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The second day after I moved to San Francisco, La Belle Chantal* called up and asked if I wanted to drive up to Sonoma. Well, who wouldn’t? So, off we went and had a fun-filled day of trains for the kids and wine for the adults. At the time, I thought that that’s what my life here in California was going to be like—fabulous restaurants in the city, weekends off in wine country, swimming pools, movie stars—you know the drill. But then I woke up and realized I still had lots of debt from graduate school and worked in publishing, so maybe I’d have to settle for fabulous burritos and cable cars. Eh, there are worse things.

Fast forward more than four years, and, while I’ve been very privileged to have seen lots of my new home state, including multiple trips down the coast, four of its eight National Parks, and fourteen of the twenty-one missions on the Mission Trail, I had never been to Napa. Which, as many people have pointed out to me, is just a little crazy, especially given that I have been wine tasting in both Paso Robles and Santa Barbara—twice. Anyway, La Belle Chantal once again stepped up to the plate and suggested celebrating my birthday in Napa. Again, who am I to refuse?

What a lovely day. I definitely need to do this more often.

We started out by taking the tram up to Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, which is as lovely a setting for wine tasting as you can imagine. And, I actually preferred the cab, so another first for today—miracles do happen!

Looking out over Napa Valley from the terrace of Sterling Vineyards

We also checked out many overpriced goods at the Oxbow Public Market and on the streets of St. Helena. I resisted the temptation of $9 soap and managed to get out alive having only spent $2.80 on crushed vadouvan at the spice store. Score!

Despite eating too late a lunch at the Pica Pica Maize Kitchen in Napa (try the deviled ham), I still managed to put away a good part of a wood oven duck dinner at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The salad was as delicious as it looks; the sumac in the dressing was subtle, but gave it a distinctive zip. If this is her “casual” place, I certainly see why Cindy Pawlcyn made the Top Chef Masters cut.



Thank you, Chantal!


*La Belle Chantal is my former roommate from Paris and one of the reasons I fell in love with San Francisco (since her moving here allowed me to visit far more than is reasonable). She is many things, including belle, but her name is not actually Chantal.

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