Tuesday, February 28, 2006


A nice thing about birthdays is that you get to have great dinners with your friends. Even though mine was last week, the celebrations continue, and last night I dined with Elaine at Tamarine.

Tamarine is stylish, well-reviewed Vietnamese restaurant in Palo Alto, and it is very popular with my readers. I’ve been at least a dozen times, and I still look forward to each visit. It is quite comparable to Slanted Door, but I think that Tamarine is better.

The menu changes often yet they achieve a nice balance between new items and classics. We tried to follow that example in ordering, opting for the new (lemongrass beef wrapped in rice noodles, black cod in a clay pot) and the standards (tri-squash scallop curry and garlic noodles with crab).

We shared a Pinot Noir from Alsace and then ended our meal with the banana beignets. As the Finicky Lawyer points out in this excellent description of Tamarine, desserts are spotty but the bananas are delicious.

A note for my city friends: the owners of Tamarine are opening Bong Su south of Market in April. I'll assume that the food will be better than the name.

Tamarine: 546 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA (650) 325-8500
Slanted Door: 1 Ferry Building # 270, San Francisco, CA (415) 861-8032
Bong Su: 311 3rd St, San Francisco, CA (415) 536-5800


I’ve encouraged you to purchase The Complete New Yorker and to subscribe to the magazine. Today, to hit the trifecta, I wanted to mention that The New Yorker has an informative website you should read on Tuesdays.

Each week The New Yorker posts select articles from the latest issue, making them available for free before subscribers receive their magazines in the mail. For example, Jeffrey Toobin’s Drawing the Line, Tom Delay and a Texas Gerymander, from the March 6, 2006 issue was posted today.

You can also search a subset of the archives from the past year. Stories with political implications tend to be over-represented in the contents made publicly available, but this enables you to read Jane Mayer’s excellent The Memo from last week or her investigative piece on interrogation techniques, The Experiment, from this summer.

Unfortunately, gems from last year like David Grann's "The Lost City of Z," Elizabeth Kolbert’s "The Climate of Man," John McPhee's "Coal Train," and my favorite Burkhard Bilger's "The Egg Men" are not online - Conde Naste does have a staff to pay. But, you can read Kevin Conley’s The Players, Ken Auletta’s The New Pitch, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Moral-Hazard Myth, and Chandler Burr’s The Scent of the Nile.

Other features of the newyorker.com include a large number of short stories and The Film File, a database of more than 2,000 brief film reviews from the last 15 years. The have also created The Hard Drive, their repository of online-only features like slide shows and interviews with contributors. A great example is this discussion with John McPhee.

Monday, February 27, 2006


brillat-savarinLast night’s dinner featured some little dishes from the Han Kook market, an excellent 4 cheese pizza from the Cheeseboard Collective, and a unique type of orange. But, the star of our eclectic dinner was the cheese we had to conclude the meal: Brillat-Savarin.

Brillat-Savarin is a triple crème cheese from Normandy. I first had Brillat-Savarin at the Cheese Shop in Carmel and I am certain that it is the finest of the triple crème cheeses I have been privileged to try. Better than the Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam, better than Explorateur and better even than Pierre Robert.

Created in the 1930s, Brillat-Savarin is named after French politician and gourmet Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin whose quote “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are” should be familiar to every Iron Chef fan. It is a very soft, ripened cheese with a creamy interior and a wonderfully rich, buttery flavor.

We enjoyed it with thinly sliced walnut bread and two types of honey from Joy’s extensive collection: a white truffle infused honey and a chestnut honey. Cheese and honey is a genius combination. Thanks to Joy and Mike for hosting!

Bonus link 1: a nice discussion of different types of oranges
Bonus link 2: watch
Lego Chef on iFilm

Han Kook Market: 1092 E El Camino Real # 1092, Sunnyvale, CA (408) 244-0871
Cheeseboard Collective: 1512 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA (510) 549-3183
Cheese Sop: Carmel plaza, Carmel, CA (831) 625-2272

What if Microsoft redesigned Apple iPod packaging?

Someone very creative asked that question and produced this hysterical video as an answer. Thanks to Emmanuel for the link.

3/3 update: Mike W. noticed that the YouTube link no longer works and sent in this new link to the parody.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

better shaving through technology

gillette fusionI remember watching my dad shave when I was little. I couldn’t wait to copy him despite his suggestion that it was much better to be a boy and not have to shave. He was right – shaving sucks. The worst part is that other than growing a beard there is no way to avoid it. Shaving after sporting that Miami Vice look is even more irritating than the 3 or 4 days worth of grooming skipped would have been. Fortunately, technology keeps advancing beyond the safety razors our fathers’ used.

Usually, I don’t get sucked in by excessive marketing hype. OK, that’s not true, but I have been content with the Mach 3 for 7 years now. I resisted the upgrade to “Power” and I never contemplated the switch to Schick Quattro. However, despite the horrible television ads and the impossible to load flash website, at the end of last week I decided to try the Gillette Fusion.

Gillette’s newest razor (launched at the beginning of February) comes in 2 versions: orange (battery powered) and blue (normal, if any razor with 6 total blades can be called normal). I opted for blue. Both feature the same cutting heads: five-blade shaving surface; wider flexible cutting guard; and, a bonus blade on the back for trimming. It turns out that the Precision Trimmer is handy for tight spots like under the nose, but the real charm of the razor is the way the cutting guard works with the blades.

The improvements over the Mach 3 are most noticeable for the neck area and the chin. For these hard to shave regions, the Fusion seems to glide much easier resulting in less pulling and irritation as well as a closer shave. The wide guard also makes it easier to position the razor at the correct angle. I like to shave in the shower, and with the Fusion I feel much less of a need to keep my mirror fog-free.

Thus far, the Fusion has provided me the most comfortable shaves I have ever had. The only downside is the high $3 cost per cartridge. But, Gillette has to find a way to recover the more than $100 million they plan to sped marketing their newest innovation.

Neutrogena Razor Defense GelMore affordable and even more enthusiastically recommended is Neutrogena Razor Defense Gel. I used to use Edge Gel, but a few months ago I tried the Neutrogena and I haven’t looked back. There are 3 things I really like about it. First is the rich lather. You only need a small amount for excellent coverage. Second are its lubricants. They are both non-irritating and very slick. Finally, a small thing: the can won’t rust, a problem with normal metal containers.

Bonus link: hysterical and prescient parody of the blade arms race at the Onion
Bonus link for the ladies: Try Gillette’s
Venus Vibrance razor free

Saturday, February 25, 2006


gochi salmon clay potLisette was browsing Jatbar (a good Bay Area resource for restaurant reviews) and noticed Gochi’s 9-star rating. Coincidently, her friends David and June had been recently and were interested in returning. So, tonight the four of us headed to Gochi Fusion Tapas.

