Posts Tagged ‘Napa’

I love Napa. I was lucky to grow up there. Even though I don’t live there anymore, it’s still home. I visit friends and family there when I can to get my “Napa Fix.” So much has changed over the last few decades, yet it feels exactly the same to me whenever I go back. Once I drive into Napa and see the mustard growing in the vineyards, I know I’m home.

When I was a kid, all the tourists passed by the actual city of Napa and headed up valley to the wineries. They missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Now they flock to Downtown Napa, with all of its new restaurants, wine bars, boutiques, hotels and a bustling riverfront. But there are so many other beautiful places in Napa. Just drive away from Downtown in any direction and you’ll see.

I can’t wait to go back. Besides, I’m overdue for some malfatti. Which brings me to my Top Ten List.

Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a True Napan:

10.  You snuck into Kay-Von Drive-In in somebody’s car trunk. Or you snuck in under the fence. Or you simply paid to get in by cramming as many people in the car as you could.

9.  You call the country club the Country Club. (I don’t know what the “Silverado Resort and Spa” is … )

8.  You have your own personal Rebob story. It probably involves either one of your friends trying to scare the crap out of you, or you trying to scare the crap out of one of your friends.

7.  You cruised the “J” on Friday and Saturday nights, and waited all year for the big Cruise Night. And you found your friends somewhere along Jefferson without the help of cell phones.

6.  You went to the Big Game every year at Memorial Stadium, and your life depended on who would win.

5.  You headed to the Lake many summer weekends in an overcrowded car stuffed with friends, Doritos and beer, blasting AC/DC and Journey all the way. Or you went up with the family in your station wagon. And you saluted the Old Man With the Pipe on the way up.

4.  You walked Downtown on the weekends and met up with friends (usually at the Clock Tower — officially known as the Paul R. Gore Clock Tower. Paul was the Dad of a few of my high school friends). You probably grabbed something to eat at the Woolworth’s counter, or at The Fox & The Grapes, or at the deli next to Mervyn’s. You stopped in Partrick’s Candy (now Anette’s) to smell the chocolate. You browsed Brewster’s, Mervyn’s, Merrill’s and Carithers. Sometimes you’d see a movie at the Uptown, when they had intermission and cartoons, too. You hurried past the Connor Hotel, but slowed down at the deserted Fagiani’s long enough to peek through the front door window. If you dared.

  “Napa Clock Tower” by Will Murray (Willscrlt) is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-US

3.  You know the exact two spots in town to pick up malfatti. And you likely took a big pot to the back door of The Depot back in the day to pick some up from Clemente and his family.

2.  Depending on which generation you fit into, you either partied at the Tucker Bag and Rainbow Bridge or you hit Alfredo’s on Tuesdays for Nickel Beer Night. And you probably hit whatever incarnation the popular Downtown hotspot was at the time (either The Oberon, Main Street Bar & Grill, or Downtown Joe’s). Maybe you played volleyball at Tom Foolery. You probably even stopped in Henry’s … if you were in-the-know.

1.  You know the difference between a Napan and a Napkin. A napkin, by definition, is “a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips, and to protect garments.”  ‘Nuff said.



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Back in the late ’90s I worked for the Coppolas. Yes, the Francis Coppolas. Nice, nice family. One afternoon, Francis and Eleanor wanted to get some of their favorite foie gras for a dinner party. And when you’re Francis and Eleanor Coppola, you simply call up your friend Andrew Sutton, Executive Chef at the world-class restaurant, Auberge du Soleil, and ask him to make you some. And you have your lady servant, Lisa, go pick it up.

I arrived at Auberge du Soleil early that same evening, sliding my bitchin’ 1993 240sx into a parking space between a jaguar and Mercedes. When I approached the front desk, the hostess looked at me like I had an alien protruding from my chest. I imagine she thought I was lost. But once I mentioned Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Andrew was immediately in front of me with a big smile and handshake.

