Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Three Couples and Limo - Part Deux

If You Missed Part I, Click HERE
From San Fran Sonoma 2009

Chapter 3 – I had a memorable meal at Slanted Door

Our trip continued with less food and more wine, which was both exciting and overwhelming. We completed a lovely stay in San Francisco by eating at one of my favorite Spanish restaurants – Zarzeula. I don’t believe it has ever won a culinary award, but I am inclined to dine there every trip I make to San Fran. I easily convinced my travel mates, and we took the cable car the short distance from Union Square to Russian Hill. Luckily, Zarzuela is a corner stop for the cable car. We made our way to a table in the back, proceeded to order Sangria and a number of tapas. I can recall garlic shrimp, eggplant with goat cheese, sardines, choriza, Padron peppers, pork medallions, and chicken on a stick. We had a few others, but considering the culinary experience for the remainder of the trip, I’m lucky to recall anything from Zarzeula. They never disappoint, but the meals only increased in quality from Thursday-nite Spanish to Sunday-nite Vietnamese.

From San Fran Sonoma 2009

We made our way to the wine country beginning Friday morning. Based on experience, we intentionally planned little, while leaving most to chance. Our first stop was Gundlach-Bundschu, in lower Sonoma County. It was an excellent choice, provided a nice selection of Tempranillo, Zin, and Syrah, and also gave us some next-stop suggestions, which proved to be the pattern for our weekend tastings. We left Gundlach for Bartholomew Vineyards, which is owned by the same group. It was not disappointing, however, we procured less wine there than our first stop, and I’m sure the inclimate weather slightly dampened our experience . We again got suggestions for our Saturday limo tour.

We then drove into Napa Valley, and decided to sample Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for lunch, but realized we didn’t want to wait long for a table, nor did we want to spoil our appetite for Zazu that nite. I was personally less disappointed than my fellow travelers were, since I had experience Bouchon at the Venetian in Las Vegas a few years back. We opted for the adjacent Bouchon Bakery. In my opinion, six hot sandwiches overwhelmed the two-person bakery counter staff, which managed to warm our sandwiches to the point of no return on the Panini press. We requested that they be removed just in time (the staff reluctantly obliged), and enjoyed them on Smith and Hawken furniture in the recently rain-soaked courtyard, along with the obligatory pastry. The overall experience was exceptional, since after the long drive from lower Sonoma, we were more than relieved to relieve ourselves in the Bouchon potty. Although the Bouchon Bakery staff was sub-par, the foodies in the group still had to say, “How do I love thee Thomas Keller? – Let me count the ways”.

It happens that a wine festival was occurring on the weekend, and we had not purchased tickets to participate. After receiving rave reviews from fellow Southerners we met at Gundlach, but mixed reviews about the festival from others, we decided to taste wine primarily at the locations not participating in the wine festival, in order to avoid the crowds. That was probably one of the best decisions we would make all week.

After a long drive in a Suburban over a treacherous mountain road from Napa to Sonoma, bravely driven by our Atlantan, we arrived at the hotel, and settled in for a quick nap, then the 20 minute drive to Zazu. Zazu grows much of what they serve, and is a very casual dinner location. I would love to wax on about the food; however, I had the worst case of heartburn I had experienced in years, and was not able to enjoy my meal, or drink wine even though I pre-medicated with Zantac 150 – four of them. My companions were impressed with the food, but distracted by the close-talking couple at an adjacent table that maintained an unmoving gaze literally inches from each others eyes while speaking OR eating. It was distgusting, distracting, and unappetizing. It reminded me of the “Schmoopy” Seinfeld episode. No, you’re a schmoopy.

Chapter 4 – Limo Tour in Sonoma County
Our wine country experiences had taught us that the limo tour of wineries was more of a sure thing than a hooker and less expensive. Learning the backroads of wine country while trying to find obscure wineries is not my idea of fun. The gang agreed, and we spent a wonderful day celebrating Neecie’s birthday while sampling wines from many wineries that we had never heard of, and a couple of old stand by’s. We began with Rodney Strong, whose Pinot Noir I’ve enjoyed since well before Sideways, where we tasted, purchased, again asked for suggestions, and proceeded to Armida (Excellent Zins and excellent view from an unimpressive 1970’s almost A-Frame).
From San Fran Sonoma 2009
Next was Zichichi (the owner poured our tastings in V.E.R.Y small portions – almost too small to taste), lunch from the Dry Creek Kitchen, which we ate on the grounds of Dry Creek Vineyards with a bottle of Syrah, then on to about three others where the crowds were too thick for us to stop the limo. We ended the day at Frick. Frick is one of the smallest, most unassuming wineries you will ever visit. It reminds me of a charming double-wide with a porch. The staff was the friendliest of the day, and the wines were very unique. Frick bottles a number of wines that are often used to blend with other wines, like Cinsault, which is typically blended with Grenache, but at Frick is bottled as a Rosè. Our dinner after the long day of touring was early and unassuming. We were all in bed by 8:30pm (except for Nigel, who apparently found a local pub).
From San Fran Sonoma 2009

Chapter 5 – The Slanted Door
Sunday began with a visit to the Dry Creek Olive Company, where tasted and procured small batch olive oil and pomegranate vinegar, then took a nice (and less winding) road from Santa Rosa to the Napa Valley so we could stop at the new kitchen store at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone campus, and so we could swing by to get my camera bag and lens from the limo company. Something I inadvertently left the day prior.

From San Fran Sonoma 2009
We finally made our way back to San Francisco, the SUV filled with great anticipation for the greatest meal of our trip – The Slanted Door, located in the Ferry Building. We made a reservation a couple of months in advance, and were eating early to ensure we would make it to the airport in time for our red eye flight. We arrived at 6:30 for our reservation, and the place was completely packed. After getting suggestions from our waiter, we ordered

  • Cellophane Noodles with fresh Dungeness crab,

  • Snow Pea Pods,

  • wood oven braised niman ranch short ribs with lemongrass, daikon, watermelon radishes and baby carrots

  • niman ranch shaking beef cubed filet mignon, sausalito springs' watercress, red onions and lime sauce

  • barbecued willis ranch pork spareribs with honey-hoisin sauce

  • mesquite grilled lamb sausage and kusshi oysters, chinese black olive and preserved lemon relish

  • chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chilies and fresh ginger

Every dish had enormous depth of flavor and texture and, thanks to our waiter, were all complementary. I can honestly say that this meal was the highlight of a trip filled with unforgettable experiences. I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco, but I think I left part of it in Sonoma County, part in Foley’s Irish Pub, and the rest in the Slanted Door.

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