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Dream SF/Sonoma/Napa Itinerary for a Budget-Minded Foodie

Locals please help!! Having to be budget-minded while in the area for a trip this September, we still want the best food experience possible. Sun-Tues will be downtown near the Wharf. Tues-Thu will be in Sonoma and Thu-Sun will be in Napa.

A few Splurges are planned, but we need to keep the costs down where we can. I've read so many posts that my head hurts! I know opinions vary, but I would welcome hearing what you locals think the Dream list is...the "must go/can't miss" places and the best deals /experience places as well.

We are planning on some winery tastings and/or tours and appreciate input on those. Our past favorite winery experience was Deerfield Ranch - tasting at their home/winery. We prefer unique experiences or just simply out of this world wines (Freebies don't hurt either!).

Here's the short list so far:

Tartine Bakery
Long Meadow Ranch - Olive Oil/Wine Tasting
Jarvis Winery (Splurge - the couple travelling with us has already planned this one)

THANKS for your help!

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  1. Where is home for you. For example, if you are from NYC, you don't even want to think about deli in SF. What are some other places you are considering?

    17 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      We're coming from the Greater Phoenix area. Not really looking for a deli, but if it's on your "must go to" list, then we'd certainly consider it! So far the couple we will be travelling with has been doing most of the planning (they mentioned Scomo's and Fog City Diner). It's been a while since I've been to the area (and almost 14 years since last eating at Fog City Diner - is it even any good anymore?). Because of that, I haven't really got set expectations. I'd prefer to be a little adventurous and go with some recommendations I get from fellow Chowhounds!

      1. re: ButterflyWest

        Why not start a separate thread for Scomas and Fog City?

        I never hear anyone mention Fog City anymore. I don't know if that's because they are resting upon their former laurels and not worth the money or time, or because I'm not downwind of the good things they're doing.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          Fog City report from July 4th
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/53461...

          Scoma's is ok if people INSIST on eating at Fisherman's Wharf. It is one of the better lunch items ... however there are better and less expensive restaurants in the city.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              I think I'd like to know what those better and less expensive restaurant options are! Could someone give me a top 10 list? Top 10 restaurants in the city...Top 10 wineries not to miss (with contact names as a plus)? Top 10 wine country eateries according to locals and not the food media? :)

              1. re: ButterflyWest

                Here are some great moderately-priced or cheap places you might look for reports on:

                Angkor Borei
                Bodega Bistro
                Cav
                Jai Yun
                Helmand Palace
                Incanto
                La Ciccia
                Larkin Express Deli
                Maykadeh
                Memphis Minnie's
                Mochica
                Poc-Chuc
                Sebo
                Thai House Express

                1. re: ButterflyWest

                  Ok, top 10s...

                  Well, as I've said, I think the best value for exellent food in the city is L'Osteria del Forno. Second best is Helmand Palace.

                  3 great values for higher-end dining are:
                  A16 (Marina)
                  Fringale (SoMa)
                  Delfina (Mission)

                  5 other great values for great food (not quite as "high-end") are:
                  Benjarong Thai (Marina)
                  Taste of the Himalayas (Marina)
                  Troya (Richmond)
                  Blue Barn Gourmet (counter service only; Marina)
                  Eliza's* (Pacific Heights)

                  *Arguably the most inauthentic Chinese food ever, and I'm sure I'm going to get yelled at for including it on my list, but I like it.

                  ...

                  Top 10 wineries not to miss:

                  Napa:

                  -Sequoia Grove / Karl Lawrence (Ric Henry - ric@karllawrence.com / 707.963.2702)
                  -Pride (Tim Bouchet - 707.963.4949)
                  -Outpost (Tony Velebil - 707.965.1718)
                  -Chappellet Winery (707.963.7136)
                  -Lewelling (David Wight - 707.963.1685)

                  Sonoma:
                  -Deerfield Ranch / Kosta Browne / Kutch (Dan Kosta, Jamie Kutch - dkosta@kostabrowne.com, jamie@kutchwines.com)
                  -Freeman / August West / Sandler (Ed Kurtzman - 415.225.2891)
                  - *NAPA AND SONOMA* everything that Thomas Brown touches Outpost / Schrader / Rivers-Marie (riversmarie@sbcglobal.net)
                  -Carlisle (707.566.7700)
                  -Hartford

                  10 wine country eateries I don't know about, but my favorites are:

                  Farmhouse Inn (expensive)
                  Zazu (note dissapointing experience comment recently by someone else, though)
                  The Girl and the Fig
                  Willi's Wine Bar

                  Martini House (higher end)
                  Mustard's
                  Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
                  Market

                  1. re: whiner

                    whiner,

                    YOU are AWESOME. Exactly what I was hoping to learn! Thanks for the Zin recs on the other threads too!

