sonoma and san francisco: part 1

I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m done eating out. I was supposed to meet friends at Fire tomorrow and had to push it back. I’m putting together my grocery list now and can’t tell you how good cereal and toast sounds – in my own kitchen.

Ok, so maybe I’m really not done with food and restaurants (is that even possible?), but I am taking a week off. We ate well in Sonoma and San Francisco – really, really well. We visited some very memorable places and experienced incredible dishes. Nevertheless, even for a foodie, eating out everyday after a week can get to you – and your waistline. I’m happy to be home, and if anyone needs me, I’ll be on the treadmill.

This trip was a huge success, both personally and professionally. The conference I attended was better that I anticipated. I met some of the brightest and smartest though leaders in my profession like Shel Israel, Shel Holtz, Geoff Livingston and Joseph Jaffe. These guys are the Mario Batali, Charlie Palmer and Thomas Keller of my industry.
When we weren’t working, we were eating – and drinking. For wineries, we visited Coppola, Jordan, White Oak and Field Stone. Jamie explored several others solo while I was learning about all things social media. I think Artista was his favorite. My favorites were Jordan (beautiful grounds and old mansion) and Field Stone, although the view at Coppola is picture-esque, even if it is under construcion. We ended up buying a case just from Field Stone alone and another half case from a mix of the other places.

For dinner in Sonoma, we ate at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, Cyrus and the General’s Daughter. San Francisco will be another post.

I absolutely loved this place! What a perfect introduction to wine country and California cuisine. The décor was my take on the quintessential Napa restaurant and the outside reminded me of Tuscan mansion (at least what I imagine one to look like) with ivy growing up the sides. I loved the oversized fireplace, use of stone, copper chandeliers and large open bar to watch the chefs in action. The food was equally as impressive. We started off with today’s temptations, which consisted of an array of small bites decided by the chef – a total surprise. This included cauliflower soup, halibut ceviche, English pea mousse, poached shrimp with cucumber salsa and foie gras pâté. I was happily delighted with each one except the foie gras. For dinner, I went with the Indian spice chickpeas with roasted cauliflower, cucumber raita, tamarind chutney, cilantro salad, crispy pappadam and house made paneer. Every bite was incredible. Between the atmosphere and cuisine, this was one of our favorite meals. I would happily go back.

Dry Creek Kitchen
With Charlie Palmer at the helm, you just know this is going to be fabulous. In fact, it was better – it was knock your socks off good. The restaurant is located in the very charming town of Healdsburg. The town was so great, we stopped back to explore more on our way to San Fran. The restaurant itself is stunning. It’s warm and cozy but still contemporary, with oversized doors that open to the outside, curved ceilings, giant dramatic flower arrangements, a cool bar and great terrace with a covered pergola and a frosted glass wall that separates the dining room from the kitchen. For my meal, I started with the crab cakes with pancetta and ordered the prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin with mascarpone polenta, trumpet mushrooms, organic carrots and fava beans. This dish was as close to perfection as you can get. It’s definitely up there as one of the best plates of food I have ever had. Since the menu changes daily, the chances of me having this dish again are pretty slim, sigh.
Since we were in the area, we tried like most to snag a table at The French Laundry. And like most, we were politely turned away. Cyrus, which is similar in approach and also located in Healdsburg, was recommended to us and luckily they were able to accommodate. This cozy space was also nice, with curved walls, lots of cream and beautiful prints. But what really added to the overall décor, were the carts – from caviar and champagne, to cheese and dessert. These carts stood out like giant art displays and my eyes were happily fixated on the cheese one for most of the night, happily anticipating its arrival to our table. For our meal, the table opted to get the eight-course chef’s tasting, again everything being a surprise. First, we enjoyed some champagne (Agrapar) and caviar served with gruyere hash browns of sorts. Before the meal was served, the chef sent out five small bites designed for the five tastes: sour, bitter, sweet, salty and savory. Loved this concept and tiered presentation. For the tasting, we were treated to: tataki of wagyu with oxtail and umeshu consommé, roasted beets with mandarins and pistachios, ikejime tai, smoked soba noodles and crab in a oolong tea broth, roasted duck breast and bok choy, lamb with asparagus gratinee, ramps and morels, cheese selection (St. Maure, Hudson Valley Camembert, Piedmont Sheep’s Milk, St. Pat, Oregonzola and Epoisses), rhubarb spoon with lemon fizz (very fun) and chocolate beignets. With the exception of the cheese and lamb, everything was good, but not great. We definitely enjoyed our meals the previous nights more. Where this place really shines though is the service. This was hands down the best service of any restaurant I have ever been to. It was practically an art form. Each of us had our own server bring out each tasting, and they served it as if they were synchronized swimmers – in perfect unison. It was really something to watch. The only thing that struck me as odd was the lack of communication. It’s as if the servers are trained with the guards at Buckingham Palace – they don’t say boo or blink. Nonetheless, it was incredibly impressive and we all really enjoyed the conversations, company and experience. And as a nice touch at the end, we all received a copy of the menu with the specifics and brownies for the next day.

The General’s Daughter
This historic restaurant is the former home of General Valejo’s daughter, Natalia, built in 1864 and restored in the 90s. It’s a magnificent house with beautiful grounds. I didn’t have my notebook with me, so the specifics of the meal are a little hazy. I opted for the three-course tasting, which included the fresh vegetable soup, cauliflower risotto and lamb chops with lentils. I also tasted some of my coworkers shrimp and grits. Again, everything was delicious – and fresh. My favorite was the risotto and lamb. The only drawback was that I was so full from the risotto; I only managed a few bites of the lamb.
If I had to rate my favorite spots from this part of the trip, Dry Creek would top the list, followed by Greystone, The General’s Daughter and Cyrus. All wonderful experiences and meals I surely won’t forget anytime soon.


  1. Alexa
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    tickle me green with envy.

    especially at the part where you went to the jordan vineyards. i have a special little place in my heart for jordan wines. it was my fathers favorite and whenever i see or drink it i get a little sentimental.

    so jealous of your conference attendance too : )

  2. Allison M.
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    You had to write everything down, right? I can’t even pronounce some of those dishes.

    Fire next week it is!

  3. Carrie
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle:

    Just got caught up with your blog…glad to hear the trip was a success!


  4. SkyeLarae's
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Hey Michelle,

    So happy you had fun in Cali. I just got back a couple of weeks ago from there. Isn’t Sonoma beautiful? Take care!

    Chef Eric Wells

  5. TraciJ
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    So glad to hear that you had fun in the Sonoma area. Knew you would! Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip. That is cool that you were able to stop in at the CIA. French Laundry is on my list for our anniversary in September this year ~ You have to call 2 months in advance for reservations (strict policies too!) If we make it in, I will tell you about it.

    Get some R&R and some home cooking……… :)

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