My GF came in to visit from the Midwest over the last few days (to celebrate our first anniversary as a couple.) As is tradition, we try to hit as many good eats during her visits out here and as the schedule/geography/hunger dictates. As has been typical, a lot of shifting, improvising and a few “we’ll get to you next time around”-ers were the result.
(Late Dinner) Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, Emeryville - this was unplanned, as my GF had planned to eat at the PHX Airport but didn’t really find anything to nosh on. With the late hour (11 PM) and headed from the Oakland Airport to the Napa area, this seemed to be conveniently on the way and, more importantly, open.
The place was a sea of activity in an otherwise deserted downtown. As expected, a place founded by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt would have a certain vibe and clientele and we looked a little out of place (as a college deejay of the 80s, however, I did appreciate the nods to bands like the Specials and the Clash.) Nonetheless, service was friendly and it the food was about as good as you can expect for diner-style fixings (we both were satisfied with our Cajun Catfish and New School Tuna sandwiches, and the fries were crispy and non-greasy, always a bonus.)
(Lunch) El Molino Central, Boyes Hot Springs – We had intended on going to the Fremont Diner on Thursday, but since we had the unexpected diner-style fixings the night prior, we moved this for later in the trip and we stopped by here for both our first time. The outdoor covered patio proved to be perfect for this warm spring day.
My GF loved her Swiss chard enchiladas, and loved the contrast of the slightly bitter against the savory. As much of a cheese lover as she is, she even said it may have had a little too much, but this was a tiny quibble - better too much than not enough. I eyed the chard enchiladas myself, but opted for the chalupas – I’d label this as solid and tasty comfort food with tender chicken and freshly made masa boats amongst the layers of flavor. The Blue Bottle Coffee was spot on smooth and delicious.
(Dinner) Third Street AleWorks, Santa Rosa - My GF is a beer aficionado, and of course Sonoma has its fair share of renowned breweries. We had hiked up a pretty good sweat going through Sugar Loaf Ridge Park (on the Planet Walk) and actually had intended to do Mexican for dinner (specifically, El Rincon Yucateco, as my GF has never had Yucatecan-style Mexican food.) However, the re-route to El Molino Central earlier diverted those plans, despite the regional-style difference.
We traveled downtown and Russian River Brewing Company was a madhouse (unbeknownst to us, the Giants-Dodgers Opening Day game was on at the time.) Nothing else around that area was appealing to our collective tastes, but we stumbled upon Third Street AleWorks instead as we were nearing our car and decided on a whim to step in.
The food was fairly typically brewpub-ish – my GF liked her bleu cheese burger well enough, and the fresh potato chips were a nice light and crackly addition. Thinking I needed some veggies, I went with the Chinese Chicken Salad – it was a different take on the concept for certain, being something of a house-style salad with some Chinese Chicken salad additions. It did the trick in terms of vegetable volume, but I most likely wouldn’t order it again. There were some specials on a chalkboard perched from the roof of the building that at least looked interesting but we failed to notice them until after we had ordered.
In terms of beer, my GF thought the Bodega Head IPA was the real standout in her three-pack sampler; the American Wheat Ale and the Annadel Pale Ale were good solid examples of their respective categories but nothing earth-shattering.
Friday & Saturday
Breakfast: Melitta Station English Bed & Breakfast, Santa Rosa - we spent two nights at this B&B and were both quite delighted by our breakfasts there. Our two very proper British hosts did a fine job of feeding us and our fellow guests. Highlights included the artichoke frittata, which was accentuated by something they called a rough sauce (pureed garbanzos, tomato & onion) and the Swedish Egg Cake, which was light on the palate and not too sweet; the sweetness was provided by the warm strawberry topping. They had some great homemade preserves (picked up a jar of apricot preserves ourselves) and had nicely buttery shortbread for snacking during the afternoon as well as tea and scones, though we never did get to indulge in the latter, unfortunately.
Lunch: Bovine Bakery and Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes Station - This was more of a snack than a real lunch, but it was quite a delightful one – a perfectly textured and tasty sesame wheat rolls from Bovine Bakery paired up with a round of Drake cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, both just a few doors from each other in Point Reyes Station. After a strenuous hike down and back up from the lighthouse, we headed over to Drakes Beach (appropriately enough) and dug into this very tasty combo. The cheese definitely gets the thumbs up from both of us, especially my GF, who is as much into cheese as she is her beer.
