Brix Restaurant & Gardens

brix wp

By John & Dorothy Salmon

We recently had a lovely dinner with our pals, Ron and Teri Kuhn, at Brix to celebrate our good fortune, our children, grandchildren and the Kuhns’ incredible Pillar Rock Cabernet. We laughed through most of the dinner, while commenting on how lovely the setting is at Brix, with its warm interior and a rock-star garden, enjoyed from the outdoor dining area when the weather is good. Ron and Teri headquarter at their primary home in Chicago, but get to enjoy Napa, Florida and Arizona when they visit their other homes. Fortunately for us, they are planning to spend more time in Napa, especially in the winter when Chicago is freezing, windy and covered in snow. Their kids and grandkids live in Chicago, so that’s where their hearts are when they are not in Napa making sure their Pillar Rock wines are doing well across the United States.

Brix has been a staple on Highway 29 since 1996. The Kelleher Family has made Brix a top-notch restaurant and magical place for weddings, receptions, meetings, celebrations of any kind and a great place to be for romantic occasions or simply dining out with friends. Brix Restaurant and Gardens is a classic pairing of unique, contemporary cuisine with a French accent. With 16 perfect Napa Valley acres of beautiful gardens and vineyards, you will always find just-picked vegetables and a great wine selection from its list of more than 800 labels.

When we arrived, we were met by General Manager, Michael Cope, who has vast experience in the restaurant business with years at The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. Since we were with Ron and Teri, we of course, enjoyed their Pillar Rock 2007 Stags Leap Cabernet ($170). Needless to say, it was a good thing we were with them! The wine is amazing as are Ron and Teri, who are consistently generous donors at Auction Napa Valley and the V Foundation, as well as spreading their philanthropy across the country. Teri was the V Foundation, 2010 Fund-A-Need Honoree as a Leukemia survivor, generously supporting Leukemia Research through the V Foundation.

After Notre Dame alum, John and USC alum, Ron dispensed with their usual banter recalling the rivalries of the two schools and which has the better football team, we started our evening with Roasted Pedrone Peppers, topped with aged balsamic ($10) and the Crispy Fried Green Beans, served with spicy mustard sauce ($10). We also indulged in the special flat–bread, with cherry tomatoes, arugula, crème fraiche, rib-eye caps, feta, fontina and a drizzle of balsamic ($15), which Teri said was the best flat bread she had ever eaten.  Our server, John Adams, was very attentive, lots of fun and made great suggestions all evening.

For our main course, Ron ordered the Roasted Colorado Lamb, served with black mission figs, fennel bulb, blue cheese, toasted pistachios and fig chocolate-sauce ($38). Teri ordered the Salad of Baby Field Greens and poached summer peaches, honey-whipped ricotta, spiced hazelnuts and peach vinaigrette ($10) and the Sicilian Casserole with grilled octopus, beef bone marrow, tomato-braised beef tripe and herbed Parmesan bread crumbs ($12). John enjoyed the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with broccoli rabe, Italian-seafood tomato sauce, green olives, speck ham with roasted eggplant puree and oregano bread crumbs ($27) and Dorothy was delighted with the Caramelized Sea Scallops served with a medley of toasted almonds, snap peas, mint, chili peppers and sweet corn, with a truffle vinaigrette ($33).

Since we knew that the meal would lead to this review, we HAD to order desserts! So, we shared the Grilled Summer Peach, served with an almond streusel, whipped brie, saffron honey and peach lavender sorbet ($10) and the Triple Chocolate Snicker Sundae with chocolate polenta cake, caramel sauce, curry-roasted peanuts, caramelized banana with chocolate ice cream ($10).

The dinner menu at Brix is extensive and interesting; the bar is lots of fun; the wine list is wonderful and Brix is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Brix is a favorite partner and a featured restaurant at Hands Across the Valley, The V Foundation, Flavor Napa Valley and many more local events. The menu changes daily, drawing inspiration from the restaurant’s extensive gardens and traditions of the winemaking regions of Southern France and Northern Italy. The flower and vegetable gardens contain both raised-beds and in-ground beds in which crops grow year round. Tiny salad greens, fava beans and strawberries in the spring; French beans, eggplant, tomatoes, berries and melons in the summer; apples and pears, hard squash, potatoes, and fresh onions in the fall, and Meyer lemons and sweet limes, sweet peas, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower Romenesco and butter lettuce in the winter.

