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Berkeley / Napa / SF trip report

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[NOTE: We've moved this trip report from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/821667 -- The Chowhound Team]

Thanks for your suggestions. We ended up going to my parents’ friends’ house for sparkling wine after lunch at Grace’s Table. Here’s a report back from my bi-annual trip back to the Bay Area:

Sushi 29, Berkeley: Nice ambience. I was pretty tired from traveling so I don’t remember much about this meal but I did like the edamame and the veggie tempura udon. Others in my group seemed to like the assortment of sushi they ordered. Sorry so vague…

Rib-eyes from Andronico’s. These were delicious grilled – very nicely marbled. Excellent for a “supermarket” steak. Although Andronico’s is pricey, it would be a shame if they all shut down.

Cesar, Berkeley. After being ignored by the bartender for quite some time, he mitigated the wait by mixing a perfect Manhattan. The house bourbon is Four Roses – the drink was delicious, not too sweet. We split just a few things: A basket of fries, some olives and a plate of the jamon serrano, chorizo pomplona & chorizo sarta and the three Spanish cheeses, garrotxa, urgelia & idiazabal. (I got these from the online menu since I didn’t write down what we ordered and the bartender didn’t explain the meats and cheeses. I assume this is what we got but if it’s changed, forgive me.) Cesar is always fun and lively though this time, the service was lacking.

Pamir Afghan Cuisine, Emeryville. Yes, it’s in a food court but I was shopping at Bay Street and suddenly craved the chicken kabob from Pamir. I love that chicken kabob! I also shared some of the lamb curry and chicken curry. The lamb curry was really good; the chicken was a bit greasy. The people at the counter were some of the most pleasant people I encountered during my entire stay.

Grace’s Table, Napa: What an awesome spot! When I made the lunch reservation, they made note of my parents’ anniversary and brought a heart-shaped crème brulee at the end of our meal. We started with a bottle of Villa Sandi prosecco, a perfectly light and dry way to start the meal. Our server was very patient with my elderly parents and even turned down the music so that we could hear each other better. (The restaurant was crowded and pretty noisy.) Starters were a couple of orders of an octopus salad, the daily special appetizer which was deemed excellent by all. We also split a very nice flatbread with grilled figs, goat cheese, prosciutto, and arugula. The beef empanada was a bit dry and underwhelming. The soup of the day, a sunchoke bisque was creamy and delicious. Several of us got steak frites, a perfectly cooked hanger steak (not chewy at all!) with thin, crispy fries. Another declared the burger one of the best ever – I tried one of the house-made pickle chips and it was heavenly. The star of the day, though, was the cassoulet with duck confit, sausages, lamb and butter beans. The flavors were distinct and not completely muddled as can be the case with some cassoulet. The portion was large enough for the next day’s lunch. We also had a bottle of Layercake Primitivo which went well with our meaty lunch.

Zut, Berkeley: We went for a late snack after lunch at Grace’s Table so I only ordered the Pt. Reyes Blue pizza with caramelized onions, walnuts and radicchio. It was fantastic. Nice char on the crust. Our server was really nice and attentive and brought our table a plate of house-made candies at the end of our meal. Friends (who hadn’t had a giant lunch) ordered the stuffed squid and the rotisserie chicken. I took a bite or two of the chicken and would definitely order it under different circumstances– it was rich and moist and full of flavor.

Cancun, Berkeley: I know it’s not the best burrito around but they do a decent carne asada burrito and I am slightly addicted to their salsa cascabel. What can I say?

Nong Thon, El Cerrito: We shared soft-shell crab rolls and spring rolls to start. I don’t know the Vietnamese translation of this but the online menu describes my entrée as “steam fine rice vermicelli grilled beef topped with peanuts, fried onions, oiled green onions, served with lettuce, mint leaves, cucumber, pickle carrots, bean sprouts, and you get to wrap at the table with rice paper.” I thought this was very good, fresh Vietnamese food -- and close to my parents' house.

Barbacco, San Francisco: Boy oh boy, do I love this place. I can’t keep away. We had reservations for lunch and sat at the counter. We started with a Dolcetto d’Alba (Fenocchio), some olives and the chef’s salumi platter. What a great way to start the day. The salumi selection was superb. We then ordered the chanterelle bruschetta and the celery root/apple/gorgonzola salad. The salad was light and refreshing even with the rich cheese. Next up was the polpette, an order of the farro risotto and a side of brussel sprouts. This was entirely too much food for two people but we couldn’t resist. The meatballs are some of the best in the Bay Area but the farro really stood out to me. The roasted mushrooms were so earthy and infused the entire dish. We had the Querceto di Castellina Sangiovese – perfect with the food.

Lulu, San Francisco: Dinner that night was with a group of nine people so we thought we’d try Lulu since we could get reservations for our party. I hadn’t been to Lulu in years, probably since the Reed Heron days. We didn’t have a big appetite so had bites of a few shared appetizers and split a bacon pizza. Nothing was spectacular but nothing was bad.

Brandy Ho’s, San Francisco: We met friends from Los Angeles who wanted Hunan food so Brandy Ho’s it was. We split the deep fried pot stickers, onion cake, chicken salad, beef with green onions, smoked ham with garlic, and Old Country shrimp. I ordered everything “medium” which used to be quite spicy but it seemed way toned down. Maybe it’s just me…

T-Rex, Berkeley: The place was pretty packed at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, probably with the last-minute shopping crowd. Coming from the South where I get my fill of BBQ, I ordered what was noted as a new menu item, the T-Rex BLT with house cured bacon, arugula, avocado aioli and heirloom tomatoes. The combination sounded so good but the sandwich was a little blah and could have used another slice or two of bacon. I did love the BBQ chips on the side and the slaw had a nice kick to it. Others in my party enjoyed their food a lot: the beef brisket and the T-Rex burger.

Until next year….Happy New Year, everyone!

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  1. Thank you, HungryDonkey for the very fine report on dining in the East Bay and Napa. As I reside in Albany (CA), it is my stomping ground. I especially appreciate your note on the service at Cesar. If you return to the neighborhood, a better light plate semi-tapaseria is Fonda Solana ( http://www.fondasolana.com/ ).

    I, too, like Grace's Table, though for medium priced Napa restaurants, I prefer the Carpe Diem Wine Bar restaurant ( http://www.carpediemwinebar.com/ ). Taking a wild guess, I assume that you went wine tasting in Napa. Can you tell me a little bit about where you went, which wines you tasted, and how well you like them?

    Kindly,

    Vinebuzz

    1 Reply
    1. re: VineBuzz

      I've been to Fonda many times and agree it's very good. This was the only time I've had a problem at Cesar so maybe it was just an off night. Thanks for your note about Carpe Diem!

      We actually didn't do any wine tasting this trip. This was strictly an anniversary celebration for my parents -- we chose Napa so that friends in Fairfield could easily surprise them.

    2. Barbacco's farrotto is worth the trip.

      There are soft-shell crab this time of year?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Not sure about the crab....perhaps they replaced it with local crab or maybe they were frozen.