Monday, June 4, 2007

Where do I begin? The trip to wine country . . .

Did we have fun? YES
Did we eat a lot of good food? YES YES YES
Did we shop 'til we dropped? Oh my, YES
Did we stay in some great places? YES
Would you go back? YES, most definitely
And lastly, is it good to be home? Well, yes it is.

It's really, REALLY fun going on a road trip with a girlfriend. You can stop at any store you see out of the corner of your eye. You can stop for a latté whenever you feel like it. You can lounge in the B&B over cups of coffee, at leisure in the mornings. And, you can taste wine if you feel like it, or not. With our husbands along on such a trip we decided we'd really have required two cars. The guys in an SUV with a storage tow trailer for all the cases of wine they would have purchased. Us in the luxury car so we could sight see and shop. The boys would have been hyperventilating about reaching as many wineries as possible in a day, and Cherrie and I would have wanted to stop and linger over a book store, a coffee store, or the myriad of wonderful kitchenware, housewares stores which abound in northern California. And I must put a disclaimer in here: probably our husbands would both be willing to travel our way. Maybe for a day. Or two. But not for 7 days.

Most likely I'll write a couple of posts about some of the places we went on this trip. But for now I'll say that our favorite meal was at Ravenous in Healdsburg. Worst meal was at Cyrus in Healdsburg (that was the much-hyped, very expensive restaurant that requires a credit card to make a reservation and charges $100 if you don't show up). Best place we stayed? Probably the B&B at Ramekins (the cooking school) in Sonoma. Although we really enjoyed the Victorian style Camellia Inn in Healdsburg too (we had a really cute room with separate bedrooms at a very reasonable price). It was about 2 blocks from the square in Healdsburg, so it was easy walking in every direction. We also stayed at the Marriott in Napa (okay), and a nice, but non-descript hotel in Emeryville.

When we left last Monday we zipped through Los Angeles. What? How's that possible, you ask? Because it was 7:30 am on a HOLIDAY. Otherwise it would have taken hours to slog through traffic. That was a real blessing, as only Southern Californians know with the gridlock traffic that exists in nearly every direction. We live in Orange County (near Disneyland), so we have to get through O.C. and then the huge metropolis of L.A. to head north. Anyway, we made the drive to Berkeley in record time, then had dinner at Chez Panisse. The restaurant has two floors - the lower floor is their set menu section. We opted for the more casual upstairs one with a varied menu. Cherrie had never been, so she was all eyes watching the chefs nearby as they prepared food. It was quite dark where we were sitting, and my photos just didn't turn out. I think it's kind of bizarre to see people taking pictures of their plates of food, so I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. And never use flash. So sometimes they just don't turn out. Particularly I enjoyed the fresh fruit tart - it looked like a piece of pizza, but it was a very nice, thin tart shell with fresh fruit and dried cherries and a blob of vanilla bean ice cream.

The next day we did the tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory in Berkeley, which was very interesting. I'll write up a separate post about that. Following the tour we set out for parts north. Arrived in Healdsburg just past lunchtime, so enjoyed a light meal at the Oakville Grocery right on the square. Shopped. And shopped.

Our dinner that night was at Cyrus. After all I'd read about the place, maybe we were expecting too much. It's a lovely restaurant. Elegant, but in a Tuscan villa kind of way. Nice linens, very pleasant wait staff seeing to our every need. As nice as all that is, though, it's the food you go for, especially since this may exceed some people's entire Christmas budget in one meal. We opted not to partake of the caviar service, although we did try the sparkling wine. I didn't keep track of everything we drank, but I didn't care for the sparkler - I think it was a Roederer French champagne.

We ordered their 3-course meal ($68), the smallest set course you can order. A la carte is also available, but it really is a better deal to do the set courses, and it's the same menu either way. We also opted for the 3-course wine pairings ($42, I believe). That was a big mistake. I do drink white wine, but I usually prefer red, and I was not thrilled at all with their choices. Cherrie wasn't either. One of her courses was an Asian kind of small plate and they served it with a sake. Chilled. The waiter professed it to be an extraordinary wine. She didn't like it at all, and she likes sake. I disliked my wine pairings so much I left most of it in the glasses. The food was okay. Rather fussy kind of plates - froths, drizzles, herb sprigs with tall things here and there. They also do much with deconstructed plates, which is fine, but that's probably why they're so expensive because of the extra time required in the kitchen. So, I'd take a pass on Cyrus, unfortunately.

I will tell you, though, about our best meal:
Ravenous Café 420 Center Street, Healdsburg Phone: (707) 431-1302.
American bistro. Menu changes twice weekly. Lunch Wednesday- Sunday, 11:30am-2:30pm. Dinner Wednesday-Sunday, 5pm-9pm, Friday-Saturday until 9:30pm.

Several people in Healdsburg had told us about Ravenous, so we went there for lunch the next day. We're SO glad we did, as it did turn out to be the most memorable. We sat outside - it was warm in the sun, cool in the shade, but pleasant. A slight breeze. A nice iced tea kind of day. And we both ordered their BLT sandwich. Not something I order very often. But oh, my, was this ever delicious. They made their own soft ciabatta roll. Maybe they even made their own mayo. What made it great was the perfect proportions - soft bread, mayo, bacon, tomato, avocado and greens. You know, sometimes when you eat a sandwich there's too much bread, or there's too much mayo, or not enough tomato or the bread is too firm. Seems like it's always something. Not so in this case. And we also had a nice crunchy slaw with a ginger dressing. It wasn't Asian. But it wasn't your typical cole slaw, either. Very good, though. Here's a picture of our sandwich and slaw. It may not look that special, but it surely was.

We ended up talking with an older gentleman sitting at a nearby table, especially after he and his wife devoured a dessert that looked so fabulous - a strudel with apples, dried cherries and apricots. It was tall and airy with an exquisite puff pastry with gelato. Cherrie and I shared one. A wonderful treat. The meal, the setting. Perfect. Highly recommended.

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