To California With Love

One couple leaves a table, and another is already waiting nearby to claim it. We’ve left downtown San Francisco to visit the Mission District, getting off at the stop at 16th Street to the unmistakable smell of piss. We moved fast, finding our way to this place called Tartine. After a day spent getting to the other side of the country, we were hungry. Late lunch. Small place. Long lines. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. Danny ordered a pesto something. The sandwiches were so big they were cut into three pieces rather than two. Picture how big that loaf would be. We’re sitting near the espresso bar, in between a quiet pair sharing bread pudding and another couple discussing the art market and how about half of it is forgeries. Do I mean to eavesdrop? I don’t know. We’re just seated so close in this tiny place.

Hot, fresh loaves come out of this bakery at 4:30 p.m. and I hear they sell out, so we just went earlier for the sandwiches. They were spectacular, especially my Jambon Royale & Gruyère, with pieces of ham curling up and out of the sides of the sandwich. (In that picture below, it kind of looks like a pair of lips, doesn’t it? Now you’re creeped out. Sorry).  The slices of country bread are cut thick with a serious chewy crust, and the cheese stretches out impressively on each bite. This sandwich is well worth the $13.  Danny’s Sopressata, Fontina, Broccoli Rabe Pesto sandwich is good, too, but mine can’t be beat.

We went back twice. Their scone was the best I’ve ever tried. The Valhrona brownie was worth it. We stocked up on toast from Tartine, and prosciutto and wine from the fantastic Bi-Rite Market around the corner in preparation for the road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to Sonoma County and on Bohemian Highway to get to the small town of Guerneville. We only had one night in San Francisco, which was not long enough to see everything so we didn’t try. The one place on my list was Tartine. And the thing about a place like San Francisco in a state like California is that you don’t need much of a plan. There are good things to find all around. We met up with some of my college friends who now live in this part of the country. We had wine on a hill in Dolores Park with a fantastic view, we drank beer in bars, and ate tacos on a chilly night.

Then we were off.

I knew pretty quick that I liked Danny’s friends. We pulled up to the house in Guerneville, and inside found a few happy people who had set up an afternoon meal of charcuterie with sliced bread, oozy cheese, and red wine. We moved to the table on the porch, next to the hot tub, close to the grill, surrounded on one side by a garden, underneath the shade of those towering redwoods. Did I mention the hot tub? That quickly became an everyday thing. The wedding on Monday, the very reason for being here, came as a bit of a surprise after we’d gotten used to this very slow lifestyle of driving up the curvy roads of Sonoma County to stop at several wineries, taste white, rosé, red, and bubbly and only have to decide if we love it or hate it and which one next. Eat. End the day in the hot tub.

We joked that we wouldn’t mind at all if our flight got delayed. Then it did. But we were stranded in Dallas overnight instead of California. And you know what? It turned out to be a fun night. If this happens to you, just do two things for me. 1. Order room service. 2. Rent a really funny movie. There’s not much else you can do about getting stuck like that, so don’t go throwing a wobbly. (Danny’s friend, Emileigh, married a man from England, and we had too much fun learning and repeating incessantly the English slang/terms we learned).

But let’s talk some more about the wineries in Russian River Valley. We visited about three a day, including the day of the wedding. Our first one was Simi Winery in Healdsburg, an adorable town with interesting shops and no shortage of wine bars calling to us. At Simi, the tasting menu gave us eight wines to try, which is the most I’ve been offered at a wine tasting. Nadine chatted us all up, taking the time to explain the story behind each of their wines without ever making us feel rushed. We signed up for a club and can’t wait to see those bottles in the fall.

The recommendation from one winery led to another. Danny couldn’t resist one claiming we could sip inside a wine cave. It was nice and cool inside the Thomas George winery, and they had something called a wine egg for a reason I forget.

We pulled over and ran through the vineyards. We drove with the windows down, switching between a classic rock station and another playing 80s songs. We blasted “Push it” as we slowed down by a never-ending stream of bicyclists. The days were perfect. Chilly in the morning and at night, sunny, gorgeous and 75 or 80 degrees during the day. Bushes of lavender were everywhere.

Another favorite winery was Porter Creek Vineyards, with tastings in a small building with a gorgeous view. There was a dog sitting outside only too happy to have her belly scratched. Our group liked pretty much all of their wines, and we were charmed by the woman serving us, telling us how she was growing out her bangs and that flower in her hair was picked this morning right by where we drove up. Kiki, future coolest kid of America, left them that note about picking wine berries. Raaaaa!!

Then there was Iron Horse Vineyards, probably my favorite all around partly because of the view and getting to taste wine outside. The guy who helped us there was pleasant to talk to, telling us how he loves his new life rather than his old life managing a catering company and how he sometimes bikes the 11 miles to work. Iron Horse had a sparkling wine list which was different from the others and completely delicious. Their rosy, bubbly Wedding Cuvée was my favorite.

Someone told us to stop for sandwiches at Willow Wood. More bread. More cheese. More wine.

Someone told us to stop at Wild Flour Bread Bakery in Freestone. I think you should, too.

The wedding took place in Occidental, a small town where the bride’s family has owned a cabin up on a hill for decades. One night leading up to the wedding, we played bocce and crashed a late-night dance at the camp. There were old and young people, they played Elvis Crespo and Call Me Maybe. Where were we, we wondered? Emileigh’s friend leaned in and said the camp is similar to the one in Dirty Dancing.

The wedding was lovely. The women were asked to wear fascinators or hats. At the reception, there were some sweet speeches, a photo booth, and a most thoughtful gift from the bride. A book picked out for each guest with a note inside from the couple. For me, they chose a book about food, “Five Quarters of the Orange.” Thank you! Can’t wait to read it.

Cali, we’ll be back. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our souvenirs. We started with the Zinfandel on the right, and on a rainy Sunday night in the middle of dinner and a movie (what else? Dirty Dancing)  it was even better than I remembered.

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4 thoughts on “To California With Love

  1. Your vacation photos are so much fun! We followed your example and drove straight to Tartine when we were in the city. I’m dying to know if you finished your sandwich. I couldn’t do it. Weak!

    For sure we will meet up the next time you’re in California.

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