Food and Drink in San Fran and Napa

Labor Day weekend 2010 will live in infamy. For three days straight we ate and drank our way around San Francisco and Napa. I hope you enjoy these tasty reviews.

Napa Valley

This bakery would make Parisian boulangeries proud

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 13, 2010

Inspired by the Parisian boulangeries, the owners of Bouchon bistro opened a bakery next to their restaurant in Yountville, CA, and called in Bouchon Bakery.

We arrived to Bouchon Bakery at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday before setting out for a day of wine tasting. The smell as we approached the bakery was overwhelmingly pleasant; my mouth began watering. Inside there was a single counter - to the left sat muffins, croissants, cakes, scones, cookies and numerous other pastries; to the right was a glass case containing sandwiches, tarts and macaroons.

The four of us decided to purchase an assortment for sharing, so we ordered: a bacon and cheddar scone, a pain au chocolat, an almond croissant, a coffee cake, and a cream cheese topped pastry. With coffee, juice and other beverages in hand we walked outside to one of the many tables - traditional picnic tables and bistro sets - and started to devour the goodies.

The bacon cheddar scone was out of this world - I don't know why I was so surprised, bacon makes anything good. It was salty and cheesy - just the right proportions. The pain au chocolate and almond croissant were flaky and delicate. The coffee cake was nice and moist, and the cream cheese pastry was creamy and sweet. Not a single crumb was spared.

While the bakery in Yountville is the original, I have read that the two in Las Vegas and New York City are just as good. If you in close proximity to any of these locations make the trip - it will be worth it!
Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington Street
Yountville, California, 94599

Open early, but wine and service not spectacular

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 13, 2010

V. Sattui Winery was one of the earliest to open on the Saturday that we traveled to Napa - so naturally, it was our first stop. We entered the nondescript looking building into a gourmet food shop - cheeses, olive oils, breads and more.

Through the shop was the wine tasting room. We were the only customers. Two six-wines tastings were offered - classic tasting for $5, and the premium tasting for $10. We opted for the classic tasting. I sampled two whites, three reds and a port. I did not feel they were anything special - tasted like your average $8 wine. While I found the employee to be knowledgeable, he was not overly friendly. We attempted to strike up a conversation with him, but he had a number of tasks to which he was attending to while helping us.

If you're in Napa before 10:00 a.m. and you need a place to stop, visit V. Sattui, otherwise you should spend your time elsewhere.
V. Sattui Winery
1111 White Lane
St. Helena, California, 94574
(707) 963-7774

Quality wine tasting with personal attention

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 15, 2010

We arrived at Rutherford Grove Winery just minutes before its 10 a.m. opening. The visitors center sits on the west side of Highway 29, and the short driveway is surrounded by the vineyard. Not wanting to look like lushes barging in at exactly 10 a.m. we took some cheesy photos is an old beat up Ford and took in the early morning sunshine.

The main building had a ski lodge feel to it and the tasting area consisted on one large room. To the right of the entrance was a sitting area facing a stone fireplace, to the left were a few shelves with local goodies for sale, and straight ahead was an L-shaped bar. We were greeted by an extremely friendly Shelly. She began by telling us about the winery and showing us on a map where the winery's vineyards were located.

The wines were absolutely wonderful and her explanations helped a wine novice really appreciate the subtle differences between the wines. Since we were the first guests of the day Shelly diligently smelled and sampled each bottle to make sure we had samples of the highest quality - which ended up with us having a couple more glasses.

One of my favorite wines was the 2006 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel. It was a little sweet, so great consumed after a heavy meal. The bottle was $28, but the rest range from $18 for the 2008 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc to $70 for the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you want a more personal experience with quality wines, this is your place. Call ahead and see when Shelly is working - she was spectacular!
Rutherford Grove Winery
1673 Saint Helena Hwy South
St. Helena, California
(707) 963-0544

Limited production winery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 15, 2010

In my opinion, the best way to get the most out of a day in Napa Valley is, when you are at a really good winery, ask your pourer for recommendations of where to go next. At Rutherford Grove Winery our pourer suggested we go to Elizabeth Spencer Wines and handed us a special card that gave us and extra glass with our tasting.

Elizabeth Spencer Wines is a small winery, but let me tell you, it is big on flavor. The quality of their wines are spectacular. All of the wines are limited productions - one wine was from a production of 12 barrels.

The tasting room is housed in the quaint former Rutherford Post Office building built in 1872. The entire right wall was consumed by bottles of their wine. There is a single counter inside where you can do your tasting, and while the space would be perfect for a tasting, the courtyard was calling us. This had to be the best wine tasting space in all of Napa Valley. In the center were two seating areas made of couches and chairs, and each had a large coffee table and umbrella. We settled in and started no nosh on the breadsticks. Our first sample came out within five minutes.

