Conversations with a Small Dog

dog lady

By ML Hilton

I consider myself a practical woman. I’m efficient, methodical, and logical. I believe that most things are explainable and I have a little bit of a “show me” attitude. A lot of that comes from my upbringing in the deep South.

A time and place, for example, where children were seen and not heard, hard work was hard currency, and “yoga” and “metaphysical” may have actually never been uttered. Everyone had laying hens in the yard and FRESH fried chicken for dinner.  Animals had their place — they were part of the family’s ecosystem — but the pets were definitely not considered on par with the children.  Even my spirituality is light on blind faith, and heavy on “do-unto-others.”

But no matter how practical and straightforward I’ve become, I suspect there is more to the natural world that can be easily defined. Things flit across the fabric of life that show a deeper, more ethereal connection. Like the time I moved a state away from my dearest friend. I called her a week later to tell her of a dream I had were we enjoyed the best adventure in a little blue Chevette. She listened in stunned silence, and when I finished my tale, she told me that she had purchased a new car the day before: a little blue Chevette.

And, that’s not the only story I have like that. So, I save my knee-jerk, deep doubts for national politicians and aging Lotharios. All others I will happily invite a listen, even if the “B S” meter starts twitching.

In late January, I had the opportunity to take my little Chihuahua, Bananas, to an Animal Intuitive. Animal intuitives, or “communicators,” as it was explained to me, is someone who has something like a telepathic conversation, heavily weighted with an intuitive sense and an open mind.  Bananas and I visited with Barbara Martin who offers her sessions in Napa, through The Spa at Napa River Inn.

Barbara calls herself the “animal communicator of the common man.”  She isn’t particularly gypsy-looking, or airy-fairy. In fact, she comes across as rather average, leaning heavily on the gentle and nice side of average. While Barbara is naturally sensitive, she studied many years under well-known, national Animal Communicators in order to learn her craft.

Typically, Barbara helps owners understand their animal’s health and behavior issues, fears, thoughts and feelings. She can sometimes help people stay “in touch” with animals after they go to the great backyard in
the sky.

My little dog easily took to her and climbed on her lap. The only questions she asked of me to start were how many other animals and people were in the house, and our names. Barbara gave me a pad to take notes while she conversed with my dog. And, I must confess, that I busied myself with the activity of note taking, in hopes of not giving off too many “clues.”

In the course of the conversation with my dog, she covered a lot of topics with Bananas, sometimes asking questions and sometimes listening. She checked in with me a few times, to clarify, but I didn’t feel like I was tuned into the conversation.

Let’s get to the best part. Was the reading accurate? There were a number of things that Barbara said that were hands-down true.

Barbara asked Bananas if she like to go to work with me (since we were at work that day). Banana’s answered “yes,” but that she used to go to work with me all the time, which was true. When I got Bananas from the pound 8 years ago, she went with me everywhere, including daily to my job.

Barbara asked Bananas how old she was. The answer? “She thinks she is 10.”  True.

When asked about her health, Bananas said, “I’m healthy, but my teeth are going to cost a fortune.” One of her last visits to vet, they suggested a dental cleaning that was estimated to cost more than $1,000. Could you guess that? Yes, Bananas has bad breath, but it still was right on.

We recently lost our old beagle, Milo, who died right before Christmas. Barbara asked Bananas about Milo and she said that she knew he had died, but she “was not there” when it happened. Also true. Milo died in our arms at the vet, when we ended his suffering. Bananas did say that Milo was still at the house, in spirit. We have not seen him, of course, but still feel his presence in our hearts daily.

When asked about her time at the animal shelter, Barbara asked Bananas if she “was a runaway, got lost, or if her people had died.” Banana’s said no. “She was so destructive,” they got tired of her and dropped her off.  I have no idea if Bananas was destructive; she certainly isn’t at our house. But, true, Bananas was surrendered.

Bananas also told Barbara that she (Bananas) is famous. And that she “has accessories.” Yes, we do put little bows on our dog. She did, however, answer that she had no clothes. Which is not true. There is a little sweater that she hates and rubs off in the dirt as fast as she can — like Houdini removing a straight jacket.

Bananas picked her name. We had trouble settling on the right one. She came from the shelter as Cream (which never seemed right to us or, apparently, Bananas). We tried Trixie for a while, but my daughter started calling her Bananas when she would dance madly around the house. That stuck, according to Barbara, because Bananas was communicating that was what she was to be called.

There were some aspects of the conversation that could have easily just been suggestions from someone very good with animals. I felt like the comments were constructive, however, and even gave me some good insight into our lovely little dog.

There were also parts of the conversation that were personal in nature, about the vibe of our home and comments on our emotional health.  Bananas is a fairly chatty little dog.

Barbara says that is not unusual. “Animals really want this to happen,” she said. “So, they help.” According to Barbara, what she does is just information. “Clear-eyed seeing beyond your eyes. It’s not hocus-pocus; it’s just being in tune.”

Interestingly enough, I felt a lot closer to my little dog than I had before. Maybe we should have these chats more often.

(ML Hilton is a long-time Napa resident. If you have comments on this story, or would like to suggest other story topics, please email her at:

Something for Everyone at the Napa Truffle Festival

small truffle for WP

By Stephen Ferry

Have you ever been curious about truffles?  Novices and experienced connoisseurs alike will find plenty to inform their minds and entertain their palates at the fourth annual, Napa Truffle Festival, which will run January 17-20 this year.

Events will include winery, truffle lunches at Nickel & Nickel and Hall Wines, seminars covering truffle cultivation, business and cooking at the Westin Verasa, an elaborate Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque, where four Michelin-star chefs will work together to prepare one big, glorious, multi-course meal, and a Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market that is free to
the public.

The Napa Truffle Festival is presented by the American Truffle Company, which was founded five years ago by ATC Managing Director, Robert Chang, and his partner, London-based, mycologist (fungi expert) and Chief Scientist, Dr. Paul Thomas.

Thomas has developed a method to cultivate black, European truffles, which are indigenous to Europe, but not to North America.  Thomas works with partners around the globe to develop truffle orchards, and Chang is his partner for North America.

ATC has partnered with both the Napa County and Sonoma County Farm Bureaus to present a series of truffle cultivation seminars.  All twelve seminars staged over the past couple of years have filled up.

Four years ago the, first truffle orchard in Napa was planted by Robert Sinskey in cooperation with ATC, and it serves as a demonstration truffle orchard for the Napa area, where anyone can make an appointment and view the progress of the planting.

A lot of truffle orchards have been planted across the US, but none are yet yielding fruit, as it usually takes at least five or six years for a truffle orchard to begin to bear fruit.  Orchards started in other countries some years earlier under Thomas’s guidance have already started bearing fruit.  Once established, a truffle orchard will require much less annual maintenance than a comparably sized winegrape planting, and the potential for profits is high.  No chemicals are used in the propagation of ATC’s truffle orchards.

There are literally hundreds of species of truffles, but only a select few species of European, black truffle are really high-end.  The most prized species is the Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum, aka ‘black diamonds’), which sells for big bucks – $800-$1,200 per pound.  The Burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum/uncinatum) fetches a slightly lower price, but yields more prodigiously.  Either way, truffle orchards can be quite profitable.

In addition to reaching out to growers to generate interest in establishing truffle orchards, Chang’s American Truffle Company presents the Napa Truffle Festival each year as a way to reach out to the public and educate the consumer about the culinary aspects of truffles, particularly spotlighting the black, winter Périgord truffle.  Chang first visited festivals in Oregon, North Carolina, Australia, and Europe, and then took what he saw as the best elements from each to create the Napa Truffle Festival.

