Thursday, May 31, 2012

San Francisco + Napa

Warning: Picture heavy post ahead. Not recommended if you're hungry.

I've been to San Francisco once before, many moons ago with my parents. I didn't fully appreciate it then for all I cared about was how cold and windy it was in the middle of summer. This time around, older and wiser, I was determined to make the most of my trip... with less whining.

When in the city, we stayed at Hotel Whitcomb. The hotel had a certain old-world charm that I marveled at even if it wasn't my preferred style. The area surrounding the hotel was a bit sketchy at night, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to families, but being aware and using common sense always helps.

For two days, we toured the city and hit up the usual touristy spots: Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and nearby park, Lombard Street (what a workout it was), and rode the cable cars for their money's worth. One of the most fascinating things during the trip was hearing all the different languages being spoken around me, even if most were tourists. I thought DC was diverse, but SF truly is a melting pot.
[photo above]: Lombard Street - how do the residents put up with gaggles of tourists all the time?
[photo below]: turning the cable car around for the next set of passengers

The part I looked forward to the most is the food. I rarely eat at sit-down restaurants back home, so vacation dining is always a treat for me. $7 Chipotle burritos are too delicious and too good of a deal to not eat once a week ;) The only downside to vacations is that there's never enough meal slots to try everything we have on the agenda. I shouldn't complain too much because I thought we ate two of our best meals of the trip at Hog Island Oysters and Brenda's French Soul Food.

At Hog Island we sampled a few dishes but my absolute favorite was their clam chowder. I'm a chowder junkie, and before this trip I didn't think it was possible to top Outback's -- boy am I wrong. If I lived in SF, I seriously would swing by for their chowder at least once a week, if not more often. Chipotle who?

I'm also a huge fan of beignets from my travels many years ago to New Orleans. Cafe du Monde is the bomb. At Brenda's, I tried their beignet flight, a platter of four assorted beignets (regular, apple, chocolate, and crawfish). The beignets themselves were tasty, but filled with stuffing? Even better. The only thing that was missing was a cup of frozen cafe au lait. I'm drooling in my head as I type.
[photo above]: chowder with fresh clams at Hog Island Oysters - salty, flavorful and just so, so good
[photo below]: assorted raw oysters with the best dipping sauce at Hog Island Oysters (don't know how I can go back to regular ol' cocktail sauce now)
[photo above]: crawfish beignet at Brenda's French Soul Food - the photo really doesn't do the dish justice; even a spicy food-averse person like me couldn't get enough of the flavor
[photo below]: ribeye at Harris' Restaurant - pretty good, but I still prefer Ruth's Chris' version

After we've gotten our fill of the city, we ventured out to Napa Valley for a change of scenery. We stayed at the Best Western Premiere Ivy Hotel during our visit there. It's a complete 180 from Hotel Whitcomb with modern accommodations, so some would say it's lacking in "character." I personally loved the dark cabinets with light-colored granite counter-tops, not to mention the rain shower head in the bathroom!

One of my cousins fancies herself as a wine aficionado, so we were happy to oblige and shared bottles of Napa's finest with her at every meal. I've concluded I just don't have much of a taste palate. Cousin would say, "I like how this wine tastes big and bold," and I'd think to myself, "Really?! It tastes just as bitter as the last one. GIMME MORE DESSERT WINE!" I swear I wasn't drunk. It just seem like most wines are too strong for a weakling like myself.

We had the opportunity to visit two wineries on her list, Sterling Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery. We arrived at Robert Mondavi after closing, so we were only able to see a small part of the vineyards. At Sterling, we participated in their wine tasting tour. $25/person covered an air tram ride to and from the upper part of the winery (the scenery from up above was absolutely breathtaking), a self-guided tour, and tastings of five types of wine. I enjoyed it; not so much the wines themselves, but the scenery and the behind-the-scenes look into the wine making process.
[photo above]: glass from the winery tour at Sterling Vineyards
[photo below]: vineyards at Robert Mondavi Winery
[photo above]: assorted BBQ platter at Bounty Hunter
[photo below]: appetizer at Culinary Institute of America (CIA) - I thought our food was only okay; might have been because my cousin hyped it up too much. Low expectations is the way to go
Thanks for your hospitality, San Francisco. Until next time!

PS - My H&M bag held up beautifully on vacation, including when I ran through O'Hare to catch my connecting flight. Thank you Mr. President for grounding all planes and causing a delay so you could leave Chicago. I wouldn't have caught my flight otherwise.

31 comments:

  1. Aww your pictures make me miss SF so much :) I love this city!! Reminds me of Melb minus the hills haha

    katattack2000.wordpress.com

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    1. I've never been to Australia, but would love to one day to see the Australian Open!

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  2. Beautiful photos! I'm glad you had a great time in the bay area where I'm from! Food definitely is amazing here, too many places for me to try still! =)

    xoxo,
    Suzie Q
    www.StyleCueBySuzieQ.com

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  3. I love visiting San Francisco and will have to try the placed you mention. The Seafood there is great.