                2. re: maria lorraine

                  What do I think about what, ML?

                  If someone insists on eating at FW, then I would go for the three-couse lunch at Scoma's and not dinner. I've certainly beaten the drum for this restaurant and I've personally eaten there more than once for lunch because I like it and I think they have some of the freshest fish in the Bay Area. However, as a tourist, I wouldn't waste my time there. Again, as of this post it is one of the better options in the Wharf area. Who knows by September if the new stuff at Ghiradelli will be worthwhile.

                  The linked report is from a trusted by me poster whose tastes often match mine. I had zero interest in Fog City until that report. That, being said, it is not at the top of my list and as a visitor I wouldn't waste my time there.

                  What would I do as a visitor on a budget ....

                  Sunday

                  Breakfast:
                  Get up early and drive across the Golden Gate bridge and have breakfast at Murray Cicrle.

                  What a glorious way to start the day by crossing the beautiful bridge and drinking in the stunning scenery. Then sitting in this lovely restaurant watching the boats and ships glide through the bay while eating not only the best croissants in SF, but maybe the world. It might be interesting to compare a Tartine croissant later in the week to see how they compare. IMO, a Murray Circle croissant to a Tartine croissant is as a Tartine croissant is to Sarah Lee.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/31128

                  Post breakfast.

                  Since the OP is from Phoenix and the entire schedule seems to miss any decent farmers market, I'd drive up to the Sunday San Rafael farmers market which is only second to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Market and pick up picnic supplies. These are the same vendors supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area and this is a way to sample many of them on the cheap ... and to pick up some great items to take home like Rancho Gordon beans, Marshall's honey, various olive oils. If the OP wanted a hot lunch they could pick up a roli rosti chicken.

                  Post Market

                  I'd drive around Marin County. Walk around Tiburon, go th Muir Woods and oggle the redwoods, picnic on the Marin Headlands while soaking in the fabulous views. Maybe stop by Larkspur and have a slice at Picco Pizza and a gelato at Emporio Rulli.

                  DINNER/LUNCH

                  If the picnic isn't appealing, have lunch at Fish ... sit outside on the picnic tables on the dock at Richardson Bay enjoying more views. This isn't exactly cheap, but for the stellar quality you wold be paying a lot more anywhere else. Certainly less than even the bargain lunch at Scomas. Be sure to check out the house boats near by.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/7621

                  Another option would be a sort of splurge dinner. Drive back to SF and have dinner at Aziza. I think it could be done for $40 per person and it is the place locals love and gets many recs on the board ... one of the best restaurants open on a Sunday night ... or anythime
                  http://www.chow.com/places/23

                  MONDAY

                  Breakfast

                  Mama's in North Beach which is near the Wharf.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/782

                  I'd then explore North Beach ... XOX truffles, Graffeo Coffee to take home. Walk down to Chinatown and get some take-out Dim Sum at Golden Gate bakery. Walk down to Union Square.

                  LUNCH

                  Get a take out lunch from The Sentinel which everyone has been raving about. Walk down to the Ferry Building and enjoy lunch sitting on the bay. Check out the ferry building shops.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/29470

                  DINNER

                  Go for Happy Hour at the fun new Orson. Great way to sample this place on the cheap
                  http://www.chow.com/places/24225

                  Maybe walk a few blocks up and get another small plate or two at Coco500
                  http://www.chow.com/places/5161

                  Tuesday

                  Breakfast

                  Tartine. Walk up the street to Bi-Rite Creamery after. Sugar rush

                  I assume that Tuesday is the day they drive to Sonoma. It is difficult to recommend anything because I'm not sure if that means the city of Sonoma or all over the county.

