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Apr 28, 2010 11:58 AM

One weekend in Napa & Sanfran -- Asian dinner suggestion and winery help needed

Two Miamians coming to San Francisco & Napa for a first-time extended weekend. I’m looking for some help picking a reasonably priced ($25 pp w/tip without booze), casual Asian dinner that stand out in San Francisco. We don’t have a lot of Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese options here in MIA, so I’m leaning that way, but I’ll take anything that’s ‘excellent’ for the price point. We will not have a car, and we’re based near downtown. I think some good arbitrary borders are Central Richmond on the west, and the Mission on the south.

I’m also having a hard time wading through the Napa wineries to select an additional tasting stop. The criteria falls somewhere along: value, atmosphere/aesthetics, and quality (roughly in that order). We’re slated for a stop at Frog’s Leap already, and I’d like to go not much more north than that, as we’ll be cutting over to Santa Rosa afterwards. I’d really appreciate a scenic driving route from Yountville to Santa Rosa if you've got one. We're bringing the GPS.

Please suggest cuts/tweaks/additions. My BF and I like value, quality and variety, and we’re not big spenders, but like the occasional splurge.

Here’s the plan:
Thursday Night:
Napa tasting rooms (6pm Napa arrival)
Ubuntu (9pm dinner reservation)

Napa hotel breakfast
Oxbox market (Hog’s Island &lunch provisions)
Wine tastings (Frog’s Leap & unknown, suggestions?)
Russian River Brewery, Santa Rosa (happy hour & snacks)
Muir Woods (early evening stop, it seems like the crowds might be thinner then -- thoughts?)
San Francisco Asian dinner – suggestions? (Thinking of Han IL Kwan for Banchan, PPQ for Pho or Izakaya Sozai for Ramen)
Rye for cocktails

Ferry Market Breakfast (whatever looks good + blue bottle affogato)
Bike rental & touring (Japanese Gardens, G.G. Bridge, Coit Tower, Mission)
Farolito Taqueria & Humphry Slocombe for lunch/dessert
Regroup @ hotel downtown
Coi Lounge (6pm snack)
Toronado Bar (we’re after a great beer selection)
Rosamunde Sausage Grill (later dinner)

Tartine for breakfast rolls
Zuni for lunch (and probably Bi-Rite Creamery for dessert, what the hell – it’s vacation)
more sightseeing
Pizzeria Delfina for dinner

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Farolito Taqueria
2779 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Pizzeria Delfina
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
2832 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Izakaya Sozai
1500 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

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  1. Here's a recent post of Melanie Wong's that sounds amazing.

    grayelf and rworange have great writeups. I especially like grayelf's "Mission" crawls.

    1. Your Friday is very ambitious. I really don't know if you'll have time for all of what you have there already, and you're certainly not going to be able to fit another winery in, and driving to Santa Rosa, and going to the brewery there, and Muir woods, and getting to SF for dinner. I'd either eliminate Santa Rosa from the equation and just make it a Napa day, or do what you have and take out Muir Woods. Also, for Thursday night, most tasting rooms close by 4:30 or 5, so you're not going to be able to do much tasting at 6. You could do Muir Woods on Sunday after your Zuni lunch.

      If you do go to more wineries in Napa, it helps to know what kinds of wines that you like. A number of wineries require appointments, but a lot don't, and it's always nice to do some research, find places that you might like, and then to a leisurely drive along the Silverado trail stopping at what looks good. I really like Elise, it's a little tasting room, but they are really nice there and have good wines, and the prices aren't that high.

      And a note on the GPS -- often GPS directions in Napa Valley aren't great, so I would check winery websites on directions as well, just to make sure that the GPS isn't leading you the long way or the wrong way.

      Zuni Cafe
      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

      17 Replies
      1. re: JasmineG

        There are a couple of places that look like they're open until 9 in the Oxbow building, so I thought we'd head there for a bit or find a bar. Any other places you'd recommend for a pre-dinner glass of wine in Napa?

        The BF and I both like cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. Do you like the cabs at Elyse? We're not trying to devote a big chunk of time to Napa -- just a bit to whet the appetite until a 'real' trip can be planned.

        Friday is ambitious yes, but I looked at the map, and it seemed like it would be about 2 hrs of total driving (Napa to Santa Rosa, down through Marin to Muir to San Francisco). We thought it might be a nice time to just spend an hour in Muir Woods before the daylight is gone (and hopefully sans crowds) on our way to the city. Do you still think this would be too much?

        Thanks for input -- much appreciated!

