Sunday, April 05, 2009

One Spring Day in Napa

I got struck by spring fever last week, so one day I took a day off from my regular day job, rented a car, packed up my camera and headed to Napa Valley.

So how did I spend my day? Well, below I give you a quick photo summary. But come back every day this week for more details as I stretch my one day in Napa into a full week of posts!

Here’s how my day went …

10:18 a.m. — My first stop was at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, the famed French bakery by Thomas Keller, who basically should be named mayor of Yountville for all he’s done for the food community here. Find out what I ate on Monday.

11:05 a.m. — I drive over to Napa, the actual city, to check out the Oxbow Public Market. After a year, the Ferry Building-wannabe is finally looking nearly complete. Since my last visit, Hog Island Oyster Co. is finally open and the produce store has relocated to the front corner. I only saw one spot that was still under construction (for Kara’s Cupcakes opening April 7). While there, I shopped at the Whole Spice Co., which is one of my favorite places to shop because the owner Shuli Madmone is friendly and for just $6 you can buy a bottle of one of his creative spices that are freshly blended.

11:28 a.m. — It’s never too early for cupcakes, so I visited the Sift Cupcakery in downtown Napa just a few minutes from the Oxbow. Opened for less than a month in the Napa location (the original store is in Sonoma County), Sift had some creative cupcakes. Come back Tuesday to find out what kind.

12:07 p.m. — Time for lunch, so I decided to try Go Fish in St. Helena, the newest restaurant by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who also owns Mustards Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Read my full review of this seafood spot on Wednesday.

1:35 p.m. — I strolled around historic downtown St. Helena and went inside the Woodhouse Chocolate store, where they had some really amazing looking chocolates all hand-made in Napa Valley. I ended up trying the Fresh Mint and the Wild Cherry (which has half an Italian cherry) for $3.70 for the two pieces. The Fresh Mint wasn’t as minty as I would have liked and the Wild Cherry was nice but not exceptional. The overall quality of the chocolates was great, but the flavoring needs to be more distinctive, IMHO.

2:28 p.m. — Ironically, I didn’t do a lot of wine tasting on my day in Napa. But the only winery I did visit was a new one called CADE Winery in the Howell Mountain appellation. It’s the latest from the PlumpJack Group (which many of you may know was founded by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom) and CADE is entirely green. Read more about what this means on Thursday.

4:18 p.m. — I had to stop by Dean and Deluca, my favorite gourmet store from New York, which has been in St. Helena for a few years now. Above is an interesting display of salt blocks being sold. It’s the latest trend now to serve food, especially raw fish, on these pink salt blocks from the Himalayas. I didn’t bring one of this block home but instead bought a box of Dean and Deluca tea and a special treat for later.

4:41 p.m. — Happy hour at Brix, where you can find some of the friendliest bartenders in town and a beautiful patio garden to sit and enjoy the afternoon sun. During happy hour, all the food and drinks on the bar menu is 50 percent off. I started off trying the specialty drink Grape Crush (made with Cointreau, Ciroc branded vodka, vignette pinot noir soda, and sweet and sour) that includes freshly muddled grapes on the bottom. It was kind of fruity like drinking grape soda, so I ended up getting a vodka martini to man up a bit. I also ordered a half dozen of the fresh oysters, which were a variety I never tasted but enjoyed called Beau Soleil.

5:57 p.m. — I arrive for my dinner reservations at Bottega, the newest restaurant in Yountville that’s ironically not from Chef Keller. This is the new Italian place by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and it was packed because of the new-hot-spot buzz. Come back Friday to find out what I ate and any Chiarello sightings.

8:18 p.m. — Sigh, I finally arrived back home in Oakland after a beautiful day in Napa (um, did I mentioned the temperature was 72 degrees?). As a treat, I ate this Black and White cupcake that I purchased for $4 at Dean and Deluca. It’s made from Alexis Baking Co. in Napa Valley, and the cake was chocolate and just OK, but the beautiful black and white frosting on top was superb — so creamy and not super sweet, just really balanced and very sophisticated in flavor. Oh, and I placed a candle on top because, yep, it was my birthday, so the cat’s out of the bag that my Napa escape was a celebration of spring and getting a year older. What a way to age, huh?


Jenster said...

Happy Belated Birthday, Ben -- What a great way to spend your special day. You certainly hit a lot of good spots and I look forward to reading your entries this week.

If I can get my act together something this week (big if), I will also blog about chocolate, from an amazing place in Seattle called Theo Chocolate. So if you have time, please check it out.

Anonymous said...

cool birthday present to yourself. I would have gotten more cupcakes at Sift since CH RW seems to like it. Is it worth getting? I can't wait until Tues!

foodhoe said...

Happy b-day! You always celebrate the occasion in style Chef Ben. Too bad the cupcake wasn't as good as it looked! Sounds like a busy week at cooking with the single guy...

Carroll said...

Hey hey! Happy Belated B'day, Chef Ben! Sounds like you chose an ideal way to celebrate yourself. What a beautiful time of year in which to have been born :-)

Mark Scarbrough said...

Oh, holy cow. Happy B-day. But when in the heck am I moving to California? When? When?

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks everyone for the b-day wishes. It was a good day.

Jenster, I have tried Theo Chocolates and do like them. I'll go look for your post!

Carolyn Jung said...

Happy Birthday! And gosh, MORE cupcakes to try? You will be the death of me yet, with all the cupcake places you keep tantalizing me with. Can't wait to read about the Sift ones. Cute name!

wella said...

Belated birthday greetings! What a great day you had. It surprises me that you have a sweet tooth. Have a wonderful year ahead.

Mrs. L said...

Happy Belated Birthday Chef Ben! Can't wait to hear your comments on all the places you checked out in the Napa area. I too, love Dean and Deluca and always make hubby stop on our way to the in-laws!