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First Timer- SF (5 days) & Wine County (5 days)

Two Western Canadians and first timers to the region. My husband and I have booked 5 nights in San Francisco and 5 nights in Calistoga. I've been reading the board for months now and I have a tentative itinerary I'd like to put up for review and comment. I am terribly impressed with this board's commitment and while this post may be similar to others past, I feel I just couldn't start booking without your help.

Here it goes:

SAN FRAN:
Sat Aug 23
- Dinner - Foreign Cinemna
Sun Aug 24
- Breakfast - Tartine Bakery
- Dinner - A16
Mon Aug 25
- Lunch Canteen (Not sure about this place...)
- Dinner Slanted Door
Tue Aug 26
- Breakfast Cafe Triest
- lunch - grazing at Ferry Island Market
- Dinner - Ouzumo
Wed Aug 27
- Yank Sing
- Giants game followed by Oola Restaurant for late bite
Thurs Aug 28
- Pump Jack or Balboa (are these silly choices?)
- Zuni Cafe (I will be devastated if I don't get a reso - help!)

WINE REGION
Friday Aug 29
- Need lunch place to placate my husband as we do one of the outlets towards Napa
- Wappo Bar - Calistoga (or the new Jo-le?)
Sat Aug 30
- Biking in Calistoga - need lunch place.
- Greystone
Sun Aug 31
- Grazing at St. Helena's market??? or Taylor's Refresher?
- Market (St. Helena) - the idea of make your own smores sounds fun
Mon Sept 1
- biking through Sonoma - what to do for lunch?
- El Dorado Kitchen or Girl and the Fig
Tues Sept 2
- COPIA - looks overwhelming...
- dinner: Ubunta (not sure this is my thing) or Terra/Redd or Martini House?
Wed Sept 3
- Mustard Grill or Boon Fly Cafe
- Uva Trattoria (can't remember why? Is this a keeper?)
Thurs Sept 4
- light lunch in Yountville
- Ad Hoc (Last supper....)

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I live in Calistoga and would probably recommend some other places to check out. Instead of going to Wappo, I would check out Solbar at Solage (great food however the service is sometimes questionable). Market is good, but if you like Italian food, I would go to Cook. It's a really small place that has great food (the swordfish is really outstanding). Instead of Copia, I would try bistro don Giovanni in Napa. I have always had wonderful meals there. Back in Calistoga, Bosko is a reasonably priced place for lunch or dinner. In Sonoma, I would check out the General's Daughter. Great food and an interesting atmosphere. A more reasonably priced place in Santa Rosa (in Sonoma County) is Willi's Wine Bar. Very good food (small plates) and resonably priced). Ad Hoc is good, but spotty. Bouchon is also very good (Keller is also involved in this restaurant).. I hope you have a great time.

    9 Replies
    1. re: NVLarry

      I love Wappo (live here also), and think dinner on the patio in the summer is great fun. I'm not wild about Solage at all -- especially in comparison for what your money buys elsewhere.

      JoLe got a recent write-up so search for that -- sounds good but I haven't been. I've always thought that dining room was very nice.

      Love Willi's Wine Bar on Old Redwood Highway, more than Willi's Raw Bar on the Healdsburg square, but I like that too a lot.

      After you're at the outlet mall, you'll be very near to Bistro Don Giovanni -- lots of good recs here for search for those also.

      Greystone hasn't been good for years. Recently written about here, so check that out.

      And for Sunday, I'd grab a picnic lunch from Sunshine Market in St. Helena, or Cal-Mart in Calistoga and head to a winery for a picnic. Dinner at Market, with s'mores, like you say.

      Copia is just sinking...down, down, down. I don't know what to say. It's sad.

      Uva has been disappointing lately, but they used to be good. Jazz music -- check their calendar online.

      Also, look into Terra, Redd, Martini House, Azzurro Pizzeria, and Boon Fly.
      Lots of good recs here for all of the those.