Gochi is only 4 months old, but it has already been well reviewed, and it has developed quite a following of loyal customers. Apparently it is an “in” spot for the local Japanese community. Part of the reason may be its chef, Masahiko Takei, previously at Blowfish in San Francisco and the defunct Le Poisson Japonais in Palo Alto. And, part of the reason is likely the menu. Despite the fusion name, many of the items are traditionally Japanese and not common in the US. Read (and see) more here and here.

The menu is quite large (more than 100 items) and some of the creations are quite fanciful. Take, for example, the two “fusion pizzas” we tried. One had Korean BBQ beef, kim chi and miso sauce. The second had shredded pork, wild mushrooms and miso. Both were delicious, especially their rice paper thin crusts.

We also enjoyed the more Japanese grilled salted duck breast, the simple spinach salad with soy dressing, the black cod with asparagus, and rice with salmon, seaweed and salmon roe in a clay pot (pictured). But, the best item was the crab and mushroom omelet. Tons of crab meat, light, fluffy eggs and a great sauce made this a perfect dish.

Their homemade desserts were good as well. We had the green tea crème brulee and the innovative Earl Grey milk pudding. But, not all was perfect with Gochi. We had a long wait for a table and waitresses doing double duty as hostesses seemed a bit disorganized. Additionally, their sake is over-priced and they don’t let you bring your own (we tried). And, finally, despite the rave reviews hyperlinked above, David and June’s previous experience suggests that the sashimi can vary in quality. Still, we had a great meal and a fun night. I look forward to my next visit to Gochi.

Gochi: 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino, CA (408) 725-0542

Friday, February 24, 2006

David Kinch

Food critic Florence Fabricant just completed a 3-part series for the New York Times on the cooking techniques of Chef David Kinch. (photograph by Felipe Buitrago) David runs the amazing Manresa in Los Gatos and was recently awarded a fourth star by the Chronicle’s Michael Bauer.

With registration you can read the articles on the NYT site, or you can access them here:

Reductio ad Perfectionem: What a Pigeon (02/08/2006)
Butter, Brown and Nutty, a Homage to New Orleans (02/15/2006)
By Fat Transformed: The Confit in All Its Splendor (02/22/2006)

It’s been a while since I have been to Manresa, but these reviews from KQED’s Check, Please! do a good job of describing its excellence. You’ll know when I go back as it will certainly be my cool thing of the day. Thanks to Stuart for introducing me to Manresa and to Joy for mentioning the NYT series.

Manresa: 320 Village LN, Los Gatos, CA (408) 354-4330

Thursday, February 23, 2006


KCRW is a Santa Monica based public radio station with a large internet presence and several quality programs worth your attention. Music director Nic Harcourt, a British transplant, hosts Morning Becomes Eclectic each weekday 9a - noon, and it’s a show I listen to as often as possible.

Morning Becomes Eclectic plays a wide range of new alternative, progressive, indie, chill and world music, and it has provided the US debut for folks like Coldplay, Dido, Moby and Norah Jones. Nic also brings artists in studio weekly for 45-minute live performances, the audio and video of which are archived on the KCRW site. View a recent list of real audio clips here (use time-based search for older clips) and don’t miss these outstanding sessions:

Death Cab for Cutie (audio) (video)
David Gray (
audio) (video)
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (
audio) (video)
Si Se (
audio) (video)
Kings of Convenience (
Maria Taylor (
audio) (video)
Aqualung (
audio) (video)
Madeleine Peyroux (
Steve Earl (
audio) (video)
Brazilian Girls (
audio) (video)
Rilo Kiley (
audio) (video)
Postal Service (
audio) (video)
Sarah McLachlan (
audio) (video)
Norah Jones (
Coldplay (

The best tracks occassionally are released on CDs. Older material is used for Rare on Air, and newer songs appear in the Sounds Eclectic series (amazon). Morning Becomes Eclectic has embraced podcasting as well, and you can download newer performances in mp3 format here from iTunes.

Each evening, Jason Bentley hosts Metropolis. Metropolis focuses more on electronic music, and top djs often stop by for studio visits when they are in LA. Recent guests spinning live include:

Naked Music star Miguel Migs (audio)
Trance legend Paul van Dyk (
James Zabiela (
audio), perhaps the most talented DJ in the world
Techno hero Sander Kleinenberg (
San Francisco based Gabriel and Dresden (audio), masters of the melodic remix

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


kaygetsu black codDinner tonight was a treat as I went to Kaygetsu. Kaygetsu is run by Toshi and Keiko (formerly of Toshi’s Sushiya) and was opened almost 2 years ago. They have an average location (tucked behind the Sharon Heights Shell), but they have excellent food as their 27 Zagat’s rating suggests.

Kaygetsu serves Kaiseki dinners as well as sushi and an ala carte menu. Tonight we selected from the ala carte offerings and were delighted by their variety and preparation. At Kaygetsu, Keiko runs the front of the house, Toshi presides over the sushi bar and two younger chefs, Yamasaki and Shinichi Aoki, run the kitchen. The menu is seasonal and the fish is among the best on the peninsula.

We started with a spinach salad in a tofu dressing and then had red miso soup. After the soup we had hirame sashimi, usuzukuri style. We followed the sashimi with beef kaygetsu style – very rare Kobe style rib eye served with mustard, wasabi and soy. It came with some greens but I would like to convince Toshi to serve this as nigiri. The meat was excellent.

kaygetsu sushiNext up were black cod with white miso (above right) and a grilled salmon marinated in sake. I’ve concluded that salmon is best smoked or raw, but the black cod was firm, moist and sweet. After these warm dishes we ordered Toshi’s excellent sushi (left). The shima aji was particularly noteworthy.

With dinner we had a sampler of early spring sake. These un-pasteurized sakes are produced in small quantities to mark the end of winter. Kaygetsu offers: Harushika Shiboribana, Koshinohomare Shiboritate and Kamikokoro Tokagen. The last was the most unusual and my favorite. Brewed with peach yeast, it has a refreshing flavor and a crisp long finish. All three sakes were consumed before we had their special dessert, a peach yeast sake flan with fresh fruit.

Kaygetsu is versatile restaurant. One visit you can have a 7 or 8-course Kaiseki dinner to sample high Japanese cuisine. The next you can keep Toshi-san company at the small 6-seat sushi bar. In both cases reservations are recommended.

Kaygetsu: 325 Sharon Park Dr, Menlo Park, CA (650) 234-1084

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

the infernal affairs trilogy

In the early 1990’s I watched a lot of Hong Kong gangster films on laser disc. Standouts were John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard-Boiled, all starring Chow Yun-Fat. These films were stylish and action-packed, featuring bloody shootouts and lots of fights. But, much like the films John Woo would later make for Hollywood, the plots were never compelling.

The 2002 and 2003 Infernal Affairs trilogy continues the police verses triad theme so prevalent in Hong Kong cinema but with a style all its own. There are no martial scenes, no slow motion effects and no epic gun battles. Instead we are treated to complex storylines and fantastic acting.

