March 11

Napkins Bar + Grill – Something For Everyone!

IMG_1536 (1)Though some may say Napkins has a bit of an identity crisis, proprietor Ali Yildirim sees it much differently. Napkins offers “something for everyone…we do it all.” Whether you are looking to enjoy brunch al fresco, bellying up to the bar for beer & pub grub, dining with your honey on date night, dancing the night away with your BFFs, or joining a big group of friends to cheer for your favorite team, Napkins really does have it all! And that includes delicious vegan options too! When I sat down to enjoy lunch with Ali, he let our server, Becky, know that he was going to be vegan for the “next 30 minutes.” Thirty minutes turned into an hour and a half of talking, eating and sipping wine. And though Ali grew up in a culture that ate a lot of meat, he not only sees the benefits of following a vegan philosophy but admires us for it! He just kept raving about how good his vegan lunch was and how “you don’t feel heavy, you feel fresh…it’s not a sacrifice to give up something that benefits your body and your mind.” Well, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Gaziantep, Turkey

Ali grew up in Turkey’s Southeast Anatolian Region in beautiful Gaziantep, famous for olive groves, vineyards, pistachios and baklava.  Known as the “Paris of the East”, not only was Gaziantep recognized as one of the 2015 European Destinations of Excellence but it was also included in the UNESCO Creative Cities network in the field of gastronomy! Coming from such a gastronomical city, it is no wonder that Ali eventually began opening restaurants. His entire family works in the hospitality business – primarily hotels and restaurants – so it makes sense that is where he got his start. Even though family hires family, he had to start out at the bottom just like the rest of us. He began washing dishes but knew he was destined for more. While working, he began studying hotel/restaurant management. Upon graduation, Ali got his first General Manager job at Camel Beach and Sunset Restaurant in Stunning Bodrum, TurkeyBodrum on the Aegean Sea. He loved his job and the mediterranean climate but his love for people, new cultures and cuisines was a huge driving force.  Ali never believed that he “belonged to one country, one religion or one border” so when Celebrity Cruise Lines began recruiting, he knew what he had to do. With just one day notice to get to Istanbul for his interview, Ali got a haircut, purchased a new suit and spent all night on the bus! Of the 22 people who interviewed for the position, only 3 were hired…and Ali was one of them. And you’ll never guess what his first job was…yep, he was a bus boy again! He then spent the next 5 years honing his skills and visiting country after country; over 50 to be exact! He would head inland and spend his time with the locals immersing himself in their culture, enjoying their food.

IMG_1537Executive Chef Erasto Jacinto joined Napkins in 2014 and his career started out a bit like Ali’s. Chef arrived in California in 1986 and joined Mustards Grill as the dishwasher. He grew with Mustards Grill, became Chef and helped them become the legend (for non-vegans anyway!) they are today. In 2012, after 26 years with Mustards, he journeyed out on his own before finally making Napkins his new home. Chef grew up on an organic farm in Mexico. He and his family grew many crops that included corn, beans and wheat. He feels it is “so bad that people started using that [pesticides]. It ruins the soil.” Chef Jacinto’s goals for Napkins include working directly with local farmers to create a farm to table experience for his guests. He is also using his love for veggies to add new vegan options to his menu!

In the midst of all of this talking, I started my meal with their beautiful, sweet beet salad. I had to ask Ali what he thought of the salad minus the bacon and goat cheese that is usually on it and his comment was, “way better, I should hang out with you guys more often!” Then Chef made a plate of delicious roasted vegetables – squash, eggplant, mushrooms…how can something so simple be so delicious and IMG_1547satisfying? We finished off the meal with a sweet, light dairy-free orange sorbet. It was really a perfect finish to my meal.

