Seasonal Foods: Pink Pearl Apple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will never forget the look of shock on my step-father’s face the first time he saw the flesh of a pink pearl apple I was eating while we were out on a hike. They are bizarre, for sure, these rosy-fleshed treats. What’s more surprising to me is not just the color, but the great flavor of the Pink Pearl apple. They are tart, sweet and crisp – the perfect fruit.

I never knew these existed until this year when I saw them on display at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. Surely they couldn’t taste as great as they looked, so I picked up a few to try out. I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious they were, and later came to find out that they are Colleen’s favorite apple (no surprise there, she loves weird things in nature).

According to Wikipedia, the Pink Pearl apple is a cultivar developed in 1944 by Albert Etter, a northern California breeder. It was the seedling of the “Surprise”, another red-fleshed apple. If you ever read or watched The Botany of Desire, you may remember Michael Pollan’s chapters on apples. He explains how the seedling produced from the seed of a tasty apple is never a genetic match and usually produces apples only suitable for making hooch. Apples are weird like that, so Mr. Etter must have been pretty stoked when his seedling started producing these amazing apples.

Most heirloom varieties of apples have been wiped out and replaced with commercial apples such as Fuji, Pink Lady, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and the likes. We are fortunate to have so many heirloom apple varieties here in California, and I take full advantage. The apple season is reaching full swing with the onset of Fall, so I highly recommend going to your local farmer’s market and picking up some of these beauties before they are gone.

Urban Parklet Picnic: Sherry on 11th St.

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Recently, it came to my attention that I might be a fan of sherry. After all, I love oxidative white wines from the Jura, and especially Champagne made in a slightly oxidative style. I was given a bottle of Manzanilla sherry, presumably because the giver thought I am an old lady. He was right. The first thing I did was call up my Old Lady Partner in Crime (OLPIC), Colleen. We decided that this bottle of sherry needed to be enjoyed at 3PM on a Thursday, at a parklet on a busy street because, why not?

Sherry is an incredibly inexpensive Spanish wine made in a solera and under flor. Because of the process, sherry takes on a very distinctive, oxidized, nutty aroma, which can be an acquired taste. The type of sherry we had, Manzanilla, is typically a lighter, fresher style of Sherry than it’s cousins. The color was light straw, the aroma strong and enticing. The flavors were saline, nutty, and mouth-filling, with an incredibly long finish. The acidity was crisp and refreshing, a nice balance to the unique flavor. As this sherry opened up, it became even more delicious and complex, and Colleen and I were both big fans.

We paired this wine with a hard Spanish cheese, peppadew peppers stuffed with chèvre, castelvetrano olives, and a few hunks of Tartine bread. Sherry is one of the few wines that pairs well with both very salty or pickled foods, and I was very pleased with the outcome of our pairing. We snarfed up that whole block of cheese lickety-split.

If you are a big fan of weird wine that doesn’t break the bank, go pick up a bottle of Sherry from Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill (which is where mine was from), or your friendly neighborhood wine shop. You will be very pleased with the price, and you can go then spend all the money you saved on some fancy hard Spanish cheese, and some Jamón Ibérico de bellota (pata negra only, please). Whatever you end up doing, be sure to enjoy it slowly, as the sherry we had really evolved with some air.

Wine Bar Review: Terroir Natural Wine Merchant

Tucked away in the hustle and bustle of Folsom street in SOMA lies Terroir, an unassuming wine bar with very little signage out front. You would probably walk right past it if you were looking for it specifically, and you might not know about it at all if you weren’t some sort of wine geek or fell upon it accidentally. Needless to say, it’s worth stepping into if you find yourself on the block with some time on your hands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing you’ll notice walking into this place is the downright hip ambiance. Everything is so unintentionally stylish, with a distinct, playful Soma-in-Paris feel to it. It’s a mix of old-timey and modern with it’s steel stools, loft seating, dark grey bar, wooden accents and record player. I love to come here with a friend and chill out upstairs on a comfortable chair with a carafe of wine and a cheese plate. There’s something about the atmosphere here that begs you to slow down and stay a while.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wines served and sold here have a similar old-yet-new feel to them. One of the things I’ve heard repeated here time and time again is, “This is a real wine.” Terroir is very true to it’s name, serving only wines of terroir. Nothing added, nothing taken away. All of the wines here are either organic, biodynamic or just plain vin naturel. Chances are, you will not recognize a single wine on the menu. On a good day, I might be familiar with two. Don’t let the list intimidate you. Instead, tell the bartender what sort of wine you enjoy and they will help you find one to your liking.

