Summer is practically here. You’re ready for a getaway, but what to do? If you’re a foodie, Northern California is teeming with delicious opportunities to plunge into your favorite pastime. From gourmet walking tours and artisanal cheese tastings to farm volunteer days and high-end food-and-wine events, the summer is simply brimming with culinary excitement.
TAKE A GOURMET WALKING TOUR OF NAPA
Interested in wine country cuisine? Take a three-hour gourmet walking tour of downtown Napa via GOURMET WALKS (gourmetwalks.com). The $68 tour starts at Oxbow Public Market and ends at the riverfront. You’ll do a number of private tastings, including olive oil, bread, artisanal sausages and cheeses. The tour will take you to Vintner’s Collective, where you’ll have a private tasting of locally crafted boutique wines, then on to Anette’s Chocolates, where you can see the products being made and sample fresh truffles, brittle and ice cream. The tour concludes at Napa’s Fish Story restaurant, where you’ll sample housemade beer and nibble on vegetable tempura. Tours take place Friday and Sunday at 11 a.m.; reservations are required. Can’t fit the tour into your schedule? Here are some culinary spots to hit on your next visit to Napa.
If you’re a foodie, OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET (610 and 644 First St.) may be as close to nirvana as you can get. Crammed full of food and beverage purveyors, the market provides an afternoon of sybaritic pleasure. At Oxbow Wine Merchant and neighboring Oxbow Cheese Market, you can sit at the bar and pair an artisanal cheese board or Spanish plate with a flight of wines or a draft beer. Don’t leave without grabbing a scoop of Three Twins’ cranberry almond bark or lemon cookie ice cream.
SHACKFORD’S KITCHEN STORE AND MORE (1350 Main St.) is a utilitarian shop packed with professional knives, sturdy appliances and a mind-boggling assortment of bakeware. No scented candles or perfumed hand lotions here—but if you’re looking for a cookbook by a local chef or a top-quality sauté pan, this is the place to come.
At dinnertime, head to CELADON (500 Main St.) for an intimate dining experience and knockout “global comfort food,” featuring flavors from the Mediterranean, Asia and the Americas. Sit out on the ravishing courtyard and order the Moroccan-inspired braised lamb shank, served with golden raisin and toasted almond couscous, and end your meal with the decadent chocolate gooey cake for two.
WORK ON A FARM IN PESCADERO
Food lovers always embrace an opportunity to get closer to the products they love, and there’s no better way than by visiting a farm. On the third Saturday of every month, PIE RANCH (pieranch.org) in Pescadero hosts a community workday, followed by a potluck dinner and barn dance. You’ll be set to work winnowing dried beans, removing corn kernels from the cobs, raking manure or weeding vegetable plots alongside other foodies. In the afternoon, executive director Jered Lawson leads a tour of the property. Kids are welcome.
PESCADERO COUNTRY STORE (251 Stage Road, Pescadero) is a casual establishment best known for its delectable pizzas, baked in an impressive wood-fired oven. Try the basil pesto pizza, loaded with feta, mozzarella and artichoke hearts, or the lusty roasted garlic pizza, topped with Gorgonzola and fontina cheeses and sprinkled with fresh rosemary.
Just down the road from Pescadero, PASTA MOON RISTORANTE & BAR (315 Main St., Half Moon Bay) offers dazzling Italian cuisine in a rustic yet elegant setting. Don’t miss the delicious spaghetti puttanesca, packed with scallops, calamari, clams and mussels in a caper-dotted spicy tomato sauce, or the robust, satisfying tagliatelle Bolognese.
