June 29

Vegan Adventures on the Napa Valley Wine Train!

While out walking with my dogs, I always enjoyed seeing the Napa Valley Wine Train (NVWT) full of happy, slightly drunk tourists chugging up and down Valley. Never did I imagine that I would be one of those happy, slightly drunk passengers! As a vegan, I made an assumption that there would be no dining options for me. And as I mentioned before, it’s just for wine sipping tourists anyway, right? Wrong! I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate twilight tour on the NVWT’s 36-seat, single car Quattro Vino Pullman thanks to Yelp! And I really had the time of my life!

 

Date night on the train!
Tower of fresh fruits & veggies

The experience started at the train station on McKinstry near Oxbow Commons. The staff were all incredibly friendly, excited to help and were a big part in making the evening unforgettable. Prior to boarding, they served bubbles from Domaine Chandon to get the party started! Once I boarded the train, I was drawn back in time! The 1915 lounge car is a lavish reminder of how we travelled a 100 years ago. With only 36 seats it felt very private and is perfect for date night!

 

The trip up valley included pours of Grgich Hills Estate’s 2014 Fume Blanc, their 2013 Chardonnay and the 2016 Rosé. Along with the wine, I was served a tower of fresh fruits and veggies and salty, crispy bread. The tomato, bread and balsamic made a wonderful combination of flavors. The next course was a delicious plate of grilled veggies & lentils that were warm and hearty. I wish I could describe the view but I admit that I was so wrapped up in the wine, food and conversation that I barely looked outside! And before I knew it, the train had reached beautiful Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.

 

It had been about 5 years since I last visited Grgich Hills and I had forgotten what a beautiful setting it offers. The tasting room is surrounded by roses and the view above it is just spectacular. Daniel led us on a private tour of the Estate that included some of Milijenko “Mike” Grgich’s amazing contributions to winemaking and Napa Valley. In fact, Mike first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. This now-historic blind tasting included a panel of eminent French judges who swirled, sniffed, and sipped a collection of white French Burgundies along with a small sampling of Napa Valley Chardonnays. And when the scores had all been tallied and the winner announced, Mike’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was named the finest white wine in the WORLD! Not only were the judges stunned but it changed the international wine industry’s perception of Napa Valley forever!

Dessert!

The tour also included tastings of the 2016 Zinfandel and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet became one of my favorites – fruity and elegant just how I like them. I also learned that their wines are all certified organic, pesticide & herbicide-free. And since bentonite clay is used in the fining process the wines are also vegan! The trip home included a light, delicious dessert of  poached Seckel pears with berries drizzled with raspberry sauce. Oh, and more wine! What a perfect finish to a lovely evening!

 

Whether you are visiting Napa Valley or you live locally, the wine train experience is something that you should not miss. The food and wine are extraordinary & the private winery tour is very special. When you make your reservations, let them know that you are vegan. In fact, since my experience, they have added veg-only tables so you won’t find yourself sitting across from meat eaters or looking at a tower of cheese & charcuterie when you sit down! Schedule your extraordinary wine train tour HERE! Enjoy your train ride of Napa Valley and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!!

 

 

June 2

Indulging Your Vegan Palate at Signorello Estate

Perfection…We have all had days that we’ve been able to label as perfect. The food extraordinary, the wine exquisite, the weather sunny and warm, the views breathtaking, the songbirds serenading and the service flawless. Perfect is the only way I can describe my experience at Signorello Estate. I was recently invited by Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett to enjoy their Enoteca estate experience. This includes a chauffeured tour of their 100 acre estate and the 5-course guided pairing.

Until this visit, I had never been fully immersed in a true food and wine pairing experience. My fellow vegans know exactly what I’m talking about! It is rare to find a Sommelier and a Chef who will collaborate to provide a meal that not only indulges the palate of the plant based crowd but also pairs perfectly with the wine. But the collaboration between Chef Michael Pryor and Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett have ended that dilemma forever! This is truly a wine and food experience unlike any other in Napa Valley!

Signorello Estate is located high above Silverado Trail – one of my favorite locations in all of Napa Valley. As I turned into Signorello Estate, I was surrounded by a gorgeous, symmetrical row of green trees and deep purple Japanese maples with the rows of grapevines just beyond. As I arrived at the tasting room, I was greeted by a shining infinity pool and the breathtaking views of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges with unparalleled views of the Valley below! Words like stunning & beautiful don’t even begin to describe the setting – it is all of that and more!