The first Infernal Affairs tells the story of Ming (Andy Lau), a policeman secretly working for triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang), and Yan (Tony Leung), a member Sam’s gang who is really an undercover detective reporting to Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong). Both Sam and Inspector Wong suspect that their organizations have been infiltrated and make it their top priorities to expose the moles.

The movie abounds in extreme suspense, wonderful performances and phenomenal cinematography. Not surprisingly it garnered Best Actor, Director and Picture awards at both the Hong Kong Film and Golden Horse ceremonies, and it commanded top dollar for US option rights. The Hollywood version directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen is said to be completing production.

Infernal Affairs II is a prequel, set 6 years earlier as Hong Kong prepares for handover. We learn what makes a young Yan (Shawn Yue) want to join the police force, and we see how a young Ming (Edison Chen) moves from triad to the Academy to a raising star in the Hong Kong police. Francis Ng provides a standout performance as Hau, and we learn much more about Sam and Inspector Wong as well.

Though not quite as good as the original, Infernal Affairs II is still marvelous and somewhat reminiscent of my favorite film: The Godfather Part II. It lacks the intricacies of the Godfather, the power of a performance like Al Pacino’s, and the strength of a character like Kay (Diane Keaton), but its plot is compelling and very well integrated with the first movie.

Tonight I completed the trilogy by watching Infernal Affairs III. In the finale, Any Lau and Tony Leung return to reprise their roles, and the action is set in the months before and after the conclusion of the first film. Time shifts frequently, adding some confusion to a story simpler than in the first two. However, the results are above the norm for trilogy conclusions. And, it is much better than the Matrix III, Return of the Jedi or the abomination that was the Godfather Part III. Andy Lau won a Golden Horse award for this film.

Rent the first two movies: they are excellent. And if you want more, rent the third as well, but don’t have extremely high expectations.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hwy 154 - the San Marcos Pass

Completing the Santa Barbara series is my recommendation for a scenic alternate route in and out. Hwy. 154 runs from 101 in Goleta to 101 just above Los Olivos, bisecting Los Padres National Forest.

As you head north out of Goleta, the highway winds up the hills and provides spectacular views of the coast and the Channel Islands. It stays curvy for a few miles and then runs next to Lake Cachuma and numerous ranches as it flattens and straightens. In the final stretch you pass vineyards and the small town of Los Olivos.

It is a two-lane road, so you can get stuck behind slower traffic, but is a nice alternative to the congestion you often encounter afternoons in north Santa Barbara.

paradise cafe

paradise cafeOur final dinner in Santa Barbara was at the Paradise Cafe. The meal was casual and good, but I think it is an even better spot for lunch or brunch. They have garden seating and fantastic salads. We had the roasted pepper, eggplant, baby spinach and feta salad, and it made me want to go back to try more. Thanks to Jeff and Patricia for the recommendation.

Paradise Cafe: 702 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA (805) 962-4416

Sunday, February 19, 2006

inn of the spanish garden

inn of the spanish gardenAnother great spot for a weekend escape is the Inn of the Spanish Garden in Santa Barbara. I found the Inn using Trip Advisor, and it is every bit as charming as the reviews suggest.

The Inn of the Spanish Garden is a 23-room boutique hotel on Garden St. Garden St. is two short blocks south of State St. This central location provides easy access to downtown and the beach without any of the noise. Almost all of the rooms are far removed from the street as well, increasing the quiet.

Based on Trip Advisor recommendations, I opted for a junior suite and was delighted. It was in the back of the Inn around a courtyard that contains the pool, and it had all of the key amenities: luxury linens, a large soaking tub, a warm gas fireplace in the sitting room and a great patio.

The Inn provides complimentary parking, broadband access and, better still, breakfast. The breakfast bar includes fresh squeezed tangerine juice, fruits, yogurts, granola, muffins, quiche, cereals and bagels.

Inn of the Spanish Garden: 915 Garden St, Santa Barbara, CA (866) 656-4700

Saturday, February 18, 2006


ojai valley inn spaA few years ago I visited the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa at the suggestion of my friend Irene and her parents. I had a wonderful stay and was looking for an excuse to head back. My trip to Santa Barbara provided one, as well as a great opportunity to check out the resort’s just-completed $70 million renovation.

ojai valley inn golf courseThe Ojai Valley Inn occupies 220 acres in the hills above Ventura (40 minutes from Santa Barbara and about 80 minutes from LAX), and it is a spectacular facility. It is home to a world-class spa (top left) and a fantastic golf course (right) designed by George Thomas and William Bell. You might not recognize their names, but Bell and Thomas built some of California’s best tracks in the 1920’s and 30’s including PGA stops Torrey Pines and Riviera Country Club, the ultra-exclusive Los Angeles and Bel-Air Country Clubs, and my favorite, Stanford.

Everything was as I remembered, only better - especially the food. Ojai recently hired Andy Arndt (formerly at mc2), and he has transformed the cuisine. We had a great casual lunch outside at the Oak Grill and an even better dinner at the more formal Maravilla.

maravillla foie grasOur meal at Maravilla started with a sublime kuri and butternut squash soup. Its flavor was enhanced by vanilla bean, white truffle and lobster oil. We then got more adventurous with the Kobe beef “slider.” This fun dish is a mini-burger complete with a small fried egg, watercress and tomato on a sea salt brioche. Very unusual and very delicious. We returned to the refined with our next appetizer: foie gras (left). The foie gras was grilled, served on an apple tatin and topped with wonderfully earthy chanterelle ice cream. It was amazing!

maravilla apple confitFor my entrée, I had Colorado rack of lamb. It was served with baked pears and potato cakes. Lisette had butter-poached pheasant with glazed turnips. We then split the refreshing apple confit for dessert. As the picture (right) suggests, it was made with baked apples, fillo dough and vanilla ice cream.

A nice surprise at Maravilla was their selection of local wines by the glass. I started with the Costa de Oro Chardonnay from Santa Maria. For the foie gras I savored a late harvest Viognier from nearby Ojai Vineyards. And, for my lamb I had a Syrah, also from Ojai Vineyards.

The level of service matched the food. They split the soup and appetizers for us and allowed us to mix in selections from the tasting menu. And, best of all, the cost for this outstanding meal was quite reasonable.

If you are looking for a relaxing getaway, I enthusiastically recommend the Inn at Ojai. There are many activities besides golf and spa treatments (hiking, biking, tennis, fishing, painting), and the service is commendable. Packages make the rates more affordable.

Ojai Valley Inn: 905 Country Club Rd, Ojai, CA (805) 646-2420

Friday, February 17, 2006

Turley Wine Cellars

The drive south to Santa Barbara is much nicer when you stop off in Paso Robles to visit Turley Wine Cellars. Just 2.5 miles off Hwy 101 at Vineyard Dr., this is the only Turley tasting room (the St Helena location no longer does tastings even by appointment) and the only retail source for Turley wines. All of Turley’s production is allocated, and for good reason. They made some of the best and biggest Zinfandels.

