Trip Report: [San Francisco], [Sonoma], [Napa]

We are Torontonians, who spent roughly a week in San Francisco and nearby areas. We come to the area roughly every 5 years, so we have some old favourites and we sampled some new (for us) places.

We started off at Home Coffee Roasters, just a few blocks from where we were staying. We bought some beans for the rest of the week - Peru Organic Cajamarca - almost a citrus-y acid with some caramel overtones. We sampled a couple of the more fun-sounding, but somewhat sweet lattes - s’mores (which came with a marshmallow on a stick) and lavender (which was purple and fragrant. Better were the fun versions of avocado toast: Seoul Much Avo (spicy kimchi and seeds) and Bravo (bacon crumble and radish).

Next we headed for the Ferry Building. At the farmer’s market we picked up our favourite dried fruit from Frog Hollow Farm, including great peaches, plums. and apricots (and had to lie a bit at Canadian customs to get them back home). With old faves Cowgirl Creamery and Boccalone gone, we decided to sample Señor Sisig, and boy we were happy with this mash-up of Filipino and Mexican.

The Señor Sisig burrito with tocino (Filipino sweet pork), adobe garlic rice, pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo and cilantro cream sauce. Worth every calorie. The chicken taco was very good, but the very smokey pork taco was superlative. The ube horchata looked fun, but was too sweet.

For dessert we tried out Humphry Slocombe. The famed Secret Breakfast (corn flakes, bourbon) was a bit underwhelming. Better was the cherry elderflower with chocolate flakes. Overall OK, but not fantastic in terms of flavours and mouthfeel.

The next place we tried was R&G Lounge, since we wanted something that would be along the walk from our place to Pier 33 for an Alcatraz visit. The R&G special beef was sweet and delicious. Steamed live clams with beaten eggs was great, with juicy clams nestled in a delicate light custard. And garlic spot prawns were expensive, a bit over-cooked, and slathered in delicious garlic bits.

For one dinner, we reserved a patio table at Marlena. This is an attractive neighbourhood restaurant that features a multi-course set menu, with usually a couple choices per course plus extra courses one can order (which we did). Every course was wonderful and we went with friends who were vegetarian and they had great choices too. Service was friendly and attentive.

There were many highlights, including charcoal cavatelli under smoked burrata foam, with spring onion and super tangy bits of apricot; Provençal white asparagus risotto (photo above) with grilled green strawberry, sunflower sprouts, nasturtium; and chocolate rye Devil’s food cake, seeded rye shortbread, blackberry.

Another breakfast found us at The French Spot, where we had hoped to try their version of a morning bun, but they had sold out. However the kouign amman, guava cream cheese danish, and ube mochi croissant were all fabulous.

Our next dinner was Kin Khao. Busy and a bit cramped for space, the food was vibrantly flavoured, aggressively spicy, and featured types of dishes we had never tried. The Tom Yum 2.0 cocktail was just as fragrant as the soup, but sweet instead of savoury. Khao Kan Jin (picture below) featured pork, sticky rice, and blood sausage steamed in banana leaf, with garlic chips, raw and crispy shallots, cilantro, and lime. So many flavour hits all mixed together.

Mushroom Hor Mok had curry mousse-in-a-jar with mushrooms, coconut cream, crispy rice cakes, accented with plenty of lime leaf. Rabbit green curry featured both supply leg and saddle, plus tasty meatballs and apple eggplants. And black cod dumplings were mixed with lotus root, asparagus, and a complex and bird chili-assertive gaeng kua curry paste. All great.

We go to Swan Oyster Depot pretty much every trip. We went at 11:00 to avoid lines, inhaled both the crab salad and the shrimp salad (sweet fresh meat) and also enjoyed the off-menu raw scallops in a ponzu sauce, with togarashi and sriracha dollops (picture below).

We’d been to Benu before and made a return visit. I remember it being a 2-star on a previous visit, but they are now a 3-star and still wonderful. We had a eye-catching parade of small dishes, several of which were repeats from 2019. Best included the lobster xiao long bao, the BC spot prawn tartare with pollock roe, salsify, and young ginger (photo below), and a braised beef rib jeon, wrapped in egg, with anchovy sauce and kohlrabi kimchi (further below).

Heading to Sonoma, we had lunch at El Molino Central, including tangy and fresh wild halibut ceviche tostadas and a rich and complex chicken mole tamales. We then went for a tasting at St. Francis, thinking that the “light bites” would be just nibbles. Instead we got a fine 4-course lunch, including a lovely asparagus dish; chicken meat balls flavoured with coriander, thyme, and fennel, served with squash (picture below); smoked brisket with new potatoes, and an orange-dusted piece of fudge. The best of the wines was a zinfandel from 100-year-old vines in the Russian River valley - medium-bodied, some red fruit notes, and a bit of earthy spice. They also had a nice sauvignon blanc and a pretty good ruby port.