The four Michelin-star chefs will converge from around the world.  The host chef is Ken Frank of La Toque, who has been involved since the first Festival in 2010 and, this year, will be joined by: Alessandro Boglione, Executive Chef and Owner of Ristorante al Castello, Castello di Grinzane di Cavour, Italy; Carrie Nahabedian, Executive Chef and Owner of NAHA, Chicago, Illinois; and Jarad Gallagher, Executive Chef of Chez TJ in Mountain View, California.

On Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Day), all of the merchants of Oxbow Public Market will be offering their own truffle menu items for the Festival Marketplace between 10am to 2pm.  Menu items will be sold à la carte, so that anyone can come and get a taste.  The Marketplace is free to the public for browsing and purchasing truffle fare à la carte. Proceeds benefit the Napa Valley Food Bank/CAN-V.

There will also be free cooking demos, wine tastings, book signings, and other activities as well, including a chance to win a Marketplace Basket or a real black truffle.  This is the perfect time for someone who has wondered about truffles, but maybe not actually tasted them, to come down and see what the buzz is all about.

Information about all of the Festival events and tickets are available on the Festival website:

Check out some of these offerings that will be available Monday, January 20th at the Oxbow Public Market:

Anette’s Chocolates  Rustic, rolled, dark chocolate truffles with roasted almonds 

Ca’ Momi Enoteca  Pizza al tartufo, paired with 2012 Ca’Momi Pinot Noir, and a cooking demo at 12:30pm

C CASA   Wild mushroom and goat cheese truffle enchilada, paired with Blue Plate Chenin Blanc

Cate & Company  Bite-size truffled potato and  zucchini quiche   

The Fatted Calf  Truffled pork crepinette, with Comte, caramelized onions, arugula and truffled aioli 

Five Dot Ranch Beef ribeye carpaccio, with black truffle and celery root mousse 

Gott’s Roadside French fries tossed in truffle butter, paired with Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut    

Hog Island Oyster Bar   Grilled truffled oyster

Kara’s Cupcakes   Truffle festival, cookies and cream cupcakes, decorated with little pink pigs  

Kitchen Door  Cream of mushroom soup, with fresh, grated truffle AND Egg pappardelle with winter mushroom bolognese and fresh, grated truffle with poached egg, along with a cooking demo at 10:30am 

Marshall’s Farm Hone Organic, gourmet honeys from the mountains, valleys, seacoasts,  and backyards of the San Francisco Bay Area

The Model Bakery Wild mushroom-truffle, savory, bread pudding 

Napa Valley Distillery Truffle-infused martini cocktail:  Napa Valley Vintage Reserve Vodka, served with olives and cheese (includes a signature Napa Valley Distillery cocktail glass)  

The Olive Press Fig, balsamic, caramel truffles AND Blood–orange, olive oil truffles 

Oxbow Wine and Cheese Merchant House–truffled, Mt. Tam cheese

Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen Truffled yucca fries

Three Twins Ice Cream  Organic, caramel-truffle-swirl ice cream, plus a special discount on all shakes

Whole Spice Truffled popcorn and fleur de sel 

Smoakville…Amazing BBQ food, great prices and a funky, down-home atmosphere

smoakville wp

By John & Dorothy Salmon

We took our good friend from Santa Cruz, Bob Edmund, to Smoakville. Bob is a talented home-chef who wanted some “smoakin” BBQ in a funky place. Smoakville is located in an industrial park just south of Trancas and east of California Boulevard. It seems as if you can smell it from your car as you pull into the cul-de-sac at the end of the street.

Food, not location, makes Smoakville fabulous. We met Tom Fuller and Jonathan Bodnar at the front door of Smoakville. The entrance is unassuming and fun. The food is fresh, the BBQ is amazing and absolutely nothing is non-fattening. Having just finished the holidays, we are all tired of turkey. Our guess is that you are also tired of cooking. We all know that we should be exercising more, eating non-fattening food and throwing away those last few pieces of See’s Candy. But, we also know that can only last so long. So, we suggest that you head for Smoakville when you are looking for great BBQ that you don’t have to cook; that you can pick up and enjoy at home with friends and family.  Best of all, Smoakville’s prices are a bargain, so you can feel good about eating great food and not spending a whole lot of money.

You can call in and order your take-out dinner for two, or walk in the door after you tell the love of your life, “I am NOT cooking tonight.” You can also make everyone happy at work and bring in lunch from Smoakville.

Lunches include Rib Dog or Pit Bull (hot dogs) with slaw, BBQ sauce and pickles for $7; Snap Dogs, Coney Island style with chili, Smoakville mustard and onions ($6); Torta, smoked turkey, Smoakville to-die–for, thick bacon, and avocado $8; Pulled Pork Sandwich with Cole Slaw and BBQ sauce ($8); their famous Brisket Sandwich with BBQ sauce; and Smoakville’s incredible sloooooow roasted brisket ($10). The coleslaw or sweet potato salad are each only $2.50!

Smoakville’s combo dinners are the easy way to make an enjoyable dinner by your fire and TV.

You can get an order-for-two of St. Louis Ribs/Chicken for $35, or St. Louis Ribs/Pulled Pork at the same price, or St. Louis Ribs/Beef Brisket for $32.

Smoakville’s “Very Tall Chef”, Jonathan Bodnar, is passionate about his food, loves to talk to his customers and is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who you have likely seen at community fundraising events that serve killer BBQ. Chances are, that it is Jonathan’s food with Jonathan at the end of the serving line, making sure that everything is perfect. Smoakville is not only in the small-serving restaurant and take-out business; they are REALLY in the catering business. That’s good to know when you want a mouthwatering BBQ dinner for a party, at a price that won’t break the bank!

Jonathan took all of us on a tour of his “back kitchen.” It was a treat to see how the meats are smoked and sides prepared. Jonathan smokes the meats lovingly for hours and hours and hours in his special smoking ovens. You can taste the time and talent he puts into his recipes. The service area is small. The dining tables only seat a few folks, but in the warmer months, you can sit outside or do what most locals do, order your picnic lunch or dinner and head outdoors to enjoy the beautiful Napa Valley. Bring lots of wet wipes with you. Smoakville food sticks to your ribs and to your face and fingers!

Jonathan not only knows how to smoke meat, make killer beans, cole slaw and sweet potato salads. He is also known for his pickles and for having the best butcher–cut  bacon on the face of the earth. He makes a mean mac and cheese, a fabulous corn casserole, and southern braised collards like Grandma made, with ham hocks, vinegar and hot sauce. All sides are only $4.50. Grilled corn on the cob is also available seasonally, along with great, seasonal smoked vegetables.  Even though you hardly need anything after a rib, chicken, brisket or pulled pork dinner, his desserts are amazing.

If you have not had real, southern, sweet potato pie, or salty, chili spiced and medium rare brownies, or the most amazing chocolate pecan pie ever, you need to, at the very least, take a slice home for $5 and pretend you are not really going to eat it right away.

So, how did we learn about so many different foods? Jonathan lined up a counter full of samples of just about everything that he serves so that we could taste it all in one sitting … and that is exactly what we did! The St. Louis Ribs are rubbed with over 20 spices, mopped with a PBR and apple cider vinegar, and glazed with lots of bourbon BBQ sauce. The pulled pork is a Lexington-style shoulder, smoked all night and then shredded and mixed with sweet sauce and a vinegar mop. The ribs are AMAZING, according to Bob, Tom and John. The brisket “burnt ends” are rubbed with “needs salt” cabernet salt, smoked all night, and glazed with Jonathan’s special sauce.  The half Mary’s Chicken is brined in herbs and spices, then slow-smoked for hours and finished with a bourbon BBQ glaze. The brisket would make any Jewish Mother proud!

