Showing posts with label Bay Area Day Trips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bay Area Day Trips. Show all posts

Bits and Bites from the Corkscrew Cafe

Monterey and Carmel are classic getaway spots here in the Bay Area and it's easy to see why.  With views of the ocean peering out from between the many tourist spots you don't need to veer far from the basic footpath to enjoy your stay.  But you will be rewarded if you take a detour and see what the
rest of Carmel Valley has to offer.

For me, I love the area off West Carmel Valley Road with its less-hurried wineries, cafes and shops all tucked away in what feels like a secret hideaway.  Some of my favorite afternoons have been spent lingering over a late lunch with the golden glow of summer sun peeking through the trees.

Am I a bit of a romantic?  Maybe, although being recently single may be prompting such a feeling. But truly, if you want a path-less-travelled feeling, do check it out.

Corkscrew Cafe
55 West Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley CA  93921

The goat cheese, garlic and bread sampler is beautiful to look at and wonderful to nibble on!

Santa Cruz Cuisine - Lillian's, Gayle's

A recent spate of sunny weather spurred a weekend stay in Santa Cruz and some time at the beach.  With the sun setting we turned our focus to dinner and how best to answer the usual questions:  "What should we eat?" and "Where should we go?"

Turns out we didn't have to go far before we came across Lillian's, a family-style Italian restaurant where reservations are scarce,  the atmosphere is cozy, the service is attentive and the food is simply killer.  Don't miss the Sunday gravy and meatballs or you will experience food envy!

1116 Soquel Ave
Santa Cruz CA  95062

Italian food served up in a comfortable, casual setting.  Attentive, authentic service from the family-owned personnel.  Specialties:
  • Sunday gravy - tomato base meat sauce simmered slow with beef, pork, Italian sausage and spare ribs.  Your choice of penne, spaghetti, fettucine or polenta.  Don't forget the meatballs. Yum.
  • Black truffle stuffed gnocchi with white wine pesto cream sauce.

Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Avenue
Capitola CA  95010

The glass display at Gayle's contains a bevvy of eye-catching pastries and cakes which beckon and confuse as you try make a decision.  In the end breakfast burritos and cookies won out and we happily started the day on a high.

Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA

There are many great dining choices in Napa but Bistro Don Giovanni always tops my list of favorites.    The setting is comfortable, whether you're sitting on the patio dining al fresco or seated inside by the fireplace on a drizzly day.   While the setting is key to the overall experience the food is definitely the star of the show; a blend of local flavor and Italian flair served up by the expert staff.

The only problem I have with Bistro Don Giovanni is that there are SO MANY choices and I like them all!  From pasta to fish and the starters it's hard to narrow my meal to just a few items.  This time we focused on the basics: a perfectly cooked burger, fig pizza with blue cheese (amazing flavor) carpaccio and a rich decedant chocolate mousse.  All basic but nothing bland!

The fig and blue pizza starter is absolutely divine!

Carpaccio done well

Chocolate mousse and biscotti
Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Ln  Napa, CA 94558
(707) 224-3300

West of Pecos, San Francisco

With items like pulled pork and corn on the cobb it's hard to go wrong at West of Pecos.  The easy going vibe and killer food at this Mission eatery really make this a sure thing (for me anyway.)

We were in the mood for a good lunch and West of Pecos definitely delivered once we finalized our order.  The menu includes so many interesting options it was difficult to choose just a few (we didn't) and the final spread took up the entire table (I know this is probably not a surprise!)

Although we didn't finish one item - the cornbread which my dining companion took home - I did manage to eat my way through most of the corn, both artichoke pieces filled with crab and shrimp plus the salad and toast gracing the plate.  Yes, I was stuffed.  But oh-so-happy on the way home!

West of Pecos
550 Valencis St 
San Francisco, CA 94110
 (415) 252-7000

Grilled corn with a sweet, savory sauce.  Sticky but well worth the mess!