Before the tour began, I was welcomed with a glass of their 2013 White Uvaggio Estate wine. A unique blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay grapes that is only available at the winery. With complex flavors of peach, citrus, apple and roses, this was the ideal wine to sip while sitting in the sun and gazing at the views! My small group then loaded up on the 6-seater, customized off-road vehicles and we were off. The tour included the Sauvignon

Chef Michael Pryor

Blanc and Chardonnay vines planted at the bottom of the hill in the sandy loam valley. The Chardonnay vines were originally planted in 1980 and are some of the oldest in Napa Valley. Because of their age, they tend to offer a lower yield

Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett sharing the view!

than younger vines which makes this micro-winery experience even more special. Next, we headed up the hill to take in the extraordinary views. A unique feature of Signorello Estate that I’ve never experienced at other wineries is the fact that they own both “sides of the hill”. Not only were we able to see what is at the top of the hill and beyond but it also allows them to grow east and west facing vines. The soil is very different from the soil at the bottom of the hill. It is shallow & rocky and lends itself to the red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. With part of the vineyard benefiting from eastern exposure and the other from western exposure, the grapes have a diversity that leads to very complex and balanced wines. Sixth generation Winemaker Pierre Birebent grew up on his family vineyard in Corsica, France and studied viticulture & enology in Burgundy. He utilizes the French wine making method known for its balanced wines. He is also the vineyard manager so is very in tune with his grapes. The wines are not fined or filtered prior to bottling which guarantees they are always vegan-friendly.

Standing next to the RV taking in the sights!

While on the tour, Ron pointed out many of the environmental practices they have implemented to receive the Napa Green Certification. To control insects and rodents, instead of using toxic chemicals, they have added bat, blue bird and owl nesting boxes. In fact, the blue birds are small but fierce. Not only do they eat up the grapevine moths that can decimate grapevines but also run off the grape-loving crows that are 10 times their size! They even have a family of rattlesnakes that eliminate pests as nature intended. And their free-range chickens fill up on the insects that the blue birds leave behind. The land Signorello Estate sits on now even used to be a rescue for retired racehorses. And they use left over grapes for mulch. What’s not to love about this place?

Upon the conclusion of the tour, my group headed into the private dining room. Allowing a maximum of 8 guests, the food & wine pairing is a very intimate experience. Relying on his on-site garden and the local Napa & St. Helena Farmers Markets to offer fresh, in-season produce, Chef Michael Pryor’s menu generally changes weekly.

The Primo course of spring vegetable ragout, fennel broth & sliced radishes paired with the 2014 Seta Estate wine started the meal off with a bang. Seta is Italian for silk and that is exactly what it felt like. The simple combination of spring vegetables and broth was absolutely bursting with flavor.

The Secondo course was an amazing pairing of the 2014 Vielles Vines Estate Chardonnay with bruschetta topped with almond cheese, grilled peaches, toasted walnuts & smoked sea salt. The old vine Chardonnay flavors of apple & vanilla were exquisite with the grilled peaches & sea salt. Until I reached the 5th course, this was my favorite pairing of flavors.

The Terzo course of king trumpet mushrooms, roasted cherries, cipollini onions, spinach, pistachios and the 2013 Pinot Noir Las Amigas was the most aromatic portion of the meal. And the delicious combination of flavors brought out the black pepper note of the pinot.

Course Quarto was an Italian farro pasta with deconstructed pesto & wax beans paired with the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, the aroma was incredible and the pasta brought out the bold, full flavors of the wine. As delicious as it was, I knew I needed to save room for the final course!

Final course Quinto was pan seared eggplant, caramelized squash, olive oil roasted potatoes with salmorejo sauce. Even though I knew this was vegan, the weight, feel and taste of the pan seared eggplant was reminiscent of fat. This pairing was absolutely exquisite with the 2013 Padrone Estate blend. The blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc was elegant and well deserving of its 96+ rating.

The Enoteca experience is 2 1/2 hours of bliss. Beginning with the views, the location, the tour and finishing with the 5-course pairing. I have had many wonderful wine tasting experiences since arriving in Napa in late 2011 but I can say with confidence that this is the best yet. In fact, the wine was so incredible that I joined their wine club and brought my bi-annual allotment of 6 and an extra bottle of the 2013 Estate Padrone home with me!

To schedule your own Enoteca experience, visit Signorello Estate and reserve your spot HERE. Be sure to note that you are vegan and ask for Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett! His knowledge of the wines and the history of Signorello Estate is wonderful. And ask him to explain why he is called the Cop Somm. You’ll love the story of his journey! As I was leaving, I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Michael for a few minutes and was really excited to find that he has recently joined the whole foods, plant-based diet program sponsored by our local hospital and not only feels great but has also lost over 50 pounds! What an incredible win for him and the animals!

Whether this is your first or tenth time visiting Napa Valley, be sure to include this experience in your schedule. And as always…eat, drink & be vegan! Cheers!

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!