The greater Santa Barbara area is well known for Chardonnay and, after the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir as well. A bit north in Paso Robles the temperatures run a bit warmer – perfect for the huge, fruit-packed Zinfandels that are Turley’s signature style.

The Turley winery is on the grounds of the old Pesenti winery. Pesenti was famous for their ancient vines, and now Turley is making great use of the grapes. I enjoyed the 2003 Turley “Pesenti” but ended up purchasing the 2003 Turley “Ueberroth” also from old vines in Paso Robles. I added the 2003 “Dogtown” from Lodi and the “Duarte” from Contra Costa to round out my order.

Turley Wine Cellars: 2900 Vineyard Dr, Templeton, CA (805) 434-1030

Thursday, February 16, 2006


The theme of late seems to be tours, a theme I hope to continue this weekend at the wineries of Santa Barbara. But, today I wanted to tell you about a tour closer to home; one in Fremont in fact.

In 1984,General Motors and Toyota agreed to a joint manufacturing venture. GM wanted to learn more efficient techniques, and Toyota, under intense political pressure to open a plant in the United States, wanted experience with the US labor market. The results of that agreement was New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.(NUMMI).

NUMMI took over an abandoned GM plant in Fremont, hired back the laid off UAW workers and brought the Toyota Manufacturing System to the US. The result is a plant that employs 5,400 people and produces 450,000 Pontiac Vibes, Toyota Corollas and Toyota Tacomas each year.

The plant is state-of-the-art, using robotics in conjunction with just-in-time manufacturing, and it turns raw US steel into finished cars in under 24 hours. It really is amazing. The plant makes most of its own parts: sheet metal, plastics, gas tanks, etc. Only the engines and truck frames are shipped in. (Learn more)

Each assembly station only has 2 hours of extra parts at any time. In the plant itself, there are only 4 hours of parts. In containers in the yard there are only 2 days worth. Yet, (or better, because of this) every 56 seconds a new car rolls off the line.

Most mornings you can see how NUMMI does this in person on one of their free tours. The tours are 60 minutes long and have 2 parts: a video overview and a tram drive through the miles of assembly lines. I thought the tour was fascinating and I learned some new Japanese words like Kanban and Kaizen. One note: childeren are supposed to be 10 years-old to go on the tour, but I didn't see anyone checking IDs.

NUMMI: 45500 Fremont Blvd, Fremont, CA (510) 498-5500

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Pescadero is a tiny coastside town just south of San Gregorio (map). You have probably driven by if you have toured Hwy 1 but you might not have stopped.

I first visited Pescadero when my friends Scott and Julie invited me olallieberry picking at Phipps Ranch many years ago. Olallieberries are a cross between loganberries and youngberries, and they are similar to blackberries. They are grown along the coast, and they are in season late in June. They are fantastic on pancakes, and an all-you-can-pick (and eat) trip to Phipps is quite fun. However, Pescadero has several other culinary attractions you can visit year-round to provision a picnic or, as I did, to snack on after a trip to Año Nuevo.

Duarte's TavernDuarte’s Tavern at the corner of Pescadero Creek Rd and Stage is the most visible landmark. And, at more than 100 years old it is also one of the most venerable. The food is very good, but the pies alone are worth the drive. They’ve been baking them the same way for decades, a fact noted by the James Beard Foundation in 2003 when they named Duarte’s an American Classic. Add a scoop of vanilla to balance the tartness of the signature olallieberry.

Artichoke Garlic Herb breadAbout a 100 yards down Stage Rd. from Duarte’s is another classic: Norm’s Market. Also known as the Arcangeli Grocery Company, it was started in 1929 and, like Duarte’s, has been family run ever since. They have a deli and an extensive wine collection, but the reason to stop in is the bread. It is incredible and always seems to be fresh out of the oven. The best is their Artichoke Garlic Herb bread (order) made with several quartered artichoke hearts. Delicious!

Harley Goat FarmFinally, around the corner on North and down about ½ mile is a new classic, Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Started by Dee Harley 15 years ago, Harley Farms raises their own goats and produces wonderful cheese. My favorite is the Chevre in Oil, an 8oz jar of fresh goat cheese packed in olive oil. It is fantastic with a sweet baguette. Starting again on March 4th, you can take a tour of Harley Farms and make your own cheese. Tours are $20 a person and last 2 hours.

Phipps Ranch 2700 Pescadero Rd, Pescadero, CA (650) 879-0787
Duarte’s Tavern 202 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA(650) 879-0464
Norm’s Market 287 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA (650) 879-0147
Harley Farms Goat Dairy 205 North St, Pescadero, CA (650) 879-0480

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Año Nuevo

elephant seal harem at ano nuevoI visited Año Nuevo for the first time today. Año Nuevo is a 4,000-acre coastal reserve (aerial photos) midway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, and it has become a favored breeding spot for the Northern Elephant Seal. Once hunted to near extinction, the elephant seal has rebounded from a population less than 100 seals at the turn of the century to more than 100,000 today.

Starting in December, the seals come ashore to give birth to their pups and then start a new mating cycle. Births continue in February and the pups (called “weaners” once weaned) remain through the end of March before venturing out into the ocean.

From December to March, entrance to Año Nuevo is strictly controlled. The state park is closed except for guided walks, which require tickets. Tickets can be reserved up to 45 days in advance.

Our walk was at 1:15. We arrived early and had a lovely picnic lunch at the Visitors’ Center, an historic barn converted into a small museum and gift shop. At 1:15 we were met by a volunteer who gave us an overview of the park, and then we started the 30-minute walk to the trailhead for the Año Nuevo Point trail.

At the trailhead Guy, our docent, met us. He led us out to the point and across the sand dunes to one of the main rookeries. We were able to get close to one of the bachelor seals (a smaller 3 or 4 year old male weighing a scant 2000 pounds) and then to a number of the weaners.

elephant seal pups at ano nuevoAt birth, elephant seals weigh about 60 pounds. After nursing on their mothers' milk for 24-28 days, the pups grow to more than 200 pounds. Their mothers, having used much of their food reserves, return to the ocean leaving the pups to figure out how to become elephant seals on the own. Approximately 25% of pups don’t make it.

At the rookery we also witnessed a few small skirmishes between females over territory in the harems (an alpha bull will have 50 or more females) and heard an epic battle between two larger males over prime beachfront real estate. There were quite a few pups, including one that had been born yesterday.

Our guided walk ended about 3:15 and we were back at the car by 3:45. We probably saw 200-300 of the more than 3000 seals reported by the 2/12 census to be at the park. It was a great afternoon (helped by the sunny weather) and a trip everyone should take at least once.

