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Must-Eats: San Francisco, Sonoma, Napa

My fiancee and I will be spending two weekends in San Francisco separated by a week in the Napa and Sonoma valley.

We have reserved at The French Laundry and are planning to eat at Cyrus in Healdsburg, Bouchon and Chez Panisse. We are considering also eating at Zuni Cafe and Slanted Door in S.F. and I definitely want to go to Taylor's Automatic Refresher and CIA in St. Helena.

So my question to the local foodies is this: apart from the restaurants I have named what are the must eat foods in San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa and which restaurants/snack stands/shops are serving them? Please be specific and feel free to comment on our restaurant selections. Money is an object but not an insurmountable one.

Thanks in advance!


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    1. I've always been under-whelmed by the CIA (except the building)...instead I'd recommend ZuZu, Redd and Terra.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Husky

        Terra eclipses everything else in Napa Valley.

      2. Redd is outstanding, and the Restaurant at Meadowood has been completely revamped and is now very very good.
        Gillwoods in St. Helena serves a great breakfast in the mornings (http://www.gillwoodscafe.com). Also try the Calistoga Roastery if you want some delicious coffee, and if you wanted a lighter breakfast then the Model Bakery is perfect (the english muffins are a MUST TRY).
        Also, since you are going to a lot of the really popular restaurants you might want to try something a little different for lunch. Cook and Market are small, local favorites in downtown St. Helena. You wont get the big tourist crowd there, you will see lots of locals enjoying great food.

        1. You can even try "The Girl and the Fig" at Sonoma. They have excellent food, good wine ofcourse and they have a really nice cheese platter too. You can even try "The Dining Room" at the Ritz-Carlton. I went there with my husband for our anniversary dinner, and it was a wonderful experience!

          1. Specific to SF (fancy):

            Specific to SF (lunch/snack):
            A good tacqueria- La Tacqueria or Tacqueria Cancun (or, less traditional, Papalote)

            Awesome food in SF:
            Fleur de Lys, La Folie, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton (all $$$$)
            Aziza, A16, Delfina (all NOT $$$$)

            Farm House Inn (truly world class, $$$)
            Mirepoix (small, romatic, $$)
            Zazu (casual, Sonoma-y, $$)

            Lunch at Oakville Grocery

            Martini House (really nice, $$$)
            Mustard's (classic Napa, $$)

            1 Reply
            1. re: whiner

              I actually thought Redd was hit or miss... some of the dishes were spectacular, some were just alright. If you want a flawless experience in Napa, go to Terra, seriously. You won't be dissapointed... I second Aziza, too. Enjoy!

            2. I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Gary Danko in SF. It's absolutely wonderful food in a lovely setting.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ny2sf

                There are many reports on Gary Danko in the numerous "best" topics I linked to above.

                Topics asking variations of this vague question get started several times a week, so most don't get many responses.

              2. Another Healdsburg thought: Go to Dry Creek Kitchen (Charlie Palmer's place) for lunch. The kobe/foie gras sliders are very satisfying. Also nice, I think, is that they bring out a little crudite plate for you, which is refreshing on those hot days slogging around wineries.

                The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma is also nice. Good salads.

                And Mustards (Oakville) is a good choice for dinner that was mentioned, too. I particularly like the rabbit. I might do that instead of Bouchon since Bouchon is also a Thomas Keller place and Mustards is an old traditional Napa fave.

                If you miss Taylor's in St. Helena, there is a location in the Ferry Building in SF, too.

                I definitely think that Zuni is worth a visit because it doesn't do much but it does what it does really well. Get the sardines and the roast chicken for two. They are weird with their reservations (hold half for walk-ins, they say) so walk in on a Tuesday or something and you'll be better off.

                Slanted Door is, well, if you have high-end vietnamese where you live, sort of eh. I know people love it, and it's good, but it's not on my must-go list. Maybe for lunch?

                5 Replies
                1. re: Sallie

                  It's hard to get a table at Zuni because it's packed from before 6pm to after 10pm almost every night, but outside of that their reservation system has always seemed utterly normal to me. They're now on opentable.com.

                  I would avoid going there without a reservation except in the middle of the afternoon or late at night.