Terroir seems to specialize in white wines with acid, texture and mineral as well as red wines that are taught, lean, juicy and rustic. This is the sort of place you can find Jura by the glass or perhaps a Cheverney rouge. Not only do they have an impressive by-the-glass selection, but they also have tons of wines for retail sale by the bottle. No, there isn’t a list, although if you see a wine out on the wall, they may have it for sale. Yes, they do sell high end Burgundies. Just tell the bartender what you are looking for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a great place for all sorts of people, from major wine geeks looking for the next mind-blowing $25 bottle to wine newbies looking for a romantic spot to go on a first, second, or third date. They open pretty early for a wine bar (2PM most days) which makes it a superb spot for people like myself with nowhere to be in the middle of the day. In the evening, it’s a very vibrant place with lots of locals of all ages stopping in for a glass or bottle. Whatever your persuasion may be, this is definitely a place to go out of your way to check out. You might even see me there, sitting at the bar, alone, enjoying a half-glass of Jura, and harassing the staff.

Vermouth: Not just for cocktails

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can remember my first waitressing job at a British pub. It was 2003, and I was a mere 21 years old. I barely knew anything about food, wine, cocktails, or really any of the finer things in life. I can recall the bartender telling me that vermouth (a fortified wine infused with botanicals) was disgusting, so bad that when you use it in a cocktail, you simply swirl it around in the glass and dump the rest out. Why would anyone want to add something to a drink that tasted so bad? I wrote off vermouth as something I never wanted to put in my mouth.

Years later, I learned from a bartender at Bar Agricole that vermouth should always be stored in the refrigerator. It’s wine, after all, and it oxidizes like any other wine. Most people think vermouth is disgusting because they let it sit out at room temperature for months, using a splash here and there. Even bars are guilty of leaving their vermouth out, which might be one of the reasons that a Manhattan is rarely good at a bar. Even if it’s being refrigerated, it’s going to oxidize, and you should use it up within a couple of weeks.

So I started storing my vermouth in the refrigerator. I was still buying the cheap stuff, because I was only using it in cocktails. Really, you are only using a half ounce at a time, what difference could it really make? What I came to realize is that a $5 vermouth is about as good as a $5 wine. I knew that there was good vermouth out there, as it’s a popular aperitif in Europe. People drink it straight! I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. There is a scarcity of craft vermouth here in the states and it’s pretty difficult to find. A few people are making it, but not many, and you really have to know what you’re looking for or get really lucky to find a good one.

Well, call me lucky! I was recently at Ruby Wine in San Francisco – a great little wine shop with an unbelievable selection of wine. I noticed an odd-looking bottle at the register and asked about it. Turns out it was a white (bianco) vermouth from Piedmont, Italy. It was around $40 for the bottle and the shop owner told me a little bit about it. It was a blend of Cortese and Moscato, two Italian grape varietals commonly grown in Piedmont. I was intrigued and thought I’d give it a shot. He told me to serve it with a sprig of rosemary on the rocks.

I followed his advice and not only threw in a sprig of rosemary, but also a twist of tangelo (it’s what I had on hand, and orange/rosemary are a lovely pair) and a splash of soda water. The outcome completely changed my preconceived notions about vermouth. It was intensely complex; slightly sweet, bitter, herbaceous, fruity, refreshing – all of the elements I want in a cocktail. I can’t believe I’d been blind to this for so long. I have no regrets about spending $40 on a bottle of vermouth, it’s that delicious. I could drink this stuff every day, and I most certainly will until the bottle I bought is gone. It would be a shame to let it go to waste!

