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Napa/Sonoma 7/3/2009 – 7/11/2009

Planning

The planning for this trip occurred back in March.  We had talked about going to Napa/Sonoma last year but ended up going to Hawaii on a cruise instead.  We bought tickets on American airline to San Francisco, rented a car (a Prius hybrid) and planned to stay in Napa for 4 nights then move to Sonoma for 3 nights before staying over night in San Francisco before our flight out.

Friday, July 3, 2009

We had a 6:00 AM flight to DFW then onto SFO with a short layover.  I was up at 3AM but planned to be up at 3:30AM.  The bags were packed and just needed to be closed and locked.  I’d ordered a taxi to be at the house at 4:40AM so we’d arrive at the airport by 5AM.  The taxi was on time and we were checking our bags prior to 5AM.

The flights were all on time and we arrived in SFO at 10:30AM.  We took the Air Train to the rental car facility to pickup our car – very convenient.  We’d rented a Prius since the cost of gas in California was 50 to 60 cents higher than in Florida.  I also wanted to see if I’d like it; and if so may buy one for my next car.  We took the GPS option which once you figure out how to use it correctly, really works (most of the time!).

We decided to drive to Napa via the Golden Gate Bridge.  The weather was a little cool but clear – until we got near the bridge!  The entire bridge was in fog and we couldn’t see the water or the top of the bridge.  Once on the other side, the sun was out again.  The drive to Napa took about ninety minutes.

We checked into the River Terrace Inn and had lunch in their café overlooking the Napa River.  Afterwards, we walked around, found the train station, COPIA and went into downtown.  We had Wine Train reservations that night and the station was only a few hundred yards away.  We had reservations at Julia’s Kitchen at COPIA so now knew where that was.  Downtown is quite nice and quaint.

We had to get back to the hotel and change for dinner.  The check-in time for the train was 5:30PM, boarding at 6:00PM then departure at 6:30PM.  The entire trip takes about 3 to 3.5 hours.  The suggested dress was jacket for men (no tie) and that’s what we wore but there was everything from shorts and flip flops to suits.  We had reservations in the Vista Dome car.  This was a former Princess cruise lines Alaska train observation car.  Like a cruise ship, before boarding, you had your picture taken that would be ready when you returned if you wished to purchase it.  They had a nice wine store in the station, and you could purchase a glass of the wines they'd be offering as an apertif.

The service and food was very good.  I rode in the backwards position on the way up and thus was in the forward position on the way back.  The dinner is prepaid but wine and liquor are extra as are tip.  Overall, it was rather an expensive trip ($350 for 2) but worth it to start off our vacation.  The menu consisted of two choices for starter, one soup and one salad choice and four entrees.  Since I didn’t care for either appetizer (roasted scallop with smoked salmon or seared foie gras), I had the salad to start followed by the soup.  Eric had the foie gras then the salad.  For entrée I had the beef tenderloin and Eric had the duck breast.  For dessert, I had the apple crumble and Eric had the crème bruleé.  We had Napa Valley red from Stag's Leap Ranch called "Panza" for the wine.  I think I may have had a rusty nail to start as well.   They started us off with a complimentary flute of sparkling wine as an apertif.

We basically were served appetizer through entrée on the way up (Napa to St. Helena).  We were still eating the entrée when they stopped in St. Helena.  The locomotives are disconnected and go past the rest of the train on a side rail to what was the end and is now the front!  They connect back up and we started back!  It is very interesting how they do that.  The train only travels at about 15 MPH.

After finishing your entrée, they recommend you walk through the train.  There was one car behind ours which was a club car with a viewing platform at the end.  There were several cars in front of ours including a couple of club cars, a couple of dining cars, the kitchen car – you can watch them cook, and a casual bar car.  The train was not very full.  We wanted to go on Friday, July 4 but that was already booked up.  There was quite a bit of movement so you needed your sea legs.  When we got back to our table, the waiter said to let him know when we were ready for dessert and coffee.  We finally did and it was very good.

After returning to the station, we headed back to our hotel and collapsed!  We had been up 22 hours that day and we were tired and had had all that to drink!

