Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton
ralphmelton

MacWorld, with Foodie Interpolations

Last week, I went off to MacWorld San Francisco on Apple's dime. I had a good time. Here's my chronicle of the week. As so often happens with my trips, much of my chronicle is focused on the food. I've italicized the passages about food to point out how much of the chronicle is gustatory.


Monday

Flew out on Monday, January 10, at 5:55. The flight was uneventful, although the descent was somewhat bumpy. I did manage to finish one of my in-flight reading books (Some Slips Don't Show, by Perry Mason writing as A. A. Fair) even before we got on the plane.

On the plane, i read Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Holiday. I quite enjoyed reading this, though it had much more character study and romance than it had mystery. (I contrast the Josephine Tey character-study-masquerading-as-mystery that I hated fervently.) Part of it was that I greatly empathized with Lord Peter Wimsey's challenged approach to romantic feeling. Another part was that the mystery was clever and sound.

I received no sandwich on the plane; they ran out of sandwiches just after serving my seatmate Paul. It's not clear that I wanted to pay $7.00 for a sandwich and a bag of chips anyway..

After arriving at the hotel, checking in, and rendezvousing with other folks from our team, it was just about 10pm. This turned out to be significant, because the first four restaurants we tried (Jester's in the hotel, Chevy's, Thirsty Bear, and Jillian's) all stopped serving food at 10pm. We finally got pointed to the 4th Street Bar and Grille, which turned out to be a sports bar. I was interested in the seafood chowder in a bread bowl, but I had trouble making it work out to the proper amount of food; I felt I wanted more than a bowl of soup, but less than a bowl of soup plus an entree. I ended up getting the seafood chowder and an order of garlic fries, which were very garlicky indeed; I worried about eating too many since I was meeting customers the next day.


Tuesday

Woke up after not quite enough sleep. I was scheduled to work the first shift at the Apple booth.

So I went to Jester's, the hotel restaurant, for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was pretty bad; the scrambled eggs were watery, the sausage was indifferent, and the potato patties were joyless and sad.

Went over to the convention center and got redirected from one person to another. The successful path involved checking in with four different people, with at least two or three wrong tries on the way. But finally I was admitted into the shrouded Apple booth (I said "swordfish" on the way in), where we got told how to work the booth.

Then, the keynote from Steve Jobs. (I find that I habitually capitalize the word "keynote" now.) We had passes to see the keynote live. But our boot-working subgroup of the team got into the line late, and didn't push forward, so we got diverted to another room with a rebroadcast. And the sound in that room was horrible... so we left and went back to the Apple booth to watch it.

The high points of the keynote that I remember almost a week later:
- 4.5 million iPods sold last quarter, and a total of 10 million sold to date. That's a whole lot of iPods. If half of those were sold in the USA, that's roughly one iPod for every 66 people.
- iWork released. Not one of the big news mentioned in all the news articles, but it excited me, because this is the product I've been working on ever since joining Apple. W00t!
- Mac mini. It's so tiny. It's the size of a thick sandwich. You can even buy sandwich bread that size.
- iPod shuffle. I don't know whether the UI on other flash-based music players sucks as much as is claimed, but I think that the iPod shuffle really is going to be a big hit, because it looks so darn stylish.

To our stations in the booth, where we received our t-shirts. The shirts are green. Extremely green. Kermit green. I am now set for the St. Patrick's Day parade.

The first shift in the booth was only three hours or so, but it was fairly packed. Fortunately, I was demoing apps that I knew reasonably well, so I could handle most questions. I was a bit hoarse and tired of standing by the end, though.

After we got relieved at 2pm, Matt Lehrian, Mike Mandel, and I walked over to the Metreon to get lunch. We ate a generous lunch at Long Life Noodle Company and Jook Joint. The food was pretty good, but not astounding. The pot stickers were probably the best. The other down side: my chow fun tended to splatter. I took off the official t-shirt after a few splatters (which meant that future splatters landed on the t-shirt I'd been wearing underneath), but I had to cover those splatters with my badge when I wore it after.

