If you wake up on a brisk fall morning itching for adventure, you can hop on a train, ride by coach over the new Bay Bridge, and be sitting out on the San Francisco Bay at the Ferry Building in time for a late breakfast. Say a cup of Blue Bottle coffee and, from Acme Bakery, a potato-pesto sandwich or a pain au chocolat. Or both.
And then a whole, lovely San Francisco day ahead of you. You may as well stay the night — or maybe two — since you’ll be able to get great deals on hotels as soon as the America’s Cup races are over.
Our new favorite hotel will welcome you properly, as they did us on our recent trip. We had stayed there just twice, the last time more than nine months ago, and as soon as we walked in the door, the woman behind the desk smiled warmly and said, “I’m so sorry I don’t remember your names, but welcome back!”
Since the hotel wasn’t full, she gave us a free upgrade and offered us late check-out. “And don’t forget — wine and music in the lobby at 5 p.m.” The rest of the staff was equally gracious.
This gem, the Hotel Carlton, is located on Sutter about three blocks beyond the Union Square area in the newly minted “Tendernob” district. While not the very most convenient place in the city, it’s an easy enough walk to Hayes Valley, North Beach and Chinatown as well as Union Square.
We also appreciate its “energy star” status and its self-consciously international flavor, maps of the world lining the elevator, for instance, and in the rooms lovely photos of places more remote than Western Europe. Saha, the hotel restaurant, serves excellent and reasonably priced food — a blend of Yemenese Arabic, new Californian and French, which translates into dishes like wild salmon baklava and fava bean cakes. Nice international wine list, too, including a Moroccan syrah. The Domaine Pichot Vouvray would work wonderfully with this eclectic cuisine — and for the unheard-of-San-Francisco price of only $30 a bottle.
Since the weirdly named Craftsman and Wolves on Valencia has become a breakfast-lunch favorite, we spent a lot of time on the last trip strolling the Mission (a long-ish but do-able walk from the Carlton). We had hoped to dine at the new and highly acclaimed Farina Pizza in the area — but were discouraged by the no-reservation policy and the warning of long lines. The wine list cinched the decision: short, not all that interesting, and not a bottle for under $45. Yikes.
We’d had a splurge dinner the previous night at a restaurant we adore but can’t reveal because it’s small, widely praised and already takes hard work to get a reservation. (I might be bribe-able, though, say with a bottle of Crozes Hermitage Les Jalets from Valley Wine Company.)
As a result of said splurge, the budget had kicked in, and a $50 wine wasn’t on it. Fortunately, we stumbled upon an excellent and inexpensive alternative, Arlequin Café in Hayes Valley. I’m sure our pizza wasn’t as la-di-da as Farina’s but all the food was fresh, straightforward and nicely prepared, and the lovely patio might well be the most relaxing spot to dine in the city (heaters abound for cooler evenings).
And the wine deal there is even better. Connected to the cafe is the very fine Arlequin Wine Merchant, a little store where you can pick out a bottle and add just $5 to the price for corkage and glasses. The only difficulty was choosing among the many intriguing possibilities.
I ended up picking a red, the ’09 Clos Siguier from the Cahors region — known for its almost black-hued wines — in the south of France. Under $15 and low in alcohol (12.5 percent) it was just perfect for our warm evening and easy-going pizza. It wasn’t until after dinner that I examined the bottle more carefully and discovered it was a Jenny and François import.
I found this company several weeks ago when I was researching the “natural wine” movement. Jenny and François import only “natural” wines from small, passionate winemakers who respect the environment as well as the grapes. Since J & F distribute primarily in New York, I didn’t follow through, even though I sighed wistfully over their alluring selections. Imagine my delight at the coincidence of having chosen one of theirs.
For this Clos Siguier, winemaker Giles Bley used organically grown grapes from 60 year-old vines — 95 percent côt (malbec) and 5 percent tannat (Cahors reds must contain at least 70 percent côt). It smells of earth and violet and tastes of dark, wild bramble fruit with a touch of smoke. Aged in large old oak barrels, it was complex without any overt oak (I am so weary of over-oaked wine). Delicious.
Wine at our secret restaurant, by the way, was a 2012 Vermentino from the Gallura region, which is at the northernmost tip of Sardinia and is practically a sheet of granite. This bottle, from Pedra Majore, was, in fact, called I Graniti. Made from organically grown grapes with no oak or malolactic fermentation, it was lovely with our spicy, fishy meal — and incidentally, the least expensive wine ($36) on the long — and wonderful — list (thus confirming my long-held conviction that the least expensive wine on a careful list is well worth ordering).
We came back to Davis temperatures over the century mark. Though in San Francisco I told myself I could drink that food-friendly Cahors every night, it didn’t sound so seductive in the heat. The solution: a dry but fruity, friendly and fun German rosé called Pink from Schloss Schönborn in the Rhein. Beautiful color, rich taste, happy with bread, cheese and cool end-of-summer salads, it’s on the Davis Food Co-op shelf for $13. Try it tonight.
Two local wine events for your October calendar:
* Wine Pour 2013 — the annual wine-tasting fundraiser for the award-winning Davis High School Madrigal Singers. Sunday, Oct. 6, 2-5 p.m. at Osteria Fasulo Restaurant, 2657 Portage Bay Ave. East. More than a dozen California wineries will be pouring. Includes appetizers and a Madrigal performance. Tickets: $25 advance; $30 at the door.
* Putah Creek Winery’s fall wine tasting. At the winery on Sunday, Oct. 19, 3-6 p.m., it includes appetizers, live music and local art. $15 advance, $20 at the door.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at email@example.com. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com