Amelie–Lively Wine Bar with Great Selection of Wine and Cheese

Seek and ye shall find.

It is easy to stick to favorite restaurants and bars. It makes the decision making process easier, especially after a long week and all I want is a glass of wine in a comfortable place with no surprises to price or atmosphere. What I tend to forget is that the usual places I love were at one time new discoveries.

I discovered Amelie a few weeks ago. It was a night my wife and I were searching for a good glass of wine and some good cheese. We started at a place in the Financial District (or the FiDi, as it is known to those who are very busy and overscheduled and to prove it to us lesser mortals must use an acronym at every opportunity.  By the way, “San Fran” drives me up the wall as well. But that’s another post. Anyway….) which was way overpriced for both the wine and the cheese plate. The portions on the cheese plate seemed to come from scraps tossed onto board as the waiter rushed by the kitchen, and wine, while good, not worth the price.

Great wine bar--private tour San Francisco

Here’s a rule of thumb I share with my private tour guests: if the wine menu doesn’t have at least one glass of wine under $10, consider going somewhere else. If nothing is under $15, run like the wind. You can get good wine all over the city that won’t bust your budget.

Undaunted I searched for “best cheese plate” and Amelie came up as a favorite several times.  And with good reason. It is a lively bar with a large selection of wines by the bottle and glass. The Monday night we were there the special was a bottle of wine and a cheese plate for $35. A steal. The wine was earthy with some spice, not the fruit bomb that is woefully common these days, and the cheese plate had proper portions, not the insulting dainty servings that are far too common.

The attention to good wine and food served at a reasonable price may have something to do with the French atmosphere of Amelie, and the staff, who are also international. They take good wine and food as a birthright, as an indispensable part of life. I couldn’t agree more.

Ameie 1754 Polk Street  (at Washington Street)
Open Seven Days a Week 5:30pm – 2:00am
Happy Hour From 5:30 – 7:00

(415) 292-6916

Check out the wine list

Hotel Biron–Small Wine Bar and Art Gallery

My wife and I have a standing date on Friday night, known as the Wine Hour, even though it lasts longer than that. The Hotel Biron is one of our favorite destinations to mark the end of the week.

Hidden wine bar--private tour San Francisco

It has a rotating wine list with 50 wines or so wines, about of those available half by the glass. The pours are generous, but unless you’re going to sample several different wines (which I endorse) , tell the bartender what sort of wine you like, ask for a taste, and if it is good, buy the bottle. The glass to bottle price at the Hotel Biron makes it a deal. There are 5 glasses to a bottle, so if your group, (or just you) are going to have at least three glasses, get the bottle. You can cork the leftover and take it with you.

The Hotel Biron is one of those places off the tourist path–although it’s conveniently located near Hayes Valley (a favorite stop for my private tour guests who like to shop). It is a small, brick lined place that is not on a main street and doesn’t have a big sign blaring its location. It also doubles as an art gallery with shows by local artists. The last time I was there the one piece I really wanted had already been spoken for. Fortunately, there was wine to ease my pain.
Wine Art--private tour San Francisco

Hotel Biron

45 Rose St., Near Market and Gough 415-703-0403

www.hotelbiron.com

Maritime Wine Tasting Studio–variety, knowledge, in a friendly atmosphere

Located on Columbus Ave, just up the street from the Cafe Zoetrope and down from Broadway, The Maritime Wine Tasting Studio a nice place to relax and enjoy a wide variety of wine. The company  started out as wine importers and producers. The staff has a passion and knowledge of wine, so tell them what you like, and they’ll find something to please you. They’re smart people, so ask any question you’ve had about wine. Aside from the reasonably priced wines by the glass, they also have an all-day happy hour special wine that is a great deal. And if you like what you drink, you can buy a bottle.
I drive by here on almost all of my private tours, and encourage people to experience the selection.

