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October 2011

Cakebread Cellars

Just down the road from Rubicon Estate is Cakebread Cellars, makers of red and white wines that we often drink back home. The vineyard was started 30 years ago by a man named Jack Cakebread who visited the area to photograph Napa Valley for a book, and ended up buying a friend's ranch and becoming a vintner.

Back then, Jack's wife Dolores would prepare lunch for visitors to the ranch. Today, Cakebread sees thousands of visitors come through for tours of its garden, vineyards, kitchen, and wine making. They even have a "Healthy Eating" cooking workshop in Dolores' organic kitchen garden.

We joined a small group out in the field to taste wines amongst the vines (where I learned that they don't trim the rows so that the heavy foliage can protect the delicate white grapes from the blazing sun).

And where did that famous surname come from? Jack's ancestors were bakers in England who specialized in a dense, round loaf called "cakebrede."

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Rubicon Estate

Rubicon Estate is owned by producer Francis Ford Coppola, who purchased the Inglenook Winery in 1975 using his proceeds from The Godfather, and renamed it after its flagship wine.

It's a magnificent property with a long, tree-lined drive and a great house covered in ivy (that had turned a bright red for the Fall foliage season).

Besides the tasting room, bar and picnic area, there is a small museum there dedicated to Coppola's fascination with optics, the result of being confined to his bed with polio as a child and occupying himself with prisms, telescopes and a toy movie projector. Here, they have his collection of zoetropes (an early device for moving pictures) on display, as well as information on his now-famous movie career. You may recall from my earlier post that Coppola named his San Francisco-based production company American Zoetrope, and that he serves Rubicon wines in the ground floor cafe of the same building.

Here's a brief tour of the Estate:

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Oxbow Public Market

Oxbow is a fantastic public market right in downtown Napa, like a smaller version of the Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. It's a covered building, but one, big open space inside where artisenal and local foods and wines are sold by individual purveyors. There is produce, coffee & tea, spices, meats, cheeses, fish, and baked goods, plus sit-down restaurants and even items for the home. It is gorgeous! I so wish we had places like this in Boston. On the day we visited, there was an additional farmer's market in the parking lot, where we picked up homemade yogurt and fresh berries for the week.

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Castello di Amorosa

The first vineyard we visited was a magnificent property up in Calistoga called Castello di Amorosa ("Castle of Love"). It is the creation of Dario Sattui, a 4th-generation vintner who also owns V. Sattui Winery down the road in St. Helena, and whose great-grandfather first created a vineyard in San Francisco in 1885.

The younger Sattui set out to build an authentic, medieval Italian castle and perfect his Italian wines. It took him 14 years to complete the 107-room structure which covers 121,000 square feet and features a moat, drawbridge, torture chamber, chapel, and great hall. The surrounding grounds are stunning, including not only the vineyard but a small vegetable garden, sheep, peacocks, chickens and a two cats, Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere.

No detail was left to chance as Sattui imported authentic artifacts to complete the rooms (the torture chamber has a 300 year old iron maiden, the courtyard has a 200+ year old Tuscan grape press, the great room has a 500 year old fireplace surrounded by frescoes painted by Italian artists) and completed all masonry, iron, and wood work by hand, using traditional methods.

Beneath the castle is a 2-acre barrel cellar with big oak casks stacked floor to ceiling (and we were told that an empty casks cost $1000 so imagine the value of all those full ones!). This is where we did our tastings, and I purchased a bottle of the Fantasia sparkling red which we enjoyed with dessert later in the week.

As you can imagine, I took a ton of photos of this place; here's a pretty good representation, until I can get them all up on Flickr.


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The Road to Napa

After a very full weekend in San Francisco, we hopped in a rental car and headed for Napa wine country,  just over an hour away. It took us a tad bit longer, because we made some stops:

First was at the Golden Gate Bridge so that we could see, and take photos of, this iconic structure spanning the San Francisco Bay's opening to the Pacific Ocean. Its bright orange color was chose to complement the surroundings and be visible in the fog.

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Second was a small roadside vineyard that had a very large, very photogenic, blue Adirondak chair out front. Couldn't pass up this Kodak moment:

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Third was at The Fruit Basket, an awesome farmers market abutting a field full of sheep and one very cute llama:

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And then we arrived in Napa. Stay tuned for the vineyard tours.

This concludes the San Francisco part of the trip; here is the full photo set for your viewing pleasure.


Farm to Table

I think the thing I'll miss most about San Francisco and Napa is the food. More specifically, the beautiful, fresh produce they have there, which makes its way onto amazing seasonal menus. Here's a sampling of the restaurants we visited on our trip:

409nopa, San Francisco - nopa stands for "north of the Panhandle." It serves "urban rustic" food made from seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors. I had a roasted squash salad, with balsamic, walnuts, pomegranite, croutons and ricotta (pictured) followed by roasted autumn vegetables with sage. And a glass of wine, of course!


513Market, St. Helena - A hip, Main Street bistro which also relies heavily on local, organic farms. I had an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with burrata cheese, spicy toasted almonds and tempura figs, followed by salmon over chanterelle mushroom risotto with pea shoots.  And of! We brought a bottle that we'd purchased at a vineyard earlier, a common practice in these parts (and this spot doesn't charge a corkage fee). We shared the yummy butterscotch cup pictured here.

