Monday, May 25, 2009

Field Trip: California Academy of Sciences!

After watching a Dateline Special on the $500 million grand opening of the California Academy of Sciences, the Mrs. and I decided to head down to San Francisco to explore our scientific side. This state of the art museum is one of the "greenest" structures ever built. If you missed the Dateline episode, more information can be found at:
Architecturally, the building was unique unto itself. The most impressive exhibit was the Morrison Planetarium, the largest all-digital dome in the world. We were entertained by the show, Fragile Planet, which took us on a virtual ride to the outer reaches of the universe. How appropriate that the entire film was narrated by Sigourney Weaver, better known as Ripley from the hit Alien movie series.Everyone loves penguins and the Academy had a really cool exhibit of the waddling members of the Spheniscidae family (Yes, I read the plaque next to the exhibit!)
Next up was the famous albino American Alligator. Ahh, he's so cute............
..............oh my gosh, nevermind I take that back! Hebby jebbies!Apparently eating meat leaves a devastating carbon footprint on the climate of the world. Worthy of an exhibit in a science museum..............................
...................depends on who you ask, but all I could think about is how undercooked those vegetables were. Nobody is going to trade in meat for eating those.

Even the roof was sustainable. This living roof provides natural light, water retention, animal and insect habitat, insulation, and minimizes the "Urban Heat Island" effect that is common in metropolitan cities that are swathed with blacktop roofs and concrete. All this for $500 million, impressive!Next up is the next-door-neighbor of the California Academy of Sciences, the DeYoung Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Just kidding! That is enough museum learning for the Walnofer's for quite awhile. I am a dummy, and I think I would rather go out for a bike ride instead.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: Angele!

After many months of employment at Bouchon, I was interested in trying out some of our French bistro competition. Located in Napa, Angele just recently opened and has been receiving good reviews.The restaurant has a great location for Napa. It sits right on the riverfront and has a nice indoor and outdoor seating area.

Classic butter and baguette. Can't get more French than that.
Since I spend a couple days a week grinding meat and packing Pate molds, I had to try their Pate Maison Country Pâté Wrapped in Bacon and served with a Celery Heart Salad. The Pate was good, but I didn't understand why they covered it up with the salad. I like how the Pate is the centerpiece of our plates, not an afterthought.

Like Bouchon, they also serve a Gnochhi dish on the menu. Crispy Fromage Blanc Gnochhi with Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, and Braised Spring Vegetables. Their Gnochhi is traditional potato gnochhi whereas Bouchon's is actually a Pate a Choux style gnochhi. This dish was pretty good I might say.
When I saw the Cassoulet Toulouse on the menu, I knew I had to get it. Served with the classic Duck Confit, Cellini Beans, Housemade Sausage, and a Ham Hock, this Cassoulet was just as heavy and just as tasty as I had remembered it. Although I will give the nod to Madame Lautie, this one was a dang good replica. Cassoulet isn't pretty, but it was served in a nice earthenware pot. The sausage wasn't quite the Toulousian Sausage that I had remembered, but bravo to Angele for a great French food night in Napa.

Dunaweal Lane Winery Bike Tour!

Since the Mrs. now has a bike, we thought we would spend our Saturday doing our very own winery bike tour. Actually, we toured Dunaweal Lane which is approximately 500 yards away from our house. After living here for 10 months, we had yet to go to any of the 3 wineries on that road.Armed with our trusty steeds and a new basket mounted on the Mrs. bike's fender (in case we bought anything), off we went.
What a beautiful ride! What a beautiful view! What a beautiful bike! The Mrs. is even beautiful too!
Sterling Vineyards was first on the list. Not especially known for their wine, but they do have a gondola that overlooks the valley.................and the Walnofer's cottage across the street.
Up we went to the Greek-style castle on the hill. A great view and a cool walking tour awaited us.
Once we made it back down the gondola, we crossed the street over to Clos Pegase. Known for their wine and their incredible architecture, we were also pleasantly surprised to find that the owner had quite the collection of interesting art as well.

This one especially! Apparently a French artist has made 5 of these and they are strewn all over the world. The one on the right that is.
This concluded our bike tour down Dunaweal. We didn't make it to Twomey Winery, but heck, it is only 500 yards away! Maybe next Saturday.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cuatro de Mayo!

