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Culinary Road Trip: San Francisco and Napa Valley

Culinary Road Trip: San Francisco and Napa Valley
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  • Culinary Road Trip: San Francisco and Napa Valley

    Post #1 - February 16th, 2011, 8:48 pm
    Post #1 - February 16th, 2011, 8:48 pm Post #1 - February 16th, 2011, 8:48 pm
    This past week my wife and I took a long weekend vacation to San Francisco and the Napa Valley. I came away from the trip thinking that this area might be the best place to eat and drink in the entire country!

    Fresh from getting off the plane, we jumped on the BART system and made our way to the 16th and Mission stop around noon in anticipation of a 1pm tour of Anchor Steam Brewing Company, located about a mile away according to Google Maps. Since when we got of the train we found ourselves in a very Hispanic neighborhood, we thought Mexican food would make the most sense and we took off in search of an authentic taqueria.

    Dos Pinas
    251 Rhode Island St. #102
    San Francisco, CA 04103
    (415) 252-8220

    We found a local place, Dos Pinas that was busting at the seems with customers at noon, across the street from a culinary academy. We gave it a shot and we're glad we did. Dos Pinas is a small, maybe 30 seat place with order and pickup windows. My wife had the California Tacos, with chicken breast, lettuce, pico de gallo, fresh guac, sour cream, red rice, and beans which were very good and according to her "better than Big Star!" I had the carnitas "Street Tacos" which were little corn tortillas, cebollas y cilantro, and salsa verde these were also very tasty. I'd recommend giving them a try if you're in the area or are killing time before a brewery tour.

    Anchor Steam Brewery
    1705 Mariposa Street
    San Francisco, CA 94107
    (415) 863-8350


    We then made the short walk over to the Anchor Steam brewery:

    I had to call 6 weeks in advance in order to get a reservation to a brewery tour. Tours are limited to about 20 people, once or sometimes twice a day, only on the weekdays. You meet in their own private pub, lined with cool beer memorabilia, Anchor Steam or otherwise (they had a large Old Style and Schlitz collection, seriously). Our tour guide did a great job, telling the story of a 100+ year old brewery that was ready to close in the 1960s when a local wealthy Stanford graduate who loved the beer and didn't want it to go away named Fritz Maytag bought the company and ran it until last year when he sold it to an investment group. He ran it as a labor of love and it shows to this day. After a half hour tour through the facility, which produces 90,000 barrels of beer a year, our guide let everyone taste the Company's 6 draft beers for the next hour plus. The tour is free, but reservations are tough!

    You can read more about the Company here:

    Here is a picture of their very neat copper brewing kettles:

    And a picture of their neat tap room filled with leather chairs, a wood bar, big windows, and a bunch of cool beer memorabilia:

    Flour + Water
    2401 Harrison Street
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 826-7000


    Our first night in San Francisco we went to dinner at Flour + Water. I first saw Flour + Water in GQ, who named it the 2nd best new restaurant in the country in a recent issue. The menu here is Italian and focuses on seasonal ingredients, including featuring an in-house butcher. Small and with a neighborhood feel, F+W is a fun and relaxing place to eat.

    According to the restaurant, they have a pizza oven capable of getting up to 800* and are known for their pies. So we ordered one as an appetizer which was recommended. The pizza was light, almost pesto-style, and very tasty. For my main course I had a wonderful veal liver ravioli that was incredibly fresh and cooked perfectly. My wife had a beef tongue bolenesi that was good as well. A national top-10 restaurant experience? Not sure about that, but it was very solid none the less!

    Humphry Slocombe
    2790 Harrison Street
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 550-6971


    After dinner we made the very short walk down to Humphry Slocombe for a scoop or two of artisan ice cream. They feature some wild and very unique flavors here, including Foie Gras and Government Cheese. I ended up with the Secret Breakfast which was a vanilla ice cream with bourbon and corn flakes which sounds odd but was really fun and tasty! We later found there ice cream featured at a local restaurant as a dessert side.