                  I'd take the less scenic route and cross the Bay Bridge and have lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen ... probably some of the best food in the Bay Area at incredibly inexpensive price ... I just recently had a stunning smoked chicken and shrimp gumbo ($6.50) with a piece of caremel cream cake with burnt butter frosting ($4) ... that I still dream about. The pastry chef who consults there is my favorite and has worked at places like the French Laundry, Bouchon, Aziza and a number of places ... how much of a bargain is this. Pick up a cookbook to take home ... it is great stuff
                  http://www.chow.com/places/21885

                  I might drive through Berkely and do a quick stop at the Cheeseboard in the Gourmet Ghetto. You won't see a cheese shop like that in Arizona. Maybe drive down Cedar and stop by Acme Bread and Cafe Fanny, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse's casual cafe.

                  If there isn't a big Asian presence I might even wander over to Pacific East Mall in Richmond on my way back to the freeway. These large Asian malls are sort of the real Chinatowns of today with interesting markets, shops and restaurants.

                  Then on to Sonoma

                  In Sonoma, the girl and the fig has a three-course blue plate special every day. A great way to eat at this very popular restaurant. Up in Heldsburg, Bovolo has great inexpensive and wonderful eats.

                  In Napa ... ditto ... don't know exactly where ...

                  However, Ubuntu is a must ..
                  http://www.chow.com/places/5

                  For putting together a nice picnic lunch on the cheap Oxbow Market. Get a fabulous porchetta sandwich from Fatted Calf or Rotisario. Wine and cheese from the wine and cheese merchant ... or take your stash and sit out on the patio at oxbow.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/12512

                  Maybe dinner at Ad Hoc one night
                  http://www.chow.com/places/1006

                  Since the poster will be in the napa area on Friday night, maybe checking out the cooks market in the evening and dropping by JV Wine and Spirits with its famous (to locals)t $2 Friday Night Winemaker Tastings.
                  http://www.chow.com/places/31950

                  Not knowing the specifics on Napa/Sonoma thats as much that is worth at this point to recommend.

                  1. re: rworange

                    The Sentinel is in the middle of the Financial District, which to me is one of the most depressing and least interesting neighborhoods in San Francisco. For a tourist I'd recommend avoiding the area except maybe to pass through on a vintage streetcar on the way to or from the Ferry Building.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      ... this from the person who argued that upper Geary had great views?

                      What ... miss peeking in at the stunning atrium of the Palace Hotel across the street from the Sentinal What about the thrill of seeing the 'real' SF ... observing the workday financial district buzzing with inhabitants escaping their cubical hives to feast on the nectar that is the Sentinal.

                      Too much reality for a visitor, seeing where the locals are kept during the week? Oh, the humanity.

                      Besides ... doesn't a chowhound go anywhere anytime for greatness?

                      However, they could hop the street car from Union Square, stop at the Palace Hotel and then hop back on to the Ferry Building.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Yeah, the Garden Court at the Palace is worth a detour. Good though expensive place for afternoon tea or Sunday brunch.

                        Generally the FiDi's like any other high-rise office district in the world, and it's the second-easiest neighborhood in SF to get expensive, mediocre food.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, but this seems to give the impression that Sentinal is mediocre where it is destination-worthy ... for take-out. It wasn't a rec to eat in the Financial District. It was a rec to eat at The Sentinel.

                          The mention of the palace was just a reference that even in the least scenic part of town there's always something interesting.

                          Forgot the link in the long post for the Pacific East Mall
                          http://www.chow.com/digest/2834

                          1. re: rworange

                            By the way, I just want to thank you for your long post above. It was good to hear your thinking.

                            I believe the Friday Chef's Market in Napa changed to Thursday nights. Also in Napa, Back Room Wines on First Street (near Main) right across the street from Bounty Hunter has great Friday night tastings.

                    2. re: rworange

                      Wow. Now this is going to be great fun! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

                      1. re: ButterflyWest

                        Hope you have fun and report back on where you finally go and how you like it.. Also, don't feel tied to a schedule. If something looks good, take a chance.

                      2. re: rworange

                        Bwahahaha orange!

                        Them's fightin' words for Tartine!

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Awesome article. Thanks so much! Great to know where to eat well/reasonably in between the splurges!

