Hey there. It’s been a minute since I’ve written. I’ve been all over New York, Napa, Healdsburg, and San Jose California. The weather has been glorious, so I’m loving these day trips and enjoying the time outside before the rains come.
The last 24 hours I’ve been entertaining my Mom Diane. Her husband needed time with his grandson in Monterey, and my Mom doesn’t like to be alone. We stopped off at the closest Sloat Nursery where she found the most extravagant huge white poinsettia. I like to bring her flowers whenever she has her chemo/immuno treatments, and I haven’t been as regular about that lately. She has had cancer treatments every three weeks for the past nine or ten years, so It’s okay if I miss a week here or there. For dinner, I made grilled shrimp Caesar salad for dinner (her favorite), and we put together a cornmeal waffle batter from Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook that sat overnight waiting patiently for us to cook them off this morning. Mom read me the ingredients and I put everything together. It’s not often I have my Mom overnight, so it was kind of special. We watched Chef’s Table:Pizza on Netflix and the Great British Baking Show Christmas Special and ate popcorn before our eyes got too tired to watch anything else.
Today, we explored Benicia after our waffle making effort. I was hoping my favorite One House Bakery would be open because my Mother has never eaten there. Turns out, Mondays and Tuesdays most businesses are closed down on First Street. We found a cute shop called Pink Arrows where Mom found a comfy pair of Christmas Sweats. She was excited to get something new and I was happy to treat her.
We walked through the town into a book store where she was inspired to buy a Christmas gift for her granddaughter Josie. Lucky us, we found a florist with cute wreaths, succulents and pretty fresh flowers to admire. A decision was made to head to Lafayette to have lunch and walk around Orchard Nursery. Unfortunately, it was also closed. Since Covid, lots of small businesses limit their hours and I always forget this is our new reality. Lunch was at Sideboard Cafe, but Mom wasn’t impressed even though she practically inhaled her pulled pork sandwich.
I dropped her off at home with all of her goodies and here I am at my gym where I prefer to write. I can concentrate better here without the distractions and responsibilities at home.
The latest day trip was celebrating my younger son Andrew’s 30th birthday. My husband and I were excited Andrew had time in his schedule to go out with us. We called our other son Curtis, but he wasn’t up for a last minute day trip. Our original plans were to go to St. George’s Spirit in Alameda only to find out that they haven’t been open since Covid. What a bummer. I have been craving their pear brandy and I’ve been on the distillery tour where they explain how it’s made with my niece Michelle. There are huge crates and crates of fresh pears lined up ready for the process. We could have gone back to the fabulous Hansons of Sonoma’s Distillery, (a previous blog with an apricot ginger biscotti recipe), but I didn’t think of that at the time. So my next idea was to check out the distillery in Napa.
Andrew loves Whole Spice in Oxbow Public Market. He loves to cook and make pickles with fancy exotic spices, so he chose several items from there. Next, I wanted to go to Model Bakery before they closed. I love their day-old pastries and we bought a ham and cheese baguette that was purchased at a reduced cost also. I love getting a deal and don’t mind the taste of a day old muffin or croissant. The Napa Distillery was disappointing. We waited for 15 minutes and the employees barely looked up at us while helping other customers. We also saw the sit down Napa Distillery in downtown Napa, but they were fully booked and not a chair in sight. Andrew was interested in their bitters, and they didn’t have any bottles in that location. Too bad, but not worth getting excited about.
Next door was The Fatted Calf Charcuterie shop. They have the best meats and cheeses to choose from. Andrew and I picked out two more sandwiches, a porchetta and a pastrami and we walked over to Fieldworks Brewery to enjoy our lunch. Andrew ordered the Sour and Dark flight for only $18.00 which included a Belgian Abbey Ale called Abigail, a Salted Raspberry called Gose, Cabana Republic a Tropical Sour Ale, Pioneers & Pirate Ship a Czech Dark Lager, the Nighttime Creatures a Pumpkin Milk Stout and a Plain ol dark Stout called Shtickless. My husband had a root beer and I had a glass of Dark Stout. The sandwiches and beer were a fun way to begin our celebration and their outdoor patio was relaxing and a fun atmosphere to hang out in.
Already 3:45PM, we drove to downtown Napa and parked near the Archer Hotel. This fancy place has a happy hour cocktail menu downstairs at the Charlie Palmer Steak Lounge Bar. We were happy to arrive just before it opened and were graciously served by the nice bartenders. I love sitting at the bar and watching the circus of drinks being made. I watch with amazement at the herbs, potions and citrus they use to doctor up our libations. We weren’t hungry, since we had just eaten, but I enjoyed the Pineapple Express made with Milagro tequila, pineapple, lime and jalapeno. Andrew had the Far West Cider and we got the scoop about where else to eat in Napa. Before going to the next restaurant, we made our way up the elevator to the top floor Sky & Vine RoofTop Bar. The 360 degree view is outstanding and we got lucky to find the last three seats that were open at the bar. I had to try the margarita on tap and Andrew was treated to a beer from a stranger who heard it was his 30th birthday. What a nice guy. He left where we were sitting with his partner to get a seat next to the fire pits.
It wasn’t long before we were walking to our next foodie spot. We were hoping to find the restaurant Morimoto Napa where we had eaten before and just happened to see the grand opening of Morimoto Asia. Of course I had to go in and try to get a reservation. When I tell people I’m a food blogger, they seem to make special arrangements in their bookings for me. This time, we were able to get in at 7:45PM if we could come back. We were thrilled especially because Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a Michelin Star recipient was there in the restaurant and I’m a huge fan. He’s famous for being on The Iron Chef America, and got his start by working at the popular Nobu Restaurant.
