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Three nights' dinners in Napa Valley

We have found over the years that hotels seem to make much more effort to properly train all their employees, including restaurant staff. As you noted, Lucy is part of the Bardessono Resort, and everyone from the valet staff to hotel reception and all the restaurant staff, are wonderful to deal with. Auberge du Soleil, the restaurant inside the Relais & Chateaux resort of the same name, is the same way - as is Aubergine, down in Carmel at L'Auberge Carmel.

In SF it's always such a shifting community, it's almost impossible nowadays to keep a properly trained staff together as a working unit. A lot of the tired old "classic SF" restaurants had terrible food, but the waitstaffs were often top-notch, long-time pros. You find that only rarely here.

Sep 15, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Mustards Grill: My Theory [Napa]

I may be going off on a tangent here, because we couldn't stand Mustards and ranked it dead last out of seven Napa Valley restaurants on one of our 2011 Napa trips. We're retired, so we make 2 trips/yr to Napa and usually 3-5/yr to Sonoma. We stay several days and eat out both L/D.

There are a large number of restaurants like Mustards around (and no, we didn't like Goose & Gander much either, which we just visited last week) that are what we view as "value" restaurants. That is, for the price they give generous portions. Logically, this isn't sustainable: food and labor costs rise over time, they don't drop. Something has to give.

An example of this is Oenotri, whose exquisite, wonderfully passionate food was amazing in 2011. On the same trip when we visited Mustards, we ranked Oenotri's meal as good as the one we got from Ken Franks at La Toque.

But in 2013 Oenotri's execution slid downwards although the portions had grown substantially, and out of six restaurants on that trip we ranked it dead last. Clearly our opinion was in the minority; there was a line out the door when we left, vowing never to return.

I want to thank Robert L for posting the link to Daniel Patterson's tirade. He has a point: there is a lot of "sameness" to Bay Area menu descriptions. But still, the ingredients these days are so much better than they were even ten years ago...and a description, no matter how many ingredients are listed, isn't a recipe.

As we all know, give ten chefs the same 15 ingredients, and you'll get 15 very different dishes. Nowadays chefs feel pressured to continuously produce something new, different from what they did last night or last week, let alone a year ago.
I think Mustards' style of cooking, with high quality ingredients but in larger "value" portions, is more common than ever. If we had to pick a restaurant that does this style - do we call it "refined casual", as opposed to Chipotle "fast casual"? Eh, whatever...our pick would be Market Restaurant in St. Helena. It is not a style we like, but the food was excellent and the portions sizable. If you could stick Market's chef and staff into Brix's gorgeous restaurant/patio, you'd have a match made in Heaven.

BTW, we loved Brix under Chef Chris Jones, but on this last trip, they tied with Goose & Gander for last place. Chef Robert Hohmann did not impress us or our friends despite the (here it is again) growth in portion size. The starters were decent, the entrées were uneven, the desserts disastrous; it didn't help when the service bordered on incompetent.

And I hate to tell all you young'uns out there, but it's true what they say…once you're past 60, you really can't eat as much as before [smile]. My spouse can still eat a 24-oz rib-eye by himself, but he can't manage a substantial lunch AND big dinner, the way he used to!

Sep 15, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Anyone used Good Eggs/Fair Share specialty food delivery services?

Thanks to all who responded! I'm really excited to hear such positive feedback. It'll save me a lot of time, so I think I'm going to sign up when I get back from our trip.

Aug 30, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Napa restaurants assess the Northern California earthquake damage

I just checked Ca'Momi's website and they said they had a lot of cleanup to do as well.

We have a 3 day Napa visit already scheduled; we're hoping Ca'Momi will have a plentiful supply of their bigne and ciambelle for us to bring home on Sunday!

Fortunately, our meal reservations are mostly for Yountville and St. Helena, not as hard-hit as downtown Napa. Have our fingers crossed for the Napa hotel, though (not downtown, fortunately) - plan to call them on Thursday to make sure everything is working.

