I was recently on vacation in Napa and San Francisco. Since this site is about Wisconsin, I won’t go into too much detail, but we did eat some kick ass food:
Bistro Boudin – Located in hub of tourist attractions, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Bistro Boudin is the sit-down restaurant owned by the famous Boudin Bakery who makes some incomparable sourdough. Downstairs is filled with annoying tourists gulping down clam chowder from sourdough bowls. We escaped to the upstairs which is where the Boudin Bistro is located. It is an attractive place and the views of the Wharf and Alcatraz are amazing. You get some of their kick ass sourdough (2 different kinds) with your dinner. The cioppino was loaded with shrimp, mussels, fish and a nice sized Dungeness crab. The broth was a slightly spicy tomato saffron and it worked expertly with the fish. The crab was the star of the show, it was large, succulent, and had a nice amount of meat. I found myself scouring the shell trying to get every last morsel of meat extracted. The crab cake sandwich was also quite tasty. If you are stuck eating at the Wharf I would highly recommend this place. You will notice a lot of people along the wharf crowing around the crab stands. It reeks like rotting fish in this area and the smell alone was enough to make me gag. Apparently there are some good places to get a Dungeness crab, but I wasn’t about to take a chance that the place I selected was a bad one. I am sure if you do your homework you can find a good place to chow down on a San Francisco crab.
Ella’s – Located in Pacific Heights, Ella’s seems to pack them in on the weekends and after eating there I can see why. I had an open face omelet loaded with veggies and pork shoulder with chipotle cream. It was one of the best omelets I have ever eaten. The oven roasted potatoes on the side were also superb. My wife had this veggie scramble with shitake mushrooms, asparagus and cheese which was also phenomenal. The coffee was so good I think I gulped down five cups of it. The menu is always changing so you never know what you will get but I can safely say that you will not leave disappointed.
Fresca – We were supposed to eat at A16 this night but ended up canceling it because we were out riding bikes and drinking beer. A friend recommend this place and it was my first dinner ever at a Peruvian restaurant. The service started off good then went to terrible. We sat at our table for at least 15-20 minutes after it was cleared and our waiter walked by twice and didn’t even look at us. Good thing the food was so friggen good. The lobster and crab ceviche was incredible…very fresh and it had a wide array of flavors and textures there were even kernels of fried corn that were like Corn Nuts, but a lot better. The Ahi Mignon with gooseberry sauce was pretty good but the warm purple potato “Causa” and green mango salad served with it stole the show. I could not stop eating the potatoes even though I was getting full. Lomo Saltado, which is a Peruvian staple, featured tenderloin steak strips with onions tomatoes, cilantro and soy sauce stir fried with French fries. It sounds like a strange combination but it was so good that I was stealing bites off my wife’s plate every chance I could get.
Rose Pistola – Located in the North Beach area filled with Italian restaurants and bakeries we kind of stumbled upon this place while walking around. We were going to try L’Osteria del Forno but the line was out the door and I feared we would be waiting for an hour or more. Then we wanted to try Da Flora, which is famous for its gnocchi, but it was closed (it was Sunday). So we walked by Rose Pistola and it looked really nice and there were a lot of people inside, which is usually a good sign. With that being said, the Denny’s in our hotel was always crowded too. How anyone can visit a City like San Francisco and eat at a fucking Denny’s is beyond comprehension. Anyhow it was at Rose Pistola that I discovered that I can never enjoy fresh mozzarella again. We had an appetizer of Burrata with prosciutto and crostini that may have been the best thing we ate the entire trip. Burrata is fresh mozzarella stuffed with more mozzarella curd mixed with cream (click here for a better description). The cheese was drizzled with olive oil and it was out of this world. It was creamy on the inside and it kind of melted in your mouth. The Amateur Gourmet called Burrata “mozzerella on crack” and I can see why. I am now on a quest to find in in Wisconsin. If I can’t I will make it myself. I had the gnocchi with lamb sugo. It was very filling and very good. The lamb had been braised for hours and fall-apart tender. My wife, who hates lamb, even seemed to like it. She had this wild greens-ricotta ravioli with a great rock shrimp Bolognese sauce which was awesome. Using shrimp instead of beef or sausage really lightened this dish up and it worked very well. For dessert we had “Warm Toffee Budino with Caramel Saba Sauce, Dried Cherries, and Creme Fraiche. Sound good? It was. Despite how much we liked the entrees and dessert, the real headliner was the Burrata. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about where I can get my hands on some.
Drinking Establishments (with some eating)
We grabbed a beer at the San Franciso Brewing Company one afternoon. It looked like a cool place, kind of like an old ale house. The servers seemed like they were above the customers and the stench of hipster-ness filled the air. Its like going into some bars in Riverwest of Bayview and getting the feeling that you simply are not tattooed and pierced enough to warrant admission into the den of hipsterdom. We witnessed two couples walk out without ordering and one couple, so fed up that the waitress never bringing them a bill, that they plunked the money for their beers on their table and walked out. We decided to stick around and after an excruciating 10 minutes a waitress approached our table. We figured that if the beer was good we could get past the general attitude of the staff. About 10 more minutes after we ordered we were presented with some sorry ass microbrew. It wasn’t terrible along the lines of Longnecks (see my review here), but it was uninspiring and bland. It would have never made it at any respectable place in Wisconsin. I would stay away from this place and try some of the other brewpubs in San Francisco or even better, the Tornado located in the Lower Haight. We met some friends there on a Tuesday afternoon where we had some spectacular burgers from Rosamunde Sausage Grill (which would be the San Francisco version of Hot Doug’s in Chicago) next door. You order your burgers go next door and grab a beer and the people at Rosamunde pound on the wall when they are done. The burger was cooked to medium rare perfection and it really hit the spot. The Tornado has what can only be described as an assload of awesome micros on tap. Choosing one was quite a challenge. I had a couple of pale ales that I have never tried and both were great. One was a Big Daddy IPA and the other was some other IPA.
