Monday, August 30, 2010

San Francisco and Sonoma Valley

My weekend was full of delicious food, ever-flowing wine, sightseeing, quality family time, and a wedding! The original reason for the trip out west was for my cousin Luke's wedding to Amanda in Sonoma. I wanted to go out there for the whole week to maximize my wine-tasting potential, but silly things like work got in the way, so I settled for early Thursday - Sunday. Sadly, upon arriving in San Francisco, I realized that my camera wouldn't work (it only displayed a black screen with a shadow across the center) so I wasn't able to take nearly as many pictures as I'd hoped. So my only pictures were taken on my Blackberry.

All of us were starving after our 6 hour flight from Boston, and my sister had spent even more time traveling from Charlottesville, VA. I don't like most airport food, and the snacks I'd packed for the journey didn't last long. Once we checked into our hotel in San Francisco, our first priority was food. My dad wanted a burger, and the concierge suggested The Burger Bar, which was just a block away.

I got the Chef's Veggie Burger - caramelized onions, button mushrooms, lentils, green peas, brown and white rice, pumpkin puree, potato, bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese. This was seriously the best veggie burger I've ever had, and I ate a lot of veggie burgers in my vegetarian days. I originally ordered it because it had pumpkin in it (I obsess over pumpkin) but all of the flavors came together to make a delicious burger. I ate it plain (without the bun or condiments) because I didn't want to mask any of the tastes! I'm going to try to make this at home. Everyone else got hamburgers, which I tried, and they were also delicious!

I was also impressed by another item on the menu...something that I'd had just the night before. Beer Floats! I didn't order one, but I'm hoping that beer floats start to catch on.

After refueling at The Burger Bar, we took the trolley around the city and spent some time at Ghirardelli Square where we stocked up on chocolate bars and drank hot chocolates to warm up (it was 60 degrees and so windy! Way colder than back home).

The next morning I went for a run with my brother and sister. We explored Union Square and the surrounding area, as well as Chinatown. I think running is my favorite way to explore a new city. We even challenged each other to running up the steepest hill we found, and I decided that Heartbreak Hill has nothing on the crazy hills in San Fran!

We got breakfast at a little French place that we'd passed on our run:

I got a breakfast sandwich on multi-grain toast with scrambled egg, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and cheddar cheese and a side of fresh fruit. Amazing!

After breakfast we packed up and headed out toward Sonoma Valley Wine Country. Of course we first stopped to be typical tourists at the Golden Gate Bridge.

We stopped at two vineyards on the way to our hotel in Sonoma. I wanted to stop at ten, but we had to make it to the rehearsal dinner on time, and preferably without slurring our words. The first vineyard was Viansa, which was absolutely beautiful, and also had a cafe and lots of cheeses, oils, and spreads to try and buy.

They had a really good Truffled Artichoke Tapenade, but I spent my money on wine instead.

For $5 you can taste 4 different wines, and if you buy a bottle of wine, the tasting is free. So of course we bought the wine (I bought 2 bottles, my dad bought 2 bottles and my sister bought 1 bottle).

After Viansa, we went to B.R. COHN for another wine tasting. I preferred these wines to Viansa, even the less expensive bottles. So I bought another two!

Today's Lesson: I was a little bit unsure about the difference between a winery and a vineyard, so when I got home I looked it up. Here's the basics (from A Taste of Wine website):
Vineyard: A vineyard is, as the word suggests, a "yard" where vines are grown — specifically, vines for grapes used to produce wine. A vineyard may be small with just a few acres or it might be huge with hundreds of acres.Technically speaking, a vineyard is not necessarily a place where wines are also produced — the grapes may be grown for the purpose of creating wines, but the people in charge of growing and tending the grape vines aren't necessarily the same ones responsible for actually creating the wines. In practice, though, if someone is going to put "vineyard" on their bottle of wine, they are likely responsible for both growing the grapes and producing the wine you're drinking.
Winery: A winery is a place where wine is produced: it's where the grapes are processed, stems and leaves removed, and fruit crushed. The grape juice is fermented and aged for a set period of time then bottled before being shipped out for distribution. A winery is basically where every part of the process of creating wines takes place once the grapes have finished growing and have been harvested.
*It's very common for vineyards and wineries to be at the same location and managed by the same people, but there are many cases where they are separated.

The rehearsal dinner was held at El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma. The appetizers, main course, and dessert were all fantastic. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures. Once seated, we started with the Mixed Greens Salad (pickled strawberries, laura chenel cabecou goat cheese, champagne vinaigrette). I had a chicken entree which I don't remember the specifics of, perhaps because my glass of Pinot Noir seemed to refill itself every time I took a sip. I also gave Pat half of my dinner because he was still hungry and I was more focused on my wine and anticipation of dessert. I chose the S’mores Tart (graham cracker crust, guittard chocolate ganache, fluffy italian meringue, vanilla ice cream). Wow.

The wedding on Saturday was one of the most beautiful I've been to. It was held at Beltrane Ranch and the weather was perfect (mid-70s), the sun was shining and the flowers were in perfect season. The entire place was breathtaking. Before the ceremony was a short reception while the guests arrived, and Arnold Palmers were served (sweet tea flavored vodka with lemonade), which happens to be one of my favorite drinks in the summer. After the ceremony was more drinks, again with an emphasis on local wines and also with a keg of Moose Drool Brown Ale (made at Big Sky Brewing Co - Luke's family has a vacation house in Big Sky, Montana, which I stayed at last summer and now want to move out there and open my own brewery - but that's a story for another day!). During the "cocktail hour" there were several appetizers passed around. I was most excited about these guys:

Little cones with pulled pork sliders and shoestring french fries! I don't think I've ever seen a cuter sandwich in my life. They tasted great, too!

The dinner food was southern-themed, and was served family style, with big plates on each table that everyone helped themselves to. The first course was unbelievable:

  • Asparagus and arugula with Parmesan cheese 
  • Many varieties of heirloom tomatoes with corn and balsamic vinegar
  • I don't know what the third thing is, other than I cannot describe how amazing it was. It had lots of cheese, corn, and was crispy on the top and like pudding in the middle.
The meat was also good, though I couldn't eat it all because I ate every bite of the first course:

  • Fried chicken with a kick (tasted like Tabasco or red pepper was in the batter)
  • Flank Steak
Usually I'm so distracted at weddings (catching up with friends, dancing, enjoying a cocktail or 5) that I don't eat very much of my meal. This wedding was certainly an exception because the food was too good to resist! Cake with fresh strawberries followed dinner, and later in the night there were cones (like used for the sliders) of donut holes to munch on!

The beautiful couple:

All in all, this was a wonderful trip! I certainly did the EAT.DRINK part well, and managed to find time for the RUN, although I think a few extra miles will be needed this week to balance out the weekend.

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