Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg: Bi Rite Ice Cream

Bi Rite is probably my favorite ice cream place ever!  Dan and I did a comparison of various ice cream places in the Bay Area, and we both had Bi Rite in our Top 3.

We don't go to San Francisco that often, so when we do, we usually try to swing by to Bi Rite for their famous Salted Caramel ice cream!

No line! Very rare for Bi Rite

Bi Rite is very popular and usually the line is around the block.  But since we went during a weekday at around 3 PM in the winter time, there was no line!  :)  This was probably the first time ever when we came and saw no line.

They have rotating flavors, but our favorites are the Salted Caramel and the Coffee Toffee.  We noticed that they now have a pretty big seating area, which was nice--wasn't there the last time we came (a while ago).  Previously there was only a small bar area and outdoor seating.

Coffee Toffee and Salted Caramel at Bi Rite

The salted caramel was as good as ever! This is definitely my favorite ice cream :)

Tip:  One thing to note, Bi Rite also sells soft serve ice cream and bakery items a couple doors down from the scoop shop.  In the summer, when the regular ice cream line is crazy, the soft serve line may not be as bad.  The salted caramel soft serve is also to die for!

Links to our Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg Trip Report:

Day 1
Lunch at Barn Diva
Segway of Healdsburg
H2 Hotel Healdsburg
Dinner at Cyrus

Day 2
Lunch at Umami Burger
Bi-Rite Ice Cream

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg: Umami Burger

We really didn't do much on the second day of our Valentine's weekend getaway.  We woke up late to maximize our time off :p, and then headed down to the first floor for the complimentary breakfast at the hotel.  Then we went back to the room and watched the second DVD movie we borrowed from the hotel.  After we were done with the movie, it was time to check out.  :(

On our drive back down to the South Bay, we stopped for lunch at the new Umami Burger in San Francisco.  We had heard a couple of friends mention this new burger joint, which originated in LA.

Umami Burger sign

Umami Burger is located in the Marina/Cow Hollow area, and as usual, parking was a bit hard to find (even though it was lunchtime on a Monday).  The sign for the restaurant was somewhat cute, reminded us of lips.  We heard that the wait during nights/weekends could be quite long, so we were glad that there was no line when we went.

Bar area

The restaurant was actually one of the nicer burger joints we've seen:  The decor was modern, and there was actually table service as opposed to ordering at the counter.  Burger prices were in the $10-$15 range, and fries were around $4 each.

Entry way

We ordered the scallop burger with bacon, the umami burger, cheesy tots, and truffle fries.  Note that both the cheesy tots and truffle fries were not on the printed menu...but I saw pictures on Yelp and asked for them.  Kind of like the "secret" menu at In-N-Out.  :)

Scallop & bacon burger

I wanted to try the scallop and bacon burger because it sounded very unique.  I don't think I'd ever had a scallop burger before.  It was actually chunks of scallop made into a patty, topped with two chunks of pretty fatty, thick bacon.  The sauce was a bit sweet, so the whole dish was actually sweet -- which was different.

Scallop & bacon burger - cut in half

Dan ordered the signature Umami burger, made with wagyu beef, shitake mushroom, parmesan crisp, and their homemade ketchup.  Dan really enjoyed his burger and commented that the burger was good.

Umami Burger
Umami Burger - cut in half

Since we couldn't decide between the cheesy tots and the truffle fries, we ended up ordering both!  An order of cheesy tots actually only included six pieces, though they were much bigger than regular tater tots size.  It was very good--crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside, with tiny filling of cheese in the middle.

Cheesy Tots

I really enjoyed the cheesy truffle fries.  They were the perfect size and had a slight crunch, and the melted cheese and truffle were a nice flavorful addition.

Truffle Fries

We also asked for their different dipping sauces, which I recommend.  My favorite was the garlic aioli!  Oh, and they also have home made ketchup was was good, slightly on the sweeter side compared to regular Heinz ketchup.

Various dipping sauces

Our total bill was around $50 after tax and tip--pretty pricey for burgers.  Price-wise, it's similar to Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylors Refesher) at the Ferry building.  We both enjoyed our burgers, but we probably would rather go to Gott's given the choice.

