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Chowdown at Boiling BeiJing [San Bruno]

Thanks hyperbowler for organizing! Great to see familiar faces and some new ones as well.

As mentioned by others, quite a few items were not available: peking duck, frog dry pot, pea shoots. But overall we had an excellent dinner with several surprises since what we expected often wasn't what was served.

Soy sauce braised pork: Thought this would be pork shoulder but surprised when cubes of pork belly with potatoes and carrots covered in a brown gravy came out, almost like beef stew, with streamed broccoli on the side. The belly was tender and succulent, and the potatoes and carrots went well with the sauce.

Jian Bing Guo Zi: I've had this on the streets of Beijing where it's more of a eggy crepe wrapped around a crispy wafer, but this was more of jian bing you tiao: a thin eggy sheet wrapped around fried crullers. My least favorite dish of the night: the crullers were quite dry, and the egg sheets didn't add much flavor.

Dumplings in Chili Oil: Normally this is served with wontons so we were surprised when it came with chive/shrimp/pork dumplings, similar to normal boiled dumplings but covered with chili oil, what seemed to be a soybean-based chili sauce, scallions and lots of sesame seeds. I love chives and enjoyed this quite a bit.

Numbing Spicy Shrimp: The waiter highly recommended the spicy chicken hot pot but we opted for the shrimp instead as he said it had more of a Sichuan peppercorn flavor. We thought this would be a wet pot so were (again) surprised when it came out as a dry pot. Decent rendition though not very spicy.

Cold Cucumber: Not as garlicky as I like but had a sweet vinegar flavor which contrasted well with our other heavier dishes.

Knife-Shaved Noodles: Not quite as toothsome as most knife-shaved noodles and the saucing was a tad strong, but I liked how they didn't overload it with too much meat/veggies and let the noodles shine.

Husband & Wife: One of the best renditions I've had with tender tripe, brisket and I think tendon all mixed together in a lightly spicy chili oil. The different textures and flavors mixed extremely well together.

Cumin Lamb: Came at the end so was rather full by then. Very respectable rendition with lots of leeks, but much less cumin-y than the cumin bombs I'm used to when ordering this.

Dessert mochi & pumpkin mochi: I expected more like Japanese mochi but these were like lightly deep-fried Chinese buns (without the extra batter one would associate with, say, deep-fried Twinkies). The white ones were like normal Chinese red-bean buns but with rice flour mixed with the wheat flour for the bun, then deep fried for a crispy exterior. The pumpkin one was a flat red-bean bun with pumpkin mixed with the rice flour for the exterior, flattened, and then lightly deep fried. As the waiter recommended, these must be eaten warm! Great to have something different from the usual dessert.

Croatia Trip Report: Rovinj, Plitvice, Trogir, Hvar, Ston, Dubrovnik

This trip report is a bit late since we went last May, but hopefully it's useful. We spent 9 days driving from the north (Rovinj) to the south (Dubronvik) and loved it!

Lovor Grill, Rovinj (lunch): We rode our bikes here and stopped as it was where we wanted to turn around. Had burgers and local fried fish (sardines) -- the meal was nothing special.

Kantinon, Rovinj (dinner): Our concierge recommended this restaurant as it's the more casual restaurant of a well-known local chef. Cool pubby atmosphere, interesting menu but the flavors were a bit boring in the end.

Pod Napun, Motovun (lunch): Lovely lunch on an outdoors terrace with expansive views of the truffle forests at the base of the town. Gigantic sandwiches and good truffle pasta & cheese.

Hotel Jezero Restaurant, Plitvice Lakes (dinner): Big unattractive hotel restaurant. We looked forward to trying the local trout, but while it tasted very fresh, the flavors didn't stand out. Overall fine but nothing special.

Konoba TRS, Trogir (dinner): Such a pretty restaurant on the inside, with stone walls and white billowy fabric on the ceiling. The menu is quite large and sounded wonderful with many dishes we didn't see elsewhere, but many of the dishes didn't quite live up to the promise. The exception were the amazing fresh langoustines -- super fresh and sweet.

Konoba Menegro, Hvar (lunch): The owner recommended that he chose the menu for us, which was a huge mistake. We received two fisherman's appetizers platters -- overpriced, too much of the same things, and honestly not that tasty. The other dishes were fine but the whole meal felt much more expensive than it should be. That said, it's in a cute little building along one of Hvar's many step-streets.

Konoba Gojava, Hvar (dinner): Without a doubt, the best meal of our trip. Lovely atmosphere, dining on the actual step-street looking down at Hvar harbor. The menu items were the same as through much of Dalmatia but everything had more pop. Risotto was delicious, as were the seafood stews. Langoustines not as tasty as TRS but overall an excellent meal.

Sucaraj (lunch): Can't remember the name of this restaurant but there weren't many in the tiny town of Sucaraj. This was on the other side of the harbor from the ferry dock. Had a delicious (and reasonably priced) seafood plate lunch of grilled fish, squid, scampi and langoustines.

Bota Sare, Ston (light dinner): Being hungry after climbing the Ston walls, we feasted on the local oysters, brodet, buzara. A bit pricey but satisfying.

Konoba Ribar, Dubrovnik (lunch): We wanted to like this restaurant but overall it was disappointing. The risotto was especially bad, being gummy and tasteless.

