January 31, 2010

San Francisco

Following my stay in Escondido I flew up to San Francisco for a couple days, nearly getting stuck in the San Diego airport because of bad weather. California was experiencing its storm of the decade precisely as I was experiencing California for the first time (poop). Fortunately, the weather provided a window for getting to San Francisco, which provided plenty of cool stuff to do that wasn't dampened by the constant rain.

Coincidentally, my dad was in the city the same dates as myself traveling on business, and I was able to crash in his hotel room for three nights. This was a huge coup for my budget and level of comfort (Hilton). The first night in town we took the courtesy shuttle back to the airport in order to access the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART). The train took us into the city, where we met my dad's old friend, Berkeley resident and rock aficionado Andy. He had a bead on a rare show by local favorite Steve Morse at a venue called Slim's.

Steve Morse Band @ Slim's

The gig was sponsored by Guitar Player Magazine, a publication that has repeatedly named Mr. Morse best overall guitarist. We bought tickets and grabbed some food and beers at a nearby, nearly empty, establishment. Arrived at Slim's a little late, as the opener was finishing, but were remarkably able to get seats near the front to the left side of the stage. It was a brilliant spot to see the show, as the guitar pedals were located right in front of us. The performance was amazing, I had for some reason expected a strummy acoustic set - quite the rocking opposite. Certainly one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Gorky @ SFMoMA

The BART brought me back into the heart of San Francisco the next day, my destination the Museum of Modern Art. I enjoyed a streetside falafel wrap for breakfast en route. SFMoMA was hosting a seventy-five year anniversary exhibit, essentially a greatest hits narrative of the museum's history. It was a great tour, and I spent plenty of time viewing the offerings on other floors - not eager to return to the rain. After dawdling in the giftshop it was time for lunch. I hooded up and explored some side streets, stumbling upon Thirsty Bear Brewing. They served Spanish tapas alongside organic beers brewed onsite. The atmosphere and lunch menu were impressive, but I found most of the sampler beers to be yeasty (think Blue Moon, which I can't stand). I settled on the nitrogen stout, which came out drafted poorly with about two inches of head. Meh. I was pretty soaked after walking around a bit more after lunch, and hopped the train back to the hotel in the late afternoon.

Thirsty Bear Brewery

The next day we switched hotels in the morning, moving from the airport Hilton to one located near Union Square in the city. My dad brought me to a fine Italian restaurant around the corner from the hotel called Kuleto's. They featured house-cured meats, and a scrumptious lunch menu including a fixed-price three course option. I chose linguine with clams and a bowl of dynamite minestrone, my dad had the taster lunch centered around a braised shortrib cannelloni and mushroom dish. We split a half-bottle of Napa Valley Syrah that had aged to an inky density. The whole meal was superb.

Clams Linguine

The final highlight of the trip took place that evening. I was able to meet up with Rob, an old friend from college who has lived in San Francisco for years, and who I hadn't seen in as long. He knew the good local spots, and we enjoyed catching up over some sinus-clearing Indian food. I had a very early flight the next morning, but we were able to get in a round of brews at an awesome little bar called The Black Horse London Pub. This was as literally a hole-in-the-wall as I have ever seen, seating/standing maybe ten people maximum. Bottled beers were served out of an ice-filled porcelain bathtub which also toted a keg of cask-conditioned IPA from a local brewer. Top notch, thanks Rob.

Marin Cask IPA

January 30, 2010


January 17, I sputtered into San Diego from LAX on a United Express plane. That had propellors. A day ahead of the vicious storm that was about to thrash the west coast, the turbo-prop proved a delightful way to see the city as we looped into a landing at San Diego's tiny airport. My college roommate Tyson picked me up there, and we spent the afternoon in a gas-lamp district brewpub drinking pale ales and watching the Chargers fizzle to the Jets (this NFL playoff game was taking place a few miles away). We grabbed a hearty dinner of In-N-Out burgers along the twenty-minute stretch of superhighway between San Diego and Escondido.


