Update post-trip - S.F./Napa/Sonoma reviews
So, I’m back from my long-awaited trip. I thought I’d share my thoughts on how the trip worked out, and what we liked and disliked. Hopefully this will help future travelers.
First, the hotel. It was horrific. Horrible. Awful. (Did I mention how bad it was?) We stayed at Hotel Metropolis in S.F. because I had to stay in a budget for the work portion of my trip and I booked via Priceline. It was absolutely the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Horrible rooms, the tub was peeling, the room was shabby, the décor was appalling, but those were the highlights. The worst was the nightly drug deals I witnessed taking place outside the hotel’s front door.
But as for food, we went to A.Q. the first night. It was everything I’d expected. Wonderful service, charming ambiance, wonderful sommelier who went out of his way to give us tastings of other wines to explain the difference to us between earthy and fruit-forward wines. He really took care of us. I was highly impressed. The food was delicious. We had an appetizer of lamb tartare with wheat berries. Yum. Then brussel sprouts with bits of ham. I had the petrale sole. It was incredibly fresh and delicate and savory all at the same time. My boyfriend had the beef tenderloin poached in mushroom tea with a bit of horseradish in the potato dumplings. He loved it. For dessert we shared a deconstructed sweet potato pie. Again, incredible stuff.
The next morning we had brunch at Prospect and, again, we were very content. I had huevos rancheros and my boyfriend had a spinach omelet. We had pumpkin-filled beignets to start with. The food was well-prepared, but the service made it over the top. We had to wait a bit for our food, so the server brought us warm zucchini nut bread to soothe our tummies. The cappuccino was incredible, the coffee freshly roasted. Mmmmm.
We nibbled our way through the city and Sausalito that day, starting with wine at a little spot in Sausalito. Didn’t eat anything other than bread, so no review needed. But then went to Betelnut on a whim (I hadn’t been there in 14 years), for a bourbon cocktail and shrimp and pork dumplings as an appetizer. We enjoyed that, then walked over to A16 for a shared salad and thin-crust pizza. More deliciousness. We enjoyed the setting, altho A16 was quite noisy.
The next night we were in Monterey and so we ate at a place our friends wanted to go – The Fishwife. Ugh. I didn’t like it. But we went for them. And they liked it. So that’s all that mattered.
Then we were back in San Francisco and started with breakfast at Sears’ Fine Foods, which hasn’t changed in the 20 years since my last visit. It’s historic and was close to our hotel, so we went. And it was good. Nothing out of the ordinary. Corned beef hash and an omelette.
Dinner that night was at the Slanted Door. It blew us away. I know this restaurant has been around a while, but it lived up to our expectations. Wonderful service and one of the best meals I think I’ve had. We started with a bourbon cocktail that was just incredible, then switched to a white Spanish wine that our sommelier helped us choose that was the perfect complement to our food. We had two half orders of appetizers – pork belly that we rolled up in lettuce with a ginger tamarind sauce and spring rolls in peanut sauce. Then we shared two entrees – one of the best scallop dishes ever – pan seared day boat scallops in a chili lime butter sauce – and the shaking beef. And brussel sprouts with chanterelles. We ended with apple upside down cake with ginger ice cream. That was the only thing that left us shrugging and saying “eh.” We didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t up to par with the rest of the food.
We went into Chinatown for dinner the next night, opting for Great Eastern. We were drawn in by the pictures of Obama eating there earlier this year. We enjoyed it. Nothing outstanding, but it was the Chinatown experience we’d sought.
We settled in at Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge for a cocktail with a view. Outstanding romantic scene, looking down upon Union Square and the ice rink and the X-mas tree and the holiday lights in Macy’s windows.
Oh, and one morning when I had to work, I went to Blue Bottle Coffee. Amazing latte. Perfect pumpkin muffin. Happiness in a cup.
We went off our plans our last evening in San Francisco and looked up a Mexican restaurant on Yelp. We chose wisely. We ended up at Tropisueno. It’s a tacqueria by day, a sit-down restaurant by night. The food was exactly right. We stuck with basics – tamales and tacos and enchiladas and experienced great salsas and red sauces. I particularly enjoyed the violet margarita with vanilla salt.
After that, we headed to Napa and Sonoma. It was a rainy, cold weekend, so that affected our choices. Plus, we left out smaller places that might expect big wine purchases. We were interested in putting together a case to take home, from all our wineries, but no big single purchases.
