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Jun 24, 2009 06:25 PM

Sumptuous San Francisco/Sonoma? Part II (1999/2009)
A trip down memory lane....

Well here I am, a decade after my initial query, on the glorious California Boards again trolling for "Can't Be Missed-s" in the City by the Bay.

My husband, the chowpup, parents, & in-laws will be in San Fran for 4 nights at the end of August and then continuing on to Sonoma for another four nights. The last time I was in San Fran was in 1999 when my husband was my boyfriend and my parents were agahst that we were traveling "'unmarried". We've come along way.

Your suggestions then were fantastic and we had a splendid time.

Ten years later...I wonder:

Should I still go to Ton Kiang for dim sum? It was stellar then. Beyond. And I am from Flushing, NY so that's high praise for dim sum as I have it twice a week.

How about Zuni and Chez Panisse?

Swan Oyster Depot?

Aqua? Rosa Pistola? Or are they old-hat?

What about the drive from San Fran up to Sonoma? What's not to be missed on the way? Any great local faves, roadside stands, farms etc?

We thought about taking both sets of parents to French Laundry for their 40th wedding anniversary which is the reason we'll all be travelling together, but not sure if it's worth the hassle. We've been to Mr. Keller's "Per Se" here in NYC and although we like high end places much prefer rustic, unpretentious local hole in the wall spots. But it's still a possibility...

We'll be staying at the Fairmont in both San Fran and in Sonoma, so some places in close proximity would be much appreciated as well.

Basically what is NOT to be missed before returning to NYC.

Many Thanks,
lisa antinore

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    And just so you all don' t think this New Yorker won't write up a trip report...

    11 Replies
    1. re: ZenFoodist

      **applause** Great trip report -- and you even managed to find it from ten years ago!

      I think you might be disappointed in Ton Kiang -- perhaps it might be better to leave the memory unsullied. Swan is unchanged, for good or for bad, as are Zuni and Chez Panisse. Classic? Old hat? Depends on your point of view. I'd say if you haven't been to Chez Panisse, you really ought to. Skip Aqua and Rose Pistola -- both of them are coasting on their reputations.

      French Laundry is a very different experience than Per Se, but I'm not sure it's worth it. Also, depending on when at the end of August you're going to be here it's almost too late to get reservations (two months to the date in advance, although if August 30/31 is a possibility, if you call on June 30 you can reserve for either day, doubling your chances). Since you're going to be in Sonoma rather than Napa, Cyrus is worth checking out -- some people like it better than French Laundry. There's actually plenty of great chow in Sonoma -- you might consider skipping Napa Valley entirely. Sonoma is a lot less touristy and has more variety. Do a search on Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, etc.

      What's not to be missed is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday morning. In August it should be amazing (although in some ways it's more amazing when it's not peak season and you can experience the glories of the year-round growing season).

      For something unique and very California, try Ubuntu (Bruni raved).

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I will definitely check out Ubuntu. Some friends here have also reccomended A16, Laiola, and Cafe Tartine?

        We will skip Napa Valley entirely. Some people have said we should subtract one day in Sonoma and stay somewhere on the coast for a change of pace and more dining options. Agree or disagree? Is there some amazing pantheon of deliciousness that I will be missing that is just out of range?

        After some thought, I have decided that I am not even going to try for French Laundry as we are a party of 10 including my five year old son and my almost 2 year old niece ( who are well behaved and enjoy a good meal, I might add...)

        The Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market is on my "To Do" list- many thanks.

        Do YOU have any particular faves in Healdsburg or anywhere close to either of the two Fairmont properties?

        Thank You,

        1. re: ZenFoodist

          So the Tartine thing can be confusing: There is Tartine Bakery (in the Mission), a relatively small place that is a bakery mostly but has some sandwiches and tables inside, Bar Tartine (also in the Mission) a restaurant by the folks behind Tartine Bakery, and Tartine Cafe (in Hayes Valley) unrelated to the first two. The first two are highly recommended, the third one is not. Bar Tartine has been enjoyed by a lot of New Yorkers who visit.

          A16 and Laiola are great places to try, though Laiola might be better for a night when your party is smaller, since 10 people there would be a lot. A16 is good if you can reserve the back patio, which will be a much better environment, it can get really loud in there. Zuni and Chez Panisse are still good choices.

          As for Healdsburg, Cyrus is fantastic, and that would be a great anniversary place. Downtown Bakery is also great.

          1. re: JasmineG

            I wouldn't say Tartine Bakery & Cafe is mostly a bakery. I go there to buy bread, but most people in line ahead of me are always getting stuff to eat there.

            I would happily eat at Bar Tartine again any time. It would make my top 50 but not my top 20.

