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SF/Napa Valley 4 Day Itinerary - Help Needed

Hello SF Chowhounders-

Longtime reader, first time poster. I'm a native NYC resident headed to beautiful San Francisco with my girlfriend during the second week of September, Wed night through Sunday morning. I visited the Bay Area once a couple of years ago and introduced myself to Zuni's Caesar salad, the Ferry Market, some chinese food in Chinatown, Fish in Sausalito and a couple of other restaurants in the city of Napa (Angele and Ristorante Allegria). I was really impressed with the local food scene and have decided to make our meals one of the focuses on this trip (as I'm sure every Chowhounder does when traveling).

So far, after scouring the boards, Bauer's top 100 lists, and certain food blogs, I came up with some tentative lunch and dinner plans. Please let me know what you all think of the meals we have set up and give any advice on some of the currently open dining spots that I have. As guidance, my girlfriend and I are pretty adventurous eaters. In NY, we've really enjoyed Marea, Wd-50, Recette, and Momofuku Ssam. In Chicago we loved Graham Elliot and MK. We don't do all that much italian when we dine out, but we would if the place is NOT pizzeria italian (see Marea). We don't dig offal (probably rules out Incanto right?) but are not adverse to regional cuisine. We like french bistro fare, seafood, new american, asian influenced cuisine, middle eastern, etc. Also note, this entire trip is subject to change, depending on whether we get in off TFL's waiting list. Doubtful I know.

So far here is what we have lined up-

Wed night - Free. Looking for a late-ish dinner reservations, 8:45 or 9 oclock due to our flight landing at SFO at 7:15. Certain places have appealed to me: Bar Crudo, Aziza (both of which I see are highly regarded on this board), Range, Nopa, or maybe something I'm not considering! It will be a later meal, so this rules out any tasting menus or anything super rich.

Thursday morning- Travel to St. Helena where we are staying. We will probably try to get to the Napa Valley as soon as we can. We aren't big on breakfast, but wouldn't mind if there were someplace good that we could stop at for an early lunch along the way... I don't quite grasp how picnicing works at the different vineyards, but picking up some food at the St. Helana market (don't remember the name) and picnicing is something we would definitely do.

Thursday night - We currently have Cindy's Backstreet Bistro reserved for 830. We also considered Martini House and Terra. Any thoughts on this?

Friday day - Wing it for lunch because we are wine tasting all day. Any must see wineries in the St. Helana/Yountville area?

Friday night - Reservations at Redd for 8:30. The menu at Redd really did it for me. We debated Bottega and Bouchon, but Redd seemed to fit our flavor profile. Is it a stuffy atmosphere? We are in our late 20's and would prefer if we weren't the youngest people in the room. That is definitely not a deal killer though.

Saturday day - drive back to SF, 12 or 1 oclock'ish lunch at Zuni Cafe. Like I stated earlier, we went to Zuni for dinner a few years back and really enjoyed it. We wanted to go back to get the Caesar and some oysters (and from what I read they have a killer bloody mary), but we didn't want to re-do one of the precious few dinners we had! Thus, presto, Zuni for lunch.

Saturday dinner- Ame 8:30. I figured that the previous 4 days we will probably have beaten the New American/California/farm to table cuisine to death, so this would be a good change of pace. For some reason, I don't know if I'll love this place though. I keep having second thoughts. Would this and Bar Crudo be too similar (if we do both)?

Also, this is likely to be the most extravagant meal of the trip so I want it to be something tremendous. Coi, Frances, and Spruce are all pretty much booked for that night. Any thoughts on a suitable alternative or is Ame a good choice? I've looked into Saison, Quince, and Prospect and all of them interest me. I don't want to do a super formal dining experience like Michael Mina or The Four Seasons. Something that's hip, delicious, and somewhere that I'll be able to brag about/recommend to everyone back east.

Anyway, please help me out SF Chowhounders and I promise to do the same if you end up on any NYC or NJ boards.

