Sonoma County is a land of sprawling beauty. Vineyards and wineries abound, as do secret, forested hideaways with pot farms. It is a place of rivers and redwoods, mountains and warm inland valleys, and a rocky, rugged coastline where cool fog and winds blow in from the Pacific.
The view from Viansa Sonoma, at the gateway to the Sonoma Valley.
Less than an hour from San Francisco, it boasts a number of charming small towns of rural flavor—Sonoma itself, Glen Ellen, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Bodega Bay—each with its own unique history and virtues. There are Michelin-starred restaurants, sidewalk cafés, hipster bistros, tasting rooms, brewpubs, organic fruit and flower marts, gardens galore, oak-laden parks, and lots of cute shopping streets filled with boutiques of every kind.
It’s an awesome place to spend a day, or a week, or however long you have. Here is a quick peek at a few of Sonoma’s many pleasures: Continue reading
Once upon a time in Napa Valley, people had to go up valley to Yountville or St. Helena for fine dining. Those days, thankfully, are long behind us.
One of the top restaurants in Napa Valley—indeed, in all the Bay Area—is La Toque, which is inside the Westin Verasa Hotel in downtown Napa, on the same street as the Oxbow Public Market. Known for its creative and oft-inspired pairings of wine and food, it is a Michelin one-star restaurant and has been for more than a decade.
Ken Frank in action. Photo courtesy of La Toque.
Late last year Jennifer Kaiser and I had an exemplary meal at La Toque and sat down beforehand for a talk with its executive chef and owner, Ken Frank, who noted that his favorite word appeared between “delicatessen” and “delight” in the dictionary.
“Delicious is my favorite word,” he said in our interview, which was published in the current issue of The Preiser Key magazine. “Food has to look good. It has to be interesting. And at the end of the day it needs to be flat-out delicious.” Continue reading
When Keith Richards was in his hard-partying prime in the 1970s, he and his fellow band mates on the Rolling Stones showed up one night at the Trident, a watering hole in Sausalito on the edge of San Francisco Bay, looking for some alcoholic refreshments. Richards ordered a margarita and the bartender, a creative mixmaster named Bobby Lozoff, served him something different instead: a then mostly unknown drink of tequila, orange juice and grenadine.
Richards loved the Tequila Sunrise, as it was called, and it rapidly became his go-to party drink. His fame, and the fame of the Stones, helped spread the fame of their favorite cocktail, and the Tequila Sunrise became not just a mere drink but a cultural touchstone for that era of rock ‘n roll. The Eagles’ hit song “Just Another Tequila Sunrise” added to the popularity of Lozoff’s invention.
This story—and the accompanying recipe—is only one of the many nice treats in Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks (Oxmoor House, $25), a new book by the editors of Coastal Living Magazine that contains the recipes for 125 cocktails. Generously illustrated with photographs of tropical sand and surf scenes, the theme here is that of the beach—light, refreshing cocktails that you might enjoy in your leisure on the beach, or on your backyard patio, in those lazy hazy days of summer.
The cocktail that Lozoff did not serve Richards that day, the margarita, is of course here. As are The Drunken Sailor, Caribbean Rum Swizzle, Sex on the Beach, Key Lime Gimlet, the Bahama Hurricane, Missionary’s Downfall, Singapore Sling, and other delightfully named and often quite delicious concoctions that Richards in his prime probably also imbibed.
A good cocktail, like a good book or movie, has a good story attached to it. Beach Cocktails has many such stories, such as: Continue reading
One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to wine country is how much art there is to see, and these pleasures include the Grape Crusher Statue, a landmark monument at Vista Point in Napa Valley.
Since its erection in the 1980s millions of cars have driven by it and hundreds of thousands of people have stopped to see it. In this sense it is like the “Welcome to Napa Valley” signs on Highway 29—a place to meet up and shoot selfies and have pictures to show the folks back home that you were there, you really were in the land of wine.
At least one couple has gotten married at the Grape Crusher. And its creator, sculptor Gino Miles, jokes that one or two babies may have been made up there too. There is a small parking lot there, a perfect spot for having lunch, enjoying the views, and apparently doing other things as well.
“I’m not from around here,” a woman visitor told this writer as she was trying to find the right angle to take a picture of the Grape Crusher. “But I saw it driving by the other night when I was going to a concert, and I had to come back and see it.”