    Swan Oyster Depot
    1517 Polk Street
    San Francisco, CA 94109
    (415) 673-2757

    After a tour of Alcatraz Island, we walked over to the very popular 99 year-old Swan Oyster Depot for lunch. Very popular, we waited for about an hour for the tiny establishment to turn over. Inside, the restaurant is filled with seafood and is more like a fish market that decided to plug in a few stools and serve easy seafood dishes on a long marble bar. The menu is limited to New England Clam Chowder, fresh crab, shrimp, prawns, oyster, clams, and a few smoked fish. My wife and both had a cup of the clam chowder and expected heaven...but it was an oversalted and over clam sauced broth. That wasn't too great, but we did get a "combination" salad with huge chunks of crab, prawns, and shrimp over a simple bed of lettuce and a little dressing that was just awesome and worth standing in line for!

    Here's the exterior:

    Great Eastern Restaurant
    649 Jackson Street
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    (415) 986-2500

    For dinner that night was at Great Eastern in Chinatown. My wife had been with family before and recommended it. This was kind of our token Chinese stop of the tour and to be honest was the weakest meal we had. We ordered pot stickers (great), chow mien (eh), egg rolls (eh), Mongolian beef (great), and a chicken rice (fine). The restaurant has some fish aquariums in the back which I think is supposed to show the freshness of the fish...but I thought it looked gross and like the seafood was barely alive if at all.


    Mama's on Washington Square
    1701 Stockton St.
    San Francisco, CA

    For brunch on Sunday, we headed to the San Francisco breakfast institution known as Mama's on Washington Square. We walked up to the restaurant right after it opened at 8am, to find it full and a line of 30 people outside. After a little more of an hour waiting, we were inside and waiting in line next to the cooks and the awesome selection of baked goods and ingredients:



    My wife had the pancakes, which sounds boring, but the waitress said that they are the best with a house jam that they keep on the tables. The jam, a mix of fresh berries, was fantastic and made the cakes taste great. I ordered one of their house specials: dungeness crab Benedict with fresh spinach. This was pure seafood at breakfast heaven. To top it off I ordered a side of sausage links, which were clearly not bought at the store and were hand made and fantastic quality. The line here is a pain (we did get to watch a Chinatown new year's10k run by though), but in the end it was clearly worth it. Here was the line as we were leaving:


    3870 17th Street
    San Francisco, CA 94114


    After working up an apatite riding bikes across the Golden Gate bridge and over to Sausolito, we walked down from the hotel to visit Melissa Perello's Frances in the Castro neighborhood. Frances was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation and came highly recommended. The space is very small, with room for maybe 16 tables and a small bar and an even smaller kitchen. Because of the lack of space, reservations are impossible and go months in advance. While I tried to call 6 weeks in advance, they were all booked but mentioned that the bar is always open for walk-ins. We decided for an early dinner on our last night in town and made our way over before 5pm. By the time the doors opened there was a significant line and people were figuring out the proper order of who came first!

    The menu changes daily based on local ingredients and is pretty limited. It's broken out into bouchees, appetizers, entrees, and sides. With 4 options within each category. Here was the menu the night we went:


    First, we had the Applewood Smoked Bacon Beinets, served with a little creme fraiche. These are much talked about from previous reviewers on Yelp and Food Blogs, and they were not wrong...they were incredible. Light, fluffy, and fried...these were really good. Then we had the Panisse Frites, which consisted of 4 sticks of fried chickpeas and served with a spicy aioli. These were also a great starter, and reminded us both of a dish we had at Girl and the Goat here in Chicago this past summer.

    While my wife had the lettuce salad, which she loved, for an appetizer, while I had the white bean soup. The soup was fantastic, subtle, but a ton of flavor. For the main course I had the wonderful risotto and my wife had the steak. Both were very strong main dishes that, coupled with the previous dishes, made for a fantastically well rounded meal. And for dessert, we had their signature lumberjack cake with a scoop of Humphrey Slocum maple walnut ice cream.

    Another neat thing about Frances is that they offer two house wines, for $1 an ounce. They came in a quasi-beaker with markings every 2 ounces down, filled to the top, and you only way for what you don't drink. Fantastic. In addition to wine, they also served beer in bottles and had one local breweries beer (Magnolia) on draft.


