Friday, November 30, 2012

In Season: Persimmons - Persimmon Carpaccio with Prosciutto & Manchego

Pear and Prosciutto Carpaccio,  Photo: Martha

Let me let you in on a little secret: when I am serving a multi-course company dinner, my first course is almost always raw or totally make-ahead. Adopting this method for stress free entertaining pays off because it allows you to be calm, cool, and collected as you greet your guests and help them settle in to party mode. Maybe you've prepared to a cold Seafood Cocktail, or perhaps a make-ahead soup. Or maybe you've made my ultimate favorite: Carpaccio. 

I am wild for Carpaccio. I order it everywhere and I love to make it. Carpaccio is a traditional Italian dish featuring thinly sliced raw beef with a dash of oil, lemon, and capers, but in the present day, Carpaccio has come to mean a lot of things. It can be thinly sliced raw fish, cured meat, or even a vegetable, as evidenced by in NK's Tomato Carpaccio. Recipe HERE. One my favorite done-in- a-jiffy versions is Martha's Pear and Prosciutto Carpaccio. Recipe HERE

Carpaccio fits right in with my personal mantra for dinner party hosting: 
Make it easy, make it beautiful, make it special, and make it from the best products you can afford. 

Today's Carpaccio inspiration comes from the food blog I admire most in the world:
Zen Can Cook - click HERE to check it out.

Trust me, Zen really can cook. He's a real-life chef. And a fancy chef at that. Many of his recipes have a high level of difficulty and are replete with exotic, sometimes hard to find ingredients. Additionally, Zen's plating and culinary aesthetic are some of the best in the blogosphere. That said, his blog, at times, runs a bit counter to what we try to do here on Neurotic Kitchen - food that's easy, elegant, accessible and fast. But that doesn't mean we can't adapt some of his simpler dishes, and in this case, I've chosen a Zen recipe that features a novel, in-season ingredient, but one that is not so exotic as to be very hard to find - The Fuyu Persimmon.  

Our slight adaptation of Zen's recipe is, like the original, delicious and super easy. Wait for it........... Fuyu Persimmon Carpaccio with San Daniele Prosciutto, Shaved Manchego, Walnuts, and Pear Balsamic Reduction. Sound good? Oh. Yes.

Before we begin, let's learn a bit about Persimmons and the two major varieties that are available:

All info just below is courtesy of

"Hachiya Persimmons are mouth-puckeringly tart unless absolutely, supremely ripe. Ripe hachiyas are unbelievably soft - and are often almost liquified into a silky smooth pulp inside. They are elongated and oval shaped. They will ripen once picked, so you can let them soften on the kitchen counter until ready to use. Hachiyas are thought of as "baking" persimmons and are commonly peeled and pureed into a pulp to add to baked goods. They add stable moisture and a mild, pumpkin-like flavor to cakes, puddings, and other treats."

Fuyu Persimmon, Photo: NK 
"Fuyu Persimmons are distinguished by their 'flat' bottoms and squat shape. Fuyus should be more orange then yellow and are at their best when just barely a teensy bit soft. They will ripen after picked, so buying rock-hard fuyus and allowing them to ripen at home can be a good strategy. Fuyus are commonly eaten raw, often sliced and peeled and salads. They can also be roasted to great effect. They have a mild, pumpkin-like flavor. Prepare Fuyus by hulling them (cutting out their top and its attached flesh), slicing, and peeling them. 
Remove and discard the large black
seeds as you encounter them." 

Got all that? 
Now away we go:

Persimmon Carpaccio with Prosciutto and Manchego
Adapted from Zen Can Cook
Thinly Sliced Fuyu Persimmon, Photo: NK
Serves 4 

2 Ripe Fuyu Persimmons, peeled
5 Ounces Frisee and Arugula Mix

1/4 Lb Imported Prosciutto

Aged Manchego, shaved (if you buy 1/4 Lb slab it will be more than enough)

1/4 Cup Walnuts, toasted
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil + extra for brushing
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Pear Balsamic Vinegar (regular is fine too)

Toast Walnuts briefly if you have not already. 