      Cook is nothing special -- standard heavy Italian -- and the place is teensy and claustrophobic. The food is really nothing at Boskos -- but the mushroom pizza is good. Everything else tastes like it's made with Italian pasta sauce that comes out of a can.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by both the food and service at Solage. As a local who grew up there and now lives in San Francisco, I'm continually dismayed at the disconnect between pretensions of perfection and actual quality at many places, but I thought Solage delivered exactly what it set out for.

        When we arrived, the meal they prepared for our large group started with beautiful wild mushrooms and gnocci, a nice seasonal dish with great flavors. The salad was a greens/cheese/pine nut number that was well-balanced and tasty with a professionally prepared vinaigrette. Main was some beautiful scallops and a perfectly cooked steak, which is an achievement considering we were a group of 18 and were all served at the same time.

        Lunch on my own the next day was a wild mushroom with aged gruyere pizza. The crust was thin, though not super thin, had better flavor than I was expecting, and a nicely charred bottom. Two different servers offered me red chili flakes before I had to ask, and they came promptly, which always earns lots of points in my book.

        The wine list at Solage is somewhat limited, and while others made better choices during dinner, the two things I picked were huge disappointments for me, and the server poured my "taste" to within an inch of the rim so I couldn't really swirl the wine.

        Since you're also considering Ad Hoc, I'll put my review of that here too.

        Our dinner menu was a
        -summer salad of squash, brentwood corn, radishes, and miner's lettuce
        -sirloin tip roast with arugula salad, grilled bread, rosemary butter
        -blue cheese, marcona almonds, strawberry preserve
        -lemon bar topped with meringue

        I thought the summer salad was too far on the heavy and sweet end of the spectrum, with oily sauteed squash and an oil-heavy vinaigrette. The corn added sweetness to the already sweet squash, and while I was hoping the radishes would provide a tart/spicy counterpoint they were shaved paper thin and then quick poached in olive oil as far as I could tell. When they asked how we liked it, I mentioned that there could have been more radishes for me, so he offered to give me some "if the kitchen had any." I guess this is standard Ad Hoc schtick, since everything is served family style and they can give you seconds. I thought it was a bit funny when a big crock arrived a few moments later with a pile of 8 paper thin radish slices looking lonely in the middle of it. Points for trying, I guess.

        The beef was a huge let-down. Before giving us the course, the waiter took pains to explain what we "should pay attention to in the dish." He was particularly enamored with the grilled bread, which supposedly captured the dripping juices from the beef and the melting rosemary butter. Unfortunately, the beef was cooked well done (we had not been asked our preference), the grilled bread was blackened, and there were no juices what-so-ever for it to sop up. Thankfully some of the other crocks of beef on the table had slightly pinker pieces, so I was able to find some that weren't over cooked, though it all came out lukewarm so the rosemary butter didn't really melt. When our waiter asked how we liked it, I told him some of the beef was way overcooked and didn't even mention the fact that none of it was remotely juicy. He retorted that "we always aim for medium rare." I just gave up at that point and wondered to myself what his internal thinking process was like, considering I had just responded to his request for feedback about the well-done state of the beef, and a few big hunks of uneaten gray meat were staring up at him from my plate, looking very far from medium rare. Professional cooks don't aim for medium rare, they achieve it either by feel or by resorting to something wildly high tech like a thermometer. Give me a break.

        The cheese course was great, though I feel like marcona almonds are so overused now as to be a cliche. The lemon bars were also good, though I have to say if they couldn't manage lemon bars they should all have been fired on the spot.

        Either the wine list was quite good in general, or the wine guy was very good at listening to my input, because he was able to recommend 3 distinct styles of reds that all went well with the beef. We had something to please every palete, I liked all three selections, and none of them had that generic overripe oaky flavor that is all too easily encountered in the valley.

