Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Burger To Die For - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 3 - The Food

Continued from...

I had heard the name Napa for a very long time. I had envisioned in my mind a peaceful and secluded paradise a little ways north of the bustling city of San Francisco. I didn't start enjoying wine until last year on a train ride on Amtrak's Coastal Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles. I knew only the basic names and understanding of wines and had been to one wine tasting trip prior in my life. I never thought I would visit Napa since I wasn't much of a wine person, but this year I finally made the journey.

(Napa Valley)
(Gaia Hotel & Spa)

Napa was beautiful, though busier than I imagined even for the winter time. Perhaps I was disillusioned by movies like bottleshock which my friend Kenneth made me watch before going. It did give me some names of wineries to visit during this trip. To avoid the high price tags of the hotels in Napa city and St. Helena, we ended up at Gaia Hotel and Spa Resort down in American Canyon. It really wasn't a problem since there weren't too much traffic during the winter season. Gaia Hotel was also a fully environmentally sustainable hotel in Napa which made me feel good booking the place. They named each room after something different from nature, though the interior I suppose were all the same as far as I can tell. Fortunately there wasn't a wall full of grasshoppers nailed to the walls inside.

(Harassing the cook will definitely result in smaller portions)
(Butter Cream Bakery and Diner's Kitchen)
With a full day's worth of wine drinking, I made sure we had a hearty breakfast before gulping down alcohol. We ended up at the Butter Cream Bakery and Diner in Napa City. It was an authentic 50's diner where a lot of the locals ate. I was certainly out of place carrying my huge Canon camera bag around with me. The dinning area was small and accommodated around twenty to thirty people along with another fifteen or so at the counter by the cooking stations. We opted for the counter since I always preferred the atypical dinning experience, where we got to watch the cooks in action making our breakfasts.

(Butter Cream Bakery and Diner - Small Breakfast)
We both ended up ordering the small breakfast which included eggs, toasts, hash browns and a choice of  ham, sausage or bacon. I never liked bacon and I am generally weary of sausages as they can be either really good or really nasty. I made the safe choice for ham with my eggs scrambled. The grill was in full view from where I was sitting. I was able to see how everything was cooked. The toasts were put through the toaster twice to brown them. The hash browns were cooked in mass and thrown in practically every other plate that was being served. The meat were cooked to order, as were the eggs. I had serious issues with the eggs as I had already blogged about in my earlier post Chopped Up Omelets Are Not Scrambled Eggs!!! Scrambled eggs are to be scramble both before and during the cooking process.

Aside from the badly made scrambled eggs, the rest of the breakfast were good and hearty. It had the taste of traditional Americana in them. The ham was slightly burned and not overly salty, which is a good sign. The hash brown had a crispy top with a mushy middle which was very enjoyable. In the end, diner food is just that, diner food. Very few diners actually stand out in my book; I absolutely love some of the dishes at Diner on Main in Alhambra if you are in that area. The atmosphere here was the real deal. An older couple who sat next to me were long time customers of the diner, and the waitress had a small catching up session with them on their winter trip to Montana. I was hoping for that kind of treatment but I found myself feeling more like an outsider as the waitress paid very little attention to me or my needs. I blame my Canon camera bag.

(Oxbrow Public Market)
(Oxbrow Public Market - Olive Oil Shop)
(Oxbrow Public Market - Tea Shop)
(Oxbrow Public Market - Live Seafood Shop)
(Oxbrow Public Market - Pica Pica Maize Kitchen)
After breakfast our first winery stop was for the sparkling wines at Domaine Carneros, which I'll review in a separate post. After some lovely European pastries and elegant sparkling wines to kick off the morning, we stopped by the Oxbrow Public Market to pick up lunch. It does seem like all I did was eat and drink during this trip; that is really all I did. I couldn't pass by an opportunity to check out a public market. For me, it gives me a sense of the people in the city and what their taste buds are saying. There were a good variety of foods and other shops in the market. It was also very nice to see the existence of a tea shop in the market, though it was a bit dead. I am a big fan of tea and I personally do not drink coffee; I do eat some coffee products on occasion.

