UPDATED to include Brenda's Soul Food....
Backbencher and I returned from vacation about a week ago. We had a marvelous time! I also have a number of raves from the trip, which I am categorizing out!
Places to Stay:
1. Jack London Lodge, Glen Ellen. If you come to wine country - Sonoma, not that four-letter town down the road - you should stay here. It's less expensive than most of the other places in town, plus it's got plenty of charm. Each room is a little different (I peeked into uninhabited rooms), but they share a certain country charm. (Backbencher wants to assure any husbands out there that it is not too frou-frou.) Did we mention the hot tub?
2. I almost don't want to recommend the Cornell Hotel to you. It's a small place, and if you are there at the same time we are, there might not be room for all of us. We don't want to be stuck somewhere else while you get the fun place. So, let's tell you that the hotel is located right next to the Nob Hill All-Nude Male Revue, featuring Mid-East hunk Adrian. And, it's kind of close to the Tenderloin, and even closer to the part of town known as the "Tender Nob." (I think it should be "Loin Hill" but no one asks me.) You probably don't want to stay there.
Ha ha! More room for us. Seriously, this place was PERFECT for two romantic travelers! It's owned by a French couple, and guests often come in speaking French. Charmant! The restaurant is the Jeanne d'Arc, and the menu looked delicious. Unfortunately, we only had one breakfast there, with a kind of spacey waitress. No matter - it was busy, she brought our food to us, and it was warm and tasty! The medium-size bedroom we had was a little bit smaller than I expected, but the claw-foot tub and the utter charm of the place more than made up for it. It is important to note that even on a first-floor, front-facing room that was literally next to the front door of the hotel, it was very quiet at night. (The loudest part of the room was the heater, which we were able to adjust with no problem.) Bottom line - this is probably the best deal you will find in SF. Stay here. The rates are extraordinarily low and the value is very high.
1. Le Cheval, Oakland - Maybe it was because we were eating with my aunt, uncle, and 2 of my cousins, but this was a real highlight. (And, it's Zagat rated!) It's Vietnamese food; I don't know how "authentic" but we enjoyed the bird's nest dish immensely. Well, I say "we," my aunt and I fought over seconds of that! There was not a bad choice on the table. I even tried the Vietnamese coffee at the end of the meal - cooled and with sweet condensed milk - that could become a habit!
2. Maya, Sonoma - A guy I went to high school with, D, bought this place a few years ago and it will be a must-visit on all future returns. Not only was the Mexican dinner great (also kind of fancy), but it is made with love! We had a gathering of some folks I graduated HS with, and it was both interesting and really cool. It was also a reminder that who we are at 15 or 18 need not define us forever. There were people at that table I never thought I'd share a meal with (or would want to share a meal with), and yet it was a real blessing! Thanks, peeps!
3. Dosa, Mission District (on Valencia), SF - Another friend from HS, L, is a caterer in the City, and she has a well-deserved and growing reputation there. She and her fiance took us to Dosa, and this was a terrific introduction to South Indian cuisine. Dosas are like crepes filled with all sorts of spicy goodness; L got the habanero dosa and I got the paneer + peas dosa. The "little dosa" that came with L's fiance's meal was HUGE! Check out L's business here.
4. Foreign Cinema, SF - A recommendation by L, where we went with all three of my cousins. So named because the outdoor seating area (complete with heating lamps) points toward a wall upon which arty films get shown. Oyster bar, great drinks, swanky appetizers, every dinner dish we ordered was stupendous (yes, my people eat food off each others' plates; Backbencher does not do this with people other than me, typically, but he was very game with the fam), and I especially liked the pork chop. We also splurged on desserts - all winners there, too! AND, if that didn't beat all....Rosemary's Baby was playing on the outdoor screen. Horrifyingly compelling.
5. Brenda's Soul Food, SF - We are pretty sure this is technically in the Tenderloin, based on the number of homeless folk who asked us for money once we signed up. Yes - signed up. The restaurant seats 40, so people sign up on a sheet outside and wait to be called. The nice thing about such a system is that it favors smaller parties. My cousins recommended the place for brunch, and we're so glad they did! (Thanks, J, M and K!) It's a French soul food place, with a Louisiana flair. I had an amazing oyster scramble, Backbencher had something else yummy, and we shared beignets - something I had never heard of, but with which Backbencher is evidently quite familiar. I am always learning neat things about him! We heard that they are going to buy the dry-cleaners next door and expand, but that could just be hopeful thinking. Definitely worth the visit.
1. Dinners with the East Bay family. My cousins and their parents are about the most interesting and joyful people you would ever want to spend time with. The girl cousins are artists and I felt more creative just being around them. Boy cousin makes movies and is similarly interesting and creative. And, loving and kind and all that! While you probably can't have dinner with my family, you can eat where we ate - and these two places are phenomenal! Go with people you love, and the memories will be even sweeter. It certainly was for us.
Come to think of it, you probably could have dinner with my family - they are just those kinds of people.
2. We had a delightful time with my moms and sisters at Point Reyes. Thank you, God, for giving us the ocean, including whales. And families.
3. BABIES!!! Baby X-1 is the daughter of a lifelong camp friend and her beloved spouse. Backbencher and I spent a relaxing and wonderful day with the family - my friend has two stepchildren who are well-behaved, smart and interesting. (And very funny!) Baby X-1 is a charmer and she won over both Backbencher and me. Plus, my friend's husband made a delicious dinner, even though he claims that his people, northern Italians, are not known for their cream sauces. To which we say, "You are now!"
Baby X-2 is the daughter of my dear friends from seminary. I got to hold Baby X-2 for about 2 hours in a complicated baby wrap as we wandered around a Berkeley park. Baby X-2's big sis had fun, too! Didn't really cure my baby-lust (did the opposite, in fact), but both of these kids are so easy to get along with that I was very relaxed and happy with them. And AA - that hat is coming!
4. We also enjoyed a good little run at Maxwell Park, even though my former XC course has radically changed. There's no place like home, indeed.
5. A sweet toll booth attendant blessed us as we began our travels across the Bay Bridge. How nice, we both thought.
I don't want to post our rants, but let's just say that if the worst part of your vacation is the 49ers losing badly, well....it's been a pretty good vacation.