Dinner: Barndiva, Healdsburg - After looking over some of the board’s suggestions for a “romantic but understated” place in the Sonoma area for our one-year anniversary dinner, we finally chose Barndiva out of list that included Farmhouse Inn and Madrona Manor. Indeed, the somewhat swanky take on a barn and the dim lighting set the mood for us just fine, similar to what Piqueos had done roughly one-year earlier.
We started off with some delicious starters – my GF’s local arugula salad was quite pleasant, while my cauliflower soup bordered on spectacular. I always think of cauliflower as a generally bland vegetable, so when I saw the soup on the menu, I kinda’ thought, “okay, change my mind.” It was hearty and filling and definitely something I’d order again.
I think my GF won the battle of the mains, though – her halibut, with ravioli and sunchokes, was simply delicious and tasted like no halibut I’ve had before, leaving me a little envious. My carmelized sea scallops were cooked perfectly, but the accompanying sauce (with peas, bacon, roasted romaine etc. in crème fraîche) didn’t quite merge taste-wise with the scallops in my mind. Still, it was a solid dish.
We decided that with this being an anniversary we’d splurge on dessert, and we split a chocolate hazelnut torte with glee. The mint ice cream and coffee we ordered went well to fight off the richness of the dessert, but we were nicely surprised when the restaurant staff offered us some Madeira as an anniversary treat for us.
The wait-staff was quite wonderful throughout, with just about perfect timing in terms of delivering our food and clearing our table, explaining the menu items, and making suggestions. All in all, this was about as pleasant splurge-worthy (about $130 for the whole shebang plus a very generous tip) anniversary dining experience as we could have asked for.
Lunch: Fremont Diner, Sonoma – We both were thinking of the porky stuff, but were informed that unfortunately they had run out of BBQ sauce (we had arrived fairly late.) Figuring that we wanted the full experience, we mentally notched a future trip for next time and opted for other things. The chorizo chile con carne I had was nicely savory and the cornbread was great, but I kicked myself as I realized that I had had this before way back when and wanted to try something new. My GF decided to go for the Nashville hot spicy chicken and she enjoyed each crispy bite – she doesn’t indulge in fried chicken too much, but when she does, it had better be the “real deal” (no KFC or anything similar) and this fit the bill quite nicely.
Lunch: Lee’s Sandwiches, San Francisco - We took a break from dining out on Saturday night, opting instead for some fresh veggies with hummus. However, we got back to routine while at the Asian Art Museum, with full intent on hitting up Saigon Sandwich, as my GF had never had a bahn mi before and since it had generated some talk on the boards from the New York Times article.
Alas, it was all shuttered much to our dismay.
As we wanted a quick bite (we thought about Turtle Tower for pho, but they had a line going out the door), we settled for what I figured would be a middle-of-the-road banh mi in Lee’s Sandwiches just up the street. Sure enough, the sandwiches were fine but nothing spectacular; if nothing else, it gives a baseline for more comparisons down the road.
FWIW, I haven’t had too many bahn mi myself, but I’d rate this one on a par with Sunshine Bakery’s version in Vallejo, and a notch below the versions offered by Ba Le in El Cerrito and Café Dolci in the FiDi in San Francisco.
Dinner: Delarosa, San Francisco – a trip down to Baker Beach and later the Presidio later on had us in the Marina District in the mood for some pizza. I didn’t think to check at A16 as I figured it would be packed (I know they do accept walk-ins at the bar) and we weren’t quite hankering for Chicago style (a la Paxti’s). So a quick wandering around found us at Delarosa (which I found out later is from the folks at Beretta) for their Roman-style pizzas.
The place was buzzing for a Sunday (I can only imagine what it’s like on Friday & Saturday) but we were seated right away. The communal seating setup made for a cozy and friendly vibe, which was matched quite nicely by our waitperson. The place does seem to be a hangout for a younger, upscale crowd (which we are not) and was quite loud, but I was surprised that I could have an actual conversation with my GF without too much voice amplification.