Aug 26, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Anyone used Good Eggs/Fair Share specialty food delivery services?

The recent discussion of East Bay CSAs prompted me to finally Google to see what kind of other food delivery services are available. The most interesting one is Good Eggs and Fair Share - Fair Share has a seafood CSF, and works with Good Eggs which has delivery/pick-up services that offers many artisanal/direct producer products.

Yes, I could drive around to several different places in addition to my regular grocery shopping, but I seldom have time and would love to have some of this stuff delivered once or twice a month.

Has anyone tried them?

Fair Share CSF: http://www.fairsharecsf.com/weekday-d... (a very minimal website


Good Eggs: https://www.goodeggs.com/welcome

Aug 24, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

The Half Orange [Oakland]

Not an encouraging report, oh well. Jives with the reviews Porter got for his previous restaurants before he came to Oakland: his heart may be in the right place about "why tipping is bad" (he's quoted in the current issue of Edible East Bay about the Minimum Wage ballot initiative for this Nov's election), but his food just isn't that great.

Doesn't bode well for Salsipuedes, which he still plans to open.

Aug 23, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Jack's Oyster Bar & Fish House-Jack London [Oakland]

I hope they pull it together altho we've experienced service issues at Bocanova (same owner) as well. Like Chris Pastena, I don't think these guys have a good handle on how important the front of the house is.

For a very short while on the Jack's website (it's now OVER, so don't look for it!) they were offering a prepaid special deal: $100/food & drink for $60. My DH loves oysters, so I figured I'd use the card to take him for his birthday dinner in October. Now I've got my fingers crossed! Will report back after the dinner.

Hopscotch's Itani wins the Knife Fight!

As reported by Berkeleyside Nosh, Chef Kyle Itani of Oakland’s Hopscotch appeared on Esquire TV’s “Knife Fight: Live Halibut!” — and won! His appearance on the reality show aired Aug. 19, but he told Nosh’s Ms. Barstool that the prized “I Won” cleaver (yes, that was the prize; the loser got a tiny cleaver) had been 'hidden in plain sight' at Hopscotch since January. Inspired by his experience on the show, Itani has created something new for the Hopscotch menu this month: poached Petrale sole, with miso sofrito collard greens.

Hopscotch, in Oakland's Uptown:
1915 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, ph: (510) 788-6217

Berkeleyside link to column (you'll need to scroll down, there's several food news items before the Itani paragraph): http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/08/2...

Aug 23, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Napa: Critique my Day

Castello di Amoroso (not Castillo) is fine as an architectural experience. Any SCA fans would be in heaven visiting it. The brick double-barreled vaulting in the basement is a superb example of brickmason craftsmanship that is slowly dying out even in Europe; only a mere handful of masons know how to do it any longer. Within our lifetime we will probably see a time when this will become a lost art like so many other old-world craft skills.

Stick with the Cab and chocolate tasting, which is actually quite enjoyable.

Aug 21, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Modigliani Cafe (Oakland)

Modigliani Cafe
3208-3210 Grand Ave @Santa Clara Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
Phone number (510) 986-1599
Hours: Sunday-Monday: 11am- 6pm; Tuesday-Thursday: 11am-8pm; Friday-Saturday: 11am-9pm

Minor presence on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Modigl...
Website with menu: http://modiglianicafe.weebly.com/menu...

Aug 20, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

NAPA/SONOMA :: 1 Day Trip

To add a note of intentional sobriety:

You MUST be sure to check the map for current CA wildfire locations. Conditions are extraordinarily dry this year and there has already been one serious wildfire in Lake Cty which is the next county north from Napa Cty. In extreme smoke conditions freeways can and have been closed for periods of time.

The site is: http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/...

Please help me fill in a few (last minute) itinerary holes.

