Saturday, December 1, 2012

Northern Cailfornia

My sister lives in San Fransisco and decided to have her wedding in Napa Valley, CA. Since we were making the trip there, we figured why not make it an entire vacation & check some wineries out while there. Christian has been there several times for business but I had not been to northern California since I was about 15 and have never been to the surrounding areas. I absolutely love it there!
We flew out to San Francisco on June 8th & my sisters wedding was the next day. We got our luggage & rental car & were on our way to Napa. On there way there we stopped at the food court at the Emeryville Public Market and ate at a really good Korean place called Sorabo Korean. You probably wouldn't expect to get really good food in a rest stop looking place but it was really good. They were pretty busy too.
Most of my family had arrived the day before so we met up with them at the Mumm Winery. They had already visited a few through out the day (they hired a party bus so they didn't have to drive). So we hung out there for a couple tastings & then headed to our hotel called Andaz Napa (Avia) to check in to get ready for rehearsal dinner.

They had decided to have their rehearsal dinner at an Italian Restaurant called Boskos Trattoria in Napa Valley. Sadly I don't even have any pictures from there but they had some delicious food! They let everyone mingle & have drinks before everyone was seated. Then they started bringing out family style servings of everything Italian that you could think of. If you are in the area, I'd definitely check it out.

The next morning we got up & started getting ready in my sister's suite. They were staying at the Andaz as well. This was probably one of the nicest hotels in Napa and it was very nice to have the huge room so everyone could get ready together.

She rented a huge tour bus to transport the guests back & forth so that no one would have to drive, which was very nice. They took the bridal party first & then went back to pick up all of the guests. It worked out great.

Melissa & Noah got married at the V Sattui, which is in St Helena. There are only a few places in the Napa Valley/St Helena area that are aloud/able to have weddings so they chose this place. There were certain things that I don't necessarily agree with on their policies but they did help Melissa & Noah have an amazing & beautiful wedding & reception.

The bridal party took pictures before the ceremony, which was great so we could enjoy the cocktail reception after the ceremony. The ceremony was perfect & beautiful. Afterwords, the bride & groom took pictures on their own & then joined everyone at the cocktail reception.

We were then escorted to the reception room which was just beautiful. We were surrounded by wine barrels & candle light. We had a lot of fun & had lots of good wine & food.

The next morning we decided to check out some more wineries. The first one we went to was Hess Winery. We had tasted a lot of wine the night before so we did not do any testings yet & ironically this is now one of my favorite wineries. We drove around most of the day just checking things out & exploring. Northern California is just absolutely beautiful & we stumbled upon some really cool places.
We also visited Castello di Amorosa, which looks like a castle. This place is pretty cool & is owned by the same person who owns V Sattui. We wondered around there & check things out but did not doing any tastings there.

The last winery we visited that day was the Sterling Vineyards. You take a gondola up the hill & we did the do it yourself tasting. You walk around & stop at different stations & try a different wine at each one. It was pretty cool because you just walk around at your own pace with your glass & can check things out along the way. Then you finish in a tasting room & can have some more tastings there as well.

That night we went to dinner with most of my family & the bride & groom at Fume Bistro & Bar. This was a nice casual restaurant but still very good. I had fish with some veggies & Christian had oysters with a steamed artichoke. Dinner was pretty good!
The next morning we took a bike tour of some wineries in Napa through Napa Valley Bike Tours. We both thought that this was going to be a low key stroll through some wineries, but I would definitely not describe it as that, lol. I had seriously not ridden a bike since I was in high school & one of the other couples in the tour with us showed up in all of their biking gear & obviously ride bikes a lot more than we do. We had 3 other couples with us in our group & they were all more experienced that us. Since it was the middle of June it was very hot that day too.
We met at their store and our tour guide went over some basics like hand signals, where were going, etc. I already felt like an idiot having to wear a helmet but the tour guide tells me to get my bike (which was of course in the middle of the rest). I kinda looked at him funny, like I'm probably gonna knock the rest over trying to get it because they were so close but went with it. I of course did the Pee-wee Herman & knocked over all of the other bikes! How horrifying to start it off like that! At least everyone else thought it was funny ;)
We all hopped on & Christian & I stayed in the back. They provide a little bag on the front of the bike to put your belongings in & then give you a water bottle to keep to put water (not wine) in that you can fill up at each stop. The first winery we went to was Cliff Lede. This place wasn't too far down the street so this was a pretty low key ride. This place was beautiful & has really good wine. We ended up buying a bottle at each winery we went to on the tour. There is a van that meets up at each winery so if you buy anything they can take it back for you.

