Photo by Doug Wheller, used under Creative Commons license

What exactly is a nel-drip anyway?

Earlier this week I was in San Francisco to speak at a conference. I don’t write about work on this blog, but I certainly write about what I eat and drink, especially while traveling, so here are the highlights:

After the first day’s meetings the conference organizer hosted a few of us at the Press Club, a bar / event space which was happily quite close to my hotel.  Their wine list is enormous (and the full draft list is very interesting) but there was a limited set of each on offer. Still, the 2010 Donatiello Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) was good, the 2009 Bethel Heights Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) was very good, and the 2011 Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) was okay. Cool space too.

A few times I found myself needing decent coffee, so I visited the Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza. I wasn’t blown away with the coffee itself — just not a fan of that particular bean’s flavour profile, I think. It’s clear they take their coffee pretty seriously though; it looked like a chemistry lab in there. But it was a nice little cafe at which to sit and sip a cappuccino. Oh, and the olive oil shortbread was delicious.

Finally, after the main day’s conference, the organizers again generously took a few of the speakers out for dinner at Trace. I had an excellent pumpkin soup with bacon relish (!) and some slow-roasted berkshire pork loin. I had no hand in the wine selection, but the Fumé Blanc and Pinot Noir our hosts selected worked perfectly. I had no room for dessert, regrettably.

With less than 48 hours between my flights, the vast majority of which was spent in conference rooms, it wasn’t a very adventurous San Fran visit. Tasty, though.


Photo by Doug Wheller, used under Creative Commons license

"Rommel, you magnificent bastard…I read your book!"

Last week I did a 36-hour trip to San Francisco, one of my very favourite cities. It was for work, alas, and I didn’t get to see or do all — or anything, really —  that I would have liked, but it was still quite nice. Here’s how it went:

  • 5+ hour flight to SFO, during which I watched Se7en (for the quillionth time) and several episodes of Portlandia (for the first time)
  • 6+ hour vendor meeting, which actually went better than you would normally expect with a 6+ hour vendor meeting
  • Dinner at L’Appart, a fantastic French restaurant up in San Anselmo. I had Shrimp Napoleon and cassoulet and crème brûlée, and shared in the flowing bottles of Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone. It was like being back in Juilley.
  • Heavy, zonked, lights-out sleep at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins in Nob Hill
  • Relaxing morning, including a walk around the city (and by ‘a walk’ I mean ‘climbing up and down a million hills’), a Starbucks stop and returning to my room to sit in the window, drink my coffee and read the New York Times
  • 5+ hour flight to YYZ, during which I watched Patton (imdb | rotten tomatoes) for the first time. I’ve always put off watching it because it’s so long, but when you have five hours to kill a 182-minute movie comes in handy.

I would have loved to spend more time in the city, or take a side trip up to Napa, but it just wasn’t happening. Still, 24 hours in northern California in February is better than no hours at all.

Exeunt Dickinsons

Sadly, our vacation has (more or less) come to an end. We had a great send-off last night, dinner down the road at Saffron. Great food, wonderful decor and excellent service. We packed, crashed and slept the sleep of happy travelers.

In the morning we drove down to San Francisco, an unremarkable trip except that we saw a fog bank creep in over Sausalito like the fingers of a giant hand. We drove right into it, which made our second drive across the Golden Gate bridge somewhat less scenic than the first. Without too much difficulty we reached SFO, had a nasty burger and some Anchor Steam, and prepared to board our flight.

When all is said and done this will likely go down as one of our best trips, but right now all we want to do is get home, relax a little and sleep in our own bed.

Bye California!!!


As all first-time visitors to San Francisco must do, we visited Alcatraz today. The lines were long and the ferry was crowded — I can’t even imagine what it’s like on a weekend — but it was worth a visit. First of all, it was interesting to see a prison that close…it seemed so small compared to other prisons I’ve seen from the outside. Also, it was hard to get over how tiny the cells were.

Second, the island itself was strangely pretty, for what’s essentially a great rock, and the views from the island of the city skyline and bridges were fantastic. It also helped that the weather was gorgeous today, a vast improvement over the gray skies of the past two days.

Back on dry land we hopped in a cab and went to try Church Key. Unfortunately it wasn’t open for lunch; fortunately, we were near Rogue. I had to go back to a) have some more of those pulled pork sliders, and b) make up for my last beer yesterday, which had been shit. I had the hazelnut brown, Nellie had the Dogfish Head punkin.

There was one last thing on our agenda: looking down Lombard Street from the top. We walked up endless hills to get this vantage, which it turns out isn’t that impressive. We’d hoped to jump on a cable car to take us down the hill, but it was packed, so we just walked the last few minutes back to the hotel. Since then it’s been a nice relaxing afternoon of lying around our suite, and reading outside by the fire.

Tonight we’ll stick our noses into Haight-Ashbury for dinner so we can at least have a look at what that neighbourhood is like. And that will more or less wrap up the San Fran portion of our trip.

The reluctant tourists

Yesterday was a very San Francisco (tourist) day. We strolled out the hotel’s back door and down to the waterfront, walking along to the end of the municipal pier for much better shots of Alcatraz than we’d managed the day before, as well as a view of the Golden Gate bridge and back toward Ghirardelli Square. We turned and walked back, through the throngs of walkers, runners, cyclists, dogs and occasional Segway tour, toward Fisherman’s Wharf.

