slowfoodnation (better late than never)

HoneyIt’s taken me a while to mull through what I wanted to share about slowfoodnation weekend that I hadn’t already seen at many other blogs during the event.

A week or so after my birthday, I decided to splurge and buy tickets for my boyfriend and I to go to one of the tasting sessions at Fort Mason. Tickets, at $65 each plus fees, were more expensive than most of the wine tastings I’ve attended at Fort Mason by $10, and more expensive than any concert I’ve seen to date (even those Bauhaus Ressurection Tour tickets way back when were cheaper.)

As a former slowfood member, I would drool when I would receive the notices about the Italy tasting events and dreamt of some day planning my vacation to coincide with them. I was hoping this would live up to the idea I had built up in my head about what such an event could be. Did it? In short — no. I was disappointed. But I do see a lot of potential there, that I hope is tapped if they decide to move forward with another slowfoodnation event.

Pizza The Pros

  • Amazing Pizza. That pizza you are looking at here is in my top 5 most perfect crusts ever list. It was thin and crispy and delicious. And made in an oven that appeared to be built on site for the event, with pizzas assembled by an amazing crew of volunteers. It was worth the half hour wait, especially since we had delicious Magnolia Brewpub cask conditioned beer in hand.
  • Lots of Learning. The honey, coffee and chocolate tastings were tasty, fun and informative. The folks we talked to who were manning the counters in these three areas clearly had passion for their subject matter. I had never really thought about how the time of the year would affect the way the honey would taste, so it was cool to be able to taste three examples of honey from the same bee colony from Spring to Fall. And the cupcake, as seen in the photo at the top of this entry, was the perfect tiny accompaniment.
  • A Visual Feast. Throughout the Pavillions, the eye was engaged with all sorts of food ephemera and lots of educational content.

The Cons

Ice_cream

  • Lack of Organization. We came through the gates and were handed our slowbucks (which we thought at the time we would surely run out of) and a flimsy map that showed where each pavillion was located. And that is it as far as takeaways from the event. For $65 it would have been nice to have been able to have taken home educational materials of some sort — be it a flyer on sustainable raised coffees, or a CD-ROM (or heck even a special URL for downloading) with the content from the educational displays. Some exhibits had interesting informative folks walking you through the flight you were tasting. Others — including the salumi and the ice cream — gave you no information about the food you were sampling other than what it was on a basic level. No details on the trends or philosophies behind the producer or the food item.
  • Excessively Long Lines. I never got to read all the cheese-making educational content, and did not get to scope out the cheeses that were being samples because I couldn’t handle the though of standing in a line that stretched the length of the display, then half the width of the auditorium and out the door and down the side of the building to the front.
  • Poor Wine Tasting Organization. You could only fight to the front of the meade/sparkling wine area; the rest were unreachable thanks to the cocktail rounds blocking the lines and immovable people who camped at the bar, never stepping back for anyone else to obtain a taste as well. I asked our bartender 3 times for a wine on the list that he said they did not have; my boyfriend finally pointed at the bottle in front of him. We then had the tiniest pour ever of said wine, which the bartender did not know anything about. It was the least informative or accessible wine tasting I have partaken in at Fort Mason. They really should not have bothered.

I expected to leave this event excited about local producers and foods. Instead I had sore feet, went home with many slowbucks unused, and ordered a pizza from Pizza Orgasmica because I was starving after spending hours around so much food (and receiving such tiny tastes of it from the few pavillions in which I could actually suffer the lines.)

I was also disappointed with the attendees. Overall, they were unfriendly (like the couple who rode the bus to the event with us, then couldn’t even return a smile when we ran into them inside), and rude (the lady who was saving 5 chairs at a table for her friends in line and wouldn’t let us sit there for the 5 minutes it would take for us to eat our tiny salumi tastes.) We did chat with one couple after we finally found a seat; they were aghast at the fattiness of the mortadella slivers my boyfriend had (and was not eating) and were deciding against waiting in that line.

I left feeling even more disconnected with the local slowfood movement. I let my membership lapse after a few years due to the only SF convivium events tending to be last minute (a few days in advance usually), incredibly expensive dinners. I had expected the SF chapter to be ripe with informative educational lectures, farm tours and volunteer opportunities, and fun tastings. I was hoping slowfoodnation would deliver on that. Maybe next year.

Visiting Monterey Bay

If you’re trying to get out of the heat, a Summertime trip to Monterey Bay is a great idea. Unfortunately it is one shared with throngs of tourists. This leads to hotels booked months in advance throughout the Summer. So whatever you do — don’t arrive in Monterey without a reservation, unless you can afford the last available suite at one of the resorts.

My recent trip to Monterey involved a stay at the Hotel Pacific, billed as a AAA 4-diamond property within walking distance of Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Their website also promised "handcrafted tile bath features separate tub and shower, a second phone and a second television" and "French doors opening to a private balcony or patio."

Some of the above was a bit of a stretch of the truth. Although Fisherman’s Wharf was nearby, the aquarium was only walking distance if you meant that you can pick up the free tram in front of the hotel to get there, or if you were accustomed to walking a few miles per day. Our bathroom had a shower with just a curtain — no tub or even a raised area to keep the water from flooding the floor — and a fold-down seat for the elderly or disabled. No TV, and not at all the luxurious or romantic accommodation we were expecting. The sink being in the main room — not the bathroom — was another odd choice. And that patio? Think an eye-level walled alleyway with only 1 lawn chair. All this at about the same price as staying at a truly luxurious room at the W in most cities. I’d also much rather be able to pay for room service than have to stand around, with children running to-and-fro, waiting for coffee urns to be refilled and the ransacked Continental Breakfast tables replenished. Live and learn. We won’t be staying there again.