STAY AT A SECRET COTTAGE IN GLEN ELLEN
Craving a romantic, food-centric weekend with your significant other? Head to Glen Ellen, a charming little town just north of Sonoma. GLEN ELLEN INN (13670 Arnold Drive) offers a handful of “secret cottages” along a babbling creek, behind its award-winning oyster grill and martini bar. Each of these individual lodgings has its own porch, hot tub, fireplace—and privacy. And they’re mere steps away from a spectacular meal. If you can peel yourself away from your cottage, settle into a table at the intimate restaurant for lunch, dinner or a mid-afternoon nosh. Nibble on house-baked focaccia and teeny, crumbly scones as you peruse the enormous wine list. And don’t miss the dazzling Dungeness crab pot sticker or the baked oysters, served with fragrant Meyer lemon-garlic butter.
Pop in to cheery, dog-friendly SONOMA VALLEY PORTWORKS (14301 Arnold Drive), where the luscious ports are all available for tasting. Of special interest to Sacramentans are the foot-crushed Aris varietal ports: One is made from Clarksburg Petite Sirah grapes, the other from Yolo County Petit Verdot grapes.
At WINE COUNTRY CHOCOLATES (14301 Arnold Drive), the sweets are crafted right on the premises, and you can see it happening through a glass window. In the chocolate tasting room, you get to sample several truffle flavors and solid chocolates—for free! The shop also sells scrumptious caramel rocky road and chocolate-dipped apricots.
After all that eating, stretch your legs at JACK LONDON STATE HISTORIC PARK (2400 London Ranch Road), where you can explore the ruins of Jack London’s Beauty Ranch and marvel at the property’s sea of extensive vineyards. Bring a picnic lunch, then check out the remains of the old Kohler and Frohling winery building before embarking on the approximately half-mile-long Beauty Ranch Trail, which meanders through the center of the 1,400 acres of land upon which London raised animals and planted fruits, grains and vegetables. Don’t miss the fascinating Pig Palace, constructed to house London’s prized Duroc-Jersey hogs, and make sure to ask to see the separate kitchen of London’s Cottage. (It isn’t always open for visitors.)
As you head out of town and pass through Boyes Hot Springs toward Sonoma, stop at EL MOLINO CENTRAL (11 Central Ave., Boyes Hot Springs), located directly alongside Highway 12. This tiny spot offers up intriguing, upscale Mexican “street food.” Corn tortillas are made from scratch, and the beer-battered fish tacos, drizzled with avocado-lime mayo, are superb.
SHOP THE CHICO FARMERS MARKET
It’s worth the drive to Chico just to revel in the city’s extraordinary FARMERS MARKET (Municipal Parking Lot #1, Second and Wall streets), bursting with locally grown and produced products. From crusty baked goods and freshly bottled olive oil to seasonal produce and artisanal cheeses, the bounty is colorful and exciting. Located in the middle of picturesque downtown Chico, it’s a launch point to explore the city’s shops and restaurants. The market is open Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A stylish, sleek new restaurant called GRANA (198 E. Second St.), across the street from the farmers market, draws upon the market’s selection of fresh produce and artisanal products for menu inspiration. Its focus: wood oven-fired pizza. The Community Garden pizza is loaded with fresh seasonal vegetables, mozzarella and Pecorino cheeses, while the Carnivore is a meaty gem, topped with coppa, bresaola and mortadella.
Drop into SIERRA NEVADA BREWING CO. (1075 E. 20th St.) and it seems as if the entire town is here, guzzling the brewery’s famous pale ale and porter. The volume can be daunting, and finding space at the bar (or a table in the dining room) is often a real challenge, but this is one community institution you shouldn’t miss. Enjoy the action in the open kitchen as you wait for your beer-marinated barbecued ribs, Sierra Nevada Burger or pale ale steamed clams. You won’t leave hungry or thirsty.
A local foodie haunt, RED TAVERN (1250 The Esplanade) serves flavorful, seasonally inspired fare in a peaceful, welcoming environment. The salads are spectacular, and if chef/owner Craig Thomas (who cooked at Masa’s in San Francisco, then launched Citron in Oakland before heading to Chico) is serving his succulent slow-braised beef short ribs, go for it.