        1. re: edowd001

          Just to map out your schedule for you: what time are you going to Frogs Leap? Is your plan to get there for the 10:30 tour? Say you spend a little over an hour there, so you're back in your car by shortly before noon. You'll want lunch then (especially after wine taasting), so if you stop somewhere and picnic then, you'll be back in your car by 1ish. You could stop at another winery, and by 2 be ready to drive to Santa Rosa, getting you there at around 3 or later to do the happy hour. So you'll get to Muir Woods by 5 or 6ish (remembering that this is a Friday, so there will be traffic, and there are always crowds at Muir Woods when the weather is nice), and then to San Francisco by 7 or 8ish. It's doable, yes, but just a kind of exhausting day, and that's a lot of driving for a few winery stops and a brewery stop. And that's assuming that you start early and get your picnic provisions before your Frog's Leap tour. If you think that will work for you, you can try it, but if you're looking for a relaxing and leisurely day, that's not it.

          I like the cabs at Elyse, though their zinfandels are my favorite.

          1. re: JasmineG

            Hi edowd001,

            I've been doing similar research for our trip to SF/Napa and with respect to your Asian selection, here is what I've come across while researching for our trip in terms of moderately priced Asian flavoured meals.

            Jai Yun (Chinese small plates) -- there have been a couple of good mentions of it on several posts, but I haven't been able to find anything in detail. greyelf mentions a great meal here and since he's based in Vancouver, I think that's a pretty solid endorsement. The concept sound very appealing -- fresh, prix fixe menus designed daily.

            Koo (Japanese) -- again difficult to find a recent review, but several chowhounders have recommended and website menu looks good.

            Kappou Gomi (Japanese) -- excellent review here by a bunch of chowhounders ( makes me think this might be an excellent choice.

            The House (Chinese & Japanese influenced fusion) -- again, no recent reviews by chowhounders, but recommended on here by several and menu on website definitely looked interesting.

            Finally, I think a stop at True Sake (thanks to greyelf for mentioning it in one of his trip reviews) would be cool. Apparently it's a sake-only store and the only one of it's kind in North America. More of a just a stop-in visit, but thought I'd mention it.

            Hope that helps! Would love to hear what you finally decide on and how your meals turn out!

            Take care,

            Tony :D

            Jai Yun
            680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            True Sake
            560 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Kappou Gomi
            5524 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

            1. re: Tony Calgary

              One of the best Chinese meals I've eaten in the U.S. was at Jai Yun. That said, if the OP wants to stick to his $25 pp price point, he'd have to go for lunch. Dinner starts at $45 pp. There are, however, discounted gift certificates available on that can temper the cost a bit. No matter what, it will still be well over $25 a person, though.

              Another idea is PPQ Dungeness Island, for excellent Vietnamese-style roast crab. There's a set menu for two people priced at $52.95 (before tax/tip). FWIW, I think it's well worth the splurge.

              OP might also consider Burmese food, which is really big in SF right now. Burmese Kitchen, Burma Superstar, and Mandalay are the ones most often mentioned on this board.

              Jai Yun
              680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              PPQ Dungeness Island
              2332 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

              1. re: abstractpoet

                So since I got mentioned (twice!) I'll chime in -- Mission crawls are a personal fave (I've even done them on my own but I recommend taking an auxiliary tummy).

                We've been to Jai Yun (I just typed Jai Yum -- Freudian slip?) for lunch twice and loved it both times. The first time we went for the $18 option, the second the $25 one with a "gift certificate" courtesy of wolfe, so the price was almost the same. Totally worth it in either case, particularly for the cold starters which all three diners agreed both times were spot on and so varied. There were at least six IIRC, followed by various hot dishes (stir fries, noodles etc), all served on lovely white ceramic dishes that reminded us of Japanese crockery. The preps are pretty subtle, without two-by-four-spicing, and the ingredients seem good quality. You don't get to choose anything so you take what comes, but because there are many dishes it's not a disaster if you don't love one (eg) the abalone we got in the $25 menu was not my favourite which suited my DCs! This is not the place to go expecting massive amounts of food on big platters like you get in certain Chinese restos. You won't leave hungry but you won't be stuffed. Also be warned that the setting is a bit... different. Not upscale at all despite what's on offer, and dead empty both times we went. Oh and there is lots to see and do nearby as well for the OP... Chinatown, North Beach and Union Square all in walking distance.

                True Sake is really cool, even if you don't care for sake. It's such a beautiful jewel of a store, and the staff are welcoming and helpful. It's also quite near my favourite Blue Bottle on Linden...

                Burmese is a great idea -- there are some really different flavours particularly in the salads (tea leaf, ginger) that the OP might not be familiar with. So far I've liked the offerings at Burmese Kitchen and Mandalay the best FWIW.