    I think San Francisco might be the best city in the country to eat and drink. The combination of a long growing season, proximity to farms (quality beef, poultry, and pork), west coast breweries, and nearby Napa Valley's wine. I don't think it's a coincidence that there are so many world class chefs practicing in the area!

    Coming Soon:

    Napa (and Yountville) :)

    *For bigger pictures please feel free to visit my blog, linked below (otherwise the content is the same).
  • Post #2 - February 17th, 2011, 2:09 pm
    Post #2 - February 17th, 2011, 2:09 pm Post #2 - February 17th, 2011, 2:09 pm
    This past Saturday, my wife and I made a day trip up from San Francisco to the Napa Valley.

    Bouchon Bakery
    6528 Washington Street
    Yountville, CA 94599
    (707) 944-2253

    First off in our tour of the area was a stop at Bouchon Bakery, which is the town bakery owned by Thomas Keller. It's literally a small structure sitting next to Bouchon, his French Bistro inspired restaurant. Inside there is a small display and ordering spot with a large bakery in the back. Even at an odd hour in the morning, there was a sizable line snaking out the door with people stopping in for breakfast or even a snack while in town for vacation or a wine tasting. Once inside, we were like kids in a candy store and ordered way too much! We tried the bacon and cheese scones, a croissant, two macaroons, a cookie, and a cinnamon caramel sweetbread. All were good, but the standouts to me was the bacon and cheese scone which was out of this world (and carried a sizable amount of bacon grease in the mixture), and the macaroons which were chilled to perfection and had a soft cream filling...more like a macaroon sandwich. We tried a little bit of everything and saved the rest to snack on for the rest of the day and weekend. I also tried the Hot Chocolate, which tasted like a warm liquid version of the chocolate ice cream I made the previous weekend from the Ad Hoc cookbook! We sat outside in the warm sun and enjoyed our treats. Here's a picture of the storefront while waiting in line:

    Oakville Grocery
    7856 St. Helena Highway
    Napa, CA 94558
    (707) 944-8802

    Still full from our breakfast snack mission to Bouchon Bakery, we visited the Oakville Grocery for a light lunch and to look around as it came highly recommended to me by someone who has spent alot of time in the area. The Grocery sits on the main road running through the Valley and is obviously a popular place for tourists and the limo and vans filled to the brim with groups of people going wine tasting tours. By lunchtime the tiny store is packed with buzzed 40-something yuppies looking for picnic baskets and munchies. Once we managed to squeeze ourselves to the back of the store to order lunch, we got a BLT with avocado, a crab cake, and some coleslaw to split with an old fashioned glass bottle coke. The food here is very good, but when paying $10 a sandwich and ~$30 for lunch it would be nice to not feel like I was in the middle of a bachelorette party or college reunion! We ate our lunch in the back on some picnic benches before hitting the road to see a few wineries. Here's a shot of the outside of the Grocery:

    We mostly toured around the Valley all afternoon enjoying the scenery and warmth but we did visit a few different places for tastings. Among my favorites were Silver Oak and Cade Winery. Silver Oak is a pretty popular wine with most men that I know as they produce big bold cedar Cabs that pair well with steaks and other red meat. Silver Oak is pretty prototypical of the many tasting warehouses in the Napa Valley where the limo pulls up, 8 frat buddies pile out in shorts and flip flops, they pound their two tastings, buy a bottle of wine, and get back hopefully into the limo that dropped them off there bounding towards the next stop. The winery is very pretty though, and since it was such a nice day the nice servers were happy to let you roam the grounds with your tasting. The tasting here costs about $25 for two tastings, but in a nice touch they give you a souvenir Silver Oak logo wine glass to take home with you. Here is a shot of the Silver Oak grounds:

    In a nice juxtaposition, we also made our way up to Cade Winery based on the recommendation of a co-worker who's significant other is a wine distributor here in Chicago. In order to get to Cade, you leave the valley to climb a surrounding mountain via a small two lane road (thanks GPS!) and you find a small entrance to the winery and tasting room. This is much different that the other wineries that I saw in the Valley, reservation only, the tasting was much more quiet, relaxed, and informative. I really liked their SB (even not being a big white wine guy) and their Estate Cabernet which is very good and closer to a Bordeaux style.

