Sunday, December 18, 2011


I don't pretend to be a culinary expert, but I know a few things about French onion soup--Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée. I've made it for years from Julia Childs's recipe, beginning with a ton of onions which cook down and caramelize into a little brown blob which produces a very fine flavored soup. The only place to order onion soup is in a good French restaurant, where you know it will be served hot from the oven with a large crouton and bubbling cheese melted on top.

What better way to start lunch on a chilly December day at Angèle? Located in Napa's riverfront area among the newest shops and some of our most prestigious dining establishments, Angèle is like a short visit to France--several brands of pastis  behind the bar, French titles on the menu, and French music in the background. Despite the chill of the day, it is warm enough in the sun that some diners are having lunch outside. I sigh to see another empty counter but pull up a stool. Even at the bar diners get a cloth placemat and napkin. Memories of previous visits whet my appetite--I had a great birthday party here a couple of years ago in their private room. The wine list entices, but today I am saving my alcohol consumption for an evening party, so choose water for my beverage.

Even the french bread at Angèle is excellent. It's an Acme bread made to their specifications with lots of crunchy crust. The soup arrives in an individual tureen hot from the oven, the rim overflowing with browned cheese. Just delicious. Although     the broth has salt, the combination of onions and cheese lends an earthy sweetness. A spoon of the broth-soaked crouton dripping with cheese makes my mouth happy.

Onion soup is very filling but the occasion calls for something more, if not a full entrée. I decide on the Salade Lyonnaise, which is on the appetizer menu, but is large enough to be a main course. Frisèe covers a bed of warm De Puy lentils and carrots in a vinaigrette with lardons, another French staple--Julia recommended them for many of her dishes. In America we would just use crisped bacon for flavoring, but the French use salt pork. You buy a slab of what is mostly fat with a thin strip of meaty rind. You cut it into pieces the size of a short french fry and sauté them to render out some of the fat. Then they go into your dish to add a chewy bit of flavor. The lardons in my salad are meaty and accent the dish with their familiar smoky taste.

The intrigue of this salad is the "crispy farm egg." The bartender explains the eggs are cooked in the shell sous-vide until they have the perfect runny yolk and firm white. Then they are peeled, coated in panko and deep fried quickly until brown and crisp. I easily cut the warm egg with my fork and the yolk runs onto the greens, a perfect complement. I could eat a lot of eggs served this way!

A couple enters and sits at the end of the bar for drinks. I think about asking if they are visitors or locals, but they're engrossed in their own conversation. I manage only a smile in their direction. No social encounters today--it's a good thing the food is so wonderful.

In the past some of my post-lunch-encounter feelings of bliss could be accounted for by the wine consumed with those meals, but today I have had no wine and am still feeling pretty wonderful at the end of my meal. I walk around the area, looking into the shops I haven't seen before, grateful to live so close to such bounty and for my mini trip to France thanks to Angèle.

Sunday, October 9, 2011



Brix rhymes with "sticks" and is named for the scale used to measure the amount of sugar in grapes. This October, with a late harvest, someone is out there with a hydrometer most days hoping the level is right. The restaurant, on Highway 29 north of Yountville, has a great wine shop, with small production wines not available elsewhere. Remodeled since my last visit,  Brix still focuses on farm-to-table. My favorite thing at Brix--aside from the food-- is suspended from the ceiling. I first saw wine bottle chandeliers in an artsy shop in Austria, but now I know they were in Napa Valley first. Made by JeAnne Ettrick of San Mateo, they reflect ambient light and remind one to order a bottle of something divine.