In the Lounge and Wine Bar, you can sit by the fire
and enjoy a glass of wine, with wine tastings by
appointment, featuring the Kelleher Family Vineyard wines grown in the Oakville Appellation.

A few weeks after our dinner we were back at Brix speaking with Matt Guyot, their talented Special Events Manager about a possible rehearsal dinner for our daughter. I guess that is the best recommendation
that we could make!


Jax Diner Open for 3 Months and Already Winning Awards!

jax wp

Jax White Mule Diner had only been open a couple of months when the 6th Annual Chili Cookoff rolled around in August.  Hardly enough time to have honed their chili recipe to a competitive level, or so you might think.  Jax’s chili not only won First Place with the judges panel, which included a few discerning Napa Chefs, it also won The People’s Choice Award, meaning the folks attending also thought it was the best.

Impressive. Especially since chili is just a small part of their breakfast and lunch menu. J.B. Leamer, founding owner of Jax White Mule Diner, remembers going to the local diner with his grandfather.  It was a center of community activity – a relaxed, affordable place to enjoy a good meal while catching up with family and friends.  Leamer loved everything about it, and for years thought that if there was ever an opportunity to open a place just like it, he would jump on it.

That opportunity presented itself when Leamer was wearing his hat as a realtor, showing a client the space at 1122 First Street in Dwight Murray Plaza.  “Gillwoods had just closed,” said Leamer.  “I realized downtown didn’t have a diner anymore.”  Leamer suggested to the client that he consider opening one in that spot.  One thing lead to another, and Leamer ended up making the plunge himself.

Opening a restaurant is always a big risk.  So far, Jax has been a huge hit.

“When I saw where they were located, I figured they’d be out of business in a month,” said Michael Holcomb, a local who owns several properties downtown.  “Then, I tasted the food.  I eat at Jax three or four times a week now.”

Because this is Napa, Leamer was able to assemble an enviable team to run the diner.  Chef Jason Buckley, who helped make the Napa Valley Grille a success before leaving California for a few years, has delivered on the classic Americana vibe Leamer had envisioned.  Bobby Cabrerra, for years a fixture at Downtown Joe’s, sees to it the kitchen runs well and that the service is top shelf.  Tony Morales, formerly with Silverado Resort and Spa and Celadon, is the Managing Partner, ensuring guests’ expectations are met.  Part of that is having the courage to occasionally follow the chef’s whims and go off-menu.  “We participated in BottleRock, and served Tater Tots smothered in cheese and crumbled bacon.  People loved them.”

“We’re really making old school new again,” said Leamer.  “Come in and enjoy our relaxed atmosphere with your neighbors while sharing great comfort food, beer & wine, while enjoying the game on one of the large screen TVs .  Jax is Napa’s place for Happy Hour, Wed-Fri from 3pm-7pm with $3 beer, $5 wine, special appetizers and dinner entrees per our clients’ request. Look for longer hours  Wednesday through Friday with a menu that will include fried chicken and other favorites.

JAX will accommodate your fantasy football draft or private event. Just give them a call at 707-812-6853. Open daily, 7am at 1222A First Street, off Dwight Murray Plaza, west of Main and First Streets, serving breakfast till 3pm.  Wednesday through Friday, open till 9pm.

As Morales says, “Come in, relax and get your mule on.”

Napa BBQ Chefs Share Their Secrets – A Barbecue Round Table


by Stephen Ferry

There are many ways to spell it. And, there might be nearly as many ways to do BBQ as there are BBQ chefs.

You know the drill.  Marinate, Rub, Slow-Cook, Sauce.  Along the way, there a lot of options as you go through the process.  Every BBQ chef in Napa has his/her own idea of what makes the best BBQ and smoked meats.  There seems to be only one common point of agreement: Nobody uses pelletized fuel.   

Bounty Hunter owner, Mark Pope, thinks that great BBQ must start with the best ingredients and the right equipment for the job.  “You must also take the time and effort to achieve excellence,” says Pope.  “There are no short cuts
in BBQ!”

When asked what makes his BBQ so good, Big Ned Foster, owner of Big Ned’s BBQ at the Food Mill, said “I do a New Orleans style of BBQ.  It’s the love that I put into it that makes it so good.”   

