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Napa hounds in DC: sweets, wine & breakfast sandwiches?

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wonderful responses!! I'm completely drooling.

My husband literally loves ALL sweets. If it has sugar, he's all over it. The diversity of your suggestions will be right up his alley. And thanks for letting me know to skip Dickey's.

As I mentioned, the plan Sunday is to get breakfast to go and make our way to the mall and memorials. But jet lag, fatigue and humidity may lead us to brunch, an early check in, naps and afternoon sight seeing. So, thanks for the mentions of Birch and Barley and the Standard.

I can't wait to check out the wine shops. While my husband like browsing sweet shops, I like browsing wine shops. Yes, I live in Napa, but I work in the Sonoma wine biz, which means I'm open to most things, but tend to eschew the larger brands you can find everywhere. I'm eager to see what's making it's way to DC.

Napa hounds in DC: sweets, wine & breakfast sandwiches?

katecm and woodleyparkhound, thank you so much for these suggestions. They look great! Any ideas about where to grab a breakfast sandwich or the like early on a Sunday morning?

Napa hounds in DC: sweets, wine & breakfast sandwiches?

My husband and I are making a last minute business trip to DC in a few days. We’ll have a few free days for fun, but since it’s my history-and-politic-loving-husband’s first trip to DC, the focus of our free time will be on the museums, memorials and monuments, with me trying to squeeze in some good, casual, local or ethnic food on the side. We will be car-free.

Thanks to the wealth of inspiration and knowledge you DC hounds have shared on this board, I feel fairly well prepared for our trip. You are incredibly generous and thoughtful with your recommendations to visitors, and I thank you. I do have a few random questions that I didn’t see addressed elsewhere.

My husband loves sweets of all kinds; dark chocolate, cupcakes, pie, donuts, pastries, frozen treats, candy. Any suggestions for cafés, chocolate shops, bakeries, donut shops, candy stores, etc. in DC where we can stop or where I can pick up treats for him while he’s working? Dickey’s Frozen Custard or a concrete at Shake Shack seem like good ideas, but what else should be on my list?

A glass or two of wine while unwinding in the hotel room after a long day is a good thing. Where can I buy a couple bottles of wine in DC? We live in Napa and I’m a long-time wine industry veteran, so places that offer more than the usual mass produced suspects are appreciated.

We arrive on a red-eye early Sunday morning and will head straight to our hotel (13th St. NW & M St. NW) to store our bags before we venture out. Is there any place we can grab a good cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich or wrap to-go before we head over to the memorials? Or is our best bet to do this at Dulles?

Thanks so much for your consideration and assistance!

Trip report: Ft. Bragg, Mendocino, Little River & Anderson Vly (long)

Alas, no tire iron so I managed to shear off a bone shard to dig out the marrow. It involved some serious wrestling and gnawing. I sort of felt like my dog when she furtively retreats to the back yard with a fresh bone and completely ignores all other activity. I think my husband - who is not a bone gnawer like me - was a little alarmed.

Dec 12, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Trip report: Ft. Bragg, Mendocino, Little River & Anderson Vly (long)

Little River Inn has a relatively new chef who married into the family.

I was totatlly taken aback by the Navarro sparkling gewurtz, but then seemed to remember seeing something about it in one of their newsletters. We've been to the area four times this year and I still feel like I discover so much new information each time we visit.

Dec 12, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Trip report: Ft. Bragg, Mendocino, Little River & Anderson Vly (long)

My husband & I just returned from another wonderful trip to the Mendocino Coast. We enjoyed returning to some old favorites and exploring some new-to-us spots in Little River, Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Anderson Valley.

On our way along Hwy. 128 in Anderson Valley, we stopped at Roederer Estate to stock up on sparkling wine for the holidays. This is one of the few tasting rooms where both my husband and I just grin and admit we like everything. One of the unique features of this tasting room is that they pour their brut from 750ml and from 1.5 liter magnum. It’s a very unique approach, and very enlightening. They also poured the L’ermitage 1999 from 1.5 liter magnum and the L’ermitage 2000 from 750ml. I am very fond of L’ermitage, and think it is one of the best sparkling wines in the state. We obviously left with some 2000 L’ermitage, as well as some non vintage brut rose, which is a great everyday bubbly.

