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May 23-29, 2007

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First Bite


By Carey Sweet

What a lovely thing a hot fudge sundae is. Especially when it's capped with exquisite brandied cherries plus lots of candied pecans and toasted almonds. When my mom ordered it ($6.95), I told her I'd just sneak a taste, but she eventually felt it necessary to point out that I'd eaten more than half.

Ice cream sandwiches ($7.50) can be a thing of joy, too, especially when the insides are super-butter-fat vanilla, the outsides are warm-from-the-oven chocolate cookies and the whole glory is drowned in gooey fudge. I'll just take a bite, I promised my sister. Sue me, I guess I lied.

Desserts like this are even better when they're landing in a belly (mine) already full of terrific Memphis pulled pork ($9.95) from the new BarBersQ in Napa. The sandwich was my sister's, and being younger than I am, she should be quicker than I am, but too bad for her.

How could I resist? This juicy, hickory-smoked pig was moist with vinegary sauce, mounded with creamy-crisp coleslaw and plopped on an Alexis Baking Company bun. There were squeeze bottles on the table for adding extra sauce, but no bother, the balance was already perfect.

I politely offered mom and sis samples of my chipotle-braised short-rib sandwich ($14.75); unfortunately (for them), they were momentarily distracted by a big bowl of chili ($9.75) I'd shoved in their path. Yes, the chili was fine, quite spicy with Long Meadow Ranch sirloin, Rancho Gordo yellow-eye beans, a scoop of rice and chopped pepperoncini. But the rib sandwich was gorgeous, its mouth-coating richness cut by a slick of fiery horseradish under a crunchy chop of romaine. I can't help it if mom and sister got mere wisps on their forks.

OK, maybe I'd also ate more than my share of mom's Fra'Mani grilled sausage sandwich ($9.50), the plump link laden with tart sauerkraut, pepper relish and whole-grain mustard. But if she wasn't guarding it closely enough, it was her own fault, now wasn't it?

And who's to blame for the side order of cornbread ($3.75)? There were three cakes and three of us, but BarBersQ crafts it from gourmet Ridgecut Gristmills mix and bakes it into plump triangles to be slathered with honey butter. What am I, a math genius?

To say I like BarbersQ would be correct, though entirely accurate only after throwing in several really, really, reallys. Really.

My only complaint would be that this one meal wasn't nearly enough for me. Named for chef Stephen Barber (formerly of San Francisco's sexy, sophisticated Mecca), the upscale spot has a long, ravishing menu of delightful things like grilled local oysters, CK Lamb sliders, cast-iron-pan-seared Long Meadow Ranch rib eye and even a fancy grilled cheese sandwich of aged Cabot cheddar on Model Bakery sourdough.

I absolutely deserve, I believe, to work my way through the Fulton Farms roasted vinegar chicken, the collard greens and the biscuits studded with Benton's County ham, cheddar and scallion. OK--the fish and chips and smoked Diestel turkey, too. Next time, though, I'll bring more grateful guests. Crab, crab, crab. Complain, complain, complain--that's all I got from my mom and sister, all their hungry way home.

BarBersQ, 3900-D Bel Aire Plaza, Napa. Open for lunch and dinner, 11am to 10pm daily. 707.224.6600.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.