Haight Ashbury Food Tour — Avital Tours

14 07 2014

Avital Tours is a name I had heard before — but not until she contacted me about a media tour of The Haight had I considered actually joining a tour. But, since I know surprisingly little about the food scene in The Haight, and I wanted to experience one of these famed food tours, I happily accepted.

The tour took place on a bright, sunny day with eight or so other bloggers. Avital herself was there, but another local foodie and food writer, Virginia Miller, was the guide. The tour was three hours long and took us walking in a relatively small area while providing information about a variety of non-food-related historical facts as we made our way to five food and drink establishments.

Avital Tours Haight Ashbury Culinary Map

Avital Tours Haight Ashbury Culinary Map

A fun little map of the Haight provided by Avital is shown above (click to enlarge); the five stops we experienced are described below.


Stop 1: Bacon Bacon

This shop is actually really cool, even though I’m not a meat-eater. We got a bit of info from the owner, who was really laid back and knowledgeable, and tried a taco and a bit of Mexican hot chocolate, both graced with pork products. I had informed Avital beforehand that I don’t eat the piggies, and they seamlessly accommodated me without me having to ask again. Smooth.

hot chocolate

bacon Mexican hot chocolate


piggy taco


veggie taco


Stop 2: Alembic

Finally, I got to go to Alembic. This is always on the top SF lists for craft cocktails, and I just had not made it there yet. They have a small food menu, really intricate cocktails, and they’re expanding (maybe open now?) into the adjacent space to make a bit more room for tables (the bar essentially fills up the whole space right now). The Southern Exposure (a spin on the classic Southside cocktail) was extremely refreshing and expertly made. The tiny pickled quail eggs were my very very favorite (you know how much I love pickled things…) and were as yummy as they were adorable.



southern exposure cocktail


pickled quail eggs




Stop 3: Anda Piroshki at Second Act Marketplace

This space used to be the old Red Vic Movie House, and now is working as a community space housing five retail shops and an event space. One of the five shops is Anda Piroshki, where we were able to watch as these traditional Russian treats are made (and then eat them, of course).

piroshkis being made

piroshkis being made



finished piroshki


[Stop 3 1/2: The Gardens Behind The Alembic/Second Act Marketplace]

In a small space behind these joint buildings, a garden exists that houses a surprising amount of veggies and herbs used in the creation of the food and beverages served in both establishments. This isn’t open to the public, so we felt pretty special getting a sneak peek at this area along with some information from the building’s owner, Betsy. (I believe this stop isn’t on the regular tour, but thought I’d share.)



Stop 4: The Fizzery

Even for The Haight, this place is kooky. Offering hundreds of varieties of small-batch bottled sodas in all flavors and colors, along with enough candy and toffee to make a schoolkid’s head spin, the Fizzery sells a few of its own bottled creations from their facility in The Mission District. They even have a contraption to flash-cool a soda you just bought to be enjoyed on the spot. This place is a trip.





instant cooling machine!

instant soda-cooling machine!


Stop 5: The Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain

Mimicking a soda-pop shop of yesteryear better than you could possibly imagine (seriously, some real research went into this place), this seemingly simple ice cream shop is really a haven for the funkiest “soda” creations since 1850. Creating their own “tinctures” and “lactarts”, you can not only enjoy a radical sweet treat, but you learn a whole new vocabulary of liquid libations to boot. They also have a wide variety of ice creams (people were even raving about the vegan choices), and they serve lunch as well.




The “soda” we tried (I use quotes because these are nothing like the carbonated canned drinks we’re familiar with) was a creation invented by the leader of our tour: Dill Lactart Soda. It was milky, but bubbly, and dill-y… I drank the whole thing without being able to place where this should go into my mental rolodex of flavors. It was sweet and tart and just really interesting. This particular flavor isn’t on the menu, but the menu items certainly leave enough interesting choices to last for many visits.

dill lactart soda

dill lactart soda

And that was it! If I wrote everything I learned on this tour, I could write for days. The whole thing was really well executed, the length was perfect (if it had gone on much longer, my dogs would have started barking*), and nothing about moving a group of eight or so from place to place was strained or difficult. And, I learned a heck of a lot more about The Haight than I knew before, which is fun even for a local. Not that she needs more endorsements with all her zillions of five-star Yelp reviews, but I’d definitely give a hearty thumbs up to this tour. Thanks Avital!

