The Fried Chicken Dinner @ Boon Fly Café, Napa

Winner, Winner: The Fried Chicken Dinner @ Boon Fly Café, Napa Carneros.

Submitted for your approval, my long-overdue snapshot of the fried chicken plate ($21) at Boon Fly Café in Carneros (otherwise known as the best fried chicken in the Bay Area). Perfectly brined, perfectly cooked, with just enough breading to let the skin take center stage. It’s one of those spot-on comfort foods that always seems to taste even better than I had remembered. My only real complaint, if you can even call it one, is that the Boon Fly Cafe doesn’t offer its guests a proper Southern-style hot sauce (the restaurant does offer Tabasco, but nothing as food-friendly as Crystal, Red Rooster or Louisiana Brand). Without a decent sauce option, I always eat this fried chicken as it is — plain — and it’s absolutely delicious. But just once, I would love to bathe [… read more …]

Tale of Two Chilaquiles: Boonfly Cafe, Napa Carneros & Miguel's Restaurant, Calistoga

The Chilaquiles @ Miguel's Restaurant, Calistoga (minus the sour cream)

I was first introduced to chilaquiles while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then, I was working a prep cook at Houston’s Santa Monica, trying to get some real-world kitchen experience before heading off to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Since I was working mostly mornings at that time, the “family meal” at Houston’s was often chilaquiles, which I would best describe as breakfast nachos, for lack of better terminology. These meals would assume varying forms from day to day, based upon whatever was available in the kitchen at the time. That said, there are a couple fundamental rules as to what can be considered chilaquiles and what cannot. As the foundation of the dish, the tortilla chips themselves are inherently fundamental to chilaquiles, and proper chilaquiles should also feature eggs (since it [… read more …]

My Top 10 Chicken & Waffles in the Bay Area

Chicken & Waffle @ The Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland.

Here’s 10 versions of chicken and waffles taken from around the California Bay Area. I’ve ranked them according to my own personal preferences, although the middle of the pack could easily be shuffled on any given day. I’m pretty adamant about the top two on this list, however, and have long championed the Brown Sugar Kitchen and the Boon Fly Cafe as my favorites in this category. The Boon Fly Cafe actually offers my favorite version of fried chicken in the Bay Area (Ad Hoc’s fried chicken included), although some of the other restaurants on this list are certainly close contenders. In the waffle category, it’s a bit of a different story; the Brown Sugar Kitchen is the hands-down winner, and every other restaurant is a distant second. Even going simply by the photos, you’ll notice [… read more …]

The Napa Valley’s Best Pizza: My Top 12

Pizzas on Parade (clockwise, from upper left): Oenotri, Solbar, Redd, Pizzeria Azzurro, Auberge du Soleil, Uva, Cantinara Piero, Ca’ Momi, Boon Fly Cafe, Pizzeria Tra Vigne, Papa Joe’s, Bistro Don Giovanni.

If there’s one food that can achieve total global supremacy, pizza seems like the natural front-runner. You don’t ever have to sell anybody on pizza. It just seems to endear itself to everybody, like a wealthy uncle, or a gregarious bartender. Although pizza has only become popular here in America since World War II, different schools of thought regarding pizza have already emerged: Individual preferences towards pizza remain highly subjective, and plenty of effort has already been spent hashing out the pizza-related differences between Chicago, New York, and the rest of the country. However, I chose not to acknowledge any of those debates concerning thin crusts or deep dishes. For this segment, I set out to answer [… read more …]

Chicken & Waffle @ The Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland

Oakland Booty: The apple cider syrup can almost make you forget about maple.

The Brown Sugar Kitchen is a great little breakfast-lunch spot located in West Oakland, a vibrant little oasis flanked by imposing industrial buildings on every side. The restaurant is hardly a secret these days, and it seems to be flirting with “destination” status — a place that bustles with regular neighborhood-type business, despite being so far removed from any actual neighborhoods. Every time I’m there, I tend to wonder where most of the patrons come from, although by the looks of them, I’m pretty sure they’re either trekking down from Berkeley, or else heading west from Rockridge and Piedmont. As for me, I drove 40 miles from Napa, just in time to catch the restaurant’s last hour of lunch. My trip, of course, was motivated by chicken and waffles, and my obsessive compulsion to suss [… read more …]

In Photos: Lunches I Have Known

The #16 at La Morenita Taqueria in Napa. Aside from the rice and beans pictured, this whole fried fish comes with a side of corn tortillas. Deconstructing the pescado might require some effort and patience, especially from those who may not be used to dealing with whole fish (and the presence of pin bones). You really have to want it, I suppose.