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Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

Nopa
560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Martini House
1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574

Four Seasons Restaurant
1163 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA 95129

Ristorante Allegria
1026 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

Bottega
6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

Saison
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

Bouchon
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. Hello Rich D.

    I recently had lunch at Cindy's Backstreet and really enjoyed it-the space is beautiful in the day time-so if by some chance you miss your evening reservation do lunch there the next day. I can't speak to dinner but if it were me I'd certainly try it. Martini House has fallen on hard times and very sad to say-it is best to avoid dinner there-but a drink in their downstairs bar area can be a sweet respite from the warmth of the valley if you are staying in the neighborhood. Speaking of which if you are in the neighborhood and want morning coffee and house made pastries, muffins and breads hit The Model Bakery for laid back counter service with cafe tables and a good mix of locals and tourists.
    Believe it or not the Rutherford Grill (and for years I didn't, until I tried it) is great spot for lunch. Or if you want a very casual experience Taylor's Refresher is a fun quintessentially Napa.
    experience. For wine tasting experiences Frog's Leap is fun, well run with a well structured tasting experience. As with most Napa wineries there is a fee unless you have an industry connection-but I think this one os well worth it. The Hall Caves are wonderful-and if you can get a booking do it. The wines are on the whole exceptionall, the caves incredibly impressive and the service mostly culled from former Rits Carleton employees. If you can try the Diamond Mountain Cabernet-it's a beautiful wine.

    Meanwhile back in SF I went to Saison about two weeks ago-and it was very good...but not great. It's still working out its kinks and for all its professed seasonality the menu has not changed at all since the opening. I'll give it another try in a few months but right now I wouldn't recommend it. Near to Saison, but a world away in terms of polish is Chez Spencer which is does classic french with a hint of California extremely well. Start with a Josephine Baker Martini with organic white rose petal garnish and be intoxicated by the space and the experience. Also worht considering in Boulevard. Nancy Oaks and Pam Mazola are still doing an excellent job at this beautiful Kuleto designed space on the Embarcadero. You could pull up to the bar for a lateish meal on your first night or go full bore and have your extravagant meal here. Quince is a great idea-if you can get a booking it should be a wonderful experience.

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    Chez Spencer
    82 14th St., San Francisco, CA 94103

    Martini House
    1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574

    Model Bakery
    610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

    Kuleto's
    221 Powell St., San Francisco, CA 94102

    Rutherford Grill
    1180 Rutherford Rd, Napa, CA 94558

    Saison
    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

    1 Reply
    1. re: artychokeasana

      Artychoke,

      Thanks a lot for the advice. That was a very thorough response and I appreciate it.

      I am disappointed to hear that about Saison. I wonder if by the time September rolls around he will have changed the menu at least once. Chez Spencer looks really good. I will definitely consider that one. Any insight on Chez Papa Resto? I saw that listed on another thread and I thought the menu looked amazing. Finally, I noticed that you omitted Ame from your post. Is it because you are unfamiliar with it or because you agree and think I can do better elsewhere?

      The winery recommendations will certainly come in handy too, thanks again!

      -----
      Chez Spencer
      82 14th St., San Francisco, CA 94103

      Chez Papa Resto
      4 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94103

      Saison
      2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

    2. I would do Aziza. There are several excellent non-pizzeria Italian choices, including Perbacco and La Ciccia (Sardinian).

      If you really want to brag to your friends, head over to Oakland and check out Commis, which although Michelin starred is still somewhat under the radar.

      I think the market you're referring to in St. Helena is Sunshine Market.

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      Aziza
      5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

      La Ciccia
      291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

      Perbacco
      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

      Sunshine Foods
      1115 Main St St, Helena, CA

      Commis
      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

      7 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks Ruth- I am trying to avoid driving out to Oakland, but Commis is very tempting. Do you have any idea how long a ride out to Oakland from Union Square would be?

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        Commis
        3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

        1. re: Rich D.