We also stopped at Claudia Springs. It’s been years since I had their wine, but I have fond memories of tasting with owners and winemakers Bob & Claudia Klindt at various events through the years. Bob was there, pouring his Pinot Noirs and Zins, as well as the wines he & Claudia make for Harmonique. He is a fascinating guy, and good for stories about clones, crazy vineyards and their owners. Frustratingly, all of the wines had been opened the day before in a room rife with fruit flies. These are youthful wines, so being open for a day or so shouldn’t have been a problem. But those fruit flies congregating around the open bottles just numbed the aromas and veiled the flavors. I was able to discern enough about the Zins to convince me to buy some. It was nearly 1PM and we were his first customers of the day on a sunny Saturday, so I didn’t want him to open fresh bottles for us to taste. He’s the winemaker, and I respect him a great deal, so I just didn’t bother with the “Hey, did you know the fruit flies are robbing your wine of its aromas and flavors” discussion. I encounter this problem frequently at all kinds of wineries and wine bars and half the time when I mention it, I get looks like I’m crazy. Oh well, hopefully the good frost we’ve had this week will kill the last of the little buggers. We opened a bottle of 2005 Mendocino Ridges Valenti Ranch in the room later that day and it was really quite nice with good but restrained red fruit and classic Mendocino bramble spice. It was even better the next day, stored overnight without fruit flies around. The other Zins we purchased and tasted were the 2006 Mendocino Zin, and the 2006 Mendocino Ridge Perli Vineyard Potato Patch. The 2006 Mendocino Zin is a blend from various vineyards and can have the addition of varietals like Merlot and Syrah. The 2006 Potato Patch was fairly burly, even through the fruit flies. Overall, these wines had a classic Mendocino Zinfandel aroma which is a floral-bramble-some red but largely black fruit composition.

At Egghead’s, in downtown Fort Bragg, the Glenda’s Garlic & Crab Omelet special was even better than we remembered. Stuffed with large, sweet meaty chunks of crab, crushed garlic melted jack & cheddar cheese, diced Canadian bacon and tomatoes and draped in silky, house-made champagne hollandaise, this is just an incredible way to begin the day. Service was a bit slower than we remembered, taking about 30 minutes to get our food to us. We learned from Becky, the owner that several of the staff, including their longtime cook, had abruptly departed to start the Fort Bragg Steakhouse south of downtown. It sounds like the transition has had both challenges and benefits. But the food is still excellent and the remaining staff is banding together. We had seen the Fort Bragg Steakhouse, but didn’t have time to check it out. It’s in a location that seems to be something different every time we visit. We also overheard Becky mention that Egghead’s is usually closed for a winter break this time of year. It was a good reminder to us to call ahead when planning off-season visits because many places up here do close for a spell in the winter.

It’s been a few years since we stopped at Jenny’s Giant Burgers at the north end of Fort Bragg, but we needed something hearty to-go for an oceanside winter picnic. The menu is simple; burgers, cheeseburgers with American cheese, a veggie burger, fries, sodas and shakes made from soft-serve. They use pre-made patties, salted and cooked to order, resulting in a burger several notches above a regular fast food burger. The Giant Cheeseburger is 1/3 lb before cooking and left me full, but not stuffed. Next time I think we’ll ask them to cook it till just pink. They use red onions, which you can have raw or grilled. The fries are just ok, slightly thicker than most fast food fries, and of the pre-sliced frozen variety. They don’t salt them, so ask them to salt the fries or be prepared to douse them with salt the minute you get them. Overall, the burger and fries hit the spot as we washed them down with a glass of Cab Sauv overlooking the beach at MacKerricher State Park.

Once again, Mendoza’s Harvest Market in Mendocino and Roundman in Fort Bragg proved reliable stops to pick up snacks.

A new find for us was Frankie’s in Mendocino. They offer Cowlick’s handmade ice creams, as well as think crust pizza by the slice or by the pizza, a small beer & wine list and baked falafels. We just stopped in for ice cream, but the pizzas sounded interesting and creative, so we’ll be back. They also have live music Thursday-Saturday evenings and free wi-fi. As always, Cowlick’s ice cream is delicious. I had a scoop of the chai and a scoop of the blackberry chocolate chunk. The gal serving up the ice cream indicated that both of these are summer flavors, so I don’t know how long they’ll be around. It was odd to think of chai as a summer flavor with all the spices that make me think of fall and the holidays. The blackberry chocolate chunk actually tasted like real blackberries. My husband had the mushroom ice cream, which was slightly denser and had the unmistakable maple-like flavor of the candy cap mushroom. Overall, we really like Cowlick’s ice creams for their creamy, not-too-sugary, true tasting ice creams.

