Hoping Reddington Keeps me off the Blacklist After My Blatant Voyeurism at the French Laundry

After a  night of a little too much scotch, I had to muster the strength to venture up the road to Yountville,  a quaint village north of Napa which is  full of beautiful scenery, fancy restaurants, artistic gardens and specialty shops.  I was invited to lunch at Redd, which is described on their website as an updated wine country menu with international influence.  It ‘s the decade old project of respected chef Richard Reddington who should not be confused with fictional international criminal Raymond Reddington of Blacklist.

The decor is simple, roomy and classy.  The waitstaff are professional but not pretentious. I started with hair of the dog in the form of a large goblet of a delicious house red.  To start I went with the appetizer special which was a hamachi collar atop asian slaw.  The slightly fatty, slightly fishy taste went well with sweet but pungent taste of the overdressed slaw.

Hamachi Collar with Slaw
Hamachi Collar with Slaw

Enough with the pseudo-healthy crap. I had a post-scotch apocalypse to deal with.   The fried chicken sandwich fit the bill.  Smothered with melted Gruyere cheese, it seemed the perfect remedy to my self-inflicted woes. Plus, it was served with onion rings which were delicately breaded and quite light. The sandwich was a posh McChicken that hit all the notes needed for a post hangover ration.

Fried Chicken Sand wich with rings $16
Fried Chicken Sand wich with rings $16

With the booze sweats complete and a reasonable amount of grease in my digestive system, I ventured down Yountville’s main drag to take in some of the scenery.  It was surprising quiet given the weather was near perfect.  The walk included trips past rock gardens, markets and a couple of Michelin star restaurants, ending at the ultimate destination in any Napa culinary adventure; The French Laundry. Until now, this Michelin three star establishment has been a figment of my imagination.  In one sense, its legendary status makes me an immediate fan. In another, I wanted to see it first hand so I could better justify  the 300 per person charge.  The exterior is rather modest and the inside is a secret which can only be viewed through small cracks in the window blinds.  I left a bit like a voyeur but I could justify it given the fact their very public garden is right across the street for all to see. Speaking of which, it was a fantastic parcel of land filled with ripe strawberries, cauliflower, fresh herbs, a chicken coop and even an apiary.  The energy of the place was magic and suddenly the French Laundry’s price tag didn’t seem so outrageous.

Mushroom Garden on Washington Street
Mushroom Garden on Washington Street
french laundry
Outside French Laundry
French Laundry Farm
French Laundry Farm

The walk back included a stop at Thomas Keller’s Boulage bakery for an eclair and an Americano, both of which were quite satisfactory and well under $10, a far cry from the price tag associated with his other venture.

The day ended with a drive out to the Stag’s Leap region of Napa Valley and specifically to the aptly named Stag’s Leap cellars which were responsible for the vaulting of California reds into the upper echelon of wines worldwide.  In 1976, the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 edged out three French reds including the highly respected Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 to win the international tasting and the rest is history.  Historically, the only upset that rivals this was the historic and nauseating miracle on ice in 1980 which also involved the US as a massive underdog against the powerhouse Russians.

View from Stag's Leap Cellars
View from Stag’s Leap Cellars

My Take

Yountville in Napa Valley is a must go destination for any foodie.  Redd is a classic example of Californian fare.  The decor, much like the food is clean and simple but subtly elegant.  The walk along Washington street is like following the yellow brick road on the way to the castle but in this case the destination is the French Laundry and there are many distractions along the way including the  Boulage bakery and the Laundry’s own garden.  As much as I clicked my heels together, I could not transport myself into the secret quarters of wizard Keller’s castle. Can anybody lend me $300?

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I Didn’t Get Crabby but I Managed to Get Bitter at Oxbow Public Market in Napa

Almost every city, big or small, boasts a market and Napa is no different.  Shortly after arriving in town, I headed down to the Oxbow Public Market  to check it out and grab some lunch at the bib gourmand rated C Casa.  Oxbow is a mid-sized indoor market with a combination of shops and restaurants. You can get anything from charcuterie to ice cream.