Though I’m no pushover for celebrity-type nonsense, I thought it was really cool (or, potentially a health code violation) that Andrew was leading me through his kitchen at Auberge. Yes, in Napa we referred to the five-star resort as Auberge only. It was one of our rights as Napans. I had never been there before; I only knew that the rich folks wined and dined there and people with money to blow would stay there and get exclusive massages and what not. While walking through the kitchen, the staff were eye-balling me — they must’ve figured I was some kind of honcho, so they smiled, but I knew they were secretly telling me to “Bite It” in their heads.

Andrew made interesting small talk and acted as if we were old friends. He didn’t think I had an alien protruding from my chest.  But one of the prep cooks must have; he made me nervous with his fake corner smile and twitchy stink eye. He kept that stink eye on me as Andrew took the freshly prepared foie gras from the large refrigerator.

Now, I realize most foodies would give their left pepper mill to have this opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I was soaking in the soleil all throughout the beautiful restaurant, kitchen and grounds. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with Andrew. I knew it would be a while (if ever) before I could afford to come back to this famous Napa Valley resort just 15 minutes from my own house. It was an exclusive experience that budding chefs would die for. But very quickly, I was wishing that what Francis had really requested was Alaskan king crab legs or chocolate mousse torte.

Instead, the foie gras was presented in a nice to-go container and Andrew wanted to be sure I saw the goods before I took them back to Francis. In fact, he wanted me to taste the foie gras before he packaged it up, kinda like a drug dealer who makes sure his clients take a hit of the good stuff before they exchange money and brown bags.  I began to sweat. I mean, it was … duck liver. Maybe goose liver … I couldn’t be sure. Andrew was persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. And why would he … an exceptional chef who had prepared an incredible, highly desired gourmet treat. You have no idea how much I wanted what was in that container to be anything else on the glorious Auberge menu, instead of foie gras.

Oh, I did politely refuse, a few times. I should’ve said “I’m too full,” or “I’m allergic to duck innards,” or “I’m frightened,” but in any case, he was handing me a tiny fork with a big hunk of smushy pâté and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Now, you all know I am a discriminating eater, and you would be correct to assume I do NOT care for liver, therefore I do not care for foie gras. It doesn’t matter how fancy, how lovingly prepared by how famous a chef … I did not want to get it anywhere near my mouth, let alone eat it. But I was trapped. It was an honor – thrilling for most people — and I couldn’t deny this kind culinary master. Smiling, Andrew looked adoringly at his special foie gras prepared for the Coppolas, and at me as he anticipated the joy I would experience once the delicacy reached my palate. So, I tried to get it over as quickly as possible. I shoved the fork in my mouth. I breathed through my nose while Andrew awaited my reaction. I smiled and shook my head up and down. Then, like a miracle, Andrew turned away, while at the same time I saw a garbage can to my left. I was THIS close to hawking that mouthful into the garbage — until Twitchy Prep Cook moved closer and raised his eyebrows. Son of a BITCH. Yeah, I swallowed it. And I have never wanted to barf so much as I did at that moment saying good-bye and thank you in the kitchen of Auberge du Soleil to the friendly, renowned chef, Andrew Sutton.

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Most of you probably aren’t familiar with malfatti. Malfatti is a completely scrumptious pasta dish, and as far as I know, it can only be found in two places: Italy and Napa. Malfatti are like spinach dumplings covered in delectable red gravy (or red sauce for you non-Italians). Malfatti is loosely translated as “mistake,” or “bad product” or “badly made,” but that can’t be further from the truth.

Malfatti apparently was introduced in Napa around 1930 when the owner of The Depot Restaurant, Theresa Tamburelli, had to feed a hungry baseball team. The only thing she had available was ravioli filling, so she made dumplings with it. God bless her. In 1961, Clemente Cittoni began working at The Depot with Teresa as a busboy and dishwasher. By the time I got to high school, Clemente was running the show at The Depot.

