Wine Country - Sonoma and Napa

Traveling and dining in other Arizona cities and beyond
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PHXeater
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6 years ago

First off, I'm so glad I found this site! Seems like a great group and I'm excited to get involved.

I'm heading up to the wine country in a few months for the SO's birthday. Will be staying in Healdsburg 3 nights and skipping SF entirely except for maybe a couple lunches when flying in/out of Oakland. Any and all suggestions welcome, dinners need to be around Healdsburg since we will not wanting to be doing any driving after long days of wine tasting. Lunches open to the rest of Sonoma/Napa. Cyrus will apparently be closed for good already which is a huge disappointment since we'll be staying less than a block away. And is it blasphemy to say I'm kinda not considering The French Laundry?
Last edited by PHXeater 6 months ago, edited 1 time in total.
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uhockey
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6 years ago

No cyrus is a bummer. The city becomes far less interesting for food without Keane and team.

For Oakland, would check out Plum.

Sorry, thats all I got.
themis
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6 years ago

Please say you're staying at the Calderwood. It does not make up for missing Cyrus, though. I loved the Calderwood's nightly port-and-cookies tradition, and the garden with koi pond. Friend of mine was in Healdsburg in late spring, so I'll cut-and-paste my email of recommendations to her:
Restaurants:
Cyrus - in my top five, all time. We walked in at opening and took open seating in the bar area and did the full tasting. They loved our appreciation so much they sent out Calvados as a digestif for us - one of pear and one apple, smoky and crisp. They had been warmed to the perfect temperature and when carried into the room, everyone swiveled and looked at us because the whole room suddenly smelled of a fall apple harvest. Amazing experience. Also, my husband ate natto. :shock:
Restaurant Charcuterie - the dinner menu looks heavy but we stuck with small plates from the specials board. Frankly, I cannot eat a large portion of anything after tasting. Maybe a plate of pasta to soak up the wine belly, but nothing heavier. We liked it so well we ate here twice.
Another option would be to go to the Oakville Grocery and pick up a picnic for the square.

Wineries:
For large and commercial and beautiful: Ferrari Carano. I am sorry, but I never tire of their Fume Blanc. We had trouble getting any attention at all in the tasting rooms, there are several, because they do such volume. I had planned to buy by the case there but changed my mind. The grounds are stupendous, though, with old cork oak trees. Pretty much run like an arboretum.

For large and a good lunch stop while on the wine trail: Rosso Bianco by Coppola. There is an outpost of their Zoetrope pizza place which is duplicated from their Bay Area cafe- very good Napoli style, blistery crust thin enough to shatter, very light smear of San Marzano sauce, but the perfect match to their wine. They were building when we were there, but a big surprise was the cabinet of Oscars in a back corner of the tasting room, kinda hidden. For real, Francis Ford Coppola's Oscars. I don't know, I'd keep them on *my* mantle; not for the riffraff to ogle.

Hanna - they are a bit of a drive but up on a hill with great scenery. Good if there are both red and white drinkers along, as I buy their sauv blanc by the case but they make very well structured cabs, too. Kind of the Joel Gott of Alexander Valley.

Randoms: On the drive out we stopped by the Korbel winery, which is immense, and very historic, and we did their arboretum tour, and got terrific picnic food at their grocery, and then drove to the state park where they filmed the Ewok part of Empire Strikes Back, with the giant redwoods, to eat. It was SURREAL.
Trip photos!
There's a sushi place I really like in Oakland, let me go away and see if I can dig up the reference. Ah, yes: Angel Fish Japanese, seriously four minutes from the airport.
PHXeater
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6 years ago

The lack of Cyrus is a huge bummer. I was basically planning the whole trip around dinner there then I discovered this morning it was closing in October. Especially upsetting because two people who I trust very much put each of their dinners at Cyrus above TFL. At this point though I've done so much research into Healdsburg and am sold on staying there. This trip will be very wine focused though so I'm sure enough drinking will make the pain go away ;)