Restaurant Komin, Dubrovnik (dinner): Since we weren't able to get peka on Hvar, I searched for where we could get it in Dubrovnik and went out of way here, ordering both the veal peka and octopus peka. The veal peka was very rich and a bit dry. The octopus peka was mostly overcooked, being totally burnt in many areas, but the edible pieces were delicious. Not worth the trip from Old Town.

Restaurant Kapun, Dubrovnik (lunch): Our "Game of Thrones" tour guide recommended this nice restaurant right across from the church. Excellent meal, especially their signature capons. The truffle dessert sounds better than it actually is; avoid.

Apr 03, 2015
PekoePeony in Europe

Vail/Beaver Creek Trip Report

This is from a ski trip at the end of February, but I figured better late than never. We first skied two days in Vail (rented a townhouse in Avon) and then two days in Beaver Creek (staying at the Park Hyatt).

Alehouse at Amato's (dinner): After a big delay at the airport, we wanted to grab something quick in Denver itself. Since we had a big group, it was late, people liked beer, and it was close to the highway, we ended up here. The charcuterie plate was quite good but the other dishes were so-so. Would skip.

Terra Bistro (dinner): While the menu sounded interesting, the actual dishes weren't so much. Overall fine but nothing special, and they had quite a long wait in between courses.

Two Elk Restaurant (lunch on Vail Mountain): Soaring ceilings, the ubiquitous (in ski resorts) deer antler chandeliers, huge and bustling. Food was pretty good for a ski resort, but overpriced as always.

Terrace at Mid-Vail (lunch on Vail Mountain): Avoid this like the plague. No lines and plenty of space to sit, but the food here was quite bad. Perhaps it would be better on the upper floor?

Metropolitan (dinner): This casual, somewhat trendy tapas bar would be at home in a bigger town than tiny Beaver Creek village. Both food and drinks were quite good.

Beano's Cafe (dinner on Beaver Creek Mountain): During the day this is a members-only club, but at night, normal folks can make reservations to be hauled up in a snowcat-drawn "sleigh". I was honestly pretty skeptical but quite pleasantly surprised. The "sleigh" was rather large and could carry over 20 passengers, but the ride up the mountain was a unique adventure, though it snowed like crazy on the way back and we all got drenched. The rustic lodge was very atmospheric with views over Larkspur Mountain. The three-course meal was better than it needed to be for such a touristy place, and overall we were quite pleased with it. Recommend going for an earlier dinner since you can't see the view in the dark.

Talon's Restaurant (lunch on Beaver Creek Mountain): I was honestly shocked by how good this on-mountain restaurant was -- lots of unique offerings, and what I tried was delicious. Probably the best ski resort food I've had, though that's a low bar :)

Apr 03, 2015
PekoePeony in Mountain States

Top 4 Must Eats in Beaver Creek

These are not quite in BC: Sweet Basil is in Vail, Boxcar is in Avon town and Minturn is of course in Minturn. In Beaver Creek village itself we really liked the Metropolitan, and surprisingly (had low expectations) enjoyed Beano's Cabin too. For the latter, we went in snowy February so not sure how it is in the Spring since the atmosphere is a big part, but the food was actually quite decent.

Apr 03, 2015
PekoePeony in Mountain States

Avon, Co suggestions please

We were there for skiing at the end of February. Although we stayed 3 nights in Avon, we didn't eat in the town itself but instead drove to Vail. We stayed also two nights in Beaver Creek -- highly recommend The Metropolitan in Beaver Creek Village. We also enjoyed Beano's Cabin but that was in the winter; not sure if it will be as interesting in the summer.

Apr 03, 2015
PekoePeony in Mountain States

VitaMix Blender, is it worth it?

I struggled with this question myself since we also have a normal blender and a juicer, but after I started paying $5/day for fresh smoothies at work, I realized I could super easily do this at home with a super blender. We bought both the VitaMix 5200 and the Blendtec from Costco and did a trial run on them -- we liked both but ended up returning the Vitamix since it was a little more expensive, plus we liked the convenience of the preset buttons in the Blendtec. I had really thought we would prefer the Vitamix but honestly they both blend really well. The Blendtec is more compact and easier for us with the buttons (didn't need to figure out when to turn on low vs high), but I can see why some people prefer the Vitamix. We make smoothies, sauces, and many other things with it -- use it more than we anticipated. Recommended.

Dec 04, 2014
PekoePeony in Cookware

Little Sichuan - San Mateo

Agree -- Little Sichuan serves some tasty food! Now that I work nearby, I get takeout often, which is saying something considering all the other restaurants in the area. Their (warm) sliced garlic pork is heavenly!

Belmont Greek Festival?

We went on Sunday at lunchtime. At the cooking demo, they gave samples of the giant white beans stewed in tomato paste; while it looked simple, it was amazing. Based on reviews, we got the lamb chops ($16 for 3 chops, $20 for 4) which was a bit dry but had good flavor, and came with creamy cheesy rice and a nice cucumber/tomato/onion/olive salad. The loukoumades were delicious.

We were super curious about the whole roast lamb which was served at 5.30pm, so we left and then came by around 5.45pm for takeout. The roast lamb line was quite long -- we waited about 45 minutes with the constant worry of the lamb running out. For $20 they don't give much lamb, so we thought it was overpriced and wouldn't buy it again. That said, it was nicely tender but definitely needed more salt / spices. We wish they would give some skin but no such luck.

