Tuesday, September 2, 2008

just like heaven

i have returned safely from san francisco. i have returned with a full tummy and delicious memories of some of the best eats i've ever eaten. it was like foodie mecca and with only one strike-out i had a pretty good run.

i nerded out and took photos of most of the meals i ate. i couldn't help myself. i wanted to share them with you but more importantly i don't want to ever forget some of these gems. i was in the city for 4 nights and 5 1/2 days and then i spent two nights in the napa valley. food, wine, food, wine, food, wine. seriously, does it get better than that? i don't think so.

ok. let's get started. here's my culinary recap.

wednesday morning. my first breakfast in san francisco.

i had this super satisfying bowl of yogurt, granola and fresh fruit at the acre cafe in the presidio. it was delicious and super cute!

after this breakfast i walked and walked and walked all over the city. i checked out the presidio and walked along the ocean at crissy field. then i stopped by the exploratorium which was super sweet! after nerding out with interactive science experiments i decided i would go check out the haight ashbury neighborhood. as a teenager i loved the whole idea of haight ashbury and i loved janis joplin and the grateful dead and all that hippie stuff. i still think i may have been born in the wrong era but that is another story.

on my way to haight ashbury i noticed that my stomach was starting to rumble. thankfully i stumbled across herbivore while making my way up (way up!) and down (way down!) divisadero street.

yum, yum, yum and totally vegan. curry and coconut milk soup with noodles and cilantro and an avocado and homemade pickle sandwich on fresh baked foccacio bread. man oh man. delish!

i walked and walked and walked some more and then made my way back to my hotel to "freshen up" and meet up with my friends for dinner. we hopped the BART and made our way over to berkeley.

before leaving for san francisco i had dreams of eating at chez panisse but i hate to "live by a reservation" so i didn't make one. i figured we could get to berkeley and see what happened. miraculously, there was a table in the upstairs cafe of chez panisse. holy shit!! we could not believe our luck.

i tried to take a photograph of my meal but it was really dark in there so it really didn't turn out too well. it was way too cool of a place to use my flash (i hate to draw attention to myself and a flash is NOT discreet) so all you get is a photo of the menu. i had the braised lamb shoulder with garlic rosemary mashed potatoes. oh man. sooooooooooooooo good. the sauce was so wonderful. i savored every single bite. i also had some dessert - peach and nectarine cobbler with mulberry ice cream. holy cow. this place lived up to the hype and served up some serious good eats!!

thursday night was our strike out. my friend had read in her travel guide that sam's grill was one of the oldest and best seafood joints in the city. sounds good right? so we decided to check it out.

well, the oysters were good but you can't really fuck those up unless you serve up bad ones. these were good BUT they served them with worchestershire (ick! i had to ask for some hot sauce) and they barely loosened 'em up from the shell so i had to do that before i could slurp. as for the main course, my sole, did not deserve a photo. this place was a total bummer. if you go to san francisco - please avoid sam's grill.

after this debacle my friends decided to check out the modern art museum and i decided to check out north beach and try to catch some of obama's acceptance speech. i finally found a place with a seat and a tv but sadly i forget its name. after the speech i wandered around and came across vesuvio. great bar. i had several beers and chatted with the bartender and a few patrons before the owners of the bar got there. they sat right by me and i chatted with the one woman all about the slow food movement and other topics involving local, fresh organic eats. good times.

friday the conference didn't start until 2:00 so i had all day to myself. (oh, did i not mention i was sent to the city by the bay for work? ha!). first things first - breakfast.

after a hard night of drinkin' a bloody mary and two tylenol's were the perfect pick-me-up. even funnier - i had my bloody mary breakfast at a little bar called grumpy's. ha! that was exactly how i felt!

after breakfast i headed over to the ferry building. the ferry building was originally built as the hub for people arriving/leaving the city by ferry. now the building has been renovated to include offices and the entire downstairs is an awesome marketplace with specialty shops and restaurants and on weekends they have a farmer's market.

a great place to meet my friends for lunch.

we went to a lil' place called mijitas and i had the braised pork tacos. we also split some chips (homemade - SO good) and guac and i enjoyed a very refreshing margarita.

after lunch we walked around a bit and took in the sights and sounds of the market. i spotted this cool tomato stand and it made me wish i had the fixin's for a blt (or a bot for that matter!).

for dessert we spotted a little gelato stand. that is one of the best things about the big city - you can always find gelato.

i had two scoops - dulce de leche and coffee. YUM!!!

north beach is san francisco's little italy. the smells were so good thursday night (but i wasn't hungry. thanks for nothin' sam's!) that i decided to go back to north beach for dinner on friday night. all i could think of was gnocchi and i knew i could find some in north beach.

yep, here it is.

i ate this delicious bowl of homemade gnocchi with red sauce at trattoria pinocchio. it was soooooooo good. it melted in my mouth. the fresh bread and two glasses of pinot noir were also fantastic. yum, yum, yum.

saturday it was back to work but for our lunch break we opted for cafe de la presse - a super cute little french restaurant. i wanted to go super authentic so i opted for the croque madam and a side of frites.

man oh man. so, so, so good. delicious. amazing. yum!!

after lunch my friends and i hopped in our rental car and headed out to the napa valley for the weekend. now here, i lived by the reservation. if you know anything about good eats and the napa valley then you know about the french laundry. and if you know about the french laundry then you know it is IMPOSSIBLE to get a dinner reservation let alone have the money to pay for such a meal.

with that in mind we opted for thomas keller's other yountville restaurant, bouchon. i was able to score a reservation (about two weeks in advance!) and i was super, super excited about this place.

