Towse: views from the hill

May 29, 2004

Conservative leader blames gays for Iraqi prison abuse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 6:18 pm

John Kulczycki shared a link to an article by Adrian Brune in the Houston Voice Online: Conservative leader blames gays for Iraqi prison abuse — Knight decries ‘decadence’ of gay weddings.

… and so it goes …

May 28, 2004

[FOOD] Aqua is a dangerous pleasure

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 8:28 pm

Ate at Aqua for the first time on Wednesday. Turns out it’s only a twenty minute walk down the Steps and over to California.


252 California St. (between Battery & Front)

San Francisco, CA 94111


His nibs likes seafood. We were in a celebratory mood. The reservation was for 8:30P and we didn’t know how long the walk would take, so we gave ourselves forty-five minutes. We arrived almost a half-hour early, checked-in and hung out in the bar. I looked at the per glass wine prices (whoo boy, were they $$$) and opted for a martini. His nibs had something white. Right on time or maybe a few minutes early we were seated.

Ah, Aqua. Known for its foie and the animal rights activists who spray-painted Executive Chef Laurent Manrique’s home, threw acid on his car, wrote threatening letters and trashed his not-yet-opened restaurant and store — Sonoma Saveurs in Sonoma.

Manrique said he wouldn’t cave in to the pressure and by-golly there was foie galore on the Aqua menu up to and including a Whole Foie Gras with Caramelized Granny Smith Apples, Roasted Shallots & Capers.

“You really mean a whole foie?” I asked our server.

“Yes. It’s something the restaurant is known for. Usually, it’s shared. I think I’ve probably seen maybe three people who actually ate the whole foie themselves.”

I can’t imagine. I really can’t imagine. I have a hard time sharing half a foie with his nibs. A whole foie? I wouldn’t be able to walk home afterwards.

The foie was listed on the menu as “market price” which turned out to be something like $140 for the dish, which is about twice what you’d be paying for foie at the market. Not a terrible markup for what you’re getting, but … what would your total bill be with something like that included?

I couldn’t decide what to have so we opted for the seasonal tasting menu with accompanying wine.

The meal started with two amuse bouches, one of which was a small cup of delicious, rich, thick mushroom soup.

The first course was hamachi, sliced thinly with perfectly ripe avocado, also sliced thinly, and sections of ruby red grapefruit vinaigrette. Delicious. Served with MV Laurent-Perrier, Brut Champagne.

Next up was what Aqua called moules frites. In the Aqua incarnation, Yukon Gold potatoes were served alongside an amazing mussel souffle. The small souffle was pierced at table and a portion of curry cream poured inside. The remainder of the pitcher was left to add as desired. Wine: 2002 Domaine Ott Rose, Cotes du Provence.

The next course had my first (and only, alas) taste of foie. The dish was two pieces of Maine scallop topped with sauteed foie gras and served with a marinated mushroom salad and crispy fried garlic. Sounds like too many flavors all jumbled, doesn’t it? I had trepidations because of things I’ve seen other chefs do to foie, but this combination worked perfectly. I still prefer Luke Sung’s seared foie with white peaches and custard brioche, but … the scallop/foie combination served at Aqua gets my stamp of approval. Wine: 2002 Mas de Daumas Gassac (Viognier/Chard/Petit Manseng) — Vin de Pays.

I also had trepidations about the next course: Maine skate wing, warm butter lettuce, pancetta, herb vinaigrette. I’ve had skate wing twice in the last month or two. Skate wing must be the new culinary cutting edge substitute on the fish end of the menu for the impossible to get abalone. I’ve only had skate wing twice in my life and the skate wing at both 500 Jackson and Gary Danko had been … chewy and stringy. Easy to tell that the skate wing was a much-used muscle.

Aqua had done something to the skate wing to separate the meat from the musculature. The dish was delightful. The wine was exceptional: 2000 Bannister Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Alexander Valley (Mendocino).

After I asked our server to tell me again which wine it was, he promised to bring me a list after dinner of each wine served with each course, which he did. (You didn’t think I was really keeping track of wines, did you?)

Have I mentioned that the service was excellent? The staff were there but not there, everything moved in time, no one rushed, no one stalled. The only hiccup came with the scallops/foie when the dishes were laid down and described and I had to mention that we’d need forks to properly enjoy them.

After the skate wing, we had wild king salmon with morel mushroom, green garlic, delicious potato gnocchi and chive cream. Wine: 2000 Chezeaux Vosne-Romanee, Burgundy. By this time, I was reaching my limits, knowing I had to walk back up the Filbert Steps, so I tossed a couple bites of salmon onto his nibs’ plate. We still had dessert to come.

Dessert was warm chocolate cake, mandarin ganache, and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream served with a glass of Cockburn’s 20 year old tawny port. His nibs doesn’t do chocolate, so he was offered anything he wanted off the dessert menu. The warm chocolate cake was oozing with chocolate inside — not quite a marble fudge pudding or chocolate puddle cake, but pretty darn near. Delicious. Delightful.

