31 January 2011

So I've been traveling.

Just when I was getting going again, other things got in the way.

Like having to leave the frozen east for the more enjoyable climate of San Francisco.

San Francisco was hosting one of those academic conferences in one of those big non-descript hotels that occupy the areas around the business districts of American cities. This one happened to be down around Market Street, within an easy walk of the Ferry Terminal, which has a nice farmers market on the weekend.

There was also a storefront from some boutique olive oil manufacturer that sold rather expensive olive oil and olive trees to boot. I'd love to have an olive tree, but I'm not sure it would grow in my current location. I'd love even more to have an avocado tree, but again I doubt the climate would suit it around here.

We didn't stay at the conference hotel or anywhere near Market, really. It's sort of expensive and again sort of generic. There are times when it's very convenient to stay at or near the conference hotel (MLA in LA earlier this month being one of those times), but sometimes it's extremely enjoyable to distance yourself physically and mentally from the conference. We stayed at a place that played a bit role in one of my favorite films. They claim to be a Nob Hill hotel, and in some ways they are, but really it's the edge of Nob Hill and they could be as easily the upper Tenderloin as lower Nob Hill, and besides it's only three blocks from their door to Polk Street, a particularly gritty nightlife area that recalls Adams Morgan but with more menace.

However, I wouldn't characterize the neighborhood as run down or dangerous. Neither the Tenderloin nor Polk are what they were in the mid-1990's, which is to say they're considerably more mundane, although not gentrified. As for the hotel, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who asks. Just get a renovated room, because that's half the kick.

The conference went well, because I know you were waiting for me to get around to it. Fortunately, the panel I was on was one of the first panels and in addition to having a nearly full room with some good exchanges during the question and answer, I knew that by Thursday afternoon, I was finished worrying about the presentation and could relax for the remainder, which I did. I took a few panels off to visit Coit Tower in particular and North Beach in general, and while the Coit Tower elevator was closed for repairs, I hadn't planned on going up the tower anyway; I just like the murals and views from the grounds are great. We even saw a few of the parrots that make Telegraph Hill their home.

Food: House of Nanking (a favorite of ours on Kearny). The food is excellent, but if you are someone who thinks you should be pampered as a customer, I'd give it a miss. They're pretty brusque. The last time I was there, the place looked like a total dive. This time, the interior had been remodeled and the menu prices reflected that capital investment. I liked the dive look better.

Food: North Beach Pizza (another favorite). Since we'd been there last, the joint had moved across the street. The old location was a bit cramped, always crowded, and not exactly suited to efficient movement. The new place has a really high ceiling and an open design, as well as significantly higher capacity. The pizza is still excellent, especially with a bottle of straw basket chianti.

Food: Gamine (a new one for us). We were walking around Union Street looking for food and came upon this gem. It's tiny and owner-operated, which is a definite plus in my book. It was also stocked with several regulars, as evidenced by the owner's personal attention and setting up of complimentary dessert wines. While we didn't receive such attention, the atmosphere was enjoyable, except for the drunk twenty-something who was hitting on the co-owner, who was the wife of the other owner. I had moules mariniere and pomme frittes, both of which were very very very good -- the sauce had a nice amount of garlic and pepper in it. It was a bit overpriced ($15 for the mussels and $5 for the frittes -- they didn't come as a package as I believe they do at Bistrot du Coin), but not horrifically out of line.

We had some other meals, but I'll leave those to your imagination. Not that I've described these meals in particular.

Air travel is a pain.

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