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violist Jan 22, 10 3:02 am

SFO - slightly stale report
As I have nothing to do - can't sleep as the tv at the other bed is
cranked loud enough for me to make out everything clearly through
my earplugs - here's the beginning of a report about what I did
after the Mega Do:

I'd booked that trip to San Fran not just because it was a
maximization of time with the comforts of biz, but because
there are always friends in San Fran to visit, and it was
time to do some visiting. As I had but two days before
heading back to the salt mines, several people I had sort
of wanted to catch up with fell by the wayside. I ended up
spending much of my two days with my friends Pat and Mike,
epicures on a moderate budget but whom I managed to coax a
bit upward from their budgetiness.

I was picked up at the airport by Mike's well-beaten Toyota,
and we immediately cast about, as people of our ilk do, for
food and drink. After a few suggestions had been tossed out,
we started off at the Cliff House, where we were hoping
to enjoy a couple Scotches and maybe a snack overlooking
the crashing waves. This wish was dashed by the prospect of
dozens of families (it was, I forgot, Saturday) and a 45-
minute wait, complete with vibrating flying saucer pager.
After we scanned the neighborhood, we decided that was not
to our liking, so we trekked over to the Presidio and its
famous Liverpool Lil's (actually just outside the bounds)
- one or two or three of us were looking forward to one of
the famous burgers and at least I was looking forward to
one of the famous beers. Lil's is, how you say, an upscale
bar with aspirations to be a dive bar. The lighting is
crummy and the atmosphere ever so slightly raffish. But the
burgers are said to be among the best in the universe, as
they might as well be at $13 or 14. We had Anchor Steams
and a glass or two of red plonk and split two sandwiches
among the three of us (remember, I had leaden Germanic
quiche in my stomach still), one with cheese, and one, in
deference to me, without. The burgers are very good. There
are better, but not every day.

Next stop, 16th and Moraga, to climb the mosaic staircase.
I was skeptical at first, but it really is a thing of
inspiration and beauty. Apparently, some community activists
decided that something had to be done to lighten the hearts
of the people who had to climb this mighty stair every day;
the solution: get local residents to assemble mosaic panels
that would constitute the risers, the cumulative effect a
fanciful and bright-colored seascape-to-skyscape slice of
the world. I hate to say it, I was thrilled.

Well. Bearing in mind that I'd just flown in from Europe,
and it was coming on midnight in the time zone that I had so
recently futilely tried to assimilate to, so I was taken to
my hotel, the Hilton Financial District, where I've stayed
before, and which despite its noisy location, I kind of
enjoy. The noise is solved by the management providing
earplugs in the rooms! I said goodbye to P & M and went
up to my fairly nice room on the someteenth floor for a
shower, an hour of work, and an hour of snooze. Then a quick
walk to Gitane, where I rejoined them. The reason for this
choice: they're fond of Cafe Claude, which is right across
Claude Alley, and it was time to check out this newer
restaurant, which is under the same ownership or management
or something and has a younger and more Mediterranean vibe
than the original. And heaven knows, we have to take every
opportunity to recapture our youth and Mediterranean vibe.

I got there a little early and felt just a little out of
place having my drink at the bar, which was buzzing with
fashionable young singles. My glass of Daron Calvados was
as unfashionable as my bright blue L.L. Bean jacket (bought
for me by my brother-in-law many years ago so I could be
seen when I wandered off myopically by myself in the Italian
countryside), but it was warming and served well as a cough
suppressant - I'd ordered a Metaxa for this purpose (an old
girlfriend taught me this worthy use), but they didn't have
any. In a few minutes I felt a poke in the back; it was Pat
or Mike, being subtle, saying we were ready to go upstairs
to dinner. It's a smallish noisyish dining area, pleasant
enough, but certainly designed to augment one's sense of
excitement via increased decibels. Our conversation was
perforce at a higher volume if not intellectual level than
we are accustomed to.

sobore Jan 22, 10 6:08 am

vibrating flying saucer pager
:td: I hate those things. Why not a cell phone text message.^

Nice report.

