Eating…Oxbow Public Market

Lately the weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, odd considering that it was late May/early June in California and it’s usually warmer around this time. The bf was actually a bit disappointed since he was looking forward to the warmer weather. In fact, my plans for a fun outing in Napa Valley with him was cancelled due to general un-picnic like weather. Boo rain. Because of the weird weather, I’ve spent the past few days hanging out at home so when the need to be outside to photosynthesize suddenly became overwhelming, I decided to pretend I was a tourist and hit up Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s basically a large market hall with a bunch of small alcoves for shops, similar to the Ferry Building marketplace [apparently the guy behind the Ferry Building space is the genius behind Oxbow]. I wandered around for a bit checking everything out and getting a lay of the land. One shop in particular, Whole Spice, really grabbed my attention which had a ton of different spices, extracts and salts, including Himalayan Pink salt. I’m not quite sure how I would use the Himalayan Pink salt but I was tempted to buy a few ounces just because. I would like to go back to further discover what else they had in store.  Since I didn’t really have a game plan when I came to the market, I ended up deciding to make it a day of eating. Of course I did.

My first stop was to C Casa. There were a lot of things on the menu that I wanted to try but since I had plans on sampling a few other bites, I had to pick only one. Instead of leaning on my go to [steak], I inched outside my comfort zone and ordered the spicy lamb taco (with goat cheese, avocado crema, mint, jalapeños, garlic aioli & micro greens) and the hibiscus orange iced tea.

I really enjoyed this taco. The lamb was nicely seasoned and really tender and there was a slight heat from the jalapeno peppers. The lamb was so good I would have eaten it by itself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t really taste the mint and I ended up taking out almost half of the micro greens because it was just too much. They really overwhelmed the rest of the taco.

Next, I stopped by Gott’s Roadside in hopes of getting an order of their crazily delicious calamari, however my plans were thwarted when I found out there was, in fact, NO CALAMARI. How rude!

I sulked for a second as I slowly made my way back to the marketplace before realizing the bakery I wanted to try was just around the corner. The Model Bakery has tons of different breads, cakes, cookies and other yummy looking pastries available all day long. I stopped in to try one of their famous English Muffins that was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate…

This was no ordinary English Muffin; it was large, fluffy, and crispy. The dough is actually a ciabatta bread so it lends its unique texture to the muffin, plus they griddle them to give it a nice outside crust. I had mine toasted and slathered it with butter and apricot jam and I instantly fell in love with it on the first bite. The bread itself is really chewy, the good kind of chewy, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it right now. I want more and I know I won’t ever be able to enjoy a Thomas English Muffin ever again. I have effectively been ruined and I’m not mad about it in the slightest.

After feasting on the world’s best English Muffins, I made one last stop at Pica Pica Bar to see if anything on the menu could entice me. Originally I was going to order some tajadas [sweet plantains] but I ended up being swayed by a display of patacones. I’m not exactly sure what I got [I let the cashier pick the fillings for me] but they’re like twice baked potatoes with meat fillings instead of more potato. Also, instead of potato, it’s actually a plantain. I ended up with a trio of pork, chicken and steak with a spicy cream dipping sauce [which was sour cream with smoked chile].

Of the three, the chicken was actually my favorite. It’s rare when I prefer chicken over steak but the chicken had a smoky almost barbequed taste to it that I really liked. The pork was good too, it was just salty enough for me, though the tomato and avocado slice made it a little messy to eat. I could have done without the steak; it was just meh. It didn’t really taste like they had done anything to it. I would have rather have a second chicken patacone.

In all, I’m really glad I made the trip up to Oxbow and loved everything I nommed on during the two hours I was there. It was the perfect distraction from my day and I’d definitely come back to eat everything again. Especially that English Muffin.

Snacking my way through Wine Country

I’m sometimes ashamed at how much of California I haven’t experienced. Yosemite? Haven’t been. Santa Barbara? Nope. Laguna Beach? Just making sure you’re still paying attention.

