Thursday, January 23, 2014

California Christmas 2014: Wine Country and San Francisco

Obviously there are a lot of adjustments to be made when you're getting married, but I think one of the biggest for Doug and me so far has been the issue of who we're spending the holidays with. I spent last Christmas and Thanksgiving with Doug's parents in Port Orchard, WA so this year, my fam had custody of us for a California Christmas.

Temps in the 70s and lots of sunshine? Who could complain about that? Answer: Doug. But ignore him. He's just confused.

Our trip started off with an overnight visit to wine country with one of our favorite drinking buddies, Sarah, followed by a night in San Francisco, and a few more nights visiting my parents in Nipomo, a small town on California's central coast.

Here's what our first two days looked like:

Day 1: Beer Crawl Through Wine Country 


Stop 1: Breakfast at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville
We went for the macarons (they're huge, just like the ones I remember from Paris) but the real star of the show was the bacon and cheddar scone. So good!

Stop 2: Beringer Winery in St. Helena
$20 for a tasting in the Old Winery Tasting Room.
Did you know that Healdsburg is like the hippest little town ever? It's cute town square is surrounded by a bunch of chic boutiques and restaurants plus over a dozen different tasting rooms. Definitely worth the trip.

Stop 3: Lunch at Healdsburg Bar & Grill in Healdsburg
Doug and I are big time Top Chef Masters fans so we had to stop by season 5 winner Douglas Keane's restaurant for burgers. The prognosis: Eh. Cafe Castagna, you've spoiled us.

Stop 4: Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg
This place was weird. It's obviously a local hangout, which we usually like checking out, but our bartenders were wasted (we think they were having a company party that night), the service was terrible, and there were some super creepy middle-aged guys trying way too hard to impress some giggly MILFs. No thanks.

Stop 5: Moustache Baked Goods in Healdsburg 
This bakery was straight out of Portland. Mustaches and cuteness for days. And really good whoopie pies.

Stop 6: Dinner and Drinks at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. 
Being the beer buffs that they are, Sarah and Doug were majorly stoked about our stop at Russian River, brewers of the much celebrated Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder

Russian River is apparently the place to be in Santa Rosa. The bar and seating areas were packed but thankfully it wasn't too long before they called our name for a table. I think we sampled most of the beers on tap among the three of us (about 15 in all- don't worry we got tasters) and Sarah and Doug took advantage of the cheap bottles of fresh Pliny the Elder. We also had some super tasty pepperoni pizza to help neutralize all that beer.

Day 2: Sunny San Francisco Saturday

Stop 1: Brunch at La Boulange in Hayes Valley 
We took our time getting up and leaving Santa Rosa so by the time we got to SF we were pretty hungry. I've been to La Boulange a few times now and its baked goods never disappoint. My ham and pea quiche was especially tasty.

Stop 2: Smitten Ice Cream in Hayes Valley
What's brunch without a little dessert? Smitten is located in a cute little red and white lean-to in the middle of a small strip of park. All ice cream is made-to-order using liquid nitrogen, which results in an end product that is super fresh and super creamy.

I tried their fresh mint chip ice cream and it was pretty much amazing. The fresh mint definitely gives it a different flavor than your average mint ice cream but it was so, so refreshing. Perfect for a sunny day!

Smitten also has lots of fun toppings that you can add into your base flavors like homemade brittle, spicy caramel, and cinnamon shortbread. It's basically the cooler, more hipster version of ColdStone. My sis would love it.

Stop 3: Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in Haight-Ashbury
After all that food we really needed a nice long walk... and after our nice long walk, we really needed a beer? Whatever, we were on vacation.

Stop 4: Dolores Park
Locals hang out here for the amazing view of the city. We managed to time our visit right at sunset. Such a great way to end our bay area adventures with Sarah!

Stop 5: Dinner at Incanto in Noe Valley 
Doug and I decided to take ourselves out to a nice dinner as part of our Christmas present to each other. We both loved the beef tongue tartare Incanto chef Chris Cosentino made for Feast Portland's Night Market, so Incanto seemed liked a good choice for our big dinner out.

Chris Cosentino is known for his love of offal, so Doug and I took the plunge and ordered the pork skin noodles as our appetizer. The noodles were a bit more gelatinous that your usual pasta, but tasty nonetheless.

Sadly, we weren't as adventurous with our main courses and I think that might have been our downfall. We both played it fairly safe with pasta dishes and while Doug's pork ragu and my acorn ravioli were good, neither of us felt like we were eating anything all that special. Lesson learned- don't be afraid to try the weird stuff!

Stop 6: Drinks at Trick Dog in the Mission
We weren't quite ready to head back to our hotel after dinner so Krizia recommended that we check out Trick Dog, a spot known for it's innovative craft cocktails. Pretty sure this is where all the cool kids go and aside from the trying-to-be-hip-but-are-really-just-annoying record album menus, I really liked this place.

I would like to tell you what we ordered, but apparently they switch up their menu often because the one now listed online is completely different. I don't know that our first round of drinks was, but I do know they were good and strong! We started to notice that almost everyone else was ordering a drink served in a ceramic pineapple, so we decided to try that next. I'm not sure if that's still available what with the new menu, but if it is, you should get it because it's really fun and really tasty.

Next up: we head down to the Central Coast. Stay tuned!