VA CHEF IN BAY AREA JANUARY 7-14, WHERE DO I EAT? NO RESTRICTIONS
I'm gonna be staying in Sonoma County for a week on vacation with my girlfriend. All I know the area has is great wine, the French Laundry, some great restaurants (Chez Panisse, Gary Danko) and authentic Vietnamese in San Fran. I spend whatever money I have on dining, which in this case would be a max. of two Danko, Panisse ($110 a personish) meals or one French Laundry meal at the upper end. That being said, I would also like to have a dining experience each day (prix fixe lunch, whatever) that will give me something I can't get in Charlottesville, VA. I should have access to a car, and am also open to any vineyard suggestions/dining/culinary excursions that you can come up with.
An overview of the area's restaurant districts, cusine types, favorite restaurants, price points, budget meals, ANYTHING about the area's culinary scene would be helpful to me. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I want to taste as much of the Bay Area's kickass food as I can.
There is quite a bit of high end stuff as you know, and there is some good inexpensive ethnic. We have a high concentration of Indian restaurants, also Viet and different varieties of Chinese, if you've never eaten dim sum you must correct that oversight. Basically any east Asian country has put some example of its cuisine here. Also Lao, Cambodian, and don't forget the seafood, Dungeness crab & the oyster farms up in Tomales Bay, gorgeous country. Wine country is gorgeous as you will discover. You will find some good examples of Mexican and Central American chow and can eat iguana soup if you like, it's pretty good. Be warned, NorCal burritos are different from SoCal burritos, we tend to favor 'urban food logs', and no, I don't intend to start a religious argument. Also there are many favorite purveyors of very very good coffee that will ruin you for Starbucks, and innocent questions as to which is best have started many arguments on this board. I favor Cole's in Oakland, but Blue Bottle has many adherents and there are certainly quite a few good places in The City.
What *not* to look for: BBQ or bagels. The dearth of good bagels is a constant lament to transplanted E. coasters. BBQ is not bad, but we are not the epicenter in the same way that KC or Chicago or various Southern enclaves might make the claim.
Another note: Look to the East Bay in addition to SF and Wine Country for some good food.
As for food tours, there are some olive growers that offer tours, also Anchor Steam beer, also Scharffenberger Chocoate, they used to anyway, and if you search on this board for 'tours' you will probably find others. But don't eat at Scharffenberger's cafe, it's been universally panned. The good news, Scharffenberger is close to Vik's, which is casual and yummy Indian small plates.
Normally I'd suggest checking out some of the Pho or Bahn Mi places, but if you've been in SE Asia you've probably had both. In any case, Oakland Chinatown and/or International Ave will supply ideas.
Chez Panisse is a controversial favorite. Look over the sample menus and consider trying to go early in the week. Note, downstairs is dinner only and reservations only. I'm not an authority on getting reservations either downstairs or upstairs, maybe some other hound can chime in with an opinion. CP is really the birthplace of "California Cuisine" so may be worth a trip on those grounds if nothing else. Closed Sunday. Has website.
Also in Berkeley and across the street from CP is the Cheeseboard Collective and its sister operation, the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective. Both very "Berkeley" institutions. Note, they are closed Sunday/Monday. Has website.
Check out some taco trucks on East 14th, aka International Blvd, Oakland. There have been several 'crawls', El Ojo de Agua is one I've been to several times with good results. Warning, it's *extremely* no frills, as in, eat on your car hood. Also worth sampling are the many "Aguas de Fruta", or drinks made with fresh fruit, sort of like lemonade but not restricted at all to lemons. Tamarindo, Pina, and Horchata are common ones.
Don't know if they have much in the way of Brewpubs back home, but they are something else to check out. Gordon Biersch in SF is right under the Bay Bridge and has a gorgeous view.
I can't say a lot for the other high-end places in the East Bay, so don't feel confident referring you there.
