Cochon 555 comes to Napa on March 2nd. Photo courtesy of Cochon 555.
Michael Chiarello will host Bottega Gran Fondo in April. Photo courtesy of Michael Chiarello.
It ain’t pretty, but it tastes like heaven. Tostilocos at Santa Rosa’s Colores! Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.
Fab Food Events:
February 23rd-28th, ~SONOMA VALLEY CHEESE CONFERENCE AND RELATED EVENTS~: Cheesemaker Sheana Davis puts on one of the best gatherings of food and cheese producers in the country each year in Sonoma. The conference itself is on February 24th and 25th, and there are also plenty of other cheese-related events happening all week. In particular, don’t miss the Sonoma Winter Artisan Cheese Fair at Ramekins Culinary Center (450 W. Spain St., Sonoma) on Sunday February 23rd, with a sake and cheese tasting, beer and cheese pairing, and mac and cheese cook-off. Tickets for the conference are $150 per day and $250 for both days and tickets for the cheese fair are $60.
Sunday March 2nd, ~COCHON 555~: Now in its eighth year, this epic pork event hits Napa’s Culinary Institute of America for one day of chef competitions, pig eating, and general swine-flavored goodness. This year’s local competitors include Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustard’s Grill), Jason Kupper (The Thomas), Kelly McCown (Goose & Gander), Patrick Clark (CIA), Dustin Valette (Dry Creek Kitchen), and students of The Conservatory, led by Larry Forgione and Dave Budworth of Marina Meats. With 1,200 pounds of heritage pork, 30 chef-created dishes, live butchery, and a barkeep competition, there’s plenty to oink about. Tickets are $125 per person, details online.
March 10th-16th, ~SONOMA COUNTY RESTAURANT WEEK~: Fifty-plus Sonoma County restaurants roll out special two- and three-course prix-fixe menus during the fifth annual restaurant week event. Prices range from $19-$39 for dinner, and two-course lunch menus range from $10-$20. See all the participants online.
April 12th-13th, ~BOTTEGA GRAN FONDO~: Since it’s organized by a well-known chef, it’s not a huge surprise that Michael Chiarello’s (Bottega) spring Fondo is as much about the food as the cycling. “We Ride to Eat!” says the tagline for the event, which is limited to 300 participants. In addition to the ride through Napa’s vineyards and farmland, five chefs (Brandon Sharp of Solage, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, Matt Accarrino of SPQR); six winemakers/sommeliers (including Joel Gott, Larry Turley, Doug Shafer); cyclists George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Bob Roll; and “special guests” Sam Beall (Blackberry Farm) and Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford of Clif Family Winery (and, uh, Clif Bar) will also be in attendance. Riders have the opportunity to connect with “teams” of chefs, sommeliers, or pro riders, traveling the 40- or 75-mile courses through the Napa Valley. Standard registration is $250 ($350 after March 15) and $650 for the VIP package (which includes a film festival screening pass, VIP cocktails, and dinner). Details online.
Need Tostilocos: Sometimes I get bizarre cravings for food I’ve never eaten. Like fermented soybeans, those weird Japanese Pringles flavors (braised pork, mayonnaise, Grand Canyon french fries), or a bottle of menthol cigarette-flavored vodka (hmmm). The harder to find, the more my obsession grows until I can’t think about anything else. Must. Eat. Now.
Which is how my quest for Tostilocos began. I read about the popular Tijuana street food, which consists of a small bag of salsa verde-flavored Tostitos split open and topped with pickled pig skin, jicama, Japanese peanuts, cucumber, lime, hot sauce, and a chile and fruit sauce called chamoy. It seemed like it would be an easy find in, say, Santa Rosa’s Roseland, where tasty Mesoamerican street food abounds. Not so easy, it turns out. After a day of fruitless phone calls, a restaurateur friend broke the bad news, “They just aren’t that popular here.”
Undaunted, the search continued through the evening and onto Facebook. False lead after false lead led to near meltdown until my buddy Emily K. struck gold at Colores! (433 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa). Her excited texts started flying onto my phone with pictures of the full bag. Half-eaten bag. Empty bag.
And so I got my Tostilocos, which were every bit as wonderful as one could hope—crunchy, spicy, chewy, nutty, and altogether addictive. Not to mention having a plastic-wrapped prize at the bottom of the bag (a temporary tattoo in my case). Mission accomplished. $5.50, Colores! Ice Cream, Cakes and Food, 433 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa.