Its that time of year again. We are departing (sadly without Troya) to the 2014 Wine Blogger Conference tomorrow in Santa Barbara. CAN NOT WAIT! Be on the watch for live feeds and comments and as usual a wrap up at the end. If you are going, we will see you there.
Hill and I are off to Clearlake to celebrate our Nations Name Day. We are looking forward to a weekend of wakeboarding and adult beverages with our great friends. Luckily for us, our route to Clearlake is via the Silverado Trail through Napa. Of course, we could not resist visiting a few wineries on the way up.
Paraduxx is one winery I have wanted to visit for awhile. We parked the boat into the lot and headed in for a tasting. The tasting fee is $30, so Hill and I decided to share aTasting. Johnny Bon brought out our tasting flight and introduced us to the winery and the wines we were tasting. We tasted the 2013 Napa Valley Rose, 2011 M blend, 2011 C blend, 2011 Rector Creek Red Wine, 2011 Howell Mountain Red Wine, and Johnny treated us to a bonus pour of their 2011 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. I enjoyed all of their wines.The M blend was a Merlot-Zin blend. It was full of red fruit, plum and spice. I found the mid range heavy in tannins (for my taste) but the finish was well balanced and even. The wine is well priced and would go well alone or with food.
The 2011 Rector Creek and Howell Mountain are really good Zin-cab blends. The price point is a little high but, you do get what you pay for.
Last stop before heading over the hill was Cuvaison. We first discovered Cuvaison on a recent weekend trip to Sonoma. I was really excited to visit the original tasting room on the Silverado Trail. It did not disappoint. The tasting flight was their 2012 Kite Tail Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, 2012 Estate Syrah, 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2012 Brandlin Zin. All of their wines were delicious and well priced. We are considering joining their wine club. The one that really got my attention was their 2012 Estate Syrah. It gas a deep red plum color and a nose that will make your mouth water. It is full of dark berry fruits with bacon, pepper and silky tannins. It is everything you look for in a Syrah. The 2012 Brandlin Zin is also worth mentioning. It is old a old vine Zin full of spice and pepper with hints of caramel and vanilla on the finish. It is complex and mature and worth discussion.
Overall, not a bad way to start off the holiday. Happy 4th of July.
The concept was simple, find the best pizza in San Francisco. But in a city that prides itself on both its diversity and being a foodie mecca, it proved to be quite a challenge. Depending on who you believe, San Francisco is either home of the best pizza in the nation or not even in the top 10 (a low blow to such a gastronomical city). Not that I have tried, but if you attempt to have a debate with any true San Franciscan they will immediately pull out the “but we have Tony’s” card. That would be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, home of Tony Gemignani who has won the Word Best Pizza Championship in Italy 11 times. How do you argue with that? So after hours of research (over 200 options) we narrowed it down to 12. We had 3 days, which meant 4 pizza’s per day. Nirvana for some, repulsive to others. How would our taste buds and waist line hold up?
Day #1: We started our trip at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Had to, right? Set the bar high and create a litmus test for all the others. The crust, wood fired (as it should be) was incredible, great texture with a slight char on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside (hungry yet?). The sauce was very light but flavorful and it had just the right amount of cheese. A bench mark if there ever was one. From there it was walking distance to Golden Boy Pizza. This place gets a lot of run and has a lot of believers, but for me, while physically around the corner from Tony’s, they are miles apart. The toppings were good, flavorful and fresh, but the crust reminded me of Little Caesars. From there it was off to Pizzetta 211. A very cool neighborhood spot out on 23rd. The crust had nice texture but not a lot of flavor. The toppings were very creative and simple, not piled high, but had great flavor and balance. The place is very small so either go early, be prepared to wait, or get take out. Our final stop of the day was at Little Star Pizza in the Mission. It was late when we got there and the place was still full. It’s a fun place with a lot of character. This was the only Chicago style place on the list but they also have thin crust. The toppings were the star here, on both the Chicago and thin style. I liked the flavors and the sauce/cheese mix in the Chicago style but I was not a big fan of the crust for either style, a little dry.
A side bar here, this trip would have lasted about 30 minutes without the help of google maps. I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to drive along, listen to some music, have a nice conversation and occasionally be reminded to “turn right in 600 feet” while on your way to some place you have never been rather than screaming at each other because we just missed our turn and now are completely lost. I do wonder how many marriages have been saved by this technology.
Day #2: Woke up feeling good and hungry, surprised but happy. Our first stop was Arinell Pizza in the Mission. This is a classic, NY style pizza by the slice joint. No tables, a few benches along the wall, really meant for grabbing a slice, fold it up and eat it on the run (yup, NY style). For what it was, I liked it a lot and it tasted just like the hole in the wall pizza places you find on every corner in Gotham. From there it was a short walk to Pizzaria Delfina. This is a very cool spot in the Mission with a lot of sidewalk tables and some very creative pizza combinations. The crust here was light, not real moist or chewy but still had good texture. The toppings were very flavorful and not too heavy or greasy. After a walk around the city to build up an appetite our evening started at Una Pizza Napoletana south of Market on 11th. This place only serves pizza and salad. You get to watch your pizza being made because it’s an open kitchen and the pizza is made front and center. While the toppings are great, simple and classic yet well balanced and flavorful, the crust here is what steals the show. Also wood fired, with the oven the main fixture in the whole room, what comes out can only be described as magic. Everything you want in a crust, a light char on the outside for flavor and texture, moist and chewy on the inside with a hint of SF sour dough, was right here. To follow that up we headed over to Flour and Water. One of the “go-to’s” in the city right now you will need to either make reservations early or be ready to wait. Fortunately they have a couple of good bars close by and will text you when your table is ready. The pizza here was good, come creative combinations with interesting toppings however some combo’s seemed a bit over the top. The flavor was good and the crust had good texture but was a bit salty.
Day #3: I was ready for the home stretch but Troya had flamed out by Flour and Water and needed a pep talk to get back out on the pizza trail. With motivation restored we headed to Zero Zero on Folsom. This is a very cool place which has a great little bar and some very creative drinks on the menu. Troya was eyeing all the brunch items coming out of the kitchen, but we stuck to our guns and got the pizza. They have more traditional toppings and combinations then some of the other stops and it was a bit heavier and greasy then most of the others, but good none the less. I would like to come back here with a group of friends because it seemed to have that kind of vibe. From there we made our way south to PizzaHacker in Bernal Heights. Not wood fired but they use enough heat to get a bit of char on the crust. The crust had a lot of flavor, more so after it cooled interestingly. Flavor was the theme here and this pie had the most pop and flavor rush of any that we had. Just what you would expect with a name like Hacker. And sadly this is where our trip ended. We still had 2 on the list, Long Bridge on 3rd and Gialina Pizzaria in Glen Park, but neither was open during the day on Sunday so our list was shortened and our coronaries saved.
So, after 3 days and 10 Pizza stops, the winner is………….(drum roll)……………….
#1- Una Pizza Napoletana- hard to believe some place could unseat Tony’s, but the crust, the crust, what more can I say.
#2-Tony’s Pizza Napolentana– still tried and true and where I would go if I want to be transported back to Italy and our pizza roots.
#3- PizzaHacker– this was the most difficult choice but they edged out the others with their flavor bomb of a pizza.
Of the runner ups here are some categories for the others; Romanic date night spot- Pizzetta 211 and Pizzaria Delfina. I want to impress my date spot- Flour and Water, food will be good and if the date is going bad its great people watching place with lots of living stereo types. Place to gather and feast with friends- Little Star and Zero Zero.
Mixology is the big buzz word these days, so much so that it’s the name of a prime time TV series. But what is mixology, or a mixologist, and how is it any different than a bartender? For me it’s like the difference between a cook and a chef. A cook will make a great meal by following a recipe, a chef will create a great meal blending ingredients into something unique and often extraordinary. So to with a mixologist.
