Travel // California Trip 2011 – Part 1

I usually plan things out far in advance, but this year we made a quick decision that it was time to go on vacation and a week later, we had tickets to California. We are lucky to have great friends living in San Ramon that offered to let us stay with them.

We’ve been to the Bay Area before, but I feel like you can never do it all. This time around, I wanted to go to Sonoma, meet up with a couple Bay Area food bloggers and make plenty of time to spend with our friends. We ate some incredible food and I took lots of pictures. Some pictures were taken with my phone when I didn’t feel like toting our camera around. Let’s get started, shall we?


Pho Kim Long

First, I must confess that I thought I was booking our trip from Saturday through Sunday, but at some point I took another look at our itinerary and noticed I booked the trip from Sunday through Sunday.  All of that toggling through dates did not serve me well.

Once we got over that sad fact, I knew I wanted to plan for eating things we cannot get in Michigan during our stay. I used Foodspotting to help guide me a bit because there are tons of great Foodspotters in the Bay Area.

I’ve never had pho before, but when Marc was in Mountain View for a Google Conference a while back, he had pho that he really liked. I looked for pho in San Ramon, but most reviewers said there were better spots in San Jose or Mountain View.

We flew into San Jose and I saw that Pho Kim Long had a good pho reputation. Off we went. The place was packed! An energetic man greeted us and asked us how many were in our party. We responded with two and we were tacked onto a long table with other people enjoying steaming and delicious bowls of pho.


Marc went with an adventurous beef and tendon pho while I went with chicken and egg noodles. We are seriously lacking in pearl drink options at home, so Chai Tea and Coconut were ordered, too.  The broth in my pho was complex and flavorful and I especially loved the fresh basil leaves and bean sprouts they brought out for garnish. My frozen coconut pearl drink was the best! Soft and chewy pearls like I’ve never had before and lots of fresh coconut flavor.

I wanted to try Marc’s broth, but he had already added a good dose of hot chili and I was afraid I would choke and cause a scene. Neither of us were crazy about the chai tea pearl drink, though. Our waitress didn’t say much and didn’t really appreciate questions, but we understood that they were just trying to get people in and out quickly.

House of Prime Rib

Marc likes meat, a lot. Our friends know this and made reservations at the House of Prime Rib. We drove into San Francisco on our first night in California and the light was beautiful as the sun was fading. There was a contest in the car to see how low the temperature would go once we hit the city. It turned out that nobody won, because the temp dipped to a cool 62 degrees and below everyone’s guess.

Inside the restaurant you’ll find wood, dim lighting, burgundy vests and perfect prime rib. When you receive the menu, you choose your cut of prime rib and then pick between creamed corn or spinach and mashed or loaded baked potato. If you get one of the larger cuts of prime rib, you are allowed seconds. My favorite part might be the trio of horseradish sauce. Mild, medium and straight horseradish is offered and medium is my choice.

We went with our friends Kris, Kelly, Phil (Kelly’s brother) and their friend Ryan joined us there. Phil was determined to have seconds, but soon found himself with a case of the meat sweats. We laughed as the tip of hair became damp and his cheeks flushed. Our waiter was very amused, also. Check out that ridiculous stuffed potato! Our waiter said that one time a customer yelled at him and accused him of calling her a pig by serving something that monstrous.


Pleasanton/Blue Agave Club

We kept Monday open, so we could spend all day with our friends. Kelly suggested going to Plesanton with the kiddos to look at the little shops. We also planned on the Blue Agave Club for lunch and boy was I ready for some Mexican food with ripe California avocados.

Lunch was fantastic! We all said that the guacamole was the best we’d ever had and agreed that the dollop of cool sour cream was a nice touch.

We ate on the spacious patio under a unique tarp system set up for shade. It was a beautiful breezy afternoon with abundant sunshine. I ordered carnitas that were so good that Kelly declared she would be ordering them the next time they go. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the downtown area and stopped for a small scoop of ice cream to cool us off before heading back.


San Francisco

We’ve been to San Francisco a few times now, but I was even more excited for this time because I was meeting Kasey and Matthew from Turntable Kitchen and Tracy from Shutterbean! Kasey kindly made reservations at Contigo for that evening, so we headed into the city Tuesday afternoon with the intention of getting lunch and walking around the city.

I wanted to hang around the Ferry Building for a while because I’d never lingered there before. I also saw a tip on Foodspotting that there were some great oysters to be had. Oysters sounded like a great light lunch option to save calories for our dinner later and The Hog Island Oyster Co. stood out online, so we went in search of the place.

There was an aisle way in front of the oyster place with a sign that said to head to the bar. To our left, there was a sign that said to wait for someone to seat you. We were confused by these conflicting messages and decided to wait and ask. We were whisked to a table by a very friendly waitress and given menus. I then realized we were at a completely different restaurant called Ferry Plaza Seafood.

Our waitress was very nice and when I said we were in the mood for oysters, she told us she would not be offended if we went next door, but told us about their fresh fish and oyster options. She was so friendly and welcoming that we decided to stay. This experience was another reminder that we would never do well on The Amazing Race.

