Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WineTraveler’s Travels 8 March 2013

Well it has been quite some time since I have traveled, and this time it is on my favorite airline, Alaska. I am flying from Seattle to San Francisco to attend a cardiology conference. After going into work and having a very successful meeting to kick off a software upgrade project I was able to take the light rail and  arrive at the airport early get on a standby for an earlier flight. I got an aisle seat just behind first class, boy do I miss having Gold status, but it feels great to be flying again. The flight left on time and the crew was amazing. I am a bit disappointed that you now have to pay for all baggage and food. Being Lent and Friday I opted for the $7 fruit and cheese platter that was actually quite nice but should have been closer to $3 or $4 and a glass of Waterbrook red blend wine from Walla Walla, Washington, not a spectacular blend but not bad either. The flight was quick and smooth.
 My ride on the BART train was quick and just a short walk to the City Center Inn and Suites, this aging property was recently a Knights Inn. My pillows did not have pillow cases and the toilet seat was not cleaned so I called to have housekeeping service my room, they quickly attended to it with apologies.  Otherwise it was quite quaint and comfortable. The rest of the week showed the expected attention to detail and was very pleasant.

The first night in town the front desk clerk recommended a place within walking distance called Rocco’s this was an Italian diner in the best sense of the term. I sat at a bar that faced the kitchen and watched the staff expertly serve a bustling crowd.  I started with a glass of house Chianti that was delicious and was quickly served warm bread with olive oil that had garlic and fresh rosemary in it. For dinner I tried one of the night’s specials a pan seared calamari steak, this perfectly cooked generous piece of succulent squid was ever so lightly breaded, maybe just floured, then sautéed in butter. The side dishes were gnocchi in red sauce and spiced corn.  No room for desert. I later found out Rocco’s had been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” I highly recommend this place.
The second night I was tempted to go back to Rocco’s but wanted to expand my experience so I tried a Brazilian influenced place nearby called Bossa Nova This was another South of Market Street (SOMA) gem; the seating was tight and reservations are recommended but I was lucky and got a seat at the communal table. Glancing at the menu I noticed the Lamb skewers were only $12.95 so I figured I would need more food and ordered sides of Black Beans with Pork Belly and Yucca cakes at $5.95 each, and one of the Mojitos they are famous for. The Mojito was awesome and the food was spectacular. The Lamb was a meal in itself served with coconut rice and the sides are obviously meant to be shared. We need a place like this in Seattle.

The third night was an event sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference I was attending, and was held at the Buca di Beppo near the conference center. This national chain is known for its family style Italian meals and kitschy décor. We were served buffet style and had options of bruschetta, meatballs, fried calamari, chicken skewers, and stuffed mushrooms, with an open bar. I sampled all but the chicken skewers, the calamari was tender with a crispy and spicy crust, the meatballs were meaty and tasty, but the mushrooms were just divine stuffed with cheese and prosciutto. The house Chianti pared very well with this combination and for desert they served chocolate covered cannoli which I had an after dinner drink of Amaretto and Kahlua over ice with a splash of cream.

As My last night in San Francisco’s SOMA district found me a bit disappointed as I wanted to try the famed Radius restaurant which has the distinction of sourcing its fare from within a certain radius of the city, but alas being Monday, like most good restaurants, it was closed. So I resigned to just walking till I found something and I passed an open door in which I saw wine being served so I turned around and walked into a wine bar called Terroir. Thinking I might sample a local wine and get directions to someplace to eat, turns out all the wines I tasted here are from France and the knowledge of the staff was amazing and not at all pretentious as I had been led to believe California could be. Not being very skilled at French wines I chose one that I somewhat recognized a Cotes du Rhone that was just superb and a true delight to drink. The first Sommelier/bartender was very French and I had a bit of a challenge understanding his accent but he was patient with this tourist. Then there was a change in staff and Chris came on I ended up spending the rest of the evening here talking with Chris, a budding winemaker, and ordering from the bar’s favorite Chinese delivery Mission Chinese which just like Terroir has locations in SF and NY. The menu has a very interesting way of describing the spiciness of their food a sketch of butt cheeks with flames which I was informed are called flaming ass holes. Dishes are either one flaming ass hole or two; I ordered the Tea-smoked Eel (no flames) and the Kung Pao Pastrami (two flames) then continued sampling wines. Before long my food arrived and wow what a pleasant surprise. My favorite wine of the night was a natural unsulfured French wine named Lindigène that had a distinct roasted pistachio taste. I also had a great Merlot predominant wine called Mangus. This was by far the best evening in San Francisco.

