Archive for October 2009

Blogging my breakfast: special enjoyment-quadrulpled-when-you-aren’t-dealing-with-Broken-Bridge-commute edition

October 29, 2009

Especially since favorite barista Riley left Mojo, I’ve been looking forward to the opening of the new cafe/wine bar “Matching Half” nearby on the corner of McAllister and Baker. Apparently I was so excited that last night I dreamed about visiting– and being stressed by being cut off by a mom and 5 indecisive children in line. In reality, it was crowded, but the wait was minimal and the cafe shows promise of being a new favorite that may have to enter into rotation.

Amuffin

i obviously don't know how to use photoshop

Awindow

nice window from the old nasty coffehouse stayed

Aespresso

I looked back at one of my favorite blog posts of all time, The Shot’s “Common Cues for Recognizing Good and Bad Espresso“, to review the list of cues that indicate good espresso is in store (even before sipping). How did the new cafe do?

  • They roast their own. Score extra points if they date-stamp their roasted beans for retail sale.
  • They bother with latte art. Latte art is more gimmick than a sign of quality per se (sorry, Aussies). But it’s almost unheard of to find a place that bothers with latte art and yet makes a lousy cappuccino.
  • A La Marzocco machine. Oh, sure, there are plenty of other great espresso machines out there. And there are places that can make great espresso from the most modest equipment choices. But shelling out the bucks for a La Marzocco is typically reserved for those who believe it will actually make a difference for them.
  • They offer more than one kind of bean for espresso. This is a rare find. But when they do, they expect you to notice that the espresso there isn’t just some generic, nameless commodity shot out of a soda gun. Many other establishments think more like Homer Simpson’s tour of the Duff Beer factory, where a single spigot fills Duff, Duff Light, and Duff Dry.
  • They serve a glass of water on the side. Despite the American obsession with the Big Gulp®, espresso should not quench your thirst. Better espresso can often be found at places that don’t expect it to.
  • They take time to make it. You could have a really new, or really slow, barista. Or they could be a little bit of a perfectionist about what they’re doing. We never encourage our baristi to rush the job.
  • Cleanliness is next to decent espresso. If the staff keeps their work areas clean, there are better chances that they clean their equipment of rancid coffee oil build-up — and that they keep their equipment properly tuned and maintained

Let’s see: no (but they use Verve beans which are for sale in date-stamped bags), yes, no (nice Slayer machine), don’t think so, no but lots of water glasses/pitchers available for self serve, yes and YES.

And did they have any “signs of when to run”?

  • The roar and/or whine of poorly steamed milk. This is one of those cases where their handling of milk can translate to their handling of coffee. And milk that is steamed in the pitcher to the scalding sounds of a 747 takeoff or the squeal of a dentist’s drill is a major red flag.
  • A superautomatic espresso machine. Superautomatic machines almost never produce an espresso better than “palatable”. Hello, Starbucks.
  • The barista is wearing a company-issue hat or cap. One sure-fire way to non-verbally tell a customer, “How may I massacre your order?” is to require them to dress like fast food employees.
  • They use a two-group La Spaziale 3000 espresso machine. Ouch. Do we really have that much against La Spaziale? They honestly make some good equipment, and a few cafés are quite capable with them. But in the Bay Area, the two-group La Spaziale 3000 is the machine of choice (namely: they’re inexpensive) among cafés looking to skimp and save a few bucks.
  • America’s Best Coffee. Or Peerless coffee, should they admit it. The most common combination of the cheap-and-careless café is the two-group La Spaziale 3000 with America’s Best Coffee beans. A close second is Peerless coffee — which we’ve also found to be the coffee most likely for employees to say it’s Illy in an attempt to make up something that sounds better. Of course, almost as bad (it varies) is the café where the employees have no idea whose beans they serve. But the pattern here seems to be this: the more self-aggrandizing the coffee brand name, the worse the coffee.
  • Portafilter handles are left cooling on the drip tray. This is often the kiss of death: a café that knows nothing about the importance of stable temperature control, and they could care less.
  • Served with a lemon rind on the side. You’d be surprised how many restaurants still do this. Why? We don’t know, because it’s like a neon sign that says, “Prepare to spew.”
  • Paper cups are the only option. There are times where even we want a coffee “to go”. But those conditions are so sub-par. For a café to serve their espresso only in paper cups, you may as well be greeted by a fiberglass clown head with a speakerphone in his throat at the drive-thru entrance. If someone’s idea of quality and class is the stemware at a four-year-old’s birthday party, we emphasize the “go” part of “to go”.
  • Flavored coffees on the menu. Or the word “gourmet”. In some parts of the country, and rare corners of the Bay Area, the 1980s are still alive and well and some people are still selling chocolate macadamia nut flavored coffee. If a café sells coffee that sounds more like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, you’d be better off looking for ice cream. Same goes if they use the word “gourmet” in their branding — a word that has since become affiliated only with the mass-produced packaged foods that line the aisles of Wal-Mart, marked for quick sale to their morbidly obese loyal customers.

Let’s see: no, no!, NO (unless hipsterwear counts), no?, no, didn’t notice, no, NO!, NO!

So they’re off to a good start. Hopefully once the liquor license is arranged, the wine bar will be equally nice. The way this neighborhood is going, we may soon never have to take a bus to dinner again.