Mats Jan 22, 10 9:59 pm

Sorry about the Cliff House. It's perhaps one of my favorite places here.

Next time drop us a line if you'll be in town.

violist Jan 23, 10 8:10 pm

We split the bastilla as an appie; this came as three
phyllo triangles filled with a mixture of meats and poultry
and chickpeas and sweet spices. Not the sugar-and-cinnamon-
topped layered thing I am accustomed to, but tasty and well
constructed for finger food and/or sharing.

For my main, I had what was listed on the menu as "cordero:
pan roasted domestic lamb noisette rolled and stuffed with
mushroom mousseline, organic kuri squash, king trumpets."
It came medium-rare as ordered but was slightly different
from what I'd expected. It was a roulade, the exterior being
a layer of whatever you call the top part of a shoulder chop
- fat on the outside, a somewhat gristly middle layer, and
rather chewy meat inside; the interior was half tenderloin
and half an odd mixture of minced mushrooms and onions
mixed with fatty ground lamb and egg. This was all well and
good, but at medium-rare, the chopped stuff hadn't had time
to bind together, so its texture was ... interesting. The
exterior fat was also not browned, with the surprising
result that I left most of it behind. The mushrooms were
thin-sliced cutlets from what must have been a giant fungus;
the squash was okay but not so okay that I ate much of it.

I tasted the other main courses: a chicken tagine was
pretty authentic in flavor, and the filet medium-rare came
tender and as ordered. Simple food for simple people,
I guess.

Pic St. Loup Clos Marie Metairies du Clos vieilles vignes 05
cost twice what it should have, but it was quite attractive
in a Rhonish sort of way, with spices, dark fruit, and
coffee flavors but quite smooth. It made the filet sing and
the lamb, well, hum.

Back to the Hilton to sleep it off.

One oddity about the hotel. In addition to the usual mess of
toiletries, there is a big bottle of "TruShea body wash"
(the spa downstairs, which they're pushing, is called Tru);
there is a note on this bottle that, should the guest choose
to open it, there will be an $18 charge added to the room.
This bottle, with its wrinkled old label, obvious has been
there for some time and has been handled wonderingly by
generations of would-be bathers.

The room itself was nice, the bed pleasant, the view okay,
and the stay in general quite acceptable. Nonetheless, I
wanted a Starwood night and its 4 pm checkout, so I had only
one night here, trundling my stuff out at noon and girding
my loins for the half mile to the Westin.

violist Jan 25, 10 1:02 pm

I called Mike at 11 to see what lunch plans were. The word:
Pat wanted lunch NOW; and as their apartment is in Noe
Valley several miles away, and I was still unshaven, unclad,
and unwashed, the heck with that. We agreed to meet at the
museum in the afternoon.

The Garden Restaurant is next to the Hilton and probably has
survived all these years as a cheap alternative to a hotel
breakfast; it also serves homestyle Chinese food. I looked
at the menu, and the roast duck and rice plate looked good;
so in I went and sat down. A bit late I remembered that the
last time I'd been here the duck was dry, and there wasn't
so much of it, so for a couple more bucks I got the chicken
and sausage clay pot (listed under something like homestyle
casseroles) instead. It was a nearly impossible amount of
food, especially with the $1.50 rice upsell that I was
cunningly offered. A sliced Chinese sausage, the meat of
about three chicken thighs, a diced onion, and 7 big doong
gwoo mushrooms, in an all-purpose broth that had more than
a touch of shrimp in it, thickened with cornstarch and
flavored with soy, then dumped in a hot hot oven for maybe
10 minutes. Not genius cuisine, but hearty and satisfying.

Halfway through my giant meal, an older Chinese guy came in
with his niece or something. I pricked up my ears to hear
what he in his obvious wisdom would order. He got bacon with
scrambled eggs and wheat toast; she had some kind of congee.

Even after struggling with this amount of food and walking
as slowly as possible to the Westin, I was a couple hours
early for checkin. I smiled at the desk clerk and said, is
it too early to check in? and she said, well, your room
isn't ready, but I'll give you a better one. There is
something to be said for smiling. It was on the 34th floor
with a spectacular bay view.