Staying at the Little River Inn, we decided to check out the restaurant. We started in the bar with a glass of bubbles and a couple of appetizers. My husband ordered the warmed brie and the crab cocktail. The brie warmed by a brief spell on the grill, as evidenced by cross-hatch marks. It was served with water crackers and beautifully arranged fruit. The crab cocktail was served in a tall shot glass, but was basically crab in ketchup. The bar itself has a beautiful view of the ocean, and seems popular with locals. The dining room is surrounded by the gardens. The menu offered several enticing options, among them Dungeness crab pot pie, pine crust crusted salmon and flat iron steak diane. My husband settled on the vegetable torta and I opted for the lamb shank with roasted garlic bread pudding. We each started with a dinner salad, which was good but not overly exciting. The vegetable torta was layers of vegetables in a puff pastry crust surrounded by a spicy marinara. I find that too many veggie entrees tend to lack in creativity or layered flavors that continue to entice bite after bite. This was the exception. It was comforting and creative with flavors that were delicious to the last bite. The lamb shank was delicious, gentle, rich, slow braised lamb flavors from a large shank paired against the chewy texture and savory flavors of the bread pudding. Our server was a delight and she searched high and low for an implement to help me get at the tasty bone marrow, alas without success. I took the bone in a box to our room where I had my way with that marrow, which was like lamb flavored butter. Mmm. For dessert, I had the raspberry sorbet, which they source from Cowlick’s. Again, lovely real fruit flavor and not too sweet. My husband had the walnut-chocolate-caramel tart. It had a buttery crust and rich drizzles of chocolate and caramel over the walnut filling. We appreciated the restraint in this dessert that used the not overly sugary chocolate and caramel as accents focusing the attention on the walnuts. This could have been one of those desserts that come off as overly decadent after a long meal, but instead it was comforting and a bit homey. I spent several minutes chatting with John, the wine buyer, who has put together one of the most interesting and creative wine lists I have seen in awhile. It’s full of fun little subplots, offering wines from throughout California and even a few treats from Oregon, but a couple of the usual suspects for the intimidated. I couldn’t resist a split of Tablas Creek’s Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, a blend of Roussane, Picpoul Blanc and Grenache Blanc that lived up the tasting notes on the back of the bottle, offering hints of honeysuckle, hazelnut and a touch of minerality. A very interesting wine! Corkage is $15 but they will waive it if you buy a glass or two of wine or of course, a bottle from the list. Our server was thrilled when we left her the partial bottle of wine we had brought with us. Appetizers, wine, salads, entrees and dessert plus tax and tip were right around $160. We would return again.

We also took advantage of room service dining at the Little River Inn, and had a delicious, relaxing breakfast overlooking the stunning ocean view. My husband had the Olallieberry cobbler, which arrived still warm in a large ramekin, with a flaky top crust and juicy flavors of olallieberry without too much sugar. They offered a choice of whipped cream or ice cream. He chose the latter, and it arrived in a separate dish. He adored the fresh squeezed orange juice, which had excellent flavor. I had Ole’s Favorite Breakfast, which consists of 2 eggs, a choice of bacon or sausage and two of Ole’s Swedish Hotcakes. The eggs arrived over-easy as requested, still warm and the sausage link had classic breakfast sage-flavor. The hotcakes were thin, but not crepe-like with tangy flavor and fluffy texture. I had a choice of olallieberry jam or syrup and chose both. The syrup was imitation, so I smeared fluffy whipped butter and jam over the hotcakes. The jam still showed bits of berry and tasted of the berry and not too sweet (yes, I guess there is a theme here). The in-room coffee maker is stocked with packets of Big River organic coffee, from Santa Rosa. It was far better than the usual in-room coffee. The downside was using powdered creamer because I forgot to add milk to our breakfast order.

Another new discovery was La Petite Rive, located adjacent to the post office in the defunct gas station building (across from The Little River Inn). We’d heard about this from Gail at the Atrium B&B earlier in the year. Owned by chef couple Troy & Melanie, they offer two seatings Wednesday through Sunday evenings, serving French-inspired cuisine. They are tiny, with only 7 tables, perched on the west side of Hwy. 1 boasting a stunning view of the Pacific. We were one of three couples at their 8PM seating on a Sunday evening. Had it been summer, the view would have been breathtaking, but even in the dark we could see whitecaps. We were greeted by the chef, who popped his head out of the tiny galley kitchen with two glasses of Navarro sparkling gewürztraminer. They offer full dinners with an amuse bouche, soup, salad, palate cleanser and entrée at very reasonable prices. They have a few appetizers and desserts available for an additional charge. They offered a choice of about eight different entrees, ranging from lamb, duck, a few seafood selections and two filet mignon preparations. The crab-gruyere melt amuse arrived with another, smaller glass of the Navarro sparkling Gewürztraminer. It was a nice savory first bite and I liked the pairing of the bubbly. The soup was carrot-ginger with a garnish of sour cream and dried parsley. This was a delicious soup, creamy with good flavor but crème fraiche and fresh parsley or scallion would have been a better, less dated garnish. The mixed green salad was a mix of romaine and mixed spring greens with a balsamic ginger dressing. It was good but not as delicious as other salads we’ve had in the area. My husband said it lacked that addictive quality that makes you want to keep eating a great salad, and he was annoyed that they repeated the ginger flavor in the salad after it was in the soup. We agreed that a citrus dressing would have been a better bet. The palate cleanser was a small, not-too-sweet scoop of tropical fruit sorbet balanced on a slice of lime. It was a nice touch. My husband had the peppercorn encrusted filet mignon with a reduction sauce. I had the goat cheese & rosemary encrusted rack of lamb with a sherry or Madeira sauce. Both offered generous portions of meat, perfectly cooked, and came with small, soft mashed potato pancakes topped with sour cream, a bit of caviar and two tiny spears of just overcooked asparagus. My husband and I agreed that while his steak was tasty, the sauce was one-dimensional and detracted from the enjoyment of the meat. My lamb was good to very good, but with five large meaty rib chops, the flavors were a bit rich by the last bite. We split a double chocolate cheesecake which wasn’t too sweet but balanced chocolate flavors against slightly sour dairy flavors. The wine list is small, with only three or four selections in each category (white, red, sparkling) due to their limited space, but overall it’s not very inspired. The most interesting thing on the list was a special of the Navarro sparkling gewürztraminer. I’m glad we brought our own wine and paid the $15 corkage. Troy & Melissa are appealing, the space and concept are charming but the food is a bit dated, and repeats flavors at times. It’s an absolute bargain for a romantic dinner, especially during the warmer months when you can take advantage of the view. We paid just under $110 for full dinner, dessert, corkage, tax & tip. Despite the fact that I’ve spent way too much time analyzing what how the experience could be improved and stay within the prices, I’d probably be willing to return when we could get a sunset view of the ocean. My husband would be less inclined to return.