Ramen Street Festival part of J-Pop Summit, SF Japantown July 19-20, 2014!

Four of us went on Saturday and it was a madhouse. One got in line for the Horaiya miso ramen at 10.30am and didn't get a bowl til 12.30pm (2 hrs). I got in line for the Mattou Seimen spicy ramen at 11am and was the first to get a bowl at 12pm (1 hr). One started waiting for the ramen burger at 10.45 am but gave up at 12.15pm. The unluckiest of us started waiting for Tatsunoya at 11.15am and didn't get a bowl til 3.30pm (over 4 hrs). We shared bowls (1/2 bowl each) and overall enjoyed them, but the wait was definitely too long.

The spicy ramen was salty but the broth had an oily richness redolent of Sichuan peppercorns, and the noodles stayed firm even after some wait; sadly they had run out of the roast pork topping ($2 extra) by the time I ordered. It was probably my favorite since it was different. The Horaiya miso was the least favorite of the three we tried, but still good -- there was a dab of extra miso at the bottom so you needed to stir the soup to mix it in. The Tatsunoya ramen had thinner noodles than the other two and the salt levels were better managed; the tonkotsu was rich but not the tongue-coating fat-bomb I'm partial too, but quite delicious. We didn't bother with Men Oh since I've already tried the SF outlet, nor with Monta since I've visited their Vegas location (though the soup they served at the festival seemed to be a special version).

The festival is coming to San Jose in October and will hopefully be better managed then since there should be more space; one of the biggest issues was that it was so crowded that no one knew where the lines were.

One Dinner in SF - Where and Why?

If I were an out-of-towner, I would try someplace that feels uniquely San Franciscan (or at least northern Californian). Many of the other restaurants mentioned good food but it's not special or unique. Not sure if you were thinking of the East Bay, but I would go for Chez Panisse -- such a classic! Don't get me wrong, I love Coi, Crenn, Perbacco, etc but they could be in NYC.

9 Days in Big Island Report

We spent 3 nights in Hilo, 4 nights in Waikoloa, and 3 nights in Kona.


KEN'S HOUSE OF PANCAKES, HILO: For breakfast we ordered mac nut pancakes, coconut pancakes, plain pancakes, and an omelet. We enjoyed sampling the different syrups (guava, passionfruit, coconut, etc), but would skip the coconut pancakes next time. Huge menu, food was fine but not worth going back to.

HILO LUNCH STOP, HILO: Despite our being from CA (us from SF and our friends from LA), we'd never been to an okazuya before. Definite hole-in-the wall, we had fun picking out the items for our lunch boxes. Lots of variety, and a great option for packed lunches. Maybe it's a Big Island thing, but all the Spam musubis we had (four different places), this included, had too much rice compared to the Spam.

KILAUEA LODGE, VOLCANO: Very solid meal, but not memorable except for the fact we had antelope.

HILO FARMERS MARKET: Spent a fun couple of hours at the Saturday farmers market, snacking away on the fruit, musubis (hot dog! Korean chicken!), papaya salads, etc here. One of our best purchases was a bottle of Hawaiian chili water which we lugged around the rest of the island and used to spice up all our at-home meals (esp breakfasts).

LOW INTERNATIONAL FOOD, HILO: Picked up some of their famous rainbow and guava bread. Very faint fruit flavor in the bread, though it was soft and sweet.

TWO LADIES KITCHEN, HILO: Awesome mochi!!! The fresh strawberry with red bean mochi was amazing -- highly recommended!

CAFE PESTO, HILO: Fine meal, nothing special. Fish slightly overcooked.

BIG ISLAND CANDIES, HILO: Huge touristy store. Chocolates are overly sweet but boy those shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate are delicious, and make great gifts.

POKE TO YOUR TASTE, HILO: A total hole in the wall. We came here since Suisun was closed on a Sunday and there wasn't much open. Limited selection of poke (only six or seven) but good kimchi shrimp poke, plus their ahi tasted very fresh. As the name implies, for their plain & shoyi ahi poke, you add your own ingredients such as fresh garlic,seaweed, etc to it.

HIRO'S PLACE, HILO: Another place we visited on a Sunday when other places (Kawamoto's) were closed. In the same shopping plaza as KTA. A lunch counter for takeout, chicken katsu is their speciality -- food was fine but preferred the selection at Hilo Lunch Stop.


TEX'S DRIVE IN, HONOKAA: Good masaladas but try to come earlier in the day when more flavors are available. Also offer a serviceable selection of Hawaiian plate lunches.

DA FISH LUNCH WAGON, KAWAIHAE: Converted minibus serving fish tacos and fish plates in a gravel parking lot not far from Spencer Beach. Tasty and large fish tacos, but not traditional.

ANUENUE SHAVE ICE, KAWAIHAE: Across the street from the lunch wagon. Huge selection of flavors including untraditional ones like ginger lemongrass, lavender lemonade (recommended), red velvet. etc. A great find!

MONSTERA, WAIKOLOA (MAUNA LANI): Distinctly unimpressed by their Chuck Norris roll, but their cooked items (homestyle Korean/Japanese fusion) quite a bit! One of our favorite meals of the trip.

MERRIMAN'S MARKET CAFE, WAIKOLOA (KING'S SHOPS): Came in for a late lunch and generally found the food to be pretty bland. One of our least favorite meals of the trip.

