Carpe Diem – Seize the Ostrich Burger

I recently dined at a restaurant I haven’t been to in quite some time, to revisit my beloved ostrich burger… and I brought along a friend – a 2014 Walt Pinot Noir Sierra Mar.

I used to frequent the Carpe Diem Wine Bar all the time. I would eagerly make the 16 mile journey to downtown Napa a few times a month for the lively ambience. It was a great place to hang out with locals or meet new people. It is also where I discovered the ostrich burger.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had the ostrich burger. I was planning to go one night but ended up canceling at the last minute. A week later on August 24th, 2014 a 6.0 earthquake shook Napa Valley, destroying buildings and closing businesses, some which are still not open today. One of the hardest hit was the Alexandria Square building, home of Carpe Diem.

Alexandria Square - © t. benjamin photography
Alexandria Square – Napa Earthquake – © t. benjamin photography

As many businesses suffered the toll of the earthquake, I feared that Carpe Diem would suffer the same fate and my cherished ostrich burger would be gone forever. It took nearly 10 months but Carpe Diem survived where many businesses did not. By setting up a pop-up location at the Oxbow Public Market, they were able to keep going in the 10 months it took to reopen the original location.

But why did it take me nearly 2 years to the day to comeback to Carpe Diem? I guess I thought it would somehow be different or maybe it wouldn’t be as good as I had remembered. Maybe they had changed the menu or the ambiance wouldn’t be the same. Last night, I was in town with friends and finally decided to see if I was right or wrong… I was pleasantly wrong.

2014 Walt Wines Pinot Noir Sierra Mar
2014 Walt Wines Pinot Noir Sierra Mar

I walked in and it looked as if things had never changed. Everything was the same including the bar, which I loved to hang out and eat dinner. The only difference I could tell is the extra private room they added for overflow, private events and cocktail lounge. I was relieved, but one question remained. How was the ostrich burger?

Earlier in the day, I had been to a wine member pick-up party in Sonoma. I had received four pinot noirs as my shipment and I decided that the 2014 Sierra Mar from Walt Wines would be my choice for dinner. This wine was tasting really nice at the party. It was a bolder pinot noir and I felt it could stand up to the ostrich burger.

I ordered my burger ‘Carpe’ style, which I highly recommend. This option tops the burger off with a poached duck egg and pancetta. The ostrich burger is accompanied by Carpe Diem’s signature truffle fries. The burger runs about $22 ($27 for ‘carpe’ style) but is well worth it. How many times have you seen an ostrich burger on a menu anywhere?

Impatiently awaiting, I opened up the Walt 2014 Pinot Noir Sierra Mar. Sierra Mar is located in the Santa Lucia Highlands southeast of Monterrey. In my opinion, some of the best pinot fruit is grown here. Many bold pinots come from this region and this was no exception. I sensed hints of leather, mocha and berry on the nose and boysenberry, rhubarb and spicy undertones on the palate.

Ostrich Burger 'Carpe' Style
Ostrich Burger ‘Carpe’ Style

When my ostrich burger arrived, it was topped with greens, cranberry coriander compote, creamy brie, poached duck egg and crispy pancetta. As I cut into it, the perfectly poached duck egg drizzled over the burger. The pancetta was perfectly crisp and the richness of the brie paired nicely with the pinot. The bread was lightly toasted and the sweetness of the cherry compote worked perfectly with the ostrich meat.

Ostrich, surprisingly, is a healthy alternative to beef. It stays extremely moist despite being lower in fat than most poultry. It also is high in protein and iron, but low calories and cholesterol. My ostrich burger had a hint of sweetness, and was cooked perfectly at medium. There is no trace of gaminess, yet it still comes across as a rich protein. Since I don’t eat red meat, this is the closest I can come to a juicy burger. The Walt Pinot stood up well with this meal and even though it could use a bit of aging, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Chef's Special - Carpe Diem Wine Bar - Buffalo Chicken Tacos with Green Goddess Slaw
Chef’s Special – Carpe Diem Wine Bar – Buffalo Chicken Tacos with Green Goddess Slaw

If you’re not a fan of ostrich, there are many other amazing dishes on the menu – salads, brick oven flatbreads, ‘Quack’ and Cheese (duck confit), gnocchi and the chef’s special. Last night, the chef’s special was buffalo chicken tacos with a green goddess slaw.

I’m happy that I finally got to revisit what I think is one of Napa Valley’s the most distinctive dishes. I always recommend this to my friends and visitors alike.  If you are an adventurous foodie or just looking for something unique, check out Carpe Diem and the ‘famous’ ostrich burger.

Enjoy… Wine Ho

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