lynette or Dan, but the elegant "forest floor meets faded flowers" Barolo didn't really go with the beefy burgers. A Super-Tuscan Ca'Marcanda Promis 2004 and Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d'Alba Bricco 2007 albeit lowlier wines, actually did better in pairing. But who the hell cares?! - it's Gaja, for heaven's sakes - it goes with EVERYTHING!!! Especially those amazing plump patties of ground cow!

P.S. John took a burger to the hospital to his pregnant wife. The grande deliciousness finally pushed her over the edge, as that very night after devouring the said burger, a new world inhabitant named Serafina was born. Long life, health, and happiness to the baby and the happy parents!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Egly-Ouriet Champagne with heirloom overload

Last time I shared a basic formula for a slew of tomato inspired quick recipes - panzanella, bruschetta, Caprese salad, gazpacho soup that pair well with Arneis.

Here is another pairing - with Champagne. Many say "Champagne goes with anything", but I think it goes particularly well with this early Fall heirloom tomato medley - a combo of gazpacho soup (has red bell pepper added to the tomato blend) served with toasted Italian rustic bread topped with a paste of heirloom tomatoes, Japanese cucumber, garlic, basil, and spicy roasted padron peppers (padrons get spicy if you let them grow bigger) -- all from my garden, with some melted buffalo mozzarella.

Egly-Ouriet is one of the most respected grower Champagne producers in France right now, and is the "insider" secret of Champagne geeks. His Les Vignes de Vrigny NV cuvée from 100% Pinot Meunier is full bodied and zesty - deliciousness in a glass, perfection with tomato-based dishes.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Robert Chevillon "Les Vaucrains" confirms merits of the 2002 vintage in Burgundy

The whole month of September our local wine shop Vin Vino Wine is treating wino aficionados to verticals of the greatest European wine producers. On Saturday, they featured Robert Chevillon's 2002 through 2007 bottlings of the "Les Vaucrains" vineyard in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy. The village of Nuits-Saint-Georges in Cote de Nuits is known for producing hearty, musculine red wines. Nuits-Saint-Georges does not have any grand cru vineyards, and thus it's not as well regarded as Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanee, or Gevrey-Chambertin. Nevertheless, its most prestigious vineyards of Les Saint Georges, Les Vaucrains, and Les Cailles give birth to world-class wines in the hands of great producers. For years, the top two Nuits-Saint-Georges producers have been Robert Chevillon and Henri Gouges. So being able to taste through a vertical of one of Chevillon's top vineyards is a rare opportunity.

Burgundy is loved for producing wines of terroir - meaning the place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made shines through the juice in the bottle. Neither Chevillon nor Gouge do much to mask the terroir, so the quality of a good vineyard is reflected in the wine. But even more so than the vineyard, in Burgundy the vintage affects the final product. Burgundy experts debate what is more important in the quality of wine - producer, vineyard, or vintage. In Burgundy, I think the vintage is probably the most important. (What do you think?)

As a generalization, 2002 was an excellent vintage, 2003 - poor and overripe, 2004 - greenish, 2005 - outstanding across the board, and long-aging, 2006 - ok vintage with some aromatic, charming and approachable wines, 2007 - light, acidic, mediocre, with some good wines, 2008 - so-so (I haven't tasted many 2008 reds yet), 2009 - I hear it promises to be outstanding.

Not suprisingly, the best wine in the line-up, in my opinion, was the 2002 - velvety on the palate, with beautiful fruit starting to show signs of maturity and hints of chocolate. The wine clearly reflected the excellent 2002 vintage. The 2005 was the second best, with energy, minerals, and great balance, which is the hallmark of the 2005 vintage, but in my view, a bit lighter on the palate and somewhat below my expectations from the 2005 vintage. (BTW, a recently tasted village-level Nuits-Saint-Georges from Chevillon that costs about half as much was very tasty). I wasn't impressed by any of the others, especially considering the price tags.

Bottomline - in Burgundy, it is important to know vineyards, producers, and vintages, and frankly, it's a lot of fun. Usually it's a safe bet to pick wines from a producer you like in a good vintage. But for serious purchases, I believe wines must be tasted before purchase decisions are made.