Not staying at the Calderwood, I got a great rate at the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza so am staying right on the square. I've been to Healdsburg before but on a family vacation in a remote house rental so I wanted to stay right in the middle of it all. The SO has never been wine tasting anywhere before so I think he'll really like the location.
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uhockey
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6 years ago

...I don't trust anyone who puts Cyrus above TFL. They are lying. :-)
PHXeater
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6 years ago

uhockey wrote:...I don't trust anyone who puts Cyrus above TFL. They are lying. :-)

Ha, well maybe they are. Maybe it was based on overall experience or they disliked the hassle of reservations at TFL. Who knows. But are you saying I need to make it to TFL? After going to Robuchon in Vegas this June it seems excessive but I know I probably "should".
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uhockey
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6 years ago

I'm saying that if I had 10 meals in the State of California and they all had to be different places Cyrus would not crack my top 10 while TFL would be #1.

TFL: http://endoedibles.com/?p=89
cyrus: http://endoedibles.com/?p=586
sinosoul
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6 years ago

I've always made the CIA/Greystone a must-stop every time I'm in Napa Valley. Sit at the bar, order some "temptations", have a few glasses of wine, watch the students get their asses kicked by the line, and be glad you never wanted to be a "chef" in a Western restaurant.

Anywho, Oakland lunches:
Pho Ga Huong Que is so very solid. Pho ga isn't as popular as Pho bo in America, but it is actually more common, nation wide, in Vietnam, than pho bo due to cost of beef.

Alternatively, Hawker Fare is super "hip" right now (as is Bakesale Betty), but I'd much rather do a mini banh mi comparo between Cam Huong and BC Deli . If you do go to Bakesale Betty, do NOT miss the sign-less Scream Sorbet right next door. Their nut-base Pacojetted vegan sorbets are textural wonderments.

I've had consistently good meals at Adesso, and they're open during lunch. Do the bar, watch them slice their house-cured salamis and if you beg like a dog with your eyes, they'll give a taster ala Katz.

Plum isn't open for lunch.
PHXeater
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6 years ago

I GOT A FRENCH LAUNDRY RESERVATION!!

Too much with the all caps?? :D . After 3 days of dialing nonstop on my cell and VoIP line I secured a reservation for my trip. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go or spend the money ($500+ dinners aren't the norm for me) but I figured I'd try my best for a reservation and then decide. But after all this work and the adrenaline rush I have from getting through I feel like I really should go. This would also mean changing the winery itinerary and hotels for one night. Decisions, decisions!

edit: I was also a complete blubbering idiot from finally getting through, it's like I was in shock. I kept telling the reservation girl "this is so exciting!" over and over again. And I misspelled my name twice. She was really sweet though, just gently laughing with me and saying she loved when people were excited.
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uhockey
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6 years ago

Go. It is worth it. And if you can afford it, do the extended tasting.
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

You've gotta go. It's fabulous. And even more than that, it's a real piece of culinary history.

Congrats :-)
Dominic Armato
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Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
PHXeater
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6 years ago

Yeah...who was I kidding? We're going to go - we both looked at each other after discussing it for 10 minutes and decided to drop the facade of us pretending we might not go. We just decided that the rest of our meals will be cheap - picnic lunches, casual dinner at the brewery in Healdsburg for instance rather than the few $200 dinners we had planned (at places we weren't that excited about anyways). I also noticed that the $270 each also includes gratuity which makes it a tiny bit more manageable.

For wine we're also planning on going in with a $150-200 budget for the sommelier for the two of us and having him just choose glasses/half bottles from that. I figure at a place like TFL that approach shouldn't be a problem. If we stick with that from my calculations we should come in around $800 which is still an absolutely crazy number for two 25 year olds but we figure we should live it up while we have a cheap condo mortgage and no kids.

