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Update post-trip - S.F./Napa/Sonoma reviews

makes sense, Carrie.

If I could do my trip again, I would go for three days, and visit 3-4 wineries, MAX, each day, and allow for a two-hour nap between the last tour and dinner so that I could fully enjoy and appreciate a wonderful dinner experience. doing 5-6 each day was too much. I guess if I was spitting instead of drinking. but I drank.

Nov 19, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Update post-trip - S.F./Napa/Sonoma reviews

So, I’m back from my long-awaited trip. I thought I’d share my thoughts on how the trip worked out, and what we liked and disliked. Hopefully this will help future travelers.

First, the hotel. It was horrific. Horrible. Awful. (Did I mention how bad it was?) We stayed at Hotel Metropolis in S.F. because I had to stay in a budget for the work portion of my trip and I booked via Priceline. It was absolutely the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Horrible rooms, the tub was peeling, the room was shabby, the décor was appalling, but those were the highlights. The worst was the nightly drug deals I witnessed taking place outside the hotel’s front door.

But as for food, we went to A.Q. the first night. It was everything I’d expected. Wonderful service, charming ambiance, wonderful sommelier who went out of his way to give us tastings of other wines to explain the difference to us between earthy and fruit-forward wines. He really took care of us. I was highly impressed. The food was delicious. We had an appetizer of lamb tartare with wheat berries. Yum. Then brussel sprouts with bits of ham. I had the petrale sole. It was incredibly fresh and delicate and savory all at the same time. My boyfriend had the beef tenderloin poached in mushroom tea with a bit of horseradish in the potato dumplings. He loved it. For dessert we shared a deconstructed sweet potato pie. Again, incredible stuff.

The next morning we had brunch at Prospect and, again, we were very content. I had huevos rancheros and my boyfriend had a spinach omelet. We had pumpkin-filled beignets to start with. The food was well-prepared, but the service made it over the top. We had to wait a bit for our food, so the server brought us warm zucchini nut bread to soothe our tummies. The cappuccino was incredible, the coffee freshly roasted. Mmmmm.

We nibbled our way through the city and Sausalito that day, starting with wine at a little spot in Sausalito. Didn’t eat anything other than bread, so no review needed. But then went to Betelnut on a whim (I hadn’t been there in 14 years), for a bourbon cocktail and shrimp and pork dumplings as an appetizer. We enjoyed that, then walked over to A16 for a shared salad and thin-crust pizza. More deliciousness. We enjoyed the setting, altho A16 was quite noisy.

The next night we were in Monterey and so we ate at a place our friends wanted to go – The Fishwife. Ugh. I didn’t like it. But we went for them. And they liked it. So that’s all that mattered.
Then we were back in San Francisco and started with breakfast at Sears’ Fine Foods, which hasn’t changed in the 20 years since my last visit. It’s historic and was close to our hotel, so we went. And it was good. Nothing out of the ordinary. Corned beef hash and an omelette.

Dinner that night was at the Slanted Door. It blew us away. I know this restaurant has been around a while, but it lived up to our expectations. Wonderful service and one of the best meals I think I’ve had. We started with a bourbon cocktail that was just incredible, then switched to a white Spanish wine that our sommelier helped us choose that was the perfect complement to our food. We had two half orders of appetizers – pork belly that we rolled up in lettuce with a ginger tamarind sauce and spring rolls in peanut sauce. Then we shared two entrees – one of the best scallop dishes ever – pan seared day boat scallops in a chili lime butter sauce – and the shaking beef. And brussel sprouts with chanterelles. We ended with apple upside down cake with ginger ice cream. That was the only thing that left us shrugging and saying “eh.” We didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t up to par with the rest of the food.

We went into Chinatown for dinner the next night, opting for Great Eastern. We were drawn in by the pictures of Obama eating there earlier this year. We enjoyed it. Nothing outstanding, but it was the Chinatown experience we’d sought.

We settled in at Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge for a cocktail with a view. Outstanding romantic scene, looking down upon Union Square and the ice rink and the X-mas tree and the holiday lights in Macy’s windows.

Oh, and one morning when I had to work, I went to Blue Bottle Coffee. Amazing latte. Perfect pumpkin muffin. Happiness in a cup.

