The Model Bakery has been a fixture in the Napa Valley for more than 80 years, supplying fans with freshly baked bread, pastries and other goodies. Their main location is in the town of St Helena, but the bakery recently opened up another location in downtown Napa at Oxbow Market, which makes their artisan breads even more available. When you walk into the bakery, you smell the bread being made and you can see bakers hard at work in the impressive kitchen behind the retail area.
The most well-known item on the Model Bakery menu is the english muffin. Their muffins are are big, chewy and handmade – definitely not the same muffin you’re going to find in your typical grocery store, although they still do have lots of “nooks and crannies” to soak up butter and jam. They’ve been featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate, recommended by Michael Chiarello. They’ve also been known to sell out on particularly busy mornings, so if you are in Napa during the peak of the holiday season, you’ll want to make sure to stop by early to pick one up for breakfast.
You can’t always eat in a restaurant named after or owned by a celebrity chef and expect to have that celebrity chef in the kitchen cooking. Of course that would be nice, but once you reach a certain point it is understandable that you can only be in so many places at once. What you should expect to find is a restaurant that really upholds the standards that made that celebrity chef famous – namely, excellent food (or possibly dive-style food if you’re eating a particular NYC restaurant owned by a bleached-blonde celebrity chef that got a lousy review in the NY Times recently).
The Gordon Ramsay at the London in West Hollywood definitely delivers the experience that you would expect from a restaurant that Chef Ramsay lent his name to. The restaurant features a recently revamped menu of small plate dishes designed for sharing – much larger than tapas, but small enough that you can get a good sampling of different dishes during the meal. The hotel describes the cuisine as being “contemporary Western European cuisine with subtle Asian influences.” They’re definitely right about the Asian influences, but this description really doesn’t do the food justice because the dishes are very imaginative and really packed with flavor (Asian and otherwise).
Montreal is a fun city for a weekend getaway, packing in plenty of beautiful and historic sites, as well as lots of good food. You could easily spend a week in the city, enjoying the slightly slower pace of life and the many festivals that they host throughout the year, but it isn’t always easy to take a long vacation and there are times when you need to pack a little more into a shorter time frame. Fortunately, while it isn’t always possible to try every great bistro in the city, it is very easy to try some of the foods that the city is best known for in a short time period.
My foodie day in Montreal starts off with bagels. Montreal is known for their bagels and there is quite a rivalry between bagel lovers there and in NYC. St Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel (263 St Viateur W. and 74 Ave. Fairmount W.) are the two best places to pick up a real Montreal bagel. These two shops never close their doors and bake 24-7, 365 days a year. The bagels are all hand-rolled, boiled briefly in a slightly sweet wash, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Both bagel shops have their supporters (I personally like the Fairmount bagels), but you can’t go wrong with a bagel that is straight from the oven at either place. You can pick up cream cheese or lox, but they don’t need anything when the chewy sesame bagels are still piping hot and fresh.
When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for exciting new places to eat and Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit because there is lots of very good food there. On my last trip to the Windy City, I noticed that a new restaurant had opened up right next door to Rick Bayless’s Frontera and XOCO, two of my go-to restaurants (where I spotted Rick Bayless himself, on this last visit!). The name of the place definitely caught my eye, and after checking out the menu, I decided to come back the next day to give it a try.
Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ serves up classic American bbq with a bit of an Asian twist. I wouldn’t call it fusion, because the pulled pork and smoked brisket are clearly American classics, but the hint of Asian influence is easy to spot and pairs very well with the bbq. The menu consists of both small plates meant for sharing and larger plates where the barbecued meats really take the spotlight.
Macaroni and cheese is a favorite side dish at bbq places and this one is not like any mac and cheese that you’ll find anywhere else. The dish is served in a small cast iron skillet and is large enough for two to share as an appetizer (or three, in all honesty). It is made with jack, gouda, and both white and yellow cheddar, then topped with parmesan – and despite all of those cheeses, the sauce is light, smooth and stays creamy from start to finish. The best part of the dish isn’t the cheese, though. The star is the satisfyingly thick, slightly chewy, handmade pasta that serves as the base of the dish. That would be good with just butter and cheese alone.
But I came here the first time for bbq meat and it was the bbq meat that brought me back for another visit just days later.
Magnolia Bakery is one of the best known cupcake bakeries anywhere, thanks in part to a few mentions on the popular TV show Sex and the City a few years back. The real reason that Magnolia is so successful is not simply because they were mentioned on TV. The real reason is that their cupcakes. They keep things simple with cupcakes that aren’t too fancy, or over-the-top, and they do them very well.
Magnolia has several locations these days. They have the original shop in New York, one in Dubai, one in Chicago and another in Los Angeles. I happened to pass by the LA location recently and made a u-turn so that I could stop in for a cupcake break. I had a classic vanilla with vanilla buttercream, which is a flavor that they always have available, and a chocolate cupcake with caramel frosting. The vanilla was a good, fluffy vanilla cupcake and the buttercream toppping it was classic American. You can’t go wrong with this cupcake and there is a nice vanilla flavor to it.