And here is some exciting news. The last time I was in Napkins, Ali and I discussed the possibility of Napkins adding a vegan option or two to their menu. This really got him thinking and he has decided it is time to make some changes. In addition to adding vegan-friendly entrees to the menu, he also wants to label everything that is vegetarian, vegan and that can be made vegan! Hurray! They change their menu seasonally so this is the perfect time to make this all happen. Ali explained it to me like this, “every kitchen has vegetables. Anyone who calls themselves a full restaurant and can’t handle a vegan, maybe they are in the wrong business. You have your burner, you have your Chef, you have your items.” Are you beginning to love this guy as much as I am?

IMG_1548Although Ali is no longer a part of Tarla Mediterranean Grill, he had a vision for downtown Napa when he helped open the restaurant in 2011. His amazing vision of Napa’s growth includes his belief that by 2025, Napa will compete with areas like Tuscany as a destination. The addition of at least three vegan restaurants in downtown Napa is also a part of his vision for Napa’s future. He has even thought about opening a small vegetarian/vegan restaurant that will seat 20-30 diners and offer beer and wine. He feels that a vegan restaurant would do very well in downtown Napa. “I have the courage, I think I have the knowledge and I have the team.” Ali believes that with education people are getting concerned about the food we eat and the treatment of animals. And his thoughts regarding mainstream acceptance, “Being vegetarian is normal now. Vegan will be the same thing in 5 years.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Ali over four years ago when I was brand new to Napa. The vegan options were very IMG_3453limited at the time and my husband and I found ourselves at the newly opened Tarla Mediterranean Grill. He and his partners were there that day and we struck up a conversation. He was friendly and really excited to help us and make sure we had a wonderful vegan meal. Steve and I were both really grateful for the delicious food and good conversation. But it wasn’t until I sat down with Ali recently to interview him for my blog that I realized what an extraordinary person he is. Open, loving, accepting and happy are the first few words that come to mind. So whether you are coming in for a glass (or bottle) of wine, a cocktail, brunch, lunch with friends, a sophisticated but straight forward vegan meal, a Warriors game or a night of dancing, Napkins Bar & Grill truly does have something for everyone The next time you’re in, please let Ali know that you read about him on my blog. I know he will love that! And I truly believe that if anyone can open a vegan restaurant and make it a big success…Ali is our guy!

I hope to see you down at Napkins very soon. I’ll be the red head out on the dance floor sipping a Forbidden Sour! We’ll have a dance and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

January 27

Napa Valley Vegan Is Still Here!

Each day I am getting closer and closer to having Napa Valley Vegan updated and looking good! I am still immersed in the behind the scenes, technical issues that are much more challenging than I had imagined. That being said, I am learning so much about what goes on “behind the scenes” of a website!

I have many new restaurants and wineries that I will be visiting and sharing with you for 2016! I am almost there and am so appreciative of your patience! All of the content that I have posted since August 2014 is available. So if there is anything you would like to get caught up on before my new posts begin, now is the time!!

 

November 21

Napa Valley Film Festival – Days 2 and 3

Gala overview

Day 2 – The Festival Gala! You may remember me mentioning that the Napa Valley Film Festival knows how to throw great parties. My favorite has always been the annual Gala. It is one of the biggest parties I have ever attended and is a continuous onslaught of food, wine, cocktails, celebrities and live music! This year was absolutely no exception. Learning that it was going to be held at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, I struggled to envision it. I should have known better than to worry about it with the film festival in charge of the party planning. The evening began with a walk along the red carpet with everyone dressed in their cocktail attire and looking glamorous!

Me in my best looks! Vegan clothes from head to toes!