One of the closest of tourist destinations is the Napa Valley. Millions of people come from the ends of the world to traipse through the Wine Country to look at vineyards, taste wine and eat at the numerous frou-frou and fancy and delectable restaurants started by celebrity chefs. I live about 15 minutes from Napa and the last time I was really in the Napa Valley, I complained about how long of a drive it was from my house to St. Helena [it was about 45 minutes]. I’m a big, whiny baby, I know.

That said, I know there is so much more to the Wine Country than what I’ve seen and its really a shame that I haven’t taken the time to fully explore it like the most intrepid travelers do. I’m blessed that these places are so close that I can take them in at my leisure instead of trying to fit in as much as possible within a few days so it’s really sad that I haven’t taken advantage of my proximity. Heading up to the Napa Valley is easy and really, can be done on a whim. So why haven’t I done it? Not sure.

Tam took the wheel and drove us along highway 29 through the valley to show us some of the sights. Our first stop of the day was Dean & Deluca in St. Helena.

Dean & Deluca is just a fancy schmancy specialty grocery store – though the cheese samples were infinitely better than most of the offerings at the local stores. I couldn’t help BUT comparison shop while I was wandering through the store. The biggest difference was that the vanilla bean paste I’ve come to love so much was $16 at D&D when I can pick up the same exact bottle for $11 at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table!

My first snack of the day was this chocolate chip whoopie pie:

I was excited. A whoopie pie? Made out of chocolate chip cookies? Love! Except not. I was not impressed. I wasn’t sure what was going on with the middle layer; was it marshmallow? was it buttercream? was it edible? if it was edible, do I really want to eat it? No. I do not. The cookies were okay. They could have been better and I was really sad about the  money Tam essentially wasted on it. I much preferred my own whoopie pies better. Needless to say, I never got around to finishing it.

We trudged on and landed in downtown St. Helena. It’s a cute little town area with tons of boutique shops. My favorite was Woodhouse Chocolate. When I saw the shop, my eyes lit up, immediately going back to the moment I tried the chocolate for the first time [hint: scroll to the bottom]. This chocolate, people, just get it. I know it’s expensive but it’s sooooo worth it. This will be the smoothest chocolate you’ve ever tasted. I was more than excited to introduce the family to the deliciousness and they were not disappointed. I’m drooling at the thought of getting more.

The nephew was starving by then so we made a stop at Gott’s Roadside for lunch. I had eaten at the Ferry Building site and was amped for the food. We ordered a mess of food and I was only one bite into my delicious chili cheese dog only to be struck with a full stomach. I couldn’t eat any more! I was so disappointed. Thankfully it was just as delicious warmed up later that day.

Full from the burgers and fries and one bite of chili cheese dog, we headed back home, making a stop at Robert Mondavi Winery to look around.

Our final stop turned out to be a bit of a whim. We had decided to take the Silverado Trail back home and decided to stop in Yountville to make a trip to Bouchon Bakery. Sure I was too full to eat my chili cheese dog, but apparently that didn’t stop me from nearly knocking over the display case in the bakery. Classy.

I picked out a chocolate bouchon, which is essentially just a brownie [pretty much sums up my impression] and a raspberry macaron.

Had I known how amazing Thomas Keller’s macarons are, I would have gotten more than just one. The deliciousness really deserves its own post so I’ll just say that I ate mine and then ate some of Tammy’s. And tried to eat Lindsey’s. And have gone back twice within the past two weeks. And gotten two macarons each time. And ate them both within a day.

In all, it was a fun day and now I’m intent on “Eating the Wine Country.” Just thinking about all the eating and fine dining opportunities that await me makes me incredibly happy and excited. I’m turning 30 next year; I think I’m grown up enough to enjoy the occasional fine dining experience. There are tons of restaurants there that I am now chomping at the bit to try. I probably won’t eat at most of them, but if I can make my way through a good chunk, I’d be one happy camper. We’re already planning on saving our money so we can try the French Laundry next year [provided we’re able to get reservations!] and I’m already eying Bouchon Bistro, Bistro Jeanty and maybe possibly Ad Hoc and Morimoto in Napa. Yes these places are not cheap at all but I have no problem saving my dollars for a good meal and honestly, if I can get a great meal and the experience of eating at these places, that would be worth it to me. It’s not like I’ll be eating there all the time.

They’re not Bouchon macarons, after all.