Category Archives: Wine

The State of 31st Union

Wine flights at 31st Union in San Mateo.

Wine flights at 31st Union in San Mateo.


David Hunsaker leads a busy life.

By day, he works in sales for a commercial printing business.

By night (and weekends), he oversees the farm-to-table restaurant he opened last summer in downtown San Mateo, 31st Union.

The name of the restaurant refers to the fact that California was the 31st state in the union. It also proclaims the restaurant’s commitment to sourcing ingredients from within the state.

The 50-seat establishment is compact, with wood tabletops affixed to sawhorse legs that are set close together. A large bank of windows lets in a lot of natural light, all the better to illuminate the funky, charming decor. Think rustic and reclaimed, with barn wood wall panels, a polished cement floor, and a California state flag hanging on one wall. The focal point is a chalkboard-like outline of California on a back wall, with feathered arrows pointing to the areas where the restaurant’s ingredients have come from. Even the hallway leading to the restroom gets an artsy treatment with a bank of clip boards, each holding a page from a vintage catalog.

The decor is all about funky, fun and reclaimed.

The decor is all about funky, fun and reclaimed.

The focal point of the restaurant.

The focal point of the restaurant.

It's a celebration of California.

It’s a celebration of California.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to try Executive Chef Paul Burzlaff’s cooking. He was most recently sous chef at the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore.

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World’s Youngest Master Sommelier

Roland Micu, the youngest certified Master Sommelier in the world. (Photo courtesy of the International Culinary Center in Campbell)

Last year at age 28, Roland Micu passed the last of four rigorous exams to become the youngest certified Master Sommelier in the world.

To get a sense of the weight of that accomplishment, consider that since the Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1969 that only 197 people around the globe have attained that certification.

For most candidates, it takes multiple tries to pass the daunting Level IV exam, in which six wines must be tasted blind in 25 minutes to identify the varietal, country of origin, district and appellation, as well as vintage precisely.

Micu did it on his first attempt.

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A Delicious Ride at San Francisco’s RN74

A dramatic uni dish at RN74.

Named for the highway that runs through Burgundy’s fabled Cote d’Or wine region, RN74 still offers up a smooth culinary ride worth taking.

The splashy $4.5 million San Francisco restaurant housed on the ground floor of a gleaming condominium tower, is the brainchild of Rajat Parr, wine director for the Michael Mina Group, of which this restaurant belongs.

Now three years old, the restaurant continues to hum along with Executive Chef Jason Berthold at the helm. Berthold, who was sous chef at the French Laundry in Yountville, helped open Per Se in New York, and makes his own wine under the Courier label, is a perfect match for this wine-centric restaurant, accented by antique metal lanterns, lots of warm wood and even piped-in French dialogue in the restrooms. There’s also a custom-made flip board like the ones you see at train stations that post arrival/departure times. Only this one lists wines with only one bottle remaining in stock at the restaurant. If someone buys it, the board flips to erase the wine selection.

The famous wine list flip-board.

The dining room with its unique light fixtures and ample use of warm woods.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. The food had even more finesse than when I last visited shortly after it first opened.

If you want to start the meal off on a luxurious note, do order the Fort Bragg sea urchin ($19). It arrives dramatically in its spiky shell. Dig down into the creamy pool inside to find potato mousseline, crab, butternut squash, preserved citrus and vadouvan, a Francophile version of an Indian curry blend. It’s gorgeous to behold, with a sweet, briny and over-the-top richness. It’s also as seductive as it gets.

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Introducing Tyler Florence Wines

Tyler Florence debuts his own line of wines with the Michael Mondavi Family Estate. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

I’m spending this Christmas with Tyler Florence.

OK, just his wines. But still….

Yes, the Food Network darling and celeb chef of Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco has introduced his own line of wines in partnership with members of the Mondavi family.

Florence and the Michael Mondavi Family Estate in Carneros have launched three limited-edition wines: TF Pinot Noir ($40), TF Zinfandel ($40) and TF Cabernet Sauvignon ($65). They’ve also crafted a more modestly priced duo of wines: Tyler Florence Sauvignon Blanc ($20) and Tyler Florence Cabernet Sauvignon ($25).

The Tyler Florence Wines are available on the Web, and at select retailers.

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Gift Ideas for the Foodies in Your Life

The "Mash Bill'' collection of truffles from Vosge Haut Chocolate. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

For the Spirits and Beer Aficionado Who Also Covets Chocolate

Leave it to Vosges Haut Chocolate of Chicago to come up with a specialty box of truffles all about whiskey, bourbon, scotch and stout.

The “Mash Bill” is a nine-piece collection of dark- and milk-chocolate truffles, each of which incorporates Rogue Chocolate Stout, Templeton Rye Whiskey, Four Rose’s Single Barrel Bourbon and Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scotch in the ganache filling.

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