Michael Hanaghan, proprietor of the Five Dot Ranch at Oxbow Public Market, is opening The Cook House next to the original meat market to serve customers fresh cooked BBQ that will be smoked out on the deck.  Hanaghan said, “For good BBQ, it’s all about the beef.  We are a seventh–generation, cattle ranch, so we only BBQ beef.  We are committed to providing a product that is always 100% free of antibiotics or additional hormones. We practice low-stress handling and strongly believe that, in order to raise all natural cattle, we must provide healthy, open, grazing spaces that are sustainable to both the cattle and environment.”          

“What makes my stuff good is that it’s unique,” said Jon Bodnar, owner and chef at Smoakville.  “Texan and Californian BBQ is found everywhere. But, when was the last time you stumbled on a genuine, old-school, classic BBQ shack? Everything we have here at Smoakville is made from scratch, from the rubs and pickles to the sauces and desserts. We pay close attention to how the final product is seasoned, cooked, and even the visual aesthetics.”  BBQ means many different things to different people.  It’s not just about the food. “BBQ is important to me because it is all about preserving the history, culture, and tradition of America’s cuisine,” added Bodnar.

“My philosophy on great BBQ involves friends and family experiencing my hospitality,” said Richard “Joey” Ray, Chef De Cuisine at VINeleven at The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa. “Hospitality to me is the feeling of being welcomed, whether it be at my home or at my restaurant table.”

The thoughts are echoed by Bounty Hunter’s Pope. “BBQ is the true American cuisine. Born and raised in the USA and passed down from generation to generation, BBQ is a national pastime – an event that brings together friends and family.”   

The choice of wood is key to each BBQ chef’s technique.   “Hickory is our wood of choice,” said Paul Menzel, owner of Red Rock North. “We use hickory and cherry firewood, which is a part of what gives our BBQ its distinctive taste,” said Hanaghan of Five Dot Ranch.   “The other part we can’t tell you!” “For smoking our meats at Bounty Hunter, we use a mixture of woods,” said Pope. “The type of wood depends on the item that’s to be smoked. Most of it is apple-wood – not chips or little chunks, but large, split logs. The logs work better for us as they don’t fully ignite, but rather slowly smolder, giving the meat a nice consistent smoke. Other woods that we use are hickory, mesquite, oak (Cabernet Sauvignon-aged barrel staves), and grapevines.”    Ray declared, “For wood I like to use hickory, because it produces a rich, smoke flavor and the quintessential flavor most people think of when meats are smoked, but here in California good hickory is sometimes hard to find, so I also use cherry or another fruit wood.  The fruit wood tends to impart a little softer smoke flavor.  I prefer this for poultry products. It tends to complement things like chicken and turkey and not overpower them.”    Bodnar confided, “After rubbing the meat with our secret house spices we smoke the meat anywhere from 4 hours to 12 hours, depending on the cut. For smoking, we use red–wine, barrel staves.”    

Opinions about the best libation to enjoy with BBQ vary as widely as the recipes. “I have been doing food and wine pairing for Napa wineries for many years and the best pairing I’ve ever found was Bourbon with my ribs,” opined Bodnar. “This is  because we smoke with oak barrels and bourbon. Being aged with oak adds the right amount of spice, char, and vanilla notes that pair great with the ribs.” “For the gentlemen, anything – as long as it’s beer,” said Foster.   Ray agreed.  “A great, cold beer is one of my first suggestions. A lower alcohol content and something crisp.  I tend to stay away from big IPA’s for BBQ because they can get unpleasantly bitter when lots of spices are involved.  The carbonation in beer or sparkling wine tends to cleanse the palate of the fat that makes BBQ so delicious, preparing your palate for a next bite that is as flavorful as the last.  A good rose’ or white, with a good acidity level will also help wash away the fat from your palate in the same way the carbonation does. A beverage with a little residual sugar is nice for spicier BBQ to help put out the fire.  But, as I am a true Southerner, if nothing else, give me a glass of sweet or iced tea any day of the week.”     

“When we first opened Bounty Hunter Smokin’ BBQ, our customers thought we were crazy.  How can wine and BBQ go together?” recalled Pope. “Over time, we’ve changed their minds. Napa Cab, Syrah, Petite Sirah and, of course, Zinfandel, all work great with BBQ. With that said, if you want to enjoy a frosty cold beer with our smokin’ BBQ, we won’t stop you!”

