Monthly Archives: July 2013

San Francisco/Napa Valley: PART THREE

Hurray, I finally found time to recap the rest of our trip to Napa Valley!  Just to warn you, this post focuses mainly on eating and drinking (as if that differs from any of my other posts…).

My coworker happens to be friends with the folks at Terra Valentine, a winery located in the hills of St. Helena, and helped set us up with a tour and tasting there.  It also happened to be yet another great recommendation from Jenn 🙂

The drive there was simply breathtaking, and I wish we weren’t on the brink of being late so we could have slowed down and enjoyed it more.

The winery itself was extremely charming and reminded me of a miniature castle.

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We took a brief tour of the grounds, which was informative and interesting, but I was most fascinated in hearing about the history of the winery (apparently the original owner of the estate was extremely eccentric and a recluse).

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After the tour, we were brought into the tasting room where we were sat at a table with a huge stained glass window overlooking it.

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For the tasting, we tried a riesling, a pinot noir, a cabernet franc, and a couple cabernet sauvignons.  All were outstanding.

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We learned that the pinot noir is transported from a vineyard in Sonoma since the weather in Napa Valley is not well suited for growing pinot grapes.  It was also quite interesting comparing the two cabernet sauvignons – one grown at this vineyard and the other grown at their other estate just over the hill.  The different growing conditions lent each wine a unique flavor even though the aging and bottling processes were the same.

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To compliment our wine, we were given this tray of cheese, chocolate, and nuts.

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We loved everything about this winery, and although it was one of our first tours in Napa, we could tell right away it would be one of our favorites!

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I must admit, I made the rookie mistake of drinking a good majority of the wine that was poured for me, so when the tasting was over, it was definitely time to get some sustenance.  Good thing Patrick had the good sense not to drink all of his!

For lunch, we had made reservations at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, a cute farm-to-table restaurant that was once a former nursery barn.

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We opted for outdoor seating which had a nice rustic and summery ambiance.  The menu here had endless options I wanted to try.

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I ordered the kale caesar salad to start, which was very light, yet flavorful.

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I also ordered the potato gnocchi with ragu – very rich and decadent.

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Patrick ordered the ribs, which were nice and tender and came with a side of coleslaw.

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After lunch, we took a short driving tour around St. Helena and stopped in Yountville for some long awaited Bouchon Bakery.

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The pictures pretty much speak for themselves!  We ordered the “oh oh” (a fun take on ho ho’s), a pistachio French macaron, and a homemade peanut butter cup.

A-maaazing.

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Later that night, we returned to Yountville, this time for dinner at Ad Hoc, (also a Thomas Keller establishment).  My friend Megan recommended this place, and I’m glad she did since I’ve owned the cookbook for a couple years and somehow didn’t realize it was its own restaurant!

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A word about this restaurant- unlike the French Laundry just down the street which is as high-class as you can get when it comes to dining, this restaurant is meant to be casual and cozy.  It features a prix-fixed 4-course family-style dinner with a menu that changes daily  There is only one meal offered each night, which is posted on their website early in the day (helpful for picky eaters).

Also, behind the building is a little shack called Addendum which serves box lunches featuring Ad Hoc’s famous fried chicken (more on this later).

Here was what our menu looked like for the day:

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And here is how it came out:

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There must have been a last-minute change, since the ravioli wasn’t offered..  Instead, we were given the option to add a whole baked sea bass, which we couldn’t say no to.

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Dessert was this amazing blackberry financier (my first time hearing this word), which was still warm when it came out.

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Since Patrick has some inexplicable aversion to cooked fruit, the waiter was kind enough to bring out this sorbet for his dessert instead, which was also very tasty.

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One of the best meals we’ve eaten… we both agreed this place is our new favorite restaurant!

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We greeted the next day with a trip to Model Bakery in downtown Napa, recommendation from our friend Ann, to fuel up before our next wine tasting session.

Of all things, this place is famous for its English Muffins, which appeared on the Food Networks “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” (which I recommend watching here).