For those of you who are interested, the vermouth I bought a Mauro Vergano Vermouth Bianco NV, imported by Louis Dressner. There is still one bottle left at Ruby Wine. If you see this stuff at a store and want to give it a whirl, I highly recommend it. Make sure you also pick up some rosemary, a citrus fruit and some soda to spruce it up. You won’t be disappointed!

Seasonal Foods: Sanddabs

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Do you love fish? I sure do, especially if it’s sustainably harvested. Here in the Bay Area, we have an abundance of local fish to choose from. Much of it is caught along the coast of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Bay. Many of you may be familiar with Seafood Watch, a program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium aimed at helping consumers make good choices when it comes to buying seafood. I like to use their iPhone app which helps me determine if the fish I’m about to buy is on the Best Choices or Good Alternatives list. You’d be surprised by some of the members of the Avoid list.

A few days ago, the SF Chronicle published an article on Pacific Sanddabs in their Food & Wine section. I had seen sandddabs many times before being sold by my local fishmonger. I never thought twice about them, but this article really piqued my interest. I decided to set forth on a mission to find San Francisco’s finest Sanddabs. I did eventually find them at none other than the 18th Street Bi-Rite Market for $10/lb. By Bay Area seafood standards, they are a steal. Move over King Salmon! While sanddabs are not on the Monterey Bay Aquarium “Recommended” list, they are on the “Good Alternatives” list and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted to make the preparation simple so I could highlight the delicate, nutty flavor of the fish. I ended up settling on lightly dredging them in flour and pan-frying them in neutral-tasting rice bran oil, then serving them with chive Beurre Blanc. I roasted up some carrots and cooked some French lentils to serve with them, staying on the French trajectory. The outcome was fabulous, and I’m now hooked on sanddabs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been squirreling away a bottle of Chablis that I wanted to open with some white fish, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really do love Chardonnay, especially if it’s French. Chablis is one of the best values in Burgundy, and this bottle only set me back $29. I picked it up at Ruby Wine in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill and I sure am glad I saved it for such an occasion. The pairing was lovely, adding a nice crisp counter-point to the beurre blanc while not overwhelming any of the ingredients in the dish. 2010 was a cool vintage in Chablis and many of the wines made that year have a ton of racy acidity. This wine also had a prominent mineral backbone, a hallmark of Chablis, which was a great compliment to the briney character of the sanddabs. Chablis is a very versatile wine, but I love it most with seafood.

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Are you a sanddab fanatic? Do you fish them yourself, or prepare them in a special way? Let us know in the comments.

 

Make Your Own Tonic Water at Home

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Here at Winelandia, we are big fans of doing things “the hard way.” Sometimes doing things this way yields better results than doing them “the easy way,” and generally it’s never as “hard” as it initially sounds. Case in point: tonic. Buy the cheap stuff (Schweppes or Canada Dry) and what you end up with is high fructose corn syrup-infused, quinine-laced, artificially flavored Citrus Drank. It tastes about as good as it sounds. Go a step further and buy Fever Tree brand tonic and you are in much better shape… although it costs about $6 for four small 7 oz bottles. Our advice is to ditch the commercial options and make your own. No tonic tastes better than the kind you can make yourself.

There are a few fundamental principles of tonic. First: It always contains quinine, a chemical which occurs naturally in the South American cinchona tree’s bark. This chemical has been known to reduce fevers, act as an anti-inflammatory agent and anti-malarial, and has medicinal uses dating back to the 17th century. Second: Tonic usually has a citrus flavor which can be derived from the zest or juice of any citrus fruit, or by adding lemongrass. Really, you can use whatever you want but I think citrus as a foundation is a good plan when you are first getting started. Third: Tonic needs to have flavor components to balance out the bitterness of the quinine; botanicals have been added to tonic as flavoring agents to make the healthful tonic more approachable, but I think it’s more important to use sensory elements such as sourness and sweetness to balance out the bitterness. We do this by adding sugar and citric acid to the tonic.