P & M shortly met me in the lobby and we walked the arduous
one block to SFMOMA, where a Richard Avedon retrospective
was on display. There were some shenanigans with two member
tickets and one nonmember one, but Mike had already seen it,
so with a discreet switch I got in with Pat without paying
the extra fiver. Heck, I'd seen most of them anyway,
probably as I used to collect photography books (not that
kind, you nasty thing - I was always more Stieglitz than
Saudek) in my day. Exceptions being the wall of Warhol
lovers, a fascinating set of portraits of ordinary hard-
scrabble midwestern folks, and the hall of self-important
politicians. Also on display: contemporary Asian and postwar
Japanese photography (two separate but associated exhibits);
new acquisitions, including those of a modern German artist
whose work draws from the social commentary of Beckmann and
Grosz but whose metaphor is the loom and how its warp and
weft both connect and entrap people from all walks of life
and another whose conceit is depicting stylized neural
networks (similar metaphors; too bad I can't remember the
name of either artist). A rather self-indulgent and silly
one as well: some conceptual artists took a cross-country
journey in three homemade minitrailers, chronicling their
travels in video and photographs; then they seem to have
convinced the museum to buy one of the trailers and put
it on display. I don't understand the appeal of this
"look at me, how clever am I" stuff.

The permanent collection is worthwhile: from Matisse and
Picasso on to Jim Dine, Frank Stella, Diebenkorn, Warhol,
Rauschenberg, and other homegrown artists with foreign
names. And beyond. Other interesting things: a henge of
400-something stuffed animals, doll baby in the middle; a
plastic house that inflates and deflates according to its
own schedule of malfunctions; a double urinal (? an early
homoerotic manifesto); a lumpy wall that, though it looks
like nothing in particular, exerts this amazing pull to
make people fondle it, so there's a guard posted there to
prevent you from doing just that. I had fun, but it was
time, as my friends' names are Pat and Mike, for the
business of the day.

We started at the St. Francis, where I had a lovely, smoky
Bowmore 18; Pat had a Caipirinha; and Mike, perhaps
interested in sweaters, had a house concoction called the
Autumn Sweater, which was deemed interesting but not
something to go out of one's way for.

Our next stop was Maxfield's for Sierra Nevadas and the
respectable Ch. Montelena 05 Cabernet, which was available
at not an extortionate price. It was cedary and plummy and
better (i.e., a lot less green) than the last I'd had, some
five years ago. The waiter was pleasant but abstracted.
Perhaps he belongs at the MOMA.

We considered getting steaks or burgers here, but I
convinced them to make a small splurge at Ame, just a few
blocks away, at the St. Regis. A quick check of OpenTable,
and we were in for a latish reservation, so first there was
time for drinks at Ducca, the bar at my hotel. The Casamatta
(Bibi Graetz) 05 looked to be a goodish deal, so we had
that. It's a fruity Sangiovese, a little cherry-tartly for
my taste, but excellently made, and Pat thought it the equal
of the Montelena (at a significantly lower price).

violist Jan 26, 10 9:48 am

A quick one block to the restaurant.

Many of my friends are meat and potatoes folks (perhaps I
choose them with this trait in mind!), and when with them
I joyfully indulge my fleshy desires. So this is what we
had at Ame, the bulk of whose Michelin-kudoed reputation
rests on new worldly fishy and sushiesque delights.

New York strip over spinach, with fried sweetbreads and
chanterelles on the side - a very nice piece of meat in
a lovely mushroomy sauce. The sweetbreads were crisp and
wonderful, but some went by the wayside with the shrooms,
unfavored by comparison with the lovely pink flesh.

Duck breast came with "foie gras stuffing," equal size
blocks of bread cubes and foie gras, and a blueberry red
wine sauce. Essence of duck. Also delicious.

