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Memorable Meals in Northern/Central California

11 April 2010 5,321 views 6 Comments

If you live or have plans to visit Northern or Central California (Berkeley, Napa Valley and Monterey), I have some recommendations for you!

Food lovers who visit Berkley generally make it a point to pay homage to Chez Panisse. As fellow food blogger Chance wrote in his roundup of SF restaurants, “the place definitely lives up to its reputation.”

chez panisse entrance

Chez Panisse in Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto"

I made a reservation for lunch on a weekday and it was no problem to get in. I opted for the $24 fixed price meal of Garden Lettuce Salad; House-Made Rigatoni with Kaki Farm Asparagus, Cream, Black Pepper, and Mint and; Page Mandarin Sherbet with Candied Kumquats and Lanuges de Chat.

Garden Lettuce Salad

Garden Lettuce Salad

What made visiting this birthplace of the modern U.S. locally-grown food restaurant movement even more special was the women I got to share it with. They included Aunt Wendy, who has lived in Berkley for over thirty years, my mom, and Jane, a very close friend who lives in Vancouver. I got so excited when we arrived that I ordered a bottle of Prosecco for the table and made everyone sign the cork, which I kept.

Wendy, me, mom, + Jane

Wendy, me, mom, + Jane

The menu constantly changes with the season of course but we oohed and ahhed over this delicious dessert of Espresso-Almond Toffee Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce.

espresso-almond toffee ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce

espresso-almond toffee ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce

The next memorable meal out was at Press, a beautiful restaurant in Napa Valley. We passed by Press, located in St. Helena next to Dean & Deluca. Both Jane and I noticed it from the window of the car as we drove to our hotel in Calistoga Springs and we each loved the fun name and the look of the place. A quick search on Yelp confirmed that people like this place with an average of 4/5 stars. We made a reservation for 8 p.m.

Press in St. Helena, Napa Valley

Press in St. Helena, Napa Valley

The atmosphere inside was lovely with tables of two – eight diners enjoying the atmosphere, food, and company. I immediately noticed the nice lighting and huge antique mirror and felt this was a spot that thought through each detail.

Dining room at Press

Dining room at Press

The first course was a lovely beet salad with orange slices and local goat cheese.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

We shared two entrees between the three of us — a lovely hanger steak and sirloin. The sauces are a la carte here and I recommend the green peppercorn sauce of the three we sampled.

American Kobe Wagyu: “Baseball-Cut” Sirloin, Snake River, Idaho

American Kobe Wagyu: “Baseball-Cut” Sirloin, Snake River, Idaho

The hand cut fries in a cone were delicious with fresh herbs and the perfect amount of saltiness. I was glad they were on the other side of the table or I might have eaten every last one!

Kennebec Hand-Cut Fries

Kennebec Hand-Cut Fries

For dessert, we shared the banana cream pie. It ended up being perfect because mom loved the crust, Jane loved the filling, and I loved the caramelized bananas on top.

Banana Cream Pie with Caramelized Bananas, Pastry Cream, Chocolate Sauce

Banana Cream Pie with Caramelized Bananas, Pastry Cream, Chocolate Sauce

The third memorable meal was breakfast at First Awakenings near the Monterey Aquarium in Pacific Grove. How cute are these earrings that one of the waitresses was wearing.

First Awakenings Coffee Earrings

First Awakenings Coffee Earrings

She made them herself out of clay.

First Awakenings Bacon, Eggs, and Pancake Earrings

First Awakenings Bacon, Eggs, and Pancake Earrings

I loved absolutely everything I tried. For my main course, I had to go with their “Crepeggs:” A thin, sweet crepe combined with fluffy whipped egg. I ordered the California Crepe filled with Avocado, mushroom, onion, ham, jack cheese and a side of salsa. I’ve got to try this at home (or maybe Adam will).

Crepeggs

Crepeggs

The pancakes here are famous so I ordered just one wheat germ pancake with local strawberries and whipped cream. Oh my god was this good. It was SO good that I immediately forgave First Awakenings for not carrying real maple syrup. As the waitress said, the strawberries and cream didn’t need anything else to make this pancake perfect.

Wheat Germ Pancake with Fresh Strawberries + Whipped Cream

Wheat Germ Pancake with Fresh Strawberries + Whipped Cream

I asked for the recipe on my way out but they didn’t have one to share so if any of you have a good recipe for wheat germ pancakes –  I’d love to borrow it!

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  • Mom

    Besides all being delicious, being with Jodi and Jane, seeing Aunt Wendy, Jami, Jonah and Andrew made it such a very special memorable trip.

  • Mom

    Besides all being delicious, being with Jodi and Jane, seeing Aunt Wendy, Jami, Jonah and Andrew made it such a very special memorable trip.

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  • jodibart

    I just received an email from Jane's brother-in-law Garth — who was inspired to recreate the beet, orange, and goat cheese salad at home! Here is the note he sent:

    “In one of your blogs that Jane Harris turned us on to, you described a trip that she went on with you, including a visit to Press, in St. Helena. You posted a photo of a first course of a beet, orange, and goat cheese salad that you had there. (Jane has told us that where some people might ask a blessing over food before starting to eat, you take a photo.) It looked wonderful, and I vowed to try making it one day.

    That day came yesterday. Susan's sister Jane and her husband Tom have been have been staying with us for the last few days, and last night, for dinner with them and another couple, I took a run at it. I hope that I haven't run afoul of any intellectual property law, but I think I did pretty well — documentation attached. It was every bit as good as I'd hoped, and I can't thank you (and of course Press) enough for touting me onto it.”

    How COOL is that! Thank you again for taking the time to send this, Garth!

  • jodibart

    I just received an email from Jane's brother-in-law Garth — who was inspired to recreate the beet, orange, and goat cheese salad at home! Here is the note he sent:

    “In one of your blogs that Jane Harris turned us on to, you described a trip that she went on with you, including a visit to Press, in St. Helena. You posted a photo of a first course of a beet, orange, and goat cheese salad that you had there. (Jane has told us that where some people might ask a blessing over food before starting to eat, you take a photo.) It looked wonderful, and I vowed to try making it one day.

    That day came yesterday. Susan's sister Jane and her husband Tom have been have been staying with us for the last few days, and last night, for dinner with them and another couple, I took a run at it. I hope that I haven't run afoul of any intellectual property law, but I think I did pretty well — documentation attached. It was every bit as good as I'd hoped, and I can't thank you (and of course Press) enough for touting me onto it.”

    How COOL is that! Thank you again for taking the time to send this, Garth!

  • jodibart

    I just received an email from Jane's brother-in-law Garth — who was inspired to recreate the beet, orange, and goat cheese salad at home! Here is the note he sent:

    “In one of your blogs that Jane Harris turned us on to, you described a trip that she went on with you, including a visit to Press, in St. Helena. You posted a photo of a first course of a beet, orange, and goat cheese salad that you had there. (Jane has told us that where some people might ask a blessing over food before starting to eat, you take a photo.) It looked wonderful, and I vowed to try making it one day.

    That day came yesterday. Susan's sister Jane and her husband Tom have been have been staying with us for the last few days, and last night, for dinner with them and another couple, I took a run at it. I hope that I haven't run afoul of any intellectual property law, but I think I did pretty well — documentation attached. It was every bit as good as I'd hoped, and I can't thank you (and of course Press) enough for touting me onto it.”

    How COOL is that! Thank you again for taking the time to send this, Garth!