May 19

Napa Valley Vegan Celebrates 1,000 Followers!

Celebrating 1000 Blog Followers!
      Celebrating 1000 Blog Followers!

Napa Valley Vegan has reached 1,000 Followers!! A huge thanks to all of you that have read my blog, followed my tweets, read my Facebook shares, perused my LinkedIn posts and followed my Google+ profile! I could not have done this without you. Writing has been a huge goal of mine for years and thanks to the ease of blogging, I have finally fulfilled my goal. I love to share my vegan experiences with all of you. When I started blogging in August 2014, I figured my husband Steve, my Mom Kit and maybe a friend or two would follow Napa Valley Vegan’s adventures. As more of you have joined me in my adventures, you have raised my confidence! Now you can’t get rid of me; I’m going to keep on blogging!

More eating, drinking and blogging to come...
More eating, drinking and blogging to come…

More and more restaurants here in Napa Valley are adding vegan-friendly meals to their menus. Rest assured that I will eat my way through these restaurants and share all of the delicious details with you. And one week from today, I will be heading to Charlevoix Michigan for my sister Keegan’s wedding. Stayed tuned for my vegan travel adventures from Northern California to Northern Michigan!

Thanks again and as usual…eat, drink and be vegan!

April 19

City Winery – The Star That Michelin Forgot!

Whether you are vegan, vegan-curious or just interested in eating healthfully more often, my goal for the blog is to share my Napa Valley vegan experiences with you. I want every restaurant in the Valley to offer at least one vegan appetizer, entrée and dessert so everyone can enjoy their experience here in Napa Valley. Based on the fact that almost all parts of the U.S. are embracing the plant-based lifestyle, I have been very surprised by how disinterested many of the local chefs have been at making this small change to their attitudes and menus. I don’t believe at this stage there is a large enough demand in Napa Valley to warrant a 100% vegan restaurant. But with the huge influx of tourists from around the world and the local North Bay vegans, the importance of the Napa Valley chefs opening their minds and restaurants to plant-based diners is vital. Not only does the vegan population continue to grow but the facts on how unhealthy our Standard American Diet is continues to make headlines and influence our dining choices!

Evolution-of-Obesity SAD graph

Since beginning my blog about 9 months ago as many times as I have been disappointed by some chef’s disinterest in offering healthy and compassionate options, I have also been really impressed by a few chef’s openness to dialogue and willingness to embrace change! In fact, one chef in particular has surged ahead of the others in welcoming us vegans into his restaurant – Joe Panarello, Executive Chef at City Winery Napa.

 I met Chef Panarello several weeks ago after hearing through the grapevine (no pun intended) about his vegan-friendly City Winery menu. My husband and I finally had a free afternoon and decided to stop in for a quick drink and a small bites plate or 2. It was after 3 p.m., so we were between the lunch menu and dinner menu so really had no idea what to expect. We were lucky enough to have landed just in time to enjoy their happy hour from 3 – 5 p.m. City Winery calls it “Crush Hour” and offers 50% off their small bites and tap bar menus. In addition to the “bar food” discounts they also offer 2 – for – 1 on all City Winery wines, brews and well cocktails. We explained to our server Bevin that we were vegan and she suggested their City Winery wine “on tap”. I enjoyed a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and my husband sipped the City Winery 2014 Pinot Noir both by winemaker David Lecomte. We discussed the options available and Bevin suggested their Curried Eggplant Spread with roasted pita. And to our surprise, Bevin mentioned to Chef Panarello that there were a couple vegans in the bar and he came out to chat with us for a bit. He was really open and accessible and very interested in talking to us about our food choices, being a part of my blog and possibly joining me on my monthly Tout Suite episode. We exchanged information, he went back to work and Steve and I went back to enjoying our wine and bites. The next lovely surprise was when he sent out a big batch of his delicious vegan tofu sloppy joes. Needless to say we very much enjoyed our experience!