Once again, our visit to this area only made us eager to return and soon. There are a few favorites we didn’t hit this trip, and several spots we’re eager to explore.

Dec 11, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Trip Report: Santa Cruz

Thank God my husband has college-aged kids enrolled in universities located in beautiful communities! It gives us places to go and new foods to try. In October my husband & I spent a weekend in Santa Cruz visiting his son at UCSC. We rolled into town Saturday morning with my list of Chowhound suggested eateries in hand. After extracting my stepson from his dorm, we decided to brave the wait at Café Brasil. Every time we drove by over the weekend, there were throngs of people waiting outside. A word to the uninitiated; the clipboard with the sign in sheet for a table is at the cashier’s counter. This isn’t clearly indicated. Once you push your way through the crowd you may have dig as the clipboard could be covered with miscellaneous stuff. But don’t let that deter you. Be brave. Breakfast is amazing! The boys each started with small acai bowls and loved them. I had the Gallo Pinto, which the menu proclaims is a Costa Rican favorite. Hmm, it may be my new favorite. “Mixed rice w/ yellow onions, parsley, red bell pepper, black beans and original Costa Rican sauce. Served w/ 2 eggs any style, corn tortillas and fried plantains.” I had it with poached eggs (yes, they do know how to poach eggs properly!) and it was a great blend of seasonings that were complex but not necessarily spicy with the sweetness of the plantains for balance. My stepson had the Cocota, which offered two soft poached eggs topped with a Cocota sauce, which is white sauce seasoned with Tabasco and Worcestershire. Again, it was well seasoned without being overly spicy. I’m at a loss to remember what my husband ordered, but he I do remember he liked it. We will totally be back. In fact, if I could go right now, I probably would. My in-laws visited my stepson a few weeks after us and they ended up here for breakfast and loved it as well.

We stayed full for a very long time. After the requisite parentally sponsored shopping trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on snacks, my stepson politely ditched us for a few hours to work on homework. My husband had never been to the boardwalk, so I had to show him what he was missing. We stopped at the Surf City Grill near the entrance so I could get a snack. The Italian sausage sandwich was cooked to order and nestled in a large sourdough roll. Expectations were exceeded. It was fun to wander around the boardwalk with a large, greasy, flavorful sausage sandwich.

I was pleasantly surprised when my stepson picked La Posta for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation, but they were so gracious and after a brief wait, squeezed us in. It was a very warm, relaxing environment. We weren’t all that hungry, but we each got salads, which were good. My stepson had the pear and prosciutto pizza which he liked quite a bit. I had the potato gnocchi with duck ragu. It was a nice sized portion, which left me full but not achingly stuffed. The gnocchi were light and a good balance against the richness of the ragu. My husband had the Bolognese, which was also very good. The wine list is very interesting, and I appreciate the option of both a half glass and a full glass. It was fun to try some of the different Italian varietals. The guys did gelato for dessert, which was delicious. I had the panna cotta, which was creamy good, but I like mine better. Theirs had just a tad too much gelatin for me, and mine has bit of tangy buttermilk for zing. We will definitely be back.

For breakfast the next morning, we headed to Walnut Avenue Café. My stepson enjoyed his French toast. My husband had the waffle and I had the huevos rancheros con carnitas, which was really quite good and not too spicy. This was our second visit to Walnut Avenue, as we stopped for breakfast on move-in day. Again, the food was good, the service timely and the atmosphere homey. We will be back.

My stepson chose Falafel House (just across the street from Walnut Avenue Café) for lunch, perhaps missing the shawerma back home at Small World in Napa. My husband had the juicy chicken shawerma; my stepson had the gyro and enjoyed it. I went for the combo plate, with a little of each of the meats. It was all very good, with subtle spice. Judging from the posters and décor, it must be Syrian owned. The tv playing Arabic music videos - think Bollywood meets hip-hop - was hugely entertaining. The lady at the counter got a big kick out of my very waspy husband trying to dance to the music. We’ll be back for the food, or even just to sip a Turkish coffee and watch tv.

Thanks Santa Cruz Chowhounds for all your wonderful posts and inspirations about where to eat. You give us lurkers plenty to salivate over. We had a great time, gave the kid a break from dorm food (pizza-burgers-salad-cereal), and can’t wait to explore some more in the spring.