Friday, July 4, 2009

We were up by 7:00AM, dressed, had breakfast at the hotel (expanded buffet included In room price – very good).  We then left for Domaine Carneros in the Carneros district.  This is the California house for the Tattinger champagne people in France.  It has to be one of the most beautiful wineries in Napa.  It’s a huge French chateau that sits on a bluff with gorgeous grounds and gardens.  We paid the $25 each for the tour and tasting.  Most wineries charge for tastings and/or tours.  We went to vines near chateau and were told how they grew, were tended and how the grapes were picked.  We then went inside, saw a short film about the process of making sparkling wine while sipping some then went down to see the processing line.  We had another taste of sparkling then over to another area and yet another taste of a different sparkler.  We ended up in the tasting room for a sample of two of their pinot noir’s.  Of course you could make purchases of all their wines and accessories – which we did!

I t was approaching noon and time for lunch, so off to Boon Fly Café a short distance away.  They serve large sandwiches and homemade potato chips – yummy.  We then headed out for Domaine Chandon which is the California house of Moet-Chandon of France.  The grounds of Chandon are beautiful but the next tour was over an hour later so we decided to go somewhere else instead of waiting.  We went up to what the GPS said was Rubicon Estate but was actually the tasting room for Grgich-Hills wines.  We decided not to taste and went basically next door (1/2 mile or so) back to Rubicon Estate.

Rubicon Estate is the former Niebaum-Coppola winery – they changed the name recently.  When you arrive, you are asked if you are aware of the $25 fee and valet parking.  We left the car, were give a ‘passport’ good for three days return visits and included tours and tastings.  They stamped it on each visit and when you had the tasting.  The last tour was already booked so we booked in on the first one the next day since we planned to be back up there anyway.  We walked around the chateau which had some of Coppola’s film memorabilia on display.  We went to the tasting room, tried the four wines they were pouring, all of which were very good and some of which we had already had.  We then left and went directly across from the entrance to the St. Helena Olive Oil store.

This store has California olive oil, sauces, jams, chutney’s, etc for tasting and buying and some soaps as well.  The California oils I’ve bought before (NapaStyle aka Michael Chiarello) was good but all these oils were very bitter.  We bought some BBQ sauce and some amazing blackberry blossom honey.

It was getting late and we were tired so we drove back down Rt. 29 back to the hotel.  Route 29 is the main road through Napa but can be very congested, especially on the weekends.  We discovered too late that another road runs almost parallel to 29 to the east called the Silverado Trail.  It’s very scenic and less travelled but rather windey.  There more wineries on 29 but some are located on Silverado.  There are enough cross roads between the two that I’d rather travel on the Silverado Trail instead.

We rested then dressed for dinner at Julia’s Kitchen at COPIA.  Julia’s Kitchen is wonderful restaurant that pays homage to Julia Child.  Some of here kitchen items are on display as well.  We started off with a rusty nail and a glass of sparkling wine…from just up the road.  We had stuffed squash blossoms and also panko breaded oysters.  I had a risotto with spring vegetables and Eric had a pan roasted halibut.  The wine was a French pinot noir called Fleurie.  In homage to Mme Child, vin francaise.  We had a very elaborate strawberry torte made with sliced strawberries on a bed of strawberry coulis.  Coffee and espresso finished off the meal.    The food was wonderful and the service was great.  By the time we were leaving, 9:45 or so, fireworks were going off downtown.  It was July 4th.   We had a great view.  I’m glad we could walk because, as I suspected, traffic was all over the place!

Saturday, July 5, 2009

Today we headed back to Rubicon Estates for our tour.  Rubicon is the original Inglenook winery founded back in the mid-1800’s.  Over time the majority of the land and even the chateau were sold off, partly due to prohibition.  A conglomerate, Humble, bought the chateau and sold off some of the land.  Francis Ford Coppola decided to buy the winery from Humble and over the years, reassembled all the original parcels and the chateau so it is now all back together.  Inglenook as we know it today makes low end jug wines (the name was sold off) but in it’s day (turn of the century, it was considered very fine wine served in the best hotels.  The chateau and winery was named Inglenook by the founder Captain Niebaum and the name is embedded in the doorway entrance floor of the chateau.

The tour was more of a historical tour of the founding of the winery, its slow demise and reassembly by FFC.  It was rather inspiring and nice to know that some people are in business not just to make money at all costs but to also make a good product even at a higher cost.

