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!

 

 

 

June 19

Heritage Eats – Creating Custom Vegan Eats and Good Vibes!

As I noticed the new construction being done in Bel Aire Plaza near Pier 1 over the last few months, my excitement began to build. Any time there is a new restaurant launch, it always means the possibility of new vegan options in Napa Valley! Though I no longer allow meat, eggs or dairy in my diet, I am a Foodie. I love good food! And then the sign went up…Heritage Eats where Slow Meats Fast. Slow meats fast, what?! Well, let’s just say that my excitement began to dwindle a bit. But for those of you who have never met me, I am ALWAYS up for a challenge. I had a little free time this week and stopped by to check things out!

Exterior shot

The space is large, open, light and white. Very clean and minimalistic looking with large photos of the local farmers and ranchers that are a part of their community. Ordering the food has a bit of a “cafeteria-style” feel to it where I could see all of my food choices as they prepared my feast. My first choice was sandwich, salad or rice bowl? Since I am always a sucker for fresh garden greens, I went for the salad. For those of you who love rice bowls, their yellow steamed rice is made with coconut milk so vegan-friendly. If you like the hands-on approach for your meal, the corn or flour tortilla wrap is for you. Next, I picked my “protein” – a tasty vegan, gluten-free crispy chickpea falafel. Then I added some quinoa tabbouleh (ahh, can you say super food?!), a dollop of garlic hummus and fire grilled vegetables topped off with sweet crunchy cabbage slaw. Quick caveat here – the slaw does contain honey which is typically not a part of my diet but I have to admit that the combination of sweet honey, garlic, crunchy cabbage and the smoky flavor of the fire grilled vegetables was absolutely amazing! In addition to the grilled vegetables, the pico de gallo, asian pickle and roasted corn & edamame are ALL vegan! Last but not least, are the sauces. The sauces will really allow you to customize your meal and 4 of them – pineapple habanero, heritage BBQ, salsa roja and harissa are animal product free!

menu board

cashier

The Co-Founders Ben Koenig and Chef Jason Kupper were kind enough to chat with me about their inspirations for Heritage Eats. Ben is an avid traveler that spent much of 2014 backpacking through the Middle East and Asia drawing inspiration for the restaurant from his experiences. He literally wrote their business plan in Goa (I had to Google that one – it’s in south west India) and refined it in Bhutan, Vietnam and Thailand. After graduating with a degree in Economics from New York University, Ben worked for Goldman Sacs in New York City. His career then led him to hospitality and concept design with AvroKO before becoming the Assistant General Manager for The Thomas in downtown Napa. Jason is an advocate for small farms and loves the blending of local and global flavors in a “street food” style. Like Ben, Jason hails from New Jersey but their partnership began after meeting at The Thomas where Jason served as the Chef de Cuisine. This experience was a huge inspiration in the creation of their menu for Heritage Eats. Jason’s vast experience in the food industry includes Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and Charlie Palmer at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas. Combining their fine dining experience, travels abroad and appreciation for the bounty of food California has to offer, they formed a gastronomic match made in heaven!

Chef and Co-Founder, Jason Kupper
Chef and Co-Founder, Jason Kupper
Co-Founder, Ben Koenig
Co-Founder, Ben Koenig

My meal was really incredible but what will keep me coming back is their for-purpose business plan. For-purpose is a growing trend that applies business principles to social reform. Ben and Jason have partnered with the Washington D.C. based charity Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry. With the staggering statistics that 1 in 5 kids in America do not get the food they need and 16 million children in the U.S. struggle every day with hunger, this philanthropic organization works to ensure every child in the U.S. has access to a healthy meal. With schools out for the summer, this is truly the hungriest time of year for many of our children. For the many children who rely on school meals, SOS/NKH is working to improve the way our country feeds our kids! Click here to see Share Our Strength discuss their No Kid Hungry campaign!  Kind, philanthropic and vegan-friendly? Consider me a regular!

Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Mission

Heritage Eats is located at 3824 Bel Aire Plaza in Napa serving local food to the locals (non-locals welcome too!) Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Though they have only been open since May, they already have a large and loyal following. I asked my husband to stop in on a Wednesday evening while running errands to take a few more photos for me and Heritage Eats was packed full of happy diners! Always a good sign that the food is good and the prices are accessible! Welcome to the concept of fast fine dining!

Together, let’s support our local businesses who not only make a profit but give back too! And as always…eat, drink & be vegan!

September 8

Vegan Paradice – In early 2015 the restaurant closed permanently! So sad…

I know I promised to eat, drink and shop my way through Napa Valley but I just could not resist the opportunity to include our neighbor to the east. Less than 20 miles from Napa, you will find Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café in downtown Fairfield. Now that you have a wonderful reason to visit Fairfield often, aren’t you so glad construction on Jameson Canyon Road is almost complete?!

Vegan Café in downtown Fairfield!
Vegan Café in downtown Fairfield!

Kim Brown has been a vegan for over 16 years. Her religion and love for God motivates her to love all fellowman making the health and wellbeing of others a big concern.  And because so many illnesses can be improved or even prevented by lifestyle changes, she was excited to share this good news with the rest of us! And so by following her passion for a plant based diet and her desire to demonstrate to others that healthy and humane eating is very do-able Kim and her husband Gerald debuted their vegan café in April 2012. And since there is nothing like Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café in North Bay, I can promise you that you will be very glad that she and Gerald decided to fill that void.

Kim's got that vegan glow!
Kim’s got that vegan glow!

When Kim was just 9 years old, her family converted to a vegetarian lifestyle. And a year later, thank goodness for the rest of us, her mother began to teach her how to cook vegetarian dishes. As an adult, Kim then made the decision to become 100% plant based. Using all of the skills she learned as a child, she began baking cakes and catering for small events. Later she and Gerald began selling their vegan soft serve at summer events. The success of the soft serve helped build their momentum and slowly the idea for the Café began to develop. It was just a matter of time that Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café would soon follow.

The incredibly delicious housemade beafy burger!
The incredibly delicious housemade beafy burger!

Kim and Gerald make all of their sauces, salad dressings and condiments from scratch. And the amazing beafy patty is also made in-house. This allows them to conscientiously produce quality, flavor-rich foods that promote a healthy body!

In addition to my favorite – the beafy burger – their menu includes the Ranchy Chik’n Wrap (which can be made gluten-free upon request), the Surprise Me! Chili Dog, the BBQ tofu burger, pizza slices, soups & salads and much more! And though they are not listed on the menu, Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café also offers the vegan soft serve and baked sweet treats that include cookies and cupcakes. My favorite is the coconut cupcakes!

Vegan cookies and cupcakes!
Vegan cookies and cupcakes!
Soft Serve Ice Creme
Soft Serve Ice Crème

Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café is located in downtown Fairfield at 846 Texas Street at the corner of Texas & Jackson Street. You will know you are there when you see the banana tree! Vegan Paradice is open Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and closed on Friday and Saturday. If you would like to place your order for pick-up, Kim and Gerald can be reached at (707) 428-0110. If you call, you may get to speak to their son Philip who helps out with the family business!

The Brown family working hard to make Vegan Paradice a success!
The Brown family working hard to make Vegan Paradice a success!

The first chance you have, please head over to Fairfield and enjoy an amazing vegan meal. We need to support the Brown family and help their passion for vegan food in North Bay succeed! And be sure to mention that you heard about them through my blog! Enjoy!