After that we rode aways to the Silenus Winery. This was a pretty long ride & that's when the heat started to get to me. The tour guide would stop every so often to talk about a certain grape we saw or the type of vines one had. This was also a good time to drink some water to rehydrate but there was never really anywhere to stop in a shaded spot.
They provided lunch for us there on a picnic table, which was cool. Overall, the tour was probably about 5 hours so that was nice to have a little break too. We got to have time to talk to the tour guide & other people in the group. We went back in after lunch to try some more wines.
 At this location a lot of people will store their own wine there. So they make their own but also store others who do not own an entire winery. So they pretty much contract out the barrels & space. Thought that was kinda cool so you dont have to be a millionaire to make wine out there. We purchased a bottle there & went on to the the third & final winery.

After another long ride, we were at the last winery called Chimney Rock. This place was pretty cool with a Greek architecture style. This place had the air-conditioning cranked so I was very content hanging out in there. We purchased another bottle of wine there & headed back to the shop.

Overall, it was a fun experience but very long. You don't need to be a super experienced rider but maybe just try to do it on a non-super hot day. We were so hot & sweaty that we honestly felt more like drinking water than wine. What we did drink, I'm sure we just sweated out, lol.
That evening we hung out with my sister & her new husband & we went to Meadowood. This place is in my top five meals ever! We had tried to get into the French Laundry with no luck so we had heard about them & decided to check it out. This place has four Michelin stars if that tells you what kind of meal you will have & what your bill will look like ;)
They are very forward thinking & the things that they came up with were just amazing. My sister does not eat meat & they even adjusted her courses to her taste. I believe we ended up having 10 courses which was $225/person. You can also do the wine pairings which I believe was another $225/person. I did not do the wine pairing because I don't really drink when I'm eating. The only thing that I did not like was I was pretty full when we left. At those type of places you should be comfortably full when you leave, not overly. But we also drank a bottle of wine on the way, so that could have had something to do with it too ;)
Sadly, I can't even tell you what half of this is but it was so freaking delicious. Please excuse the poor pictures, we did not want to bring our huge camera in or use a flash. If you want to see what the food really looks like, please visit their website.
We had told the waiters that Melissa & Noah had just gotten married & they took us back into their kitchen. This was the most amazing kitchen I have ever seen in my life! They had every kind of seasoning you could think of. There were probably 15 chefs back there planning out the meals for the next day. Keep in mind, we were the last couple to leave there & was probably about midnight & these guys were still working on this. The service was excellent & the food was just beyond amazing. I know it's a lot of money but as a once in a lifetime experience it was awesome!
The next morning we got up & went to Bodega Bay. On the way there we stopped in Santa Rosa at a restaurant that had been on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives called La Texanita. We had probably the best Mexican that I have ever had there. We stopped there on a weekday after lunchtime so we didn't even have to wait for a table. Usually after a place is on Triple D's, there is always a long wait but they didn't have one at all.
I tried a sopa for the first time. For some reason we can just not find those in the mid-west (or at least in the Cincinnati area). Loved it! Then we also that a tostada & an enchilada. Delicious! Defiantly check it out if you are in the area.
After lunch we headed to Bodega Bay. This was a part of California that I have never seen before. It kind of reminded me of Portugal. Northern California is probably the prettiest part of the United States that I've seen. I haven't been all over but it's pretty cool.
We drove along the ocean & just stopped at random places that we wanted to check out. I don't know if it's normally like this but it was windy as heck! As we walked along the beach you would get pelted with sand & it was pretty cold. At one point we walked up to the top of a hill & you felt like you were going to get blown off! I had to sit down at first because I literally thought I was gonna fall off, lol. The views were just breathtaking & amazing there.

