Napa Harvest

12 10 2009


Napa Valley in the heat of harvest is something very special.  The last few weeks I have been spending some time in the valley, for the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, and classes for the National Pork Board and last week for Mastering Wine I at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena at the northern end of the Napa Valley.  The valley is absolutely bustling with the excitement of harvest and grapes are not the only thing being harvested!

While fermentations simmer and the threat of a big storm in the Bay Area looms, the last few weeks have been balmy and downright cool, a very unusual harvest, but as I reported to my class last week, it really seems that the grapes know what is best and man just has to be paying enough attention to do the right thing.  I remember being awakened on the day of the Staglin Benefit for Mental Health to the sound of thunder (my WORD!) and raindrops, so unusual for the valley.  I had heard that veraison (the point at which grapes begin to turn color and ripen) had been early, but this was truly unique, to have an overcast cool day for this event had not happened in the nine years I had worked it.  Overall the season was cool and in the last week I heard from many vintners that Brix levels (level of sugar at harvest) are lower than normal but with exceptional maturity.  This means lower alcohols with just as much flavor!  (to read more about why go to  It just goes to show that sometimes the vines have forewarning as to when they should get their fruit ripe and hunker down for winter.  From what I hear many were spooked by the storm warning predicted for Tuesday and have harvested.  For Twitter updates head to @NVGrapegrowers to find out who is harvesting.

But Napa Harvest is not just about grapes!  One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in the valley is to hit the LMR Rutherford Gardens.  Operated by Long Meadow Ranch they are a produce pavilion right in the heart of Rutherford, across the way from Grgich Hills Winery on Highway 29.  While known for great wine and free-range beef the bounty at the gardens is the produce, and although summer is high-season, I love their fall offerings.  They have a newsletter that you can sign up for if you are interested in knowing what is in season in advance, but I prefer to be surprised!  Recently they had amazing nobby potatoes, five varieties of garlic, zucchini, an abundance peppers and possibly the last of amazing heirloom tomatoes.  If you hit the stand at just the right time you may be able to get some eggs!  I was lucky recently and grabbed a set of pullets, small sized eggs, in pastel colors that would put any Easter basket to shame.  And they were $5 a dozen and delicious!  Plus Long Meadow Ranch makes great wine!  They also offer jeep tours of their vineyards and cattle ranches!


Further down valley I make another stop as I turn towards Sonoma onto 121 headed back to San Francisco, Stanly Lane Marketplace.  This country store has amazing coffee, they do a fabulous iced Americano that almost lasts until I drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.  They offer some foods and seasonal crafts from local artisans including adorable gourd art for Halloween.  Its a fun way to break up the drive.  They also sell used barrels and if you are lucky staves and barrel tops, which I am fond of (I make them into lazy susans).  In the same parking lot they have a farm stand offering produce from many Bay Area farms, and are nice enough to specify the origin of every piece of produce on its sign.  In the height of summer they usually have Brentwood corn and nice heirlooms, peaches and nectarines in season.  My favorite time of the year, though, is when they create their incredible field of pumpkins for Halloween.  It is awash in oranges but they also stock multiple heirloom squashes in an array of untraditional shapes and colors, at much cheaper prices than most markets.  Plentiful wheelbarrows are available for rides for the kids and the pumpkins.  Pigs are on view carousing over smashed gourds for the kids to watch (and smell).  This year I was super excited to see that they added a corn and sunflower maze to the scene.  At five o’clock as the sun was exhibiting a much different angle in the sky than usual, it really made it feel like fall.  Hurry!  These places shut down seasonally!

LMR Rutherford Gardens 1796 So. St. Helena Highway Rutherford

Stanly Lane Marketplace 3100 Golden Gate Drive Napa, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 253-7512

D&S Produce Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 480-4479

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9-5pm


Zaré at Fly Trap

28 01 2009

Mention Hoss Zaré to just about anybody and you will hear exactly the same thing, “Hoss is THE nicest guy,” and I couldn’t agree more.

What does that have to do with the food at Zaré at Fly Trap?  Well, in my opinion just about everything.  I believe that you can taste love in food, grandma’s spaghetti sauce was just about the best thing I’d ever tasted even though she was not Italian and there’s something to be said for food that has been labored over for hours and hours.  Hoss takes extreme pleasure in making people happy with his delicious Persian inspired Mediterranean cuisine as well as his warm and personable manner in the front of the house.  He treats you as if you were a guest in his home when you arrive at Zaré at Fly Trap.  I never quite understand how he can manage to be both omnipresent in the front of house while managing the quality of the food expertly.  Everything he does is thoughtful and his demeanor is always caring.  Eating there just makes you feel good.

