Posted by: acooksca | 11/23/2010

Gourmet Food Trucks in Napa

A Sample from Dim Sum Charlies

Nearly five million visitors stream into Napa Valley each year, passing by the city of Napa to get there. They are headed for the agri-chic California wine country of exalted wineries and starred restaurants. But in the everyday working town of Napa, locals can’t always get up the valley or afford to dine like a visitor. Fortunately, the national trend of curbside gourmet dining has finally come to Napa with several new ingenious trucks, each with a distinct flavor: one has a wood burning oven inside the truck, one does complex restaurant cuisine as finger food and a third serves steamed dim sum from a shiny Airstream trailer.

I received an email from Laina Brown, a Napa resident who is developing an urban winery and working culinary garden in downtown Napa. “Gourmet food trucks are a very cool evolution in good food becoming more available…and one of the few positive developments to come out of this economy” she wrote. The chefs of these mobile kitchens cook for their neighbors, highlighting local products from around Napa, keeping the feeling casual and the costs low. While in Napa to meet with Laina and discuss the trend I stopped by three gourmet food trucks.
 
Crossroads Chicken is the creation of Kevin Simonson, his wife Sandy and brother, Colin. After 11 years at Acacia Winery, Kevin’s position was eliminated. Economic downturns encourage entrepreneurial dreams and the Simonsons decided it was time to launch theirs: perfectly roasted organic chicken from an oak wood burning oven built inside a food truck.

Kevin Simonson in his Crossroad Chix Truck

I found Kevin at his usual spot, the parking lot of a corporate park at 1050 Soscol Ferry Road just south of Napa. He invited me into his truck and we squeezed between the regulation 3-compartment sink, tiny hot and cold prep stations and his intriguing wood burning oven. Kevin sources high quality products and apologized that the rainbow of beets he was roasting in the oven wouldn’t be done for a while. “I cooked this brisket today…try a piece… is it too salty?” No, it was seasoned well with a dry rub and superbly smoky.

Most of Kevin’s lunch customers arrive from the surrounding businesses, looking for sandwiches of roasted meats, pizzas and his deeply flavored bean chili. He cooks the way he likes to eat: buying the best local/sustainable ingredients, seasoning them properly and cooking them simply. An impressive-sized hunk of French bread with basil aioli, field greens, fresh mozzarella and that smoky, moist chicken was a bargain at $8.95. Kevin starts prep about 5 am and some days moves his truck downtown for a dinner shift. He is not making much money, but with Sandy and Colin backing him up, his is a high-quality dream.

If Kevin’s local, simple fare is one side of wine country cuisine than what Mark Raymond makes at his Mark’s the Spot truck is the flip side: innovative and layered. Mark, a native of New Zealand, cooked from Australia to Spain before settling in Napa nine years ago to cook at the Sonoma Mission Inn, among other kitchens. He now cooks in a less elegant environment: a used taco truck with an adapted kitchen. The truck carries the slogan Prepared Slow Served Fast, posters displaying the changing locations for that week and sign-up sheets for e-mail, Facebook and Twitter updates. Kevin called Mark on his cell phone to find out for me where Mark’s the Spot truck was that day.

Sliders at Mark's the Spot Fine Food Truck

Mark’s cuisine feels and tastes like restaurant food. He buys top quality products, cooks to order, and makes food easy to eat while standing. His Caesar salad comes as spears of Romaine lettuce to dip into a cup of dressing. Free-range confit duck wings are fried crispy and served with a sweet and sour plum sauce. Mark uses beautiful tiny brioche buns for sliders of Nieman Ranch natural ground beef with spicy aioli and onions two ways, smoked bacon with basil and brie and apple chutney, buttermilk fried chicken with red pepper aiolli and slaw. As I waited for Mark to prepare my order, regulars began to line up exclaiming over the fried chicken sliders. They were memorable and a great snack at $3.75 a slider or a meal at $10 for a trio.

Mark plans to maximize his business by introducing breakfast, using his mobile kitchen for caterings and participating in gourmet truck nights. He gives credit to Gia Sempronio who started Napa’s original fresh food truck, Phat Salads and Wraps. “Gia has been very generous with her time and help” says Mark. Phat Salads was the first of the curb side dining trucks, starting four years ago. Gia provides healthy options to quick meals on the go. Phat Salads is open for breakfast and lunch on California Blvd., in front of Healthquest Gym.

Andrew Siegal’s love for both dim sum and ‘50’s style Airsteam trailers has led to a truly unique and fun dining experience, Dim Sum Charlie’s. Siegal and partner Clayton Lewis (Number One Steam Jockey) have built a kitchen of prep areas, sinks, refrigeration and electric steam units in a refurbished Airsteam trailer. They offer a wide selection of Chinese dumplings and pork buns steamed and served from their shiny Airstream.

Dim Sum Charlies Airstream Kitchen

The trailer is parked in a yard with a cozy beer garden feeling behind 728 First Street, across the river from downtown. Picnic tables, outdoor heaters and strings of overhead lights attract customers well into the evening when winery workers arrive with bottles of wine to share. We stopped by for lunch and a steady stream of locals with their dogs gathered for the tasty finger foods served in bamboo steamers.

Everything we tried was first rate. In the selection called “10 dolla make you holla” we had 5 different dumplings such as scallops and garlic, shitake mushrooms and water chestnuts, shrimp and pea sprouts, pork and mushroom and two styles of pork buns. When someone behind leaned over and said “You have to get the sticky rice in lotus leaves” we ordered that too…rich, savory rice flavored with Chinese sausage, chicken, black mushrooms and the leaf it was steamed in.

Dim Sum Charlie’s is as fun and clever as it is delicious. As with the other trucks, the eye-catching Airsteam trailer might pop up at marketing events in business parks, wineries, music festivals or Gourmet Food Truck Night in downtown Napa. The three gourmet trucks have local followers who check Twitter for their daily location. Or, call the cell-phone of the owners and they will tell you where in the neighborhood they are today.

 
 

 

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Responses

  1. Karen, Can’t wait to try these food trucks! Thanks for a wonderful and informative article.


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