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Monday, November 26, 2007

Macworld Conference & Expo 2008 In January

This is from "Typical Mac User" who's as excited about MacWorld as I am.

My pick for today is the Macworld Conference & Expo. By the way it was pointed out to me that its’ not MacWorld but Macworld Conference & Expo.

I’m so excited that going into my third year as a switcher, I am going to attend the premier conference for innovation and how my life as a Macgeek will change in 2008. The Macworld Conference & Expo offers an extensive list of conference sessions that are meant to teach, energize and help you grow as a user of Apple products.

In 2008 the Macworld Conference & Expo is Jan 14-18, 2008. As always it will be held in San Francisco at the West and South Halls of the Moscone Center.

With over 400 exhibitors from the Apple community, extensive sessions on all things Mac, I’m sure I will encounter things I did not expect ,and come home with new insights to share with all of you.

I hope to be able to get a press pass so that I can interview some of the exhibitors, and people who add so much to the mac community. If you haven’t signed up and want to attend register today and come say hello to me.

Of course Macworld Conference & Expo is about “The Keynote.” However, it’s also about the community and how we are all part of it.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Aqua 252 California St. (at Battery), San Francisco - Chron Review

Aqua - A Top 100 SF Restaurant

Aqua continues to set the bar for expensive, creative seafood. Even though it's now 15 years old, the look and feel of the place is as fresh as the day it opened -- high ceilings, sexy lighting and the most impressive flower arrangements in the city. On the downside: The place can be noisy and the tables are closer together (and there are more of them) than you'll find at other restaurants of this caliber. Under Laurent Manrique, the food has taken on a heavy French accent, and recently Ron Boyd, formerly at Domaine Chandon and a Chronicle Rising Star, became chef de cuisine. Bargain seekers, consider the three-course lunch for $34.

Specialties:

Tuna tartare with Moroccan spices; black pepper Parmesan souffle; scallops with parsnip mousseline, short rib ravioli and apple and endive salad; chocolate tart.
Prices: $72-$105 (fixed price)
Noise: (symbols key)
Seating: 120
252 California St. (at Battery)
San Francisco
Tel. (415) 956-9662

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Bar Bambino 2931 16th St. (near Capp), San Francisco, CA

