Over the past two months I spent about a week and a half in different parts of California, and it was great. The weather was great. The food was great. The friends and family I got to see were, well, you get the picture. So here's a quick rundown of what I ate and where and, of course, if you should follow suit.
Bottega Louie-- A huge, beautiful space with high ceilings and marble floors. Good solid food and vast small plate options make this a definite foodie-friendly spot. Don't expect to hear what the person across the table from you says, though, as it is monstrously loud in here. Service is spot-on and prices are definitely in line for the quality of the food. I can't recommend a first date or business meeting here, but if you take your nagging significant other it may be one of the best restaurant experiences you ever have.
City Hall Farmers Market-- No clue what the name of the place selling the pupusas with the grilled plantains and fruit drinks was, but I'm sure this is the best way to experience their El Salvadorean cuisine anyway. The pupusa was tasty and the plantains were beautifully caramelized. The watermelon juice was much more watered down than it should have been, but everyone has to make money. A seat on the edge of a fountain while music plays on a sunny Southern California day makes everything better, but the food would have been yummy without the amenities.
Cafe Pinot-- Ah, the Patina Group. Their restaurants range from the sublime to the sub-par. This one, unfortunately, lay closer to the sub-par side than the other. The cooking here is widely uninspired in spite of their proximity to such a grand source of inspiration as the Los Angeles County Library must be. The specials are anything but. The basics here are executed fairly well, but this place is more miss than hit. Oh well, I needed something to complain about on this trip anyway.
Gary Danko-- Anyone who really knows me, knows Gary Danko has been on my mind since my first visit over three years ago. For good reason too. I'm not sure how, but I think they may have even upped their game at this amazing restaurant since then. Between myself, my best friend, and his girlfriend, we tried 14 different items on their menu. From fish to fowl, from app to dessert, there was not a slip-up or a miss among them. Everything is cooked to perfection, and the flavors are amazingly balanced. Service is perfect. In short, it's the best. Go. Now.
Modern Thai-- Techno music in a bright, vibrant space isn't usually a combination that screams good Thai food to me. In fact, I'm not sure what it screams, but the food here definitely qualifies as good to very good. It's no Lotus of Siam, but while in San Francisco you could definitely do worse.
Sidebar-- At this classy but relaxed place right off the lake, they like it when you eat locally. Even their bar menu features both classic and locavore versions of their cocktails. Solid food and drink in a friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately the service is spotty, otherwise a solid find in a town not known for cuisine.
Bovolo-- First, I saw on the website that their slogan is "Slow food... Fast!" I knew I had to go. Then I saw it was located at the back of a bookstore. I was no longer sure what I was getting into. I'm very glad we walked to the back of that bookstore and had the salad and sandwiches at this little counter service joint. Fresh, fast, and flavorful. It doesn't get much better than this when it comes to sandwiches. If you're in California wine country you need to check this place out.
Thumbprint Cellars-- Their tasting room in downtown Healdsburg is currently inhabited by paintings of meditating superheroes, which made this place a winner before I even had a sip. Then I had a few sips and found a few new favorite wines. All small production stuff that totally rocked my socks. Certainly a must visit the next time you're in that neck of the woods. And, if you want to give me an awesome $2000 gift, buy me the meditating Superman while there.
Joaquin Deli-- I know what you're thinking, "You went to San Leandro just to go to a deli? Not some fancy French place or some other ethnic gem?" My answer is yes, and I would do it again. The sandwiches were great, fresh and vibrant in flavor. It's a tiny counter service place in a converted house. Are the meats the same quality as Bovolo above? No, but at about 40% cheaper and an hour closer to my friend's apartment, I'll take the minor step down.
So, for those of you who weren't there, be jealous of my recent California treks. If not because of the (mostly) outstanding food, then certainly because of the spectacular weather and sights which inhabit those areas. And if you were there, still be jealous because I had you for company.
Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.