My best friend lives up in Sonoma County so sometimes we try to meet in the middle for a weekend brunch or dinner. A few Sundays ago her husband, an avid home-brewer, suggested a brewery in downtown San Rafael called State Room – Brewery. Bar. Kitchen. With San Francisco Brewing Co. getting ready to open at the time, I happily obliged – always interested in checking out similar concepts in different geographic locations. Speaking of locations, who knew San Rafael had a cute little downtown? I definitely did not until this trip.
We looked at the menu and ordered individual entrees and then decided that we needed to try one of their wood-fired pizzas. Everything was cooked well and tasty! For beverages, I started with a bloody mary and then tried one of their flights (four, five-ounce pours) with Tropicali Guava Pale, Altered State, Barnstormer Farmhouse Ale, and my favorite the Liquid Sunshine Deluxe (or “LSD” as the servers corrected me) – “a medium bodied New England style IPA with big citrus hop flavor and aroma. Hazy, like a glass of orange juice, and good “til the last drop.”
Overall, I’d go again and recommend it for those who find themselves in the area. It’s not huge, but there’s outdoor seating on a covered patio and the inside has a beautiful industrial looking bar, lots of live plants everywhere including a living wall, visible beer tanks, and a small game room in the back.
As we were leaving, we noticed another brewery (Tamalpais Brewery & Taproom) getting ready to open just up the street. Maybe San Rafael is going to be the next great craft beer destination…
Intrigued by the number of fine dining establishments opening casual dining concepts, I made my way to St. Helena for my first round of research. The Charter Oak, located in what once was Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne, is the latest project from the team at three Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood.
Upon entering the beautiful brick building, we were greeted by a gorgeous patio leading to a massive wooden door. As soon as we stepped into the dining room to take our seats, my eyes were immediately drawn to the open hearth. It was the restaurant’s focal point, where the action began. Luckily, we sat close enough to where I could feel the warmth radiating and could smell a faint smoke coming from the fire. I watched in amazement as one chef worked her magic around the hearth – chopping away at the counter while making sure to turn the meat and vegetables on time.
As we order a few appetizers, our server made sure to ask us if we knew where our utensils were located. This was one of the many interesting details about the experience – the utensils are conveniently stored in a hidden compartment built into the table. The atmosphere screamed rustic and cozy with wood and metal furnishings and unique choice of dishware. Service was attentive and timed impeccably. They gave us just enough time in between each course, as not to overload us with the shared dishes, and our server was well versed in the immense wine list.
We began with a selection of starters but the star of the day, and perhaps my new favorite appetizer, was the dip of Marin brie with trout roe and potato chips. I would describe this dish as elevated snack food to be eaten with a nice bottle of chardonnay in your best fuzzy slippers. For the main course, I ordered a hearty beef rib served with beets dried over the fire. Thankfully, the meat fell right off the bone to save me from looking like an animal as I devoured all of the delicious fatty bits off the meat. Admittedly, I snuck some of the hot sauce from the bottle they gave my boyfriend for his fried chicken sandwich.
After the first and second course, we pondered on driving over to Bouchon Bakery for a sweet treat but our plans were immediately halted. A dessert cart arrived at our table, dim sum style, and a server recites the offerings. Captivated by the selections, we give in and order dessert. We ordered the pavlova with preserved strawberries and olive oil custard and buffalo milk ice cream, which she proceeds to plate by our table. Both never overwhelmed with too much sweetness; just the right finish to a delicious meal.
For drinks, I enjoyed a whiskey and burnt rosemary cocktail, brought over to the table inside of a flask and poured into a coupe glass. The rosemary is burned, thrown into the flask, gets covered, and the smoke from the rosemary is infused into the cocktail. An excellent cocktail for those looking for some excitement on their taste buds! With my beef rib, I paired with a Rafael et Fils cabernet sauvignon from their extensive list of Napa Valley wines.
Takeaway: details, details, details! From the hidden utensils compartment, perfect serving time of dishes, to the complimentary mini soaps in the restrooms, The Charter Oak utilized the importance of details. As a first-timer, the details kept me engaged in my experience and excited to find little quirks. Also, with the rise of fine-casual, elevated but approachable comfort food is in. I’m ready to find more ways to fancy up the potato chip dip!
Each year, I try to take one or two big/international trips. I was fortunate to travel to Barcelona, Spain this March. While I was there for only one full week – not long enough – I made the most of each day. I visited museums, toured cathedrals, churches, monuments, enjoyed Gaudi buildings, spent time by the beaches and in the parks, checked out the music scene…
But let’s be real, I was really there for the food (and the sangria).
The food and beverage items I consumed at every chance I could get included:
Out of the wide variety of restaurants I tried, I want to include two that stood out to me: Bar Cañete and Caravelle. Though I loved many, many more, these two represent the diverse flavors I discovered eating my way through Barcelona. Meanwhile, they also offer a different “vibe” – for lack of a better word – than some of the others.
Bar Cañete is definitely a gem in the “La Rambla” area of Barcelona – which most locals will say is not the best area for food as restaurants are overpriced and geared towards tourists. This was not the case here. The restaurant was recommended by another fellow af&co. employee, and wow, so glad I listened to her advice. Bar Cañete had to have been one of my favorite restaurants ever experienced. I loved everything from the aesthetic (open kitchen with a long L-shaped bar, plants galore, beautiful plate ware), to the service, to the wine list, to each of the dishes, and more.
The Tuna Tartare was to die for. It was made with wild tuna, mascarpone, trout caviar, avocado whip, and crisps. So delicious that we placed a second order towards the end of our meal, right before dessert. I also loved the fried Cordoba-Style Eggplant, thinly sliced and deep fried in sugar cane honey. And of course, their Cañete-Style Garlic Shrimp was hot, buttery, and fresh with the perfect amount of garlic we all love.
I visited Caravelle towards the end of my trip, when I was *shockingly* getting (sort of) sick of traditional Spanish tapas. After so many plates of padron peppers, croquettes, olives, and papas bravas, my taste buds started to crave a bit of a change. Caravelle was recommended as a go-to spot for brunch, but after perusing their dinner options featured throughout their Instagram page, I knew I had to give it a try. The concept was not only a restaurant for brunch, lunch and dinner, but also a microbrewery with a selection of unique craft beers.
The Oak-Smoked Beef Rib plate (for 2-4) was their limited time special of the night, and one of the best dishes I’ve consumed to date. It was plated on a large wooden cutting board, served with French fries, pickled vegetables, avocado whip, and grilled zucchini. Some other dishes I loved included the Raw Salmon Tostada made with jalapeño harissa, tomatillo pico, and crispy tostada, the Meatballs slow cooked in tomato sauce with parmesan ricotta, and the Roasted Miso Cauliflower with roasted carrots, kale puree, and crisp baby beets. They also had a unique Banana Old Fashioned Cocktail and Elderflower Sangria – both of which I had yet to see featured elsewhere.
- Negroni Week
- Hungry for a Win!
- #afcoeats – Maya’s Visit to State Room: Brewery. Bar. Kitchen.
- National Churro Day at Canela
- Bring the herd to Buffalo Theory for Sunday Brunch!