Berkeley/Sea Ranch/Petaluma report
A couple weeks ago you all gave me some great feedback when I had a question about a relatively quick lunch in Berkeley on the way to Oakland airport. We did go to Sea Salt, which we loved – thanks, rworange and Robert L. I’ll give a re-cap of our trip here: once past the initial Berkeley part (Chez Panisse and Acme) nearly all our meals were guided by recommendations gleaned from this board. Thanks to all of you for making this board such a great resource!
Lunch at Chez Panisse Café: When I was a graduate student, the café was my favorite Bay Area restaurant, but my husband (whose nom d’internet is Antonius) had never been, so of course I had to take him there. We started by ordering the pizza of the day (pancetta, leeks, and rosemary) to come right away for our 5 year old’s sake, then chose three more dishes to be split between the two taller people: first the baked goat cheese with lettuces; second, bucatini with local albacore tuna, black olives, hot pepper, and tomato; finally grilled Sonoma duck breast with wild nettles and shoestring potatoes. Everything was just perfect – the pizza was the best we had had since visiting my cousins-in-law in Campania; the tuna was fabulous, the bucatini perfectly al dente, the duck a lovely level of rareness, and the shoestring potatoes were so thinly shaved that they were more like potato chips. I was also impressed by how child-friendly the café is – our son loved drawing on the white paper covering the table with the crayons the staff immediately provided, and our waitress offered to have a simpler, off-menu pizza made up for him. (We knew that “bacon pizza” would be welcome, though.) Lucantonio was uncharacteristically not interested in dessert, even though the waitress brought spoonfuls of the two ice creams of the day for him to try (plum and mint chocolate chip). Antonius and I were also too stuffed to have anything more than an espresso, though the neighboring table’s desserts (ginger crème brulée; fresh berries and a nectarine) looked wonderful.
After lunch we set off for our hotel at the Sea Ranch, picking up supplies along the way for a light picnic supper in our room: first, a baguette and pain epi at Acme, then to Tomales Bay Foods at Point Reyes Station where we bought Cowgirl’s Mt. Tam and a raw milk cheese called “Eric’s Folly”, a small round of Pug’s Leap goat cheese, some slices of pork loin, a tomato, a bottle of Seghesio Pinot Grigio, and a couple ice packs for our insulated tote bag. After watching the sun go down from the hotel bar, it was wonderful not to have to drive anywhere further, but just to return to our room and sample the various cheeses – all delicious – with the equally good bread. (Our son concentrated on pork sandwiches, however.)
From reading reports here and on the California board, I knew about the BBQ in the parking lot of the Surf Supermarket in Gualala. We headed up there the next day for lunch: Lucantonio downed two of their hot dogs, while Antonius and I split a tri-tip sandwich and a chicken-garlic sausage sandwich between us. What a great spot! The Mexican women dancing to reggaetón as they cooked seemed to be enjoying themselves, too. We returned the next day for more sandwiches, and chatted with the woman in charge, a Lakota woman from the Bay Area, who explained how the tri-trip (exotic to us) was made, with teriyaki-based marinade.
Since Sea Ranch/Gualala is not the richest area of Sonoma for restaurants, let me add a further note here, something I didn’t see in previous posts. It’s well known that the Sea Ranch Lodge has a high end restaurant, which we didn’t try. The prices (entrees in the $30s) and rather over-wrought sounding dishes weren’t what we were in the mood for. But the lodge also offers a bar menu from 2 to 9 pm, with relatively less expensive items. We had their burgers off the bar menu, and the burgers were outstanding, cooked medium rare as requested. ($14; with fresh jack cheese and aioli, choice of fries or salad.) I believe the burgers are also available in the regular restaurant for lunch.
The last night of our stay was in Petaluma. On the (circuitous) way there, we had fantastic gelato from Bovolo in Healdsburg – Scharffen Berger chocolate for Lucantonio, raspberry/pinot for Antonius, and ginger for me. Dinner in Petaluma was at Hiro’s, where the saikyo-yaki (black cod) was especially delicious, and for breakfast the next morning we went to Water Street Bistro: a waffle for Lucantonio, a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese for Antonius, and a spinach and goat cheese quiche for me. Water Street Bistro, though charming and with a great location by the river, was perhaps the only place on the trip where I had some tiny reservations about the meal. The service was quite slow (perhaps the other staff had not yet arrived early on a Saturday morning), and the crust on my quiche was rather dry (though the filling was great). In any event, we got done with breakfast in time to get Antonius out to the McEvoy ranch for the tour of their olive groves and milling room. (Lucantonio and I meanwhile played in two of Petaluma’s parks, but were disappointed to find Petaluma Creamery closed.)
With the just-announced restrictions on carry-on baggage, we felt we should get to Oakland Airport extra early. But first we made a beeline to Sea Salt, told the waiter that we were pressed for time, and our food appeared very promptly on the table: the famous “BLT” bacon, lettuce, and trout sandwich, an order of fish and chips, and a side of gigante beans with tuna confit, red onion and celery. Everything was incredibly delicious, and very filling too. (We had originally planned to get sandwiches somewhere after lunch to take on the plane but we didn’t have time, and we actually didn’t need more food.) Especially the BLT was just ... transcendentally good. Our son had a little of the beans and tuna but really went to town on the fish and chips, proclaiming Sea Salt “best restaurant ever.” For Antonius and me, I think we’d have to put both the lunch at Chez Panisse and the lunch at Sea Salt among our top ten restaurant meals of the year, too.
Thanks again to all the Bay Area hounds for your reports and good advice. We had a great trip and ate very, very well. (To rworange: on our *next* trip we’ll make time for SF and the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market...)
Thanks so much for reporting back and giving us current updates on the places you ate and the tip about the bar menu, burger and dinner menu at Sea Ranch. So many people don't take the time to report back.
However it is also to your benefit as well as other Chowhounds. Next time you are in town, you can link back to your report so we have an idea of what your likes and dislikes are ... though it seemed you liked most of it very much.
So how was the olive ranch tour? Would you recommend it to others?
I did the tour several years ago with a friend of mine, a freelance journalist, as her improvised photographer. The day was a bit overcast, which probably kept it somewhat cooler. I had never seen olive "trees" (bushes?) before, and they described how they pruned them, what they grew on the ground for soil enhancement, whether and when sheep/goats came through, and various other things I only half heard while snapping photos. We also had a tasting and then checking out the gift shop. It was fun, but I'm accustomed to less sharp extra virgin olive oils; McEvoy's was a jolt.
I actually didn't go on the McEvoy tour, only Antonius did, but he thought it was very worthwhile indeed. (No children under 10 are allowed on the tour, which is quite sensible.) The setting there is gorgeous, too.
We did get to taste the oils at DaVero in Healdsburg the day before, which was interesting, especially the contrast between their local oil and the Tuscan variety that their style is based on. And we tried our best to also visit The Olive Press in Glen Ellen, but alas the traffic was so bad on 101 that we didn't get there in time. We did have a drink at Jack's Bistro in the same complex, though, where they provided a dish of The Olive Press's Master Blend oil with bread. So that was some consolation! And sitting outside by the creek was very pleasant.
Thanks so much for a great report! I stopped by Bovolo on Tuesday night to try the raspberry/pinot noir sorbetto, a new one for me. It was a bit sweeter than the typical offering there, but all in balance. I went with the rootbeer float gelato, and it's a gelato-textured vanilla ice cream mingled with rootbeer, one of my favorite flavors of summer.