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Gateway Dinner to Wine Country

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Need help for a family reunion of sorts. (just 4 of us)

I live in L.A. and am a bit of an aspiring chef. My dad lives in Washington D.C. and used to manage a winery. (I was surprised to find that Virginia wine could be quite good) I haven't seen him in almost 10 years. It'll be my first time meeting his new wife and his first time meeting my girlfriend.

We're going to meet up in San Francisco the first week of July and then venture up to Napa/Sonoma.

Any recommendations for the perfect restaurant in the Bay Area to show off California Cuisine and launch our trip to wine country? Price is not a concern nor is location.

I could also use suggestions for wine bars. ;-)

I was thinking Chez Panisse and maybe Vino Venue (Mission & 3rd). Let me know what you think!

Thanks!

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  1. I guess the only downside to Chez Panisse is that your entire party will be eating exactly the same thing -- I am a big proponent of sharing and if you choose another restaurant, there will be more opportunity for everyone to order something different and get a wider variety in your tasting of California Cuisine.

    In that regard, I would suggest Boulevard, Piperade, Myth, and Aziza (which is not really California Cuisine, but truly innovative).

    Search around the boards for Napa/Sonoma and you will get more than enough recommendations.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Carrie 218

      If you go to the cafe at Chez Panisse dishes can be ordered a la carte. I'm not that knowlegable about wine and even I wouldn't send anyone to Vino Venue.

      IMO, Chez Panisse is the top example of California Cuisine ... upstairs or down. For a great tasting menu and wonderful wine pairings there is The Dining Room at the Ritz.

      1. re: Carrie 218

        isn't Piperade considered Basque? maybe i'm thinking of somewhere else . . .

        i'll chime in agreement to Boulevard.

        1. re: brekkie_fan

          Piperade is, indeed, Basque. Maybe with a bit of CA flare, but deffinitely Basque.

          1. re: whiner

            Having eaten at fully 100% Basque restaurants, I guess I look at the joy of Piperade as being California cuisine with a Basque touch. In the same way, I look at Ame as a similar fusion restaurant; California with a Japanese touch as opposed to Ame being fully a Japanese restaurant.

            1. re: Carrie 218

              Piperade seems at least 90% Basque to me. I can hardly think of anything further from California cuisine than their warm sheep's milk cheese and ham terrine.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                That is a great app. I usually get it. Their stew with Piperade also seems relatively authentic (it is a rotating special).

                And I fully agree that Ame is not a fully Japanese restaurant. I, too, think of it as a type of cuisine that is fairly unique to the area.

      2. Seems like a good "gateway" dinner would be a restaurant that serves California cuisine AND have a wine tasting menu. Not sure who would have the best examples, but doesn't Michael Mina have a wine tasting menu? Also, I think Plumpjack Cafe might be a good place to look into for a place that has a nice buzz, for food and wine.

        1. If you are open to waiting until you hit Napa, I love, love, love "Redd" in Yountville. Excellent restaurant. I bet Ad Hoc is good too - if your dad loves food, the style of Ad Hoc might be a real treat for him...

          1. Can't beat Chez Panisse for California cuisine.

            My favorite SF wine bars:

            Cav
            District (maybe avoid on Friday evenings)
            Hidden Vine
            Hotel Biron
            WINE Bar & Shop

            http://www.cavwinebar.com
            http://www.districtsf.com
            http://www.thehiddenvine.com
            http://www.hotelbiron.com
            http://www.winebarsf.com

            Vino Venue's interesting to visit once. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/363275

            2 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Vino Venue was acquired last month and will be seeing some changes.
              http://www.pr.com/press-release/29954

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Expanding to 90 locations in 66 cities? Yow.

            2. The reason I was thinking about going to Vino Venue was because it has a large selection available by the taste. The novelty factor doesn't hurt either. ;-)

              2 Replies
              1. re: ChewToy

                I used to go to Vino Venue all the time because a friend of mine used to work there. It's fun because you're always trying something new, but it's difficult to converse with the people you came with because you're constantly walking around getting more pours. And, more often than not, the only education you get in the process is reading the description above the bottle. I also find the seating a bit uncomfortable. Two places I've tried in the past few weeks that I really enjoy are District SF (in SOMA) and Amelie (Russian Hill). California Wine Merchants is also a great choice.

                1. re: cynthia

                  District has one of the best selections of wines in town, but but at least on Friday nights it's packed like a nightclub. WINE and Cav also have long and interesting by-the-glass lists and usually knowledgeable staff.

                  Amelie, I was not at all impressed with the wines. And it's packed like a nightclub Friday, Saturday, and maybe Thursday and Sunday nights as well.

              2. Ame and Boulavard would both show off CA cuisine.

                As far as a wine bar, I'm partial to California Wine Star -- it has a killer by-the-glass selection of CA wines, but given that the average age of the customers is probably 28, it might not be the best choice for you, at least not on a weekend.

                3 Replies
                1. re: whiner

                  Google doesn't know that one. You sure that's the right name? Where is it?

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Also known as California Wine Merchants. On Chestnut in the Marina.

                    1. re: whiner

                      CWM had a really nice selection at decent prices the two times I stopped by
                      in January. But the staff, while cheerful, was riotously uninformed about their
                      product. Go knowing already or willing to explore on your own; don't count on
                      getting any help. Still, definitely worth a visit.

                      http://www.californiawinemerchant.com/

                2. As for Wine Country, I'm more familiar with Sonoma than Napa. My favorite restaurant is The Girl and the Fig. I just tried The General's Daughter last weekend...it was fantastic, but is second to The Girl and the Fig.