VA Cook's Report - 1 Week Culinary Tour of Bay Area
From Jan. 7th - Jan. 12th my girlfriend and I deliciously ate and drank our way through the Bay Area. Thanks to everyone from the San Fran board who provided advice and priceless tips along the way. Here's our actual itinerary and I'll be doing each meal as individual posts and adding pictures as I go.
ITINERARY: We stayed in Emeryville the first three nights and rented a car which was necessary. We stayed in the Financial District the last two nights and found BART and walking to be easy modes of transportation. BART to and from SFO wasn't a problem. If you have any questions about these posts or are planning a trip, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Day 1: Berkeley
- Dinner at Chez Panisse Cafe (Upstairs)
Day 2: Sonoma
- Lunch at Ubuntu (City of Napa)
- Domaine Carneros, Moshin Vineyard
- Dinner at Cyrus
Day 3: Napa
- Breakfast at Cheeseboard
- Round Pond Olive Oil Tour
- Tour of CIA
- Casa Nuestra Vineyard
- Explore Yountville/Bouchon Bakery
- Dinner at Ad Hoc
Day 4: Western San Fran
- Lunch at Turtle Tower
- Haight/Asbury District, Lombard St.
- Dinner at Aziza
Day 5: Union Square/Mission District
- Lunch at Canteen
- Explore Union Square
- Mission District: Tartine Bakery, Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery (All on 18th St.)
- Dinner at Bar Crudo
Day 6: Farmer's Market & Fly Home
Dinner at Chez Panisse Café
- Available street side parking made getting to Chez Panisse a breeze.
- I love the welcoming nature of the place it looks like you are walking into an old school treehouse.
- Multiple small light fixtures reminiscent of Asian lanterns, no central light fixtures, made each table feel lit individually
- After crab course, given a lemon and warm towels to clean our hands.
- We are led to our table and assaulted with scents from a beautiful open kitchen
- The upstairs was bustling with activity as we arrived, and I think I would have felt excited even if I’d never heard of Chez Panisse.
- Ordered one glass of rose to drink with the crab and they split it into two glasses so my date could try to.
- “Reservation for Kennedy?” I said “Ah yes, Clark, how are you this evening?” is the reply. Sweet.
- As the maitre d seats us he informs us that the two special items on the menu have run out, but that there will be replacements made. No getting our hopes up and having to settle for a backup.
- I ask my server what steelhead is and his well composed response includes the genetic makeup, flavor profile, and migratory patterns of the fish in question. Our server knows his stuff and seems excited to serve us.
We end up ordering the Baked Dungeness Crab, Quinnault River Steelhead, Saffron rice with Winter Vegetables, and Persimmon Pudding with Cognac Cream.
Wood Oven Baked Dungeness Crab with Chile Oil and Lemon: Good
- Simply presented w/lemon and some Chile Oil. Chile Oil is gentle heat no sweet/spicy dipping sauce.
- Like that you can control both acidity and heat.
- Crabmeat was light, mild pepper and savory (I wrote “heartiest crab ever”)
Quinnault River Steelhead with Fennel Salad, Blood Oranges, Tapenade: Amazing
- Velvety texture on steelhead, thought it tasted more like trout
- Blood Oranges were beautiful and had perfect amount of acidity, bringing you back eagerly for each bite(I generally think they are overrated, but crucial here)
- Tapenade was moderate and didn’t leave me thinking over salted or reaching for the salt shaker
- Fennel was crispy and fresh w/parsley, circular presentation and color contrast
- Baby spinach was literally melting, contributed light bitterness
** This dish completely engrossed me conceptually and physically, I demolished it and thought it was close to perfect.
Saffron Rice w/ Chickpeas, Delicata Squash, Romanesco, Hot Pepper, Broccoli Rabe and Minty Yoghurt: Decent
- Squash had great caramelization, chewy but smooth texture, touch of red pepper surprises
- Rabe was a little bitter, turnips were kind of watery
- Great color on the plate and 7 or so different textures, but it didn’t come together very well.
- Acid from the minty yoghurt didn’t permeate the dish well.
