From New York to Napa

Posted by
Andrew Kaplan
Bottega's Four House-Cured Salumi Platter with Homemade Giardiniera

rachaelray.com contributing writer Andrew Kaplan recently traveled from New York City to Northern California’s Wine Country to experience the region's fresh, local flavors, enjoying everything from turkey jerky to Green Egg and Ham Olive Oil-Poached Delta Asparagus. Read more for his top tips!

As most of you know, whenever I travel anywhere, I always find time to try some great food. This time I was headed to the Left Coast for a work-related trip. I started with a lunch in San Francisco immediately upon arrival. From there, my days took me from snacks in Sonoma to dinners in the St.Helena/Yountville area. If you enjoy reading about my meals half as much as I enjoyed eating them, you’ll have done well.

My first lunch started with a co-worker in beautiful San Francisco. We dined on the cozy little back patio at Zazie, a simple French café. What I love about so many of the cafés in Northern California is that the simplest of dishes taste so good because they are just that: simple and fresh. Coming off a long flight across the country, I was still kind of in breakfast mode, so I ordered the Eggs Mexico with chorizo, roasted peppers and white cheddar topped with homemade salsa. Nothing too complicated about the eggs, but it was that freshness that I just mentioned that was the key here. My co-worker ordered the Croque Monsieur, the traditional French sandwich with hot ham and cheese (in this case, Gruyère, which is typical) melted on top. I was thinking about ordering that, myself, but negotiated a bite of hers to satisfy my craving. The bread had just enough crunch to support the ham and cheese. It was just right.

(Zazie, 941 Cole St., San Francisco, CA, 415-564-5332, www.zaziesf.com)

After enjoying my outdoor lunch in San Francisco, it was off to Napa Valley. On the way, I made a pit stop at Angelo’s Wine Country Deli for some homemade jerky. I gave the 10+ flavors they had a try and finally went with the teriyaki beef jerky, which had a slight sweetness, and the turkey jerky. The turkey jerky might sound a little odd, but it was really tasty. It was not as tough as your normal jerky, but had more of a smoky turkey flavor. I might even go so far as to recommend the turkey jerky over the regular jerky.

(Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, 23400 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA, 707-938-3688)

I settled into my hotel and headed to dinner a little later with two friends. One of them runs the tasting room at Consentino Winery and the other works for a winery and has her own food blog and supper club in the San Francisco Bay Area. We went to Michael Chiarello’s new restaurant, Bottega. Chiarello was the chef at Tra Vigne back in the day and he also has a show on Food Network. This is his latest project and boy is it on point. All three of us love food and frequently try more than we can – or should! – actually eat. We shared and dug into everything.

We started with the Organic “House-Cured” Prosciutto with pasta fritta. Envision fried focaccia dough (it’s lighter than it sounds!) wrapped with a piece of prosciutto. They make their own prosciutto using Berkshire Pigs that are fed chestnuts, and it is then cured in fleur de sel – a phenomenal dish!

Next up was Green-Egg and Ham Olive Oil-Poached Delta Asparagus with crispy soft-boiled egg, prosciutto bits and Cambozola crema, which was exactly as described – you may need to reread that a few times to appreciate all the flavors in this dish. After that was Burratta cheese served with grilled bread, lemon-braised artichokes and crispy artichokes. Burrata is very similar to fresh mozzarella, but has a milky center to it.

We also enjoyed the Four House-Cured Salumi Platter with Homemade Giardiniera. They served bresaola, chorizo, a salami with fennel in it and a Catalan-style salami, all cured at their store next door to the restaurant. The last of our antipasti was their signature silky smooth Warm Pecorino Cheese "Pudding" with Wood-Oven Roasted Rapini and their Wood-Grilled Octopus with olive oil-braised potatoes, pickled red onion and salsa verde.

Last, but certainly not least were our pastas. We couldn’t really decide on one, so the server, being the top-notch server that he was, put together a little tasting plate for each of us highlighting the three that we were debating between. The first was Gargenelli with Balsamic Rabbit Sugo. This was a sweet rabbit ragú and was our overall favorite. The second selection was Ravioli with Wild nettles and Ricotta, hand-tossed with pine nuts, toasted panko bread crumbs and brown butter. Rounding out our sampler was the Whole Egg Taglierini with Manilla clams, Calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley and white wine. We enjoyed the spicy, salty and fresh flavors of the sea.

