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Napa/SF/Sausalito


rlm
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Napa: I could spend weeks here and be deliriously happy, but I'd read that you should not try to visit more than 3-4 wineries in a day and our time was limited. I chose Cakebread Cellars, as I have been a fan since '94 after trying a bottle of the '90 Napa Cabernet. I was unable to find any of their wines for years, and when I finally did, it was only a bottle or two here-and-there. We chose Andretti Winery because my husband is a fan of Mario's and we'd therefore sampled and enjoyed some of his wines already.

Andretti: Our Bay Area friends were waiting for us in the parking lot at 9:30 and had fresh crusty baguettes for us stuffed with salami and pepper jack cheese. We waited for the 10:00 opening and found we were the only ones in the tasting room. Since we had tried most of the "regular" wines (sangiovese, chardonnay, merlot, sauv blanc), we both tried the reserve tasting of the new Montona wines (chardonnay, merlot, cabernet). The young lady working in the tasting room was very friendly, but did not seem extremely knowledgeable (she referred us to the laminated tasting notes on the bar). She indicated they could only give tours for 6 or more people since they were under-staffed at this time of the year. I was surprised that they did not have any palate cleansers such as crackers available. I am more of a red wine aficionado, but surprisingly prefer Andretti's whites to the reds. After we finished our 3 tasting portions, we each ordered a glass of the Montona chardonnay and retired to the patio to sip wine and look through a book for dining options. We did not feel we had time to drive to another location for lunch due to our 1:00 appointment at Cakebread, so we decided on an early dinner at Bouchon (5:30).

Cakebread: We drove here a little early and were able to get in on an earlier tasting group, as well as make arrangements for a "more comprehensive" tour and tasting later in the afternoon. A knowledgeable and personable gentleman named Laurie led us into the barrel room and we stood in a semi-circle and tasted 7 wines. He gave verbal descriptions of the wines and also handed us a packet of tasting notes for all of the wines except the merlot. The favorites of the group were the 2002 Chardonnay Russian River (which outshone the Napa Valley Chardonnay) and the 2002 Rubaiyat (a spicy blend of pinot noir and syrah that is only available at the winery and is being officially released this month). Not being wine drinkers and also being designated drivers, our friends took sips and then poured their remainders into our glasses. After plowing through the 2002 Sauv Blanc, 2002 Napa and Russian River Chardonnays, 2001 Pinot Noir, 2002 Rubaiyat, 2001 Napa Merlot, and 2001 Napa Cabernet, I wasn't sure I needed a second tasting in the afternoon. Turned out there wasn't much to the "comprehensive" tour other than walking around and looking at the garden and pictures of the Cakebread family on the wall (seeing as how there's not much going on this time of year). The second tasting was outside under some trees and consisted of the same wines. I never thought I would refuse pours of Cakebread, but I only tried my favorites on the second tasting due to the amount of wine already imbibed.

Bouchon: Now on to dinner. Bouchon was intriguing to me since it is owned by Thomas Keller and the chef was his sous chef at French Laundry. I have the F.L. cookbook and have seen several reviews on TV and in print that made my mouth water so I thought this was a fail-safe option. None of my other dining companions knew Thomas Keller from Lassie, so I trusted they would have unbiased opinions. Unfortunately, they should change the name to House of Salt, as all four of us agreed that everything was over-salted.

We first stopped into the adjacent Bouchon Bakery and checked out their breads and "springtime sweets" (chocolate eggs and bunnies made from Valrhona chocolate, lemon meringue tarts, braided brioches). Walked over to Bouchon and delicately unfolded the brown tissue paper menu that was wrapped around our napkins. Basic French bistro decor with a mural along the back wall that reminded me of Magritte. Our service was passable, but not what I expected from the Foodie Center of the Universe. I started with the onion soup and my husband ordered the Salade Maraichere au Chevre Chaud et Noisettes (mixed greens with dijon mustard vinaigrette, accompanied by a crostini with warm goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts). Our friends chose to just nibble on the little toasts with olive oil/basil spread and the twisty bread with butter (all of which were decent). My soup was served nuclear hot and had a nice flavor, but it certainly wasn't the best onion soup I've ever had. The salad was not that exciting either, especially for $9.50. Still very full from all of the wine, two of us ordered the poulet roti forestiere (roasted chicken with a ragout of wild mushrooms) without the a la carte accompaniments available (french fries, french green beans, cauliflower gratin, spinach, marinated olives, or potato puree). Another friend had the saumon aux poireaux (sauteed Atlantic Salmon with stewed leeks and beurre blanc), and hubby settled for the steak frites (pan seared prime flatiorn served with maitre d'hotel butter and french fries). His portion of fries was so large that we were all able to dig in and still did not finish all of them. All dishes carried the primary flavor of salt, even the salmon sans sauce. I was disappointed that the chicken dish was served only with pan juices rather than the chefs using the pan juices and added flavor components such as wine to create a nice sauce. The best things on the table were the french fries and lemonade (which was mixed with sparkling water). I'm not sure if the kitchen staffing is different given the time of year or if it was just an "off" night for them or what.