We went off our plans our last evening in San Francisco and looked up a Mexican restaurant on Yelp. We chose wisely. We ended up at Tropisueno. It’s a tacqueria by day, a sit-down restaurant by night. The food was exactly right. We stuck with basics – tamales and tacos and enchiladas and experienced great salsas and red sauces. I particularly enjoyed the violet margarita with vanilla salt.

After that, we headed to Napa and Sonoma. It was a rainy, cold weekend, so that affected our choices. Plus, we left out smaller places that might expect big wine purchases. We were interested in putting together a case to take home, from all our wineries, but no big single purchases.

First of all, the hotel, the Napa Marriott, was much better than our S.F. place. Yay.

The first day, at our driver’s suggestion, we went to Etude. It was our least favorite. Nice service, but a sterile environment and we weren’t tempted to buy any wines. Then we went to Buena Vista, where I had one of the most delicious chards I’ve ever tasted. Spicy, for lack of a better word. We bought some. The setting was charming, the hosts were friendly, and the other guests were fun to talk to. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then we headed to VJB so that we could get a bit of lunch with our tasting. We enjoyed the tasting, bought a bottle of a cabernet sauvignon, and had a nice, quick lunch on our busy first day on our wine tour. Then we headed to Chateau St. Jean. Again, nice wines, but since we’re not wine experts, we bought only one bottle. Then to Ravenswood. I wasn’t particularly impressed. The service was tentative. We bought one bottle of, again, a cabernet sauvignon.

We were, by then, quite tipsy. We rested in our room an hour, then cancelled our fancier dinner reservations and opted for Uva in downtown Napa. Decent linguine with white clam sauce, everything else was blah. Mediocre overall. Bad service. Eh.

The next morning we had breakfast at our hotel, the Marriott. It was fine. Then out for another full day of tasting. We did the cave tour at Del Dotto’s Napa location. We enjoyed the tour, and some of the wines (bought a bottle of Ca’nani cab/merlot blend from their new vineyard) but there was a bit of a hard sell at the end to encourage us to buy more, more, more. We declined. The salami and chocolate and cheese tasting at the end was nice. We did enjoy seeing the historic caves. $50 for the tour. We felt it was worth it.

We stopped in briefly at Mumm, where we shared a tasting. I particularly liked the Santana sparkling wine, so grabbed a take-home bottle. We were only here 20 minutes. Fast stop before our 1 p.m. appt at Duckhorn. We had thought we could get lunch at Duckhorn but, alas, there was only more cheese and salami and almonds. Our mistake. And our driver’s. He didn’t realize. The setting was nice and we liked the relaxing atmosphere, tho.

Next up was Pride on Spring Mountain. Oh, how we loved this place. We bought five bottles of merlot and cab. Wonderful. The hostess took us back to the caves for a second tasting when we asked about a particular type of red. She really took care of us. We were the only two on our tasting tour.

Then we stopped in at Frank Family. Honestly, we were inebriated by this point. We didn’t really know what we were tasting, but we were happy and the host was nice and we bought two bottles. Then, we still weren’t done. My boyfriend had always wanted to see the castle. So we went to Castello di Amorosa. Despite having everyone here say don’t go. We had three friends who recommended it. (Yes, we’re touristy sometimes.) So we went. And it was fine. We bought one bottle. But again, we were inebriated so who knows how we would have felt had it been earlier in the day. The cheesy factor was strong, but it was a cool looking castle. We didn’t do a tour, just a fast tasting.

So yes, we did five wineries on our first day, and six wineries on our second day. Thank goodness we had a driver!

By that point on Saturday night, going out to dinner was a lost cause. We were far too tipsy. (Okay, drunk.) So we ordered in room service and fell fast asleep. And woke up and had breakfast at Gott’s at the Oxbow market. It was a fast stop on the way to the airport and it was just right for what we needed.

Thanks again for all the suggestions, etc, on our vacation. If we had to pick one winery to revisit, it would be Pride. We loved it.

Nov 19, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

thanks, maria and carrie and goldang.

the list mostly came from me. I'd sent those names to him and he gave opinions. the only one he threw in was the caves at rutherford.

I will go back to making up my own list and doing it that way. my boyfriend knew nothing about this thread (until I told him), when he said, "Taz, why are you going with the driver's recommendations when you've spent weeks researching on your own? the driver is surely getting a kickback from some of those wineries. go to where we want to go - not to where he suggests, unless we already think we will like it!"

then I told him what you guys had said and that he was probably dead on.

back to the drawing board...I think I just really liked the idea of not having to work so hard to come up with a list of wineries. it's so complicated, for me, and trying to figure out the timing and when we should go where and still have time to get everywhere else.

because while the view and ambiance mean more to me than the actual wine, I still want to avoid the super touristy places. I don't like big crowds. I like intimate, boutique type places with a nice overall feel.