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  4. I went to SF in April and toured almost all of the same places! We even ordered the same dishes at Hog Island and Brenda's... Loved Napa too!

    petitelifestyle.blogspot.com

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    1. High five! Love it when great minds think alike ;)

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  5. SF is one of my fav cities and I love re-living everything through your photos. And gosh, I'm so with you on the dessert wine. I'm low class, just gimme lots of sweet wine hahaha...

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    1. What a great way to put it, "low class" hahaha. It sums me up perfectly ;)

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  6. Crawfish beignet - oh that looks and sounds so good!

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  7. We tend to smile and nod and walk in the streets here to put up with the tourists ;). Glad you enjoyed my city!

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    1. I know, SF-ians are so friendly! I can't say the same about where I live, cough cough :D

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  8. what a gorgeous post! i remember being in SF, sonoma and napa a few years ago. i miss it now!! beautiful pictures! xox P

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    1. We didn't get a chance to visit Sonoma, but drove through there by accident to get to Napa. Quite beautiful indeed.

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  9. LOVE your travel posts! So many pretty pictures and yummy-looking food. I really enjoy a good, hearty soup so I'd love to try that chowder next time I'm out that way. Also, I'm not a wine aficionado so I had a good laugh about your dessert wine comment!

    Haha - I had the same first-time SF experience as you. As a kid, my parents dragged me to all the large Chinatowns in North America. I remember being annoyed in SF because it was cold and I didn't like walking up and down all the hills :)

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    1. Lol my parents luckily didn't drag me to various Chinatowns, but we always manage to visit the SAME PLACES whenever we had visitors. DC Smithsonian museums and Niagara Falls for every guest. I think I've been to NF 5 times too much!

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  10. These photos are beautiful..be it food extravaganza or stunning scenery. I am a clam chowder junkie myself. Dont rememer if i tried at Outback but Red Robin's version is pretty darn good. The one you had there looked so tasty. I dont drink wine at all because my palate totally lacks a sense of sophistication..haha.

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    1. Mmhmm. Thanks for sharing Red Robin's. I've never been but I've just added it to my list of places to try!

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  11. Love the food. They look very delicious.
    http://www.thebeautyandbrains.com/

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  12. i've always wanted to visit san fran!!

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  13. cant see ur pix. only reading. hog island oysters caught me eyes. love that freak'n dipping sauce. when i go to fancy seafood restaurants to get oysters, i make the chef make it for me. they'll usually know what you're talking about if you say that vinegrette sauce. delish. drooling.

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    1. OMGOSH I'll definitely be remembering vinegrette sauce. Can not wait to try raw oysters again soon with that!

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  14. We're headed to SF at the end of July with a day trip to Napa then are driving down to the Carmel/Big Sur area for three days. Your post and pics make me even more excited for our trip!

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    1. Have a great time on your trip! Would love to hear all about it when you return :)

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  15. Great you had a good time in SF. I've been there three times, but always not like sightseeing, more visiting my friends there although I did sightseeing too. The restaurants you visited look really good. I visited more local, casual restaurant. I wish I had chance again soon but don't know when I can go next...

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    1. Alright SS, I'll be asking you for local recommendations if I ever have the chance to visit SF again!

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  16. San francisco/Napa Valley has been one of my favorite vacations...Napa is just beautiful!!! I ate at a lot of small cafe's (I don't eat sea food)...but I was really impressed on how everything is so fresh!

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    1. Small cafes along the main Napa road, right? (can't believe I forgot the name already. 29?) We saw so many too but sad we didn't have enough time to try them all!

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  17. Looks like you had a great time! The food look delish! I also went to Sterling when I went, we wanted to do Mondavi, but couldn't fit it in! Plus you guys must be more efficient then my friends and I, I did a similar itinerary but it was to separate trips!! -_-"

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    1. Haha somehow we had things on the schedule that couldn't be moved, so they helped move us along. Otherwise I could've dawdled on the Sterling terrace for hours, enjoying the view.

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  18. Cee, amazing post!! I've been waiting to read your trip recap (per usual). I've only been to SF a few times and was a huge tourist...would love to go back and try some of the places mentioned here ESP hog island, omigosh! I've never seen that kind of dipping sauce and I am an oyster fanatic! I've also never heard of beignets. Is it just some kind of stuffed, fish roll up? It looks SO delicious in the pic and the bbq platter has me drooling as well. Thanks for documenting and sharing all this : )

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    1. Aubs said when she goes to nicer oyster restaurants, she asks the chef to make her "that vinegrette sauce." Apparently they would know what she's talking about! I'm not as big of an oyster fan as you, so you'd probably get a chance to eat them again before I would. Wanna give Aubs' tip a try and see if "that vinegrette sauce" indeed works?

      Ahh... beignets are so good! They're just fried dough (which doesn't sound all that great, lol). Usually eaten as dessert without stuffing inside and sprinkled with loads of powdered sugar on top. I bet Boston has cajun restaurants that serve this on the menu!

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