Set a pot over low to medium heat and pour in Pear Balsamic Vinegar. Keep an eye on it and bring Vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced and syrupy. Turn off heat. 

Meanwhile, peel the Persimmons and thinly slice them. You can use a mandoline for this but a sharp knife works well too, especially if the Persimmon is super ripe.

Set 4 to 6 slices of Persimmon on each serving plate, overlapping slightly in a clover shape (see photo above). Brush with a bit of Olive Oil and sprinkle with Salt.

Combine the Lettuce Mix with the Olive Oil and Lemon Juice and season with a bit of Salt and Black Pepper. 

To assemble, place one slice of Prosciutto (folded or flat) over the Persimmon. Sprinkle with Manchego and Walnuts. Place another slice of Prosciutto atop that, and again, sprinkle with Manchego and Walnuts. Finally, place mixed Salad on top of it all and sprinkle with Balsamic Reduction. If not serving immediately, leave off the Balsamic Reduction until ready to serve. 
Persimmon Carpaccio, Prosciutto San Daniele, Manchego, Walnuts & Pear Balsamic Reduction, Photo: NK
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Anatomy of a Spanish Cheese Plate

I know what you're thinking. Another Cheese Plate, Sam? You got it. If you've been following NK closely, you'll know that Cheese Plates are my fave, and with Thanksgiving just behind us (I may still be full) I thought I'd share my latest. Last year's plate was French-Inspired (check it out HERE) so this year, I reverted back to Spanish Cheeses to mix it up a bit. I'm thinking my next effort will be an all American rustic style Cheese platter. When I do it, you'll be first to know. 

Spanish Cheese Plate, Photo: NK

This Season's Cheese Plate (designed for milder palates), plus a tray of Truffle Tremor, Soppressata and Pepper Jelly Crostini (recipe HERE) and Eric Ripert's delicious Caramelized Onion and Olive Croustade (recipe HERE), all flew off their plates. But all that food was only a prelude. As usual, my Mother-in-law outdid herself with an amazing Thanksgiving meal. Delicious desserts baked by my cousins followed soon after. I hope everybody had a similarly great time with family and friends!

NK's Spanish Cheese Plate

The Cheeses
*Cheeses pictured above in clockwise order beginning from the grapes
Valdeon - Blue, Creamy mix of Cow and Goat milk wrapped in sycamore leaves, medium strong 
Garrotxa (pronounced gar-roch-ha) - semi firm Goat, mild
Roncal - firm Sheep, slightly pungent 
Ibores - semi firm Goat with an orange-colored rind, mild
Queso de Murcia (Drunken Goat) - semi firm Goat with purplish wine-washed rind
Mahon - semi firm Cow, slightly pungent and caramel-flavored

*For more information on many of these cheeses check out:

Garnishes & Additions 
Thyme Sprigs
Forelle Pears 
Empire Red Apple
Italian Parsley
Medjool Dates
Black Grapes 
Blackberries or any other in-season Berry

Optional/Not Pictured:
Membrillo - a delicious Quince Paste that comes in a firm jelly form and can be cubed.
Fig Cake - available in specialty food stores and comes a sliceable round.
Marcona Almonds - usually pricey, but a lovely addition if you'd like to add nuts.


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Friday, November 23, 2012

Wine With Everything - Filet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce

After just two days in Napa, we were all wined out. Luckily, the Mr. and I have a quick recovery time. Predictably, we were right back on the horse in no time flat. Although I know I'll continue to be the type of girl who's quite content an everyday bottle, tasting so many extra special wines in Napa has opened my eyes a bit. 

David Arthur Winery, Photo: NK
The Tasting at Domaine Carneros, Photo: NK
Photo courtesy of Cakebread Cellars

Our winery tour took us to some great vineyards in the famed Napa region where we sampled many delightful glasses. Several were leaps and bounds better than our everyday purchase. Now better doesn't always mean more expensive, but training your palate on a few exceptional wines is worth it in the long run. Though I am far from expert, I feel I'll have an easier time identifying a good quality, good value wine in the future. And when I do pony up some extra bucks for a sought-after bottle, I pledge that I will savor it, not gulp. 

