The weather on Nantucket in November is typically cold and gray. But when Steve and Karen Theroux decided to go on a journey through the heart of Northern California, they discovered warm temperatures and sunny skies. They also learned that there is so much more to like about this region than the weather—exciting architecture, wonderful food, and did we mention the wine? It was 10 days of off-island bliss for vacation-hungry souls. And while we’d like nothing better than to give a day-by-day synopsis of our trip, we’ll control ourselves and sum up the discoveries we made on the West Coast.
First, the architecture. (Disclaimer: Steve Theroux is a partner of Nantucket Architecture
Group, so our vacation pictures tend to include more buildings than people.) Our
accommodations in San Francisco were at the boutique Hotel California, formerly the Savoy Hotel constructed in 1913 located a short walk from Union Square. The staff offers a complimentary shot of tequila to all its guests, once a day at your request.
Although more famous for its bungalow-style homes and elegant Victorians, the San
Francisco area also offered two jewels for the design-obsessed. Both were works by
legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. One is actually located in the heart of the city,
within steps of Union Square on Maiden Lane. Despite its central location, however,
most San Franciscans don’t even know it exists. Although it now houses an art gallery,
it was originally a gift shop that Wright renovated in the 1940s. Everything about this
building was wonderful, from its curved brick-and-glass entryway to its sweeping
ramps and illuminated glass ceiling. But the most amazing thing about this space is that
you can see how Wright explored ideas that he would later use in his masterpiece, the
Just a short ride over the Golden Gate Bridge lies Marin County and another Wright opus—the Marin County Civic Center. One of Wright’s most significant projects and the biggest public building he ever designed, the Civic Center is a 580-foot long horizontal masterpiece. Its bright blue roof and canary-yellow spire that juts 172 feet in the air make this National Historic Landmark visible from miles away. Once inside, you’re amazed by how Wright used a glass-covered atrium and glass walls to flood the building with natural light, something rare in a public building. Its circular theme is repeated throughout the huge space—from its 80-foot diameter rotunda to its barrel-vaulted ceiling down to the pattern on the railings. Perhaps most amazing, at least to us, is that this is still a functioning civic center that works as well as it did when Wright designed it in 1957.
Now, onto the food. Oh, the food. After 10 days of sampling Northern Californian
cuisine, the two of us felt like we’d died and gone to foodie heaven. One of the
amazing things about the food there was that it didn’t matter if you ate at a four-star
French bistro or a food truck—it was all wonderful. Our food-truck revelation was
a porchetta sandwich from the Roli Rosti truck at San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Pork loin is wrapped in pork belly, then skewered and roasted on a huge rotisserie.
Above the porchetta are chickens and below them are trays of potatoes and onions. So
imagine this—the juices and fat from the roasting chicken and pork drip down onto the
vegetables, which are seasoned with rosemary and garlic, all of which send amazing
aromas into the air. Our sandwiches consisted of the pork fresh from the rotisserie, carved in front of us, placed on ciabatta rolls and topped with caramelized onions and
arugula. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing this sandwich was—sweet pork loin
with the crunchy skin and the sweetness of the onions and the bitterness of the arugula.
We tried to take pictures of the amazing food we ate on this trip, but sorry folks, no food
porn here — we were too busy eating them.
One of the highlights of the trip was a three-hour walking tour of San Francisco’s east Mission District with guide Chris Milano. This local boy started his Foodie Adventures tour company after being shocked that even other locals wouldn’t venture to this Latin neighborhood. Our tour started in front of an establishment called Chinese Food and Donuts, which, thankfully was not on the tour. But plenty of other local spots were, including one of the oldest butcher shops in the city, a taqueria, a so-called mexicatessan and a local grocery. If you’re tempted to take this tour or Chris’s tour of the North Beach and Chinatown be warned—you are not served small bites but full-sized portions at every stop. So after three hours of feasting on tacos, tortas and huraches–masa cakes stuffed with refried beans, cactus and cheese–we sadly realized we had to keep walking if only to work off some of our so-called “snacks.” Besides the food, we were introduced to the culture of the neighborhood, which has a long-standing tradition of murals. Unlike graffiti, these murals add to a home’s value, and it is considered disrespectful to deface them in any way. A trip down Balmy Lane, which is lined with mural-covered buildings, was like a walk through a modern art museum, and even included a work by the infamous graffiti artist Banksey.
We had another great meal at A16 in San Francisco’s Marina district. Named after the highway that run through southern Italy, A16’s menu is almost as good as a visit to that region would be. Their specialties include wood-fired entrées and pizzas and house-made cheeses, including a gooey burrata served simply with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Served with crostini toasted in one of their three wood-fired ovens, this may be a new favorite appetizer. We followed that with entrees of pork shoulder, which was a miracle of wood smoke and pork fat, and the maccaronara, a Neapolitan pasta with Ragu topped with their house-made ricotta salata. Our dessert — a pear crostata—also spent time in the wood fired oven and its slight char went perfectly with the homemade gelato on top. To sum up A16’s food, our Naples-born waiter told us he wasn’t as homesick after he came to work there. “Nuff said.
It was difficult to leave San Francisco but wine country called. November is a great time to visit the vineyards. The pressure of the crush is over and the wine makers have time to talk to you and explain how they master their craft. The Loge at Sonoma was the perfect place to start our wine journey. A modern hotel designed in the California Mission Style it offers top notch accommodations, just outside the historic center of town. Be sure to visit Rams Gate Vineyards, Sebastiani and Cline Cellars just down the road. Dinner was at the eclectic Schellville Grill as featured on Food Networks Dinner Drive -Ins and Dives. Try the slow cooked wood smoked ribs defiantly not to be missed.
Sonoma’s LaSalette was another find. This small restaurant just off the city plaza served innovative Portuguese food and wines. We started off with an amuse bouche of skewers of grilled chourizo and olives. You can arrange your own tapas plate from a variety of options including linguica, grilled octopus, deep fried goat cheese with fig jam and sardines escabeche. There were also wonderful soups, like Steve’s butternut squash soup with crème fraiche, toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of piri piri sauce. The wood-fired pork loin stuffed with figs and finished with a red wine reduction was a sensual and satisfying entrée. Steve’s feijoada, stewed pork and beef served over black beans and rice and topped with a fresh salsa was a revelation, especially when paired with a Schug Vineyard 2010 Caneros Pinot Noir. All of their desserts come in tasters of three different treats. We chose the caramel trio—creme brulee, caramel ice cream with nuts and pear tuile with a caramel drizzle –and a glass of 10-year old Port. After that meal, it was lights out for us.
We left Sonoma for Napa to meet up with our Nantucket friends Ken Turgeon and Patricia Rouleau. Pride Mountain Vineyards in St Helena would be our home for the next three nights. A guest house at the top of the 2100 ft tall mountain offered spectacular views of the vineyard and the countryside. Napa offers a variety of great wineries. Failla with wine maker and Nantucket born Ehren Jordan is a must see. Cliff Lede offers a great tour of its new modern wine making facility. Pride Mountain is the only winery that is in both Napa and Sonoma the town line runs right down the middle of its cave storage. Take the time to travel up to Healdsburg and visit A.Raffinelli a family run winery that goes back the early 1900s. Tastings, tours and entry is by invitation only so be sure to make reservations ahead of your visit. You will not be disappointed.
Yountville in Napa Valley offers great first class dining at Bistro Jeanty. This Michelin-star restaurant is run by French-born chef Philippe Jeanty, who brings all of his homeland’s favorites to the West Coast. But unlike other classical French restaurants, his is not stuffy. The service is professional, but not severe and the whole atmosphere is like a one big family dinner.. We were lucky enough to have dinner there with the owners of Pride Mountain Vineyards, who brought some of their amazing wines to serve with dinner. Together with Ken and Patricia, the six of us feasted on specialties like Os a Moelle, or roasted bone marrow “Bordeleaise.” Paired with Pride Mountain’s 2009 Cabernet Savignon Reserve, this was an unctuous marvel. Others had classics like Escargot, Sole Meuniere, Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon and Cassoulet, but none of them tasted old-fashioned and dull. Made with locally-sourced meats and vegetables, our meals tasted like the chef had just invented them for us.