Next tasting was at Gundlach-Bundschu. Our favourite was their gerwurztraminer (floral, lychee), but they also had a nice nectarine-y rosé and a 2021 pinot noir with cranberry and some mushroom.

Dinner was at La Calenda in Yountville, a Mexican place with a Oaxacan focus. A standout was the aguachile de atun (above) - yellowfin tuna, avocado, sesame and chile costeno salsa macha - many layers of flavours. Mole negro enchiladas were also very good, though the mole wasn’t quite as interesting as at El Molino Central. The tres leches was an excellent dessert, light, not too sweet.

Next tasting was at Stags’ Leap, on the porch of the majestic manor house. A very good chardonnay from Carneros was lemony and a bit floral. But the surprise was a late harvest viognier, which we also picked up.

We did a quick stop next door at Quixote and picked up a petite syrah rosé for old times sake. We then headed to Robert Sinskey for a lunch and tasting. The menu included many dishes with ingredients sourced from their own gardens. An excellent ham and gruyère tarte flambé (below) came straight out of their wood-fired pizza oven. A gougère stuffed with house-made pimento cheese was also yummy.

Of the wines, most impressive was the 2018 Abraxas - an Alsatian blend of pinot gris, pinot blanc, gewurztraminer and riesling - prominent honeysuckle, lemon, lime. We also bought a selection of their homemade marmalades (kaffir lime, cara cara orange, Meyer lemon, blood orange).

For dinner, we tried Bouchon Bistro for the first time, sitting on the patio. Our waitstaff, while pleasant and friendly, did miss a few things. We asked for glasses of California wines to be paired with dishes and we received 3 French wines out of 4. He also forgot the frites, which he then comped. Some of the better dishes are below:

Strawberry gazpacho with cucumber, pistachios, pickled strawberries and arugula - a fun and light twist on the usual.

Tender veal sweetbreads, sauce blanquette, morels, asparagus, pickled shallots, fava beans - tastes of spring.
Also excellent was the chocolate pot de crème, using their own blending of chocolate and olive oil - really strong chocolate flavour without cloying sweetness.

Breakfast and lunch the next day were taken out from Bouchon Bakery. Strawberry cheesecake danish and chocolate almond croissant were both flakey and decadent. Lunch included turkey pesto sandwiches on lightly chewy focaccia, and a ham, egg and cheese danish.

For the last dinner, we were staying at a hotel right near the airport, so we went to the nearby Taqueria San Bruno. The al pastor, beef cheek, and lengua were all superb, each graced with cilantro, green hot sauce, onions and lime. You also get tons of chips, which can be vehicles for all the wares at the salsa bar. The horchata was also great.

Hope that long run down is helpful to someone.


Great report - thank you!


We haven’t been to Napa/Sonoma in quite a few years but used to go often. I’m aware that tasting fees have greatly increased but not that wineries are now in ‘the restaurant business’. Used to be you’d be offered palate cleanser crackers, but that’s all. I certainly don’t recall food at Sinskey.

Where we live (OC/CA) just about every wine tasting venue is now serving substantial food (at least appetizers). My theory is that people then stay longer and buy more but the notorious difficulty of being successful in the restaurant business you’d think would be a challenge. I’ve thought they’ve all been forced to do it to be able to stay alive.

Just how prevalent is the kind of food service you describe in wine country?


I agree that food offerings have become more prevalent. On previous trips over the past two decades, we got maybe a little cheese and crackers, albeit at different wineries that we visited this time. The one exception was at Domaine Chandon, which had a Michelin 1-star restaurant Etoile that we had a great lunch at with pairings.

I agree with you that offering food might encourage people to drink more and perhaps buy more. I assume that wineries evaluate how their sales go after the introduction of more food offerings, to see how worthwhile it is to maintain this option. We liked the opportunity to see how well the wines tasted on their own and then with food also.

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Great report and great pictures. Wild halibut ceviche tostado sounded yum as well as the ham and Gruyère tarte. Haven’t been to Kin Khao in years-may have to get back there soon.


Great report - and itinerary! You ate well!


Very nice report, welcome back, you did very well! I adore Marlena’s, but have yet to try Kin Khao - we tried during the pandemic (2022) but they cancelled on us as some of their staff got covid and we haven’t rescheduled yet.

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