Visiting SF/Walnut Creek/Wine Country need ideas for food and fun
We go separately to Napa and Sonoma about 4x/yr, staying 3-4 days midweek. It's full-bore tourist season and we've noticed both food/service tend to suffer a bit everywhere. Sometimes it's fine, but sometimes you're clearly getting there on the end of a long, bad day for both kitchen and waitstaff, LOL.
We try different restaurants each time, and only go back to ones that really impressed us on Round 1. It's surprising how erratic many places have been. Bottega, for example, has been consistent all three times - amazing considering how many gazillions of tour buses go there - while Bouchon has gone up and down (and when they were down, food was pretty bad altho service remained good).
On our most recent trip in May, Brix was the clear winner over Angele, Don Giovanni, La Toque (which we had LOVED the first time in Oct 2011). The lamb burger was simply the best lamb burger I have had anywhere. Amazing housemade pickled curry onions were dynamite with the lamb. Skip the pizza, though; good but other places do it a bit better (like Oenotri, which we loved in March 2012). Roast beef sandwich looked fab as it was going by, my DH regretted not ordering it. But winner was the clam-crispy prosciutto croquettes! Absolutely stunning, and far better than the smoked salmon layered crepes, which were good but too cold out of the refrig.
Chef Chris Jones formerly cooked at Girl & Fig and sibling Estate, in Sonoma, but moved to Brix last summer. He is doing a great job at Brix and it's a lovely dining room with 16 acre vineyard and gorgeous gardens around the building.
Wine country Napa/Sonoma or Wine Country Livermore? Less crowded and some interesting wineries in Livermore. SF Chronicle (website sfgate.com) has good travel and food articles you should check out (very annoying pop-up ads, however - a recently introduced irritation). Good search capabilities on the website.
We actually have found much better food in Lafayette (just west of WC) and Pleasanton/Dublin (south on 680 but bad traffic) than in the Concord/WC area.
We travel through the Caldecott Tunnel just to eat at 2 places in Lafayette: Artisan Bistro, where we think John Marquez is absolutely brilliant with Cal-French dishes. Artisan is the kind of place we like – casual but upscale, well-trained waitstaff, quiet atmosphere, with superb, creative, delicious food. He takes stuffed squash blossoms to a whole new level, and even the desserts are brilliant, where so many bistros often fall down.
Duck Club at the Lafayette Park Hotel is a more traditional menu but perfect execution and a deft hand with seasoning brings it up to an unexpected 5-star level. Some of their soups have been amazing although more spicy than many people might like. They have two burgers - get the Kobe (misnamed, but superb). It's seasoned to perfection and massive. Sweetpotato fries are nicely done here. Seafood Louie was at least 1/2 lb or more of super-fresh, luscious seafood with a minimum of greens - just the way my DH likes it, LOL.