After the tour, we drove further north to Dean & Deluca and ordered sandwiches and ate outside. (What a cool grocery store!) Afterwards, we drove up to St. Helena and walked around for awhile.  On the drive back, we stopped at Franciscan winery.  This winery and several others are owned by a conglomerate: Constellation Brands.  The welcome center and assorted buildings are relatively new.  We paid $15 for the tour and tasting.  The tour guide was very good, we saw the tasting rooms then went out to the vineyard where it was explained how the grapes are grown, harvested, etc...all in all a very good detail.

It was time to head back to the hotel and rest a little before dinner at 25° Brix.  We actually drove past this restaurant a couple of times already.  Brix is the measurement of sugar in the grape juice and is measured in degrees.  (grams sugar per ml of water??) The winemakers determine when to harvest the grapes based on this measurement.  The restaurant has its own gardens where it grows the produce used there.  We had a wonderful meal and a red we’d never heard of but liked: B Land & Reed Cabernet Franc.  We started with heirloom tomatoes in a sweet vinaigrette and also stuffed squash blossoms.  I had a pan roasted chicken and Eric has a nice rack of local lamb. Dessert was a vanilla pot du crème, and also a strawberry Coeur a la crème.  We finished with espresso and coffee.  We returned to the hotel for an early morning drive up to Sterling Vineyards.

Sunday, July 6, 2009

This morning, we took the Silverado Trail up to the north end of Napa County to Sterling Vineyards.  They opened at 10AM so we left the hotel by 9:30AM.  The drive was lovely and not much traffic.  We arrived about 9:50AM.  Sterling’s operations are high up a hill and you take a tram up to it.  The tickets were $20 but their web site has a $5 off coupon.  It included the tram rides up and back and the tasting.  We were in the 4th car that morning.  A note, the architecture of the winery is modeled after monastic buildings in Greece:  stark white geometric shapes with blue tile roof lines.  It is striking and picturesque.

The tour is self-guided. You have a CD player-guide. After you exit the tram, you are shown were to start the tour.  You are given a glass of one of the wines and directed where to head.  There are flat screen TV’s with information about the winery and how the wines are harvested and made.  There is a south terrace with tables and chairs and a gorgeous view south towards the city of Napa.  After another wine is served here, you head to the tasting room for two more wines.  The tasting room is up a few steps and set in the trees.  You exit via the wine store and gift shop – of course!  We decided not buy much, only a couple of Christmas ornaments in the shape of clusters of grapes, and took the tram down to the car.  It was now about noon and time for lunch.  The Silverado Grill was recommended to us and that’s where we ended up.  I had an excellent hamburger.  Eric had a pulled pork sandwich and a bottle of wheat beer.  I had iced tea. Eric wanted to go to Clos Pegasse but their next tour wouldn’t be until 3PM which wasted a couple of hours so we went up to see the California version of Old Faithful Geyser, just north of Sterling a few miles.  This is a typical tourist trap but hokey and fun.  The admission was $8 pp with a AAA discount.  The next eruption was about 20 minutes away so we headed out.  They also have goats, llamas and sheep.  The geyser erupted as scheduled and it was time to go!  Instead of heading back to Clos Pegasse, we decided to go up to the Petrified Forest.  After missing the turn off, we finally made it up there.  It was quite a trek but a nice drive into the hills.

This is another tourist trap but again, fun.  We paid $10 pp and walked out via the trails to the petrified trees.  It took about 45 minutes to walk the route then Eric bought me a mood ring to see if my mood is accurately reflected by the ring!  We headed down the hilly road and back to civilization.  On the drive back to Napa, we stopped at PeJu winery.

PeJu is a French owned winery with lots of sculptures and beautiful gardens and fountains.  We did a tasting, none of the wines were particularly to our liking however.  The cost was $10 pp.  It was now time to head back to the hotel.  We had dinner reservations at Bistro Jeanty.