Persimmon Pudding with Cognac Cream:
- Again, love the simple presentation.
- Perfect Ratio of Cream to Pudding, easy to get perfect bite
- In between pumpkin bread and pie texture (bready and chewy), balance of alcohol in cream was great.
- The service was wonderful and welcoming, the atmosphere made it feel special without feeling pretentious. Our server asked if I was a cook and invited us to tour the kitchen and take as many pictures as we wanted. Got to speak with one of the line cooks that was willing to answer questions and friendly.
- Fish dish was very memorable, even though the saffron dish was a miss, the simplicity of the crab and dessert along with service/atmosphere made it memorable.
- Entrée prices weren’t much higher than the nice restaurants in Charlottesville, VA
- COST FOR TWO: $96 (22.5% Tip w/one glass of wine)
I really hope Thomas Keller finds a trace of logic in that brilliant mind of his. I don’t care how sweet of a burger joint he can come up with, Ad Hoc is a novel, well executed and reasonably affordable concept.
The depth of the decorations and food in staying true to the concept of “family style” is pretty ridiculous if you pay some attention. The staff is welcoming with their old school service style outfits, the only thing more homey would be to have sweet older woman in aprons serving the food. I like that you can automatically and easily take the menu home with you as a souvenir. The service was very pleasant too. After seeing me take a picture my server asked if we wanted a little more light. She also asked if I was in the industry and invited me back into the kitchen.
There is a chalk board with today’s handwritten menu as well as a bigger chalkboard wine list above the bar. The furniture set in a beautiful burgundy color theme reminds you of someone’s well decorated house. The windows are open just like at your mother’s house, and the front door, looks like a front door. There is a sweet play on height in the design too. There are different heights to individual tables and chairs throughout the restaurant. Also plant and small tree decorations are placed on ledges, not on the ground, and an antique wooden chest are pay homage to the Ad Hoc Theme. Now, on to the wonderful food.
The menu reads:
- Eastern Shore Style Crab Cakes
with beet, mache, and frisee salad, walnut vinaigrette
- Spiced Beef Blade Steaks
with young carrots, roasted rutabagas, parsnips, and celery with baked russet potatoes
- The Cheese Board
honey buttered toast and persimmon jam
- Braeburn Apple Crumble
with berry preserves and warm vanilla cream sauce
Crab Cake: Awesome
My girlfriend comes from the Eastern shore and I’m not too far off so we’ve been eating from the ocean fresh versions of what we were being served. It didn’t really matter though, this was so well executed yet simple we wolfed it down. The breading is panko with a large majority of crab meat, with a touch of chewy red pepper brunoise wonderful texture. It is rich, sumptuous, and pure in taste.
The salad accompanying it is a trio of beets; Chiogga, Yellow, and Red which we’ve seen a lot of already on the trip. It comes with plenty of hazelnuts, and raspberry sauce. The differences in texture and flavor of the beets are interesting, but we weren’t huge fans. Not as good as the salad at Ubuntu, but still pretty cool for a side salad.
We have a Sous Vide Blade Steak that is so tender you’re shocked when it hits your taste buds. It assaults you with sharp black pepper that quickly backs off and blends with some sweet paprika. It is served with crispy thick rustic slices of russet potato topped with sour cream, and crumbly local bacon. The vegetables accompanying are such familiar stock friendly dishes you feel like home. The vegetables are simply cooked in a chicken stock and the steak is served with the same stock and its own juices. Steak and Potatoes like you wish you’re mother could do.
Bass (with the same sides, vegetarian option):
They were easily able to accommodate my girlfriend being vegetarian, and the bass was clean, soft and pleasant. It wasn’t quite at the same level as the Bass at Cyrus the previous night, but not too far off either.
Cheeseboard: Pretty Good
Three Different types of local and international cheeses served with a wonderful chunk of honey and buttered toast and persimmon jam with a hint of ginger. This toast was so heavenly with the jam it could have been served as dessert. The cheeses actually didn’t impress us very much but the toast was so good it didn’t matter. It reminded us of toast w/applesauce.