So it was with part excitement and part curiosity that we wondered into Hock Farm Craft & Provisions while on an overnight stay in Sacramento. The restaurant is getting a bit of press for its title, a bit of homage to John Sutter, and its “Farm to Table” methods, another popular buzz word or phrase, but it was the drink menu that pulled us in. With its Barrel-Aged Hanky Panky and Improved Lavender Sidecar, most of the specialty drinks are classic old school libations with a modern mixologist’s twist. They even have a Gin & Tonic with house made tonic. My go-to drink that I usually have with two limes, I chose to go without with this one so as not to mask the unique flavors. Brad, mastermind behind many of the recipes and aging process’s, was more than happy to explain the concepts and flavors that went into his creations. Stephen was also behind the bar making sure no glass remained empty for too long. The highlight was when I asked Brad to go off the menu and mix up something unique. I will not give away the details, but I expect it will be on the regular menu in the near future. Needless to say, when we are back in Sacramento you will know where to find us.
Doc had an itch to find the best pizza in San Francisco……well there are over 200 pizza places, so the best one after extensive research and narrowing it down to 11 pizza places. You will have to check out his blog to find out what his criteria was, I was just along for the ride and the pies!
First stop was the all famous, according to Doc, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It was packed for 3pm, but we found two seats at the bar. I loved this place. They had quite an intriguing drink list, I had “the savage” made with vodka and blueberries among other ingredients. It was so delicious! We got a pie to share, the basic Margarita pizza. It was very simple yet flavorful. The basil and dollops of mozzarella were obviously fresh. The crust was thin appeared wood fired and slightly chewy (in a good way). The staff were fast and friendly. This place was packed for a reason…..it’s a must go!
Second stop Golden Boy. More like gross boy! After we stopped here I had to ask Doc “seriously, we went from Tony’s to that!?” Again I’m not sure what criteria Doc was using but he should have thrown this place out the window. It’s a small shop, headbanger music blasting with slices in the window. I could tell just by looking at them that it wouldn’t be good. Deep dish crust, which I like, but it tasted old not fresh at all. To sum it up the pizza reminded me of when we were kids and my parents would buy us those single frozen think crust pizzas that you heat up in the microwave and thought were so delicious cause you were like 5 and didn’t know any better. The one highlight they had a decent beer list on tap.
Next up: Pizzetta 211…..very good. They had a smaller interesting pizza list with wine and beer only. All of their pizzas were unique with a wide variety of flavors. We chose a two cheese pizza with rosemary and pine nuts. It was tasty. I love rosemary so if you do too it’s a good choice. Very thin crust and crunchy. I had a small glass of rosé with it which was a good pairing. They also had some delicious sounding salads that I would get if I went back. Very hipster feel environment, small small cooking area. It’s the kind of place that gets packed with a line around the corner.
After that we took a little break because my belly was about to burst. Several hours later we ventured out again! Doc wanted to hit TWO more places but I had to say no. My taste buds were almost pizza-ed out! Last stop was Little Star Pizza. They had thin or Chicago style pizzas to offer. Also a good variety of draft beers. We got their Mediterranean salad, which was nothing special but at that point I needed some greens so it was good. I ordered a thin crust garlic, tomato, zucchini pizza that didn’t have any red sauce. Doc got a Chicago style combo pizza. I enjoyed mine. It had lots of garlic flavor and the veggies stayed slightly crunchy not floppy and flavorless like some veggie pizzas. The Chicago style pizza was not that great. It tasted and had the texture of cornbread with a pasta sauce thrown on top after it was cooked. Not impressed with it at all. I have had, what I think, is authentic style Chicago pizza and love it and this pizza was not at all like it.
Overall my favorite was Tony’s Napoletana. The flavor of the pizza, the drinks and the staff were all excellent. I did think to myself could it be due to pizza taste bud fatigue? But I really don’t think so because I really enjoyed out last stop and the pizza I had ordered which is a close second. So I can say without a doubt Tony’s was the best!