My stepdad introduced us to The Depot. When we walked into the lobby, it reminded me of an old Italian place in the city (San Francisco) where old dudes would go to relive their mobster days over a Chianti and a cigar. But once you walked into the dining area, it felt like someone’s home. This is where I first tasted malfatti. I was in love with Italian food then, especially ravioli, so I ordered a plate of ravioli and malfatti. I wasn’t too sure about the malfatti when my dinner arrived; they were shaped like little sausage links. But that didn’t stop me. I went ahead and tasted the malfatti. The seas parted. The heavens opened. Doves flew overhead. I think I even heard a symphony in the background. Malfatti was essentially Christ in a bowl. The taste, texture, flavor, smell … there’s nothing that compares. This is what it looks like:


And this is what it looks like two minutes after you start eating it:


Ever since that first day at The Depot, malfatti has held a special place in my heart. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d go to The Depot to get malfatti to add to our holiday dinner. We’d take a big stockpot and go to the back door of the kitchen. There’d often be a line. When you made your way to the front of the line, you’d tell whichever staff member was near the back door what you wanted – how much malfatti and/or how much ravioli. Clemente and his family were always hard at work fulfilling lunch or dinner orders for the front house, and fulfilling malfatti and ravioli orders at the back door. I went to high school with Clemente’s son Steve, but didn’t realize back then it was his Dad who was in charge of creating those incredible malfatti. Clemente worked like a magician. As he plated dishes for the front of the house and yelled at the waitresses in his adorable Italian accent to “Pick Up!” he’d be slicing meats, boiling pasta and talking to a back door customer at the same time: “You want cheese with that sweetheart?” Every time Clemente, his wife and children were there working hard and greeting customers with kindness. Robert Irvine would be proud.

Some time ago, the Depot closed, and though I was already in Oregon, I was terribly sad … until I found out Clemente and his family opened a small kitchen at Val’s Liquors in downtown Napa. Every time I visit Napa, Val’s is a stop I always make. And if friends or family from Napa come to visit me in Oregon, they know they better not show up without some of Clemente’s malfatti.

The last time I was in Napa, I went to Val’s … of course. I usually order at least four dozen malfatti and when I get to my destination, I’ll eat about a dozen and then freeze the rest to take home to Oregon. This last time I was there, Jay and I picked up malfatti on our way to his brother Rich’s place in Santa Rosa. That’s about an hour drive from Napa. The malfatti was sitting on the floor board behind the driver’s seat. Jay was driving, so I was able to look adoringly at my precious malfatti every five minutes. It was difficult. I could smell that heavenly aroma. It was like crack. I had to have it. I couldn’t wait until we got to Santa Rosa. I asked Jay if there was a spoon in the car. He looked at me like I was a little crazy. I actually started rummaging through the glove compartment looking for a plastic spoon, a fork, a spork – I didn’t care. All I could find was a straw. That was good enough. I grabbed that container of malfatti, opened the lid and stabbed one of those malfatti with that straw. I shoved it in my mouth and then slurped the red gravy through the straw. I’m not kidding. If you’ve had malfatti before, you know I’m not kidding. Jay laughed out loud, he couldn’t believe it. That’s how good malfatti is kids.

Every time I visit Val’s, Clemente, his daughter Joanne and grandson Joseph are manning that kitchen. It’s still a family affair. And every customer they serve is like family … they call me “honey,”, “sweetheart”, “sweetie” and every other endearment you can think of. I took this picture of them the last time I was there:


That’s Clemente, Joseph and Joanne. I told Clemente I was the ex-Napan from Oregon who always visits him and told him one day I would blog about his famous malfatti. But I’m just one of a thousand customers who tells him how much I love him, his family and their malfatti. Still, each time I get that old thrill when he says, “You want cheese with that sweetheart?”

So do me a favor. Put this on your Bucket List: If you’re ever in Napa, go see Clemente and his family at Val’s Liquors on Third Street in downtown Napa. And order yourself a big helping of malfatti … with cheese sweetheart.

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Pizza ala Coen

Today is a very important day. It’s the birthday of THE Papa Don of Friday Night Casserole fame. So I figured it would be the perfect time to pay homage to Papa Don’s favorite food ingredient in any recipe:  hamburger.