Nov 01, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

ack. it's all so complicated. sigh.

it's in his best interest to ensure that my boyfriend and I have a fantastic time. we'll tip him generously if we have a great time.

I had given him a list of wineries I was considering and this was his response. I'd told him we want two days, maybe one in somona, one in napa, maybe a mtn winery and one sparkling producer. and one overall big picture tour at one big producer.

I said that we want a relaxing, romantic time and we like reds, such as merlot, cabs and zins. and white is good but not what we like best. that we want some to take home but not more than $30 a bottle, we spend 10-15 a bottle at home, and can't tell difference between $10 bottle and $50 bottle, to be frank.

I guess what this says to him, and to me, is that we're more in it for the romantic, scenic aspect with wine being secondary to our overall experience. we're happy with just about anything wine-wise.

here is what he said, edited:

Benzinger - good tour

he said cave tour at Rutherford Hill is very good option

I had suggested Domain Chandon. He suggested Domain Carneros instead

Howell Mtn, he said, is closer than Spring Mtn, so he will add that to the list but didnt' name a winery there

Frog’s Leap – he said not happy with the pouring side of hospitality lately, his clients have left without feeling satisfied

Duckhorn – he agreed with me on this, said romantic and great place

Far Niente – he said hard to get in, reservations required three weeks out. Expensive and tasting takes 90 minutes.

Cakebread – nothing great, but his clients usually leave satisfied and buy wine. But nothing over the top great.

Beringer – nothing stands out except the rhine house and beautiful historic grounds

Peju – one of his faves, with a great highly professional pouring staff

Robert Sinskey – great place, esp for light food paired with wine

Clos Pegase – eclectic art, not convinced about wines, doesn’t like pouring staff, not engaging, could use as filler if needed, since boyfriend still wants to tour Castello and it's nearby. he said since Castello is open til 6 and most others close at 5 we do have time to add that to the end of the day since my boyfriend has specifically asked for it.

Oct 31, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

thanks. the driver I hired said he really liked Peju. he's been suggesting wineries to me so he's very helpful.

Oct 31, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

thanks, carrie.

I will skip castello di amorosa if it's that bad. no point in wasting time.

Oct 29, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

we've decided to hire a driver both days we're in wine country later this month. that was a big decision, since paying approx. $500 for two days of driving is expensive. but we decided it was worth it to not have to worry about DUI's and watching how much we drink.

we want to get our drink on. :)

okay, not really. but we do want to have a fun, romantic trip with lots of yummy wine and relaxation. I've asked our driver to help us plan a picnic lunch on Saturday.

My questions to you experts are as follows. Our hotel is near downtown Napa. Should we stick to Napa, or do Napa one day and Sonoma or another area the next day? We will be in Napa by Friday late morning and will have all day Friday and then all day Saturday, flying out Sunday.

Here are the Napa wineries I'm considering. Decisions based in part on the fact that we love red wine, particularly cabernet, merlot and zinfandel, and we don't want to visit wineries where the only bottles they sell are out of our budget. We enjoy wine, but can't tell the difference between a $15 bottle and a $50 bottle. So we tend to stick to $10-$15 bottles when buying at home and $30 is a splurge for us, but reasonable in Napa to spend when taking yummy bottles home. But places with $100-plus bottles? Pointless for us. Unless the tour is soooo awesome it's worth it just to see it and experience it without any take-home wine.

I'd like to do one cave tour with barrel tastings, too. not sure where to do that.

Frog’s Leap - looks fun
Domain Chandon - want one bubbly producer and this is conveniently located
Castello di Amorosa - looks cheesy touristy but two friends recommended it and my boyfriend loves castles and all things medieval and has specifically asked for this one.
Duckhorn - a dear friend recommended and insists I will love it
Far Niente - heard that its grounds are gorgeous
Cakebread - like that it's a good tour and affordable and I can easily buy the wines at home
Beringer - want one big winery tour
Peju - heard it's a great place
Robert Sinskey - love their small bites menu with their wine
Clos Pegase - heard the architecture is worth seeing

I need to pair down, especially if we only do Napa one day.

