It’s familiar territory, I thought as the descent to SFO began.
San Mateo County/ Silicon Valley has altered the City by the Bay and the world beyond belief, yet a visitor to the famed Bay Area might completely bypass its food, festivity and funk.
Typically, the plane lands, you queue for a taxi to your favorite part of the city, essentially avoiding eye contact with the surroundings enroute.
Here’s a new perspective: I hopped on the Hyatt San Francisco Airport’s free shuttle a minute after stepping onto the platform and arrived twenty minutes later, freed by the ease. Check-in was a breeze. I scrambled to the escalator with my bags, late for a dinner at 3SIXTY.
Chef Bernard and staff wooed our group of eight, serving up Dungeness crab cakes with chipotle aioli, scallop/ herb mousse-crusted halibut with baby carrots and parsnips, pound cake with local berries and crème fraiche, Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay and Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon. After a spot of Earl Gray tea, I retreated, sated, to my room with a view and comfy robe. In the morning from a perch on high refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I admired the hotel’s piazza-like center.
The peninsula is nestled between bay and ocean. The Lower, then Upper Crystal Springs Reservoirs impress with size and vitality as the source of drinking water for four Bay area counties. Pastoral trails, flora and fauna are abundant, but there is no recreation, to maintain purity. Evergreens swath the 280 on the way to Woodside.
A baby skunk bades an unofficial welcome to Filoli Mansion and Gardens, unaware of the grandeur. Swiftly seated for an Herb and Vinegar Workshop showcasing an array of Filoli products, I marvel at the expertise and devotion of the volunteers. Between Powerpoint, plated fresh and dried herbs, rubs, sugars, sips of tea and vinegars (yes, vinegar!) we yield to their guidance and the delights of taste and smell. Favorites? Italian seasoning with Filoli-grown oregano dating to the original Italian workers and panna cotta with lemon-thyme and lemon verbena sugar. For me, the home and gardens we toured were stunners, but the first sensuous encounter hit home.
A brief, moderately strenuous uphill trek among Redwood and Eucalyptus giants in nearby Wunderlich Park tweaked our awareness.
Winding from industrial to agricultural along San Mateo Road, we encounter Half Moon Bay, the World Pumpkin Capital. The annual Art & Pumpkin Festival is held the weekend following Columbus Day- this year it’s slated for October 15 & 16. In town on Main Street, Pasta Moon’s dynamic staff and servers had us swooning with moules et frites, tempura green beans, Della Casa coastal greens and veggies, and butternut squash- mascarpone ravioli with sage brown butter, parmesan and amaretti.
We unwind a couple miles away at cozy, inviting Half Moon Bay Lodge.
In Pacifica’s Rockaway Beach, we gape at the farmers’ market in our path to A Grape in the Fog. At Beth Lemke’s friendly wine bar, we sip a velvety Bursini Petite Sirah and happily munch on Castelvetrano olives and delectable lavender-sugared Marcona almonds while a very mellow Chris Mendoza strums and croons. It’s the friendly wine bar you want to return to, the vibe enhanced by live music, Crayons and Cabernet, Sip and Paint, and evolving wine list.
The stars are aligned at Montara State Beach at La Costanera. They were awarded that Michelin star in 2012 & 2013. Mouth-watering Peruvian seafood, Pisco Sours, sunset and a dynamite crew from director of operations Eric Canupp to chef de cuisine Roberto Rodriguez to servers=WOW! Sustainability, locally sourced products and their farm in Pescadero make the restaurant shine even brighter. The fresh fish, mixto (calamari, camarones, boiled and roasted corn, snapper!), shrimp and scallop ceviches demand to be tasted. Four restaurants and three food trucks spread the bounty.
“It started with six goats…” Stacey Leseuer shared the story of Harley Farms in Pescadero, from a dilapidated cow dairy to resurrection by voracious North American Alpine goats. While we were amazed to learn the goats queue in the same order each day for milking, we observed we practiced the same behavior as we took our seat in the van. From pasture-to-lips-amazing chevre, feta, fromage blanc & ricotta is produced and sold here, with flair and edible flowers from the garden. Think gold-winning “Monet” and “Van Goat.” I hope to return to enjoy a seasonal Farm Dinner in the loft at the enormous single center cut wooden table from a long-ago log jam in the Pescadero River.
Coastal fog gives way to flower-rimmed vegetable gardens, Victorian-inspired homes, beach houses, and cypress-dotted grassy hills. The sea salt hit us upon arrival to Pillar Point Harbor. General Manager Steven McGrath of the San Mateo County Harbor District provided insight on the role in marine safety, search and rescue, and local trails and beaches, including the Half Moon Bay Marathon. It’s the direct connection for food from the sea to table. The squid haul exceeded 400,000 pounds the past week.
At THREE, bombastic creator/chef Alicia Petrakis and staff ROCK with regional comfort food & Latino, Pacific Rim & Middle Eastern influences. Stone fruits, corn and tomatoes were plentiful on this day, she shared. The dishes on our table are flavorful and fanciful. Filo “Stogies” filled with a wild mushroom duxelle (shallots, white wine, cream, gruyere, parsley) and an “ashy tip of sesame seed and parmesan appear to be a fat cigar. To-die-for “Bacon Bits” are deep-fried braised pork belly with maple chipotle aioli and sea salt. Heirloom tomatoes combine with extra- large watermelon chunks, EVOO, lime, California chile, balsamic vinegar, garlic, sugar, basil and herbed goat cheese. Sweet corn risotto, chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes and skirt steak with roasted potatoes and blue cheese were simply delicious. For dessert, S’mores were the fave.
On a wine/beer walk in San Carlos at the soon-to-be Mid-Peninsula Winery Alliance, we experienced amazing tastes and awesome folks. Susie at Cuvee (French for blend of wines) Wine Cellars poured their delightful Bordeaux-inspired selections crafted from Northern California grapes. Scott, Joan and Spencer shared their Russian Ridge story and their beautiful wines, including the artisanal ’12 Concerto. Our tasting at Vicky and Anders’ Flying Suitcase winery (especially the Sangiovese) compelled me to become a club member, but they do not yet ship out of state. Devil’s Canyon Brewery’s sustainably crafted beers were terrific, especially the Deadicated Amber (homage to the Grateful Dead). Their Fridays at 4 gatherings feature live music and food trucks, attracting beer and root beer lovers, kids and dogs. Dominick Chirichillo made two barrels of wine as a teen with his grandfather’s press in New Jersey and now puts heart and soul into every bottle at Domenico Winery.
Dinah’s Garden Hotel is the creation of Ray Handley, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and world traveler. Each room is different. Artwork is found throughout. I felt spoiled and a bit giddy here, between exceptional tapas and live music poolside to fine detail, luxurious bedding and a seven foot giraffe in the African Room where I overnighted.
Sam’s Chowder House in Palo Alto (& Half Moon Bay) is the place on the peninsula for scrumptious lobster rolls and chowder.
University Avenue is the place to wander in Silicon Valley. Hanahaus serves up Giant Steps drip, reservable workspace and people watching.
Cantor Art Center at Stanford University has an enormous collection of Auguste Rodin’s works. The life-size bronzes in the Outdoor Sculpture Garden and malificent “Gates of Hell” are astounding.
Inside, The Thinker attracts visitors large and small. The docent shared that kindergartners become solemn and assume the posture in its presence.
Our host courageously captained the electric “Sun Cruiser” at Edgewater Marine for a picnic cruise around Foster City Lagoon. We spotted the resident owl under one of the three bridges and celebrated the sunny day together.
Kitchentown is identified to as an incubator, created in response to the shortage of local foods by the effervescent Alberto Solis, after 28 years in food imports. He sees his role as a facilitator for “Artisanal not Industrial” product development. Thirty entrepreneurs rent space in the former cookie factory in exchange for a place to create their concept. Open 24/7, it’s a place to test processes and results, exchange ideas, store equipment and ingredients, obtain marketing skills, assistance for labels, packaging, shipping, and access health and safety seminars. Massive industrial ovens, walk-in refrigerators and freezers, mixers and mobile workspaces are housed behind glass walls viewable from the café, where lucky visitors can munch on delicious Argentinian cookies with tea.
We’re impressed by the FRESH at Del’Oliva in Burlingame. The proprietor passionately demonstrates the glorious intensity of freshly pressed olives in his fine EVOOs. Tastes of balsamic and flavored vinegars deliver a punch and combinations surprise each of us.
DoubleTree Brisbane welcomed us warmly. Our final night was punctuated by a friendly, comfortable environment and great harbor views. The breakfast chilaquiles made my day.
7 Mile House is the historic eatery with funk, a blast from the past (1853) resurrected by Vanessa Garcia! The menu combines Filipino, Italian and American favorites with a twist. The sports bar, live music, and dog-friendly “Paws on the Patio,” yummy desserts and the effervescent owner are ever- appealing.
In South San Francisco (San Mateo County territory), Armstrong Brewing Company‘s the official last stop. Here, Jason’s idealistic “Building Community around our Business” was music to my ears and the flight of house beers was spot on. Their English brown ale, So City Brown had all the caramel and nutty notes that I relish.
A great destination!
Note: The author was one of six IFWTWA (international Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association) journalists hosted by the San Mateo County/ Silicon Valley CVB.