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The most difficult part about making tonic is finding a supply of cinchona tree bark. If you live in a culturally-diverse major metropolitan area, you can find it pretty easily at Asian or Latin markets. It’s usually sold in baggies with the other spices. If you can’t find it at the store, you can find it online pretty easily. I can’t attest to any of the brands found online, but I can find this Eden brand cut cinchona bark at the Duc Loi market on Mission street in San Francisco. You can find it in two different forms; powdered or cut. I have only ever found the cut bark at the aforementioned market, but you can put it through a mill grinder to make powder if you want a more concentrated tonic (don’t hold me responsible if you break your mill grinder, that bark is tough). Cinchona bark is dirt cheap, I recommend stocking up if you find it in a store because you will undeniably want to make gallons of tonic after you experience your first sip.

Citric acid is another ingredient that can be a little tough to find, but you can always find it at your local home brew shop, as it’s a common chemical used in home brewing and winemaking. If you’re unable to find it at a store, you can find it easily online. I got mine on Amazon.

Once you have your cinchona tree bark and citric acid, the rest of the ingredients are really easy to find and you can channel your creative energy into new, unexpected and exciting flavors. I am going to post a basic recipe first, and then I’ll post a list of potential ingredients that you could mix and match to make a flavor profile to complement your favorite gin.

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Basic Tonic Recipe
(adapted from SeriousEats, Imbibe & my brain)

Tools:
Small saucepan
Sharp, sturdy chef’s knife
Citrus zester
Coffee filter, French press, cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve

Ingredients:
2 tsp ground cinchona bark or 4 tsp cut cinchona bark
1 lemon
1 lime
1 large lemongrass stalk
1.5 tsp citric acid
1.5 c sugar
2 c still water
Carbonated Water

Method:
1. Combine sugar, still water, citric acid and cinchona bark in a small saucepan and put on medium-high heat.
2. Cut lemongrass into 1/2″ pieces on the bias and add to saucepan.
3. Zest lemon and lime, then add zest to saucepan.
4. Juice lemon and lime into saucepan.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes (if using ground cinchona) or 45 minutes (if using cut cinchona).
6. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
7a. IF USING CUT CINCHONA: Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a sterilized glass jar.
7b. IF USING GROUND CINCHONA: Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove the large solids; then run the mixture through a coffee filter, 4 layers of cheesecloth, or french press to remove the finer particulate matter. Ground cinchona is very fine and will take a very long time to strain if using a coffee filter. Be patient, the coffee filter method will produce the most visually appealing result. Once filtered, put into a sterilized glass jar.
8. Allow tonic syrup to cool.
9. Add 1 part tonic syrup to 4 parts carbonated water for consumption by itself, with a squeeze of lime; or as a cocktail (just add 1 oz. gin or vodka).
10. Store left-over tonic in the refrigerator for a week or freeze for later use.

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Now that you have your basic recipe down, it’s easy to start adding/replacing botanicals to create a flavor profile all of your own. My suggestion is to look for things you already have in your kitchen that will add a delicious and unexpected flavor combination to your next batch of tonic. Below are some ideas I’ve gleaned from my own kitchen, friends and research. In reality, you can add anything. Just be sure to use an ingredient that can hold up to extended periods of heat without damaging the flavor.

Kaffir Lime Leaf
Kumquat
Allspice
Lemon Verbana
Tangerine
Tarragon
Coriander Seed
Grapefruit
Thyme
Rosemary
Stonefruit
Star Anise
Bay Laurel
Pink Peppercorn

Do you have suggestions for other botanicals to use in home-made tonic, or combinations of them to create new and delicious flavors? Let us know in the comments!

Ruby Wine in SF has Everything You Need

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Fairly recently, it came to my attention that there was a great little wine shop perched atop Potrero Hill that I had never been to. I knew of its existence through social media, but hadn’t made time to visit. I knew that they had a great wine selection from word-of-mouth and that there were often winemaker-hosted tastings featuring wines that I really loved. I finally got off my butt to pay Ruby Wine a visit, and I am so glad I did.