Bistro Jeanty is near the Domaine Chandon winery and across from the shopping area where the new NapaStyle store is located in Yountville.  It’s noisy and crowded but fun and the food is excellent!  We had a bottle of wine, Eric had the rabbit terrine (like a head cheese made from Lapin...rabbit) and veal kidneys in a cream sauce and I had the heirloom tomato salad and the cassoulet.  Everything was wonderful – one of the two best meals we had!  We skipped dessert; but Eric had coffee.  One of the entrees offered was a bundle of several large poached marrow bones tied up in a napkin.  It was very French Bistro.  Eric looked at it (longingly) but marrow is extremely rich, and it might not have set well. (Remember Mr. Creosote?)  The order of kidneys, in the Dijon mustard cream sauce, was pushing it.  We also ordered (It as all a la carte.) some lovely homemade egg noodles and some nicely prepared green beans (haricots verts).  A family next to us needed help with the dessert menu: although ananas sounds like banana, it is pineapple; vanille and banane are pretty clear, but frais is strawberries, and there was something with blackberries, but that word escapes me.  Fortunately they did not have anything that jumped out for after dinner drinks.  Eric (remember Mr. Creosote..?) asked if the might have any "marc".  It is the French version of Italian grappa: distilled pressings of the skins, stems, and whatever s left after wine pressing.  Had that been available, it would have been a very bad night.  It is what Eric calls virtue by default.

Monday, July 7, 2009

Today we checked out of the River Terrace Inn by 10:00 AM.  We drove to the Hess Collection winery first.  It’s it a bit out of the way but the exterior is very pretty.  We joined a tour of two other people and saw the works, then sat through a short film about the winery then were encouraged to look at the art works on the three floors.  This is all very modern art which I find meaningless and uninteresting and some of it I found disturbing.  We never tasted any wine and left after about 45 minutes.  There was one piece in particular Eric liked:  "Incendiary Prose".  It was an old Remington manual typewriter whose paper bale (that cylindrical piece on which the paper rests) has been made into a gas register.  There were live gas flames constantly burning out of the typewriter carriage.  I suppose it could be a companion piece to Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451"...or not.

Our next stop was the town of Sonoma for lunch at the Girl and the Fig.  We found parking right on the town square and had a delightful lunch at the restaurant.  We ate outside on a tree shaded stone paved patio.  The restaurant is part of a bed and breakfast.  I had a virgin lemonade (homemade) and Eric had a glass of nice light white.  Eric had a recommended fumet, a light but tasty fish broth  and followed with house specialty lamb sausages.  I had a prosciutto tartine...think of quiche.  Afterwards, we walked around the square, made an adoption of a new teddy bear in a shop where we sampled lemon-poppy seed gelato and vanilla gelato.  Then we headed for the Gloria Ferrer winery south of town.

The next tour at Gloria Ferrer was about 30 minutes from our arrival so we sat on the outside terrace and looked around.  You could buy sparkling wine by the glass if you wanted.  We'd just come from lunch and dessert.  The winery is in the Spanish hacienda style and is up a rise so it looks out over the vineyards.  The weather was hot but there was a breeze and it felt nice provided you weren’t in the direct sun.

The tour was $15 pp and we started with a glass of sparkling wine.  We went into the winery, saw the works and explanation of the "methode champenoise" process then back to the tasting room.  Gloria Ferrer is the wife of the founder and the wines and winery are named after her.  It is the American house of the Spanish winery Frexinet which is the largest privately owned winery in Spain.  Ever on the lookout for spices, we picked up some Spanish saffron...a souvenir we'll use up!

Our next stop was St. Francis winery north of the town of Sonoma but south of our hotel.  Unfortunately, the GPS decided to let us head south instead of north and we went for several miles before turning around.  Don’t know what happened but it was plain wrong!

We finally got to St. Francis at 4:30PM.  They stopped pouring tastes at 5PM but we weren’t really in the mood for any more tasting anyway, so wandered through the gardens and the gift shop/tasting room.  I bought some great linen napkins with a grape cluster embroidered in the corner for $5 each (bought 6!).

We continued on our way north to Santa Rosa and got to the hotel about 5:45PM.  The hotel is the Vintner’s Inn owned and operated by the Ferrari-Carano winery.  It is not near the winery however.  It is a series of clustered 2-storey buildings with about 12 rooms per building.  The buildings are situated around a courtyard with a huge fountain.  The patios and balconies are alternated so you have privacy.  Our room was in building 2 on the first floor (room 205) and looked out on the vineyard.  I don’t know if the vineyard is part of the Ferrari-Carano winery or not but you were free to walk thought it.  It was a beautiful view.  Both hotels offered nightly turndown service and the Vintner’s Inn left 2 warm cookies on your bed!

