Napa Round-up and Farewell

Here’s a round up of the final days of our extraordinary eating  (yes, and drinking)  adventures in Napa Valley. I could have spent another few weeks there, speaking with passionate food growers, vintners and chefs.  But alas, the east coast called us back to our reality.
I chose to visit Robert Sinskey Vineyardsfor many reasons.  They are fully organic and biodynamic, they grow all of their own grapes, they have an abundant cooking garden from which their chefs pull fruits and veggies and best of all, they serve lunch.I started at 11 AM with  the farm to table tour, which takes guests through the  culinary garden,  the cellar and then on to their stone terrace for lunch. Continue reading

Yountville, CA: Wine, Dine and Farm Tour

I love to plan my travels around the peak of growing season or harvest festivals. My intensive eating and wine tasting trip in Napa last week was perfectly timed. The grape harvest is late this year so farmers and winemakers were available to show me around their vineyards and share leisurely conversations with us.  I  had fascinating chats with winemakers, fruit and vegetable farmers, olive oil producers and restaurateurs.
 I had the pleasure of spending an evening in the Bardessono Hotel’s intimate courtyard, where the Hill Family Estate Winemakers hosted their annual dinner to kick off a weekend of activities called Tomatoville, an annual eating feast that celebrates the tomato harvest . Spending time in Yountville, the little town that is home to  the world famous French Laundry, Bouchon, and many tasting rooms for extraordinary  Napa wine makers, is always full of  culinary discoveries.

Brassica, Local & Mediterranean in St. Helena, CA

Last week, I headed to Napa for a carefully planned week of wine tasting, eating and learning more about the abundance of fruits and veggies in this remarkable region of California. I chose a balance of wineries that prepare and serve food from their own gardens, and restaurants that are vegetarian or which have exciting choices for vegetarians or pescatarians (yes, I eat acceptable fish, also).

Off the plane, and feeling lucky to  have somehow skirted the traffic heading out of SF, we headed to Cindy Pawlcyn’s newly  opened  BRASSICA, a “Mediterranean kitchen and wine bar”. At the entrance I noticed bright orange Sabra fruit growing in beautiful clusters. Was it a coincidence (themed planting with  Med cuisine?) or an omen bearing symbolism about the prickly ups and downs of my newly launched project? I know the flavor of this sweet and juicy desert fruit and thought about the many rewards of my culinary explorations. Positive omen, I decided.

Pawlcyn’s menu is loaded with a wide array of veg choices highlighting flavors of southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. Her innovative approach to familiar Med dishes was what I came for.  This Chef/Owner is  a pioneer in the farm to table movement in northern CA. She opened her first restaurant here in 1983 and currently owns and operates three restaurants in Napa, with Brassica being her latest. Brassica has an extensive list of wines by the glass (70!!). In addition, Pawlcyn highlights the BRASSICA 12, a dozen small production Napa winemakers who do not have tasting rooms. Her menu of small, medium and full size plates, all designed around utilizing the Napa valley’s abundant harvest and long growing season, re-enforces her identity as one of the very earliest farm to table chefs in the country. Her affable  and approachable style shined when she was a contestant in Season one of Top Chef masters.

Remember her?

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Ubuntu, Sophisticated Vegetarian in Napa

UBUNTU was one of those remarkable and sometimes enigmatic restaurants where I needed to keep the menu on the tabletop. I kept glancing at it to check for details that would help me to better understand the nuanced and complex flavors at this innovative vegetarian restaurant in Napa, CA. UBUNTU is an African worldview based on the interconnectedness of all humanity. One who has UBUNTU is known for generosity. By the end of this abundant and fascinating meal I began to understand the reference. The contemporary and uncluttered interior directs the eye to the open kitchen where prep is audible in good humored banter. Look up to the second level and notice a wall of  shaded glass, behind which is a yoga studio. It is clearly separated from diners and diners from practitioners. OM, I liked it here. Continue reading