Let’s get one thing straight: This is no K&L. This great shop is nothing if not small. Don’t let the size of it fool you, though. The owner, Aran Healy, is the curator of all of the wines in this shop and he has impeccable taste. Lots of the wines are organic, biodynamic or ‘natural’. He carries wines from all corners of the earth so you will definitely find something you love. The best part is that most of the wines here are in the $15-$30 range, which means you can easily find a bottle to take home and enjoy on a Tuesday night. He also carries a great selection of high-end wines and grower Champagne (his personal favorite).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to the staggering selection of natural wines, Ruby Wine also does tastings and wines by the glass every single day. You will never see the same wine being poured from one day to the next because Aran takes it upon himself or leaves it up to the staff to decide what they want to pour for the day. Usually there are four wines open and all of them are available to be enjoyed by the glass in the intimate little shop, which has plenty of seating. The prices are very fair and you can expect to pay much less for a glass of wine here than you would at a restaurant or downtown wine bar.

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In addition to the lovely European wines being sold here, there is a very good selection of domestically made natural wines to choose from. Right now these wines are all the rage and you can find selections from many of your favorite small, local-ish producers such as Dirty & Rowdy, Jolie-Laide, Matthiasson, Forlorn Hope, La Clarine Farm, Arnot-Roberts, Porter Creek & Dashe Cellars. It’s not often you see so many of my favorite wine producers in one spot. I can only think of one other wine shop that can even get close.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you find yourself to be so dazzled by the selection that you simply can’t decide what to buy, you can join their wine club which includes 2-4 wines every month. You can opt in for two reds, two whites, one red & one white, or two reds & two whites. This is a great way to expose yourself to new wines that you wouldn’t normally try, and rest assured that you will love them. Aran has a gift for picking great wines for wine novices and geeks alike.

Ruby Wine is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 1PM-9PM, on Sundays from 12PM-8PM, and is closed on Mondays. The shop is located right next door to Chez Maman on 18th Street. Do as the locals do and stop in for a glass of wine while you wait for your table at the restaurant next door. This lively neighborhood spot is busy every night of the week and you certainly won’t leave disappointed.

Ruby Wine
1419 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 401-7708

Declare Ham Independence with La Quercia!

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Have you ever had a transcendental experience with pork? Well, last weekend at the La Quercia // Magnolia prosciutto and beer tasting at 18 Reasons, Tala and I did. We had the good fortune of sitting in a room, sampling 6  fine cured prosciutto products from La Quercia (pronounced La Kwair-cha), out of Norwalk, Iowa paired with 5 great beers from local favorite Magnolia Brewery.

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Herb and Kathy Eckhouse started La Quercia after spending several years living in Parma, Italy, and being inspired by the delicious food products from the area. Coming from Iowa, they felt confident that the resources and farmers there could offer them the exceptional raw material (great pork) they needed to make out of this world prosciutto. Turns out, they were right.

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We tasted 6 products from La Quercia, including two of their acorn fed or finished prosciuttos. One of these was hand shaved by Herb on the spot. This pork was flavorful and complex, with a distinct nutty overtone. It had luscious fat and tender meat – Tala’s favorite for sure.

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The one I loved the most, though, was the Speck – smoked prosciutto. It’s much more delicate than American bacon, which also smoked pork. The fibers were short, the smoke flavor was slight and understated, and the meat was delicious. This could be because it was paired with my favorite Magnolia beer, the Cole Porter. The subtle smoke in the meat, combined with the malty nuttiness of the beer was a match made in heaven for me.

In a product as simple as this – as Herb and Kathy said, they only have 2 ingredients, salt and pork – the quality of the ingredients really matters. La Quercia’s relationships with their farmers are critical here; where they are involved in many aspects of the husbandry, rearing, and finishing of the pigs that eventually become La Quercia’s cornerstone products.