Apple Crumble: Wonderful
This is a version of the apple crumble that reminds you of home with a little twist. So many chain restaurants all across the nation have some version of this dessert and it always tastes good but lacks something. The crucial addition here was the raspberry and blackberry preserves that gave the dish a hint of acid and some additional texture, seeds. The apples were also left pretty whole, keeping a lot of their texture, with oatmeal and pecan streusel rounding out the tasty The crème anglaise instead of ice cream served warm was really nice too. We started the dessert thinking there was no way we had enough room, yet we left wanting just one more bite.
I thought this was a wonderful, inspirational meal. The daily changing menu keeps things interesting and allows them to control their quantities and keep things as fresh and last minute as possible. A crab cake mix made three days earlier doesn’t have that texture.
TOTAL COST FOR TWO: $114 w/out alcohol
thanks for the great reports back! I really have to get up to try Ad Hoc soon...
can you clarify one point for me, though? You indicate that Bass was substituted as the vegetarian option... What type of Bass are we talking about? assuming you mean the fish, it is of course really not at all vegetarian. Does that mean ad hoc really offers at least two options for non-meat eaters (vegetarian and pescatarian)?
I find that with Chez Panisse while not every dish is greatness and occasionally there can be a real miss, for the most part there is usually one memorable dish at each meal. I can still remember the wonderful chicken dish I had on my first visit long ago that made me a fan.
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
Fire-roasted lobster in fig leaves. I still remember that one.
Another time they had a pasta course with heavy cream and I asked for a sub. They brought out hand made pasta with black truffles in a simple prep, a little butter. The small pieces of truffles matched very well with the delicate hand man pasta. I don't remember the rest of that meal but I remember that one.
Day 2: Lunch at Ubuntu
DÉCOR/ ATMOSPHERE: Interesting
The Ubuntu décor is modern, but everything there has a purpose and a story. Perhaps most striking is the large statue of a man standing on his head on a rock, there is also a large matching print, from a converted photo of the man in the same pose. From conversations at nearby tables we gathered that the man in question is a yoga master that the owner met and photographed while traveling. The space is high-ceilinged with stone walls, partially visible beneath the bright contemporary artwork. The classical, old feel of the stone creates an appealing contrast to the more modern decorations. There is a long wooden table for about 16-20 in the center of the restaurant, with low benches on either side, apparently the picnic-like location for a large party. The rest of the décor is pleasingly simple, the bread is served in a one-size fits all burlap sack.
SERVICE: Welcoming & Casual
The service at Ubuntu was welcoming but casual. Our server gave us ample time to make menu decisions, and offered spot on suggestions at our request. We were not rushed. The manager came over and checked on us at the end of the meal, and the executive chef came over after offering a few dishes on the house. Whether as a result of our chowhound thread or by some err in judgment on how important we really are, the extra attention made the meal even more special.
FOOD: Great Value, Unique
We start off with complimentary Marcona Almonds with Sea Salt and Lavender Sugar, and Chile & Garlic marinated olives. Marcona almonds are all the rage now. We have them at our restaurant and I saw them multiple times on the trip. These are special. They remind us of summertime, and my girlfriend thought they must have been left lying out by the ocean. They are fragrant, simultaneously sweet, salty, and irresistible. The olives are good with mild chile and garlic flavor, but nothing special. The bread is nice and wheaty, but not served warm for some reason. We order: Salt Roasted Beets and Avocado, Fennel, Endive, and Apple Salad, Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot, and Vanilla Bean “Cheesecake” in a Mason Jar. We inexplicably get comp’d the Chickpea w/Bellwether Ricotta Starter. This is shaping up to be a multi-course tasty lunch that was originally almost an afterthought.
Salt Roasted Beets and Avocado w/Ruby Red Grapefruit and Greens: Solid, Refreshing
- First off, it’s beautiful. Awesome array of colors and shapes. It’s like a mini rectangle in a rectangular plate blends really well.
- The beets themselves are mildly sweet, and had a mild coffee flavor.
