Jess Lander's Leftovers: Celebrations, COVID-19 style
Leftovers

Jess Lander's Leftovers: Celebrations, COVID-19 style

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If you were on death row, what would you choose for your last meal?

This is a popular dinner party conversation topic – remember dinner parties? – and I found myself contemplating something similar, though not quite as morose, as my birthday approached and it was clear that I’d be spending it at home in my sweat pants.

What’s my perfect birthday dinner in a pandemic?

Choosing a birthday dinner in everyday life is much different than choosing a birthday dinner in these unprecedented times. There are several more factors to consider when you’re going out to eat and celebrate, more boxes to check.

Last year, I settled on Bistro don Giovanni for several reasons: the food is reliably delicious, they were located closer to my parent’s house (as they were joining us), the meal wouldn’t be overly expensive (I knew they’d insist on paying), and I was confident that everyone in our party would find something on the menu they’d enjoy.

But this year, nobody would be joining my birthday dinner except for my husband. My options were limited to which restaurants were doing takeout and what their menus had to offer on that given day. From that, I really just had to decide what I most wanted to eat, and I wasn’t afraid to splurge if necessary. I was bummed about having to cancel my plans and this meal was going to be the crux of the celebration.

I briefly considered the classic steakhouse option and ordering from Cole’s, and sushi was a strong contender, but nothing ultimately stood a chance against what I knew in my heart for weeks I would end up ordering: a bucket of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc fried chicken (with a bottle of Champagne). As fate would have it, my birthday fell on a Friday and they always have it on Fridays.

I’ve been a longtime fan of this chicken, but it’s only been a year since I developed my fondness for it specifically in bucket form.

Last year, I got it at BottleRock, and my bucket garnered so much attention from random strangers that I took to handing out pieces to anyone who stopped me to ask about it (this was before people were weary of even breathing near each other; oh, how times have changed).

I felt like the coolest kid at the party; it was as if I’d stood on stage and yelled, “Free drugs!” It gave me immense pleasure to see how happy this small gesture was making people, and so I carried that bucket around all day on my hip like it was my baby. I vividly remember that even after it had long gone cold, the chicken still tasted like heaven.

And so, perhaps a bucket of fried chicken doesn’t exactly scream “special occasion,” but to me, it represented the ultimate comfort food and a favorite pastime of bonding with other humans over food, something I hope to be able to do again very soon.

Taco Tuesday

Cinco de Mayo actually fell on Taco Tuesday this year, which should have made for a serious party, but alas, a virus that ironically shares a name with a popular Mexican beer had other plans.

So, I came up with the idea of having a taco tasting. I ordered tacos from three very different eateries: Tacos Michoacan, a local taco truck, Gran Electrica, and Heritage Eats. And I went to work with the help of a few friends. All of these tacos are available to-go on any Taco Tuesday (or any day you’re craving them).

We started with the taco truck tacos and they did not disappoint. In a city with very few budget-friendly takeout options, this might be Napa’s best bang for your buck. The tacos, carnitas and chicken, cost just $2 apiece and were perfectly greasy, flavorful and a little bit spicy.

Next up was Heritage Eats, which is definitely the least obvious option. I’ve always known Heritage Eat for their sandos and salads (and recently, their boba teas), but I’d never had their tacos before. They were selling a really great Cinco de Mayo “Fiesta Kit” and I was blown away by the thought that went into it. It included a giant tin of carnitas pork, another giant tin of rice, blue corn tortillas, all the fixings’ — pico de gallo, creme fraiche, cotija cheese, cilantro, chopped onions, limed, and avocados and a dozen Mexican chocolate cookies for dessert, and then a DIY pinata with a bag of candy. I’ll admit, I got a little too buzzed off margaritas to put the pinata together (it required gluing), but I bet this was a huge hit among families with kids.

Once constructed, the tacos were great. I loved that the meat had a mild sweetness to it, and while it didn’t taste as traditional as the street tacos, it’s a great alternative for those who don’t like spice. Heritage Eats offers three types of tacos on their daily menu, which is almost entirely gluten-free.

To conclude our taco binge, we grabbed two cleverly-named “Taco Survival Kits” from Gran Electrica. I imagine Gran Electrica would have thrown one hell of a party for Cinco de Mayo and one of my favorite aspects of the restaurant is its fun and lively atmosphere. So, eating their tacos at home just isn’t the same, but they did enable me to reminisce about some really great times had there. These kits, which actually sold out on Cinco de Mayo, are available daily and there are five kinds, including a vegetarian option. I went for the carnitas and pollo; they come deconstructed and I liked the touch of pumpkin seeds with the cilantro tacos.

Gran Electrica got pretty creative with their Cinco de Mayo deal too; the tacos came with guacamole and salsa (I’m just a little obsessed with their guac), two bottles of margaritas, and a bottle of rose, and a party mix from their in-house DJ. My favorite part was the margaritas. They come in a cute bottle with a pink top and a Calavera sticker. Throw them over ice, add a salt rim, and you’ve got the perfect marg for a hot Napa day.

Jess can be reached at jesslander11@gmail.com. For more Napa Valley food inspiration, follow her on Instagram at @willwrite4wine.

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