From My Travels – Memories of a Trip to San Francisco

Since I missed Chef’s Night Off last night, I’m taking a little bit of a break tonight… I wrote this for Eat and Tell a while back… you can tell by the writing style – a little sassier than lately!

Dommaine Carneros 3

“Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk!” This is the saying on a magnet that has been on my refrigerator since the 80’s; it is also the battle cry of a group of girlfriends – including yours truly – who love to live life to its fullest.

One of these dear friends is getting married soon. We are grateful to her for providing the perfect excuse to gather in our old stomping grounds, food and wine heaven, the Napa Valley, for a “grown up” bachelorette party. The plan consisted of two of our favorite activities, eating too much and drinking too much of the best Napa has to offer (or at least our personal favorites).

The itinerary went roughly like this:

Friday: Winery number 1: Quintessa – a beautiful sanctuary where nature and great architecture come together to make exceptional wine. The staff, especially our guide Kelly, is gracious and charming, the 2002 vintage is ripe and velvety, and the nibbles that came with it (aged Gouda, “Humboldt Fog,” and membrillo) were yummy – just wish there was more wine in that glass!

Lunch: The Wine Spectator at Greystone Restaurant – great patio with a fantastic view, lots of pink wines to choose from, a new lunch menu with a “world cuisine” flair – lots of popping flavors in small plate form and a burger stuffed with foie gras (decadent!).

Winery number 2: Pine Ridge Winery – I worked here for several years, it remains a personal favorite, now even more so since they’ve added a PINK wine (we LOVE pink wine). This is also a great place for a wine country cooking class with the winery’s current chef, Eric .

Day one continues with a couple of bottles of wine at the home of fabulous friends where I raided their personal citrus grove to smuggle some California gold (Meyer lemons) back to NYC.

Dinner: Foothill Café – We decided to go “local” for dinner… this little gem is hidden away in an old strip shopping center in a residential neighborhood, just the way we like it when we want to walk in with 5 people at 8:00 on a Friday with no reservations and cravings for really good food. Duck, prime rib, BBQ ribs, tuna – all excellent, and what do they do with the veggies to make them so perfect yet simple?

Saturday, Day 2: A little shopping in the Laurel area of Oakland for obscure Asian and Latino food items gets the blood pumping. Once we’re up and moving, we’re ready to take on San Francisco for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town. If you’re in this area, don’t miss Ichiban Kan (the Japanese dollar store) at 22 Peace Plaza… if for no other reason than to buy a little gadget that cuts hot dogs into little octopi! 
Dinner: Kokkari – Greek food has typically been relegated to the realm of mom and pop-style diner/comfort food; here, it assumes its rightful place in the kingdom of “cuisine.” EVERYTHING (and we tried over 10 dishes) was to die for! Even Greek wine, particularly the whites, won my heart. (A review I wrote of Kokkari after a couple meals there)

Sunday: Though still reeling from the past two days, the battle cry could still be heard on the last day of our adventure. Fortunately, we stocked up on supplies for another stellar breakfast at home – challa French toast with more fresh fruit and Niman Ranch BACON (did I mention our obsession with pork products?).

Winery 1: Joseph Phelps – make your appointment well in advance (we recommend requesting the insanely fabulous princess from New York). For this extended tasting (3 hours on the terrace overlooking hills and vines). Good friends, a great view on a beautiful day, and Phelps Insignia… there is very little else one needs to prove that life is sweet.

All other plans for winery visits and shopping (for chocolate at Woodhouse and olive oil at the little place on Charter Oak) were waylaid for a decadent afternoon in the vineyard-side yard of old friends with their family’s (French!) wine – Domaine des Girasols, a rich smoky, spicy, Cotes du Rhone Villages – so good and so hard to find (let me know if you’re interested!).

Winery 2: Cardinale. OK, maybe there’s time for one more short visit, especially since the sweetest, most charming, and adorable young man was rumored to be pouring (lucky us, he was!). Big, bold, high-scoring California cabs, luxurious surroundings, and a stunning view of my former home.

Dinner: Bistro Jeanty. A visit to Napa would be incomplete without at meal here. The quintessential bistro menu – everything is great, especially the simple things like tomato soup (under a veil of buttery puff pastry). After our first few courses, we were still able to add on our second round of braised short ribs (hence, running them out of their special for the evening!).  It took me three days to fully recover and I’m still full!

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