The walk is leisurely and well suited for kids, and late February / early March is a perfect time to go. A bit of advice, wear comfortable shoes (the trail is hardpan and sand), bring sunglasses and binoculars, and pack a windproof jacket. Año Nuevo can get quite windy.

boingboing, cory doctorow and google

This morning I present boingboing, truly a directory of wonderful things, and an excellent editorial from the insightful Cory Doctorow. boingboing may already be on your reading list as it is the world’s top-linked blog. Its principal authors post at a staggering rate (20 entries so far this morning), and it is a great resource for staying ahead of web trends. If not, you should add it to your favorites and you should certainly read Cory today.

In Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users? Cory, a passionate advocate for reasonableness in copyright laws, dissects Google’s new video service and explains how it is an additional step backward in consumer rights.

Increasingly when we purchase pure digital versions of media (iTunes songs and videos had been the prime example) we surrender end-user rights like resale and fair-use copying that we have when we purchase the CD or the DVD. With Google’s DRM approach, we forfeit additional privacy, convenience and value when we buy their rights-protected media. As Cory explains, Google’s system:
requires that you have a live Internet connection to Google every time you want to play a movie. That means that every time you watch a Google DRM movie, they get a record of your viewing. What's more, if you're not on the Internet, or if Google's servers are unreachable, you can't watch your movies…

And if Google goes bankrupt (stranger things have happened -- just ask anyone who ever bought and loved a Commodore computer), that's it, game over. No authentication server to approve your video viewing, no alternative player that skips the authorization step, and no legal way to make such a player.

For those that know my interest in media and copyright laws, this is the post that I would have written were I to become smarter and more eloquent and have more time. I encourage you to continue reading Cory’s analysis as he suggests some alternatives and the implications for Google if they continue to play by Hollywood’s rules.

Monday, February 13, 2006

herman yu design

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it seems appropriate to mention Herman Yu Design. Herman Yu is a Seattle-based designer who makes lovely paper goods. Her products are simple, elegant and beautifully packaged. Of special note are the classic card and the calendar. Both make great gifts.

Herman Yu is available at locations throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

the curse of the were rabbit

Wallace and Gromit are international stars. They have been recognized by the Academy, honored by the Queen, translated into more than 20 languages and credited with saving the Wensleydale Dairy. They also have their first full-length movie, and it was just released on DVD.

In the 10 years since we last saw the enterprising residents of 62 West Wallaby St, they have changed professions. As they explain in their company song “catching pestos is much more fun than keeping windows clean.” The Curse of the Were Rabbit (trailer and featurette) presents them with their biggest challenge yet: a giant rabbit that is ruining vegetable gardens throughout the town.

The movie begins just days before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition. All of the villagers are preparing their entries and relying on Anti-Pesto for security and humane pest control. The story progresses much as in A Close Shave, the irresistible 1995 Wallace and Gromit short, only this time the cuteness is provided by bunnies rather than sheep.

I really enjoyed the movie and I was happy to find a number of special features on the DVD. These include Stage Fright, a 10 minute short from Steve Box; a pair of behind the scenes looks at both Wallace and Gromit and Aardman Animations; and, a number of deleted scenes and alternate endings. Featurettes also explain how to build a bunny from plasticine and provide children’s games and activities.

The best bonuses are Cracking Contraptions, clever new inventions from Wallace and Gromit. Featured in 3 3-minute segments are the Snoozatron, 525 Crackervac and Shopper 13. Some of these are available on the web too and you can watch several Cracking Contraptions in this 25-minute compilation.

Borrowing from their company commercial, might I suggest-o that you please request-o anti-pesto and rent The Curse of the Were Rabbit. It is perfect for the kid in all of us.

3/6 Update: Congratulations to Wallace and Gromit (and Nick Park and Steve Box) for winning another Academy Award, this time for best animated feature.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

true sake

sakeI was wandering through Hayes Valley on this glorious afternoon, and I stopped by True Sake to add 3 more sakes to the collection in my refrigerator. I now have (from left to right):

Hitorimusume (Only Daughter) Junmai Nigori from Ibaraki Prefecture
Daishichi Shizensyu Kimoto from Fukushima Prefecture
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo from Nigata Prefecture
Otokoyama Junmai from Hokkaido Prefecture

and the previously discussed Hoyo Kura No Hana Junmai Daiginjo. I’m accepting dinner invitations, and I'm recommending True Sake as a bonus cool thing of the day. The staff is very knowledgeable and the selection is awesome. Sign up for their newsletter and take a swing by the store.

True Sake: 560 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA (415) 355-9555

Ti Couz

complete crepeI’ve been to Ti Couz with many of you, so it isn’t exactly a new thing. But, it is excellent and no listing of wonderfulness in the Bay Area would complete without it. It is also where I went for lunch today.

Ti Couz is a traditional creperie located in the heart of the Mission. It occupies a double storefront, has a few extra tables outside, and is usually crowded. Today was not an exception, but we were seated about 15 minutes after putting our name on the board.

kiwi crepe with blackberry sauce and icre creamI ordered the usual: fresh pressed lemonade (mixable to taste) and a complete (ham, egg and gruyere) crepe. The buckwheat crepe was perfectly crisp and the combination was delightfully salty and savory.

After my breakfast crepe I split a dessert crepe with my willing lunch companion. We ordered the special - kiwi with blackberry sauce and vanilla ice cream - and it was delicious. The kiwi was sweet and firm and the blackberry sauce had a wonderfully fresh taste. I love Ti Couz.

Ti Couz: 3108 16th St, San Francisco, CA (415) 252-7373

Friday, February 10, 2006

deep sushi

UFO RollLast night the guys and I were in the City for dinner at Deep Sushi. Deep Sushi is on Church at 29th in the south end of Noe Valley, and i'ts one of a number of stylish SF sushi restaurants. This was my first visit.

In décor, staffing and concept Deep Sushi is similar to Sushi Groove, Ozumo and Blowfish. In this case, the restaurant and sushi bar are in front and a back room hosts an actual bar, some chill couches and space for a dj.

The menu features creative small dishes like the Kani Croquettes we tried. We also ordered Tako Butso (an octopus salad), the Romi Romi salmon and the daily special seafood salad. Everything was quite good. From there we moved to nigiri and found our sake, kanpachi, maguro, shiro maguro and unagi to be fresh and subtle in flavor.

Deep Sushi offers a large selection of maki, and we tried two: the UFO roll and the Marilyn Manson. The UFO roll (pictured above) is a California roll with added albacore and tobiko, and your server torches the tobiko tableside for a little drama. The Marilyn Manson roll is shrimp tempura, scallop and cucumber, and the chef adds lots of spicy sauce for a different kind of sizzle.

To finish things off we ordered banana tempura with mango and coconut Mitchell’s Ice Cream for dessert. But, the best part of the meal was that they serve one of my favorite sakes: Hoyo Kura No Hana. Along with mustards, jams and water, one of the few things I almost always have in my refrigerator is bottle of Kura No Hana.