UPPER CRUST BAKERY & EATERY (130 Main St.) makes some of the tastiest treats in town. It’s packed to the rafters on weekend mornings and at lunchtime. Order an individual-size quiche or housemade chili before tucking into dessert. Try the rich brownies, French apple tart and red velvet cake slathered with cream cheese frosting.
Forget those newfangled flavors and esoteric, farm-sourced ingredients: SCHUBERT’S ICE CREAM & CANDY (178 E. Seventh St.) makes old-fashioned ice cream in traditional flavors such as rocky road, rum raisin and Chico mint. Open since 1938, Schubert’s is where you come with the kids for a no-nonsense scoop or two, served up with a warm smile.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH SAN FRANCISCO’S MISSION DISTRICT
San Francisco is filled with richly distinctive neighborhoods, and all boast some great restaurants. Check out the colorful, gritty Mission District for its surprisingly wide array of eateries, from bare-bones taquerias and an artisanal ice cream shop to a nationally acclaimed “nouveau Chinese” restaurant.
You don’t have to walk far in the Mission District to find good Mexican food, but EL FAROLITO TAQUERIA (2779 Mission St.) is a neighborhood favorite. You’ll spy it by the long line snaking out the front door, especially around lunchtime. Don’t worry; it moves quickly. Order your food, then grab one of the bright-yellow tables crammed against the wall. Not-to-miss menu items include the wonderful carne asada and al pastor tacos. (For more adventurous eaters, there are also beef brain, intestine and tongue tacos.)
Local folks hankering for some comforting food make a beeline for MISSION PIE (2901 Mission St.), a bakery-cafe in a funky old building with high ceilings, scuffed wood floors and warm, butter-yellow walls. The handcrafted pastries—both savory and sweet—are rustic and beautiful, ranging from quiches and individual chicken pot pies to lovely fruit pies and bumpy, wholesome muffins.
The Huffington Post called MISSION CHINESE FOOD (2234 Mission St.) “the hottest thing to happen to San Francisco in years.” GQ magazine recently named it one of the top 10 best new restaurants in America, and it’s been lauded by the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times. When you step inside the dim restaurant, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about—until you try the food, that is. Highly inventive, out-of-the-box Chinese cuisine, it’s built upon a fascinating and inspired mix of ingredients. Try the intriguing salt cod fried rice, dotted with escolar confit, bits of Chinese sausage and egg; or go for the assertively delicious and complex gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and beef cheek sauté, paired with poached oysters and smoked oyster sauce.
You can’t help but adore FOREIGN CINEMA (2534 Mission St.), a bustling restaurant with an urban/industrial vibe, dynamic outdoor dining area, and foreign and independent films screened on the back wall of the courtyard. This popular eatery offers a California/Mediterranean- inspired menu. Try the tasty Monterey calamari and poblano appetizer, baked with chickpeas and drizzled with a velvety aïoli, or the exotic five-spice fried quail.
HUMPHRY SLOCOMBE ICE CREAM (2790 Harrison St.) has an irresistible lineup of made-on-the-premises ice creams in flavors you won’t believe. From Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke) to Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes), the offerings are exciting. If you decide on a sundae instead of a scoop, toppings include 20-year-old balsamic vinegar and amarena cherries.
ATTEND A FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL IN LAKE TAHOE
Sacramentans find all sorts of reasons to visit Tahoe. But foodies will want to be there Sept. 2–9, when the 27th annual LAKE TAHOE AUTUMN FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL (tahoefoodandwine.com) takes place. The event, located primarily at Northstar, kicks off with a grape stomp and luncheon. Culinary programs include food and wine pairings, cooking demonstrations, a beer and cheese seminar, wine tastings and a live cooking battle between local chefs. The week ends with a grand tasting featuring food from 24 Lake Tahoe area restaurants, caterers and chefs.
CHOCOLATE BAR (7001 Northstar Drive) is famed for its chocolate martini. But the two-layer chocolate cake, filled with chocolate mousse and slathered in dark chocolate ganache, will knock your socks off.