            I haven't heard anything about the unrelated Tartine Cafe Francais that made me want to go there.

            Tartine Bakery
            600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Bar Tartine
            561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Tartine Cafe Francais
            244 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          2. re: ZenFoodist

            As a long-time Sonoma County resident, I would definitely recommend a day or two out on the coast. It is an entirely different environment. The pretensions of the wine country slip away as you meander into the redwoods of "west county". On your way to the coast, about 15-20 minutes outside of Santa Rosa is the little hamlet of Occidental, nestled among vineyards, redwoods, and pastures of grazing sheep. Here you will find a lovely B&B (The Inn at Occidental). Chowhound worthy dining includes Bistro Des Copains, a quaint French bistro; Rocker Oysterfellers in Valley Ford (10 minutes down the coast); and Terrapin Creek Cafe in Bodega. Enjoy your stay and let the Chowhound community know your reviews!

            1. re: swissgirlinsonoma

              I'd love to hear more about Terrapin Creek Cafe in Bodega Bay, haven't had a chance to try it yet. What's your favorite there?

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                We ate again at Terrapin Creek Cafe this past Sunday evening. Smallish menu with 7 or 8 starters and 5 mains courses including one vegetarian. The restaurant is owned by partners Andrew and Liya (I'm sorry I can't recall their last names). Liya is in charge in the open kitchen and Andrew works the front of the house serving dining guests with the help of a busser. We shared starters of beet salad (perfect except I would have like a few more beets in addition to the greens) and corn soup. For mains, we shared the pan roasted halibut and grilled ribeye steak. Both mains and corn soup were perfect. The only negative is the restaurant charges $1.50 for a basket of bread. The dining rooms are very pretty and seem much brighter than during the Seaweed era. A great place to stop in for dinner before leaving the Sonoma Coast.

                1. re: swissgirlinsonoma

                  Thanks for the report. I believe that Seaweed used to charge for bread as well.

                  Terrapin Creek Cafe
                  1580 Eastshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

              2. re: swissgirlinsonoma

                Thank you so much, Swiss girl. As a non-wine drinker (!!!) the vineyards themselves are not of any particular interest to me. I'd much prefer to be near the sea and just do day-stuff in actual wine country. The issue is that we have a 5 year old and a two year old with us, so we need a kid-friendly hotel with a great pool that is NEAR awseome food.

                I ALWAYS share my feedback with my fellow 'hounds, no worries :)

              3. re: ZenFoodist

                Agree with Ruth here on skipping Napa Valley (and I live here!). I'd head directly to Healdsburg -- it's dripping with charm and without question the most charming city in vast Sonoma County. Great restos all around and plenty of kid activities. Wonderful town square.

                Cyrus is there. It's exquisite, and should be high up on your list. The French Laundry requires some planning, and perhaps a smaller group. You can skip Ubuntu too -- not that it's not worth going to, but it's not worth making the trek to Napa if you'll be in Healdsburg.

                I'd also highly recommend The Farmhouse Inn on River Road.

                While based in Healdsburg, you can drive the enchanting country roads that flank the Russian River out to the coast. You'll drive through redwoods, and there are some good restos along the way. You will see the lovely vineyards there, and even though you might not partake, others in your group may. Scenic in any case. Lots of great maps that will help you navigate available for free online.

                Do an in-depth search on Healdsburg. Search terms in addition to Healdsburg would be: Russian River, Downtown Creamery, Cyrus, Farmhouse Inn, Willi's Raw Bar, Ravenous, Dry Creek, Westside Road, Occidental, Freestone.

                Here's a fantastic thread with lots of ideas to get you started:

                Be sure to check out
       -- for maps
       -- local artisan farmers, good for kid visits

                1. re: ZenFoodist

                  Tartine Bakery (in the MIssion, SF) is an ABSOLUTE MUST! There might be a line on the weekends, but it is soo worth it. They have an unbelievably croque moussier and quiche as well as their famous morning buns. The seasonal fruit bread pudding is also delicious, as is their coffee. I think any pastry you try will be wonderful. We loved it so much we went back two days in a row...

            2. There's reports Ton Kiang has slipped a bit but it still might be okay. The reigning king of dim sum is Koi Palace, pricey and packed with long lines. There's also a few other places near SFO, The Kitchen, HK Flower Lounge. Might also try Shanghai Dumpling King (in the same general area as Ton Kiang) -- hole-in-the-wall-ish but excellent XLB (soup dumplings).

              Here's a great master list of lists that breaks down many things.


              3 Replies
              1. re: ML8000

                Thank you for this link; I will check it out and narrow it down.

