July 16, 2009

Napa Picnic

Sometimes the best days are filled with spontaneity. Our Saturday adventure started at noon and with no plans. We decided to drive north and head up into Napa Valley.

My husband had wanted to the visit wineries from the movie Bottle Shock since we saw the movie on our flight home from Hong Kong. So, we began at the at the top of the Napa Valley at Chateau Montelena. Our late morning departure and the inevitable California traffic we arrived just after three in the afternoon.

Chateau Montelena is a beautiful building tucked away in the woods north of Calistoga. While the winery has thrived and profited from its reputation over the years, it has definitely seen a boost in visitors and customers since the release of the movie! We were joined by visitors and customers from around the globe.

Before leaving Calistoga we stopped at Summers Winery. This is a small, quiet winery less than a mile down the road. Situated in an unassuming house with a bocce ball court in the backyard, this winery lacked, in a very good way, the crowds of our previous stop. In addition, they sell very good wine at very reasonable prices!

Next we drove south to visit the Oxbow area of the town of Napa. This is a recently undergone gentrification and is now home to a new marketplace and shops. One of the shops is GustavoThrace, a boutique winery also associated with the movie.

We ended the day with dinner at Oxbow Public Market. The market has a great selection of food vendors! We decided on arepas and empanadas from Pica Pica Maize Kitchen. We took the food out on the deck at the back of the market and had a relaxing dinner watching the sunset! It was great. The food and setting were fantastic! Also, Oxbow Wine Merchant will provide corkage and glasses for any bottle of wine and has excellent desserts! This market is a perfect spot for a relaxing picnic dinner in Napa!

July 13, 2009

A Different Side of Napa

When you think of Napa Valley and California wine country, these are the types of images that normally come to mind.

Vineyards at Far Niente in Oakville, Napa Valley, California

Grapes at Silver Oak Cellars property in Oakville, Napa Valley, California

But, there is another side of Napa valley, places where workers live and play.

Community soccer field in St Helena, Napa Valley, California

July 10, 2009

Hong Kong Classified!

This week I took a brief trip to Hong Kong for work. Leaving San Francisco just after midnight I arrived in Hong Kong at six in the morning a day and half later by calendar. The usually bustling airport was still, as if taking a breath to prepare for the next onslaught of passengers. I retrieved my luggage and boarded the Airport Express train. Again, the train ride was remarkably quiet with only a couple other passengers joining me for the journey.

Later in the afternoon, after a brief nap at my hotel, I ventured out into the streets. The early morning calm was gone and bustling swarms of people I remember from my previous trip to Hong Kong filled the streets and sidewalks. The vibrant energy of the city crept into me and helped push the cobwebs of travel and jet lag away. It was good to be back in Asia!

While the majority of my trip was dedicated to work and meetings, I did have a small amount of time to visit a friend and explore new places in Hong Kong. One of these new places was the Classified Cheese Room on Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan. The small, hip cafe is home to Hong Kong's first temperature controlled cheese room and serves an outstanding variety of cheese and wine from around the world. We sat down at a small table just inside the door and began perusing the cheese menu, a several page document with cheeses from Corsica, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, France, Neil's Yard Dairy in the UK, and others. For those of us that love cheese, it is a tempting array to choose from! After deciding on several cheeses from different places around the world, we turned out attention to the large chalk board which lists the wines Classified serves. This list is shorter than the cheese menu, but excellent and well balanced. After making our decisions, we got to dig in and taste our selections! Very tasty!

A new pastry I got to try on this trip to Hong Kong was Portuguese egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery. The tarts have very flakey crust with a sweet, eggy custard – excellent!

Other good places I got to eat at on this trip were Pure Veggie House, Isola bar + grill, the Clipper Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental, and the Lounge at the IFC Four Seasons Hotel. All of these were very good, but my favorite was definitely the Classified Cheese Room!

Thanks to my friend Matt for braving the summer heat, being an excellent tour guide, and helping me find the best food!

The Classified Cheese Room
will definitely be on my itinerary for future trips to Hong Kong!

July 6, 2009

Catching the Perfect Meal

About a year ago the long time San Francisco restaurant Fly Trap was purchased by Hoss Zaré and transformed into Zaré at Fly Trap. The new changes and cuisine were met with rave reviews and since that time it has been in the back of my mind to go and check it out.

This week I am flying to Hong Kong for a business trip, so before heading to the airport I decided to have dinner with my husband, Jonathan, at Zaré at Fly Trap. To enter the restaurant, you walk into a small alleyway patio filled with plants and flowers. Once inside the dining room we received a warm welcome and were led to a table by the window. The dining room is elegant, without being stuffy. It was six thirty in the evening when we arrived and the dining room was just beginning to fill up – an hour later the majority of the seats in the main dining room were filled with cheerful patrons.
The menu is Persian and everything sounded delicious. And this is a great place for vegetarians! In addition to several non-meat dishes on the regular menu, when requested the waiter will bring a vegetarian menu with more delectable sounding choices. I chose the vegetarian kufteh – basically a “meatball” made of beans, mushrooms, dried fruit, garlic, and many other yummy ingredients served on a seven spice emulsion with mediterranean avocado salsa. It was rich and fabulous! Jonathan ordered the bone marrow and the filet mignon, both of which he enjoyed immensely. I also had a side of yummy french fries with saffron aioli. To end the meal we had mint tea and yogurt panna cotta with honey.

The entire meal with perfect! The food was rich and flavorful and the service was excellent. Chef Zaré assisted the waiters delivering food to diners and checked to see that each of his guests were enjoying the meal. Zaré at Fly Trap is now a new favorite dinner spot for me! I am cannot wait to go again soon!

July 5, 2009

My Favorites Around the City – San Francisco Part Three

For me summer is a time to go out and enjoy the city parks and cafes and stroll the sidewalks. While the first day of summer arrived a few weeks ago, summer weather made its debut in San Francisco this past weekend. So, I thought it was a good time to share more of my favorite places in this city.

One of the great, albeit slightly touristy, neighborhoods to walk around in the summer is the Italian district of North Beach. Tucked away, around the corner from the pastry shops selling cappuccinos, pizza, and cannoli is a small restaurant called Il Luna Basque. The bustling cafe has a warm atmosphere and tasty tapas. They serve many classic tapas dishes – cheese and ham plates, Spanish tortillas, and other tasty things. At my last visit I tried the brie and pears cooked in wine. The sweet pears, goooy brie, crunchy walnuts were fantastic! It's a great dish to eat with bread on a chilly evening!

A mile or two away from North Beach is an enclave of cafes and restaurants on Polk Street. Right north of the oft seedy Tenderloin district this is not a place tourists might happen upon by chance, but there are lots of excellent places where locals eat, relax, and enjoy time with family or friends.

One of my favorite restaurants on Polk Street is Mykonos, a small, family run Greek cafe serving simple, fresh food. The atmosphere is warm and homey with red checkered table clothes and friendly staff. They serve good hummus, falafel, salad, dolmas, and wine.

A few blocks down the street is Amelie. A fairly recent addition to the neighborhood, Amelie is cute and cozy cafe serving excellent French food and wine. The wine list is extensive and very reasonably priced. The food menu is a little more simple, but does have a good variety of cheeses. The atmosphere is relaxed and cool. It's a great place to enjoy a glass of wine, snack on some cheese, watch people, and relax with family or friends!