- The highlight of the dish is the avocado puree. Just an amazing contrast texturally and temperature wise with the beets and grapefruit, refreshing.
- Grapefruit contributes nice acidity. Flavor balance is pretty good
- There is a jelly like dark red beet puree that has light sweetness reminds us of cranberry sauce.
- Very refreshing dish, would have loved just a touch more avocado.
Fennel, Endive and Apple Salad with Winchester Gouda, Spiced Lotus Root & Walnut Vinaigrette: Solid, Balanced
- Again a very visually appealing dish.
- Apple (Acid), Endive (Bitter), Lotus (Sweet), Gouda (Savory) = Nice Balance
- Fennel is Crisp, Lotus Root is Soft and Chewy, the apple was in between the two, and all three shared a pleasingly similar density which created Good textures.
- Very lightly dressed mildly creamy, walnut flavor actually reminds you of walnuts.
Chickpeas with Bellwether Ricotta with Olive Vinaigrette and Roast Peppers, Mint: Nice Elements, Pretty Good
- Not surprisingly, wonderful color again, one mint leaf on each roast pepper mound
- The roast pepper puree has awesome texture (some seeds are left in, nice)
- Ricotta is great, stringy, clean pure milk taste
- Some olive tapenade again brings mild sharpness and salt, light purple color
- Mint leaves give a cleansing taste, pepperyness
- Dish comes together pretty well flavor wise, BUT the chickpeas are a little chalky/chewy and it detracts. Was chewing chickpeas after everything else was long gone.
Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot (Roasted-pureed-raw, cauliflower “cous cous”, vadouvan spice, toast: Amazing, will change how you think about cauliflower
- I wrote down amazing texture twice so I guess that happened.
- Great caramelization on the roasted cauliflower gives it light sweetness, the cauliflower “cous cous” actually tricked me into thinking it was cous cous.
- Heavenly rich (cream), also saw some oranges in there for a little acid
- Love that it’s served in little cast-iron pot comes out steaming.
- The Vadouvan Spice (Indian curry leaves, fenugreek, cumin, garlic) which I’ve read is locally blended was a key flavor and tasted unique.
- The toast was really crispy and smoky, wish there were a few more but they brought more bread over immediately.
- I would eat this every day.
Vanilla Bean “Cheesecake” in a Jar with Sour Cherries and Pine Nut Sable: CHA-CHING
- This deconstructed cheesecake had layer upon layer of deliciousness
- The top layer was a vanilla bean infused crème (legit vanilla bean)
- Then Pine Nut Sable (roasted ground pinenuts like crust) awesome
- Pureed sour black cherries, along with some chewy whole ones (texture ++)
- Then simply solid cheesecake on the bottom.
- Texturally it was perfect and blended together really well.
- Best dessert of the whole trip, my girlfriend tried to convince me to skip the next day’s olive oil tour so we could go back (it almost worked).
- We left full, although we did get some extra courses. I feel like the portions are simply healthier, reasonable sizes. We were given two “Bites” ($5 each) and one starter ($9) on the house, so our bill was a little lower. I think we still would have been full without them.
- COST FOR TWO: $52 with 21% tip, $75ish with comp’d dishes
Marcona Almonds .. the new huckleberries and yuzu ...reaching far back ... raspberry vinagrette ... though better than the others mentioned. Why is it that chefs and restaurants are such sheep as far as trends are concerned
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558
The original comment has been removed
Sorry about that everyone. The reports ended up being more in depth and time consuming then I thought. Im currently in Baden Baden, Germany doing a stage, but will be finishing up the reports on my days off. I have the Bar Crudo and Cyrus summary all but done and will post those soon!
Thanks for your patience, now that Im settled in I will finish them up ASAP.
Here is the Cyrus report, pictures will be up soon.
Located in the beautiful Les Mars Hotel, walking into the lobby you feel special just for being there. There is an elegant, shiny, winding staircase up to the rooms and most of us will regret not being able to walk up the staircase at the end of the night to go to sleep.