Uhockey - on their website they only have two 9 course options - one Chef's Tasting, and one Veggie Tasting. I saw on your blog that you requested a custom, extended menu - would you mind sharing how much that was (or message me?). It's not out of the realm of possibility but I'm guessing it wouldn't be within budget either.
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uhockey
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6 years ago

At both Keller 3*s all you need to do is call and inquire about doing the extended tasting. Because they do not turn tables the only way they say no is if there is already another large table/party doing it. They ask for allergies/restrictions and it goes from there. The cost when I went was $500 inclusive of service and glass of champagne. IMO, knowing what the 9 course option looks like at $270 and what the 20-25 course extended looks like at $500 it is a no brainer, but ymmv.
PHXeater
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6 years ago

Are you all ready for this? I'm doubting few will read this whole thing but hopefully will help others in the future. I had to leave many details out so this wasn't a complete novel but am open to answering any questions.

Our main goal on this trip was wine, not as much food (was the +1's birthday and I'm more of the foodie).

Friday

Breakfast/Lunch at Taqueria las Palmas – nothing to write home about but we wanted something quick and easy after a 5am wakeup call. I got the Huevos Rancheros but were tasty but 2 of the 4 eggs were completely cooked through. Nice people though and easy stop off the freeway

Wineries:
-Siduri & Novy – true warehouse winery with grapes sourced from all over, mostly California. Free tasting and really nice guy pouring, generous pours.. All pinot’s are under Siduri label, everything else under Novy. We picked up a Syrah that should be good in a few years but far too young right now for around $35.
-Mazzocco – Known for their Zin’s it was a polished tasting room but another small distributor. Actually had a decent cab for $54 but we went with a tasty, inexpensive zin at $26.
-*Zichichi* They only do barrel tastings as they only do futures. They only offer a zin, old vine zin, and a petite sirah (at least for 2012 vintage) and we ended up ordering a half case to be delivered next March, two old vine, 4 petite sirah. Super friendly little tasting room off Dry Creek Rd. but was impressed by this small operation and how developed the wines already were a few months after barreling.
- Papapietro Perry – Really tasty pinot noir’s here and in a complex with about 15 other small producers. Pinot’s were pricey (of course!) but we picked up one bottle for around $55.

Dinner – Willi’s Seafood and Raw bar – at this point starving after our 10:30am breakfast we headed here around 5:30 pm and sat right at the raw bar to eat. Overall here I wasn’t blown away for $130 but enjoyed the meal – I thought some of the dishes we got were heavy handed with saucing when the fish should have been able to shine.
- In particular I was disappointed with the Ahi with cucumber, avocado (more of a guacamole) and truffled soy. I love all those ingredients but the Ahi was basically drowned in soy and the guacamole was very heavily seasoned.
- Lobster roll and crab cakes were simple, fresh, and delicious. Oysters I got a variety of but can’t recall which, were very good though.
-Caramelized brussel sprouts, linguica, apples, blue cheese, sage brown butter – most disappointing dish of the night. I specifically asked the server how strong of a blue cheese it was, how much was on it, etc. He reassured me it was very subtle. It was the opposite of subtle – tons of very pungent blue cheese, to the point where the other flavors were drowned out.
-Uni “mac and cheese” with bay scallops – really great, I’m loving the pasta/uni combination trend that has been happening recently.
- Caramelized butterfish with miso vinaigrette & exotic mushrooms – butterfish was perfectly cooked and tasy. Miso broth was overly seasoned however – again the issue of overwhelming great seafood with unnecessary sauces.

Saturday:

Best Western breakfast – enough said.