Kura No Hana is a daiginjo sake handmade from sasanishiki rice by Uchigasaki, the oldest sake brewer in the Miyagi Prefecture. Its taste is light, delicate and sweet and somewhat hard to find. I get mine at True Sake and I am always happy to discover a new restaurant that carries it.

Deep SushiNot all was perfect with our meal. We waited 30 minutes to be seated despite having a reservation, and the table service was rather slow. Although the pacing never felt too far off (perhaps because we amuse ourselves so easily) dinner lasted 2 ½ hours (fine for Michael Mina, stranger for sushi). Finally, Deep Sushi is not cheap. We didn’t drink that much and managed to spend $85 a person. Without any sake we still would have spent $60 each.

Those substantial caveats aside, Deep Sushi met my high expectations and I will return. I’d also advise you to give it a try. I doubt that Deep Sushi will become an all-time favorite, but it is nice for a change.

Deep Sushi: 1740 Church St, San Francisco, CA (415) 970-3337

Thursday, February 09, 2006

trading your privacy for better desktop search

Since I’ve published my cool thing for the day, permit me a discussion of something not so cool: the new Google desktop.

A few weeks ago I saw v4 of the Google toolbar was Beta testing, and since I use the current version a dozen times a day I thought I would check it out. I didn’t install it because I was unable to determine from their toolbar privacy policy what information would be collected in exchange for new functionality.

Today Google announced v3 (Beta) of Desktop search. Desktop search is an application Microsoft should have provided in the first version of Windows. Instead, for many years we all suffered with poor document search capabilities until X1, Copernic and then Google Desktop search were launched. I use Copernic because I like how it handles mp3s, but Google is quite popular.

Earlier versions of Google Desktop kept all index information local (and private). V3 changes this dramatically in offering “Search Across Computers.” Search Across Computers creates an online copy of all your files for easier access – seemingly a great idea. But because Google is a business built on advertising, the price you pay for this feature is privacy.

From the revised Google privacy policy:
If you choose to enable Search Across Computers, Google will securely transmit copies of your indexed files to Google Desktop servers, in order to provide the feature. Google treats the contents of your indexed files as personal information, in accordance with the Google Privacy Policy
What do they do with that information? They aren’t specific beyond:
We may use personal information to provide the services you've requested, including services that display customized content and advertising
What if you don’t want them to store the contents of your browser history, browser cache and all of your documents? They explain here:
You can uninstall the Google Desktop software through the "Add or Remove Programs" Control Panel at any time. When you uninstall the software, you can choose to delete the Google Desktop index and its copies of all items. If you choose to delete this information the original files and applications remain unaffected.

If you cancel your Google Account or uninstall Google Desktop,the files indexed in the Search Across Computers feature will no longer be accessible through Google Desktop and may remain on our servers for up to 60 days before being deleted.

In Google’s defense, they do give users control over what is indexed initially, an important step in preserving privacy. However, even though I have nothing illegal on my computer I am not comfortable giving Google a persistent copy of all of my files to mine or possibly share with the Government or other 3rd parties if subpoenaed.

I doubt that I will be alone in this preference either. The initial news stories are sounding alarm bells:

The Feds own your data
Desktop 3 raises privacy concerns
Google unveils Desktop 3.0, Privacy Blowup 2.0

And, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued this alert:
Google copies your hard drive; Government smiles in anticipation

In some ways this may be similar to Gmail, Google's trade of free email for more advertising data about us all. We all worried at first (correctly) but then signed up for Gmail accounts anyway. I do think that this is more serious as I’m not sure that I will ever be comfortable with a business storing my files unencrypted and mining them for information. What do you think?

neat image noise reduction

neat image screenshotI continue to be inspired by Picasa to work with photographs. I like my Casio EX-Z40 because it is slim enough to actually take with me, but one of its weaknesses is that it is not a great low-light camera. At ISO 200 and higher, quite a bit of noise is introduced into photographs, a problem shared by many compact digital cameras no matter the resolution of their CCDs.

Noise tends not to be as visible in prints, but it is very apparent when viewing full screen on monitors. One way to reduce noise is to apply noise filters in Photoshop. Combined with the Magic Wand selection tool, this is a good way of cleaning up the picture. It is also time consuming and expensive. Fortunately, there is a cheaper and more powerful alternative: Neat Image.

picture 1Neat Image comes in a variety of editions, but the $29.00 Home edition or the free Demo edition should be perfect for all but the professional. The Demo is especially attractive as it is fully featured and not time constrained. Its single limitation is that it only saves in High quality JPEG format. For me that means that my normally 2MB photo files are compressed to 1MB after Neat Image processing.

To get started, install and then open a photo you wish to clean in Neat Image. Neat Image will read the EXIF data and you can either apply a standard setting for your camera, or, better yet, select a noisy 100x100 background area to generate custom settings for that picture. On the 3rd tab, select a test area and Preview the noise reduction. Simple sliders on this tab let you control the results, or you can switch to Advanced for a wide assortment of options. The goal is to take away as much noise as possible while preserving details. When you are happy with your results, switch to the Output tab to save a copy of your image. The entire sequence takes about 3 minutes an image.

picture 2How well does it work? You can judge for yourself using my test images, but I am quite impressed. I think that I made big improvements with very little effort, and I can’t wait to see what happens when I actually know what I am doing. Picture 1 (the split screen above left) shows the before image on the left and the cleaned image on the right. To get the best sense of the improvement, look on either side of the giraffe’s next. On the right the artifacts are gone but the detail remains.

In picture 2 (above right), the box insert is from the cleaned output while the surrounding areas are from the original. This was an extremely low light picture, but Neat Image was able to make large changes. The pillows and cushions are most dramatic.

picture 3In picture 3 (left), the sunset, the entire image has been processed but the original noise has been added in the box. Look at the sand, the edge of the water and the start of the horizon.

Download the free Neat Image Demo and give it a try. That’s what I did late last night to touch up the Vbar photos and I couldn’t be happier. I may buy the Home edition to support the smart people who wrote the software, but the Demo more than meets my needs.

Bonus resource: a comprehensive review of more than 20 professional noise reduction packages. Guess what? The reviewer loves Neat Image

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

pizza antica

pizza anticaI was back in the 408 tonight. Doubting Thomas decided to test my opinion of Pizza Antica and invited me along. To up the pressure, he brought Grandpa Hansel, the toughest pizza critic we know. When it comes to pizza, Hansel hates everything not made in New York.

The doubters were doubting when, after ordering a bottle of David Bruce Pinot our waitress inquired if we wanted sodas too, but everything was smooth sailing from there. We started with an “appetizer pizza,” a concept invented by my friend Joy. Then we had Caesar salads and, properly prepared, progressed to our entrée pizzas.