When we checked in, we asked about reservations for John Ash & Co which is part of the hotel complex but in a building closer to the road.  They made it for us.  We also asked about needing a reservation to visit the Ferrari-Carano winery but they said we didn’t need one.  They did give us a card that gave us free tastings!

We rested then changed and walked the few hundred feet to the restaurant.  We were seated in the glass walled room that overlooked the vineyards.  The windows were open, the breeze was blowing and the view was superb!  We had cocktails then ordered a bottle of their restaurant's private label merlot.  It was made for them by the Taft winery: John Ash Merlot (why not Ferrari-Carano?) and was quite nice but nothing great.  We started with an artichoke soup and an antipasto plate.  They make cheese all over the countryside here and cure their own meats, too.  It's all local and quite wonderful.  I had a roast chicken with herbs and Eric had pasta called gargamelli with Italian sausage in a cream sauce.  Coffee and espresso finished us off.  The food was very good and the service was excellent.  After dinner we headed back and went to bed!

Tuesday, July 8, 2009

Today we decided to do a sightseeing day and one winery.  We needed some cash and being cheap, we found a local credit union downtown (didn’t pay an ATM fee since we’re on the CU network!), got money then headed to the Iron Horse winery, west of Santa Rosa.  Getting there was interesting since the road leading up to the winery is one lane and narrow and very much out in the country!  On the way down, we had to pull over twice to let cars pass.

The tasting room is outdoors under a roof but open to the air.  It overlooks their vineyards.  We stopped here specifically because I thought it was the favorite winery of a close friend of ours.  We tasted 5 wines, none of which were really exceptional.  While tasting, I called Tom and asked him what he was doing and told him where we were at and that we were tasting his favorite wines!  His response was that was nice, but his favorite winery was Wild Horse!  Oh well, A+ for effort!

We left the winery and headed west to Bodega Bay.  Bodega Bay is a quaint fishing town on the coast that was the site of the famous Hitchcock film “The Birds”.  We drove around and ended up eating at the restaurant where part of the film was made.  It’s been expanded but had a nice view.  The food was fine but nothing great.  Eric had Dungeness crab cocktail; and he said it was very good. Afterwards, we drove up Pacific Coast Highway (CA1) and turned onto CA12 toward Russian River.  The drive along the coast was beautiful and windey as was the drive to Russian River.  We parked in town, walked up and down for about an hour.  We stopped at the Safeway and got some water then drove up to Armstrong Redwood Park.  We hiked part way up a trail, but it was very hot and we didn’t take our water with us.  We took pictures then went back down to the car.  We then drove back to the hotel.

Dinner tonight was at Lo Coco’s Italian restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa.  We had called ahead for an 8PM reservation and were seated upstairs shortly after arriving.  The restaurant is small and crowded and lively.  The server turned out to be the owner, Joe.  We ordered a bottle of Ferrari-Carano Siena.  They serve olive tapenade instead of oil or butter with the bread which was terrific.  A few minutes later, Joe comes upstairs (I’d hate to work there!), drops off some entrees at another table and tells us he forgot our wine!  He apologizes profusely and tells us he wants to give us some Moscato wine after dinner on him.  A few minutes later he reappears with our wine.  I ordered a simple meal of ceasar salad and angle hair pasta with pomodoro sauce.  It was fantastic!  Eric ordered the field green salad and veal saltimbocca which he said was excellent as well.  This was our 2nd favorite meal!  Joe returned with coffee and the wine he promised and kept pouring!  I can’t speak highly enough of this restaurant.  It’s not fancy but the atmosphere is fun; and the food is wonderful!  We drove back to the hotel.  Eric looked longingly into the windows of closed antique stores.

Wednesday, July 9, 2009

Today was our trip the Ferrari-Carano and other wineries.  Since Ferrari-Carano is far to the north end of the valley and on the Dry Creek Valley road, we left about 9:30AM.  The north end of the valley is much prettier (read green and hilly) than the south...arid and brown.  We arrived shortly after 10AM when they opened.  The gardens and Villa Fiore are absolutely beautiful.  We didn’t take a tour but wandered about.  When we went to the tasting bar, we told them we had the card from the hotel.  It turns out all tastings were free.  We also had free access and tasting to the Enoteca room downstairs where they pour their premium wines.  Scott, who was pouring, was a wealth of information about the area and told us where we should visit and gave us comp passes for tastings at other wineries.  We went downstairs and tasted more at the Enoteca.  The wine club at FC is the only one I would consider joining.

