Toque of San Francisco October 2010
We are always asked by friends and associates who come to San Francisco , where they should go on their day trip to the Wine Country? We always say drive north on Highway 29 and go to Opus One Winery because Opus One produces great wine, is architecturally stunning and when you go home, people will know where you went and will be impressed. We could hardly believe our first visits to Opus One were almost twenty years ago, when they opened the new facility, and we thought it was time to return. We contacted the winery in advance to schedule a tour which is a great way to learn about winemaking, the Napa Valley and of course taste some of the best wine California has to offer.
We were led on the very enjoyable and informative ninety minute tour by their Guest Relations Coordinator Mark Chon. We learned that Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi founded Opus One and that Michael Silacci is the Wine Maker. The Estate has 169 Acres with 139 acres in wine production creating only 25,000 cases per year. Opus One was first vinified in 1979 with the first release was in 1984. It is a blend of the grapes grown on the estate which consists of five varieties. We learned that more than 80% of the wine grown is Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot comprising around 20%.
While touring the facility we were told that wine making is foremost about farming. Soil preparation, planting schedules, watering and knowing when to pick each grape is an art. They also have a new computerized machine which sorts out individual grapes that are not perfect. The quality control that this provides is quite amazing! Next, there is the blending and then 18 months of aging in new French Oak Barrels before bottling takes place. Our tour made us think about all the goes into creating wine and we felt we had learned quite a bit.
Near the conclusion of the tour we had the opportunity to taste their fabulous 2006 Opus One, which is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon while we sat in a private tasting room overlooking the barrels. Next, we went into the Tasting Room where we also sampled the 2005 Opus One which is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and we felt that it was actually even smoother! Naturally, the older the better is generally the rule as the wine is made to be at its best if you lay it down for 7-12 years to maximize the enjoyment. As with many wineries there is a second label. Overture is the second label at Opus One and is only sold at the winery. They do not offer tastes but it is an excellent blend and definitely worth buying! Funny story, a few years ago friends from Miami visited San Francisco and we recommended Opus One for their day trip. When they returned last year, they completely forgot where the recommendation came from and they asked us if we had ever been to Opus One and did we know about Overture!!.
Opus One Winery
San Francisco continues to be the city where dreams of owning a world class restaurant can be realized. Skool which was recently opened by Restaurateur Andy Mirabell and Executive ChefToshihiroNagano in the Design District is the perfect example. It has a stylish interior featuring an exhibition kitchen, bar, stunning custom wood tables and chairs and a beautiful outdoor patio with beautiful decor. The menu which is fish focused International Cuisine with Japanese flair has some exotic dishes which truly set it apart from most restaurants!
You must have the Hotati Ravioli which was a Hokkaido scallop stuffed with roasted golden beets, topped with micro greens, kiwi yogurt vinaigrette and vanilla oil. The Shishito Peppers with black sesame, miso kelp salt and dried bonito flakes were also fabulous. Next, we had the light and flavorful Skool Salad with cured sardines, shungiku leaf, green apple, parmesan cheese and ginger mustard. The Uni Flan is another unique and delicious dish which was light sea urchin flan topped with ikura, fresh uni, and fleur de sel. The seafood flavor was wonderful and we can’t wait to enjoy this unique dish again.
Our entrees were both amazing! The sautéed marinated Monterey Black Cod with cumin was prepared perfectly and came with seasonal vegetables and tomato pineapple gazpacho. We also loved the Squid Ink Spaghettina made with Monterey squid, white shrimp, garlic tomato compote, lemongrass dashi broth, enoki mushrooms, seaweed butter and Japanese red curry. Desserts are also a must. We really enjoyed the Lavender Panna Cota with lavender citrus honey sauce and the Japanese Flan followed by double espressos. Skool has a full bar and locally focused wine list and is open for dinner nightly, lunch weekdays and weekend brunch. We expect that there will be many accolades as best new restaurant and star ratings to follow. We will be happy to return to Skool soon. You will be very happy to go to Skool!
