Return to wine country

10 Jan

Although the word Napa Valley is obviously synonymous with wine, it is equally a worthy food destination. There are already several top chefs that have rooted themselves in the area, and others that recently discovered its’ beauty and potential. I spent New Year’s Eve in Napa and pretty much ate and drank my way through the day, which, bloated bellies aside, is a pretty awesome way to ring in the new year. For my last day of 2010 I ate at the new Morimoto in downtown Napa, and at Cindy Pawlcyn’s long-running Mustard’s Grill.


1. Spicy King Crab, 2. Soft-shell Crab and Spicy Tuna rolls 3. Bone Marrow


I’ve eaten at Morimoto Philadelphia and loved it, and subsequently raved about it to The Bf. So he jumped on the opportunity to try Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s new joint downtown for NYE lunch with his friend and friend’s girlfriend. Definitely a good move on his part. Those who know about Morimoto know of his creativity and skill; at Morimoto Napa there’s more of an emphasis on the freshness of simple ingredients, enhanced to the nth degree.

There was a range of both seemingly complicated preparations and straightforward approaches to ingredients. For instance, we had the kakuni, a rich, slightly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly smothered in a thick soy-based jus, and also shared the whitefish carpaccio, simply cured in a hot oil with a basic, salty flavor. I tried bone marrow for the first time, which was interesting, but the way it was prepared here I can’t imagine a better place to try it for the first time. Marrow, I discovered, is very soft and gelatin-like and feels weird on the palate. But glazed in a teriyaki sauce and covered with panko, it was much more tasty than I expected. We had also shared sushi, which was good (like the softshell crab roll) but not outstanding (the spicy tuna could’ve been spicier). But their winning dish for us was the spicy king crab: Alaskan king crab legs basted in a tobanjan aioli and sprinkled with micro-cilantro. I didn’t know what tobanjan was until I had looked it up after – it’s a spicy miso bean paste – but that sauce was seriously just finger-lickin’ good. (Literally, I forgot about the provided wetnaps and opted to lick the sauce off my fingers).

Mustard’s Grill

1. Rabbit with Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas, 2. Fried Oyster Salad

Cindy Pawlcyn, who has long established herself in California with three restaurants she runs and owns in the wine country area, one of which is Mustard’s Grill. Mustard’s has been running for 27 years, ancient in the restaurant world and proves that she and her team are doing something right. Mustard’s is also a restaurant that focuses on fresh, local foods, especially with a sustainable focus. (Such a theme pops up all around the restaurant scene in the Bay Area, actually). The restaurant boasts itself as a “fancy rib joint with way too many wines,” and my visit for NYE dinner solidified that. No ribs were eaten, but their take on down-home cooking with an upscale twist had us groaning in happy fullness upon finishing our meals.

Our group shared an appetizer of warm goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic served with toasted bread. It sounds very simple but was absolutely delicious, the combination of cheese and tomatoes and garlic being perfectly salty, tart, sweet and, well, garlicky, all on toast. (I vowed to attempt recreating this at home after my first bite). The Bf and I shared two of the night’s specials, a fried oyster salad and the rabbit, which we ordered not realizing it’s also fried. Whoops. It was a good thing we shared. The dishes are a bit pricey but the portions are large, as we were unable to even finish our main dish despite splitting. The fried oyster salad was an absolutely delicious, yet ironic contrast between the light greens dotted with bacon and the crispy oysters, and a drizzle of a thick vinaigrette. The rabbit, fried on the outside yet tender on the inside, sat on top of collard greens (with more bacon) and black-eyed peas, which in the South, are eaten on New Years Day to bring prosperity and good-luck (does NYE count too?). It was heavy, but very flavorful – the greens were wilted nicely and peas were almost creamy and both in a bite with rabbit had a great combination of textures.


3 Responses to “Return to wine country”

  1. Lauren January 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    I’m from Philly and Morimoto is one of my favorites! He was drinking at the bar when I was there haha. Good choice!

  2. lemonsandanchovies January 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    So glad to see you feature Mustard’s Grille. In college, my best friend and I used to drive 1 1/2 hours just to go to Mustard’s and I always ordered their calamari slaw. So good! In fact, their cookbook was one of the first I ever owned just for that dish. It’s been on my to-do list for the blog. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

    • TheNoviceNosher January 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      I’m glad I could bring back some good memories. I’m already looking forward to when I’ll be back!

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