              2. I'd go to Freeman and make sure Ed Kurtzman is there to taste you on the August West stuff when you are there.

                If you go back to Deerfield try getting in touch with Jamie Kutch so that you can taste his wines when you are there as well.

                My two favorite moderately inexpensive restaurants in SF are both walking distance from the Wharf -- L'Osteria del Forno (400sq ft hole in the wall that does not take credit cards nor reservations and has one oven making some of the best pizzas and roasts in SF): http://www.losteriadelforno.com/ and Helmand Palace, which is a really welcoming Afghani restaurant: http://www.helmandpalace.com/ (although the website for Helmand is atrocious). The upside to L'Osteria is also that it is in North Beach (our little Italy) which you may want to walk around, anyway. If you do go to Helmand Palace, it is just around the corner from my favorite wine store in SF, Boindivino, on Green between Van Ness and Polk. You should deffinitely check it out.... If you do walk to Helmand, take Polk, not Van Ness, most of the way there... much more interesting stuff to walk by.

                5 Replies
                1. re: whiner

                  I second l'Osteria and the idea of walking aound North Beach. It's been my neighborhood since my beatnik days for good reasons. Another budget saver and carnivore's delight that doesn't get mentioned much (not that it needs to) is Il Pollaio, specializing in grilled meats. Chicken (as the name implies), steak, pork chops, rabbit, lamb chop, all with great fries and other tasty sides.

                  -----
                  Il Pollaio
                  555 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    I know Il Pollaio gets positive mentions on Chowhound, but I never had luck there. The chicken was always dry and the sides forgettable, since I can't remember what they were.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I used to be a fan of the rabbit, but half a rabbit with a mountain of those huge fries is too much for me these days. I usually avoided the chicken because the incomparable Gira Polli was just around the corner and it seemed silly to not go there for chicken. But I also liked the lamb chop and pork chops, and sometimes would just order Italian sausages (a la carte) with fries on the side. .

                    2. re: Xiao Yang

                      I like the pork chops at Il Pollaio...

                    3. re: whiner

                      Thanks for the winery tips! And the heads up about the no cc's for L'Osteria del Forno!

                    4. If you haven't done it before, get on the phone and call Frog's Leap and set up a tour. It's free and you get to taste their wine throughout the tour.

                      1. Hello San Fran Friends!

                        The trip was a whirlwind! We certainly did not make it to nearly as many of the recommendations as we hoped to. But here’s my rundown of our food experiences. It’s quite long, but I appreciated all the details you gave in your entries so wanted to return the favor.

                        Sunday afternoon. After not eating since the very early am on our travel day, we arrived in Tiburon and were famished! Sam’s had a 45 minute wait (and the staff was quite rude I might add), so we opted for Servino’s instead. The hostess was warm and welcoming and arranged for a great table with views/in the shade for us. Our waiter was prompt and friendly as well. My husband had their omelet of the day – ham/sun dried tomato/mozarrella/spinach. He said it was light and flavorful – a perfect choice. Fresh strawberries and gently crispy potatoes created a beautiful plate presentation. I needed a stick to your ribs type of meal so chose the gorgonzola/pancetta gnocchi. At first glance, the presentation was lovely. The sauce was thick and well balanced. Crispy pancetta bits broke up the heaviness. When digging in though, the gnocchi themselves were grey (not appetizing to look at – but thankfully coated in the sauce). They were not pillowy, but dense. I do happen to prefer them a little on the denser side, so still enjoyed them. Had I not been completely famished, I might have been more disappointed! I had an Angelino martini. It was incredibly unique and worth a try, though not something I would imagine wanting again and again. Overall, great view, friendly staff and good food. 3 drinks, 2 entrees - $69 before tip.

                        Monday evening – Cocktail party at the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf. Surprisingly delicious appetizers! Crab cakes, lamb chops, pot stickers, shumai and many more items I was unable to get to! Everything I had was quite delicious – not expected at a hotel chain. So, if work ever suggests appetizers there, give them a try! Dinner was scheduled for a group of 8 at Scoma’s (NOT my choice!). It was everything I expected and pretty much everything you all said it would be! Not one person in the group of 8 said “wow” about their meal. I think my husband’s was the best anyone had – lobster thermador. I had a bite and it was sweet and tender. The penne served with it was dry and flavorless though and the cauliflower was bland as well. I had lobster bisque. It was good, but not great. The few tiny shreds of lobster they actually put in it were fishy. I didn’t see a bill, but can guess it was ridiculous. I was not impressed. Thankfully, that was our only meal downtown! Loud and crazy environment, good service, fair food, overpriced.

