This past week we traveled to California. The centerpiece of the visit was a dinner reservation at the French Laundry in Yountville. We flew from Richmond to SFO, and first up, was Thanksgiving at my friend Todd's home in Merced, CA, about 150 minutes away from San Francisco proper. Here's a basic synopsis of the trip by day. Thursday * Thanksgiving, travel to Merced, Hampton Inn * Gilroy, Los Baños, Central Valley Friday * Breakfast with Neumann/Smekals * Tour of UC Merced * Trip to San Francisco * Check-in at Fairmont * Walking tour of Chinatown * Lunch at Noodle Place * Afternoon walk to Embarcadaro/Ferry Building * Pictures Bay Bridge * Dinner Sushi Place * Nighttime at Market/Union Square * Apple Visit, Virgin Megastore Saturday * Breakfast at Hotel * Walking tour to Fisherman's Wharf * Ghiradelli Plaza * Lunch with Wu-Shi in Chinatown * Cab to Palace of Fine Arts * Exploratorium * Back to Hotel * Dinner at Wolfgang Puck Restaurant: Postrio * Cab back to Hotel Sunday * Breakfast at Coffee Shop * Car Ride to Golden Gate Park * Japanese Tea Garden, Pictures * de Young Museum * Lunch at Shanghai Dumpling King, Richmond * Drive to Golden Gate, travel 101 to Napa * Arrive Westin Verosa * Car trip to Yountville, pictures, Boucheron bakery * Dinner at French Laundry Monday * Leave Napa Hotel, travel to Calistoga * Tour/Tasting at Castello Amorosa * Lunch at Rutherford Grill * Drive to Berkeley * Visit Amoeba Music * Dinner - Vietnamese * Drop off car at Airport We had not planned terribly well, but despite that, we had a good time, and got to see/do a lot, all things considered. I thought I'd highlight a few things from each day.
We drove from the airport following Todd's directions. The Garmin nüvi didn't like them, but we followed Todd's directions. We enjoyed the trip, it was very unusual. First, we went down "the" 101, through Silicon Valley, passing places like Redwood City and Cupertino. Then you end-up in Gilroy, home to an outlet mall. Todd's uncle would visit the next day, to inspect a store there. The terrain and views going past a water reservoir, yellow hills, and farmland, was all very unusual and interesting. By the time we approached closer to Merced along route 5, it was misty and cloudy. We stayed at the Hampton Inn which was great, save for the flood lights outside that illuminate the building. They shine into your room, and with only sheer curtains, your room is illuminated, too. Thanksgiving was a good meal, complete with Staci's friend from Parma High School, Todd's aunt, uncle, and nephew, and his mom. This is the first time I got to visit his home, and it was very tastefully appointed and painted inside. Thanksgiving went late, complete with FleetFarm dancing. The pie, a bit spicy.
We woke early Friday to visit Todd's work. He works at UC Merced, and it's literally in the middle of nowhere. It was kind of depressing, actually, with the cloudy skies, the abandoned, half-built homes, and the starkness of three large buildings against the barren horizon. We then said goodbye, and made it to the Fairmont in San Francisco. Wow, what hills in S.F. I didn't fancy driving there, so we parked the car for good. We ventured to Chinatown and settled on a specialty noodle shop for lunch. This was an interesting lunch that I enjoyed. I dropped my iPhone into the said soup. Seeing your $600 phone floating there, was surreal. It went in, face-down, right after I took this photo. As I got it out, it was still on, illuminated. As I would learn later, the SIM card got wet and things went downhill from there. With more walking, I was growing tired. The hills will really work your ankles. I visited the Ferry Building, saw the bridge, sampled some Scharffenberger chocolate, and then we took a cab back to the hotel before dinner. I wanted to try some good Japanese food, so close-by, the concierge recommended Sanraku, a local chain. This location is considered the best, and the fish I had was indeed very tasty. We completed our evening by walking to the Apple Store and Virgin Megastore. I found 2 CDs of interest, and we got my phone checked out. I would be without it for the remainder of the trip.
The only bad side of not planning well was Saturday. We had planned to ride the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf. I didn't want to go there, but XS insisted. We walked. That was a long walk. Once there, we continued on to Ghiradelli Square, another tourist area, where we bought souvenirs and then took another cab back home to the Fairmont. I was still full from our giant Fairmont buffet breakfast. But XS had booked us a lunch with two friends he knew in D.C., one of which used to work at Capital One. So, we ventured to Chinatown again and had lunch at Ying's (or some such Y-name). I have to confess, that was a bad meal. Maybe traditional and typical, but wholly uninspired. More bad planning: I thought the art museum was the "Palace" of fine arts. Whoops. So, we sat outside for awhile, but so much of it was still under construction. So, we visited the Exploratorium which XS didn't care for. We were both tired. Another trip back to the hotel. All these trips might have been easier on the pocket had we an understanding of the transit system. Next time. We decided to upsize dinner at the Prescott Hotel, home to Postrio. I have to say it started well; service was good, but it was big and cramped. I liked the appetizer but not the entrée: my duck tasted too bland. XS didn't care for his quail, served alongside a waffle with ice cream. Odd. We were bushed.
Sunday was a big day. It was time to leave S.F., but first, we visited the Golden Gate Park in S.F., home to many things to see. We only spent significant time in the Japanese gardens. Having parked and walked-through the de Young museum, I'm anxious to return. The newly-opened science museum was packed with a line. Not to mention the park was packed, it was a race day for runners. Next, we ventured to the west-side of S.F. to the Richmond neighborhood. Our Garmin helped us find one of two recommended Chinese restaurants XS found, this the Shanghai Dumpling King. The wait was long, but this small yet clean neighborhood spot was cheap and tasty. The soupy buns were really good (but not better than Joe's in NYC Chinatown). Next, we drove onto the Golden Gate bridge. Regret? Not stopping to walk on it. We travelled north through Sausalito and then east onto Napa. That night: the French Laundry. I plan to review it separately. Just a few notes: we were able to park right in front of the restaurant. It's very subtle. Subtle attention in service, subtle flavors, etc. Hardly no decoration. Of course, the meal was great, but we felt stuffed and ready to die afterwards.
A long day. Before leaving Napa, we snacked for breakfast on Bouchon pastries and then went further north along 29 into Calistoga. No plans, really, but we noticed the infamous castle, and decided to stop. The Castello di Amorosa is a winery/castle you can tour and visit. We spent over an hour on the paid tour, and it ends with a tasting. By the time we were done, it was just past noon. A recommendation from the go-ers there at the castle was Rutherford Grill, in Rutherford (further south). We stopped there, and after a short wait, were seated. I had a cheeseburger; XS had the infamous ribs. Both were outstanding. The burger was excellent, very smoky, excellent quality all around. A real treat. We left there, not sure to visit another winery, or head back to S.F. After some indecision, we gassed-up, and trekked to Berkeley. Among the things to see there were the university and the famous record store, Amoeba. After finding a parking garage, we got rain gear. The fog was thick and heavy. Gloomy day. We found the Amoeba store on foot, then walked briefly through campus. The famous archway was under construction. Oh well. Berkeley surprised me. Home to legends Ruth Reichl and Alice Waters, I expected more. It looked old, a bit run-down. Oh well. From there, we headed to the airport. Traffic was worse than I imagined, but we had plenty of time. Without the Garmin, I would have been lost. So, those are the basics. I arrived home Tuesday, and am now planning to go to bed. Back to work! For more photos, visit my Flickr group.