My double espresso came, served with a small plate of after dessert desserts.

We weren’t the last people in the restaurant when we left, but we were close thereto. Dinner had been leisurely and I was feeling at one with the world as we wandered home. Dinner was not cheap, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had. The price was comparable to the price of dinner at Gary Danko, but what Aqua offered was so much more than Gary Danko. I liked the food better. The service was exceptional. The atmosphere was more relaxed and less stuffy than Gary Danko. Did I mention the food, the glorious food?

I’ll save my pennies so we can return to Aqua and sample more of the dishes, see how the other foie dishes compare.

Gmail update and my brilliant (brilliant! I say) solution

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 6:26 pm

Liz Figueroa’s revised SB 1822 passed the State Senate yesterday. The revised version scaled down, a bit, the privacy restrictions in the original version.

The original version disallowed Google (or any other mail provider) from scanning incoming/outgoing mail to place targeted ads without positive opt-in from the user. The revised version allows the automatic scanning of incoming/outgoing mail but prohibits mail providers from stashing all the info re a given user in a database, selling the information, sharing it, keeping old e-mails after a user has asked for them to be deleted, &c.

I’m still not thrilled with the legislation, which is now working its way through the Assembly, but it’s not as off-the-wall as the original attempt had been.

That said, I have a brilliant, brilliant! I say, solution for Google and Gmail. You listening, Sergey Brin and Larry Page? Here goes.

Just as Templeton has his challenge/response system for his incoming e-mail, Google could maintain a database with e-addresses that have sent mail to someone with a address.

Why a database? Well, the first time you send e-mail to anyone with a address, Google will bounce the mail back with an (á la Liz Figueroa) request for you to read and approve their explanation of what gmail is and the accompanying terms of use and privacy statement. If you don’t say, “Yup!” your mail won’t be sent on. Once you say, “Yup!” all mail sent from that e-mail address to gmail accounts will forever after get through.

First time you send mail to a account, you have this little hiccup/delay and forever after, your mail gets checked against the database of approved senders and Bob’s your uncle.

What’s the upside? Are you still listening, Sergey, Larry? Two major upsides at least.

(1) Google, which already makes people signing up to use Gmail agree to the terms of use, will have proof positive that all incoming mail is sent by users who have also accepted the terms of use, in case Figueroa or some other yahoo comes along with a similar bill.

(2) Google will eliminate in one swell foop a HUGE chunk of incoming spam, because spamsters as a whole don’t deal well with challenge/response systems.

Go for it, Google guys.

May 26, 2004

Retired General Zinni sez

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 6:43 pm

In an article on CBS News/60 Minutes’ Web site retired General Zinni sez


There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.


60 Minutes asked Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Wolfowitz to respond to Zinni’s remarks. The request for an interview was declined.

OUCH! Crash Testing: MINI Cooper vs Ford F150

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 4:29 pm

Crash Testing: MINI Cooper vs Ford F150.

Compare these pictures of a MINI Cooper hitting the wall at 40MPH to these pictures of a Ford F-150 truck doing the same.

I knew there was a reason I have a MINI Cooper on order — besides the fact they go zip zip zip and are the easiest things to find a parking space for in the lovely but parking-impaired City by the Bay.

Sometime mid-August, a spanking-new 2005 MINI Cooper will be mine. British racing green. White roof. Plain vanilla otherwise — not the S, no spoiler, no moon-roof, no leather seats.

I ordered the MINI Cooper (after mulling it over for something like two years) because it zips but I’m sure glad to find out that if I hit a wall at 40mph, my kneecaps will survive.

update: This photo is the closest thing I could find with a quick Web search.

zoom! zoom!

Pick me! Pick me!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 4:13 pm

In The New Yorker‘s The Talk of the Town Daniel Radosh has a column headed A BOOK IN YOU describing Kate Lee’s blogsurfing chores.

Kate Lee, an assistant at International Creative Management, spends an hour a day surfing blogs, looking for writers who can write, sifting the chaff for a couple grains that can be milled and baked into the next best seller.

Two years from now—give or take—Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of the gossip Web sites Gawker and The Kicker, will publish her first novel. Around the same time, Glenn Reynolds, who writes the political Web log Instapundit, will also have a book in stores. So, too, may writers from the blogs Hit & Run, The Black Table, Dong Resin, Zulkey, Low Culture, Lindsayism, Megnut, Maud Newton, MemeFirst, Old Hag, PressThink, I Keep a Diary, Buzz Machine, Engadget, and Eurotrash. Suddenly, books by bloggers will be a trend, a cultural phenomenon.

Pick me! Pick me!

May 24, 2004

Protozone’s Kaleido demo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 8:14 pm

Have fun!

[via John Murrell and Good Morning Silicon Valley)


Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 5:15 pm

Went to KFOG’s Kaboom! — a glorious glorious glorious fireworks show — Saturday.

