Monday, May 28, 2012

This Time Worth a Star

Last week, I wrote about a restaurant that had received one star from the Michelin Guide but did not seem to be even trying to be a restaurant of that caliber.  This week I had the opportunity to dine at another one star restaurant: Quince in San Francisco.  Quince is the epitome of fine dining - excellent service, memorable food, and a superb wine list.

From the moment we walked in, the service was attentive without being overbearing.  We were attended by multiple servers, all of whom knew the menu inside-out.  When the sommelier saw me reviewing the wine list, he came over to see if he could be of some service.  He was.  When we had questions about the ingredients in our dishes, the servers were able to answer them.

Quince offers a four-course, prix fixe menu as well as a ten-course tasting menu.  We opted for the latter.  Each dish was a fascinating blend of flavors and textures. Most of the dishes featured seafood but one used chicken and two others included lamb.  While we were quite full when the optional cheese course was offered to us, we couldn't resist.  A cart with an array of varied and interesting cheeses was wheeled to our table and we shared a selection of three delicious cheeses.

Dining at Quince is a memorable experience.  It's not cheap, so this is a restaurant to go to celebrate a special occasion.  I would not be surprised if next year's Michelin Guide awards Quince another star.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can a Michelin Star be a Curse?

When the Michelin Guide came out last year, I (and likely many others) was surprised to see that La Costanera in the oceanside town of Montara had been awarded one star.  (If you are not familiar with the system, one star means the restaurant is excellent.  Three stars is the top award and only two restaurants in the entire Bay Area received this rating.)  I had driven by this large restaurant many times and it looked like a nice, casual restaurant with a view.  I also have eaten at La Costanera's sister restaurants in San Francisco, Mochica and Piqueo's, so I thought the food would likely be good.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, I could see that this restaurant should not have been awarded a star.  The place is large and noisy.  The tables were not covered with cloths and the staff were hustling everywhere.  When we were seated, we were greeted by our server who said, "My name is _ and I'll be serving you tonight."  This is not done in restaurants with fine dining.

Then the service broke down.  Our appetizers came out way too quickly, before our drinks and wine arrived.  The drinks came shortly thereafter, but the server had to ask whose drinks they were.  The wine took an eternity to come and then the wrong wine was brought to us.  Once the correct wine finally arrived, and the restaurant thinned out a bit, the service improved.  It was not the type of service one expects in a starred restaurant but it was attentive and timely.

I mention all of this to point out that the Michelin star raised my expectations.  I envisioned a certain type of dining experience, which La Costanera is not attempting to provide.  Last night the service was flawed, but even if it had been a perfectly served meal, La Costanera provides a casual - not a fine - dining experience.

By the way, the food was terrific.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge's 75th Anniversary

The Golden Gate Bridge celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.  This means, a party is in order and San Francisco will be celebrating.  The big party occurs on May 27, but many other events will be held.  A full listing can be found at  

In addition, big changes are occurring on the San Francisco side of the bridge.  A new Bridge Pavilion will host a visitors center that includes information on the bridge and a gift shop.  Up the hill, close to the toll plaza, the Bridge Roundhouse will be the starting point for tours of the Bridge and will house a commemorative photo program.  Both of these buildings open on May 9.  The cafe is still under renovation with no firm opening date set.  When it opens, the menu will be greatly improved.

West of the toll plaza, the Coastal and Bay Trails have been improved and are now open for hikers and walkers to explore the bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate and Pacific Ocean and the historic batteries.  In the near future, two new vista points will offer breathtaking water views.  The picture above was taken from a battery on the Coastal Trail just west of the Bridge.

If you would like to take a tour of San Francisco that includes a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Sunday, May 06, 2012

"Interview with the Vampire" in San Francisco

Recently, I had a guest on tour who was a big fan of the novelist, Anne Rice.  He told me that one day, Ms. Rice was driving by 503 Divisadero Street and was inspired to write a novel about interviewing a vampire in that Victorian home.  During our tour of San Francisco, we stopped by the address so my guest could get his photo taken by his mother in front of the house.  He met the owner of the building, who had no idea that her home inspired Ann Rice to write the popular novel, Interview with the Vampire.

If you would like to see the home that inspired Ann Rice and many other great San Francisco sights, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Beautiful Marin County

The latest edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tour and Travel's free, quarterly newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California is out.  This issue covers San Francisco's neighbor to the north, Marin County.  To learn more about "Beautiful Marin County," click here.

If you would like to take a private tour in and around Marin County, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or