Here are the best wines that we tasted in Napa:

Chiarello Vineyards, Eileen, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 
Domaine Carneros, La Reve, Blanc de Blancs (Sparkling)  
Cakebread Cellars, Chardonnay Reserve, 2010  
David Arthur, Elevation 1147, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002 
Domaine Carneros, The Famous Gate, Pinot Noir, 2009
And because you can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take New York out of the girl, here's a list of 9 fantastic wines from the still up-and-coming Long Island Region, courtesy of Saveur: 9 Long Island Wines Worth Buying. But this is a food blog, after all, so today, I'd like to share a very special meal that uses wine in the cooking - and naturally also lends itself to a little wine on the side. 

Photo: NK 
Filet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce is a knockout dish where wine takes center stage. Using a dry red, we'll create a delicious, classic sauce that complements but doesn't overpower the beef. Best of all, this recipe requires very few ingredients and is totally accessible to the starter cook. My one directive is that you please don't break my heart by cooking your filet any more than to medium doneness. This also happens to be an ideal romantic meal for two. Is it too early to practice for Valentine's day?
Since there are a lot of myths associated with wine in cooking, I thought we should clear them up, and learn a bit more about cooking with wine while we're at it. Check out these great tips below, all courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine's Marcia Kiesel. 
All content from Food & Wine:

1. Dilute wine marinades and braises
"I love wine-based stews, but I think they need to be cut with chicken or beef stock; otherwise, they're too astringent. I prefer to use a ratio of half or one-third wine to stock. If I'm braising an exceptionally flavorful cut of meat for several hours, like lamb shanks, I have no problem adding water instead of stock. When marinating meat, I never use straight wine—again, it's just too harsh. For marinades, I cut the wine with oil." Save nice wines for drinking
"Some people say that it's best to cook with the wine you're drinking. That's fine if it's an everyday $10 bottle, but not if it's something much more expensive. For the most part, wine's nuances are killed by heat, so I usually cook with an inexpensive dry white or red, even if I plan to drink a nicer bottle. If a recipe calls for a wine that's more expensive, like a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I downgrade to a similar but less complex wine, like a Côtes-du-Rhône." 

3. The exception to rule #2: Aromatic whites can transform a dish
I finally tried the Wine Confit we brought
home from France in my mushroom side.
A delicious way to add wine essence!
Photo: NK
"Usually, it doesn't matter what wine I use when cooking, but there is an exception: I've found that perfumy whites, like Riesling, Vouvray and Muscat, can give an ordinary dish so much character. When we tested a chicken-with-Riesling dish from chefJean-Georges Vongerichten, I couldn't believe how well the floral notes of the wine came through. The Riesling literally turned a simple braised chicken into an extraordinary dish." 

4. If you have leftovers of a special bottle, make vinaigrette or steam mussels
"If, for some reason, I don't finish a bottle of excellent wine, I make a salad dressing  with it. First, I soak minced shallots in the wine to mellow the oniony flavor. Then I add minced garlic and whisk in some good olive oil. It's not as tart as a vinegar-based vinaigrette, but it still has a lovely winey tang. If I have about a half-cup of wine left, I love to steam mussels in it. The wine is heated only briefly, so it maintains some of its distinctive flavors, which meld so beautifully with the mussel liquor. Champagne-steamed mussels are my favorite, on the rare occasion that I have any left over!" 

5. Fat enriches wine sauces
"If a wine-based sauce tastes too sharp, swirling in cream or butter rounds it out so it's not quite so harsh. Plus, since fat absorbs and carries flavor, I find that cream or butter actually enhances the taste of wine in a sauce or stew."

Now we are ready to cook!