We had had our eyes on a chocolate cake that would take 40 minutes to bake for dessert, so we put the order in with our food so it would be ready in time. We made room for the four-inch-tall circular chocolate cake finale that arrived at our table, savoring its soft center and hazelnut anglaise with caramelized hazelnuts on top. I’m not even a chocolate-lover, but this dessert definitely satisfied my sweet tooth.

I highly recommend Bottega. Need I say more?

(Bottega, 6525 Washington Street, Yountville, CA, 707-945-1050, www.botteganapavalley.com)

A few nights later, my workday ended and it was time to hit the town. Upon recommendation of my brother, I drove a short distance to Calistoga to check out Buster’s BBQ. I introduced myself, refreshed their memory of my brother the kooky customer who had recently stopped in, and basically let them know that I typically like to eat my fair share of ‘cue – but that I had a dinner planned for just a few hours later. They were kind enough to make me a sampler plate of sausage, pork loin, tri-tip beef, a rib, a corn muffin, cole slaw, garlic toast, beans and chili beans. Yes, this is more than the average human can handle, but I’m not lying when I tell you that I truly only had a bite or two of each thing – just a sample. With my normal M.O. of taking home leftovers not an option, I ensured that they served me the most minimal amount they could so that I did not waste food. Overall, my favorite was the beef tri-tip, which is usually served as a sandwich on a toasted garlic roll. This was good barbecue in an authentic, old-school barbecue atmosphere.

(Buster’s, 1207 Foothill Blvd, Calistoga, CA, 707-942-5605, www.busterssouthernbbq.com)

From Buster’s, I met my friend at Redd in Yountville to try a couple of appetizers. We ordered the Spicy Peanuts with Sugary Bacon, which were the ultimate salty, smoky and sweet combo. We also got a little adventurous and ordered the Crispy Sweetbreads with Tempura Broccoli and Broccoli Puree. If you’re an adventurous eater, you’ll enjoy this well-executed dish. Along with that, we had the Crispy Pork Belly with Soy Caramel, Apple Puree and Frisee. This was our favorite dish and this unique set of selections definitely got us ready for our dinner at Ad Hoc, down the road.

(Redd, 6480 Washington St., Yountville, CA, 707-944-2222, www.reddnapavalley.com)

By this time, we were on our way to being quite full, so we sampled what Ad Hoc was offering. To put our meal in context, Ad Hoc is owned by Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry restaurant. It serves the same exact dishes to everyone in the restaurant. There is no menu, there is no ordering from a menu, there are no special suggestions. It is what it is, you are eating what they are serving and you will like it.

We started with the local greens that were grown down the road in the French Laundry’s garden. It had carrots, blood oranges and walnuts and was all tossed simply in olive oil with some salt and pepper. It was served with a bottle of walnut vinaigrette on the side, but we were instructed to try it as-is to get the full flavor and then, if we so desired, to add the dressing. I’m a sauce-and-dressing kind of guy, so of course I tried the dressing and it was darn good.

Next was a Lamb Sirloin. It was cooked to perfection, but was honestly too much for us to eat. It was served with Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms and asparagus, and had a horseradish puff pastry-like sheet that draped the top of the meat. On the side was a bowl of Carolina rice with greens mixed in. This was a light rice dish, flavorful but not too complicated.

Next was the cheese course, which arrived served on a little wooden board. It featured slices of toasted brioche bread with a Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, which resembled the taste and texture of cheddar cheese. It also included a tasty compote/relish of golden raisins, pine nuts and spring garlic.

The dessert course was a pecan bar served with whipped crème fraiche. It’s consistency was similar to pecan pie, and it had a similar sweet pecan pie flavor that we all love, too.

(Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA, 707-944-2487, www.adhocrestaurant.com)

On Sunday, I had one last opportunity for a lunch. I asked a couple of local friends where I could go for some down and dirty, real-deal Mexican food. They both directed me to La Luna Market. I walked into this Mexican-style grocer, headed to the back and ordered a Carnitas Torta, which had all the fixings of a burrito, served on French bread. It was topped with tomato, onion, jalapeño, sour cream, lettuce and guacamole. While it was really tasty, I would have liked a good salsa or sauce to top it with (after all, I am a sauce guy!). But it did satiate my Mexican craving.

(La Luna Market, 1153 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford, CA, 707-963-3211)

I love the fresh, local ingredients that make just about any meal in San Francisco and Wine Country that much better. My recommendations are just a guide to get you heading in the right direction. I’m confident that you’ll be in good hands once you get there.