Despite tourist season in high gear and the approaching noon hour, Brix is not exactly busy. It looks like another solo hour at the counter, just the bartender and me. A group of diners sits   outside in the sunny garden, which extends to rows of vines receding into the hills. My hemoglobin must be low, because I'm in a mood for meat. Mulling the choice between a cheeseburger and a sausage and pasta dish, I consult Dustin the bartender. He recommends both and isn't sure which he will choose for himself later on. I pick the cheeseburger along with a glass of Groth Sauvignon Blanc.
While sipping my wine and waiting for lunch, I ask Dustin to show me the bar menu. This bar is rumored to be a great place for a late afternoon bite to eat with happy hour prices for wine and mixed drinks. Dustin confirms that most afternoons after 4:00 there is a crowd of winery folks at the bar. The bar menu has a lot in common with the lunch eats--the same cheeseburger, vegetable tempura, pizza, flatbreads and cheeseboard. There are also oysters, mussels, and a salmon carpaccio. I make a mental note to come back with a girlfriend when there may actually be some men to meet here, then shift my focus to lunch.
The best thing about the burger is the choice of cheese--brie, cheddar or blue. Blue sounds just right, and the flavor it adds to the succulent beef is sublime. I am especially impressed by the glamorous slice of heirloom tomato and fresh crisp lettuce that I slap onto the burger and struggle to keep from falling out onto my lap. Dustin explains much of the produce is from their garden in the back. He praises the lavender they grow and use in desserts.
Every bite of my burger and almost all of the fries have disappeared, and I'm pretty full, but the dessert menu beckons. Have I ever eaten anything made with lavender? If not, it's time to try. The lavender and honey panna cotta,  a two inch round, comes on a plate with a tiny lake of honey caramel, and across the lake, a forest of fresh berries and cream gratinée. The flavor is delicate and, well, lavender. A bit of panna cotta, a tad of honey and a berry or two makes a delightful mouthful of flavors. I continue on to my writing class feeling fat and happy. What more could one want in Napa Valley, aside from a handsome beau with whom to share the pleasure?
Next time I'm hungry in Yountville, I'll avoid the tourist crowd and head for Brix.


Friday, September 2, 2011


         A week ago I peeked into Oenotri, a little bit of Italia in Napa.  It has a long bar open to the kitchen, with a rack of pots and pans overhead. Arriving for lunch, I saw that one person had taken the two lone seats at the long counter. I moseyed over to the real bar, that is where liquor is served. Unfortunately the restaurant and the patio were nearly empty, so my only conversation was with Steve, the young bartender. Oenotri just started serving lunch in June--perhaps it hasn't caught on yet.
          Before I get to the food,  I  have to laugh about constant references to this recently developed area of First Street as the "west end." It isn't even a quarter of a mile from First and Main--it's three blocks.   If this is the west end, then what is Browns Valley, some three miles west of here but still in Napa?
          I started with the wine list and despite the price ($13) had to try a Slovenian wine.  Steve, who clearly enjoys his job and is proud of the restaurant, gave me a taste before committing me to a glass. Its name is daunting: Ribolla Gialla by Edi Simcic, Rubikon, Goriska Brda. At least the Rubikon sounds familiar! Wikipedia tells me Brda is a region of Slovenia and the grapes are commonly grown in Italy.  A pale gold medium-bodied white, it  lacked the strong oakiness of the chardonnays I avoid. An excellent choice and a generous serving.
          A glance at the menu told me the fare here is not what usually makes me salivate. Of the twelve items on the daily changing lunch menu, seven included sausage or pancetta. Then there was steak, lamb and rabbit. So if you're not into meat or eating cuddly animals, Oenotri might not be for you. The menu hails from the southern parts of Italy's boot.  Steve explained they smoke and cure all the meat themselves. They butcher a pig once a week on site and sell a large variety of in-house salumi (salami). The chefs, Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde,  source their food supplies locally, including the gardens at Copia.
          I ordered the Nadia eggplant parmigiano panini, which included basil, tomato sauce and mozzarella. A comforting and delicious sandwich. Rather than that flattened toasted bread most folks call panini, the sandwich was served on a warm, crunchy roll. The eggplant had been lightly breaded and fried--crisp on the outside but soft and smooth on the inside. It was like the best meatball sandwich you could imagine only with eggplant instead of meat. On the same plate came simple garden lettuces,  with a mix of oil and vinegar which couldn't have been more perfect. I nearly inhaled this sandwich, pausing once in a while to sip my wine.
          Steve informed me that oenotri  means vine cultivators and goes back to before ancient Rome. The portrait on the wall above the brick oven is of  Curtis Di Fede's great uncle. There is a very authentic feel to the  Oenotri experience. The pizza oven was imported from Naples. The space itself is simple--high ceilings, brick walls.  The kitchen staff were easily observed cutting meat, and one held up what looked like a bag of sous vide vegetables. I would have loved to try their polenta, served at dinner, with your choice of parmigiano-reggiano, crescenza or gorgonzola cheeses. I bet it's fantastic.
          The honey panna cotta   was my choice for dessert, served with kadota figs and croccante dolce. I usually don't go for desserts that shimmy like jello on the plate coming towards me, but this panna cotta's  flavor was absolutely heavenly--it made me think of an infant dreaming of mother's milk. It had just the right amount of sweetness from the honey, divine with the beautiful pink fig slices.
          So meat eaters, check this place out. And if your date is into meat but you're not, you could be happy with the pizza, salmon, pasta, or eggplant.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I'm not talking about green fields--here in northern California, fields are brown in July--or even the wonderful San Francisco vegetarian restaurant Green's, but greens purchased at the Napa farmers' market and made into a salad, accompanied by locally grown lettuce, radishes and low fat dressing. Most of my lunches in the months since I returned from Europe have included a homemade salad. But I miss blogging and don't want my readers to give up on me; hence this update.

