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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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?

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.

Creamy Mushroom Stroganoff

I decided at a young age that I would no longer eat meat. I was grossed out at the thought of chewing on an animal, and as an avid equestrian, cows were just too similar to horses.

At first, my dad told me that I could eat what the family was having, or not eat at all. I ate just the potatoes or only green beans for a few days before my mother realized that I was serious about not eating meat. She was very accommodating over the years though, and experimented with a lot of meat dishes to make them into some vegetarian version. One of my favorite dishes is this incredible creamy mushroom stroganoff my mom developed just for me.

Having just come home to California from a busy week long East Coast visit (with just one meal at my parent’s house), I was missing my mom and craving her creamy mushroom stroganoff. Though it was already 7pm PST, so I knew I couldn’t call and get directions from my mom because it was 10pm EST. Instead I tried to remember how she makes hers, developing my own recipe.

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Ingredients (serves 4): 

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 shallots, very thinly sliced
  • 1 bag of egg noodles
  • 1.5 pounds of mushrooms (I use Baby Bellas, but any kind works), thinly sliced
  • 2 cups broth (can use veggie, but I recommend beef flavored broth for best taste)
  • 1 TBS all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley (optional garnish)

Directions: 

  1. Boil a pot of water and cook egg noodles according to the directions on the package.
  2. Melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until lightly golden, 5 or so minutes.
  3. Add the thinly sliced mushrooms and cook until they have softened and released most of their liquid, about 5 or so minutes.
  4. Sprinkle in the flour, and once you’ve stirred it all in you can start slowly pouring in the broth.
  5. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sour cream and use salt/pepper to taste.
  6. Toss to combine the pasta and the sauce. Serve in bowls (with an optional parsley garnish), and enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese

Today I’m sharing my all time favorite (and super easy) salad recipe, Roasted Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese. There was a point in my life when I was so obsessed with it that I literally ate this salad for lunch and dinner every single day! I’ve always loved tomatoes, especially when they’re roasted.

These days, I like to have it as a side (as it goes well with almost any dish). If you’re a fan of goat cheese and tomatoes too, you will especially love how quick and easy to make.

Roasted Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 head of Lettuce (I prefer a leafy red lettuce or romaine)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 4.5oz herbed goat cheese (if you cant find this buy plain and add in oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper)
  • 2 Tbsp Milk
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Salt/Pepper to taste

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Instructions: 

Begin by preheating your oven to 400 degrees. Add cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar to a glass baking pan, I like to use a smaller size so the tomatoes stay soupy. If i have some handy I will mince a clove of garlic on top, then throw these in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to pop. they should look like this:

While the tomatoes are roasting cut up salad and divide into bowls, this will make a generous salad for 2 people, but I often serve 4 with it. Combine goat cheese and milk till the goat cheese has softened and divide it onto the top of each salad. When your tomatoes are done divide them and the balsamic vinegar equally into each bowl. Serve immediately!

Hope you liked my Roasted Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese recipe! Leave a comment and let me know how yours turned out.

Week Night Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine is my go to dish for a quick and easy week night dinner. I always keep these ingredients on hand; fettuccine noodles, butter, Parmesan, and cream. You can whip this delicious dish up in 15 minutes! To make it a meal I add peas, mushrooms, spinach, or broccoli!

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Ingredients

  • 1 box of fettuccine noodles (I love Pappardelle)
  • 3/4 cup of butter
  • 3/4 cup of cream
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 1 cup Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Week Night Fettuccine Alfredo

Instructions:

Start by bringing water to a boil for the fettuccine noodles. While your water is heating combine cream and butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add noodles to boiling water and follow the packages cooking instructions. While the noodles are boiling reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. When the noodles are ready strain them and toss into your sauce. Add your reserved water and 3/4 cup of Parmesan toss gently to combine until the sauce has thickened and is coating the noodles. Remove from heat, add remaining cheese salt/peeper to taste and serve!