                1. re: ML8000

                  I am a longtime fan of Ton Kiang, resistant to the reports of "slipping" but my last two visits have shifted me to the other camp. The dumplings, my biggest reason for preferring TonKiang over other dim sum houses, are tasteless. The fillings have no flavor, and more than a few were oversteamed. The Tao Meo (snowpea shoots) with garlic also lacked the previous savory pan-roasted whole smashed garlic cloves that made it superlative, instead just thick slices of garlic that seemed to add little garlic flavor to the dish.
                  And now they give Chinese mustard instead of the red chili-garlic sauce that is de rigueur for dim sum for me. When I requested it they brought a smooth chili paste that reminded me of Siracha, NOT the flavor I look for with dim sum.
                  Soft-shell crab was lost in the thickest crunchy batter that felt very heavy in my stomach.

                  I'm sad..

                  1. re: Armoise

                    Alas, I have to agree. We were there today after a long hiatus due to their shrimp-driven dumplings. Again, or still, all their dumplings had shrimp in them! My friend had their siu mei and thought they were OK (but shrimp-heavy). The dao meo was good, but more muted. Best dishes were cha siew cheung fun (rice noodles), chicken feet and stuffed eggplant. Saddest of all, my favorite item, their roast duck, while still good, no longer has that special taste which elevated their duck to best of class. Oddly, many "big" dishes, bbq ribs, crispy calamari, etc. didn't come out until we were ready to leave, around 12:30.
                    Hopefully, their pork belly dish remains the stellar version I've always enjoyed.

                2. Ton Kiang has moved since then. I also remember it then.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: wally

                    I feel the need to include something that probably makes me very undeserving of a trip to Sonoma: in all of my 37 years, if I have had more than the equivalent of *one* glass of wine it would be A LOT. I don't drink, and on the rare occasions that I am in a drinking atmosphere I tend to order Frangelico on ice...or...HORRORS...a pina colada!. I know...loser! :)

                    1. re: ZenFoodist

                      Then you might really like Cyrus:

                      "Even for a special night out, some patrons are abstaining from the hard stuff. At Cyrus, in Healdsburg, bar manager Scott Beattie has tried to adapt his drink menu accordingly. "We do so many wine pairings, it kind of sucks when one person is doing a pairing dinner and someone else is drinking iced tea all night," he says.

                      Beattie says he can create an alcohol-free version of any of his seasonal cocktails, and offers a nonalcoholic cocktail pairing with meals.

                      Whereas more traditional drinks like the cosmopolitan and martini don't work in a booze-free format, Beattie's complex libations are usually based on relatively neutral spirits like flavored vodkas or rum, then layered with fresh seasonal herbs, spices and juices.

                      His adaptation then is easy. "Instead of adding alcohol you add a little bit of sugar and fill it up with seltzer and/or natural soda," he says."


                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I don't think Beattie is at Cyrus anymore , unless he returned in the last month or two.

                        1. re: celeryroot

                          Ah yes. I now vaguely recall something about him leaving -- I don't follow the movements of bar staff closely.

                          Still, I think Cyrus is a good option for them.

                          1. re: ZenFoodist

                            Cyrus is excellent ....It is also very nice to eat in the bar area if you do not wish to eat the tasting menu.

                            1. re: ZenFoodist

                              I don't know about gangs, but I think downtown Healdsburg is nicer and more of a foodie destination than Boyes Hot Springs, which is where the Sonoma Mission Inn is located.

                              1. re: ZenFoodist

                                Cyrus is in the Hotel Mars in Healdburg. You might check it out. Healdsburg has much more to offer than Sonoma...not as crowded.

                        2. re: wally

                          Ton Kiang hasn't moved since around 1995, when they opened the current location at 5821 Geary.

                        3. The original comment has been removed
                          1. Sonoma is definitely less chic than Healsburg but also more authentic for all that
                            Food is good at Girl & Fig, El Dorado Kitchen, La Salette and Harvest Moon.
                            On the way from SF pick up some strawberries at the patch at corner of Watmaugh and Arnold Dr or even better if you're going through Kenwood pick some up at the strawberry patch there - just on Highway 12 after Kenwood winery.
                            if you're in Sonoma on a Tue plan to join the locals on the grass on the square and listen to the music and pick up some food from teh Tue evening Farmers' market to eat - ot dome of hte local prepared food - mexican, seafood, thai. I think you said you had a 5 yr old - she'll love it . All the kids dance around in front where hte musicians play and chase each other and have fun.

                            You'll have a good time whatever you chose to do in Sonoma county!

                            We've been to Ubuntu several times and the food is definitely unique and wonderful for all vegetarian - however I find it noisy. Last time there was even two musicians - trying to play some wonderful subtle indian music and competiting with the din it made things even worse.