I hate to admit that, although I maintained my weight while slurping cider and chowing down quiche and macarons in Europe, I gained a few pounds after I returned. Graduation parties, weddings, barbeques, wine tastings abounded and I seemed to have rediscovered my need to eat everything in sight. I have pushed myself back into diet mode.

Not that I've totally stayed away from restaurants since May. Went to Las Palmas on Yajome for Mexican food with a friend. He declared their chili verde to be authentic; my taco salad was good too and the extensive menu included everything from banana enchiladas to filet mignon.  

Pierre, a French university student, stayed with me for a few weeks and I took him to the Kitchen Door at the Napa Oxbow. They have an eclectic menu and quick service, but I haven't liked everything I've ordered. We tried their Flammekueche, a regional dish from Alsace, where Pierre lives. It looked and tasted like pizza; Pierre said it lacked the signature cream topping, which makes it a dish for Alsatians who are thin or have a cardiologist on call. Cooking for Pierre got me back into entertaining mode and I found myself preparing things like crème brûlée, tasting it before dinner and then finishing whatever remained when the guests had left.

I have also been working harder at meeting men in the traditional way, that is via the Internet. After encountering Europeans who were interested in the arts, literature, and me, I decided to mount a search here in Napa. I advertised on Craig's List for a  culture buddy and got a good response. Many coffee dates later, I have met some nice fellows who are potential symphony partners, but none I really want to date. I spent Pierre's first week in the U.S.  working furiously to introduce him to other young people. Recognizing that I rarely apply this much effort to my own social life, I signed up on and followed up diligently on all the connections who seemed even vaguely promising. More coffee dates. Some follow up. No sparks. The search continues.

So I'm back on track eating my veggies and will plan a lunch encounter soon. I understand Oenotri is now open for lunch. Eiko's too. And there are some old favorites I haven't blogged on: Angèle, Bistro Don Giovanni, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. So many places to eat and meet. 'Til then!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

La Parisienne

If you know I've been to Paris and are waiting on the edge of your computer chair to hear the juicy details, this is for you.  Exhausted from walking and waiting in long lines at every museum and attraction, I couldn't be sure I'd find the energy to write anything but a diary of whining, as opposed to wining. Jet lag did, however, provide  time in the middle of the night for writing, exhausted or not.

With the pathetic value of the dollar in Paris, I didn't pursue any fine dining, unless you include lunch at the Paris Rotary Club, which was delightful, but cost me sixty euros, or $90. The club of  250 meets at the Port Dauphine Pavilion, which is a lovely tent-like place, also used for weddings, on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Of the 250, there are only fifteen women, so I was surrounded by attractive men in suits and ties. I joined a round table of eight and truly enjoyed the conversation--some of them spoke English--until the food was served and the start of the business meeting demanded silence. On my right sat a gent who spoke no English, but proudly told me in French he was eighty-five years old--and in pretty good shape, I would say. On my left a charming middle aged fellow arrived late and regaled me with stories of his vacation in southern California, when he tried to rescue an injured pelican, keeping it in the hotel bathtub while he exhausted all known sources of rescue. He found it painful, because his young daughter was with him, when the SPCA told him they could only put the bird out of its misery. So he left the pelican behind in the bathtub to be dealt with by hotel staff.

Back to the pricey food. First the waiter delivered a lovely and substantial salad--a wedge of tender lettuce leaves decorated with crab and a few tiny shrimp, then covered with a tangy pink dressing. I was so busy talking, I had to quickly finish mine as my tablemates' plates were whisked away. I noted that every one of them cleaned his plate--a hungry bunch,  or maybe they were trying to get their 60 euros worth. The main course came, a piece of chicken, nicely cooked, but just chicken, and some rice studded with something red--chopped pepper or pimento. Boring! I couldn't identify the dessert, but it was muffin-shaped and mocha-flavored, partly frozen, served with a slice of kiwi, raspberries, caramel sauce, shaved chocolate and what I thought was a tiny cherry dipped in chocolate, waving some dried green leaves like a flag. Pretty tasty. And of course the wine flowed freely, both red and white from Bordeaux.