My Dad loves hamburger…in spaghetti sauce, whipped into a fancy meatloaf, in Porcupine Balls, in Sloppy Joes or just by itself…wait! never by itself; it would certainly need some Heinz Ketchup. So why the “Pizza ala Coen” post you ask?

When I was a kid, Mary Ann made homemade pizza. Not a doctored-up frozen pizza—of course, I don’t even remember frozen pizza then. I do remember ‘pizza in a box’ though. I believe it was Chef Boyardee. There was a pouch of dough stuff and a can of pizza sauce…basically bland tomato paste. You were on your own for toppings. Oh look, here it is:


I don’t remember the cheese part. Probably for good reason. I don’t think Mary Ann ever used Chef Boyardee more than once. We did eat a lot of Nujo’s Pizza in Vallejo though. That was the best pizza in the area when I was a kid—in fact, Nujo’s is still alive and kicking on Georgia Street. I was sad to leave Nujo’s behind when we moved to Napa in the early ‘70s, that is, until we discovered Silverado Trail Pizzeria. I can still taste the greasy deliciousness of those large pizza pies. Yes, they were on the famous Silverado Trail in Napa. Unfortunately, they’re closed now. I’m not sure how long ago they closed their business, but it was a sad, sad day for pizza lovers. I’m not kidding when I say they had the best pizza I ever ate…probably better than any pizza from New York or Chicago—though I’ve never had a pizza from New York or Chicago. I’m just saying.

The combination pizzas at Silverado Trail Pizzeria left an impression on me, and if I close my eyes and try really hard, I can still taste them. The same is true for Mary Ann’s “Pizza ala Coen.” She made her pizzas from scratch, and Pizza ala Coen featured Papa Don’s favorite ingredient: hamburger. And onions. You’d think little kids would turn their noses up at that combination, but it was quite the contrary. We loved Pizza ala Coen. Especially when served up with large glasses of RC Cola.

I found my original copy of her infamous pizza recipe. I copied it from Mary Ann’s, and mine cheats with a prepared roll mix for the pizza dough. Sue me. This is actually a simple recipe, so the next time you think you need to order pizza delivery, give this one a try:

These days I add mushrooms and onions to my pizza, but back in the day, Pizza ala Coen featured hamburger and onion. If you like the original recipe, you can thank Papa Don, as he was obviously the inspiration. And since my Dad thinks I post goofy ‘old’ pictures of him on this blog, I dug up a few smooth pics in honor of his birthday. Happy Birthday King Cool!  (I imagine we probably promised you many years ago that we wouldn’t call you that anymore, but I think it’s appropriate today.) Love ya Dad!

Papa Don cutting a rug with his sister-in-law Terry

Papa Don’s first passport shot. I think it’s smooth. I may get a comment from him that he doesn’t like it.

Papa Don dancing (again), this time with Phyllis. He’s looking like a bad-motha-shut-your-mouth with that hat.

Jay always sneaks into the background when people are taking pictures. Here’s Papa Don giving him a taste of his own medicine. This is where I get my sense of humor. Thanks Dad! Happy, Happy Birthday!

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Well, I thought it might be a good time to remember one of our “favorite” dishes from Friday Night Casserole. Yes, THE Friday Night Casserole. In case you missed it the first time around, enjoy. And if you’ve already seen this one, hey, enjoy it again. I do actually have some new material for you. If you look above, you’ll see a tab for a new page I’ve created — FAQ & Glossary. It’s a work in progress. But there’s a little something there for your entertainment, and to explain some of the crazy/strange/ridiculous Coen terms and sayings you may have experienced on this blog. And if you’re a Coen, or an honorary Coen, you just might remember saying or hearing a few of these cool phrases yourself.