          How are you getting around? Commis is a 20-minute BART ride plus a short cab ride from Union Square.

          -----
          Commis
          3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            We were going to rent a car... a 20 minute BART ride really isn't bad though. I didn't know Oakland was so close. I will run it by the girlfriend for sure.

            For now - my itinerary would be Aziza (or Perbacco), Cindy's in Yountville, Redd, then Zuni for lunch followed by Commis or Quince for dinner on Saturday night. How does that look?

            -----
            Commis
            3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

            1. re: Rich D.

              I like it -- it's a nice assortment of styles.

              1. re: Rich D.

                Depending on traffic, Union Square to Oakland for Commis could be anywhere from 15-30 minutes (or more if there's a lot of traffic, but that's usually more during rush hour than Saturday night dinnertime, unless there's a sporting or other event.

                That looks like a great itinerary. Here's a list of Napa Valley wineries with picnic areas: http://www.napavintners.com/wineries/... -- not all of them are great wineries, but you can first look for wineries that you'd like to visit and then see if they're on that list. I'd check with the winery first to see if you have to reserve a picnic area. This article has some good non winery areas in Napa Valley to picnic http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-05-25.... For ideas for wineries to visit, I'd do a search on this board (or on google but using chowhound as the site to search) for the kinds of wines that you like and then marialorraine -- she's a poster here who has a lot of knowledge about the wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma, and her posts have never steered me wrong.

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                Commis
                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                1. re: Rich D.

                  Cindy's in Yountville. Do you mean Mustards Grill or Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena?
                  Close enough with a car (7.5mi).

                  -----
                  Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
                  1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

                  1. re: wolfe

                    Wolfe - Yes sorry, I meant Cindy's in St. Helena. I am staying in St. Helena, that was a typo.

          2. Rich D,
            I think your choice of Redd is best. I live in the Valley and have been to Redd twice this season and had wonderful meals both times. This month we took guests from France and they were very impressed. The atmosphere is not stuffy. It is lovely on the terrace so I hope you request a table out there. The dining room is modern and "airy". There will more than likely be a "youngish" crowd there on a Friday night. You should feel right at home.

            I would second the Frog's Leap winery for a visit, then a short hop to the Auberge Du Soleil,
            off Silverado Trail, to sit on the deck for a relatively expensive lunch with a fabulous view, or duck into the taqueria, La Luna, in Rutherford, to grab a Mexican burrito for a very inexpensive one. I personally would avoid the Rutherford Grill. Too corporate and not up to the expectations of a real foodie. JMO.

            Cindy's backstreet Kitchen has an outdoor patio also and the food is good. Even better food, but no outdoor patio is Market, on Main Street, also in St. Helena. If you are staying close by enough to walk to either place it will be fun.

            Part of really enjoying the Valley is to stay relaxed and not to have to rush around. Soak it up and come back to enjoy more time here later. Oh yes, and I would consider grabbing a pastry and espresso or latte for breakfast at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville and enjoy it at one of their outdoor tables, or have one of their delicious carryout sandwiches for lunch. It is very good. Better than Model bakery for sure. Bouchon, the restaurant, would not be my first choice, however. Whatever you decide, have a great time!

            -----
            Bouchon Bakery
            6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

            Auberge Du Soleil
            180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573

            Redd
            6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

            1. I recently ate at Chez Papa Resto and enjoyed it so much I am going back this Friday. Inventive, unique dishes (asperagus salad), a wonderful Sazarac, and to-die-for duck were on the menu last time, but gone now. Interesting space, and attentive service. One of my favorite new places. Going back to see whether the first time was an aberation or "the real deal."

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              Chez Papa Resto
              4 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94103

              3 Replies
              1. re: zorrosf

                Update-

                I just went to reserve my Saturday night table at Commis and saw that the restaurant is closed the week of September 6-14. Then, upon finding that Quince only had a 9:30 reservation available, I wound up booking Quince for my first night's meal. My itinerary now looks like this.