After lunch, walked around the show to see what was on display. I didn't really see a lot of products that made me say "Ooh, I must have that". I did find my craving for an iPod increasing from all the iPod merchandise on display. (Sean said later that he was glad to hear that, because he was setting himself a goal of only buying things he could imagine me buying, and he'd already bought an iPod. I felt very complimented by his praise of my thrift.)

Two products (the Express Remote and the Sonos Digital Music System) made me yearn to connect my digital music to our stereo in a better way. The Sonos system is overkill for me, though. I think that the current plan I'm considering is to get an Airport Express and use iTunes on a laptop on the couch to pump music stored on the desktop upstairs to the stereo.

At 6:30, there was a party for the iWork team (and a few others) at Jillians, where we ate appetizers, drank free booze, played pool, and chatted. I was feeling a bit tired, so I wanted to take it easy on the alcohol. My total intake was a single Corona with lime, which surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I played about four games of pool with no particular skill.

After the party, some of us still felt a bit peckish, so we went to Chevy's for Mexican food. I had an enchilada with chicken and brie that was pretty good.


Wednesday
I wasn't scheduled to work the booth at all on Wednesday, so I had a fairly lazy day.

For a fairly late breakfast, I went to Lori's Diner, because Lori and I had eaten there a couple of times on our honeymoon. I had a California Omelette with chicken apple sausage, green onions, and cheddar cheese, which was pretty tasty.

I strolled down to the conference, looked around at a few things that I had overlooked the day before, and hooked up with Sean at the end of his shift in the iLife booth. The big gossip among our team: at a communications session that morning, Steve Jobs had announced that as a thank-you, all Apple employees would receive an iPod shuffle. Whee!

Paul joined Sean and me as we left for lunch. We went to Thirsty Bear Brewing Company, largely because it was close. By the time we got there, they had switched over to their tapas menu. The dishes we shared were grilled black sausage with white bean ragout, mustard aioli, and paprika onion rings (fairly tasty), Bacalaoditos (cod and fennel fritters--decent, but I wouldn't order them again) and Albondigas (meatballs with cheese--very tasty).

Then we went unenthusiastically back to the hotel for a scheduled meeting on engineering and testing methods for our next project. Low attendance turned this meeting into more of a bull session than an in-depth discussion, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; a bull session certainly suited my mood much better.

For dinner that evening, a whole gang of folks from our team (14 of us, I think) went to Annabelle's Bar and Bistro, which Roger had been recommended by the concierge. (Once upon a time, not all restaurants had web sites...) Because there were so many of us, we had to wait in the bar for quite a while; this was eased by the presence of an attractive bartender.

I had first ordered the coriander-crusted ahi tuna, but after we were told that five of us had ordered that and there were only two left, I switched to the ancho rubbed chicken breast. This, unfortunately, was badly over-grilled; it was tough and dry and tasted mostly of char from the grilling. Sean was similarly disappointed by his filet mignon, which arrived much later than everyone else's meals and was extremely overcooked--well-done, but not done well. (However, Steve Sprang ordered the ancho rubbed chicken as well, and found his nicely tender. Go figure.)

I did enjoy the dinner conversation, particularly talking with Yaniv about his time in the Israeli special forces. Unfortunately, like so many restaurants, Annabelle's was built with walls that reflected sound, so you had to raise your voice quite a bit to be heard. (I hate this trend in restaurants. I suppose it's done to make the restaurant seem boisterous and lively, but I far prefer a restaurant where you can have a quiet conversation.)


Thursday

On Thursday, Sean and I were running a bit late for a morning meeting, so I picked us up a couple of Macho Bacon Burritos from Del Taco. When I took them out of the bag, I exclaimed, "This burrito is much larger than a Mac mini!" Sean was not thrilled with his, but I found my burrito tasty and satisfying--a much better experience than Jester's at a small fraction of the cost.

