If the past 10 months has taught me anything, it is that life is too short, spontaneous and awesome. It’s cliché, but with good reason. I used to consume meals like I was in a food challenge, today eating is different and in someways better. Besides the practical part of chewing food well enough for my intestines which are now doing the job of two organs, living without a stomach has only underlined that each bite is meant to be savored and enjoyed. So in 2015, I’m resolved to take it all in.
When I began this journey, I thought my culinary adventure was over. My “Farewell Stomach Tour” lead us to some incredible meals I was not sure I would be able to eat again. Today, the more I have discover the balance of nutrition and good eats, the more I just want to take it all in. For Kate’s 31st birthday I was just about to click “buy now” on a new iPad, but soon realized for the same price we could spend a weekend away together and eat some amazing food. For 2015, “stuff < experiences”, is our new motto, so we’re starting a new food tour in the land of good food and wine. After our friends and family generously agreed to watch G-money for the night, Kate and I took a short road trip to Napa, California. Having a child, you forget what life like is like when it is just the two of you, but some things do not change as we now need to pack just as many snacks for myself as we do for Evangeline. A handful of 100 calorie packs of chocolate flavored almonds was just enough to take the edge off hunger for a two hour road trip.
Our first stop in Napa was Gott’s Roadside. Known for their burgers, the recommendation from my friend Danny whose taste buds I never question, was enough to convince me to get was the ahi poke tacos. If you are a fan of the Hawaiian staple of raw tuna, than you are going to love this taco with fresh ahi and seasoned to perfection with soy sauce served on a bed Sriracha coleslaw, topped with toasted sesame seed, green onion and avocado stuffed into a crispy taco shell. Kate got a California chicken sandwich which was definitely the weakest link at lunch. The chicken was juicy which makes it easy for me to eat, but something was missing something to give the sandwich it a little more character. While the California chicken sandwich was a little flat, the chili-spiced sweet potato fries with the homemade cilantro ranch brought the meal up a notch. Against my better judgement, I ate two of the tacos and felt terribly full.
I find the best way to help move all that food along is a walk and a cup of coffee, so we walked next door to the Oxbow Public Market to make a quick stop at Ritual Coffee Roasters. Here is a good rule of thumb: you can usually judge a good coffee shop by the amount of hipsters working the espresso bar and so far, my system has never failed. Are you rocking a mustache, skinny jeans, flannel, slicked hair, weigh out your coffee grinds AND water? Enough said, I’m sold. The result was a perfect hand crafted cappuccino, topped with a strong tulip game. It was topped with a little sugar in the raw and was smooth until the last drop.
Walking into the Oxbow Market immediately made me wish I had more room in my abdomen because it is a gourmet food court complete with butcher, meat and cheese market, all things I love in this life. A case filled with assorted Italian cream puffs called bignés from Ca’ Momi greets you as you walk through the door making it impossible to ignore and are perfectly Steve Dang sized. Kate and I picked out three to enjoy with our perfectly-hipster made cappuccinos. We picked an almond, hazelnut, and vanilla bean Bigné which were all topped with a delicious brittle and filled with a delicious mousse-like cream filling. You’d better believe we made another stop on our way out of town.
Can you be in wine country without a tasting? Since parting ways with my stomach I do not drink wine anymore, but it’s life, so the tasting for me was more about the experience and pouring it out. We were literally the only people in the tasting room and they treated us to a few more tastings not included in the standard tour. Our sommelier actually inspired the theme for this post as he taught us the art of making wine. He said, “wine is about taking it all in, you embrace the constant minor adjustments along the way and the end results can surprise you.” Sounds like an echo of what has been perculating within my soul these past 10 months. While wine is no longer on the menu for me, I do not really mourn the loss since I am more of a coffee guy anyways, so off we went to downtown Napa where we saw the rebuilding process after an earthquake shook the area this past August. I snapped a quick picture in front of the picturesque Molinary Caffé still surrounded by construction debris before we headed in to try my first flat white which is described as a “microfoam over the top of espresso” which I likened to a less foamy cappuccino and thinner latté.
The whole reason for us coming was to visit a visit to Trip Advisor’s #5 restaurant in Napa, Celadon. Located right off the river in the place of an old mill, this neighborhood in Napa lives up to all the postcards. Celadon is known for their global comfort food with Mediterranean and Asian influence. The restaurant itself is beautiful and you could immediately tell why the restaurant is so popular in the summer months with a big open air courtyard with gorgeous views of the town. We started off our meal with an order of mussels in a buttery white wine and bacon sauce served with crostini’s. Without a doubt, these mussels were super fresh, plump and floating in a sauce that can change lives. I had been looking forward to trying their pork belly which had rave reviews online. The pork belly sprinkled with a hoisin sauce and topped with crispy asian noodles was crisped perfectly on the outside and so tender on the inside that my fork pierced straight through the center without resistance. The pork was served with a new vegetable I had never tried before, roasted kalettes which apparently is a cross between kale and brussels sprouts. While the kalette was delicious, I went easy because tough vegetation still gives me some digestive issues. Unfortunately, I ate too much of the pork belly to eat much of my meal, but the couple bites of the moroccan braised lamb shank served on a bed of couscous with almonds and dried cranberries was absolutely amazing. Kate ordered the dish of the weekend which ended up being some of the best scallops I have ever tasted. Apparently, the chef sources the scallops from the northeast, having them flown overnight to Napa and served within 24 hours of being harvested. The scallops are served with an al dente risotto and spinach. Feeling stuffed, it was time for another cup of coffee while we had a long debate about which dessert to try. In the end, we opted to go outside of our usual créme brûlée and ordered a bread pudding served with fresh berries in a Grand Marinier créme anglaise which I am determined to add to my cooking repertoire. Who would have ever thought I would be able to do something like this again? So needless to say, it was a two hour meal where I truly savored the good company and cuisine.
Reflecting on this past weekend, when it comes to the food tour, you do need to be a food writer to write about food, and remembering is all about savoring. For those stressing about what life will be like after a total gastrectomy, let me encourage you: the crappy parts will pass, take the bad days with a grain of salt, and you’ll find that life without a stomach, can still be pretty good. Chew well, log what you eat, balance out your nutrition, stay physical, and take in all life still has to offer.
Here is are some gratuitous food shots I didn’t have time to write about:
From Casa in the Oxbow Market:
It wasn’t all eating in Napa, so we took a little 5 mile hike in Skyline County Park. The sites were pretty incredible.