First of all, the hotel, the Napa Marriott, was much better than our S.F. place. Yay.
The first day, at our driver’s suggestion, we went to Etude. It was our least favorite. Nice service, but a sterile environment and we weren’t tempted to buy any wines. Then we went to Buena Vista, where I had one of the most delicious chards I’ve ever tasted. Spicy, for lack of a better word. We bought some. The setting was charming, the hosts were friendly, and the other guests were fun to talk to. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Then we headed to VJB so that we could get a bit of lunch with our tasting. We enjoyed the tasting, bought a bottle of a cabernet sauvignon, and had a nice, quick lunch on our busy first day on our wine tour. Then we headed to Chateau St. Jean. Again, nice wines, but since we’re not wine experts, we bought only one bottle. Then to Ravenswood. I wasn’t particularly impressed. The service was tentative. We bought one bottle of, again, a cabernet sauvignon.
We were, by then, quite tipsy. We rested in our room an hour, then cancelled our fancier dinner reservations and opted for Uva in downtown Napa. Decent linguine with white clam sauce, everything else was blah. Mediocre overall. Bad service. Eh.
The next morning we had breakfast at our hotel, the Marriott. It was fine. Then out for another full day of tasting. We did the cave tour at Del Dotto’s Napa location. We enjoyed the tour, and some of the wines (bought a bottle of Ca’nani cab/merlot blend from their new vineyard) but there was a bit of a hard sell at the end to encourage us to buy more, more, more. We declined. The salami and chocolate and cheese tasting at the end was nice. We did enjoy seeing the historic caves. $50 for the tour. We felt it was worth it.
We stopped in briefly at Mumm, where we shared a tasting. I particularly liked the Santana sparkling wine, so grabbed a take-home bottle. We were only here 20 minutes. Fast stop before our 1 p.m. appt at Duckhorn. We had thought we could get lunch at Duckhorn but, alas, there was only more cheese and salami and almonds. Our mistake. And our driver’s. He didn’t realize. The setting was nice and we liked the relaxing atmosphere, tho.
Next up was Pride on Spring Mountain. Oh, how we loved this place. We bought five bottles of merlot and cab. Wonderful. The hostess took us back to the caves for a second tasting when we asked about a particular type of red. She really took care of us. We were the only two on our tasting tour.
Then we stopped in at Frank Family. Honestly, we were inebriated by this point. We didn’t really know what we were tasting, but we were happy and the host was nice and we bought two bottles. Then, we still weren’t done. My boyfriend had always wanted to see the castle. So we went to Castello di Amorosa. Despite having everyone here say don’t go. We had three friends who recommended it. (Yes, we’re touristy sometimes.) So we went. And it was fine. We bought one bottle. But again, we were inebriated so who knows how we would have felt had it been earlier in the day. The cheesy factor was strong, but it was a cool looking castle. We didn’t do a tour, just a fast tasting.
So yes, we did five wineries on our first day, and six wineries on our second day. Thank goodness we had a driver!
By that point on Saturday night, going out to dinner was a lost cause. We were far too tipsy. (Okay, drunk.) So we ordered in room service and fell fast asleep. And woke up and had breakfast at Gott’s at the Oxbow market. It was a fast stop on the way to the airport and it was just right for what we needed.
Thanks again for all the suggestions, etc, on our vacation. If we had to pick one winery to revisit, it would be Pride. We loved it.
makes sense, Carrie.
If I could do my trip again, I would go for three days, and visit 3-4 wineries, MAX, each day, and allow for a two-hour nap between the last tour and dinner so that I could fully enjoy and appreciate a wonderful dinner experience. doing 5-6 each day was too much. I guess if I was spitting instead of drinking. but I drank.
I haven't become comfortable spitting in front of other people in a genteel environment, and relied on splitting tastings and tasting fewer wines. Now I know: spit.
I am very interested in more detail on your Slanted Door meal. So few people say it is the best meal they have ever had. Like the scallop dish: can you say anything about the dish compared to other scallops? Just very interested.
That Metropolis Hotel is in the worst location; I'd be afraid to walk around there even in the daytime.
A great budget hotel is the Grant Plaza on the corner of Pine/Grant, Chinatown. It's very close to Financial District (many restaurants) and North Beach (even more restaurants and bars). Original Joe's is in North Beach now, corner of Union/Stockton.