    Here's the sign and logo:

    And a shot of the very neat view off the back of the mountain and the surrounding tasting area:

    After getting our fill of the tasting and winery circuit, we made our way back to Yountville and decided to go on a long walk in the setting warm sun before tackling dinner later. Yountville is really a pretty nice little town once removed from the touristy areas along the main drag through town. There are small quaint parks, trails through local wineries, and nice vacation homes. We also decided to walk down to the other side of town to check out The French Laundry, and in particular their 3 acre garden that sits next to the restaurant. Their garden is really fantastic, not huge, but large enough to reportedly supply The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc with 30% of their produce. In line with my complete man-crush on Thomas Keller, when walking by The French Laundry I spotted him from across the street standing in the garden talking with some guests, and had to snap a picture in full tourist mode! Here it is (he's the guy in the white chef's jacket, obviously):

    Ad Hoc
    6476 Washington Street
    Yountville, CA 94599

    After successfully creeping out even myself in stalking Thomas Keller, we made our way to dinner at his other restaurant in town, Ad Hoc:


    Ad Hoc was built as a "temporary" pop-up restaurant by Thomas Keller and his restaurant group after he needed to fill some recently purchased space in town. Ad Hoc focused on serving "family style" meals but with the extreme attention to detail that diners have come to expect from Keller. His executive chef here is Dave Cruz who, much like down the street at The French Laundry, creates the menu each day from scratch. Each menu consists of a salad, entree, cheese course, and a dessert. Our menu from last week is as follows:

    Spinach Salad
    tfl garden sunchokes,
    soft boiled hen egg,
    roasted chioggia beets,
    pickled asparagus,
    shallot vinaigrette

    Liberty Farm's Seared Duck Breast
    wilted frisee, spring onions,
    celery treks , braised radish
    red rice, rapini leaves

    maldon flatbread, rocket arugula
    cranberry dressing

    Orange Poundcake
    buttermilk sorbet

    Once we had made reservations at Ad Hoc about 5 weeks prior to our visit, I signed up for their e-mail list that sends out the daily menu the 5 days a week they are open (Thursday through Monday) as well as bought the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook which I've already read through completely and even cooked from in advance of a dinner party we threw (see Chicken Pot Pie and Banana Bread Pudding posts above). Needless to say, I was pumped for dinner and it didn't disappoint.

    The spinach salad features sunchokes from the very French Laundry garden we had just walked past and was obviously very fresh and light. The hen egg added a nice layer as did the very good pickled asparagus.

    For the main course, they had a seared duck breast (which is actually featured in Ad Hoc at Home). I thought it was very good, but I am a huge fan of duck. It was pretty simple dish, served in an all-clad pan, that really let the super high quality fresh duck breast speak for itself. Since my wife hates all things duck, she asked if they could make her a vegetarian dish instead and they brought out a fillet of sauteed Alaskan halibut which she said was fine. Both dishes were served with a side of red rice. As a special addition to the meal, there was also an option to add a rabbit side dish (it was presented essentially as three sushi-like rolls filled with rabbit meat) which I thought was very tasty.

    Perhaps the highlight of the entire meal was the cheese course called "seahive." The waiter said that the cheese was brought in from Washington state and is a favorite of the chef. It was served on a piece of maldon flatbread and with a cranberry dressing on top. It was fantastic!

    Dessert was a small individual poundcake served with a side of buttermilk orange sorbet. Each on their own was good, but eaten together it was heavenly and a perfect way to round out the meal.

    Overall I thought Ad Hoc was great and even more so after reading their cookbook and having an appreciation for the concept and food before eating there. In my opinion the weakest part of the meal might of been the main course, but even that was way above average! The service was fantastic, from the bar staff (inexpensive wines and bottled beer) to our waitress who very nicely gave me a copy of the menu (including the Ad Hoc folder!) to take home with me.

    After dinner we hoped back into the rental car and made our late night hour-long drive back to the city. While we were crazy about the food and wine in the Napa area, we were both not so sure we'd rush back on a weekend or a day trip. The area really is a culinary destination and deserves a long weekend on it's own. I did decided however, I won't be back in Napa without a reservation and visit to The French Laundry!