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My springtime gardening project has occupied much of my free time lately, as I’ve slowly reclaimed the backyard from a winter’s worth of weeds. I’ve purchased five or six heirloom tomato plants for the season, and I’ve also made a firm commitment to buy better tomato cages this year. Last year, my tomato plants became so bountiful that once they grew fruit, their weight eventually brought my flimsy, entry-level tomato cages to the ground. To combat this issue in [… read more …]

Nashville Spicy Fried Chicken @ The Fremont Diner, Sonoma

The Fremont Diner's Nashville spicy fried chicken comes standard with macaroni and cheese. In the background, a cream biscuit with country ham (also tasty).

I had jumped on the Ad Hoc bandwagon for a moment, back when their fried chicken night was just becoming the juggernaut that it is today. Like everyone else, I was eager to draw the logical conclusion that if Thomas Keller is America’s greatest chef, then the Ad Hoc fried chicken should also be among the nation’s best. But unfortunately, it’s just not that simple when it comes to regional cuisine, and even the greatest chefs in the world cannot be all things to all people. I’ll still acknowledge that chef Keller is a national treasure, but the Ad Hoc fried chicken is just not my style. Granted, I wouldn’t turn it away at a company picnic, but I’ll no longer go out of [… read more …]

The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty, Yountville

One of my all-time Napa favorites: The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty.

I’m in the closing stages of my ebook, and I’ve had to narrow the focus and edit out some material. Here’s some fotzelschnitten to savor.

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Having already divulged my preference for Boonfly Café fried chicken over Ad Hoc fried chicken, I’m going to come across as a Thomas Keller detractor when I champion Bistro Jeanty over Bouchon Bistro.

Let me set the record straight: from a pure culinary standpoint, Thomas Keller is clearly the greatest chef in American history, bar none. But as far as Bouchon Bistro is concerned, it’s good, but for me, Bistro Jeanty is more of the quintessential Napa Valley restaurant.

While Thomas Keller has been a fixture in the Napa Valley since 1994 (when he purchased the French Laundry from Sally Schmitt), chef Philippe  Jeanty has been in [… read more …]

Photo Purge: Scenes from the California Bay Area and Beyond

Gateway Market, Emeryville: Adorned with a fantastic mural alongside its parking lot, the Gateway Market is tough to miss on San Pablo Blvd. The artwork has a definite graffiti vibe, but the details are fantastic. Luckily, it hasn't been tagged over. The "W" in Gateway is pictured above (each letter has its own theme). Click on the photo to reveal all of the great flourishes.

Most of these pictures have never appeared on this site, although a couple did appear a few years ago, long before I sharpened my photo-editing skills. Many readers have emailed me about my approach to photography, and I must confess, my only real secret is to simply seek the best lighting possible. Truthfully, I’ve never had any formal photography training, but I did develop an eye for proper lighting while I was working (briefly, almost 15 years ago) as a grip in Los [… read more …]

There Will Be Pastries: Scouting Napa Valley's Breakfast Options

As I’ve continued to explore the culture of breakfast and lunch here in the Napa Valley, I felt that it was certainly worthwhile to mention a few of the better pastry options out there. After all, even if you’ve enjoyed a large breakfast in the morning, pastries remain a great take-away item, especially if you plan to spend the day wine tasting, when lunch can often get pushed back, or pushed aside altogether. Without a proper lunch, that same cheese danish that may seem gluttonous in the early morning can actually become your salvation in the early afternoon (and maybe help prevent you from drooling at the dinner table, as well). I speak only from personal experience: Don’t fear indulgence. Embrace it. So with that caveat in mind, I have seven pastries to consider below — many hailing from very different walks of life — but each noteworthy in [… read more …]