In-N-Out/Scoma's/Horizons: The next day, we decided to rent bikes in SF and bike over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped into In-N-Out Burger at 10:30 and split two cheeseburgers with sauteed onions for a healthy breakfast. Yum. After going over the bridge into Sausalito, we bought crab cakes to share from two restaurants next to each other by the water: Scoma's and Horizons. Horizons had smaller crab cakes served with a jicama slaw and citrus butter. Not bad, but Scoma's were larger, tastier, and served with a nice spicy remoulade (along with some mixed greens).

Trish's Mini Donuts/McCormick & Kuleto's: We rode from the Embarcadero back to the Wharf and turned in the bikes, stopping to grab some hot and amazing tiny donuts from Trish's Mini Donuts, then walked over to eat some more crab cakes in the Crab Cake Lounge. We ended up getting a full meal instead at McCormick & Kuleto's. Being locals, our friends were wary of eating anywhere near Fisherman's Wharf (especially at a chain of sorts), but we ended up having a fantastic meal. Our server was far more professional than the one at Bouchon (even offering to cut up the thick chocolate bottom of the "chocolate bag" dessert for us into more manageable pieces). For starters, we split the Dungeness crabcakes with glasses of Mumm's Brut champagne. Our friends had a Hawaiian fish I'd never heard of that was tender and flaky and wonderful, served with roasted new potatoes and asparagus. We both had the salmon stuffed with crab and surrounded by pools of a creamy sauce along with mashed potatoes and a carrot/haricot verts veggie mix. We split two desserts: the divine warm apple crisp with vanilla bean ice cream and the chocolate bag (literally a bag made out of chocolate stuffed with cappuccino mousse and whipped cream, surrounded by berries and raspberry sauce).

Ferry Building Market @ the Embarcadero: The next day we wandered around this nicely-renovated market, drooling at the Scharffenberger chocolate, fresh produce, and dizzying array of seafood & gourmet goodies. Ventured into the Wine Merchant's wine bar and had a glass of Billecart Salmon Rose champagne, discussing what we wanted to do since SFMOMA wasn't open when we arrived in the city from Mountain View and we didn't want to wait behind the screaming group of school children. Decided to go back to Sausalito and eat at Scoma's (not knowing it was closed on Tuesdays) since most of the places I wanted to try in SF like Gary Danko were closed for lunch. Grabbed a hunk of melt-in-your-mouth parmesan from the Cowgirl Creamery to have something in our stomachs while waiting on the ferry ride. When we returned, we popped into the Ferry Plaza Seafood counter to finish up with some crab cakes and more wine (Tramin Pinot Grigio). The crab cakes were small like the ones at Horizons and McCormick & Kuleto's, but since we probably should not have been eating again anyway we only needed a taste. Picked up some chocolate and lemon pastries as gifts for our hosts at Miette Patisserie and headed back via CalTrain.

Sausalito: Backing up a bit, since Scoma's was closed, we wandered back over to Horizons and had a great view of downtown SF and the water while sipping peach bellinis and noshing on two appetizers: calamari served with 3 dipping sauces and a "colossal" prawn cocktail. We were still a little hungry and wanted to try something else, so we ended up in Poggio, a new-ish Italian place at the Casa Madrona Hotel. This place was a little stuffy and the server seemed upset that we only wanted to split a pizza. We were served three different warm rolls with butter and inquired as to who made them. Turned out to be from the Il Fornaio bakery. We have an Il Fornaio a few blocks from where we live and they usually just bring out boring, cold, white bread before the meal. We had some nicely chilled Moscato d'Asti and split a roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella pizza with a thin crust that was perfect. Afterwards, we walked to a wine bar that we had spied on Monday, only to discover that they too were closed on Tuesdays. So we stopped in the bar at Water Street Grille for a couple of drinks. We were ignored for quite a while, ordered a Bay Slide (mudslide) and a poorly-made Skyy Cosmo, and then left.

Amarin Thai Cuisine: On Tuesday night, we had a late dinner with our friends and two others in Mountain View. The place was packed (unlike their sister all-vegetarian restaurant two doors down that was populated with a lone couple). We split six dishes family-style, with the unanimous favorite being the chicken yellow curry with potatoes, onions, carrots, and coconut milk. Also really enjoyed the chicken green curry with bamboo shoots, peas, bell pepper, basil, and coconut milk. Least favorite dish was the crispy garlic pork. Other dishes were the spicy eggplant with pork, bell pepper, soybean, garlic, chili, and basil; the pad thai noodles with egg, shrimp, tofu, and bean sprouts; and the chili fish stuffed into its own skin. There were 79 regular dishes and 48 vegetarian options to choose from, so I think we did fairly well with the ones we chose.

Verde Tea Cafe: Then we walked over to the hopping Verde Tea Cafe, a Taiwanese tea bar with "pearls" on the bottom of the glass (little tapioca balls). They also had frozen drinks without the tapioca surprise (mango and plum were both very good).