I have always, always wanted to ride horses along the beach & Christian surprised me with a ride in Bodega Bay. Melissa & Noah had come up there too so they joined us. We went through Chanslor Ranch & Retreat who actually uses a lot of rescue horses. I believe part of the fee goes to helping the horses as well. Also, if you go with 4 people go, you get one person free. Awesome deal & it goes to helping the horses.
It ended up being about a two hour ride & I absolutely loved it! I of course ended up with the largest horse who likes to buck at the other horses sometimes so I went in the back. He also kept trying to eat along the way, which was pretty funny. When we got down to the beach our guide took off on his horses & ours followed. This was not a trot but a full on run. I was half screaming, half laughing the whole time. This was such a neat experience & the horses were so sweet.
Apparently some horses like to get high off of paint by chewing on it! There is actually some term for it but I forget what it is called. They had to put reins back in to prevent mine from doing that.

After the ride we went to Jenner & got some barbecue oysters & clam chowder at Cafe Aquatica. They oysters were very, very yummy!

Since it was Sunday, Melissa & Noah had to go back to work the next day since they are taking their honeymoon later in the year. They headed back to San Francisco & we headed to Healdsburg. We took the really long way & stopped at lots of cool places along the way along the ocean. We just took Highway one all of the way up.

Along the way we came upon Lake Sonoma. This is probably one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen. Gosh, I wish I could afford to live here! We found the park where there is a visitors section or something & found this overlook with a high porch that overlooked the entire lake. It was an awesome view.
We made our way to Headlsburg. That night we had reservations at another kick ass restaurant called Cyrus. Which sadly I just learned will be closing at the end of this month due to what sounds like the landlord is being a greedy asshole. Hopefully they'll come up something else that we'll just have to go check out from them. Cyrus has two Michelin stars, which is pretty hard & rare to get.
You have a choice between a five or eight course menu. We of course went for the eight ;) I believe it was $150/person & then had the optionable wine pairing for another $150. This dinner was beyond amazing! They were very forward with their meals & choices as well. I'd even venture to say we liked Cyrus a little more than Meadowood. Again, please excuse the pictures, we didn't want to bring our large camera in or turn on the flash.
Pre-dinner snack
For dipping ;)
Chilled Salmon w/ ginger & daikon, snap pea-basil broth
Chorizo crusted scallop w/ sweet corn & lobster froth
Humane Foie Gras Tourchon w/ bing cherries
Halibut w/ pea sprouts & asparagus, lemon verbena
Crispy chicken w/ miso & morel fondue
 Seared beer cheek w/ green & black garlic, lotus root, natural jelly
The coolest things were the cheese & dessert carts. Oh my gosh they were to die for! I think in between the fifth & six course they brought out this cheese cart that has cheeses from other countries. They offer you one that is the more unusually (stinky) cheeses & your other choice is the not so stinky ones. Christian is all about the stinky cheeses & he had that. I got the other one. Then they actually give you a dessert in the end with your meal. Then after that, they bring out the dessert cart. They bring out little to-go boxes & let you pick out what you want. Delicious!!! Definitely in my top five of best meals ever. At the end the also bring you a typed up menu with your names & date on it, pretty cool.
 The not so stinky cheeses (served Artisanal & Farmhouse)
Breads & jellies
Cocoa Nib "Affogato", condensed milk semifreddo
The dessert cart!!!!
The next morning we got up, drove around & went to some more wineries. The first one we went to was Jordan. Apparently you have to have an appointment to do a tasting there. We just happened to come in when another one was finished so one of the guys was cool & let us taste some of the unfinished wine from another one. We of course decided to buy a bottle there as well.
The next winery we visited was The Arista Winery. This was a cool but chill place to visit. It was just very relaxed atmosphere there. We did a tasting there & continued on our way.