We have always enjoyed going to Blackhawk Plaza in Danville to dine and shop but had not been there in well over a year. We knew there were some new restaurants, so we decided that since it was overcast and 60 degrees in the City a ride to where it was warm would be very welcome. Blackhawk Plaza has had its ups and downs over the past twenty years but this time we could feel that there was a Renaissance happening. There were lots of diners in the new restaurants, people were strolling around the lovely lake which runs through the plaza and most of the shops were full. Yes, we accomplished our goal as it was over 80 degrees at 6:00 PM so many people were enjoying dining outdoors. Laurus, which was opened by Executive Chef Matthew Silverman, in November 2009 is a Southern European Bistro featuring the cuisine of France , Italy and Spain . The interior décor is quite stylish with a beautiful bar area, fabulous tiered pendant Moroccan inspired glass lighting, large botanical prints and an open exhibition kitchen with a pizza oven. They have booths and tables indoor, as well as a terrace with outdoor dining overlooking the lake. We decided to sit inside in the center of the restaurant, to get the full effect including the view of the lake but many of the diners opted for outside as it was such a beautiful night.
The Desserts that we tasted included a fabulous Caramelized Pineapple Tart served with vanilla gelato, whipped cream and caramel sauce which was reminiscent of a pineapple upside down cake and a decadent Banana Cream Pie made with chocolate butter mousse, caramelized bananas and whipped cream. A Double Espresso and a 2007 Banyuls chapoutier vin du naturel dessert wine were the perfect finish to a very enjoyable dinner. Laurus has all the elements of a destination restaurant with excellent cuisine, friendly service and very appealing ambiance!
We always enjoy our trips to Carmel to dine, shop and walk on the beach. Our favorite lunch spot has always been Casanova Restaurant which serves country French & Italian Cuisine, has a World Class Wine Cellar including 10 vintages of Opus One and serves the most fantastic Spinach Gnocchi which we crave! We knew that they had another restaurant called La Bicyclette but had never dined there as they had formerly offered three course dinners with only a single choice of entree. We chatted with Executive Chef John Cox who overseas both restaurants and were pleased to hear that there were now four choices for entrees, so we were excited to try La Bicyclette on this trip.The interior is very cozy and the décor makes you feel like you are dining in a charming French country kitchen.
The best way to start is with one of their special Margaritas. We enjoyed both the Top Shelf made with Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, sweet and sour , fresh orange juice and lime juice and the Organic made with certified organic Casa Noble tequila, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. The chips are way too good…. so have a few but don’t eat too many as it will spoil your appetite.
The appetizer that we really enjoyed was the Tostada Congrejo which is comprised of three crisp corn tortillas topped with a generous serving of crab marinated with mojo de ajo sauce and guacamole. This was an excellent value. All of the Guaymus Specialty Entrees are served with house-made corn or flour tortillas, rice and beans. We loved the Camarones Rocco which is jumbo prawns marinated in cilantro and lime then grilled on rock salt and served with mojo de ajo sauce. We were pleased to see that these fabulous prawns were back on the menu…. as it was always one of our favorites! We also loved the juicy and fabulous Carnitas which is beer braised pork shoulder, dried chili adobo, pickled red onions and cilantro. A Pacifico Cerveza paired perfectly with the pork. You must have the delicious Grilled Plantain as a side dish as it was so tasty and you won’t find it in other restaurants. The dessert that we enjoyed was the Flan de Coco which consisted of wonderful Flan with plenty of coconut.
The food at Guaymas is delicious, prepared by their new Chef Gary DiDominick . They also have spectacular views from their two Outdoor Decks and the Dining Room. We look forward to returning soon to dine or enjoy the active Bar which has an extensive list of Tequilas!
