SFO and Wine Country--a food and wine report

Dec 18th, 2004, 01:07 PM
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SFO and Wine Country--a food and wine report

I've taken 5 major trips in the past year (the other four were to places in Europe) and our time in SFO was the best in terms of providing completely positive dining experiences.
Hog Island Oyster Co in the newly renovated Ferry Plaza provided my single best food experience of 2004--a grilled cheese sandwich made of foccacia with three kinds of cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery. Don't know what the third is but the other two were Humboldt Fog and a gruyere. The entire Ferry Plaza building is a wonderful place. I kept winding up there regardless of where I started out to go.

Iluna Basque is a small place on Union and Powell that's only been open 9 months. Apparently the chef is only 24 and a media darling. The food lives up to the hype. Had garlic soup with shrimp, crostini covered with green olives and fat white anchovies, salmon tartare with just the right amount of capers and lemon juice and cassoulet with a lamb chop. Everything totally tasty.

Great Eastern in Chinatown for dim sum. Though they donít serve on trollies, the atmosphere is a bit more upscale and the actual dim sum is very good. You order from a check sheet menu with items in English and Chinese. Best of all, they leave you a copy so I now have a dim sum cheat sheet from which I can request items I like and just point so that a non-English but Chinese speaker can easily know what I want.

Boulevard, a place I've wanted to go for the 10 years it's been open and only finally got there. We were provided what I felt were the best seats in the house--right in the middle of the still stunning art nouveau restaurant with our backs to the window, facing the kitchen and with views of the entire place. We could see everything and everyone and watch the incredibly flawless service being provided everywhere. This place is a well-oiled machine in the very best sense. Food is the equal of the room and the service. Lobster bolognese with monkfish wrapped in pancetta, rare duck breast slices on top of perfectly done spinach all topped with a chunck of duck confit, accompanied by bacon infused mashed potato balls.

Cafe at Chez Panisse. Sooner or later I knew we had to do this and this was the time. Amazing to hear and read so much about a place for so long and still find it as fresh as described.

Pesce on Polk. Good, very good and one of what appeared to be literally hundreds of similar, good little places on a street I can only wish I lived near.

Not a misstep by any of these places. A perfect 10 for my selections. I doubt that I will ever be able to match that record.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Dec 18th, 2004, 01:08 PM
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Wine Country--food and wineries

Napa food couldn't measure up to that we had in SFO or at least my selections didn't.
Bistro Jeanty afforded our best dining experience with duck and goat cheese pate followed by daube with mashed potatoes, peas and carrots.
Bistro Don Giovanni was fairly good but Tra Vigne provided a miss for some in our party and an ok for others and Angele was mostly a miss.

Among the many wineries we went to we found the following the best for the stated reasons, many of which I will admit relate more to architecture and decor or ambiance than to the wine:
Sawyer--a small place on 29 where the winemaker came out to talk with us as we ate our V. Sattui purchased picnic at his picnic table. A very personal experience that you don't get at the big places.
Artesa--a long time favorite where the view of the valley is calming and the minimalist structure is aesthetically soothing.
Domaine Carneros--another beautiful place where our waiter, Kenny G, was a hoot.
BR Cohn--this one is for the wine with us. Also enjoyed the opportunity to have our picture taken with Moose their wonderful lab/English bulldog and buy a couple of bottles of his special meritage with proceeds partially funding the local humane society.
J--the nicest tasting. For a paltry $10 you get not only tastes of 3 or 4 of their sparkling wines but dainty and very tasty amuses to accompany them. The squash puffs alone were worth the price.
Rochambo--a new place for us in Sonoma with a great view and a very youthful vibe.
Frank Family(Rombauer, Kornell)--best tasting experience, both for the wines themselves and for the instructive, humorous presentation
Joseph Phelps--beautiful view, beautiful wine (their Insignia which goes for $140 per bottle) and all for free using coupons from those advertising flyers that are everywhere in the valley.
Darioush--a new one with over the top Persian decor

Gone are the days of the once ubiquitous free tastings, now replaced by tastings that cost $5, 10, 20 and even 25 per vineyard, per person-although most places encourage sharing. For those who would like to do vineyards at a minimal charge, I recommend the Dry Creek Valley area of Sonoma where we still found several places offering free tastings. I also recommend making the trip in mid-November as we did. The hills and the vineyards were at their colorful best.

JulieVikmanis is offline  
Dec 18th, 2004, 07:33 PM
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JulieVikmanis, I am so happy that you had so many wonderful dining experiences in San Francisco. I was most interested in your trip report. Your review of the restaurants you went to make me hungry just reading what you had to eat.

And it is true, stopping at a winery in Napa Valley for a free tasting is not possible anymore. Like all good things, those days are gone.

I am sure glad you enjoyed your visit to SF and Napa Valley. Best regards.
LoveItaly is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 07:43 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
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Thanks for your very detailed and mouthwatering report! I love the Hog Island restaurant too - as much for the view and people-watching as the food. The Ferry Building has been a hit since its refurbishment as a food hall - it's become a vital part of the city's "foodie" scene.
dovima is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 11:49 AM
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Just had to say that it is very refreshing to read that, after four trips to Europe and one to SFO, you deem your best 2004 food experience as a grilled cheese sandwich. Aahhh... simple pleasures.
beachbum is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 02:32 PM
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Julie, we fell in love with the Ferry Plaza too...and that grilled cheese was so good!!

What a nice report, thanks for sharing!
stormygirl is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 03:20 PM
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To all Fodorites who are coming to San Francisco and search this website: the city has so much more to offer then just food.
FainaAgain is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 04:36 PM
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Yes, there's also wine to go along with the food?
Budman is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 05:42 PM
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Glad you discovered Rochambo. Very unique. Yes, Napa is the Disney of the wine country. So much more fun in Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys. Then there's Mendocino County as well. Napa makes great wines, but it's overpriced and too touristy.
LLindaC is offline  
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