My Favorite Eateries of Check, Please! Bay Area’s Past Seasons


We start shooting the newest season of Check, Please! Bay Area in a few weeks so why not catch up on seasons past? Enjoy a walk down memory lane of great restaurants, a jewelry extravaganza, and my ever-changing hairstyles (some pretty bad hair days in those early seasons…ouch).

The hardest part of my job on the show is that I don’t get to give my opinion even though I visit many of the restaurants before shooting. I clench my teeth sometimes when I think the guests have it all wrong, but there’s nothing I can do!

So for the first time, I’ve highlighted my favorite eateries from each season. (BTW: These are only chosen from the restaurants I’ve personally eaten at.) Let me know your thoughts.

Season 9

King of Falafel (SF), Hana (Rohnert Park), 20 Spot (SF), Murray Circle (Sausalito), Old Jerusalem (SF), Maykadeh (SF).

*This is my favorite season for the wine tips series. Don’t miss my tango ode to Argentina and a battle of Spanish wines.

Season 8

Copita (Sausalito), Live Sushi (SF), Bistro Vis à Vis (Greenbrae), Poesia (San Francisco), Willi’s Wine Bar (Santa Rosa), SPQR (San Francisco), Zare at Fly Trap (San Francisco)

Season 7

Park Tavern (San Francisco), Outerlands (SF),  Wexler’s (SF), Big 4 Restaurant (SF), 1300 on Fillmore (SF), Hillstone (SF)

Season 6

DOSA on Fillmore (SF), the girl & the fig (Sonoma), Paxti’s Pizza (SF), Risibisi (Petaluma), The Elite Cafe (SF)

Season 5

Panama Hotel (Marin), La Ciccia (SF), Butterfly (SF), Marnee Thai (SF), Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana (SF), Brown Sugar Kitchen (Oakland), Saha (SF)

Season 4

Mustard’s Grill (Yountville), Acquerello (SF), Poggio (Sausalito), Coco500 (SF)

Season 3

DaFlora (SF), NOPA (SF), Stella Alpina Osteria (Burlingame), The Slanted Door (SF)

Season 2

B44 (SF), La Folie (SF), La Forêt (San Jose), Sociale (SF), Buckeye Roadhouse (Marin)

Season 1

The start of it all! Kokkari Estiatorio (SF), The House (SF), Limon (SF)




A Treasure Trove of Wine on San Francisco’s Treasure Island

Treasure Island Leslie Lizzie Bermudez Recently, I had a chance to spend the day with my colleague and friend, Lizzie Bermudez, host of the new show Bay Area Life on ABC in San Francisco. She and I had a raucous, rapid-fire visit to five tasting rooms to sample delicious vino (with a little bocce ball thrown in). We kicked off at The Winery SF sampling with winemaker, Bryan Kane.

Treasure Island Sol Rouge BottlesThere are a handful of other urban wineries to visit if you’re in the San Francisco area, but make sure to sample the myriad of vinous treasures on the island.

Treasure Island Wineries:

Winery SF
200 California Ave, Bldg 180 North San Francisco, CA 94130

Friday – Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Monday – Thursday
Private tours available by appointment

Vie Winery
400 California Avenue, Bldg. 448
San Francisco, CA 94130
(415) 756-1791

Sat-Sun: Noon- 5:00p
Mon-Fri: By appointment only

Bocce Ball Courts
Open Saturdays and Sundays 12PM-5PM
Available for Private Events Mon-Fri

Sol Rouge Winery
400 California Ave, Bldg. 141
San Francisco, CA 94130

Saturday and Sunday 12PM-5PM

Sottomarino Winery
400 California Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94130
(415) 967-4200

Saturday and Sunday 12Pm-5PM
Available for Private Events 7 days a week

Fat Grape Winery
1080 Avenue M
San Francisco, CA 94130
(415) 613-8925

Tuesday – Sunday: 11am – 6pm


Holiday Picks from Bubbly to Beast and Beyond…

I had a fun chat recently with Kathy Bernard and Barbara Kline, otherwise known as We ripped up the airwaves talking about some of my top affordable holiday wine picks.

