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Overwhelmed by options ... need help narrowing the list!

My husband and I are coming to the SF Bay area this weekend. We are infrequent visitors to the city, and enjoy good food! I did tons of research on the discussion boards for good places to eat in SF and Napa, but am having difficulty narrowing my list. I've been a lurker on the discussion boards for some time and this is my first post...

Well be in SF only one night, staying in Union Square. We arrive Saturday the 11th and then head to Napa on the 12th. We'll be in Napa the 12-15 (taking the red eye home the night of the 15th). We're celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary (I can't possibly be that old!!!) We live in Cincinnati, so we're not in a major food destination... We will have a car, but are certainly open to public transportation (sometimes its easier).

Our budget is flexible...by this I mean price won't eliminate an option, but my thinking is that there are so many 'great' restaurants in the area that we can seriously enjoy that will run the gamut. I don't think the 'top end' restaurants are necessary (TFL, Ritz Dining Room), as anywhere we go will likely impress us.

What we like: variety, tasting menus! (we're pretty open)
Prefer to avoid: seafood focused restaurants (i.e. Bar Crudo), barbecue

In SF, our plan is to go the Ferry Building Saturday for lunch. I tried to get in to Gary Danko but they are booked and we're on the wait list. I tried Commis but they are closed through the 14th. We're currently booked at Aziza. I was also looking at Perbacco and Incanto based on other postings. (the La Folie menu posted online doesn't do much for me...but it is also 2 years old!). Maybe Yank Sing for dim sum prior to heading to Napa on Sunday? Thoughts?

In Napa, we're booked at Ubuntu for the actual night of our anniversary. I'm also looking at CIA as a must...but for lunch or dinner?? Others I'm considering,, maybe Redd or Martini House? But then I'm thinking is it 'too much of a good thing' ... too many great restaurants that they'll lose their luster? I don't want to lock us in to too tight a schedule...we're pretty good at being flexible. Are there any restaurants that aren't mandatory reservations that we could hold off and consider? (and its probably getting too late to get reservations at places where they are needed)

Close to the Inn where we'll be staying, Carpe Diem or Oenotri also look good for more casual. We're doing a wine tour with lunch at one of the wineries. We may do our own picnic lunch one day...is Oxbow Market or Napa General store the best for packing our own?

And general guidance would be appreciated on two other aspects: 1) should we definitely plan to visit/dine outside of Napa proper? (I'm toying with the idea of staying close to home just to avoid driving after enjoying too much wine!). and 2) any 'must see' wineries? (we're not cult wine drinkers...we enjoy good red wines, and some sauv blancs...not chardonnay fans!) The one 'must see' that is on our list now is O'Brien (because we've read good things and its our surname!) I don't know where the wine tour will take us, but I'm looking to hit at least one 'sparkling' house, then some other possibilities are Artesa and Pride Mountain. And is it Hess who has the great artwork? (husband is an art fan).

I've probably tried to cover too much in one post, but in reading all of the other discussion boards, I know this is the right place to ask for help!

Thanks in advance! (and I promise to be good and post after we return).

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

Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

La Folie
2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

Gary Danko
800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Yank Sing
49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

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

Commis
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

Oenotri
1425 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

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  1. Hi,
    Welcome! and what a long post.

    Ferry building for lunch is a great idea, and the choices you've laid in for that night seem very nice. Just stick with any of those and you'll have a great meal. It is hard choosing only one restaurant, and every place has its off nights, and you've described what you like only in generalities. I might suggesting relaxing a bit. Those are good places.

    Dim Sum on Sunday morning has plusses and minuses - mostly plusses. The problem is Dim Sum doesn't really start until 10 most places, so you won't be able to get a really early start. The good news is Dim Sum can be eaten quickly because you avoid the whole ordering & waiting thing. From your list, it might be the only asian you have on the trip, so I'd recommend it - if not Yank Sing, then somewhere in chinatown like Gold Mountain if it's a walk from where you're staying. Yank Sing is considered better, but just being able to walk in the morning has plusses too.

    I have never heard a rave for CIA. Regarding where else to eat, two that you haven't mentioned are Cyrus and Meadowood.

