Insider’s guide to eating and drinking in California

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Created in partnership with the California Wine Institute.

Amanda Barnes asks some of the state’s top sommeliers and winemakers guide us through their ‘go-to’ places to eat and drink in California.

Progress	Credit: theprogress-sf.com
Progress Credit: theprogress-sf.com

It’s hard to eat poorly in California. The state is a hotbed of fusion cuisine and has a pantry filled to the brim with delicious local produce - from the garden, farm and sea. Californian cuisine today is known for its blend of Italian, French, Mexican, Chinese and Japanese cooking styles using the plethora of local ingredients including many heirloom fruits and vegetables. Here’s the inside scoop from local somms and winemakers on the best watering holes and restaurants in California.

Evan Goldstein MS, Author of Daring Pairings

High Treason wine bar. Credit: www.hightreasonsf.com
High Treason wine bar. Credit: www.hightreasonsf.com

Just over a year old, High Treason Wine Bar is a smallish but super cool wine bar in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond.

Insider Tip: There are over 45 wines by the glass (changing on a regular basis) and if you need to soak up the alcohol, High Treason serves excellent small bites such as roast quail; fried chicken sliders; and short rib pappardelle.

Food truck tip offs

Spark Social. Credit: sparksocialsf.com/
Spark Social. Credit: sparksocialsf.com/

Insider Tip: The food truck parks rotate different vendors, sometimes on a daily basis. Most are open for lunch hours (12-3), dinner (5pm onwards) and all day at the weekends.

Bar Covell: Wine-centric in LA

Covell wine bar. Credit: www.barcovell.com/
Covell wine bar. Credit: www.barcovell.com/

My friend Matt Kaner has a few super cool and wine centric spots in LA and Palm Springs—Bar Covell is the original (with 150 wines by the glass) and he also has Augustine (offering a range of older vintages dating back to 1860).”

Randall Grahm, Winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyard

Farm to table in Oakland

Oliveto. Credit: Oliveto Instagram
Oliveto. Credit: Oliveto Instagram

The owner of Oliveto restaurant, Bob Klein, has another venture, which he calls Community Grains, and features some of his exotic, heirloom grains at the restaurant. Notable amongst them is the red corn polenta, which is utterly unique and extraordinary. There's a nice selection of older Barbarescos from Produttori di Barbaresco, which are very fairly priced.

Must-try dish: All of the pastas are amazing, but the spaghetti nero, made with squid ink is a real winner, as is anything there bolognese. Grilled pigeon also a must-have dish.

Unique pressings in SF

The Press Room. Credit: pressclubsf.com
The Press Room. Credit: pressclubsf.com

On the other side of the bay is The Press Room, which is arguably the most exciting wine bar in San Francisco - the wine list is absolutely stellar. I was lucky enough to find an older vintage of Ciallia Bianco from Ronchi di Cialla that was very reasonably priced. (One very seldom sees the wine.) The space is cavernous but beautiful, and the wine list vastly comprehensive.

Insider Tip: There’s a happy hour every day until 6pm with $3 off wines and beer by the glass. Bites and plates include sliders, Pizzettas and mac and cheese.

A16: Piedmont and pizza

A16. Credit: A16 Instagram
A16. Credit: A16 Instagram

If one loves both “natural" and esoteric Italian wines, the place to go is A16. Shelly Lindgren, the proprietress, is passionate about both; Occhipinti and Foradori are well represented indeed. This is where you can find all of the Timorasso, Freisa and Rossese your palate might craves. For me, their pizza salsiccia with a bottle of Freisa would be the way to go.

Insider Tip: A16 has another location in Oakland where they have an aperitivo hour every night at 5pm.

Geoff Kruth MS, President of Guild Somm

El Molino: Mexican in California wine country

El Molino. Credit: El Molino Instagram
El Molino. Credit: El Molino Instagram

In the town of Sonoma, El Molino Central has fantastic Mexican food. While I’m not normally one for gentrified cultural cuisine, a vegetarian enchilada with a glass of rosé is pretty undeniably delicious.

Must try dish: Swiss chard enchiladas with salsa habanero

Flirting with Italian in the city

La Caccia. Credit: www.laciccia.com/
La Caccia. Credit: www.laciccia.com/

Devilishly good food in Geyserville

Diavola. Credit: www.diavolapizzeria.com/
Diavola. Credit: www.diavolapizzeria.com/

When I’m in Healdsburg I love taking the short drive to the next town north of Geyserville and going to Diavola. It’s amazing how good the food is for such a tiny town; half of the tables are usually taken up by local wine business friends.

Insider Tip: Start your meal off with a platter of Diavola’s home cured salumi and sausages.

Ashley Ragovin, Sommelier at Pour This

Bell Street Farm: Farm charm in Santa Barbara

Bell Street Farm. Credit: www.bellstreetfarm.com
Bell Street Farm. Credit: www.bellstreetfarm.com

One of the warmest California stops is Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos. It just over delivers on every level! The food is comforting and so well done, and Jamie is always waiting to pour you a great local wine. He’s a hospitality genius.

Must try dish: Do not miss the porchetta!

Marvin wine bar: LA by the glass

Marvin Wine Bar. Credit: www.chezmarvin.com
Marvin Wine Bar. Credit: www.chezmarvin.com

A very excellent wine bar in LA is Marvin wine bar. It’s truly one of the best places to drink great wine by the glass, and it has an epic list. There aren’t enough places in LA serving only the hits, with great food to boot.

Mh Zh: Hot and hebrew in the city

For dinner, Mh Zh in Silverlake, Los Angeles (pronounced Mah-zeh, a Hebrew phrase for ‘what is it?’) is truly the best table in the city right now. They are highlighting California’s gorgeous bounty of produce beautifully. Food is thoughtful but not overdone; it’s elegant and simple, California at its best.

Insider Tip: Start looking through your cellar because Mh Zh is BYO. 3536 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026, USA

Rajat Parr, sommelier and winemaker Domaine de la Côte

Progress: Seasonal in San Francisco

Progress. Credit: theprogress-sf.com
Progress. Credit: theprogress-sf.com

It’s a very seasonal menu at Progress. My favourite dish when I ate there last week was Liberty Farms BBQ half duck spicy peanuts, Thai basil & smoked chilli vinegar.

Insider Tip: There are over 350 wine labels in the cellar, and eight Madeiras by the glass.

Aster: Super seasonal

Aster. Credit: Aster Facebook.
Aster. Credit: Aster Facebook.

Another seasonal tasting menu to try is at Aster. One of the great dishes at the moment is Green faro, Peas, Ramps, Sheep’s Ricotta, nasturtium.

République: Upscale bistro in LA

République. Credit: République Instagram
République. Credit: République Instagram

Chef Walter Manske creates great upscale Bistro cuisine at République in Los Angeles. He makes an incredible Dover Sole a La Meuniere with fingerling potatoes, grapes, brown butter and lemon.

Insider Tip: Looking for a bite of breakfast? Drop into République from 8am till 3pm and you can start your day on Pork Confit Pupusa, Kimchi friend rice or Shakshouka.

Amanda Barnes is a wine and travel writer currently travelling Around the World in 80 Harvests.

Translated by ICY

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