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  • July 3, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

    butternut chardonnay Picmonkey

    2012 Chardonnay




    Alcohol: 13.9%

    Suggested Retail: $14


    “Butternut Chardonnay is from the BNA Wine Group in St. Helena, which also markets a Butternut Pinot Noir and several other wines under their umbrella. These include a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc labeled “The Rule,” as well as a Nanna’s Short Cake Zinfandel and others.

    “The label of the 2012 Butternut Chardonnay indicates the wine has a California origin. That usually is tipoff that the grapes were sourced from the state’s Central Valley. That’s not necessarily bad, as this area can grow decent Chardonnay grapes at a price that allows wineries to produce affordable wine. In general, however, cooler areas nearer to the sea grow higher quality—and higher priced—Chardonnay.

    “When producers source their fruit from these smaller and more prestigious growing areas, they usually list the locations on their labels, instead of the more generic state-wide identity. Though reading ‘California’ on its front label, the Butternut Chardonnay includes grapes grown in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey counties, which no doubt enhance its flavor. Winemaker Tony Leonardini says he enjoys the freedom to find grapes from various appellations that allow him to make the best possible wines at reasonable price. The 2012 Butternut he has crafted is an appealing wine. It’s in the rich and oaked California style often found in pricier Chardonnays.

    “We found aromas of Pippin apple and white peach and a toastiness reminiscent of hazelnuts. This was followed by a mouthful of creaminess. The overall impression reminds the reviewer of honey and butterscotch candy (that’s a positive, in his view, and the wine does finish drier than this description might imply). Though the BNA brands have only existed for a couple of years, they’re already distributed in all 50 states. Butternut is attracting a national following and for good reason.”

    Food Affinity:   “A juicy pork shoulder, roasted so that the skin gets crispy. Grilled halibut or swordfish steaks finished with an apricot and lime zest glaze. You might even want to have a little left in your glass to sip with dessert—if it’s a crème brûlée.”

  • World’s 50 Best Restaurants Named

    El Celler de Can Roca Exterior 2015 PicmonkeyEl Celler de Can Roca

    By Dan Clarke

    Earlier this month an internet news link caught my eye. It had to do with the announcement of a 2015 list of the world’s best restaurants. Of course I had to find out more. How many of the honored establishments would I have read about? Might I actually have eaten a meal at one? Likely not, I thought, but maybe there would be a California restaurant among the winners we could tell you about.

    Whose life would be so charmed that he could dine in enough of these great restaurants to form an opinion about them? Naturally, someone wealthy could do it, or someone fortunate enough to have a really great expense account . . . possibly even a very well-connected editor.

    The annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is put together by an academy of judges sponsored by Diners Club International. They are organized into 27 geographic areas of the globe, each one having 36 voting members. Diners Club says that this aggregation of nearly 1000 judges is not subject to influence from any of the competition’s sponsors. I’m not privy to the exact scoring system, but I accept that however it is done, these judges are more knowledgeable than I and that the results are on the up and up.

    Roca Brothers PicmonkeyJoan, Jordi and Josep RocaIt was disappointing that just one restaurant from California cracked the list and that was the French Laundry in Yountville, which was acknowledged as the 50th best restaurant in the world. Though I’m one of the few serious food fans not to have yet budgeted for a table at this place, I have a minimal familiarity with the restaurant, having enjoyed one of their signature dishes prepared and served by its chef and owner, Thomas Keller, a few years ago at a birthday party for Robert Mondavi. Chef Keller’s New York restaurant, Per Se, placed number 41 in this competition.

    As I scanned the list from number 50 up toward number one, I wasn’t finding that I recognized many of the others. Grant Achatz’ Alinea in Chicago (26) was founded in 1999 and Alain Ducasse had opened at the Plaza Athenée in Paris (47) the year after, but many of these restaurants wouldn’t have been on such a list 15 years ago, because hey simply didn’t exist then. I was beginning to feel insufficiently exposed to quality dining and way less than current in this realm until I saw the winner. Well, now. El Celler de Can Roca was chosen as the S.Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the World 2015. Not only had I heard of this restaurant in Girona, Spain, I had enjoyed a wonderful dinner there and met the chef, Joan Roca. Though it had two Michelin stars then, it was soon to achieve its third in 2009. However, I don’t see how it could have gotten any better than the night I visited with a handful of colleagues. This best restaurant in the world is a family affair, operated by Joan Roca and his brothers Jordi (pastry chef) and Josep (sommelier). Their restaurant is located just next door to the humble bar owned by their parents where the Roca brothers were introduced to the business.Daniel Boulud PicmonkeyDaniel Boulud of Restaurant Daniel

    Other honors included the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award 2015 to Daniel Boulud, a French chef who has operated Restaurant Daniel in New York City for 20 years. The Veuve Cliquot World’s Best Female Chef accolade went to Hélène Darroze, who operates restaurants bearing her name in both Paris and London. She, too, comes from a restaurant family and, early in her career, took over the kitchen of her father at the family hotel and restaurant at Villeneuve-de-Marsan in the southwest of France. Maybe that place didn’t have any Michelin stars, but my friend André Saphy, who was the French editor for an earlier version of Taste California Travel, says that Hèléne’s father Francis was a talented chef and that he enjoyed many great meals prepared by him at Chez Darroze. Cacao Barry sponsored the World’s Best Pastry Chef 2015 award, which went to Albert Adrià of Tickets in Barcelona. Albert is the brother of famed chef Ferran Adrià and also worked his pastry magic at Ferran’s now-closed El Bulli. The Gaggenau Chef’s Choice Award went to Daniel Humm, a Swiss chef who came to the U.S. to work at Campton Place in San Francisco, but is now in New York City at Eleven Madison Park, which placed fifth in the top 50 list.

