Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review November 2006
By “The Elusive Epicurean”
Were I to live in another part of the world, I might be reminded of the changing seasons by the turning of the leaves, the migration of geese, or the need for snow tires. Living in our mostly temperate climate, however, I must make do with what I have. And so I mark the passage of time by the changing menus of our local restaurants. The personal calendar I have thus carefully developed contains two seasons: Boniato Season, and Waiting for Boniato Season.
Ahhh, Boniato. Served up by Zuzu, our local tapas restaurant, “Boniato” is a dish of mashed Cuban sweet potatoes that puts those things we eat at Thanksgiving to shame. (Banish all thoughts of marshmallows right now.) Slightly sweet, the boniato pairs perfectly with the spicy, salty, and extremely garlicky goodness of the thinly sliced Argentine Marinated Flat-Iron Steak with Chimichurri ($9). I could be persuaded to write a sonnet praising this sublime combination, but, fortunately for you, I doubt my publisher could be persuaded to print it. So simply trust me, make haste for Zuzu this winter, and ask that these two dishes be served at the same time. You will be greatly rewarded.
As I write this, it is still Waiting for Boniato Season, so on my recent visit I spent my calories on other yummy things. After warning our server that my dining companion would become cranky as a two-year old if she ever found her bread plate empty, we placed what, anywhere else, would be a staggeringly long order for two people. (The joy of eating at a tapas restaurant is that, because the dishes are small, and shared amongst your companions, you get to enjoy a great many tastes in one meal without stuffing yourself silly.)
We began our evening with the Ceviche (price varies), which on this night was made of scallops and avocado. Yum. Then we moved on to the Mexican Sweet Corn Chowder with chipotle & pasilla chili and green onion ($7). I love good corn chowder, and Zuzu’s is some of the best: creamy, with a rich, smoky flavor.
One of my favorite tapas is the traditional Spanish “tortilla,” more akin to a potato and egg gratin served with aioli, but far tastier than my un-poetic description implies ($6). Feeling wild and crazy, we chose a gratin of mixed squash instead ($7). It was warm and cheesy, but not so cheesy as to disguise the market-fresh flavor of the squash.
Then there was meat. Ahh, meat. First came the Moroccan Barbecue Glazed Lamb Chops ($14). Any notion of being dignified was abandoned, as I cannot resist shamelessly gnawing on the bones of a good bit o’ meat. Next came the “Bisteeya” ($14), a chicken pie that, like Zuzu’s décor, has a Moroccan touch. With almonds, cinnamon and a light, flaky, phyllo crust over a bed of couscous, it is highly recommended.
If I were dining with more people, I’d have ordered the Pimientos de Padrón ($6), a Spanish pepper which Zuzu serves up “blistered” with olive oil and garlic. They’re just plain fun to eat. Another excellent, perhaps surprising, choice is the “Boquerones” – Spanish white anchovies with caramelized onions ($6). I’m not an anchovy person, much preferring small fishies as anonymous, unidentifiable ingredients in my Caesar salad, but I must admit that Zuzu’s are, well, good. So if you like small fishies, do order them, and if you don’t, consider expanding your horizons.
“Don’t forget the ambiance!” admonished my carb-loading, back-seat-restaurant-reviewing dining companion, and so I must oblige her. An intimate upstairs seating area is perfect for a small dinner party, and the long wooden bar is extremely welcoming to solo diners. You’ll wish the decorator would come to your house to spice things up, and you’ll want to buy the Zuzu soundtrack. (No, there isn’t one, but there should be).
My evening left me exactly where I wish to be: thanking my lucky stars that I live here in Napa, as I await the arrival of winter, and the Boniato. Sure beats snow tires.
Located at 829 Main Street in downtown Napa, Zuzu is open for dinner 7 nights a week, lunch Monday through Friday. (707) 224-8555 or http://www.zuzunapa.com