November 30, 2009

My Napa and a Perfect Dinner in Berkeley

I woke up to a clear but windy morning in Napa. The wind was wild – blowing branches around and scattering leaves outside the window. The windows rattled and the electricity wavered.

So, my day began a bit uncertain – but this is my Napa. The tourist books and “insider” books talk about wineries up and down the valley, quaint cottages and cafes in St Helena and Calistoga, and recommendations for food and wine parings. But over the years we have learned to ignore all that and find the other Napa behind the hype and mostly away from the crowds.

My favorite place to eat in Napa is Oxbow Public Market. Yes, tourists eat here too – but not in the great droves seen along Highway 29. My favorite thing here is the arepas at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen – they are amazing! (As you might have guessed since this is there second appearance in my blog.) In addition, the market is home to Ritual Coffee Roasters, an outpost of Kara's Cupcakes, and several other merchants.

Within a block or so of the market there are several small wine tasting rooms that feature small production wines. One of these is Taste at Oxbow on the corner of First and McKinely Streets. This small shop features wines from several small vintners – Waterstone Wines, Mahoney Vineyards, and others. The wines are excellent, they have a broad range of varietals, and the prices are very reasonable. In addition, the staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and enjoys sharing their passion about Napa Valley and wine. Next door is GustavoThrace (of the Bottle Shock movie fame). This is also a great place to go wine tasting. Gustavo's wines are wonderful and the prices are also reasonable.

You can also travel across the bridge on First Street and explore the rest of downtown Napa. This is a great part of Napa Valley that is often overlooked by the majority of tourists and bay area day-trippers who flock up Highway 29. Over Thanksgiving weekend my husband and I decided to visit Napa for a day. We skipped the elegant estate wineries and headed straight to Oxbow Public Market and visited Pica Pica, Taste at Oxbow, and GustavoThrace!

On our way back to San Francisco we stopped in Berkeley for dinner at Great China Restaurant. This small, hectic restaurant on Kitteridge Street serves outstanding Chinese cuisine. One of the house specialties is duck, but the menu is very extensive and includes several vegetarian options. In addition, they have an extensive wine list and one of the waiters is very knowledgeable about wine and pairing it with his restaurant's menu items. On this occasion, we brought a bottle of wine we purchased in Napa and asked the reverse question and he gave us some excellent suggestions for food that would match nicely with our wine. We got some vegetarian soup with mushrooms, then Jonathan ordered the duck and I got tofu sauteed with green vegetable. We both thoroughly enjoyed everything! Great China is one of the bay area restaurants I will miss living in DC!

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