The meeting had much of the bull-session nature to it, but again that was satisfying. The room the hotel had given us for this session was the Board Room, which looked like a corporate board room from a movie, with deep leather chairs, leather writing organizers at each seat, and bottles of water at each seat instead of the pitcher and glasses that had been provided in Wednesday's meeting room.

The brochure rack next to the concierge desk had a flyer for the California Culinary Academy, and I persuaded Sean to try the lunch there with me. Getting there was a walk of about a dozen blocks. It was very clear when we entered the Tenderloin--there was a very visible demographic shift in the people that we saw on the streets.

Through a bit of a misunderstanding on my part, we ate at the Academy Grill instead of at the buffet in the Careme Room. But I don't regret the choice at all.
For an appetizer, Sean had a salad, and I had a cup of lobster bisque with quenelles and fleurons, mostly because I didn't know those French words. The quenelles were a sort of seafood dumpling; the dictionary definition is "a ball or dumpling of finely chopped meat or seafood bound with eggs and poached in stock or water". The fleuron was a fairly normal crouton, but cut in an elegant flower shape. The bisque was very smooth and flavorful, with a light flavor that made it easy for me to pick out the delicate taste of the sherry.
For a main course, then, Sean had the spinach ravioli (which were very good) and I had the grilled hanger steak with a cognac glaze, which was absolutely splendid. The meat was deliciously tender, with an amazingly rich flavor that spread out through my mouth in a rapturous way. It's rare for me to get a steak in a restaurant that's better than I can make myself, but this was far beyond my capabilities, certainly one of the best steaks I've ever had. I felt compelled to write paeans of praise on the comment card, and Sean asked the hostess to convey his high praises to the chef, and all along the walk back, we kept talking about how wonderful that steak was, and how extraordinarily better it was than Sean's tough filet mignon at Annabelle's, with a tougher cut of meat at half the price.
For dessert, Sean had a beautiful custard-and-ice cream treat topped with a beautiful spiral cage of fine dark chocolate. I had an orange creme brulee that was delightful, with a rich sumptuous orange taste.
(I should mention that all these dishes were presented beautifully and looked superb on the plate. But they tasted better than they looked.)
I felt a great delight that my suggestion of this restaurant had paid off so nicely.


(Foodie side note: later that afternoon, Sean was talking to Rachael about our trip to the Academy Grill, and how even though both of us thought that Roger was a big foodie, we'd had much better food at my choice. Rachael replied, "Ralph is more of a foodie than most chefs I know." I felt extremely pleased when Sean relayed that.)

We made it back to the convention center just in time for me to join my shift at the iLife booth. Unfortunately, I don't know iLife very well, and lots of people asked me in-depth iDVD questions that I had to ask my shift manager for. I finally had somewhat better results by standing somewhat away from the computers, where I got more general questions and basic "what's new in iLife?" questions.

For dinner, Sean was tired, but I talked him into going farther than the hotel restaurant. He and I went to Mehfil Indian Cuisine. We had a chicken saag and a dish called "kachri murag" that I had never had before. The menu's description: " Kachri is a kind of dry baby melon powder and is only found in Rajasthan. Here chicken is cooked with aromatic star anise and Kachri powder and adding ginger, garlic and tomatoes." It was tasty; I'd certainly be willing to order it again.

For dessert, then, we went back to Thirsty Bear, because it was on the way and I'd seen that they had a dessert menu. It was very loud and hard to talk, and even though we both might have liked the techno music they were playing under other circumstances, when coupled with our fatigue from the day, it made us edgy and happy to get out of there. I had the apple and sweet cheese empanada with maple ice cream, which was quite tasty; I was particularly pleased with the strong maple flavor of the ice cream, because I find maple a pretty subtle flavor usually. Sean had the churros with caramel and chocolate sauces, and was not so pleased with that.