 SpeakersClick here to download the Podcast

My interview is on 17 minutes into the show, but you can listen to the whole broadcast that included a talk with #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mary Higgins Clark , and Huffington Post columnist, Ann Brenoff, who gives tips on how to age more slowly. (My tip, of course, is a glass or three of wine a day.)

Here are the babes coordinates and my notes on these delicious drinks. Enjoy them in the waning days of 2014 or even to welcome 2015. Cheers!

2BoomerBabes Information: Tune in Saturdays on NPR affiliates, Sundays on commercial talk radio, and Mondays on SiriusXM Radio, Channel 141 at 11 a.m. EST. You can always visit  or iTunes to hear this week’s show.


Leslie’s Tasting Notes

Two of my favorite Prosecco producers include the elegant Villa Sandi and the classic sparklers of Mionetto



Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma, California $20-22

Gloria_Ferrar_blanc_de_noirsA beautiful sparkling wine based upon Pinot Noir, it’s a bubbly to drink all night long. Crisp enough to whet your palate as an aperitif, it has the power to pair with fish and chicken dishes. In other words…plan on a bottle per person.

2013 Franciscan Estate “Equilibrium” white blend, Napa Valley, California $20-22

FRAN_equlibrium_lowResWhether you’re pairing cheeses, spicy fare or just imbibing a glass to kick off the night, this fruit-driven white is an ideal choice. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a dash of Muscat, it has a hint of sweetness, which is balanced by the brightness of the Sauvignon. A crowd-pleasing wine that satisfies lovers of dry and sweet whites.

 2011 Veramonte “Ritual” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile $21-23


It’s not easy to find a high-quality Pinot Noir in the $20 range, but this is hands-down my favorite of the year. Crafted from selected parcels of Veramonte’s vineyards in cool-climate Casablanca Valley on Chile’s coastline, it sports ripe berry fruit character with an underlying earthy complexity. You’ll want to stock up on this to sip throughout 2015.

2011 Beast “Wildebeest” red, Columbia Valley, Washington $23-25

Beast_WineFrom one of Washington state’s best producers, Buty (pronounced Beauty), the Beast line of wines is their whimsically-named yet seriously-crafted alter ego. This wild blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cabernet Franc is layered and lush, but still sports vibrant acidity. A beautiful beast to be sure.

2013 Montes “Cherub” Rosé of Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile $14-16

I simply adore the Cherub. You can’t find a prettier bottle to look at than this baby angel from Montes. The deep garnet hue is alluring, but it’s the bing cherry and succulent fruit flavors that will make you fall in love. It has enough heft to offset food with character (braised and grilled meats, for example) but is delicate, too, allowing pairing with ceviche and salads. Forget just holidays, this is a wine to buy for spring, summer, winter, and fall sipping.


Two other resources to check out for finding and buying these wines:


For more holiday picks check out my latest appearance on the Daily Meal’s “Dish with Diane”. Happy holidays!

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 4.13.41 PM





Hosting a Tasting Party with a Twist | On the Today Show

wine tasting party

Fall is a fabulous time to get your friends together and host a wine tasting “Happy Hour” party. As a wine expert and judge, I taste thousands of bottles a year! You too can taste wine like a pro with my easy tips and tricks. From setting the mood with music to playing wine games to keep the tone fun, you’ll learn, laugh and discover what you like about wine in order to make smarter buying decisions. Let’s get the party started…



