Where to Eat and Drink in Napa

My friends in the Northeast constantly ask if I miss “experiencing seasons.” My response is always that I enjoy living in the perfect temperature all year and being able to drive from the beach to the vineyard to the mountains all in the same day. San Francisco has its flaws (rent prices, for example), but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Napa is a worldwide wine destination and happens to be one of my favorite day trips. Early spring is the perfect time to visit, especially if you want to see the vineyards filled with bright yellow flowers. So I’m highlighting a few of my favorite places to eat and drink.

Spend the Day in Napa

Food

Oxbow Public Market: I love wandering around the Oxbow Market in the morning. It’s full of life and the perfect spot for people watching. Generally, I’ll go to C CASA for a breakfast taco or Model Bakery for one of their famous English muffins. I mean, I don’t even like English muffins but am obsessed with theirs. There’s a Ritual Coffee as well, which is the perfect area to people watch in. If you miss the market in the morning, be sure to stop by Hog Island for a dozen oysters on the half-shell during happy hour.

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Photo Credit: Oxbow Public Market

Dean and Deluca: This place is foodie heaven. They’ve got everything you need for a picnic or for something to bring home after a long day of wine tasting. Whether you’re in the mood for some fancy cheese or a freshly-made sandwich, they’ve got you covered—with all sorts of cool spirits, wines, rubs, olive oils, and fresh produce.

“I went to Dean & Deluca. Man, they charge, like, five dollars a strawberry there. But I figure since you quit your job… we should celebrate.” ~ Nate in The Devil Wears Prada

Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena): By far my favorite veggie burger in the entire Bay Area. Oh, and the poke tuna tacos are out of this world. The atmosphere is perfect, with lots of green grass and picnic tables to enjoy your lunch. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a sunny afternoon and refuel after a morning of tastings. Also, I’m pretty sure they have the best milkshakes I’ve ever tasted.

Tip: Order online, set a pickup time, and skip the line that wraps around the building.

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Photo Credit: Gotts Roadside

The Bakery Cafe by illy (at the Culinary Institute of America): This place is the best-kept secret in Napa in my humble opinion. The Culinary Institute has a very swanky (and expensive) reservations-only restaurant, but I always go to this quick student-run cafe for approachable prices and quality food. It’s centrally located in the school (which looks more like a castle) and always has a fantastic menu. I’m obsessed with the desserts and have to convince myself not to order 45,678 things on the menu.

Tip: Try not to buy everything in the gift shop. Though I do love my $25 reusable shopping tote; it was definitely an impulse buy. There’s just so many cool cooking gadgets!

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Photo Credit: The Bakery Cafe by illy

Bouchon Bakery: Have you heard of famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller? He’s the mastermind behind Bouchon Bakery. They’ve got the most incredible sweets in the Napa area, and it’s totally worth a visit to say you’ve eaten something created by Thomas Keller. The upscale cafe is next door and highly recommended as well. Last time we went, I devoured their salted caramel macarons at a little bistro table outside in the sunshine and brought some of the foie-gras dog treats home for the pups.

Drinks

Schramsberg: Hands down my favorite place to taste, but I’m a little biased because I used to work on their PR (and adore the family). When you walk in, you’ll immediately notice pictures of the presidents (even Obama) and royalty (including Princess Diana) that used their bubbles for official events. Next you’ll be guided through caves from the late 1800s with thousands of bottles lining the walls. All while enjoying some of the most incredible sparkling wine in the world. I’m a huge fan of the J. Schram and J. Schram Rosé, which have beat the most prestigious French Champagnes in blind taste tests. If you only visit one winery, this is the one. This tour/tasting is $50 per person, and you’ll need reservations well in advance.

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Photo Credit: Schramsberg

Domaine Chandon: I’m usually a big fan of the smaller wineries but an absolute sucker for a good glass of bubbly and a gorgeous view. This place has both, and it’s perfect if you’re just looking for a relaxing atmosphere to sip bubbly and catch up with friends. Domaine Chandon is the California property of legendary Moët & Chandon, so you can expect quality and class. It was the first French-established winery in the U.S., and they have various tour packages and educational wine flights. I adore their Étoile Rosé and appreciate that you’re able to order by the glass or by the flight without a reservation for a tour/tasting.

