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Jun 29, 2008 08:58 PM

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:

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!)

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


          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.


            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:

              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.

              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.