Kevin Nelson Writer

Travel. Adventure. Discovery

Napa Valley’s best clam chowder

Clam chowder

Let’s face it: People do not go to Napa Valley to eat clam chowder. If chowder is your thing you’ve probably got your GPS set for the New England seacoast or the classic Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan. Or in California, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Nevertheless, wine country does have a first-rate place for chowderheads: Hog Island Oyster Bar in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market just across the First Street Bridge on the east side of the river. After a hard day’s work of imbibing wine at wineries—which is, after all, why most people do go to Napa Valley—a tasty bowl of Manila chowder may be just the thing for you.

Seafood stew

The seafood stew

Hog Island’s chief claim to fame is its fresh oysters, which it grows and harvests in the cold and fertile waters of Tomales and Humboldt bays in California, and Discovery Bay in Washington. These bay-to-table oysters—Pacific Sweetwaters, Kodomos, Kumamotos and others— are served in restaurants around the U.S., including Hog Island eateries in San Francisco and Napa.

The day we went, we had happily indulged ourselves at a tasting and were in the mood for something that might ground us a little bit, something robust and filling yet also tasty. We wandered around the shops and restaurants of the public market before settling on Hog Island. It turned out to be an inspired choice.

Its atmosphere is casual and relaxed, with bar seating and tables as well as an outdoor patio that overlooks the river. A rustic-looking dinghy hangs suspended from the ceiling. The menu offers a variety of oysters, grilled and not, clams on the half shell, a delicious seafood stew and local Dungeness crab served chilled or roasted with garlic and jalapeno relish. Prices are fairly reasonable—$14, for example, for the clam chowder.

The chowder was a revelation. If what you are expecting is a standard-issue boilerplate chowder, be prepared for a surprise, for the clams are not buried in the soup but served still in their shells. My bowl boasted a plentitude of them too—nine, by my count. Nor was the soup thick and gooey. Instead, the clams were perched atop a light and creamy broth with seasoned vegetables, bacon and chunks of potatoes.

After such a soul-satisfying bowl of chowder, you may be revived enough to go out and do some more wine tasting. Hog Island Oyster Bar, 610 1st Street, Napa. No reservations. Hours Mon.11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Tues.-Sun. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. 707-251-8113.

This article also ran on Click HERE if you would like to read it on that website.

Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga: Rain or shine, it’s a splendid ride

Sterling in the rainThe other day a crazy thing happened in drought-ridden California: It rained! Despite this, we headed up to the hilltop winery of Sterling Vineyards to ride the tram, take the tour and taste a whole bunch of nice wines. Sterling is known for its marvelous views and although we had to bundle up and couldn’t see much of anything due to the foul weather, it was definitely a trip worth taking.


Remember Pearl Harbor with a trip to USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona MemorialTomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day, and here is my account, published on the popular travel website Dave’s Travel Corner, of a family trip we took to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It is an experience that no American should miss. No citizen of the world, in fact.


Blending ‘experience’ at Chateau St. Jean

Cinq CepagesChateau St. Jean is a lovely winery in Kenwood in the Sonoma Valley. The other day I attended a blending seminar— or as the winery puts it, a blending “experience”—led by Chateau St. Jean’s chief winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren. It was a fun, even creative endeavor that combined tasting wine (including Cinq Cépages, its signature brand) with reminders of high school chemistry.


Etude Wines: An interview with Winemaker Jon Priest

Jon Priest, Etude WinesThe other day I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jon Priest, the chief winemaker at Etude Wines in the Carneros District of Napa Valley, and talk about his love for pinot noir and other wines. Click here to see the article that came out of it.

A Thanksgiving Day idea: Go to the car show!

CorvetteIf you’re looking for a novel way to spend Thanksgiving Day, here is one: Go to the San Francisco International Auto Show. That’s how our family often spends the day, or at least the morning. You will see some amazing machines, such as this 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at last year’s show, and some amazing old ones too. Read the article HERE.

Michelin star restaurants in wine country

French LaundryThe French Laundry, pictured at left, and Meadowood Restaurant are the Napa Valley restaurants that won three stars, the highest rating, in the prestigious 2015 Michelin restaurant rankings. In all, ten wine country restaurants won Michelin stars, and all of them are listed in this article HERE. I have only eaten at one of them—Bouchon, which was a fabulous experience— so I’ve got something to look forward to.

Fine luxury hotels in California’s wine country

Solage CalistogaThere are more than 20 four-diamond hotels in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, according to the AAA travel organization. Four diamond hotels are luxury hotels that deliver high levels of comfort and service, achieving their ratings after on-site inspections by AAA personnel. For an informative survey piece that lists all the four diamond  hotels in California’s wine country, including Solage Calistoga (shown here), please click HERE.

B.R. Cohn Winery: Wine, olive oil and rock ‘n’ roll

B.R. Cohn WineryThe founder of B.R. Cohn Winery in the Sonoma Valley is Bruce Cohn, who manages the Doobie Brothers, the 1970s-era rock band that made such hits as “China Road” and “What a Fool Believes,” has sold millions of records, and continues to record and tour today. Because of its vintage rock lineage, the winery has a casual, easy listening sort of vibe. In addition to wine, it makes olive oils and wine vinegars and hosts a big rock music festival every fall. Read more about it HERE.

6 Napa and Sonoma wineries with lovely views

Artesa There are many reasons to visit a winery—the most important of which is, of course, the wine. If you like a certain wine, by all means, go the winery that makes it and do a tasting at the source. Another reason to go to a winery is the beauty of its natural surroundings. With this mind, I just filed an Examiner piece about Artesa, at left, and five other Napa and Sonoma wineries that offer delicious views. Read it here.

Operation Bullpen after 15 years: Movie, book, endless fascination

Bullpen resizedOn October 13, 1999, the FBI brought down the biggest autograph forgery ring in American history, in the biggest one-day bust in Bureau history. Fifteen years later, the case remains a subject of endless fascination, with a movie in the works, the release of a new edition of my book Operation Bullpen, coverage in the media, online chatter and more. Happily surprised by this interest, I wrote this update for Sports Collectors Digest on all the things that are happening with the case. Read the article here.

Abraham Lincoln sighting in Napa

Abraham Lincoln bustThe other day I was driving down a street in Napa and saw something entirely unexpected: the busts of Abraham Lincoln, Oskar Schindler and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. What the heck? What were they doing there? The sight of these figures in history, so beautifully rendered, led me to some interesting observations about travel and the value of following your own path. Read the article HERE.

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