The final winery we visited for the day was Gary Farrell. This was one of my favorite ones we visited. The tasting room had a great view over the valley. We were there until they closed & then headed on our way for some late lunch.

The nice guy at Jordan had recommended a good restaurant called Barndiva. This was a great lunch spot. We has asparagus soup, seared ahi & duck. Yummy, yummy.
Afterwords we decided to go for a beer & went to the Bear Republic brewpub. It was cool to go there because it was a different scene than the wine that we had all week long. Just wish we could get it in Kentucky so my company could carry it ;)
That night we were still feeling beer so we went to the Patterson's Pub in Windsor. We just grabbed a burger & some beers & hung out there most of the night. Nothing crazy on the food or beer but just was a good hang out spot.
Our last night in Headlsburg we went to a local seafood restaurant called Willi's. This was excellent. We got the large seafood platter & it was great! Seafood & wine go so well together ;)
Here's a pic of the of the wine we have acquired so far on the trip. We also ended up with a couple bottles of Korbel & V Sattui as well.
The next morning we got up & headed to our last winery at Korbel. It was kinda early so we had a tasting & a sandwich there (they have a nice deli there) & headed on the road to meet back up with my sister & her husband in Belvedere for the weekend that evening.
On the way back we drove along highway one past Bodega Bay again & walked down the see the seals along where the Russian River comes out into the ocean. They must hang out there for the fish. They were so cute!
Our first stop on the way was Point Reyes Park. Again, another part of California that I had never seen or heard of that kinda reminded me of Europe. This place was beautiful! First we found the McClures Beach Trailhead. We parked in the lot & hiked down the the beach. This beach was just beautiful. I'm pretty sure any beach that you go down to at Point Reyes park is just amazing.
Next we drove over to the other end where the light house/visitors center is. This was pretty much as close as you can get to to the middle of no where. We parked & walked up to the visitors center. On the way, you are the highest point of the park. It's so consistently windy that the trees now are permanently leaning.
Up until four-thirty, you can walk down to the lighthouse (winds after that exceed over forty miles per hour). Unfortunately we got there around five. On the platform overlooking the lighthouse there is actually a sign saying it's one of the most windiest points in the world. You could literally lean into the wind, it was crazy. We even saw a deer with her baby wondering around in the middle of nowhere up there.
That evening we meet tmy sister &  her husband in Belvedere at his family's house. This place is so peaceful & just breathtaking with beautiful views of the city. It's kinda cool to be away from all of the craziness of San Francisco & just look out upon it. Most of the house is over the water so you could the waves crashing from underneath you, loved it.
That night he hung out at the house & watched the sunset. Then we went to Servino for dinner. They had some really good seafood & Italian food. Then we went to a local bar for a few drinks called Sam's Anchor Cafe.
The next day we got a nice tour of San Francisco from Noah & Melissa. Noah drove us around all day & showed us so many things, it was great. We first went to a local brewery called Southern Pacific. It was pretty cool & had some good bar food too.

Then we headed downtown to check out some places. We drove by the Anchor Brewery, AT&T park and then parked and wondered around a little.

We ended up at the San Fran Ferry Building at the Farmer's Market. They had a lot of great different foods along with some really good people watching ;) The best things we had there was the seaweed wrap tacos. Delicious!!!
After walking around we drove around some more. We had to go down the famous curvy road Lombard Street. Unfortunately everyone goes really slow, it just kinda like sitting in traffic. They even have police directing traffic because it's so busy there. Then we checked out their apartment & walked around at the local beach. Then we drove back over the San Francisco bridge back to Belvedere.
 We decided to go back to Sam's Anchor Cafe to watch the sunset & grab some snacks. They had some good appetizers & good choice in beers.
Then we went back to the house & made some dinner.
I had not been to San Francisco since I was a teenager so it was great to go out there & really experience everything. Northern California is such a fun & beautiful area. If we could afford it, we'd so move out there. It's such a great place to visit for good food, good wine & beautiful scenery. 

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