Eating and drinking my way through San Francisco

San Francisco, CA

Tasted December 26, 2005 - December 30, 2005 by psmith with 1,090 views

Introduction

Jen and I made our first trip in a while to San Francisco on the day after Christmas. I'm not sure that there's a city in the world with a better food/wine savvy so my goal while there is little more than to eat and drink all day and every day.

Flight 1 (1 note)

We arrived in SF on Monday at 9:45 p.m. and somehow managed to rent a car and make it to Bacar by 10:30. Fortunately they were still serving wine, unfortunately they were no longer serving food. With a "50% off Selected California Cabernet" deal going on we felt compelled to order one:

Red
2002 Realm Cellars The Tempest USA, California, Napa Valley
89 points
A big, spicy wine of high density. Weighty black cherry and currant notes with an ultra-fine tannic finish. Very concentrated but without the bubble gummy or grapey notes that some young cabs get. Really shows it's alcohol on the finish. The half-full bottle tasted two days later was undrinkably oxidized.

Flight 2 (1 note)

After finishing half the bottle we headed over to our hotel for the night, which happened to be right next to Scala's Bistro which was still serving food. We didn't order a second bottle but had drinks and some good oysters and a really nice rigatoni with duck and olives.

Tuesday was dim sum day, and starting at 10:00 we headed to Ton Kiang. Really excellent, the shrimp balls and tin-foil chicken being highly recommended, as well as anything in dumpling, which they did very well. Not knowing how easy parking would be to find we made the mistake of taking a cab there which added $40 to the bill, but we ate very well and the bill came to something like $27, so highly recommended. Our second dim sum adventure was at Yank Sing, which was very good as well, but clearly more geared towards tourists and more of an emphasis on fried foods; however, the Peking Duck served by the slice was superb. Overall my nod goes to Ton Kiang, though both are certainly worth a visit.

After Yank Sing we wandered the Ferry Plaza Building looking for something to drink. At the wine merchant's bar we had a high-priced but very good young Burgundy:

Red
2003 Emmanuel Rouget Vosne-Romanée France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée
89 points
A youthful, feminine nose shows considerable restraint by '03 standards. Darker, characteristic Rouget black cherry notes on the palate with some beeswax nuance and lots of violet floral character. Well structured, almost like a cross between '01 and '02, and not really showing the ripe vintage. More depth than one expects from a village appellation.

Flight 3 (5 notes)

Before dinner we headed over to the Hog Island Oyster Bar for a dozen oysters and a good Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie, followed by a quick stop for tea afterwards.

Dinner was with Whiner15 at Piperade, a Basque restaurant not far from the financial district. The food was good, but at this point I was more interested in the wines and only kind of picked at my meal. The service was competent, though I got the distinct feeling that our waiter wasn't happy at how long we were taking with the wines. Oh well, #$%@ him. It was great to see Whiner15 again, hopefully we can repeat it next year!

White
2003 Aubert Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
91 points
A rich, buttery nose with a clear mineral streak. Balanced with no overt signs of heat. Some chalk with an odd cat-pee note that shows up from time to time under loads of youthful lemon zest.
Red
1991 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Echezeaux France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru
93 points
Stunning nose exhibits spicy strawberry jam with soy and decaying leaves and a bit of bottle funk which went away quickly. A bit hollow on the palate with an initially harder stemmy structure that rounds out well with air, though the wine went on to develop an underlying acetic streak. Good length and nicely textured. A well-stored bottle should be capable of improving for several years.
Red
1995 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
93 points
A perfumed floral note with lots of spicy wood. Restrained but accessible. A bit waxy with rougher tannins and plenty of build for aging. Almost Burgundian in it's flavor profile, though I imagine this will change with time.
Red
2001 Karl Lawrence Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Herb Lamb USA, California, Napa Valley
94 points
A full, quite accessible nose showing cassis and cherry liqueur cabernet notes with some wood. Full-bodied with well balanced by medium-grain tannin. Pure and young buy with a depth that already shows through. Clearly a very ripe wine but without heat. Very well made.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
96 points
A restrained yet pretty honeyed Chenin nose with great purity. Ripe Sauternes-level sweetness with similar weight and body. Viscous tangerine, green apple, and apricot notes with a characteristic trace of mustiness on the palate. Fully balanced by mouth-watering acids. Really good.

Flight 4 (2 notes)

We had a lunch reservation Wednesday at Rubicon, which I've enjoyed, probably more for their wine list than food, in the past. The food, while very good if ordinary, doesn't make the restaurant's reputation. Still, lunch was inexpensive (food wise) and there were a couple of well priced gems on the wine list.