ROY'S, WAIKOLOA (QUEEN'S SHOPS): Always a reliable choice, but didn't seem any different from Roy's on the other islands, though a few more local fish options than Roy's on the mainland.


UMEKE'S, KONA: Our favorite of the poke shops we tried, partly due to their friendliness, such as letting me put in two 1/2 scoops of poke for my lunch bowl (which Da Poke Shack wouldn't let us do). Good selection of 12 pokes and six side dishes.

RAY'S ON THE BAY, KEAUHOU (SHERATON): We came for a late dinner after our manta ray snorkel/dive (amazing!!) since we were staying here and not much was open. Only their late night menu was available, but it was better than expected and the service was super nice. Plus, seeing the mantas gliding through the water and flipping their wings up was really cool!

DA POKE SHACK, KONA: Large selection of poke and side dishes too.

RAPANUI, KONA: Great food but the service was pretty unfriendly, which soured us to the experience. Recommend making reservations as it's a small restaurant.

KA'ALOA'S SUPER J'S, CAPTAIN COOK: The most shady-looking of the hole-in-the-walls of our trip, we would have missed it if it wasn't for our GPS. But OMG, the absolute BEST laulau's we've ever had!!! They offer two flavors: chicken and pork. The chicken is good but the pork is AMAZING. Highly recommended.

MIKE'S TWISTED PRETZELS, KONA: Mike is a reallys sweet guy but sadly his pretzels weren't all that. They were bread, not pretzels. Not even pretzel bread, but bread.

QUINN'S ALMOST BY THE SEA, KONA: Our beach boys in Waikoloa highly recommended this local place so we checked it out. Their fish & chips were pretty good, but I would avoid any "special dishes of the evening" that they were experimenting with, as I didn't like my crusted & seared ono sashimi at all.

Jan 29, 2014
PekoePeony in Hawaii

Where can I get pasta with uni / sea urchin this weekend?

Not in SF, but Usagi in San Mateo has a tasty uni risotto.

Representative winery itinerary for short Napa trip

Try to schedule your winery visits so that each day you focus on one small area so you don't spend a lot of time backtracking. Also while the wineries on Hwy 29 are pretty easy / fast to get to, if you go into the mountains like for Pride it takes a while. Also if you want to maximize number of wineries, then try to minimize on appointment-only places as it puts you in a time-crunch / schedule maintenance which can be a hassle to manage.

I'm a big fan of Duckhorn/Paraduxx. I'd just do Pride & skip Spring Mountain, but honestly if it's your first Napa visit and you're short of time, I'm not sure I'd go to either as the appointment-only is a hassle. Artesa is pretty but the wines aren't my favorite. If you're somewhat knowledgeable about wine, I really like the blend classes (I've tried the ones at Paraduxx & Franciscan) -- downside is that they're appt only and take quite a bit of time (~2 hours), but it's really cool to have such a hands-on class and learn about wine blending.

Sichuan Chowdown at Mandarin Gourmet Palo Alto

A couple more dishes:

Cumin Lamb
Sesame Ball Soup

Sichuan Chowdown at Mandarin Gourmet Palo Alto

Thanks for starting the thread!! Photos from the chowdown are posted here:

I think all of us had pretty low expectations as Mandarin Gourmet is not known as a Sichuan restaurant, but we were all very pleasantly surprised and pleased with our meal. Thanks to the incomparable Ms. Wong for organizing!

We ordered exclusively from their 1.5 pages of Sichuanese offerings and found almost everything to be far superior to nearby Fey Restaurant in Menlo Park, where many of us attended the recent chowdown. Spiciness level was moderate even when asked to make things "extra spicy", but many dishes had good heat -- personally I like this level but others may prefer spicier. My take on the dishes:

- Tendon appetizer: Could be thinner but still a good rendition with a nice amount of Sichuan peppercorns
- Chongqing chicken: Served bone-in with crispy skin and good flavor
- Eggplant: I think I'm the only one who really liked this dish, but I guess I'm a sucker for breaded & crispy, deep fried foods with a soft & mushy interior. Quite different from the usual rendtions of this dish, with a thicker breading and heavier sauce

- Sliced pork appetizer: Same sauce as the cucumber but the sweetness worked better here.
- Hot & Spicy beef combo appetizer
- Cold shredded bean curd: Elegant cold "noodles" of tofu; refreshing.
- Poached beef in chili oil: Not as spicy as the barely-edible versions at Little Sichuan and the like
- Fish fillet in Chili Pepper Soup: Not sure why they initially gave us a slotted spoon to serve as the soup was tasty. Wish there were more noodles
- Pickled Mustard in Fish Fillet Soup: I love this dish wherever I go, hard to go wrong
- Dan dan noodles: More sweet & soy-saucy than I expected. Still tasty but not quite what I think of for dan-dan noodles
- Shredded potato: After many disappointing versions at other Sichuan restaurants, the one here was full of flavor, though a less vinegary than I expected
- Ma Po Tofu: The spiciest dish of the evening, ordered with beef instead of pork
- Sesame Ball Soup: The only dish were Fey's rendition was superior. Still tasty, but with thicker skins in the mochi and a less pronounced sesame flavor


- Cucumber appetizer: Barely spicy, strangely sweet, with a slight aftertaste of sichuan peppercorns.
- Pork kidney: While many 'hounds liked this, I'm personally not a fan of kidney and this didn't convert me
- Pickled Chili with Baby Cuttlefish: The baby cuttlefish were super cute but this dish wasn't otherwise memorable
- Cabbage: Good but nothing special

Old(more than 6 months) Kimchee ideas?