Dec 03, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Trip repot: San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach & Edna Valley

In November, my husband & I visited his daughter who is a 3rd year at Cal Poly. We’ve visited several times over the last few years, and have found a few favorites but I wanted to explore some new spots this trip. Friday night she and her roommate wanted sushi, and despite my suggestions (i.e. handing her a print out of eatery ideas culled from Chowhound), we ended up at Sumo Sushi. We’d never been before and the upside is that it’s in a small strip mall downtown with its own parking lot. It’s obviously popular with the college kids, but I didn’t see many “over college age” folks. I think I blushed several times just overhearing some of the boisterous conversations from adjacent tables! My stepdaughter likes it for its fun rolls, and combination platters served in enormous wooden boats. We just did rolls, and they were hit or miss, with the first round of rolls better than the last. One of the rolls had tuna that seemed mushy and overly bright as if dyed. It doesn’t seem like the kind of place you go for nigiri. It was entertaining, and met the need at the monet, but I’m going to push for other options in the future.

Saturday morning, stepdaughter and boyfriend wanted to go to Breakfast Buzz. We’ve been here before and the bottom line is go for burritos, or as a second choice, get an omelet. But really, the reason to eat here is the breakfast burrito. The rest of the breakfast items are just pretty mediocre and the servers are sweet but not very helpful in navigating the menu. They have some seating inside, but we usually opt to eat outside. We find that in college towns it’s best to get to breakfast by 10am, which is just before the local early rising students venture forth in search of food. Unless we’re all in the mood for burritos next time, I’ll push for other options.

Saturday afternoon marked a long awaited new adventure for us. The stepdaughter abandoned us to attend the Cal Poly/Davis game with her pals and at long last we were alone to go wine tasting. We decided to take a whirl through Edna Valley. We had a great time at our first stop, Baileyana/Tangent, and snapped up the Viognier, Riesling, Syrah and port. We found them to be balanced, with good acidity, at very reasonable prices. Turns out I know the woman that waited on us, but the building, the view and the wines were great. They have tables for picnicking and a bocce court, so we’ll be back.

Next stop was Saucelito Canyon, which was small, charming, again with a few tables for picnicking. Their Zins are just so old school, meaning that they aren’t these big, over ripe, alcoholic monsters. They are burly but in a gentlemanly sort of way. We bought the Reserve and the late harvest Zin because I’m a sucker for them and they served dark chocolate with the wine. We’ll be back.

Our last stop was Domaine Alfred, which was a disappointment. The staff wasn’t overly friendly, and took a long time to warm up to us. They couldn’t give us details on basic things, like the percentage of malolactic in the various Chardonnays. We weren’t very impressed with the wines either. The one bright spot was that Robbins Family Farm was sampling their olive oils and imported balsamic vinegar, which were delicious. We debated back and forth but ended up with a bottle of the Tuscan style oil and a bottle of the balsamic. We won’t be back.

Overall, we really enjoyed Edna Valley for the wines, and the proximity to SLO and to the beach. Salivating over toodie jane’s report on Longboard’s we decided to zoom down to Pismo Beach for a Baja Burger, fries and a chocolate malt. They were all delicious, the fries perfectly seasoned, the malt had just the right punch of malty flavor and the burger was nicely beefy. They also have a short breakfast menu, name dropping things like Hobbs smoked bacon and tri tip as fillings for the burritos. Next trip, I’m lobbying for breakfast here.

With more time to kill, we wandered the streets of downtown Pismo and discovered HotLix, which sells bug candy. No, not bug-shaped candy, but candy with bugs in it. They have prepackaged varieties in the back (my husband pondered the bacon-cheese flavored mealworms), and house made chocolate dipped bugs (like crickets and scorpions) in the front window. We were amused but I’m just not going to spend my money to eat bugs.

We finally met up with the stepdaughter and her boyfriend and decided to hit Mama Meatball in the old creamery building for dinner. It was a huge hit. Bonus points for having its own parking lot. I pointed our Tsurugi as we walked by so maybe that will plant seeds for a future visit. Mama Meatball is tiny and we were lucky enough to get the last table. The food is lovingly prepared and very inexpensive in a warm environment. We appreciated the option of half sized or full sized salads. We got a kick out of the warm, soft breadstick bites they brought to the table. No, they’re not full sized breadsticks, their small bites. My carbonara was deliciously classic preparation. They didn’t have the clams for my stepdaughter’s linguine with clams, but she agreed to a substitution of mussels. Her boyfriend got the special pasta with ragu, which came with large chunks of braised beef which he was thrilled over. My husband thought he had ordered the calzone but had ordered the cannelloni. No matter, he said it was excellent. We were stuffed and unless my stepdaughter and her pals eat themselves silly here over the next few months, we’ll be back.

Sunday morning my husband & I just nibbled through the complimentary breakfast buffet at our hotel, which was fine. Sunday afternoon, my stepdaughter wanted Firestone. We’ve eaten here before and I appreciate the fact that if you need meat, you can get your fix, but if aren’t meat-focused, there are other options. I had the ribs and a salad. The ribs were meaty and flavorful. My husband and stepdaughter got the trip tip sandwiches, which I’ve had before and enjoyed. We sat outside. There isn’t much shade to speak of, so it got kind of warm. But we’ll be back.