White
1996 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Bourgogne Blanc France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc
91 points
Still refreshingly light in color. A pretty, lemon zest and stony mineral nose with some ripe pear notes. Round and quite full for its class, but (expectedly) lacking the weight and depth of a great 1er or Grand Cru. Some green tea notes. Still capable of maturing. Reminds me of a great young Macon or Pouilly-Fuisse at this point.
Red
1992 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée
92 points
Really beautiful color and clarity. A pretty nose of Vosne oak-spiced stawberrys. Round and silky on the palate, and still with a restrained tannic note while just starting to show a bit of polish on the finish. Great weight for a wine of this level and vintage, and frankly, not far off 1er or GC depth. Some soy and potpourri. Held well though a 3 hour lunch.

Flight 5 (1 note)

Service was good but amateur. To illustrate, after finishing our meal we were left with most of the Jayer. The waitress says "I'll bring you something that will match well with that", and comes back with some sort of sweet orange cake concoction.....it wasn't a good idea, and one that put the bartender/stand-in sommelier in damage control mode. He came back with a better-selected domestic sweet Riesling that I don't remember. Lunch was followed up with a glass of the very good 16-year Hirsch Bourbon.

After lunch, and a sobering walk, we headed back to the Ferry Plaza building. Sitting at the bar we had another young, and still a bit overpriced, Burg:

Red
2003 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru
87 points
Really uncharacteristic (though perhaps true to the vintage) nose - grapey with some retrained violets. Could be almost any varietal at this point. Some tell-tale structure points to Burgundy but none of the class or femininity I'd expect out of a Chambolle 1er, even one that's this young. My score might be a bit generous but, while this producer usually needs time, I have to think I'm missing something here.

Flight 6 (3 notes)

Dinner was with our host for the weekend at El Paseo in Mill Valley. The meal was well-prepared and fairly traditional French. The real gem here is the wine list, which has loads of Bordeaux and Burgundy stretching back to the '30s, as well as a deep California list with selections back to the 1960s. The list is well-priced in all but the most sought after vintages, but the owner/sommelier clearly doesn't buy much at auction and I get the feeling that the hot vintages and wines have been pretty well picked through so, especially with the older wines, there's a lot of unknown producers remaining. The owner is more the capable of helping, in fact, if I were to return I'd call ahead and say something like "we have X amount of money to spend on Y wines, please pick us out a few that you know are drinking well." It's caveat emptor on wines over 12 years old, but on wines that don't have much chance such as our really low fill Volnay, he seems willing to make exceptions. We selected a couple of DRCs from the much maligned 1973 vintage. Thankfully they were holding up well and, while neither were exceptional, both were enjoyable, particularly with food.

Red
1962 Domaine Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Champans France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru
Around 7-9 cm ullage. Salty and dead.
Red
1973 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée St. Vivant France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Romanée St. Vivant Grand Cru
89 points
An enveloping nose showing old decaying leaves, soy, and underbrush with some pretty (if it makes sense) rotting strawberry. Old and initially a bit abrupt and sharp, but soft on the front and with considerable unresolved tannin. Nose actually improves over the 1.5-2 hours this was consumed, over which time anything originally objectionable about this dissipates. Light-medium weight and well-balanced with time in the glass. Will never be super but a great example from a miserable vintage.
Red
1973 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Echezeaux France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru
84 points
A similar, perhaps vintage dominated, nose to the St. Vivant. Some funky notes with potpourri and strawberry. Leaner and showing more age than the RSV on the palate. Some heavy black tea character. Tannic and quite drying. Maybe like a mix of 89 and 98, without the depth of either.

Flight 7 (1 note)

Our host was driving and not able to enjoy the dinner wines, so when we got back to her place we opened something else which, unfortunately, didn't turn out to be so great:

Red
2000 Domaine G. Roumier / Christophe Roumier Bonnes Mares France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru
87 points
Some earthy sweet black cherry on the masculine nose, with dark chocolate and earthy notes. Hard as nails on the palate, some cherry shows through but dominated by structure at this point. A really austere, bitter finish. Some potential in the nose but unimpressive for drining now. Score reflects some obvious potential and my confidence in the producer.

Flight 8 (1 note)

For lunch on Thursday we headed to A-16 in the Marina District. While the lunch menu is limited the food was very well done. The pizza was perhaps the best I've had outside of Italy, with just the perfect amount of burn on the crust. With lunch we enjoyed:

White
2001 Azienda Agricola Valentini Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Italy, Abruzzi, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
90 points
A nose that reeks of the kind of class that only comes from these oddball sorts of producers. Lots of earth and underbrush with wet leaves and some lemon notes. A bit of spritz on the palate which dissipated over time. Refreshing and quite complex in flavor profile with some limestone and sweat notes, along with peach and melon fruit character. A nice mineral streak framed by great acidity. Improved while warming in the glass. Sets a new standard for the region.