We always enjoy the breathtaking ride north on Highway 29 through the Napa Valley Wine Country and frequently go to Saint Helena to dine and shop. We have driven by Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet which was formerly known as Taylor’s AutomaticRefresher and seen people lined up to order and dining at picnic tables but had never stopped to eat. Traditional American Food has always been served there since 1949 but once the new owners Joel and Duncan Gott rebuilt the restaurant in 1999 with the help of ChefRick Robinson they have added more artisanal ingredients and a more garden inspired menu. As one might expect, the parking lot had quite a few Classic American Cars which fits the style of a roadside diner and added to our experience. We ordered and were told that our name would be called when our food was ready in about 15 minutes and then seated ourselves at a picnic table in back. We enjoyed the cool breeze and sunshine and soon heard “Carol D. your order is ready” and were about to see what Tray Gourmet was all about.
We started out with the Chocolate and Vanilla Bean Shakes. They were thick and rich and perfect….made with Double Rainbow Ice Cream. Next, we had a healthy Chinese Chicken Salad which tasted very fresh. It was made with shredded cabbage, crunchy wontons and rice noodles, tossed with grilled chicken breast, peanuts, green onions, sesame seeds and spicy Asian vinaigrette. Of course, we had a Cheeseburger which we ordered rare. Rick told us that they use Niman Ranch Beef and developed a custom grind which makes the burger more flavorful and juicer. It is ground fresh daily and contains no antibiotics or growth hormones. We also enjoyed both the Sweet Potato Fries which are dusted with chili spice and served with house made ranch dressing and the Onion Rings which were thick, beer battered and lightly salted. The highlight of our meal was definitely their newest creation which is the Crispy Ahi Poke Tacos which consisted of Hawaiian style raw marinated Ahi, avocado, green cabbage, cilantro and spicy mayonnaise in crispy taco shells. They were stellar…. and we loved the texture which juxtaposed the Crispy Taco and the smooth Ahi!!
The wine list features a reasonably priced selection of wines by the glass, half bottles and full bottles from local Napa and Sonoma wineries including Duckhorn, Rombauer, Frog’s Leap, and Schramsberg. You can also bring your own Wine as corkage is only $1.00.
Gott’s has three locations including the San Francisco Ferry Building , in Napa Oxbow Market and the original in Saint Helena . It is a great for a Burger, Fries and a Shake or Salad, Ahi Poke and a half bottle of Napa Valley wine. Now we know why it is so busy. It is Tray Gourmet!!
Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet
Berkeley has a new casual Italian restaurant, Pasta Bene, recently opened by experienced restaurateur Farhad Jalal. They offer both indoor or patio dinning and you have the option of table service or ordering at the counter and seating yourself. The interior is nicely decorated with bright classic Italian poster art and beautiful bold hanging light fixtures. There is also an open kitchen which features an EarthStone open-fire pizza oven. We started with their traditional bean based Minestrone Soup which was served piping hot and classic. This was definitely one of the best Minestrone’s we have had! Next, we had their Bruschetta made with tomato, basil and olive oil on toasted bread which we liked because it was very garlicky. The Eggplant Parmigiana made with eggplant baked over marinara sauce with melted parmesan cheese on top was fresh and light. We also enjoyed their thin crust Tropicana Pizza made with prosciutto, pineapple, red onion, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Our entrees were also very good. We had the Penne Bolognese made with penne pasta, ground beef, garlic, mushrooms, and red bell peppers in a subtle marinara sauce and the Gamberetto which was thin noodle fettuccini with shrimp, mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce. The Gamberetto was our favorite!
The wine list is small but has something for everyone. We enjoyed the 2008 Marlborough Sunday Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. We loved our dessert which was Tiramisu made with sponge fingers, mascarpone, espresso, and chocolate. Pasta Bene is located on a colorful stretch of Telegraph Avenue which is great for people watching. Enjoy the reasonable prices but don’t be fooled as Pasta Bene is serious about the food!