When kimchi gets old, it just gets more sour but it's still edible. However I prefer my kimchi fresh (I make my own), so when it gets old my go-to dishes are:

- Kimchi jigae (pork & tofu kimchi stew -- delicious on a cold day!)
- Kimchi fried rice
- bi bim bap
- kimchi pancake (savory version like seafood pancake, not sweet version like breakfast pancakes)

Since it's on the sour side, you can use it much like a spicy sauerkraut.

Chowdown at Fey Restaurant [Menlo Park]

Fifteen hounds just spent an enjoyable dinner at the recently opened Fey Restaurant in Menlo Park. The jaunt was organized by our intrepid leader hyperbowler who had dropped by earlier in the week to discover the day's specials. As others have mentioned, Fey has some connection with Little Sichuan in San Mateo and the now-closed Classic Sichuan in Millbrae, as I recognized the lady owner upon walking in since I was a frequent diner at the other two restaurants.

Despite its petite and drab looking exterior, the restaurant is surprisingly long and elegant inside, with booths in front and round banquet tables in back. Our group took two of the tables in the way back; I'm listing the dishes at what I'll call Table #1 and hope someone from Table #2 will chime in on what they ordered.

Table #1:

#26 Five Delight Combo Cold Platter ($23.95)
#42 Smoked Tofu Pork with Sichuan Pickles ($9.50)
#48 Xinjiang Fried Cumin Lamb ($11.95)
#134 Spicy Sichuan Cold Noodles with Minced Pork ($7.95)
#150 Sichuan Dry Cooked Chicken Wings ($9.95)
#154 Steamed Powdery Tender Spareribs ($9.95)
#158 Spicy Boiled Tender Fish ($11.95)
Special: Ribs with Stir Fried Sichuan Salty Long Beans ($13.95)
Special: Pea Sprouts with Garlic ($12.95)
Special: Chongqing Dry Pot Yellow Croaker ($15.95)
Special: Sichuan Twice Cooked Tofu (forgot to charge us)
Dessert: Sesame Rice Balls ($8.95)
Dessert: Golden Red Bean Cake ($3 each)

Photos of each dish are here:

The noodles came out first, bland and severely lacking in any ma or la. Fortunately this gave us the opportunity to tell the waitress that we wanted the rest of our dishes to be spicy, really spicy! While the subsequent dishes improved in both the heat and numbing department, nothing was anything close to spicy except for in the yellow croaker dish.

I'll let the others chime in first with their comments on each dish. Service was slow; it took us almost an hour after sitting down before we were able to order. At slightly before 7pm on a Thursday, our group was one of the first to arrive but the restaurant quickly filled up afterwards. That said, due to the slow service, we were one of the last to leave a little after 9.30. Other than being slow, our waitress was quite helpful, suggesting we order the twice-cooked tofu dish (one of our favorites) and helping us with other ordering suggestions.

This was my first Chowdown in many years and it was great to see old faces and meet new ones. While the meal at Fey was middle-of-the-road fine with its muted spicing and more mainstream flavors, it's a great option for that stretch of the Peninsula which is severely lacking in regional Chinese cuisine.

Trip Report: Passport to Dry Creek Valley 2013

We rent a van for the weekend at SFO and have a designated driver (and pay for his/her Passport ticket). This year due to the size of the group we had to rent two vans, but it worked out pretty well and is pretty economical.

We went to Optima our very first year and were unimpressed, but if they're open next year we'll try them again. After 2pm the lines at Rafanelli & Mauriston are quite reasonable, at least on Saturday. Usually we try to hit up the central/southern wineries on Saturday when there are fewer people, and the more northern wineries on Sunday when the 1 day folks are in the central/southern areas.

Trip Report: Passport to Dry Creek Valley 2013

My favorite wine festival of all time is the annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley, centered around Healdsburg. This was my fifth year in a row going, and with 50+ wineries available, I'm always puzzled why 'hounds don't talk about it more unless it's to keep it a hidden secret since tickets often sell out. To help others who may be going in the future, here's my take on this year's fest.

KOKOMO (3rd year): Since Kokomo, Papapietro Perry, Amphora, Peterson, and Family are all in the same complex, we've found that choosing a starting winery at one of those is ideal with large groups so that you can all start in the same area. Our group of 17 started Day 1 of Passport at Kokomo, which has friendly staff, strong whites/rose, and tasty comfort food (mini corn dog muffins, meatloaf).

PETERSON (3rd year): Since it's in the same complex, we stopped by for some simple and well-prepared Mexican food. Unfortunately their wine this and last time have not been memorable.

PAPAPIETRY PERRY (3rd year): The most popular of the wineries in the complex, Papapietro Perry always offers excellent pinots and zins. Although most wineries offer multiple bites for the food pairing, PPP usually offers just one rather homey snack, but it's always surprisingly delicious!

A. RAFANELLI (5th year): The only winery we've visited all five years is Rafanelli as it handily wins the "Most Copious Food" award each year with its bountiful Italian spread. The last two years their wine has been disappointing, but this year they came roaring back and also revamped their food offerings to a much more gourmet level with selections such as ahi tuna in seaweed cones instead of more traditional homestyle Italian selections. Unfortunately their portion sizes went down so several of us went back in line for seconds. Tip: avoid Rafanelli between 11.30am and 2pm as the line is super long then!