Crab AND shrimp stuffed artichokes.  And the green salad in the middle? Really, really great.

Margarita with a spicy kick. 

Cornbread at its finest.  Yum.

Miette, macarons and more in Hayes Valley, SF

Hayes Valley is a very walkable, enjoyable neighborhood perfect for window-shopping and lunching.  Pair it with a Saturday morning and your favorite friends and you've got a fun way to play tourist in San Francisco.

First things first; if you arrive at a decent hour parking isn't too hard to find.  Both times I recently visited parking was no problem and the meters now accept credit cards.  Somehow paying $4 on your credit seems more palatable than plugging $2 worth of quarters into the old-school machines. 

Next, there are a few "must stops" on my local tour:  La Boulangerie (yes, the bakery now owned by Starbucks) and Miette.  The first offers up delicious almond croissants and turnovers - love the lemon - and Miette has enough sugar to make my dentist wince.  It's eye-candy at it's finest and a great start to the day for me.

449 Octavia St
San Francisco
(415) 626-6221

Miette treats:  delightful!
In addition to the bakeries mentioned I love some of the 
fashionable boutiques such as Azalea  (clothing for men and
women) and Azil (great jewelry at affordable prices).  Also, do
stop by the heavenly-scented bath/home furnishing store "Nancy Boy" to check out the unique items on hand.

There is so much to see in Hayes Valley.  Hopefully this will
motivate you to create your own visit to this urban playground
where you'll find many fine things tasty and fashionable.

Azalea Boutique
411 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 861-9888

398 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 551-1590

Azil Boutique
451 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 552-2335

Stylish jewelry at affordable prices!

Nancy Boy
347 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 552-3636

Chantal Guillon
437 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 864-2400

Macarons on display at Chantal Guillon

La Boulange almond croissants.  On my list of faves.

Easy, breezy weekend getaway to Carmel and Monterey

We liked our first trip to Monterey so much we headed back for another weekend getaway.  It's no surprise this area is a very popular destination for tourists both near and far with something for just about everyone within arms reach.

This time we stayed in Monterey but spent our first day in Carmel meandering down Ocean Ave looking at all the shops.  We wandered into Il Fornaio which is tucked away off the street and opens up into a large comfortable atrium-covered dining area.  Here you can order a tasty margarita pizza - enough for two - with the usual toppings (cheese + tomato sauce) and a delightfully thin crust for about $7.50.   Add a cookie and coffee for the perfect midday meal.

Lodging this time was Casa Munras on, you guessed it, Munras Avenue.  The hotel is well-located and well-priced with most restaurants a few minutes walking distance.  Also within close proximity is the pedestrian-friendly foot path which winds past Cannery Row down to the Aquarium for a leisurely way to see the sights.

For breakfast try the Old Monterey Cafe located on Alvarado Street.   You might have a bit of a wait but the breakfast burritos and Belgian waffles are worth it!

Finally, we returned to Montrio Bistro where we ordered family style:  bacon-wrapped prawns, spinach salad and a sirloin steak accompanied by mashed potatoes.  All fairly standard but well done and served by the ever-friendly, knowledgeable staff.  The dessert - bread pudding - is simply a must-have!

The bread pudding with passion fruit ice cream at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  Amazing!