As with all good things this trip had to come to an end and the next morning I packed up and walked a few blocks to the BART station and boarded the train to the airport. My flight was 45 minutes delayed but other than that uneventful. Alaska lived up to its bags in 20 minutes promise which was surprising as I recall it often taking an hour to get bags in the past. The Conference was great and I was able to network with many colleagues to get a perspective on other IT systems used. Although the evening adventures truly make me miss my old traveling job. I will return to my current job rejuvenated and invigorated, ready to help move them forward with new technology.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wine Traveler's Travels (From the Archives) 2002

Wine Traveler’s Travels

12 March 2002           

I have been grounded for the last two weeks due to my surgery, all went well and the biopsy of the polyp was negative.  I can now breath through both sides of my nose all the time, it was well worth the discomfort the first week.  Today I am off to St. Petersburg, Florida to finish up some training at Bayfront Medical Center.  Dad is going into the hospital today for the localized radiation therapy, so he will not be joining me on this trip.  I was running a little behind this morning but would have been fine except my travel agent never booked my flight; she had reserved it and sent me an itinerary but never booked the tickets.  So by the time I got the after hours (5:20 AM) agent on the phone and re-ticketed it was too late to make my flight, so I had to go on a later one.  This week’s bagged breakfast was a mini bagel and cream cheese, a bowl of crispix cereal with a four-ounce carton of 2% milk and a pack of raisins.  I’m going to look at switching to Northwest airlines after my membership at the Admiral’s Club expires; as they still serve hot meals, have fewer MD 80’s, and a more liberal upgrade policy. 

Well after I got to Dallas I found that the next flight was delayed.  Then when we finally got on board we had to wait while they checked out some kind of seal on one of the wings.  We finally started to back away from the gate and then we went right back to the gate and the pilot announce that one of the engines was not idling correctly and we may have to get another plane, which is just what happened.  Now instead of arriving in Tampa at 5 PM, I wouldn’t be getting there till after 8PM.  While in Dallas I spoke with one of the perinatal sales specialist who would be visiting this same hospital while I was there.  She was concerned about the Hotel the travel agent had booked us at; it was only $68.00 in March in Florida???  As she was to get there before me I told her if it looked bad to find us someplace else.  Well it was in the less desirable part of town, and had outside entrances, which really makes the female employees, I’ve worked with, nervous.  Julia had tried to find us something else through our travel agent but the rates closer to the Hospital were about $200/night, so she arranged for us to have rooms next to each other facing the Pool so it was inside the courtyard and not facing the parking lot.  The rooms and the hotel itself were very nice and clean the surrounding neighborhood though was not. 

That first night I just grabbed a fish sandwich at a local drive through, as I had not been fed since that morning.  The next morning as I drove us into the hospital we both remarked that it would be a great day to call in well, the sun was shining and it was about 75 degrees.  Work went well, when we got back to the hotel I realized I had not packed my bathing suit, so I stayed in my room and worked on Email while Julia sat by the pool reading.  Later we went to the St. Petersburg Pier, there I went shopping for a bathing suit but did not find one.  I did find a flamingo coffee cup and a small flamingo figurine to add to my collection.  My cube at work is becoming a Flamingo menagerie.  We ate dinner at the Columbia restaurant on the fourth floor of the pier, this pier is renown for its design it is an inverted pyramid.  The Columbia restaurant is one of six that started in Ybor City, the historic area of Tampa that is the home of the Cuban community and former Cigar manufacturers.  I had the La Completa Cubana, which is a combination of Roast pork, roast beef, and a beef filled pastry called an empanada.  Rice, beans, fried plantains, and steamed yucca were the accompaniments.  Julia had the Roast Pork dinner, which came with the same accompaniments.  The Pork we both agreed was a bit bland, the roast beef on the other hand was awesome.  I had hoped to save some room for flan, which is Cuban style custard, but was much too full to eat another bite.

Julia Left the next day to visit yet another hospital so I settled for fast food again and watched the ABC special about Rosie and her kids.  It made me want to go home and hug my kids, and consider looking into becoming a foster parent.  I think she definitely had a good point in the fact that straight or gay there are people who should and shouldn’t be parents.  And that the ability to adopt should be based on their ability to offer a loving, caring and safe environment, not their choice of a partner.  While I always thought Rosie was an interesting person I now have a new respect for her.  I hope my kids had a chance to watch this special so they could see how lucky they are to have two parents who love them so much.

I finished up early on Friday and checked to see if there was an earlier flight, I had put in for an upgrade for this return flight, but I would lose the first class from St. Pete to St. Louis.  I took the earlier flight so I could get home in time to see Gail and the kids before bedtime.  From St. Louis to Seattle I was in the front of the bus, the meal was a salmon salad, a small piece of grilled salmon atop fresh garden greens with a Caesar dressing, a roll and potato salad on the side.  The Salmon while small, half the size of the one I had when TWA was running this route, was very tasty.  I got home and enjoyed seeing my boys.