Leave a comment and let me know how you liked my Week Night Fettuccine Alfredo recipe! What’s you go to week night recipe?

Easy Garlic Angel Hair Pasta

Sometimes my boyfriend and I fall into the groove of eating out every night. Instead of taking the time to cook at home, we might end up eating a greek yogurt or even skipping dinner entirely out of laziness.

Courtney is the queen of throwing together simple ingredients to make a dinner for two, and often the person I call when I can’t seem to find the inspiration to cook. I’m sharing her easy garlic angel hair pasta that takes less than 20 minutes to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of fresh garlic (or about 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of minced from a jar)
  • 2 tablespoons of Italian style bread crumbs (or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own)
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh kale
  • Angel hair pasta (The kind with added protein preferably)
  • Parmesan cheese (to taste)
  • Cracked pepper (to taste)

Step 1: Fill a pot with water and a touch of salt, and heat it to a boil.
Step 2: Pour yourself a glass of wine. Add olive oil to a skillet, and start to mince garlic cloves. Add garlic cloves to olive oil, and heat on medium, stirring every minute or so.
Step 3: Wash, massage (it’s as silly as it sounds, but you’re supposed to do this), and chop kale, removing and discarding the stems. Add angel hair pasta to the boiling water, and it should take about 6 minutes to cook. When it has about 2 minutes left, take 1/4 cup of the pasta water and set it aside.
Step 4: Add the breadcrumbs to the skillet and stir them in well. Next add the kale, and the 1/4 cup pasta water and stir for about 5 minutes.
Step 5: Add angel hair pasta to skillet, and stir everything together well. Serve in bowl, and garnish with a few breadcrumbs, some cracked pepper, and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

I hope you enjoyed Courtney’s easy garlic angel hair pasta recipe! What’s your favorite quick meal to make?

Cherry Tomato Bowtie Pasta

I was going through the produce section at the grocery store last night trying to decide what to make, and was inspired by the cherry tomatoes. They had almost a dozen different sizes and colors, and they all looked ripe and delicious.

I wanted to cook something really simple, but still tasty. Brian and I are currently Netflix binging on Orange is the New Black (almost caught up to the new season), so I didn’t want to make anything too labor intensive (aside from the prep, as mincing garlic can be a pain). This was done in about an hour, and the best part is that I only had to get up sporadically to stir while it was cooking.

Ingredients:

  • Around 1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8+ cloves of fresh garlic (or about 4 teaspoons of minced from a jar)
  • 1 container of cherry/grape tomatoes
  • a few leaves of fresh basil
  • Bow tie pasta
  • Fresh mozzarella balls (1 container, can cut them in half if desired)
  • Cracked pepper (to taste)
  • A sprinkle (less than a teaspoon)
  • Optional: Italian sausage (if you/your partner eat meat)

Tips: If you or anyone eating this dish eat meat, you can add an Italian sausage. Simply   cut it up into 1″ slices and pan fry it on the side. I don’t eat meat, but Brian does, so sometimes I’ll do this for him.

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Step 1: Fill a pot with water and a touch of salt, and heat it to a boil. Add pasta when water is at a rolling boil, and once it’s finished boiling (check the box for al dente time), drain and put to the side.
Step 2: Pour yourself a glass of wine. Add olive oil to a 12″ pan, and start to mince garlic cloves. Add garlic cloves to olive oil, and heat on medium, stirring every minute or so.
Step 3: Once garlic is starting to brown, turn the heat to low-medium and stir in the cherry tomatoes and 3/4 of the basil. You’re going to keep stirring these tomatoes every 10-15 minutes until they’re soft and literally bursting from the slow heat. If they’re not all bursting when you get to the hour mark, you can press lightly with your spatula and it will have the same effect.
Step 4: Sprinkle less than a teaspoon of sugar into the pan and stir. This is to help cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
Step 5: Add bow tie pasta to pan, and stir everything together well. Serve in bowl, and garnish with fresh basil, some cracked pepper, and several mozzarella balls. Enjoy!