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Unlike regular English muffins which tend to be dense and crumbly, these are light and airy.

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I ordered the Veggie Breakfast Sandwich, which featured the English muffin with a fried egg, hash browns, avocado, mayo, ketchup, tomato, and provolone cheese.  By far the best breakfast sandwich I’ve tasted!

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After breakfast, we made our way to the Cakebread winery where we had reservations for a white wine tasting.  This was another recommendation from my friend Megan.  Also my sister and her fiance are huge fans of their chardonnay, so I definitely wanted to try it.

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We tasted a cabernet sauvignon as well as a number of chardonnays, which each had a distinctive flavor (although Patrick said he couldn’t really tell the difference).  If you like chardonnay (which I happen to), this really is the place to go!

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For lunch, we planned to go to Boon Fly Cafe, but it was a half hour in the opposite direction we were headed and we couldn’t stop thinking about the Addendum fried chicken.

And so that is where we ended up that afternoon.

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Though the line was rather long, it was only about a 15 minute wait before they brought out our meal.  We ate at a picnic table just outside the little shack.

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Each box contained 3 pieces of chicken, some cornbread, potato salad, and coleslaw.  The chicken was super crunchy and flavorful – just the way fried chicken should be 🙂

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If you love fried chicken, I recommend putting this place on your bucket list!

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After lunch, it was time to said our goodbyes to Napa and made our to Cupertino, where Patrick is spending the rest of the summer working his internship.

We moved all of his things into his apartment and took a quick driving tour around the town, where we ran into this random fruit company.

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And we then ended the night and our San Francisco/Napa adventure with some quality In-N-Out.

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Maybe it’s because of the sheer quantity AND quality of amazing food and wine that we tasted, but this makes the list of one of my favorite trips thus far.  Good thing I will be returning to Northern California for another visit next weekend!

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San Francisco/Napa Valley: PART TWO

The next day, we woke up early to squeeze in a trip to the Ferry Building Marketplace before leaving the city.  This place was recommended across the board from my friends and coworker so I was willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleeping time to get there 🙂

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My eagerness may have gotten the best of me since we arrived before the place even opened.  Vendors were just beginning to set up shop.

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As promised by our friends, this historic building is a food lover’s haven – fresh local fish, artisan cheeses, various wines, specialty meats, and freshly baked bread under one roof.

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Our first stop was Acme Bread, one of the first shops to open their doors that day.  Not only does this place have fantastic bread and an incredible selection, but many of the ingredients they use (like 100% of their flour) are organic and locally sourced.

Originally a wholesale bakery for high-quality restaurants (including Chez Panisse! – another bucketlist restaurant of mine), they now have two retail shops – one of which is here.  It was therefore imperative that we buy a loaf to accompany us on our road trip later that day.

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To supplement our bread, we stopped at Cowgirl Creamery next door, another local gem but with more national acclaim.

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What’s great about this little shop is the customer service.  Once your number is called, an expert cheeseman/cheesewoman (or at least that’s how I like to refer to them) is there to assist you in finding just the cheese you are looking for.  They ask you a number of questions about your tastes and they then select some samples for you to try until you find what you want… an experience that would otherwise be overwhelming considering how many different kinds of cheeses there are to choose from!

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We took some cheese with us for the road and ended up eating Cowgirl Creamery cheese several more times throughout the trip (more on that later).

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Meanwhile outside, an entire lineup of unique food vendors awaited us.  I was still full from leftover Tony’s Pizza (see my last post) but I thought these nectarines would go nicely with our bread and cheese.  Fast forward to a few hours later: they were the best nectarines I’d had in a long time.

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Patrick wavered between a number of food stalls, but ended up surrendering to his meat and potatoes affinity with rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes.

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The outside of the meat was really delicious and flavorful, especially with a squeeze of lime juice.

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We also decided to try the Korean tacos at another vendor.

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I was surprised to see that it came wrapped in nori instead of a tortilla.  The “taco” was really, really good but not very practical for biting into, especially when sharing!  Also the juice from the meat was dripping everywhere.  But despite user difficulties, I want to stress how delicious this was!  I could really go for two or twelve of them right now.