Vegan City Winery wines
             Vegan City Winery wines
Curried Eggplant Spread and Tofu Sloppy Joe
Curried Eggplant Spread and Tofu Sloppy Joe

As busy as Chef Panarello is, we stayed in touch and he was gracious enough to invite my husband and I back out to City Winery to sample his new menu launch! The staff was friendly, welcoming and offered us incredible service. We dined outside on the cozy patio overlooking the Napa River. There were two events going on inside while we dined so we had the entire patio to ourselves. We were also really excited that Bevin was our server once again. She explained that Joe had prepared a special vegan experience just for us, that there were several courses and that our entrée was a surprise. Boy, did we feel special!

City Winery patio
                   City Winery patio

She brought us a half carafe of their vegan Pinot Noir and then the feasting began! Our first course was the Grilled Tofu topped with local fava bean salad and tiny spring greens. The first thing I noticed was the amazing flavor and texture of the tofu. It was incredibly flavorful and wasn’t soft or mushy. It was one of the best tofu dishes I’ve ever had. Just incredible!

Grilled Tofu, fava bean salad and spring greens
Grilled Tofu, fava bean salad and spring greens

The second course was the Baby Gold Beet & Blood Orange salad. Large chunks of delicious beets, pieces of sweet orange sprinkled with toasted pistachios, and farro grains tossed with a tarragon vinaigrette. As amazing as the food was, I knew that I was going to have to pace myself to be able to enjoy each course! Throughout this gastronomic experience, Joe also came out to explain the food he had so artistically prepared for us. Did I mention that he and his team made us feel very welcome!?

Baby Gold Beet and Blood Orange
     Baby Gold Beet and Blood Orange

Course number 3 included two more of his salads – the peppery arugula salad paired with sliced apples, candied walnuts and apple rosemary vinaigrette and the local asparagus salad sprinkled with herbs, almonds and red quinoa. Just incredible. I have a hard time deciding which I loved more. The apples and the hint of rosemary in the arugula heightened my sense of taste and smell and the shaved asparagus and almond combination were just wonderful!

arugula salad

Local Asparagus Salad and Arugula Salad
Local Asparagus Salad and Arugula Salad

Bevin then announced that the entrée was on its way. Joe served our entrée and it was a true work of culinary art. A large, fresh morel mushroom stuffed with pureed chickpeas, topped with couscous, next to a sweet grilled onion and drizzled with sweet pea sauce with a hint of hazelnut. I am reliving the experience as I type. This is easily one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed and the morel entrée and grilled tofu are in my top 10 best meals ever!

All of the salads are available on the menu but Joe will create a special entrée for you based on what delicacies he has in the kitchen that evening!
All of the salads are available on the menu but Joe will create a special entrée for you based on what delicacies he has in the kitchen that evening!
Can you tell I'm happy with my meal?!
Can you tell I’m happy with my meal?!

And when I did not think he could out do himself, here came the dessert! A refreshing and delicious avocado lime sorbet surrounded by macerated strawberries and several dollops of chocolate tofu with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Steve and I agreed that neither of us would ever think of teaming avocado and lime together as a dessert. And we both agreed that is what separates a good chef from a great chef. It was a true work of art!

Avocado lime sorbet
                 Avocado lime sorbet

Every course of this meal was a perfectly executed experience. Steve had a cup of coffee with his dessert and that was amazing too. I’m sure I sound like I am gushing but it was truly one of the most wonderful dining experiences I have ever had.

Chef Joe Panarello
                Chef Joe Panarello

Joe Panarello began cooking when he was only 12 years old at his family owned New Jersey restaurant. This early experience began his lifelong love affair with creating masterpieces with food. His passion includes visiting local food markets and choosing the freshest produce. His dishes are elegant and sophisticated but not pretentious; a true culinary experience. The last three decades of Joe’s career have been highlighted by some of the most acclaimed kitchens across the country including The Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton. As a rising star, Joe mentored with Chef David Burke at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. More recently he worked as the Chef de Cuisine under celebrity Chef John Sedlar from the award-winning Rivera in downtown Los Angeles. You may have even seen him on an episode of Iron Chef America in 2009! Though he learned from an older generation of chefs, his cooking techniques are a mix between modern and classical. His outlook on service is extraordinary and I can vouch for the fact that his food is wholesome and simple yet refined and delicious!

