A dear friend and former Bay Area girl, now a Texan, was in town with a goal of shopping, eating, stocking up on gourmet goodies for a gift basket, and catching up.
We started our adventures at Shackfords, an old-fashioned kitchen supply store. This tiny store is packed to the gills with pots, pans, cookbooks, gadgets, molds, wooden salad bowls, ceramics and even a nice assortment of bottles and corks for homemade vinegars or infusions. Well-known chefs and middle-aged housewives alike frequent this charming holdover from Napas blue-collar small town past. Amazingly, they will gift-wrap for free and even hand deliver in Napa city limits.
Next we scooted over to Vallergas, Napas locally owned chain (2 locations) of grocery stores, where my friend ogled the moderate selection of herb and fruit infused vinegars. The Girl & the Fig Balsamic Fig Vinegar particularly intrigued us. I dont know that Vallergas compares with Whole Foods or some of the other amazing grocery stores in San Francisco, or the East & South Bay, but it worked for our purposes.
We didnt have time to stop at Annettes Chocolates, but I pointed it out as we drove past and my friend lapsed into reflection about the bottle of wine-infused chocolate sauce from Annettes that she had purchased on a previous visit.
We then took a quick break from chasing down gourmet goodies to shop for clothes at the Outlets. We resumed our quest with a quick visit to Le Gourmet Chef so my friend could stock up on tins of her favorite meat rub. She kindly bought a tin for me and it tastes great on steaks or mixed into burgers.
We headed to Genova Deli for lunch, which is now a regular stop on these whirlwind visits because my friend is a pal of the manager, and he takes special care of us when we stop in. He takes good care of me when I drop in alone too. It is always busy, and there is always a line. Their sandwiches are fantastic, especially when done on their European rolls. Filled with delectable things like proscuitto, fresh mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, coppa, mortadella or grilled vegetables. We accompanied our sandwiches with a selection of mixed olives and their pesto tortellini salad.
I have been pleasantly surprised by their potato salad. When it comes to potato salad, I am in the less is more camp. Maybe a bit of parsley or pimiento, perhaps, if one is feeling flush, a bit of hard-boiled egg or a few crumbles of bacon. Definitely use good mayonnaise, preferably homemade. Absolutely no sweet mayonnaise or Miracle Whip (makes me shudder just to type it). And please, save those sweet pickle bits for hot dogs.
Im also a fan of their ravioli (available in the hot case or frozen), and nearly get misty eyed thinking about the containers of rich, aromatic porcini sauce sitting in their freezers. I also discovered that they carry a small selection of Ciao Bella gelato. This is dangerous news and Im not quite sure Im the better off for knowing it. At least its across town; otherwise Id be there daily.
Waiting for our cappuccinos, my friend wandered off to peruse their selection of pastas, cookies, olive oils, vinegars, sauces, candies, hand-painted ceramics, wine and many other things I cant quite remember. We were having such fun I was almost able to imagine we were in Italy.
Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away to continue our quest. We headed up to St. Helena to the Olive Oil Company, a marvelously funky spot that is a regular stop on my Napa Valley tour. Located in a whitewashed barn-like building where they used to press the olives for oil (the floor reflects this and is a bit uneven at points). The walls are covered in a collage of business cards, and the owners mumble to each other in Italian. Best deals are the baggies of dry cured olives and the big jugs of their house olive oil.
We ended the day at the Tra Vigne Cantinetta, my new favorite up-valley refuge. Truly, the courtyard there is one of the most romantic places I can think of. Surrounded by the warm gold terra-cotta and stone courtyard walls, sunlight filtering through the trees and vines overhead, pots and planters overflowing with blossoming plants and the murmur of happy patrons having dinner on the restaurant patio. At my recommendation my friend had a 2-ounce taste of Ehlers Estate 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a medium-rich mouth-feel, vibrant nose and is developing nicely with some hallmarks of the 2001 vintage. I enjoyed a glass of 2003 Bug Juice Piedmonte Moscato dAsti, which has a bit of spritz at first that fades pretty swiftly, giving the wine a lightness on the palate, instead of a syrupy quality that some Muscat-based wines veer towards.
We savored a plate of cookies that were just the perfect late afternoon treat with wine. The chocolate biscotti with chocolate chunks were just chocolaty enough and not too sweet or too rich. The Sicilian lemon cookies or Crimuri have an interesting texture due to the cornmeal in the dough, and a bit of lemon icing in top to sweeten it up. The pistachio shortbread cookies or Frollino Pistacchio are crumbly little squares generously studded with pistachios.
As the shadows started to elongate, we knew is it was time to go, and another all-to-short visit with one of my favorite friends was over. It was a lovely day to wander the valley with a loose agenda and no particular schedule to follow.
Shackfords Kitchen Store
1350 Main St., Napa
301 1st St., Napa
Annettes Chocolate & Ice Cream Factory
1321 1st St., Napa
(707) 252 4228
Le Gourmet Chef
831 Factory Stores Dr., Napa
1550 Trancas, Napa
Napa Valley Olive Oil Co
835 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena
Cantinetta Tra Vigne
Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena