Monday, September 28, 2015

The Chef's Picks with Pairings at Rich Table in San Francisco

After five days in wine country, my husband and I headed to San Francisco for our final night in the Golden State. We were wanting the high quality, innovative cuisine for which the city is famous but after a lengthy drive we were also wanting a more casual atmosphere; Rich Table was the perfect choice. This small, noisy restaurant is located on Gough Street. Its open kitchen and close quarters encourages informality and guests may feel comfortable striking up conversations with those seated nearby.

We were seated at the communal table right next to where Chef Evan Rich was overseeing the kitchen. We opted for the Chef's Pick menu with the added beverage pairings, our own creative thinking was flagging from a bit of travel exhaustion. We feel we made a great choice, check out the pictures in the video clip.

As soon as we relinquished control over our dinner, the food and wine began to flow. We were immediately poured a glass of 2014 Broc Cellars Sparkling Cabernet Franc from Santa Barbara. This refreshing, slightly savory wine paired perfectly with the array of small bites to arrive first to the table. Standouts in the first onslaught of tastes were the raw oysters with watermelon mignonette, the sardine chip with horseradish and herbs, the spicy chicken liver mousse with nuts and the fried porcini doughnuts.

For the next course, we were each served a different wine and food pairing. I was poured a lovely 2014 Smith Story Pinot Noir Rosé from Rheingau Germany alongside a nectarine, golden beet and burrata salad while my husband received a glass of 2013 Stekar Malvasia with his heirloom tomato caesar salad topped with bacon and garlic croutons. We, of course, immediately shared tastes and both were delicious.

The different pairings for us continued with a glass of Sorelle Bronca Particella 68 Prosecco di Valdobbiadene for me, a creamy mineral-laced pear and citrus flavored sparkler paired with chanterelles, blistered grapes, popcorn and chives in a citrus, herb oil while my husband enjoyed king salmon with roe and roasted potatoes with a glass of 2013 Benoit Bourgogne Aligoté.

This course was followed by a glass of Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale from Off Color Brewing with an Asian-inspired ramen dish for me and 2010 Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica with tagliatelle, peppers and okra for him. 

Next up, a pour of 2013 Marc Brédif Chinon with a grilled ribeye square on hummus for each of us. The small, geometric cut of beef was the perfect size after the multiple courses we had already so eagerly consumed. A spoonful of farmers cheese with fruit arrived for each of us next, a palate preparer for our final course.

Our meal diverged again when they brought our dessert. I was given a glass of 2014 De Forville Moscato d'Asti with an unusual mix of dried cherry and apricot, basil granita and brown butter ice cream while my husband was handed a stout beer with a chocolate concoction of brittle, meringue and mousse. Both unique and worthy of sharing. A final sweet bite topped with fresh raspberry and chocolate concluded our tasting

Chef Evan Rich came by the table at our meal's end to check on how we had enjoyed his picks, we truthfully told him that we had delighted in it all. If you are in San Francisco, I would highly recommend this restaurant, it is the perfect place to enjoy innovative, high quality, thoughtfully prepared cuisine in a casual setting. Make reservations or you may be waiting for a table.

Friday, September 25, 2015

h2hotel and Spoonbar

In historic Healdsburg, the h2hotel was my choice for lodging during my recent trip to Sonoma County wine country. I loved the eco-friendliness of this boutique hotel along with its clean, modern interior design. In addition to the excellent location and the cool decor, the service was top notch. I was assisted with restaurant reservations, spa appointments and accommodated with an early check-in time.

I enjoyed both dinner and breakfast at the Spoonbar restaurant located in the hotel lobby, the food was interesting and delicious. It is a top nighttime destination in town, the bar is happening and all the tables are full, so, reservations are recommended. A fantastic breakfast buffet which includes hot dishes cooked to order is free for hotel guests every morning.

h2hotel- A highly recommended hotel; good food, hip ambience, clean, comfortable rooms and a great location!
Spoonbar- A highly recommended restaurant and bar; innovative local cuisine with a good wine list and a cool vibe!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Napa Valley Harvest Trip 2015

After dropping our daughter off at grad school in California, my husband and I headed north to Napa Valley. As a wine writer from Houston, Texas, it seemed illogical for me to leave America's biggest wine producing state without first taking the opportunity to taste the new releases, get some information gathering done and see how the 2015 harvest was progressing up in California's premier wine region.

While I've been writing about our adventures in Napa Valley dining here, I have been putting my thoughts on the individual wineries at

We only had two and a half days to tour in Napa and a quick 24 hours in Sonoma County before heading back to San Francisco and home.

Follow along at Napa Harvest Trip 2015 or for the individual stories, click on the links below: 
Beaulieu VineyardsOpus OneMumm NapaZD WinesCorison WineryFranciscan, Matthiasson, Chateau Montelena and Sterling Vineyards

In Sonoma County, we toured and tasted at Quivira Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley and at Rodney Strong Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

All are recommended destinations for winery tours and tastings.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hotel Yountville

Hotel Yountville is a highly recommended hotel in Napa Valley, in addition to its convenient central location, it features large, beautifully furnished rooms with private patios. There are numerous comfortable outdoor lounge areas for the guests to share as well. 

I enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the restaurant, a nice massage at their spa, and a few glasses of the local sparkling at the well stocked bar in the lobby. The pool area looked inviting though it was too chilly during my stay to consider. I also found the on-site staff to be friendly and helpful with my Napa questions throughout my stay. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Old Faithful Geyser of California

This was a perfect spot for us to picnic in Calistoga. While touring wine country, we ate amazing meals out every night but we ate very casually by day. This park had covered picnic areas like pool cabanas set up around the geyser. We were able to relax in the shade in lawn chairs and eat our lunch while waiting for Old Faithful Geyser of California to blow again. 

We had purchased fried chicken sandwiches, potato salad, a gingersnap and two big bottles of water at Oakville Grocery before heading up north. We ate breakfast there, as well, while we waited on our lunch order. You can always count on them for good quality, fast, casual food. We generally like to splurge on dinner on vacations and be more frugal with our breakfast and lunch choices.

We were rehydrating from all the spitting and we were heading towards Healdsburg next, so, we didn't indulge, but beer and wine are allowed in the park as well. The park is set up to accommodate families; amenities include bathrooms, a little museum, bocce ball and goats to pet. It is a quick spot to stop for wine travelers if you don't mind the casual family scene and if you have an interest in the geology of the area.

It is small and simple but the museum gives a mini overview of the area's geology, important in explaining the geyser but also important if you are interested in the terroir of the region. The covered areas are also excellent for wine travelers looking to enjoy a casual picnic while watching nature's show before moving on to the next tasting. Park admission- $12 per person.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Schramsberg Dinner at the Meritage Resort

Hugh Davies and Sandra Crittenden
After spontaneously booking our trip to Napa Valley during Harvest and then seeing the difficulty in getting hotel rooms, I started making dinner reservations as quickly as I could. I also started checking for events. I had been disappointed that I couldn't fit a trip to Schramsberg into our tasting schedule so I was excited to see this paired Schramsberg dinner with winemaker, Hugh Davies at the Meritage Resort. I immediately booked a place at the table.

We arrived promptly at 6:30 to enjoy our first glass of Blanc de Blancs and passed hors d'oeuvre out overlooking the vineyard. We met a nice couple from Chicago before moving down into the Estate Cave for dinner. Mystical mood lighting set the stage for the next glass of sparkling. It created a beautiful ambience but it was not the best lighting for food pictures. I ended up sitting directly across from second generation winemaker, Hugh Davies. 

I was impressed with the quality of food and the service for such a large group. The dinner was much more crowded than I had expected so I felt fortunate to have the seat that I did. Hugh was very excited to introduce the new Davies red wine releases and share the stories of each wine's vintage. It was interesting to learn more about his family and the winery's history as well.  I am looking forward to touring and tasting at Schramsberg on my next trip to Napa Valley. 

The Dinner:
  • 2011 Blanc de Noirs with American Cavier with creme fraiche, English cucumbers, quail egg, crostini 
  • 2013 Davies Pinot Noir "Ferrington Vineyard" with Split Pea and Ham soup with parsley, mint and sea urchin gold
  • 2012 Brut Rose in Valencia Orange & liquid nitrogen Mimosa
  • 2012 Davies Cabernet Sauvignon with roast quail, 40 hour pork belly, apricot, watermelon and arugula
  • 2006 J. Schram with Fromage blanc creme brulee with caramelized honey gelato, granola and warm fresh fruit
This event was $125.00 per person for dinner plus wine pairings.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dinner at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville

After a phenomenal first day of wine tasting in the Napa Valley, along with an array of some excellent local cheese in the late afternoon, we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of not being as hungry as we would have liked when it was time to "get our Bouchon on." 