Flight 9 (9 notes)

Dinner that night was at Bodega Bistro in the Tenderloin District with pyang, tanglenet and his lovely wife, and Brettay. The chef at Bodega Bistro was exceptionally accommodating and clearly willing to take chances with his cooking, hitting on a number of dishes. The quality of ingrediants was very good, and included (separately) a very large lobster, foie gras, and squab. The food was good, not great, but given that we enjoyed around 7-8 courses, for which we were charged (including corkage, tax, and tip) an amazing $50/person, I'll be looking forward to our next visit.

White - Sparkling
1988 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut France, Champagne
90 points
Toasty wood and green (baked) apples on the nose. A bit syrupy. Poor mousse retention. Austere with high acids. Like a wood-aged Chablis. Likely slight heat damage.
White
2002 Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Clos des Petits-Croux France, Burgundy, Mâconnais, Pouilly-Fuissé
90 points
A lemon zest and mineral-laced nose. Round and nicely texture with a well-structured build. A great example of the potential in the appellation, but clearly of lower class than a top Beane wine.
White
2002 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Epitome Carneros Collines USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
85 points
Oak, but more butter and leesy notes on the nose. A viscous texture, but with good balancing acidity. Not simple, but not terribly interesting either; however, a solid wine and manages to pull this style off well.
White
2004 Pax Viognier Aphrodite USA, California, North Coast
86 points
A spritzy, perfumed Viognier nose. Pure and clean with some vanilla flavor. Viscous, but not the oily character that a great Condrieu gets. A bit of heat.
Red
2001 Bond Matriarch USA, California, Napa Valley
92 points
An initially minty Bob Levy nose. I'm not sure what the blend on this is, but remind me of a slightly-less Cab Franc dominant Maiden. Some chocolate notes but a definite cassis streak. Young with a grainy build and plenty of room for improvement with age. Well balanced and firm, with a bit of heat showing over time. Really good, but could benefit from a lengthy decant at this point.
Red
2001 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
91 points
Bitter dark chocolate and cherry liqueur notes. More accessible than last year but still a bit muted (expectedly so given its youth) and hiding under substantial sturucture. Tastes like a promising young Montelena to me, I can't see anything controversial about this wine.
Red
2001 Château Pape Clément France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
91 points
Inserted as a ringer amongst Cali Cabs, though I doubt anyone was fooled. A bit tight, but expectedly so and certainly showing potential. Nose shows heavy coffee ground, black liqueur and cassis, and chocolate-covered cherry notes. Well balanced by rougher Bordeaux tannins.
Red
2001 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
92 points
A Bob Foley blueberry liqueur and spiced vanilla oak nose. Viscous and juicy, with good weight and fruit that keeps up with the significant fine tannin. Would definitely benefit from decanting. Some coffee notes on the palate. Not too far from the regular Pride Cab to me, though thicker and more substantial in the build.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2000 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Furstentum Sélection de Grains Nobles France, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru
91 points
A perfumed chemical Gewurzt nose . Pure and clean with Sauternes, or just above, level sweetness. Good body, balance, and, of course, length but not as much going on as I'd expect, maybe just a bit young and hard to read.

Flight 10 (1 note)

We were scheduled to fly home on Friday but our plane was delayed so we missed our connection and had to spend the night in Denver. While Jen was frantically making hotel and plane reservations I was frantically cross checking WS wine awards with our crappy Zagat's dining guide to find somewhere to eat in Denver. We settled on Kevin Taylor in the elegant Hotel Teatro. The quality of food was very high but a bit boring. The wine list was deep but hideously overpriced, with many selections as high as 5-7X retail. There were few wines even at double retail, so I instead did the sommelier's wine pairing with my seven course tasting menu and ordered a good basic Burgundy for Jen's meal.

Red
2000 Méo-Camuzet Frère et Sœurs Marsannay France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Marsannay
87 points
A pretty, dark brambly character on the nose with accessible floral and black cherry notes. High relative acid with a light-medium body. A quality wine that should improve for several years.

Closing

Again, the food was very good, though expensive for what it is. As a number of restaurants do, the tasting menu consisted of my choices from the regular menu; however, the portions were full-sized! In other words, I actually ate a full portion soup, salad, two appetizers, two entrees, and a dessert. The wine pairings were good matches but not terribly interesting choices.

We arrived back on Saturday morning, in time for New Year's Eve. All in all, a wonderful and memorable trip. It was great to meet new friends and reconnect with some others. We're very much looking forward to the next one, hopefully before mid '06.

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