Monday, November 30, 2009

Golden State Trilogy: Part I

First Montreal snowfall today. I lay in bed looking outside at my white backyard, and thought, goodbye leather jacket and boots, hello hardcore winter coat & gore tex astronaut shoes. I got that first chill in my bones when my body realized it has to adjust to the reality of what's coming. Oh ya, and notice it got dark at 4pm today? Pitch black by 4:40.

These are the days (followed by another 140, give or take a few for beautiful snowstorms), when I dream of living in California. Ocean, mountains, green space, amazing produce (think eating organic AND local, and it being no big deal), and sun. Oh the glorious sun, and how it rules my moods. Every morning, the sun shines down from a deep blue sky, onto your face. Just like that. No praying, no Ed Cowell 3 degree weather guarantee. Just blue skies baby.

I used to spend a lot of time in California. And a lot of that time cooking & eating. A while back Eric and I did the drive from Napa, down through Big Sur into Santa Barbara and then lastly to LA. We revisited some of my favorite spots in LA, and they were all still how I remembered them. In-n-out burger bun still as soft as ever, Koi kobe beef was still melt in your mouth unbelievable.

This week, I'm tapping the memory (and photo) bank for Part I of the Golden State trilogy - bringing a little sunshine to our first week of snow and chill.

If you're ever in San Francisco, you've got to experience the Ferry Building Farmer's market. Great, fresh food stands of all kinds - Olive oils, breads, artisan cheese, and an incredible variety of fruit. I have never seen so many different types of peaches. We first sampled the Pluot there, and finally (2 years later), a version of this unbelievable part-plum part-apricot hybrid finally made its way to the Atwater Market. Lots of other delicious items can be found here. Grab your morning coffee, then hit the fruit & flapjacks.

Napa & Santa Rosa: Not going to get too much into wines. It's not my specialty, I just know what I love, and it's only based on being a happy return customer with wines from these vineyards, no particular education or year or real reasoning (Cali wines: Pride Mountain Merlot, Tvine, Cakebread, Whitehall). I'm gonzo after two glasses anyway. Just to touch on it lightly, my favorite winery was hands-down Cakebread Cellars. The grounds are spectacular, the tour was just long enough, my buzz was right on, and our tourguide Michael was from Montreal and actually went to LCC! Mondavi was a total lame waste of time. They took us into a closed classroom and fed us the most boring, commercial, lifeless, history of wines- we bailed halfway through. We were way too giggly and buzzed to deal with that kind of experience. A great, unique tour was at Storybook Vinyards, where our tour was given by the master winetaster and owners daughter!

We hit Dean & Deluca for takeout to do a picnic lunch (I highly recommend that plan), and ended up sending home a box of bottles from there. They were very efficient with shipping and it allowed us to send many of our favorite bottles from various local wineries.

Michael, our guide at Cakebread (from Montreal!)

Eating at Auberge du Soleil was one of the most beautiful, romantic settings I've ever eaten in. for each table outside - the terrace jutted out into a what felt like your own private terrace hanging over the most incredible view of Napa. We went early to catch the sunset and have some wine (duh). The food was amazing, the service impeccable. Fried Zucchini blossoms is pretty much my favorite food, and they were stuffed with goat cheese and fried to perfection, and served over a "vegetable ratatouille" , the dish was sensational. My meat was the crown jewel of the evening. Prime NY Beef cooked absolutely flawlessly, served over light potato puree and caramelized shallot sauce. Dessert was easy to like- what could be wrong with delicate puff pastry with melted valrhona chocolate oozing out after the first bite. A really memorable and actual romantic dinner spot. A real splurge, but we both agreed it was well worth it.

Next up, Taylors Refresher. An outdoor milkshake/burger joint on the main drag in St Helena - seriously the best milkshake ever, they've got the chunky smooth balance just right. (I like vanilla with a light amount of chocolate dropped in). Clean tasting burger, crispy fries (sweet potato too), solid grilled cheese, they even have some pretty tasty salads if you want to go the no-fun healthy route. Even given how many restaurant recommendations we had, we ended up eating there twice! Turns out this place is a local institution. We met a couple from Napa who said that Taylor's was where they took their entire wedding party for lunch on the day of their wedding, just before the ceremony.

A little shout-out to Mustards Grill, also a great spot, and also right along the main road.

View from our table

Private balconies

That's it for San Francisco & Napa, Stay tuned for Part II...

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