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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Napa Valley Roundup: Mustards Grill, SolBar and An Oakland Taco Truck

Napa Valley was great -- what's not to like, right? The food, however, left some to be desired. Yes, I'm spoiled coming from a place like LA that has everything from Din Tai Fung to ink.

All in all a great trip and here are some food highlights.

1. Guadalajara
100 Fruitvale Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 533-7194

The best food experience was not in Napa proper -- it was hands down the pit stop we made on our way to Oakland airport to a taco truck, which is actually next to a restaurant of the same name, Guadalajara. It was sold as having killer carnitas and who am I to refuse? I had the carnitas and al pastor. They were truly excellent. The shredded pork was soft, moist and not at all porky-smelling. The al pastor was well seasoned, tender and moist as well. Add the works on top of those and wrap them in fresh, teeny weeny double tortilla and we had the workings of the perfect pre-flight snack, dinner, lunch, breakfast, you name it! Totally hit the spot. Thank you RS and TM! I have to confess I haven't found a favorite carnitas joint in LA yet. Crazy, right?

2. Mustards Grill

The sweet corn tamales filled with wild mushrooms and topped with tomatillo-avocado salsa and pumpkin seeds were winners. I loved the tangy slightly sweet salsa and the pumpkin seeds gave them a crunchy texture.

The lamb loin was seared just right with enough redness inside. The meat was fresh and tender. It went well with the wine. So did the lamb chop that was part of the lamb special. It was much less meat but it was well cooked and tender. The sides weren't as creative -- mashed potatoes and some garlicky greens.

Another dish I liked was the pork chop that came smothered in the housemade namesake (mustard) with sweet and sour red cabbage on the side. The pork was a tad on the sweet side for me but it was tender and cooked right. It also made for a good breakfast a day later.

I also liked the crusty bread and butter that was brought to the table at the beginning. The butter had grainy salt on it. Yum.

One curious thing about the menu: it featured a dish called "Korean Curry Smoked Duck, grilled long beans, mango pickle." I wasn't going to be caught dead ordering that but I inquired about it and our server insisted the curry was labelled "Korean." I assumed it was one of those S&B Curry blocks commonly known as Japanese curry. Not sure Koreans can claim credit for this one. Anyhow, it struck me as odd having an instant curry dish featured on a menu for a fine dining establishment. Food was overall solid though.

 3. SolBar

The restaurant attached to Solage Hotel, a nice getaway complete with spa, pools and nice accomodations, was notable mostly for its nice surroundings and extremely attentive service.

The food was good and memorable but I was probably the least happy with my dish in the group (it doesn't always happen this way, I swear). I liked the components of the spicy chicken paillard such as cucumber, savoy cabbage, carrots, mint, cilantro and cashews but it was a bit drowning in the ginger vinaigrette. The chicken was seared nicely but the overpowering ginger sauce was weighing everything down.

The trout with poached eggs, watercress and hollandaise sauce and red potatoes was a pescatarian take on eggs benedict that worked very well.

The brisket hash was equally good.

The complimentary basket of flat breads that came with romesco sauce, salsa verde and white bean pureƩ sprinkled with pimenton de la vera sauce was a nice treat. Great al fresco dining.

Looking for a winery to visit? Check out Clos Pegase winery. I'm not a big tour person but it was a great experience. Wines are great too.

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