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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 6

St. Clair Brown Winery – Garden to Table Urban Eatery

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After hearing wonderful things about St. Clair Brown Winery from friends, this is what I found on their website –

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.”

How could I not fall in love with a winery that has chosen this as their manifesto?! And that was just the beginning of the wonderful things they have to offer. St. Clair Brown Winery and their winemaker Elaine St. Clair make small lot, hand-crafted wines in a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Napa. They have much less space than many of the sprawling wineries so craft their wine in smaller tanks and equipment. Which perfectly suits the production of their 200 (or less) cases of wine. But Elaine’s skills don’t just end as a world-class winemaker. She also holds a degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis. In addition to winemaking in the 90s, she also co-owned Napa Ale Works and spent a decade brewing award-winning beer. She has since returned to winemaking exclusively until now – clearly, her love for brewing never died! Sharing the same building as their winery, they are currently constructing their own micro-brewery. Once completed, it will provide a 10-barrel, all-grain system that will allow them to produce up to 300 gallons of beer made fresh daily. gardenAcross the street, in what used to be a vacant lot, sits their Garden Eatery which is nestled in the midst of their beautiful culinary garden. Their philosophy is that part of what makes Napa Valley such an amazing place to live is access to so much homegrown and locally sourced produce. Because of this, they made the decision that the grounds would be planted with a completely edible landscape. They teamed with Master Organic Gardener, Peter Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Orchards, to help make this beautiful dream a reality. Peter has been a farmer and orchardist in Napa Valley for over 30 years who grows exclusively for restaurants including several of Napa Valley’s top Michelin rated eateries. His relationships with local Chefs seems to have really spurred the current farm to table attitudes. It is so vital for us to know where our food really comes from! And it gets even sweeter! greenhouseThe garden includes a glass greenhouse that they converted into a small eatery! You can sit inside the greenhouse or at any of the many tables set throughout the garden. Because of the incredible weather in Napa, we all gathered outside to eat, drink and be merry!

I reached out to St. Clair Brown Winery before heading over…because that is what I do! Being vegan for almost 5 years, when it comes to what I put inside my body I have got to gather the facts first. I don’t like surprises…especially when I am hungry! I had a really lovely email conversation with St. Clair Brown’s Executive Chef Andreya Nightingale. The menu offers several small plate offerings and even though the menu is small, she strives to include delicious options for us vegans. In fact, her father-in-law has been vegan for 7 years and she loves cooking for him! The menu is constantly changing too based on what is in season and available in the culinary garden. Though some of the ingredients may change she prepares 5 small plates that will always be vegan – hummus with coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas and house-made nut butter; olives with garden herbs, lemon zest and garlic; almonds made with garden herbs and extra virgin olive oil; chocolate bark made with marcona almonds, lavender, rosemary, heritage sea salt and no added sugar; and the PB&J board. PB&J boardThe PB&J board was inspired by her father-in-law who loves his Friday evening PB&J with Cabernet! When I was there, the PB&J was a delicious house-made almond-pecan, cardamom nut butter, apples and pears poached with Syrah and Cabernet, and a small baguette baked by Model Bakery. I was able to taste the olives and almonds which were both delicious. They are made with fresh herbs and lemons picked right out of their garden and the flavors really shine through. The PB&J board is wonderful. Instead of a typical jam, the wine poached fruit was a delicious surprise. And, of course, the chocolate bark was intense, dark and delicious! Chef Nightingale is also testing a house-made vegan cheese similar to Miyoko’s Kitchen in Marin and hopes to launch it on her winter menu! I am very excited about that and will let you know when that happens! And she offers a salad – when I was last there it included roasted beets and carrots tossed in lemon-walnut vinaigrette with shallots, mint and oregano from the garden. Just ask for the salad without the burrata cheese and you have yet another vegan option!

menuTo pair with the small plates, the garden eatery also offers wine by the half glass, glass, half bottle carafe or bottle. The wines include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Estate Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also offer a tasting flight that include a sampling of four wines – the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. All made by winemaker Elaine St. Clair and all fined without the use of animal products! And if you find a wine you love, it is available to purchase at the table or in the greenhouse. If you become a wine club member (which I plan to do next visit), you not only get 2 bottles of wine every other month but a free glass of wine whenever you visit the Garden Eatery!