As a side note, how is it that a hotel that advertises itself as having conference and meeting facilities does not have a business center or even a computer that hotel guests can use? We forgot our pre-purchased Monterey Bay Aquarium tickets, and were directed to a Kinko’s about a mile away. And that was after watching the desk person print another guest’s airplane boarding passes. That’s not the level of service I would expect from a self-proclaimed "luxury" property.

Once we had our pre-purchased tickets in hand, we parked in the hotel garage and took the free bus to the aquarium, avoiding the $20-$25 parking lot fees for the few available spaces. Having pre-purchased tickets also allowed us to avoid the line of several hundred people waiting to see if they would be able to buy tickets. As always, the facility’s impressive aquariums, and their educational presentation on the deep sea research they are conducting with an affiliated non profit research arm, was well worth braving the crowds.

Next post will be on the glorious food, which was second only to the otters as a highlight of the trip.

PHOTOS: New DeYoung Museum

Although the museum doesn’t officially open until October 15, the cafe and bookstore have been open for a few weeks to give the curious (and the impatient members) a chance to take a look around. Although most of the artworks inside retain their packing shrouds, the Goldsworthy rock installation in the entrance to the museum is in use, and the Richter photo mural in the lobby is viewable.

The parts of the museum that are currently open were teaming with people this afternoon. Word has started to get out that there’s finally a good place to make a pitstop in the midst of a stroll through Golden Gate Park. The cafe prices are in line with the former cafe, but the light-filled space, with its glass lollipop shaped lights and tinker toys structure chairs, are worlds beyond the former museum cafe.

I was pleased to find the Izze’s pomagranite as an alternative to soda, but vexed that their only ice tea was bottled or from the soda fountain. And although our chocolate mousse cake was inexplicably dry, I would go back again for food because the sandwiches on airy artisan bread looked so tasty…

Italy: Open for Renovations

Last time I was in Italy, in 2001, it seemed like the entire country was under renovation. From the Medici Chapel in Florence to the Doge’s Palace in Venice, many of the sites I visited were shrouded in scaffolding. The same was true in my June travels through Italy.

But unlike such projects in the States, I was again struck by the fact that their scaffoldings (like the one here seen on the Grand Canal in Venice) were typically covered with colorful representations of what the restored building will look like (or what it looked like prior to the restoration), with a shout out to the corporate or civic entities that sponsored the project.

It came as a huge disappointment though when I walked into my favorite piece of civic architecture — the Pantheon in Rome — shifted my gaze up to the oculus, and saw…scaffolding. Boring utilitarian scaffolding obscuring about 1/8 of the interior, from wall to oculus. And associated roped off walls. All the visitors were basically coralled into the center of the building, unable to get up close to the gorgeous marble walls.

Turns out they spent a little over a year giving the interior dome a good scrubbing. Gone are the dark tobacco-colored splotches. The dome is now more of a glistening honey-sand color, with very few blemishes. It’s gorgeous, if unexpected.

PHOTOS: Big Sur

Like any good travel magazine addict, I knew that Ventana was one of Big Sur‘s most posh retreats. What I found out through my online sleuthing in preparation for a Big Sur camping trip is it’s also home to one of the area’s prettiest campgrounds.

The $30 a night price tag seemed pretty steep until I saw that many of the other Big Sur campgrounds amount to little more than large parking lots with small dirt patches and scrubby little bushes at little more than a $10 savings. Also, since this was one of the few campgrounds to promote that they had fire rings — and I wanted to raost some marshmallows — it was an easy choice to make.

Our camp site was at the midpoint of the campground (though due to rains the week before, it was pretty much at the far end of the available spaces). The site was large enough to hold our car at the far end, a picnic table and fire ring in the middle, and to leave a huge open space around our tent. Running water for washing dishes was at the edge of our space which was great except for when the neighbors spent a half hour after dark obsessively rinsing something. As a plus, the bathhouse was always empty, and was cleaner than most San Francisco public restrooms.

The campground was an excellent jumping off point for hiking at the local parks, wherein we ogled even more redwood trees, and a gorgeous waterfall.

Noise Pop 2005: Oranger and Man with a Movie Camera

One of my favorite events at each year’s Noise Pop music fesitval is the screening of a silent film at the Castro Theater with a live rock band performing the score. This year, they asked local indie rock favorites Oranger to reprise the score for Man with a Movie Camera, apparently originally created by Oranger for the L.A. Independent Film Festival. The movie was a collage of images from daily life in a Russian city, abstract but beautiful, and a great pairing for Oranger’s rockin out. AND there was even ample usage of theramin.

PHOTOS: An SF Scary XMAS

Thanks to my friend Sharon, I have now confirmed that SF has a house that would do my suburban Christmas Tree Lane residents proud.

Located on 21st, a few crests of the hill past Noe as you drive towards the Mission, there is a house that replicates the North Pole, complete with oversized stuffed animals in the guises of Hello Kitty and Sponge Bob, a towering Christmas Tree, and even a real live Santa Claus. Suspiciously, my photo of Santa came out pitch black despite the holiday lights…

Merry Chrismukkah!