        A note on ambience at Ad Hoc: the space is nice, but the music we were listening to was horrific. We thought we were listening to an ipod on shuffle mode, but then we heard the same awful song a second time in less than an hour, so it must have actually been a play list. It has a little of everything except classical, and unfortunately also included fake "east asian" music that was wildly out of place in a casual California restaurant with no asian influence and servers wearing brown Dickies uniforms. Music was loud enough that we couldn't ignore it and conversation kept getting dragged back to the inexplicable soundtrack.

        1. re: SteveG

          Links:

          -----
          Ad Hoc
          6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

          Solage Calistoga
          755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA 94515

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thanks for the links. Just remembered that we had a person in the group who doesn't eat meat, and they prepared a nice looking piece of salmon for her and she seemed very pleased.

            Probably the best thing of the night at ad hoc were the potato cubes, cut perfectly evenly and fried three times to achieve a light interior and crisp exterior.

            I should also put my review in context: I don't think it's a worthy destination for someone in SF or Berkeley/Oakland, but if one is up in Napa you can do much much worse. No full bar. I wasn't served anything I couldn't do easily at home, but by the same token I'd never take the time to fry potatoes three times at home when I was also preparing so many other components to a meal. Not revolutionary food, just high quality basic ingredients prepared well but not perfectly with rather self-important service.

          2. re: SteveG

            I was just there tonight for the fried chicken and my 2 friends really hated the music, plus was too loud. They complained and it was turned down some. It was Eagles/Donovan stuff. Ugg.
            Chicken was great, as usual. Served with delicious corn on the cob and fingerling potatoes -- I would have preferred another veg, instead of 2 starchy vegs. I accidentally grabbed a thigh instead my preferred breast and when I cut into it there was some blood which really turned me off. The waiter graciously took it away and brought more breasts. Later, he brought a special dish for us to share, beautiful Thai snapper over fresh peas and morels. I was too full to eat it but 1 friend loved it, even tho she was very full by then, too. It seems the kitchen can sometimes produce special stuff for those with special needs or something.

            1. re: walker

              Pink at the bone (ideal for me) or bloody?

              How much food did you really get? I'm thinking corn, potatoes, and chicken are really cheap for the restaurant to purchase, and if your menu was $48 there should have been some insanely good fancy cheese to bring the food cost remotely close to a restaurant's normal target of 30% of price.

              1. re: SteveG

                The juice ran bloody red when I cut in to the piece.
                Have you ever been to Ad Hoc? I think the food tastes so good because the time from harvest to table is very short. Their chicken is brined and the chickens are small, which is better for fried chicken. Generous portions, 4 courses, I think the price is fair. I've read on CH you can order a la carte if you eat at the bar part.

          3. re: maria lorraine

            Kind of OT, but one reason for Copia's slippage may have been its exposure on Rachael Ray's travel show a couple of months ago.

            You're missing dinner on your Monday in SF. Is that intentional? Would you be willing to cross the Bay for a meal in Oakland or Berkeley? There are tons of recos for great dinners...too many to list.

        2. For your Tuesday lunch, while I would say that you should definitely stop by the Tuesday Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, there is not as much to choose from for grazing as there is on Saturday mornings, so you might want to get some fruit there, and then other snacks inside the building (bread from Acme, cheese from Cowgirl, salumi from Boccalone) and have a picnic outside, if the weather is nice. Zuni, you'll get a reservation, as long as you're flexible on time and you call well in advance. For Saturday night in Calistoga, Greystone would not be my choice, I'd go with one of your choices for your Tuesday meal instead, all four of your dinner choices are good options, so put one in for Saturday night.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JasmineG

            Since Monday night's dinner (Slanted Door) is at the same location as Tuesday afternoon's lunch (Ferry Building farmer's market, assuming that's what "Ferry Island Market" means, and forgive me if I'm wrong), would it make sense to switch things to combine those to the same day?

