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A foodie’s guide to BottleRock Napa Valley 2021

Fried pig ears are surprisingly easy to offload to hungry BottleRockers.

“Those are pig ears, right?” asks a passerby as I taste test not only the sweet, spicy fried bits of pig ear from upscale restaurant Press in the VIP area of the Napa music festival, but truffle fries, trout dip and reserve wines.

At the halfway mark of my first day, six or so restaurants in, I'm beyond full and well beyond tracking calories. After a single bite of the crunchy, chewy ears I'm over it, handing hungry festivalgoers the pig ears and the fries.

Such are the perks of being a food writer at BottleRock, one of the only music festivals where Michelin-starred chefs sling pastrami- and béchamel-covered fries, Kobe beef burgers and lobster rolls to discerning music lovers along with wine and food enthusiasts.

It’s been over two years since the last BottleRock, since the festival was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and once again postponed in 2021 until September. The food is as good as, if not better than ever, with more than 75 vendors from food trucks to high-end Bay Area restaurants.

Notably missing this year are Masaharu Morimoto’s Katsu Burger and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Fried Chicken bucket.

Guy Fieri and José Andrés will make appearances on the Culinary Stage on Saturday.

Napa dining never comes cheap, so expect sticker shock because the food is as expensive as ever. This year, they’ve added a touchless payment option credit to participants’ wristbands via PayPal. Unfortunately, it fails as often as it works, so bring cash.

Tickets to this year’s event are sold out, but here are some of the best eats, from high end to low, you'll want to know about if you go.

Loveski Fries at Loveski, $22: The buzziest food vendor this year is the Jewish-ish deli popup from Meadowood Chef Christopher Kostow. The three-Michelin star restaurant burned in the 2020 Glass fire, but may return next spring, Kostow said. Meanwhile, BottleRockers can get a sneak preview of the Chicago deli-meets-California sensibility fast-casual eatery set for a November opening in Napa’s Oxbow Market.

While the vegan chickpea sandwich left a bit to be desired, Kostow’s crinkle-cut fries with gooey white cheese sauce, pickled carrots and pastrami bits was a highlight. It’s in the VIP area, sadly, so if you don't have access, you’ll have to wait to try it.

Kostow said the forthcoming Loveski won’t be a traditional deli, but his homage to famous spots like Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles and spots in his hometown, Chicago.

Peanut Tofu Nachos at Azalina’s Malaysian, $9: A stomach-filling deal with braised tofu, pickled vegetables and a sweet-spicy peanut sauce atop ballpark tortilla chips. Culinary Garden.

Sweet and Sour Pig Ears at Press Restaurant, $12: Fried extra crispy with just a hint of chew, they’ve got a sticky sweet-sour glaze that makes this a perfect beer snack. Just pretend they're fries. Or don’t. VIP section only.

Elote Tots at Cochinita, $15: Tater tot base with fresh corn and mayonnaise. Another tummy-filler. Third Street Entrance.

Marinated Mushrooms at Empress M, $10: Chewy wood-ear mushrooms in a light vinegar soy sauce. Very divisive, as you’ll either love or hate them, but I want to eat them all day long. Culinary Garden.

Trout Dip at William Tell House, $19: This Tomales roadhouse is a newcomer to BottleRock and the only spot serving fresh oysters. We love the trout dip, a healthy-ish snack loaded with protein for all that dancing you’ll do later. VIP only.

Gerard’s Paella, $20: Saffron-colored rice made in a giant paella pan that’s become a festival staple. Hearty. VIP and Culinary Garden.

Doughnut Sundae at Johnny Doughnuts, $15: It’s a doughnut, it’s a sundae, it’s covered with chocolate and sprinkles and whipped cream. Sweet Street.

Overrated

Lobster Roll at Woodhouse Fish Co., $30: It’s not that it wasn’t a fine lobster roll, but for $30 — even at a music festival — the serving was paltry. Skip the hype. Culinary Garden.

You can reach Dining Editor Heather Irwin at heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com.

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