Our assessment was that all of the sides were wonderful. Even though most of us were not huge fans of collard greens, we have to admit that they were really good. The guys persevered through it all and saved room to taste the brownies and the pecan pie. We took the chocolate pecan pie home and finished that off the next day.

Smoakville is a good place to call for your next party, your next dinner with friends, or your night of NOT COOKING. Sign up for their weekly newsletter by going to their website.

You can even get a special “Chain Smoaker” card if you buy 10 dinners. You get the 11th one free. For pick up, remember to call ahead at (707) 363-3447 and order for two the easy way. For catering, contact Kim Hurd at (707) 363-3447 or send an email to

We guarantee your next party will be a success, reasonably priced and you won’t have to do all the work.

Empire Napa…Cool, Hip, Nostalgic and a Tribute to Napa’s Bawdy Past


By John & Dorothy Salmon

If you think Napa has no night life, then you have NOT been downtown in a few years. Most nights of the week, especially on weekends, downtown is bustling with lots of people. We recently spent a fun evening with our “kids” (a loose term for 40-somethings) at Empire Napa. We think of John and Michelle Truchard as our kids too, since our son Rob Lloyd and John Truchard make wine and magic together. Empire Napa opened in May of this year, and has become a hot spot for locals, visitors, hotel guests from Andaz and from the John Anthony Tasting Room next door.

Empire Napa is a tribute to the first commercial establishment in downtown Napa in 1842 … a saloon! Oh, how our history has been resplendent with hospitality, whisky, wine, food and, in the beginning, bad beer. According to our friend Don Winter, the original Empire Saloon was … partially erected in 1848.  It was the first commercial building in Napa County. It was built in the middle of hay and bean fields. But, the Gold Rush started and it ended up as an unfinished building, improperly situated in the middle of a street plot. When the miners returned to Napa, the building was picked up and moved to a proper lot, and a hotel was added. (Incidentally, the Empire Saloon was a polling station for the referendum for the California constitution).

The reincarnation of the Empire Saloon is 21st Century, with many periods of music playing, a well stocked bar with both original and well known drinks, modern, under–the-counter purse hangers, USB plugs and easy–access, electric plugs to charge our electronics. We all know what a horror it is to run out of juice on our cell phones. It won’t happen at Empire!

Dorothy got to spend some time with Nick Rimedio, one of the owners of Empire Napa and its General Manager. Nick is originally from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and comes from a big Italian family with a grandmother who was a killer cook. Nick fell in love with fine food and hospitality at an early age and perfected his management skills at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and in Las Vegas. He moved farther west to become the director of food and beverage at Carmel Valley Ranch, where he met Rick Riess, a former, leading executive from Auberge du Soleil, who introduced him to Napa, a place that immediately felt like home.

Together with Arthur Prieston, and professional interiors assistance from Michael Brennan of San Francisco, they designed Empire Napa. Arthur is a principal of the Prieston Group, whose restaurant investments include High Tech Burrito, Wild Fox in Novato, Per Bacco and Bar in San Francisco. Behind the bar, there are large pipes that look like a pipe organ and are reminiscent of the player pianos in the old saloons in the late 1840’s. The red velvet curtains that enclose the iridescent gold curtains give the place the feel of a speakeasy saloon. Empire is full of antiques, red velvet ropes and a red carpet, so you immediately know you that are in not in a typical Napa restaurant.

Nick told Dorothy that they added a large dining table in the front room, known as the “Gallery” that will accommodate up to 12 guests, in addition to several other dining tables. There they will host special, private, Sunday Suppers for 20-30 people with a special menu paired with wine and cocktails, for a set price. Empire is closed to the public on Sunday’s. Think about it … you can go back in time and be the only people in this very cool saloon/speakeasy. Nick might just surprise everyone and host the best early December party of the year, with a tribute to December 5th, 1933, when Prohibition ended. Now that’s a party we won’t miss since they will be serving Napa’s own “Sacramental wines” from the 1930’s!

Empire Napa is also gearing up for holiday parties this season. Empire Napa holds 120 people and has, not only a great feel, lots of energy, but also, fabulous wine and great food. Jennifer Petrusky is Empire’s hot, new chef and director of culinary programs. Jennifer also worked at Charlie Trotter’s. She competed nationally as the only female apprentice in the 2008, Bocuse d’Or USA competition, under Chef Michael Rotondo, and they walked away with the Bronze Medal and Most Promising Chef Award. In 2010, she returned to Bocuse d’Or USA and, as the only female chef in the competition, won for Best Fish Platter,. She makes small plates of very original food that give diners an opportunity to try lots of different and unique items. We started our evening with Almonds, Rosemary, Cashews and Peanuts ($7); Haricots Verts and Young Potatoes, with Dill and Almonds ($12); Wild Mushrooms, with Crispy Sage Polenta and Spinach ($11); and Lamb Belly, Moroccan BBQ and Pickled Cabbage ($16). We can guarantee that the original Empire Saloon did NOT have that selection on their menu!  Empire Napa also has killer Mac and Cheese ($8); a fabulous cheese plate ($18); and scrumptious meatballs ($15). Finally, we enjoyed the Lemongrass Chicken, with Mango, Peanuts and Cilantro ($10), mostly because Dorothy loves Cilantro on almost anything.

According to Nick, Empire Napa’s most popular food choices are Cauliflower Fritters with Chili Powder and Hummus ($11); the Chilled Shrimp, with Avocado, Cilantro and Ginger ($12) and the Mac and Cheese ($8). We spent most of the evening drinking Lloyd Cellars Chardonnay and John Anthony Cabernet (both made by
Rob Lloyd). We sampled the Napa Bull with Blanco Tequila, Lemon and California Lager ($10) and the Emerald City, made with Brokers Gin, Lime and Simple Syrup ($12). Those might have been served in 1848, but probably not! Empire serves great beers and features local wines from partners John Anthony Vineyards, Ceja Vineyards, Peter Paul Wines, G Wine Cellars and Lloyd by Robert Lloyd. Unlike most restaurants in Napa, Empire Napa does not have a wine list. Their selection of wines changes often and includes wines from Austria, Argentina and Australia. Most wines are priced between $11 and
$14 a glass.

Their fresh-baked cookies are now famous for those folks wandering First Street in Napa around midnight. Other deserts are the Chocolate Cake with Banana and Medjool Dates ($7) and the Carrot Cake, with Peach Compote ($7). If you pop into Empire Napa to see what it is like early in the evening, you will find a cool bar to visit before dinner. If you stick around, it becomes a restaurant, and then a hopping place from around 10:00 p.m. to midnight or 2:00 a.m., if you can stay out that late. With more to come including art and fashion shows, one–of-a- kind fundraisers and themed soirees, Empire promises to be the
place to keep your eye on and always penciled in  your social calendar!

1400 First St.  |  NAPA  |  (707) 254-8888  |

Tues. & Thurs. 7PM-12AM • Fri. & Sat. 7PM-2AM • Sun. & Mon. Open for Private Events


Spicy Chilled Shrimp Salad
with Avocado, Cilantro and Plantain 

1 lb Shrimp, 16/20 ¼ cup Sombal
1 Avocado 4 sprigs, Cilantro

¼ Red Onion, sliced & rinsed 1 cup Bean Sprouts


Plantain Chips

1 Plantain 2 Tbls. Curry powder 1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp. salt Grapeseed Oil for frying


Spicy Dressing

2 tsp. cornstarch (with water until wet sand consistency)

1 cup vegetable stock ½ cup rice wine vinegar

2 Tbls. Soy sauce 1 Tbls. Brown butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 slice ginger, finely minced

1 Thai chili, seeds removed, minced

To make the spicy dressing, bring the vegetable stock up to a boil and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir until completely thickened. Add the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, brown butter and crushed garlic. Let infuse off the heat for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain the entire mixture and discard garlic. Add the chilies and the ginger to the strained mixture and chill.

