Eat Drink SF Saturday Grand Tasting celebrates restaurants, distilleries + winemakers old and new

entrance into Eat Drink SF
The always stunning entrance into Eat Drink SF.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

In case you missed it, Eat Drink SF is back at it this weekend showing off some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, along with some amazing wine and spirit makers. The Fort Mason Pavilion was dressed up to the nines, offering space for rows of restaurants, cooking demos, giveaways, and so much more.

Check out some of the photos from Saturday’s Grand Tasting event.

Panna Cotta from Bluestem Brasserie
Panna Cotta from Bluestem Brasserie
Pork loin from Causwells
Pork loin from Causwells
Pure deliciousness from Rose Pistola
Pure deliciousness from Rose Pistola
Bright and fresh ceviche
Bright and fresh ceviche
Definitely came back for seconds at the Bix table
Definitely came back for seconds at the Bix table
Pabu serving up hand rolls
Pabu serving up hand rolls
Adorable and delicious cheesecakes with roasted peaches and a ginger crust
Adorable and delicious cheesecakes with roasted peaches and a ginger crust
Chicken meatball skewers from Delarosa
Chicken meatball skewers from Delarosa
Kale salad and steak from Fogo de Chao
Kale salad and steak from Fogo de Chao
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Irish Coffees galore from The Buena Vista at Eat Drink SF 2016 from nadia ibanez on Vimeo.

Just one of the many bites from Eat Drink SF 2016 from nadia ibanez on Vimeo.

One of the reasons that I love going to Eat Drink SF every year is because of the people — chefs, mixologists, wine makers, and event attendees. San Francisco is undoubtedly a foodie city and people here love celebrating the legacy of our old restaurants, as well as the new kids on the block making waves in the industry. No matter how you slice it, this event brings people together to celebrate our crazy bubble and all of the personalities within.

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Hudson Valley serving up foie gras milkshakes and duck and cheese grilled sandwiches
Hudson Valley serving up foie gras milkshakes and duck and cheese grilled sandwiches
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So much love in the room :)
So much love in the room :)
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Uno Dos tacos serving up their delicious bites
Uno Dos tacos serving up their delicious bites
My favorite man of the evening
My favorite man of the evening
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There’s still time to get tickets for the Sunday After Grand Tasting. Get ‘em while you can!

And a huge thank you to the folks at EDSF for letting me attend again this year. I definitely see this event becoming part of my SF tradition. See you again next year!

Okane, sister restaurant of Omakase, offers approachable and delicious Izakaya-style dining

Fresh Hamachi? Yes, please.

I had the absolute pleasure of dining at SOMA’s now Michelin-starred Omakase last year and was so excited to hear that their team has opened a new casual dining space right next door. Okane is where you want to go if you’re looking for an authentic izakaya dining experience serving hyper traditional Japanese dishes and drinks. A few months after they opened, the restaurant offered a peek into the space and menu.

My friend and I came for a visit after work one day and were greeted with the sounds of Naughty by Nature and Biggie Smalls over the sound system and two glasses of bubbly. If that isn’t a total Bay Area dining experience, then I don’t know what is.

Okane’s Harajuku roll was delicious and super fresh.
The Shinjuku roll is definitely a treat for anyone.

We started our meal with some cold sake and beautiful pieces of Shimofuri Hamachi served with an olive oil yuzu shoyu drizzle and jalapeño. The Harajuku roll was delicious and was a roll of salmon, avocado and shrimp tempura topped with tuna, spicy kabayaki and fried lotus root chips. We also indulged in the Shinjuku, a roll of snow crab and avocado, topped with torched wagyu beef, garlic and pepper.

Who knew Eel Tempura could be so good?

The fish courses that followed were the Saba Karaage, a fried piece of mackerel with daikon and serrano peppers; the Grilled Sake Lees Cured Alaskan Cod; and the Anago Tempura, fried pieces of eel stacked with burdock root and tentsuyu, a Japanese tempura dip. All were delicious and offered a peak into the many fish preparations on the menu.

After a couple palate cleansers of Chawanmushi and roasted seaweed rice with savory tea broth, we both dove head first into a bowl of Black Sesame Ice Cream with a drizzle of Okinawa brown sugar sauce. The meal was totally well-rounded, the fish tasted like it was just caught, and the service was perfect. Not to mention, some of the ingredients are flown in from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market.

Traditional Japanese dining can be pretty intimidating, whether you’re just learning how to use chopsticks or are seasoned eaters looking for more adventurous dishes. The team at Okane, led by vet restauranteur Kash Feng, is making omakase and izakaya-style dining more approachable…while also delicious.

