Napa Round-up and Farewell

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. The recipes have all been developed by Chef Maria Sinskey, who has garnered many accolades for her work including being named Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 1996.  She authored two cookbooks, one of which I purchased and which has been  parked by my bedside since I returned to CT.
 THE VINEYARD KITCHEN:  MENUS INSPIRED BY THE SEASON  (2003), is an ode to Sinskey’s mother’s and grandmother’s cooking and a reflection of her many years spent cooking with  local and seasonal ingredients in both Europe and California.
Lest we should be hungry or thirsty as our garden tour began, we were served our first Pinot Noir (Three Amigos, Los Carneros, Napa, 2007) along with one supremely delicious spoonful of  glistening, pureed gazpacho.  Enjoying that single burst of flavor, fondling the ripe tomatoes on the vine and inhaling the herbaceous breezes while sipping  (slowly, slowly) the easy Pinot was just about  perfection.Once we finished our time in the garden and the caves, we headed out to the patio where we were served tartlets of roasted tomato laced with sharp Parmesan.

From the tempting cheese board , we tasted almonds moistened in local olive oil and dusted with sea salt and Sinskey’s herbs. Tomatillo mostardo was a simple and seductively delicious blend of just 3-4 ingredients which made the perfect companion to  the pungent Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog cheese and a  mild, local sheeps milk cheese called Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl.

With or without the fourth taste of wine, we would have loved that name.

As if we could have eaten more, we were served a baked and layered stack of Sinskey’s own eggplant and roasted tomatoes.  Somehow we managed to continue eating and drinking, moving on to their Cabernet Sauvignon (Vandal Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa 2007) and finishing with the Proprietary Red, Marcien, Lost Carneros, Napa, 2006.
We departed sated and with a mixed case including  each wine we had tasted.
The next morning, we strolled the vineyards  at St. Helena Winery and tasted their distinctive reds as we learned about their history and methods of growing.Our private tour was followed by a picnic on the shaded farmhouse porch.  Georgina Brandt,  owner and chef of Georgina Brandt & Co., prepared our picnic with pressed linens, vintage silver,  and lovely porcelain plates.

She is a classically trained chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed at a Michelin star restaurant in Rennes, France.  Brandt customizes every menu to suit her clients’ preferences and happily provided the perfect vegetarian choices for us.
Unwrapping her beautifully presented  three course picnic was an experience itself, with the expectations set high by her inclusion of an amuse bouche of organic figs stuffed with Pt. Reyes blue cheese.

Our salad included organic greens, candied walnuts and Sonoma chevre.  Smoked salmon with pickled onion, cucumber, arugula and tarragon aioli  on croissant, was traditional and decadent.  Very French, not too sweet and pleasantly chewy macaroons combined Macadamia nuts, organic coconut and dark chocolate for the perfect finish.
Later that afternoon I visited the Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg., a small retail shop that sells a mind boggling array of their own superior olive oils, vinegars and imported Italian products.

The storefront blends into a residential neighborhood, about six blocks from Main St. in St. Helena. This gem of a shop sells 500 gallons (nope, not a typo)  of olive oil each week, mostly to chefs in the Napa and Sonoma valleys.  Look closely and you will notice the tracks where bins of olives harvested from the groves outside their door were brought in to be crushed and pressed between 1931- mid 60’s.

Today, their olives are grown two hours north , in the Sacremento valley, where they are pressed,processed and bottled.  These fruity and bold oils are sold only through the shop or special order.  If you can’t get there, trust me, they are worth ordering by phone or on the net.

True Confessions, I ate at Gott’s Roadside three times in one week.  Really.

This roadside burger joint offers super fresh and delicious choices for vegetarians and pescatarians.  Their veggie burger was enticing but with so many other great choices I opted to try them instead.

Their ahi tuna burger is served rare with ginger wasabi mayo and a crunchy, tangy Asian slaw.  Their fish tacos are as fresh and interesting as any I have eaten anywhere, and their “ahi poke crispy tacos” are  overflowing with avocado, cabbage, cilantro and spicy sauce.

Beer and wine at a roadside joint?  You bet!  Eat at one of their 24 picnic tables and take a break from dinner reservations and  wine goblets.

A final recommendation: schedule your visit in order to be able to visit the local farmers’ market.

I am a stalwart supporter of local growers and food producers and there isn’t a better way of getting to know and support the locals than going to their market.

The one in St. Helena was founded in 1986 and is going strong every Friday morning (May-October)  with close to 50 food and produce vendors.   There are chefs’ demos, learning opportunities for the kids and plenty of picnic tables where you can enjoy your goodies.

Early in the morning, local chefs were shopping with ingredients lists in hand while we were scouting our breakfast. We found veggie enchiladas with salsa verde, all made by Yolanda of Mi Fiesta Catering Company.  After discussing her recipe and peering into her steamers and pots,  we felt as if we were eating in her kitchen. Buen provecho!

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