Links to our Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg Trip Report:

Day 1
Lunch at Barn Diva
Segway of Healdsburg
H2 Hotel Healdsburg
Dinner at Cyrus

Day 2
Lunch at Umami Burger
Bi-Rite Ice Cream

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg: Cyrus


We celebrated Valentine's Day with dinner at Cyrus.  Cyrus was one of the restaurants that I had been wanting to try for a while.  It has 2 Michelin stars, and a couple of my friends who went said that they actually preferred it over French Laundry (which set my expectations a bit high).  The only other 2 star Michelin restaurant that we have been to was Manresa for our engagement dinner a couple years ago, so we were excited to try another 2 star place.

Cyrus was located inside the Les Mars hotel in Healdsburg, which was just a few blocks away from our hotel.  We walked to Cyrus from our hotel, although it was raining a little bit that night. Thankfully our hotel provided a complimentary umbrella for us to take. We didn't come that dressed up so when we peeked inside the restaurant, we were worried that we came under dressed. But since we were eating in the bar area anyways, we braced ourselves and tried to be confident entering the restaurant with not-so-formal attire.

Bar Seating Area

Reservations are supposedly easier to get then French Laundry.  However, we planned on eating in the bar area so didn't make reservations.  We noticed that some high end restaurants actually serve similar menu items from the bar, and since we just spent a fortune at our French Laundry dinner not too long ago, we figured the bar would be a great way to try Cyrus without spending too too much. Plus, we didn't feel like eating a 5-8 course meal served at the main dining area this time around, so eating from the bar sounded like a good alternative. 

Cyrus - Bar Menu

The pricing for the bar area was pretty reasonable.  The portions were supposedly quite small, so the waiter recommended ordering 3-4 courses each.  We ordered 3 courses each, and it was actually filling enough.

Epi bread & Amuse Bouches

The kitchen actually provided several amuse bouches....the first one was a straw filled with lemon candied powder, which reminded us of...powdered candies.  :)  The second one was a shitake mushroom soup/broth, tasted like...mushroom broth.  :p  Both of the amuse bouches were so-so.  We were not blown away by what we had eaten so far.

White Pumpkin Tagliarini with Coddled Egg Yolk and Toasted Pepitas

My first dish was the white pumpkin tagliarini, and this was probably my favorite dish. The coddled egg yolk was served on the table.  The noodles were very soft and somewhat reminded me of ramen, but I'm sure it's not ramen.  :p  It's a soft pasta served with crunchy squash seed for a texture contrast.  The sauce tasted cheesy and very creamy--a bit on the heavy side.  We also ordered the black truffle for an extra charge.  It was good, but to be honest, I couldn't really taste the truffle all that much.

Pork Belly with Kim Chee, Sakura Ebi and Mitsuba, Bacon Dashi

Dan's first dish was the pork belly.  He really liked this dish--very simple and clean.  The pork belly was very soft with a slight crunch from the skin.  There were small bits of kim chee which Dan said was actually pretty good.  The dashi also had a slight kick.

Seared Beef Check with Green and Back Garlic, Lotus Root, Natural Jelly

I don't think we'd ever had beef cheek before, but decided to give it a try.  It was cooked a little too rare for our taste.  We also noticed that the cheek was a little richer and had a different texture than other beef cuts.  I could only have a little and gave the rest for Dan to finish.

Sonoma County Duck with Kujo Negi, Myoga and Bamboo Rice, Ponzu

We also felt the duck breast was a little too rare for our taste.  So definitely speak up in advance if you prefer to have your meat cooked differently.  We were not aware that both meats would be cooked on the rarer side.  The bamboo rice tasted like risotto and looked like there were pieces of foie gras.

Three Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses with Accompaniments 

For our third course, Dan ordered the assorted cheese plate, and I ordered the butterscotch "sundae." The cheese plate was good, but all were on the stronger / harsher side.

Cheese "Accompaniments"

The cheese course actually came with quite an accompaniment. There were several bread and crackers choices, apricot butter, and fig/nut composite type thing.