For more information, visit www.okanesf.com.

 

Are you ready for Eat Drink SF 2016?

A photo from Eat Drink SF 2015

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

It’s that time of year when Bay Area foodies come out in droves to spend the weekend rubbing elbows with the city’s finest chefs, wine/beer/booze makers and mixologists. Eat Drink SF is in its eighth year and will be held once again at the Festival Pavilion in Fort Mason Center. Eat Drink SF was the first food festival I went to in the City and still is one of my favorites.

Crab Cakes from One Market

Check out my coverage of last year’s event here.

Founded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) back in 2009, Eat Drink SF brings together 160+ restaurants offering unlimited bite-sized versions of their claim-to-fame dishes while attendees walk around with their drink of choice or check out demos and classes. (And trust that you’ll find a new favorite drink from one of the 70 bars, distilleries, wineries and breweries in attendance.) If you’ve ever wanted to be under the same roof with all of your favorite restaurants, this is your event.

This year’s event starts August 25 with everyone’s favorite, the Taco Knockdown, and goes into the weekend with four Grand Tasting events. And if you’ve never been to an SF food festival, expect a lot of wandering through rows trying to figure out what to eat or drink next. No wallets, no fuss…just pure culinary fun.

New this year at Eat Drink SF 2016:

  • A Sunday Grand Tasting event will celebrate GGRA’s 80th anniversary and honor Bay Area bars and restaurants that have been open for at least 20 years.
  • A personal favorite, Buena Vista Café will be pouring their famous Irish Coffees at all four Grand Tastings.
  • The SF Brewers Guild will be in attendance and pouring local brews in the Backyard Bites section.
  • A new “Bay Bar” will feature cocktails from the city’s hottest cocktails bars, like Hard Water, The Treasury, Whitechapel, and more.
  • Look out for a Milagro Margarita Mix Off added to the Thursday Taco Knockdown event.
Tyler Florence serving up a Corn and Prawn soup at the Wayfare Tavern booth.
Executive Chef, Danny Kou, of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Souvla serves up their AMAZING lamb

Ready for an indulgent weekend? Get your tickets now at www.eatdrink-sf.com. See you there!

 

A modern guide to the historic Indian Springs Calistoga

 Written by and photos by Meaghan Clark

In stark contrast to the crystal clear blue skies sits a shimmering white road, a welcome aura that elicits feelings of comfort and familiarity.

Indian Springs’ historic property nestled amongst the vineyards and mineral springs of Calistoga, California is the quintessential site to embrace nature, wash off your worries, and disconnect. A pristine oasis in the hustle of today’s social angst, the 17-acre property that dates back to 1862 celebrates regional flavor with a nod to history.

The entrance to the historic (and recently renovated) pool

 

Upon entrance, settle in to a spacious room that overlooks some of the property’s best features, like a lagoon complete with lily pads, graciously green grasses or even a reflecting adult pool. While the property itself features everything from private bungalows to cottages and a lodge, size mean nothing to guests here — each individual retreat feels like a solo expedition.

Start your day with a quick jaunt through the neighborhood, where if you’re a jogger like me means traipsing up and down two-lane roads nestled between local vineyards. Wineries are tucked between residential homes in this part of town, just make sure to make a mental list to any places that pique your interest (my favorite is Tedeschi Family Winery).

A delicious charcuterie plate prepared by the team at Sam’s Social Club

 

On your way back into the resort, stop for a quick cup of fresh coffee, set aside at the property’s Terrace Room adjacent to the resort entrance, where bocce courts and property chickens reside. A roaring fireplace and fresh, locally brewed coffee will be awaiting your arrival. Or, if you’d prefer, brew your own cup of Joe in your room supplied by Equator.

Head into the property’s restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, where you’ll find an assortment of spot-on morning trends like avocado toast and staples like a mushroom and leek scramble to curb your appetite. It’s essential to be a breakfast person today, as your next adventure awaits — the spa.

Brew your own coffee in each spacious room with local beans from Equator

 

While the property is vast in its acreage, the spa is a quaint and friendly reminder of Indian Springs’ antiquity. The mud bath, a signature treatment of Calistoga, which combines local volcanic ash and mineral water, is without question the one treatment on the must-try list. Not much has changed over the years, from the stream room to the claw foot tubs or cucumber water, but why mess with a good thing?

Any of the treatments in the spa are on point but just make sure to give yourself some time to explore the surrounding Buddha pond, a retreat for those robe-clad individuals. With outdoor fireplaces, cool cucumber water, lounge chairs and umbrellas, it’s another serene space for any post-spa treatment. The constant humming of the mineral water churning will leave you mesmerized for hours as big puffs of smoke fill up the sky at all hours of the day.