And if we add in one area, would you recommend Howell Mountain or Spring Mountain or Sonoma or somewhere else entirely?

Thanks so much!!!!!

Oct 29, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

it's a weekend in napa. the previous weekend and week will be spent in san francisco.

Oct 20, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

ah, okay, thanks, maria!

Oct 20, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

yes, we have a car. just don't want to risk DUI's.

Oct 20, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks, Carrie. that's really good info to know. it means that if we do dinner in Yountville, we will be opting to limit ourselves on wine and drive there in our rental car. This trip was just added onto an existing business trip and isn't my biggest upcoming vacation and so I need to budget a little. It's the first real trip away I've ever taken with my boyfriend tho (other than occasional weekends away), and it's his first time to Napa and San Francisco for fun (he's only been once for a couple of days for business), so I want it to be special.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

awesome, thanks. I'm seriously considering Zuzu. It sounds great. No reservations, but as long as we can sit and have wine for a while beforehand, I'm okay with that.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

Thanks. I've heard mixed reviews of Celadon.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks, I will look into gitane. I've ruled out Perbacco. Cotogna sounds much better.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

yes, I have, thanks, maria. I ruled our Farm because the entrees were $30-$40 and I didn't want to have a $200 dinner with wine, etc. for some reason the jump from $20-$25 entrees to $30-$40 just makes me (and my bank account) shudder. Terra looked lovely but it's too far north, isn't it? near St. helena?

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks, robert. I managed to get prime time reservations at cotogna by booking at 6 a.m. east coast time exactly 30 days out!

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks. I called and booked a backup at 5:45 at Redd, but will remain flexible since that is earlier than we will probably want to eat.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks! I would like to try slanted door. I think that would be a fun spot. I've never been, even tho I know it's been there for years.

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

wow, $100 cab to/from yountville? that will make me stay in Napa for both dinners. or drive and not drink. but where's the fun in that????

sidenote - I'm wondering if my boyfriend and I should hire a driver for the day in Napa where we tour the most wineries. we will probably go to 3, maybe 4 if we can manage. I think most cars are about $270 for 6 hours or something like that? where's the best place to book a driver? thanks!

Oct 18, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

okay, thanks!

Oct 16, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

good point, masha! I just called, after reading your suggestion, and alas, any reasonable time was taken. they did have a 9:30 p.m. reservation available, tho, while opentable shows that they're fully booked. but that time is too late for my tummy.

Oct 16, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

okay, thanks. I have a prime reservation time already slotted at ad hoc, so maybe I will stick with that. at least for now.

maybe ad hoc and onoetri....

zuzu really appeals, too. tapas are fun. I'm not a big eater at all, so having small plates of delicious bits sounds yummy to me.

Oct 16, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks for the info. Much appreciated.

I cannot get a good reservation time at Redd. I see that there is Redd Wood. How is that ambiance? They have reservations available. More casual is okay with me. we will have had 7 nights of "fancy" dinners before our last night in California. I'm okay with delicious but casual. And lots of good wine.

I've tinkered with my restaurant list based on what everyone has said. Here is what I've come up with. With my "or" options I'm still open to suggestions. I opted for Bix originally because a friend suggested it, and it's for a Saturday night, our first night in town, and I thought that the jazz scene would be a fun date night kind of thing and the food seemed to be acceptable. Our appetites probably won't be raging because of a day of cross-country travel and such. But good cocktails and a place to unwind and feel romantic would definitely be appreciated.

S.F.:
Bix or AQ
Nopa
Slanted Door or Rich Table or Foreign Cinema (dinner)
Canteen (a la carte menu)
Cotogna
Foreign Cinema (Sunday brunch)

Napa/Yountville:
Oenotri
Redd Wood or Ad Hoc

Should I consider somewhere else for Sunday brunch rather than Foreign Cinema? We might be having dinner there, too, so that would be a double up kinda thing. My friend who knows me well, tho, says that I will love the atmosphere and the food and that she'd go twice. She's a foodie who lives in S.F. so I tend to trust her opinions.

Oct 16, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

thanks! what about perbacco? I have that as a backup. it's italian and I read good reviews.

my friend who lives in s.f. suggested local mission eatery. it's one of her favorites. she also suggested flour + water but all the reservations are taken. she mentioned 1/2 the tables are saved for walk ins, but I don't want to wait two hrs for a table while on vacation. too much to see.

thanks again.