it DID NOT disappoint. in fact, it was the best fucking meal i have EVER eaten in my entire life. hands down. hands fucking down.

we started out with some mussels. delicious. (sorry for the dark photos but you know how i feel about using the flash on my camera - especially in such a classy joint.)

for the main course i had the veal. now, this was my first experience with veal. for a long time i've thought, "that is mean. it's baby cow." thank god i've gotten over that. this was the best thing i have ever tasted in my entire life.

and it wasn't just veal. it was "braised veal breast with sweetbread sausage, warm bean salad, arugula and sauce gremolata." it was crispy on the outside and the inside was soft and melty. so, so, so good. incredible. totally, 100% lived up to the hype. hell, it exceeded the hype.

i had sweet drunken dreams saturday night and sunday i arose early looking forward to an entire day of wine drinking. we knew a good base was imperative so we decided to have breakfast at sweetie pie's. it was this totally adorable little bakery and cafe in downtown napa.

i went with the scrambled egg and bean breakfast burrito with some fresh fruit. very yummy and super satisfying - an excellent base for my belly which was about to be hammered with wine, wine and more wine.

after breakfast we stopped by a little grocery and picked up the essentials: bottled water, almonds, a chocolate bar, some olives, a fresh baguette and some creamy brie.

we were able to hit six (yes SIX!) wineries for tastings. we started the day at trefethen (fantastic!) and eventually made our way to clos du val (eh), cosentino, (very fun. generous pours and the girl was from coloumbus! i ended up buying two bottles: the pinot grigio [for my gma's christmas eve party] and the zin [for myself.]).

then we hit up nichelini's for more wine and our picnic.

nichelini's winery was my favorite place. it is the oldest family run winery in the valley and it is off the beaten path (about a 20 minute drive from the main road - hwy 29). it was beautiful. very friendly. FREE tastings! i had written down this place cuz one of my books said it was a great picnic spot. and it was. it was marvelous.

there was a bocce ball court and there were fountains and beautiful old italian music was playing in the background. we sat outside at a picnic table with the local cat enjoying the tunes, shmearing soft creamy brie on pieces of crusty baguette that we ripped apart with our hands and sipping cabernet. it was heaven. seriously. if heaven exists this might be it.

from nichelini's we hit mumm (eh. i was there last time. they have sparkling wine and it is beautiful.) and then racing against the clock (every winery closes at 5:00 or 5:30) we were able to get to merryvale. merryvale was ok because they stay open until 6:30 but otherwise it wasn't too memorable. by then my palate was shot anyways.

by now we were feeling the effects but it is only like 6:00 (our dinner reservations weren't until 8:00) so we had to press on. i had read about the calistoga inn so we headed north for a beer. my co-travelers opted for waters here so i plunged in head first and after a day of drinking glass after glass of wine i ordered their wheat beer. it was pretty damn tasty!

we tried to see the geyser - the old faithful of california - but it was $8 and wouldn't go off for another 40 minutes. we piled back in the car - me passing out in the back seat with my feet sticking out the back window. when i woke up we were back in downtown napa and headed to uva.

uva was recommended to us by the very nice ohio girl at cosentino after my friend mentioned she was hungry for italian. there is no photo. please cut me some slack. i could barely order. i think i had some angel hair......

that night i slept not so soundly as i was struck with a killer case of heartburn. ugh. red wine and beer and spicy angel hair pasta with roasted garlic and red sauce put a hurtin' on me. it was worth it though. every burn. every burp. totally worth it.

monday we woke up early and hit sweetie pie's again for our departure breakfast. no picture from here either. i was too tired. i had a big steaming bowl of stick-to-your-ribs oatmeal with brown sugar and currants. yum. a nice start to a day spent sitting in an airport, crammed into the middle seat on a plane full of screaming kids and bad cheeseburgers.

san francisco is at the top of my list. i fucking love the city by the bay. the people, the food, the weather. it is beautiful and fun and i love it. i just fucking love it.

"i wasn't born there. perhaps i'll die there. there's no place left to go, san francisco."


Viper said...

Sounds like a fabulous time. Glad you ate and drank to your heart's desire. While you were in North Beach, did you hit up City Lights bookstore?

the erratic epicurean said...

i did although i didn't buy anything. i was more focused on the cold beer next door at vesuvio. =)

Virginia Dressler said...

I love that city! Too bad it's too expensive to live there!

Glad you had some good eats! And a donkey sighting! heehaw.

the erratic epicurean said...

yea, fucking donkey. he follows me everywhere! too bad i forgot to get a picture of that ass.

i described my dinky apartment to a bartender and he told me i'd probably be paying about $1200 a month there. egats!

Xenia said...

Glad you had such an amazing trip! My conferences are never that fun. I'm actually going to one in Philly in January, so if you happen to have any restaurant/food/other recommendations, I'm all ears.

Anonymous said...

It's a-me. Nico.
I want to go back right now. I tried to make the same kind of oatmeal as what we had at Sweetie Pies. Usually, oatmeal makes me gag after the first few bites...it may be a texture thing. But I really liked the what Sweetie Pies whipped up. I tried my hand at it today. I couldn't find currants, but I did have some golden raisins as a substitute. I used buttermilk and heavy cream...I'm sure the nutritional value was nil. It turned out great, and no gag reflex. good deal. I did check out reservations at the next door Napa River Inn. No dice. They are booked for at least the next two years.

the erratic epicurean said...

that oatmeal was awesome and it's funny you mention it cuz i made some for myself when i go home too! i just used milk and brown sugar so it wasn't as fancy. still stuck to my ribs though.

man, i wanna go back.....