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

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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 catering@smoakville.com

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

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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  |  http://www.empirenapa.com

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.

Foodshed – Pizza & Pasta

Foodshed - Pizza & Pasta

By Kimberly Horg

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A bag of chips and a soda is not what most people would consider a balanced meal. Many children grow up thinking healthy food isn’t a necessity so one local establishment is trying to break the chain for disadvantaged youth by turning the table on greens.

Foodshed Pizza and Pasta opened in July of this year with the hope of making a difference in its community. Co-owners Giovanni Guerrera, Sean Pramuk, Michael Miguel and James Ehrlich have dreams of a profitable restaurant that also works as a tool to teach kids how to cook.

It temporarily hires local interns referred from  On The Move (OTM), to help to create a new kind of job training program in the Napa Valley. Its goal is to not only teach healthy eating but promote leadership skills and economic self-reliance among Napa’s low-income population.

OTM plays a critical ongoing role by providing financial support for the Foodshed Internship Program as well as identifying internship candidates. It found the funding to kick start the program.

“We’re thrilled to create the private-public partnership, combining our background with youth in need with foodies at Foodshed,” Leslie Medine, On the Move Senior Fellow, said. “There are many young people in our community who just need their first chance to prove that they can be successful in the world of work.”

Medine says On the Move’s Foodshed interns not only become part of the whole “farm to table” movement but get a great employment experience. Guerrera and Pramuk are great trainers who hold a high bar that will ultimately make a big difference in the life of each of these youth.

Guerrera and Pramuk are former business partners who owned Uva Trattoria in downtown Napa from
2001-2009 so the two know what it takes to run a successful restaurant business.

Guerrera fell in love with the idea of starting a restaurant and teaching kitchen while living and working as a sous chef at the American Academy in Rome a couple years ago. Giovanni worked with trained chefs as well as dozens of interns and volunteers.

“I had been interested in developing a teaching kitchen before I went to Rome so when I heard about the program there it was a perfect fit,” he said. “My wife and I have had a longstanding dream of living abroad with our children so when the opportunity presented itself, we couldn’t say no.”

His parents came to Napa from Italy and opened a restaurant when he was a small boy so he grew up in a pizzeria. Living in Italy was a way for him to reconnect with his roots. Upon return he made his dream into reality. He took what he learned abroad and applied it in his new part profit, part non-profit creation.

The co-owners looked around and did a lot of research, finding out there are non-profit restaurants, but not ran the same way so it is creating a model for profit and
non-profit establishments.

The interns are there for a three month program, 20 hours a week. Each intern is paid $8.25 an hour. It cycles through interns based on need and if it has space, it can hire them. It is trying to reach an underserved demographic, in which young adults either want to cook for themselves or it is a desired career field.

Guerrera says the interns have a different objective every month in culinary crafts, whether it is making dressing, sauces or pasta. A lot can be taught in three months. The rotation gives others the opportunity to learn. In a couple of years, the majority of employees will have gone through the intern program.

“It is a great service teaching kids how to cook,” Guerrera said. “The kids got so much out of it; building confidence to make something out of nothing.”

Foodshed Pizza is committed to authentic production and more conscious consumption. It prepares meals based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Everything it makes is from scratch. Guerrera comes up with the recipes and they are passed down to the interns.

He says it is rewarding to watch a kid cook who has never even seen an artichoke before. For him, this is a way to give back, teaching healthy eating and basic cooking skills to kids who may have not been taught at home.

“I love to cook at home. I have two small children and we cook together but so many children miss that growing up,” he said.

According to him, liking vegetables may depend on the way it is prepared. He has heard interns mention not liking or eating vegetables until working there because he/she only tried canned food. Preparing it unique ways is a new experience for some.

“I wasn’t familiar with different types of produce,” Jesus Guzman, 22 year old intern and Napa resident, said. “I never had healthy food choices before but now I am eating healthier since I started working here.”

Guzman says he eats vegetables now that he didn’t before. Because he has discovered new produce and various ways to prepare it, he eats greens on a daily basis.

“It has been a wonderful experience being an intern here,” he said. “I am creative in cooking and would like to expand my cooking skills.”

Guerrera says the feedback has been positive from interns and customers. He has seen highly motivated interns and others who were just not ready to make the commitment.

The goal of the owners is to keep growing in other areas. In the future it hopes that the restaurant can generate enough funds to pay for the internships. It wants to establish relationships with other restaurant, so it can work together to recruit jobs.

 

630 Airpark Road in Napa • 

For info go to foodshedpizza.org or call 265-7760

All Photos by Megan Reeves Photography

Napa Valley Bistro

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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 | http://www.NapaValleyBistro.net

 

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 • chef@marketsthelena.com

Ciccio in Yountville…

Ciccio in Yountville…

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

By John & Dorothy Salmon

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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. http://www.keevervineyards.com  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.

Restraurant Review – April 2012 Neela’s Indian Dining

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review April 2012

Neela’s Contemporary Indian Dining

By Dorothy and John Salmon

On a lovely spring-like, winter day, Dorothy had lunch with Annie Bennett and Margrit Mondavi at Neela’s in downtown Napa. We know a great lunch when we experience it and we thought our lunch at Neela’s was terrific. We were greeted by Shelly Shipman, our lovely server and, later, as we were enjoying our lunch, Neela Paniz, the owner, stopped by to say hello. Neela’s is located on Clinton Street in downtown Napa in an area that is destined to blossom as one more cool neighborhood of tasting rooms, restaurants and interesting retail.

Neela’s seats 70 guests in an open setting with an Indian flair, and very interesting Indian food. As we sat down for lunch, we remarked as to how this area of town had changed and would continue to change in the coming months, as the former Goodwill site would become something very new and, probably, hip. We think that will attract more interesting businesses to the neighborhood. How lucky we are that Napa is thriving!

