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.