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San Francisco is the hip cousin of Chicago. It’s not quite in the immediate Chicago family, but she’s definitely related. The city is neighborhood-centric, rich in culture and sports, employs ground-breaking politics and is home to an impressive culinary scene. After all, San Francisco has roots in the slow food movement (thank you, Alice Waters), is a stone’s throw away from the Mecca that is Thomas Kelller’s French Laundry (Yountville in the Napa Valley) and the Mission houses some of the freshest Mexican food that I’ve ever had. Te quiero Paplotes.
From the Sun-Times to us Cheeky girls, it seems that everyone is abuzz with our West Coast friends. In the coming weeks, you’ll hear from Erica Bethe Levin and Rachel Gillman as they cover their Napa wine country gallivanting. Fall is the best time of year to be in Northern California and I’m only sad to say that I didn’t make it up to Russian River where they produce some of the most fabulous pinot noirs.
For all of you Chicagoans lusting for a three-day weekend getaway (leave on a Thursday after work and return on a Sunday night – you gain 3 hours, which is a beautiful thing), I’ve outlined a short and sweet Cheeky Girls guide to the city and beyond.
Where to Drink:
501 Jones St.
San Francisco, CA
Situated in the JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop that moonlighted as a speakeasy in the Tenderloin from 1921 – 1933, Bourbon and Branch is a glimpse back on the 1920′s and the era of Prohibition. And they have rules. Seriously, I was scolded for breaking several of them. I should have known better. After all, this is a serious bar for serious liquor fans. The dimly lit space houses separate rooms, such as the library, which you access through a hidden bookshelf; and there are five active secret passageways that were once used for quick escapes. Their bourbon selection includes the finest in the world, many of which are hand numbered with a charcoal pencil and are in limited production. Every morning their mixologists forage through the local farmers’ markets in search of fresh and unusual produce in anticipation of the evenings Market Fresh Cocktails. They squeeze juices by hand and all mixers (tonic, soda) come from individual bottles. The cocktail list is divided into five categories: Champagne Cocktails, The Classics, From Here and Around the World, Bourbon and Branch Favorites and Market Fresh Cocktails.
Where to Dine:
7377 St. Helena Highway
Napa Valley, CA
Set in sixteen prime Napa Valley acres and surrounded by the Kelleher Family Vineyards, Brix focuses on farm-to-table dining and offers an ever-changing menu inspired by the culinary traditions of the winegrowing regions in Southern France and Northern Italy. After taking a sunset stroll through the vineyard with owner Valerie Kelleher, I noshed on grapes from the vine, notated the sweetness of the fruit and was enamored with the history of the land, climate and soil. The grounds are abundantly planted with vegetables in 14 raised beds, fruit and citrus orchards (I enjoyed a sweet strawberry directly from the ground) and extensive flowering gardens, which make it one of the most scenic venues to drink and dine outside of the city. Owned by the Kelleher Family, the restaurant’s name reflects the sugar level at which the grapes for their cabernet sauvignon are harvested. They stock nearly 800 bottles of wine and Executive Chef, Anne Gingrass-Paik, flexes her culinary muscle in the kitchen by serving up dishes such as Sonoma Duck Breast with creamy faro, raisins and morel mushrooms as well as approachable wood-oven pizza (opt for the roasted cornand candied bacon pizza). The 2004 Kelleher cabernet sauvignon is a palate pleasing complement to the Squash Risotto Fritters, but I suggest taking a second glance at their impressive “wines by the glass” selection and pairing the 2007 Griffin’s Lair pinot noir (Sonoma Coast) with the Herbed Chicken Sliders, which are served on focaccia with basil aioli and avocado.
Where to Play:
San Francisco, CA
Located in the heart of Union Square, the The Hotel Abri (a Larkspur Hotels and Restaurants property) is centrally located and an ideal place to stay if you’re not familiar with the city. The newly remodeled urban oasis is fully equipped with amenities like flat screens, chic wet bars and uber comfy beds. The lobby is sophisticated but approachable and the staff is so friendly, they would probably tie your shoelaces if you asked. Cabs are plentiful for venturing into the hilly neighborhoods, but note that directly across from the hotel is the newest nightclub, the Infusion Lounge. The Infusion Lounge just launched a new “Get Infused” package – offering VIP services and room accommodations for a night out at the Infusion Lounge, while staying at the hotel. You can get primped and pampered before sipping on locally produced sparkling wine and Champagne directly sourced from Napa and Sonoma.
Located off the hilly Howell Mountain Road in the Napa Valley, CADE is the area’s first solar-powered, green certified building that is the only California winery on track to become Gold LEED certified. CADE (a name derived from a Shakespearen term meaning cask or barrel) is the brainchild of San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, and philanthropist, Gordon Getty, who wanted to create a winery that was respectful of the land and flowed with the natural landscape. The construction waste was recycled, buildings are insulated with old blue jeans and no heating or cooling is required in their underground caves. The green concept is impressive, and definitely on trend, but can the wines measure up? The answer is yes. CADE produces several organically-grown wines. A promising varietal is the 2006 Napa cuvee cabernet- a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a touch of petit verdot. This fall expect to taste the 2007 Estate cabernet sauvignon.