It was a long coffee-less winter for the residents of Oakville. The Oakville Grocery, a beloved resting place for commuters, cyclists and tourists alike (and the only place to get a sandwich between St. Helena and Yountville) has been closed for months, undergoing extensive reconstructive surgery. This weekend, just in time for Memorial Day, the sign out front once again said “Open.”
Fifteen hundred feet above Napa Valley on a rocky, rolling patch of land planted here and there with rows of tidy vines is the West Coast’s largest Olympic equestrian training ground. Or at least it used to be. The 3,800, mostly wild, acres on Mt. George, which the team called home for 20 years, was purchased by Japanese gaming mogul Kenzo Tsujimoto in 1990 at which time he sent the Olympians packing and started taking soil samples. (The polo field for example, turned out to be an ideal place for a certain clone of Sauvignon Blanc.)
After dining at Scopa, the Italian-inspired restaurant in Healdsburg, it is not uncommon to come stumbling out onto the Plaza feeling light-headed. Partly because the small space is always packed and because you have likely enjoyed at least one bottle of red wine, but also, and more importantly, because the ingredients are so impossibly, explosively fresh, the pasta so light and tender, the meatballs so perfectly browned and spicy and the burratta so heart-breakingly creamy that you actually feel like you have reached nirvana.
Joy Sterling does not take her responsibility lightly. As the proprietor of Iron Horse Vineyards, she understands and fully embraces the burden on sparkling wine to make special occasions more special, birthdays happier and wedding toasts toastier. Indeed, few opportunities to celebrate are lost on her. Earlier this year, the people of China were the lucky recipients of nearly nine hundred cases of wine she made specifically for The Year of the Dragon. Now, she is bringing the party a little closer to home.
Tim Stookey, the bar manager at Presidio Social Club, has seen a lot of gimmicks in his 13 years of bartending. One of them is barrel-aging cocktails, the process of allowing different spirits to mingle in an oak barrel for a short amount of time. He thought that barrel-aging would go the way of other fads (foam-topped martini, anyone?), but after comparing a fresh Negroni to an aged one at a seminar taught by the movement’s main advocate, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Stookey changed his mind. “It tasted different,” he says. “I began to see the possibilities.”
They can shake it, they can stir it, but for one of Michael Mina’s newest cocktails all the bartender has to do is crack it. (And no, it doesn’t involve an egg, but it is egg shaped.)
Bar Director Carlo Splendorini, in thinking of new ways to present classic cocktails, is looking to modernist culinary techniques. His Aviation, which involves water balloons and liquid nitrogen may or may not have been inspired by a similar drink crafted by the Aviary team in Chicago, but thankfully, he has found an alternative to using a syringe. Because really, drinking cocktails should never, ever, at any stage, involve the use of a syringe. Ever.
When the Martini House, a beloved restaurant in St. Helena, closed its doors in 2010, there was much weeping to be heard in the northern Napa Valley. Rumors last year that Paul Fleming of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse would be moving into the 90-year-old building were met with mixed feelings. Thankfully, that deal fell through and Chicago restaurateur turned Napa Valley native Andy Florsheim bought it instead.
Francis Ford Coppola may have reclaimed the historic Inglenook name (which had long ago been converted into an economy-size staple), leaving the future of that jug wine up in the air (and many a skid-row vagrant with one less option.) But in Sonoma, a few producers are reclaiming the tradition of vino di tavola, or table wine, restoring it to its proper place as quality everyday wine — straightforward, yes, but clean and delicious, it is intended to be enjoyed with friends, family and a giant bowl of spaghetti.
Vodka’s been unfairly maligned. For seven centuries, it’s served as the perfect vehicle for transmitting alcohol into the system. Well-loved for its neutrality, for its ability to blend in (it is, in fact, officially defined as a “neutral spirit without distinctive character, aroma or taste”), vodka became popular in the US because it was exactly the opposite of whiskey – Smirnoff first promised “no taste, no smell” in the 1930s and thanks to the Bloody Mary, the Moscow Mule and the Cosmopolitan, vodka became a bar staple.
You know your Bay Area wines: Cabernet from Napa, Pinot Noir from Sonoma and, now, Malbec from Mendoza.
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