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Scenes from a post-apocalyptic SF, then and now

October 29, 2009

[Alternate title: “A follow-up story on the Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico Bridge”]

For those of you out of the area, I wanted to let you know that there have been developments with regards to the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. You may remember the recent Labor Day weekend closure in which a new temporary bypass bridge was installed in 4 easy steps. What you may not have heard is that there was a complication involving a cracked doohickey that required an extra post-Labor Day day of work and the bridge opened up a day late. Well, part of that band-aid fix apparently came apart in the wind yesterday during the afternoon rush hour and came tumbling down on some cars. The bridge has been CLOSED since, making everyone scramble to reorganize their commutes on the fly and also creating scenes straight out of “The Day After”:

Bay Bridge Closure

Bay Bridge Closure

Bay Bridge Closure

Or better yet, it reminded me of a scene from the 1959 Gregory Peck/Anthony Perkins/Ava Gardner/ Fred Astaire movie “On the Beach” in which a submarine crew which has survived a nuclear WWIII sails from Australia to CA in search of any signs of life, but finds NONE, including a spooky, deserted GG Bridge (see brief scene about 85% the way thru this trailer).

So, today I had lots of company on my morning commute on the Golden Gate Bridge and it took about 1 hr 45 min. to get home.  I listened to a Forum podcast about Loma Prieta earthquake memories.  Thank goodness Dan fixed our “ferry shuttle” car. I’ll be able to resume ferry runs Friday!

Crossword serendipity

October 22, 2009

I was taken aback when I saw the clue to 49- down yesterday. At first I thought Will Shortz was honoring my brother for the arrival of son #2 :

ABRadclue

But then, today at Four Barrel, I saw the clue to 69- across and almost choked on my salted caramel Dynamo Donut:

AJoelclue

So now I have to assume that tomorrow Will is going to work in a clue like “Brad Pitt movie of 2004” to complete the fraternal theme.

answers after the break…

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Last birthday post– promise

October 22, 2009

Well, it is an important birthday, after all.  Just a few pix from the bday bash the nieces threw for Dan.  Ethan made a delish dinner as well…  yum.

apies

Ahugs

they were insistant, btw, that only DAN wear the bday hat

Birthday serendipity

October 17, 2009

Two quick codas to the 40th bday.   What are the odds that:

  • On Dan’s 40th, the NYTimes puzzle would have a Hawaiian theme??!  IOLANI PALACE, MAUNA KEA, BARACK OBAMA and BETTE MIDLER were theme answers on this important day.
  • At the official bday dinner in Coi’s intimate dining room of like 12 tables, we were seated next to a table of 4 Hawaiians, including another Iolani alum?  And we had occasion to find out?

Thank you Will Shortz and Daniel Patterson for helping keep Dan’s special milestone full of surprises.

Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha-- yum

Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha-- yum

Riding the Wave

October 13, 2009

You only turn 40 once, and you only stay in a remote cabin shaped like a wave up in Sea Ranch once… well actually, we loved it so much, we’ll probably have to go back. Though that “hobbit” tree house one beckons as well. Sea Ranch is becoming a family tradition. It helps that we both love the idea of traveling to what feels like the end of the earth in just 2.5 hrs and being able to hang out all day long and just read (or grade papers) in total silence. Dan has a habit of finding books in hotels or vacation homes and reading them during the space of the trip and this time Troy joined him. Dan polished off “Damned Lies and Statistics” by Joel Best and I ate up a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s first novel from 1928- “Decline and Fall”, which felt like a prototype for many an English sitcom. I can’t remember the last time I had to use Google so much in the course of a novel, but it did help me understand the satire more fully.

Although there were no fashion models out our window this trip, there were several deer, a fox and nearby turkeys.  In addition to hiking and doing nothing, Dan used the wave-kitchen to turn out some delish dinners.

best reading nook up in the nose (upper right)

best reading nook up in the nose (upper right)

view from the nook

view from the nook

anext2

inside the nook- reminded us of the kid's section of the SLC library

morning coffee spot

morning coffee spot

Atrees

just can't get enough of cypress trees this month

All-American Sports Cities

October 3, 2009

I read a post on my favorite soccer blog awhile back about the TSN/ESPN Sports Poll –a poll that tracks Americans’ interest in various sports, and is used by almost every professional sports league in their marketing efforts. The headline numbers were dire for Major League Soccer, but that’s not what caught my interest. They record the percentage of respondents who claim to be interested in a given league or sport over an entire calendar year, and of course, that got me thinking. Could I come up with a formula to measure America’s champion of champions? The most successful professional sports city in any given year. Of course I could …

The NCAA does something similar, I think. They award a prize each year to the school that wins  display_imagethe most NCAA championships. But they weight each sport equally. That’s clearly not fair to the various pro circuits. The NFL and Major League Baseball are notably more popular than the NBA, and the NHL and Major League Soccer trail a fair ways behind.

So I decided to award 3 points to each losing quarter-finalist, 6 points to a losing semi-finalist, 9  points to the runner-up, and 12 points to the winner of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS playoffs in each calendar year. I then multiplied those points by .75 for the NFL, .67 for baseball, .5 for the NBA, and .33 for hockey and Major League Soccer; those numbers reflect overall interest in each league. I calculated final scores for each year back to 1996 (the first season of MLS) and present below, for your amusement, the All-American Sports City of the year.

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