I can’t recommend this prosciutto enough – everything was delicious and tender, delicate and versatile. It’s readily available in our area, at places like Whole Foods, Bi-Rite, and Berkeley Bowl, and they have a diverse line of products including salame, guanciale, and lardo. Make sure you pick some up for your next party, and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Special thanks to Joe Ruvel from Beer at Joe’s, who invited us to cover this great event at 18 Reasons. What a great time!

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New Wine Bar hits SF’s Union Square

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery now and then, I do a Yelp search for new wine bars in our beautiful San Francisco. I am always on the lookout for a new place that is the right mixture of casual and elegant with a great wine selection. At the end of the day, I expect a wine bar to be about the wine. If there was ever a city where the restaurants and bars get popular based on the quality of the food/drinks and service they provide, NOT gimmicks or trendiness, it’s San Francisco.

The last search I made yielded a new wine bar in San Francisco’s Union Square called Eno. I have to admit that my expectations were low at first – Union Square is a tourist trap, after all, and I could only assume this new wine bar was going to cater to a tourist’s palate. Regardless of location, I decided to pay it a visit and catch up with some of my lovely lady-friends in the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I first arrived, my friend had already gotten there and she was on her laptop catching up on some work. A wine bar with Wi-Fi? HAVE I DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN? Yes, it was true – Eno has free Wi-Fi for their customers to use. Not only is it free, but it’s decently fast. I could easily see this becoming a frequent spot for me to come to and catch up on my Winelandia correspondence while waiting for my husband to get off work, who works just 2 blocks away.

The big surprise was next. I opened the wine list and was very impressed. Pinot Gris from a volcano in Hungary, a slightly oxidative Chenin Blanc petillant-naturel from Montlouis-sur-Loire, a red wine made in our neighboring Berkeley by Broc Cellars, Chardonnay from Green Valley. Not only did they have an impressive bottle list, but they served a ton of wines by the glass and even have a tongue-in-cheek list of reasonably priced flights to choose from. You can get your bubble fix with the “Sekts, Bubbs & Rock ‘n Roll” (3 wines for $17), take a tour of Italy with “This Boot was Made for Drinking” (3 wines, also $17), or an impressive selection of mineral wines called “Kick Ash Whites” (3 wines, also $17). Great wines? Check. Lack of pretense and a sense of humor? Double-check.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn to the food! What good is wine without some delicious snacks to nom upon while you are drinking your selection of 3 different wines, using their free Wi-Fi to get some work done and also chatting with your hilarious lady-friends? The first thing I noticed upon walking in to Eno was their huge case containing whole wheels of cheese (another indication I might be in heaven?). Next to the cheese locker was a case of fancy-looking chocolates of all shapes and colors. They also had an inventive and interesting menu featuring seasonal foods at reasonable price points. I had the Grilled Peach & Buratta Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette for $11. It was lovely and inspired me to make one at home with some fresh nectarines from the farmer’s market. They also have a nice selection of cheese & charcuterie plates, sandwiches and bruschetta. You can view the full menu here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat more could you ask for if the place has great wines at a reasonable price-point, attentive service, delicious and creative food, free Wi-Fi and a very easy-to-get-to location? Well, the next thing on the list is ambiance and Eno has plenty of that. The decor is modern yet casual and slightly masculine while still being cozy. There were wood-paneled walls, cute bistro tables, and comfy chairs in the back next to a fireplace. Yes, you heard me. Eno also has a fireplace and right in front of it are two comfy seats. This is not only an excellent Get Work Done and Drink Wine spot, but also a superb Date Spot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI highly recommend you check out this great little wine bar before it gets popular and you can still catch that fireplace seat during our fair city’s most popular hour, Happy Hour. While this may be the best seat in the house, there is also an ample amount of window seating where you can watch tourists, business-folk and transients alike try to make their way down Geary Street. Eno may be my new favorite spot, I’ve already been there three times in less than a month. Maybe you’ll see me at a window seat, quietly banging away on my laptop while enjoying a flight of delicious and obscure wines that are hard to pronounce. Just make sure you say Hi!