Butterscotch “Sundae”, Chocolate Soil, Popcorn Tuile

My dessert was the butterscotch sundae.  The sundae was probably one of the best "fine dining" desserts I've had in a while.  The vanilla "ice cream" was not really an ice cream; the consistency was more similar to a semi freddo.  It tasted more like a cold cream than an ice cream. There was a chocolate/cookie soil on the bottom with some toffee/nuts, and the popcorn tuille had a slight salty taste to it.  Combined, it was the most perfect taste!

Summary & Tips:
  • We found eating at the bar area as a great alternative instead of going for a 5 or 8 course in the main dining room.  Cyrus actually had a pretty decent seating area in the bar.  At some other restaurants that we've been to, eating at the bar literally meant eating at the bar. 
  • Eating at the bar was also a way to save some money, since we ordered a la carte.  We still spent close to $200 total including tax and tip for a 3 courses each, a glass of wine for Dan, and the truffle extra charge.  We were definitely full and had enough to eat.  As a comparison, the 5 course meal before tax and tip at Cyrus is around $108 and their 8 course is $135.
  • Another advantage for eating at the bar is you don't need a reservation; it's a first come first serve basis.  However, we felt that eating at the bar lacked a little bit of ambiance, but overall it's definitely a great alternative.
  • Overall, I think we both came to Cyrus with pretty high expectations, mainly due to the 2 Michelin star rating and rave reviews from friends.  We both felt the appetizers were good, but our meat dishes were disappointing.  The butterscotch sundae dessert was amazing though.  We both still prefer French Laundry, although Cyrus' prices were actually really not that bad in comparison.  Maybe we ordered the wrong things, and maybe eating at the bar did take away from the experience.  Bottom line, we enjoyed our dinner, but not as much as we thought we would.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg: H2 Hotel

One of my hobbies is looking at hotel pictures on Trip Advisor.  No, really...that's what I do in my spare time. :)  So when I was looking for inspirations on places to go, I came across H2 hotel in Healdsburg and really liked what I saw.  The price was not cheap, but they did have a pretty good rate for non-weekend nights.  The rate also included breakfast as well as free bike rental.

H2 Hotel in downtown Healdsburg

The hotel location was great, only a couple blocks away from the main square and within walking distance to many of restaurants.  There's also a restaurant on the first floor called Spoonbar, which we didn't try this time.

The hotel looked very modern and somewhat minimalistic from the outside.  They are actually LEED certified, and we definitely saw some "green" features in and around the hotel.

Hotel entrance

As I previously mentioned, the rate included free bike rental on a first come first serve basis.  We love doing bike rides but since we had the Segway trip booked already, we didn't get a chance to ride bikes this time around.

Free bike rentals

There wasn't really a "lobby" area.  As soon as we came in, we saw the restaurant on the left and a lounge, seating area on the right.  The check in counter was the same for both the restaurant and the hotel.  Check in time was guaranteed for 3 PM.  We got there at around noon and asked if there were any rooms available.  They did not have any yet but said they would call if one became available earlier.

We also saw the water bar which was a very cool concept.  The hotel provided 2 free bottles of water in the hotel room: 1 sparkling and 1 flat water.  If you ran out, you can get free refills at the water bar in the lobby.  This was such a cool idea!

"Lobby" area with the water bar on the left

There was a small pool area in the back.  Unfortunately the weather was really cold, so no pool time for us! :)

Pool at H2 Hotel

The room was good sized, very clean, and modern.  We got the King bed which was so huge. We're used to our queen size bed at home.  It actually came with 2 separate duvets, so we didn't have to fight with each other over one. :p 

Love the clean, modern room!

The bathroom consisted of a big shower and a separate toilet area.  One of the "green" features were the soap/shampoo dispensers, as opposed to the usual small containers.

Huge shower

Our bathroom did not include a bathtub, but I think some of the larger rooms do have them.

There was a desk area as well as a mini fridge, pre-filled with the sparkling and still water. 

There was a small balcony seating area outside which we didn't use at all, but it was nice to see.

Our balcony

Our room overlooked other rooms on the property, but we didn't mind.