MAURISTON (3rd year): With Chef Charlie Palmer supplying the food, Mauriston often wins "Best Food" and this year did even better than usual with excellent diver scallop & maine lobster cakes (paired with a sauvignon blanc) which many in our group called the best bite of the weekend, beef short rib sliders (paired with a couple of zins) and a crunchy duck taco (paired with a pinot). The zins at Mauriston were the standouts, but unlike previous years when we could sample even more wines at the tasting room counter, they only allowed that for Wine Club members this year.

WEST (1st visit): We try to visit some new wineries each year (there are still about a dozen we haven't been to), and West was a newbie as it's been only their second year at Passport. The servers were quite spiffy in their white tuxes matching the Casablanca theme, and they served a comforting lamb tagine to pair with their Cabs.

STEPHEN & WALKER (2nd year): The copious Hog Island oysters and delicious pizzas at S&W are making a serious claim for must-visit status. They also offer one of the largest selection of Passport wines for tasting, with over 11 different types poured by very friendly staff.

ALDERBROOK (1st visit): We capped Day 1 with our first visit to Alderbrook which featured a Las Vegas theme and amazing $50/case deals (yes, per CASE, not bottle!) of some of their older (2001-2006) wines! While their vino wasn't amazing, for just over $4/bottle it was a crazy good deal and we walked away with several cases. With poker, karaoke, beanbag toss and a nice yard overlooking the winery, Alderbrook was the perfect chill end to a busy day!

FERRARI-CARANO (3rd visit): Without a doubt, FC wins the "Most Beautiful Winery" category with their amazing gardens, Italianate mansion, and beautiful cellar room. They have a huge selection of whites, but the happy surprise was their Baci, a sweet zin infused with dark chocolate which was just okay on its own but became a joy in the mouth when paired with the dark chocolate and cherry biscotti.

DUTCHER CROSSING (2nd visit): Decent wine & food in a pretty setting. The only winery we visited this trip to offer port. They also offered a couple of promising barrel tastings.

FRICK (4th visit): One of our must-visits is this small winery offering unique varietals like Cinsault, Carignane, and Viognier. Bill Frick, the winemaker, was also very present and happy to chat.

BELLA (3rd visit): One of our favorite wineries is Bella which as usual wins for "Best Theme", this year (and last) featuring fairy tales, complete with a princess and her frog, a hatter with his tea party, and an elegantly decorated cave with a harpist. We loved the Lily Hill zin, the entertainment and the chocolate petit-four served with their late harvest zin.

ZICHICHI (2nd year): Four delicious wines were offered for barrel tasting this year. Unfortunately we were pretty tipsy by this time and I can't remember anything else.

GOPFRICH (1st visit): With lots of seating, a smooth crooning singer, and a very chill atmosphere, Gopfrich was a wonderful spot for us to take a little break. Five wines were poured and paired with Cuban meatballs, pulled pork sliders, and a chocolate hazelnut trifle.

MICHEL-SCHLUMBERGER (2nd year): This year's theme was Spain, and this pretty winery's pork skewers were quite tasty. I enjoyed the cucumber & grape gazpacho to escape the hot summer day, but others weren't as impressed.

MAZZOCCO (3rd year): Mazzocco was the last stop of our weekend and featured Peru with the food of Chef Iskander from Radio Africa & Kitchen (a favorite restaurant of mine), llamas, and a Peruvian band and dancer. Mazzocco usually has a huge range of absolutely delicious zins, and we often buy one of their whites as well. This year we liked their Gew├╝rztraminer (which we don't think we've seen before at Mazzocco) and had a tough time picking from all the great barrel tastings.

Photos from our weekend:

The one must-visit winery we skipped this year was Seghesio, partly due to our having so many newbies in our group that we did more revisiting than usual, and also due to their increasingly crowded atmosphere.

Overall we had a great time as usual and plan on going again next year!

Charlie Palmer Steak Cut of the Week--A Simply Superb Steal

Thanks for posting; perhaps the actual cut makes a big difference. We went a couple years ago and the option that night was flatiron which we thought was just okay. The price is good but the food quality wasn't worth going out of our way. We may try again if wagyu stripsteak comes up again.

Mar 29, 2013
PekoePeony in Las Vegas

Kabuto Review with photos

Thanks for posting. We're always looking for new restaurants to try, esp off Strip, as we go about 2-4x/year for fun. Will check it out next month!

Mar 29, 2013
PekoePeony in Las Vegas

Playa del Carmen / Cancun Trip Report: Feb 2013

Unfortunately they didn't have conch when we were there -- I asked.

Mar 14, 2013
PekoePeony in Mexico

March 2013 Trip Report: G&TG, Next, Alinea, Aviary, Publican

Just returned to SF from a long weekend dining and drinking around Chicago. Thanks to everyone who helped with our trip planning, especially nsxtascy!

GIRL & THE GOAT: Loved the confit goat belly, the green beans, and the miso-butterscotch budino; thought the pig face, wood fired oysters, and crudo were okay. Several dishes were overly salty -- we wish we ordered bread. Service was surprisingly good for a restaurant with such a boozy young vibe; we'd definitely revisit to try more items, especially on the goat menu as we rarely get goat outside of Jamaican restaurants.