The following morning a couple of Tyson's buddies, Brandon and Mike, converged at the house with a pile of guns, ammunition, and clay pigeons. We were bound for the county line, across a mountain range and into the desert. This trek proved somewhat daunting to the overloaded Hyundai station wagon, especially in the monsoon downpour we encountered on the return trip. Zig-zagging around chassis-hungry rocks in the desert was a different challenge. We safely reached the shooting area and went to work. Four hundred rounds of twelve-gauge shells were spaced out with fits of .22 fire from an assortment of arms. I had never fired a shotgun previously, and was pleased to have dusted the occasional clay pigeon. And the hundred mule-kicks to the right shoulder inflicted less of a tole than I initially thought. When the shells were spent we collected all the casings and set off into the teeth of the storm that was waiting in the mountains. Fun day.

That evening Tyson and I made our way to Stone Brewery, located in Escondido and heralded as one of the nation's best. I'd had Stone's entry-level IPA on a previous occasion, and thought it was indeed tops. Of course, it was no comparison to the delicious freshness of drafts poured a few yards from the brewing floor. Their "Arrogant Bastard Ale" boasts a rich amber color, strong citrusy hops, and is immensely drinkable irrespective of its high alcohol content (7.2%). The other beers, including the IPA pictured below, were equally fresh and tasty, and the restaurant fare was more on par with the beer than Dogfish Head's distasteful offerings.

ipa and oaked arrogant bastard

I spent the next day weathering the storm, reading The Omnivore's Dilemma in a hillside house that, judging by the shrieks of wind through the single-paned windows, was not accustomed to such meteorological abuse. The squall passed in waves, but did subside completely around the time that I was booking travel arrangements to follow it up the coast the next day. Some friends converged later that night at a local dive for the weekly ritual of "Two-Dollar-Tuesdays" (bargain drafts accompanied by relatively tolerable karaoke). Bulging carne asada burritos from a drive-thru taquería sealed the festivities, and capped a lovely time in Escondido. Thanks to everyone!

two dollar tuesdays
Tyson, Jen, Rachel, and me laughing in the face of indigestion.

January 28, 2010

Las Vegas

I booked two nights in the Riviera on the morning of January 15th, arriving at the north end of the strip later that evening. The room was nice, and cheap, enough, but the casino and immediate surroundings were bleak. The first night in town I wandered in the direction of the closest nice hotels in search of food. At around 11:30PM I landed at the Encore, sister to the Wynn, in a casino-side eatery called Society. The quality and price of the food and wine registered fine with the lavish setting. I had a delectable salmon dish served with a quinoa cake and fennel/orange salad, in the process polishing off a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I traipsed back to my room, content to forgo any wagering until the next day.


Jet-lagged, I woke up early on Saturday and set off again southward down Las Vegas Boulevard. My destination this morning was the Mirage, home to a bountiful poker room and certainly one of the strip's keystone casinos. En route I picked up a bottle of Pellegrino ($1.99), a coffee and a croissant for breakfast. I was a little surprised, even at 10:00 in the morning, to find only two games in action - $1/2 No Limit and $3/6 Limit Hold'em, the basement of Las Vegas poker. I registered and paid my $80 buy-in for the 11:00AM daily tournament and sat down with a rack of $1 chips to kill some time in the Limit game.

When the tourney started I colored up what remained of my stack, stuffed the $25 and $5 chips in my pocket, and sat down to a couple hours of good action. I didn't make the money, but I did enjoy a few rounds of drinks and plenty of poker. I lost most of my chips after gutting out a call of a huge over-size bet at a flop of JT9. I held two aces, and had re-raised an early position raiser pre-flop, receiving a call. My opponent shoved for twice the size of the pot without much deliberation after the flop came down, and I was vexed for a moment before opting to call. He held AQ, and needed a K or an 8 to make a straight. The King rolled off immediately, and the rest of my tournament was spent scratching around for a good spot with a short stack.