Friday

Friday morning, Sean, Steve Sprang, and I went to breakfast at Lori's Diner. I had the Tex-Mex omelette, which didn't satisfy me quite as much as the California omelette.)

I had no shift Friday morning, so after walking over to the convention with Steve and Sean to pick up another t-shirt, I walked back to the hotel, packed my bags and set out for another long walk. I had finished all the light reading that I'd brought, so I was looking for a used bookstore to buy more. The concierge suggested City Lights in North Beach, so I walked up there.

(On the way up, I walked through the touristy part of Chinatown, and did stop to buy something for Lori on the way.)

The concierge's directions were slightly off, so I stopped into the Stinking Rose for directions and a stinking bun. I discovered there that the Stinking Rose sells garlic condoms. I did not buy any.

I also discovered that near the Stinking Rose, there's a restaurant called Giordano's All-in-One, selling Primanti's-style sandwiches with french fries and coleslaw in the sandwich. (Text posted near the door makes clear that Giordano's is deliberately emulating Primanti's; this is not convergent evolution.) I didn't feel a need to eat there; I can get Primanti's-style sandwiches easily in Pittsburgh. (I didn't find a website for Primanti's, but I did come across this amusing review comparing Primanti's and Giordano's.)

City Lights didn't really satisfy my needs, though; it's a bit more highfalutin than I was looking for. So I set a course for Rasputin Music and McDonald's books. On the walk back, I went down Stockton, one block over from the touristy-Chinatown Grant. Stockton was clearly catering much more to Chinese people; there were lots of crowded markets in which none of the signs featured characters I recognized. (That's not actually true; the signs usually used Roman numerals. But no other Roman characters.)

Rasputin Music had a large selection, but I didn't manage to find a deeply-discounted used section. I did buy two albums: a fairly cheap Clan of Xymox album, and a CD of the tribute concert at the White House for Duke Ellington's 70th birthday.

Thence to McDonald's Books, advertised as "a dirty, poorly-lit place for books" (in contrast to A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books). What the sign missed was "disorganized". Books were piled so randomly that there was little hope of finding anything. I did find one Nero Wolfe book (Trio for Blunt Instruments) for $1.00, which satisfied my airplane needs, but it was pretty frustrating. (There was some evidence that this might be a temporary condition, but it's far from clear.)

By this time, I didn't feel that I had time for a long lunch before my afternoon shift. I went back to the hotel to change my shirt, and went back to the Metreon for lunch. The restaurants on the first floor were all pretty crowded, so I went up to the fourth floor, where I found a restaurant called In the Night Kitchen, based on a Maurice Sendak book with which I'm not familiar. (Next door, there's a big Where the Wild Things Are area that looked extremely nifty, though I didn't pay to go through.) I had a chicken caesar salad that was fine but not special (but it did satisfy the need I felt for a lighter meal).

Back to the convention center for my last shift, this time back in the iWork area. Even though I knew what I was talking about and it was a shorter shift, I found this shift the most grueling, and I'm not quite sure why. I do remember that I was able to provide a lot of guidance to one photographer as to how Keynote (particularly Keynote 2's soundtrack feature) could really help her create the slide show she wanted.

For dinner, then, I was enthusiastic about going to the California Culinary Academy again, and I persuaded Matt Ghio, Brad Vaughan, and Paul Placeway to join me. There were a few bits of misplanning--we arrived at 5, when they didn't open until 6, and we had no reservation, when a reservation would have been handy. Fortunately, they managed to fit us in. I'm so glad they did; it was a lovely dinner.

The dinner buffet is a grand buffet, with several tables full of delightful morsels. And as an extra delight, there are student chefs around who made the dishes and can talk knowledgeably about them. So, for example, I discovered the difference between a ballotine and a galantine (the ballotine is turkey stuffed with forcemeat and rolled, then roasted; the galantine is the same, but poached). And when I had a bit of pork barbecue, I was able to ask "what sort of barbecue does this sauce represent?" and be told "It's a Kansas City/St. Louis barbecue, with a bit of Louisiana influence in the spices with some turmeric. It's a sweet sauce, with a bit of spice." This was a sort of food-geek heaven for me. It was wonderful to be able to talk with lots of people who were really knowledgeable about the food they were offering.