The view was pretty great, too. We split a dozen oysters and split the fresh local seabass. The fish was incredibly fresh with a simple olive oil, salt and pepper grilled preparation. Our phenomenal waitress asked if we were visiting and suggested some great things to do in the city. She thought a trip to Sausalito with the ferry was a good idea or shopping. The nice folks at the table nearby also recommended a trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

We couldn’t decide on which activity would be best with the last few hours before dinner, so naturally we headed to Ciao Bella for gelato while we contemplated. My cone had bourbon pecan vanilla and Lebanese yogurt inside. Marc was kind enough to hold it as I snapped this picture while the soft and boozy bourbon pecan dripped out of the bottom. Marc had a scoop of matcha tea gelato that was almost as good as mine.

We finally decided on the museum, but when we got there it had already closed. We were pretty close to the shopping area our waitress recommended and we decided to check it out. We slipped into Bloomingdales and were drawn to some fancy luggage. A sales associate, Michael, approached us and really tried to sell the heck out of the luggage. We weren’t really prepared to make that purchase while on vacation, but he was nice and interesting to talk to.

Not wanting to be late for our dinner date, we started to head in the direction of the BART station and figured we had time for a stop at Tartine, which was on the way.

The stop nearest Tartine was a slightly sketchy part of town. It probably wouldn’t have been been so bad if we hadn’t witnessed two heated shouting matches along the way. We walked toward Tartine and the neighborhood improved quickly. I was surprised by how unassuming the outside of the bakery is. It was packed, even though it seemed like the best baked goods were available and consumed that morning.

Marc chose some tender shortbread and I chose a fig tart. Both made for a sinful breakfast treat the next morning. We continued toward Contigo and our walk became quite scenic. We opted for the street nearest the park which was a steep uphill climb, but incredibly beautiful with a hazy fog hanging over the neighborhood.

We saw Matthew and Kasey drive by as we walked to Contigo and a few minutes later we were inside and meeting each other for the first time. Our friendly waiter suggested a wonderful wine to us to get things started. Tracy came in a few minutes later and we all started chatting right away. Matthew thought the tasting menu would be best and we all agreed that would be a great way to sample everything.

I only have the one sad picture above from our dinner because it was very dark and I also wanted to spend as much time chatting with our new friends as possible. The little guy above was our first course, Wood Oven Monterey Sardine and Avocado Toast (with Pickled Onion and Smoked Salt). It was one of my favorite courses. I have Contigo’s menu pulled up and I’ll list what we tried that night.

We had Cucumber Salad with Cantabrian Anchovies (With House Made Mato Cheese, Cherry Tomatoes and Herbs), Monchego Cheese Wrapped with Jamon and topped with pepperoncini, Pimientos de Padron (Padron Peppers with Maldon Sea Salt), Patates Braves (Crispy Fried Potatoes with Allioli and Salsa Brava), and Calamars a la Planxa (Calamari over Squid Ink Risotto, Chorizo, Artichokes, Allioli and Guindilla Chile Oil). For dessert, Tracy had the brilliant idea to order churros with spicy chocolate dipping sauce. We left full and happy.

The evening was so fun and went by entirely too fast. We hugged goodbye and Tracy was kind enough to give us a ride to the nearest BART station which we were very thankful for. It wasn’t too far away, but it stops running at a certain point and we didn’t want to inconvenience our friends if we were stranded, especially at close to midnight. When we arrived at the station, we only had to wait about 4 minutes for the next train, so it worked out perfectly.

Part 2 will be right up with our trip to Sonoma, a Scottish festival and more fantastic food.

9 Notes Leave a Note

    • Nancy – Glad you enjoyed it!

      Heather – I’ve never heard of Molinari’s and I will definitely remember that for next time! I want to eat the best sandwich ever 🙂

      Tracy – Our fun dinner was over so fast and there were many things we didn’t get to talk about! So very nice to meet you, too 🙂 You totally saved us with that ride!

      Kasey – You are the sweetest! Thank you for all of the wonderful tips you sent over, too. That was incredibly kind and thoughtful of you! And for picking such a fabulous place to eat and bringing another boy to the dinner, and I could go on….you’re awesome.

  1. When you take a holiday, you TAKE A HOLIDAY. Way to pack it in — seems like you hit all the good stuff and then some! Next time you’re in SF, (if you haven’t already been) I *highly* recommend Molinari’s Deli in the North End. Best. Sandwiches. Ever.



  2. oh man! we didn’t get to talk about Tartine when we went out to dinner! That place is awesometown. Soo nice to meet you! I had an awesome time. I’d drive you to Bart any day, friend!

  3. I loved reading your post, and looking through all of your photos! I agree 100% with Tracy on Tartine – it’s def. one of my favorite places. I love that you guys had such a varied experience –not everyone gets a ‘real’ taste of the Bay Area but you clearly made an effort to see a lot of different places. It was so lovely to meet you in person – I was happy to see that you are just as wonderful in person as you are on the Internet, though, I never really had a doubt about that one 😉

  4. Oh man, you went to the House of Prime Rib? OMG, I love that place. You know, I’m originally from CA, the bay area actually and gosh do I miss that area. I would do anything for a slice of that warm, succulent slice of prime rib. LOL. And gosh do I love their horseradish, too. Yum!!

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