We liked Gaspar Brasserie, which is probably convenient to your hotels. And although I don't always agree with Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle food critic, he liked it also:
http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/art.... We were there when it was half-full and it was noisy but not ear-splitting, but we noticed the crowds emptied out pretty quickly. A lot of people seem to just come for drinks and a couple of appetizers after work, then leave.

Gaspar serves until 11p on Fridays. Their lamb sweetbreads, if you don't mind gamy lamb (we love it, but not everyone does), are amazing and few chefs in SF serve them. The duck was marvelous, too. Chris Jones is the chef; Chucky Dugo the pastry chef (altho he may have moved on to a different role in owner LeClerc's restaurant group by now).

Gaspar (main dining room is upstairs
)185 Sutter St. (near Kearny Street), San Francisco; (415) 576-8800. www.gasparbrasserie.com

And there's nothing to apologize for in going to Yank Sing for dim sum. It's one of the better places in the Bay Area, which is remarkable considering I can remember going to the original Yank Sing on Broadway exactly 40 years ago: a plain, basic dim sum place when it was the ONLY good dim sum restaurant, far better than Hang Ah tea room. The owner, Alice, adored my husband when he was a 12-yr old teen and offered to adopt him.

We have always considered his parents idiots for turning her down, LOL! She later adopted a son who is now the owner of the current Yank Sing restaurants.

Michael Warring- on I-80 corridor in Vallejo

Nice! I really want to try MW, but will probably have to wait until later this year. Been trying to get back to Etoile @Domaine Chandon to try dinner, so it and the new chef at Brix will take up the evening meals on our next 2-day Napa at the end of August. Maybe in November, if we don't get washed away by the El Nino they're forecasting, LOL!

I'm getting the new Anovo sous vide device (comes out in Oct), but I fear the liquid nitrogen freezing will be beyond my capabilities to reproduce...thank you for giving such a complete rundown with photos, though. I'm collecting as many sous vide suggestions as possible.

Aug 11, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

(another) Napa Valley Itinerary Thread

Glad you enjoyed Lucy! I think it's often overlooked (better for dinner than lunch). The free parking - so useful when fighting summer crowds - and the lovely patio are real draws. Gardening is one of my major pastimes and I was wowed by the wonderful, Zen-like landscaping of their interior patio area. Very clean, serene, sophisticated yet casual design.

Lucy is inside the Bardessono Resort
6526 Yount St, Yountville, CA 94599
Dinner menu: http://www.bardessono.com/restaurant_...

In 2013 we went to both Lucy and Redd for lunches on successive days. We voted Lucy the better, hands down.

Aug 11, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Suggestions for dinner in Healdsburg area

We agree, Bravas wins over both Willie's, to us. And don't miss the sherry flights, outstanding both dry and sweet! Love Bravas' patio, like Girl & Fig only bigger; like sitting in a friend's backyard.

Eating out in Healdsburg

One thing to note about Cafe Lucia, however - if you've been to La Salette on Sonoma Square, CL is virtually identical in menu. We had just been to La Salette a month earlier so were disappointed to see 90% of the same dishes on CL's menu. The decor is contemporary, but that seemed really the only difference.

Aug 11, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Suggestions for light lunch/picnic provisions in Sebastapol/Northern Santa Rosa

I thought Willow Wood was a restaurant? I'm sure they'll do take-out, though. But we didn't see any area where they had picnic provisions to buy?

Aug 11, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Totally Lost in Embarcadero with Co-Workers [San Francisco]

You might also enjoy Aquitaine wine bar & bistro, about halfway between your hotel and Union Square. Laurent Manrique is an excellent chef:

175 Sutter Street (between Montgomery & Kearny Sts.)
San Francisco CA 94115
(415) 402-5290
Dinner menu: http://aquitainesf.com/wp-content/upl...

Aug 09, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Need one more dinner for our trip

I like both Kokkari and Aziza, but they are very different types of restaurants. Much depends on what you think you're going to want when you already have some very high end small plates/tasting menu restaurants.

