When it was confirmed my beau and I would be venturing out west for a fall vacation to the ever-so awesome city of San Francisco, I was thrilled. The mountains would be unreal, the coastline absolutely incredible and the city of SF-even cooler than I had ever imagined. For Northern California would water my eyes with its beauty, capture my heart with its charm and beautify my palate with its glorious cuisine.
Booking the flight and reserving our rooms brought on an expected intense hunger reaction. My taste buds had joined in on the vacation anticipation. With an entire two months before the trip, food fantasizing had already begun. My mouth immediately became flooded with dreams of aromatic and bold vino and sharp, nutty cheeses breaking through each delectable sip. Napa Valley was also upon us, a dreamland I thought I wouldn’t visit for years to come. I pictured California artichokes, grilled and served at my every beck and call. Authentic Italian food from SF’s Little Italy was circling round and round in my hungering head. The thought of feasting on Pacific coast fresh-caught seafood put me in a special state of euphoria. I was beside myself, but I’d have to wait. Two months. Two long months before California chow would no longer be a reverie.
The time had come my friends. We would begin in Wine Country. I had done my research. Spoke to many wino friends who had traveled to Napa Valley before. Read numerous articles and blogs informing me of the very best vineyards to visit. Francis Ford Coppola’s estate, Inglenook, won the battle for best tasting tour. Coming highly recommended by many, I was hardly disappointed. Stunning views of the valley welcomed me to this elegant estate. Dreadfully scorching hot, I could hardly complain. I was surrounded by man-made and God-made beauty in every direction.
The tour swept a small group of us through the vineyards for discussions on grape growing and harvesting and then brought us into the mansion where we explored the refreshingly freezing cellars full of barrels upon barrels of wine. The tour’s grand finale was a lovely and intimate guided wine and cheese pairing.
We went to several other vineyards and tasting rooms during our two-day stay. Another favorite was Artessa Winerywhere art and wine came together as one. The winery nearly doubled as a museum with unique and remarkable pieces complimenting the heavenly landscape of the valley. The wine-tenders weren’t too shabby either. Not the slightest bit pretentious yet extremely knowledgeable, they took their time with us amateurs, pouring us some of the best tasting wine (and bubbly) in all of Napa Valley.
With one regrettable meal in Napa I won’t dare mention, we were on a cuisine redemption mission. Taking a suggestion from a fellow Tampa food blogger, we concluded our time in Napa with a post wine-tasting lunch at a little cottage eatery with one big attitude on local food. Goose and Gander, a rustic pub set in delightful St. Helena, not only served me one of the best cocktails I’ve ever sipped on but also the most bodacious burger I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Made with fresh and pickled cucumber, huckleberries, yuzu, tonic and a serious pour of vodka, the Cucumber Collins cooled me down and hit the spot on my wine drenched tongue.
The G&G Burger, arriving after a starter of Padron Peppers was enormous and perfect to split. House-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, gruyere, homemade pickles and even a smothering of bone marrow were all the toppings to a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth slab of organic, grass-fed beef. Heck yes. With drool-worthy duck fat fries on the side, we were in culinary bliss. A flawless finale to our amazing time in Napa.
Arriving in San Francisco, there was one long list of sights to be seen, drinks to be drunk and food to be consumed. In SF, a city perfect for devout foodies, there would be a slim chance of a single bad meal. There was not one dud amongst all 12 meals but there were a few I’ve been non-stop dreaming about ever since.
|Impromptu Oysters from the Ferry Market|
I am one of the many female fans of the dreamy and talented celebrity chef, Tyler Florence so visiting his restaurant was a must. Walking into Wayfare Tavern, I was head over heels. Devilish dim lighting, dark wooden beams and ceilings, old-fashioned decor, a printed carpet covered staircase at its entrance and servers in white coats, I felt as if I had been teleported to the early 1900’s.
After a couple of old school, expertly crafted cocktails, we sat down to order. Grilled Calamari with crispy polenta and a chorizo tomato jam was just the beginning of our lavish meal. Chris’ Filet Mignon made with shallot confit, bone marrow bordelaise, fresh marjoram and crispy torpedo onion was flawlessly cooked with a medium rare temp and the most fantastic fixings to ever accompany a prime cut of steak. It cut like butter and was so diverse in rich, fragrant flavors. Saving the best part for last- my Organic Fried Chicken, prepared with a buttermilk brine and fried to perfection with roasted garlic, lemon and an abundance of woody herbs was a mound of meat I’d deem magical. Yes, this fried chicken was that good. Bravo Chef Florence, Bravo.
