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Napa: BarBersQ – Are Michelin and the Chronicle kidding?

rworange Mar 2, 2008 07:36 PM

Ok, I was going to be polite about this till I read the Chronicle review and this statement just pushed me over the edge …

“Outdoors enthusiasts can head for the umbrella-shaded tables that overlook the nicely landscaped parking lot.”

Uh … it is a parking lot and there is nothing striking about it … there is a stunning view of Target and a dialysis center is around the corner.

I found this restaurant extremely uncomfortable and I don’t care who the hoity-toity designers are. The chairs are metal. The tables and seats are jammed together. I went at an off hour, was the only person there and felt claustrophobic. The music was annoying. Here's another Chowhound report about how close the tables are ... although the report sounds initially positive, if you read it through ... not really ...

Not only that, it was hard to find. There is no sign just a big metal “Q”.

The Michelin guide lists it with reviewers’ favorite restaurants where you can eat two dishes and a glass of wine or a dessert for less than $40.

Seriously folks, with all the lovely and delicious restaurants in the Napa Valley … what is with sending visitors to a shopping mall to sit on concrete and drink in the sight of Whole Foods and inhale auto fumes?

Let me get the good out of the way
- my server was extremely nice … the other one … eh
- it smelled good and smoky in there
- the pecan pie looked incredible … didn’t get it though.

I feel like a cat about to pounce on a mouse my tail twitching back and forth … so just to cover myself … let me haul out that old chestnut … “perhaps I ordered wrong”. That’s as kind as I can get.

Perhaps not … here’s hhc’s report where she calls it just average

To give the Chronicle it’s due … it didn’t like the baked beans … but for reasons that were different than mine … Bauer wrote … ” I was then surprised that the Rancho Gordo baked beans ($4.95) were so disappointing, with an unexpectedly flat, harsh taste.”

What they do to RG beans are a crime … soft and mushy. They did have some nice spice, smoke and background sweetness … so flavor-wise … ok ... but that awful texture made each bite jarring.

I’m not sure if they purposely pureed beans and mixed in some whole beans … or froze and reheated them … or cooked them to beyond mushiness … I suspect the latter because the pieces of pork in it were tough as leather, but not as tasty.

I was really excited to try the hot dog described on the menu as

“Long Meadow Ranch Grass-Fed Beef Dog, Alexander Valley Sauerkraut, Potato Salad”

They use Alexis Baking Companies buns.

That was problem number one. The bun was like a shallow little boat. The dog perched precariously on it … the relish immediately rolled off into my lap. I didn’t ask them to pre-relish it. Nor did I request the artistic squiggle of Dijon mustard on top. I despise Dijon mustard and I had to scrape it off to get to the flavor of the hot dog.

Also the texture was all wrong for a hot dog bun … kind of like toasted pan de miel … way too unstable even if it was deep enough to hold dog and condiments.

The dog was grilled. This was not a snappy casing dog. Having had the wonderful 5 Dot Ranch juicy, flavorful dogs from Oxbow Market … this just paled in comparison.

There was a little container of Alexander Valley sauerkraut on the side. Saying it was about 1/8 cup would be a generous estimation. If serving a dog with kraut DO NOT PUT RELISH ON THE DOG. What is wrong with them?

On top of it I was asked if I wanted the chili dog ... would that be with relish and saurkraut?

PUT ALL THE CONDIMENTS ON THE SIDE !!!! Some people don’t like certain things on a hot dog and there is nothing on the menu indicating this unpleasant surprise.

The kraut was served room temperature and really had lost the crisp, fresh deliciousness that I love about Alexander Valley sauerkraut. This was NOT a good representation of it.

The potato salad was ok … some onions and maybe parsley in it. It wasn’t mushy.

There was no draft beer. They don’t make their own lemonade. The iced tea was ok.

I tried a little of the three barbeque sauces. They all tasted very similar and none of them wowed me.

I have rarely seen a restaurant so misuse top-quality ingredients.

Average, hhc? You were lucky.

3900 D Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, CA 94558

  1. r
    Ruby Louise Mar 3, 2008 09:06 AM

    My husband & I ate there for the first time recently. At first I was a bit put off by the noise, the loudish music, the cramped seating and the host who asked if we had reservations. "I know it's Friday night," I mumbled to my husband, "but dinner reservations for a BBQ place?" I should note that with my husband in a knee brace right now, it makes us extra sensitive to seating issues. But in the end, the food, our cheerful server and bonding with the couple next to us won us over.