                        Tuesday evening – Dinner at Cottage Eatery, Tiburon. GREAT little place. Worth the entire buzz it’s getting. It’s small, but warm. The owner said they’ve been open 7 months now and are still trying to get a handle on the flow (apparently with kids all going back to school, weekday traffic seemed to slow for the week). When we first came in, we did have a table with 2 very young children next to us (yes- screaming), but they settled down and it didn’t land up deterring from the total experience. I had the best meal of the trip here. The amuse bouche was fantastic – little glasses of potato leek soup with onion focaccia bread and a garlic/bean spread. I’m normally not a fan of the texture of beans. This spread was delicious though! The tagliattelli with pork ragu and pecorino was nothing short of amazing. The fresh noodles melted in my mouth. They were coated perfectly as true Italians would have it – not over sauced. The depth of flavor was subtle and intense at the same time, perfectly balanced. I only wish the bowl was twice the size it was! My husband had the sirloin which he said was very tasty. The portion size was very small though - fine for him - but might not have been enough for a typically hungry guy! We split a piece of homemade peach pie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream. The ice cream was beautiful! The pie was good. I was partial to my mom’s pie, so the Cottage Eatery’s crust did not compare (theirs was not so flaky and somewhat doughy tasting). The peaches were flavorful, but cut in bits instead of slices. Not too sweet though which was nice. I would gladly return again! Bottle of wine, 2 entrees and 1 dessert was $120 before tax/tip. Warm intimate décor, GREAT service and GREAT food.

                        Wednesday lunch – heading on the road, so just got sandwiches to go at Café Acri in Tiburon. My grilled cheese with pesto on baguette was flavorful, though the cheese was not completely melted. My husband’s turkey/artichoke was very good. Large size sandwiches – I was unable to finish mine. Not amazing, but not bad for under $20.

                        Wednesday dinner – brace yourselves. This was the WORST meal of the trip. We recommended ZAZU and were hoping the couple with us would have a fantastic meal. We had reservations and were warmly greeted by the gentleman at the door. However, from that point on, things went downhill. There were only 2 tables filled, and yet they chose to seat us more toward the bar and right in front of the service door to the kitchen. Two of us ordered the flat iron steak and two the pork loin chop. One cheese was ordered as an appetizer. The almonds were very tasty. The olives were ok, the cheese very good (peppered) - the bread was not warm and not very memorable. My fresh peach Bellini was non-distinct as well. Service was poor. We had 4 different wait staff very infrequently and the place was not busy. It took a VERY long time for the main meals to arrive. The hanger steak meals arrived at least 5 minutes before the chops. What fine restaurant serves half of the table and leaves the other half waiting for a LONG time??? The steak was cooked to medium rare, but lacked any real flavor. The blue cheese ravioli were delicious, but they were very tiny and there were only 5 of them. The chard was overpowering and overly bitter and took up more than 1/3 of the plate. The vegetable sauté seemed very undercooked. I’m all for crunch in my veggies like bok choy, but the rest should not have been that crunchy as well. Neither of our plates was remotely close to clean at the end of the meal (and none of the staff bothered to care enough to ask why). The pork loin chops were overcooked and tough, grissly and full of fat. Again, chard was half of the plate and was overly bitter. The couple with us was gracious and kept saying it was ok, but it certainly was not. SO, we simply finished and did not have dessert as we normally would have and certainly will never return. ZAZU does not deserve your money or effort to get there if this is the standard of food/service they provide. EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTING. 1 bottle of wine, 2 drinks, 4 entries, 1 cheese - $190 before tax/tip. Rustic and warm décor, poor service and poor food.