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At this point, it was time to begin our departure from the city.  But not without first pausing to gaze up at the zigzag road where a number of tourists were already lining up to ride down or walk along it.  Not so sure I’d want to live in one of the surrounding apartments.

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Since we had to drive over it to leave the city anyway, we saved the Golden Gate Bridge for our last San Francisco stop.  We decided to check out both sides of the bridge, first for this view:

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… and then we stopped along the other side for this view (panoramic shot taken with Patrick’s iPhone):

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We didn’t stay too long since we wanted to conserve our energy for the next leg of our journey:

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The Redwoods have been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was excited at the chance to finally see them up close.  Our friend Jenn had recommended Muir Woods and it turned out to be an amazing location for this!

Apparently plenty of other folks thought so, too.  The only minor setback we experienced was the limited parking!  We ended up parking about a 15 minute walk from the park entrance (but totally worth it).

The park has a number of trails with varying levels of difficulty.  We chose a trail slightly off the beaten path but not too strenuous since we wanted to still be able to take in our surroundings.

If there was ever any question as to why they are called “redwoods”:

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What I find most fascinating about Redwoods is that they can live up to 2000 years.  Many of the trees have been around since the Middle Ages.  It was nearly impossible to capture the height of an entire tree in one shot, but we tried with iPhone’s panoramic feature.

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We also took some shots from a distance to try and capture the scale of these guys.

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Good thing I’m used to feeling short 🙂

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I thought this particular patch of trees looked like they belong in a fairytale:

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When we reached the end of our trail, we stopped at the Muir Woods Trading Company Cafe where Patrick bought a sandwich and a lovely Valrhona brownie.

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I’m just reading that this place was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” for their grilled cheese and tomato soup, which I will have to return and try sometime.  I will say that I didn’t think Patrick’s sandwich was anything out of the ordinary until a courageous chipmunk jumped onto our bench and tried to steal Patrick’s sandwich right from his plate!

At this point, it was finally time for the part of our trip I had been looking forward to the most: wining and dining in Napa Valley.

When we arrived in Napa, we drove straight to our first destination: Domaine Carneros, another amazing recommendation from Jenn.

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This place is known for their sparkling wine and pinot noir so we decided to split a flight featuring the best of both of these items:

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They were both outstanding, but I was mostly in love with the sparkling wine:

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We also ordered the cheese plate which featured a selection of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery along with some crostini, nuts, and dried fruit.

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And to top it off, we had a lovely view to accompany our late afternoon snack.

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There must be something about courageous animals in this area because this bird sat here almost half the time, hoping for a share in our bread (or maybe he was after the wine).

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Next we checked into our hotel, then headed to downtown Napa to explore a bit before our dinner reservations at 8pm.  We were surprised to find the Farmer’s Market in full swing when we arrived, which apparently occurs every Thursday evening right in the heart of downtown.  It was one of the biggest farmer’s markets I have been to, spanning several blocks with food trucks, food stalls, chef demonstrations, etc.  In many ways, it felt more like a festival.

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We walked around the entire perimeter before heading to Carpe Diem for dinner – an awesome recommendation from our friend Ann.

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This place is famous for their ostrich burger but all of their food has a fun, innovative quality to it.  We ordered the Soup of the Moment which happened to be Avocado Soup,

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Spiced Pulled Pork Lettuce Cups (my favorite!),

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P.E.I. Mussels with Spanish Chorizo, Lemongrass, Tomato, Shallots and White Wine (YUM!),

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“Quack N’ Cheese” (aka macaroni and cheese with duck confit, caramelized onions, and diced tomato),

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and this brick-oven flatbread featuring proscuitto, asparagus, and preserved meyer lemons.  (This one ended up being our least favorite as the lemons tasted a bit bitter and overpowered the dish.)

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Overall, a great way to spend our first night in Napa!

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The last of our wining & dining adventures on the way 🙂