Elegance. That’s the best word I can come up with. You feel like royalty as you walk in the dining room, without being intimidated. Vanilla window curtains that look like pillows, or maybe clouds? Canapes served on silver plates and spoons, it definitely gives you a step up in the world, at least for a night.
Service: Charming, without feeling predatory.
Hands down the best service experience I’ve ever had. You have a team of servers at your attention that manage to do it without seeming intrusive or awkward.
Silverware is swiftly replaced after every little plate and amuse bouche.
The plates are all timed so that every one gets their dish set down at the table at the exact same time, one server delivers each dish.
Each server explains each dish completely and is able to answer any question you have.
On spotting Buddha’s hand across the way, I ask about it, and am complimentary giving the sparkling drink/pre dessert without even asking for it......(We had already been given another pre dessert drink since it was my birthday).
We were given complimentary dessert wine by the glass, that wasn’t on the menu but they had left over from a wine tasting the night before.
When my girlfriend walked to the bathroom, her napkin was folded while she was gone, and then placed in her lap when she returned (a little over the top, but still)
The sommelier was genuinely excited to come over and describe the wine we had selected and to explain the dessert wine we had been comp’d (no stuffyness whatsoever)
5 Canapes (One for each taste)
Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche (Amuse Bouche)
Miso Soup w/Goji Berry Puree (Amuse Bouche)
Bread Served with Cow’s Butter, Goat’s Butter, Pink & White Sea Salt
Thai Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Mango, and Hearts of Palm
Terrine with Persimmon and Fennel, Toasted Brioche
Shitake Mushrooms with Sea Beans and Gobo, Sudachi Broth
Pappardelle with Braised Rabbit and Red Cabbage, Mustard Froth
Striped Bass with Cardoons and Artichokes, Bay Leaf Nage
Veal Loin with Rosti Potatoes and Sweetbreads “Grand Mere”
Tasting Desserts on a Tropical Theme
Tasting Desserts on a Maple Theme
Canapés: - Served on a silver platter with silver spoons
- Salty: Warm Chickpea Cake w/Olive Tapenade & Feta – Love warm doughy cake
- Sour: Campari Grapefruit Gelee w/Candied Orange Zest
- Sweet? Seared Yellowfin Tuna with Carrot, etc.
- Umami – Wonton w/Sesame, Shrimp – Very pleasant and rich
* The Canapes alone would have been a sweet amuse bouche
Ceviche of Nantucket Bay Scallop with Pickled Daikon, Sweet Potato, Ginger, Watercress, Freeze Dried Grated Soy:
Very Fresh tasting, a lot of good acidity and beautiful.
Sweet Potato and Ginger were interesting together here.
Miso Soup with Goji Berry Puree, Sesame:
Strong sweet acid cutting through rich broth. Broth is simply much richer than normal.
The server could say where the cow’s butter was from, and served with fleur de sel and pink sea salt from Brittany I had to be careful not to eat too much bread.
The goat’s butter was special and made the bread “course” exciting.
Thai Marinated Lobster with Avocado, Mango, and Hearts of Palm:
Thai Fish Sauce, Lemon, Ginger, Honey, Mirin Marinade
Great texture on the lobster, sweet with light presence of fish sauce.
Lemon accentuates freshness and there is real pleasant acid here.
I’ll go ahead and say that everything was presented beautifully throughout the meal.
Foie Gras Terrine with Persimmon, Baby Fennel, Warm Brioche, Persimmon Gelee: Life Changing
Incredible richness to the foie gras, it simply tastes so pure, so clean. Best Foie Ive had.
Beautiful colors on the plate, delicious brioche is warm and slightly crisp on outside, soft in the middle.
This texture sensation made the dish amazing. Right before I could run out of bread, a replacement of brioche came tucked in napkins that looked like a bed (breakfast in bed?)
The chutney is perfectly balanced in flavor.
I’ve had some wonderful foie gras dishes (Pickled Cranberries, Oatmeal Streusel, Pineapple and Pistachios) but this was significantly different. While there was acid present, the acidic accompaniment to the foie gras was not the focus, it simply complemented the already wonderful foie.
Incredibly pleasant to eat.