Some of my favorite dishes are the most simple, for example the Fried Buffalo Mozzarella served with a perfect amount of baby arugula, salty black olives, red peppers and anchovy vinaigrette.  Other dishes are simple in theory but incorporate innovative techniques such as the not to be missed Smoked Trout with cucumber “linguini”, trout roe and dill creme fraiche.  I’m also in love with the Spice-Roasted Bone Marrow served with the most amazing preserved bergamot.  (For those not familiar with bergamot it is the beautiful citrus that scents Earl Grey tea.  It’s rare to find it fresh and made into this delicious candied preserve.)  The preserve is the perfect foil to the succulent marrow especially with a bit of bitter greens and a few flakes of black salt.

Entrees are also delicious, especially the “Drunken” half chicken which truly tastes labored over, and the Grilled Moroccan-style Wild Salmon which has a mixture of sauces including a cucumber raita that meld together for a truly exotic combination.  Marisa Churchill consulted on the fantastic desserts, Reza Esmaili crafts great cocktails and the wine list created by Master Sommelier Chris Blanchard is exciting and value oriented.

At the end of your meal Hoss will even send you home with a bone for your dog.  He’s just that kind of guy.

Zaré at Fly Trap 606 Folsom Street at 2nd San Francisco, CA 94107 

San Francisco Food Nation

3 09 2008

I went by the Slow Food Nation events this weekend just to check it out and see what the deal was.  I had trouble getting in as press (Rebecca Chapa’s life on the D List coming soon), as they were overbooked, but was able to help the spirits folks out as a volunteer on Saturday.  The Slow Food group is near and dear to my heart as they sponsored me and nine other New Yorkers to head to Piedmont, Italy for a twenty-one day stint, back in 1993.  We visited and tasted through the regions best wineries and wrecked havoc on the area, but that’s a story for another time.  They took such great care of us, so I am glad to see them making strides in the U.S.

San Francisco is clearly the right place to hold such an event, we tend to have great consideration for the environment, interest in where our food comes from is almost second nature, so it is not a far stretch to get some avid foodies to an event like this.  It was a hard choice, but I did pull myself away from the SF Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market for a Saturday and headed to Civic Center to check out the free offerings of Slow Food.  Things got off to a bit of a late start, but we were able to stroll around the gorgeous Victory Garden, and we came across my favorite Huarache Loco stand that was already open at 10 am, so we got our Blue Bottle New Orleans Style Iced Coffees (without the lines we normally experience at the Farmer’s Market) and ate our delicious blue corn huaraches.  The stands were a bit random, for example our favorite Happy Girl Kitchen Co., from whom we normally get an amazing heirloom tomato salsa, was only serving pickles.  It seemed to me more an exhibition than a realistic food market, as my friend Marcia at said, there were no eggs to be found.  We found ourselves running off with some corn, a tomato (no basil that I could find) and some great books we picked up at the Point Reyes Books booth.

Then I headed off to Fort Mason to check out the rest of the event.  At the entrance of the pavilion one was immediately struck by a snail made out of bread and the aroma of a clay oven.  Inside the displays were gorgeous, the area was divided into many small sub areas featuring different commodities, honey, pickling, ice cream, charcuterie (I couldn’t even get close), spirits, wine, chocolate, coffee, etc.  Volunteers were not allowed to taste the food, and that was just as well considering there were long lines at most booths, but the displays were stunning.  Possibly the most organized area was Spirits where tasters lined up to try a variety of cocktails and cocktail and spirit folk were on hand to answer questions.  Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s Mexican restaurant helped answer tequila questions.  Well-known SF bar owner Greg Lindgren (Romolo, Rye and Rosewood) was on hand managing the flow and seemed to have it under control.  Another area that seemed very organized and efficient was the beer pavilion.  Outdoors it was breezy but sunny and Dave McLean, brewmaster at Magnolia was on hand to offer tasting advice.  Three beer trucks provided beers from draft, cask or bottle.  He spent some time with us discussing the cost of hops and its effects on small brewers.  Overall it was a great day, highlighted by food, spirits and people who get as excited about them as I do.  Thanks to Carlo Petrini for bringing this movement to the US.

