Monday, August 11, 2008

Napa Time

Well, I'm in Napa tonight. I arrived in the early afternoon and my first stop was the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. I had to get a few tasty treats from the bakery owned by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame. I had a croissant that was beautifully made. Personally I don't think it had enough salt. It was flaky and tasty, and beautiful to look at, but I'm curious to see how it stacks up. I'm going to be trying a lot more croissants while I'm here at a few different bakeries. While I'm in the culinary capitol of America I've got to do some exploring.

That's what a trip to Napa is all about for me. I love it here. I feel right at home and it feels like I'm with my people since everyone seems to be crazy about food. It's the perfect vacation for me, and I'll be sure to record all of my experiences.

After the Bouchon bakery, it was time for lunch, so I headed to Mustard's Grill. That's been on my list of places to visit for about four years now and so I finally can scratch that one off my list. Their signature dish is a Mongolian pork chop that certainly lived up to its reputation. It was grilled over a wood fire made from almond wood. The sauce was an Asian inspired one, and the pork was accompanied by mashed potatoes which were heavy on the black pepper (which I enjoyed) and some sweet and sour braised red cabbage. I didn't expect to like the cabbage, but after one bite I became a fan. I hope to reproduce the dish back home. The bartender told me that it was braised in vinegar, with just a touch of sugar, as well as perhaps a little cardamon. Along with the pork they served a basic yet tasty mustard sauce. A great meal.

I followed it up with dessert since my book on Napa told me I "must try" the lemon lime tart. Here's my take: overrated. It came heaping with a massive brown sugar meringue, which really wasn't that good. As for the tart itself, I discovered I'm not a citrus tart lover. I'm sure some people would like it, but it seemed like a glorified jello pie if you ask me. And the tart crust was over cooked and boring. Two thumbs down on dessert.

After that, I headed to the Robert Mondavi winery for a tasting and tour. It's an impressive winery and was a fun tour with good wine. It's all pricier than I would tend to want to spend however. The one nice thing to realize after doing some of these tastings is that it's not too hard to find wines I like just as much, if not more, in the $5.00 bin at Martha's back home.

I've got two more days here. Tomorrow I'm going to drive to St. Helena and eat at the Model Bakery, the bakery that my instructor at the CIA told me was the best bakery in the entire Napa/Sonoma region. I've not been able to make it there in the three trips I've made to Napa so tomorrow that will be breakfast. I'll probably buy about three or four loaves of bread to try too (call me crazy!). It's great to be able to sample the best bread in the country and I think it would be foolish to try just one. I don't care if I throw 90% of it away--I want to know what the best bread in America tastes like. I'll probably try and eat lunch at the Bouchon Bistro again, like I did last year. I think that will be the one sure restaurant I'll eat at each year. That was the place that gave me free oysters last year. We'll see if that is a repeat. I think when I start taking pictures of the food they tend to notice.

And that brings up one of the benefits of traveling alone. I find that when I'm traveling I invariably will strike up conversations with the locals that wouldn't happen if I was busy conversing with someone on the trip. I don't think many people do wine tastings by themselves in Napa and a solo person is pretty easy to strike up a conversation with. The guide on my tour at Mondavi came up to talk to me while I was in the gift shop after the tour. We talked for quite a while and he gave me some recommendations of some other wineries to go visit and encouraged me to ask for some specific people. "Tell them Melvin from Mondavi sent you, and they'll take care of you." I don't think that would have happened if I was traveling with someone else.

Of course I look forward to taking someone here some day. But for now, I'm going to enjoy the food and the bakeries. Oh...and the wine.


I realize I never posted pictures of my meal there from last year. (Yup...I still have them on my computer). Here you go:

I started off things last year with a remarkable corn soup that I think I'll have again, if they have it:

The main course was the roast chicken that Anthony Bourdain says is the best damn chicken in the country. I'd have to agree.

Dessert was creme caramel that I wanted to try ever since I had seen it in the Bouchon cookbook that I bought back home. Creme caramel is very cool since you put a bunch of raw sugar on the bottom of the pan. It creates a natural caramel which oozes all over the custard after you invert it to serve.

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