HOT DOUGS: I thought this would be a "one time visit" but the dogs and toppings were really delicious!! Four of us finished 8 varieties of dogs. Favorites: foie gras, bridget bardot, paul frank. Wouldn't order again: rabbit, duck fat fries & the cheese fries (the fries were limp; you can get better duck fat fries in Vegas). At 1pm on a Friday, the line was not too bad; we only had to wait about 15 minutes. I would definitely return.

SABLE: We stopped by for pre-dinner drinks. Very impressive cocktail menu and drinks, and the food looked and smelled delicious as it went by. Next visit we'll try to visit for dinner.

NEXT: The whole reason for our trip was to go to Next! The food had its ups (mushroom consomme) and downs (veggie charcuterie on birch bark, squab) but as far as concept and entertainment, it was worth the money. However the service was very disappointing -- I'd classify many of the servers as "socially awkward", and about half the time our drink glasses were empty. Also we were distinctly unimpressed with both the nonalcoholic pairing and the reserve wine pairing -- next time we'd likely just stick with the free water.

BARRELHOUSE FLATS: Post-Next we took a taxi to Barrelhouse Flats for drinks since it was open past 2am. Also a very extensive cocktail menu and good drinks, but we didn't like it as much as Sable, perhaps since half our party was too tired.

GIORDANOS: We dropped by for Saturday lunch with a largish group including a couple of kids. If you arrive before noon there was no wait, but afterwards it filled up. We ordered the Chicago Classic and Meat & More Meat stuffed pizzas, as well as a Harvest Salad. The stuffed pizzas didn't seem as unique / different as the deep dish pizza did at Gino's East, and I didn't enjoy them.

ALINEA: We were able to snag a same day table at Alinea, and they were even so gracious as to add one more person to our table at the last minute so we had a 5-top instead of a 4-top. The menu was considerably condensed from when we last visited 3 years ago, which was disappointing as the price was the same, but the food and service was stellar as always. Wine pairings here were also much better than at Next. Alinea is one of our favorite restaurants and after this visit, will continue to be.

AVIARY: Since our dinner at Alinea ended in 3.5 hours instead of the 5 hour meal like last time, we swung by Aviary to see if they would still let us in as we had a reservation earlier in the night. It was surprisingly not that busy, and six of us ordered 3 Kitchen Table menus for sharing. Most of the portion sizes for the KT menu were about 1/3 the size of normal drinks, so it would be very doable to finish. In fact we ordered two more drinks at the end to try. We loved the experience but it was pretty pricey, to say the least. Don't come here on a full stomach as we couldn't finish all the bites, though they were tiny.

Favorites were the hot chocolate, the chocolate brioche bite, and the wagyu bite.

MR BEEF: We wanted to sample Italian beef and this place wasn't too far from our hotel. The beef was nice and meaty, and the bread not overly soggy. The spicy peppers gave a nice kick but I wish there were more, and the sweet pepper was negligent. Overall a tasty sandwich, and I'm looking forward to trying other renditions next time.

PUBLICAN: Our last meal in the Windy City was dinner at Publican, which was probably (other than Giordanos) the most disappointing meal of our trip. We really wanted to love the restaurant as the style and vibe were so interesting, but the food was just so-so. The best were the crudo, the pork lion, and the fries under the roast chicken. While the chicken itself was perfectly cooked, the flavor wasn't anything to write home about; the cheese powder on the pork rinds was too heavy; and the shaved brussel sprouts were way over dressed.

Overall, though, a terrific weekend in Chicago and we can't wait to go back!

Mar 14, 2013
PekoePeony in Chicago Area

Are reservations needed for The Aviary? (and other suggestions for weekend visit!)

We just went to the Aviary last weekend. Definitely make reservations, but it's a bit strange that they haven't gotten back to you as they always got back to us one day after we contacted them, first to make the reservations and secondly to change the reservation (I moved mine from Thursday eve to Saturday eve).

Also you can order the Kitchen Table menu without sitting at the Kitchen Table, which is what we did. For reference, here's a little blurb on our experience: we had 10pm Sat eve reservations for the Aviary.

On Friday we had dinner at Next but became confused so went to the door for the Aviary instead at 10pm (our reservaiton time) and saw a line to get in.

On Saturday we ended up getting a same day table for Alinea and so I emailed the Aviary to cancel our reservation. Our dinner at Alinea ended earier than expected so we went to the Aviary at 10.45 hoping they'd let us in anyways -- there was no line (maybe the bouncer told everyone to go away?) and they still had our name on the reservation list, so after we explained our situation they let us in. It wasn't that crowded inside, I think you can walk in if you didn't mind standing, but it's good to have a reservation.

There were six of us and we shared 3 Kitchen Table menus between us (we sat a normal table as the KT was occupied). However as we had just finished dining at Alinea, we were pretty stuffed and couldn't eat that much food, though the drinks were tiny (they're small portions). In fact we ordered 2 more drinks to share afterwards.

Mar 14, 2013
PekoePeony in Chicago Area

Are reservations needed for The Aviary? (and other suggestions for weekend visit!)

A tip re: G&TG: if you want to move your reservations to an earlier time, check frequently the night before on opentable. We originally had 10.45pm reservations at G&TG but the eve before, were able to snag a table at 9.30pm instead. So we went last night a little early (arrived around 9.15) but they were still able to seat us right away. So you can try doing that if you don't want to eat too late. We really enjoyed the confit goat belly!