Neela’s newest next door neighbor is the New Tech Network of schools. The Network now serves 86 schools in 16 states with more coming online in 2013, thanks to the vision, courage and tenacity of many community leaders, teachers, principals and hard-working administrators who made the very first New Tech High School a success. Napa’s New Tech High is yet another example of Napa’s innovative nature and ability to influence the rest of the country. Nearby to Neela’s is more of Napa’s emerging food and wine scene with Stonehedge and the 1313 Main Street Tasting Rooms across the street.

Our lunch was filled with good conversation, memories and plans for our next trip together, all complemented by a great glass of Vinoce Sauvignon Blanc. The Vinoce winery is located right here in Napa on Vallejo and Yajome. The Nuss family is wonderful and were dining at Neela’s while were there. Neela’s carries their Twenty Rows Cabernet Sauvignon too.

Our plates of Neela’s wonderful Indian food made the lunch a great way to spend time with good friends. Margrit and Annie ordered the Vegetarian Sampler ($16) with Vegetable Samosas (potatoes and pea turnovers with sweet tomato chutney), Bhajjias (chickpea flour and mixed vegetable fritters, with tamarind chutney), Sev Puri (Potatoes, onions and contrasting chutneys on a crispy, wheat cracker) and Karari Bhindi (crispy fried okra that was amazing). We all agreed that the Karari Bhindi was better and more interesting than any potato chip we had ever eaten.

Dorothy recalled her visit to India with John, when she wore what she knew as a bindi on her forehead. Neela’s Bhindi was VERY different, an interesting dish, and delicious, oblong, small, fried and fabulous!  Dorothy ordered the Non-Vegetarian Sampler ($19) which included Unday Ki Chutney (deviled eggs, yogurt, mustard seeds, chilies and Kari leaves),  Kathi Rolls (tandoori chicken tikka, mint chutney with marinated onions). The Kathi Roll was kind of an Indian version of a rolled chicken taco. The Non-Vegetarian lunch also included Rassols (curried lamb and potato croquettes and pumpkin-tomato chutney) and Shrimp Samosas (shrimp, potatoes and mango pickle turnovers).

Neela’s features interesting dishes from many different Indian provinces, made from fresh ingredients and matched with colorful Bollywood music videos at the bar. Neela’s is a hopping place at night! If you dine at Neela’s on Wednesday night, you can choose to experience a three course, vegetarian, tasting menu. On Thursday night, you are served a selection of stuffed flat breads, served with salads and raita (cucumber & yogurt relish).  We are so fortunate to have so many great restaurants in Napa with a wide variety of cuisines to choose from.

When you want to serve unique, delicious fresh food and you don’t want to make it yourself, Neela’s also offers catering for that special party.  Let Neela do the hard work for you and you can enjoy your party. For the vegans and vegetarians in the family, Neela’s is an easy and wonderful answer.

You can order wine from Neela’s Wine List or bring your own for a $15 corkage fee. Our Vinoce Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful. Neela Paniz is not new to the food scene. Neela’s was named as one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100, Best Bay Area Restaurants in 2010, featured in 2009 in Wine Spectator’s Chef Talk, featured locally in the Napa Valley Register, Paul Franson’s NapaLife, the Los Angeles Magazine in 1994 when Neela was in LA,  and in the Press Democrat. Neela Paniz is usually at the restaurant to greet guests and enchant them with her passion, terrific food and unique restaurant. Her book, The Bombay café, published in 1998, put her on the national map as one of the leading voices of contemporary Indian cuisine. Neela chose to sell her partnership in Los Angeles and move to Napa with her husband, and opened Neela’s in 2008. Neela Paniz continues to be the guest chef at cooking schools nationally. On December 13, 2011, Neela was featured on the TV show “Chopped.” She won the competition. Her many fans seem fascinated by that fact and continue to come into the restaurant, excited to try the food from a “Chopped Champion.”

Stop by and enjoy!
975 Clinton Street (Near Main Street) in downtown Napa
(707) 226-9988
http://www.neelasnapa.com

Tuesday thru Friday
Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Closed Mondays

RECIPES

This recipe, called “Bassar,” hails from Sindh, formerly the northwestern province of India, now in Pakistan. Loosely translated, it means “with lots of onions.” This is a basic Bassar sauce recipe and it is finished with shrimp. It can also be served with a mélange of mushrooms or tofu, or filets of fish, or even some breast of chicken strips, or a combination thereof.
Serve it with Basmati rice or Indian flatbreads. Interestingly enough, it also does very well as a sauce for pasta or on a slice of crusty bread. You can increase the number of Serrano chilis to the degree of heat desired.

Shrimp Bassar  Serves 6

For the Bassar Sauce:
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 yellow onions, sliced thin
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
2-3 Serrano green chilis, halved and then sliced thin on the bias
2 large tomato, halved and then sliced thin
1 ½ tablespoons ground coriander
½ to ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
30 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined, leave the tails on or off, your preference
Chopped cilantro for garnish

1.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet.  Add the cumin seeds and fry till they sizzle.
2.  Add the onions, ginger and chilis and sauté on medium heat till the onions are wilted and lightly browned.
3.  Add the tomatoes, coriander, cayenne and turmeric. Sauté for a minute or so to incorporate the spices. Add ½ teaspoon of salt, mix well and simmer covered for 15 minutes.
4.  In another larger skillet, heat the other 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the shrimp and balance of the salt. Sauté on medium high heat till they are lightly browned.
5.  Add the “Bassar” sauce and stir well to mix in the sautéed shrimp. If you desire a little more “curry” sauce, add about a quarter of a cup of water. Cover and cook on low heat for about 2-3 minutes till the shrimp are cooked through. Serve garnished with cilantro.