                And Tony, this here is a girl elf :-).

                Jai Yun
                680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                True Sake
                560 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Blue Bottle Cafe
                66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: grayelf

                  Apologies on the gender mix-up greyelf!

                  I guess the question that I have (and is mentioned on older threads) is the unhappiness of the staff of using the "gift certificate" at Jai Yun. With limited meals on our trip, I'm wondering if it's worth the potential "hassle" to make this one of our lunch destinations?

                  Jai Yun
                  680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: Tony Calgary

                    I've only seen the one negative report w/ respect to the certificates. For lunch, I think it's a relatively low-risk, high-reward proposition -- and perfect if you'll be grazing throughout the day, since the portion sizes are small.

                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      As I mentioned we used the GC at Jai Yun for lunch and it was fine -- the staffer did point out the autograt but not in an annoying or grumpy way.

                    2. re: Tony Calgary

                      I used a $100 one on a $400+ dinner (9 people) in March. I think it's all in the attitude and method of how you present it. As soon as we sat down, I informed the waiter with confidence and a friendly smile that we would be using a gc from It's true that the waiter didn't look delighted, and he did point out the automatic tip, but that also seems fair so there are no surprises at the end. I didn't notice any difference in service between our table and the other two tables of six. It was no hassle.

            2. re: edowd001

              Yeah, your Friday schedule is really messed up, especially if your plans are only to get an idea of Napa for a future trip.

              Hard to believe but Santa Rosa traffic is a horror story. At that time of day you could be spending an hour just sitting in traffic. Actually any time of day is a horror story in Santa Rosa. It seems they are always doing road construction.

              Do NOT underestimate the connecting roads from Napa to Sonoma. They are tortuous, twisting roads. I am not into that and on some of the routes I've chosen with visitors ... one person got carsick.

              So my point is your schedule is optomistic. And having just gone through the horror of trying to rely on a GPS for a trip, the more remote, the less likely the directions will be good. Even in a town as big as Los Cruses, NM there were incorrect directions ... St. Helena? Good heavens. If there weren't so few roads in the area, I'd say we'd never hear from you again if you you relied on a GPS.

              First of all, given the itinery, do NOT spend half the day in the city of Napa. It is one of the least attractive parts of the Napa Valley.

              If you want your Hog Island experience, go there for drinks Friday night and have a few oysters. You will be tripping all over Hog Island on your journey as there is one in the Ferry Building also. Besides, why do you want lunch if you bought picnic supplies?


              Napa hotel breakfast (depending on the hotel, hope it is included in the price or go elsewhere)

              IMMEDIATELY after breakfast go to Oxbow and then vamoose out of town.

              Oxbox market - Sorry, ML. I still think Oxbow has the best quality selection in the Napa Valley. It is a mini Ferry Plaza. Get some cold cuts from Fatted Calf. Or pick up some porchetta sandwiches.

              You can get some really lovely cheese at the Cheese Merchant in Oxbow. There is a produce store in Oxbow, but it is a bit pricy. This time of year, I'd just keep my eye out for strawberry stands along the road.

              Model Bakery has some nice bread ... though as much as I hate to admit it, bread-wise Bouchon Bakery in Yountville might be a better bread choice ... and that would give you an excuse to drive through the lovely town of Yountville. Limit the Bouchon purchases to bread, donuts or potato chips. Everything else is overpriced If you want desserts get them at Model Bakery or Sweetie Pie's in Napa.

              Now hit the trail. With a morning start you might be able to fit in nother winery. There are so many along the way.

              Wine tastings (Frog’s Leap & unknown, suggestions?). I'm not the best reference on this.

              Russian River Brewery, Santa Rosa (happy hour & snacks). Seriously ... if you must go, go early. Do NOT wait for happy hour. The traffic will kill you for mediocre food. The sad thing is you will miss Healdsburg which is one of the more attractive towns in that part of Sonoma. It is north of Santa Rosa, so that really would be a stretch given Muir woods is on your schedule.

              From Santa Rosa to Sausalito, the highway is not particularily scenic. Cows and flat farmland ... and more cows. It is the little towns off the highway that make this part of Sonoma charming.

              Actually, if you get an earlier start in the day, After Santa Rosa, I'd take the road that goes to Sonoma. That will lead you through some lovely Sonoma wine country through the town of Sonoma and then you could hook back on the highway from there. It would give you more of a feel for wine country and I would place a big bet that any future trips would have you plotting to visit Sonoma rather than Napa.