We also took a nice bike ride out to Sausalito and Tiburon, where we ate at Sam’s, which from my discussion with our friend (and tour guide for the day), is the place to be on weekends. We waited about an hour for a table which was fine because we sat out on the dock drinking ice cold beer. I had some oysters which were impeccably fresh (I believe they were from nearby Tomales Bay) and did not need the mignonette sauce served on the side. The grilled artichoke, served with red pepper sauce was a nice afternoon snack. The pepper sauce actually went well with the oysters too. The crab cakes were pretty tasty as well. I loved sitting out in the sun, drinking beer, and grabbing a late lunch here. If I ever get back to San Francisco, this place is a must-visit.
Bouchon – Easily the most anticipated dinner of our trip, I was very exited to eat here. Too bad it sucked…ok it didn’t totally suck but for a restaurant owned by the incomparable demigod Thomas Keller, it was a huge disappointment. The service was sub par (we got our entrees shortly after the table next to us were finishing their desserts…and they were seated 10 minutes after us) and for the most part the food was nothing to write home about either. Steak Frites, a staple at bistros, was a mixed bag. The flat iron steak was nothing special and was overpowered by the caramelized onions. The taste was eerily similar to a White Castle Slider. The fries were really good. We finished the huge pile of them in no time. My dish was the special, monkfish. It was cooked to perfection but didn’t have much flavor which was disheartening. The lentils and miataki mushrooms served beneath it were spectacular. My goat cheese salad was good, but I could (and have) made salads with warmed goat cheese rounds at home that are just as good. In summary, the accompaniments (frites, lentils, mushrooms) are awesome, the actual protein served with them was pretty weak. We decided to cut our losses and skipped dessert. For $110 bucks before tip I expected better.
Mustard’s Grill – One of the best meals of the trip. This place is pure Napa County cooking at its finest. Fun, unpretentious, and all around awesome, I loved Mustards. Our appetizer of tamales with mushrooms, tomatillo & avocado salsa was an excellent starter. The beer and wine selections are impressive and since I had been gulping down wine all day, a nice cold glass Gordon Biersch Marzen was a welcome and refreshing change. My rabbit was tender, succulent and full of flavor imparted by the Riesling based sauce. It worked very nicely with the creamy polenta and sautéed carrots served with it. My wife’s tostadas were loaded some of my favorite ingredients…jicama, cilantro, black beans and perfectly grilled mahi-mahi. We eschewed the attention grabbing Lemon Meringue Pie with a brown sugar meringue that towered 10 inches above the pie and opted for the warm chocolate hazelnut truffle tart with local chocolate, Jack Daniels brown sugar ice cream, and coffee caramel sauce. I would have to say that it may have been the best dessert I have ever tasted. It was a sensory overload with the mixture of warm chocolate truffle, creamy, cold ice cream, and and velvety sauce. I am drooling just thinking about it now. The table next to us saw how much we were enjoying it and I am certain they ordered it as well. Mustards is a must visit for anyone traveling to Napa.
We visited a handful of wineries. The most interesting and the one with the best wines was Ravenswood, which is in Sonoma. The tour was great and included stops in the vineyard, barrel room, fermentation area, and tasting room. Their Zinfandels are excellent and their Muscato, a sweet wine with a touch of effervescence, is not to be missed. Chateau St. John, also in Sonoma, had some good wines and some very impressive grounds. It was a great spot for a picnic lunch of panini, olives and fruit. Plus they sell a handful of wines by the glass for you to enjoy with lunch. In Napa I loved Prager Port Works, which is a small, unassuming winery specializing in excellent, albeit pricey, ports. The tasting is 10 bucks and is well worth it. Its rare that the guy whose name is on the bottle is the guy giving the tasting, but at Prager it is the norm. Across the street is V.Sattui, which is more famous for its picnic grounds, deli, and free tastings than it is for its wines, which run the gamut from crap to excellent (Madeira). The free tastings have ceased, but for 5 bucks you can choose your own tasting and the pours are generous.
After you get sick of drinking all that wine I would highly recommend Downtown Joes Grill and Brewhouse in Downtown Napa. Unlike the San Francisco Brewing Company, the beers at Joes were awesome. The bartenders were extra friendly and it was very relaxing. It seems like a place where locals congregate as many patrons seemed to know each other. The Tail Waggin Amber had a nice malt to hop ratio and sort of reminded me of Sprecher Amber. The Tantric IPA was just like I like my beer, very bitter and loaded with aggressive hops.
All in all it was a great trip with a ton of good eating and drinking. I am still kind of bummed that Bouchon was such a disappointment, but most of the places we tried made up for it.