Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wanderlust | San Francisco + Napa Valley

After finally finishing our epic blog review on The French Laundry, I've finished writing all the posts I wanted to share with you on Four Tines, but I thought it would be a great idea for me to compile a nice summary of all of the things Marcus and I did, tasted, and saw while we were in the Bay Area as well as in the Napa Valley.

On our first day, we arrived in the late morning to San Francisco International, where Pam dropped us off at a convenient Zipcar location so we could drive up to Santa Rosa in the afternoon (a little over an hour from the Bay Area). Before we reached our destination, Marcus and I made a lunch pit stop at Jack in the Box (see review here) for classic Sourdough Jacks.

Afterwards, we headed over to our original destination, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, where I could pay homage to one of my favorite cartoonist (and favorite cartoon beagle)!

I even got to "share" a cookie with Snoopy on one of the benches at the museum. Notice that I was donning a Peanuts tee (i.e., Charlie Brown and Snoopy hugging) that day! The museum was a little smaller than I thought, but it included some interesting exhibits about the Peanuts cast as well as about Mr. Schulz.

Later that night, we drove back to San Francisco and hopped over to Izakaya Sozai (see review here) to meet Pam and Bill for a Japanese tapas-style dinner followed by unusually flavored (but oh-so-delicious) Italian ice creams at Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream (see review here).

The next day, we spent in the Mission District of San Francisco, where we went to breakfast (and lunch!) at Tartine Bakery + Café (see review here). Afterwards, we walked by Dolores Park (see photograph above) to head over to Omnivore Books, a bookshop featuring new, antiquarian, and collectible books on food and drink. The bookshop also hosts many events featuring chefs and authors talking about their passions.

It was a bit of a hike to get here, but it was totally worth it!

I had been dying to see my dream of a shop filled with cookbooks come to fruition here. So many lovely selections! I even got to meet the shop's owner, Celia Sack! She was super friendly and helpful with the questions I had about Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook, Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi. I ended up leaving with the UK version of the cookbook for Bill and Pam!

Then, Marcus and I wanted to get some tea, so we made a stop at Samovar Tea Lounge, a quaint little tea shop with décor inspired by Southeast Asia, which offers an array of exotic teas on its menu. In an attempt to have a watered down version of "high tea," Marcus and I each ordered our own "pots" of tea along with a plate of assorted handmade cookies. After our first day of exploring San Francisco, we met up with Bill and Pam for dinner at 54 Mint (see review here), a very authentic Italian restaurant wine bar.

The next day, before heading up to Wine Country, Bill and Pam took us to the Ferry Building to check out the Farmer's Market that is held there on Saturdays.

There were many farmers and artisan food makers scattered throughout the front and back of the Ferry Building.

On Saturdays, Roli Roti, a gourmet rotisserie food truck, is located at the Ferry Building (right by Sur La Table). They have an assorted menu filled with offerings of crisp rotisserie chicken, pork, and lamb.

Bill and Pam shared a rotisserie porchetta sandwich, which had Heritage Food USA's Italian-style pork roast (that is grilled on the rotisserie for four hours until crispy brown on the outside, succulent on the inside) rolled with fresh herbs, curly grass from Star Route Farm, and onion marmalade served on sweet deli rolls from Acme Bread Company (located inside the Ferry Building). I wanted to get one myself, but I didn't want to spoil the long meal we had ahead of us, so I just stole a bite. The pork was really juicy, moist, and flavorful while the bread was fresh with a soft interior and a loosely crusty exterior. If you're around the Ferry Building on Saturday, I highly recommend waiting in what will probably be quite the beeline at Roli Roti for this porchetta sandwich. Your stomach will thank you graciously with a generous food coma.

We then began our epic journey to The French Laundry (see Marcus and I's collaborated review here) in the Napa Valley over in Yountville, about an hour north of San Francisco, taking us on our second Zipcar experience. After a three-hour lunch comprised of a pretty perfect nine-course tasting menu (all the while being graced by Chef Thomas Keller's presence and leaving with a couple of signed menus), Marcus and I drove along St. Helena Highway toward Rutherford, so I could make my "necessary" stop at St. Helena Olive Oil Co., as recommended by Lisa, to pick up a few jars of its amazing butternut squash pasta sauce.