Kokkari is hearty and earthy and substantial. A more traditional-type restaurant. Depending on when you go, parking is advised at the Embarcadero Center garages.

Aziza is fusion, Moroccan-style. Except for the cous-cous and the lamb shank, plates are not large, very little or no starch on the plates. We treat it as like a tasting menu, ordering a lot of starters (which are small) to share, with a couple of orders of Lahlou's terrific flatbread. The fish is always amazing. Street or valet parking, but street parking is REALLY hideous around Aziza (I used to live three blocks away). Unless you come before 6p it's almost certain you'll need to use valet parking, unless you're using a taxi. Do not under ANY circumstances park in the small city parking lots (there is one a half-block from Aziza on Geary); the meters run until midnight and they only take Metro cards!

Aug 09, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

June 2014 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant Reviews by ALEDM

Thanks for posting your summarized reviews, interesting reading! Like ridge, some we'd agree with, some we wouldn't. But I'm glad someone besides us found Oliveto's Oceanic dinner disappointing. Their 2013 Whole Hog was superb, but everything we've had before or since has been ruined by excessive, erratic salting - to the point where the last time, the food was inedible and we sent dishes back. When you send back two out of three different entrees...for that price level, not a good sign. I think Chef Jonah Rhodehamel is a genius but whoever is garde manger is letting the line cooks do some serious damage to the chef's concepts. Oakland now has three good Italian places: Lungomare, Centouno, and Desco, but our pick would be Trabocco/Alameda. We're salt cod lovers, and that salt cod with crispy polenta is wowie!

Interesting that you liked Asmara. We have not been back in years, after many years of excellent food the owners changed (or the cooks did) and one night we got what was basically all stir-fried food, with tough chewy meats. Not a single dish had been braised as it was supposed to be. Wonder if they have different cooks now? Cafe Eritrea, Cafe Colucci, and Enssaro are good with fewer flaws than some of the others we've tried in Oakland/Berkeley.

Many people go to Meritage for brunch; we preferred dinner. Josh Thomsen was a genius but he left for NYC. Chef de Cuisine Scott Quinn, we don't have much love for and will not go back. One great dish, three bad ones; one of those "let's toss in the kitchen sink" chefs (yes, I blame Food Network for this kind of thinking).

We like Noodle Theory for lunch, not dinner. Too small and cramped for comfort but okay for good fresh noodles. Have not tried the ones you did. We like the Hot/Sour Shrimp and the Spicy Pork noodles. Another is the Duck Curry but it is extraordinarily rich, almost too much so: pure coconut cream, not coco milk. Their dumplings are handmade, with thin skins and tasty stuffings--pork more reliable than the shrimp which can sometimes have too much greens. We split on the goat cheese wontons, I liked (not loved) them; spouse didn't.

Bowl'd BBQ is larger and we think a little better than Spoon (same owners): 4869 Telegraph Ave., Oakland/Temescal.

(YMMV; we are not price-sensitive diners, btw.)

Aug 08, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Best Paella in San Francisco/Oakland?

We've noticed very few places include the socarrat, especially in the small individual servings. Zarzuela, B44, and Barlata didn't, at least when we ordered paellas. As JoyM points out re Esperpento, it takes time to create that burnt rice crust.

As an Asian-American, it's always been ironic how growing up, we considered the burnt rice at the bottom of the pot (not truly burnt, but crispy brown) to be unfit for anything but chazuke - poor people's food. Now it's a prized element. LOL, how our perceptions change!

Aug 08, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

NAPA/SONOMA :: 1 Day Trip

>>that tells me a visit to the huge number of (Napa) backroads is in order, where all tourism falls away and it's just as rustic as Sonoma County.>>

I agree - but for a one-day, first-time visit, asking a driver unfamiliar with the roads and time it takes to get from, say, Yountville back to an SF hotel, is not an idea I'd recommend.

