Archive for the 'Napa Valley' Category

Bouchon Bakery’s Cheese Danish Game is On Again

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

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As I drove up to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville on the Thursday morning that I was in Napa, it occurred to me that I’ve been going there for two years now, which means that I’ve been following their cheese danish for the past two years, as well. Yes. Two (2!) years on the Bouchon Bakery cheese danish trail…

The first time I wrote about it on January 19, 2006, I was in love with the rich, muscular dough and bright, tangy flavor.

The second time on March 12 of 2006, the love continued, this time with Chad’s enthusiastic approval and comparison of it to a cloud… A dreamy cloud (ok, I added the “dreamy”).

The third time, in January 2007, (in the “edit”), I was incredibly saddened by a bland flavor and superfluous coarse sugar crystals. My perfect cheese danish was… gone.

But this time, I fell in love all over again.

2The pastry has changed, in fantastic and even surprising ways. First of all, it’s a little smaller, a little rounder… Compact and elegant. The slightly lemony cream cheese filling is piped on top, and there’s a kind of almond filling in the middle (perhaps ground almonds mixed with the cheese fillings?) I normally think that nuts can overwhelm a pastry, and make it heavier, but this works. There’s more dimension to this danish than every before…. AND it’s a cloud again. So light. The dough was not as muscular as before and I was ok with that — it was the definition of a perfectly airy laminated dough, just slightly softened by eggs (which separates the danish from the croissant)

Looking back at my pictures, it looks like there’s less powdered sugar on top, which might be another reason why it’s so strong and true now… I generally dislike powdered sugar because it hurts my teeth upon initial contact and leaves a funky aftertaste in my mouth and a trail of dust on my clothes. Without much of it in the way, the flavor is dead on. There are visible grains of coarse sugar on top, but oddly, I didn’t feel their texture.

I have to admit — I usually don’t finish pastries, and almost never in one sitting. But this danish was gone in no time… and even made me come back from Sonoma county a few hours later so that I could get two more — one for a friend to try and one for the road back to LA.

I think that this could be made at home, and if you’ve ever considered making a laminated dough (croissant/puff pastry/danish), I urge you to try it. It’s fun and just challenging enough, and the results are amazing. Seriously, I wouldn’t go on and on about a cheese danish if it wasn’t fresh, hand-crafted danish garnished just how you like is nothing like the sad swirls of sugared, greasy dough that danishes often exist as today. A great thing, too, is that you can make the dough and freeze it so that you can bake off just as many as you want fresh at a time.

The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

So, last weekend, Chad and I journeyed up to Napa for a wedding… and well, to eat.

First, we rushed off from the Oakland airport to have lunch at Canteen in SF. We paid $3 worth in quarters for the privilege of an hour’s parking, only to arrive at 2:02pm… and be told that they were closed. We’d once had a wonderful lunch there, watching the chef and his assistant cook from our perch at the counter. I remember that teasingly moist skate sandwich well, and still do… b/c my memory remains unclouded by any new dishes there. Sure, I could have mentioned that we’d just flown up from LA, loved the restaurant, and were dying to eat there again (along with their rmg guests)… but the stove was empty and I felt like it was right to accept that their shift was over. I hope someone used up the 53 rmg minutes on the meter, so that I can stop regretting my wasted laundry quarters.

In any case… to Tartine! Where parking was free and there was practically no line at 2:30 in the afternoon!

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Their Croque Monsieur is one of the better consolations you could come across. They’re displayed unassumingly on the counter, but once their heated up and cut into…

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…they’re beacons of comfort and deliciousness. The secret is in the bechamel sauce, which soaks into the bread to provide a silky canvas upon which the Niman ranch ham, gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper play. The bread is also just soft enough, even though it looks like it’d be hard to cut into.

Unfortunately, Chad’s Ham and Gruyere Sandwich was rather soaked through with mustard, and he only felt fortunate that the nasal passages behind his nose hadn’t caught fire by the end of the sandwich.

And my pickled carrot was shockingly spicy… which I liked.

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The chocolate eclair was also a little funky. The pastry cream was very runny and the glaze very thick. I made a mess of myself trying to eat it, and turning it upside-down helped only until the pastry cream started spurting out the sides. The glaze was also a little too harsh with cocoa flavor for the rest of the eclair.