Each chef has his own story about how they got all fired up about BBQ. “About thirty years ago, my brother, Dan, trekked through Texas to learn about BBQ,” Menzel said. “Upon his return he taught what he learned to me, I always took BBQ for granted growing up in Tennessee,” Ray revealed. “Great BBQ is everywhere in the south.  Each town’s local joint is an institution in the community.  Then, when I moved away to attend culinary school in the early 2000’s, I started to realize what I was missing.  My craving for great BBQ led me to want to create it here in California.” Bodnar added, “It’s always been a passion and a dream of mine and when I saw the need and desire for old fashioned BBQ in the Napa Valley it all just came together.”

Whether its pork or beef or chicken, if it’s summer, it’s always better on the ‘Q.

Bellissimo Gourmet Italian Delicatessen

Bellissimo-deli WP

By John & Dorothy Salmon

 Fabulous Deli Food on Napa’s Main Street

Napa’s exciting restaurant scene continues to add new places for all of us to dine and to be entertained. In addition to all of the other important benefits of this beautiful place where we live, it’s a great place to be hungry. It seems like every week we hear about a new place opening. In just the past few months we have enjoyed City Winery adding an exciting new restaurant to our beloved Napa Valley Opera House; LuLu’s Kitchen adding amazing food and wine to their menu; Lucero Olive Oil bringing expanded olive oil experiences to downtown Napa (including chocolate flavored olive oil); Napkins Bar and Grill buzzing with people having fun every night of the week and into the wee hours.  Coming soon, we look forward to an expanded Bounty Hunter, and the new Velo Pizzeria, Mango on Main, BurgerFi and many more additions to our burgeoning foodie scene. You can’t walk down many blocks in downtown Napa today and not smell, eat and enjoy a wonderful variety of food choices!

Among her other nonprofit endeavors, Dorothy is the President of the Board of The Pathway Home, which is a private nonprofit that provides comprehensive residential treatment for our Nation’s military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who are impacted by Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other post-combat, mental health challenges. The Pathway Home assists these warriors to successfully reintegrate into their families and the community at large. A few weeks ago, Dorothy held a luncheon meeting at Bellisimo with some of the Pathway Board members to talk about the Pathway program and to do the research for this Napa Valley Marketplace restaurant review. That’s Dorothy’s idea of multi-tasking!

Everyone thought the food was fabulous, well priced, and the atmosphere and friendly service was wonderful. Executive Chef, Glenn Haffner, and owner, Ali Ince, can be seen at the restaurant most days, greeting customers and making everyone happy. Originally from Turkey, Ali has 17 years of experience in the restaurant business. He began his career with a Five Star restaurant in Topkapa Palace in Istanbul, then with Celebrity Cruise Lines, and then with the same Bellissimo Deli concept in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.

Bellissimo serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and stays open until 8:00 pm. If you are hankering for a sandwich, head for Bellissimo. You can order pre-prepared, lunch boxes and dinners to take home and enjoy ($8.95 to $12.00 for box lunches and $8.95 to $15.95 for dinners). You can’t beat that. If you have been looking for an authentic Italian Deli, try Bellissimo. The food and service is fabulous and it is becoming our new place to hang out for lunch, to meet friends for a quick breakfast, or to have a committee meeting in style. You can expect quick service, a friendly environment and great food at very reasonable prices.

The lunch menu will make you think you are in Italy, with Chef Haffner’s own family blend of ingredients, such as in-house–roasted, pork loin on a toasted Sassari sandwich, sliced thick and topped with fresh pear, frisee and rosemary aioli on a baguette ($7.95). Yountville Mayor and Pathway Board member, John Dunbar, ordered that and declared it to be incredible. All breads are freshly baked daily, according to Ali. So, early in the morning you can order fried egg with grilled eggplant, zucchini, onions and mozzarella on a fresh-baked bagel, croissant, or their own fabulous bread ($3.95). You could also start your morning with a three-egg omelet stuffed with rosemary flank steak, provolone, tomatoes and arugula ($5.95) or honey–pecan, sticky buns made with cardamom yeast dough ($1.95), or Belissimo’s now famous Napa Scramble of three eggs mixed with honey-maple ham, bacon, spinach, peppers, onions, mozzarella and parmesan, served with rosemary home fries ($6.95). Their mixed-berry tart, with pastry cream and fresh berries ($3.50) are to die for, as are their fruit Crostata made with fresh, seasonal fruit and marzipan ($3.50). You can imagine you are in New Orleans if

you order their Apple Beignet’s ($3.50) with a cup of Peets Coffee or Peet’s teas. Why would you want to cook breakfast when you can head to Bellissimo where they can do it better and less expensively? If you are watching your gluten, you can order their gluten-free Sonoma, risotto salad, with rice, oranges, almonds and bell peppers in citrus-mint dressing ($7.95 per lb.).