Wineries. This day was crazy – there was nobody at any wineries so we were in and out of a ton of wineries within 20-30 minutes:
-Littorai – had a tour here that was very informative but the group with us was a little high brow. We purchased a pinot from here but none of their single vineyards as they were all $65 and up and a little too delicate for us. Fee was $30/each from the tour and not waived with purchase of a bottle
-Merry Edwards – quick tasting here, love her stuff and we left with 2 different single vineyard pinot’s, both in the low $50’s. Free tasting
-Dutton goldfield – rec from our driver. We picked up a drinkable syrah from here because fee was waived with purchase but nothing exciting. We did eat lunch here and enjoy sunny weather.
*Harvest Moon* – another rec from our driver and a really fun little zin place. We picked up their “Randy” zin in the mid 20’s after splitting a tasting here (was getting tipsy already). Loved the vibe here after getting a taste from probably every employee working. Would definitely come back to try more
*Joseph Swan* - laidback place with only a few thousand cases a year and 2 total employees other than summertime field workers. Tasting right with the barrels, no frills. Had a variety of varietals here all of which were very reasonably priced. Wines weren’t the best but for the prices they were an amazing value. We picked up a bottle of pinot in the high 20’s that was definitely very drinkable.
Porter Creek – another no frills place with one worker behind the bar. Didn’t learn a lot about the winery here because there were 4 other couples in there at the same time so the worker was busy. The +1 picked up a $65 bottle of single vineyard pinot here that I thought was good but was worried about our wine bill at this point!
Matrix – another rec from our driver. We and the two tasting room employees were the only people here and this was another small producer. Honestly at this point things were getting fuzzy but we purchased a pinot and the grounds were beautiful. Matrix and Mazzocco were somehow related along with a few other small wineries but I’m not sure exactly how.
-Seghesio – Last stop of the day by the hotel. Completely unnecessary but we had to pay the driver for 6 hours regardless so he suggested this place. We picked up a bottle of their 2009 Venom (sangiovese). Hopefully it’s good because my palate was totally shot at this point.

• Lunch: Willow Wood: great little lunch spot in the Russian River area. Perfect to pick up sandwiches from. My turkey + swiss with mustard and apples was surprisingly good. As was the +1’s hanger steak sandwich

• Dinner: Round Table Pizza. Yup, we’re glamorous like that and after an 8 winery day we didn’t want to make fools of ourselves somewhere nice.

Sunday:

• Somehow we felt ok waking up in the morning – our 7pm bedtime probably helped :D
• Best Western breakfast again. Just as mediocre as Saturday

• Wineries:

-Unti – one last stop in Sonoma County. They were really friendly as we were first of the day. I still had major palate fatigue but we picked up a Montepulciano and a Grenache. Both priced in the 20’s. Another reasonably priced spot for those who can’t afford a ton of Napa cabs.
-Lava Wine – somewhere right outside of Calistoga our driver from Saturday had recommended. Wasn’t super impressed with the cabs but the two guys working were great, had bread, in house made olive oil, little snacks, etc. to try. We got a great red blend for $26 or so and an awesome Petite Verdot for $60ish.
-Von Strasser - favorite of the trip! At the base of Diamond Mountain right outside Calistoga in Napa this was a favorite. We called in the morning and scheduled a 1pm appointment. Tasting fee was $20/each and waived with purchase of 3 bottles but ours got waived with purchase of 2 bottles. This was probably the best tasting of the trip. When we pulled up the owner/winemaker Rudy Von Strasser pulled up too and let us into the tasting room since the girl who did our tasting was still finishing up another in the caves. It was cool to chat with him briefly and he was super modest when starting us with our tasting since, as he said, it’s not really his main job . The tasting otherwise was done in the caves, just the two of us and our guide. She was really cool, again laidback, and for wines of this caliber I was super impressed by the vibe of our guide but the quality of the wines. We left with the $80 Spaulding Cab which my boyfriend threatened he would basically kill someone if they drank out of our wine fridge and a multi-vineyard Cab for $45. Joining the wine club is being seriously considered.
Jessup Cellars – near our B&B in Yountville. I’d pass on it, nice guy in tasting room though, not pretentious.

Lunch: Brennan’s BBQ: Just a little hole in the wall we stopped at. Tasty tri-tip.

Dinner: The French Laundry
- Not sure where to start on this. Of course everything was flawless – except for the complaining couple behind us and the drunk party of 6 to the side of us. I don’t know if my expectations were too high but I wasn’t blown away. Oysters and Pearls signature dish was amazing. Black Truffle parmesan risotto was of course amazing (at a $75 supplement). But I wouldn’t say it was the best meal of my life – which at $900 out the door you really want it to be. I’ve had two insanely expensive meals in my life: Joel Rubochon and here. JR beat TFL for me easily. Less courses but for me a lot more “wows”.

