Every once in a while, napaman leaves the Napa Valley homestead and wanders afield to find great food and wine elsewhere.
As former food editor and restaurant critic of the Toronto Star, the third largest newspaper in North America, I was trained to keep looking for The Next Best New Dish, and The Next Best New Super Chef.
Rarely was I able to return to a wonderful, familiar restaurant because so many new ones were crying out to be reviewed.
Today, the luxury of not having a fixed newspaper deadline means that I can return to a restaurant as many times as I wish to indulge my senses. And I just returned to an earlier favorite, Café Rouge, in Berkeley. And the good news is that it is better than ever.
At the core of my pleasure this week is this dish:
Bill Niman Ranch beef meatballs, served in a stew of white corn and wilted collard greens, richly flavored with a complex salsa verde.
There is no question that this is my favorite new dish of the year.
If this were a wine I just discovered, I would go out and buy a case. Or two. I could never have too much.
The meatballs are juicy, tender, golf-ball-shaped and sized, yet cut-able with a fork; the pale white corn has been freshly shucked off ears; the collard greens thread through the soupy strew like seaweed, adding texture, flavor and color.
I spoke with the chef and, yes, I know intellectually that he has not added Zatarain’s spice mixture used in Louisiana for crab and shrimp boils, but the meatball stew TASTES like this might be a secret ingredient.
The stew is spicy, warm-to-hot in intensity, has great middle-palate draw, and a surly smokiness, which lingers, giving one’s palate a rare glimpse of what Nirvana might taste like.
IN SHORT: I LOVE THIS DISH.
Upon leaving Café Rouge, I was told that this dish is on the menu for two weeks as a seasonal special.
I implore the chef and his team to keep this dish on the menu for the entire corn- and collard-growing season. I simply cannot wait until next year to revisit this stew. PLEASE HIT THE COMMENT BUTTON, CHEF, AND TELL NAPAMAN.COM READERS THAT YOU’LL KEEP THIS EXCEPTIONAL DISH ON THE MENU FOR A FEW MORE WEEKS AT THE VERY LEAST!
If this were a wine I were rating, I would give it 100 points. You can’t have a more flavorful, more perfect, more mouth-filling, pleasurable experience. Not in public anyway.
PS: Thanks to waiter Sean Arnold for answering to many of napaman’s seemingly pesky questions!