My big Kurobuta pork chop with black pudding and potato
puree turned out to be the richest thing there, the pork
marbled nicely and the fat not cooked out. I'd asked if
it would have been brined, and after an emphatic no from
the waiter, I smilingly ordered it (watching the old
sodium, y'know). It was delightful, the very spicy blood
pudding providing a piquant contrast. A chunk of this
along with the steak detritus provided a luxurious
breakfast next day. All these dishes had been ordered
and served medium-rare, partially because medium-rare
is good in itself and partially to facilitate sharing. My
friends tend to share tastes. It's almost a prerequisite.

As I figured we were ready for something a little lighter
in the wine department, the Schramsberg blanc de blancs
looked appealing, and it was, in its gently festive way.

For dessert I had a Royal Tokaji 5 puttonyos, year forgotten
but a bit too young. I guess I'd wanted something richer
than the airplane Tokaji to cleanse my memory banks. This
was pretty unctuous, with apricot and almond notes, raisins
and other dried fruit on the palate and finish. Pretty nice.
I am unclear on whether anyone else had anything. A quick
toddle back to the hotel, where I showed off my room and
shooed off my friends and collapsed. Got up in time to
finish my assignment, which had been percolating throughout
the MegaDO trip, and send it off. Then back to bed.

Service was unobtrusively first-rate.

violist Jan 28, 10 5:54 am

Late checkout is a great luxury, and all I had to do was
roll out of bed and get the BART to dinner with travelkhatt.
We'd planned to meet at Fook Yuen, but when I walked out of
Millbrae station and turned right on Camino Real, I was
greeted with unfamiliar sights. I.e., no Fook Yuen. The
joint is apparently under new management and renovations at
the same time. I gave her a shout and told her that plan B
was La Petite Camille - a pleasant, slightly uninspired,
no-frills joint across the street. I got there a bit ahead
and had a Singha. I might have gone for the rather forlorn
and empty Szechwan place nearby, out of sympathy for my
near-compatriots, but tk doesn't go for spicy food.

The room is square and lit brightly; the tables and
appointments rather spare - not particularly appealing, but
then you get to focus on the food and company rather than
extraneous features.

tk showed up breathlessly a bit late; she had imagined that
taking a cab would be quicker than riding Caltrain to
Burlingame and finding her way from there. She was wrong;
apparently there was a run on cabs that dinnertime. A vast
expense, unnecessary.

She's chipper and looking none the worse for wear,
interested in the same things, but not with the same foci
or perhaps competitive intensity as when she had been an
FTer. Life and work appear to be going well.

We started with Vietnamese hedgehogs (they call them pot
stickers, and I forget the real name) - a stuffing of pork
and carrots in a rice shell rolled in crushed rice pasta
and fried. Tasty and generous, though I'd have preferred
8 tiny balls to 4 giant ones (in fact, 4 tiny ones would
have been fine). The "special house sauce," a sweetened
bean paste with a large dose of chile, went well with.

tk had the pho, which was cheap, good, and abundant enough
for me to sample a small bowl and her to take home a big one
for lunch next day. There was a lot of beef tendon in this
version, which bothered us not at all. My choice was bo loc
lac, beef in a caramelized brown sauce with an incredible
amount of garlic. It was pretty good but oligodimensional.
We ordered a bowl of rice which didn't come.

Much talk about hotel points, with both of us bemoaning the
fact that we don't know anything about them, and travels,
of which I have had more than she of late.

At length it was time to part: she had a train south, and I
had to run the security gauntlet, which took a huge long
time, despite my being shunted into the premium line.

UA 198 SFO IAD 2230 0631 763 2A Ch9:td:

A somewhat bumpy flight that landed on time or a bit early.
No Channel 9, and if there had been, I wouldn't have been
able to understand it for the horrendous static and hum on
the system.

I usually hate the seats on the 763. This day I was tired
enough so I didn't mind and slept well.

UA 860 IAD BOS 0830 1006 752 2A Ch9^ Empower:td:

Met FBKSan at the C17 club, and we had a good chat before
going on our connections. It's good for the up-and-coming
and the down-and-going to meet up once in a while.

I really had to be in Washington next day, but I had a date
in Boston so didn't ditch this flight.

It was an okay ride, packed to the gills, as most are these
days, but, what the hey, I was in F.

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