View from our balcony

Dan read in the welcome book that the hotel also provided free DVD movie rentals.  So we stopped by the front desk and grabbed two DVDs and watched movies during our stay.  It was such a small thing, but we really enjoy these small touches such as providing free DVD movies to watch.  This hotel definitely had a few pluses that made them unique and memorable.

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast was also included in our rate.  It was served in the Spoonbar restaurant on the first floor, from 6 AM to 10 AM.  Breakfast consisted of yogurt, granola, eggs, fritata, and many wonderful pastries (scones, banana bread, muffin, cupcake, toast), as well as apples, bananas, and some juices.  Definitely good enough for the morning, although Dan made a comment that it was very carb heavy. :)

Yummy breakfast

We definitely enjoyed our one night stay at H2 hotel.  The location was great, room was clean and modern, and all the small touches really made a difference.  We would definitely not hesitate to stay here again in the future!

Links to our Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg Trip Report:

Day 1
Lunch at Barn Diva
Segway of Healdsburg
H2 Hotel Healdsburg
Dinner at Cyrus

Day 2
Lunch at Umami Burger
Bi-Rite Ice Cream

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg: Segway of Healdsburg

For our activity in Headlsburg, we redeemed our Groupon for Segway of Healdsburg that we bought a couple of months back.  We had been wanting to try segways since it looked like a lot of fun.
Segway of Healdsburg

We met at a parking lot in Healdsburg and were first taught how to ride the segways by the tour guides.  It was not as easy as it looked!  At least for me. :(  I guess my coordination/balance is horrible.  We first had to learn how to step on the segway, and then how to move forward and make turns, how to speed up and slow down, etc.

Our particular tour consisted of three couples, including us, and two instructors/guides.  We practiced around the parking area for a little bit before actually starting the tour.  Our first stop was a small winery called Christopher Creek.  It was a small winery but looked like they won a lot of awards judging from the medal displays inside the tasting room.

Christopher Creek Winery

There was a $5 tasting fee, but it is waived if you buy a bottle.  We shared a tasting but ended up not buying anything, although our fee was waived because the other couples bought some wine!

Dan enjoying his wine tasting

We probably spent around 20-25 minutes here and then made our way to the next winery.  One thing to note, this winery was located on top of a hill.  When coming down the hill on the segway, I lost control and sped down the hill uncontrollably!  It was rather scary but also quite exhilarating!  The instructor kept shouting, "Take control of your segway, slow down, weight on your heels..." :p

Vineyard at Christopher Creek Winery

The second stop was Viszlay Vineyards.  This winery is owned by a father and son, and we actually met the owner (father), John Viszlay.  He was such a cool guy and gave us a quick overview of his winery and free tastings!

Viszlay Winery
Viszlay Vineyard Grounds

John was very knowledgeable and personable; we loved this experience much better than the first winery.  I think this was probably the first winery we visited where the wine was poured by the actual owner!

Walking past the barrels

We made our way through the barrels and were greeted by John's dog.  John explained that Viszlay was a Hungarian name, and so all his oak barrels were made of wood from Hungary.  They could reuse the barrels for years, and in some cases, they refinish the insides to use it even more.  He also explained that the finish of the inside was what gave the taste of the wine:  light finish will produce lighter wines.

Personalized tour from the owner himself!

He then proceeded to take us to one of the stainless steel tanks and gave us a tasting directly from the tank.  That was such a cool experience and very memorable!

Tasting directly from the tank!

This was one of the most memorable wine tasting experiences for us, mainly due to the personal attention from the owner, John Viszlay.  Usually the experience at wine tastings are very commercialized, crowded, and pretty impersonal.  However, Viszlay Vineyards was very much the opposite of all that.  We felt very welcomed and learned so much in such a short period of time.

After our second winery, we made our way back to our initial meeting point to end the two hour tour. Dan really enjoyed the segway tour, and I did too, although I wish I had more control of my segway. Hopefully next time!  :)

Links to our Valentine's Weekend in Healdsburg Trip Report:

Day 1
Lunch at Barn Diva
Segway of Healdsburg
H2 Hotel Healdsburg
Dinner at Cyrus

Day 2
Lunch at Umami Burger
Bi-Rite Ice Cream