            Starting at the Ferry Building, I love to head across Justin Herman Plaza, wander through the Embarcadero Center, up to the top level to cross Maritime Plaza and the condos and end up in what my map says is called Sidney Walton Park, then wander along Jackson to Columbus, browing the antique shops, then down Columbus (past the famous view of the Zoetrope Building against the Transamerica Pyramid), then down Montgomery (or for Chowhounds, Kearny Street), to Market, down towards the Ferry Building again, maybe browse Stacey's Books, including their decent cookbook section, and on to the Ferry Building for dinner. Just a thought. :-)

          2. The Tuesday market at Ferry Plaza isn't very interesting. You could skip it and visit the stores inside the building before dinner at Slanted Door.

            Copia is eminently skippable.

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493413

            Personally I would avoid the city of Napa entirely except maybe to go to Ubuntu or buy picnic supplies at Fatted Calf.

            1. What a fabulous itinerary! Clearly the work of a true foodie. Having said that, I have a couple of suggestions:

              SF:
              Monday - Replace Slanted Door with Aziza (I'm just not a Slanted Door fan)
              Tuesday - Have a late breakfast or early lunch at Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Building instead.

              Napa:
              Friday - Definitely Bistro Don Giovanni (it's fairly close to the outlet mall)
              Monday - Girl and the Fig (lunch is also good there, so perhaps you could try both places)
              Tuesday - I would skip Copia altogether. Instead, consider checking out the Oxbow Public Market or Bounty Hunter in Napa.

              1 Reply
              1. I've had several lovely lunches at Canteen, but is it open on Mondays?

                4 Replies
                1. re: wandasue

                  Definitely skip COPIA, and Greystone. Redd or Terra (a personal fav), are much better, and similarly priced (OK maybe a bit more).

                  You listed the St. Helena's Market for Sunday lunch, if you're talking about the Farmer's Market, that's only on Friday, if you're not, well then never mind.

                  I also can't really recommend Talyors....way over priced, and way too busy on weekends. Why spend over $15 a person, and wait over 30-45 minutes for a mediocre burger, especially since the fries kind of suck.

                  1. re: Piperdown

                    I believe the OP was speaking of the restaurant named Market on Main Street in St. Helena.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Well this is what was posted:
                      Sun Aug 31
                      - Grazing at St. Helena's market??? or Taylor's Refresher?
                      - Market (St. Helena) - the idea of make your own smores sounds fun

                      I was referring to the first part. So I wasn't sure what the poster meant by St. Helena's Market.

                    2. re: Piperdown

                      I wouldn't choose Taylor's either but in all fairness, the sweet potatoe fries don't suck at all.

                  2. kresge is indeed a very wise person. Especially Boulette's Larder, which has been raved about by both Alan Richman and the NYT this year. They are beyond awesome for breakfast or even better, weekend brunch. Suggested re-arranging during the week:
                    - Sunday brunch - Boulette's Larder (get reservation for outside table with water & bridge view - weather will probably be fine in August). You must do a brunch in SF - Sunday brunches are an institution here. We all stay out too late on Saturdays.
                    - Monday lunch - Yank Sing (Canteen not open for lunch Mon & Tue, Yank Sing less busy on Mondays due to Financial District location)
                    - Tuesday breakfast - Tartine
                    - Tuesday - have a later lunch and in between farmers market stalls & inside shops browsing, take a quick hour tour of the Ferry Building itself with SF City Guides. Meet at the stairs under the clock at noon. Free, no reservation required.
                    - Wednesday lunch - Canteen. And yeah, Canteen is *really* worth it.
                    - Wednesday baseball - either get aisle seats or walking tickets. A good time at the game involves wandering, exploring, grazing on great food, looking at the city, bridge & water views (say hello to the kayakers) as well as enjoying some of the game.