The tasting cost us $15 per person (but waived with a minimum purchase of of $60, I believe). We sampled four wines: Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The extra pour was a Zinfandel. They were all fantastic!

All the wines we tasted we available in the store, and the prices ranged from a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, Certified Organic for $18 to a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder for $75. Most of the bottles were priced around $40. In the store they have seasonal gift pack offerings - for $120 we got four bottles of red wine, a wine opener, a wine tote and it all came in a very sturdy gift box.

On the way out they invited us to pick some tomatoes from their garden. They really know how to make their visitors feel special. This is definitely the place to go for high quality wine and a very tranquil experience.
Elizabeth Spencer Wines
1165 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, California, 94573

Great wines, even better chocolate wine sauce

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 17, 2010

Jessup Cellars was the fourth winery we visited in Napa - not counting our five minute visit to the way-too-crowded Robert Mondavi winery - so we were feeling pretty good when we arrived.

The tasting room is in the middle of Yountville, just a couple blocks from French Laundry. There are two rooms and a patio that make up the tasting area. Most of their tastings happen in the main room directly through the front door - there was a large granite bar with space for at least a dozen people. As soon as we entered we were welcomed by more than one person, and made our way to the bar where we met our pourer Dan.

Dan was hilarious. He had to be in his mid-sixties so he's seen a great deal of change in Napa Valley, all of which he shared with us. The tasting was $10, and in most of the tourist literature are 2-for-1 coupons. The tasting fees are waved if you purchase something.

The wines were all exquisite - full bodied, great aromas and very drinkable. They were priced slightly higher that some of the other wineries we had visited. The most inexpensive was a 2009 Jessup Napa Valley Rose for $28 and the most expensive was a 2007 Jessup Napa Valley Table for Four for $79 (which was amazing!). Dan really took his time talking us through each bottle and went in to detail about the vineyard from which each bottle came. After he poured our last sample of red wine he pulled out a bottle of Zinfandel Chocolate Port Sauce, something they don't always serve during tastings. The sauce was knock-your-socks-off good. And for only $28 we couldn't pass it up, so we bought a bottle.

I really enjoyed my experience at Jessup - Dan and the other employees made us feel right at home.
Jessup Cellars
6740 Washington Street
Yountville, California, 94599

Average wines, bad service

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 17, 2010

Honig has an amazing spot on the outskirts of Rutherford. Once you leave the main road you follow their driveway past rows and rows of vines, until you enter the parking lot just to the west of the main building. In front of the building were more than 10 tables with four to six chairs at each. Inside there was a long wooden table and a granite counter - you could do your tastings at either of these spots, but we opted to do it outside. The patio was divinely relaxing. From my seat, looking east, I had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

We were given coupons for a free tasting by our pourer at Elizabeth Spencer Wines, so I do not know the cost for a tasting.

I really wanted to like this place - honestly I did - with the tranquil space and the amazing view, but the staff (or at least our pourer) was less than pleasant and the wine was just okay. Our pourer was quite snobby, and was actually condescending at times.

As I said, the wines were okay, nothing special. The 2008 Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was the only wine that really did anything for me. It was a sweet dessert wine with a strong honey flavor. It was priced at $55 a bottle, a bit too steep for me.

If you want a spot that's peaceful and relaxing, I would recommend Honig, but I still feel there are better wineries in Napa.
Honig Vineyard & Winery
850 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, California, 94573
(707) 963-5618

A superb French meal in Napa Valley

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 13, 2010

After a day of wine tasting throughout Napa we were ready for a tasty, quality meal. We found it at Bistro Jeanty.

We ordered the following three starters:

Tomato soup in puff pastry

With garlic pastis butter

Pike dumplings with lobster sauce

I did my research online and read that the tomato soup was one of their specialties, so we had to try it. The pastry was golden brown and crispy - it fell neatly into the soup when cut with my spoon. The soup itself was spectacular - rich and creamy. I did not partake in the escargot, but I was told they were very good - the butter and garlic sauce was outstanding on some bread. The pike dumpling was by far the best of the three appetizers. The dumpling was moist and extremely tasty, and even better mixed with the lobster sauce. There was no stopping the four of us from soaking up the remaining sauce with the bread,

For the main course we ordered the following:

Veal sweetbreads and braised rabbit with a sweet garlic cream

Mussels steamed in red wine with grilled bread

Grilled rib eye steak with fries and béarnaise sauce

Two people ordered the veal sweetbreads. I had never tried sweetbreads before and was curious. They were actually quite good - I don't know if I'd order them myself, but I am glad I tried them. I did not try the mussels, but the fact that they were all eaten makes me believe they were excellent. I ordered the rib eye and fries. The rib eye was perfectly cooked medium rare and the fries were hot and crispy. The sauce was perfect.