SLICES AND SIPS OF ITALY AT MISSION'S CHIC BAR BAMBINO
Michael Bauer - SF Chroncle
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Some hot restaurants defy logic. While location seems to be crucial in the success - and failure - of many places, there are exceptions. Sometimes when the place is obscure, the location's negative becomes a positive.
At least that's the best way I can explain the runaway success of the tiny Bar Bambino, in the Mission on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Capp.
It's a location that defines the word dicey. Most places on the block have a decade worth's of soot and grit glazing the facades and windows. Yet in the middle of the block sits a celery green brick building, with a discreetly marked black storefront. Peek inside and it looks like an oasis.
The metal screen that pulls across the windows when the restaurant is closed is folded inconspicuously into a corner. Well-dressed crowds peruse the soft, leather-bound, all-Italian wine list filled with unusual red wines, and make new friends at the communal tables in front and in back overlooking the patio. Some sit at the bar, basking in the glow of the glassed-in charcuterie station where the tattooed chef slices salami, prosciutto and cheese. The rest of the all-day menu by Elizabeth Binder is designed to be versatile - diners can have a full meal or a quick bite - and to match the wines.
The small tables are packed so tightly in the 51-seat dining room that it feels like a place you'd find in New York's East Village. It's a wonder it made it through the Americans with Disabilities Act inspections. The dark wood floor, the lath slatting covering the back wall and the chandeliers made with wine bottles and filament lights lend a chic, urban look.
We wove our way through a maze of people to the communal table overlooking the heated 16-seat patio and took a seat next to two parties of women (why are there always more women than men at wine bars?).
I felt as if we needed to catch up or join in as they talked about layoffs at the Gap and then turned to the important topic at hand: what they thought of Nopa, Spork and Farmer Brown. We quickly ordered a selection of noshes and a bottle of wine, which we ended up sharing with them because they were interested in trying as many wines on the list as they could.
Choosing from the half dozen house-made sausages ($9.50/$18/$22.50) and a cheese board ($4.50-$25.50) is a good way to begin. The meats come on a cutting board, without accompaniments. They're good, but the deluxe platter with six kinds became a little monotonous after a while, especially since there's nothing to interrupt the richness, other than sips of wine. If you want something like olives ($3.50) or bread ($4.50), they're extra.
We ordered caprese salad ($9), which is the pinnacle of elegant simplicity, with three kinds of heirloom tomatoes, creamy puffs of buffalo milk mozzarella, torn basil, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, which helps cut the fat after a bite of pancetta.
More substantial plates include meatballs ($14.50) napped in a sweet tomato sauce with onions and bits of chard. They're good, but pale next to the eggplant meatballs ($13.50) with their crusty exterior, and creamy pine nut- and currant-laden interior and dousing of light tomato sauce.
Beef brisket and short ribs ($14.50) are slow cooked with leeks and olive oil and come out looking like a European version of carnitas; the meat needed something to complete it. Fortunately, there are some excellent side dishes, including pencil-thin grilled asparagus with a scattering of cheese ($6.25), mixed green salad ($4.50) and garlicky roasted potatoes ($5).
My favorite main course over three visits was pork shoulder braised in milk ($15.50), with its fork-tender texture and robust flavor. I also liked poached sausage ($14.50) cut into slices and about as rich as foie gras, served on a bed of lentils.
Carbs rule at Bar Bambino. You can get white beans in a soup with pasta and greens ($7.50), on bruschetta interlaced with greens ($8.50) or in an appetizer that includes tuna and red onions ($8.50). There's also a hearty Tuscan bread stew ($7.50) with tomato and basil.
An entire section is devoted to bruschetta, with toppings such as fresh ricotta and roasted tomato ($8) and egg with Parmesan ($8.50), with a glaze of truffle oil ($9.50). The four panini include speck, fontina cheese with braised fennel ($9.50), which adds a pleasant licorice taste; roasted vegetables and goat cheese ($9); and tuna and tapenade ($9.50).
Pastas are equally filling alternatives, with choices such as linguine with sheep's milk ricotta and herbs ($11.50) and a soulful rabbit ragout with pappardelle ($13.50).
The vibe of the food, wine and interior is relaxed and casual, and the service can vacillate from precise to sloppy. The young waiters know the menu and wine list, but they seem to be perpetually a beat or two behind. Unless you ask, the same plate may have to take you from salumi to shared pasta, meatballs and panini. I drew the line and asked for a new plate at dessert.
At the top of the dessert list is the vanilla gelato with 20-year-old balsamico ($7); other desserts - an olive oil cake with grilled stone fruit ($7) and a strawberry shortcake ($7) - are somewhat disappointing.
Another way to end the meal is with the cookie plate ($5.50) with biscotti and shortbreads that go with one of the sweet wines, giving diners another excuse to linger. When the place is less crowded, as it is in the afternoon (the same menu is served all day), it's a great opportunity to have your own olive oil tasting. There are eight on the menu ($2.50-$3) so diners can check out examples from various regions of Italy.
Bar Bambino truly is an oasis. Owner Christopher Losa has taken a risk on the location, but has created a sexy, speakeasy vibe. He's a pioneer - Bar Bambino may have started a rejuvenation of this gritty Mission strip.
New: For a 360-degree view of the restaurant, visit sfgate.com/food.
The wine list
Bar Bambino boasts an adventuresome all-Italian wine list.
Although younger drinkers seem to be more open to imports, I'm not sure many would know about selections such as the 2004 Grillo Schiopettino ($58).
Selections like this are somewhat esoteric, so diners will need to rely on the staff, which is still struggling to taste through the list. Another choice is to try one of the 37 wines by the glass ($6-$13). When servers don't know about them, they're quick to offer tastes, but in most cases you can take your chances, because all of them are well chosen and versatile.
The 120 bottles are well selected for price, too, although markups tend to be on the high side. The pricing seems more palatable because these aren't wines you'll find at the local supermarket.
All the regions are covered; in the by-the-glass list alone, diners can choose wines from Sardinia, Sicily, Marche, Puglia and Lombardy.
The dessert list also encourages diners to linger: 11 are offered by the glass. Beverage selections are rounded out with 10 beers, teas ($2.50-$4.50 a pot), sodas ($2.50), and espresso drinks made with either Northern or Southern Italian roasts. Corkage is $20.
- M.B.
Michael Bauer is The Chronicle's restaurant critic. E-mail him at mbauer@sfchronicle.com. Read his Between Meals blog on SFGate.com and visit sfgate.com/food for comprehensive Bay Area restaurant reviews and listings.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Essencia 401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco - SFgate.com