Cuvaison: Lover of Pinot Noir? This is by far my favorite producer. Their wines are balanced and complex, and they are sustainable and organic. I cannot think of a better expression of Napa. Not to mention they have a gorgeous glass tasting room with sweeping vineyard views and down-to-earth staff. Their tastings run around $25, which is well worth it.

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Photo Credit: Cuvaison

ZD: This gem is a small family-owned winery hidden on the Silverado Trail. The deLeuze family is known for producing exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. ZD has recently opened an upstairs tasting room with a deck, and the views are incredible.

VGS Chateau Potelle: VGS stands for very good shit. It’s a tiny tasting room, but the wines are incredible. Plus, there’s hot-air balloons all over and the food pairings are divine. Be sure to book a reservation ahead of time though! $60/person.

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Photo Credit: VGS Chateau Potelle

Goose and Gander: Yes, it’s wine country. But if you’re in the mood for a creative cocktail, look no further! I order the Coastal Pimm’s Cup (but with Sipsmith Gin, because it’s the best). They’ve also got an extensive wine list as well as yummy bites.

Hope these suggestions were helpful to you. Would love to hear about your favorite ways to spend the day in Napa, so leave a comment.

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New York City during the Holidays

My new job (and parents relocating to New Jersey) had me going to New York quite a bit this past year. I make a point to stay in a new neighborhood each visit and get to know a new area a little better. This Christmas visit we stayed in festive Midtown, near all of the beautiful shops and Rockefeller Center. We loved walking around 5th Avenue and looking at all the holiday window displays.

Here’s some highlights:

Bar BouludWe had lunch here with my mom before the Nutcracker. It’s almost directly across the street from the Lincoln Center, and the perfect pre-ballet venue. Lovely ambiance, with the inside being like a wine cellar. Cozy booths with abstract (wine themed) art, giant bottles of Burgundy scattered around, and French jazz music playing in the background. I loved their salmon club, and especially enjoyed sharing petit fours and coffee before the performance.

The Nutcracker (New York City Ballet): I danced in the Nutcracker growing up, and have seen it just about every year. It’s my absolute favorite ballet, and the New York City Ballet version is without a doubt the most beautiful version I’ve ever seen. Tickets are a bit pricey, but worth every penny. We sat in the orchestra, but the there wasn’t a bad seat in the David Koch theatre (at the Lincoln Center). We went to a matinee, and my only complaint is the that there’s a lot of children, and several of the ones seated in our area were being disruptive and misbehaving. So keep that in mind when choosing a time!

The Peninsula Hotel: Hands down, my new favorite hotel in Midtown. Classically elegant in every way, their rooms are large with every convenience you can imagine. There’s buttons for the lighting options, television, radio, and telephone. A stand up giant shower next to a cozy soaking tub (with television), and Oscar de la Renta bath products! Plus, if you stay in a suite, a complimentary Mini Cooper and driver (for up to 3 hours a day).

Tips: visit the spa! We went twice. There’s complimentary espresso, water, tea, and apples at the pool. I am obsessed with their steam room, which they infuse with eucalyptus. There’s an indoor pool, group fitness classes, and a fantastic gym.

La Bonne Soupe: While living in Paris (as a Pescetarian), I ate lots and lots of Moules frites and Soupe à l’oignon. Sadly, it’s extremely difficult to find a good bowl in the states and I always crave it! After we checked into our hotel on the first day, I decided to search Yelp! and ended up finding this gem. While we didn’t try anything else on the menu, I’m quite certain everything on the menu is delicious. The salads looked huge, and they even sell their own authentic French dressing (which is not anything close to the orange “French dressing” you see at the grocery store).

Magnolia Bakery: We can here for coffee two days in a row because it was THAT good. Personally, I loved their mocha. Brian was a big fan of their cappuccino. Don’t leave without grabbing a medium (perfect sharing size) banana pudding.