By the time dessert came we were full, so we settled for coffee.

Bistro Jeanty is upscale, but not stuck up. The menu has a few adventurous items, but nothing too out there. Bistro Jeanty is definitely worth a stop.
Bistro Jeanty
6510 Washington St
Yountville, California, 94599
(707) 944-0103

San Francisco

The best part of waking up...

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Our Sunday morning in San Francisco started off with a bike ride. After navigating "the wiggle" I was in serious need of caffeine. Our guide - AKA future brother-in-law - attempted to take us to Tartine but due to the forty person deep line we decided to skip it. Instead we went to Ritual Coffee Roasters.

The interior was hip - local art on all the walls, very tall ceilings, dark wood floor and a hodge podge of older furniture. The aroma of the coffee was amazing. To the right of the main entrance were shelves of their coffee beans for consumption at home - 12 oz. whole-bean bags ranged from $12.95 to $17.95. While these costs may be a bit high for your average coffee drinker, all the coffees are green and fair trade.

We opted for cappuccino, and neither of us were disappointed - each had a different design drawn into the foam. The highlight of breakfast was definitely the vegan donuts. Priced at a little over $1 each they were a steal, so we chose three flavors: cinnamon, lemon and chocolate. The cinnamon was by far the best - a perfect balance of cinnamon and sugar. The chocolate was next - not too dark, but not overly sweet. And while the lemon was still tasty, it didn't quite match the others.

If you're not near one of their locations and you're curious about the coffee you can purchase bags on their website -
Ritual Coffee Roasters
1026 Valencia St
San Francisco, California, 94110

No need to run for the border

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

"Wow" is all I have to say about the burritos at Taqueria Cancun. After securing our bikes outside we followed the amazing smells emitting from the restaurant's open front door. The restaurant is kitschy inside - bright yellow and red walls and massive wooden tables and benches.

We ordered chips and salsa and a chicken burrito with the works. The chips were warm, crisp and salted perfectly. The burrito arrived a few minutes later. Our brother-in-law hyped the burrito up so much that I was fearful of being let down, but I am happy to say that I was definitely not let down. It was delicious with a capital D. Better than any burrito from a chain fast food joint or a fancy Mexican restaurant.

While I imagine this place is already on the tourist map, a large number of the diners were from the neighborhood. The burrito and chips cost us less than $8.

This is a must try if you're in the neighborhood and want an inexpensive tasty lunch (or snack).
Taqueria Cancun
2288 Mission St. (Cross St.: 19th Street)
San Francisco, California, 94110
(415) 252-9560

Cutest little grocery store on Earth

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Like San Francisco itself, Bi-Rite Market is small but packed full of variety. The sheer number of people entering and exiting the grocery store caught our attention, as did the fresh produce displayed on tables outside the front door. Inside, the shelves had to be more than ten feet tall, with products displayed all the way up.

To my delight, most of the products were local. Immediately inside the door to the left were the cash registers and to the right was a wall of fruit - grapes, figs, peaches, and anything else you could want. And there were free samples. One wall was filled entirely with chocolate in all shapes and sizes, from as far away as Europe and as close as San Francisco. Bi-Rite's own Rocky Road Chocolate Bar was to die for.

A large wine selection and a dry goods section took up the rear of the store. On the furthest wall to the right from the entrance was an enormous selection of cheese that would make a Maître Fromager smile. A majority of the cheese was local. The Inverness from Cowgirl Creamery and Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove were so tasty - and fairly inexpensive (see my photos for descriptions of each).

We spent roughly $20 on chocolate, cheese and fruit for our afternoon picnic. It was all locally made from quality ingredients. Bi-Rite Market is a foodie's heaven.
Bi-Rite Market
3639 18th St
San Francisco, California, 94110

Healthy ice cream, well maybe not, but it's organic

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Across from the Bi-Rite Market is the Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop. Having enjoyed our experience at the market it was only natural for us to extend the excitement at the creamery.

The ice cream, made with mainly organic ingredients, comes in an organic cone or a biodegradable container. We just wanted a taste so we ordered the kiddie size - which was actually quite large.

I tried the brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl and while it tasted phenomenal, I could not pass up the cookies and cream. The ice cream was smooth and rich, and the cookies were the perfect size (you know when you get a pint of cookies and cream and you have to search for the large pieces of cookie, not so much with Bi-Rite's cookies and cream). I've taken the liberty of including their entire ice cream menu - it changes daily though.

- vanilla
- salted caramel
- chocolate
- chocolate coconut (vegan)
- ginger, mint chip
- honey lavender
- coffee toffee
- ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles)
- roasted banana
- brown butter pecan
- malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate pieces
- brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl
- creme fraiche
- cookies and cream
- toasted coconut
- sorbet (flavor changes daily)

Bi-Rite also sells sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, cakes, pies and hot chocolate.