The company's mission is focused on high quality ingredients, cooking, eating well, and communing around the table with family and friends. In the store, there are several varieties of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salts, sauces, herbs, and the like. They even had little pieces of bread to sample each one! After sampling many of the items, I quickly started filling my basket with so many items which made me wonder how I was going to carry all of this back to New York with me. Luckily, the store had a special going on that day -- spend over $100 and you'll receive free shipping to anywhere in the continental U. S. for all your goodies -- so I could ship everything back, hassle-free, which meant I could get gifts for family and friends all from here! I have to admit I went a little crazy -- eight jars of the butternut squash pasta sauce, three jars of the organic red heirloom tomato sauce (a mix of original and spicy), two tiny canisters of truffle salt, rosemary-infused extra virgin olive oil, organic dipping oil herb blend, and pesto alla genovese. I haven't made any meals with the butternut squash pasta sauce, but I look forward to trying one of these suggested recipes soon!

After spending a good while perusing these gourmet goods, Marcus and I drove to Swanson Vineyards (pretty much around the corner from St. Helena Olive Oil Co.) for our "Bon Vivant" Salon tasting reservation (see review here). With a lovely afternoon of fine cuisine and wine tasting behind us, Marcus and I head back to the Bay Area, to meet Bill and Pam for dinner at a "surprise" location. But before we were required back, I made the quickest stop at the last exit (coming from Wine Country) before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge so I could snap a few shots of the national landmark.

There was a lot of traffic driving up to the area from where I took the photo, so I double parked behind some cars, ran down a trail to get a closer view of the bridge, and became shutter-happy. I was only able to get a couple good shots (including the one above).

We found out later that Bill and Pam had made dinner reservations at Dosa (i.e., the location on Fillmore), a South Indian restaurant, for the four of us. At Dosa, we tried paper dosas (i.e., a crispy crêpe made from rice and black lentils) along with a couple curry dishes and other authentic South Indian fare. If you haven't been exposed very much to Indian cuisine, Dosa is a great place to start. The flavors are reminiscent of authentic spices but not too powerful where the introduction to this cuisine would be overwhelming.

The next morning, Bill, Marcus and I set out to the Napa Valley again (though, this time, with a more casual attitude and agenda). We started out with an unconventional vegetarian brunch at Ubuntu (see review here), which illustrated a new, appealing side to non-meat ingredients, located in the quaint town of Napa. After brunch, we drove over to Del Dotto Vineyards for a cave tour and wine barrel tasting and to Duckhorn Vineyards for a tableside tasting at its estate house, looking over the vineyards (see combined review here). We concluded the day by having a nice, family-style dinner at Chef Keller's ad hoc (see review here), where we ran into Chef Keller once again, only this time he was out of the kitchen and having dinner.

On our second to last day in San Francisco, Marcus and I began with a chocolate factory tour at TCHO Chocolate (see review here), right off of Pier 17, which was had a very detailed overview and tour of its chocolate and manufacturing process.

Right after, we had a casual meet-up with Kelsey Morrison, the marketing manager for JAQK Cellars at the wine company's own headquarters right in San Francisco. She was gracious enough to give us a casual tour of the Company's home shared with Hatch Designs, the design firm that helped co-found JAQK Cellars! In the headquarters, there is a private area for private events and tastings!

For lunch, Marcus and I returned back to the Ferry Building to have lunch at this Japanese canteen called DELICA. I had a pork katsu sandwich which was great, while Marcus had the Japanese-style beef curry. We perused the shops at the Ferry Building for a bit before making a stop at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant to do a little wine tasting at its wine bar before meeting up with Marcus's friend from high school, Zubin, for happy hour.

We shared a flight of four wines (2-ounces each) -- our choice was the "May Wine Club Flight" featuring four wines from the current month's wine club offerings.

I also had a taste of a French muscat (dessert wine) to go with the assorted varietals of chocolates from Michael Recchiuti (who has a storefront in the Ferry Building, too). These were chocolates from three different cacao-producing countries. It was interesting to see how they compared to each other. Wine tasting slowly overlapped into waiting in line for much desired tables at Hog Island Oyster Bar (see review here), also located in the Ferry Building), mainly because it featured a Monday night happy hour from 5 to 7 PM -- can't beat half-priced oysters of the chef's choosing. We also had mussels, wine, and beer.

After happy hour, we went back to the Mission District to Pancho Villa Taqueria for some burritos and tacos...

...which in turn led to wine and dessert at Bar Bambino, down the block.