A view from Monterey, Big Sur

It was a nice way to cap the year: a quick trip to Monterey and Big Sur complete with a sprinkling of sun to set off the scenery and provide a backdrop for last-minute resolutions.  Mine definitely included getting away more often given the proximity to such beautiful natural eye-candy!
Speaking of eye-candy the Portola Inn, located on Monterey Bay, boasts a fair amount of well-appointed decor put together by someone with an eye for fabulous spaces.  The reason I mention this is that all the details come together to create a sophisticated yet welcoming atmosphere where you instantly want to kick back and relax.  "Why go out all night when we can hang out in such a room?"  was the question I asked immediately.
Of course we did manage to get motivated to leave when our appetites beckoned.  We ambled down the street to Montrio recommended by the hotel staff and found a small table in the very crowded restaurant. We sampled the luscious lobster mac n cheese, a bistro steak (with truffle fries - wow!) and a sweet creamy bread pudding served alongside passionfruit ice cream.  A nice find indeed.
The next day we saw the line for breakfast at Rosine's snaked out the door requiring us to keep our patience in check and go with the crowd.  The food was good, with large generous portions that could have fed 3-4 per plate (I am serious about this.)  When reading about the history of Rosine's this seems to be part of their "claim to fame" (in Monterey at least!) and it seems like something that resonates with customers.  For me personally I always feel guilty leaving so much food on the plate and eating it all was definitely out of the question.
Our last stop of the day was Nepenthe (Big Sur) where we sipped hot spiced cider against the backdrop of the Pacific.  The chill in the air was tempered by the welcome winter sun and I couldn't help but make a mental note to visit again during summer (although the crowds would probably be more visible.)
Overall, rather than looking forward to the new year I took a moment to catch my breath and count my blessings which are beyond measure.  And with that, we were on the road home again to get ready to ring in the new year.
Holiday decor in Monterey Bay

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Barn Diva, Catelli's, Russian River Brewing Co in Healdsburg

No matter how many times I visit Healdsburg there's one thing that always stands out:  great food, and lots of it.

First stop, Barn Diva for a fantastic lunch of salad, fries and quiche.  Of course the salad wasn't just any salad, it was chock full of avocado, blue cheese, beets, shaved carrots and crunchy croutons married with a creamy tarragon dressing.  Add a side of fries - which are really more of a cross between a chip and a fry - to go with the rich quiche and you are ready to hit the winery trail.

The quiche at Barn Diva, Healdsburg
Our one and only winery visit this trip was Schlumberger (an old favorite) where reservations are recommended and a seat beside the lovely, relaxing fountain in the courtyard a must.  We took this opportunity to listen to the hypnotic symphony of water trickling and wine glasses clinking in the warm, embracing late-season sun.
After a check-in at the hotel and a power nap we headed out to the Russian River Brewing Co in Santa Rosa.  I'll admit, beer isn't my first love but the sampler seemed necesssary. We tried all the samples with mixed reviews:  I liked the sour versions (Supplication, Temptation and Consecration) and my companion liked the Redemption or the blondes (what a surprise.)

All that wine and beer tasting created quite the appetite so we headed to Catelli's in Geyserville.  Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (or Triple D) you SHOULD  believe the hype: amazing 12-layer lasagna , homemade ravioli (in two sauces) are just a few of the dishes to die for.  Oh, and the bread which feels like a course on it's own.  Hint:  if you order the lasagna it arrives with two large pieces of very garlicky, buttery bread. 

The best of all worlds: meat ravioli with butter sauce and cheese ravioli paired with the spicy tomato.  Heaven!
Once the plates arrived I asked my dinner companion if he wanted a taste of my ravioli (which of course he did.)  Asked the same question about his lasagne I hesitated oh-so-briefly to which I was told "take some now before it's gone".  Although a nano-second to me, the lasagne quickly disappeared and I made a mental note to visit Healdsburg - and Catelli's again soon.   

Beautiful blooms at Filoli Gardens, San Carlos CA

I've seen the signs for Filoli Gardens many, many times while on CaƱada Road in San Carlos CA but never stopped. A recent visit from my mother prompted me to plan a day at Filoli because it met the pre-requisites:  interesting (the history), outdoorsy and within proximity to good food (there is a nice cafe on the premises!)

Welcoming you to the gardens
Filoli is, quite simply, stunning.  The grounds are impeccable, the flowers are varied and the roses definitely worth stopping to smell.  It's really pretty amazing to look at the estate and then imagine the family and era that gave rise to this legacy. 