                        Thursday Lunch and Dinner – we had plans to meet another group for lunch at a restaurant. But we arrived in St. Helena very early and were very hungry. So, we instead stopped at Taylor’s refresher for a “snack”. WOW. We got there at 11am and within 30 seconds there was a huge line behind us. I ordered calamari, sweet potato fries and a white pistachio milkshake (I know – who in their right mind would put any of that together in one meal!). The fries were fantastic – nice spice bite on them. The calamari was flavorful and fresh – a little heavier on the batter than I would like, but nonetheless very good with the lemon aoli. The shake’s flavor was delicious. However, putting whole pistachios in a shake simply means you get a mound of wet pistachios in the bottom of the glass at the end – or a few stuck in your straw. If they would chop them, it would have been even better. My husband had the Western Bacon Blue Ring. OH MY. I had one bite of his and wished I had ordered the burger. We both enjoyed the atmosphere. GREAT food, reasonable prices. 1 shake, 1 glass of wine, 1 burger, calamari and sweet potato fries. $35.

                        Thursday Dinner – yep, Taylor’s Refresher again. The family we met up with thought it sounded great and I frankly wanted a burger now!! So we both got the Western Bacon Blue Ring. The soft and chewy crisply butter toasted egg bun was overstuffed with a juicy burger, hint of BBQ sauce, onion ring, blue cheese and 2 thick fresh crunchy pickles. The perfect combining of soft, crunchy, sweet, savory, tangy, sour and salty. We split and black and white shake this time - YUM. I actually don’t remember what the family got (other than the garlic fries which I tried – good – but the sweet potato ones were way more interesting and not soggy with saucing), but they all seemed VERY happy. 1 shake, 2 burgers. $25 - no wait service so no tip needed! Highly recommend for the experience and a lower cost dining option in the wine country.

                        Friday Lunch – take out from Oakville Market. Our friends ordered and picked up to go sandwiches for the day. The grill was not working, so all the hot sandwiches were not. I don’t think it made any big difference. My husband had the Reuben which was large and looked delicious. I had the chicken, balsamic onion, Dijon, gruyere sandwich. It was FANTASTIC. We had 3 winery appointments for the day and ate the sandwiches in between each of them. GREAT way to do it. Full tummies on yummy food and no outrageous pricing or crowds to contend with while enjoying wine country (please see my other threads for comments on the winery experiences). Great for under $20 and little/no hassle (call ahead to order and save yourself some aggravation if you can).

                        Friday Dinner – Oxbow Market. Realizing we had not made reservations for a Friday night in Napa and all in the group were budget-minded, we opted for the Oxbow Market (yes, there’s a Taylors’ Refresher right next door and the thought did cross my mind!). My husband had the tri-tip dinner from the Rotisserie and I had a shredded beef and cheese cachapa from Maize. Both were satisfying, but not amazing. The cachapa was very large and very full of meat and cheese (a little sweet and spicy). 1 glass of wine, 1 frozen sangria, 1 cachapa, 1 tri-tip meal. $35 – no tip needed. Fun market – great olive oil, cheese, chocolate, ice cream and wine merchants in addition to the “meal” merchants. Our friend had rare Ahi tuna from the seafood purveyor and said it was quite good (I still don’t know how you all eat that rare fish stuff!). It was a very relaxed and non-overcrowded environment for an early dinner (6pm).

                        Years ago my I had a piece of wedding cake in wine country that was simply a masterpiece – the most delicious cake I have ever eaten. When in Sebastopol, I found the baker and ordered a small version of the cake. The Princess Cake at Village Bakery is mind-blowing and worth every penny. ($25 for 6”). Oh my Oh my Oh my Oh my. White cake, raspberry jam, whipped cream encased in a green almond (marzipan) dome. It’s not your sticky nasty wedding type cake. It’s delicate and moist (cake seems to be mildly soaked in something), airy and sweet with hints of almond. Needless to say, we shared it with one couple, but had no problem finishing off the remains ourselves over the rest of the trip! BEST CAKE EVER.

                        Saturday Lunch – TACO TRUCK on 29 just south of Triniy. First of all, I do not speak Spanish and knew I might be in trouble so thought it best to ask before ordering. In case you go and think of ordering a Cabeza taco, be forwarned cabeza means HEAD. The truck owner thankfully laughed and pointed to his head. I shook my head “no” and smiled!! I must say, my $1.50 carne asada taco was tremendous! Loaded with juicy sweet grilled onions, an amazing red pepper sauce/salsa and grilled meat with lime. Nice burn on the backend, but not overly hot. The grilled jalapeno on the side was a nice touch too! My husband had a beef and bean burrito and munched on it all day as it was so huge. Even after tip, the meal cost less than $10. Can’t beat that! We ate our meal sitting on our car’s hood staring out at the beautiful mountains and vineyards. NO hassle. No crowds. No hectic pace. No massive expense. Priceless.