At the Pathway lunch meeting, Dorothy ordered the Torino sandwich, made with brie, frisee, pears and fig tapenade ($7.95) and it was delicious. Board members, Jeannine Yeomans and Kate Berquist, each enjoyed the Catania sandwich, made with grilled vegetables, roasted peppers, basil, caper aioli, provolone and secret ingredients, on a baguette ($6.95).

Bellissimo carries 90 different, local and international wines, with new wines by the glass featured every week for $6.00 to $7.00 per glass with your
lunch or dinner. The 30 beers that they feature cost from $3.00 per glass if you drink it in the restaurant, to $7.95 to $9.95 if you are taking it home with you. There are plenty of soft drinks, Peet’s coffee and teas to choose from for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Meats and cheeses are sold by the pound, with such tasty options as prosciutto ($22.95); whole milk mozzarella ($11.95); pepper jack ($9.95); Horseradish cheddar ($11.95); Havarti with dill ($11.95); and Bianco D’Oro Italian Dry Salami ($9.95); Lemon-pepper chicken ($11.95); London Broil roast beef ($14.95); Cracked-pepper turkey breast ($11.95)  and rosemary, sun–dried tomato ham ($12.95) just  to name a few. The meat department rivals those  seen in New York or Sicily. Their salads are unique  and wonderful and you can even order a make your own sandwich if you can’t find something on their menu that you like … which is pretty hard to imagine!

Are you having a party and want fabulous food but you don’t want to cook yourself? Their catering department can help. Your guests will love the jumbo lump-crab cakes, stuffed with black and white sesame seeds, sweet corn, bell pepper and panko ($5.99); or poached calamari and shrimp salad with cannellini beans, brandy mayonnaise and American caviar ($55.00
for a half tray).

Give Bellissimo a try for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You won’t be disappointed!  Just prior to writing this review we brought our 4 and 7 year old grandchildren to Bellissimo.  They report that the gluten free canollis are amazing and they gave the chocolate muffins and chocolate chip cookies a standing ovation.  Kids know what’s good!

1000 Main Street, Ste. 100 | Napa, CA | (707) 266-1085

Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  |

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.

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review May 2012

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review May 2012

Ca’ Momi – Napa’s Amazing Italian Restaurant in the Oxbow Market

By Dorothy and John Salmon

W e stopped by the Oxbow Market recently and had dinner at Ca’ Momi.  It was incredible!  Ca’ Momi has some of the best, most authentic and most interesting Italian food anywhere. Saying that in Napa these days means that it has to really be good, since we now have some of the best Italian restaurants in Northern California. The Oxbow Market, on First Street in downtown Napa, is full of great food and fun places and lots of interesting people. Ca’ Momi is located across from Annette’s Chocolates, in the middle of an amazing food row. It is the ONLY Pizzeria in Napa to be officially certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Association, an Italian association that oversees the strict requirements of Neapolitan pizza making. Only five restaurants in California have made this prestigious list and fewer than sixty have received it in the United States. We understand why Ca’ Momi is beloved by REAL Italian foodies. Not only is the food really good, it is served by the staff and chefs with love, flair, and real “Napkin” homespun fun.  If you are lucky enough to be there when Bella is working, you are in for a real treat.

Bella was working the front counter the night we were there, and we had fun recalling Napa before wine and the Regusci family history, and what it was like growing up in Yountville when dairy farms and prune orchards outnumbered vineyards. Bella’s family dairy farm was located on the Silverado Trail near Yountville. If you want to know some great stories about Napa County’s past life, sit at the counter and talk to Bella (not her real name, but at Ca Momi, everyone has a favorite Italian name). While we were enjoying our meal, Bella was giving tips about Napa to a couple from New York City. It was pretty interesting to hear them rave about the food at Ca’ Momi, since New York City has a few great Italian restaurants of its own!