So many flowers!
Although the photos don't really do justice to the beautiful blooms and landscape, hopefully these will inspire you to plan a visit to Filoli and take in all it has to offer.

Outstanding in the field 2012

Over the hills and past the wind turbines of Vasco, the road I travelled led me to Brentwood CA in the East Bay. Once past all the traffic jammed on 580 I breathed a sigh of relief and some fresh country air before nabbing my seat (and the many excellent appetizers) at this year's Outstanding in the Field event hosted by Knoll Farm.

If you've never heard of it, Outstanding in the Field an organization dedicated to fostering greater connection with the land and those who nurture the food grown on that land.  After a short intro by the OITF founder and an overview of the farm from Rick Knoll we were seated at a long table right in the orchard with the setting sun. 

An amazing setting for a fine dinner
The dinner we were treated to was vegetarian and all dishes were prepared onsite by local chef Leif Hedendal.  With most ingredients just-picked and wine flowing the dinner courses moved along as easily as the conversation with our table mates.  I have to say that this is an event where the animated guests almost compete with the star(s) of the show - the super-fresh food - because everyone has a passion for food and an opinion about favorite places to indulge that passion.

A menu fit for vegetarians and those who just love food!
With the sun almost set and a chill in the air I began to walk out of the orchard and back to my car.  The host - Rick - walked with our group and chatted about the farm, food and Brentwood.  He too seemed as passionate about the food he grows and the land we were standing on. 

As we talked I thought about the fact that we should give more importance to people like him, people responsible for feeding us and ensuring our food basket is healthy and sustainable and the land is productive for generations to come.   With that revelation I gave a hearty thanks to Rick -and ALL farmers - then pulled out onto the busy country road for the trek home.

Starter plants patiently waiting in the summer sun

Knoll Farm, Brentwood CA
Outstanding in the Field

Bay Area Day Trips; Carmel and St. George Distillery in Alameda

Quick getaways are in abundance in the Bay Area and with a 3 day weekend on the horizon it's never too late for spontaneity.  Here are two for those 21 and way older!

Carmel Valley Road

Right off Cabrillo highway and studded with wineries, shops and restaurants the Carmel Valley Village area is a fun place to while away the afternoon.

Stop for lunch at the Corkscrew Cafe for wood-fired pizza or a grilled Portobello sandwich. Then pick yourself up with a wine flight (or tasting, as they like to call it!) at Georis which is conveniently located a few doors down. The serene setting will make you want to sit out the rest of the afternoon under the big tree in the center. But if you're motivated move along, there's still plenty to see in the vicinity or within a short drive.


We opted for a short drive to Chateau Julien which was closed to the public for a private party. No matter. The beautifully manicured grounds make for a nice photo opportunity (as noted by the other person also loaded down with big camera and large lens!)

Chateau Julien

The next day we were on tap to meet friends for my favorite - dim sum - in Alameda. If you've never been (and live close) East Ocean is not to be missed. With the usual din of loud dishes and people plus good food passing by in a steady stream - you can't help but feel more prepared for the day after a visit. I joked that I could sit there all day and order another round of food at which point my friends seemed stunned into silence!

Shiny clean machines

Many barrels of fun!

St. George Spirits (down the road from Rosenblum winery) is located on the now defunct Alameda base. Although I admit I don't love spirits - unless doused with a heavy amount of sugar - I do love seeing how things are made (find it fascinating!) A tour of the hanger along with explanation of the distilling process (15 pounds of bartlett pears for one bottle of eau de vie) is definitely worth the trek to Alameda. And if you are NOT the DD, you can taste a variety of spirits made on the premises.

Finally, it's noteworthy to add that the tasting room has an unobstructed view of San Francisco. As you are mulling over "how DID 15 pounds of fruit end up in a rather slim bottle of eau de vie?" a quick glance at the amazing city view will remind you that maybe you just don't - or can't - care at that moment.

Hangar 21