March 23

JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen -Bursting With Flavor, Health & Love!

IMG_3547My first experience with JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen was several years ago. Steve and I were very new to Napa and noticed JuJu’s after leaving our insurance agent’s office. JuJu’s is tucked back on California Way and unless you’re taking a short cut to California Boulevard, at the time, there wasn’t really any reason to head down California Way. When we went in, we met Joumana Shweiky (JuJu), for the first time. She was very friendly but explained that they didn’t offer much in the way of restaurant services but were more into catering. We headed off from there and I have to admit I looked at it longingly every time I drove by over the years! Fast forward four years, and my Facebook friend, Cassandra, mentioned that JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen had plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices on their menu and that I should add them to my Eat! page. So I did what anybody interested in learning more about a restaurant would do, I checked the Yelp reviews! Sure enough…JuJu’s still offered their catering services but since my last visit have added tables and are now offering sit down service. Yay!

 

Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!
Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!

Besides the addition of 4 or 5 tables, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is much as I remember it from my first visit. A large open kitchen, a small market specializing in Middle Eastern products, a large glass front cooler displaying house made salads sold by the pint and a very homey atmosphere. JuJu is just as friendly and welcoming as I remember. With the Lebanese music playing in the background, Steve and I both felt like we were sitting down in her kitchen at home. Though she was busy cooking, she took time out to go over the menu with me. This is really a vegan’s food heaven. There are 7 mezza favorites that can be purchased for just $5 for a ½ pint that range from Mujadara – a blend of lentils, cracked wheat & caramelized onions; Tabuli made with chopped parsley, fresh mint & cracked IMG_3545wheat; freshly made Dolmas wrapped with grape leaves and stuffed with a savory mix of rice, fresh mint & pomegranate molasses, Hummus and much more! I’m going to stop for just a moment here and mention that her Dolmas are the best I have ever eaten! JuJu’s Signature dishes include a Mezza Combo Plate (just mention that you are vegan and she will substitute grilled veggies for the non-vegan baba ganough), a Falafel Plate and she will also make Veggie Kabobs if you ask! The vegan wraps include the Falafel Wrap and the Greek Wrap (if you skip the feta). The Fatoosh Salad is vegan and the Mediterranean, Kale & Greek Salads can be with some slight adjustments. And then comes the A La Carte section – of the 16 choices, 8 are vegan! The Hummus plate, Foul M’Damas plate, grilled Tomato & Onion Skewer, side of olives, pita bread, garlic cilantro home fries, Falafel with tahini sauce and IMG_1632Dolmas. Steve and I enjoyed the Mezza Combo plate – a perfect taste of the Mediterranean with homemade Hummus, Muhamara, Mujadara, Falafel, Dolma and Tabuli served with warm pita bread. I loved having a little bit of everything on my plate. As I mentioned, the grilled veggies made a lovely substitution for the non-vegan baba ganough. I especially enjoyed the hummus, mujadara, tabuli and the dolmas!

 

Though JuJu has been a part of Napa Valley for 30 years, she is originally from Lebanon so the flavor of the food is very authentic. It is all made fresh daily using local produce, exotic spices, extra virgin olive oil and the Chef’s love! Some of her favorite things are to entertain and cook and introduce others to new cultures. This is really reflected in the IMG_3561experience I had when I visited her restaurant. She proudly talked about her 6 children who all grew up in St. Helena and are now lawyers, teachers, fashion designers and world travelers. I really loved that she shared with me her cookbook Soup for Syria. With so much physical distance between Syria and the U.S., I admit that I am somewhat disconnected from the turmoil and suffering that is happening. It does seem that the world has failed the Syrian refugees; the world’s wealthiest countries have turned their backs on this humanitarian disaster. While JuJu’s home country Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have opened their borders to more than four million refugees. This has created a huge need for food relief. To assist, many world-acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors from around the world have come together to help alleviate the hunger of the Syrians by contributing a recipe. It is another great example that we don’t need to wait for our government to make a decision. We can help change the world all on or own!

 

Hanging out with JuJu
Hanging out with JuJu

With two decades of experience in the very demanding Napa Valley culinary industry, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is well worth the stop whether you are looking for casual dining, catering, lunch or dinner take-out or you need a boxed lunch for your next wine tasting excursion. JuJu’s is located at 3375 California Way and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

*You may have noticed that I am a big fan of Mediterranean food. I’ve enjoyed it from Small World Café and Heritage Eats to Tarla Mediterranean Grill and JuJu’s Kitchen. I’d love to hear your feedback on your favorite spot in Napa Valley for Mediterranean food. Please leave your comments below!