    Regarding napa and wineries, pay attention to the posts by Mamma Lorraine, she's got an encyclopedic knowledge.

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    Gold Mountain Restaurant
    644 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Yank Sing
    49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

    2 Replies
    1. re: bbulkow

      Uh...Cyrus isn't exactly in Napa...but it is a fun drive from Calistoga.

      1. re: OldTimer

        "doh".

        By the way, some people are making unoaked chardonnay. If you like Sauv Blanc but not Chardonnay, you might be on the lookout. And my #1 trick for tasting is not taste everything - tell the pourer what you like, and ask them to pick 3. Otherwise they'll pour you 10 and you'll give up after 2 or 3 wineries. Remember, they're trying to sell you a bottle, and they know what people like. And places where the tasting cost is high, it becomes reasonable to buy a bottle at the same cost as the tasting (and get the free tasting with purchase).

    2. Does it matter what Yank Sing location? Is one better than the other? I'm thinking we could sleep in on Sunday (no rush to get to Napa), leave our car parked at the hotel, and walk to Yank Sing...have some leisurely dim sum...then walk back to the hotel, pick up the car, and be off!

      -----
      Yank Sing
      49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

      5 Replies
      1. re: bigskylisa

        I'd go to the Rincon Center Yank Sing location. They are only a 10-minute walk apart (if that much).

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        Yank Sing
        49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

        Rincon Center
        121 Spear St # B18, San Francisco, CA

        1. re: bigskylisa

          Rincon Center is the best location. Make sure you order the xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplings)!

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          Rincon Center
          121 Spear St # B18, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: cornflower55

            The xiaolongbao alone are reason enough to go to Yank Sing!

            Sounds like you have a memorable and delicious trip planned. I don't think you need to worry too much about reservations in Napa as you will be there during the mid-week. Drive around and be spontaneous, and bring your restaurant list and cellphone with you so that you don't have to plan more than an hour or so ahead. There are so many good restaurants within driving distance that a minimum of planning should virtually guarantee you a satisfying meal. Happy Anniversary!

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            Yank Sing
            49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. re: pilinut

              Thanks all! Rincon it is...and some xiaolongbao!

              And bbulkow...thanks for the tasting recs...we've had a few unoaked chards in the past and they are certainly more to our liking.

              We may stop by CIA for a glass of wine on the patio. Any other patios that we should consider spending time on? (love being outdoors when it is pleasant!)

              1. re: bigskylisa

                If you can time it right with your other plans, the patio at Auberge de Soliel (Rutherford) is a nice spot for wine or a cocktail, especially at sunset.

        2. I really like CIA. Have brought many out of town relatives there because I think the food is quite good but the building and grounds are really nice. Perfect for lunch (IMO).

          1. My favorites when I travel to to Napa are both associated with Michael Chiarello. His former restaurant in St. Helena and his current venture in Yountville, Botegga both boast excellent service and hearty pastas.

            1. The restaurant formerly owned by Michael Chiarello in St. Helena is Tra Vigne.

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              Tra Vigne Restaurant
              1050 Charter Oak, St. Helena, CA 94574

              1. We're back! And here's the update on where we actually ate:

                Ferry Building Saturday mid-day - Awesome place. Weather was beautiful so it brought out the crowds. Ate fresh berries and pastries from the farmers market, then went to Slanted Door for lunch. There were 6 of us, and we each ordered something different...and everything was great (the standout was the Lemongrass chicken, the trailer was the flank steak).

                Aziza (Saturday night) - I must say I was a bit disappointed. Service was OK, food was OK. Maybe I went with too high of expectations. We did the tasting menu and there were no real standouts. In fact, neither of us enjoyed our entrees (lamb and beef).

                Yank Sing (Sunday late morning) - Rincon Center - Everything was great. My only wish was that we were there with more than just 2 people so we could have eaten more varieties. (Note to anyone new to xiaolongbao...you must eat them in one bite and be prepared for a small 'explosion' of flavor in your mouth... I tried to be dainty and bite it in half just as the waiter walked by....let's just say the 'explosion' still occurred...but all over the table... We've never laughed so hard in our lives.

                Oenotri - Sunday night - very good. Great wine at the bar. Awesome house made salumi platter.