Definitely stop by if you are in the mood for ice cream or something sweet in general - it's tasty, cheap and made from quality ingredients.
Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop
3692 18th St.
San Francisco, California, 94110

Sushi happy hour

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Alright, so I am not the biggest sushi fan - I mainly steer away from raw meats and fishes - but I enjoyed my dinner at Tataki. I went with five sushi fans, so I knew I'd be fine eating what they ordered.

To start we ordered the crab croquette - crispy cakes with crab, sweet potato, and vegetables. There were four on the plate and the size of my palm. They were delicious. A good amount of crab and not overly oily from being fried. We also ordered some edamame which was good, not the best I've had.

Nightly before 7 p.m. is happy hour and, of course, happy hour specials. All the rolls we ordered were $4.50 each. For the main course we ordered a variety of sushi: crunchy California roll, crunchy spicy tuna roll, arctic char/avocado roll, sweet potato tempura roll, mixed vegetable roll.

I have to say that they all were tasty. Especially the crunchy California roll (very pedestrian of me, I know). Everyone else was going crazy over the arctic char roll, so I guess you should order it if you go.

What's a happy hour with out drinks? Tataki had some great specials - $2.50 for a small Sapporo, $4 for a large Sapporo, and $2.50 for a small Asahi beer. We opted for the $5 glasses of Kin-san-gria (house sangria made with Riesling, sake and fresh fruits). I'd really recommend the sangria if you like a sweet drink.

All in all, it was a good meal.
Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar
2815 California Street
San Francisco, California
(415) 931-1182

Danish bakery in San Francisco

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

On our last morning in San Francisco we wanted to eat breakfast on the beach, so we went to Grain D'or to pick up some pastries. Having been to Copenhagen a few months ago, I was really excited to visit a Danish pastry shop. We were greeted by the most pleasant smell when we entered the sparsely decorated restaurant - very Danish indeed.

The pastries were displayed behind a plate of glass, presumably to keep sweets-fanatics like me from reaching over and grabbing a danish, and each name card had a cute Danish flag. As had become our custom, we purchased an assortment to share, including a raspberry cream cheese danish, a chocolate croissant, a walnut cream cheese danish, a bacon bun and a jalapeno cheese bun. The staff was extremely friendly and sent us off with big smiles.

We found a peaceful spot on the cement wall next to the beach just across from the Golden Gate Park - you could not ask for a prettier view. The chocolate croissant was extremely good. The raspberry and walnut cream cheese danishes were a bit on the sweet side, but still quite tasty. The savory bacon and jalapeno buns were a nice balance to the sweet pastries. Next time I want to try the traditional cheese danish, and I'd get a couple additional chocolate croissants.

While Grain D'or didn't measure up to the wonderful Danish bakeries I fell in love with, it was a good meal and worth a visit, maybe a second and third too.
Grain D'or
665 Market St
San Francisco, California, 94105
(415) 512-8160

Fancy chocolates from San Francisco

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Recchiuti Confections, a Parisian-inspired chocolate shop, offers handmade chocolates from San Francisco. Their chocolates are definitley in the designer chocolate category, with flavors including curry, lavender, apple and more.

A pre-packaged box of four cost $11, but you can pick individual pieces to make your own box (or bag) for roughly $2 each. We settled on a few individual pieces - the Fleur de Sel Caramel was by far the best.

Finding high-quality, locally-made chocolates when traveling around the US is difficult, so these are great souvenirs or gifts for friends and family.
Recchiuti Confections
Ferry Building Marketplace, One Ferry Building
San Francisco, California

Artisan cheese shop in downtown

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Based in Point Reyes Station, California, Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese has a large shop with dozens of choices in the Ferry Building Marketplace.

The staff was very helpful, and were very happy to provide us with samples.

In addition to the cheeses made by the creamery they sell cheeses from around the world. Since we were flying home shortly after we visited we did not purchase any cheese, but we did get a nifty Cowgirl Creamery cheese knife for $1.50 - nice little souvenir
Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Shop
1 Ferry Building, #17
San Francisco, California, 94111
(415) 362-9354

Scrumptious baked goods

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by ch2001 on October 18, 2010

Miette, "little crumb" in French, is a cute little bakery with very scrumptious looking baked goods. The glass case and counters were covered with macaroons, cookies, muffins and cupcakes.

I love cupcakes, like really love, so when I saw a gingerbread cupcake in the case I had to try it. The cake was so moist and the gingerbread flavor was perfect - not overly potent. The cream cheese frosting was also perfect. We also purchased a couple macaroons for the plane ride - they too were tasty.

A stop at Miette is a must for dessert or a snack.
Miette Cakes
1 Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, California, 94104
(415) 837-0300

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