Filet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce
Recipe from Food Network/Giada De Laurentiis
Prep and Cook Time - about an hour total, largely inactive time 

Serves 2 
Straining the Sauce, photo: NK
Suggested Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

2- 6 Ounce Filet Mignon Medallions
Kosher Salt 
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, cold  
1/2 White Onion, sliced thinly
1/2 Tablespoon Garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon dried Oregano  
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1.25 Cups Dry Red Wine (we used a 10 dollar bottle of Merlot)
Liberally season Filets with Salt and Pepper and drizzle all over with Olive Oil. 

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high and grill steaks to desired doneness - about 5 to 6 minutes per side for Medium Rare. When done, set aside on a platter and tent with foil. Let rest for about 10 minutes

Next, melt 2 Tablespoons of Butter in a medium saucepan. Add the Onions and saute them until they are tender - about 5 to 6 minutes. 
Sprinkle Onions with a bit of Salt and Pepper. 

Add the Garlic and Oregano to the Onions and stir until fragrant - about 30 seconds.

Stir in the Tomato Paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. 
Now, whisk in the Wine. Lower heat to medium low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until the volume of the mixture reduces by about half - about 10 minutes.

Pour Sauce through a sieve and into a bowl to strain out the solids. Press the mixture into the sieve to help the sauce through and maximize the yield. Discard the solids and pour strained Sauce back into your pot. Return it to a gentle simmer. Add 2 Tablespoons chilled butter one by one, whisking continuously until incorporated. If necessary, season Sauce with a little more Salt and Pepper (keep in mind that your steak has been generously seasoned already). 

To Plate, set Filets on your dinner plates, drizzle with wine sauce and serve! Voila!

Filet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce, Photo: NK
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

No-Stress Elegance - Caramelized Onion & Olive Croustade

And just like that .... 'Tis the season! 
Photo: NK
November's barely over and already, calendars are filling up with holiday parties and events. 

Our hearts are soon to be filled thanks to all the family fun, and we're priming our bellies for the most diet unfriendly time of the year. Though festive, the stretch between Turkey Day and New Years can be both exhausting and nerve-frazzling. So when it comes time to balance our daily responsibilities with a whole lot of extra merriment, I like to have something predictable to rely on. Today, it's a go-to hors d'oeuvre. 

ln a season where you'll more than likely have to bring a dish or an appetizer to parties, I thought I would share a foolproof, easy, yet impressive pre-dinner bite. Eric Ripert's Caramelized Onion and Olive Croustade fits that bill. I'll be bringing this savory pastry to my mom-in-law's Thanksgiving Celebration. Cut into slices, the Croustade makes for the perfect universally likable portable finger food. 

Why it's great:
The recipe is simple - many of the ingredients will be in your pantry already, so to make this, you'll only need to buy about 5 or 6 other items, none of which are hard to find or exotic. 

Using Frozen Puff Pastry makes this even easier, and works for bakingphobes like me. 

Who doesn't love a sweet, salty and savory pastry hors d'oeuvre? 

What to know: 
Caramelizing Onions is very simple to do but not quick. Set aside about an hour and twenty minutes total for this recipe, 45 minutes of which will be dedicated to slicing and caramelizing the onions. Keep in mind, there is really only about 20 minutes of active time overall, so although the dish is not super quick, it really is quite easy.

Make sure to leave time to bring your Puff Pastry Sheets to room temperature before beginning this recipe. This should take about a half hour. To do this, you'll need to remove it from the package and separate the two sheets.

Caramelizing the Onions can be done a day in advance providing you store them in the fridge in an airtight container. 

The complete Croustade should be prepared the morning of and stored outside of the fridge. 

For serving, the Croustade is really best served fresh out of the oven, but also tastes just fine at room temperature. If you travel with it and your hostess has room in the oven, ask her to warm it up briefly. It can sit overnight if necessary as well. Store on a countertop and cover in foil.

You can experiment with the size and shape of this tart. Ripert's recipe yields two 6 inch round Tarts, but you can easily make one or even two larger round Tarts providing you double the amount of Caramelized Onions you prepare, as well as the amount of Olives you buy. If you do this, keep in mind that baking time may change, so just check your Croustade at about 14 minutes into cooking and keep an eye on it until it is flaky, golden, and cooked through. 