Bloomingdales (59th Street and Lexington Avenue): First of all, this location is ICONIC! Even though there’s hundreds of Bloomingdales locations all over the country, this one is historic and I highly recommend visiting. We wandered around for a good hour, and I could have spent even longer. The window displays were more abstract than holiday, but stunning nonetheless. Though I didn’t end up buying anything (despite how much I loved the Burberry coat that was a whopping 40% off), their after Christmas sales were on point!

Nougatine at Jean-Georges: Nougatine is the more casual sister of Jean-Georges, with a lively bar scene in the evening. We went for lunch and though the three course tasting menu was incredible. I had the tuna tartare, sesame crusted salmon, and finished with a citrus pavlova. The meal was around $100, which is quite reasonable for fine dining in New York City.

Shake Shack: On the West Coast a lot of folks rave about In-N-Out, some even comparing it to Shake Shack. After trying Shack Shack for the first time, I have no idea how you could ever compare the two. Shake Shack is like the epitome of an amazing burger place. I am obsessed with their ‘Shroom Burger (yay for a yummy vegetarian option) and the cheese fries put the famous In-N-Out animal fries to shame. Don’t even get me started on those custard shakes! If they could open a San Francisco location ASAP, that would be GREAT.

Note: didn’t bring my real camera (because our suitcase was already 3 pounds overweight and we had both dogs, so iPhone pictures will have to suffice. 

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Review: GrandeLASH MD ($65)

When I was at the salon getting ready for my older brother’s wedding, the makeup artist mentioned that she’s been using GrandeLASH MD for six months and swears by it. I love having big eyelashes, but I don’t want to commit to extensions, and never really believed those eyelash serums worked! They ranked right up there with diet pills in my head.

According to their website, “GrandeLASH MD is an eyelash conditioner, created with a proprietary blend of vitamins, peptides, and amino acids, plus conditioning ingredients.” The company promises more youthful, healthy and dramatic eyelashes within 4-6 weeks (with a 90 day money back guarantee).

For $65 I bought a three month supply, and have been using it pretty consistantly since July 15. I’ve noticed a big difference, and get asked at least once a week if I have extension/false eyelashes.

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Day 1 using GrandeLASH MD (no mascara)
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3 months using GrandeLash (with mascara)

 

 

Browned Butter Blackberry Cake

This summer we have had a ton of these:

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Which has led us to blackberry sorbet, blackberry sauce, and finally blackberry cobbler. But, unfortunately I’m not a fan of the gooey fruity cobbler that we grew up with, I love a cakey cobbler. And that is how I discovered Brown Butter Blackberry Cake. I am not ashamed to say that this has been our go to weekend breakfast this month!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Stick of butter
  • 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-2 cups washed blackberries (depending on preference)

To start melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stir occasionally to make sure that it is cooking evenly. As it darkens you are looking for it to turn a toasty brown color, be careful not to burn. When it has browned take it off the burner and poor into a separate bowl.

Next mix flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Whisk in milk then add browned butter, whisk everything together and poor into a greased baking dish. Evenly sprinkle blackberries over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until golden on top.

Please let me know how you enjoyed my Browned Butter Blackberry Cake!

Review: Blue Apron

When I was working at Google last year, the commute could easily become 1.5-2 hours each way on a bus. So I’d end up leaving on a 6:40am bus, coming home around 6-7pm, even 8pm at times. So naturally, Brian and I ended up eating out a ton. The price and calories start to add up, and you have no control over the ingredients going into your body.

I have a few recipes that I do well, and I sort of just rotate them without experimenting much. When I try something new, I usually do a cost/time analysis. I ask myself How much time and money will it require to make, and will the finished product taste better and be more convenient than if I were to order it out? For example, I love Pad See Ew with crispy tofu, but we live walking distance to at least 5 Thai restaurants, where the meal for two is around $20. Therefore, this is not something I make at home. Does that make sense?