                        Saturday Evening – knowing we needed reservations, I got on opentable.com and tried to see what we could get in around 6:30p. The only place was Napa Valley Grill. I was able to get a reservation at Mustard’s at 5pm though. As it was where I really wanted to go and we had free corkage there thanks to one of the wineries, I REALLY wanted to go there. BUT, I knew the other couple would not want to eat that early even though they were on east coast time. So, I presented both options to them and strongly leaned them towards Mustard’s (eat early and go to Auberge de Soleil for dessert/drink afterwards, no?). No. So I cancelled the Mustard’s reservation and a little grudgingly went to Napa Valley Grill. Ok, to all you who pupued Napa Valley Grill - It was the best meal the couple had the entire trip and frankly the second best I had. It was quiet and inviting. Every staff member was friendly. Our waitress Beverly was absolutely TOP NOTCH (ask for her if you decide to dine there). She knew what she was talking about, was never in the way but always there right on time with any needs, didn’t flinch when we brought our own bottle in and couldn’t have been more of a delight. (We introduced the couple to Viognier and they loved it.) The men split the clam/mussel appetizer. It was more than enough for them both. The clams were the type I love – the tiny tender sweet ones. The sauce was a wine reduction with herbs and garlic – but gentle, not overpowering. The bread was great for soaking up the reduction. The bread itself was ok, but the olive oil/balsamic made it very good (Beverly even brought fresh grated parmesan for us when we asked). My husband had the Salmon with cucumber slaw and I had the scallops with fettuccini and corn. The scallops were perfectly cooked – one side seared with a Cajun dusting that was mildly spiced and in no way overpowering the delicate sweet scallop. The fresh corn/sauce even had the baby corn on the cobs. What was stellar was the fact the fettuccini was made from Squid Ink. I had a bad flashback to the only time I ever ordered it – as a 12 year old and it was black and came in a black sauce and I refused to touch it !. Not the case this time. The pasta was delicate and gently sweet and paired amazingly well with the corn and scallops. Every drop was consumed! The woman with us had the same and felt the same way. The Gentleman had his first Hanger steak and said it was absolutely amazing. 1 appetizer, 1 salad, 1 glass of wine, 4 entrees $145 before tax/tip. Great environment, FANTASTIC staff, Great food.

                        Our last meal of the trip was at FISH in Sausalito. My regret is that it had to be an early lunch and I was not very hungry yet! We got there at 10:54 and were let in but told we couldn’t order for another 6 minutes. That gave my husband time to use the ATM as they only take cash. I went out to get a table and he went to order. Within seconds a huge line had formed. The patio filled up (ratio of kids to adults was probably 2 to 1 which was very entertaining). The view was beautiful right on the water. I ordered a bowl of the clam chowder. It was not the thick kind, but the light broth kind. It was very flavorful with bits of bacon or ham throughout. It could have used a few more clams, but nonetheless was delicious. It came with the ONLY piece of sourdough bread I was served on my entire trip (I am a HUGE fan of sourdough and wonder where it’s all gone? 20 years ago it seemed every restaurant in or near San Francisco served it and more often than not, an entirely amazing version of it). The bread was flavorful and crusty – ideal for soaking up the soup but not so much for just eating straight. My husband had the oyster po’boy and really enjoyed it –the only negative was the bun was cut entirely in half instead of the traditional partial slicing which made it sloppy eating for him. For “dessert” we ordered the goat cheese stuffed figs wrapped in bacon. I didn’t like them. The bacon seemed raw in certain spots which is an immediate turnoff for me. My husband likes his bacon soft though, so enjoyed it more than I did. But hey, we were there for FISH, not bacon, right? A man who certainly seemed like the owner (early 50’s, grey hair in a pony tail under a fish baseball cap) came around to every table on the patio to ask how the meal was. Nice touch. I would love to return some day and have a full meal as everything that went by us looked delicious (fish and chips and clam dip with homemade potato chips looked particularly amazing). 3 drinks, 1 lemonade, large bowl of soup, oyster po’boy, fig appetizer - $75. On the pricy side (ok, without any alcohol, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad )! , but WAAAAY better than the meal we had at Scoma’s.

