Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ZuZu: Napa, California

Although it's been over two months since we ate in Napa, I do still fondly remember some of the meals we enjoyed there.  I must admit that part of why I haven't posted reviews--besides being time-consuming to write when you're not getting paid to write them--is that I got food poisoning at the end of our time in Napa, as did my father.  And, it turns out, so did my mother, she was just lucky (?) enough to wait until we got to Eugene.  Dad and I spent 9 hours in the car trying not to be sick on the drive home.  Adam lucked out, and didn't get sick.  Though we're not 100% sure where we picked up food poisoning, I promise that I will not review either of the two possible restaurants where it might have been.  The saddest bit about our getting sick is that no meal we ate tasted bad or anything.  But something went wrong somewhere . . . still, I will not write a bad review, I just won't review a place.

ZuZu is a tapas restaurant in downtown Napa, on Main Street.  According to their website "The restaurant offers a modern, California version of tapas along with some traditional offerings based on the cuisines of Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean."  However they choose to describe it, ZuZu offers excellent small plates with a variety of options and a variety of styles.  And I thought it was fantastic.

ZuZu is currently undergoing a seismic retrofit and getting (I'm assuming) a general facelift, as they've been open for about 10 years now.  Simultaneously, the owner and the chefs are touring Spain, getting new ideas for the menu, though they've said they'll keep the core menu basically the same.  But when we were there, ZuZu was small--though there is an upstairs that I didn't go see--with wood floors, and tables crammed in interesting corners.  Our table, for example, was under the stairs.  But that's not to make it sound dark or grotty.  It was cosy and friendly, casual and unpretentious, but not cheap or dirty feeling.  It's hard to explain, but while you wouldn't find men in suits in there, you're a lot more likely to see that than a guy in a tracksuit.

Because ZuZu serves tapas, that means that everyone can order multiple things off the menu.  This is why I like tapas, as I've probably mentioned before.  You can be piggy without being a pig.  For some reason, Adam isn't so big a fan of tapas, but he can cope with my occasional need to order four different things off the menu and have that be perfectly acceptable.  Since we were with Mom and Dad, we were able to order a multitude of dishes, and the server brought the dishes out as they were ready, and as we were ready.  It is rather nice, if perhaps a bit gluttonous, to have people continually bring you food as you finish what's in front of you.  And, in that aspect, both the kitchen and the waitstaff shone; their timing was impeccable.  The food was hot and fresh, and we weren't overburdened with too many choices at once.  The service really was exceptional.

Though the sangria at ZuZu is supposed to be excellent (I believe Mom and Dad had it before), we decided on a couple of bottles of the house tempranillo.  I love a good tempranillo, and "house" wine notwithstanding, this was excellent, and much more reasonably priced because it was the house wine.  I have to admit that it depends on where I'm at as to whether or not I'll trust the house wines.  Some places sewage water would be preferable, and other places the house wine is both affordable and excellent.  Given than little in Napa is truly "affordable," their house wines are much more reasonably priced, and still usually excellent.

Though we all chose our "own" dishes to order, we shared everything, and consulted with each other so that we all got something different.  Maximizing our choice, if you will.  We got a dish of olives--a must, between my husband and my father, and Mom and I never object to olives--and a plate of boquerones as our first selections.  Boquerones, or anchovies, are one of my favorites (though not on pizza), and these came with boiled egg and a remoulade on grilled bread (yes, I'm copying from the menu here).  There were two pieces of bread, each with at least two anchovies, and they were easily large enough to share.  Think bruschetta with an attitude.  The bread was artisan, a lovely crunch from the grilling, yet still soft in the middle, and the anchovies were beautifully complemented by the egg, with a lovely remoulade.  I desperately wanted more, but given how much more we had to come, it was good we didn't get more.

One of Dad's (unsurprising) contributions to the evening was jamon ibérico.  If my father sees pig on the menu, there's a good chance he'll order it, and lord knows none of us will object.  There's really not much to say about it; pretty much any Spanish ham is amazing, and ZuZu's was top-notch.  Simply served, the jamon came with some bread and a bit of a spread (again, the menu has changed), and the only reason any of it lasted as long as it did is because some of us were saving it for a last bite.

Mom ordered a scallop ceviche, which saved me the trouble, and it was one of the specials for the evening.  It too was exceptional, light and fresh.  Sadly, I can't tell you more about it, because there were two different ceviche specials that night, and though we only ordered one, I can't remember the exact preparation of it.  Still, the execution tells me that anything "ceviche" at ZuZu will be excellent.

I ordered us a plate of queso frito, which is something that can rarely go wrong in my mind (though it can, and when it does, oh dear).  Fried cheese is an unholy treat in my world, and they did it beautifully, although looking at the current menu, it appears that the preparation has changed.  Still, it was warm and gooey and all those wonderful unhealthy things that good fried cheese is.  

Someone ordered the spaghetti squash, which is something I've never had before, and I've been actively looking for again.  I'm not a big squash fan, though I make a pretty rockin' stuffed butternut (it has lardons in it, so it can't be bad).  Spaghetti squash has two things going for it; first, it's tasty, and second, the texture is really unique.  It's called spaghetti squash because the flesh shreds out like pieces of spaghetti.  If you've ever cleaned a squash or pumpkin and found those threads around the seeds, this is similar, except that it's larger and not gross, and all the flesh does it, not just the seed area.  ZuZu's preparation of it treated it almost like a pasta, and served it with a fantastic tomato sauce.  For me, it was definitely the surprise treat of the evening.

Our last two tapas were in the form of dessert.  I thought the apple empanada sounded delicious, but I also thought the tres leches cake sounded fantastic.  Unsurprisingly (especially at this point), I was right.  The apple empanada was very nice, nothing fancy (though it had a lovely burnt caramel sauce with it), but the pastry was spot on, and the apples had texture and flavor, and were slightly tart.  The tres leches cake was fantastic, and hard to describe.  It was light--far lighter than any of us expected--and came with a mango-lime chutney, which helped to lighten it and cut through the sweetness.  A wonderful end to the meal.

All in all, I really loved ZuZu.  Not having to pay for it helped tremendously, I can't deny, but even if Adam and I had paid, it would not have been unreasonable.  The service was excellent, the food and wine superb, and I personally liked the atmosphere, though others have described it as noisy (I suppose it probably was, but we were sheltered a bit by the stairs).  ZuZu is a great place to go if you don't want a lot of food, or you want a variety of things to sample, or you want something not too expensive.  It also seems to be a place where a lot of locals go, which is always a good sign.