It’s every bit as touristy as you might think (there was a wax museum and a Rainforest Cafe and a slew of cruddy-looking stores selling cheap San Francisco paraphernalia), but at least there were some redeeming features like Boudin (where we picked up a loaf of sourdough) and the sea lions at Pier 39. Still, though, I was anxious to get away from all the crowds.

We started the long walk uphill to Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill. The views from the top of the hill were pretty good, and at the top of the tower they were even better.

We were getting pretty hungry by this point so we descended the steep-ass hill and found ourselves at the Rogue meeting hall. Nellie started with the Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner and finished with a Northwestern Red IPA. I had a Dogfish Head (!?) Punkin and wrapped up with a Rogue Chammemellow. In between we had two Rogue samplers  (#1: American Amber, Eugune Triple Jump Ale, Northwestern Red IPA and Chipotle Ale; #2: Hazelnut Brown, Mocha Porter, Dry Hop Red and Chocolate Stout) along with some really excellent food…my pulled pork sliders were amazing.

Finally, since it was on our way home, we decided to join the throngs of people taking pictures of Lombard Street. Or, rather, the bizarrely twisty stretch starting at the top of Russian Hill. Even walking up to that stretch was tough…it’s steep enough that cars have to park at a 90-degree angle lest they roll downhill. But we got our pictures with a minimum of wives having to be pulled up the hill, and then made the short walk home to our hotel. We reckoned that San Francisco is like Halifax on steroids. That must be why we love it so much.

Rather than go out for dinner last night we just picked up some meat, cheese and wine to go along with the sourdough and chocolates we already had. We sat outside on the terrace enjoying the fire pit and views and fresh air. We met more Canadians (seriously, they’re everywhere…so far we’ve met an employee from Toronto, another employee from Vancouver and his wife from Dartmouth, and guests from Calgary, Missisauga and Brantford) and scammed a hot dog and loved our vacation and enjoyed our dinner inside only after the drizzle started. There might have been some wine spilled on the floor. Might.

Today: Alcatraz!

California: getting started

First of all, easiest 5.5 hour flight ever. A weekend Globe, a bad movie (Robin Hood), an EnRoute magazine and a few episodes of Modern Family and there we were in San Francisco. One crazy-ass cabbie later and we were at our hotel, the amazing Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square. Our room…well, it’s actually quite ridiculous to call it a room. It’s a two-bedroom suite, twice the size of our condo and twice and nice inside. I’m not kidding when I say that I would happily live here. We had just enough time to drop our stuff, take pictures of our swish new spread and poke around Ghirardhelli Square a bit before the daily wine and cheese tasting. That’s right: the daily wine and cheese tasting. We sat around the fire pit (it was getting a little chilly outside) and savoured the feeling of not giving a shit about anything.

For dinner we hit the first of several (reportedly) great beer places we’d  picked out, La Trappe. It was a tiny little basement bar…Nellie called it a cross between Smokeless Joe and C’est What, which will only make sense to Toronto beer drinkers. There was a 49-page beer menu but, quite frankly, we never made it off the first page draft list. There was more than enough there to occupy us. I had a St Feuillien Grisette Blanche, a Bavik wittekerke and a Caracole Nostradamus. Nellie had a La Chouffe golden ale, a St Feuillien tripel and a Brugse Zot dubbel. They were all good, though my Nostradamus was a little harsh. Nellie’s dubbel was better, and I could see why they were pouring them for half the people in the bar. Our frites were good (wasabi mayo and curry ketchup…tasty!) and my sliders were excellent with a little leftover wasabi mayo added in, but Nellie’s mussels were a little disappointing. Still, it was a great find for our first meal, and wasn’t the slightest bit touristy. Actually, one other interesting point: drinking beer seems to actually be a trendy thing in this city. There were groups of girls there last night you’d expect to see dancing in a club, but instead were sitting in this basement bar drinking Chimay all night. Weird, but awesome.

We hit the hay pretty early since we were still on Toronto time, and slept like the dead. Even though we’re at street level, noise doesn’t bother us and the blackout curtains made our gigantic home like a cave. We’ve been up long enough to have some breakfast, watch a little Freaks and Geeks, write this, shower and get ready for our first proper day of exploring San Francisco. Now let’s hope the rain holds off!


We’re here. Our hotel is amazing, and our room ridiculous. Too bad the weather went to shit just as we got off the plane, but still…it’s been a pretty awesome first few hours of drinking wine and exporing nearby Ghirardelli Square. Next up: Belgian beer.

No wonder every smart person I know would like to work there

Via Beyond Robson (the Vancouver equivalent of BlogTO) I read this story today:

Google Gives All SF Homeless Free Voicemail

Google has made an announcement that could help hundreds of homeless people in San Francisco get back on their feet. Every single homeless person in the city will be given a life-long phone number and voicemail, should they choose to accept it, NBC11’s Lisa Bernard said.

More details here at Google’s blog. Google does this using GrandCentral, a technology they acquired a while back. I’ve played around with it some, and my brother’s a big fan.

Anyway, I’m sure some people will read this and laugh/sneer, saying “Don’t you think there’re things that homeless people need more than voicemail?” Well, yeah, of course there are, but Google can’t provide those things directly, so it’s doing this. Good for them.

By the way, $5 says this came out of a 20% time idea.

[tags]google, grandcentral, homeless, san francisco, project homeless connect[/tags]