    We started with Benton's Country Ham, Cheddar & Scallion Biscuits. They come with hot pepper jelly, which is sweet with a bit of a kick and totally makes this mouthful, even if the country ham seems strangely like prosciutto. I would eat this again.

    Watching the food arrive at the neighboring table made us copycat their order. My husband had the half rack of Smoked Vande Rose Baby Back Ribs which was more than plenty for him. Now, we don't get to many bbq places but we thought these were very good. I had the BarBeQue Chicken which is half a bird with collard greens. The chicken was tender, slightly smoky and those collards, oh those collards, were mellowed with vinegar and pork. I liked the three sauces. The vinegar was tangy, the mild was almost sweet and the hot had just a gentle sting. Adding a bit of the locally made hot sauce made it even better.

    After watching our neighbors devour a Hot Fudge Sundae, we had to follow suit. It came with vanilla and strawberry ice cream, hot fudge, toasted almonds, brandied cherries and whipped cream. Pretty much a classic, made by the brandied cherries.

    We will go back to this place and here's why. The food was good, comforting and unfussy, we liked the bbq and the feeling of being in a place largely frequented by locals and regulars. The service was friendly, and we felt like it was a good value. As much as we like Azzurro, Annalien and Small World in terms of less expensive options for locals dining and/or takeout, it's nice to have another option.

    1. gatun Mar 3, 2008 08:24 AM

      Wow I have had a different experience the past 7 times I have been there, I usually order the pulled pork sandwich but have tried most items on the menu. It has quality meat which makes the difference to me. I wish they had draft beers but its not going to keep me away. The ribs are consistant. I find it funny that you refer to sitting on concrete and inhaling fumes as one of their bad points, when I see the people line up at Cafe Fanny to do the same. Sorry I have to disagree with you, this is very good Q

      2 Replies
      1. re: gatun
        rworange Mar 3, 2008 09:39 AM

        Despite being in love with Chez Panisse, I don't like Cafe Fanny much either, the parking lot ambiance figuring into it.

        1. re: gatun
          maria lorraine Mar 3, 2008 08:48 PM

          The pulled pork sandwich rocks. Comes on a puffy homemade potato bread (?)bun, with a dollop of slaw on top of lots of juicy pork piled high on the sandwich. The BBQ flavor is the vinegar-based North Carolina style, IIRC. Tangy, wonderful. The pulled pork sandwich comes with a tasty butter lelttuce salad with thin slices of Granny Smith apple and a honey mustard vinaigrette. A steal for $10.

        2. Robert Lauriston Mar 3, 2008 08:14 AM

          I don't understand how a topic on a BBQ place can grow past 1800 words without any of them being "ribs," "brisket," or "pulled." Here's a report from last year on the barbecue:


          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston
            rworange Mar 3, 2008 10:00 AM

            OK ... I didn't try the ribs, brisket or anything pulled ... except my leg ... now the report has those words. That link is in the original post.

            If this restaurant was just about bbq, that should be the only thing discussed. However, like T-Rex, this is a restaurant serving bbq, not a bbq restaurant where that is the only focus. So those items are fair game, imo.Also it seems like there is more attention paid to the wine list and the meat is second.

          2. Xiao Yang Mar 3, 2008 07:40 AM

            Due respects, RW, but I'd assume from the name that BarBersQ is a BBQ place, and how can you pass judgement on it from a lone hot dog (and not even a hot link, at that)?

            1. Eat_Nopal Mar 2, 2008 09:02 PM

              RW... what are you talking about? Bauer is a phenom... all you have to do is the exact opposite of his recommendations... very consistent in that way. I don't know why it would be the case, but I find that our local food writers (particularly the Press Democrat dude) are a bunch of pen....

              1. hhc Mar 2, 2008 08:10 PM

                Rworange, sorry you didn't like it. Maybe I was just starving when I went and was being nice, I re-read my post I said "Service wasn't that great, and food just average at best". and now that they have Oxbow Public Market I would never go back to BarBersQ and just stick to Taylor Refresher's for burgers when I'm in Napa again.

                I watched on the Food Network one show where they mention Bon Apetit Magazine rated Taylor Refresher's (Calistoga location) Edit: One of the best burger in the Nation. Hope Taylor Refresher's will be just as good in Napa Oxbow Public Market. Are you going to try it? it's open now.

                4 Replies
                1. re: hhc
                  rworange Mar 2, 2008 08:47 PM

                  I really didn't remember any reports or reviews before, going. I was lured in by the promise of the beans, hot dog and the saurkraut. I just meant that average would have been nice.