St. Clair Brown Winery’s Garden Eatery is located at 816 Vallejo Street and is open daily from Noon to 8 p.m. Reservations are not required but are always appreciated and can be made through their website’s Contact Us page or by calling 707.255.5591.

I eat and drink aplenty – not only for my pleasure and enjoyment but for my readers. And this experience is hands down one of my absolute favorites! The garden is such a pleasant surprise tucked into this very urban area. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, the food is fresh and wonderful and the wine offers exceptional structural balance and layers of complex flavors. Be sure to make time to visit this little diamond in the rough; you will be so glad you did!

Thanks for joining me on my latest dining and wine tasting adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

September 18

Napa Palisades Saloon Serves Up Vegan Vittles!

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After reading an article about Napa Palisades Saloon having a vegan-friendly menu, I figured it was time to go check out downtown Napa’s newest bar. But since giving up meat eight years ago, when it comes to dining out, the word spontaneity no longer exists in my vocabulary. When Steve and I plan to go out for a meal, schedule a road trip or fly out of town…I have to research (ad nauseam) to find out what and where my vegan dining opportunities will be. And to be honest, I have lost count of all of the times that I have been told or read that a place has veg-friendly choices only to walk in and be met with a blank stare. So, first I checked out the Saloon’s menu. As has become the norm with restaurants in Napa Valley, there was no indication on any of the menu items whether anything was vegetarian or vegan-friendly. Well, I thought, someone wrote an article and specifically mentioned that the Saloon offered vegan options so I didn’t give up there.  Next step. I called. There was no answer so I left a voicemail message introducing myself, my blog and my interest in trying their food so could someone give me a call back? And then I waited…and waited. After a week or so went by, I realized that I was probably not going to hear back from anyone. My thoughts at that point were…well, if they are doing that well that they don’t need my business, okay…they won’t get my business. And then I got back to my crazy busy life and promptly forgot all about them! Then on Labor Day, I received a comment from one of my new blog followers, Jennifer. She mentioned in her comment that she had recently dined at Napa Palisades Saloon and had really enjoyed the experience. I am a big believer in “signs” and that was the sign I needed to give this another shot.

The following week Steve and I had a Wednesday evening free so headed downtown to check this joint out! We got there at about 7 p.m. and the place was packed. I’m in my mid-40s now, and though you may not believe it by reading my blog postings, I am more of a foodie than an oenophile. And with all of the Michelin starred restaurants and highly respected Chefs in Napa Valley, when I walk into an establishment I expect to walk into a restaurant that happens to have a bar. It may be an excellent bar, but the bar is always secondary to the food experience. So imagine my surprise when I walked into Palisades. It was a loud, busy, full-fledged bar that just happened to have some tables! Every one of the 6 or 7 tables was full, all 15 bar stools were taken, loud music and even louder voices filled the air and there were 8 flat screens filled with sports. Besides the wrinkles and the need for reading glasses to see the menu, I felt like a 20-something again! The saloon is small – I didn’t have to get very far passed the doorway to see that seating was limited. But as I looked around, I found 2 chairs tucked into the end of the bar. And though I haven’t been a 20-something in a few years, I knew the seats were going to go fast if I didn’t take them!  It felt really strange at first…our seats were just regular height chairs that tucked into a desk-like dining table that butted right up to the bar. We were looking up at all of the other patrons AND the bartender like we were at the kiddy table. But once we got settled in, we had this whole space for my handbag, our food and plenty of room for drinks. It felt really intimate and though we only sat there by default I’m going to try for those seats every time I go in now!

Rustic Industrial Decor
The kiddy table is at the bottom left of this photo!

The table gave me a great view of the whole place – it has a rustic industrial vibe. The bar top is made of wood but the HVAC duct work along the ceiling gives it the feel of a small warehouse. The kitchen is wide open showing all of the stainless steel appliances. I really liked the feel of it – I lived in an old unrenovated loft in LoDo (Lower Downtown Denver) near Union Station and Coors Field in my late 20s and it took me back to that rather boozy, happy phase of my life!