We also had the Lemon Meringue Cake again, but the chiffon cake was too dry for it to do its magic.

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And then to Emeryville, to catch up with the good people at Charles Chocolates, where I worked with the chocolatiers during the holiday season. They now have a retail store which has a seating area that overlooks the chocolatiers at work, and where tours are given.

I was lucky enough to be lavished with the peanut butterflies and lemon-pistachio clusters that I once daily rationed to myself… 12+ hr days were never so much fun before. I also got a jar of their newly offered Meyer Lemon Marmalade. It’s made with just organic meyer lemons and sugar — no commercial pectin, so it has a slightly more delicate set and the lemon flavor is bright and delicious. It’s nice on bread… or just on a spoon, if you’re me.

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By the time we got to Napa later that night, I was too excited to laze into the hotel room, so Chad and I went to have dessert at Redd, where Nicole Plue is the pastry chef (formerly of Julia’s Kitchen). We shared Sweet Corn Fritters with Cherries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I loved how creamy the fritters were inside, and everything was good on its own but I wasn’t totally in love with everything on the plate together — even though the subtle yet brilliant apricot sauce did its best to tie it together. I do like corn as a dessert, but I think it’s hard to match its flavor and intensity with other components. I also really liked the corn pop-like puffed corn kernels. I wonder if they do that themselves… and how.

It was cool to have microgreens on a dessert dish, and actually, they probably fit in best with the corn according to my taste buds. And the texture of the leaves was something novel and nice in a dessert. When we inquired, we were told that they were baby cilantro, which was interesting b/c they neither looked nor tasted like mature cilantro.

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The next day, we set out on an exploratory mission to Wild Flour Bread, committed to basking in the scenery, turning onto mysterious roads, and otherwise finding pleasure in getting lost.

We happened upon the historical Kenwood Depot this way.

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A walk around back brought me under a canopy of what I thought were possibly long-lingering apricots, blushing orange in the sun.

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So, when I reached out to touch them, I was surprised by their smooth texture… and the fact that they were plums. I’m not sure which variety. Rather small and yellow, with a smooth honeyed taste, a bit like greengages. If anyone cares to guess what they were, please let me know.

There were also thorny blackberry bushes rambling here and there around the tree and fence. If only we’d also come across some puff pastry and an oven, I think we would have had the galettes of our lives.

As a city dweller, even this little bit of wild fruit chase was enough to give a glow to the morning. Even when I lived in Napa, I realized that for all the lush landscape, it’s hard to feel truly outdoorsy without some effort. Driving through it or walking past it on the way inside a winery is far more common, unfortunately, if you live in an apartment.

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Once we made it to Wild Flour Bread, we got three loaves for our lunch. All were still hot from the oven, including this gloriously chunk-laden fougasse. We also got a goat flat and the egyptian, with a cinnamon bun-like form flavored with fig, ginger, and pear. All wonderful.

And this was the first time that we wandered into the beautiful garden behind the bakery, and next to the pile of wood used in the oven. It’s full of vegetables, berries, and flowers… and just enough wildness.

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Our little traipse in the garden must have given us time to digest, b/c we went to Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol for dessert. On the left was the cleverly-designed Peanut Envy, with peanut butter, caramel and nuts in a cylinder of chocolate, and on the right was the key lime tart. Both were flavorful and fresh, and miraculously, completely consumed.

BarBersQ – Napa

Friday, August 31st, 2007
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Pulled Pork Sandwich

I’ve been back in LA for quite a few days now, and despite having great intentions of blogging about every wonderful minute of being in Napa, something has held me back. I think I’ve been trying to come up with an interesting way of talking about BarBersQ, and it’s not happening. I may as well just get on with it, and offer the best that I can come up with: IT WAS AMAZING. GO THERE AND EAT ALL YOU CAN MANAGE.

Just look at the picture above.

