Imagery Estate Winery

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I’ve been to Imagery Estate Winery twice now, and each time, it’s been prefaced by a visit to Benziger. That’s not only because it’s conveniently located down the same road, but also because Imagery was founded by Joe Benziger of the namesake winery.

Like Benziger, Imagery implements a biodynamic farming method, staying aligned with its organic principles. Their emphasis lies in lesser-known varietals, and while I’m hardly a wine connoisseur, I am intrigued by words not often used in Sonoma County: Muscato di Canelli, Lagrein and Mourvedre.

During my last visit, I enjoyed a longer than average tasting. Towards the end of the tasting, our group was offered port. While the goofball in me loved sipping it out of the little glass funnel, I learned something useful too: port is a classic (and delicious) pairing with semisweet chocolate.

Port and wine tasting

Thanks to my two visits, Benziger and Imagery now go hand in hand. You can’t really visit one without going to the other. Benziger is like the salt of the earth uncle, and Imagery is its flashier but true to its roots nephew.

Benziger Family Winery

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Growing up in Sonoma County, vineyard-covered hills were part of the everyday landscape and wine festivals were a community event before words like decanting and viticulture became part of the American lexicon.

I never thought anything of all the wineries I’ve visited throughout the years until recently. Sonoma County has become a tourist destination, and it’s only fitting that I devote a part of the travel section of this blog to my home turf. Even though it might not be travel in my eyes, I hope that it will be a valuable resource to others. That being said, I have a lot of backtracking to do in writing my reviews!

I’m going to kick things off with Benziger Family Winery, one of my favorites. I had paid this winery a couple of visits several years ago, but it wasn’t until I went on a tour last summer that I realized how unique Benziger is. Located in Glen Ellen, this family estate has been in the business for over twenty years.

Benziger Family Winery

During my last visit, I took a group tram tour and learned about the winery’s biodynamic farming practices, a holistic approach that promotes the individuality of the land by minimizing outside influences and recycling all farm and wine residues back into the vineyards.

Benziger Family Winery

We then stopped by the fermentation facility and crush pad, as well as the barrel caves. I loved the barrel caves – the cool, dry air was heavy with the scent of fermenting grapes and the underground dining room was the perfect spot to stop and taste some wines.

Wine caves dining room

Once we were back outside, I stopped at the Benziger gift shop and sampled some more wine. (Because one tasting isn’t enough.) The staff is helpful and more than happy to describe the different varietals and farming practices. After visiting, there are a host of restaurants to visit down Highway 12. I went to Cafe Citti, a Italian restaurant serving casual fare that goes perfectly with the local wines.

Fresca

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Peruvian food is America’s new darling ethnic cuisine. I can’t say I’m surprised – it’s one of the most diverse in the world and offers not only native Peruvian flavors, but influences from the Spanish, Japanese, Africans, Cantonese and Northern Europeans.

Combining traditional dishes with a modern twist, Fresca has been my go-to Peruvian restaurant for years. With multiple locations in San Francisco, the one in West Portal is my favorite, and easily worth the long wait to be seated. I’ve tried dishes from all over their menu, and while they’re all good, my favorite remains the lomo saltado.

Lomo Saltado

Made of sliced steak stir-fried with onion, tomato, soy sauce, vinegar, aji chili and served with French fries and rice, it is a classic amalgamation of Peru’s rich culinary heritage. It is the dish I recommend first to those trying Peruvian food for the first time and the one I can’t help myself from requesting over and over again. For the thirsty, Fresca has a good selection of drinks too. I usually alternate between a Cuzqueña or Inca Kola.

Peru has long been at the top of my list of countries I want to visit. I’d love to try ceviche and anticuchos and picante de cuy in Lima. Until I do, I’ll be paying Fresca frequent visits to get my fix.

Hawaiian Poke

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The first time I ever tried poke was, appropriately, in Hawaii. I was having dinner at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head restaurant in Honolulu a few years ago and the waiter brought around an amuse bouche of raw ahi tuna, tossed with flecks of onion, nori seaweed, edible flowers and the most magnificent sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with recreating the dish. One of my go-to cookbooks is Martin Yan’s Chinatown, and coincidentally, it contains Yan’s adapted recipe for Choy’s tuna poke. I made this one day when I was feeling especially wistful for Oahu and you know what? I might not have to get on a plane again to taste that memorable poke.

Tuna poke

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, cut 1/2-inch cubes
1 small tomato, diced
1/4 cup chopped onion, preferably sweet
1/2 sheet nori seaweed, shredded

1. Stir the soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, sesame oil and chili garlic sauce and cilantro together in a large bowl until blended.

2. Add the tuna, tomato, onion and seaweed to the bowl and toss until coated. Marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve.

St. Francis Fountain

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I was never a breakfast person growing up. I mean, I like to eat breakfast (who doesn’t?), but my morning meals have usually been a little untraditional. I mean, if you can eat pasta or steak for lunch or dinner, why not at breakfast?

But I’ve caved in. I’m a breakfast person now. I like eggs and turkey bacon; I devour sausages and hashbrowns. And that’s why I’ve become a repeat visitor to St. Francis Fountain, San Francisco’s old school diner-slash-candy store in the Mission District. Expect a wait, but it’ll be an entertaining wait as the place is always packed with the most hipstery of hipsters.

The chef’s mess (scrambled eggs with bacon, peppers, cheese, sour cream and salsa) is a popular favorite, but I often get the huevos rancheros.

Huevos Rancheros

The eggs are cooked just right and the salsa is fresh-tasting and spicy. During my last visit, I was feeling extra hungry and ordered the biscuits with sausage gravy, which also comes with two eggs.

Biscuits with sausage gravy

The potatoes were perfectly crispy and the sausage gravy was delicious, but the biscuit was huge. Too huge. It felt like a rich mass of dough covered in a rich mass of sauce. Which is what it’s supposed to be, I guess, but in this case it was just too much. I think I was expecting a flakier, less intense biscuit.

Overall, St. Francis Fountain is a solid place to go to for breakfast or brunch. You can’t really go wrong on the menu, but some items certainly stand out more than others. The service is cheerful, the crowd is fun and I love the neighborhood.