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Dining in Napa, Sonoma, North Bay, and Sacramento

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On 5/25/2015 at 8:29 PM, aaronsinger said:

Any recommendations for the Santa Rosa area? I'll be flying into SFO thursday afternoon and driving up, have thursday night and all day friday free to myself.

Watch the movie "Shadow of a Doubt."

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On 1/12/2016 at 6:17 PM, DonRocks said:

I had dinner at Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty on back-to-back nights in 2014, and believe it or not, the bartender told me that Bistro Jeanty put *ketchup* in their steak tartare - I knew of its reputation, so was shocked, but there it was, right in front of me. The Bouchon in Yountville has *terrific* bread - they serve epi with perfectly salted butter, yum. 

Now that I think about it, it has been around 10 years since we ate at Bouchon at Venetian and something like 12 since Bistro Jeanty. A lot can change in a restaurant in that time.

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I stopped in and tried Zuzu, a delightful tapas bar with a warm and cozy atmosphere. I sat at the bar, watching all the magic in the kitchen, and the bartender took great care of me. I had 4 plates - I absolutely loved the flounder ceviche (beautifully bright colors and tastes) and asparagus with jamon (gorgeous vegetables and meat), but found the bacalao (salt cod drizzled with white truffle oil & garlic crostini) to be a little heavy/salty (though this could be that I just don't like salt cod-based dishes. I keep trying, for some reason, and hardly ever love them) and didn't particularly care for the sauce on the lamb chops with moroccan barbeque glaze, mint, & curry oil. Everything was baseline good and I ate almost everything (quite a feat - 4 small plates do add up), but the heavier dishes didn't wow me. I saw a lot of tres leches being ordered and gobbled down, but didn't have space for it. Great neighborhood spot. 

Dropped by Oxbow Public market to pick up some cream puffs at Ca'Momi Enoteca because I can't help myself. Also tried their Osteria on First street for lunch because haven't been able to get the gnudi (Bellwether Farms jersey ricotta & spinach malfatti with butter, sage, and parmigiano reggiano - the green of the spinach belies the tender richness of the "pasta") off my mind. Together with the burrata e verdure (wood-oven roasted vegetables, house-pulled burrata, schiacciata all'olio) I had an incredibly delicious, albeit crazy-heavy meal, and I was only able to finish half of it (leftovers held up beautifully for later)! Those two dishes plus a salad, for 2, would be pretty much the perfect vegetarian Italian meal. I liked the burrata dish even more than the gnudi, which is saying something. They toss whatever baby veg they have on hand with nice olive oil, roast till sweet in a wee skillet, and serve with a generous dollop of excellent burrata plus a whole flat bread. The flat bread is very much like their VPN pizza dough, perhaps even the same dough but baked slightly thicker, as it has the same stretchy, yielding, but crispy-on-the-edges quality I love so much about Neapolitan pizza. If you get the chili oil to go with the bread, beware that it is quite spicy! The space is hipster-industrial, with exposed beams and ducting but lots of hanging lights and candles. Servers are young (or I'm getting old, probably both), good-looking, and extremely attentive. Loved everything about my experience!

I would, and probably will, go back to all of these places. 

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On 1/12/2016 at 6:17 PM, DonRocks said:

The Bouchon in Yountville has *terrific* bread - they serve epi with perfectly salted butter, yum. 


Dinner at Bouchon last night was very good while falling short of outstanding (which is what you should normally expect at a Bistro or Brasserie, but having the seasoning somewhat "off" at a Thomas Keller restaurant hurts more than it normally does, especially when it's *so* easily correctable).

The two-tops against the entrance wall are close enough together where you could eavesdrop if you wanted to, but also far enough apart so that you don't feel scrunched up against your neighbor. 

The 2015 Triennes Rosé a pale, dry Rosé from Provence, sold at $10 a glass, is made from primarily, if not all, Cinsault. The bottle itself reveals a more precise location of being from the Department of the Var (there's a sneaky way to tell this just from codes written on the bottle), so this wine - which might be a Côteaux Varois (and they make wonderful Rosé there) - retails for something around $13 per bottle, and sells on the list for $40, or about triple-retail:

Screenshot 2016-05-24 at 17.40.10.png Screenshot 2016-05-24 at 17.39.06.png

And it was triple-retail that I happily paid, because this is fine example of a pale, bone-dry Rosé from the Southeast of France - at $40, even if they're making $30+ on every bottle they sell, it's a good wine to get here, as it goes with a very wide variety of dishes - it served us throughout the entire meal (which actually turned out to be very simple and small in terms of number-of-courses). 

Before the meal, we were brought (to our surprise) some roasted pistachios, in shell, which were served alongside the always-tremendous epi - the classic "stalk of wheat" variation on the classic baguette. The bread and butter at Bouchon has always flirted with simple perfection, and so it was on this evening; the pistachios seemed unnecessary and almost odd, although we certainly had the option not to eat them. 