                    Great in-between places - Blue Bottle Coffee (Hayes Valley & 5th/Mission, also served at Boulettes), Ritual Cafe (coffee as revolution in the Mission neighborhood), Sugar Cafe (one block from Canteen near Union Square - daily roasted coffee by day, turns into a club & bar in the evenings!), and Stella Pastry & Cafe in North Beach for amazing Italian pastries, including to-die-for sfogliatelles, pronounced sfwee-ya-tells. If you say "the SFO thing", they'll know. Stella's is one of the few places in the west that makes sfogliatelles, a staple of Naples. And while you're in North Beach, hit Liguria Bakery. All they do is focaccia, which is wonderful. When the focaccia runs out, they close for the day.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: carasan

                      Oh, and in Napa, you HAVE to do Mustard's Grill. I just ate there on Saturday and was swooning with pleasure. Holy cow.

                      1. re: carasan

                        I totally disagree. I just attended a professional food gathering and the discussion turned to Mustards -- a number of us (including me) had just had horrible meals lately at Mustards. I'm glad your meal was acceptable, carasan, but it appears Mustards has slid downhill. Maybe when Cindy is able to focus again the food will improve.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Our meal was quite amazing (the Saturday lunch with ahi chips, sweet corn tamales, lamb shank, roasted veggie sandwich, perfect side of grilled polenta, perfect tapioca pudding) but maria - I bow to your experience overall with Mustards.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            There have been a number of recent reports by posters who are very happy with Mustards.

                            1. re: rworange

                              I'm not finding those recent positive reports of Mustards, rw orange.

                              I’ve read only one good report in the last four months – the one above.

                              I searched for comments on Mustards from the last four months on the SF Bay Area Board and read every one – and the above positive comment on Mustards was the only one.

                              As far as hugely disappointing recent reviews of Mustards, there’s mine, Carrie 218’s, and this one:
                              03/08 I'm A Cindy Groupie but we won't return to Mustard's:
                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50457

                              And last, I dined at Mustards three weeks ago, in late June (the client chose the restaurant), and the food again was hugely disappointing and uninspired. The great "standards" of yesteryear -- like the pork chop, mashed potatoes, quail -- are not great anymore.
                              Not even memorable.

                              I also dined there last November, 8 months ago. Again, awful. Really awful.

                              Cindy is not in the kitchen, and hasn’t been for some time. The kitchen is really “phoning it in.”

                              When there are so many other better options for equal the money, my advice is don’t chance it.

                              rw orange, please, if somehow in my search I didn't find reports of recent positive dining experiences -- in the last four months -- at Mustards that were favorable, please provide the links. I'd appreciate that.

                              I found several reports of diners who *remember* a good meal at Mustards from the past, but no recent positive experiences, except, like I said, the one mentioned above.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Here's four recent positive reports
                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/521809
                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/498825
                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/418772
                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/448869

                                That being said, except for the last link, they might not be people who were at Mustard's in the glory days. However it still seems to please some people. Not to say that there aren't better meals in Napa.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Thanks for these. I know what a digger you are.

                                  The first is from May, 2008 - oyster poorboy (ate the oysters only), fries and duck salad.

                                  The second is from March, 2008, and the OP there mentions it's a terrific meal, and good pork chop (their signature dish).

                                  The last two are from July, 2007, and October, 2007, respectively, so not recent at all.

                                  Thanks for linking to these. I recently was a gathering of food historians, and a food writer sitting in our small group of eight mentioned her horrible dinner at Mustards, after which a well-known Napa food-biz gentleman mentioned he had had one of the worst meals out of his life there recently, and I essentially said the same thing -- and I've dined there twice in the last eight months. Then the entire small group talked about what's happened with the place --- the reason for the steep decline, and we all came up with Cindy not being in the kitchen (getting married, traveling, a lot of time in SF or at her other restos), and no supervision or overseeing of the kitchen staff. A Mustards manager joined the conversation, even.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Nah, not so much search, but I've been linking to places anytime someone has a report about a place so that if I ever decide to go I can find the reports rather than the recs ... go/don't go to xxx. So it was easy to pick up the reports using Places. I thought for sure the person who hated Ubuntu had a positive Mustard's report, but I don't see it.