    Information on other awards presented at the Guildhall in London can be found at http://www.theworlds50best.com.

  • There’s More Than Just the Outdoors

    John Stewart Duskie Estes PicmonkeySonoma County chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes have fun at Chef's Holiday

    TASTE News Service June 27, 2015 - Yosemite is approaching its 125th anniversary of becoming a National Park and, while justly famed for its natural beauty, the Park and surrounding area also justify a gustatory reputation. Here are some aspects that our culinary-oriented readers might enjoy:

    Chef's Holidays at The Ahwahnee

    Yosemite's Chefs' Holidays at The Ahwahnee, held each year in January and February, feature some of the world's most innovative and acclaimed chefs. This Northern California cooking adventure provides a showcase for the range of styles, personalities and trends that characterize the American culinary scene. Each 3-4 four day session includes an intimate Meet the Chefs reception with wine and hors d'oeuvres, behind-the-scenes kitchen tours, cooking demonstrations with tastings, all culminating in an exquisite Chefs' Holiday Gala Dinner, prepared by the visiting chefs, in The Ahwahnee Dining Room. A range of lodging packages are available, as well as dinner only options.

    Mariposa Taps Liquid Gold at Area Breweries

    California is fast becoming the next brewing hotspot with more than 500 microbrews, brewpubs and craft breweries already established in the state and more opening each year. While better known for Gold Rush-era history and culture, Mariposa, a town just on the western edge of Yosemite National Park, has caught the gold fever again a big way. Local breweries are gaining a following and even setting sights on regional distribution. Mariposa's first brewery, Prospector's Brewing Company, was established in 2011 and has quickly grown to two separate tasting room locations. Visitors here will find a pub crawl can be done in Mariposa's Old Town, with full tasting flights at distinctive microbreweries and brewpubs that feature a broad range of regional Northern California microbrews – all with easy walking distance of several area hotels.

    Farm-to-Table: Experience the Real Food Movement

    Grass-fed and sustainable isn't a new trend, our ranchers have been doing it that way for generations. While in Yosemite National Park you can enjoy Open Space Meats, grown within the same county, at both The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Restaurants such as 1850 and the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort offer diners a chance to enjoy a steak that was produced just a few miles away on native grasses with plenty of sunshine. Local nonprofits such as the Sierra Foothill Conservancy work to preserve large tracts of land for traditional farming and sell the produce to support their conservation efforts. These types of programs support traditional ranching, preserve lands from development, and provide a healthy alternative to industrially-produced beef.

    Bracebridge Dinner at The AhwahneeBracedbridge Dinner Picmonkey

    You can celebrate the yuletide season in elegance at The Ahwahnee. Celebrated annually since 1927, the Bracebridge Dinner transforms The Ahwahnee into an 18th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth. The most time-honored Yosemite tradition, the Bracebridge Dinner, brings together more than 100 players to delight diners as they enjoy a meticulously prepared seven course feast. Multiple performances throughout December with lodging and dining packages available.

    Editor’s Note: In the High Sierra sections of Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory, you will fill find links to the websites of many Lodging and Dining options, including the Ahwahnee.

  • June 26, 2015 Beer Pick of the Week

    PIKE NAUGHTY NELLIE in glass Picmonkey

    Naughty Nellie


    The Pike Brewing Company

    Seattle, Washington

    Style: Blond, session-ale

    Alcohol: 5.5%

    IBUs: 24

    Serving Style: 12 and 22-ounce bottles and kegs (our sample from draft)

    Availability: Widely distributed in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest


    Appearance:   “Dark golden color tending toward copper or amber hue. Fluffy white head that dissipates fairly quickly.”

    Aroma:   “Mildly hoppy with maybe just a bit of pear and lemon zest.”

    Taste:   “Opens with inviting malt notes, followed closely by a full mouth of carbonation and hops (Centennial and Cascade). Finishes cleanly and crisply. A lighter summertime brew, but not insufficient at all. Just the right amount of hops elevates this ‘sessionable’ beer.”

    Food Affinity:   “Clean and crisp, Naughty Nellie would be a good companion with many foods. We'd suggest enjoying it with a Crab Louis.”

    DanClarke Good Mug Shot Picmonkey



    Reviewer Dan Clarke enjoyed this beer while checking out Washington Wine Country.