cw_NAPA-Logo__Burgundy-1-300x95

The original City Winery opened in New York City and was the only winery in New York City! They have expanded to Chicago, Nashville and Napa and continue to grow. City Winery Napa is located in the Historic Napa Valley Opera House at 1030 Main Street in downtown Napa. The restaurant seats 75 people indoors and the patio seats another 40. The bar features 35 wines on tap including 30 sourced from local vineyards and wineries and an extensive wine list.

Wine on Tap?
                    Wine on Tap?

They also feature private dining experiences for up to 30 people that includes a balcony that overlooks the Napa River. And if you arrive to the show too late to have dinner, you can order food and drinks from the concert venue with no reservation required. The City Winery pairs culinary and cultural experiences creating the perfect setting to share your passion for wine, music and great food with friends. Their company mantra of indulging the senses with sounds, smells, tastes and views combine to create a unique and special experience!

Michael Dorf - City Winery Founder
Michael Dorf – City Winery Founder

Michael Dorf, the founder of the iconic Knitting Factory – one of New York’s longest running music venues – is the brainchild for City Winery. After he and his brother Josh made their first barrel of wine with winemaker David Tate of Barnett Vineyards, Michael was hooked. He grew from drinking wine, to taking classes, attending wine dinners to finally working with grapes and creating his own wine. In 2006, this experience led to the conceptualization and City Winery was born!

 I just cannot say enough great things about my experience with Chef Panarello, his food and his amazing service to his customers. It was truly one of my best dining experiences. This is by no means a vegan restaurant – fish, meat, poultry and cheese are still the stars of his menu. But I can guarantee that he and his staff will welcome you and provide you with an amazing vegan experience. Be sure to mention to your server that you are vegan and Chef will make a masterpiece just for you based on the fresh ingredients he has in his kitchen that day! And be sure to mention that you heard about him and the restaurant on my blog. I know he and Bevin will love to hear that!

I’m certain that you will enjoy your experience as much as I did. Thank Chef Panarello for being so creative and vegan-friendly and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

February 2

Sweetie Pies Bakery – Satisfying Your (Vegan) Sweet Tooth!

Located at 520 Main Street in Downtown Napa!
Located at 520 Main Street in Downtown Napa!

Since becoming vegan the thing I miss the most when a sugar craving strikes, is the freedom to walk into a local bakery and satisfy my sweet tooth! Finding a vegan-friendly bakery in Napa has become a part time job for me. There is no doubt that I have enough skill to bake cookies or mix up a batch of cupcakes but that is really not the point. Frankly, the last thing I need in the house is a dozen cupcakes when I only wanted one in the first place! You know how that is, right?!

Oh...so many choices...so little time.
Oh…so many choices…so little time.

Well, after searching Napa’s local bakeries for the last 3 years my luck has finally changed! When it comes to vegan cupcakes, anyway! This summer while I was volunteering for Napa Humane’s Mobile Adoption Clinic at the Napa Farmer’s Market, I happily found the remedy to my problem. While wandering around the Market, I noticed Sweetie Pies had a stall – Sweetie Pies is a local bakery located in downtown Napa. I have been into Sweet Pies several times over the last couple years but have always left disappointed since they did not offer any vegan choices yet. I walked over not expecting the answer I wanted but had to ask all the same. “Hi,” I said. “Do you guys finally have any vegan options?” And the magical answer was “Yes, our mixed berry muffins are vegan.” After I did a double take, a little dance and a cheer, I ordered the last vegan muffin she had left. I wasn’t even really hungry but I knew that I had to celebrate this extraordinary win! I thanked her profusely and quite thoroughly devoured the delicious muffin!