                Wednesday Dinner - Quince 8:45 (Question - My plane is scheduled to land at 7:15 at SFO. Will I have time to take a cab into town, check into my hotel, then make it to Quince in time? How strict are they with holding tables if I am 10 minutes late?)

                Thursday Lunch - Stop at either Mustard's Grill or Taylor's Refesher
                Thursday Dinner - Cindy's in St. Helena

                Friday Lunch - Grab a sandwich at one of the local places and picnic at one of the places linked to by Jasmine's extremely helpful post.

                Friday Dinner - Redd in Yountville

                Saturday Lunch - Zuni Cafe

                Saturday Dinner - This is the one meal that is still up for grabs. For some reason, I'm hesitant to do Aziza. I think it may be because I recently had a lackluster Morrocan meal at a restaurant near my home. Also, I fear that Aziza is not in the most central location. Is there any nearby bar or lounge where I could continue my Saturday evening? I am also still considering Perbacco. Would both Perbacco and Quince in one trip be too similar? Perhaps Chez Papa Resto? Also, I could adhere to my original plan and stick with Ame, which would certainly be a different flavor, but I am noticing it hasn't received too much praise in this thread.

                Too many restaurants, too little time!

                -----
                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Perbacco
                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Chez Papa Resto
                4 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94103

                Commis
                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                Mustard's Grill
                7399 Saint Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94558

                1. re: Rich D.

                  I would pass on Aziza given location and other factors. Also Zuni must have a great bar in general. Their margarita (on the rocks) is also fantastic. My friends and I often start and evening just popping into the Zuni Bar to plan our evening.

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                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. re: Rich D.

                    For your Wednesday night dinner, your schedule is a little tight, especially if you're checking baggage. I've give yourself 45 minutes minimum to get to the city from SFO, so if your flight is at all late, you might want to go straight to Quince from the airport, and just call your hotel and tell them that you'll come check in after dinner.

                    Aziza is not in the most central location, and if you're wanting to stay somewhere central and near your hotel (which I'm guessing is in the FiDi or Union Square area), I'd go with Perbacco or Ame. A poster here, whiner, has a recent post about both of those places that might help http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/726952. Also, if you want something different and a little more homey, you could head to a different neighborhood for La Ciccia, or head over to the Mission to go to Dosa -- good food and a fun neighborhood, and definitely not like most of the rest of your choices. Also, if you're in the Mission, you'll have a number of fun bars to stop into before or after dinner.

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                    La Ciccia
                    291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                    Perbacco
                    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                2. i am very glad you decided on quince. i went there... 2005 - 2006..on one of my many visits to sf in that period. if i were to go back, i would order more pasta courses. their pasta is truly beautiful. especially anything involving tortellini with a vegetable filling. my beautiful, cloudlike tortellini at the time were filled with dirty girl farms zucchini. michael tusk is just gifted when it comes to pasta. the vegetables also, are always perfect and precious.

                  1. Quince. Agree. Pastas are beautiful and perfect. Silverware and glassware so pretty made me want to steal. Great place. Expensive.
                    Chez papa. Actively disliked my several experiences there. Decor is silly food not great.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Walkerlove

                      Quince is great, it is definitely 'fine dining' and quite elegant. Next door is Cotogna, which is more casual and excellent food and wine (all wines $10/glass or $40/bottle), also wood fired pizza oven and rotisserie. Perbacco - also consider Barbacco, next door. Chez Papa - I think there is a new chef, went several months ago and it was ridiculously expensive and not worth it. Aziza, Dosa, Frances would also be great. Check out Loconda (the new place opened a few weeks ago by the Delfina owners), which is really in demand. One that is not on your list but highly creative is Atelier Crenn, worth checking out.

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                      Perbacco
                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      Delfina Restaurant
                      3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      Chez Papa
                      1401 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94107

                      Barbacco
                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      Cotogna
                      490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                      Atelier Crenn
                      3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123