Mix the shrimp and the sombal together and place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least a half an hour. Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and grill until just cooked through. Place the cooked shrimp on a flat baking sheet and chill immediately so they will not overcook.

Heat a medium size saucepan over medium high heat with enough oil to fry in. For the plantain chips, remove the outer peel of the plantain and slice lengthwise on a mandolin. Soak in water to remove any of the excess starches. Meanwhile mix the curry powder, confectioners’ sugar and salt together and set aside. Remove the plantains from the water and pat dry on paper towel.

Very carefully place the plantains in the oil and fry until crisp. Remove from the oil and season with the curry sugar mixture.

Assembly: Mix the dressing with the grilled shrimp and vegetables; season to taste.  Place the salad into individual serving bowls and top with cilantro and plantain chips.

Napa Valley Bistro

NV Bistrochicken wp


By John & Dorothy Salmon

Barbara Nemko and Dorothy are frequently together as board members of the local non-profit, NapaLearns, which is dedicated to transforming our schools in partnership with our County-wide teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards. We decided that it was time for the Nemkos and the Salmons to get together for a fun dinner at Napa Valley Bistro. We vowed NOT to talk about public education. Napa Valley Bistro is located on Clinton Street, between the New Tech Network of Schools and Azzurro Pizzeria, in the space formerly occupied by Neela’s Contemporary Indian Cuisine. Napa Valley Bistro has redecorated the space and it is lovely and upbeat. The great food is very reasonably priced, with main courses ranging from $12 to $27, and salads anywhere from $7 to $15. Having reasonable prices is a good place to start when you are not on First or Main Streets in downtown Napa.

Owner and Chef, Bernardo Ayala, came by as soon as we sat down and told us his story. Bernardo has a long history in Napa, most recently as the executive chef of Silverado Brewing Company, before Jackson Wine Estates bought the lease and closed the restaurant.

For locals, you will probably immediately recognize Bernardo Ayala when you see him, since his experience in Napa includes creating great food at the California Cafe, Silverado Resort, Domaine Chandon, and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Bernardo’s partner, Eduardo Martinez, is also a familiar chef in the Napa Valley, having worked at Rutherford Grill and the Napa Valley Grille before becoming the Sous Chef at the Culinary Institute of America and the Executive Chef at Market. Together, these two remarkable chefs are bringing crowds into Napa Valley Bistro who are looking for great food, a very nice wine list, incredible desserts and reasonable prices. There is no corkage fee for the first bottle. Any bottle after that is $10, but they will waive that fee if there is a bottle purchased from their list.

The menu is a blending of good old American style and very eclectic Mexican food, some California Asian and, what Bernardo Ayala calls, Classic American with a twist.

We began our meal with a bottle of 2012, Lloyd Chardonnay, and a bottle of 2012, Gundlach Bundschu Tempranillo Rose’. Both wines were wonderful and made even more so with no corkage fee. Along with the wine and the funny conversations with Barbara and Marty, we were served Napa Valley Bistro’s homemade bread, which is rich, warm and really good. We decided to try some small plates to begin our evening. So, we ordered the Crispy Calamari with Red Bell Peppers, Onion, Fennel and Ancho Chile-Lime Aioli ($11) and Marty ordered the Dungeness Crab Cake ($13). We were told that the Blackened Chicken Empanadas with Avocado, Lime Crème Fraiche, Black Bean Puree and Queso Fresco ($13) was “to die for” and next time we will try that. The Small-Plate Menu is full of great options, such as Corn and Pasilla Pepper Relish, Tomatillo-Avocado Coulis with Organic Greens.  Also on the dinner menu are some terrific salads. You can choose from a Chopped Bistro Salad with Seasonal Vegetables, Goat Cheese, Egg, Bacon, Avocado, Garbanzo Beans and Mustard Vin, or the Chinese Chicken Salad, with Bell Peppers, Pickled Ginger, Almonds, Fried Wontons and Sesame-Soy Dressing. These is not your typical American Cuisine!

For our main course, Barbara chose the Rosie Organic Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Sautéed Spinach, Homemade Jalapeño Cornbread and Gravy ($18). The cornbread was fabulous and we all got an opportunity to sample it. Marty ordered the Local Fallon Hill Lamb Burger with Feta Cheese, Rosemary-Mint Aioli, Brioche Bun and Potato Chips ($15). He was raving about the Lamb Burger and passed a few bites around the table to share. John ordered the Niman Ranch, St. Louis Ribs with Smoky Molasses BBQ Sauce, Sweet Potato Fries and Coleslaw ($18) and said the ribs were as good as any he has ever had. Dorothy ordered the special that night, Rack of Lamb with Fingerling Potatoes, mixed with Shitake and Chanterelle mushrooms ($27). Also on the dinner main course menu is Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Asparagus, Garlic-Fries, Herb Butter and Bordelaise, and a Niman Ranch Grilled Pork Chop, with Potato Gratin, sautéed Spring Vegetables and Whole Grain Mustard Pork Jus. If you are vegetarian, there is the Vegetarian Lemon Thyme Risotto with Asparagus, Carrots, Cherry Tomatoes, Watercress, Crispy Leeks and Basil Oil and, for big or little kids, the Bistro Mac n’ Cheese with Vella Dry Jack, White Cheddar, English Peas and Crispy Bacon ($13). This mac and cheese would be the way to get your kids to eat their peas!

Since this was a review, we had to try the desserts. So, we ordered the Warm Scharffenberger Chocolate Fudge Cake ($8), the Fresh Seasonal Fruit Crumble Mascarpone Ice Cream, Mix Berry Coulis ($8) and Bernardo insisted that we try his incredible Tres Leches & Vanilla Bean Natilla Mango & Guava Compote with Cinnamon Nutmeg Churros ($8). We all agreed that the Tres Leches and Vanilla Bean Natilla with Mango and Guava Compote served with two small handmade Cinnamon Nutmeg Churros was out of this world!

Napa Valley Bistro serves draft beers, bottled beers, wines by the glass, ginger ale, iced tea and some wonderful wines from Domaine Carneros Brut, Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Hess Select North Coast Pinot Grigio, and some great local reds, rose’s and Pinots.

We think that Napa Valley Bistro is a great place to be anytime for lunch or dinner. They have also started serving Sunday brunch from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. There are an array of breakfast favorites along with a nice selection of lunch items so we can feed the appetites of many all in one meal. I have attached a copy of our brunch menu for you for reference. Give it a try!

Open 11:30 am until till 9 pm (10 pm on Fri. and Sat.) Sun. Brunch 10-2pm. Closed Monday

975 Clinton Street| NAPA | (707) 666-2383 |


Fried Chicken 

Yield:  Makes 4 Servings

4 thighs (bone in and skin on)

4 drumsticks (bone in and skin on)

½ gallon buttermilk

¼ cup salt

½ bunch thyme

2 bay leaves

1 head of garlic, but in half

4 cups flour

4 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

Cayenne Pepper to taste.

In a flat container place chicken thighs and legs, sprinkle salt, thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Cover with buttermilk. Allow to stay in this cure for 12 hours minimum (24 hours is ideal).

Sift together flour, salt, black and cayenne peppers.  Place a small amount in a shallow pan.

Pull chicken out of buttermilk mixture and allow excess to drain off. Do not completely dry chicken meat. Dredge each piece of chicken separately in flour mixture. If you develop lumps sift again. Make sure to completely coat each piece of chicken. After flouring each piece go through and reflour.

Immediately after flouring gently place legs and thighs in 200 degree deep fryer. The thighs will take approximately 30 minutes and legs approximately 20. They will rise to the top of the fryer when they are finished and the color should be a
pale golden.

Allow chicken to drain and cool.