Monday:
Not much to add here except we were completely exhausted. Made one stop at Karl Lawrence which is basically in a tiny house in St. Helena and they are solely producers. They are dissolving this year and 2010 was their last release but we still enjoyed our tasting. We got a 2004 Cab from their library at $54 that we’re hoping will be great as well as two 350 ml’s of their 2008.

Overall we had a great trip. I’ll be paying off credit card debt for at least the next 6 months so Foodnik Friday’s might be my only dining out until July! If you read this whole thing, I’m impressed!
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Lunchbox
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6 years ago

Awesome write up Liz! I did read the whole thing... :D I'm going to have to seek out some of that Von Strasser...
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

PHXeater wrote:Are you all ready for this? I'm doubting few will read this whole thing...
Are you kidding me? This is awesome. The more posts like this, the better :-)

I'm so, so bummed that the French Laundry didn't leave you giddy. It is, indeed, tough to drop that kind of coin on a meal that comes up anything short of spectacular. I'd certainly love to hear more about the meal if you feel up to it at some point.
Dominic Armato
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Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
PHXeater
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6 years ago

I'd definitely be up to talking more about the French Laundry. I'm still kind of reflecting on the meal which is why I didn't write too much. Plus it's definitely one of those places that deserves its own post and not to get buried in my long, novel of a trip report. I have the menu in a bag somewhere and will try to scan and upload soon!
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MyLifeOnVacatio
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6 years ago

Fabulous write up. Looking forward to more on your dinner at TFL. I like how you guys travel...and shop for wine. 9-)
PHXeater
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6 years ago

Realized after talking with Themis and Scott last night that I never uploaded this.

So this is hard to write, but I should expand slightly on my review from my whole trip post. We weren't blown away by our meal. It didn't feel "special". Everything was obviously perfectly executed but not one dish do I think "OMG I wish I could have that every day for the next 6 months". I realize this isn't very specific but compared to our experience at Joel Robuchon in Vegas last year where we had a ton of memorable dishes and left feeling like the food and experience was absolutely exquisite we left here just not impressed (considering the price - at a much lower price point this meal would have been great). Our server was very nice and warmed up to us/stopped being so stiff about halfway through the meal but we had a 2 top and 6 top on each side that were both very obnoxious which didn't help. We also might have been worn out after 3 days of wine tasting and just had total palate fatigue.

The dishes I mentioned - Keller's well known "Oysters and Pearls" and the black truffle parmesan crab risotto were both the favorites. But the risotto being one of my favorites was almost frustrating because what esteemed restaurant can't make an amazing risotto with quality ingredients and a good chef, you know? And the Oysters and Pearls have (from what I understand) been on Keller's menus for years and years so he's had plenty of time to perfect it.

My boyfriend and I also discussed afterwards that maybe we're just not prix fixe people - at JR we got a lot more options. At FL we never would have ordered (despite the fancy name) chicken with green beans, potatoes, and shallots. Although it was the best cooked chicken of my life it's just like eh...I guess maybe I just wanted a more inventive menu or flavors that really struck me as a WOW, I can't believe that worked/I've never tasted anything like that. Also, I was really missing JR's cheese cart which I completely dominated when we went there- no better term for how much cheese I ate.

Anyways, here's the menu, I apologize for the poor quality, the boyfriend has already been yelled at for not taking it out of his suitcase for 3 months :roll: :)
TFL Menu.jpg
$270 each, service included.
TFL Menu.jpg (50.07 KiB) Viewed 3194 times
PHXeater
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6 months ago

I'm returning to the happiest place on Earth, aka Wine Country. In the 6 years ( :shock: ) since I posted this I've been back once more and now we're returning for our first post-baby vacation!! We are definitely returning to a few favorites from my write-up: Merry Edwards, Papapietro Perry, and Zichichi. We also will be going to another favorite from our last trip - VML. And many more TBD!

Taking any and all winery and restaurant favorites - we are staying in St. Helena (Napa county) for two nights and Santa Rosa (Sonoma county) for another night. Also, for any wine country fans, American now has a nonstop into Santa Rosa that is awesome! The cutest, tiniest airport where the rental cars are a "step outside, turn to the left, and walk 10 feet" sort of setup.
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