Another restaurant that serves a tasting menu was Terra in St. Helena in Napa Valley. You can choose from four, five or six courses, both savory and sweet, created by Japanese chef Hiro Sone and his wife, Lissa Doumani. We were definitely in good hands with this pair, who have each received a James Beard Award and have earned a Michelin for the last seven years for the creative food at Terra. Some of the highlights were the Porcini mushroom soup with grilled Berkshire pork jowl; burratta on a salad of cardoons, bottarga and olives; broiled sake-marinated black cod; and buttermilk fried quail with cheddar cheese polenta and grilled radicchio. We provided the wine from our most recent tasting at Nantucket-native Ehren Jordan’s Failla Vineyard. His 2011 Chuy Vineyard Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley was the perfect complement to the variety of dishes. The courses were all perfectly sized, flowed easily, and the service was very friendly and knowledgeable. The space itself, a former factory, was cozy and intimate, with stone walls, floor-to-ceiling wine racks and a central island made out of a slab of California redwood.
Berkshire pork jowl; burratta on a salad of cardoons, bottarga and olives; broiled sake-marinated black cod; and buttermilk fried quail with cheddar cheese polenta and grilled radicchio. We provided the wine from our most recent tasting at Nantucket-native Ehren Jordan’s Failla Vineyard. His 2011 Chuy Vineyard Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley was the perfect complement to the variety of dishes. The courses were all perfectly sized, flowed easily, and the service was very friendly and knowledgeable. The space itself, a former factory, was cozy and intimate, with stone walls, floor-to-ceiling wine racks and a central island made out of a slab of California redwood.
The drinks crafted from fine liquors, homemade bitters and natural ingredients. Feel free to try drinks like the Bitter End or the Citizen Cane, but to obey the house rules: don’t even think of ordering a Cosmo.
Rams Gate – 28700 Arnold Drive Sonoma, CA voted the best outdoor winery
of 2014 by San Francisco Magazine
Cline cellars – 24737 Arnold Drive Sonoma Ca.
Sebastiani – 389 4th
Ravenwood Vineyards – 18701 Gehricke Road Sonoma CA.
Pride Mountain Vineyards – 4026 Spring Mountain Road St. Helena CA.
Beringer Vineyards – 2000 Main Street St. Helena CA.
Failla – 3530 Silverado Trail St. Helena CA. Ehren Jordan winemaker grew up on Nantucket.
Martinelli Vineyards – 3360 River Road Windsor CA
Elise vinyards – 2100 Hoffman Lane Napa Ca.
A. Rafinelli – 4685 West Dry Creek Road Healdsburg CA. Tours by appointment only
Peju Vinyards – 8466 St. Helena Highway Rutherford CA
Cliff Lede – 1473 Yountville Cross Road Yountville CA.
Clos Pegas – 1060 Dunaweal Lane Calistoga CA. St. E. Sonoma CA.
Schellville Grill – 2290 Broadway Sonoma Ca. As featured on Food Networks
Diner, Drives and Dives.
LaSallette – 452 First St. East Suite H Sonoma Ca. Cozina Nova Portuguesa
Mustards – 7399 St. Helena Highway Napa CA. Chef Cindy Pawlcyns
Terra – 1345 Railroad Ave, St. Helena CA. Chef Hiro Sone 2014 Open Table winner Dinners choice Award
Bistro Jeanty – 6510 Washington St. Yountville CA. 2012 Open Table winner
Dinners Choice award
Tadish Grill – 240 California St. San Francisco CA Featured on No reservations hosted by Anthony Bordain and The Originals with Emeril Lagasse
A16 – 2355 Chestnut St. San Francisco CA
The Buena Vista – 2765 Hyde St. San Francisco CA. Served the first and now famous Irish Coffee in 1952
Bourbon and Branch – 505 Jones St. San Francisco CA. Opened in
1921 as a speak easy. Today still operates as it did in the days of prohibition. You need a reservation and a secret password to gain entry.
The Hotel California – 580 Geary St. San Francisco CA Originally the Savoy Hotel built in 1913.
The Lodge at Sonoma – 1325 Broadway Sonoma CA.
The Guest Cottage at Pride Mountain Vineyards – 4026 Spring Mountain Road St.
Chris Milano – A three hr. Food tour of the San Francisco Mission District
This is not to be missed if you’re a foodie.
This was written by Steve and Karen Theroux. To Learn more about Steven and his Designs please visit is website at www.nantucketarchitecture.com