587The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena - One of only two restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area to receive 3 Michelen Stars (the other being The French Laundry), this one is fine dining at its best. Nestled on the grounds of the exclusive Meadowood Inn & Resort, it has a contemporary - and stuffy - dining room, but the menu boasts the same local ingredients - this time elevated to works of art. We spent an insane amount on a multi-course meal and it was quite an experience. Completely inappropriate to snap photos in this particular dining room, but I captured our dessert amuse bouche at the end (that would be a variety of sweets on top of real grass!).

Interestingly enough, we had placed our names on the wait list for The French Laundry and got a call mid-week that they had an opening for us due to a cancellation. But we had already made a reservation at The Restaurant (which comes with a $75 per person cancellation fee) and were were, quite frankly, stuffed to the gills! While we regretted the missed opportunity, our stomachs and our wallets were better off for it :)

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Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena - We stumbled upon this neighborhood spot after a morning of manicures and shopping in St. Helena and enjoyed a great lunch on their patio. Mine was a sweet corn & mushroom risotto and a side of honey-glazed cornbread. Carbs, carbs, carbs!




California October 2011 249Angele Restaurant + Bar, Napa - We canceled our reservation at All Season's Bistro to stay closer to home one night (same day as the aforementioned carb overload; that plus wine tastings meant we couldn't handle another big meal!). Instead, we walked around the corner to this French restaurant and enjoyed some lighter fare at the bar. I had a cup of French Onion Soup paired with an heirloom tomato salad with Burrata cheese, and a yummy ginger cocktail. No wine tonight!


Farm, Napa - This lovely spot is at the Carneros Inn has an amazing outdoor living room, complete with couches and fireplace. But it was chilly the night we were there, and we sat indoors in their dining room, where I enjoyed Fauro Ranch marinated beets with lemon cucumber, Poulet egg, purslane, buttermilk and almonds, followed by Liberty Farms duck breast with Dwelley Farm cranberry beans, rocket, pistachios, and nectarine agrodolce. And if that wasn't enough - dessert: caramel fennel pollen with olive oil financier, honeycomb candy, and crème fraîche sherbet.

And a couple we didn't visit but I would if I ever go back:

  • All Season's Bistro, Calistoga - another farm-to-table gem. We just couldn't handle another big meal that night!
  • Farmstead, St. Helena - We drove by this charming roadside restaurant several times and it caught out eye; we also saw their fresh produce stand at a farmer's market we visited one morning. We just couldn't fit it in!

Now back to Greek yogurt and oatmeal for awhile...


Did you know that San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia? It was established in the 1840s, has over 300 restaurants, and draws more tourists annually than the Golden Gate Bridge!

Add us to the numbers, as we spent a couple of hours last Sunday afternoon exploring the colorful spice shops, jewelry stores, groceries, and tea houses in this bustling neighborhood. We even stopped for lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant, fitting since this is where the popular small plates were introduced to the Western world (and I was surprised to see shark fin on the menu given how controversial that is).

I have too many photos to post here; the balance will go up on Flickr shortly.






Coit Tower

Next I climbed the dozens of steps up Filbert Street, one of the steepest navigable roads in the Western hemisphere, with a nearly 35% grade. The sidewalks are stepped and cars must park perpendicular to them because it is so steep. It's also an incredible up-hill workout!

My destination was Coit Tower, a 210-foot structure atop Telegraph Hill that was built in 1933 at the request of a local socialite who wanted to beautify the city. Her name was Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric woman who smoked cigars and wore trousers (unheard of for women back then!) and on occasion dressed like a man so she could get into the gambling parlors.

The long climb up was rewarded with amazing 360-degree views of the city, including Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Oakland Bay Bridge. Inside, the tower walls are swathed in giant murals painted by 27 different artists under the auspices of the New Deal Public Works for Art Project.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Peter, Paul and Grace

Grace Cathedral (see first photo, below) borders Little Italy and the Red Light District. It's an Episcopal cathedral known for its open-mindedness, and has one of only 7 remaining men & boys cathedral choirs. It is also known for its stained glass windows, mosaics by Polish painter Jan Henryk de Rosen, and an altarpiece designed by Keith Haring for the AIDS Interfaith Chapel here.

Further down the road, on the edge of Washington Square Park (host to an art show the day we visited) is Saints Peter and Paul Church. This one is Roman Catholic and serves as the home church and community center for the city's Italian American population. It was prominently featured in Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, and is also the site of Joe DiMaggio's wedding (to his first wife, not Marilyn Monroe - although she posed for photos with him on the front steps) and his funeral. This church is pictured in the last 3 photos below, including the final one in which I was walking up the steep road to Coit Tower, which I'll feature next.

Grace, Peter, and Paul

Grace, Peter, and Paul

Grace, Peter, and Paul

Grace, Peter, and Paul

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building in North Beach is a magnificent copper structure, and home to the American Zoetrope, a studio founded by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

Many famous movies were written, edited, and sound checked here, including Godfather I and II, Apocalypse Now, The Black Stallion, Rumblefish, and American Graffiti.

Coppola also operates an Italian cafe on the first floor where he serves wine from his Rubicon Estate vineyards (which we visited later in the week...stay tuned) and showcases old film artifacts (like the old-time zoetropes from which the cafe takes it's name).

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building

The Sentinel Building