Thanks Central Coast chowhounds for all your reports, research and ideas. It was a very good trip.

Dec 02, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Walnut Ave - Santa Cruz (a report & thank you)

We dropped my stepson off at UCSC last Friday and managed to squeeze in a late breakfast at Walnut Ave before his appointed move-in time. The atmosphere was comfortable, and the host even gave us a quieter table tucked in the back. My multi grain pancakes were very good, hearty without being heavy. My husband enjoyed his omelette, which was more homestyle. The fried potatoes were pretty rustic, irregular pieces of russet potato with skin on. They had a nice fresh salsa that was good over everything. He opted for the apple cinnamon muffin instead of toast, which had good flavor but was a bit dry. My stepson gobbled his french toast. The service was friendly and faster than we had expected, and we noted that we weren't the only parent/new student table in the place. We'll be back.

Many thanks to those of you who have weighed in on the Santa Cruz food scene in recent months. I am armed with a long list of places to try. The anticipation of exploring the Santa Cruz area in the coming years is easing the pangs of empty nesting.

Sep 22, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Looking for best Bloody Mary

Bistro Don Giovanni in north Napa does a seasonal Blondie Mary with heirloom yellow tomatoes. If you ask, they'll make it with their house-infused chili vodka.

only wonderbread will do? for tomato sandwich?

Yes, Lombardi's is still around. My mother would time her visit to the grocery store around the Lombardi's delivery.

Aug 25, 2008
Ruby Louise in Home Cooking

Can anybody else "smell" fruit flies?

At work, we describe it as a faintly iodine-like smell. I find that if the fly lands on the glass or on the rim of an opened bottle (even when the cork has been stuck back in the bottle) it noticably mutes the aromas and flavors.

Aug 08, 2008
Ruby Louise in Wine

St. Helena alternative to Taylor's Refresher

It was St. Helena Grocery, wasn't it? With that swiss bakery next door and The Spot. I liked the grocery, because back when I worked south of St. Helena, it was easier to get to by virtue of involving a right turn and not a left turn across traffic.

beaches for birthdays

We've been to Heart's Desire twice in the last month. The beach itself is small, but because it's on Tomales Bay (facing east) it is relatively wave free. There is a picnic area, clean bathrooms and a small parking lot nearby, with another picnic area just a short hike up the hill. You could hit the Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station for picnic goods, if it's a farmer's market day you'll have even more options.

I'd hit Cafe Reyes for their woodfired pizzas. Casual, with reasonable prices and delicious thin but not crackery crust pizzas and tasty salads. If the weather's nice you could sit on their deck.

Further south, Stinson Beach also has grilling & picnic areas near the parking lot but not on the beach itself.

St. Helena alternative to Taylor's Refresher

I'll second Azteca Market, just south of Taylor's. I think they have a few places to sit outside.

Just across from Taylor's is Tra Vigne Pizzeria. I like their Piadines (warm pizza crust topped with cool salad and eaten like a taco) and their Ducati pizza.

At the very southern end of town, Dean & Deluca has the best salad deal upvalley. The salads are made to order and you can select from their menu or pick your own toppings and they'll toss it for you. I think there are a few benches outside. I think the large size salad is just under $8.

Weekday breakfast between Valley Ford & Pt. Reyes?

Thank you Melanie! Tomales may be just the ticket. From what I can discern it looks like the Tomales Deli/Cafe is open at 7 daily, and the Tomales Bakery is open Thu-Sun at 7 or 7:30. Those pies make me curious so we'll have to check them out.

Weekday breakfast between Valley Ford & Pt. Reyes?

We're staying out that way later this week and bad things happen if I don't get caffeine and breakfast before 9:30AM. Rocker Oysterfeller's in Valley Ford is only open for brunch on Sundays. We'd detour out to Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone, but they'll be closed as well. Is there anything besides Pine Cone Diner in Pt. Reyes Station? We'll take anything from a sit-down breakfast to a breakfast burrito for the road.

Restaurants with no corkage in Napa

Julia's Kitchen waives corkage on the first bottle for Copia members, after which corkage is waived equal to every bottle purchased.

Chow worthy stop between SF Zoo and Inverness

It's Pedroni's potato salad, not Pardoni's. And rworange is right. you shouldn't miss it. It's giving me a huge nostalgia attack right now just thinking about it.

Breakfast in Napa?

While it's not a full breakfast option, I like Sweetie Pie's offerings of sweet and savory breakfast pastries, as well as very good quiche and a croissant-based breakfast sandwich.

Where are the hidden shopping gems in Napa?

Junie D you nailed the true hidden food gems of Napa. It's the local food underground, and it extends not just to the meat, produce and dairy you mentioned. It's the professional winemaker neighbor who knocks on my door to present me with a glass or a bottle of the not-for-sale wine he makes for his family. Or the friend who will trade wine for some of his game. And the stuff you can forage for, if you know where to go.