When ready to serve reheat in 360 degree fryer for one to two minutes until chicken has a beautiful dark golden brown color and is crispy. As soon as it comes out of the fryer, season with salt. If you are not ready to serve, you may keep it in an oven (350 degrees) for a couple of minutes but it will burn of lose some crispness if it is kept too long.

Eduardo Martinez •

Ciccio in Yountville…

Ciccio in Yountville…

A great location, terrific Italian comfort food,
fun for everyone and very reasonable!

By John & Dorothy Salmon

ciccio pizza

We walked into Ciccio (pronounced “chee-cho”) on a Friday night to a packed house, full of locals and lots of visitors too. Ciccio is lovely, with great ambiance and a beautiful copper ceiling, marble tables, very cool, orange flatware, small, squat, wine glasses, great Italian art posters on the walls and interesting lighting and fans. The menu is hand-written on brown paper and the place has a sort of a funky, family-style feel, with an updated look. It’s one of the very few places around that still offers personalized matchbooks, and keeps an antique meat slicer near the open kitchen as a reminder of the past.


Enjoying the wonderful feel of the place, our next pleasant surprise was that the prices are very reasonable. The menu is a bit limited, but it’s a great place for folks looking for hearty, Italian comfort food at reasonable prices. As soon as we walked in the door, we stopped at their table to say hi to our friends, Joel and Kathy Tranmer, who were with their pals the Keevers. They immediately raved about Anita’s Meatballs Al Forno and the Wood-fired Artichokes with
Walnut Bagnacauda. That made our first choices easy when we were seated by Kim, the friendly manger.


The service was good and will get better as the restaurant continues to perfect itself. The open kitchen makes it feel a bit like home, and the three female chefs made everything feel hip and under control. Polly Lappetito heads the lovely ladies of the open, gourmet kitchen staff. Guests are treated to Polly’s wood–fired, unique pizzas ($10 – $16) along with a rotating selection of small plates and terrific pasta dishes. Polly comes to Ciccio after having served as the Executive Chef at the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at Greystone in St. Helena. Frank and Karen Altamura who, along with their children, own Ciccio, make sure that ingredients for Ciccio’s comfort Italian food, whenever possible, comes from the Altamura family 400 acre ranch in Wooden Valley; a ranch that has been in their family since 1855. And now we know the reason for the name “Ciccio.” It means “Little Frankie” which was Frank’s childhood name.


Ciccio is open on Wednesday through Sunday for self-service coffee and pastries from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. That will bring back some memories for those who fondly remember Gordon’s Café. Going back a bit further, the building was the home of a small, Italian Grocery. In many ways, Ciccio’s is going back to its original roots. The building had been under construction for quite some time, with everyone wondering what its next incarnation would be. Now, we can see that Frank Altamura went all in and gutted the 1916 building in order to turn it into a cozy, 50 seat Italian gem.


A side benefit of stopping to chat with Joel and Kathy Tranmer was that Olga and Bill Keever of Keever Vineyards were so kind as to send over a couple of glasses of their 2009 Cabernet.  It was terrific and a perfect complement to the meatballs and artichokes. With our dinner, we ordered a carafe of Ciccio’s House White $28, which we both thought was very good. Midwestern Meat Lover John thought the meatballs were great, with a perfect garlicky blend of tomatoes and large meatballs ($11). The Wood fired Artichokes ($8) were prepared in a light olive oil and served with a walnut filling that was delicious and interesting. Our server, Chelsea, was very friendly and accommodating and made us feel very much at home.


For dinner, John had the Veal Picatta with sautéed escarole ($15) for his main dish. Dorothy enjoyed the Gorgonzola, pancetta and arugula pizza ($16), which was larger that she could finish (so John helped!), but delicious. After dinner, we were tempted to try their Gelato Al Fratti ($4.50) or their Gelato of many flavors served with a cookie plate, but we decided to call it a night and come back again for the desserts. Most important, it was clear that everyone at Ciccio that night was having a good time, whether families, visitors or locals out for the night with friends.


Ciccio has a full bar, staffed with two friendly and talented bartenders, with four seats at the bar. The bartenders feature drinks such as Italian Greyhounds ($10), a Blum’s John Collins ($10), a Ciccio’s Classic Margarita ($12), or an Italian Mojito ($10). Ciccio’s House Red or House White ($6 a glass or $28 a carafe) or try the Altamura, 2008 Sangiovese ($10 a glass or $48 a bottle). The selections are mostly Napa Valley wines. Since this is an Italian family restaurant, you can order Jaco Poli Muscato Grappa or Jaco Poli Gewurztraminer Grappa ($16).


Corkage is $20 for Domestic wines and $25 for Best of the World wines. Ciccio also offers sodas for $2.50, or several after-dinner drinks, along with some interesting beers. John took a short trip down memory lane when he noticed that Ciccio serves Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. “PBR” was his beer of choice in college and he kept it cold by submerging it in the rivers of Northern Michigan while on canoeing trips!


Ciccio is a great addition to Yountville’s Italian restaurants. Now you don’t have to drive far to enjoy two or three of them.  Ciccio is fun, a great place for the family; friendly, and very reasonably priced. Try it for a quick stop for coffee and pastries for breakfast, or dinner with friends or family. We know that you will
enjoy it as much as we did.

Restaurant Review – Alex Italian Restaurant

Alex Italian Restaurant

By John & Dorothy Salmon

AlexRR smallfood WP

John and I had a wonderful dinner at Alex in Rutherford with our good friend Mark Farley. It was an evening just before we left for Italy and Switzerland for a long-planned and much-anticipated vacation. Alex is located down the street from the Rutherford Grille, next to the Rancho Caymus Inn, where Ken Frank’s La Toque was located for many years before it moved to the Westin Verassa in downtown Napa.

Alex is romantic, beautiful and, best of all, quiet enough to actually carry on a conversation at your table, which is something hard to find in any restaurant. The food is remarkable. In fact, comparing it to the food that we thoroughly enjoyed on our trip to Rome and Florence, we think that it is the best traditional Italian food we have ever had! Why travel the 6,230 miles to Rome when you can get on Highway 29 and be there in minutes with no TSA, no airline delays and no overnight flights!

Alex is an intimate restaurant, with elegant decor and a staff that lavishes attention on its guests. The warm fireplace blazing in the corner will give the setting a magical feeling for the holidays, making this a special place where you want to take your friends and family. Or, if you are thinking of proposing to that special person in your life, this is the place, or to spend your anniversary or any special, romantic occasion.

Alex features plenty of daily house-made pasta and fresh, locally-sourced seasonal produce, meats and fish. Alex’s Executive Chef, Nick Ritchie, previously was the Chef de Cuisine at Bottega. Joining him at Alex is Stefano Particelli from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Co. in St. Helena.

Alex is magical and it was like stepping into a very elegant world of great Italian food and service, with perfect wine pairings and a real attention to detail. Owners, Alessandro Sbrendola, and his wife, Alessia, offer a dining experience influenced directly by their hometowns in Liguria and Romagna, Italy. As we sat down, Alessandro Sbrendola spent some time with us to provide advice on where to dine in Rome. As the evening went by and the incredible food was served, we doubted that the food in Rome could be any better. We were right, it wasn’t!

If you have traveled to Tuscany (or even dreamed about traveling to Tuscany) make reservations at Alex and you will feel like you are there. Alex seats 67 guests in a single, lovely dining room. Alessandro Sbrendola is a master sommelier who began his career in Italy before he moved to the US in the late 1990’s. He was the head sommelier at Valentino in Los Angeles, while also operating Wine Street, which offered wine classes and diplomas for aspiring sommeliers.

