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Oct 14, 2012 12:48 PM

Thoughts on our SF/Napa itinerary?

We're Chicagoans heading your way for a long weekend. Our usual travel style is wandering around, exploring, trying places that look good, and not being tied to a schedule. Given that many of the wineries require appointments, planning our trip and scheduling things is stressing us out!

We love all kinds of food and have eaten everywhere in Chicago from tiny tacquerias to Alinea, Schwa, L2O. For food, we are open to any and all suggestions at any price point (I know that's annoying to say that on CH but really, we are!) Would have loved to tried for French Laundry but this was somewhat of a last minute trip. As for wine, we are trying to get a mix of the larger producers and smaller, off the beaten path wineries. We are not big on chardonnay, but love our cabs, zins and pinots. I love sparkling, but my husband is only so-so on it.

Here's what we've got so far:

Land SFO at 9:40, drop bags at Fairmont Nob Hill
Would love suggestions for several inexpensive places we could grab bites/drinks as we explore rather than doing a full lunch - i.e. have a taco, do oysters a little later, split a couple small plates, etc.
Dinner at AQ

Drive to Napa, check in at Andaz
Wineries: Robert Sinskey and Jessup Cellars, possibly Chandon at the end of the day if we have time/feel like it.
Possible lunch at Brix
Dinner at La Toque

Wineries: Pride Mountain, Newton, Cakebread. May add St. Supery depending on timing/pace.
Lunch at Gotts
Dinner at Farm - but not super sold on this and open to other suggestions

Wineries: Duckhorn, Quintessa, Mumm. May add ZD depending on timing/pace.
Lunch wherever works with the timing - suggestions along that route?
Dinner at Ad Hoc late

Any suggestions are welcome - particularly if our winery groupings don't make sense based on location or there are better options. Thanks in advance!

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  1. Quick notes:

    Brix is getting better and you will love the view.

    La Toque is near the bottom of my list of Napa restaurants (Tra Vigne IS on the bottom). I have had two great meals at La Toque and two meals where half the dishes were sent back to the kitchen for being inedible and with those odds, there are much better places to dine with more consistency: Oenetri, Bistro Jeanty, Cook, Angele, Don Giovanni, or Zuzu.

    Lunch at Gotts is okay, but it IS just a burger joint. For more interesting Napa cuisine, wander around Oxbow for lighter fare (C Casa has duck tostadas and crab or buffalo tacos, Hog Island has kick-ass clam chowder, or you can get picnic fare from Fatted Calf and Model Bakery).

    I've had some amazing meals at Farm and think it has been off-radar for most people.

    For your Sunday lunch, you are on the Silverado Trail and there is nothing on that route unless you head over to the 29. There you can get picnic food at Oakville or Dean & DeLuca or the to-die-for prime rib French Dip at Rutherford Grill (a chain restaurant, but still worthy for that one dish).

    Wine wise, I wouldn't bother with Mumm if you are going to Chandon (the latter being preferable).

    8 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Thank you for your feedback! I cancelled La Toque and reserved at Bistro Jeanty instead. I would rather have French bistro food that knocks it out of the park than do a "fancy" dinner that is not up to par. We will keep our dinner at Farm.

      While I'm more interested in C Casa or Hog Island, I'm certain Gotts will be non-negotiable with my husband! It looks like we'll be packing a picnic for Sunday, which is just fine with me.

      1. re: thelegalfoodie

        Fortunately, there is a Gott's at Oxbow so both of you can have what you want..

        If you are relegated to the Gott's in St. Helena, the best thing on the menu is the Ahi Burger.

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          In San Fransisco I like happy hour for $1 oysters, fresh and a nice view under the bridge.

          Sunday lunch a little hole-in-the-wall taco joint on Rutherford
          It's a market but if you go in and turn right you can order food. Typically packed at noon so plan 1hr before or after.

          Fun dinner place for an amazing view is wait for a table outside overlooking the vineyards, make reservations (restaurant only) and bring a camera.

          As far a wineries, ask at the tasting rooms for nearby wineries that match your tastes (either wine, view/beauty, uniqueness, etc.) they will usually steer you in the right direction.

          Everybody has different tastes; I prefer the unique like Coppola with the film museum and Clos Pegase (for the art) but, my friends are winemakers so I get cases of amazing wine so my focus may be different (i.e. not necessarily wine based.


          I would see Mumm as well, they have a nice view out the back.