For the rest of my Parisian food consumption, I relied primarily on cooking in my tiny apartment, a challenge considering the only cooking utensils were two small pots without lids. I also lunched in various cafes.  I had a delicious Soupe à l'Oignon one chilly afternoon at the Victor Hugo café,  close to the house where the writer lived in the Marais. Before tackling the horrendous lines at the D'Orsay museum, I fortified myself at the Buci Cafe in St. Germain, just down the street from my apartment. Their quiche was rather unrefined--two inches tall, dense, and filled with chunks of salty ham. Another day,  after waiting in line to see St. Chappelle--only to discover that the main room with the glorious stained glass was closed for renovation, as it was on my last visit, I dashed across the street to another café to soothe my soul with a simple but perfect plate of salmon, boiled potatoes and spinach with crème fraȋche. Do you hear the whining coming through?

I had some yummy take-out desserts, including the macarons from Ladurée. I managed to cut in line at the famed patisserie without knowing it, making me feel like a real Parisienne. I bought two cookies without gasping at the price of over eight euros. Cookies at $6 each--that's twice what Bouchon charges. They were pretty amazing cookies, one filled with an intense  high percent cocoa cream, the other oozing with caramel. However, I had no desire to deposit any more euros at Ladurée.

I warmed my cold hands with a rich cup of cocoa in a crèpe place late one afternoon after a long walk in a chilly wind. Most nights at home, I refreshed my spirits with a dry, slightly alcoholic cider that I brought home from the grocery store and carried up six flights of stairs. Then one night I  dropped one of the bottles and, happy it didn't break, removed the cap to have the bubbly stuff explode all over the walls and ceiling of my tiny kitchen. I also visited the Starbucks in St. Germain, where the latte was four euros, and the cute baristo told me Parisians love Starbucks because "they love everything American." He also said their fare is the same as in the U.S. "but we have pancakes!"

Most of my contacts in Paris were with indifferent waiters and ticket sellers. A few lovely gentlemen came to my rescue as I struggled with my luggage on stairs. I would have liked to grab the rugged gray haired fellow coming out of the Metro who skipped up the steps to pick up my monster bag and then carried it all the way down several sets of stairs to the turnstile. But I was on my way to the train station and the mysteries of eastern France, Germany, and Austria. New adventures awaited, of both the social and culinary varieties.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Yountville, California, with its population of less than 3,000, boasts some of the finest restaurants in northern California, three of them owned by famed restaurateur Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Bouchon). With its adjacent bakery, Bouchon is a place to celebrate French food.

Bouchon's cookbook is on my shelf, but I make my first visit on a dreary March Friday of pouring-down rain. The L-shaped counter is adjacent to the oyster bar, taking up about a quarter of the space in the room; for all its fame, this is a small restaurant. Bartender Chris presents the brown paper menu wrapped around a cloth napkin. The counter is a busy place at 12:30, and I suspect whenever the restaurant is open. A group of three young women sits to my left, and soon two couples are to my right. No single guys, but cozy!

The menu offers many dishes I would like to try--onion soup, Croque Madame (fried ham and cheese sandwich to soothe the soul), mussels, steak frites, pâté, escargots--all so very French; how does one choose?  Trying to keep it simple so there's room for dessert, I select the Salade de Betteraves as a first course, followed by Truite Amandine. And my signature Sauvignon Blanc--from Napa Valley. Bouchon is known for its baguettes shaped like stalks of wheat and served with delicious sweet butter.

I taste the salad and study all of its fascinating parts. Small red beets (betteraves), pieces of poached rhubarb, leaves of roasted lettuce from Bouchon's garden, a sweet white cheese called Tomme Dolce and roasted hazelnuts. Sprinkled on top are some tiny yellow flowers that look a bit like the wallflowers I just planted in my front yard. With a light vinaigrette, this salad is an edible work of art. I'm thinking the diet is safe so far.