I’ve never seen the Center lobby look this stunning! Filmmakers, actors and directors were mingling with the crowd. Along with over 30 different culinary options there were 50 vintners, a cigar lounge, 10 live music performances throughout the evening, Stella Artois beer & cidre, and artisanal cocktails served at the Clever Root Bar. And the gorgeous Von Saal Lounge offered drinking and dancing on the Center’s stage! This year, hands down, offered the most vegan-friendly options since the Festival began. All of the previous years were very meat-centric. Of course, there was still plenty of meat being served but this year they had almost a half dozen vegan and vegetarian choices. All they had to do was make the nibbles without the cheese and voila’ – vegan! Surprisingly, Cole’s Chop House was my first stop. I did not expect this classic American steakhouse to offer anything vegetarian, let along vegan, but they had a delicious fruit chutney served on a crostini and were happy to make us a couple without the cheese. I always have to remember to never make assumptions! My next stop was at Azzuro Pizza’s table. Yet again, I was pleasantly surprised. They made several crostinis heaped with butternut squash & a drizzle of oil. They were simple and incredible! Lindt chocolate was giving away full sized chocolate bars so I slipped a couple of their dairy-free dark chocolate into my handbag! As I wandered through this incredible playground for the 21 and older crowd with a glass of wine in my hand, I next had some delish hummus & veggies from Tarla’s Mediterranean Bar + Grill. As I wandered past Napkin’s Bar + Grill table, I noticed huge bowls of chips, guacamole and tomatillo sauce. Vegans score again! My final, and probably favorite, find at the Gala was a fig and macadamia nut crostini, offered by Celadon. It was amazing!

As recently as last year, I was considering not attending the Gala anymore because of how incredibly unfriendly its food choices were. In fact, they actually carted a slaughtered pig through the lobby of the Copia and roasted him for all to eat. Even living in a non-vegan world, I was horrified by the total disregard the other party goers showed and that the Festival planners thought that was a good idea. I am so glad that the tides have turned and attitudes are becoming more open to offering some compassionate choices! The food aside, it is a party that should not be missed!

Day 3 – Celebrity Tribute

Emilie de Ravin dressed for the Gala!
Emilie de Ravin dressed for the Gala!

Day 3, I was back to work on the red carpet. Every year the Festival honors actors for their achievements and creative innovation. This year, they honored Bruce Dern for his long and distinguished career. John Travolta was also honored for his many contributions to the film industry. Keegan-Michael Key was honored with the Trailblazer Award to for his diverse skills and wide-ranging talent. Rising Star honorees included Finn Wittrock, Evan Peters. Lydia Hearst and Zoe Kazan.

Keegan-Michael Key tribute official
Keegan-Michael Key on the red carpet!

You know me…I couldn’t be easy and ask about their career or what projects they were working on. Instead, I found out some wonderful little gems about each of them. I was a bit disappointed that Bruce Dern could not attend the Tribute since he is such an avid and life-long animal rights activist. But I did learn that Lydia Hearst helped design vegan handbags for Puma a few years ago and her cousin Amanda through the organization Friends of Finn raids puppy mills and gives these dogs and puppies a second chance. CLICK HERE to see the interview! Finn Wittrock recently did a photo shoot with dogs for an animal welfare campaign that is helping get dogs into forever homes. In the midst of this he also adopted a dog! CLICK to check out his comments! Evan Peters also adopted a dog a couple years ago instead of buying from a breeder or pet store. CLICK HERE to see the

Evan & Lydia2
Lydia Hearst & Evan Peters talking to the media!

interview! And most exciting of all was when I asked John Travolta if he would consider going vegan to prepare for a role and he said yes! In fact, his good friend Forest Whitaker, who was a long time vegetarian before becoming vegan, is so enthusiastic about his diet that John is tempted to give it a try. And though Kelly Preston admits to eating everything, she not only raved about some of the delicious vegan meals she has had but told me that I was glowing! How cool is that?! CLICK HERE to see what they had to say! Though I haven’t followed John Travolta’s career much since Pulp Fiction, I will always have a place in my heart for him. When I was in fourth grade, I got to go to the movie theater with a big group of kids and Moms to see Grease. Grease was the first movie that I had ever gone to that was for adults. Not a cartoon, not a Disney movie…a real live film! I had also never seen a musical before. But once they started singing and dancing, I was hooked forever! And even at 9 years old, I thought Sandi and Danny made a beautiful couple! So for that, John, I will always be a fan!

Finn Wittrock on his way in to the Tribute!
Finn Wittrock on his way into the Tribute!

Here we are with 3 days down and 2 more to go. Be prepared for more screenings, filmmaker Q&As and one more red carpet! And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!