My food appreciation journey has developed and continues to grow over time with exposure to various cuisines. One might say that it began during my time in Chicago, as the city boasts several top restaurants and incredible diversity.
My adventures brought me to Austria from Chicago, where I learned about Bavarian food. This was a bit challenging being a pescatarian, but it forced me to branch out a bit. Spätzle anyone? During this magnificent time, I also had the opportunity to tour all around Europe to taste the various flavors and styles from several cultures. French and Turkish cuisine are still my favorites to date.
After Austria, I was off to Hanoi, Vietnam, taking my palette on a spin through their delicious flavors. Seafood and veggies were plentiful, making this a fun and unique experience. The French influence is still present in certain Vietnamese dishes, as are other regional influences. It was here that I also tried my first cobra-infused rice wine!
Here are a few of my favorite culinary gems, from San Francisco to the Napa Valley. Enjoy!
Kokkari Estiatorio: 200 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
Welcome to the island of Samos! Kokkari, named after a small village on this island, is Greek cuisine at its finest. Everything here is simply excellent, from the food, wine, and ambiance. The menu includes high-end, fresh traditional Mediterranean dishes that will make your mouth water. My personal favorite is to split the whole fish (usually three choices), accompanied by roasted Yukon gold potatoes. That is after a few shared appetizers, of course. The octopus is an absolute must! Or be bold and try the flaming saganaki. Don’t forget to check out the extensive wine list, boasting over 100 great picks from around the world, including several from Greece.
Inside the restaurant
Kokkari is arranged into two sections, with the front room being a more intimate dining experience. You are seated in oversized, upholstered chairs, lower lighting, and a cozy feel as if you were in your Greek aunt’s home. The larger back room is best for bigger parties, families, or a casual evening out. Serving the same great menu, but just slightly differing vibes… you can’t go wrong either way.
Farmstead Restaurant: 738 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574
A winery owner once told me that aside from the glitz and glam in Napa nowadays, “We are just farmers tending to our grapes.” This pure and modest statement sums up the heart and soul of the Napa wine country and is one of the many reasons Farmstead is my favorite restaurant in this region.
You are missing out if you haven’t yet been to this fantastic restaurant located in the heart of the Napa wine country. Nestled right off the 29 in St. Helena, Farmstead is an authentic farm-to-table restaurant that serves local and seasonal organic ingredients in all of its dishes. It is affiliated with Long Meadow Ranch (LMR) that raises its own grass-fed Scottish Highland cattle used for the menu’s “cut of the day” as well as their much-loved hamburger. Although the menu changes based on freshness, these two dishes are staples. Fish dishes such as Rainbow Trout smothered in a medley of mushrooms, and local Dover Sole with fingerling potatoes are also available for those who may be a pescatarian like me.
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Inside the restaurant
The restaurant is set inside what used to be a nursery barn. It has a fresh, clean, open-air feel with a large bar and open kitchen. Most of the decor has been creatively made from recycled items from the original site, such as tree stumps into side tables and hay hooks into light fixtures. The dining area is excellent for both large and small parties. A fabulous outdoor patio is adorned with apple vines and heaters. I recommend taking a stroll through the extensive on-site restaurant gardens after dining.
Long Meadow Ranch also has a Winery Tasting Room adjacent to the restaurant. Stop in for a quick tasting before your meal to enhance your visit. You won’t be disappointed.
Farmstead does a beautiful job of capturing the essence of Napa’s roots through farming and harvesting the excellent ingredients served right into your dish.
About the Author
Melanie is a psychology doctor, wife, mother of two ‘princesses,’ world traveler, and lover of life. She is a pescatarian who enjoys exploring all world cuisines and is a wine enthusiast. Melanie has lived abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and Hanoi, Vietnam. Although for the past 15 years, she has called the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area home, allowing her to immerse herself in the superb, diverse cuisine and dozens of world-known wine appellations, all within driving distance.