We bought some olive oil and a couple of other things then headed over to the Bella winery, just over the hill from FC.  This is a boutique winery that only produces a few thousand cases (if that).  They have a cave dug into the hill which houses their tasting room – it is right under growing vines.  We were the only ones there at first.  The wines were very good but only available at the winery or by their wine club – not in Florida at all.  We chatted awhile then headed for lunch after picking up a 375 ml bottle of the late harvest zinfandel!

Lunch was at the Dry Creek General Store run by one of the Gallo family children.  It’s a small rural store that serves made to order sandwiches, Panini, salads and desserts as well as the usual household items.  It was recommended to us by Scott at FC.  We ordered one sandwich, some Greek salad and a small bag of chips and drinks.  We outside on the covered porch where there are some tables and chairs and picnic tables.  It’s a fairly busy place since the next closest thing around is to head into Healdsburg.

After lunch, we decided we headed towards Healdsburg and stopped at the Family Wineries.  This is a group of 6 wineries that very small that each has tasting rooms in one location.  There was also an olive oil company but it was closed.  We went to a couple of them and the wines were nice as were the people but we didn’t buy. 

We next went to the Wilson winery.  This is another small boutique winery.  Eric tasted, but I sniffed – I was getting burned out on tasting wines!  Their wines were very nice.  We took some pictures then headed into Healdsburg.

Healdsburg is similar to the town of Sonoma but nicer in my opinion.  They have a square with a park in the center of the town with shops and restaurants all around.  It was time for coffee and a nibble so we stopped at the French patisserie for coffee and pastry:  a very nice place.  We then walked around and found an antique store (my favorite – NOT!) but didn’t stay long as they didn’t have A/C and it had to be 100 degrees outside.  The renowned restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, is located here.  As they post menus, we noted that dinners look to be very very nice affairs.

It was time to head back to the hotel.  Traffic had picked up as well.  We wanted to try to stop at an apiary (bees) that I saw earlier the day before because Eric likes to collect different honeys.  We finally found it, and had an interesting time speaking to the bee keeper about the state of the bees, the honeys he had, etc.  Eric bought enough to qualify for free shipping – one less thing to pack!

We rested at the hotel and made reservations at Zazu for dinner.  This is a small restaurant that gets great reviews.  We'd seen one in a recent Wine Spectator Eric found.  It’s not fancy and it sits within spitting distance of the 2 lane road but was very good and fun.  We started out with a sample of 3 local cheeses then Eric had a recommended pan grilled grass fed beef steak and I had <doug here>.  They grow their own vegetables as well.  We ordered a nice but not memorable red.  A note on wine might be in order.  This is wine country.  There is wonderful wine available on restaurant menus, but it almost all is VERY expensive....for coming from just down the road!  It is probable we were dealing with the after-effect of dining in noted establishments that exist to showcase particular wine and food pairings: such problems!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2009

Today we left Sonoma County and drove back to San Francisco.  We left the hotel promptly at 10:00AM and headed to the UPS Store we scouted out the day before.  We shipped back almost everything we bought.  (Ha ha..even the UPS Store shipped the wine back via FedEx!...go figure) I filled up the tank and off we went.  BTW, gas was at $4.59.  I added about $45 total for the entire trip and we drove over 600 miles.

The drive back to San Francisco was uneventful and we got to see the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge this time – the San Francisco side was still shrouded in fog.  We decided to drop off the car at the airport and take a taxi into the city since the cost of having to pay for valet service at the hotel would be about the cost of the taxi into the city from the airport.  Besides, we weren’t going to drive any more.

We arrived at the Budget return area and the car still showed full on the gas gauge! Love that Prius!  We took the Air Train back to the terminal then out to get a taxi.  The drive was ‘interesting’ and we had the curious pleasure of neo-fascist cab driver.  Eric had fun engaging him in conversation, but I could have done without all of it. The driver did have a little grey conyer parrot that was all over the front seat.  We got to the hotel just fine.  The hotel has a costumed English Beefeater yeoman guard as a doorman-greeter.  It is a clever conceit.  The lobby is quite wonderful.  You might appreciate how this was a lobby in which to be seen during the heyday of the great downtown hotels.