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I mentioned earlier that since making the switch to a humane lifestyle, I tend to be a bit obsessive about my research. Well, thanks to Jennifer, I did not have to spend any more time researching my food so I decided to take a look at their Drink menu. I drink wine, I really like wine but sometimes I just need a damn break from wine. Beer…used to drink it, never really liked it, so never drink it anymore. Ahh, but then I spied the hard cider! Yes! I love hard cider. Years ago, my sister Christy spent a college term in Moscow. At that time (and maybe it still is…) it was really hard to get into Russia. So, when she finished up her term we met in Paris instead. We spent the next couple weeks exploring Paris, Calais, Dover, London and the stunning Lake District in Northern England. It was through these journeys that I had my first Burger King veggie burger experience (I never liked eating meat even when I was a meat eater!) and I had my first Strongbow Cider. It seemed to be on tap at every single pub and I loved it! Hmmm…I just realized that cider is almost like combining beer with wine. Interesting! Anyway, that is how my love affair with cider began. However, just like wine and beer, sometimes animal product is used in the fermentation or filtration process of cider. Unfortunately, Strongbow is not vegan-friendly but I will always have beautiful memories of the time we spent together abroad.

Round One!
Round One!

When researching the vegan-friendliness of a drink, I always prefer to go straight to the source whenever possible. That is what has been so interesting but time-consuming about doing the research for my blog. When I can’t go straight to the source, I do sometimes use Barnivore.com. It is a very helpful resource to use if I don’t have access to the master brewer or winemaker. The Saloon has two hard ciders on their menu  – Crispin Pear is available by the bottle and Foxcraft Blood Orange is on tap. Their online menu lists Golden State cider available on tap but according to their bartender, Chris, they no longer offer it. If you find it somewhere else though, it is vegan. Yay! I found Crispin on Barnivore.com and they do not use ANY animal products in the production of their ciders. They do make a couple that contain honey but the Saloon currently only offers the pear cider which is vegan-friendly. Foxcraft is not listed on Barnivore’s website so I headed over to Facebook to see if I could have some dialogue with them there. I’ve got to tell you that they were amazing! They confirmed with their master brewer that they do not use any animal products while creating the cider. They pride themselves on creating a clean, additive free hard cider. I did not learn this until after I had left Palisades so I ordered the Crispin Pear cider. It was so good I had 2 bottles! And I picked up a four pack of the blackberry pear cider this week. I will absolutely try the Foxcraft cider the next time I head to the Saloon. They worked so hard to answer my questions so the least I can do is support them and drink their cider!

Vegan Falafel burger
Vegan Falafel burger

Okay, so once I got my drink it was time to get to the food! I went over the menu with Chris and he took all of my questions back to their Chef. This is what we came up with – vegan bar snacks include the crispy chickpeas with chili and lime and the avocado toast drizzled with habanero oil (just ask them to remove the cheese!). The Between Breads option is the crispy falafel burger made without the dairy. Vegan Sides include the green beans with garlic and lime and the fries. While ordering, I missed the beets with avocado, nuts and lime under the Apps section of the menu. You will need to ask but they may be able to make that vegan if they hold the honey and goat cheese! I wanted to try everything but settled for the falafel burger, fries and an order of the avocado toast. The burger came on a big platter with a huge bun, lettuce, tomato and these really tasty pickled veggies. I skipped the bun and dug into the burger. It was crispy on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside. The fries came out hot and salty and just about perfect. The avocado drizzled with the habanero oil was so simple yet so delicious. I will definitely order the avocado toast again! It was a lot of food for two people. We finished off the fries and toast but I got to take half the burger home for later! And to feel even better about the food I ate, they also use local and organic ingredients.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this joke before. Two vegans walk into a bar…

The bar is located at 1000 Main Street, Suite 100 in downtown Napa and is a great place to meet up with friends. And from the crowd that was there that night, it is obvious that a lot of other Napkins feel the same way! Thanks for joining me again on my vegan adventures. I look forward to running into you at Napa Palisades Saloon and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!