I haven't checked it out thoroughly but I've seen enough evidence to convince me that there's even more goodness being sold out of battered trucks on small dirt roads and from small apartments on weekend mornings. You just have to be there at the right times.

I personally like the Oxbow, and several of my neighbors agree. None of us focuses on buying weekly groceries there, but it's a good spot for specialty items.

I like heading down to Vallejo to shop, for the cheaper prices and the ethnic diversity it offers. For example, you'll have a hard time finding fennel at Food 4 Less Vallejo, but they've got chayote and long beans. The produce isn't always the prettiest, but the quality of flavor is very good.

Lake County: a few Chowish bright spots

My husband & I spent last weekend in Lake County for a retreat. It’s a beautiful place, but depressed and slightly depressing with a few Chowish bright spots.

Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa
We stayed at Konocti which provided exceptional people watching. Our weekend included two buffet breakfasts and one buffet lunch. Lunch had a predictable but nicely executed salad bar (veggies were very fresh) and sandwich making bar. Breakfast was hit (scrambled eggs garnished with diced scallions, tomatoes and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, nicely sliced and arranged fresh fruit that tasted good, thick cut bacon and large sausage links) and miss (waffles that got chewy when they cooled, room temperature milk for cereal, watery coffee, scrambled eggs leaned toward the dry side). Friends who ate dinner in the restaurant said it was very bad.

Other friends ate at the new Watercolor, which is just minutes away, and said their seafood was perfectly cooked. It’s located right on the lake between Konocti & Kelseyville.

Historic downtown Kelseyville is pretty sleepy. Shops close at 4 or 5PM. The local dive bar seemed active, the tiny market was open (a sign indicated a tacqueria inside but we didn’t venture in), the winery tasting room had 2 other customers and the restaurant where we ate dinner had a few locals inside.

Rosa di Oro Winery Tasting Room
With a few minutes to kill before our dinner reservation, we walked in to look around since they’re open till 6:30. Focused on Italian varietals, you can taste 5 wines for free. Located in a restored bank, the feeling is airy and open. We tried the not quite dry Moscato (less than 1% residual sugar so think spicy food, not dessert), the Nebbiolo rose (vibrant acidity); the ’04 Barbera (smoky with a zingy acidity), Primitive (very dry and chewy) and the Dolcetto (deeply pigmented but high volatile acidity). Very friendly and very reasonably priced.

Saw Shop Gallery Bistro
Located in a renovated Craftsman home, the white walls are filled with a wide array of interesting local art. The menu features appetizers, small plates and entrees, with a mostly Cal-Ital feel but a few Asian inspired dishes. The hits of the meal were my mixed green salad and my husband’s leek & mushroom lasagna. The salad had dried pears, pecans and mild goat cheese and makes me wonder why I don’t see more dried pears, because this was delicious. My husband’s lasagna tasted fresh, with distinct flavors. The downside of the meal were the crab cakes (tasted old) and pot stickers (from a bag, I mean come on; I’m as white as they get and I can make pot stickers from scratch!). The crab cakes came with a side of “dragon slaw”, which was simply coleslaw with Sriracha in the dressing. Simple, but good. Service was attentive but relaxed, and the glass pour of local Sauvignon Blanc was generous. I’d go back but I think the trick is to avoid the Asian inspired dishes and order from the specials.

Marcie’s Brick Grill
On our way out of town Sunday we stopped in for some pear spice cake to go and they were genuinely friendly. They heated our cake and topped it with whipped cream and even gave us plastic forks. It was dense, rich, cinnamony and on the sweet side with chunks of pear. I’d go back to check out breakfast or lunch (the only 2 meals they offer).

Upper Lake
Tiny little Upper Lake is pretty bleak, with only a the beautifully restored Tallman Hotel and the Blue Wing Saloon offering bright spots. That and the locals sitting at the bus stop singing “All my exes live in Upper Lake.” Ok, maybe not a bright spot, but definitely funny.

Blue Wing Saloon
In a beautifully restored old building with amazing wood paneling and a gorgeous old bar this looks more like Sonoma or Napa. We sat on the porch, which runs down the side of the building and overlooks the garden they share with the equally lovely historic Tallman Hotel. They had a very talented local musician playing creative covers of Paul Simon and Neal Young tunes. They were only offering their brunch menu, with a couple of eggs benedict variations, and pubish fare like fish & chips, burgers and other grilled sandwiches. Each entrée came with a choice of orange juice, bubbly or a Mimosa. We had the latter and the juice was fresh squeezed. Husband’s burger tasted like good local beef, served on a ciabatta roll. His garlic fries were one of the best interpretations I’ve had, tossed in garlic butter. They do offer 3 variations of fries; plain, fire and garlic. I had the po’ boy, which isn’t something I’d usually order. The crust on the fried oysters had a bit of thyme in it, which was nice, but the ciabatta roll. It was good, but I doctored it with a bit of jalapeno Tabasco and a few spoonfuls of coleslaw. I’d return to check out their lunch and dinner menu.