Here we go:

Caramelized Onion and Olive Croustade
Recipe by Eric Ripert 
Yield: Makes 2 Small Croustades and Serves 5 to 6 
Total Time: 1.5 hours or less, Active Time: 2O minutes 

1/4 Cup Olive Oil 
1 Clove Garlic, very thinly sliced
2 Very Large White or Yellow Onions, very thinly sliced
2-3 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
Fine Quality Sea Salt 
Freshly Ground Pepper
2 Sheets Frozen Puff Pastry Dough, defrosted fully and cut into 6 inch rounds*
1/2 Cup Black Olives, Pitted - preferably Nicoise or Kalamata Olives, sliced in half.
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, a few pinches

*Cook's Tip - If you don't have an appropriately sized cookie cutter, use an inverted bowl or other round object to mark the dough, then trace the rounds with a sharp knife to create circles. 

Caramelized Onions, Photo: NK
Preheat oven to 450.

Heat Olive Oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add the sliced-up Onion, Thyme Sprigs, and Garlic.

Cook the Onion, stirring once in a while, until soft - about 6 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook the Onions for about 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until well caramelized.
Season to taste with a bit of Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper. Remove onions to a plate lined with paper towel and lightly blot away some of the oil. 

Place Puff Pastry rounds on a non-stick baking sheet or baking sheet lined with Parchment. 
Assembling the Croustade, Photo: NK

Spread the Onion Mixture onto each Dough Round. 

Be sure to leave about a half inch or less 
of space around the edges.

Next, top the Onion Mixture with Black Olives and Parmesan.  

Bake the Croustade in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure to check it at around the 15 minute mark.

When the Croustades are done they will be fully crisped, flaky, golden brown, and puffed. Let cool if storing or serve warm if presenting to guests right away. When ready to serve, cut Croustades into thin slices. 

Store outside of the fridge if not serving immediately.

Best served right away but the croustade is also good at room temperature or, more preferably, re-heated briefly. 
Caramelized Onion and Olive Croustade, Photo: NK 
Wishing you all a joyous Thanksgiving! 
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Destination: San Francisco and Napa - Restaurant Roundup

Hi there, readers.
It has surely been a week...The husband and I just wrapped a great trip to San Francisco and Napa that will likely inspire several more recipe-related posts, but for now, I wanted to give you a quickie rundown of all the amazing eats we enjoyed at these two great destinations. Our journey was filled with fun, including visits with two of my oldest and dearest friends (both of whom happened to be fantastic tour guides), copious amounts of wine, and of course, many wonderful meals. 

Alcatraz, as viewed from Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, Photo: NK 

The beautiful David Arthur Winery (Click HERE for Info) Napa/Rutherford, CA Photo:NK

Still, I must tell you, our trip was incredibly bittersweet. Just after we landed at SFO, much of the northeast, particularly New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey, was hit with a brutal "superstorm" by the name of Sandy. Naturally, we were in knots until we heard that all our friends and family were ok. In the days following, we, like the rest of the general public, would be astonished by the footage of the unthinkable damage and loss of life this horrific storm had wrought.  

I write to you today from my mother's house, as we still don't have power at home. Our city and many areas this awful weather event touched, remain paralyzed. Worst of all, the human toll has been horrific. So many of those who narrowly escaped with their lives lost nearly everything. If this chilling tragedy has a silver lining, it has been the remarkable banding together that's happening in response: people comforting, housing, and feeding one another. People giving of their time and money to help those in need. May it continue, and we are happy to be home to hug our loved ones and do our part.  

So - I hope my dining suggestions and observations, though probably ill-timed, help you in the future should you travel to the San Fran/Napa area. For those of you that were particularly harmed by Sandy, please know that our wish for you is that better times are ahead. And soon. 