I ask the young woman to my left if she and her friends are visiting and learn that although she has spent the last year in Boston, Clemente is from Paris. All right! An expert at the table. I tell her plans for my upcoming trip to Europe and she gives me the name of a Paris bakery to visit for Macarons. I suggest she try Bouchon's amazing cookies of the same name. Clemente judges her quiche as not the same as a quiche in France, but good nevertheless. Her friends aren't able to finish their Croque Madames slathered in mornay sauce and accompanied by  mounds of French fries. Before they depart for wine tasting, we chat about local wineries.

The couple on my right has finished their steak tartare and saffron mussels. I have no interest in raw beef, but find the mussels are plentiful and look yummy--maybe next time. My trout arrives as the seats to my right refill. I meet two more young women--one is from the Bay Area and her visitor is from North Dakota. The trout is served butterflied, head still attached. The "body" is covered with beautiful buttery haricots verts (in English--green beans) and slivered, toasted almonds. Quite tasty, and except for the butter, I'm still in diet territory.

A little chocolate seems to be in order and I go for the Marquise au Chocolat, a thick, dark slice of chocolate mousse, with a dab of whipped cream and some burnt orange cream on the plate for contrast, and a couple of pralines for crunch. A true chocolate transfusion--heavenly! Yeah, forget the diet.

Bouchon has daily specials, so one could have a nice meal for under $50 with wine. Today's dessert special is  "bouchons," their special cork-shaped chocolate brownies, which are also available in the bakery. Once "uncorked," the French cuisine at Bouchon is to be enjoyed again and again, certainly by moi!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


If you're only interested in the yummy food at this Calistoga restaurant, skip to the third paragraph. I must begin with an update on my mission in writing this blog. I began with the intention of meeting interesting men while eating delicious lunches at the counters of Napa Valley's upscale restaurants. More often than not, my only lengthy conversations have been with bartenders. The focus of my blogs has increasingly been the delicious food I have happily ingested while waiting for Mr. Right to sidle up to the bar and order lunch.
Please understand that I am not a food critic. I don't know enough about  ingredients or styles of cooking, and don't wish to be held accountable for my guesses about what's in the food and why it tastes good. I leave that to those who are capable of taking just a bite of many dishes and leaving the rest. But some of you have really enjoyed my food descriptions and have told me you're going to visit that restaurant because I made it sound so tasty. For that the eateries should be giving me some kind of dessert? The bottom line here is that I am having a blast doing the research and the writing, and I'm going to continue, romantic possibilities or not. Just make sure you remind me to go to the gym more often.
On to Solbar. I reluctantly drive up Silverado Trail to Calistoga on a rainy day, knowing I am unlikely to find a crowd of single guys hanging out at the restaurant of the Solange Spa. More likely couples on vacation and ladies of leisure getting a spa treatment and having a bite. This determination comes from my embarrassment when my girlfriend from Sonoma (Sonoma, for God's sake!) recommended this Napa Valley restaurant I didn't know. The same week the Napa Valley Register wrote about several area chefs up for an award--one of them is Brandon Sharp from Solbar. It's Food and Wine Magazine's "People's Best New Chef" for 2011. It's a public popularity contest, but I figure I'd better check it out.
Solbar's ambiance is hardly plush--more streamlined and minimalist. The spa buildings are unremarkable, although fountains and fireplaces are scattered around the property, including a fountain with flames in the center. The dining room seats about fifty people, has a concrete floor and a stone bar--very simple, but cold on a damp day. Yellow tulips on the dining tables add a nice touch.      
Of course there is no one seated at the bar.  Kat, a Calistoga native with lots of restaurant experience who loves working at Solbar, waits on me. I skip the wine and order two dishes. Solbar's menu divides the offerings between "light" (for the spa crowd, I guess) and "hearty." I choose one of each. The spicy shrimp lettuce wraps would serve as an appetizer for three people--large shrimp with glass noodles, avocado and pickled carrots on lettuce leaves.  I also order the maitake mushroom pizza, thinking  I'll take some of it home.  It has a very thin crisp crust covered with mushrooms, caramelized onions and gruyere; I don't want to stop eating.
Kat and I chat while I indulge. One other diner sits down at the far end of the bar. I hear him tell the staff he's worked out for three hours, so I guess he's one of their local "club" members who uses the gym, pool, and other facilities. Kat tells me they get a mix of tourists, locals and winery folks out for a business lunch.
I ask Kat to box the remaining pizza and am ready to skip dessert, but agree to look at the menu--always a mistake. I mean I'm doing research, right? Got to try as many dishes as possible, right? Kat tells me the last item on the menu is new: fried rhubarb pie with rosemary caramel and white chocolate ice cream. I can't imagine passing on fried pie, so decided to give it a try, even if it means another half hour at the gym. The pie, molded like one of  McDonald's apple pies, sits on a wide band of caramel that connects it to a scoop of ice cream. Warm pie, cold ice cream and sticky caramel make a nice combination.  The pie is nothing special and I can't taste the chocolate in the ice cream, but I have no problem cleaning the plate.
On a sunny summer day, Solbar would be a great place to hang out. The outdoor dining area with that mysterious water-enclosed flame, looks out on a brilliant blue lap pool. The indoor atmosphere is a bit  more clubhouse than fine dining, but the food is delicious and ample. So where are  all the single guys having lunch?