                        To all of you who personally provided me with your opinions/suggestions prior to this trip, THANK YOU. There is no doubt that some of the fun of the trip can be attributed to your help! I hope we get back to the Bay Area in the not too distant future again to try even more.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: ButterflyWest

                          Thanks for the great report. And thanks for the Princess Cake tip. There's a whole coterie of Princess Cake fans on this board who are always searching for the best version. You should be able to find a bakery in the greater Phoenix area that makes it -- it's a fairly standard offering for bakeries with northern European roots (German, Scandinavian).

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Thanks Ruth! I put a thread up on the SW site and asked about area bakeries. Got one bakery response already and another surprising post - a fellow chowhound says she had her first princess cake at IKEA!! Guess I'm going to have to go shopping there soon!

                            1. re: ButterflyWest

                              If you search on "princess cake" on the SF board you will find there are good and bad versions ... though whipped cream... marzipan .. etc ... it is never inedible.IIRC, the IKEA princess cake doesn't get high marks. But yes, a second thanks for the rec about the bakery in Sebastopol. I'm sure Chowhounds who like it will be stopping by.

                          2. re: ButterflyWest

                            You probably missed out on a great taco, I never pass up cabeza (beef cheeks) at a taco truck.

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Yes, it is usually just beef cheeks. Some do include brains and eyes, but not often and they usually make a big deal about it since it is not that common. Otherwise those parts are served as separate items ... ojos (eyes), brains (sesos). And of course, tougue (lengua) is it's own separate item.

                            2. re: ButterflyWest

                              Thanks for reporting back. Next time you are here, mention this post as we will have a better idea of what you like.

                              If you are ever in Tiburon again, the Swedish Bakery has princess cake. They also sell it by the slice. The have a low calorie version too but it is not as good.

                              Sadly you did have sourdough bread if you had bread at Scoma's. You also answered my question about if the bread there improved. The company that supplied sourdough to most of the restaurants went out of business a few years ago. Some places like Tadich kept the recipe. Scoma's changed the recipe and it is god-awful. Yeah, if ever stuck at Scomas again, don't order the out of area fish dishes like lobster, but ask what is fresh and local or go with the cioppino. It won't help the sides, but at least one item will be good.

                              Was that Zazie and not Zazu?

                              The shake is made with Double Rainbow white pistachio ice cream so Taylor's can't control the pistacios. Might not be the best flavor for a shake.

                              The chicken is the thing at Rotisario. Don't know if we had a tri tip report there. The also have a good porchetta, though at this time I think I'm leaning towards Fatted Calf's porchetta.

                              -----
                              Gott's Roadside
                              933 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574

                              Scoma's Fisherman's Wharf
                              47 Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133

                              Fish
                              350 Harbor Dr, Sausalito, CA 94965

                              Oakville Grocery
                              124 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                              Pica Pica Maize Kitchen
                              610 1st St Ste 5, Napa, CA 94559

                              Kanaloa Seafood
                              610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                              Rotisario
                              610 First St, napa, ca

                              Cottage Eatery
                              114 Main Street, Tiburon, CA 94920

                              Servino Ristorante
                              9 Main St, Belvedere Tiburon, CA 94920

                              Caffe Acri
                              1 Main St, Belvedere Tiburon, CA 94920

                              Village Bakery
                              7225 Healdsburg Ave, Sebastopol, CA

                              Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf
                              2500 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA

                              1. re: rworange

                                Hi rworange,

                                I am glad to not have known about the princess cake in Tiburon before the trip. My vacation 5 might have turned into 10lbs!! Oh, and a 'healthy' version - seriously, why mess with something like that...have one slice instead of two!

                                Sadly, it was Zazu, not Zazie...

                                1. re: ButterflyWest

                                  Ah, thanks. I was thinking SF, not Santa Rosa. You really did get around.

                                  -----
                                  Zazu Restaurant
                                  3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Definately a valleywide whirlwind...Here's the Napa Valley Grill Info as well...

                                    -----
                                    Napa Valley Grille
                                    6795 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599