Cuatro de Mayo has important significance around the Walnofer household. No, not because it is the day before Cinco de Mayo, but because it is the Mrs. birthday. This year she turned a quarter century old (25). Since we had yet to have any Mexican food (not Tex-Mex!) in our town of Calistoga, the Mrs. decided she wanted to celebrate over some burritos! Off to Pacifico we went, the "upscale" Mexican restaurant with a live Mariachi band on Friday nights (tonight was Monday).

Ummmmmm! Chips and Salsa. Homemade chips and salsa Pacifico style to be exact. We even got a nice window table for two to enjoy the view of downtown Calistoga.
Birthday Sangria for the birthday girl. I am not going to lie, I got one too but I gave the Mrs. my umbrella so I wouldn't look like a girly man. Speaking of look, check out the 75 year old "surgically kept together" blonde getting out of her 50 year old boyfriends Porsche. Life among these millionaires can be quite entertaining at times. I forgot what giant proportions looked like, but true to mexican food standards, the plate came fully loaded. Poblano Mole Smothered Chicken with the classic Rice, Refried Beans, Pico de Gallo, and Cream Corn Nugget.
Another Mexican classic was the Carnitas Jalisco. Sadly, the kitchen bombed these pork tips, but after 2 baskets of Chips and Salsa, who really wants to eat their entree. No dessert for us either as Scott's famous Chocolate Mousse was on the birthday request list back at the cottage. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the birthday present.
After sneaking out of the house at 4:30a.m, I drove down to Bike Shop Brad's house and loaded up this beauty in the trunk of the Acura and parked it in front of the kitchen window to surprise the Mrs. Much to her surprise.........she was..........a.........surprised. Surely many bike adventures in the valley will be reported soon. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mrs. Walnofer!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tour de Cure and Brad Huff!

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Tour de Cure, a charity bike ride supporting the American Diabetes Association. The Tour de Cure rides take place all over the country and it just so happens that the Napa Valley tour is the largest in the nation. Go figure! I pretty much get to ride in the greatest place on earth for bike riding everyday! I was not alone as my chef buddy Ross and I formed Team Bouchon, where we both happen to work.
After raising over $500 in about a week, Ross and I woke up Sunday morning to take part in the ride with over 1,495 other registered riders. Of course, it only rains in Northern California once every 3 months, and we got nailed with over an inch of rain that morning. But, off we went for our 50 mile ride through the valley, and past our cottage where I conveniently dropped off my rain capo mid-way.
"Hey, do you ride for Mercy!" Why yes I do Mr. Charles Bradley Huff. REUNION! Sure enough, Jelly Belly pro and former Mercy Elite Team member Brad Huff, originally from Springfield, MO and now residing in Santa Cruz, CA, was taking part in the Tour de Cure also. We parted ways after the introduction, but met up after the ride to chat and catch up on the cycling world. After a few bags of Sport Beans, we were as chatty as a couple of school girls reminiscing about the old days back in the Arkansas/MO racing scene.
What a fun weekend and what a great cause to get out and ride a bike for! Remember, May 16th is "Bike to Work Day" so I hope you will join me on the daily commute from Calistoga to Bouchon Bistro in Yountville. Till then!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Tra Vigne Brunch!

Every Sunday after church, the Mrs. and I pass Tra Vigne and their little sign stating "Now Serving Brunch." We finally stopped in for a little Italian afternoon breakfast.Originally owned and ran by Chef Michael Chiarello, Tra Vigne has a long standing reputation in the Valley as one of the leading Italian restaurants.The bread and olive oil started us out nicely. Like fine wine, you can really taste the difference in quality olive oil.
The Mrs. enjoyed the Wood Oven Baked Eggs with Roasted Polenta Cake, Spinach, Mushrooms, and Tomato Sauce.

I am always entertained by any meat topped with a poached egg. Here is the Slow Braised Short Ribs Hash with Poached Eggs, and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.
No breakfast......................I mean brunch is complete without some housemade Chicken and Apple Sausage. This was a must try as I had just made some Chicken, Apple, Fennel, and Toasted Coconut Sausage the other day in Garde Manger class. I won't let my biased opinion tell you whose I thinks was the best.
The outdoor terrace seating added to the ambiance and the food was great. Next up is a return visit for the dinner menu, and maybe even Tra Vigne Pizzeria for a quick bite one of these days.