Mixed Berry Vegan Muffins
          Mixed Berry Vegan Muffins

Since making this amazing discovery, I have had the opportunity to visit the Sweetie Pies bakery on Main Street from time to time and have always really enjoyed the berry muffin. Last week my husband and I stopped in to see what other delightful morsels might be available and were excited to see that their vegan menu continues to expand. In addition to the mixed berry muffins, they also had vegan chocolate cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies available.  We ordered one cupcake and one muffin and took them home to share with our vegan dogs – Buttercup, Tobey Jug and Violet. The muffin was amazing as usual but I have always been a sucker for a good cupcake. And this cupcake was truly one of the best I have ever had. In fact, I loved the cupcake so much I headed back in later that week and special ordered their vegan chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday celebration. The cake was a luscious 6 inch triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate soy pudding in between the layers topped with soy buttercream frosting. Just like the cupcake, this cake far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I am sitting here salivating as I type!

cupcake2
Vegan chocolate cupcake with soy buttercream & vegan mixed berry muffin.
2 slices2
Vegan chocolate cake with soy pudding & delicious soy buttercream frosting!
birthday cake
I just emailed them a sketch of my beloved Tobey Jug and they made an edible image of our favorite boy!

Honestly, the fact that these sugary creations are so delicious really should not come as a surprise. Toni Chiapetta, Owner & Pastry Chef of Sweet Pies has been a dessert connoisseur since she was a child. For Toni, the only reason to eat dinner was to get to the dessert! From the Table Talk pies featured at her parent’s luncheonette, to her first experiments baking chocolate cake, dessert has been a huge part of her life! Her career as a pastry chef began at home with her Mom Tess. Once Tess helped ignite Toni’s passion for baked works of art, Toni headed off to study at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. From there, she next studied at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now none as ICE – The Institute of Culinary Education) and under Albert Kumin, renowned Swiss pastry chef and former White House pastry chef. Toni’s first professional baking gig was at Icarus in Boston. She then headed to Sfuzzi in Philadelphia and then finally to Bistro Don Giovani here in Napa Valley.

Toni - Owner & Pastry Chef
Toni – Owner & Pastry Chef

I have been fired a time or two and for about the first 5 minutes I remember thinking – “S*@t! Now what am I going to do?” But in both cases, getting fired from jobs that were not helping me reach my potential was absolutely the best thing that could have happened to me. Well, ends up the same thing happened to Toni. Getting fired from her job ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her and the rest of the dessert-eating world! Toni brushed herself off and retreated to her Victorian apartment and tiny oven and commenced to baking! Toni only had the room to bake one cake at a time but instead of giving up, she thrived. She began delivering samples to our local coffee shop Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Her baked goods were such a success that within four months she was able to move her operation to a commercial kitchen and for the first time Sweetie Pies had a payroll! She continued baking and succeeding and finally on September 15th, 2000 Sweetie Pies became one of the first businesses to open in The Hatt Building in downtown Napa! And even though Sweetie Pies is now a booming business with a staff of dedicated bakers, Toni continues to oversee every aspect of the operation…from developing new recipes (some of them vegan, yay!), to training new culinarians, to taking out the trash and paying the bills but most important of all she continues to try to satisfy her incurable sweet tooth!

Part of the Sweetie Pies' Team
Part of the Sweetie Pies’ Team

Sweet Pies not only has the bakery in the Hatt Building at 520 Main Street in downtown Napa but also offers a stall at the Napa Farmers Market from May to October and bakes for food distributors and retail stores. Sweetie Pies also bakes custom cakes for special occasions including birthday and wedding cakes. Their pumpkin pie has been awarded a Top Pick in Bon Appetit Magazine’s feature on “Best Mail-Order Pies.”  Sweetie Pies’ strawberry-rhubarb pie has been featured in Food & Wine: American’s Best Pie Spots. And is also a Martha Stewart 2014 American Made Finalist. So between my ravings and these other prestigious mentions, you need to stop by Sweetie Pies right now! Get yourself one of her delicious vegan cupcakes, cakes, muffins, cookies…or one of each and thank them for offering so many delicious choices!!

Two of many awards!
Two of many awards!

bon3a

As always, thanks for reading and eat, drink…and be vegan!