Last month, master sommelier Larry Stone—who was named the best international sommelier in French wines at the prestigious Grand Prix de Sopexa more than 20 years ago—left his home in San Francisco to make his grand return to the iconic Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago (he first worked there from 1989–1993). He’s been tasked with overseeing the wine program until the 25-year-old restaurant closes its doors in August.
The longtime San Francisco resident—where he moved in 1993 to open the now-closed restaurant, Rubicon, and served as president of Evening Land Vineyards—says the Golden State is more than just his hometown; it’s his favorite epicurean destination.
When Stone is not dining at his favorite spots, he likes to cycle through the Marin Headlands, or the Santa Cruz Mountains from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz. “It’s nice to do a bike ride and have a great dinner later in the day,” he says.
Wine Enthusiast tapped the celebrated sommelier to find out his top picks in San Francisco for buying and drinking wine, and dining.
Two must-visit restaurants:
Open since New Year’s Eve, this dinner-only restaurant on Fillmore Street quickly became one of Stone’s favorites, especially for its California State Bird, a quail deep-fried in buttermilk and served with braised onions. “It’s a fantastic dish that a very talented chef Stuart Brioza perfected while at Rubicon,” says Stone. “They have a very eclectic wine program of lighter white wines that go well with the food they make—dim-sum-style service and every item changes daily.”
The menu has included other inventive dishes, like Pork-Fried Farro and Ramps with Red-Wine-Braised Turnip and Peanut Muscovado Milk for dessert.
Wine Director and General Manager Mary Christie (formerly of Green Zebra in Chicago) has curated a wine list of 30-plus options (with many available by the glass) from California, Spain and France. Top choices include Peay Vineyards’s 2009 Chardonnay ($75) and Hirsch Vineyards’s 2009 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir ($102).
Named after the Burgundy wine region’s famous road, Route Nationale 74, this Michael Mina-owned wine bar located inside the Millennium Tower is open for lunch and dinner. Stone heads there for the Maitake Mushroom Tempura appetizer, prepared with yuzu salt and green onion mousseline. “I could make a couple of those my entire meal,” he says. He pairs it with a red Burgundy or a California Pinot Noir, which make up 90% of the wine list (other choices hail from Italy, Washington State, Australia and Austria). There are affordable by-the-glass options ($9–$32) as well as exquisite bottlings.
Two wine shops to stop by:
This wine boutique opened its doors in March 2012, introducing even the most seasoned wine drinkers to new finds. Stone praises selections from proprietor James Mead, who left Atlanta two years ago to open Noe Valley Wine Merchants in the City by the Bay. The first in-store tastings ($5–$15) debuted in April and have since focused on everything from Mâcon-Villages to Argentine Torrontés.
Open since 1976, K&L has long been Stone’s go-to wine shop. There are two Bay Area locations (Redwood City in the South Bay and SoMa in San Francisco), and thanks to its online shopping cart, wine lovers can choose from thousands of selections, with many in the $10–$100 price range. Check the Web site for tastings, too. “They’ve done a great job promoting California wines,” says Stone. “They have a very Cabernet Sauvignon-focused orientation.”