I’m sure I’m not alone in mourning the 2019 closure of Michelin-starred Commonwealth in San Francisco due to a rent dispute. With its laid-back vibe, skillful ingredient-driven cooking, and a tasting menu with a price that didn’t leave you shell-shocked, Commonwealth was the kind of place every city would be glad to have.
Its chef-owner Jason Fox moved on — in a big way. He went from overseeing one restaurant to three when he was scooped up by The Proper Hotel in downtown San Francisco. As its executive chef, he now oversees Villon restaurant, the trendy Charmaine’s rooftop bar, and La Bande, formerly a coffee shop that he’s since turned into a tapas place.
Fox’s arrival was to have been heralded with a big splash. But because it occurred in January 2020 — two months before all restaurants would be forced to shut down due to a worldwide pandemic — that never really came to fruition. Instead, he was left to deal with navigating an ever-changing roster of health mandates.
With the Bay Area in a much better place than it was last year, Fox has now been able to roll out the plans he had all along.
A couple weeks ago, I was invited in as a guest to enjoy an overnight stay at the hotel, as well as dinner at the newly revamped La Bande, a compact yet cozy space resembling a Spanish mercado with a few indoor seats, as well as tables outside, which is where my husband and I dined.
How fortunate is San Francisco to have the only Michelin two-starred Mexican restaurant in the world?
Now, chances are that in your lifetime, you’ve had more than your fill of tacos and tostadas.
But not the way they and other dishes are interpreted at Californios.
This is Mexican cuisine that is elevated, elegant, exhilarating.
Last year, Californios relocated from its snug spot in the Mission District to a roomier property in SoMa, which formerly housed Bar Agricole. Following a remodel and the throes of the pandemic, it opened its doors earlier this spring.
While Bar Agricole didn’t really make use of its sizeable front patio, Californios certainly has. High walls encircle it, painted deep, matte charcoal gray like the restaurant’s interior. Steel beams run across the top, from which large light fixtures dangle. In case of rain, there is a retractable roof, with space between it and the top of the walls to allow for air flow.
My husband and I sat at one of the white tablecloth-draped tables outside, which had heaters both above it and to the side to provide ample warmth, no matter how chilly the evening. Done up with potted plants, the patio has a chic starkness to it.
This year, I’m all about the staycation. It may be only a couple hours’ drive away for me, but Sonoma Wine Country sure feels like a real getaway that relaxes and recharges.
When I was invited as a guest for an overnight stay at the Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa, the weather may have been drizzly. But it didn’t put a damper on the time spent at this expansive 92-acre, bucolic, European-style resort with bubbling fountains. Because it’s a little more secluded than other Wine Country properties, there’s a lovely sense of calm that permeates.
One of the best ways to start the morning is to go for a walk around the property, especially on the vineyard trail. There are working vineyards on the property, with the grapes now sold to Kendall-Jackson and La Crema wineries. The gravel trail winds around the rows, which on a fall morning are often veiled by morning mist.
Follow the path around to the events center and beyond to find one of the property’s onsite culinary gardens. At this time of year, there is kale, cauliflower and citrus growing abundantly.
I snagged a perfectly ripe black Mission fig off a tree to snack on. Shh, don’t tell.
Walking through the doors of the soaring, three-story The Matheson in downtown Healdsburg, which opened this summer, there is no doubt that this place is as personal as it gets for Chef-Owner Dustin Valette.
All you need do is turn your head left and right, as you look high up on the walls. There, you’ll spy the evocative, colorful murals by San Francisco painter Jay Mercado that vividly depict “Sonoma heroes.” Prominent among them are Valette’s father Bob, a recently retired CalFire pilot who helped battle wildfires far and near; and Valette’s French immigrant great-grandfather Honore, who owned the Snowflake Bakery, which nearly a century ago sat on the same site as The Matheson. Lushly hued, they are symbols of a proud family legacy. But one that was almost lost to so-called progress.
More than four years ago, a developer bought this $7.5 million property with its prime location on the square with the intention of leveling everything to build a luxury hotel and condos (priced at $4 million each). Dustin, who opened the popular Valette’s restaurant six years ago on the square, was approached to see if he was interested in building a restaurant on the first floor. Moments after he heard the details, though, he walked out of the meeting.
“I said that I couldn’t be a part of this,” he recounted as we chatted last week. “I couldn’t watch as they tore down something that got my family here.”
One of the partners, tech entrepreneur Craig Ramsay, followed Dustin out of the room to ask what the chef would build there instead.
This might be one of the South Bay’s best-kept secrets: You’ll find zero mention of it on its web site, but San Jose’s venerable fine-dining Le Papillon actually offers outdoor dining.
Granted, not much of it, as there are only three tables.
But for those like myself who still prefer dining al fresco in these times, it’s definitely news you can use and appreciate.
When my husband and I had driven past the elegant, 44-year-old restaurant, which is located incongruously on the edge of a strip mall off congested Saratoga Avenue, we thought we caught a glance of a small outdoor area at the rear. A look-see of Yelp images showed what appeared to be a couple tables outside there. Finally, a quick call to the restaurant confirmed it.
When you make a reservation online, you can request an outside table, though it’s not guaranteed. However, if you make a reservation on the early side on a weeknight, and show up a few minutes beforehand, there’s a good chance you’ll score a patio table.
When my husband and I dined with another couple last week, we were the only ones dining outside along with one larger party. It’s a small, slender space, which is why it can accommodate so few. But it’s a very sweet spot, dressed up with walls of live succulents and pretty potted plants. There are plenty of heaters, too, which will keep everyone toasty enough after the sun sets.