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May 3, 2001 11:13 AM

First time to SF and Napa Valley!!

  • k

My boyfriend and I have an upcoming week in SF and neither of us has been there before. Shock! Horror!

We've lived in Hong Kong, Sydney and are now in New York...all food heavens unto themselves. No particular cuisine singled out 'cuz we love it all.

We have 7 days to eat our way from the Bay area to Napa Valley and back over the Memorial Day weekend. Am hoping the Chows on the west coast can supply a list of restaurants (and/or places to stay in Napa Valley.)

I promise to give a full account of our eating extravaganza. We're in the moderate range for cost, but are more than happy to have a night or two of decadence.

Can't wait to hear from you all.

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  1. Enjoy yourself! It's beautiful here and I'm sure you'll love it. If you have time, check out the areas around Sonoma too, not just Napa --it's to the west of Napa, a little less built-up and commerical, with great scenery and wineries. Healdsburg is a lovely, very wine-country town with some very good restaurants. BUT, regarding Napa Valley, Terra is great, as is Tra Vigne. I love Bistro Jeanty, cute little home-style French place in Yountville. Great breakfasts at The Diner in Yountville, too. In SF, check out Slanted Door (upscale Vietnamese); Bizou (in a nowhere area down near Pac Bell Park --new baseball stadium--but lovely atmosphere and great Meditt/french food). I could on and on--if you have specific requests, let me know! You can find good restaurant listings at and, too.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Stephanie

      My wife and I are also headed to Napa next month for a long weekend. We're on a semi-strict budget and plan on 1 "cost no issue" evening out. So far, the French Laundry is the frontrunner. If $$ were no object, what restaurant would you choose? If not the French Laundry, why not? Thanks!!

      1. re: Elmer
        Caitlin McGrath

        If you're going next month on a weekend and "considering" FL, if you don't already have a reservation, I doubt you'll be considering it for long!

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          We'll be there the last weekend in July. I know it's a crapshoot whether or not we actually get a reservation - I guess my question is; is it worth the time, energy, and money?

          1. re: Elmer

            That's a quwstion that is hard to answer. So much depends on so much! Personally, I'd go to Terra.

            1. re: Ann L.

              I totally agree with Ann. Terra, hands down, best meal for the money. Great service, awesome presentation, relaxed ambience, great winelist, perfect food. Reading and wondering about FL is not too dis-similair than watching the Survivor show, lately. You will be happy with this recommendation, trust us.

            2. re: Elmer

              It is worth it, however they are booked 3 months in advance to the day. In other words, if you could actually get a reservation today (if you get through in time), you are looking at around the 3rd of August. Plus, as the vacation crowds start hitting Napa, you should get ANY reservations now. Check out Terra, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, La Toque, etc. My picks would be Bistro Jeanty or Bouchon. I have not been to Domaine Chandon and have heard some pretty good things, maybe somebody else can chime in on that.

          2. re: Elmer

            I would recommend that you read the recent chowhound posts on French Laundry. I wish I had. You can read all about my far from fantastic experience which I posted on Monday. I won't be returning.

            I hear all the time that FL can be exquisite, but it is all too clear now that there is no guarantee...and for their prices, I expect a guarantee.

            My father and I make an annual event of wine tasting in Sonoma and then a real French lunch at Bistro Jeanty with a bottle of wine bought earlier in our excursion. It is always fantastic and a truly great experience (not just food). Their tomoato soup can't be beat, so I highly recommend that you start with it.

            1. re: Elmer

              You may want to consider having dinner at Auberge du Soleil. Certainly have a drink there at sunset. It's on a gorgeous property that is Relais & Chateaux-affiliated. You can get a drink at the bar upstairs and if there isn't any space in the immediate seating area, walk downstairs and outside. You'll get a beautiful sunset and a gorgeous view of the valley.

              Look into Domaine Chandon. They have a wonderful patio you can dine on so that would be nice for a summer night.

              I think I've posted here before about Greystone at the CIA. Service I've had there was so horrendous that I refuse to go there anymore. And this is after 4 wonderful experiences prior. Don't take a chance there.

              Re. French Laundry...Read what's been written here recently. It's odd that it is so hit or miss. I'm not sure that reservations are taken 3 months in advance. I think it's two ( at least it was a year ago). You should check this out if you have your heart set on going there. Bottom line is that there are other wonderful and exquisite alternatives to FL. Try Auberge (at least for a sunset drink if not dinner as well) or Domaine.

              Good luck!


              1. re: Tida
                Caitlin McGrath

                I remember Alexandra Eisler posted a vey negative review of meal at Auberge du Soleil here last year. But I agree that a sunset drink there (before a later dinner elsewhere) is a wonderful idea.

              2. re: Elmer

                There are a lot of good suggestions already so I won't muddy the waters any further but I will make a suggestion if you are art fans. The DiRosa Art & Nature Preserve is an outstanding collection of Northern Calif. modern art on a former winery/vineyard. A nice break from wine tasting and eating fabulous food.
                Here's the link:


                1. re: gordon wing
                  Jennifer Fish Wilson

                  The DiRosa Preserve is a wonderful recommendation. I had never seen the website and was surprised when I read the page about Veronica and Rene. Didn't Veronica die in an accident on the property several years ago?

