Mushroom Magic at Napa’s Kitchen Door



It’s the start of mushroom season in Wine Country. Avid pickers roam the rainforests, looking for everything from chanterelle mushrooms to delicious candy mushrooms that taste like maple syrup.

I’ve always loved mushrooms of all kinds, even canned button mushrooms (the Bonduelle Organic Button Mushrooms from Val-de-Loire, or Sliced ​​Button Mushrooms, as I like to call them, are excellent).

Last December, the New York Times predicted that mushrooms would be the ingredient of the year 2022.

“Mushrooms have landed on many prediction lists, in nearly every form, from psilocybin mushrooms (part of the resurgence of interest in psychedelics) to chunky pieces of king oyster mushrooms as a replacement for scallops,” he wrote. New York Times staff, noting that the number of small urban farms growing mushrooms is set to explode.

I poked a lot, through Northern California, Oregon and France. It’s hard and messy work (not to mention the risk of death if you mistake an aptly named death cap for an edible straw mushroom).

These days, I let the professionals handle my mushroom cravings, experts like Todd Humphries, chef and co-founder of Kitchen Door in Napa.

Since opening his original location at the Oxbow Public Market in 2011, he’s been a mushroom maestro. Now, in his new space at the First Street Napa Mall, he’s kept mushrooms in the spotlight, showcasing them in soup, pizza, rice, carpaccio and pasta sauce and aioli.

“Depending on the season, we use morels, chanterelles, porcini mushrooms, black trumpets, hedgehogs and yellow feet,” he said. He even uses humble button mushrooms for his signature creamy soup (more on that later).

First, a little background. Humphries has worked with fine restaurants in New York and San Francisco for decades since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He opened his hugely popular Michelin-starred Martini House restaurant in St. Helena in 2001 and enjoyed a nine-year career.

There, he offered specialties such as a tasting menu all in mushrooms. And he created dishes that are still Kitchen Door stars, like this soulful Cream of Mushroom Soup ($11.50, bowl). It is rich in butter, cream and milk and simmered with ceps and button mushrooms, shallots, white wine and Marsala wine, then pureed until silky smooth. And then it’s over with the Banyuls vinegar, a spoonful of sour cream and toasted brioche croutons with butter.

Much of the culinary credit goes to Executive Chef Conor Esser these days. He started at Martini House in 2008 as a pastry chef, working his way up to line cooks and eventually working at every station. He helped Humphries open Oxbow Kitchen Door as a sous chef, then took over as head chef.

He revisited the classics, like the superb carpaccio so silky it’s almost greasy (in the most delicious way). The secret, he said, is to slice a round bullseye so thin it’s almost transparent, roll it in plastic wrap, freeze it, then cook it to order. Delicate rounds are laced on a plate, drizzled with truffle aioli, sprinkled with crispy potatoes, sprinkled with tangy Himalayan truffles and topped with lightly dressed arugula ($18). It’s exquisite.

More mushrooms sneak into the overall menu, such as with Bun Chay Vietnamese Lettuce Cups ($18). In a surprisingly effective twist, the recipe is vegan: fish sauce is converted into a spicy-and-sour vegan dashi made with dried shiitake, kombu, arbol chili, tamari and garlic instead of katsuobushi (chili flakes). dried skipjack tuna). Tender buttery lettuce becomes an easy wrap with spun bean noodles, julienned marinated carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, herbs and crispy, creamy tofu chopsticks, to dip in a sauce Chile. You can substitute grilled chicken breast ($5), pan-fried shrimp ($7) or Korean ribs ($10).

Kitchen Door has a line of flatbread-style pizzas crispy in the Mugnaini wood-fired oven — Margherita ($19), pepperoni with mozzarella and provolone ($20.95) and a herb-crusted model dressed in EVOO, rosemary, thyme and oregano ($9). ) with must-have indulgences of burrata ($9) and/or duck liver mousse ($7.95).

But I had the mushroom pie, an appealing vegetarian creation of parmesan cream, oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms, mozzarella, provolone, rosemary and arugula ($20.95). I really wish I had another whole pie to devour as I write this.

The new kitchen door is a sleeker affair than the original. The Oxbow spot began as a fast food operation, where diners ordered at the counter. Here, the chic contemporary space works around an open kitchen. There’s a full bar that sends out craft cocktails and an indoor-outdoor dining area. The table service is fluid and the menu tends towards the top of the range.

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