The view from a lagoon-facing room at Indian Springs Calistoga

 

You come to Calistoga for the mud and the waters, and Indian Springs delivers both.

Like the central figure in any blockbuster film, the resort’s Olympic-size mineral pool is the shining star. Nearly a century old, the recently restored pool (which was renovated this year and reopened July 25, 2016) steps up the tranquility level. Massive in size and ambient in temperature, the water isn’t dominated by faint hints of chlorine and temperate isn’t monitored by machine, but rather nature. As should be a requirement for any spa retreat in Calistoga, Indian Springs also provides an adult-only oasis that’s private and all grown up.

The small town feel that Calistoga is known for predominates its dining scene. Fear not, as the top restaurant in the city is within walking distance.

Hungry? The rib-eye at Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga is a feast

 

While we aren’t typically ones to suggest dining on site for two meals at day, the eclectic and surprising unique menu at Sam’s Social Club is a rare delight. The seasonal menu changes often, and rarely disappoints. Featuring fantastic starters like a ceviche and octopus, or main courses like the ever-present cauliflower steak, it’s impressive no matter the season. And while your visit to Indian Springs serves as a retreat to your mind and body, don’t forget to leave room for dessert.

 

Indian Springs Calistoga 

1712 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga, CA 94515
707-942-4913

To enjoy the spa or make a reservation, visit Indian Springs Calistoga online.

Chicago Tours for History Buffs, Foodies, Cocktail Fans and the Sexually Explorative

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I never used to be one who would attack a brand new city with a bunch of touristy things. But when you’re trying to tackle a city like Chicago in just a few days, sometimes you just gotta sign up for a tour and go along for the ride. During my trip to the Windy City, I went on a handful of Chicago tours both within the downtown area and beyond.

From tame architecture and history tours, to sexy red light district tours, here’s a list of some of the Chicago tours you can go on while exploring this amazingly beautiful city.

Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour with Chicago Detours

History lessons have never been my strong suit. I have trouble listening to someone chatter about history while I’m in a new city, let alone a classroom, because I’m busy looking around at all of the sights. But, Chicago Detours is a company you want to get to know if you’re seeking a Chicago history lesson with some booze and bites.

We started our tour at the Tribune Tower and the Intercontinental Hotel where we learned a brief history of the city, who helped to build commerce in the area, what industries fared well during growth, and more. After wandering the streets and learning more about the secret life of drinkers and booze during the prohibition era, we stepped inside the original Billy Goat Tavern.

Outside of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

Any old school Saturday Night Live fan will immediately yell, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger! No Pepsi…Coke!” in their heads upon hearing about this pit stop. The Billy Goat Tavern was definitely my favorite stop on this tour mostly because of the people watching, the fantastic bar and bartenders, historic memorabilia all over the walls, and of course, the cheeseburgers.

By the time the tour was over, not only did we learn about how booze shaped the city in nearly every decade, but we also boozed at every stop. From beers at Billy Goat, to wine and appetizers at the Tortoise Club and a historic mansion, we experienced the booze culture in nearly every way imaginable.

Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours

Pizza and booze in Chicago is like peanut butter and jelly to the rest of the country; it just goes together and there’s no explanation. Chicago’s deep dish pizza is globally famous and I had to get my hands on all of the pizza I could. If you’re in town for a short period of time and want to try all of the famous pizza spots in the area, I highly recommend booking a Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours.

Pizza from Flo & Santos.

Our group met at Flo & Santos, a thin-crust pizza spot favorited by local Chicagoans. We ordered up some cocktails and local brews while our table was flooded with huge thin-crust pizzas with toppings inspired by local tastes. The Flo’s Polish was topped with Polish Kielbasa, sauerkraut and bacon, while Marco’s Italian Beef was topped with shaved beef, giardiniera, caramelized onion and roasted tomatoes. We all shared our stories and what brought us to Chicago, before we headed to the next joint.

Pizza Serio’s Margherita pizza is to die for.

Throughout the evening, we stopped by Pizzeria Serio in the Lakeview neighborhood for Neapolitan-style pizza, the famous Lou Malnati’s in the Gold Coast neighborhood for a taste of history, and Pizano’s for Oprah’s favorite deep dish and dessert. The drinks continued to flow throughout the night and we all naturally befriended each other by the end of the tour.

Lou Malnati’s Sausage pizza.

If you’re traveling solo, this tour is perfect for you. There’s nothing like a few too many gin and tonics to open up even the most timid of travelers. The pizza was all fantastic and I totally get why people have Chicago pizza shipped to their homes after visiting these spots. Not only do you get a taste of Chicago history on these tours, but you also get a sense of why this city attracts all walks of life.

Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet

I’m always one to try and discover hip and up-and-coming neighborhoods while traveling and I had been hearing a lot about Lincoln Park. Located about 20 minutes outside of the Chicago Loop and downtown area, Lincoln Park is an adorable neighborhood offering culture, historical sights, delicious food, shopping and more.

Cupcakes galore on the Lincoln Park Tour with Chicago Food Planet.

I signed up for the two-hour Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet, which specializes in walking tours of Chicago’s best neighborhoods outside of heavily-touristed areas. This tour company takes guests around Chicago’s neighborhoods while educating travelers about how the local food culture came to be and how artists, immigrants, students, professionals, and everyone else has shaped the area.

Bacino’s Spinach Supreme stuffed pizza.

Deemed one of Chicago’s most diverse and largest neighborhoods, we learned all about Lincoln Park’s history with our tour guide, Jackie. We heard about the area’s history and people, while tasting specialty, locally-made items like popcorn, cupcakes, bagels, luxury chocolate and stuffed pizza. (PS: The pizza from Bacino’s was out of this world!) Lincoln Park is a great city for eating, drinking and shopping so if you feel like you’ve tackled downtown Chicago and want a glimpse into the ‘burbs, make sure to add this neighborhood to your list.

Chicago Food Planet operates tours in other parts of town, including the Gold Coast, Old Town, Bucktown, Wicker Park and Chinatown. Our guide, Jackie, was absolutely lovely and super smart and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide. If you fall in love with one of the stops on the tour, Chicago Food Planet offers discounts at the shops or restaurants for purchases after the trip concludes.

Red Light District Tour with Weird Chicago

If you really want to see a part of Chicago with the perfect blend of grit, boozy history and scandal, check out Weird Chicago tours immediately. This tour brought some light into the sex and kink scene of today and the bygone era. Fancy a trip to a sex dungeon? Ever wanted to meet a man who custom manufactures bustiers and thigh-high leather boots? Or, do you need to freshen up your education on today’s sex toys? Then look no further than the Red Light District Sex Tour.

One of several incriminating photos from an evening with Weird Chicago Tours.

This Chicago tour is a bit difficult to put into words, especially if you’re tame at heart, because the intel that I gathered on this trip would make anyone blush. Join the group as an open-minded individual, with your friends, or significant other. And be prepared for some silly, while also incredibly intriguing, narration. Let’s just say that by the time the tour was over, I found myself in a swing in the middle of a sex dungeon, tried on some vintage-inspired bustiers, and got a glance into electro-magnetic stimulation at a sex shop.

I guarantee you’ll end the night all hot and bothered with a new wealth of information about the Chicago local sex industry. But if sex dungeons and toys aren’t totally your thing, Weird Chicago also offers tours about the city’s ghosts, criminal history, gangsters and “Murder Castle.”

Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing

Checking out the Chicago skyline with Shoreline Sightseeing.

If you’re looking for a relaxing Chicago tour of the downtown area’s architecture and skyscrapers, I suggest an Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing. This 75 minute tour, great for those in a time crunch, takes you down the Chicago River and among the most notable towers and skyscrapers. You’ll learn about the engineering of these buildings, who made them, who occupies the space now, and so much more. Ever wondered about the uniquely-shaped round parking structure in the middle of the Loop, or the Aqua high rise apartment building that mimics the image of waves when viewed from atop each balcony? Or the history behind the champagne-bottle shaped Carbide & Carbon building? You’ll learn all about these landmarks and more on this tour.

From the stunning to peculiar, Shoreline shows off all of Chicago’s tallest assets.

I hopped on the Architecture River Tour, which launches off from two different locations, and we saw more than 40 different, distinctly Chicago landmarks. I highly recommend going on the tour right around sunset, or at least while the sun is out, as the boat is uncovered and offers amazing views.

The Aqua apartment complex in Chicago.

Design your own Self-Guided Tour at the Art Institute

Just one of the many rooms filled with art from around the globe.

The Chicago Art Institute tops everyone’s list of must-see places but with almost a million square feet of explorable space, the idea of seeing everything can be daunting. From modern art and photography, to marble sculptures and Picassos, there’s something here for everyone. I only had a few hours to spend at the Art Institute and luckily there were a few options to help maximize my time.

Before you visit, check out the website’s section for themed mini tours. Or, download the Art Institute app or opt for an audio guide. Whatever your speed, you’ll find a ton of interesting exhibits.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to ALL of the tour companies who allowed me to join your group outings! Thank you for your generosity and hospitality. See you soon!