Friday Night Casserole

There were two kinds of Fridays in our house: Pay Day Friday and Casserole Friday. We loved Payday Friday. Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island with a wad of bills. Sometimes he’d let us hold them. Then everyone would hop into the wood-paneled Ford Station Wagon and head for A&W, or the family restaurant Palby’s for a big night out. Ahhh, A&W…sitting in the station wagon parked next to the scratchy-sounding order sign machine thing. My family ordered burgers and root beer—in those fancy frosty mugs of course—however, I always ordered a fish sandwich and grape soda. And yes, they all made fun of me. Except for Coleen who also preferred the fish sandwich. And she believed you weren’t allowed to have a burger until you were an adult. She finally had her first Big Mac at the ripe old age of 10. Tracy had to wait till she was 11.

Now for Palby’s: if you never lived in Vallejo or visited the bustling Solano County metropolis with its abundance of 1970’ish restaurants, you might’ve missed Palby’s. Sucks for you because Palby’s was awesome. Palby’s was on Highway 80 between Vallejo and Napa in the area that’s now known as American Canyon. Palby’s was like a freaky dinner theater for kids. Look out the window and there were peacocks. There were seals. But we didn’t eat them. I preferred the deep fried shrimp myself. I recall my little sister Pooh always ordered the ribs and proceeded to happily get the sauce all over her face. Thinking back, Palby’s seemed like a Winchester Mystery House to kids, because there were all these different areas with trippy things to see. Or maybe there was just the lobby and the main dining room and I had an over-active imagination.

Sometimes on Payday Friday, Dad and one or two of us kids would just pop over to Munchie’s on Sonoma Boulevard for 10 cent hamburgers. Munchie’s was a burger joint in a cool round building that sold cheap hamburgers and fries and I just liked saying “Munchies.” Sometimes we’d just grab 300 tacos from Taco Bell, when all they really had was tacos.

But, if it wasn’t a Payday Friday, and you didn’t make plans to get in trouble and stay after school–or better yet, offer to babysit for the neighbor’s heathen kids–you were going to experience Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole. God have mercy on your soul.


No rules apply!!!

Check the cupboards for stray cans of stewed tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, deviled ham or anything else that resembles vomit. Next, go to the fridge and grab any and every leftover you can find saved in old margarine and Cool Whip tubs—these are important casserole ingredients.

Leftover examples:

Pork ‘n Beans
Kentucky Fried Chicken Cole Slaw
Canned spinach
Taco meat
Chopped up Fish Sticks
Creamed Chip Beef Sauce
The last slice of Olive Loaf luncheon meat that will never be eaten
Macaroni and Cheese
White Rice
Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers
Bread heels
Chicken Pot Pie
Deviled eggs
Creamed corn


Throw all of the ingredients you found into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Feel free to add canned tomato sauce or a packet of onion soup mix to make it fancy.

Bake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to do this. Just hang around the oven to make sure nothing explodes.

Serve to your happy family. Well, they were happy before dinner. Now they hate your guts and are secretly flipping you off below the table. A few of them might be dry heaving into their towel bibs. You will definitely want to plan a huge dessert for later in the evening (stay tuned for “Jello Mold” and “Mayonnaise Cake”).

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Jay and I went on vacation to Hawaii last fall and I couldn’t help but notice the white rice on every breakfast menu while I desperately scanned the options looking for potatoes, hash browns or any type of spuds. Nothing. Mahalo a lot, Hawaii. Jay was thrilled because he loves rice. When he was a little kid his sweet little full-blooded Japanese mother would serve him a bowl of rice, splash some soy sauce on it and then crack an egg over the top. No, the rice wasn’t hot enough to cook the egg, it just oozed its raw egg self all over the rice. He said he liked it. I threw up in my mouth a smidge. It sounds so nasty he may have to write his own childhood food blog.