Essencia's upscale peruvian fare is hit-and-miss
Michael Bauer
Sunday, July 29, 2007
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After my third visit to Essencia, this question stuck in my mind: Why did Anne Gingrass-Paik choose to open a Peruvian restaurant?
Gingrass-Paik and her former husband, David Gingrass, were the original chefs at Postrio. They left to go out on their own to open Hawthorne Lane, which garnered glowing reviews. David Gingrass generally handled the front, while she was in charge of the kitchen, creating innovative East-West dishes. She even installed an aquarium with live prawns in the dining room. After the two divorced, she opened Desiree Cafe in the Presidio, which has since closed.
Now she's lending her name to Essencia in Hayes Valley at Hayes and Gough streets. The restaurant's Web site proclaims, "Essencia is a new and exciting Peruvian restaurant with an organic California twist," which sounds as innovative as her previous ventures. Yet the niggling question remains: Why?
The food, while pleasant, isn't particularly distinctive, especially for the price. I'd just as soon go to Limon or Destino, where the tab is lower and the food more interesting.
While I love the idea of giving cuisines an interpretive twist, in this case the twists take a wrong turn, beginning with the bread. The three or four irregular chunks of baguette tossed on a saucer look like leftovers. I first thought it was a mistake and cut the kitchen some slack, but after the third visit, I realized that was the way it was supposed to be. Why?
And why is the kampachi ceviche ($12) doused with so much mustard-yellow hot pepper sauce that it destroys everything but the texture? Dish after dish, I wondered why.
The interior has a modest, upscale look, using the same large plate-glass windows as when the space was the Pendragon bakery-cafe. The dozen or so tables are made of wood slabs with irregular edges; their small size might be the reason many main courses are served on rectangular plates that look as if they were last used in United's first-class cabin.
The brown color scheme helps warm the space, and the amoeba-shaped lights with printed fabric shades add interest to the ceiling. It's pleasant, but I'm not sure the cramped interior and somewhat disjointed service support the $26.75 price tag for lomo saltado, the classic Peruvian beef dish Gingrass-Paik updates with yucca fries and a sauce with too much vinegar.
The staff seems better suited to the casual interior than to the upscale prices. They place the flatware on the table helter-skelter, and often don't bother to put the right dish in front of the person who ordered it.
They also aren't well versed on the menu. When we had a question about the wine, the waiter couldn't answer it, although he offered us a taste of two other wines. When we were confused about why barbecued octopus with celery heart salad with black olive sauce ($11) was listed under the ceviche section, the waiter gave a convoluted explanation of how the sauce was put in the pan until crusty and then the seafood was added, but really wasn't cooked. He came back later and offered another unintelligible explanation.
The dish consisted of a few pieces of tentacles briefly sauteed and served over frisee and celery. It tasted fine, but it was more of a salad than anything else. Another one of the three selections in the category was the shrimp, sea bass and mussel ceviche with cucumbers ($11.50), which had too much acid to do the seafood justice.
With the chef having such a seemingly assertive seasoning hand, I was surprised by the lack of flavor of the sea bass ($12), served chilled on paprika onions, practically raw green beans, slices of avocado and cherry tomato halves. The flavors never integrated, and when I wanted to perk things up with salt, there was none on the table.
One of the best ways to counterbalance the assertive items is with the golf ball-size potato fritters and crisp yucca fries ($8.50); or the composed salad ($12). The salad includes artichoke hearts sliced and fanned around a lemon parsley sauce, and a quinoa salad in which each bead was separate, slightly firm and topped with strands of smoky marinated peppers.