Mar 08, 2013
PekoePeony in Chicago Area

Overwhelmed...need help!

Really great suggestions on this thread. I have to chime in and agree that you MUST go to Katz's -- best pastrami ever (though I wish they had better rye bread like Langer's in LA). And if you like pickles at all, you gotta go to the Pickle Guys -- they're super friendly and will give you a small sample to try if you ask. I bought a small tub of the pickled okra and regretted not buying a huge bottle to take home.

NYC is better than the other locations you're going to try European (esp. Eastern European) & Caribbean food. And you can compare NYC pizza vs Chicago pizza vs SF pizza!

Mar 05, 2013
PekoePeony in Manhattan

Advice on weekend itinerary

Ah, so many choices, so little time!

Moving Giordano's to Sunday is a good idea, especially since on Saturday we're joined by friends who are bringing their kids, so we definitely want to go to a place that takes reservations. For ourselves, we're also leaning towards biting the bullet and renting a car for our whole trip; normally it would be a no-brainer except that parking at the Hyatt is crazy expensive :(

Right now the itinerary is:

- Arrive early afternoon
- Art Institute of Chicago (my fav museum in the world! But then again I grew up in Indiana so part of it could be nostalgia)
- If we're able to move our Second City tickets to 8pm this day, then we'll have a late dinner at the Girl & the Goat. Otherwise we'll try for dinner at Purple Pig, and if the wait is crazy, our backup is Sable

- Chicago Architecture walking tour if we get up in time and it's not too cold
- Snack at Al's Beef while driving to Midway
- Lunch at Hot Doug's (agree it's likely a do-it-once place but we gotta get around to the once sometime)
- Snack/drinks at Purple Pig, Sable or the Violet Hour depending on the time and what we did on Thursday
- Late dinner at Next

- Brunch at either Gage, Sable, Perennial Virant or Atwood Cafe. Which of these has the tastiest brunch?
- If we can't move our Second City tickets, then show @4pm
- Dinner, most likely at Piccolo Sogno
- Drinks at the Aviary

- Lunch at Giordano's
- "Book of Mormon" matinee
- Dinner at Publican

So it seems the only open question is where to go for brunch at a place that takes reservations! :) I'm a little concerned about PV and Gage as the online brunch menus seem limited, which could be an issue when we have a group (8 total including 2 kids) and thus need to please different folks. Or do they also have daily specials to supplement what we see online?

Mar 04, 2013
PekoePeony in Chicago Area

Kiwi visitors with 4 days to eat our way through San Fran...

Good point that Oxbow may be another place to get interesting Latino flavors. Pica Pica offers arepas, a Venezuelan speciality which is hard to find elsewhere, and I had a tasty (but rather unauthentic) crab taco last time I was there at C Casa. That said, the poster is going to NYC and the arepas at Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village are better than at Pica Pica.

As a side note, I was amused last time I was in NYC and saw several restaurants advertise "San Francisco style burritos" as a speciality! So the poster should definitely get a SF burrito while in the Mission; also rather unauthentic in Mexico but it's become something SF is known for :)

Kiwi visitors with 4 days to eat our way through San Fran...

I feel visitors should not get any Dungeness crab prep, but focus on the one served at Vietnamese (and now other) restaurants all over SF and thus can almost be called a local specialty, which is garlic roasted whole crab with a side of garlic noodles. I don't see it elsewhere in the US or Asia like I do here, and honestly prefer our version to others (for example, the Singapore chili crab is too messy & sweet for my taste). But that's just me :)

Now I'm going to lose what little CH credibility I had and suggest another place (which I just remembered) to get this crab, which is The Crab House on ground zero tourist central Pier 39 (you can check out the sea lions while you're there). The crab was surprisingly tasty, and while the garlic noodles are slightly different than the Vietnamese restaurant reps, they're still quite satisfying. My out-of-town family members recommended it so I went recently with my parents and hubby, and they enjoyed it too.

Kiwi visitors with 4 days to eat our way through San Fran...

I actually prefer Burma Superstar over Mandalay and Burmese Kitchen, but as it's been over 3 years since I've dined at any of them, lots could have changed in the interim! However I do agree that Superstar has crazy long lines which make it a poor choice. Make sure to get the tea leaf salad no matter where you go!

Agree that Boudin's chowder is nothing special, and that SF isn't known for chowder. That said, it's your first time in SF and as someone who loves to do cheesy touristy things myself, I think you're absolutely justified in getting a touristy serving of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl while you're in SF! You can have it for lunch or a snack while biking through Fisherman's Wharf, either at Boudin or any of the many stalls along the wharf. Sure it's not gourmet but still fun.

Most of the good Dungeness crab places are sadly out in the Richmond/Sunset like PPQ. The only place I know of close to your hotel is Crustacean, which is the upscale restaurant by the same folks who own Thanh Long, the originator of the SF area Asian roast crab phenom. Most foodies dislike both Crustacean and Thanh Long but my Vietnamese husband loves them; I personally think they're overpriced but the food is fine -- actually prefer their crab & garlic noodles to PPQ's -- so Crustacean may be a good choice as the price difference is probably not worth the hassle of getting to the other side of SF. Wherever you go, make sure to order the garlic noodles too with your crab! Yum.....