*That means my feet would have started hurting.


Olive Oil Tasting in Napa

21 02 2011

When you think Napa, you probably think wine tasting and grape vines, right? I supposed that’s why most people visit the region, but it’s not why K and I trotted up to the tip top of the Bay last weekend. We went olive oil tasting.

Our pre-trip research found three spots where olive oil tasting is available near Napa. Figone’s in Kenwood, B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company in Glen Ellen, and The Olive Press in Sonoma.

B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company

B.R. Cohn is mainly a winery that dabbles in Olive Oil making. They source most of their olives from growers around the state and then actually hire out Figone’s facilities to process the oil. Their tasting area was modest, though their estate was beautiful. The wine tasting facility was booming and seems to be their main draw.

Olive Oil Tasting

The tasting area at B.R. Cohn's Estate.

The Olive Press

The Olive Press is located at the Jacuzzi Family Winery and is a bit more serious about their oil as they process all their olives themselves and create their own varieties of oil and balsamic vinegars (these two seem to go hand in hand — all three places had olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This place is also mainly a winery, with the main building (a beautiful stone-clad castle-like structure) split between the wine area and the olive oil area (the shops are not related and you can’t buy stuff from one shop in the other, though that seems strange).

The olive oil tasting is located in their gift shop and was extremely crowded when we were there. The oils come in many flavors and there were also a wide variety of olives from which the oils were made. One unique item this place had was smoked olive oil — it really tasted like barbecued oil. It was quite good.

The Olive Press Tasting Room

The Olive Press tasting room slash gift shop.


Ah, Figone’s. I’ve saved the best for last. If you want to go olive oil tasting and you don’t feel like bumbling about to different places, this is where you should go. Heck, if you’re just in the area for the wine or even just passing through, you should still go to Figone’s. This place is the real deal and I am so excited to find my new olive oil and balsamic vinegar source.


Figone's Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar tasting area. And Frank in the background, hi Frank!

Figone’s is exclusively an olive oil and balsamic vinegar facility. Their tasting room is modest in size, but is dedicated solely to oil and vinegar (none of this pesky wine). It’s very boutique-ish and will be opening up a viewing area later this year where guests can see the oil being made right in the shop. Here are some of the reasons why Figone’s is the best:

  • Figone’s farms all its own olives on 260 acres throughout California.
  • Figone’s processes all its own olives in its facility just behind the tasting room in Kenwood.
  • Figone’s processing is all organic and is certified as such and the olives themselves are all grown organically (though they are not certified).
  • Figone’s has been around for 25 years perfecting their product and creating new and inventive infused oils.
  • Figone’s has over a dozen flavors of olive oil and about half as many balsamics to choose from.
  • Figone’s products are only sold at the tasting room in Kenwood or through mail order (or via the mail order club). No grocery stores, no farmer’s markets; they don’t even advertise. Their clientele can’t help but keep coming back for more.
  • If you visit the Figone’s tasting room, you may in fact be greeted by Frank Figone himself, as we were, who can tell you pretty much anything you’d like to know about every single one of his products. Awesome. Thanks Frank.

    Figone's Tasting Room

    Figone's Tasting Room -- don't judge a book by its cover, go there!

Of course, none of this would really make a darn bit of difference if their oil and vinegar didn’t knock my socks when I tried it. But holy moo, THAT is what olive oil and balsamic vinegar are supposed to taste like. To save hours of typing about each flavor, I will cut to my favorites:

Oil: Tuscan Herb is a mix of infused herbs in pure olive oil that tastes like a five-star restaurant in your mouth. This is not cooking oil (none of Figone’s oils are meant for high heat), but rather a garnish or flavor enhancer. Drizzled over some grilled fish or veggies, this oil would make any meal’s cook into an instant chef.

Vinegar: Plain old 20 year traditional balsamic was my favorite. It is sweet and viscous and I could literally drink it like water. It puts grocery store balsamic to shame. It’s $28 per bottle and I’m never going back to the other stuff.

This is not even to mention the strawberry vinegar, orange olive oil, cinnamon-pear balsamic or truffle infused oil (their most expensive item — $40 for 100mL — it was also SOOO good) and the dozen of other world class products that Frank makes. Seriously, there’s not much else I can say besides try it or buy it. Yeay for Figone’s!!


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