During our visit to the quirky hippie/hipster district of Haight and Ashbury, we took an old friend’s recommendation for Magnolia, an award-winning brewery/gastropub where we’d satisfy both our beverage cravings and our lunchtime hunger. After a few swigs of our ice-cold craft brewskies we ordered two of Magnolia’s house-made sausage entrees. Chris stuck to the “basics,” ordering Bangers n Mash. But this Bangers n Mash was not your ordinary British fare. A huge and juicy banger lay atop a pile of black garlic mashed potatoes dripping in onion gravy and with garlic chips as edible décor. Reminiscing this dish is making me ravenous…so I’ll move on.
I chose the Lamb Sausages served over a surprisingly rich creamy cauliflower puree and topped with a piquillo peperonata. The insanely moist sausage had a great kick and played nicely with the mild flavors of the cauliflower and the tanginess of the peppers. This is not your standard pub fare people. If ever in SF, in the land of the hipsters, go here and get the sausage….as well as the award-winning beer (duh).
On our first night in San Francisco, we had targeted North Beach as our dinner destination. An Italian food aficionado, I knew I would get the crème of the crop in SF’s Little Italy district. Our dinner was so good we decided to return to North Beach for some more Italian cuisine before we left. Café Delucchi, a lovely little hole in the wall café, had “scrumptious” written all over it from the moment we walked in. Every dish in sight was a thing of beauty. The aromas of marinara and garlic had me feeling giddy. We started our meal with a piece of art. Beef Carpaccio was as perfectly fresh and thinly sliced as it was tasty, complimented superbly with arugula, red onion, capers, lemons, freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and drizzled with some killer EVOO. The nuttiness of the Parmesan, the saltiness of the capers and the peppery bite of the arugula provided a party of flavors for the rich and rare beef.
Café DeLucchi makes house-made fresh pasta so there was no question with what we’d share for lunch. Lamb ragout came over a mountain of house made linguine. The pasta, with that spectacular fresh consistency, was a divine match for the tangy red and meaty ragout. The lamb, generously strewn throughout, was melt-in-your-mouth succulent. This dish was prepared with some serious amore. Perfection.
I wish I could share all of the fantastic fare we encountered in the city as it was all prepared with tender, love and care but I’ll move on. To wrap up my travel documentary, I must mention the last leg of our trip-a weekend of rest and relaxation in Monterey and Carmel. I was a bit nervous about the steep fall in food quality once leaving SF for these tourist filled towns but I need not worry. The excellence in cuisine continued to follow suit.
|Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway for Monterey/Carmel|
Dining at Clint Eastwood’s Carmel restaurant, Mission Ranch was a unique experience of phenomenal food and extraordinary views. Located on acres of lush land, dining al fresco was truly the only way to go. A bit chilly on this night, we stayed warm with heat lamps as we breathed in the fresh open air. Sheep grazing meadows lay before us like a fantasy. The Waves of the Pacific were crashing in the distance. Live piano music completed the romantic mood of this picture perfect evening. Onto the food. Grilled artichokes, at last. Locally grown and served chilled, these beauties were complimented with a kick-up chipotle aioli. The flesh was silky smooth to every last leaf.
We both selected seafood entrees and although both outstanding, Chris’ dish was the shining star of the table. Jumbo sea scallops were served with Parmesan polenta and sautéed spinach all covered in a lemon butter caper sauce. These scallops were unreal in size. Gigantic pillows of silk, they were seared in precise time. The polenta, perfect in texture, was presented uniquely, made to imitate the shellfish sitting around it. I truly can’t say enough good things about this flawlessly executed dish. A lover of scallops, this was a life top 5 scallop contender.
Our very last meal better impress. There was no turning back now. With a Wine tasting room right next to our hotel, we were given a strict guide from an educated local on some great recommendations for sights and restaurants. He insisted we head to Carmel-by-the-Sea for it’s charisma and more importantly, for it’s exceptional eateries. La Bicyclette, a rustic French restaurant was releasing its wood oven pizza perfumes, inviting guests in from twenty feet away. There was no menu debate. We agreed on the Local Mushrooms Pizza in a mere 10 seconds. Loaded with earthy and rich organic mushrooms, this thin-crust pizza also came liberally drizzled with white truffle oil. Need I say more?
Slowly meandering our way back to the car, devastated we were about to embark on our journey to the airport, we suddenly stopped short at the sight of a tempting tower of cannolis sitting like royalty in the window of Carmel Bakery. A food farewell? We were easily swayed by this stunning sight. So long California. Until next time.
Some more photos from our amazing time in Northern California....