San Francisco - Where to Eat
What a city. San Fran definitely lived up to its hype. We didn't have one bad meal here, in fact. San Fran offers amazing culinary diversity but my vote for the foods to focus on would be Seafood and Asian cuisine, notably the city's famed, ubiquitous seafood stew - Cioppino. Here's where to go for all of it, including some additional restaurant destinations for an extra special night out.

The Ferry Building/Embarcadero
When - lunch/quick snack
Why - Variety. The Ferry Building houses an amazing collection of kiosks representing some of the top foods in town  - and all under one roof. Bonus - You'll find lots of places to buy fresh produce and specialty items, as well as an outdoor farmers market on certain days showcasing all the best in organic produce and other tasty products. 
Where - Explore it all, and leave time to meander and taste. We particularly enjoyed 
Out the Door - a takeout Vietnamese counter with very good, cheap eats. Special thanks to my friend Gab for the hot tip on some good 'n spicy food!
Website HERE
Yummy Lemongrass Pork and Vermicelli Noodle
+ Spring Rolls at Out the Door, Photo: NK 
The Pescado Taco at Nick's - Delicious! Photo: NK 

Nick's Crispy Tacos
Whenlunch/quick snack
Why - Cheap, top-notch Tacos of all kinds. I can only vouch directly for the Pescado (fish) Taco that Nick's is famous for. It is to die for, and actually inspired a fast and easy Fish Taco Recipe in one of NK's first guest posts. Check that out HERE. Nick's is actually housed in a nightclub called Rouge. I know, weird, but what you do after your Taco is up to you. 
Website HERE

Sotto Mare - The place for Cioppino!
When - Go for a casual, mid-priced Dinner in the heart of San Fran's charming Little Italy. 
Sotto Mare in North Beach/San Fran, Photo: NK
Why - Sotto Mare has a no-frills yet jolly vibe, great food, and a laid back and pleasingly down-to-earth staff. It's all about the seafood here. Italian-inflected seafood at that. It impressed me as the type of fun and casual spot you'd find in Brooklyn. The food is very good and so is the experience. Get the Cioppino, a hearty seafood stew in a tomato-based sauce (which serves 2). Wear your bib proudly and be prepared to get dirty! To start, and don't miss the Oyster Shooters served Bloody Mary-style. Yum! For dessert? There, you're out of luck. This place is a get in and get out sort of joint, but you'll be happy you came. 
Make Reservations if you can, otherwise, go a bit on the earlier side.
Website HERE

When - For a special dinner out if you don't mind heading a bit off the beaten path. It was about a 15 dollar cab ride from the Union Square area)
Spatch-Cooked Game Hen with Pomegranate
at Incanto, Photo: NK
Why - Lovable Top Chef Masters star Chris Cosentino's newish restaurant is all about meat, but is not the best for the non-adventurous eater. A proponent of the nose-to-tail food movement, Chris highlights all parts of the animal relying primarily on Italian preparations. Which parts, you ask?  Think Tripe, Gizzard and Pig's Ear.That said, it is possible to order less "exotic" items that are also quite delicious. Cured meat plate anyone? We tried the Veal Tonnato Special and I had a fantastic Cornish Game Hen. Mind you, I don't even care that much for poultry. I order it at good restaurants from time to time figuring that it will be a great litmus test for the skills of the chef. If you can make me swoon over a poultry dish, then you are on to something. Go to Incanto for the commendable service, the upscale/casual if not slightly over-produced trattoria vibe, and of course, some nicely executed and inventive dishes. With a glass of wine each, two starters and two dinners, you can get out of here for about 110 dollars before tax and tip. Note that there will also be a small surcharge on your bill so that Chris can provide all hourly staff with healthcare benefits so sorely missed in the industry.
Make Reservations
Website HERE

Swan Oyster Depot
Photo: NK 

When - Lunch, Snack, pre-dinner (Closes at 530pm). Basically, go early and often, or when you have an hour ++ to kill waiting in line. They are closed on Sundays. Swan opens at 1030 am and the famous line can form before then. We arrived at 1130 on a weekday and our wait was about 45 minutes. Happily, once you are in, they don't rush you. 