Anyway, rice everywhere in Hawaii. That’s fine, when in Rome, eat white rice—and Spam. Jay was in heaven with the Spam, pulled pork, short ribs, rice, noodles and of course, the beach. Growing up in San Diego, he loves the beach and lived at Mission Beach as a bona fide surf dude in the ‘80s. On our Waikiki vacation he body-surfed Waimea Bay and Sandy Beach. I body-surfed the tide pools and ended up with a pancake-sized bruise on my ass. But hey! I remembered something as I came to in the tide pool—I do like white rice for breakfast! How could I have forgotten?! In fact as a kid, I ate it every chance I got after a night of Chinese take-out. You know when you order Chinese food you can pretty much rest assured that there will be no leftover pork-fried rice to stink up the fridge; however, you can almost always count on leftover white rice. As a child, that was a good thing for me. I didn’t really care to eat it for dinner, as you may recall from “Gourmet Top Ramen.” My experience with Chinese food was the soggy, fatty sweet and sour pork my family loved. I would probably offer to babysit the heathen neighbor children on Chinese take-out night. But finding the leftover white rice in the fridge the next morning was a joyous occasion.

I don’t know where the idea to eat rice for breakfast originated back then. I was only about 8, so I’m fairly certain I never jet-setted to Hawaii on summer vacation. I imagine I was inspired after seeing my Grandpa Smothers eat white bread in a bowl of milk. But that’s just wrong. That’s like a nasty flour milkshake if you ask me. But my rice delicacy was heavenly. I’d put leftover rice in a pot with some milk on the stove (What’s that? Microwave?! We didn’t have no stinking microwave in the ’70s). When half of the rice was cooked and the other half had burned to the bottom of the pot, I’d scoop out the part that was still white into a big cereal bowl. Then I’d pour cinnamon, sugar and milk all over it. Yum. Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and who cares what my sisters say, they don’t know about white rice–though they made fun of me for eating it. Perhaps that’s due to the Milk Container incident of ’75.

Yeah, we didn’t have no stinking garbage disposal back then either. My Mom kept an old milk carton next to the sink where the contents from the sink strainer went to die. I don’t know why, since the garbage can was only five feet away. That milk carton would sit there a week or so, and then get tossed out into the trash. She was quite resourceful. However in the summertime (and no, we didn’t have no stinkin’ central air conditioning either) that milk container would ripen quickly. One time I had dish duty and was emptying the sink strainer contents into that container. That milk carton was so disgusting; it was full of nasty stuff and some rice that was in there got on my hand. At least I thought it was rice until my little sister, Melissa, informed me there were maggots on my hand. I about broke my arm at the elbow flinging it into the sink to get to that running water. Ah…so that’s where the hand-washing comes from. OCD mystery explained.

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I highly recommend this dinner choice for a great start to your Mother’s Day weekend. It was always a favorite when I was a kid.

Yahoooo! It’s Friday night and though not a Payday Friday, for some miraculous reason there are no leftovers in the fridge!! After learning that Friday Night Casserole is not the dish of choice for the evening, the kids are doing a celebratory dinner dance to the Jackson Five in the living room. Here’s what you do. Go to the cupboard and grab all the cereal boxes you can find. In the early ‘70s these would consist of two or more of the following:

Cap’n Crunch
Fruit Loops
Frosted Flakes
King Vitamin
Lucky Charms
Apple Jacks
Fruity Pebbles
Rice Crispies
Rice Chex
Wheat Chex
Corn Chex
Year-old plastic bargain bag of hardly-touched Puffed Wheat

Put all the boxes on the kitchen table. (Okay, forget the Puffed Wheat, you can’t fool the kids. Just put it back in the cupboard…it’s a contender for Friday Night Casserole.) If you have the assortment of mini cereal boxes leftover from camping, put those out on the table…..you’ll get extra brownie points from the youngins.

Place some bowls and spoons on the table and holler for the kids. Have a pair of scissors ready in case one of the boxes has a groovy semi-plastic cutout of Bobby Sherman’s 45, “Easy Come, Easy Go” attached to the back.

After they praise you for being the world’s coolest Mom, they will consume enough sugar to keep them hopped up until Saturday morning where you will find them all sprawled out in front of the boob tube watching Sid and Marty Kroft kid shows, interrupted every so often by a Conjunction Junction commercial.

Yikes!! Sleestacks!!

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hookin’ up words, and phrase, and clauses…

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