                Monday night - I said no barbecue, but so many people referred us to Bounty Hunter for a casual night that we couldn't pass it up. Since it was Monday, their wines were buy one, get one, as were some of their beers. We each had the 'sampler' (pulled pork, beef, and ribs)...amazing! Plus, we sat at a communal table and met some great folks! (they don't take reservations, but even though the place was packed, we only waited about 20 minutes). We didn't try the 'beer butt' chicken, but everyone who had it said it was awesome (it was served whole...standing up on a rack with the can still inserted!)

                Ubuntu (Tuesday night) - all I can say is UNBELIEVABLE! We are certified carnivores (as evidenced by our selection of meals at Bounty Hunter). But Ubuntu provided such an awesome experience we didn't notice meat was missing! The waiter suggested we try 4 options for our dinner, as the plates are 'smaller'... We asked if they had a more traditional tasting menu that offered even smaller portions, but of more options. He said they were working on something, but didn't offer anything like that, and he disappeared to get our watersI probably shouldn't share this, as they probably don't want to repeat the experience too often, but when he returned to take our order, he said he had talked to the chef and told us the chef was 'up to it' if we still wanted to do a tasting menu! Twist our arms!!!!! I'm not going to describe each dish...but after 10 courses, we cried UNCLE!!! (Then he brought us 2 desserts…) If we could have made any more room, we would have continued eating… the food was unbelievable. All at the peak of freshness, perfectly cooked, and uniquely prepared in combinations you would never think to try. One other upside to this restaurant is they offer wines by the taste, glass or bottle, so you can really match wines specific to each course without over-indulging! I had asked the waiter after course 5 for a copy of their menu to take home so I wouldn’t forget at least some of the courses we ate. But at the end of the evening, he came to me with a custom printed menu, listing only the courses we ate…and signed by two of the chefs! How amazing is that???? We made it a point to go back and talk to the chefs and thank them profusely for our experience. What a great way to celebrate our 25th anniversary night! (and by the way…they didn’t know it was our anniversary until half way through our meal…and we never did tell them the # of years until our conversation with the chefs as we were leaving). I would return in a heartbeat.

                The Inns we stayed at in Napa all offered fabulous breakfasts, so we didn’t eat out. Then we were too full for lunch, so dinners were it!

                We did one day of wine tours on our own (O’Brien, Vincent Arroyo and Mumm), no major standouts. The 2nd day we went on a wine tour (Platypus Tours) and had a great time. We went to Rutherford Grove, Ste. Clemente, Lava Vine, and Failla. All of them were great.

                So now we’re suffering from ‘reality shock’… back at home. Thanks to all of you who shared your thoughts! I’m happy to share thoughts on the Cincinnati area if anyone is heading this way.

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

                Slanted Door
                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Yank Sing
                49 Stevenson St Ste Stlv, San Francisco, CA 94105

                Rincon Center
                121 Spear St # B18, San Francisco, CA

                Lava Vine
                965 Silverado Trl, Calistoga, CA

                Oenotri
                1425 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

                5 Replies
                1. re: bigskylisa

                  Thanks so much for this report, your experience at Ubuntu sounds amazing. Congratulations on your anniversary!

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

                  1. re: bigskylisa

                    XLB sometimes served with little tin saucers but you might use a soy sauce plate just under your chin to catch the "explosion." I do.
                    http://media.photobucket.com/image/xl...

                    1. re: wolfe

                      The best way to eat them is usually with a soup spoon. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1876...

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Sadly...I actually watched the 'how to' video for eating the dumplings before we left... I managed my first one just fine... I put it in the soup spoon, put on some of the sauce, and put the whole thing in. it was just the 2nd one when I tried to be 'polite' when it backfired! I learned it's way more polite to pop the entire thing in than try to risk the explosion! I just wish Cincinnati had good dim sum...

                    2. re: bigskylisa

                      Congrats on finagling the tasting menu @ ubuntu. I happened to do the same thing a few years ago, summer, one of the best meals ever. One word: beetberries.

                    3. and I forgot to mention...I had several unoaked chardonnays and really enjoyed them! I even bought some to ship home... Thx for the tip.