                  You know, reading all the reports and reviews, even Bauer's, there is just too much off at this place ... the portions are too small for the price, one dish was inconsistant on the same day when a second order was put in, the fries taste frozen and bland, the sauce isn't that great ... etc. etc. etc.

                  Now I know people will say that BBQ is all about the meat ... but the distraction of all the other flaws ... at that price ... I'll let someone else enjoy the meat ... BBQ at best is often inconsistant and it would just annoy me too much to go in there on a bad day for the meat.

                  In all this time I have yet to try any Taylors. However, after my recent visit to Ubuntu, I'm going to find it near impossible to eat at any other nearby restaurant in that area of Napa. Why settle for merely good when true greatness is nearby.

                  1. re: rworange
                    Carrie 218 Mar 3, 2008 07:08 AM

                    Krys - I am slightly perturbed that my review of this restaurant seems to be missing, but that is beside the point...

                    I can understand your frustration however you gotta give credit where credit is due; it is the ONLY BBQ in town and for that, it deserves some consideration. I agree with you that what they do to RG is a crime and I was also not thrilled with the starter of lamb sliders, but I enjoyed the Q-meat. I also recall having to ask them to turn down the music; I was sitting outside and my friend and I could barely hear each other for having to yell so much.

                    Yeah, Ubuntu is the restaurant of choice in Napa, but sometimes you just need a little variety and BarBersQ is filling an important and much-needed niche for the area.

                    However, I find the meat alone significantly better than Memphis Minnie's or Big Nate's here in the city. Actually the best BBQ in *that* neighborhood is Coyote Sam's in Fairfield (worthy of an expedition - trust me!).

                    1. re: Carrie 218
                      rworange Mar 3, 2008 09:56 AM

                      Well, anyone's meat is better than Big Nate's ... even the McRib. After living a decade in SOMA and caving to delivery too often, I have had every awful thing on Nate's menu.

                      I'll put Coyote Sam's on my list to try when I'm in that area. Thanks for the tip. I realize it is a different experience than Barbersq but I've read good things about Red Rock Cafe.

                      I understand that BaBersQ is Napa's version of T-Rex, so to speak. My reaction was more of the press making more out of this joint than it is. BBQ isn't the thing in the Bay Area and for Michelin to give it space made me roll my eyes.

                      I'm not trying to bash Bauer either. I enjoy his reviews for the most part with an exception here and there. When I have Chowhound to balance against the reviews, they are helpful. But when he makes out a place to be more than it is, that kind of ticks me off. Barbersq may or may not be good, but it certainly didn't deserve to make some top ten list of his and then he lost his mind completely with that parking lot ambiance bit ... and that made me lose it.

                      I'm actually kind of glad I didn't do the planned innocous report ... dog was ok, bun was wrong ... type of thing. I brought some fans out to post in defense what is good about the place and what they like about it ... people who are trust-worthy Chowhounds. Looking at Yelp there seemed to be a shill-o-rama going on.

                      That being said, there are a significant number of reports on Yelp that indicate the food, even the best of it, can be inconsistant ... a la T-Rex.

                      So that's the big point in my part. Lower your expectations and it will probably be fine ... for locals.

                    2. re: rworange
                      vliang Mar 3, 2008 09:24 PM

                      I am going to have respectfully disagree with you here. As I understand, this place is about doing Southern BBQ with a Napa Valley/wine country sensibility. That said... Southern BBQ, unless you're from Texas is about pork and smoke. To go to place called BarbersQ (albeit a rift on the chef's name) and judge the merits of a kitchen based upon non-pork, non-smoked products such a hot dog and beans is a bit hasty. Besides, as an ex-New Yorker, I can tell you that I have NEVER had a hot dog with snappy casing in this state and I've tried all the usual CH hot dog recs in the Bay Area. I also want to note that while Ubuntu is tremendous, it should hardly be said in the same breath as a meat/Americana interpreted place except in perhaps geographical proximity.
                      I think the real attraction to BarbersQ (in my one visit there) is its earnest intepretation of a genre that is completely different than what's the usual Cal-Med stuff that is the norm in the Wine Country. We were just up in Healdsburg and had complete palate death by the second day with a barage of wine and your ingredient-driven, FL/CP/Z etc style food. In fact, we just talking about how we'd like nicely BBQ/smoked ribs and some mac and cheese. Sorry you missed out on the ribs at BarbersQ. Am attaching photo from our visit last June. Check out the beautiful smoke rings on the meat. Colours of amber, burnt sienna, etc.
                      BTW... I do agree with you... Bauer's description of the ambiance is a bit... off. And someone please turn off that horrid soundtrack.

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