Wine Tastings-- private tour San Francisco

Maritime Wine Tasting Studio, 222 Columbus Ave, Phone: 415-861-1139

http://maritimetasting.com/

INOVINO–a neighborhood wine bar easy to get to from downtown

Hidden gem discovered on private tour San Francisco If you’re staying downtown, there are many good reasons to hop on the N-Judah street car and take a quick ride to Cole Valley, and the Inner Sunset. There you will experience San Francisco neighborhoods that most visitors miss, and restaurants and wine bars locals love. A private tour is about seeing the city like a local, and discovering hidden gems, and I love telling guest about the neighborhood gem that is Inovino.

Get off the N-Judah at Carl and Cole. Inovino is steps away. Inovino is an intimate restaurant that has simple, good food, and large selection of wine. The happy hour (from 4-6 weekdays, 3-6 Saturday and Sunday) is one of the best deals in the city.

Francesco, the owner knows his wine and has a extensive and interesting list. He created a restaurant where the neighborhood loves to hang out. Is is where my wife and I have our weekly Friday night “wine down.” This is the sort of place you go home and brag about finding.

Inovino, 108 Carl St., 681-3770

The InnerFog–a neighborhood wine bar next to Golden Gate Park

I love New York City, and New Yorkers are quick to tell me I’m correct in this assessment because New York, not the sun, is the center of the universe, or at least the only part of the universe that matters.  I will then concede that when it comes to theater, art, fashion,  pastrami, tall buildings, and corrupt real estate barons, New York outshines San Francisco. But when you want a decent glass of wine under $10, San Francisco doesn’t win, because to win would be to assume there is competition. There isn’t. You can’t get a glass of wine in New York for under a sawbuck unless it can also be pressed into service as nail polish remover. When it comes to wine under $10 a glass, New York City just can’t produce a dog for the fight. There’s no contest. (By the way, I would be glad to be proved wrong on this, so anyone out there who would like to offer up a contender for good, inexpensive wine in NYC, the comment box is open.)

The InnerFog at 545 Irving in the Inner Sunset is one such wine bar that New York lacks. I love showing guests the Inner Sunset on their custom private tour, as it is off the usual path, next to Golden Gate Park, and it is easy to get to especially if you’re staying downtown. Take the N Judah, get off at 7th Ave, and it’s right across the street.

The InnerFog is welcoming anytime, but the happy hour deals convince you you should get off the sidewalk and get inside.  From opening each day (currently 5pm Mon-Wed, 4pm Thurs-Sun) until 7pm Friday you can get good wine for only $7 a glass. The happy hour wine changes every few weeks. Currently I like the Tuscan Sangiovese , but whatever they have whenever you will show up there will be satisfying.

If you can’t make it for happy hour, come anyway. The wine list is well catered and reasonably priced. They have craft beer on tap if that’s your beverage. There are small snack plates if you’re hungry. Art by locals artists. Knowledgeable staff. A friendly group of regulars. All the usual suspects and amenities you want from a neighborhood wine bar.

If you want to brag that you’ve gone off the beaten path and discovered a local’s place in San Francisco, head to the InnerFog. You’ll not only get good wine at a good price, you may win an argument with a New Yorker.

inner fog--a favorite place to be dropped off after a custom private tour of San Francisco

The Best Margaritas in the Universe are in San Francisco

A few years ago I was in Edmonton, Alberta taking time off from giving private tours in the MINI to be a part of the biggest and oldest Fringe Theater festival in North America. I, or rather my alter ego, Sebastian Boswell III, was invited north to perform. Sebastian is a master of “mental mysteries and physical wonders” such as mind reading hammering a 4-inch nail in his nose. Yes, really.

One night after the show, Mrs. Boswell and I found the El Cortez, which boast an extensive tequila menu, and variations on margaritas, that, frankly, took liberties with the purity of a margarita and featured concoctions that were more at home in a Tiki bar than a Mexican restaurant. In their heart they do know and appreciate tequila, and it was proved by the Tommy’s Margarita on the menu, named in honor of Tommy’s Mexican, home of the best margarita’s on Earth.

