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Dining in Napa, Sonoma, North Bay, and Sacramento

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On 5/28/2016 at 0:36 PM, DonRocks said:

On my previous visit to Fremont Diner in Sonoma, I had what must surely be the greatest breakfast food I've ever eaten (major bonus: It's served all day long).

Last night, my friend and I hit it up for an early dinner, and unlike last time when we sat on the patio, we opted to sit in the ridiculously charismatic indoor portion of the restaurant, just outside of the bar and kitchen area.

We had dinner at Fremont Diner again this evening, and both of us agreed that this was simply an off-night for this staple restaurant which has been *so good* the two other times we've been here. Nothing was "bad," but it just wasn't the same outrageously good food we've come to expect from this gem. Maybe because it was Sunday night, and people had the night off? Maybe.

Drink: Screenshot 2017-01-16 at 02.05.24.pngScreenshot 2017-01-16 at 02.05.40.png

Like the last time I was here, I started with a mug of Ruhstaller "1881 Sacramento" Red Ale ($5.99) which I loved so much the previous time I had it, and this is a great example of how setting, mood, and personal biology can affect your perception of a meal. We were both very tired, and the inside of the restaurant was full, so we were seated outside on the enclosed patio (which, I didn't realize at first, didn't have heat lamps (and needed them)), and as a confluence of everything, this excellent beer just didn't hit the spot quite like it did last summer, even though it was probably the exact same product (or close enough). Also, just as before, my dining companion got a Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling Wine ($9.99, served in a Mason jar, and one dollar more expensive than it was this past summer) - when I asked her what she thought of it, she said, "It was fine - it wasn't great, it wasn't bad," so she, too, may have had her personal perception of a fairly homogeneous product thrown off - this is an excellent example of how difficult it is to overcome personal bias in evaluating a product, whether it's a restaurant, a movie ("Ugh, I'm tired - maybe something lighthearted tonight?"), or pretty much anything.

All this said, I'm going to reiterate that the quality of the food wasn't quite what it was on my previous two visits, and this wasn't because of personal bias; this meal was merely "very good" instead of "excellent," and I have no explanation as to why, other than that it was a Sunday night in early January. I must also reiterate: "very good" means just that: very good - I love this restaurant.

Food: Screenshot 2017-01-16 at 02.04.02.pngScreenshot 2017-01-16 at 02.04.16.pngScreenshot 2017-01-16 at 02.04.27.png 

I opted for an assortment of small items, my friend went with a larger sandwich, and we ended up splitting everything, getting a really good (albeit small) sampling of the offerings on this evening - Fremont Diner has a pretty big menu, and to get through everything would take twenty visits.

I ordered a Ham Biscuit ($3.99) with excellent, house-smoked ham, a honey-infused fruit jam, and granular mustard on a house-made biscuit; a Sausage Biscuit ($3.99), a patty of sausage with melted Cheddar and green onions on a house-made biscuit (the former was on the sweet side; the latter on the savory side); and an order of Deviled Eggs ($5.99) with pickled mustard seeds and seven herbs. 

When I'd finished my beer, I wanted some wine, so I got a mason jar of Tin Barn Sauvignon Blanc ($9.50), a pleasant, quaffing wine which sticks to the "local and seasonal" theme of Fremont Diner, as it's bottled in Sonoma Valley, right up the street (Tin Barn's website).

On one visit, the biscuits were so amazing that we got an order of three to take home for later; this time around, they came across as "good, but not amazing" - like before, we had planned to get a pound of house-smoked brisket to go, but after our meal, it just didn't sound so appealing, so we got no post-meal to-go order (although delicious, Fremont Diner tends not to have the healthiest cuisine in the world, so it needs to be absolutely outstanding in order to justify the calories). The deviled eggs came six halves to an order, or two dollars per egg, and when you break it down like that, it hurts - especially since these were icebox-cold, as if they were made before, and taken straight from the refrigerator - understandable, but not acceptable. I thought there was a bit too much mustard for the eggs' own good, but these were still high-quality deviled eggs, most likely from a local farm.

My companion got an Oyster Sandwich ($13.99) with fried Pacific Coast oysters (not sure what type; not sure if it matters - I've seen large, wholesale jars of "Pacific Coast oysters" before - in fact, I noticed one the other week at Nasime (there's no reason that oysters - especially ones to be fried - must be shipped individually and not pre-packaged - the ones at Nasime (assuming they were the same) were lightly dredged in flour, flash-fried, and used in a soup, and they were delicious). This sandwich came on a large, round roll - one that looked almost like something you'd use for a traditional pan bagnat - and thankfully, the roll turned out to be light and airy; had it been dense, it would have been too much bread for the sandwich, but it wasn't. It was packed with fried oysters, some arugula, remoulade, and bacon bits, and was the best single item of the meal. The menu mentions that the bread was a "Model roll," which I assume means that it came from The Model Bakery, right down the street - it seemed like it had been baked that very morning, and was quite good. The menu also says it comes with a "butter bean salad & juniper-pickled onions," but what we had came across to me, strongly, as "refried beans and white rice," which actually went very well with the sandwich. I didn't pilfer a menu, so I'm going from the online version - I suspect the paper menu last night had the correct side order written on it, and I just don't remember what it is.