(Pica Pica Maize Kitchen - Arepa Catira)
After circling the market, which was rather small, I decided on Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, which actually was one of the two choices for lunch based on yelp reviews. The other was Gott's Roadside Napa next door to the market. It was a bit difficult to figure out what to order out of the menu at Pica Pica as I'm not very familiar with Venezuelan cuisine. They did have the ingredients written out next to each name so I picked it based on what kinds of meat and assortments I wanted. I ended up with an Arepa Catira, which was sauteed chicken in their signature sofrito with cheddar cheese in a grilled corn bread. The market was full and there weren't any open tables, so we took our food to Fuller Park which was a few blocks away from the market. Personally it was more enjoyable sitting outdoors under a few trees in a quiet park eating the food than it was with people criss-crossing everywhere in a stuffy room.

The Arepa Catira was descent. I found the arepa to be too hard and rough against the meat and the cheese. The chicken and the cheese were well marinated and were tasty on their own, though there were just a bit too much cheese and not enough chicken. When they were bitten along with the bread, the thick texture of the bread destroyed whatever balance that was left and all I could feel in my mouth was the thick corn bread. Personally I almost wanted to pour out the insides and eat it alone with less cheese, and occasionally take small bites into the arepa to balance out the chicken and cheese. If it wasn't because of the soothing atmosphere of a green park, this would had been a mediocre meal at best.

(Gott's Roadside's Daily Special)
That afternoon we visited two other wineries, V. Sattui and Chateau Montelena, both of which were superb in their own right which I'll go into details in the next post. After a whole day's worth of wine and food, we stopped by Gott's Roadside up in St. Helena right on highway 29. I was so glad that I saw the place on my way up to Chateau Montelena, this place was amazing.

(Gott's Roadside - Wisconsin Sourdough)
As soon as I stepped foot in front of the counter of Gott's Roadside, I knew I was definitely in Napa Valley when I saw one of the specials for the day was Pillar Rock's Cabernet Sauvignon. Leave it to Napa to serve wine as a daily special next to a Chicken Tortilla soup and a Dulce de Leche Shake. I had enough wine for the day though so I only ordered the Wisconsin Sourdough. I saw on the menu that it had both mushrooms and in a sourdough and I didn't have to think twice. I'm a burger person and I make my own burgers from scratch with my own recipe, but this was seriously one of the best burgers I had ever had.

Unlike the Menage A Trios from Ike's, Gott's Roadside's Wisconsin Sourdough's flavors were all distinct and coherent. Though my intent was to take the burger back to the hotel to eat, I took a few bites before heading off. When the burger first entered my mouth, I could taste the juiciness of the medium cooked beef, the aroma and the sweetness from the mushrooms, the chewiness of the bacon, the tangy BBQ sauce on top distinct from the creamy mayo, and the cheddar, all squeezed between two crunchy sourdough bread slices. They all then blended inside my mouth forming one coherent divine burger taste that cried out to me to eat me and eat me now. I had to resist the urge to eat it all right there since it was still a bit early for dinner. It was just convenient for us to grab the dinner right then.

I also got to try some of their sweet potato fries that my friend ordered. I personally don't care for sweet potato, though I would eat it when the opportunity presented itself. I took a few pieces and they were delicious if you like sweet potatoes. They were fresh, well cut and the flavors of the sweet potato was definitely there.

Most people would opt for a nice sit down restaurant while eating in Napa. But we weren't really super hungry and my friend really didn't eat much to begin with. So it's certainly possible to find some good joints to get your taste buds all fired up in Napa. If you are ever in the valley, just be certain to stop by Gott's Roadside and give their burgers a shot. If you are a fan of red wines, be sure to grab a bottle while sinking your teeth into some of the best burgers money can buy.

Continue reading at...
Riesling, riesling, where for art thou my riesling? - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 3 - The Wine


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