A thank you and short report on our recent weekend in SF/Napa--
Baraka - went straight from the airport and arrived early for our 9:00 o'clock reservation. Although it was slightly annoying that they could not take us earlier (if they would just put their tables at an angle, they could really use the space more efficiently), we cooled our heels at the bar until we were seated. We thought the food was very, very good. Great flavor in the grilled squid appetizer and cucumber raita. On to the rabbit and veal cheek tagines and a side of cinnamon scented cous cous. We shared one of the signature pistachio cakes for dessert. Overall, the food was very good, reasonably priced, well executed. Service could still use a little more polish, but I would return and recommend.
Y Ben House - thanks to Gary Soup for a quick response before we left, we went to Y Ben House at around 9:30 am on Saturday morning. Always pleased when we are the only caucasians at a dim sum restaurant, we shared a table with a mother and daughter that laughed at how much we ordered for two people and how I badly misuse chopsticks. Can't really report on each item because we are of the point and shoot variety of dim sum eaters. It's always a shame to go with just two people, we ran out of room long before we ran out of food choices. The only item we chose and did not like was the oversize room temperature potstickers. Everything else was excellent, plentiful and the cart ladies were very nice (almost all spoke a little english to explain the more unusual dishes -- a great help).
Martini House (St. Helena). Based on the "scene" when we walked in and the initial attitude from the hostess, I thought this might turn out to be a disaster but was pleasantly proven wrong. Shared a bottle of wine with friends at the bar while we waited for our table. It really is a scene, ranging from a pair of black versace knock off dressed blondes screaming about the Cubs victory (I'm a cubs fan and was excited, but no screaming) to more sophisticated older patrons and several birthday parties, it was quite a cross section.
We were seated outside on the side patio which is absolutely beautiful. Great atmosphere, and the heat lamps really kick out. I had to laugh at the little "champagne cards," the subject of other posts here and shared with my friends that unless they wanted to spend 13$ for a glass of champagne they should politely decline the waitresses' offer when she came around. Sure enough, she did, and we did, and moved on to a bottle of sangiovese. I had the tourchon of foies gras and the appetizer portion of the special East coast scallops. I did not take notes on the paring of the wine with the foies, it was not a sauternes, but my 1/2 glass did turn out to be free as it was the end of the bottle and the waitress told me since it was less than a full portion it would be on the house! A very nice and gracious touch. My S.O. went "internal" on us, ordering the gnocchi with pork cheeks followed by the appteizer portion of the evening special of veal sweetbreads and salsify. Both of these selections were excellent. The pork cheeks had an incredible smoky flavor and were completed by very light gnocchi with paremsan. The sweetbreads were simply prepared, sizzling hot and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside with the crisp bite of the salsify acting as a very nice complement. Unlike many places I've been where the staff "pulls a face" at the fact that you are ordering two appetizer portions instead of a main course, we did not sense any attitude at all. Our friend had the pumpkin soup and venison, his wife a salad and fresh fish. I did not taste, but there were lots of oohs and ahhs coming from across the tableQuite a challenge for the sommelier, who was very patient and goodnatured as we selected a D2 Zinfandel.
The only problem of the night came after we finished our entrees. We had a 9:00 reservation so it was probably around 10:45 when we finished our meal. Alas, the entire wait staff seemed to have gone missing. We waited and waited for someone to clear our plates. We waited and waited for our waitress to re-appear. By the time she did, I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone think about what would happen if we ordered dessert. The gentlemen order coffee (and the check at the same time), but we still did not wind up leaving until close to 11:30. The only dissapointment of the evening.
Bouchon -- Really like the room and the atmoshpere of this small Yountville Keller "sister" of TFL. Very nicely executed bistro classics -- French onion soup, potato leek soup, an excellent roast chicken and a wonderful sliced leg of lamb in jus with flageolet beans and too tiny minced pieces of the smokly piquillo type peppers. We shared a hunk of a too citrusy lemon tart with an overcooked, almost bitter, crust. As I said, it was well executed, but nothing popped or sttod out in one's memory. Porbably would try many other local establishments before a return visit.
Enjoyed great visits to Burgess, Vincent Arroyo, the eccentric Frank Family vineyard, Robert Sinskey (what a beautiful facility and excellent wines), Duckhorn (great grounds and a beautiful new modern tasting room)and Chateau Montelena (to walk in the japanese gardens, but did not pay to taste)and other, less memorable places.
Thanks to all the SF Chowhounders -- we could not have done it without this Board.