A dear friend recommended Blue Apron, and I figured it was worth a shot. I like the concept: A box arrives one day per week (we picked Wednesday) with the ingredients to make three meals during the week. Everything from a pinch of oregano (which we actually don’t even have stocked) to a couple of cage-free eggs or a cup of organic milk. It arrives in the cutest containers, with color-coded stickers for each of the three meals.

The meals for our week were:

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What I love about Blue Apron is the creativity of the meals. Each recipe has a beautiful card with a picture of the dish on the front (and the ingredients you need) and step-by-step instructions with photos of how to make the meal on the back.

The price for two people to make three meals per week is $60, which ends up costing roughly $20/meal (or $10/serving). This is about what we’d spend out on a quick week night meal out, so I’d say it’s a pretty fair price. The serving sizes are on the larger side, and we were satisfied after each meal.

The pros: 

  • Creative meals that I wouldn’t have thought of myself (they have a culinary team & renowned guest chefs working on recipes)
  • Having the exact amount of ingredients for each meal
  • Knowing exactly what’s going into your body
  • Each serving is between 500-800 calories
  • Spending time cooking with your significant other

The Cons:

  • Weekly choices aren’t always the best (especially if you don’t eat meat)
  • Lots of waste (cardboard box, ice packs, excess packaging)
  • Took us a little longer than the instructions suggested (1 hour or more for each meal)
  • The mountain of dishes to do afterwards

Do I continue to use Blue Apron? When the recipes for the week are outstanding, you bet! If I could order one or two recipes per week, I’d probably do it more often, but three per week is a lot for us. Now that I’m not enjoying the Google perks of breakfast, lunch, and snacks anymore, I’m not able to skip the grocery store completely. So in that respect it just makes sense to plan our own meals.

However, if you’re looking for the perfect housewarming or back to school gift, I’d highly recommend gifting a week of these meals. It’s great if you love to cook or for a fun date/girls night.

If you have any experience with Blue Apron or any other meal service, I’d love to hear about your experience. Any others I should try?

Enjoying Coffee at Home

I love a $5 latte or pour over out as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to save a little money (for your travel fund) and enjoy a cup at home. With the right tools and delicious ingredients, a well-brewed cup of coffee is simple to make at home. Here’s a few tips:

  1. Always buy good beans: Some people love a cup of Starbucks, but I do not happen to be one of them. I don’t ever buy coffee beans at the grocery store; instead I buy from local coffee purveyors. My personal favorites are Tesora (medium roast) by Philz
    or the Oromia, Guji blend by Sightglass. I buy them both in the actual coffee store
    and pick the bag based on when the beans were roasted (which is usually just a couple of days prior). I suggest finding a quality local spot, and I’m sure you’ll
    taste the difference.
  2. Use a quality grinder: If you’re grinding whole beans (which I recommend you do), it’s all about the size of the grind. Make sure you’re making the right size grounds for your coffee maker, and for a smooth cup it’s important that all the grinds are a consistent size. Aficionados will tell you to use a burr grinder, which is a bit expensive. If you use a blade grinder like I do, be sure to grind in bursts. If you pulse the grinder, you’ll get a much more evenly ground result. Different-sized coffee grounds will dissolve at different rates, leaving some grounds under-extracted and others over-extracted. These under- and over-extracted grounds will add sour and bitter flavors to your coffee.
  3. Warm up your coffee mug: We use our electric tea kettle to heat up water and pour it into our mugs for just a couple of minutes while the coffee is brewing. Instead of taking the heat from your coffee to warm up the cup, this method keeps your coffee warmer for longer.
  4. Brew with filtered water: Coffee is mostly made up of water, so it’s important to use filtered water and avoid the minerals and additives in tap water. You don’t have to dump in a bottle of Fiji, but be sure to at least run the tap water through a basic filter. We use a KitchenAid coffee maker with a built-in water filter.
  5. Add fresh ingredients: I drink my coffee black 99% of the time, but on the off chance I use cream or sugar, I specifically use the freshest ingredients. My favorite indulgence is to froth a bit of milk and enjoy a café au lait with a touch of honey for sweetness. Oh, and you can’t forget the warm socks and Biscoff cookies… perfect for a cold and rainy day!