Oct 15, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

I'm visiting San Francisco in three weeks, so this is my last chance to tinker with reservations and make sure I have the best choices lined up.

I'm looking for ridiculously delicious. But not ridiculously expensive. I prefer places where the average entree is in the $15-25 range. I like cozy, comfortable, not too loud. I heard that Delfina, for instance, is crazy loud. I like to be able to talk to my boyfriend when we're at dinner but, more importantly, he has a bit of hearing loss and it actually pains him to be in a room that has such loud conversation because the voices kind of bounce off the walls and ceiling and hurt his ears. If a place is too loud to talk in a reasonable voice to your dining companion, then it's too loud for us. So please let me know if any of these places are like that. And if the places I've picked, and my backups, are good options.

We are staying on Market near SOMA and close to Union Square. We will be taking public transporation. We are a block from a BART station, if you have transportation suggestions.

Here are the restaurants where I've reserved spots:

Bix
Nopa
Frances (could only get a 5:15 reservation. is it worth it going this early?)
Canteen (a la carte menu)
Local Mission Eatery
Foreign Cinema (Sunday brunch)

We will do a dim sum lunch one day, perhaps at Yank Sing, and a mexican food lunch at perhaps Puerto Allegre. and a visit to sausalito and 331 fish for lunch another day.

My backup restaurants are the following. Please tell me if you'd swap out one of these for one on my list above:

Zuni Cafe
Comstock Saloon
Slanted Door
SPQR
Rich Table
Perbacco

And then we have two nights in Napa (staying near downtown Napa, so we're trying to limit ourselves to restaurants within a reasonable taxi drive from our hotel). Here are the places I'm considering in Napa:

Ad Hoc (have reservations, but not sure this is a special enough place for the quiet, romantic vibe I'm hoping for in Napa)
Bistro Don Giovanni
Oenotri
Bistro Jeanty
Angèle
Zuzu

We only have two dinners, so not sure how to narrow down this list. Definitely don't want Italian two nights in a row. Looked into Auberge and Etoile but they're too expensive for me.

Thanks!

Oct 15, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

SF/Napa trip - would love opinions on my restaurant/vineyard choices

I talked to Smith-Madrone on Spring Mtn. and they said that they're about done with harvest now, that it was a month early this year. They said they don't think anyone else will be doing harvest, but possibly Prager Port Works will have a few late-harvest grapes still hanging.

I'm disappointed to miss all of harvest, but it can't be helped.

Oct 10, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

What do you freeze in your kitchen?

I freeze ripe bananas - mash them up and put them in ziplocs or plastic containers. Perfect for breads and muffins.

other things:
leftover chicken and beef broth when I don't need the whole carton
gingerroot
bread
extra homemade frosting
parmesan cheese rinds for future soups
homemade pinto beans frozen in two-cup servings. great to thaw for chili.
homemade pesto

Oct 10, 2012
taz99 in General Topics

Visiting SF, where to have cocktails/appys with low-key live music?

I'm visiting SF next month and while I've been researching and reserving spots at various restaurants, I haven't thought about where to go after dinner for cocktails and relaxing and listening to live music.

We're old. In our early 40's. So we don't want a noisy, nightclub crowd. Thinking more like acoustic duos or a jazz trio or something like that.

In other words, I listen to Matt Nathanson. I like that kind of music/vibe.

Can you guys suggest anywhere? I want to have a few nice date nights with my boyfriend while we're in town. If any other evening activities are fun, if that's allowable to talk about on a food board, please let me know. Thanks!!!!

Oct 01, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Best place to eat in Chinatown for lunch?

thanks, everyone!

I don't think my boyfriend would dislike dim sum. he eats everything. he just might prefer non dim sum more than actual dim sum.

but I adore dim sum, so I'm thinking that might be the route we go. no dim sum exists in kentucky, where we live. seriously. not a single restaurant serves it.

Oct 01, 2012
taz99 in San Francisco Bay Area

Looking for Good Doughnuts in Kentucky

old thread, but had to say the manchester bakery is the best bakery I've ever been to. they make everything from scratch, in small batches, and the taste is incredible. the bear claws and apple fritters are to die for, and the cream-filled pumpkin roll is perfection. the cookies are great, the breads are tender and the homemade rolls are scrumptious.

I have friends and family who drive two hours out of their way just to visit this bakery.

Oct 01, 2012
taz99 in Kentucky & Tennessee
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