Ca’ Momi is Italian for “House of Momi.” It was named for local legend, Momi dea Bionda, and his obsession with his vineyards and house in northern Italy that now belong to the Ca’ Momi owners.  Owners, Dario De Conti, Valentina Guolo-Migotto, and Stefano Migotto believe that Momi’s protective spirit is still watching over their property. Their wines are a celebration of his passions and his quest for the simple pleasures of life. The wines that they sell, along with their pizza, pasta and the most incredible desserts in the Valley, are as good as their food! After making great wines for several years, the three owners decided to show Napa locals and visitors alike what a REAL Italian pizzeria was like; with wood fired Italian pizzas, traditional Italian pastries and terrific Italian wines, mostly theirs, with other wines from smaller regions in Italy. The pizzas are the best … and don’t you dare ask for red pepper flakes or parmesan cheese!

For all you Slow Food lovers, Ca’ Momi is a proud partner in the Slow Food movement in San Francisco and Napa. For our Italians in Napa, this is like being at home and, for those travelers who love Italy, it’s almost like being there.

We began our dinner with two of their great wines. Dorothy ordered the 2010 Double Gold SF Chronicle Wine Competition Zinfandel ($17.95). She thinks her son Rob’s Zinfandel is the best in the world, but this Zin is fabulous. John ordered the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Silver Award winner ($17.95) that he thought was very good. While we were sipping our wine, talking to our neighbors from New York, and going down memory lane with Bella, we crunched on some amazing Schiacciata Al Rosmarino O All, ‘ Olio Pizza, flat bread, Sicilian sea salt and organic rosemary ($5.25). This stuff is REALLY habit forming.
For appetizers, John ordered Ca’ Momi’s famous asparagus soup (Crema Di Asparagi) garnished with Bellwether crème fraiche ($8.50) and Dorothy had the Verdure Artoste, oven roasted seasonal vegetables ($8.50).  Both were wonderful. For the main course, John ordered the Lasagne Alla Bolognese, pork, beef, tomato sauce, with parmigiano reggiano and besciamella sauce ($13.75). It was served piping hot in its own lovely glass baking dish. Dorothy ordered the Cannelloni Ricotta and Spinaci, spinach, Bellwether Jersey ricotta and besciamella sauce ($13.50). Everything was cooked to perfection, hot and tasty.

Bella went on and on about the desserts, so we had to try them for this review. If you believe that, then we are better story tellers than we think! We did not have to have our arms twisted to try the freshly baked, six Bigne’s ($8.95) and a Millefoglie ($8.00). Millefoglie is the Italian version of the French pastry Mille-feuille, which means a layered cake that can be filled with a number of delicious treats. We could have ordered a latte macchiato, a cappuccino or an Italian Macchiato if we could have put one more thing in our stomachs, but that was NOT possible after this dinner.

The ambiance of Ca’ Momi is wonderful, with reclaimed wood, corrugated metal and lots of everything Italian in a very small place that is bustling with excitement, and a staff of hard–working, very friendly people, who are there to make you happy. Try it!  Sit inside or outside and you will never be disappointed.


Spezzatino and Polenta

300 ml veggie broth or water
2 small diced carrots.
2 small diced yellow onions
2 small diced celery
1 garlic cloves, chopped
25 gr (1oz) butter
150 ml red wine (NO OAK), or Pinot Grigio
200 gr (4 oz.) lardo
400 gr (16 oz.)beef shoulder cut in 1 inch squares
250 gr (10 oz.) Christina tomatoes.
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 spring sage
black pepper
flour as needed

Cut the meat into cubes, medium sized pieces. Once the meat is cut, toss it in the flour, set aside. Cut the lardo into small pieces.

Heat the oil and butter together, sauté all the veggies until onions are translucent. Add the meat and the dried rosemary. Cook it for about 20 minutes. Add the wine and let the alcohol to cook off. Smell it and taste it.

Transfer the Spezzatino to a deep hotel pan, tie up the bunch of sage and add the water and tomatoes, cover it with foil and put it in the oven for 3 ½ hours at 275 degrees. Taste the meat for doneness and salt; readjust the salt if needed. The meat should be tender and melt in your mouth. If we aren’t there just yet, give it another 40 minutes and try again. Yes, it is the best part of the dish, tasting over and over.

60 grs (4 oz.) polenta
1 cup of water
½ tbs salt

Heat water until boiling point, add the polenta and salt, whisking constantly.  Polenta will be done within 5 minutes.

Pour the polenta in the middle of a deep bowl, add the spezzatino around it, garnish with some micro basil and EVOO. Buon Apetito.


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

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


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.