My favorite appetizer was grilled beef hearts ($7), which has chunks of chewy meat marinated in Cabernet vinegar and served on a small plate of marinated bell peppers.
I also liked some of the riffs on the main courses, such as adding whole fried chickpeas to baked halibut nestled on garbanzo puree and accented with shrimp and clam sauce ($23.50). The best part of the lamb ($25) - chunks of leg meat simmered in a cilantro sauce studded with peas and green beans - was the accompanying bowl of saffron-yellow risotto with what looked like an egg on top. It was a tad mushy, but the flavors were so good, it didn't matter.
A side of rice came with the "chicken with pecans, Parmesan and hot yellow pepper sauce" ($23.50), although I wasn't sure because the waiter placed the bowl in the middle of the table between that dish and the chupe, a shrimp, sea bass and rice chowder ($21) with a harsh, one-dimensional broth. The chicken - a Latin version of creamed chicken without the toast - was nothing like what I had expected. Shreds of meat were blended with a brownish creamy sauce topped with toasted pecans. It was good in a homey, 1950s way, but the price was clearly planted in 2007.
The green risotto-like bamboo rice ($24) also had a homey appeal. It was mounded on the plate with garlicky shrimp and scallops flanked by knobs of spinach.
I was mildly disappointed with the dessert offerings. The moist vanilla cake with white chocolate and cherry sauce ($6.50) was the best. The lucuma fruit flan ($6.50) tasted more of condensed milk than anything else; the whipped cream on top was overprocessed and the papaya was underripe.
The flavor of the guanabana (soursop) mousse ($6) with strawberries was pleasant, but the texture was a bit grainy. Orange pisco madeleines ($7) were too sweet with orange syrup, and the alfajores ($4.50) - butter cookies with various fillings - were slightly soggy.
Still confused about what was going on at Essencia, I called Gingrass-Paik for an explanation. Turns out that Peruvian food is a newfound interest. The family of one of her former employees wanted to open the place and lacked the experience. She became the go-to person in helping Juan and Carmen Cespedes design and staff the place, plan the menu and cook. Eventually, she said, she plans to open another restaurant, but she's now spending most of her time getting Essencia in order.
Unfortunately, the Cespedes' passion and Gingrass-Paik's talent haven't translated very well to the place. I still wonder why.
New: For a 360-degree view of the restaurant, visit sfgate.com/food.
The Wine List
The high food prices are consistent with the wine prices at Essencia, where the 15-item list concentrates on international wines.
Most wines come from Spain, with a few from Argentina and France. There are no California wines, which is strange since part of the gestalt of the restaurant is to offer an organic, local (read California) twist to the menu.
Most people probably won't recognize many of the wine producers, and from our visits, it appears the staff isn't well versed in the selections. They did offer us tastes when we asked about two Tempranillos on the list; both are offered by the glass. In fact, nine of the 15 wines are offered by the glass, priced between $7 and $9.
The list also includes two sherries by the glass, a Port and one beer: Cristal ($4), from Peru.
If you bring wine, corkage is $15. - M.B.
Essencia
401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco; (415) 552-8485 or www.essenciarestaurant.com . Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Difficult street parking.
Overall: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Food: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Service: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Atmosphere: Rating: TWO STARS
Prices: $$$
Noise rating: THREE BELLS
Pluses: Some Peruvian combinations have interesting twists. Try the fritters, grilled beef hearts, baked halibut.
Minuses: Food, service and decor often don't justify the prices.
Michael Bauer is The Chronicle's restaurant critic. E-mail him at mbauer@sf chronicle.com. Read his Between Meals blog on SFGate.com and visit sfgate.com/food for comprehensive Bay Area restaurant reviews and listings.

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