I’m getting ahead of myself because I haven’t written about Los Agaves Napa. The bartender at the Charlie Palmer Steak Lounge recommended we order their Quesabirras (a braised beef mini quesadilla with a side of beef broth as a dipping sauce.) I also ordered their guacamole and chips and La Marilyn for $14.00 (Mescal, Malibu Rum, Domaine Di Canton and coconut.) Sooo yummy. Andrew was enticed to try the Mezcal Flight which was three one oz pours of Union Mezcal, Ojo De Tigre, and Madre Mezcal with pineapple and orange garnish for $26.00. I must say Los Agaves didn’t disappoint my taste buds. This place is FOR REAL. It’s the best Mexican cuisine that I’ve ever experienced. The mariachi band came to our table and sang to Andrew who immediately got up and began to dance. Maybe the alcohol kicking in helped to initiate this. Executive Chef Erick Lagunas also took the time to speak with us and he was excited about the upcoming several new locations in the works as well as the existing one in Santa Barbara. Our waiter Carlos brought out complimentary flan and churro with chocolate sauce desserts with fireworks shooting high in the air to surprise us.
And don’t forget, we still had reservations at Chef Morimoto’s upscale second wine country restaurant Morimoto Asia within walking distance. The atmosphere was happening! You could feel the vibe of a restaurant’s opening night. The lighting was dim and the cuisine places more emphasis on Chinese flavors including dim sum, and sake flights.
The dedication to service was noticeable. We were spoiled all day and the night wasn’t even close to being over. I ordered the Saidoku cocktail made of Amaro, Montenegro, Cointreau and Yuzu. Obviously I didn’t need another drink, but I couldn’t help myself. It was Andrew’s birthday, and we had a designated driver Mr. Ken Smyth.He’s my everything. Andrew decided upon a sake which they served on ice. We ordered the salt and pepper black cod, the sticky ribs with hoisin sweet chili glaze and the dim sum samplers. Lastly, they served Andrew a complimentary coconut sorbet and Chef Morimoto signed a napkin ceremoniously and wished him a happy birthday.
What a day. Not only did Andrew have a memorable time with us in Napa, we sampled tastes of the best restaurants in Northern California. If you want the inside scoop, keep subscribing to my blog and I will keep you entertained. Thanks again for reading and commenting below about your favorite Napa experiences.
Chai Spice Shortbread Ginger Men Cookies
Chai Spice Recipe
10 Cardamom Pods (or 1 t ground cardamom)
4 whole cloves or ½ teas ground cloves
1 T fennel seeds or fennel powder
½ t nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick crushed or 2 t ground cinnamon
1 star anise
2 t ground ginger
10 black peppercorns
Using a blender or spice grinder, place all ingredients inside and blend until finely ground. Spice mixture will keep for four months if kept in an airtight jar in a cool dark place. (Only need 1 ½ T for recipe)
Shortbread Cookie Ingredients
1 1/2 C. Unsalted Butter softened
¾ C Granulated sugar Plus ¼ divided for use w nuts
1 t Vanilla paste
1 C All Purpose Flour
1 C Pastry Flour (Can substitute All Purpose)
½ C Flax Meal
½ C Whole Wheat Flour
1 ½ T Chai Spice
1 t Maldon Salt
⅛ C Shelled Pistachios
⅛ C Cashews
⅛ C Toasted Almonds (Put almonds only into a preheated 350 degree oven on a sheet pan for 9 min. Cool)
3 4 0unce bars High quality white chocolate baking bar (Lindt or Ghirardelli preferably) You can use morsels, but they are harder to melt.
2 T heavy cream
3 T Dried chopped raspberries for decoration
Using a food processor, blend nuts together with ¼ C granulated sugar until it resembles a fine powder. Using the sugar prevents the nuts turning into butter. Or use a coffee grinder or chop them finely.
In a stand mixer, beat butter, ¾ C sugar and vanilla paste until creamy on medium speed scraping bowl often.
In a large bowl, stir together flours, salt, chai spice, and finely chopped nuts (save a few Tablespoons for decoration). On low speed, add dry mixture gradually to sugar butter mixture just until well combined.
Divide dough in half, form into flat discs and refrigerate for an hour or longer. Tip: I use empty cereal bags that I cut and use to roll out dough. They can be cleaned and reused.
Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, or use sil pat mats.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
On a lightly floured surface, roll one of the discs out to ¼ inch thick, keeping the other half in the fridge until ready to use.
Use a gingerbread cutter dipped in flour and cut out ginger chai men. Alternatively, you can use any shape you desire.
Bake immediately using one pan at a time in the center of the preheated oven for about 15 min or until slightly brown.
Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes to let the cookie set. Remove from the hot pan onto a drying rack and cool completely.
In a ban marie, break up white chocolate bars into the bowl and add heavy cream. Stir until incorporated, not letting mixture get too hot or it will seize. (You can also use the microwave.)
Have a sheet pan with parchment ready. Dip each cookie into the melted chocolate mixture and sprinkle quickly with some reserved nuts and dried chopped raspberries before the chocolate dries.
Store cookies in the freezer, or in an airtight container for one week.
Cookies look best right after coated in chocolate, so keep cookie dough or baked cookies in the freezer for up to a month.
Recipe adapted from Mumbai Modern Cookbook and Amisha Gurbani also known on Instagram as @thejamlab