EARTHLY DELIGHTS (3001 Northstar Drive), a friendly deli and gourmet store, offers a casual menu of foods that you can take out or eat in. This is a great place to visit if you’re planning a picnic, and it also has an attractive wine bar offering weekly wine tastings.
If you’re looking for romance, PIANETA CUCINA ITALIANA (10096 Donner Pass Road, Truckee) offers it in spades. The kitchen’s specialty is handmade pastas. Don’t miss the simple but dreamy Pasta di Olio: fresh angel-hair pasta tossed with spinach and portobello, shiitake and crimini mushrooms, topped with toasted pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
At SWEETS HANDMADE CANDIES (10118 Donner Pass Road, Truckee), huge picture windows display sheet pans brimming with freshly made fudge. Stop in for a chunk of Tahoe Turtle or divinity fudge to take home. While you’re at it, pick up a bagful of hand-dipped chocolates and truffles.
The motto of COOKING GALLERY (10084 Donner Pass Road, Truckee) is “If we don’t have it, then you don’t need it.” They may be right: The colorful store is filled to the brim with just about anything you could think of for your kitchen, plus lots of stuff you didn’t even know existed. From cooking utensils, specialty foods and teapots to barware, cookbooks and a raft of small appliances, it’s a culinary cornucopia.
TOUR NORTH BERKELEY’S “GOURMET GHETTO”
Berkeley is full of delightful culinary destinations, but you’ll find an especially rich concentration in the North Shattuck Avenue neighborhood popularly known as Gourmet Ghetto. Park your car in the morning and spend the day exploring the bakeries, tea shops, restaurants and specialty food stores that inhabit this delectable slice of the city. If you prefer to go with a knowledgeable guide, EDIBLE EXCURSIONS (edibleexcursions.net) offers a $75 culinary walking tour of the area’s restaurants and food shops on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m.
You can’t call yourself a foodie until you’ve eaten at legendary CHEZ PANISSE (1517 Shattuck Ave.). This shrine of early California cuisine, owned and operated by celebrated chef Alice Waters, plates up some of the most stunning food you will ever encounter. Menus change daily and are built upon sustainably sourced, local, organic and seasonal ingredients. You can eat at the downstairs restaurant, with a fixed-price dinner menu, or upstairs at the cafe, serving a more moderately priced à la carte menu at lunch and dinner.
THE CHEESE BOARD COLLECTIVE (1504 and 1512 Shattuck Ave.) offers a dizzying array of cheeses from around the world. The worker-owned shops include a busy bakery, an espresso bar and a wildly popular pizzeria.
KITCHEN ON FIRE (1509 Shattuck Ave.) is a cooking school that offers classes, demonstrations and lectures. True to the Berkeley ethos, it works principally with organic food and supports organic local small growers and winemakers. After a day of ambling through Gourmet Ghetto, take an Italian breadmaking class or join a hands-on paella party.
Locals flock to THE JUICE BAR COLLECTIVE (2114 Vine St.) for its homemade quiches, hefty casseroles, soups and lovely baked goods. (The corn muffins are amazing). At only 500 square feet (including the kitchen), there’s no room for tables—this is takeout-only food.
At SAUL’S RESTAURANT & DELICATESSEN (1475 Shattuck Ave.), deli cases are stocked with chopped liver, whitefish salad and herring in cream; customers with limited time can grab a beef and potato knish or eggplant schnitzel sandwich to go. But if you can, take an hour to settle into one of the comfortable booths and try the grilled liver and onions or the traditional Jewish Sabbath-day stew, cholent (available only on Friday and Saturday).
Everyone loves See’s Candies, but if you’re in the mood for something different, stop in at ALEGIO CHOCOLATÉ (1511 Shattuck Ave.), which carries dazzling confections crafted by Barcelona chocolatier Enric Rovira.