It was an early reservation and, in spite of the plush surroundings, the restaurant had a bit of a happy hour feel. We decided on the "build your own" cold seafood platter and some of the area's famous sparkling wine to get our evening started. A local couple at the next table struck up a conversation as soon as our order arrived. We had a great time discussing the Napa restaurant scene with them while enjoying our dinner.

Bouchon: Highly recommended- beautiful dining room, excellent service, fresh seafood, a great wine list and friendly locals!

Side Note: We, of course, also enjoyed Thomas Keller's famous boxed fried chicken at Addendum for lunch one day and Bouchon Bakery for coffee and pastries on another (check out this Tastemade at Bouchon Bakery from a previous trip). Both are must-dos when in the Napa Valley.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dinner at Auberge du Soleil

On a recent trip to Napa Valley, my husband and I decided to check out the Michelin-starred restaurant, Auberge du Soleil. In addition to the amazing views that summertime dining on the terrace provides, the menu showcases local ingredients prepared with Mediterranean flair by Chef Robert CurryIt was our first night in town and we had big plans for touring and tasting on the following day. We arrived for an early alfresco dinner at 6:15pm on the covered terrace overlooking the lush resort grounds with the expectation that our multi-course meal would keep us there until sunset.

The dinner options at Auberge feature a choice of either a three course meal for $110 or four courses for $130. You can also add an extra gourmet touch to your dinner with extravagant add-ons like caviar with all the traditional garnishes, fresh truffles to top your entrees or an extra course of cheese for an extra fee. There is a Chef's selection menu with optional wine pairings as well. I ordered the self-chosen three courses and my husband ordered four with the understanding that we would be sharing the dessert. We decided to choose our own wine by the glass instead of getting a bottle.

Before our meal arrived, we were treated to an amuse bouche of the chef's choice, a small shot of garden fresh goodness. Based on our orders and on the occasion, a glass of California bubbles seemed in order, Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs North Coast 2011 sparkling wine was my husband's immediate choice and I agreed. The extensive by-the-glass wine list, overseen by wine director Kris Margerum, features over 40 wines, so, finding an individualized perfect pairing for each course is possible for just about everyone.

For my dinner, I chose the white corn soup with Maine rock crab garnished with chervil oil, it was a decadent bowl of creamy, summer sweetness. My next course was the heirloom tomato risotto with wild gulf shrimp and a bacon yuzu emulsion, also creamy and rich with perfectly cooked shrimp. I enjoyed a different glass of California bubbles with my second course, the Roederer Estate Brut Rosé from Anderson Valley, a non-vintage sparkling blend, my husband did the same. My final official course was the local Liberty Farm duck with apricots served next to an endive salad with Marcona almonds and chamomile. I ordered a glass of the recommended 2011 Siduri "Rosella's" Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot NoirI ate all the salad and shared half of my duck with my husband who ranked it one of the most well-prepared that he had ever had, I also made sure to sample his main course. The portions were generous so it was easy to be, as well. 

My husband opted for the poached Maine lobster with watermelon and cherry tomato with yuzukosho and red mustard for his second course. I was jealous of his choice as soon as it arrived, fortunately, he shared a bite. It was as fresh, light and tasty as the photo in the slideshow below suggests. Next, he enjoyed the sautéed northern halibut with garden beans in a bacon and basil broth. He cleaned the plate in record time and I did not get a taste. For his main course, he selected the bacon wrapped veal served with fried chanterelles and caramelized shallots with a white corn cream sauce. I shared several bites of his veal, it was nicely caramelized on the outside yet tender and prepared to order. He decided to go to Burgundy for his wine for this course and ordered a glass of the 2010 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Bourgogne Rouge. 

Before our shared dessert course arrived, we were each surprised with a simple spoonful of berry goodness, a nice choice by the chef as it differed from our own order of coconut cream with salted almonds, chocolate sorbet and almond praline; the flavor of this dish was reminiscent of an Almond Joy candy bar. I had an espresso while he enjoyed cappuccino.

By the time we were prepared to leave, the sun had set. The panoramic vineyard view was lost under the soft hazy light of the half moon. After a long day of travel, the Auberge had been the perfect place to sit back, relax and be perfectly served while taking in a beautiful view while simply enjoying the fact that we were there. I would highly recommend this restaurant for a romantic evening out in Napa Valley, Excellent service, innovative top quality cuisine in a peaceful atmosphere with expansive views. It is the perfect setting to begin or end any trip in California's premium wine country.