Why - Because if you are a Seafood Lover, you should believe the hype. Holy smokes - this casual, family owned fish market/lunch counter blew my socks off. 

If you are someone who doesn't mind paying a bit extra for something incredibly special, this is your place. I love Oysters more than I can even express in words, and the Oysters here (priced on target for the market at 28 dollars per dozen), really all the seafood we tried, was over the top. Some of the other dishes like Crab Cocktail and Shrimp Salad are on the pricier side. Overall, think simple, delicious, and perfectly fresh fish of all types served by burly men with smiling eyes. Swan has a counter with about 12 seats. The walls are covered in bric-a-brac and other seafood-inspired and random kitsch. The menu is scrawled on a board above it all. Fresh fish adorns the window, helping hungry folks on the line power through the often lengthy wait.

The Tantalizing Window At Swan Oyster Depot, Photo: NK

They also have a nice basic wine and beer selection (I thought the Anchor Steam beer on tap was a great addition to my meal) and a variety of Oyster types determined by what is freshest. 

Sure, Bourdain made a trip here on his show - not that I want to be him or anything. No, he's way more funny than me and much less sober. Ok, at least more funny. Anyways, the guy usually knows his stuff, and Swan Oyster Depot is the kind of rare culinary pilgrimage spot that is also a well-deserved neighborhood institution filled with real-life locals. I am salivating as I write this. Just go. It is worth the wait. 
More Info HERE

OSHA - Thai
When - any time, lunch or dinner. Quick, fast, cheap and friendly. 
Why - My good friend Lissette met us here for our last evening out, before graciously ferrying us to the airport unsolicited. What a gal! Anyways, Osha has many locations in San Fran and offered some very solid cheap to mid-priced Thai food in a boisterous setting. Everything we had was quite tasty, and it was a great way to send off our trip in good company. 
Website HERE

Napa/Yountville, CA - Where to Eat
Yountville, CA, a town in the Napa region just over 1 hour from San Francisco, is a great base of operation for all things wine. Accessible to many of Napa's amazing Wineries, Yountville gets extra points for being incredibly charming. Finally, it also earns a huge gold star for being home to many of the top restaurants in the region, all within a few very walkable blocks. 

The French Laundry
You know, Thomas Keller's most sought after restaurant, widely touted as the best in the US. But guess what? I am never getting in here. If you go, please report back! I really didn't even try because we planned our Napa trip on the fly and you either have to know someone or call a LONG time in advance.  Also, it is tres tres pricey. 

One can dream.  Photo: NK
But fret not! Turns out that Keller basically owns the rest of Yountville. If you want to try some of his more accessible restaurants and bakeries there's always Bouchon, Ad Hoc (a casual bistro), and for Ad Hoc's famous Fried Chicken in a hurry, there is: 
Photo: NK 
When - Lunch/quick snack al fresco - it's basically a shack/window with some picnic tables serving only Fried Chicken and Pulled Pork. 
Why - The Fried Chicken is amazing, and since I will never get into French Laundry, I figured I'd at least check out Thomas Keller's frying prowess at a comparatively bargain price - ok, very comparatively. Be prepared to pay about 20 bucks for three pieces of Chicken, some Cornbread, two tiny but delish sides (watch out for the fantastic Collard Greens) and a soft drink. 
Where - Located behind Keller's casual Bistro, Ad Hoc - limited day time hours. 
Website HERE 

Now, check out this attractive bird:

Perfectly Fried Chicken at Addendum, Photo: NK 

When A perfect locale for a special meal, lunch or dinner, weeknight or weekend. 
Why - Sometimes Celebrity Chefs are over-hyped. Not Michael Chiarello.  A Napa local, runner up on Top Chef Masters, and noted TV Chef, Chiarello has the life. His Easy Entertaining Food Network series is shot in his gorgeous home kitchen and personal vineyard. By night, his restaurant, Bottega in Yountville, is one of the most popular on the strip. Serving inventive Southern Italian Farm to Table fare, Chiarello impresses using the best local ingredients, perfect execution, and often incredibly authentic and underrepresented regional Italian flavors - the latter being the thing that really gets me. Although dinner here will set you back a bit, I actually think it's well priced for what you get when measured against NYC prices. First course pastas don't typically cost over 25 dollars, many quite a bit less, even those with seafood. They are packed with complex flavors and portion size is as it should be - not too small, not too large. Appetizers are varied and interesting, usually landing in the 12-15 dollar range. I guess my point is that you can leave here with a reasonable check if you choose wisely. We did splurge on a quartino of very special wine as recommended by my friend Monica. A quartino, I learned, is about a glass and a half and so it's perfect for sharing two ways, and here, it makes for a super way to enjoy otherwise too-pricey bottles. As per Monica, Chiarello's 2009 Eileen Cabernet, named for his wife, was outrageously good. It pays to know people with good taste! 

Photo: NK 
For me, ambiance also means quite a bit to the dining experience, and Bottega's design is just as I like it - walls adorned in a warm but elegant Tuscan Palate, brick accents, high ceilings, fire pits and lanterns, clean, minimalist tables, and a partially open kitchen. The service is close to excellent, and best of all, servers there are friendly and not stuffy in the least. Very California, as they say. 
Make Reservations
Website HERE

Bistro Jeanty
When - A Lovely Mid-Priced Dinner, Bistro Lunch, and some afternoons, dollar Oysters!
Why - I may have mentioned before, but traditional French Bistro Cuisine has a very special place in my heart. Well executed French food can be gorgeous, simple, and always rich. I was at first unsure about my reservation here. Frankly, it's not one of the often "talked about" places in Yountville, despite being very well reviewed. Upon checking in to our hotel, I asked the concierge what his thoughts about it were. He assured me that Jeanty's chef was one to the Yountville originals who has continued to serve high quality food in the town for years, despite not having national celeb chef status like Keller and Chiarello. This was music to my ears. I just love a pioneer. 

Oysters at Bistro Jeanty, Photo: NK
We dined at Jeanty twice. The first trip was for an al fresco midday snack of the dollar Oysters (my third Oyster meal of the trip). Our friends ordered the outrageous Tomato Soup en Croute, which is served with a flaky pot pie-esque pastry topping, and raved. 

Our next visit was dinner, where we enjoyed the steamed Mussel Appetizer. For mains, my husband ordered a deliciously tender Beef stew and a not-to-be-missed side of Frites. I uncharacteristically ordered a Mushroom Pasta dish with deeply flavored Chicken Broth Base, Chanterelles, and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms. Delicious. The decor is typical bistro - red and white accents, and a few cutesy decorative pieces like an old fashioned bicycle - but no giant french posters, thankfully. Just very cute and warm. Friendly (by French restaurant standards) servers don white aprons, which I am a sucker for. We were too full for dessert but I did find room for a nice Cognac that nearly knocked my husband out of his chair. He's a Scotch guy, and Cognac can be like Scotch on steroids. What can I say, I was feeling very French! Overall, the experience was very good and I would go back.
Make Reservations for Weekend dinner, but otherwise, it seemed possible to walk in.
Website HERE

Other Napa Recommendations - As we only spent two nights in town, we did not get to all the restaurants that were recommended to us. Here are some notables that I am confident could be worth a visit, as they were recommended to me by some folks with very good taste!

Mustard's Grill

For Casual Roadside Fare - Gott's, also known as Taylor's Refresher.

A special shout-out goes to Genova Delicatessen in Downtown Napa, a friendly Italian Deli with a delightful staff. It's a great spot to grab some salty meats and cheeses on your way into town. Enjoy these at your hotel with some wine, or in between vineyard visits when there's no time for lunch. 

That's everything! I do hope our culinary recap comes in handy for you someday.
Coming soon, I will share some info about the amazing Wineries we visited, and surely, there will be repeat San Francisco and Napa visits in my future. These are great destinations for the food and wine obsessed, and really a good choice for a low-key vacation in the states. 

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