While catching up with Mark about our kids, life and local issues, we enjoyed Alex’s Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and their fresh and tasty bread, with a bottle of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc ($54). Mark ordered a great glass of an amazing, 2007 Tantara Pinot Noir from Santa Maria ($14).
Both were fabulous. If you bring your own wine, that is not offered on the menu, the corkage is $20.

For appetizers, Mark ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Piccoli Pomodorini ($13), which is an amazing cheese flan, with Pecorino cheese and warm cherry, tomato compote.   Dorothy ordered the Sformatino di Pecorino con Funghi della Campagna Trifolati ($14), Pecorino cheese flan, with sautéed wild mushrooms, and John ordered the Insalata di Campo ($11), Belgian endive, local greens, and radicchio with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, shaved pear and vinaigrette. Each was wonderful.

We were fortunate to have Alessandro Sbrendola come by to suggest the dishes that he loves the most. We tried them and we do as well! Frankly, after the bread, olive oil and wine, we were impressed. When the salads and first courses came, we were even more impressed, and trusted that whatever he suggested would be amazing. So, we ordered a pasta course next. Mark ordered the Gnudi di Ricotta con Salsa di Pomodoro e Basilico ($16); Ricotta gnocchi with tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil, which he thought was incredible. Dorothy ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara con Astice ($27); hand cut spaghetti with Maine lobster sugo, soft herbs and citrus, which was also amazing. John ordered the Lasagnette con Pesto alla Genovese ($16); individual lasagna with Genovese basil pesto and light béchamel.

Believe it or not, we tried more! Next came the Costolette alla Griglia ($27); grilled bone-in pork chop, with fall vegetable gratinata and marsala pork jus for John. Dorothy ordered the Anatra alle due Cotture con Frutta di Stagione ($29), duck two ways; pan roasted breast and confit leg, bloomsdale spinach with pine nut and onion soffrito, fruited duck jus. Mark had the Sogliola alla Vendemmia ($28); sauteed, local petrale sole with grapes, almonds and rosemary, heirloom, cauliflower velvet. All dishes were amazing, and we all said, over and over again how wonderful the ambiance, wine and the food is at Alex.

As we ended the evening, Alessandro brought over three desserts that were over the top. Since he knew we were writing away like mad and sure to tell everyone about Alex and its amazing food, he brought us the Semifreddo al Torrone ($9); a light, frozen, Italian nougat mousse with pistachios and warm, poached pear. We all swooned. Then came the Panna Cotta con Macedonia ($9); vanilla panna cotta with a seasonal fruit soup.We all agreed that it was one of the best we’ve had in Napa.. Lastly, we tried the Tiramisu ($9), made with Espresso-mascarpone mousse, house-baked lady fingers, covered in dark chocolate.

This dinner was definitely not part of Dorothy’s two month juice diet, but well worth the calories. Alex is amazing; fabulous Italian food, a wonderful setting, and THE place for romance. You will not regret it!


Sformatino di Pecorino – (Pecorino cheese flan)

Yield:  Makes about 8-10 – 4 oz. sformatinas

1 pint milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 lightly packed quart -
large diced ciabatta, bread, crust removed
2 cups finely grated Fulvi pecorino
8 egg yolks
pinch fresh black pepper (optional)

In a small sauce pot combine the milk, cream and pepper and bring to a boil. Whisk in the grated cheese. Strain through a large holed sieve directly in to another container containing the cubed bread. Let the bread soak in the cream mixture until it comes to room temperature. Using an immersion blender or tabletop blender, slowly add the egg yolks to the bread mixture and blend until smooth.egg yolks. When fully blended, pour into lightly greased 4oz. aluminum soufflé cups. Bake covered with aluminum foil at 300 degrees Fahrenheit au baine marie until just set and beginning to soufflé.

Invert to a warm plate to serve.

Alexis Baking Company – Restaurant Review Jan. 2013

Alexis Baking Company

Where the community comes together for breakfast and lunch.

chicken and dumplings wordp



By John & Dorothy Salmon

John and I have been regulars at ABC (Alexis Baking Company) for over 20 years. If you want to know what’s going on in Napa, who is making things happen and which great community project is going to blossom soon, hang out at ABC. You will likely see and hear what’s moving and shaking while folks drink their lattes and ice tea. Alexis Handelman has been the genius behind ABC for 28 years, and is the smiling face that greets locals and visitors alike when they dine at her incredible establishment.

Alexis began her adventure as a wholesale baker, supplying restaurants and specialty food purveyors. Over the years, ABC has been the imagination place to hang out as the neighborhood around it became the “West End.” Alexis Handelman pioneered a trend that now encompasses a destination outside of the traditional Main Street mercantile area, with new restaurants, the refurbished, vintage Uptown Theater, cool hotels, funky and pristine Victorian homes, and interesting retail shops.

Alexis’ breakfasts are the best; her lunches are just as great and her holiday dinners are amazing. We have enjoyed many a Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day dinner at ABC with friends.
If you want to be there for a special holiday dinner, we suggest that you make your
reservations early!

ABC is a well-known fixture on Third Street and is packed most of the time. It’s busy every day because the food is so good. Good food makes for happy people who imagine, map-out and create big deals.  Fifteen years ago, the now, almost complete, Flood Control Project was hashed out by many of its volunteers and enthusiastically imagined at ABC over oatmeal in the morning.  We know many great projects that had their origins over breakfast or lunch at ABC. Maybe the vibe for great ideas spreads throughout the place from some magic spores in the walls.

For birthday parties, weddings and special occasions, the cakes at ABC can’t be beat. Our #1 Favorite is the incredible top-shelf Apricot Pistachio Cake. Our family has come to expect that for every birthday and there never seems to be any leftovers, even when everyone talks about “HOW BIG” the cake is! ABC’s version of the Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake (a nostalgic favorite made famous by a San Francisco restaurant) also made Bon Appetit’s Top Ten Cakes in America!

Everything at ABC is upbeat and attractive, along with being a little funky, whimsical and fun. The art on the walls is joyful, avant-garde and mostly local. The buzz around the Big Community Table next to the salad bar is always interesting as are the local folks who are usually sitting there.

ABC serves breakfast and lunch every day. For those of you who LOVE breakfast, there is good news. The famous Breakfast Sandwich with Scrambled Eggs, Ham and Melted Cheddar Cheese on ABC’s own Potato Bun, and the Mexican Breakfast Sandwich with Scrambled Eggs, Salsa, Jack Cheese and Ortega Chiles on a Cornmeal Bun are served all day.

John usually orders Huevos a la Mexicana; Fried Eggs on Soft Corn Tortillas, topped with Cheddar Cheese, Onions, Pasilla Peppers, Ricotta Salata, Pinto Beans and Tomatillo Sauce ($12.95). Dorothy’s favorite is the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, with Eggs, Cream Cheese, Red Onions and Capers on a Potato Bun ($10.95). Other specials for breakfast include:
Poached or Scrambled Eggs with Potatoes and your choice of Toast ($10.95); Huevos Rancheros with Eggs any Way, Black Beans, Salsa, Cheddar Cheese on Crispy Corn Tortillas ($12.95)
A Bowl of Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice with butter and brown sugar ($6.95).
Lunch at ABC is equally terrific. The favorite for many of our friends, who work for local nonprofit organizations, is the Chinese chicken salad with fresh roasted cashews and sesame seeds ($13.95); followed by the equally incredible ABC Burger, also on that delicious Potato Bun ($12.95). The Chicken Palooza Menu includes the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, along with the ABC Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($12.95). A staple of the menu is the Focaccia “Sandwich of the day”, with your choice of the daily side salad ($8.95) or have it as a 1/2 sandwich with soup and salad ($10.95). If you like your Caesar Salad plain with house made croutons ($9.95), you can get it that way, or with Grilled Chicken ($11.95) or with Grilled Salmon ($14.95). ABC has wonderful soups, such as the creamy tomato soup ($4.50 or $6.50). You can top lunch off with a delectable Chocolate Chip Cookie, made with French chocolate chips ($2.25) or a tangy Lemon Bar ($2.50.