Jazz up Panzanella with Bruno Giacosa Arneis

During warm days of August and September in the Bay Area, making a simple panzanella salad from fresh ingredients from my garden with a crisp glass of white wine is my late summer comfort food.

Step 1. Pick heirloom tomatoes from the garden. Chop or slice.

Step 2. Pick fresh basil from the garden. Chop.

Step 3. Finely chop couple of cloves of fresh garlic. This is a key ingredient, just like basil - it really takes tomatoes to a whole other level.

Step 4. Cut fresh buffalo mozzarella into large chunks. The quality of the mozzarella is very important. None of the cheap rubbery stuff. In the Bay Area, I find that A.G. Ferrari and Costco have excellent quality buffalo mozzarella.

Step 5. Cut stale rustic bread into big chunks.

Step 6. Mix everything, and dress with high-quality olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Some people like to add a bit of vinegar, but if the tomatoes are tangy enough, I'd skip. Another delicious alternative (or addition) to vinegar is lemon juice. And here is another "trade secret". Add a splash of sugar to your tomatoes. Sugar and sea salt will work together to really bring out the zing in those heirlooms!

The above ingredients also make Caprese salad (without bread) and bruschetta (with toasted bread) - all variations on the same recipe. And if you blend everything together (without bread and mozzarella), you'll pretty much have gazpacho soup.

Terrific with Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2008 from Roero area in Piedmonte, Italy. Arneis is the top white wine coming out of Piedmonte, a region famous for reds and sparkling white Moscato wines. In the right hands, Arneis is world-class, and Bruno Giacosa (a legendary Barolo producer) makes my favorite.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Napa Valley foodie destinations

Folks often ask me for recommendations when going to Napa Valley.
Having lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years and having visited Napa Valley numerous times during my wine evolution journey, I've written a few articles along the way. So without belaboring the much-covered topic, here are a few posts you should read before heading to the California's top food & wine destination.

For me, no visit to Napa Valley is ever complete without an amazingly satisfying meal. So while my posts usually focus on wine, they always contain recommendations and reviews for awesome food joints.

Read these first

Drinking with Elias Fernandez of Shafer - Hillside Select and Relentless

Joseph Phelps - blending 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia (and another killer Napa Valley day-trip)

TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010
How to have a great day with Burgundy in Napa Valley

Here is the list of my favorite, tried-and-true, proven food destinations, many of which are covered in the posts above:

Taylor's Automatic Refresher (renamed to Gott's in 2010) - fave "fast-food" burgers, etc. featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network by Guy Fieri.
Oakville Grocery - classic deli
Bouchon Bakery - great sandwiches and baked goodies

Not cheap but good
Mustards Grill - classic California food, perfectly executed grilled meats, especially pork chop and chicken.
Bottega - very high-end Cali-Italian (just a notch below Frasca in Boulder, CO). Everything is delicious here, and not terribly expensive for the quality and atmosphere.
Ad Hoc - super creative, different "comfort food" menu every day, part of Thomas Keller empire
Bounty Hunter - awesome American food. St Louis bbq ribs, pulled pork sandwich, and beer-can chicken are to die for.
Redd - solid, but not as universally loved. Impeccably prepared food, a little stuffy, slight Cali-Asian influences, but not very inspiring as most of the other recommendations here, and lacking in the "comfort" department. Kinda reminds me of Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley.
Ubuntu - super-creative, delectable vegetarian (worth a visit, even for a meat-lover).
French Laundry - 'nuff said. I think this is worth one visit. After that, don't think the value is quite there...

If you are wondering about a place, leave a comment, and I will do my best to respond. There are a number of hyped places, with loyal followings and glowing Yelp reviews, that I would not recommend based on personal experiences of a discerning foodie. And vice versa, the above ones that I do recommend are "foodie approved"!

Over time, I will be adding more of my Napa Valley adventures and recommendations to this post, so stay tuned.

Finally, when in doubt, check on Yelp, using this Yelp search. But take my advice - consider only restaurants with over 100 reviews and average rating at 4 stars or above. Yelp is pretty reliable under those parameters. Anything under a 100 reviews doesn't mean is bad, but you'd want a personal recommendation of someone you trust (hopefully Iron Chevsky :)) before taking a chance.

What top foodie joints did I miss? Comment below.

Iron Chevsky.

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