Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review July 2006.
By “The Gourmet Girl”
I am a simple girl with simple tastes. You know summer has arrived in the valley when the streets of downtown Napa are filled with the sounds of laughter and music, the sidewalks are lined with locals and tourists and the smell of cotton candy and popcorn fills the air. The annual Napa Chef’s Market is known for family, fun, and my favorite-FOOD.
I left work early on the last Friday in May to get a jump-start on the festivities. My friends and I arrived just in time to watch the Chef’s Demonstration. Every Friday night the Chef’s Market hosts a different chef from a local restaurant who shows off his or her latest creations. This night’s demonstration was hosted by Joe Salerno of Piccolino’s. He towered above us on a massive stage as he created some of his culinary favorites. We watched him make barbeque chicken and demonstrate three more courses, Lemon Ricotta Mousse, Ceviche Martini Italiano and Arugula Potato salad. I have included the recipe for the Lemon Ricotta mousse, which I found to be an interesting alternative to a traditional chocolate mousse. It was light, creamy and refreshing—perfect for a warm summer night.
Once the demonstration was over we braved the crowds to see on what else we could nibble. We didn’t have to look far. Right next to the Chef’s Demo was a little booth from which emanated the most delicious aroma of baked bread and melted cheese. Luckily for us, the booth’s host was handing out free samples. The sign on the booth informed us that we were about to try Brazilian Cheese bread, round bite-size pieces of bread with cheese filling. They were delectable and made our mouths water. We could have stayed there all night and been content but we knew we were just getting started.
Earlier I had seen a lady eating a giant hot dog and decided that this was what I was craving. We strolled passed booths of barbequed oysters, pizza, turkey kabobs and pork sandwiches for sale. People carried bags of popcorn the length of their arm and kids ran around with swirls of cotton candy billowing in their faces. We searched up and down the street with no luck.
When we stopped to regroup, I saw a booth with trays of cookies. Was I about to ruin my appetite for dinner? Sure, but isn’t the point of coming here to taste all the amazing foods that you wouldn’t eat on a daily basis? I looked over the menu of the booth called Stella’s Cookies. They had chocolate chunk, white chocolate macadamia nut, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies. The cookies were $2 each or three for $5. I decided to order just one of the chocolate chunk cookies. As soon as it was handed to me, my friends flew in like vultures and wanted a taste. Although these cookies were big enough to share, I have a simple philosophy on sharing dessert—I don’t.
My cookie was crisp around the outside but soft and chewy in the middle. The sweet chunks of chocolate seemed to melt the minute they touched my lips. I savored each bite till there was nothing left. It was time to refocus on the hot dog dinner.
As darkness descended, the crowds became thicker, so we decided to cut across the middle of the courtyard and continue our search. I had innocently stopped in front of Christopher’s Fine Foods to sample cheeses (I know, I am easily distracted by free food) when my friend tapped me on the shoulder and said,
“You found it!” I hadn’t noticed that next to the cheese samples was the meal I’d been searching for all night.
The friendly man wearing a big smile informed us that he had only a few left and that we had stopped in the nick of time. He also told us that this was not an ordinary hot dog, but was a sausage known as Kielbasa.
While I waited for him to prepare my dinner, I snacked on the free samples of cheese, trying each, Gouda, Dry Jack and Manchego. They were so different in taste and texture I couldn’t decide which one I liked best.
Although I was beginning to feel full again, I was not about to pass up the chance to eat the monstrous foot long creation. The Kielbasa is served in a sesame seed bun to which I added my favorite condiments: ketchup and mustard.
Tables were set up in the middle of the square for those who needed to sit after the hard work of walking and eating at the same time. My friends, who had seen the sparkle in my eye when I ordered the Kielbasa, each decided to order one. We sat in heavenly silence as we savored each bite of this delicious meal. The smokey and spicy flavors mingling with the sweet ketchup made this meal worth the wait. The Kielbasa was so large I had to use both hands to hold it and take two bites of the sausage just to get to the soft sesame seed bun. It was almost too big to finish, almost.
Once we were satiated we realized it was almost nine o’clock and the Chef’s Market would be ending soon. With our bellies full and smiles on our faces we made our way back to our cars. The night was a success and the good news is we can go back every Friday night all summer for a completely new culinary adventure. See you there.