Dorothy almost NEVER gets out of ABC without buying baked goods for our grandchildren, who have come to expect that Grandma will always show up with a bag of ABC goodies … and we all know that grandparents, regardless of what their parents may say, give grandkids as much sugar as we want! Here are just a few of the tempting treats behind the counter:

Muffins: Blueberry • Carrot Apple • Bran-Prune-Walnut • Pumpkin Spice • Sour Cream Coffeecake • Blackberry • Orange Buttermilk • Apple Cinnamon • Apricot Ginger (low fat) • Lemon Poppyseed. All ABC’s muffins can be pre-ordered in a MINI
format, perfect for catering. Scones and other Treats: If you are from the Northwest and grew up on scones, THIS is the place for you, with Currant Cream Scones • Cherry Oat Scones • Heart Shaped Shortcakes • Bear Claws • Brioche Morning Buns
• Pecan Sticky Buns.

Cakes: In addition to the Apricot Pistachio Cake and the Blum’s Coffee that you already know about, we suggest that you try ABC’s Lemon Crunch Cake and their signature Chocolate Caramel Cake. For a special party, pre-order your cake and choose from a 6” or 9” round, or even square or rectangular cakes!

We often run into a bride and her mother choosing a wedding cake. If you want your wedding guests to REALLY love the cake, get it from ABC. ABC works with several wedding coordinators, photographers and floral designers in the Napa Valley.  If you are in that mode, think about hanging out at ABC to get a great meal and pick out your wedding cake. This might just be one-stop shopping that takes the stress out of wedding planning!

Many nonprofits and businesses in town serve ABC’s wonderful box lunches. You can also have breakfast, lunch or dinner catered and, for a small fee, they will deliver it to you. ABC offers full service catering as well; everything from small, intimate dinners to weddings for 100+!

At ABC, January is a time to hunker down, snuggle up and make those New Year’s resolutions a reality. To ease that stress, Alexis concentrates on offering lots of comfort foods, such as their homemade soups- to-go with their luscious Grilled Cheese Sandwiches or other winter lunch selections, including Chicken Pot Pie, Beef Chili, or Eggplant Parmigianino and Garlic Bread!

One of ABC’s 2013 New Year’s Resolutions is to offer more live music and to continue their quest to broaden the audience for Live Jazz! In January, the delightful Max Bonick will be back, playing with his group The Jazz Delinquents. The first of these Pop Up Performances with be Friday, January 11, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Come see which favorite local chefs show up for a Pop Up Appearance and serve up some brews, some wine, and some very tasty food to go along with this very talented set of musicians. It’s the perfect antidote to chilly weather, and the right note for taking care of your soul. Hang out at ABC for a Jumpin Jazzy January!

Alexis Baking Company is THE place to be any month of the year; to see and hear real Napans at work, creating community and magic year round.



Beef Daube -

Yield:  Serves 6

3 1/2 lbs. of beef stew meat
1 1/2 cups red or white wine
1/4 cup brandy or gin
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Teaspoons salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme or sage
1 crumbled bay leaf
2 cloves smashed garlic
2 cups sliced onions
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
(the above are all the ingredients for the marinade)
1/2 pound bacon – uncooked
(cut the strips of bacon in pieces about 2 inches long)
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 1/2 cups chopped canned Marzano tomatoes

Place the beef pieces in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients and cover for at least 3 hours (we do this overnight)

In the morning take the beef out of the marinade and drain it (SAVE the marinade!)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a 5 to 6 quart fireproof casserole line the bottom with 3-4 strips of bacon. Strew a handful of the marinade vegetables, mushrooms and tomatoes over them. Piece by piece roll the beef in flour and shake off excess. Place closely together in a layer over the vegetables. Cover with a few strips of bacon, and continue with layers of vegetables, beef, and bacon. End with a layer of vegetables and two or three strips of bacon.

Pour the wine from the marinade and enough stock (beef stock or bouillon) almost to cover the contents of the casserole. Bring to a simmer on the top of the stove, cover and set in the lower third of your oven. Let it simmer slowly in the oven for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender….when a fork pierces it easily it’s done!

You can prepare this ahead a day or so…which if you do, you can then skim the fat off before you reheat it to serve.

And, you can serve it with mashed potatoes or noodles or rice or whatever.


Food Truckin – Napa Style

Food Truckin – Napa Style

The food truck phenomenon has become oh so trendy in cities across the U.S., including Napa.

By Evy Warshawski

foodtruck wordpress


For a few shekels, varieties of satisfying fare – served from made-to-order, moveable kitchens –provide quick, healthy and on-the-go alternatives to sit-down restaurant.  Best of all, the food is conceived and delivered by health-conscious entrepreneurs, as individual and innovative as the food itself.

Recently, I made a pilgrimage to four trucks, over four days, for lunch – my favorite meal of the day!

Crossroad Chicken
Crossroad Chicken is a family affair run by partners (and brothers), Kevin and Colin Simonson.
At age 13, Kevin read the Joy of Cooking and began washing dishes in restaurants during high school.  Fast
forward through 30 years of acquiring gastronomical expertise working in various catering positions and wineries, and you’ll now find him in what he calls his “midlife crisis vehicle,” complete with a wood-fired oven – cozily situated inside the truck!

The always-changing, eclectic menu reflects the Simonson’s philosophy of using seasonal, healthy ingredients.  I chose one of their most popular menu items – a hot chicken mozzarella sandwich on French roll, with a side of basil-lemon aioli and greens.   Big enough to share, my lunch was fresh and tasty, plus, I couldn’t resist trying one of the bite-sized, chocolate cheesecakes – smooth, creamy and sinfully delicious –made by Sandy Hausser (Kevin’s wife).

“I like food,” said Kevin, who has operated the truck for two years.  I’ve pretty much put everything I have into this, but I’m doing what I love.  That’s the most important thing to me.”

Crossroad Chicken is open weekdays for lunch and is parked in the former JV’s lot, facing First Street.  Check the website daily for times, menu updates and catering
information at

Tacos La Esperanza
For super low prices, quick service, and an impressive variety of “lo real”  authentic Mexican plates, visit Tacos La Esperanza; most often parked on Soscol between McKinstry and Vallejo during lunch and dinner hours.
Fish tacos are a specialty, but other protein choices include steak, spicy or fried pork, tripe, shrimp, chicken, chorizo and, for the more adventurous (with stronger stomachs), beef head, pork stomach and tongue.

I ate a perfect-for-me sized, soft shell, steak taco, made spicy with onions and cilantro, wrapped in two corn tortillas.  My partner enjoyed the tongue burrito with avocado (instead of guacamole), rice, cheese, and salsa.   Fresh lime slices accompanied our steaming hot, take-out dinners.
It’s best to call before you go (707-246-4908) to confirm hours of operation and location.  TLE has received consistently favorable online reviews from Yelp, Chowhound and Dishtip, where you’ll find color photos of classic Esperanza dishes to whet your appetite.

Phat Salads & Wraps
You really won’t get fat at Phat Salads and Wraps, where fresh and healthy are the key ingredients in breakfast/lunch offerings served Mondays -Saturdays. The colorfully decorated truck is most often found on N. California Blvd. (near Healthquest Fitness Center), but call ahead to make sure Phat’s is open on the day/time you choose to go (707-363-9658).  Menus can be previewed  at

Proprietor and chef, Gia Sempronio,  began Phat’s , complete with customized mobile kitchen, in 2007 with the goal of providing a more nutritious alternative to the traditional catering truck that stopped at offices and construction sites.