The hotel, Sir Francis Drake, is a block north of Union Square on Powell.  Our room was on the 18th floor overlooking both Powell and Union Square.  It was small but nice...and very Art Deco.  Our bags arrived shortly after we did then we went down to Scala’s for lunch.  We also had the concierge make a dinner reservation for us at the Grand Café on Geary.  After lunch, we started walking.   We scouted out where the restaurant was, then went all around Union Square, including Gump's (oooh).  We went up to and through China town, Nob Hill and Grace Cathedral where we adopted a new bear in their gift shop.  We made a stop to buy chocolates for friends who were looking after the house then back to the hotel.  It was a lot of walking but worth it.  The weather was intermittently cool and cold but clear.

We made reservations at Harry Denton’s on the 21st floor of the hotel for drinks before dinner.  We showered and changed then went to up to Harry’s.    Harry Denton’s is a bar that looks like it’s out of the 30’s or 40’s.  It has a great view of the city.  The host is dressed in a tux, the waitresses are model thin with ankle length black dresses skit up the thigh and diamond jewelry and bright red lipstick.  They wear their hair styled to resemble the vogue look of that time period...but it is done well, and not too dated.  (It is after all, homage to a look, and a great visual pun set up there overlooking the skyline!) They are very elegant.  Eric wasn’t wearing a watch and we needed to leave at 7:45 for our dinner reservation and the host said he would remind us – which he did!  We walked over to the restaurant and had a wonderful meal.  The restaurant is in the space of the ballroom of an old hotel since renovated and doing a brisk business.  It is a sister hotel to the Si Francis Drake.  They did a stellar job of creating an open hearth kitchen along one wall of the room, and left the original decor pretty much alone save for some subtle and unobtrusive improvements to the interior lighting.  It is Art Deco, a grand dining room of an old ocean liner, and dramatic sculptures all around.  Large bronze rabbit eared figures in acrobatic poses were all over.  (Don't ask)

Having just come from Wine County, they had a Coppola Claret that nicely went with dinner.  There was a very good onion soup to start, and Eric had a selection of the restaurant's charcuterie.  As this was San Francisco, Eric had a bouillabaisse as an entree.  It was as close to Cioppino as were going to get. It appeared to be really tasty, but it is messy meal out   Eric asked for a finger bowl to clean up after.  I had a very nice Boeuf Bourguignon.  There was an appetizer of fresh ripe figs on lavosh bread spread with goat cheese and all lightly drizzled with reduced balsamic vinegar.  I wouldn't have ordered it for dessert, but Eric did and really liked it: fruit and cheese and bread.  We specifically asked for coffee after we were all through with dinner: a nice espresso and plain coffee for me.   Things were cooling down on the way back to the hotel and time for bed.  Downtown is noisy.  Even on the 18th floor, a lot of street noise is clearly audible.  The single hung windows don't stop much noise.  Fortunately they were heavily draped; and that made a difference.

Friday, July 11, 2009

Our flight home left SFO at 9:30 AM so we left the hotel by 7:10 AM and had no problems.  Check-in at the curb was easy and fast as was security.  We had plenty of time for a hot breakfast.  The flights for the most part were on-time and we got home about 10:00 PM.

Conclusion

This was a great trip and we’d love to go back again.  The July weather, while hot in Napa/Sonoma, was great – not much humidity as far as we were concerned.  We’d like to go back to San Francisco and see more of the city but this was a great exposure.

Regarding wine tasting, I would recommend you go to a maximum of 4 wineries per day and probably no more than 3.  You can get burned out tasting wine.  Try to mix in sightseeing as well.  Also try to be flexible so in the case where you miss a tour, you don’t want to waste your time waiting around for the next one – leave for another winery then come back.  Try to make a list of the ‘must see’ sights and wineries and organize your time around either the tours or the sites.  Fill in where you can with other things and don't overlook what appear to be plain things.  The geyser, though hokey was really neat.  The petrified forest is intriguing, especially if you are interested in geology.

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