That pile of pulled pork… coleslaw… and barbecue sauce… in a soft bun… sums it all up. BarbersQ offers traditional BBQ with a bit of flourish and a whole lot of flavor. The space is warm and inviting. I get similar feelings at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Ad Hoc. It’s less fancy than those two (and cheaper, esp than the latter), but it has that same clean sort of hospitality that makes me feel good just sitting at one of their tables, awaiting delicious dishes. BarBersQ is relatively new, but if I still lived in Napa, something tells me that I would know the menu very well by now. I used to live down the street from it. I probably would have walked there and back to feel good about burning off some of the calories and saving gas money that could go to, say, a side of cheese-strong macaroni and cheese instead.

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Or the Texas Toast Open-Faced Brisket Sandwich (a special), which was so much more fabulous than it looks here. And Chad, ever anti-coleslaw, was even pleased with their creamy/crispy version, with just a bit of tang — the way it should be.

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And meats and mayo aside, I’d also like to call attention to the butter lettuce and pear salad that came with my sandwich. I believe it was the only time that I’ve taken a bite of a piece of lettuce — albeit, a perfectly dressed one — and blurted out, “you have to try this” to Chad. It was just so crisp and well-seasoned, and the sort of refreshment that should be shared.

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So, there it is, my decidedly un-nuanced impression of BarBersQ. It’s been added to our pantheon of craveworthy Napa destinations. It’s relatively casual — more of a lunch spot for most, I’m guessing, and located in a plaza across from Target and Trader Joe’s, but the food is so good that I’d recommend it over most other places in the valley for dinner anyway. I hope that it’s as good next time we go.

Off to Napa

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007
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I’ll be in Napa for a long weekend… I apologize if comments aren’t approved promptly.

Socialverse is Here!

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Please enjoy this shameless plug for my boyfriend’s new website, Socialverse!

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You may already know that Chad’s good at thinking up dreamy birthday cake ideas, but you should also know that his true area of expertise is software engineering. With Socialverse, I like to think that his company has developed a way for people to walk the world from the comfort of their computers.**

When you sign up, you get your own little doppelganger who can stroll around a map of the US. While you can explore cities and states that you dream of visiting, the site is mostly geared towards local search and social networking. So, you can chat up locals and friends near and far as well as browse businesses. Of course, people like us would probably first think to check out and add our thoughts to the restaurants and markets, but even I sometimes need to go to the hardware store or see a dentist. Socialverse lets you put your favorites on the map and find new places to go.

I suppose that it’s like citysearch and yelp, but Socialverse is cooler because it’s in real time (using Web 2.0 in clever ways) and you can actually see where these places in the country are b/c “you” are there, too.

In a typical move, Chad has thoughtfully provided lots of goodies that go above and beyond basics. So, here’s a cheat sheet to my favorite things that you can do that might not be obvious right away:

  • Click on the “online” line on the upper right of the screen to see who else is online. Click on someone’s name to move closer to them.
  • Place your blog (as an object) in an area where people will find it useful. You’ll find Sweet Napa already on the map somewhere in LA.
  • Find the nearest ATM.
  • If a location isn’t on the map yet, add it and talk about it.
  • Use additional motions — such as sleeping, meditating, dancing, and acting scared.
  • Adjust your appearance — clothing, size, hairstyle.
  • If you are a business owner, you can promote your business online.
  • Check the weather.
  • You can’t zoom in or out on the main map, but if you click on “Self” then “Mini Map” in the “Navigate” menu, you can see where you on a zoomable mini map.
  • Share photos.
  • Search local classifieds and post your own.

Please keep in mind that this is, as Chad says, “the early public beta.” There are still bugs, but he’ll happily be the victim of anyone’s criticism… or suggestions… or insouciant banter. When the basics are ironed out, the long-term goals are to make it a nexus of local search for any type of person, business, or organization you may be interested in, and in turn, a way to build relationships and become closer with your community. More features will be added — such as perhaps coupons and ads for shops around the corner being implemented, trees being planted, menus being posted, icons being customizable, and whatever people want that the world can support.

So, feel free to sign up, check it out, and tell everyone you know about it. The world is wide open.**

**Right now, the map only functions in the US, but there are plans to make it international down the line. Also, the faster your internet connection is, the faster you’ll be able to do things. Broadband is recommended. It is also only compatible with Firefox and IE for now.