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Have I missed anything that helps when enjoying coffee at home? Would love to hear your thoughts!

All Eye Makeup Remover Is Not Created Equally

 

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I’m a fan of having huge lashes, which means multiple coats of mascara, and on occasion a set of false lashes. Most of my favorites are long-lasting, but such a pain to remove. Over the years, I’ve tried countless eye makeup removers, and am always looking for the next best thing. This week I’ve set out to try a few of the most popular brands (suitable to use with contact lenses), and have listed them below in order of preference.

Experiment rules: Wear 3 coats of mascara, using 2 coats of black magic by eyeko and one coat of They’re Real! by Benefit. Try each eye makeup remover twice, and report on findings. While I tried some of them on my entire face, the real judgement is on their ability to remove mascara well.

Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover by Neutrogena ($8 for 5.5oz)

The least expensive, and also the most effective eye makeup remover. I hardly buy drugstore makeup or skincare products (except body wash), and admit that I might have been quick to judge. I soaked a cotton round in a bit of this, pressed it on my lashes for a few seconds, and it instantly started working. I hardly had to scrub, and only lost an eyelash or two in the process. By far my favorite, and definitely my new go-to.

Immortelle Oil Make-Up Remover by L’Occitane ($32 for 6.7oz)

I use L’Occitane toner and lotion regularly, and am a huge fan of their products. My skin easily breaks out, and I was a bit hesitant to try makeup remover oil. I really loved this formula though, as it removes everything (and not just your eye makeup). It is a bit thicker liquid than the rest of the liquid removers, and only requires a very small amount. I followed the directions exactly, pitting this on my lashes with my fingers and not a cotton round like I would usually do. By the end, my fingers were covered with mascara residue, and I was able to wipe off the oil with a cotton round, fully removing it from my eyes. The only downside of this is the higher price point.

Take the day off makeup remover by Clinique ($19 for 4.2oz)

I love Clinique, and trust their products on my breakout prone face. This formula is not specifically for eyes, but for lids, lashes (they boast of removing waterproof makeup), and lips. When I first started wearing makeup as a teen, my mom brought me to a Clinique. This was my first makeup remover, and still an effective option. Is it my favorite? Not quite. But it’s great when you’ve got the smokey eye or red lip stain going on your night out, and bonus points for working all over your face. Would I buy this again? Totally.

They’re Real! remover by Benefit ($18 for 1.7oz)

I love the They’re Real! mascara, but it’s particularly hard to remove. I’ve been using it for a couple years, and had no idea this remover existed. It’s a cream formula (versus a liquid like all of the others), and while it was effective in removing my makeup, it stung when it inevitably got into my eyes. Also, you really have to scrub a bit to get it to work, which is bad for both your lashes and the sensitive skin around your eyes. It wasn’t bad per say, but is the most expensive per ounce, and I probably wouldn’t buy it again.

Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover by Sephora Collection ($11 for 4.2oz)

My first thought upon trying this formula was ‘why is this bright blue?!’ I love most of the makeup by Sephora Collection, so I expected to love this formula as well (regardless of color). It was incredibly ineffective removing my layers of mascara, even when I scrubbed it a bit. It just sort of moved the color around instead of transferring it to the cotton round/dissolving it. Also, it’s listed as a gentle formula, but it stung my eyes a bit and removed a few too many eyelashes in the process for my liking. I actually had to use another remover to take off the rest. Definitely would not buy this again.

What’s your go-to eye makeup remover? Have you tried any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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7 Favorite San Francisco Restaurants

San Francisco is 7 miles by 7 miles, so I’ve put together my favorite 7 restaurants in the city. Each restaurant is in a different neighborhood, and I highly recommend exploring them all.

Mission Beach Cafe (Mission – 198 Guerrero Street)

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Brunch is my favorite meal, and these folks do not disappoint. It’s one of the most underrated restaurants in San Francisco, yet there’s generally an hour or two wait on weekends. Words cannot even describe how amazing their Dungeness Crab and Bay Shrimp Benedict tastes. Also, they serve mimosas in giant goblets and you can order bacon by the plate!