On Tuesdays, Phat’s parks at Napa Valley College for lunch, and the line was long with students and staff when I visited.  Service is friendly and reasonably phast.  “Toss it” or “Wrap it” is Phat’s slogan, so I ordered “The New Yorker” salad, tossed.  Mixed in light gorgonzola- vinaigrette dressing, this lunchtime treat included a chopped mixture of avocado, crispy fried onions and romaine lettuce, plus cubed chicken.  Portions are generous and yes, fresh!

“The best thing about running the truck,” said Sempronio, “is that it’s mine – from concept to service, it has been all my own vision, and I am proud and grateful at the end of each day.”  Her least favorite:   “Repairs and maintenance on the mechanical side ; they are never ending.”

The newest truck on the block, Pastranomy, parks in the lot on the corner of Clinton and Main, weekdays, 11:30pm – 3:30pm.   It’s a veritable “meals on wheels” for authentic and traditional deli fare, with a large (and fun) menu for its small, portable kitchen!

A sampling includes:  chicken matzo ball soup;  pastrami, lean brisket corned beef, Reuben and turkey sandwiches on your choice of breads;  all-beef, Kosher-style hot dogs; and a variety of tempting desserts (brownies and cheesecake to name a few).  And, of course, you’ll find the traditional sides of salads and that infamous dill pickle.

My personal favorite is the corned beef sandwich, piled high – and hot – on the best rye to be found in Napa.  I can get freshly-made mayonnaise with my order, sans snickers from the counter staff (contrary to New York delis where this is considered blasphemy).

“It’s so much fun to see lots of smiles and grins as our regular customers, and new ones too, bite into those juicy pastrami and Reuben sandwiches,” said Michael Dellar, one of three co-owners. “And, we’re spreading out with more catered events and parties, bringing the Pastranomy experience throughout the Valley.”

Receive 10% off your order with a 2012 Napa Valley Film Festival, day-of-show, ticket stub.  For information and all things deli, visit


Il Posto Trattoria – … a place to celebrate family, friends and life

Il Posto Trattoria – … a place to celebrate family, friends and life

We asked Richard and Susan Walton to join us for what we knew would be a delightful dinner at Il Posto. We have known and admired Justin Graffigna for years, and watched as his career in Napa evolved. We kept hearing more and more folks talking about how amazing the food is at Il Posto, so we decided to see for ourselves if Justin had realized his dream of opening up his own restaurant.  Without a doubt, we believe that Justin has succeeded!

Il Posto is homey and was full of people we often see in town. This is definitely a “hometown boy makes good” place to hang out, with terrific Italian food. There were lots of families that night, which says that this is a great place to take your kids and Grandma. Converting a paint store into a restaurant is not an easy task, but Justin Graffigna and his long-time friend, Arik Housley, have done it well. The restaurant is easy to find. It’s, just off Highway 29, at the corner of Wine Country Ave. and Solano Ave., next to Osprey Seafood, about a mile north of the Marriott Hotel. The decor is very Italian and the service is friendly and fast. Il Posto has nightly specials, such as Italian sausage with peppers and onions; chicken marsala; lasagna with spinach and papa sauce; veal osso buco; crab cioppino; oven-roasted porchetta and, on Sunday, you can enjoy the 3 course, “Chef’s Supper.” Il Posto also has a great kids’ menu, with all meals priced at $8, and wonderful side dishes, such as garlic bread; cranberry bean ragu; broccoli di cecco; sauteed zucchini; and pan roasted polenta, to name a few.

The pizzas looked great, but we decided to try almost everything on the menu other than the pizza. Jennifer was our server. She was lots of fun and very informative. Michael, the Assistant Manager, made sure that we were having a good time because that evening, Justin was enjoying a night of camping with his kids. If you are a local, you will recognize Justin from his stints at Fume, Don Giovanni and Celadon, to name just a few places where he has honed his skills.

Il Posto has a small, but interesting, wine list of Napa Valley wines and a few interesting ones from Italy, Argentina and Lodi. If you really want to go Italian, you can order a glass of Spumante from Italy for $8.50 or a bottle for $32. Our friend, Richard, brought a great bottle of Richard Williams Cabernet (RW)2 that we loved. Richard is a gourmet cook and a member of a group of guys who have met monthly to cook together for years So, he was excited to try Justin and Arik’s food.
We started our evening by sharing the crispy calamari, with lemon romesco sauce ($10). Our favorite calamari is what Greg Cole serves at Celadon. Il Posto’s calamari comes in a close second. I am sure that is because Justin wants to let Greg keep that honor! The chef sent us some remarkable, fresh-herb arancini, lightly breaded risotto balls, with fontina and marinara sauce ($8), which disappeared in seconds. Then, we shared some terrific grilled bruschetta with toy box tomatoes, house-made herb ricotta and basil and saba ($8), followed by zucca- summer squash, olive oil croutons, watercress, burrata, and tomato water vinaigrette salad ($11).

Finding room on our table for all the shared dishes wasn’t easy, but Jennifer figured out how to keep things going for us so that there was no delay in the next remarkable dish. Remember, this is an Italian restaurant and we were only JUST at the beginning antipasti and salads!

We chatted with some friends sitting at a table next to us who told us to be sure to try to the gnocchi. So, when we made our shared decisions for dinner, the first thing that we ordered was the sauteed ricotta gnocchi with fresh herbs and the family-secret papa sauce ($18), which was fabulous! We also shared the tortellini ala carbonara, with bacon marmalade filling and black pepper ($18).  According to Richard, this was the best tortellini ala carbonara he had ever had.  That’s a great recommendation from a guy who really knows how to cook!

John wanted to try the fettuccini frutta di mare; clams, mussels, prawns, scallops cooked with basil mine pesto cream sauce and sprinkled with pine nuts ($19), which everyone tried and really liked. We were all having a hard time eating one more thing when chef sent out the orecchiette; Italian sausage, cauliflower, red cabbage, spicy calabrian chili, fontina cheese, and garnished with fried capers ($10). We took a break, and then tried the eggplant parmigiana; sautéed with spinach, marinara and green garlic puree ($17) and the pan roasted polenta with spicy Italian sausage ragu and broccoli di cecco ($18) and, finally, the chicken ala picatta, with lemon, caper, butter sauce, pepperonata ($18). All the dishes were terrific; very authentic Italian and VERY filling. If we were not writing a restaurant review, we would not be ordering all this food, but, that being said, we managed to eat almost all of it!

To top it all off, chef insisted that we try the lemon and olive oil cake with plum agrodolce and stone fruit ($8) and their panna cotta with strawberries and dark micro basil ($7). We ate every bite! We waddled out of Il Posto knowing it was going to become a family favorite. The “little Italian restaurant around the corner” that locals would find as home and lucky visitors would rave about..

Give Il Posto a try … you won’t be disappointed!




Yield:  Serves 6

Approx. 24 ounces of dried orrechiette pasta
1 pound of bulk Italian sausage
1 cauliflower
1/2 head of cabbage
1 pound fontina cheese
½ ounce calabrian chilies, chopped
1 bunch chives, finely sliced
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Prep ahead:
Take cabbage and chop into fine strands.
Cook sausage and break apart into small pieces
Cut cauliflower into small florets
Grate fontina cheese

Get a large pot of boiling water

In a large sauté pan heat grapeseed oil and
add cauliflower, cauliflower and cabbage.

Meanwhile, cook orrechiette according to package instructions. When pasta is ready and al dente, add
to sauté pan, reserving a little of the pasta water.
Add chopped chilies and fontina cheese. Stir vigorously until the pasta water and cheese form an emulsified sauce, add more pasta water if needed. When sauce is formed, add chives and season. Serve warm.