San Francisco Travel Journal

Wine Modeling, my new career
It has been two weeks since the Memorial Day weekend and finally I've gotten to a place where I can write about a weekend of decadence in San Francisco without having to fight the urge to immediately fly up for French toast at Waterbar (more on that later). 



The story of this trip starts in Phoenix at a dog birthday party the night before my flight (yes, I accurately typed that the dog party occurred in Phoenix, not San Francisco).  Among the people in attendance who I did not know was a recent transplant from San Francisco, and she was not shy about letting people know from where she hailed with gems like:  "I just moved here from San Francisco and I can NOT go out to eat in Phoenix.  Restaurants in San Francisco are A-MA-ZING and there's just nothing worth trying in Phoenix."  And "We have the best burritos ever in San Francisco."  And "I know every winery from California all the way to Oregon" (less impressive when you remember they border, also probably impossible).  And "I grew up by so many wineries that I just can't drink a bad wine.  I'll only drink California wines, there's nothing better.  If I go out to eat and I don't recognize a label on their menu I'm like 'uh, bring me a cocktail.'"  Don't worry, while San Franciscan's have much to be pleased with in their abundance of quality food and drink options, not all are this obnoxious and most will be thrilled to offer you their favorite places in the never-ending quest to prove they have the best recommendations. 

On that note, I was provided with several recommendations.  (not by that girl, though, her unsolicited recommendations were to go to The Mission, The Ferry Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge...which makes me think she has absolutely no credibility to speak about anything regarding SF). 

Obviously, I took none of these recommendations because there were some amount of other previously planned activities, as well as vacation bar hopping.
I did make a legitimate attempt to have lunch at Molinari's on day one, but after taking the Muni to Chinatown and walking to North Beach (SF's Little Italy), it was the lunch rush and there was a line out the door.  Luckily, I was with my buddy Graham who has lived in SF for several years and he had friends nearby at the Rogue Brewery Ale House so we stopped in for some beers before making a second try for lunch at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store (it is neither bohemian nor cigar store) for what Graham said were 'killer meatball sandwiches,' or so he had been told.  One of the drinking buddies said they were overrated, but I don't put much stock in the food opinion of a guy eating a BLT on white, so we went anyway.  I must say, this was close to the best sandwich I've ever eaten.  The meatballs were excellent, the sauce and cheese were appropriately proportioned, and the focaccia was buttered/oiled to give the bread a great flavor.  I housed mine immediately with a beer, Graham had a malbec and a half a sandwich because, well, San Francisco.  I teased, but then I ate the other half cold the next morning and swear it might have been even better.
After Mario's, we had a few hours to kill until Graham's girlfriend got off work and we headed to Oakland to see The Presets play at the Fox Theatre.  I had been awake since 2am so I voted for a nap.  Around 4:30 Graham summoned a Lyft.  As I understand, it's basically Uber, but with pink mustaches on the cars and more reasonably priced.  The Lyft app allows you to call a car and lets you watch where it is in real time so you know when to go downstairs.  Download it before traveling to one of their cities and stop worrying about how to hail a cab.  Payment is in the form of a "donation" done in the app so there is no actual exchange of money.  The drivers are personable, but as they are not professional drivers it's possible they might not know exactly where you want to go (that happened to me once). 
So we took our Lyft to the FiDi, had a couple beers, and hopped on the BART for a short jaunt over to Oakland.  Upon arrival we went to an interesting dive bar that serves grapefruit wedges with their greyhounds.  We then went to Make Westing, an incredible cocktail and bocce bar, for cocktails (garden gimlet) and snacks.  I had a delicious oxtail sandwich (basically like a pot roast sandwich), someone let us eat her habanero popcorn.  Why can't all bars be like this?  Comfortable, high quality, with patrons who are professional young adults...  Make Westing is worth going to Oakland for.
   

 After a couple drinks there, and Graham almost getting into a fight with the one ultra-conservative former marine to be found in the area, we went over to the Fox to catch the end of Dragonette and then The Presets.  The Fox is a beautiful venue that's great for seeing bands of medium notoriety, it's large enough to accommodate a decent crowd but maintains an intimate feeling.  Just don't be a putz, make sure you buy floor tickets.  They take credit cards for drink orders, so that's a plus.  The week before my trip Graham shot me a text about how he was out drinking at Bay to Breakers and some guy bumped into him, "I turned to him and said 'bro, do you even lift?' Fortunately in San Francisco, the answer to that is always no."  As The Presets came on and I yearned to be up front on the floor, I remembered those wise words, and my imposing size, and decided I could safely walk through everyone up to the front.  Which I did without any problem, and loved it.  Great show.  BART back for bedtime.
 
 Saturday morning Graham's girlfriend was craving oysters and champagne so we did a bit of Googleing to find a Saturday oyster happy hour at a classy place and settled on Waterbar on The Embarcadero for their daily oyster happy hour (11:30 to 5:30) as well as their view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge.  After downing two dozen oysters and a bottle of champagne (ok, prosecco), we moved on to main courses.  I chose the French toast, pretty sure it's the best I've ever had.  Graham went with softshell crab and Amy got sashimi salmon.  And we had another bottle (here's the thing, you can order a bottle of prosecco for $35, or on weekends you can get the same bottle and orange juice for $20).  We left satisfied and walked down The Embarcadero and through the Ferry Building, which was too busy to stop in.  After walking forever we did a wine tasting and then called a Lyft back home to rest up for dinner at Jackson Fillmore Trattoria.  All I can say about that is get a reservation, enjoy the delicious entrees, and save room for dessert.  Amazing Italian food and wine. 

The wine tasting and bottle of red with dinner were just a preview of Sunday...wine tasting in Sonoma.  My hosts prefer Sonoma to Napa because it is less busy with tourists and the wine is just as amazing.  Just make sure to prepare yourself before leaving because wineries aren't as obvious as a Walmart or Carl's Jr.  Some Googleing will get you the locations, tell you the need for reservations, and help you find the coveted free tasting.  Our plan was the Merry Edwards Winery followed by Lynmar Estate, and we executed it brilliantly. 

Merry Edwards offers free tastings of their delicious reds.  Don't be a knob, though, and make sure your group buys at least a bottle.  We did not do a vineyard tour, but it looks relatively unremarkable...rows of grapes.  Lynmar Estate, however, is stunning.  From the tasting and picnic area, to the view over the grapes, to the general farmland, it looks like something out of Sunset Magazine.  The wine is delightful, tastings were $15 (but free if you're a Visa Signature card holder (I'm not)).  This is a place to come and stay a while.


After the wine tastings, we met a group on the Russian River in Gurneyville. Though we just sat along the banks enjoying wine like something out of a Camus story, it was quite peaceful.  This was followed by crashing a bbq at a cabin in a redwood forest before finally, begrudgingly, making the trek back to the city.
Luckily, Monday was cloudy and we could finally take a rest.  A Starbucks run and Chinese delivery capped off the excitement of the day.  A trip to the airport for a delayed flight (fog, go figure) was the culmination of an incredible weekend of food, drink, and merriment. 
If you're planning to go, my suggestion is to have a friend there.  Otherwise you could spend a considerable time spinning your wheels trying to discern a legit restaurant from an actual, literal hole in the wall.  Barring that, ask for recommendations, or just suck it up and do the touristy things. 

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