2014 Roadtrip: San Simeon, CA to Novato, CA

We left San Simeon to explore the Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino areas north of San Francisco. We were planning on spending the week before and after Memorial Day in the area. Finding accommodation was difficult. We were, at the same time, trying to find our month-long accommodation in San Francisco. On our way north we decided to stop in San Francisco to see possible furnished rentals and have a dim sum lunch. 

We left San Simeon on Tuesday, May 20th at 9 a.m. It was a brisk 60°. We took Route 1 south to Hwy 41 (a scenic road) that connects to the Hwy 101 north. The rolling hills of the Coastal Range were still green. Highway 41 was on a high ridge and looking south we could see gorgeous sea views.

We got to San Francisco and Yank Sing (101 Spear St., Rincon Center, San Francisco, CA 94105, tel. 415-781-1111, www.yanksing.com) at 1:10 p.m. Yang Sing is rated the best dim sum in SF; we were not impressed. Although the Shanghai soup dumplings were very good, everything was very expensive and not innovative. At 2:30 p.m. in SF it was 74° and clear--really gorgeous. We went over the Golden Gate Bridge and the views were spectacular. We got to Novato to the Courtyard by Marriott and checked in at about 3:45 p.m. We stayed in Novato because it was near enough to the bay area to reconnoiter the Homewood Suites in Oakland for our one-month accommodations and because we wanted to have dinner at Camino in Oakland. The other reason was that we wanted a "standard" type of accommodation where we would know what we would be getting so we chose Courtyard by Marriott (1400 N Hamilton Way, Novato, CA 94949, tel. 415-883-8950,www.novatocourtyard.com).

We have decided that we don’t like the Courtyard by Marriott brand. We like to have breakfast included in our room price  and it is not at Courtyard by Marriott. Also we like to have a microwave and Courtyard by Marriott does not have them in the rooms. A 50¢ charge for local calls is annoying.The Internet included in the room price is too slow. To pay extra for an Internet speed that is only slightly faster is definitely not worth it. Audre thinks the Marriott towels are too thin (in all of the Marriott brands). Again, in this Courtyard by Marriott as in the others we've stayed in, the climate control did not work the way we wanted it too. When we set it at 74°, it cycled on at got to 69°, according to the thermometer we carry. It got too hot when off and too cold when on. In the Novato Courtyard by Marriott, the area over the tub was too dark. The light in the middle of the bathroom was dim and almost no light got to the shower/tub. The Jacuzzi in the Novato Courtyard by Marriott was inside and very unappealing. It didn’t have bubbles, only jets. The front desk staff were very friendly and the rest of the staff that helped us were too. There was a perfume smell/air freshener that permeated the lobby area. It was awful. Otherwise our stay was uneventful. At $190 a night we were annoyed.

On Tuesday night we had a very good meal at Batika India Bistro (868 Grant Ave., Novato, CA 94945, tel. 415-895-5757, e-mail: contact@batikaindia.com,  www.batikaindia.com). It was nicely decorated restaurant and our server, Arun, was delightful. The food was delicious and very tasty. We started with Mulligatawny soup ($4.25). It was full of great vegetables and was very flavorful (but not spicy). Dimitri had 2 salty lassis ($6 total) and liked them. Audre had a glass of Black Stone pinot noir ($6.50). We had one non-veg thali ($20.95) that was huge and definitely enough for 2 people. We had one semolina pudding ($2.50) that Dimitri liked and one chai ($2.95) and Dimitri was very happy. We spent $47.03 plus tip.

The next morning we had our own breakfast in our Novato Courtyard by Marriott room. Then we took our bikes and road to the Pacheco Valle Open Preserve. Our bike ride was not long—only 5.4 miles--and it was more of a push-bike/hike experience. We were delighted to see a reserve so close to our Novato hotel that we could ride our bikes to it from our hotel. The first ascent was steep but then we could ride a little. The area was described as a canyon area. Dimitri found a fire road that he thought would be at the top of a ridge and fairly flat. Oh boy, it was tough, even at the ridge. (Chicken Shack Fire Road) We decided to bail out on another fire road (Hummingbird) and we actually had a delightful ride down--technical but ride-able. We felt we had had quite a workout.

We had lunch at Toast near our hotel (Toast, 5800 Nave Dr., Novato, CA, tel. 415-382-1142). Vanessa our server had attitude and was not attentive. We had one bowl of the soup of the day ($5.75) that was a potato leek. It was okay. Dimitri had the house salad ($7.75) which was big and he liked it. It came with one piece of a tostada-like thing. Dimitri asked for more bread (this restaurant is called Toast, after all) and was told that he would be charged. We were annoyed by this restaurant and spent $14.72 plus tip.

In the afternoon we drove to Oakland to see the Homewood Suites where we had reserved a one bedroom for the month of June (Homewood Suites, Oakland Waterfront, 1103 Embarcadero, Oakland, CA 94606, tel. 510-663-2701, www.woaklandwaterfront.homewoodsuites.com)

We were getting desperate and thought the Homewood Suite room might solve our accommodation problems. The room we had reserved at about $5162 for the month was one large space with a workable kitchen and sitting area. There was only one desk and no drawers whatsoever for storage. We didn't know what we would do with our clothes for one month. If that wasn’t enough to put us off on the place, the neighborhood was awful—train tracks and industrial zone outside the front door.

We went to Camino in Oakland (3917 Grand Ave, Oakland, California 94610, tel. 510-547-5035, http://www.caminorestaurant.com/) after seeing the Homewood Suites. We decided that we had to re-double our efforts to find a one-month rental in the bay area for the month of June. 

In the March 28, 2014 New York Times Magazine article Mark Bittman talked about Camino restaurant and it sounded so fabulous we made it our goal to go there. The Zagat rating for the food was 24 (very good to excellent) and we would agree with that (rather than Mark Bittman’s ecstasies). Claudia was our server and she was good but others helped as well. We ordered a bottle of Rafa Bernabé Monastrell Tragolargo, Spain ($32) and it was good. We were served bread that was chewy and satisfying. We wanted to have the sardine and asparagus dish in the citrus “salad” described by Mark Bittman but that was not on the menu that night (the menu changes daily). Instead we had the Wild nettle and herb frittata with carrot salad and salted mullet roe ($12). The frittata was made only with greens, no potatoes that we could taste. It was intensely flavorful. The addition of the mullet roe ratcheted up the flavor a notch or two. The carrots, some uncooked, some grilled on the open fire, were sweet and yummy. We ordered 2 more dishes: the “Fava bean, Belgian endive and new garlic gratin” ($12) that was really crunchy, delicious and made with no cheese. This resulted in a lighter dish lighter not overpowered by a cheese taste or texture. For our main we ordered the “Grilled duck breast kebab and duck leg-brisket kofte kebab with red lentils, artichokes, chiles and grilled flatbread” ($26). We were happy with that dish too. There was plenty of food for the two of us. For dessert we ordered the Tunisian orange cake with dates and yogurt ($9). Dimitri liked it which speaks volumes. We didn’t like the coffee (and we were not charged for it). We spent $99.19 plus tip.

The next day we set off for Santa Rosa, CA where we planned to spend the Memorial Day weekend and from where we would drive back to SF on the Friday of that week, May 23rd, to do our 3rd reconnoiter trip for our up-coming one month housing accommodations in June.

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