I got a little OT replying to Robert L. re our differing opinions on Fremont Diner. If the OP is looking for a good B/L place, how about:

Boon Fly Cafe @The Carneros Inn
4048 Sonoma Hwy
Napa, CA 94559
Ph: (707) 299-4870

It's a little over a mile from Domaine Carneros, so very convenient if the OP decides on Napa and D.Carneros.

Aug 08, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

NAPA/SONOMA :: 1 Day Trip

We'd do Hole In The Wall/Sebastopol before ever going back to Fremont Diner. We just didn't enjoy it. I grew up on diners and love 'em, but the chicken at FD was simply awful, good chicken drowned in a sea of orange oil (Backyard/Forestville does a much better job with fried chicken from Green Star Farms in Sebastopol; smaller but a much richer taste than the Mary's brand that wowed our group of 4).

Did like the Czech sausage at Fremont but the frisee salad was mediocre and the chili was worse than Hormel's canned. Cornbread so-so, mac'n'cheese tasty but gluey instead of creamy. The Czech sausage from FD with some fried eggs would be a great breakfast, though! And the service at FD is good but again, at HinW it's also very good. Neither place takes reservations and peak times mean a wait.

Aug 08, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

northern cali recs

Hard to give recommendations unless we know at least a little about what they DON'T want to eat...after all, nobody eats everything, and everyone has some kind of preference. And what's their budget? You can spend $$$$$ mucho big bucks here without really trying, LOL!

Do they want to try the newest/hottest/"in" spots? Do they want fusion? Do they prefer more traditional, "quiet enough to actually talk to one another" places? Saying 'good' means different things to different people, as one can easily tell from any superficial perusal of a Net forum.

Also, where are they staying in SF? (Just helps as a starting point thing)

Best Paella in San Francisco/Oakland?

Depends on how hungry you are. Seriously. Venga doesn't super-size their portions to American tastes. We usually get a skewer of the shrimp and the stuffed piquillo peppers, which are simple but fab.

Aug 03, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

San Jose Little Portugal – Mayolo’s Market, Café Docanto, Popular Bakery

Assume you mean 9 Islands Cafe/Bakery, 1 Padre Pkwy
Rohnert Park, CA? We stopped in last year. Very small, sells out fast. At 4p all that was left was:
- Small frozen meat section. They rotate brands of linguica and chorizo, so we bought a couple we'd never seen before. But the ones (was it Melanie Wong? can't remember) described in a previous CH thread, weren't available that day.
- Huge plastic bags of day-old bread and buns. I mean, huge; like restaurant quantity. If you wanted 6 dozen buns at once, they had them! There was only one kind of bread and one kind of bun, but a whole lot of massive bags.
- 1 small countertop refrigerated case with individual dessert cakes and tarts.

That was it. We'll stop in again sometime just to see what brands of chorizo they have in stock, and maybe try a pastry or two. But it's literally a 5-min stop, no more. If you can get there early, they probably have more products available.

Aug 03, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

NAPA/SONOMA :: 1 Day Trip

I'd second Sonoma with a couple of caveats: Sonoma is really big, MUCH bigger than Napa. Sonoma needs to be divided into sections to be easily drivable without going nuts. There is more commuter traffic in/out of SF through Sonoma's Hwy 101 route. Plus, CalTRANS is working on Hwy 101 around Petaluma and sometimes the lanes are restricted, making a traffic mess when it happens (511 can be your best friend). There's also a project going on at Hwy 12, I believe. 12 is a 2-lane road so it's backed up at times, being a major East/West artery.

Where are you starting from in SF? If you're in Fisherman's Wharf or the Marina, it's a breeze to go over the GG Bridge/Sonoma Cty. Conversely if you're starting from downtown it's easier to go over the Bay Bridge to Napa. Don't underestimate traffic in SF; it's a difficult city to drive in at the best of times and for someone who's unfamiliar with the city, can be harrowing/frustrating. It can sometimes take 1/2 hr or more to get across town, and when you've been driving/drinking all day, that's an important consideration. We want you to be able to come back someday!