May 22, 2008
Ruby Louise in California

Calistoga to Napa - Question

Von Strasser and Failla are both doing great wines and offering very good visitor experiences. I haven't been to Tres Sabores but I like their wines. Frankly Kuleto is more about the property than the wines and it's pretty far out of the way. I'd do Round Pond instead. And yes, none of these properties are particularly close to each other, but if you have a driver and if they rely on Silverado Trail instead of Hwy 29, it shouldn't be a problem. Downtown St. Helena and Hwy 29 through Oakville tend to be the trouble spots. Instead of trying to cram in a 5th stop, I'd just plan to pick up a bottle and head back to your accommodations and enjoy it before dinner. It's going to be busy up here this weekend and wineries that stay open past 4:30 or 5 tend to attract the party crowd.

Napa Wine Train Lunch

I've not been on the train, but I've been to corporate events at their culinary center. They try, but the food is mediocre. There are so many other local restaurants that are so much more delicious. And they don't require taxpayer dollars to keep them in business, like the Wine Train does (we payed for their freeway overpass). If you absolutely must do the train, you can do the ride without the meal for $50 per person.

Napa-4 days no kids! suggestions on my ideas?

I was at Bennett Lane for the first time in February and the tasting room felt cramped, cluttered and disorganized. The staff was very distracted, discussing operational and personal issues that are best not mentioned in front of guests. Then a small bus tour showed up with a load of people who's tour guide had failed to explain how tastings work. I felt like the wines were average at best but bought some of Maximus Red to take home, thinking it might taste better in another setting. We opened a bottle about a month later and it was still disappointing. I'll hang onto that second bottle to see if it improves with time. Granted, being a Napa Valley wine industry veteran probably makes me more critical than many, but I'm not in any hurry to return to Bennett Lane.

Has anyone ever eaten purslane?

At my former job, I watched in fascination as the vineyard foreman filled a couple of grocery bags with the wild purslane that grew in the olive grove. The next day he handed me a little taco with purslane stewed in a moderately spice red sauce. It was delicious.

Apr 07, 2008
Ruby Louise in Home Cooking

Napa Valley advice?

I've observed a number of bachelorette groups out winetasting in the valley. I have two suggestions:
1. Stay hydrated & pace yourselves. There is nothing remotely attractive about bachelorettes barfing on the side of the road.
2. Pool some cash together and buy the bride-to-buy a bottle or goodie at each place you visit.

Best picnic locations SF including Napa

The Napa Valley Vintner's has a list of wineries that offer picnicking Most simply ask that you purchase a bottle of wine to drink onsite, some ask that you call ahead. St. Clement's location above Hwy. 29 does afford a bit of a view.

I absolutely must be an idiot for mentioning my favorite picnic spot because I will be so mad if this spot is taken the next time my husband & I head there for a bite. Alston Park has several benches and picnic tables, but the best one is accessed from the north lot. Hike straight up for about 5-10 minutes, and you'll find a table with a vista of the south napa valley. There's no shade at this table, so it's not good for a hot day. As a Napa city park, alcohol is not sanctioned.

Napa: BarBersQ – Are Michelin and the Chronicle kidding?

My husband & I ate there for the first time recently. At first I was a bit put off by the noise, the loudish music, the cramped seating and the host who asked if we had reservations. "I know it's Friday night," I mumbled to my husband, "but dinner reservations for a BBQ place?" I should note that with my husband in a knee brace right now, it makes us extra sensitive to seating issues. But in the end, the food, our cheerful server and bonding with the couple next to us won us over.

We started with Benton's Country Ham, Cheddar & Scallion Biscuits. They come with hot pepper jelly, which is sweet with a bit of a kick and totally makes this mouthful, even if the country ham seems strangely like prosciutto. I would eat this again.

Watching the food arrive at the neighboring table made us copycat their order. My husband had the half rack of Smoked Vande Rose Baby Back Ribs which was more than plenty for him. Now, we don't get to many bbq places but we thought these were very good. I had the BarBeQue Chicken which is half a bird with collard greens. The chicken was tender, slightly smoky and those collards, oh those collards, were mellowed with vinegar and pork. I liked the three sauces. The vinegar was tangy, the mild was almost sweet and the hot had just a gentle sting. Adding a bit of the locally made hot sauce made it even better.

After watching our neighbors devour a Hot Fudge Sundae, we had to follow suit. It came with vanilla and strawberry ice cream, hot fudge, toasted almonds, brandied cherries and whipped cream. Pretty much a classic, made by the brandied cherries.

We will go back to this place and here's why. The food was good, comforting and unfussy, we liked the bbq and the feeling of being in a place largely frequented by locals and regulars. The service was friendly, and we felt like it was a good value. As much as we like Azzurro, Annalien and Small World in terms of less expensive options for locals dining and/or takeout, it's nice to have another option.

Ubuntu: One of top 10 new restos in country

You will be within a few blocks of several tasting rooms, including the Vintner's Collective, Rocca, the newly opened Ceja tasting room and Robert Craig, which requires an appointment. Across Soscol there's the new Oxbow Market, with Taste (the tasting room for Mahoney & Waterstone) and Mason Cellars just across the street.