And the food was all excellent. Once I was in the airport, I made a list of all the food that I could remember eating. At this point, I don't remember how good each particular item was; I just remember the dishes that were so good that I felt called to identify the chef and praise their dish directly to them. (They were so pleased when you complimented their code. It was very gratifying.) The big list of food I ate:

Plate 1, mostly in the cold meat and seafood table:
Turkey ballotine stuffed with forcemeat
three-layer seafood thing
Veal roulade with mushrooms
Smoked quail stuffed with forcemeat and cranberries (praise the chef)
bread

Plate 2, my first pass through the hot food line (I only got halfway before filling my plate):
Braised rabbit with dried fruits
Pork loin with pears poached in red wine and sauce with onion, raisins, ... (praise the chef)
Prime rib with bearnaise sauce
Couscous
Pork in barbecue sauce (sweet with a little spice; chef described it as St. Louis/Kansas City style, with contributions from Louisiana)
Brussels sprouts with julienned vegetables
Spinach-leek souffle
Veal roast with glace de viande with veal stock, red wine, and black truffles (praise the chef)
Grilled green beans with lemon aioli (praise the chef)

Plate 3, through the other cold appetizer table:
Roquefort cheese (praise the chef)
Aged white cheddar
Smoked gouda
White fish sashimi with caviar (I don't know which white fish it was)
"Jello salad" - three-layer aspic with fruit
Salmon roulade stuffed with seafood mousses wrapped in nori

Plate 4, my second pass through the hot food line (I resolutely started at the middle, in hopes of making it through to the end of the line):
Veal roast
Grilled green beans
Scalloped potatoes with cheese en croute in puff pastry (praise the chef; it had a bit of blue cheese)
Rice pilaf with dried fruits
Cannelloni with sun-dried tomatoes
Duck with orange glaze
Beef stew (very tender, but a very mild flavor; I'd prefer a stronger flavor)
Pine-nut crusted salmon roasted on oak barrels (praise the chef)

Dessert:
Bananas Foster (praise the chef)
Lemon curd meringue tartlet (praise the chef)
Orange custard on chocolate cookie base
Flambeed berries over chocolate ice cream in sugar shell

So that's nine dishes for which I wrote "praise the chef", which is a great result for a dinner.

Another "praise the chef" item: one of the tables had a beautiful centerpiece of a watermelon carved into the shape of a many-petaled flower. I asked how long it would take to carve, and one student said "it would take me two hours, but it would take her just fifteen minutes." (She agreed that was realistic for her.) I was amazed; my own estimate for how long it would take me would be a minimum of two days and a minimum of three watermelons.

The price was $36, which was just slightly over the amount Apple authorized for dinner. But we had a 15% coupon which made it work out nicely, with us just paying a bit for a tip. And we got an amazing amount and variety of splendid food that made the price extremely reasonable.

I hope that Pittsburgh Culinary Academy has dinners like this; I'd like to go to such dinners often without traveling to San Francisco.

One more note: California Culinary Academy offers weekend classes in which you have a continental breakfast, learn culinary techniques for a long morning, and then share your creations with the other people in the class. I'd love to have such a class in Pittsburgh--another reason to consult Pittsburgh Culinary Academy. (Another note: at Thursday's lunch, I got a coupon for $25 off a weekend class at CCA, expiring June 2005. If you can use it, let me know.)


Then off to the airport for the flight home. I volunteered to get bumped to another flight, but didn't get called. I didn't manage to sleep on the redeye beyond dozing a bit; I did just finish the Nero Wolfe book by the time we landed.
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