Robert L. recommended Domaine Carneros which is on Hwy 12, halfway between Napa and the City of Sonoma/Sonoma Square. I would say if you go to D.Carneros, Sonoma Square (actually, its true name is Sonoma Plaza but most refer to it as the Square) is within 20 mins and one of the most charming places in the entire county to eat, drink, and shop. There are 14 wine-tasting rooms along the Square just by itself, as well as excellent places to eat like Cafe La Haye, Girl & Fig, La Salette.

A lot of people recommend Fremont Diner, but you should note they like it for breakfast. We tried it for lunch and thought it was awful: big portions of overly greasy food. On the weekdays (at least when we went in May 2014) they stop serving breakfast at 11:30a. If you are eating lunch, there are much better places to choose.

If you are going to the Napa side, a stop by Oxbow Market with its many food vendors is one of the less pricey meals, but they are crowded at peak hours. Try to narrow down what you want to do, because it's impossible to do Napa and Sonoma AND a couple of wine tours AND a bunch of tastings AND some food AND….well, you get the idea. Distances and traffic are major obstacles in CA; it's better to pick just 2-3 things for a day, and make those the most enjoyable choices for everyone.

Aug 03, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Is "calamari steak" available in SF?

Yes, we love calamari steak also! Sad that it's hard to find these days. So much better than all the tasteless babies that get batter-crusted and then fried to death.

Should you ever be in the East Bay, The Fat Lady in Oakland does a very fine version. FL is near Jack London Square.

Aug 03, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Le Dix-Sept Pâtisserie/SF gets plug in WSJournal

WSJ is subscription only, so I won't bother posting a link to the article, just to the patisserie's website. WSJ highlighted Le Dix-Sept Pâtisserie's nougat bars. These are under the "Shop" tab, while savories and other bakery goodies are under the "Menu.." tab.

The article says:
"...For many Americans, nougat is the commercial-grade, sticky-sweet layer inside a Snickers or Milky Way. But in Europe, the confection is an entirely different affair: a treat in itself, typically made with egg whites, nuts, and honey or sugar, available in varied colors and textures. San Francisco's Le Dix-Sept Pâtisserie has been sharing its elevated version with the Bay Area since launching last April and is now selling nationwide. Le Dix-Sept's chefs Michelle Hernandez and Cyril Bermond base their method on the traditional French technique, playing with cooking temperature to achieve a "pillowy" base. A classic white variety amped up with local honey (a wildflower or, on occasion, an orange-blossom varietal) includes almonds, cacao nibs and dried mango. A less-expected chocolate nougat comes studded with pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts and dried black mission figs. Ms. Hernandez pairs the candies with cheese—a dry, salty one for the white nougat and a blue Stilton for the chocolate. They're equally delicious folded into ice cream or enjoyed solo. Nougat Blanc and Chocolat, $8 each."
Le Dix-Sept Pâtisserie's website (with buying info): http://ledixsept.com/pages/about

Aug 01, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area

Eating out in Healdsburg

I think it's a matter of style. We've been to Barndiva twice and dinner the second time was a disaster. First time we've ever been disappointed in sweetbreads. And the leeks - ugh. Drowned in way too much butter. We go through a ton of butter and cream in our kitchen but this was just gag-worthy.

Spoonbar, OTOH, was fresh, light, and beautifully balanced food. Reminded us of Aubergine in L'Auberge Carmel.

We liked Bravas a lot more when they first opened than now. The food is still good, but like all the Stark restaurants, it has slipped after the first year. Quality of ingredients is very high, but dishes are noticeably "wetter", probably in response to what Americans expect. Loved the sherry flights, though!

Jul 31, 2014
jaiko in San Francisco Bay Area