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Best sommelier in the Bay Area 2011

Robert Lauriston Nov 4, 2011 03:36 PM

Since that bumped topic was so out of date.

  1. w
    whiner Nov 10, 2011 08:16 PM

    I forget her name, but the second-in-command at Perbacco takes my vote for best experience this year.

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    Perbacco
    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    1. Scott M Nov 8, 2011 11:49 AM

      I am a big fan of Alex Fox ever since he was at Myth. I believe he is now the wine director at Bar Tartine.

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      Bar Tartine
      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      1. o
        originalfig Nov 6, 2011 08:19 PM

        Thanks for starting this, good idea. I haven't been to Punchdown or Great China, will have to check those out. Shelly Lindgren is a southern Italian rock star and deserves a huge amount of credit for popularizing these wines in SF and nationwide. She knows how to pick 'em and is a total service pro besides. Nearly every time I'm at A16 (I really prefer it to SPQR for some reason) I have some sort of profound or just flat out amazing wine experience.

        I also totally agree about Nopa/Chris Deegan. I love the deep dives he does into various regions - getting all wine geeky about cru Beaujolais or the Languedoc or whatever - and also he gets big props for truly championing half bottles. Its such a great way to experience different and unusual wines (that aren't available by the glass) and to pair wine with each course when dining with just one or two others.

        Otherwise...

        - I think Matt Straus at Heirloom Cafe deserves a lot of credit for all of the tremendous older wines he offers, especially by the glass and especially in the kind of mid-priced neighborhood restaurant where such stuff is exceedingly rare.

        - Likewise I send a shout out to Paul Einbud of Frances for leading the way in creating closer relationships between restaurants & vintners (he offers affordable wines made just for the restaurant, sold by the ounce), as well as for offering non-token, creative non-alcoholic cocktails (similar to what TFL will do) and a helpful, approachably organized and affordable list. He also gets big points for his low-key, friendly, professional demeanor. IMHO about a perfect sommelier.

        - Wouldn't every restaurant/sommelier wish to have access to Raj Parr's deep pockets and reserves of old Burgundies at RN74 and beyond, sigh...But would I put Parr as the best sommelier? Sure he trains fleets of sommeliers but is he, today, a true sommelier or more of a restaurant wine executive who crunches numbers, directs staff and parachutes onto the floor to coddle deep-pocketed customers now & then? I guess it depends on what you want "best sommelier" to mean. Most successful, perhaps. Best palate memory and depth of experience with France, probably. But I don't know that I'd argue for him to come out on top of our little informal poll...

        Instead of Parr I'd vote for Eric Railsback, who works for Parr and is on the floor constantly. He's also low key and comes across as humble, which to me is such an important quality in a sommelier-- people are intimidated enough by wine already, the profession needs ambassadors who can make choosing a wine as pleasant as choosing your entree....

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        A16
        2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

        SPQR
        1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

        Great China Restaurant
        2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

        RN74
        301 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

        11 Replies
        1. re: originalfig
          Robert Lauriston Nov 7, 2011 08:49 AM

          Service is what makes a sommelier great. It's one thing to put together a great list, another to help customers navigate it, either directly or by training servers.

          1. re: originalfig
            v
            vulber Nov 7, 2011 12:26 PM

            i have a bit of an issue with heirloom cafe being called "mid-priced" for a neighborhood restaurants, given how most of the by-the-glass selections tend to be around $15

            1. re: vulber
              Robert Lauriston Nov 7, 2011 01:45 PM

              On the current list, wines by the glass are $10-20, more than half are under $15, and $15 seems to me as reasonable a price for a glass of 2007 Rayas Pialade as $23 does for a rib-eye.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                v
                vulber Nov 7, 2011 03:34 PM

                yes but those prices don't make me think "neighborhood restaurant" - i live extremely close to heirloom but it's not a place i go to often because of those prices - if NOPA and Range can both offer wines by the glass at under $10 and larger entrees at the same prices, i see no reason why heirloom can't in a lower-rent area.