Tommy’s Mexican out at 24th/Geary is one of those off the beaten path places that you’ll love, and be able to boast about visiting when you get back home.  tommy's -- the best margarita on the best custom private tour of San Francisco

While the restaurant is good, the real draw is the small bar serving up 100’s of different tequila. I wish I could say I appreciated them, but I don’t. I look upon the shelves packed with bottles and brands most people, especially me, have never heard of, and realize it is my shortcoming that I lack the curiosity to explore.  I have the same attitude toward beer. I’m know there are delights and subtle wonders to discover, but I’ll never know. It is my narrow devotion that wine is the alcohol I appreciate and am attempting to gain knowledge of.  I can hear you say “Why does it have to be one or the other?” It doesn’t.  It’s not you tequila, it’s me. So I don’t stray from what I like which are the house margaritas. I could be more adventurous, but I am happy with their perfection, made with quality tequila and fresh limes–no premixed stuff.

For those who want to explore, Julio, the son of the owner and genius behind the bar, literally, will gladly walk you through the many brands and their subtle distinctions. If you are truly devoted, he offers a Master’s Degree in Tequila.

The restaurant is big, but the bar is small, because its original inception in the 1960’s was a comfortable holding place while waiting for dinner. Get there early if you want to be sure you get a seat. Neighborhood regulars, and people who come to San Francisco regularly and make it point to trek out to the Richmond district and will settle into stool for a good chunk of the evening, even though food is not served at the bar after an early hour. But even if you don’t get a seat the atmosphere is friendly and you won’t mind standing.

Julio, (pictured) is the mastermind behind creating “The Greatest Tequila Bar on Earth.” He has been featured in numerous magazines and television show. If Julio is there when you are, he will treat you like a friend and long time regular.

julio--a person as unique as a custom private tour of San Francisco

It’s out in the little-visted Richmond district (out in the Avenues, as we say), but easy access from down town on the 38 Geary bus. And you’ll want to take public transportation, because you should never drive in San Francisco anyway, but especially after enjoying the best margaritas you’ll ever have. Of course I can drop you off there after your private tour, but I won’t be drinking, at least until I get the MINI back safely in the garage.

http://tommysmexican.com/

Cheap food (and water) on Fisherman’s Wharf. Don’t be a sucker–be like a local.

This is a rule everywhere in the world: get 2 blocks off the main tourist street, you find local treasures. I’ve experienced this in Lisbon, Manhattan, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, and Edmonton, Alberta, just to name few.
Yes, Edmonton gets tourists. People from Red Deer and Athabasca need to vacation too.

Fisherman’s Wharf, like any other tourist destination in the world, has overpriced food and even more overpriced water. A bottle of water will set you back $2 if you’re lucky, but more likely $3 or more. And the restaurants are, for the most part, over priced and mediocre quality.

Fortunately if you walk 2 blocks off the wharf and the main drag of Jefferson St, you can save money and eat better. And experience the major tourist destination like a local.

At the corner of 401 Bay St. at Mason, there is a Trader Joe’s. For 29 cents you can get a bottle that would cost ten times that much on the wharf. You can also buy sandwiches, salads and snacks.

Trader Joes north beach where guests of the San Francisco custom private tour of stock up

Shop like a local at Trader Joe’s

cafe franciso where I often pick up people for their custom private tour of San Francisco

Hang out like a local at the Cafe Francisco.

Cilantro restaurant a favortive of the custom private tour in San Francisco

Eat like a local at Clinatro

If you want to sit down to eat, there is the Cafe Francisco (2161 Powell at Francisco). No only is the food good and reasonably priced, it is a local’s hang out.

Down the block at 2257 Mason at Francisco is the Cilantro Taqueria , which serves up great burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food.

So after you’ve enjoyed the highlights of Fisherman’s Wharf, which are few and quickly appreciated, walk a couple of blocks and experience the city like a local.