Category Archives: Dining Outside

Dining Outside At John Ash & Co.

Grapes on the vine at Vintners Inn.
Grapes on the vine at Vintners Resort.

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.

Walking the vineyard trail on the property is a great way to get the blood flowing on a lazy morning.
Walking the vineyard trail on the property is a great way to get the blood flowing on a lazy morning.

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.

Part of the expansive grounds that make up the Vintners Inn resort.
Part of the expansive grounds that make up the Vintners Inn resort.

I snagged a perfectly ripe black Mission fig off a tree to snack on. Shh, don’t tell.

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A Visit To The Matheson

The eating and drinking -- and luscious desserts -- are indeed fine at the new Matheson in Healdsburg.
The eating and drinking — and luscious desserts — are indeed fine at the new Matheson in Healdsburg.

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.”

View from the mezzanine.
View from the mezzanine.
The mural that pays tribute to Dustin Valette's father, a long-time pilot for CalFire.
The mural that pays tribute to Dustin Valette’s father, a long-time pilot for CalFire.
The mural of Dustin Valette's great-grandfather, who operated a bakery on the site of what is now The Matheson.
The mural of Dustin Valette’s great-grandfather, who operated a bakery on the site of what is now The Matheson.

One of the partners, tech entrepreneur Craig Ramsay, followed Dustin out of the room to ask what the chef would build there instead.

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Dining Outside at Le Papillon

Brioche, quail egg and caviar -- one of the many amuse-bouches that kicked off the meal at Le Papillon.
Brioche, quail egg and caviar — one of the many amuse-bouches that kicked off the meal at Le Papillon.

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.

The compact patio is done up nicely with potted plants and other greenery.
The compact patio is done up nicely with potted plants and other greenery.

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.

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Abaca Fulfills The Promise

House-made Longganisa pork sausage with egg yolk at Abaca in San Francisco.
House-made longganisa pork sausage with egg yolk at Abaca in San Francisco.

For more than 15 years, food writers like myself have predicted that Filipino cuisine would be the next big thing.

After all, Filipinos have been immigrating to California for more than a century, and Filipino Americans make up one of the largest Asian-American ethnic groups in the state. Certainly, the time was nigh that its cuisine get the attention and due that Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and other Asian cuisines have long had here.

While there have been plenty of mom-and-pop Filipino eateries over the years, however, there had never been an upscale restaurant to take Filipino cuisine to new heights.

Until this August, when the groundbreaking Abaca opened its doors at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Housed in the new Kimpton Alton Hotel, Abaca is the creation of Chef-Owner Francis Ang, his wife, co-owner and director of operations, Dian Ang, and Chef de Cuisine Danica Alves.

Ang may be best known for his star turn as pastry chef at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco, which earned him a “People’s Best New Pastry Chef” honor from Food & Wine magazine. But his talent on the savory side began to shine brightly with his pop-up Pinoy Heritage, and only escalated during the pandemic with his beautiful, multi-course feasts packed immaculately for takeout.

The stylish dining room.
The stylish dining room.

Abaca, named for a native Philippine banana species, takes the soulful, homey, yet bold tastes of traditional Filipino cuisine and infuses it with California flair and freshness. That’s what I found when I dined last week. While my husband and I paid our own tab, Chef Ang added some of his signature dishes on the house.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 36

The 3-piece Hat Yai Fried chicken at Roost & Roast.
The 3-piece Hat Yai Fried chicken at Roost & Roast.

Roost & Roast, Palo Alto

Southern fried chicken is a staple most everywhere. Korean fried chicken just had its big moment. Now, comes Thai fried chicken on the scene.

Roost & Roast opened in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village in June. Although there are a couple of outside tables, this tiny place with no inside seats is largely takeout.

Hat Yai Fried ($14) is probably the most popular dish with three pieces of Southern Thai-style fried chicken that come with a mound of rice strewn with deliciously crisp, fried onion and garlic slivers. Dusted in potato starch, the chicken, while at times cut into rather haphazard pieces, has a wonderfully crisp, airy exterior. There’s little to no seasoning on it, though, which is surprising. As a result, you may want to drizzle on the accompanying sweet chili sauce to boost the flavor. You better like sweet, though, because that’s the predominant taste of the sauce. However, you can also get a container of Sriracha to mix in to add more heat.

A generous portion of BBQ Chicken with rice.
A generous portion of BBQ Chicken with rice.

The BBQ Chicken ($14) was actually much more flavorful. The moist chicken tasted of rice wine, fish sauce and herbs. So much so that you really didn’t even need the accompanying sweet chili dipping sauce. It was a generous portion of chicken, too, piled over a foundation of white rice.

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