              Hopefully you will take advice and not hang out in Santa Rosa as you will get to Muir Woods in late afternoon. Actually, if the reason is to see a redwood tree, the town of Larkspur has plenty and there are a few good eat places there for a snack should you have gone through your picnic supplies.

              If you get out earlier you could drive along the Sausalito shoreline and see the houseboats and the houses clinging against all odds to the hills ... in the unlikely event of rain, watch for sliding houses. Not a lot of outstanding food in Sausalito though.

              Or you could take a brief drive along the Marin Headlands. Zilch food here.

              San Francisco Asian dinner – suggestions? (Thinking of Han IL Kwan for Banchan, PPQ for Pho or Izakaya Sozai for Ramen)
              Rye for cocktails

              Other than Toronada, there are a lot of good beer pubs in SF. You might take advantage of arriving a little earlier in SF to visit one on Friday.

              1. re: rworange

                rworange is right, there is not much in the actual town of Napa, and FYI, Jeremy Fox has left Ubuntu, so I don't know if the food has changed. Oxbow is pretty small, and you can zip thru it pretty fast. Fatted Calf and Model Bakery are good places to get picnic supplies. Be aware, they are not in the main building but along the side where Gott's (formerly Taylors) is. Kara's cupcakes are quite good.

                When you go to Frog's Leap, try the Frogenbeerenauslese, it's their version of a sweet dessert riesling. I highly recommend it. Your GPS will tell you to go up 29, but depending on the time of day, it can be VERY slow. And yes, the roads also windy and tortuous between Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. You don't want to be stuck in traffic.

                If you like champamge, you might try Mumm's. They are on Silverado Trail. I recommend using that instead of 29, less crowded and more scenic. You could go up the Trail, hit Mumm's and continue north to Frog's Leap, truning left on Conn Creek Road

                Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                Fatted Calf
                644-C First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                Model Bakery
                610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                1. re: Dawgmommy

                  The suggestion to go to a place that makes sparkling wines is a good one because the process is so different.

                  Even though wineries are not my thing, I enjoyed Domaine Chandon in Yountville, just across the highway from Bouchon Bakery.

                  The tasting room opens at 10 am but the tour isn't until 11:30, which might throw your day off. Still it would be worth a stop by the tasting room to see their beautiful grounds.

                  This might be out of the budget this time, but DC has a restaurant called L'Etoile. The chef, Perry Hoffman, is the son of the original owners of the French Laundry before Keller bought it. IMO, Hoffman is one of the best chefs in the Bay Area

                  So far, reports on Ubuntu have been good since the departure of Fox. Don't know if that will continue and it is good to note. Hope you will report on your dinner there

                2. re: rworange

                  I grew up in Santa Rosa and can verify that everything that RW says is correct. Santa Rosa and most of the time in Napa proper should be eliminated from your tour. Not scenic, not worth the time/bad traffic. Better to take a day jaunt to Muir Woods from SF. Maybe on Sunday as he suggested (that way you can see GG Bridge too and eliminate that from your Saturday bike ride, as you already have plenty of pedaling planned for that day). Tyler Florence and Morimoto (Iron Chef) are soon to open restaurants in Napa, maybe making it more of a destination, but not yet! Enjoy the breweries in San Francisco instead (too bad Anchor Steam just purchased, not sure if they still give tours).

                  Tyler Florence Shop
                  59 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA

                  1. re: myst

                    I had a Morimoto sighting last Sat at Pizzeria Tra Vigna in St Helena. Had to tell him I'm a big fan. Said his restaurant is scheduled to open mid July.

              2. re: JasmineG

                Jasmine makes very good sense about your Friday itinerary. Nothing about Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa is compelling enough to warrant that detour. I'm not a fan of Oxbow either -- it's an urban food mall and in the city of Napa, rather than in the beautiful Napa Valley, where you can find the same or better. Just my 2 cents, but I am a gourmet fiend, road warrior and local girl.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I am one of the biggest proponents of RRBC out there and I stop by whenever I am in the area, but I have to agree that it is probably not worth the stop on this trip with traffic issues in Santa Rosa. Stay in Napa, enjoy the wineries, and get your RRBC/beer fix at Toronado (by the way, I have done the Coi-and-then-cab-to-Torando thing ... great taste of two worlds). They will have several RRBC on tap, most likely, so you won't be missing out on anything too special. If you want another beer hit this trip, stop by City Beer on Sunday (they open at noon, I think -- hey, it's vacation!). They will have lots of RRBC in bottles and likely some interesting things on tap. Super low-key on Sunday too.


                It appears Anchor Steam is still doing its tours, which could be fun for beer afficionados!