Those who do what she did—stop and get a closer look at the Grape Crusher—are rewarded by picturesque views of the surrounding hills, Napa River and the wetlands of San Francisco Bay. It is not called Vista Point for nothing. Continue reading
Today the very popular international travel site, Dave’s Travel Corner, published a wine and travel piece of mine entitled, “7 Hidden Treasures of Napa Valley.” The treasures include the Bufano statues at Robert Mondavi Winery (one of which is at left, in the barrel room), a surprising find near the deli counter at Oakville Grocery, a leafy tribute to a wine master, a unique Abraham Lincoln bust, a schoolteacher’s legacy roses near the French Laundry in Yountville, and more. Click over here to the site if you’d like to see more.
Travelers are forever in search of the authentic, and if that describes you, you must seek out the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company in St. Helena. It’s as authentic as it gets.
It’s on Charter Avenue just as you come into town, which is where Michelin 3-star Chef Christopher Kostow is opening his new restaurant, Charter Oak, at the site of the old Tra Vigne. Turn right off the highway and go to the end of Charter and there it will be, a little piece of Italy in Napa Valley. Continue reading
BY JENNIFER KAISER
Even before you enter the lovely dining room of Solbar, the surrounding Solage Resort has begun to work its magic. Comfortable outdoor seating and contemporary fountains—some with flames rising from the water—set the casual, upscale tone.
Michelin-starred Solbar is a hotel restaurant, but looks like a chic bistro, and the superb service and food live up to expectations.
We started lunch with a beet salad ($15). The beautifully prepared beets were prepared four different ways, including in chip form, and served on watercress. An unusual green goddess dressing had a strong cinnamon note.
Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps ($17) are highly recommended. Tamarind-sauced rice noodles and shredded carrots nestle on avocado slices, and a traditional nam pla sauce spikes up the simply prepared shrimp. Continue reading
The risotto bursting with flavor at Roux in Carmel Valley.
BY JENNIFER KAISER
Carmel Valley Road is surprisingly long, stretching from Highway 1 in the Monterey Peninsula deep into the Santa Lucia Mountains, east of the Los Padres National Forest. Visitors to the area typically stay on Highway 1, past Monterey and Carmel, crossing over scenic bridges and past spectacular coastline views to Big Sur and beyond. If they need to get south fast, they stay on inland Highway 101 heading south. Continue reading
BY KEVIN NELSON
Nick Elliott, proprietor of Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, calls it “the million dollar view,” and he may be underselling it.
Nick Elliott, right, and a guest with the Santa Lucia Mountains behind them.
It is a beyond-doubt spectacularly gorgeous view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a coastal range in the Monterey Peninsula and central California. Stretching out for miles and miles are green ridges and mountains covered by live oak trees. Above is a pale blue sky with nary a cloud in sight.
“Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Vincent Price, June Allyson, all these great old Hollywood stars used to love coming to Holman Ranch,” said Elliott. “It’s always been a place to put up your feet and get away.” Continue reading
By Kevin Nelson
My editors at Examiner.com reminded me the other day that I had been writing for the site for two years, and during that time I’ve met some wonderful people and gone on some extraordinary adventures. Here are a few of those adventures, all recommended:
A bagpipes player at the start of the Rockies trip.
• Rocky Mountaineer train trip across the Canadian Rockies. Starting in the wonderful British Columbia city of Vancouver and ending in the spectacular mountain village of Banff, this was a two-day ride through ridiculously beautiful scenery with tasty food and wine included. Those Canadians are nice people, too. Continue reading
By Jennifer Kaiser
Satisfying and affordable, Spoon Korean Bistro is a casual Korean café located on an unlikely corner of Berkeley. Across from MacBeath Lumber on Ashby just off the freeway, it’s a family-friendly spot.
Spoon is a sister restaurant to Bowl’d in Oakland and Albany, and the concept is accessible Korean, with a menu that is comfort-food dominated, but offers plenty of spice if you wish.
Mung bean pancakes.
Start with one of their savory mung bean ($6) or seafood ($8) pancakes. Mildly flavored on their own, they are served with a bright chili dipping sauce dotted with sesame seeds. We tried the mung bean pancake which was beautifully crisp if a little bland; the sauce made the dish sing. Continue reading