 

 

 

November 18

Napa Valley Film Fest 2015 – Day 1!

My relationship with the Napa Valley Film Fest began 5 years ago three thousand miles from Napa Valley! My husband, Steve, had interviewed for a job at a brand new Mercedes Benz dealership near Napa that was to begin in about 5 weeks. He flew out of San Francisco feeling good about the job and figured it would be a lot of work but in that 5 weeks, we could get our home packed and listed for sale, movers hired and our 3 dogs and cat loaded up to make the cross country trip with us in our little Kia Spectra. Instead, by the time he landed in Raleigh later that evening, he received a message telling him to be back in a week ready to start! Looking back I have no idea how we did it but thanks to Craigslist we found him a room to rent for the 2 months he would be training in South Bay, the dealership loaned him a Prius to drive until I got there with the Kia and 6 days later he was on his way! Me, I was left in charge of, well…pretty much everything else! It was very hard on both of us to be so far apart from each other. As much as I missed him, I know it was hardest on him. I was in our home, near friends and had the love of our dogs and cat to comfort me when I was stressed or lonely or overwhelmed while Steve had long stressful days and came back each evening to a rented room in a stranger’s home. I was so excited for him when his dealership became one of the first sponsors for the brand new Napa Valley Film Fest. Though it added more work to his plate, it was a wonderful distraction. He began to build relationships with the founders of the Festival, husband and wife team Marc and Brenda Lhormer and many other Napa locals. This is such an important thing – personally and professionally – especially when you move somewhere where you literally know no one! So, though I had a twinge or two of envy when he told me about the VIP parties, world premiere screenings and celebrity sightings he had, I was so happy for him! From that very first Festival, he was hooked and it has been our goal to support the Festival every year!

 This year, when I decided to apply for a press pass to the festival, I wasn’t
really sure what type of coverage I wanted to provide for my readers. Frankly, I was mostly just curious to see if I would get approved for the media pass. So, when I got the email saying that I was in, I really had to scramble to see how I could make this experience relevant to my vegan readers. Ultimately I decided to try to do a little bit of everything and share the experiences with you so you would have the opportunity to decide if it’s a good fit for you!

If you are a “cinemaddict” and don’t want to do anything but catch as many screenings as possible, you will love the Napa Valley Film Fest. With over 120 films offered that range from full length narrative and documentary features, narrative and documentary shorts, world premiere screenings and dozens of Q&As with filmmakers, your hunger for good cinema will be appeased! And there is a pass available for virtually every budget.

If you are a Patron Circle passholder, you will be treated to the ultimate VIP experience. Not only will you get to hang out with the celebrities and the filmmakers but it also includes priority access to the screenings and special events, exclusive VIP areas at the Gala and Tribute and invitations to the Vintner Circle dinners. Since the Patron Circle pass ranges from $2,500 to $25,000 per person, I am also certain that you will have a wonderful experience. And I bet for the cost of that ticket the chefs will even whip up an excellent vegan meal or two for you.

This posting is really for the rest of us. Those of us who like movies, love parties, enjoy mingling with the filmmakers but also want to taste some of the delicious food that is offered by more than 30 local chefs throughout the week without having to compromise on our choices! My press pass, with the exception that I got to stand on the red carpet and interview actors and filmmakers, is essentially the equivalent to the Pass Plus. The Pass Plus is not cheap – the cost ranges from $565 to $645 per person (the sooner you purchase them the cheaper they will be!)– but it offers virtually everything you could ask for…priority access to the screenings, access to special events and parties…many parties – from the Festival Gala, the Celebrity Tribute Program, after-hours parties and the Closing Nights Awards Ceremony AND Wrap Party. So follow me on my adventures on Day One and Opening Night of the 5th Anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival…

Screening #1 – Carol

 Though I tend to prefer small, independent films, I was really excited when I read about the movie Carol. It is a romance set in 1950s New York about two vastly different women who meet and fall in love. The characters are played by Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therese). Carol is privileged and wealthy and trapped in a loveless marriage while Therese is drifting and trying to find out who she is and Uptown with lightswhat she wants. I’m a fan of both actresses and went into the screening with high expectations. I also hoped to see what has changed and improved as far as social attitudes and behavior regarding same sex relationships over the past 60 years. It ended up being melodramatic scene after scene of deep, longing glances between two virtually personality-less women and not much else. Kyle Chandler brought a little passion to his character but even the beautiful chemistry between Carol and Therese during the sex scene was not enough to make it an enjoyable movie. They did touch on the unfairness of a “Morality Clause” that was used to defame Carol during the custody fight and the sad reality that she was forced to endure psychotherapy to “cure” her illness or lose her daughter forever. As much as I wanted to love the movie because of the subject matter, I didn’t! But to be fair, when I went to my hair stylist the next day to have her do my hair for the Gala that evening, her last client had also seen it and RAVED about it! The best parts about my first screening of the Festival were enjoying the beautiful art deco Uptown Theater and having priority access seating. It was really nice not having to wait in line!