                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                  Dang ... link didn't work

                                  -----
                                  Mustards Grill
                                  7399 St Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94558

                          2. re: carasan

                            the views and bridge at the ballgame are fun, and there is some decent food, but as a season ticket group member who has been to more than my share of games (granted, seems like this year one game is more than my share :-)), I have to say (ask): Great food at ATT park? Where?

                          3. Okay, do not swap Slanted Door for anything, but do swap Ouzomo for The House. The House gets no love around here, which is strange b/c it's the best Asian fusion in town.

                            And the Girl and the Fig is definitely worth it.

                            -wdot
                            www.thejadedpalate.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: wdot

                              I have seen nothing but postive reports on Chowhound as far as The House, most bordering on raves.

                            2. I am thrilled to have so many helpful suggestions. I am re-arranging the "itinerary" based on your suggestions and it is looking like a winner! Boulette sample menus (breakfast and lunch) look fantastic - and I can still fit in Tartine. If Canteen is really worth it – then I will blindly book for lunch on Wednesday and move Yank Sing to Monday. And I am mapping out the cafés and patisseries that Carasen has suggested... I knew I still had more work to do....There are definitely not enough meals in a day!

                              Going to keep Tuesday's Ferry Building Market for breakfast lunch. I like JasmineG's and Weem's suggestions – picnic is perfect for us and if the late August tomatoes are good – I like to eat them like apples. Acme and Cowgirl seem a perfect foil to some of the heavier meals that week.

                              I'm really disappointed to hear about Greystone (who doesn't have dreams of taking a year off and doing soufflé over and over again until it's perfect) – but I'd hate to be disappointed on Saturday night (and the menu didn’t appear to be a "steal" or "gem"). So – I am going to replace that with Terra or Redd. I have been reading the threads on Martini House too… so a decision to be made between these three – really I think I cant go wrong.

                              Copia is out too. Thank you. Another mistake avoided. The website did look very commercial… Oxbow looks great perhaps as an alternative – plus more time to squeeze in a walk in di Rosa – Preserve which I was considering skipping…

                              Ok – Taylor Refresher is out. I saw it featured on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives"… (more fun, in my opinion, than Rachael Ray's show mind you...)

                              I`ve got to map this all out and have a look – but I cant thank you all enough. We are so excited… I know we are going to fall in love with the area and the food. It`s going to be great.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ScampiD

                                Di Rosa Preserve is AMAZING, and very near Boon Fly, great gourmet hamburgers, terrific onion rings, and killer mac'n'cheese. Across the street from DiRosa, Domaine Chandon, a Taittinger Champagne house -- try the Le Reve, their top of the line, an excellent sparkling wine, one of the best in the US.

                                Love Boulette's Larder. I'd skip Oxbow -- not much there -- but others are fans.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  And if you really like art, you should visit the Hess Collection -- one of the best contemporary art collections -- with some very large striking pieces.
                                  Taste their wine, too. I like the Mt. Veeder Cab.

                              2. Killer Mac 'n Cheese....sold!

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: ScampiD

                                  A tip: I love the zinc bar at Boonfly -- you can sit and have dinner there.
                                  Always fun to interact with the locals and other visitors -- I've had great times
                                  doing just that. In fact, for travelers, I think sitting at the bar and dining is often more fun than being at a table.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Maria, do you prefer Boonfly to Farm for a light lunch?

                                    1. re: Missmoo

                                      I think others are better equipped to answer than I.

                                      I haven't been to Farm to dine, only for cocktails.

                                      I've been so wowed by the great burger, onion rings and mac 'n' cheese
                                      at BoonFly that I haven't tried anything else. You may think this is sad -- however I am jubilant when having those things. I guess I could try other things...

                                      I will say that the dining room at Farm is bee-yoo-ti-ful. Light, airy, with great class, elegance. Perhaps check some recent Chowhound reviews.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        Thanks! I tried but very little came up for Farm. I think the in-laws will like the ambiance of Farm so I'll stick with that.

                                        1. re: Missmoo

                                          Here are two reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle: one from June, 2008, and one from March, 2007, shortly after it opened:

                                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...