                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, but I've (just for kicks) looked them up on opentable for weeks, months, in advance and it's still 5 and 10. I cannot seem to get a reservation there between those hours unless I'm with my Uncle David. :) My guess has been that just as they keep half their tables for walk-ins, they keep half of their reservations for call-ins, since if I call I can usually get a reservation two weeks in advance. That's what I meant by weird. Perhaps better to say complicated?

                    1. re: Sallie

                      Many popular restaurants put only non-peak tables on opentable.com. Looks like Zuni takes reservations from 7 to 9:30 only over the phone.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Mystery solved! It's not Uncle David--it's the phone.

                  2. re: Sallie

                    Though the kobe/foie gras sliders might be absolutely incredible, I think the general consensus on the rest of the Dry Creek Kitchen is to pass it. They lowered their standards long ago, and though I stopped going a while back, I have heard repeatedly from others, Chowhound and my parents included, that it has lost its magic.

                    Then again, my expectations weren't met for Cyrus, either, but I chalk that up to going only about a month after its opening. Zuni is an SF must, I think, if only for its ambiance and people watching. The burger is certainly good. Chez Panisse is even better than Zuni. If it's anything like my last meal there, it will be incredibly memorable. Sounds like you've have done/are doing your researching! I know you'll have an incredible time with your fiancee.

                  3. Napa

                    Etoile at Domaine Chandon
                    1 California Dr.

                    Go Fish
                    641 Main St.
                    St. Helena

                    6518 Washington St.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: bnljane

                      I don't agree with any of these. Inferior food, all. Much better food to be found at
                      Terra, Martini House, Taylor's, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Redd's. Read through
                      Robert's links, above. His is the first post.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Hurley's is one of my favorites. The late night menu till midnight is great if you like to go out for drinks and a fun atmosphere

                    2. It's not exactly IN the town of Sonoma, or Napa for that matter, but whenever people from out of town visit "my" area...Sonoma county to be exact, especially in the summertime, I highly recommend a daytrip out to the Sonoma coast. It can be a romantic, gorgeous, magical experience. There are many a terrific and tasty food stops along the way...my favourite being, taking Hwy 12/Bodega Hwy out towards the coast, making a stop at the amazing and magical bakery that is Wild Flour Bread - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38519 - picking up several tasty freshly-baked loaves (their sticky buns are the size of your head and not to be missed!) heading out again on Bodega Hwy, and picking up some clam chowder (you have several choices for this...but my fav so far has to be from the Spud Point Crab Company on the way to Bodega Head - http://www.spudpointcrab.com/ ) Once you have chow on board, find a beach of your choice (or the cliff outlook of Bodega Head), settle down, and munch away while enjoying the gorgeous scenery of the Sonoma coastline.

                      And if you take Hwy 12 back through the town of Sebastopol, you can make a stop for some out of this world hot chocolate and drool-worthy chocolate creations, at La Dolce V - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/26755 - (they have moved from the location mentioned here, to a spot on the main street of Sebastopol), and if you are into chocolate as much as I am, you MUST try the brownies from Patisserie Angelica - http://www.patisserieangelica.com - they are pure chocolatecrack. Oh...and the homemade ice cream from Screamin' Mimi's - http://www.screaminmimisicecream.com/ - ....it's lavender season right now, and they are creating the magic that is their lavender ice cream...only here for a short time!

                      Like I said...this isn't exactly in the Sonoma/Napa town area, but it is a bit of a food and scenery adventure that no visitor to Sonoma county should miss.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: chocolateninja

                        If you do end up going to Sebastopol, I definitely agree with chocolateninja about Angelica and Mimi. Anything at Angelica with a stick of butter in it is (quite naturally) amazing. They help you spend all your day's calories in one deliciously decadent location. Mimi's does the same but with ice cream. For some reason, I'm blanking on the name of their signature coffee ice cream, but it's worth at least a sample spoon (or, if you're me, a whole cone).

                      2. Everywhere you suggested sounds great, although I was a little underwhelmed with Zuni cafe (compared to the hype). You can get great dim sum at Yank Sing (www.yanksing.com) and excellent and authentic Italian at Ideale at 1309 Grant Avenue in North Beach. Not uber-fancy and a little noisey, but you'll want to eat everything on the menu and won't be disappointed. I also like Ajanta in Berkeley for Indian. Chez Panisse is very good but the local competition has closed the gap in the last 20 years.