Great Eats at Alemany Flea Market

4 08 2008

The Alemany Flea Market is every Sunday rain or shine (their very good value farmers market is held Saturdays). Although it may seem inundated with used tool salesmen, there are always some great finds too if you look hard enough! Today I longed for some really cool boots (too big!) but ended up with a cool sewing table and antique washboard. Ideally you’d arrive at the market early to get all the deals, but luckily I am a late riser so I got there late, 11am, so by the time I was done with my shopping I was famished. Ok let me be honest, I started eyeing the taco stand before I even started shopping!

So today I tried El Huarache Loco. And it made my day! Although the horchata was weak, I was presented with a huarache asada, an oval shaped tortilla stuffed with a thin layer of black bean, topped with cheese, cilantro, onion, and salsa. Sounded somewhat simple and mundane until I saw the tortilla press and masa lying in wait. And then it arrived! I asked for what ended up being some of the most deliciously spicy red salsa, not quite typical, but really great. The term “tortilla” didn’t do the dish justice as it was amazingly fresh, savory, a bit briny in a great way and filled with just the right amount of black bean. Eat it fast as it gets a bit soggy but it is just amazing. The balance of the flavorings on top was just ideal. I can’t wait to try their pork posole next time!

Chapa’s Party Marinades

3 08 2008

I recently held the third annual birthday party in Golden Gate Park for my husband Michael. Every year gets a bit easier to run as I climb the learning curve, so I figured I would share my tips for a successful barbecue!

This year I was pressed for time and only had 6 hours to actually prepare the food, 9:30 til 3:30am the night before!  Despite that, the marinades were on long enough considering that they were served at midday or later. 

My general “rule” of thumb is to experiment!  Try creating balance of acid, sweetness, spice and salt.  I try using something with acidity like vinegar, citrus, etc., something with sweetness like molasses, honey, etc., and then balance the marinade with spice or salt.  You can boost flavor with garlic and onions, but I have a friend who is allergic so I opted to leave them out of most, this also saves a lot of chopping!  The best part is that you can’t make a mistake, but here are some of my recipes.  Don’t worry about being overly accurate with measurements and try mixing and matching these with different cuts of meat!  Enjoy!


  • I use Ziploc bags for marinades, they take up much less space in your refrigerator and your cooler.  Place the bags on a tray with sides in case you get a leak! 
  • I did not use chicken as I find it hard to cook chicken to the proper temperature on a busy grill. 
  • Try to make sure all meats are cooked to the proper temperature to prevent illness and always keep them sufficiently cooled.  Do not reuse meats that have been out of the cooler.
  • Prevent cross contamination by using a tub of bleach and water or cleaners to make sure you don’t spread juices from each item around, have a separate cooler for raw foods and one for salads.  Be sure to have a separate platter for raw foods and those that come off the grill.
  • Marinades are NOT sauces.  Throw them away right after you remove the meat, if you cook the meat properly it won’t need a sauce, or you can make a separate sauce or salsa beforehand.

Old Bay Pork Ribs

1 lb Pork Ribs, 1 tbs Mustard seed, 1 tbs Old Bay Seasoning, 1/4 cup Cane Syrup, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup maple syrup

Second Wind Steak

1 flap steak/hangar steak, rub steak with 1 cup of unused ground coffee, salt and pepper.  Fill bag with 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 cup pomegranate molasses, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 molasses.  The acids in the coffee help to make the meat more tender and give your party goers a kick!

Cilantro Shrimp

Cover shrimp in lime, garlic, cilantro, chipotle powder and water.


Skirt steak, 2 cups lime juice, 3-4 cloves crushed garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, chipotle powder to taste.  Be sure to slice the skirt steak across the grain to make it more tender.  Serve with raw chopped cilantro, onions, casero (Mexican cheese) and salsas.

Asian Inspired Pork Loin

1 cup soy sauce, 1 large clove ginger (no need to peel just slice into dime sized rounds, 3-6 cloves crushed garlic, 2 chopped scallions, 3 tbs sesame seeds, cover with water.

Cherry Pork Loin

1 cup cherry juice, 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses, 1 cup pomegranate juice, 5 cloves, 1 tbs molasses, 1 tbs balsamic.  You use the cherries to make a separate sauce with a bit of butter, salt, and molasses.