Insider tip: We usually order a coffee while we wait and explore the Mission a bit. If you get a drip coffee, keep the cup and they’ll keep refilling it for you when you sit down.

Café de la Presse (Union Square – 352 Grant Avenue)

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Brian and I had our first date here, so I’m a little biased. I told him that it’s hard to find authentic soupe l’oignon in the United States, and he set out to prove me wrong. He was of course right, and it’s still the only restaurant I’ll get it at (will have to share my recipe with you all soon). They have the best lattes in the city (in my humble opinion), and a plethora of French magazines and newspapers flown in daily for sale. I generally avoid Union Square restaurants, but this one is my exception to the rule.

Burma Superstar (Inner Richmond – 309 Clement Street)

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Two words for you… COCONUT RICE. Last time we went, I ordered three servings for two people and I think I got judged a bit. They have an authentic tea leaf salad that they actually go to Burma to get ingredients for. The garlic noodles and the mango shrimp are my favorite entrees (aside from eating ALL of the coconut rice), but you cannot go wrong with anything on their menu. Bonus points for having a creative cocktail menu as well. They generally have a long wait time, but I promise it’s well worth your time.

Jane on Fillmore (Pacific Heights – 2123 Fillmore Street)

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Borrowed image from Jane’s website to do it justice

My favorite early morning breakfast spot. I don’t know what it is about this area of Pac Heights, but the whole street is just more beautiful in the morning light. I love to wake up early on a Sunday morning and read The New York Times from one of the tables near the window. They make delicious spicy baked eggs (among many other things), which are baked to perfection in a chunky tomato and black bean sauce with cheese and served with a slice of house made bread. When I’m feeling extra decadent, I’ll add a mocha to that mix. Sometimes they have bread pudding on the menu, which is seriously the best I’ve ever had. There’s always a line out the door though, even on a random Monday morning.

Insider tip: It’s a fantastic shopping area, so be sure to schedule a little time to browse.

Sotto Mare (North Beach – 552 Green Street)

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Photo borrowed from Saveur

North Beach is the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco, with the Italian flag painted on all the street posts and light poles. Back in the day, the Italian fisherman would combine their leftover catch with wine and tomatoes to make a seafood stew called cioppino. Today, it’s known as a San Francisco classic, and Sotto Mare makes the best. They sell lesser quality (and more expensive) versions in Fisherman Wharf, but I’d actually recommend avoiding that area altogether.

Insider Tip: Sotto Mare’s cioppino is so good, it was actually featured in Saveur. Here’s their recipe if you’d like to try making it at home!

Hog Island Oyster Company (Embarcadero – 1 Ferry Building, 11A)

I adore visiting the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning, exploring the farmers market and all of the specialty vendors selling jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs throughout the Embarcadero. The whole area comes alive, and is fantastic people watching (and great water views).

Brian and I buy a bouquet of fresh flowers, maybe a couple of jams or spreads, and then head over to Hog Island for fresh oysters on the half-shell and the most delicious spicy Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted. We love their seafood stew, sandwiches, and pretty much anything on their menu day or night, but is it socially acceptable to order a Bloody Mary past brunch if you’re not at the airport?

Tenroku Sushi (Japantown – 1825 Post Street, Suite 215)

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There are delicious sushi places all over San Francisco, but my personal favorite is this little gem located in the heart of Japantown. It’s a tiny space (maybe 15 or so seats) with a rotating conveyer belt of sushi. In the middle you’ll see chefs breaking down fresh fish and consistently creating unique rolls. Each plate is a different color, and there’s a diagram showing the cost. It’s very affordable at $3-8 for each plate with 2-4 pieces. They also have a menu if you prefer to sit at a table away from the bar.

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One of the many Italian Flags of North Beach
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Saturday morning at the Ferry Building
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Bijoux and me on a bike ride along the Embarcadero

 

Hope you enjoyed reading about my 7 favorite San Francisco restaurants! Leave me a comment with your favorites.