  • Set a theme for the night. Have everyone either bring a bottle in a certain price range ($15-20, for example) or have the guests give the host money and they buy all the wine.
    • TIP: most wine stores will give a discount on a case (12 bottles) so make sure to ask when you purchase.
  • Put out bottles for display so guests can take pictures of the labels or take notes. If you would like to taste the wines without guests knowing what they are, cover the bottles with tin foil and you can unveil them at the end of the night.
    • TIP: give the DRYNC app a try. It allows you to take a photo of the label and buy the wine. 
  • If you can’t give multiple sets of glasses to each guest to taste the wines together, have dump buckets on hand to empty glasses. You can use sand pails, pitchers, or deep bowls.
  • Don’t forget food. Cheese and crackers are standard fare for wine tasting parties. I recommend a platter with three to four types of cheese. This will allow pairings with a variety of wines from white to red and dry to sweet. Include fresh cheese such as goat/chevre, a semi-soft brie, a harder cheese such Parmigiano-Reggiano and finally, a blue cheese. Add crackers, sliced bread, almonds, grapes, and dried apricots for the perfect platter.




Most wine benefits from some interaction with air including bold whites and young reds. That’s why you open the bottle and let it “breathe.” Pulling the cork, though, is less effective than using a decanter, which allows for full expression of the wine’s aromas and flavors.

TRICK: Pour wine from a box into a decanter to show how even inexpensive wines taste better with decanting. If you don’t own a decanter, use a pitcher, or even clean flower vase!


2013 Black Box Pinot Noir, California ($20 for 3 liters/four bottles)

One of the top boxed wines, this Pinot Noir blends in a dash of Syrah for mouth-feel and structure. It’s smooth and juicy with red berry fruit flavors. The wine stays fresh for up to four weeks, too. Black Box is a crowd-pleasing, affordable pick to stock up on for the upcoming holiday season.





I recommend organizing the wines in various settings in order to learn the most. You can also enjoy the process more by making it a game.

TIP: In professional wine judging situations, we often taste red wines before white wines. Not only does it offer a refreshing end to the tasting, sampling whites last allows for those purple teeth to get a rinse before heading home.




Describing wine can be difficult for people, but it’s helpful to be able to discuss what you like when you buy or order wine. Learning to put words to wine can be fun with my Wine Words game. Use your own tasting notes or descriptions on the back label of the bottle to create note cards that can be matched with each wine.


2012 Whiplash Red Blend, California $12

This smooth, rich red blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a host of other grapes is an easy drinker. Sip alone at the beginning of the evening or pair with a variety of hearty fare. You might even get whiplash by quickly turning to fill your glass, as you’ll definitely want more.

2012 Bolla Valpolicella Ripasso, Italy $16

Hailing from the Valpolicella Classico zone in northern Italy, this unique red is a combination of native grapes Corvina and Rondinella. Often dubbed “baby Amarone,” its singular taste and character comes from the additional step of fermenting with the Amarone skins. Spicy, earthy aromas match up with a vibrant finish to make this wine ideal for dishes from pasta to cheese. It’s a deliciously Italian treat.


TIP: It’s not necessary to cleanse your palate in between every wine, but if you’re moving from reds to whites or vice versa, you may want to nibble on something first.

TRICK: Crackers are the natural go-to palate cleanser, but in professional wine judgings, we also use slices of rare roast beef and mild olives. My favorite brand is Graber Olives.




One of the ways to identify wine is by the grape variety from which it’s made, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Another important factor in the ultimate taste of the wine is where those grapes are planted. Does the wine come from Spain, California or France? The same grapes grown in different places can yield wines that taste very different depending on climate and soil.


This game allows you to guess where the wines come from and why they may taste unique.


2012 Hess Select Chardonnay, Monterey, California $12

Hess Collection is one of Napa Valley’s top destination wineries — a beautiful place that’s home to world-class wines. Their Select tier of wines offers tremendous value with high quality. The cooling breeze of the ocean in Monterey County gives this Chardonnay its freshness while a kiss of oak-barrel ageing offers complexity.

2011 Laroche Chardonnay, Bourgogne, France $18

As a Chardonnay fan, I love versions from the homeland of Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France. They are a pure expression of the grape showcasing minerality and a ping of vibrant fruit notes. The fruit flavors remind me of crisp citrus rather than ripe pear, for example. This wine was not aged in oak so the racy character is a direct result of where the grapes were grown. Domaine Laroche is a noted producer in Chablis and this bottling is both affordable and classy.