Living in the northern part of the East Bay, I’ve always just taken day trips up to the wine country, but SO wanted to do the touristy thing for our anniversary weekend and before I render myself broke from sending off my law school apps (yes, it is finally happening).
We arrived at Avia, the new hotel downtown, unexpectedly late (10:30) and starving on Friday evening, room service had ended, and unfortunately, SO had banned my laptop/all internet from the weekend so we didn't have any leads for late night. Figuring the valet guys would give us more honest recommendations for local spots, we asked them for recs and while we did get a few of the recs I found on CH this morning, we were given more where not to go’s than where to’s. In the end, we ended up just getting back in the car and driving around a bit. We found Downtown Joe’s. I laughed when I read all of the negative reports on CH after our trip. Woops. Joe’s was having live music that night and as we walked up, the jerk at the door without a word from us said “Sorry folks, I’m not letting anyone else in for awhile.” I turned on my heels and started to walk away, but SO being a bit more tolerant of rudeness asked him if they were not allowing diners in either. They were. We were immediately seated on the rather rowdy patio under a heat lamp and brought menus by our very lovely server, Linda. I ordered the cheeseburger and the Double Secret Probation IPA, SO had the fish & chips and a Tail Waggin’ Amber ale. I will give them that my burger was actually a fairly good burger made with Niman Ranch ground sirloin, crisp lettuce, and good (!) tomatoes and appeared med.-rare as I’d ordered it. SO’s fish was a couple of huge pieces of crispy beer-battered rock cod. Both orders came with their beer-battered french fries which were fine for what they were. What can I say? It was late and it’s a locals’ pub – a number of microbrews, fair pub food, and lots of swearing. My burger and beer were just fine.
The next day we woke up late with very little time to eat before heading off to our wine tasting appointments. Being right in that little patch of downtown, there are several sit down spots, but not a lot of obvious to-go type places other than Subway (Oxbow across the bridge was being saved for the next day) so, we walked through the shopping center and found Christopher’s Fine Foods. On the surface it looks very gift shop-ish with its huge glass storefront and the walls lined with jarred spreads, olive oils, and some teas, but we popped in anyway and the special spreads on their sandwiches drew us in. SO ordered prosciutto, brie, and arugula with a fig compote while I ordered the “southwestern turkey” w/ roasted turkey breast, gouda, tomatoes, lettuce, and a raspberry-[red wine] aioli, both on baguettes. Ingredients tasted good, baguettes were fresh, nice spreads and a great deal at $5 each. If you’re familiar, my 5 out of 5 is a turkey and havarti w/ light mustard on an Acme baguette from The Junkett and this was a solid 3.75.
Our first winery stop was Cakebread Cellars with friends that are wine club members. I thought the gardens were beautiful and was a little sad that we were seated all the way in the back of their newest building, but did enjoy walking through the belly of the winery and seeing where the processing takes place and learning little facts along the way. I had never had Cakebread’s wines before and of the 6 current releases we tasted, enjoyed their reds the most, in particular the 2004 Dancing Bear Ranch cab sauv. I was not a fan of their chardonnays and it was rather fitting that our next stop was Honig which specializes in sauv. blancs and cabs where I couldn't resist getting a shirt that said “Friends don’t let friends drink chardonnay.” We were invited to stand around the main counter if we liked (as opposed to sitting under covered tables out on the patio – it was getting a little windy) and I really enjoyed the one-on-one treatment that we got at Honig (it was definitely much more relaxed than Cakebread). Was especially impressed by the sauv blancs and the finishes of the cabs we tasted. Very thoughtfully made. Currently scrounging for change to become a member.
After that, headed back to hotel to get ready for 6:45 reservation at Redd. I’m going to post my review of Redd as a reply to this thread because it is simply too long. In a nutshell, despite all of the recent negative reports, I had a very nice meal there and will return.
Sunday. After being woken up by the fire alarm in our hotel at 7 am (the kitchen burned toast) and a running delivery truck outside our window, we were completely disgusted and decided to head out early. We had heard that brunch at our hotel was nice, but they were still serving a buffet-style breakfast, so despite my best judgment I asked the valet guys where to get breakfast. They directed us to the ABC (Alexis Baking Company) Café up the street on 3rd. It was completely packed with what appeared to be locals and rather than wait, we opted for a tiny two-top the others passed up. Menus and coffee appeared promptly and our server even went next door to get SO apple juice which they did not have on the menu. I thought that was really nice. SO ordered a breakfast sandwich in an effort to eat light and said the bread was the highlight and I ordered the huevos rancheros on our server’s recommendation (apparently the cooks are Mexican women who have been there since the beginning and pride themselves in their Mexican dishes). I almost regretted this as beautiful plates of pancakes artfully topped with blueberry compote w/ beautiful little berries drifted by, but my hearty order of two perfectly crisp tortillas slathered with a well-seasoned black bean puree, topped with melted cheddar, a red tomato sauce, and poached eggs w/ a dollop of sour cream on the side won me over. There was nothing refined about what I ordered, but I was exhausted and the crispy/creamy/savory/tart was very comforting. Many people were getting baked goods to go.
After breakfast, we hit Oxbow. This was a mistake as we were both full and to be completely honest, were not hugely impressed by the offerings as we are spoiled rotten by our close proximity to Berkeley Bowl and the Ferry Building. Nonetheless, we managed to spend entirely too much money at Kara’s buying gifts and bought some beautiful fruit from Oxbow Produce and Grocery. I could not resist the Frog Hollow O’Henry peaches that we smelled as soon as we walked through the door, the perfectly golden, almost translucent (the skin was that delicate) asian pears, and a handful of honey-sweet Panache figs even though they were $12.99 a lb.(!!!) I actually remember being a little surprised at some of the prices as the same small containers of St. Benoit yogurt I buy at Berkeley Bowl were almost $2 more at Oxbow. Regardless, it was a neat market to peruse and I enjoyed the "local-ness" of the offerings, but my favorite stall was probably the Whole Spice Co. They have an immense array of spices and the color and smell of the things I asked to see were incredible. The market was pretty empty at that hour and as we were leaving, I could not convince SO to get anything to go from Pica Pica as he didn’t want to ruin it for himself, so we made one last stop at Fatted Calf, purchased their beef jerky, the last two merguez sausages that were delicious, some chicharonnes, and some lamb broquettes to take home.
Overall, a great weekend of eating, perhaps just a little more reading of the CH for me next time. :)