Shitake Mushrooms with Sea Beans and Gobo, Sudachi Broth:
Burdock Root (Salsify family), Pickled Asparagus
Miso type broth, tiny green citrus
The mushrooms were good, but everything else didn’t come together perfectly.
Pappardelle with Braised Rabbit and Red Cabbage, Mustard Froth: Wonderful
Red wine braised rabbit, combines with little bits of fried rabbits, light mustard froth, and al dente pappardelle = awesome texture
Red Cabbage is also braised and was probably the best red cabbage ive had.
Cabbage and Rabbit come together really well.
Fresh, cleansing celery root puree, that also contributes color.
Rabbit cooked to right temperature, there are actually three different textures of rabbit on the plate.
The entire dish is tasty and comes together effortlessly.
Striped Bass with Cardoons and Artichokes, Bay Leaf Nage:
Great texture on the fish, my girlfriend said the fish by itself was the best fish she’d had (better than previous favorite Citronelle rockfish w/lemon verbena and pearl veggies.)
The accompanying vegetables and pickled something don’t balance perfectly acid wise, which hurts the overall dish. But the fish is still awesome on its own.
Veal Loin with Rosti Potatoes and Sweetbreads “Grand Mere”:
Comes with one delicious roasted cipollini onion
Incredible mouthfeel on the sauce.
Sauce, Sweetbreads, and potatoes are all awesome
The veal loin itself was a little chewy and the bacon could have been crisper.
Seaweed was wrapped under the bacon, the bacon overrode the veal in flavor a little.
Everything else on the plate was great, disappointing but based on everything else in the meal it was easy to overlook.
Cranberry-Verjus Popsicle Gum Drop Shaped
Cookies and Milk: Really??
Miniature Freshly Baked Choc. Chip Cookies in this glass object with a balloon (for birthday) and cocoa powder on the bottom. When the balloon is taken out it shoots the powder on top of the cookies.
Served with egg cream, seltzer, and syrup to dip cookies in.
Buddha’s Hand Citrus seltzer:
little bit like lime with a slight aloe taste
Tasting Desserts on a Tropical Theme:
Roasted Banana w/Pomegranate: Cool texture
Candied Hazelnut Banana w/rum ice cream.
Passion Fruit Panna Cotta: Crumbly, Chewy, Bready, delicious
Puff Pastry with Bavarian Crème and layered mango & banana crème layers: Very tasty and diverse dessert, fresh, texture of pastry and crèmes.
Tasting Desserts on a Maple Theme:
Candied Maple-Gingerbread Cookie: Really sweet
Sweet Potato Pie: Pretty ridiculous texture, with toasted marshmallows, grated candied sweet potato, delicccious
Whisky Sabayon: Light, Pleasant
Candied Maple Brown Sugar, Blood Orange, Shortbread & Maple Ice Cream
We aren’t done yet – Cyrus Petit Fours (or twelves):
They wheel out this huge platter of petit fours and you get to pick which ones you want.
Our server recommends some and we end up getting about 8 each.
Nougat w/Pistachio, Mocha & Cinnamon, Peppermint Espresso rolled in cocoa all stood out. Passion fruit gelee with Strawberry Seed too.
Any Petit Fours you don’t eat you can put in a little Cyrus box that has a mini brownie for the next day.
Go to Cyrus, now. Run, don’t walk. I walked out of their feeling like we had cheated the restaurant despite the bill. There are so many novel flavors and little extras, and the service makes you feel warm and important. A few things that we had weren’t perfect, but all of the extras combined with the service and the highs far outweighed the lows. I put this meal at the same level as Citronelle foodwise, but better service and extras at about half the price. Get there before the prices explode and I really hope they are making money so they can keep it up.
COST FOR TWO: $235 with 24% tip without wine
I had a similar experience at Cyrus - I thought it was an incredible value, and found that the service really hit the sweet spot between friendly/enthusiastic/warm and professional. I was also impressed with the particular attention paid to acidity, both within and between courses.
Thanks for taking the time to write all of these up - you must be working like a madman right now, too!