We ordered a bowl of Brussels sprouts with aioli and were nicely surprised by how big the serving was. We were also nicely pleased by their taste, but more so their texture – they came with a crispy, almost charred exterior with a tender interior. The aioli turned out to be a strictly optional accompaniment.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the beverages we ordered – I had never had Bundaberg Ginger Beer but now that’s my favorite commercial ginger-based beverage, and something I’d be on the lookout for in stores. More surprising was the Empire Diet Cola my GF ordered – we both remarked that this couldn’t be the diet stuff, tasting way more sugar-cola-like than any of the mass-marketed brands. I did read that the cane sugar edition is pretty good in its own right, so this is another one on both our future seek-out lists.
The fennel sausage pizza was pretty much a winner – the flavors of the tangy tomato sauce and the smoked scamorza danced quite nicely with the meat. The crust itself was thin and crispy, with just slight demerits for the very center of the pie, where the crust kinda’ sagged just a bit when lifting the slices.
I got a chuckle with the pair of friends sitting next to us at the table, both of whom speaking Italian, with at least one seemingly from Italy itself (the other seemed to be a local.) If my translation guesstimates are accurate, at one point the person from Italy was a bit mystified and asked his local counterpart about all this frozen yogurt stuff we have here, and how it compared to gelato.
Dinner: Burma Superstar, Oakland – the morning started off with a brief visit to Pure Grain Bakery in Vacaville to grab a quick pastry (poppyseed twists…yum!) and coffee on the way to Sacramento to visit the State Capitol. We ended up with some bar food in West Sacramento (mainly because my GF’s mother had stopped by that bar a month or so ago) so we were in the mood for something very different once we got back to the Bay Area. Since we were staying in the Oakland area for the night and as my GF hadn’t yet tried Burmese food, we decided to stop into their Temescal location for a sampling.
We stuck with their staples, with my GF having the Tea Leaf Salad (which I had my only visit prior, at the Alameda location) and I the Rainbow Salad. As it turned out, she liked my taste of my salad more (she’s more into noodle dishes than I) so much and vice versa that we ended up swapping our dishes and finishing them off.
The bar (where we were seated) seemed to have a nice selection of beer and alcohol – my GF saw one her faves (New Belgium Mothership) on tap and was somewhat bummed, as she really wasn’t in a beer mood that night.
We have Burmese on our target lists next time she’s out, where we'll branch out beyond the salads and target one of the other touted places mentioned on the CH boards.
Dessert: Scream Sorbet, Oakland – this was our designated frozen treat place this trip (the first two being Humphry Slocombe and Bi-Rite Creamery), and we were both eagerly awaiting this visit just down a couple blocks from Burma Superstar.
Like last time, the owner was holding down the final shift of the day like the last time I had visited. I surprised him by giving back the ice packs I had borrowed from him to transport some pints a few months back (he remarked that getting them back was something of a rarity) and immediately hit us up with a sample of the Lemongrass Apple.
My GF couldn’t believe that an apple flavor could come out so strongly (she called it easily the best apple frozen treat that she ever had) and this ended up being one of her two scoops; she had intended to pair it up with Caramel Cashew, but after several other samplings (I love that they’re so generous with them, and that you don’t necessarily have to ask for them either) a just-for-the-heck-of-it last taste Peanut Vanilla won the day as her second scoop.
I jumped on the Caramel Cashew myself along with the White Guava for my two scoops and we both just stood outside the shop, enjoying a scrumptiously sweet ending on what had been a pretty darn good first anniversary spent together.
As it turned out, a planned visit Tuesday morning to Brown Sugar Kitchen would have to wait for another time – we were a little too tuckered out to venture out early enough to eat there and make my GF’s flight out back to the Midwest in time. But that just adds something else to the list of many places to be tried the next visit out to the culinary treasure trove that is the Bay Area.
625 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
80 4th St, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe
4081 Hollis St, Emeryville, CA 94608
231 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Pure Grain Bakery
600 Eubanks Ct Suite A, Vacaville, CA
5030 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
11315 Shoreline Hwy, Point Reyes Station, CA
4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA
610 3rd St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
2175 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123
El Molino Central
11 Central Avenue, Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95476