My biggest target at Oxbow was C Casa, a bib gourmand rated joint featuring unique tacos and other fusion Mexican fare. I was giddy in line in preparation for my  $9 fresh crab taco.  Sadly, the crustacean was not in stock and I had to resort to other options so I settled with the pork carnita tostada with white beans, corn relish, poblanos, micro greens, romaine, lime crema and cotija cheese  ($5.75) and the rotisserie duck  taco with spinach, red onion, goat cheese, oranges, cumin vinaigrette, avacado crema and cilantro  ($8.00).  These were expensive tacos so I was happy to see them arrive with a heaping pile of fillings. The pork tostada was a mess as there was no graceful way to eat it. The beans were such a smart addition and the crema was equally intelligent. The thought of duck and citrus was a little frightful  but it worked reasonably well.  It was less like a taco and more like a spinach salad on a tortilla.  There is a good variety of local pints as well. Beer and tacos are a beautiful couple.

Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)
Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)

 

After barely finishing the Mexican monstrosities, I strolled around the rest of the market in complete awe.  It was like an angel met me in my sleep and asked me “If you could build a market, what would  be in it?”.  My answer would be an oyster house, a spice shop, a kitchen gadget place, a butcher, charcuterie, ice cream and a fancy place where I could get bitters and shrubs to tinker with my own cocktails at home.   Voila!  That’s Oxbow Market.  In particular, let me focus on the last place.  I have gotten a little more experimental with my homemade potent potables and my struggle has been the inability to find bitters outside of the standard angostura.  Many of the Toronto bars brag about walnut, green tea, cherry bourbon and other fancy additions to their old fashioneds and it pisses me off.  The Napa Valley distillery has the largest variety of bitters I have ever seen.  I was a kid in a candy store as I wandered around  aimlessly thinking of the adultery I could commit but combining a number of these flavours with a bottle of Bulleit bourbon. Ironically, it was the first time I realized a significant number of the bitters were produced by Dillon’s, the Niagara distillery a mere 160 km away from my house.

Oh ya…they have a bunch of organic crap at Oxbow too.

My Take

If you go to Napa you most definitely should drink wine but you have to come here!!!!!! I have to admit knew nothing of the Oxbow market prior to my Napa visit. Once there, however, I entered this nirvana which contained all my vices under one roof. Although I didn’t indulge in every one, I got to sip pints, eat tacos, taste bitters, smell spices, stare at striploins and sleep well afterwards. C Casa was probably deserving of bib gourmand status but did not serve the best taco I ever had (and they didn’t have crab).  They were busy and overfilled but had good flavour.  For any foodie,  I highly recommend a dreamy wander through Oxbow Public Market. Although C Casa made me a little crabby, I’ll save my bitterness for  Dillon’s on Tufford road in good old Beamsville, Ontario.

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Napa Cabbage Slaw

Napa cabbage is a mild, subtle cabbage that works great in a slaw.  It has a bit of Calcium, Potassium and Vitamin A as well as some trace minerals. This slaw is light, so pairing with a heavy steak is ideal.  The dressing is the same used to season sushi rice, so it has a bit of an Asian flare.

This recipe comes from Epicurious (originally from Bon Appetite). I modified it slightly since I did not have red jalapenos so I used green jalapenos and added some sweet red bell peppers for colour and texture.

Ingredients

2 tsp of ginger

I clove of garlic, pressed

3 tbsp of seasoned rice vinegar

3 tbsp of sugar

1-2 jalapenos (depending on taste)

5 cups of napa cabbage (shredded or chopped)

1/2 medium red bell pepper (julienned)

3/4 cup of chopped green onions

Preparation

Stir sugar and vinegar in a small sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.Add jalapenos and ginger to the dressing and let sit.

In a medium bowl, mix cabbage,1/2 cup of onions and peppers.

Pour vinegar mixture over cabbage, mix and let stand for at least 30 min. Use remaining onions as a garnish.