During my recent visit north, I had a few culinary experiences worth noting....
Bounty Hunter, Napa. Smack in the middle of Napa's revived downtown, Bounty Hunter is a wine store that became a wine bar with snacks, that became a restaurant of sorts...while remaining a wine store. The menu is limited and often features The Bounty of the Grill -- beer can chicken is a perennial -- all of which goes well with the wines by the glass, the half-glass, or the flight. There are always nightly specials; I went for the grilled sausages with sauerkraut. Hearty fare for the summer, but great with the wines I drank (and next time I'll write them down...memories are hazy, no doubt in part because of the superiority of the adult beverages we consumed). My point is, in the city of Napa, Bounty Hunter is the place to be. It's always convivial, whether or not the room is crowded (which it often is), and you will always feel as if you are the scene there.
El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma. Plopped right on the square in Sonoma is the recently renovated El Dorado Hotel -- sleek, clean, light -- a contemporary boutique hotel feel and, dare I say it, something approaching an L.A. vibe. Lunch on the patio was great, in the shade of an ancient tree I had a deconstructed Chicken Caesar Salad: hearts of romaine, tossed with dressing, piled in a neat stack at one end of the white oblong plate; a perfectly roasted boneless breast o'chicken at the other end, punctuated by an olive crisp. (See what I mean about the L.A. vibe?) A great "Gazpacho Bloody Mary" -- don't know quite what made it that, but man, it went down nicely on a Sunday afternoon. The menu featured some other stylized treats, including all-day breakfast.
Plouf, San Francisco. Belden Place is now a little restaurant row; Plouf, a bistro, was the pioneer. I'd been wanting to go here for several years. L and I sat in the bar; the high tables are fine, the seats (are they from an old laboratory?) are shaky -- so much so that I wouldn't want to try and balance on one of them after a few too many cocktails. We shared the mussels Poulette (shallots, wine, cream) after the fried fennel and calamari. All were delish, as were the accompanying pommes frites. Considering that half of the approximately $90 bill was wine (we sprang for 4 glasses of the better Cotes du Rhone), a good deal. Just be careful if you sit at a high table.
Ferry Market, San Francisco. Aisles of plenty...I don't know how all these high-end gourmet stores are faring, but while they are there, enjoy! There's a McEvoy olive oil store (we'd passed the farm, with its acres of trees, the day before on the road from Point Reyes Station to Petaluma), a Cowgirl Creamery store, butcher shops, and lots more. Even a bookstore, where I finally bought the biography of Sylvester (!) I'd wanted (and what better city to buy it in!). There's a farmer's market more than once a week just across the street; L and I were too late for it, but an added attraction nonetheless.