Pizza Antica cooks traditional flatbread pizza in two large brick ovens. The pizza comes small and large, but we always get small as they have a better ratio of toppings to crust. Hansel had the Sweet Red Pepper, Kalamata Olive and Roasted Fennel. Tom ordered the Grilled Radicchio, Local Goat Cheese, Pancetta and Pesto (pictured). And I, longing for the prosciutto and fig pizza offered only during fig season, created my own Pear and Prosciutto.

The results were delicious as they always are! Crispy, salty, sweet and savory. Even Hansel had a smile on his face after the meal and Doubting Thomas no longer doubts. When you go, and you must, I recommend two small pizzas and one split salad for two people. They have bread too, but you will have to ask for it.

vbar at the valencia hotelTo make sure we had the full Santana Row experience, after Pizza Antica we walked over to the swanky Vbar in the Hotel Valencia. The Vbar is unique. Parked outside were two Ferraris, a Bentley and a race-prepped GT3R. Parked inside were lots of sleazy guys and some scared women. The interior is beautiful, and they have some nice Scotches, but unless you want to meet an older rich guy or a younger less attractive women, bring your own date. Or, do as the women across from us did, bring two dates and grope them both on one of their comfortable couches.

Pizza Antica: 334 Santana Row, San Jose, CA (408) 557-8373
Vbar: 355 Santana Row, San Jose, CA (408) 551-0010

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

new dessert options

Satura Cakes cream puffLast night I sampled some treats from Satura Cakes, a brand new bakery in Los Altos. They opened on January 18 and, judging by what was left in their refrigerated case, they seem to be as popular as they are expensive. I tried the mango mouse cake (excellent mouse, average cake), the cream puff (perfect filling, I could eat this everyday except I’d die) and the mocha butter cookie (good firmness but not exceptional), but my friend Joy has sampled, photographed and reviewed much more of their menu. Read Joy’s post, but a warning her pictures may cause intense hunger.

crepe from the Crepe MakerSpeaking of hunger, this afternoon I needed a snack so I stopped by the Crepe Maker, which also just opened on Main Street in Los Altos. I ordered the tasty butter, sugar and cinnamon crepe and I loved the deep cinnamon flavor. On previous visits I have tried their savory crepes, and although they are good I prefer my complete made with a buckwheat batter as Ti Couz does. Perhaps one day the Peninsula will be home to a creperie that can compete with Ti Couz for my affection.

Satura Cakes: 200 Main Street, Los Altos, CA (650) 948-3300
Crepe Maker: 280 Main Street, Los Altos, CA (650) 941-8444

Ti Couz: 3108 16th St, San Francisco, CA (415) 252-7373

Monday, February 06, 2006


songs:illinois is a music review and promotion site that focuses on undiscovered, quiet indie, folk, alt and twee bands with some occasional twang thrown in for diversity . The site is writen by Craig Bonnell, a 37 year old Illinois resident who also produces swedesplease, a blog covering new Swedish music that interesting is enough to merit its own review.

I learned about songs:illinois when searching for the band Cars Can Be Blue. This article had some information and links to a few tracks. When I came across songs:illinois again while learning about the hype machine, I bookmarked the site and pledged to investigate it more carefully.

Craig profiles 2 bands or labels per days. To get a better sense of his taste, I auditioned everything from the last 70 or so posts. Here is what I liked most:

Some other interesting tracks:

Bonus music from swedesplease:

Listen to songs:illinois via the hype machine

Sunday, February 05, 2006


When I woke up this morning I wasn’t feeling a lot of love for Google. Blogger, the host of my blog and a subsidiary of Google, had been down each day for the past 3 days (status) and a search of the blogsphere revealed that problems are more common that one would expect. I'm not sure why Google would go through the trouble of acquiring a company and then not follow through with the basic hardware required to support it, but let me offer an apology to those who have been unable to access my blog over the weekend. By contrast, let me also tell you about something Google has done very well: Picasa2.

In July 2004, Google purchased start-up Picasa for $4.7 million in pre-IPO stock. I tried an early version of the free photo-organizing software and promptly ignored it, so I didn’t pay that much attention when they released a major upgrade last year. This morning, though, I decided to give the latest version a spin.

I have Photoshop and, after much effort, I have mastered the basics. It still takes me a long time to touch up a photo, however, and I have never tried batch editing. Too bad for me, because today I needed batch edit for size. There were about 100 photos I planned to add to Flickr and I wanted them at 1024x768.

Rather than create a Photoshop macro, I downloaded Picasa, stepped through the short install and then let it find my pictures. Immediately, my photos seemed better organized and more accessible. With "Timeline" everything was grouped and laid out by creation date. With one more click I could create slideshows, and when I wanted a folder view that was just a button press away too. Tags, ratings, comments - all possible with Picasa.

That was only the beginning. I had a task, and with the excellent, intuitive UI I was able to export a folder of photos to new files at the correct resolution without trial or error. Start to finish the entire process took about 2 minutes.

Better still, I discovered the powerful editing options. Google has taken the magic “I’m Feeling Lucky” button and applied it to photos. The option provides auto contrast and color correction. Need to add a little fill light, darken some shadows and touch up the highlights? Sliders are there for the sliding if you want to fine tune. Want advanced effects like sharpen, glow or B&W? Picasa’s got you covered. Importantly, all of the editing is non-destructive and the transformations are very fast.

I felt luckyOther software (Adobe Photoshop Album and Elements) has tried to simplify editing, but Picasa does a much better job. I was surprised at how well “I’m Feeling Lucky” worked. Unlike Adobe’s auto-fix buttons, the changes were applied in the correct proportion and not overdone. (see theTokyo skyline above right for a split before and after example.) No digital artifacts, no hyperrealism or cartoon coloration. The only weakness I discovered was that red eye correction does not work that well on people with glasses.

If you are like me and have tons of pictures filed away on your computer in the hope that one day you will edit and organize them, try Picasa. It’s free, very easy to use and ultra fast. I touched up 50 photos in less than 15 minutes. It also has cool little features like a collage maker and an ability to print CD covers. For very artistic projects there is no substitute for Photoshop, but the needs of the hobbyist are very well served by this excellent application.

n.b. Picasa is a windows-only program. No Macintosh version is available

Saturday, February 04, 2006

mad hot ballroom

Girls always think that they are the boss of everything - PS 115 fifth-grader Mohamed

I just saw Mad Hot Ballroom (I’m slow, I know) and I found it to be delightful. In case you missed the press blitz, fifth graders in New York public schools take ballroom dancing as part of the standard curriculum. Instruction is provided by their teachers and supplemented with help from American Ballroom Theater. To increase the interest level, an inter-school competition is held each year and the very tall Challenge trophy is awarded to the winning dance team. Mad Hot Ballroom follows 3 classes at 3 schools as they prepare for the competition. (View trailer)

I imagine that there were significant logistic challenges is filming so many 11 year olds, but there was one legal hurdle that almost prevented Mad Hot Ballroom from being made. The producers need to license rights for every piece of music played in the background in the movie. The cost for Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” alone exceeded $15,000, and the total cost to the producers for all of the music was $145,000, a staggering amount for a small independent film. This explains why we hear a number of tracks over and over. (Read an excellent interview with producer/writer Amy Sewell on how they negotiated clearances.)