“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

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You're welcome. I was secretly hoping to hear from others who have been to Bouchon in Napa to see what their experience was like. On the SW board, they stated Keller's Bouchon in Vegas was disappointing too. I wonder why a chef with a reputation as a perfectionist would put his $ and name behind something that doesn't seem up to his standards.

“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

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You're welcome. I was secretly hoping to hear from others who have been to Bouchon in Napa to see what their experience was like. On the SW board, they stated Keller's Bouchon in Vegas was disappointing too. I wonder why a chef with a reputation as a perfectionist would put his $ and name behind something that doesn't seem up to his standards.

I think the reason people find Bouchon to be disapointing is because they are expecting it to be something it isn't. Regardless of who owns the place, it's still a simple bistro style restaurant serving comfort food. I've never had an amazing meal there, it's a good place to have dinner any night of the week but it's nothing spectacular. The Bouchon Bakery is another story - almost everything I've had there has been excellent.

Next time your in Yountville, be sure to eat at Pere Jeanty - at the moment it's my favorite place in the area at that level.

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I just returned from a weeklong visit to the San Francisco area. We only had one day to spend in Napa(a Friday) so we just visited one winery. Cakebread was on my list too but there was a time conflict. We booked a vineyard tour at Niebaum-Coppola. The estate includes the Inglenook Chateau and FFC's movie museum as well. After a detailed tour of the vineyard we(6 people) had a tasting of four wines with bread and cheese. We started chatting with some locals in the wine business and ended up spending most of the day there. On their recommendation, I also bought some excellent garlic olive oil. We finally staggered off to Pere Jeanty around 4pm and enjoyed spectacular Steak Tartare.

We went to the Ferry Market on Saturday morning. After nibbling through Cowgirl Creamery(Mezzo Seco and Humboldt were outstanding), we sat at the counter at Hog Island Oysters to enjoy fresh Sweetwater Oysters, oyster stew, clam chowder(with whole clams in the shell) and braised oysters. Then we shared a whisky and fennel sausage sandwich(whew!). We brought back sesame glazed walnuts(Alfieri) and chocolate caramel candy with fleur de sel from Recchiuti Confections. The Ferry Market is not to be missed!

As Easterners we also had In-N-Out Burger on our list. The french fries(made from potatos sliced in front of us) were terrific.

In the Half Moon Bay area we were sent to Ketch Joann's for seafood-casual, inexpensive and good!

Kitchen Kutie

"I've had jutht about enough outta you!"--Daffy Duck

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Shermar - Yes, the Humboldt Fog cheese by Cypress Grove is outstanding! I'm able to find that here in CO at gourmet markets like Marczyk's and Whole Foods. Very expensive, but so worth it. Almost went to Hog Island Oysters myself. It was so hard to decide what to try in the Ferry Building since there were so many tempting options.

Melkor - I agree that my expectations were high for Bouchon as far as the quality level is concerned, but I had read about the fact it was French bistro fare in a Cuisine Tours magazine and didn't expect the full-on, multi-course tasting menu extravaganza. I love basic French classics and eat that type of food often, which is another reason I was so disappointed. I expected it to be at least as good as similar places I've eaten at in the Denver area (Bistro Vendome, L'Atelier, Le Central, etc.), but it wasn't even close. :sad:

What is more telling is that my three dining companions (all from widely different backgrounds) did not have any expectations since they aren't big food geeks like moi, yet they expressed the same level of disappointment (although they were reluctant to tell me at first since I had selected the restaurant! ha ha). I WANTED to like the place really badly. The french fries did ROCK, and the onion soup was good, but the entrees were over-priced and over-salted (which is why I thought it may have been Trainee Night in the kitchen). :biggrin:

“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

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Melkor - I agree that my expectations were high for Bouchon as far as the quality level is concerned, but I had read about the fact it was French bistro fare in a Cuisine Tours magazine and didn't expect the full-on, multi-course tasting menu extravaganza. I love basic French classics and eat that type of food often, which is another reason I was so disappointed. I expected it to be at least as good as similar places I've eaten at in the Denver area (Bistro Vendome, L'Atelier, Le Central, etc.), but it wasn't even close. :sad:

What is more telling is that my three dining companions (all from widely different backgrounds) did not have any expectations since they aren't big food geeks like moi, yet they expressed the same level of disappointment (although they were reluctant to tell me at first since I had selected the restaurant! ha ha). I WANTED to like the place really badly. The french fries did ROCK, and the onion soup was good, but the entrees were over-priced and over-salted (which is why I thought it may have been Trainee Night in the kitchen). :biggrin:

The fries are amazing, they fry them in goose fat. I've had consistantly better bistro food at Bistro Jeanty than Bouchon, and they are only a block or two apart. That said, I think they were having an off night, I've never had a bad meal there.

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Thanks for your trip reports! I'm heading to Napa/Sonoma/San Francisco in May, and have been keeping meticulous eGullet restaurant reports. However, I now realize that I had forgotten about the resplendent In-N-Out burger, being an out-of-the-loop Easterner as well.

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