          Oh, and if you're on Silverado Trail (the trail) and there is a line of 5 cars behind you, please pull over and let us pass. ;o)

          If I ever hit Chi-Town I've heard amazing stories about the sausage/onion/pepper sandwich vendors, so I might need the low-down someday. :o)

          I hope you enjoy your trip.

          1. re: Napan

            Luna is good rec, especially for the burritos.

            Disagree about Auberge. Great view, but it's a cocktails only place to check out the view. The rest is a ripoff.

            Coppola has moved his film museum to Geyserville.

            Clos Pegase has a beautiful Michael Graves building, but the wines are very spotty.
            For amazing art and wine, the Hess Collection rocks.

            I love the outdoor terrace at Mumm, also. Pay the extra money to taste the late-disgorged bubbles -- it's worth it. One of the most beautiful views of inner Napa Valley is to be had from that terrace -- you see a wide sweep of the valley. Permanent and very fine Ansel Adams exhibit.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Blah, didn't know that about Coppola's museum.

              Agreed that Auberge is expensive for what you get, but I feel the ambiance is worth it for at least one time.

              Agreed about view at Mumm's terrace, didn't know about the Ansel Adams; very cool.

              Ironic about Hess, I'm right down the street and have never been there. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

              I forgot to mention Morimoto's in downtown Napa:

              1. re: Napan

                I've stopped recommending Morimoto's except for lunch; it is REALLY too expensive for what you get and the $25 Bento Box lunch is the only reason to go there now.

                Just a week or so ago, I went and ordered two different sashimi platters (one or two bites of five different fishes on each platter). I had a 10 oz. serving of sake and the beignets. The total was $180 for ONE person.

                For those looking for good food at a decent price, this just doesn't fit the bill.

                1. re: CarrieWas218

                  I agree Carrie, Morimoto's is expensive, but this couple may only come to SF and Napa once in their lifetime and my suggestions were based on that; not a weekly stop to eat. I feel it's like Disneyland, it's expensive but if you're in Anaheim/Orange County once in your lifetime, it's worth experiencing one time.

                  A couple, without drinks is about $100.00 for dinner. Make reservations early, hit happy hour, then dinner. It's amazing food IMHO.

                  My thought is hit several 'Disneyland' locations, and a few local cheap & good along the way i.e. La Luna. The happy hours at most of the nice restaurants will give you a taste of the food at the least cost, and you can bounce around downtown.

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    I'm the opposite about Morimoto, I was very skeptical about it but have liked it every time I've been there and we spent far less than it looks like you do the times we've been there.The best deal is omakase as a la carte can get crazy and I've liked the omakase better than when we've arranged our meal al a carte. With sake it can get crazy but I think that's the reality of alcohol in Napa restaurants. For al a carte meal we average around 50-60 with alcohol.

      2. Thursday - there is a mini-version of the Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Plaza in the morning - you should definitely check that out. maybe later mosey your way over to the Mission District, lots of taquerias to check out, you can get oysters at Hog & Rocks, and the area is perfect for what you're looking for - unstructured wandering.

        13 Replies
        1. re: mariacarmen

          Thanks everyone! Great suggestions, and it sounds like we are on the right track. Definitely looking for more of the "local flavor" and less of the "Disneyland" experience. We've had all of our best vacation memories that way.

          We're keeping our winery lineup as is (with the expectation we may get sidetracked and not hit every single one), Friday lunch at Brix, dinner rez at Bistro Jeanty (though we may end up canceling and doing Zuzu...sounds fab!), Saturday lunch at Gotts, dinner at Farm, Sunday picnic on the road and dinner at Ad Hoc.

          Redd was booked up for the nights we are there. If something opens up, is that something we shouldn't miss?

          1. re: thelegalfoodie

            Whatever you do regarding Gott's, is to eat it as early as possible... Having a burger at 2:00 before a dinner at Farm will destroy your appetite. They are REALLY hefty burgers and way too filling if you want a great dinner.

            Honestly, I'd suggest sharing a burger and some fries unless you have *huge* appetites.

            1. re: thelegalfoodie

              is it Redd or Redd Wood? I've never been to Redd, but i was very disappointed in Redd Wood.... mostly mediocre food, including the pizzas.

              1. re: mariacarmen

                Redd is the restaurant; Redd Wood is the new pizza joint.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Redd, the restaurant. And we are definitely planning to split a burger - I can't eat that much at one time. Hubs can get a snack later if he's hungry.