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Who says you can't buy happiness? My lunch at Bottega couldn't have been more satisfying; this Yountville bistro is my new favorite Napa Valley eatery. Michael Chiarello, owner and food celebrity, made a brief appearance shortly after I seated myself at the empty bar. A little before noon, the restaurant was about as lively as yesterday's champagne. I was greeted by bartender Fabrice, a transplant from Grenoble, France. Fabrice proved to be my perfect lunch companion, as I am gearing up for a trip to France this spring. He knows French and Italian food and could handle my few French words mixed with Spanish, since he is married to a Mexican woman. It felt like I was already in Europe, listening to him chat amiably in three languages with the manager and other staff.
To start the conversation, I brought a bag of lemons from my overflowing tree, wondering, if  they were offered to the kitchen, would they decline for security reasons or accept them graciously? The lemons never made it to the kitchen, as Fabrice and his fellow workers snapped them up to take home for lemon tart and lemonade. My adventure began with a carafe of Fumé Blanc--thank you, Robert Mondavi, for giving your Sauvignon Blanc this special name, making it easy to pick out from the competition. It is my favorite white wine--light, crisp and not too fruity.
The lunch menu is full of tantalizing items--in the Italian style, antipasti, paste and secondi courses. I started with the Shaved Artichoke Salad Two Ways. The lemon olive oil braised artichoke pieces had rich flavor and the roman fried slices on top, with shaved parmigiano reggiano offered a crispy contrast. The balance of the oily artichoke and bitter greens was perfect. Airy, warm bread with a crunchy crust came with a dipping sauce of olive oil, parmesan, garlic and herbs--oh so delicious, and great for one's breath too.
Fabrice talked about his years working in the Côte d'Azur, then as a pastry chef in Puerto Vallarta, where he met his wife. He seemed too young to have three children, one of whom is in the Spanish immersion program at Napa Valley Language Academy, where I have friends on staff. His wife speaks Spanish to the children and Fabrice, bien sûr, talks to them in French.  
I was happy to watch Fabrice work the espresso machine, pour wine and wait on three tables near the bar, bending to scoot under the counter each time one of his tables needed something. Definitely a job for a young man. The dining room began to fill up, but I was still alone at the bar.
The pasta menu provided my main course, crispy potato gnocchi mixed with tiny shallots and onions, a Valley Ford Montasio, a cheese similar to asiago, served on a layer of brilliant orange Kabocha squash. Beautiful to the eye, flavored with a touch of nutmeg, the dish had just the right amount of sweetness. What a great way to eat potatoes, onions and cheese.
While I was enjoying the gnocchi, a man seated himself at the end of the bar. I was having too good a time to pay much attention to his newspaper, smart phone and wedding band. Fabrice greeted him, as he had greeted me, "You are having lunch with me?" He then scooted under the counter to clean up a spill at one of his tables, with the kindest demeanor, enticing the embarrassed customer to laugh. What a sweetheart. Maybe I should be looking for a guy in the food service business!    
The wine carafe held a glass and a half, more than enough for me, however my pal Fabrice managed to top it off at least once, so I needed some caffeine to finish the meal. I'd never tried an affogato, but decided it would provide a little ice cream for dessert and some espresso to put my head on straight for the drive home. Bottega's affogato is served with a marcona almond cookie, nothing special by itself, but perfect in combination with the rest. It came on a petite tray; a stainless steel cup contained a scoop of caramel sea salt gelato, over which the server deftly poured an espresso shot. My mouth is watering now, remembering the exquisite blend of flavor and sensation--sweet gelato, bitter espresso, crunchy cookie. I was in heaven.
I gave Fabrice my card and told him Bottega's food is better than my memories of the food in France; he couldn't choose between the compliment and defending his homeland, so shook my hand and wished me bon voyage. I'll be back to see him again for some food bliss and another taste of Europe.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Now don't think this piece is about a huge ship trolling around the Arctic. Au contraire, it's the story of an amusing lunch encounter at Fumé Bistro in Napa. On a frontage road east of Highway 29, it is easily missed by the casual observer. I know it has a bar and serves lunch, and I like the idea of staying close to home on a rainy day.