But, back to our main feature… Without narration, Mad Hot Ballroom illustrates the profound effects that adults have on the life of children, and the ways that those children influence adults in return. Students at PS 115, a Washington Heights elementary school where 97% of their students live at the poverty level, are followed most closely. We get to know the adorable Wilson (who speaks almost no English) and his charming classmates. However, two scenes that are especially memorable take place at PS 150, the Tribeca Learning Center.

At PS 150 there is only 1 class per grade, and Allison Sheniak teaches the fifth grade class. In an emotional interview, Ms. Sheniak’s demonstrates her devotion to her profession and students. And, in a dance with the suave Alex Tchassov that Mr. Alex uses to teach the boys the importance of eye contact, we witness the depth of Ms. Allison’s blush. Mad Hot Ballroom is quite recommended.

View additional clips: clip 1 students from PS 150 dance the foxtrot, clip 2 students from PS 115 dance the rumba

Friday, February 03, 2006

Pancho Villa

Unfortunately my cold is getting worse. However, after a long morning meeting my appetite was healthy and I swung by Pancho Villa in San Mateo. Pancho Villa is on B Street (map) and they have a more famous location in SF in the Mission (website).

Pancho Villa is everything a taqueria should be. The ingredients are ultra fresh and each burrito is custom made. The menu is more extensive than just burritos, but I seldom stray from the Carne Asada or Pollo Asada.

The ordering process is efficient: pick your tortilla (red chile and spinach are offered as well as the normal flour); select your size (baby or regular); decide on a meat (seafood and vegetarian options are provided too); choose your toppings (either a la carte or packaged in Super, Deluxe and Special bundles); and, select your salsa. The normal spicy is a pico de gallo packed with jalapeno goodness.

Your burrito manufacturer then hands you a ticket for the cashier and then produces one of the best burritos in the bay area in record time. Often a server is attempting to deliver your meal to you before you have cleared the extensive salsa bar and grabbed your seat.

As good as the burrito is, though, the best part comes as you work your way along the counter and reach the cashier. There, right in front of you, is an oasis of aqua fresca. Pancho Villa has a record-setting number of these addictive juices in almost every imaginable flavor. They have watermelon, cantaloupe, melon, strawberry, lime, tamarind and mandarin. They also have horchata.

As is my custom I ordered mandarin. At first I was a watermelon fan. Then mango. But orange stole my heart. Smooth, sweet, delicious and highly recommended. When you go, don't miss the guacamolito salsa. It looks like a salsa verde, but is creamier and a bit spicy. Very unusual and excellent.

Pancho Villa San Mateo 365 S B St, San Mateo, CA (650) 343-4123
Pancho Villa Mission 3071 16th St, San Francisco, CA (415) 864-8840

Thursday, February 02, 2006

woven dental floss

In writing about the Downey ball I feel that I shed some inhibitions. As a result, today I present woven floss.

I used to use normal waxed dental floss. Flossing was a chore and I was never sure what it accomplished. Two years ago I switched to Glide and then to Oral-B Satin tape. I appreciated the added shred resistance of these premium flosses and their ability to fit between tightly spaced teeth. I also found them to be much more comfortable when I floss more vigorously.

However, last year I had an epiphany when my dentist gave me a sample of woven floss. Manufactured by Johnson &Johnson under the Reach brand, woven floss consists of two braided strands of cotton, one white one blue. Held loosely, they are fuzzy. Pulled tight, they compact to fit between tight spaces.

The excellent part about woven floss is that it has all of the comfort of Glide or Satin, but it also delivers extra cleaning power since it is more abrasive and less slippery. We are talking cotton, not steel wool, so the abrasion is limited, but the floss scrubs the side of the tooth while treating the gum with the utmost care.

I know floss is a strange thing to be passionate about, but having just flossed, brushed and rinsed for the night I can say that Woven Floss is an top-notch invention. Stop by your local drug store and pick some up, or order from Amazon if you have a hard time finding it. It also comes in a more minty flavor in a white box with brown lettering.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Johnny Hartman

It is a rainy evening in sunny California, and I am catching a cold, but my mood warmed driving home a few hours ago when I heard Johnny Hartman on KCSM, the local public jazz radio station. KCSM is in the middle of a pledge drive, and one of the gifts available for contributors is the wonderful compilation Hartman for Lovers. (Amazon, iTunes)

Johnny Hartman recorded on a number of labels from the 1950s through the 1970s (complete discography), but 3 sessions for Impulse secured Johnny Hartman’s lush and velvety voice as one of the great ones of the century.

The first Johnny Hartman song I ever heard was from the first Impulse recording. In 1963, Johnny Hartman joined the legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane to create John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman. (Amazon, iTunes) Trane was an adventurous improvisational jazz musician, but he had a special ability when it came to the ballad. His 1960 My Favorite Things (Amazon, n/a on iTunes) is seminal in jazz history, and that high standard is matched on his collaboration with Johnny.

Backed by Trane’s quartet (McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums), Hartman’s baritone and Coltrane’s tenor sax interplay perfectly in smooth and seductive harmony. The pacing is slow, the band is completely in sync and the material is stunning. Each song is highlight.

Later that year Hartman re-entered the studio and was joined by guests Kenny Burrell on guitar and Illinois Jacquet on tenor sax for I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. (Amazon, iTunes) This is another full album of vocal jazz at its best. The feeling is intimate and the music is tight. Listen to: "Sleepin' Bee", "Stairway to the Stars" and the title track.

In 1964, Hartman and his quintet recorded again and their talents shine for the first half of The Voice That Is! (Amazon, iTunes). "My Ship", "These Foolish Things", and "It Never Entered My Mind" showcase Hartman breath-taking talent. But, for the second half of the album, Hartman is joined by a few more instruments and the effort suffers from weaker material.

Hartman sung more than ballads, and you get a taste of this on Unforgettable (Amazon, iTunes). Standouts are "Ain't Misbeahavin", "Almost Like Being in Love" and "The More I See You." He also could handle songs Sinatra made famous. They are hard to find, but his versions of "Old Black Magic" and "Fly Me to the Moon" are worth the effort. And, his sense of timing was perfect and never more evident than in the charming "I Could Write a Book."

Sadly, Hartman did not achieve widespread recognition until after his death in 1983. But, the great balladeer did leave us with an amazing (though too small) catalog of recordings. Hartman for Lovers draws heavily from his best albums (with 10 songs from the 3 intimate Impulse sessions), and is highly recommended. (Amazon, iTunes)

Additional links: Johnny Hartman’s NPR Jazz Profile, the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (5:16, Real Audio)