A lot of bitchin' I did, considering the entire meal, before tax and tip, came out to only $53.44, and we both left pretty stuffed, not quite finishing our meals. This was a lot of food for the money, and while it may not have represented Fremont Diner at its finest, this is still one of about three restaurants in the area that I would urge people to try (in fact, this past autumn, I prodded a friend to go there for weekend breakfast, and over the next couple of weeks, I got about five thank-you notes asking me how on earth I knew about this place).

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A quick rundown of 2 weekends ago.  PM me for more details.

Coqueta for dinner Thurs night.  2nd year coming here and we will be back next great.  Great Tapas, and yes I have been to Logrono.

Friday stoped by Kunde in Sonoma where we are members and always get treated well.

Dinner Friday night at Carpe Diem in Napa, again a repeat for us.

Great tasting and visits at Venge and Cade Saturday.  Both are in the hillside and are on top of their game.

Saturday Night dinner was at Ad Hoc, was good not great.  What they called short ribs wasn't.

Sunday tastings at Chappellet, Hietz and Flora Springs.

Sunday dinner at Redd was exceptional, service and food were awesome.

learned more on the life long wine journey, drank well, ate well and will be back next year.

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First trip to Napa:

- Sweetie Pies - This bakery was in / next to our hotel (Napa River Inn) and provided breakfasts with our room each morning.  The "AM Bun" was a wonderful cross between a croissant and a sticky bunn, the apple / cheese danishes were delicious, the scones were light and airy and the quiche of the day was custardy and wonderful (bacon and spinach versions).  Really impressed and definitely a nice way to start each day.

- Gotts - First night in, walked over to the Oxbow Public Market.  After a glass of wine, decided that a burger to cap off a long travel day was in order.  Wife had the Texas Avocado Burger and I had the Green Chile Cheeseburger.  We both liked the fact that these burgers had a pretty low "sloppiness" quotient.  Each was well assembled, cooked appropriately to order, and had a wonderful blend of each ingredient in each bite.  Nicely executed and I get the hype.  Both Fries and Onion Rings were excellent renditions.

- Oenotri - lived up to Don's commentary upthread.  Orecchiette with rabe and sausage was very nicely done.  Burrata with grilled radicchio was probably my favorite dish of the evening.  I prefer 2 Amy's crust from a pizza standpoint, but the version here is quite nicely done.  The meyer lemon cake with torched merengue was a nice end to the meal.  The place was hopping at 8pm and though they were packed, I thought the staff moved folks through the small bar area nicely.

- Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen - Showed up for a 730 reservation at 630 (didn't realize everything in St. Helena would be closed at 5-6) and they didn't bat an eye and sat us immediately.  Nice bottle of rose suggested (one of the cheapest on the list, which I thought was nice) and carried us through the whole meal.  I had a Tex-Mex chicken dish with black beans that was excellent and my wife had a wonderful "spring" risotto.  Despite not needing it, had the "s'mores" Sunday - excellent.  Great casual vibe with upscale food.  I really enjoyed this place and would definitely go back.  

- Bouchon - Don't get me wrong, the food was great.  However, I was unimpressed with the service.  Long times where our waitress disappeared, when I asked for her opinion I got a variant of "everything is good", etc...I realize its a bistro, but at a Keller place I guess I expected more.  Started off with a fig old fashioned that was one of the best cocktails I've had in awhile.  I had the French onion soup to start, wife had a salad with goat cheese.  She had the steak frites and I enjoyed the Parisian gnocchi which I always like - these were no exception.  In terms of the steak frites the steak was perfectly cooked and the frites were so good that I had to ask the server to actually take them away.  We were so full we didn't push ourselves with desert and instead took a nice after dinner stroll.

- Giugni W F & Sons Grocery (Giugni's) - Went here on a suggestion from our host at Ehlers.  Was not disappointed by this old school deli.  Cash only.  Excellent breads.  Had the roast beer on soft sour roll with horseradish, mayo, giugni juice (oil, vinegar, herbs), lettuce, onions and tomatoes.  Just a wonderful little spot - we ended up here twice and could have been more.  Easy sandwiches to pack with us to picnic with.  

- Culinary Institute of America - Greyscale - Stopped in here to visit their small deli.  Had a great Cuban sandwich and a nice sized side salad for 7 dollars (!).  Service was a little slow, but its run by students so it is what it is.  Couldn't believe the value and the sandwich was very tasty.

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Had a really lovely lunch at Girl and the Fig.  The steak tartare and the flounder were particularly nice.

Cochon Volant BBQ was strong in everything except pork ribs, which is about average for restaurant ribs, ie barely edible.

Oxbow Market is well worth a visit, though very busy even at 3:30ish.  Hog Island Oysters reminded me how much I miss eating West Coast oysters on the West Coast.

Definitely enjoyed the smaller tasting room and vineyards to the big boys.  

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