Local television host and noted foodie and oenophile Leslie Sbrocco shares thoughts on San Francisco and the culinary scene in the area.

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January 29, 2020

How I See San Francisco: "Check, Please!" Host Leslie Sbrocco

For 14 seasons, Leslie Sbrocco has hosted the restaurant review show "Check, Please!" on PBS's KQED-TV in the Bay Area, earning a James Beard Award and three Emmy Awards. She is the author of two books, "Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wine" and "The Simple and Savvy Wine Guide," and is a regular guest on national and local programs for food and wine commentary. Her latest show, "100 Days, Drinks, Dishes & Destinations," showcases her global culinary adventures. 

Leslie shared her thoughts on San Francisco, its dining scene, and her favorite places with us.

What excites you about San Francisco’s culinary scene?

Like a classic car that has been retrofitted with cutting-edge parts and ready to take on the open road, the San Francisco dining scene is vibrantly exciting. You can find iconic classics, including crab and Cioppino, or a Hangtown Fry and Irish Coffee; but there are also trend-bending eateries with talented chefs marrying old and new, from Brandon Jew’s Mr. Jiu to Charles Phan’s Slanted Door and Mourad Lahlou’s eponymous restaurant. San Francisco is a world of flavor in one place. 

What’s one emerging culinary trend you’ve noticed?

Wine on tap. Why shouldn’t we have great wines poured the same way we serve beer? It’s been a trend on the rise for years and is now solidly ensconced in the San Francisco dining scene. 

Is there a particularly memorable dining experience you've had with guests on "Check, Please"?

Having shot shows at more than 500 restaurants in the Bay Area—with the same number of guests—in 14 seasons on air, there are so many! It’s always fun when the guests have differing opinions. In one of our first seasons, there was a battle about the famed Roland Passot gem, La Folie. Two guests argued over foie gras. I thought I’d have to stop a fist fight! Instead, I mediated the situation and we laughed about it. 

Do you have a favorite restaurant in the city to recommend?

I have so many that we’ve had on the show: M.Y. China for hand-cut noodles, Hillstone for Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Seven Hills for Ravioli Uovo. One favorite that we haven’t had on the show yet is a San Francisco classic: Boulevard. I’ve been going there for more than 20 years and never had a bad bite or sip. 

Chinatown was featured in your newest series, "100 Days, Drinks, Dishes & Destinations". What’s one thing that everyone should try in that neighborhood?

Dragon beard candy at Dragon Papa Desserts. It's an ancient recipe that is still made by hand daily by the owner, Derek Tam. It's a sweet and nutty taste sensation.

Outside of the city, where do you go to find great food?

Yountville has so many culinary destinations, including the legendary French Laundry. Visit sparkling wine house Domaine Chandon or wander the small town and discover an amazing array of restaurants like Protea, Perry Lang Steakhouse, R+D Kitchen and Bouchon. 

Fans of "Check, Please!" know you as a food connoisseur, but may not be aware that you’re a noted oenophile, as well. What makes Northern California so great for wine lovers?

The diversity of choices for not only wine, but so much more. You can find bubbles, white wine, red wine, dessert wine, spirits and beer. The reason it's one of the best areas in the world for wine is due to its ideal climate and natural resources. Napa and Sonoma are well known, but head to Livermore Valley in the East Bay to visit historic wineries or drive to the Santa Cruz mountains for a visit to some of California’s original wineries.

When should visitors plan their trips to wine country?

The popular season is fall for the harvest, but I think spring is ideal. The mustard is in bloom and everything is green.

Any up-and-coming wine or wine-making trends that we should know about?

Wine in a can. Many producers are starting to package great wines this way. Grab a tin and head to a ball game or the beach. 

You stopped at Dandelion Chocolate for an episode of "Taste This…". Is San Francisco a destination for chocolate lovers?

Oh, there's so much chocolate to choose from in San Francisco! Ghirardelli Square is still a favorite place to bring guests from out of town. Dandelion is one of my top picks for exotic flavors and desserts, and Christopher Elbow is a decadent option for tastefully beautiful chocolates.

What's your favorite annual event that happens in San Francisco?

KQED’s annual Taste & Sip, held every May at the San Francisco Design Center. For the walk-around tasting extravaganza, we gather restaurants and chefs that have been profiled on our show to showcase their best food. We pour beer, wine and spirits from top producers and let people audition for the show. It’s always a sell-out, with nearly 1,000 people attending each year. 

What should every visitor to San Francisco do at least once?

Ride the cable car and go to The Big 4 at the Huntington Hotel for a drink at the bar. 

What’s one part of San Francisco that you wish visitors knew about?

Chinatown is more than what people think. As the oldest such neighborhood in the country, it’s packed with so many shops and restaurants. It’s like a city within a city. 

When you're not working, where can we find you in the city?

Hiking in the Presidio. It’s a favorite for exploring and working off some of the calories I’ve consumed.

Do you have a favorite day trip to recommend out of the city?

The town I live in, Petaluma, is an undiscovered treasure less than an hour from the city. It has a picturesque, walkable downtown area where you can shop for antiques, eat at the award-winning Della Fattoria bakery, drink trendy Lagunitas beer at their brewery, or visit an urban tasting room at Adobe Winery. 

What's one item remaining on your San Francisco bucket list?

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than 25 years. I’ve had a chance to check so much off my bucket list, but I've never been to Coit Tower.

Any final advice for visitors coming to the Bay Area?

Give yourself enough time! Though the city is only 7 miles by 7 miles, it’s packed with things to do. 

You can learn more about Leslie here.

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