I highly recommend Sushi Ran in Sausalito which gets the highest ratings for sushi in the Bay area (along with Morimoto in Napa, where we had reservations but decided to leave due to crazy noise and a Vegas-y vibe). Along with a beautiful sushi menu, there is a “from the kitchen” menu of “Pacific” offerings, all truly fantastic. They passed my personal sushi litmus test with a quite excellent chopped yellowtail and scallion hand roll – perfectly seasoned warm rice, still-crisped Nori and rich, creamy, very fresh fish.
(Sushi Ran, 107 Caledonia Street, Sausalito, CA; tel. 415.332.3620, www.sushiran.com)
THE FREMONT DINER
Step out of your car at this quaint roadside diner in Sonoma and some serious barbecue smoke hits you hard. Not only are they smoking their own meats, they’re growing ingredients at the farm out back. We arrived in time for Snacks rather than Mains, but the heaping, yummy plates of BBQ Brisket Nachos and homemade Gumbo sustained us quite well.
(The Fremont Diner, 2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, CA 95476; Tel. 707.938.7370,www.thefremontdiner.com)
It seems there’s a burger at every turn in California, and Gotts Roadside in gorgeous St. Helena may be one of the most picturesque places to wolf one down. Hardly a mecca of haute-cuisine, Gotts is a cool roadside stand and backyard picnic-table seating. I chose to go somewhat healthful with an order of Ahi Poke Tacos, but the truth is, I was really jonesing for one of those Niman Ranch burgers and some fries.
(Gotts Roadside, 933 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574; Tel. 707.963.3486, www.gotts.com)
GREEN STRING FARM
Green String is a 140-acre farm in Petaluma, just a few minutes away from my lovely hosts’ home. Bob Cannard, one of the partners along with Fred Cline, has been farming for 30 years and was one of the early providers of local produce to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Although the farm is not certified organic, they maintain sustainability standards that exceed organic standards. The stand is a treasure of freshness and bounty.
(Green String Farm, 3571 Old Adobe Road, Petaluma, CA 94954; www.greenstringfarm.com)
If you’re leaving town from Oakland International, have your parting meal at Camino. Housed in a down-to-earth brick walled room with soaring ceilings and long communal tables, Camino was one of the most interesting meals I’ve had in ages. Owner/chef Russell Moore is a 20-year Chez Panisse alum who enjoys cooking over a 9’ wide open-hearth, sourcing ingredients locally, changing his menu daily and packing a ton of flavor into each dish. For starters we tried the wood oven-baked local oysters with absinthe, breadcrumbs and fennel salad, which was at once both totally clean and richly flavored. The grilled pork leg with greens, radishes and anchovy was a nice balance of fatty, woody pork richness aside the crisp acidity of a little salad. It was “Little Bird Monday” so we tried the prix fixe featuring wood-grilled quail and a fabulous chicken ballotine with fresh horseradish (and spatzel, spinach and sauerkraut salad). Though I’m not usually a huge dessert person, the true showstoppers of the night were our two sweet selections. Walnut Meringue with (the most outrageous) grapefruit-chile sorbet and citrus was pretty mind blowing. Bay leaf yogurt pudding with buckwheat cookies started off as smooth and oddly delicious and just got better with each bite. A pretty fab ending to my whirlwind trip!
(Camino, 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610; Tel. 510.547.5035, www.caminorestaurant.com)
Just a few random notes. My favorite California landscape is found in the hills – of Sausalito, Berkeley Hills, Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Mill Valley, Del Mar, etc. I love the vegetation, views and distinctly Californian architecture. I didn’t take any pics this trip, but I could spend all day driving in the residential, vertigo-inspiring hilly areas of Sausalito and Berkeley.
From left: an olive tree, apartment building in Oakland, Tomales Bay, Rose Garden in Oakland, tree/sky
I did catch a few shots, though, of sunset in Sausalito. We spotted The Spinnaker Restaurant, which, I swear, was probably featured in a 1973 episode of “McMillan and Wife” or “Streets of San Francisco.” Just think: dark (greasy) patterned carpet, dudes in brown polyester suits with long sideburns, cig-smoking women in Pucci-patterned haltered jumpsuits, a sultry cocktail lounge. OK, the people weren’t really there, but the place, the logo, the carpet and the lounge were all in full view. And about that view: the place features floor to ceiling glass walls overlooking the Sausalito waterfront to the San Francisco skyline, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island. I wouldn’t dream of eating here as the menu, like the décor, is straight out of the ‘70’s; but the cocktails are outstanding.
From left: Sausalito waterfront with the ferry in view, The Spinnaker, park on Sausalito’s waterfront, The Spinnaker 70’s logo
(The Spinnaker Restaurant, 1000 Spinnaker Drive, Sausalito, CA; tel. 415.332.1500, www.thespinnaker.com )
Finally, if there are not a million other reasons to love this area of the country, come for the food and vegetation alone. Goodness abounds. My favorite retail trend is that seemingly every gourmet food store offers lovely little nosegays and floral arrangements to bring home for your dinner table (or to your hosts’). That alone is enough to make me love it here. Thanks Matt and Anne for a helluva trip!!!
Top row: floral arrangements ready to take home for dinner; Second row from left: vintage-y Coke bottles, Ternetta vermicelli, the most fabulous drip coffee makers at Ritual Coffee, Ritual Coffee, Ponzu Curd tarts at Morimoto in Nappa