There is no denying that San Francisco can compete with the NYC culinary scene any day. This is mainly due to its close proximity to wine country. With great wine comes great food. While I was most excited to be visiting some of my best friends out west last weekend, I knew that most of our adventures would be centered around delicious food. I can basically map out my trip in taking you through a brief culinary tour.
First stop: St. Helena - a charming town in Napa Valley that is currently home to one of my oldest friends. Being in the heart of wine country and the land of foodies, we decided to go for the full wine and culinary experience at Michelin one starred The Martini House. Opting for the cozy downstairs, we did not totally splurge and allowed ourselves the option of ordering off both the tasting and the a la carte menus. The night could not have started off better - we ordered a delicious bottle of pinot noir while they offered us a mushroom crostini amuse-bouche. In following, there was not a single dish ordered that we did not love and devour. The presentation, creative use of ingredients, fresh produce, and powerful flavor combinations were unforgettable. My favorite savory dishes were the bresaola carpaccio with truffle aoli and crushed Himalayan truffles over peppercress salad topped with crispy potatoes and the egg and watercress ravioli with baby onions and mushrooms in a red wine reduction. Even the salad of mixed chicories, Fuyu persimmons, Point Reyes blue cheese, and candied pecans was perfectly balanced and topped with creamy white balsamic vinaigrette. The dish that truly blew us away was one of the desserts - a brioche bread pudding with candy cap mushrooms. As it did not taste of vegetables at all, I learned that these rare mushrooms which are only available in the winter and are somewhat exclusive to the west coast give off an intense sweet fragrance resembling maple syrup. This dessert exemplified all that culinary experts strive towards in the west.
The next day was a more traditional adventure in wine country. During our morning run, we passed through endless vineyards and rolling hills. We almost convinced ourselves that we were in the countryside of Tuscany - shouting "Bongiorno" to each and every passerby. Feeling energized and ready to start indulging again, we headed to the famous Oakville Grocery where we picked up sandwiches for an afternoon picnic. This gourmet country market offers made-to-order sandwiches, cheese, charcuterie, local olive oils, preserves, mustards, etc. I could spend hours wandering around the tiny store if it were not so crowded! Our favorite sandwich was the Italian salami and provolone with red onion, leaf lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette on a baguette. But, I am convinced that you cannot go wrong with any of their creations. We enjoyed our sandwiches while sitting under the sun on the terrace of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards. After lunch, we went inside to sample the RSV "gluttonous" wine flight featuring a variety of the vineyard's most current red wines accompanied by small bites. We justified this over-indulgence as just another form of dessert! All five wines were paired with food that brought out the flavors showcased in each pour. As with any trip I have ever taken to wine country, it was one of the most relaxing and refreshing days - I am convinced there isn't a care in the world in that part of the country.
As I had so easily transformed into complete vacation mode, it was time to hit up the big city. Lunch on the following day could not have been more different from the scenic setting of the previous day. However, it was, yet again, a total experience! I met up with my lawyer and real estate investment friends at Yank Sing Restaurant - a dim sum house in the middle of the Rincon Center mall and office complex. I actually had not had dim sum since my trip to Beijing in March and was definitely skeptical that a downtown San Francisco dim sum outpost would even compare. However, Yank Sing was definitely not joking around! The minute we sat down at our table, we were approached by several carts, offering up each and every form of dim sum that you could imagine. As we jumped on the first few plates offered, we soon learned that we can and should be a little picky - there was definitely no shortage of food. Not only were the options endless and served at a ridiculously fast pace, but the dumplings were absolutely delicious. I was taken back to Asia immediately - maybe it was the food or maybe it was just being back in a mall restaurant!
It would not be a trip out to San Francisco without dutch crunch bread. Before heading to hike in the Marin Highlands on my last day, we picked up a couple of sandwiches from the Marina Deli. Our favorite combination was the roast beef, cheddar, jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions with mustard and mayo on dutch crunch. Dutch crunch, in actuality, Tiger Bread, is made with a rice paste crust that gives it a distinct crusty exterior while maintaining a soft interior. This is the perfect hiker's bread for sandwiches - the outside remains crisp through all terrains and activities - and was great fuel for the outing. Nevertheless, only a few hours passed before food was on our minds again! And, after such an active, yet scenic excursion, there was really only one way to top the day - and end my adventures out west. We drove to Tiburon and sat outside on the seaside deck at Sam's Anchor Cafe where an order of oysters on the half shell and a round of bloody marys and beers did the trick. In my books, life really does not get better than that. It was well worth taking the red eye to squeeze in those last few culinary stops!
For those of you heading out west in the near future, I recommend each and every of the stops that I have mentioned above. They are all truly unique to the San Francisco area. While I do love the restaurants of NYC, when I take time off from work, I want to be truly transported. My adventures, both culinary and scenic, that I shared with my friends last weekend define what it means to take a vacation. And I actually still feel refreshed and relaxed - it is amazing what good food and friends can do for you!