Screening #2 – Opening Night World Premier of Somm: Into the Bottle

 After a quick snack (I brought a smoothie from home because I knew timing was going to be tight), I prepared for the

Napa's paparazzi lining the red carpet!
Napa’s paparazzi lining the red carpet!

red carpet screening of the documentary Somm: Into The Bottle. This is the sequel to SOMM – the story of four sommeliers trying to join the Court of Master Sommeliers by passing an examination that is virtually impossible! SOMM had its world premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2012.  Somm: Into The Bottle, director Jason Wise gives audiences a look behind the curtain into the rarely seen world of wine production from the growing of the grapes to the steps involved from vine to cellar to table. There was also a great section about the history of wine beginning with the Romans, through prohibition, the First and Second World Wars up to the 2014 earthquake here in Napa. It was filmed in dozens of wine regions around the world so was absolutely stunning to watch. It is very rare that I watch a documentary and even rarer when I enjoy it but this one was excellent. Though I am very much a wine novice, I am definitely being seduced by wine and winemaking like so many others who come to Napa Valley. But I truly believe that someone who has little interest or knowledge of wine, will still very much enjoy the film. The history, the scenic beauty, the humor, the passion of the sommeliers and wine makers featured all amount to an incredibly entertaining 90 minutes!

Prior to the screening, I had the opportunity to speak to Director Jason Wise, Master Sommeliers Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, Fred Dame, Geoff Kruth; Sommeliers DLynn Proctor and Kelli White, local winemaker Steve Matthiasson and grape geneticist Carole Meredith. I will soon have the videos up on my blog and YouTube but here are excerpts of what each of them had to say!

Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!

Though Geoff Kruth has not seen a big shift in demand for vegan food and wine pairings, his feelings are that as a sommelier it is his job “to pair wines with whatever the guest wants” from an all vegan meal to knowing that the wine was processed in a vegan-friendly manner.

I asked director Jason Wise if in filming this documentary he was shocked by some of the things that are added to wines. And he was! Because not all wines are made the same, many winemakers put so much care into the product they produce, he had to cut much of the

Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.
Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.

documentary that exposed the unwanted ingredients some winemakers use. To make a sweeping generalization that all wine is made using shocking ingredients is not only incorrect but would have offended far too many people. However, based on all that was cut from this documentary, he feels that this topic really “deserves its own film” and feels that wine should contain the one item we all expect…grapes!

Brian McClintic agrees “100%” that people are very concerned about what they put into their bodies and though the

Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere
Master Sommelier Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere

movement may be happening a bit more slowly with wine than it did with food, partly  because wine bottles don’t provide a list of ingredients, he feels the movement is already “afoot”! And with climate change, caring for our environment and the move toward sustainability, everything being done in his vineyard is to try to protect the ecosystems and is a huge area for opportunity!

Ian Cauble’s concern is about removing herbicides and insecticides from the winemaking chain. The business he started, SommSelect, is focused on biodynamic and organically farmed wines. Sadly, his observations are that scoring a big number for their wine is too often more important to a winemaker than offering healthy, toxin free wine. Like me, he has a firm belief

Ian Cauble discussing his biodynamic wines.
Master Sommelier Ian Cauble & his girlfriend Mercedes discussing his biodynamic wines.

that the sicknesses we see throughout our country are directly related to the chemicals in our food chain.

DLynn Proctor is also hearing many more requests for organic wines though knows that the vegan movement in the wine industry is “trending” as it becomes important to more consumers. He feels it’s extremely important that wines are

DLynn & his wife enjoying the world premiere!
Sommelier DLynn Proctor & his wife Candice enjoying the world premiere!

offered that are “not touched or not handled” by anything that had touched “live product”. “Biodynamic, certifiable, sustainable…why not vegan?”