The maître d'/waiter/bartender makes me feel welcome. He is a charming young man wearing a striped shirt and a short beard. He recites the off-menu items, advises me on the wine, and has a friendly and relaxed manner, unlike the staff in my last posting.  I'm alone at the counter until after I've ordered.
I am soon joined by one fellow and then another: a bald, bespectacled man my age and a younger fellow with a big smile whom the bartender greets warmly, seeming to know already what he is going to order. Both men take out their smart phones and become engrossed, despite the two television sets tuned to different sports channels and, of course, moi.
The salad special with grilled salmon sounds tasty, or I could try the veggie burger with fries. I choose something more exotic off the appetizer menu, a pear salad and spring rolls with duck confit. Here I must pause to sing the praises and defects of duck confit. Ignorant of its charms until I attended chef Eric Maczko's lunch demonstration at Pine Ridge Winery, I had the immense pleasure of watching him do the preparation, then consumed every bite of a confit of duck leg cooked by his staff. Absolutely wonderful flavor and texture. Of course that is no surprise, given that it is cooked in duck fat for hours.  While planning my holiday menu, I visited The Fatted Calf charcuterie at the Oxbow Market to examine the duck confit for sale. Cold, the legs don't look so appetizing, as they lie there slathered in lard.
Back to Fumé Bistro. I sip my Roth Sauvignon Blanc, knowing  the wine will oil my jaw. I start my salad and spring rolls and observe my two male barmates as they study their screens. The dipping sauce is very spicy and I'd prefer to just taste what's in the crunchy roll--a mix of crisp shredded vegetables and the sweet duck. Bald guy asks the bartender if the restaurant has wifi and what's required to "get on."  He mentions he has an iPad he might want to use.
This fellow is several seats away from me, and the other guy is farther, but I shout down the line, "I'm just curious, are you checking email or playing games?" That starts a conversation. The first diner tells me he and his wife have been in the high tech business for twenty years. They both have iPads. They split their time between homes in Silicon Valley and Napa, are investors in Sweetie Pies, my favorite Napa bakery, and as a news junky, he uses his electronic devices mainly to read. He's reading a blog while waiting for his lunch to arrive. He informs me the average teenage girl gets 150 texts a day. The research says so. I wonder how many of those are read while she's sitting in a classroom.
The other fellow, Luis Robledo, has been checking his email. He works for his family's winery in Sonoma. We chat about restaurants. It's so hard to get a dinner reservation in Napa Valley on weekends, Tech Guy's wife will only go to restaurants that use Open Table. I recommend Farm and Boon Fly on the Carneros Highway. We talk about multi-tasking; I say it doesn't really exist. People who think they are multi-tasking are simply in training for permanent hyperactivity as they jump from task to task.
I purchased an iPad two days ago and am afraid to remove it from the box. Although it's already set up with my email and an Amazon "ap," thanks to the lovely sales folks at the Apple store, how steep is the learning curve going to be? How crazy is this new device going to make me? How soon will I drop it on a hardwood floor and break it?  Tech Guy tells me how much he likes his, how he's never needed the 3G upgrade that we both paid to have included, just in case there's no wifi around.  
When I'm asked if I am a visitor to the area, I fess up, not only to being a local, but also to the fact that I'm writing a blog and they're both going to be in it. No objections, so I ask if I can take their photo. I go out to the car to get my camera and upon returning hand them both my card and a standard model release.  I don't recall the fine print, but apparently by signing, they're giving me permission to totally alter their image in any way I choose. I show them the photo I've taken and promise that is all I will post.  Only one of them signs the release.
Fumé Bistro is a neighborhood place I will definitely visit again. Good food and service, reasonable prices, and interesting company around the bar, even if they had to be pried away from their electronics.