One observation I'd make, there are a lot of good breakfast places around and depending on how much of a breakfast person you are you may want recs there too. Knowing where you finally wind up staying will help in soliciting recs but for what it's worth, in the Berkeley/North Oakland area, some of my faves are the Sunny Side Cafe on Solano in Berkeley and Inn Kensington, in Kensington. 970 Grayson (Berkeley?) has many devotees though I haven't been there myself. Search for 'breakfast and <city where you are staying>' on the SFEBay board for many opinions.
Recently I was at Pappo on Alameda which was very nice, though I don't know if it's worth a long journey. Yume Sushi on Park St in Alameda is supposed to be very good though I haven't been. Also on Alameda is St George Spirits/Hangar One Vodka which is on the former naval base and has a very nice tasting flight, which I have done.
Downtown in Berkeley was also nice, went there on a Monday (?) evening and tasted among other things a custom made Vodka from SGS/HOV, made with a special variety of wild mushrooms.
Between the Oakland and SF Chinatown, Oakland has parking, is flat, and has minimal touristy junk shops. It is a place that people actually live, shop, and eat.
Definitely I would recommend going on some of the food tours mentioned. And make a point to take in several farmer's markets. The bounty of produce available in N. California is amazing. There is a very nice one at Ferry Plaza in SF on Saturdays, plus a smaller one on Saturday in Berkeley, plus an amazing one Friday morning in Oakland Chinatown, plus one in SF that is mainly reachable by car, Alemany, which has many good prepared goods. All of these have been commented on on this board, recommend looking.
Also worth visiting is Berkeley Bowl Supermarket which has arguably the best produce section any where.
And make a point of eating some good french bread, preferably our unique sourdough. Levain bread (sourdough wholewheat) is also excellent, especially with walnuts, and you can perhaps get some at a high end grocer for a picnic. We are terribly spoiled for good bread here.
If that isn't enough, recommend you look through current and past restaurant reviews in the food archives of the SF Guardian and East Bay Express, which are conveniently online. One or the other also list current food events, such as winemaker's dinners.
That's my current brain dump. Hope you have a good time here, as you can tell you are in no danger at all of going hungry.
Where will you be staying? Sonoma County is pretty big and includes the city of Sonoma, among others. The city of Sonoma is about an hour from SF by car - do you plan to stay up there the entire week or will you also be coming into SF? If you do a search of the board for both Napa and Sonoma, a bunch of ideas should pop up. Thata can get you started, at least.
Still haven't finalized a destination, but it might be Hidden Villa Farm at 26870 Moody Rd. Los Altos, CA. I will have a car though and am willing to travel anywhere in a two hour radius for a good meal. I've been looking around and I have some places in mind, but unfortunately I'm also going to need some budget/ethnic meals to survive the trip financially. What are your favorite restaurants in the area?
Looking at your hotel choice, I'm not sure if you're trying to save money or if you are interested in the program at Hidden Villa Farm. If it's a money move, there are ways to stay much closer to good Chowhound destinations and public transit for around the same price. Your most central option is downtown SF, though parking will add to the cost if you're renting a car. You could also stay in the East Bay (Emeryville, Oakland, Berkeley). I know hotels in these areas look outrageous, but bidding on Priceline should be able to get you in a good, centrally located food area for around $50 per night. It is easy to mess up Priceline bidding, but I'd be happy to give you some tips. Contact me at my screen name at mindspring dot com.
That sounds great. I was only planning on renting a car to make sure I could really get around. I have a friend that works at a winery in Sonoma, and I would love to check out CIA. I'll start researching places in downtown SF and the East Bay. When I make my booking, I'll try the Priceline thing out and contact you.
Thanks a lot.
TFL is usually closed the first 2 weeks in January, so you'll be out of luck there.
Check out Drake's Bay Oyster Farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Ad Hoc in Yountville is worth a visit. $45 for a four course prix fixe served family style. Every professional cook I've taken there has left happy and inspired.
If you want to see exciting things with vegetables, go to Ubuntu in Napa. The dessert menu there is stellar, too.