                1. re: vulber
                  Robert Lauriston Nov 7, 2011 06:03 PM

                  They could have, if they had wanted to open a different restaurant that was not focused on aged wines.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    v
                    vulber Nov 7, 2011 06:59 PM

                    rihgt - i guess where my issue is that it bills itself as a neigh orhood restaurant when it is really more of a destination wine geek restaurant

                    1. re: vulber
                      farmersdaughter Nov 8, 2011 09:05 AM

                      I think the premise of Heirloom Cafe, at least as I perceive their message, is that it's a "neighborhood" restaurant with a strong focus on aged wines. I don't think it is a destination restaurant with respect to the food, and in fact I think most of the food on the menu is stuff that a decently skilled cook could prepare at home. The food is there to enhance (or at least not compete with) the aged wine and the wine program generally. I don't see the restaurant as being a destination wine geek restaurant, though. Given their fantastic corkage policy for aged wines, it's a place I choose to go when I have a great bottle that I want to open but don't feel like cooking. The wines by the glass (and bottle) are interesting enough that I always read the list to see what's there even when I bring my own, just for the enjoyment of seeing what they are collecting.

                      1. re: farmersdaughter
                        Robert Lauriston Nov 8, 2011 10:06 AM

                        "Heirloom Café was founded with two concurrent ambitions: to offer a wide variety of aged wines from a carefully managed cellar, and to serve simple, very well-prepared food at reasonable prices. Our wine cellar and our love of mature wines are the foundation of our restaurant."

                        http://heirloom-sf.com/about-heirloom/

                        Every restaurant has to be in some neighborhood. It would be interesting to know why Straus chose that location.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          v
                          vulber Nov 8, 2011 11:22 AM

                          yes but i think the premise of a neighborhood restaurant is one that indeed tries to get the locals to come in - but i saw that they recently added valet parking - which is pretty much the last thing a neighborhood restaurant shoudl be doing - and while yes, every restaurant is in some neighborhood, certain neighborhoods are more residential than others.

                          i believe that the wine cellar was the main draw for that space

                          1. re: vulber
                            s
                            SteveG Nov 8, 2011 01:20 PM

                            The restaurant doesn't bill itself as a neighborhood restaurant. I suspect OriginalFig called it that because of its informal layout with lots of communal tables--maybe neighborly would be another word to use without the everyday price connotation.

                            1. re: SteveG
                              o
                              originalfig Nov 9, 2011 12:35 PM

                              SteveG, you nailed it. I meant "neighborly" - i.e. was referring more to the atmosphere/layout/decor than to a specific price category.

          2. j
            jman1 Nov 6, 2011 07:08 PM

            I used to be impressed by Claudio Villani at Incanto.

            More recently, he spent some time at Quince and is now at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jman1
              Robert Lauriston Nov 6, 2011 07:20 PM

              Claudio's been gone for years, left for a job in Vegas. His successor, Ed Ruiz, left fairly recently for ... I don't remember, somewhere in Marin or Sonoma.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                j
                jman1 Nov 8, 2011 12:18 PM

                Four seasons website lists him as current in Palo Alto.

                http://press.fourseasons.com/siliconv...

                He did move to Vegas for a while after Incanto (2005 - 2008).

                At Incanto, Claudio was often excited to share his lesser known discoveries. Often, less expensive wines, sometimes not even on the wine list but which where uniformly good and nice pairings. He was also genuinely interested in trying out interesting wines that we may have brought along.

            2. farmersdaughter Nov 4, 2011 08:39 PM

              David Lynch - Quince and Cotogna

              Shelley Lindgren - A16 and SPQR

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              A16
              2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

              SPQR
              1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

              Cotogna
              490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

              1 Reply
              1. re: farmersdaughter
                steve h. Nov 7, 2011 12:10 PM

                I'll second Lindgren and Lynch. Lindgren is arguably the best for my needs.

              2. Robert Lauriston Nov 4, 2011 03:42 PM

                Jeff Berlin - À Côté
                Lisa Costa - Punchdown
                Shelly Lindgren - A16 & SPQR
                D.C. Looney - Punchdown
                Caterina Mirabelli- District
                James Yu - Great China

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                A16
                2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                SPQR
                1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

                Great China Restaurant
                1589 Farmers Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95405

                Punchdown
                2212 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  t
                  tomotsu Nov 4, 2011 09:45 PM

                  I've been trying to find out who's behind Great China's fantastic wine list, thanks! The servers never seem to understand when I tried asking them. Definitely one of the most impressive in the area and not what you would expect walking in. I ate there dozens of times as a student, but only just recently noticed their list.

                  The other standout list for me is Chris Deegan's at Nopa. Lots of great sherry and always something interesting highlighted by the glass.

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                  Nopa
                  560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                  Great China Restaurant
                  2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                  1. re: tomotsu
                    s
                    SteveG Nov 8, 2011 01:28 PM

                    NoPa's list is indeed good, with lots of interesting wine, but I have a lot of trouble communicating with the servers and getting good recommendations about it. I think the training aspect there is a little off.

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