                  1. re: Jennifer Fish Wilson
                    Christine Vallejo

                    Veronica died from a fall while she and Rene were in England. Always loved her Wine Auction posters.

                    1. re: Christine Vallejo
                      Jennifer Fish Wilson

                      Many years ago I helped her do a cooking demo to promote her cookbook Sweets for Saints and Sinners. (includes Chocolate Decadence recipe her coauthor, Janice Feuer, created for a friend when she was a pastry chef at Narsai's. Has always been one of my very favorite chocolate desserts.) Veronica's illustrations were whimsical and lovely.

              3. re: Stephanie

                I'll ditto all those recs., except Tra Vigne, which can be uneven. I'd go there and enjoy the fabulous atmosphere, and eat small bites from the Cantinetta in the courtyard of Tra Vigne, unless you don't care if some dishes miss, or if you get the occasional waiter who falls short of perfection. (Maybe it won't matter so much since you'll feel like you've landed in Italy without the grueling plane trip.) I'd suggest getting those reservations in pronto though, if you're talking about the upcoming Memorial holiday weekend!

                A local favorite for your stay in the wine country, that is a little less expensive, is the El Bonita Motel in St. Helena. A place we sometimes stay in the City, is the White Swan Inn, not too far from Union Sq.

                Our son just had a nice experience at one of our favorite restaurants in S.F., Fringale. It's next door to Bizou.

                If you drive up through the Alexander Valley on 128 from St. Helena to Healdsburg, a glorious drive, and you're in the mood for Mexican food, try the El Sombrero, just off the square. I just had a disappointing lunch at Bisro Ralph, though a lot of people like it.

                If you drive up to St. Helena from the town of Napa, you might want to take the Silverado Trail. It is busier than it used to be, but it's beautiful. If you are winery hopping, the Silverado Winery is a good choice. The wines are good and reasonable and the view is nice. Also, I'd take 101 up instead of I 80 just because it's prettier and you can take a detour into the small town of Sonoma, which is charming. You'll also go through the Carneros region, famous for its grapes.

                Our favorite places for good food in the town of Napa are, Cafe Lucy and the Foothill Cafe, both very reasonably priced and popular with locals. The Bistro Don Giovanni (disregard the weird name) is usually good. It's on Hwy 29.

                There are so many wonderful choices, you'll just have to return. Have a great time. I predict you will.

                1. re: Ann L.

                  Just wanted to thank you and Stephanie for the many suggestions. And I'm getting on the phone shortly to call Terra for the long weekend reservations.

                  I had also read further down this message board about Cafe Lucy, so will fit that in too. A friend has suggested Mustards Grill and Aqua...any thoughts?

                  Neither of you has mentioned Chez Panisse, does it not live up to the hype? Thanks again!!

                  1. re: Karen

                    A few more suggestions for you:
                    San Francisco-
                    Kokkari (Exquiste Greek food, great atmosphere,
                    make reservations ahead of time)
                    Zuni (Consistently pleasing, seasonal California
                    The Meeting House (Superb comfort food, cozy
                    42 Degrees (Great mediterranean food, live jazz)
                    Gary Danko (If you can 1. afford it, 2. get a
                    Le Charm (Such good French food in SOMA district)
                    And some more that I would recommend are..........
                    Cafe Monk, Delfina, Ebisu...

                    And YES, Chez Panisse is wonderful..go to the cafe downstairs, get reservations. Head over to Cesar (next door) after dinner for some cocktails. Olivetto is also great in Oakland (nearby). In Healdsburg try Manzanita..and when in St. Helena stop by the Culinary Institute of America for a tour and lunch! Hope you have fun!

                    1. re: Brenda

                      Actually, the Cafe at Chez panisse is UPSTAIRS. It has an a la carte menu and is open for lunch and dinner. The main restaurant is downstairs, and has just one set prix-fixe menu per night. You'll need rez for both, but esp. for downstairs. Lots of good recommendations here--I really like Bizou, The Meetinghouse, Cafe Kati for cool Asian-fusion food.
                      In St. helena, I once stayed at the Ambrose Bierce Inn, a nice B & B right in town. Rooms are definitely on the frilly-Victorian side, but my room did have a beautiful claw-foot tub!

                    2. re: Karen

                      Oh my gosh, yes!! Chez Panisse is wonderful. Definitly go, if you can get over to the East Bay. The Cafe is very good and you don't need reservations as early. I'm sure there are many wonderful restaurants that won't get mentioned just because there are so many choices, but Chez Panisse is more than the sum of its parts.

                2. b
                  Brandon Nelson


                  Highway 29 is BRUTAL on holiday weekends. Silverado Trail was once an easy alternative, but now it suffers too. If you can pull it off I strongly suggest hitting the Napa Valley early in the week (rental car?) and sport around the city in a cab on the 3 day. It can get pricey, but you will save in the long run, no ulcer surgery do to parking problems. Enjoy the stay!