The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1


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.

4 Responses to “The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1”

  1. Danielle Says:

    Hi! All your pictures are wonderful and make my mouth water! The little yellow-orange plums are called mirabelles in France, they grow mainly in Lorraine, in the East of France and they are used in jams, on tarts, and a nice liquor is also made with them. It’s also really just to eat them like that, straight from the tree.

  2. Nina Says:

    Hello Danielle!
    I’m glad you like the pictures.
    Thanks for identifying the plums! They were so good. I wish that that tree could be closer to me — it was so full of fruit! I used once bought mirabelle plum jam almost a decade ago, but I haven’t really had it since… What a treat to find an actual tree. 🙂

  3. Anita Says:

    Oh, Patisserie Angelica — I didn’t know they’d moved. They made our wedding cake… so amazing it was. We have to go there when we’re in the Wine Country this winter — Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Nina Says:

    Sure. 🙂 And that’s so cool — Condra taught my class about decorating wedding cakes in culinary school. She’s fantastic!

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