Just as we had just been to TCHO Chocolate that morning, the dessert the three of us decided to share at Bar Bambino, the TCHO chocolate crème caramel, a creamy cocoa custard with caramelized cocoa nibs and amaretti brittle, had chocolate sourced from the factory in it! Very interesting in flavor combination.

As for our last day in San Francisco, Marcus and I had breakfast/brunch at La Boulange Bakery (de Cole location), per Linda's recommendation for its amazing pastries and French macarons.

We each ordered a chai latté, and this easily wins the award of the best chai we've ever had!

Marcus had a breakfast croissant sandwich, while I ordered a croque monsieur, which I have to say I enjoyed more than the one I had at Tartine earlier in the week. La Boulange's version had an open-faced sandwich of ham and swiss with Béchamel sauce on toasted pain de mie (i.e., honey bread). The cheese was a little burnt on the surface, the pain de mie was fresh and toasty, and the Béchamel sauce just topped it off very nicely.

We both decided to order one of each flavor, to give all the macarons an equal chance. We weren't super impressed with the macarons (mainly because the fillings were mostly jams, as we tend to prefer buttercream fillings). The cookie part of some of the macarons were quite crumbly and couldn't hold together well. Hopefully the other locations' macarons are better than the ones we had.

To rid ourselves of the touristy curiosity we somehow managed to stave off until our last day, we proceeded to Fisherman's Wharf to see what all the fuss was about.

We had to take the F Market & Wharves Muni line, which has a vintage look and feel to it, over to Fisherman's Wharf.

We concluded that Fisherman's Wharf is the West Coast version of Times Square in New York City -- nice to see, but definitely a tourist trap!

While we were over by the Wharf, we passed by Pier 39, too, where I found this awesome crab sculpture-topiary.

Our last meal in San Francisco was at Gracias Madre, a organic, vegan Mexican restaurant, with Pam and Bill back in the Mission District. One noteworthy we had throughout the dishes we ordered was cashew cheese which replaced the conventional cheeses (i.e., produced from livestock milk), which had a nuttier taste to it. Marcus and I found the concept of vegan Mexican cuisine to be an interesting concept, mostly because we had never come across anything like that back in New York. While I thought I would like the restaurant more (as my stomach is known not to do too well in Mexican restaurants that drown all their courses in heavy cheeses and Gracias Madre, in theory, would technically address this issue), the dishes we had were just okay (nothing like what we had experienced at the vegetarian Ubuntu in Napa, where the execution had no kinks for us).

--May 19, 2011 thru May 24, 2011

Jack in the Box (review here)
multiple locations throughout the West Coast, Midwest, and South

Charles M. Schulz Museum
2301 Hardies Lane
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

*Izakaya Sozai (review here)
1500 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

*Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream (review here)
1447 Taraval Street
San Francisco, CA 94116

*Tartine Bakery + Café (review here)
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

*Dolores Park
Dolores Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

*Omnivore Books on Food
3885a Cesar Chavez Street
San Francisco, CA 94131

Samovar Tea Lounge
498 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

*54 Mint (review here)
16 Mint Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94103

*The Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111

*Roli Roti
various locations throughout the week

*The French Laundry (review here)
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

*Swanson Vineyards (review here)
Swanson Salon
1271 Manley Lane
Rutherford, CA 94573

*St. Helena Olive Oil Co.
8576 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94558

Dosa [on Fillmore]
1700 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

*Ubuntu (review here)
1140 Main Street
Napa, California 94559

Del Dotto Vineyards (review here)
‪1445 Saint Helena Highway S‬outh
‪St. Helena, CA 94574‬

*Duckhorn Vineyards (review here)
1000 Lodi Lane
St. Helena, California 94574

*ad hoc (review here)
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

*TCHO Chocolate (review here)
Pier 17
The Embarcadero at Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

JAQK Cellars
402 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

The Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, Shop 45
San Francisco, CA 94111

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
The Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, Shop 23
San Francisco, CA 94111

*Hog Island Oyster Co. (review here)
The Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building, Shop 11
San Francisco, CA 94111
Happy Hour specials available Mondays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 PM

Pancho Villa Taqueria
3071 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

*Bar Bambino
2931 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

*La Boulange Bakery + Café [de Cole]
1000 Cole Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

Fisherman's Wharf
175 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

Pier 39

The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94133

Gracias Madre
2211 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

* for spots I highly recommend

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