We'd planned on getting some apps, maybe splitting an entrée, having some cheese, and maybe splitting a dessert, but after having the chicken at Kinship, my dining companion wanted to try it here, and our delightful neighbor (on my right) had the leg of lamb, and enthusiastically extolled its virtues, so we dove straight into the main courses:

Screenshot 2016-05-24 at 17.48.34.png

Poulet Rôti ($29.75) is served atop Petits Pois à la Française and chicken jus, and is (according to our server) par-roasted before dinner service, then finished to-order in the oven, the second step taking about twenty minutes. It must surely be brined or injected, because the deepest part of the breast meat was delightfully moist and perfectly salted - it just could not have been any better, and this is what was on the very top, so diners tend to eat it first. We were both fighting over the breast meat, which is probably one of the most difficult things to cook well. Unfortunately, there is often a white meat - dark meat sacrifice, and so it was with this half-chicken: The dark meat was simply too salty - not to the point of being inedible, but to the point where it was too salty, and there was no doubt about it. However, with the mildly seasoned Petits Pois, it added some salt to an arguably undersalted (but otherwise fantastic) side dish. Salt issues aside, this was a *fine* example of roast chicken, and one which I will gladly order again in the future. 

Gigot d'Agneau ($35) was four cuts from a cylinder, stacked atop one another, and served in a bowl on top of lots of chickpeas, a trivial amount of piquillo peppers, some spring onions, and lamb jus. The salting issue here was easily fixed: the lamb was slightly undersalted, and all I needed to do was ask my server for a little sea salt, add a single scoop evenly distributed over all four rounds, and the lamb instantly went from being very good to excellent. If you don't really like chickpeas, you should think twice about this dish, because there are a lot of them, but they were well-cooked, well-seasoned, and lent a North African flavor to the lamb, which was otherwise not really a North African dish. Although both of us preferred the chicken, both of us also enjoyed the lamb, and depending on your personal preferences, you could have flipped a coin between these two dishes.

I hate to be a simpleton, but after these two entrées, we were pretty well stuffed, and just didn't really want any cheese or dessert - we weren't starving to begin with, and these entrées were hefty enough to do the trick. A good showing once again for Bouchon, a restaurant that I've now been to several times, and which I have consistently enjoyed. 

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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.

FremontInterior1.JPG FremontInterior2.JPG

Our server was terrific, and was an extrapolation of the restaurant as a whole - as casual as anyone could be (she literally got up on a chair right at our table and changed light bulbs), but it all fit in perfectly with the charming atmosphere of this amazing restaurant, which is putting out food as good *and as serious* as any restaurant in Sonoma, despite the "weathered" look of the menus:

FremontMenu1.JPG FremontMenu2.JPG FremontDrinks1.JPG FremontDrinks2.JPG

My friend got a glass of the Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling Wine ($8.99, served in a Mason jar), and I had a glorious mug (or two) of the Ruhstaller "1881 Sacramento" Red Ale ($5.99 for a large, thick, 16-20 ounce mug - I felt like I was back in Munich).

For dinner, you can pretty much throw darts at the menu here and hit a bulls-eye, and my advice is to order whatever "reads" the best or appeals to you at the moment. I love Chicken-Fried Steak  ($15.99), and so I got it - it came topped with some of the best sausage gravy you'll ever eat, some amazing Sprouting Broccoli (we must remember, we're in California) and a Sunnyside-Up Fried Egg on top. It was everything you could ever hope for with this dish, and as good as any rendition I've had in my life - a couple squirts of their housemade pepper-vinegar sauce on my sprouting broccoli, and my plate went from exceptional to perfect, and I didn't want the meal to end.

Fremont Diner takes barbecue very seriously, and you should pay attention to whatever they say is in the "Pit" that day. My friend got an off-menu pit special of a Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12.99) with baked beans, and topped with slaw and pickles on a brioche bun. I have now had so many "bad-to-ordinary" pulled-pork sandwiches in a row (dozens) that I couldn't imagine why she ordered this, but everything became clear as day when I nabbed a single morsel of pork: revelatory. Then a pickle: shockingly wonderful. This was the pulled-pork sandwich that Zeus would order for Hera, and the only thing that could have been improved upon is that the beans could have been cooked a little longer, as they were still a little tough, and they also benefitted from some housemade barbecue sauce and a couple shakes of that pepper-vinegar sauce that I had. Other than that one blip, it was the ultimate pulled-pork sandwich, and qualified in every regard as "real barbecue" that even the most jaded pitmaster would respect.

FremontChickenFriedSteak.JPG FremontPulledPork.JPG

We were full, but there was *no way* we were stopping here: We bought a Bucket of Biscuits ($3.99) with rhubarb jam for breakfast, a Pound of Brisket ($24.00, also an off-menu pit special) for lunch, and planned our trip to the Ruhstaller micro-brewery near Sacramento the next afternoon, courtesy of our gracious server's recommendation. It was, in every regard, a perfect meal - the type of meal that conjures up your fondest recollections of that lobster pound in Maine, or that little unknown restaurant you wandered into somewhere in New Orleans. If you're anywhere near Sonoma County - and I mean anywhere within an hour - make a detour to the Fremont Diner, one of the greatest restaurants in the Napa-Sonoma region.

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5 hours ago, DonRocks said:

If you're anywhere near Sonoma County - and I mean anywhere within an hour - make a detour to the Fremont Diner, one of the greatest restaurants in the Napa-Sonoma region.

I have eaten at the Fremont Diner several times, and I have never been disappointed with the food or the service. In addition to the items you mentioned, they have wonderful milkshakes and the best bacon I have ever tasted. 

If you want to make a day of it, there is the delightul Di Rosa contemporary art gallery nearby, or you can sample sparkling wine and pinot noir at Domaine Carneros. Downtown Sonoma, with its charming square filled with shops, is about a 10 minute drive from the diner.

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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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