                  1. re: thelegalfoodie

                    The ahi burger is the ticket at Gott's. The regular burger isn't that impressive. Go across the street (look for the green sign directly across the street) and get a gelato at Pizzeria Tra Vigne afterwards. The hazelnut rocks.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      The green sign is gone, but there is a colorful Pizzeria Tra Vigne sign. In the same driveway as Merryvale Vineyards.

                  2. re: maria lorraine

                    it's not just a pizza joint. it's a restaurant.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      Mariacarmen, it is a restaurant that specializes in wood-fired pizza and considering the prevalence of full-on "restaurants" in the 'hood, for us locals it is just another pizza joint...

                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        Jessup is one of my favorites and I consider it a hidden gem. Enjoy!

                        I liked but did not love Farm, but I am not very adventurous when it comes to eating game. My main memories of Bistro Jeanty and Auberge are of freezing. We were in the open air at both and the heaters at Jeanty and blanket offered (that was nice) at Auberge were not enough. Make your reservations for inside! I did like the food at Auberge.

                        I think I've been to all the wineries you've listed except Quintessa. Please come back and share your experience there. At Duckhorn, I had a wonderful (pre-scheduled) sit-down tasting of cabs paired with amazing cheeses.

                        1. re: Allieroseww

                          Good point about getting colder at night. We don't get that white stuff (snow?) but a damp 54 degrees feels a lot colder (and I've lived in 50 below w/wind-chill.) Shorts for the day, and layer/pants for the nights.

                          1. re: Allieroseww

                            We had a very poor experience at Quintessa. It was expensive and the pours were ridiculously small. I am an experienced taster and so was not looking for large pours as we were doing other tasting rooms as well but these were so tiny that you virtually couldn't tell if the wine was good or not. The worst part however, was the attitude of the server. Condescending and rude, we will not be back.

                          2. re: CarrieWas218

                            i get that. for people coming in from out of town, tho, it might not be considered that.

                2. I think if you are doing a "Disneyland" short trip then IF you can get a patio table at Auberge (there's only 4 of them) at lunchtime (because this is winter and the sun sets fast), there is nothing more quintessentially CA wine country than looking out over the Napa Valley while eating their amazing lobster-veal sandwich on brioche. The baby suckling pig three ways was a light, perfect plate; my spouse adored it. I splurged on a glass of the Niepoort Porto Vintage 1983 to finish. On our many trips to the Wine Country, that lunch is indelibly branded in our minds as "perfect."

                  La Toque is amazing ONLY when Ken Franks is there; when he isn't everything literally falls apart. We had the same experience as carriewas218: flawless once, second time three dishes (out of five) were sent back.

                  Chris Jones' food at Brix was superb at a recent lunch and we plan to go there for dinner on our next trip. But the view is merely okay compared to Auberge: nice, but not spectacular. We loved Oenotri and the Andaz is one of our favorite hotels ever - most of the rooms are universal access and very, very comfortable. Oenotri is usually busy and noisy but in a fun way. I loved the roasted marrow at Jeanty, but nothing else.

                  Both Brix and Oenotri had much better service than Jeanty, where I flummoxed the waitstaff completely by asking for a marrow spoon. None of them had the slightest idea what I was talking about!

                  1. Hi,

                    I will comment more on teh wineries than on the food.. But echoing some of the previous sentiment.. Try Oenotri, I went there about 2 months ago and enjoyed every dish they brought out. The wine list is intelligently thought out.

                    Skip Cakebread unless you are absolutely set on it Go for Larkmead instead. Love Pride... Newton is owned by Moet& Chandon, use your judgement. Spring Mountain Vineyards has some great Sauvignon Blancs, Cabs and Syrahs, and the property is gorgeous.

                    Quintessa is always top notch, Go for Failla over Duckhorn, Mumm is not worth your time. Phelps if you can get in is always outstanding. I have been also impressed with Corison and White Hall Lane.

                    I hope this helps

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: WineGeekSF

                      Sitting on the patio and doing the late-disgorged sampling while overlooking that broad inner sweep of the valley is pretty spectacular. Even though Schramsberg is by far a better house for bubbles.

                      Failla is wonderful, but Duckhorn has serious appeal for its Merlot (if you're into that) and Sauvignon Blanc.

                      Newton's unfiltered Chardonnays are beautiful. It's unusual I like California Chards but these are lovely.

                      Agree on Spring Mountain Vineyards and Quintessa.