Gates open at 4P, live music starts at 5P or so, food, libations, fireworks at 9P or as soon thereafter as it’s dark enough.

We got there about 5P this year. Walked over from Hill with my Ikea bag filled with heavy jackets, blanket, water. The blanket didn’t do much to soften Pier 30′s asphalt, but the blanket was intended less a pad and more a space marker, intended to keep people from crowding us as much. Last year we’d arrived around 6P with no blanket or other space marker and wound up in a cramped space, which shivered my claustrophobic timbers.

I was hemming and hawing all day. Maybe we should just stay at Hill. We can see the works from there, although not so up close and personal. But there’s something about up close and personal when it comes to fireworks, maybe the claustrophobic twitches are worth it. Maybe not. Hem. Haw. Changed my mind. Changed my mind again. We finally went and, yes, the show is worth it. Bring a blanket, though, and make sure to get there by 5P or so. By 6P the piers are packed and just keep getting moreso.

Next time, though, we’ll bring something thicker to sit on and food so we don’t pay $4 for garlic-parmesan fries and $7 for a philly-cheesesteak sandwich — unless, of course, we have a hankering for garlic-parmesan fries.

Music this year by Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the Waifs and Train. We sat as close as we could to the water’s edge, the better to see the fireworks. As a result we couldn’t see the bands, although we could hear them over the loud speakers. A drawback of the location was that as time progressed and the crowd packed and packed in, it got harder and harder to maneuver a way to the food and drinks and portable toilets.

But we were up close and personal with the fireworks and it was all worth it, claustrophobic tendencies and all.

Wanna see? Click here and catch a taping of the almost twenty-minute fireworks show coordinated with KFOG music. (WindowsMedia and QuickTime versions available.)

KFOG’s annual KABOOM! is a free listener-appreciation event they throw at Piers 30 and 32. This year’s was the eleventh annual.

Three barges (with two tugboats) full of fireworks, live bands, enough security to throw out the drunks but not so much they dampen the atmosphere. The piers were full of oldsters and youngsters and babysters and aging hippies and aging Hell’s Angels and the young punk with the 18″ spiked multi-colored hair and the tweedy professor with the gray ponytail. What a lovely motley mess of people.

What a show.

Is it any wonder I love these guys?

Afterwards, we walked home by way of the Embarcadero, then up the Filbert Steps. Up until you got to the Ferry Building, the Embarcadero was blocked to vehicles to make room for a hundred thousand pedestrians or more, who were walking home or back to their hotel or off to dinner. The crowd was spilling out of Gordon Biersch. The restaurants along the Embarcadero were all spilling. We decided to eat in North Beach where the crowds might be a little less so.

We scampered (heh) up the Steps, dropped our blanket and jackets at home, walked down to Mario’s, grabbed the corner window and ordered their scrumptious cannelloni for dinner with a bottle of red wine. We’d finished dinner and were working on our wine at 11P, the listed closing time, but the staff was willing to stay late to serve the people who were still wandering in. Our server brought over more wine compliments of the house to keep us sitting in that corner window. We finally left some time after 11:30P and wandered back home. Sat on the deck for a while to watch the lights and unwind. What a glorious day.

Be true to your school

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 4:22 pm

We were up at Garrod’s on Friday night for the major donor thank-you event thrown by the Saratoga Education Foundation. Bill and Doris Cooper were pouring Cooper-Garrod wine. Food included stuffed potatoes, salads, chili, sliced-while-you-wait roast beef sandwiches, cookies and brownies. Music by Les Landin and his Skillet Family group. Lane Weiss, the superintendent, gave a short talk. Shinku Sharma and Terrie Creamer said thanks for the dough and announced that this year the foundation raised $1.25m dollars and the major grant to the school district is over a million dollars..

Nice evening, good wine.

Years back, when I was on the Board and the guys were in the schools, his nibs and I’d go to events like this and know almost everyone there. Friday, I knew some of the administrative staff, including the new superintendent, whom we’d met last year at the same event. Cindy I knew, but she was there for just a dash and go. I knew the Coopers and knew Pat from Club meetings. I’d met Shinku before and Terrie and Kelly at other events, but other than that I saw very few familiar faces, so I mixed and mingled and did the how-old-are-your-children thing and drank the Cooper-Garrod cabernet franc and felt … odd.

Where are the faces of yesteryear? Where are the friends who were on the Board when I was on the Board? Here I was with my youngest child twenty talking to people with a five-year-old, a three-year-old and a six-month-old. Do the old-timers not come because they know they won’t know most of the other folks there? Do they not come because they don’t give money to SEF anymore, now that their kids are out of school? Do they not come because there’s some better, conflicting blowout to which I’m not invited?


May 20, 2004

The 25 most difficult questions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Towse @ 10:05 pm

For all you out there searching for work, the 25 most difficult questions you’ll be asked on a job interview.

e.g. 3. Why do you want to work for us?

The deadliest answer you can give is “Because I like people.” What else would you like-animals?

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