San Francisco is known for interesting urban neighborhoods where you can find great restaurants. One such area is Hayes Valley , where we recently dined at Sauce Restaurant which has been open since 2004. Executive Chef Ben Paula serves innovative American Cuisine made with fresh, local and sustainable ingredients. They have a full bar, so we ordered a Cosmo with fresh lime juice and a Grey Goose on the rocks, as we looked at the menu. We loved all of our appetizers. The tasty Tater Tots were made with whipped potatoes, crimini mushrooms, white truffle oil and came with a decadent smoked Gouda bacon cheese fondue sauce. Another great choice was the Crispy Sesame Shrimp served with sweet chili garlic sauce which were quite spicy. You must also try the excellent Fresh Dungeness Crab Wontons with Orange Mango Reduction and chili. All three of these appetizers were fabulous!
The salad that we really enjoyed was the White Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad with roasted corn off the cob, scallion oil and red and green onions. Our entrees were both delicious as well. The Braised Boneless Beef Short Rib “Pot Roast” which was made with roasted carrots, Yukon Gold potatoes, shallots and garlic then finished with fresh herbs and roma tomatoes in red wine pan gravy had excellent flavors and was very tender. The fish that we enjoyed was the Panna Prosciutto wrapped Hawaiian Butterfish with basil leaf , herb risotto and poultry demi gloss served with arugula salad, asiago and caramelized red onion. Many times we find that entrées are not as good as appetizers. This was not the case at Sauce. The entrees were both luscious and the Pot Roast is a favorite on the menu. The Hawaiian Butterfish is new and we predict will be equally popular.
The Wine list features many sustainable, biodynamic and certified organic wines. The 2008 Sebastiani Amador County Pinot Noir paired perfectly with the entrees. The dessert that we loved was the PB & J which was a light and refreshing Peanut Butter and Jelly Dessert consisting of pan seared sponge cake layered with homemade strawberry preserve, Frangelico, Peanut Butter and a Vanilla Ice cream center. An Old Codger Tawny Port was a great after dinner drink. Sauce Restaurant in Hayes Valley has excellent American comfort food, friendly service, an active bar area and serves dinner until midnight . What could be better!
The Potrero Hill neighborhood continues to be one of the most popular dining areas in the City. It is very centrally located to SOMA and AT&T Park plus they enjoy some of the best weather in The City. The newest restaurant is Rocketfish which features international Tapas and Sushi using seasonally fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The interior has a fun retro design with two sides to the restaurant including a dining area with Sushi Bar and a comfortable stylish Lounge/Bar area where you can dine or just have drinks. There is a colorful illuminated Metal Fish Sculpture above the bar which looks like a rocket ship and must be the Rocketfish!
We chose to dine in the main dining room where we could see both the Sushi Bar and look out to the active city street. We ordered wine and had fun reviewing all the choices on the menu, as well as their “Specials Board”. Everything was so well priced locals can come and dine frequently with lots of options. We started with Miso soup which was perfect and always feels really healthy. Next, we had the Walu Carpaccio made with Hawaiian Bluefish, salty lemon confit, caper berries , green jalapeno vinaigrette, sprouts and sea salt which was nice and spicy. Our favorite starter was the Soft Shell Blue Crab with salsa which was fabulous! We also enjoyed the Ponzu glazed Shishito Peppers and the Baby Zucchini Flower Blossom Tempura with Scallop which was excellent. Our favorite Entrée was the Roasted Duck Breast served with sesame eggplant, mashed potatoes, currants and a rosemary-balsamic reduction sauce. The 2009 Bell Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley was a perfect wine. We did save room for dessert and enjoyed a very tasty Trio of Sorbets which included Cabernet, Chocolate Almond and Dutch Kahula. A pot of Green Tea and a Graham’s 12 year old Tawny Port were an excellent finish to our tasty dinner. Chef/Co-Owner Kenichi Kawashima and Co-Owner Marco Rodriguez have created an inviting friendly atmosphere where you can enjoy Sushi, tasty small plates and twenty varieties of Sake along with a full bar. There are Bento Boxes at Lunch, happy hour specials and “All you can Eat Sushi” on Tuesdays!
Rocketfish Japanese Tapistro and Lounge
Until we eat again…………
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