After finally busting I was ready for lunch. Stepped outside and continued down the strip, magically drawn into the Bellagio by escalators and walkways. I skirted the casino perimeter, noticing a number of nice looking eateries - none of which were open yet. Ended up in a far corner of the first floor, where the entrance to the hotel art gallery stands. I was more interested in food than paintings at that moment, and the $15 entry fee dissuaded me to turn back toward the casino. I was "hungry-walking" and brisked past a familiar looking gentleman headed in the same direction. I kept my pace and advanced fifty feet before holding up at a hotel phone station. Uncharacteristically, Sammy Farha's signature cigarette was smoldering, as was the notably taller woman who accompanied him. They walked right up, as if to greet me. Before he could reach for the phone I gave a sly grin and groveled for a quick autograph, to which Sammy replied, "Sure thing, buddy," scrawling a hasty S Farha across a sheet of Bellagio stationary. I thanked him and split as he grabbed the phone, presumably to call the poker room.

I ended up at Planet Hollywood, eating at the bar of a crowded P.F. Chang's. After a greasy, yet relatively cheap and edible lunch, I sat in a $1/2 NL game for about an hour, doubling my initial $100 input. This was a must-win situation, because my debit card only allowed a $400 stake for the day, two-thirds of which would have been gone had I lost that buy-in. Now all I had to do was double-up what remained of my chips from the Mirage and I'd be profitable (at gambling) for the day. It took one hand of blackjack to accomplish that before my return to the Riviera. I was ready to skip the long cashier line I passed on my path back into the Mirage card pits, and plunked the whole $50 down, with a couple of $1 chips leftover as souvenirs. Stood on a 17 against a dealer 5, 6, 4, 8 - bust. Blackjack is easy. Tipped a buck and was happy to wait in line to cash out for a big bill. To the room for a nap.


For dinner it was off to the Wynn, where I found the Daniel Boulud Brasserie and sat looking out at "The Lake of Dreams" in the hotel's courtyard (featuring a giant animatronic lip-synching frog amongst a rotation of oddities). I ordered a bottle of Pellegrino ($8), a half-bottle of Calera Pinot Noir, and Duck Confit with lentils and foie gras. The entrée also featured a tuft of fennel and orange salad and a purée that I thought may have been lentils and foie gras combined. Needless to say, the meal was superb. The service was as sharp as anywhere I've eaten, the sommelier attended to my wine glass with zeal, and the food was positively delicious. I don't relish paying so much to eat so well, but Vegas has a way of dissolving one's sense of proportion when it comes to cash.

I decided to recoup a bit by gathering some free drinks at the Wynn's poker room, and maybe even some chips. I sat in a $1/3 NL game and fluctuated for a couple of hours, eventually breaking dead even after an embarrassingly karmic reversal of the big hand I played earlier. This time I made the straight on the turn with AQ to double up through the guy holding AA. I'd had my fun, was not a favorite in the game, and had a flight out of town at noon the next day, so I called it a night after a few more hands - pleased to be the fish lucky enough to break even.

January 7, 2010

Snow capped

Photographed December 25th, 2009

January 6, 2010

Purple stew

vegetable stock, tofu marinated in soy sauce, whole water chestnuts, shredded purple cabbage, butter, basmati rice stir fried: sesame oil, hot chili oil, canola oil, ginger, broccoli, scallions, zucchini, garlic

January 5, 2010



It was not his own life that was important to him, but what he had shared with all life: "It is the story of all life that is holy and it is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things...."

And of the great vision that came to him when he was a child he said: "I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and father. And I saw that it was holy."

[From "Think Little" by Wendell Berry]

January 2, 2010


Planning a bit of a circuit for the end of January. Things have been kinda slow at work, and rather than burn all my vacation days in the first month of the year (like Pam from The Office), I'm taking a couple weeks off as unpaid leave. Philadelphia to Las Vegas to San Diego to Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, and back.

Sign in Las Vegas, originally uploaded by amyscoop.

San Diego Bridge, originally uploaded by rqerita.

South Lake Tahoe, originally uploaded by Februum.

the road to nowhere, originally uploaded by Rob Van Harken.

January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve

This soup was delicious. Perfect for recovering after flying out to Grand Rapids on December 31st. Happy New Year, Twenty-Ten!

soup snack
tofu, ginger, vermicelli, cabbage, chicken stock, collard greens, bacon