Next I chatted with Jill and Steve Matthiasson, local winemaker and Winemaker of the Year 2014 SF Chronicle. He is finding more of his consumers requesting vegan-friendly wines than he has in the past and in the 13 years of Matthiasson Wines he has only once used egg whites! His wines are very healthy with moderate alcohol levels, no animal additives and organic farming and is happy to assimilate this new consideration (vegan-friendly) into his winemaking. I’m looking forward to meeting with him soon to wine taste and blog about his wines!

Steve and Jill Matthiasson
Winemakers Steve and Jill Matthiasson

Fred Dame, has not only been a Master for decades but was the first American to pass all three parts of the Master Sommelier Exam in a single year and is the first American to serve as president of the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide. The vegan-friendly aspect of wine is a conversation that he has all the time since “it is not a match that is traditional.” He feels it is a fascinating topic…”a head scratcher and anything that is a head scratcher is interesting”.

Grape geneticist Carole Meredith is not only a retired academic but also a winemaker who is a very traditional and non-interventionist farmer. They don’t do anything highly technical with their wine and try to do what is best for the land and the vines that are on it. Her DNA research didn’t really solve any immediate problems in the winemaking industry but it did help give a better perspective on the history of wine and on where some of the most important wine grapes came from. But more than anything, it was “just intellectually fascinating” to her. More good news…occasionally they egg white fine but that is not done every year. I look forward to learning more about her wines and sharing it with you.

Master Fred Dame
Master Sommelier Fred Dame

Last but not least I spoke to Kelli White who is also finding more requests for vegan-friendly wines come up. Her challenge is that since wines are not required to list the ingredients, it is not always apparent what wines are free of animal product. She does feel that wine bottles listing their ingredients is a wonderful idea and sees “just positives and no negatives to that” and feels there is no need to keep ingredients a secret.

This was such a fascinating and interesting topic and group of people to discuss it with. I will be posting the full video of my interviews very soon!

Opening Night Party at the Riverfront Promenade

 Okay, here is what I was waiting for all night. What I have learned about the Napa Valley Film Fest is that they know how to throw a good party! The Historic Napa Mill’s riverfront location provided an exciting outdoor backdrop for the festival with food, wine, cocktails and Stella Artois beer and cidre (not vegan-friendly!) with live music playing throughout. It was a beautiful maze of adult treats around every turn! I was able to catch up with friends, have a few drinks and party with the Somm cast and crew! My favorite food experiences of the night included delicious avocado roll bites provided by Eiko’s and the il morso Americano coffee bar. The Americano is a delicious blend of organic espresso beans, organic cocoa butter and organic cane sugar. It was their one vegan option and I ate plenty of them. Needless to say, I did not sleep very well that night since each one contains 18 mg of caffeine! Ivy Hill Entertainment provided three bands on three different stages. My favorite was led by the Brian Bergeron Trio. They were joined by several other musicians and offered an awesome mix of folk and bluegrass. What a wonderful way to end an amazing day. My Napa Valley Film Festival experience was off to a great start.Silo's

I hope you enjoyed my journey through the Festival. My adventures of days 2 – 5 are coming soon so be prepared for more fun and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

 

 

 

October 10

Dabba Food Truck’s Edible Enlightenment

dabba_5_Spice_Logo_RT_final1While there is no way we are going to dethrone Portland Oregon quite yet as this country’s food cart nation, I have been seeing more and more food trucks traversing the streets of Napa Valley. With most of the trucks offering lobster, oysters and chicken, I’ve had no reason to give them a try…until now! truckDabba, whose mission is to make delicious food that nourishes and enriches people’s lives, is the most recent addition to the Napa Valley Food Truck fleet. Dabba is inspired by the much loved Marin based restaurant, Avatar’s. Brother and sister team Ashok Kumar and Kala Ubhi have been feeding their loyal fans bold, fresh “marin-dian” cooking since opening up their doors in 1989. The first time I walked into their Sausalito restaurant and asked for something vegan, Ashok didn’t tell me what I would be eating but to “trust me, you’ll love it”. And guess what? I did! And I happened to be sitting at a table right next to two Marin Humane Society staff members. Talk about make a vegan, animal rights activist feel she was right at home! Well, Dabba has taken Ashok and Kala’s adventurous spirit and brought it right here to us in Napa Valley. One of their other loyal fans, Andy Mercy, came up with the idea of sharing their unique, healthy and boldly delicious food with those of us who don’t live in Marin. He enlisted one of my favorite local Chefs, Michelin-rated Walter Abrams; branded the truck with an adorable orange surfing elephant and the journey began!

Kinda looks like a big metal lunchbox, doesn't it?
Kinda looks like a big metal lunchbox, doesn’t it?

 Dabba is Hindi for lunchbox and was inspired by a complex food delivery system in Mumbai that is run by a network of bicycle delivery men called dabbawalas. For over 100 years they have been delivering dabbas filled with hot, home-cooked lunches right to their customer’s offices and then picking up the empty dabbas to deliver back to the kitchens. An amazing and efficient system if you take a moment to think about it! Though the name Dabba is based on the dabbawalas in Mumbai, the type of Indian food created is inspired from the Punjab region located about 700 miles north of Mumbai in Northwestern India near Pakistan. The local cuisine in Punjab is heavily influenced by the agriculture and farming lifestyle of the ancient Harappan Civilization and is known for extensive vegetarian dishes. Many Punjabi people consume a vegetarian diet that includes basmati rice, locally grown vegetables, lentils and legumes, dairy and paratha – a flatbread made similar to a puff pastry. The Ubhi/Kumar family brought the bold and intricate flavors of Northern India and Chef Abrams teamed with them to add the fresh and healthy choices of Northern California. Chef Abrams spent a year at their Mill Valley restaurant – Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos – jotting down the ingredients of all the recipes they made. These recipes were all in the Chef’s head and had never been written down in the 20 years their restaurants have been open! He then worked on refining the process and created what is now being served at Dabba.

 The first thing you do is pick a style – “taco” or rice bowl (burritos and salads will be added to the menu soon). It is the perfect spot since the base of every meal surfboardstarts out as vegan. Then every order comes with their 25-year old family recipe (that is finally written down thanks to Chef Abrams!) of pickles, chutney, tamarind and spicy cilantro relish. The types of vegetables is constantly changing based on the seasons because they offer local, organic veggies whenever they are available. The vegan taco choices include pumpkin, eggplant, mustard greens and mixed vegetables. The veggies can then be ordered blackened, curry or jerk style (their original  Chef was Jamaican!). This bold, deliciousness is then wrapped in the amazing paratha bread which is made with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Chef made me 2 tacos of eggplant, curried kale, pickled carrots, pineapple chutney, tamarind sauce, fresh herbs, spicy chutney and basmati rice. It was bold, intense, delicious and spicy. Absolutely amazing! You can replace the eggplant with pumpkin which I plan to try the next time I head over for lunch!

vegan tacos wrapped in delicious paratha bread
vegan tacos wrapped in delicious paratha bread

Next, Chef followed this vegan yumminess up with the basmati rice bowl. He shared something interesting with me that I had never heard before. The basmati rice is considered the best rice in the world and the longer the rice, the better the quality. How cool! And Dabba uses the extra-long rice to add even more flavor and texture to their meals. My bowl contained a base of long grain basmati and chick peas and then he loaded it with mustard greens, spinach, tofu and blackened veggies that contained pumpkin, zucchini, squash and a few things I just cannot remember. It was just incredible. I brought the rest of the rice bowl home with me and finished it for dinner and it actually tasted even better – the Indian spices had even more time to infuse the tofu and vegetables with their bold flavors!

Add a side of the paratha bread to your rice bowl! Yum!
Add a side of the paratha bread to your rice bowl! Yum!

 Dabba was started as a delicious research and development kitchen for the bricks and mortar restaurant they plan to open soon in San Francisco. When the truck isn’t out looking for the best waves, they are available for festivals and private events in North Bay. It is also parked every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Yountville at Ad Hoc’s Addendum picnic garden. It is a gorgeous, serene little garden full of tables and raised bed gardens. They encourage you to follow them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to keep up on schedule changes and their event calendar. You can also order your food online so it is ready for you when you pull into Addendum’s garden!

 

Ad Hoc's beautiful gardens
Ad Hoc’s beautiful gardens

For those of you who have been a loyal reader since I started my blog last August, you may remember Chef Walter Abrams. He is the founder of Apicius Nutrition – they manufacture the delicious and nutritious raw, gluten & dairy-free, non-GMO Hero bars right here in Napa. His story was one of my very first posts! It was such a pleasure to see him and catch up on what has been going on in his life for the last 14 months or so. A new restaurant on wheels that will very soon lead to a new restaurant in S.F., the Hero bars still going strong and now a brand new baby boy! What a wonderful year for Walter and his family!

 addendum signBe sure to visit Dabba very soon. The food is fantastic, the garden setting beautiful with lots of picnic tables and if the food truck is a big success, we may be able to talk Chef and his partners into keeping it here in North Bay indefinitely! Since I can eat only so many tacos, I’m counting on all of you to help me out on this!

Thanks for joining me on yet another delicious Napa Valley adventure and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!