September 28th, 2010

One of the things I do not understand in this country, and forgive me if this sounds un-American, is Budweiser. And Bud-Lite, and Coors, and Miller’s Hi-Life, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a few others I could think of if it were worth trying. I’m sure you’ve gotten the category I mean to describe. All of that watery, pale-yellow, bitter nothingness that get passed off as beer in our homeland makes up one of the big roadblocks to patriotism for me. I can understand it as the high school kids’ beverage of choice, as it’s cheap and the alcohol content is low enough that young experimenters can drink lots and lots and lots of it and only rarely will someone end up in the hospital. But grown men and women continuing to act as if this were a legitimate beverage choice is just not something that makes sense to me. The world is too big, there are too many interesting things, both complex and simple, to choose to put into your mouth. How is it that Budweiser doesn’t just survive, but thrives?.

If you, my reader, are with me on this, if you don’t get it either, then I have an announcement that may make you happy.

And if you’re not with me, if you are perhaps even offended that I would slander something that’s been a part of your life for so long, I apologize, but I also really believe that what I’m about to share with you will make your life better.

This hotel will, from now on, feature a different micro-brewed beer every month. That means that every month we’ll have a new beer, crafted with the same love and attention as each of the wines we serve, to offer you. No pressure. We’ll still keep the old stuff stocked too. But, just in case you ever wondered if there was something more out there, if somewhere deep in your private fantasies you questioned this choice that you’ve been making for so many years, we’re offering you a chance to look around a little bit. It’s even free.

This is my kind of activism, by the way. In sharing this with you, I feel that I’m doing my part to make our great nation even greater.

September 25th, 2010

There are some places that I only go to when I just can’t get out of going, places I would never think to want to go to and that, when someone else suggests them, I think of excuses to get out of going. The Buena Vista, in San Francisco, is one of those spots. Tucked neatly away in the part of town that’s hardest to get to and most filled with soul-less tourist traps, you spend at least a half an hour parking the car for the privilege of squeezing into the always crammed bar and eating the most average of all average food. For years this was my only experience of the famed Buena Vista. I would get dragged in at least once a year to celebrate the birthday of one or another member of my family full of Buena Vista aficionados, and I would turn up, eyes rolling and patience tried before I even stepped in, sure that fit was not possible to have a good time there.

And so I was there yet again this last weekend, for my father’s birthday this time. But, for once, I had a really different experience! Why? Certainly the Buena Vista didn’t change at all. They’ve been serving the same Irish coffees and Ramos fizzes for 58 years. The same man has been behind the bar since before I was born. And the bay view out the giant picture window is unchangeable. Somehow this weekend, though, all that enduring, living history stuff started sinking in. I’m writing to you now from a computer that is dying because it was built to be replaced. I ate lunch in a big chain that survives by making sure it is on top of all the most current “health” fads, and may not last long into the future anyway. The Buena Vista is not temporary and, this weekend at least, that felt really good.

I will say, though, that a not small part of my change of heart probably had to do with having drinks only. The Buena Vista’s Irish coffees are timeless and irreplaceable, the omelet only reminds you that you can eat really well in San Francisco without nearly so much hassle. Sorry. A bit of that old cynicism just won’t let go.

September 16th, 2010

In contrasting Russian tubercular patients against their European counterparts at an alpine sanatorium, Thomas Mann’s Herr Settembrini talks about a “liberality, [a] barbaric extravagance in the use of time [that] is the Asian style.” I think this is a great description of Matt, who works behind our front desk. Matt, who is taking a casual, if somewhat overextended, stroll through his college course load, says that he knows he’ll finish someday. Sure it’s been seven years, but all of life is still ahead. A year ago his truck broke down and he borrowed another from Jerry, our director of sales and marketing. Jerry didn’t need his truck, so Matt relaxed. He got his own fixed yesterday, saying that he meant to fix it right away, but that the year had just sort of gone by. And our dear general manager thinks this initial breakdown was more like a year and a half ago. But what’s a few extra months?

This was not a compliment Herr Settembrini was giving, and Matt is not Russian. So, what is my point? Well, how about looking just a little further east and, instead of calling Matt’s potentially Asian-influenced style “procrastination”, as he himself calls it, thinking of it more along the lines of something like Zen? To me, a “liberality…in the use of time” sounds like a pre-requisite for doing things like living in the moment and accepting yourself. Matt keeps loose goals in his eyes, but stays, also, open to the things in life that just come up. And he’s not afraid to drop a class when they do!

The only real problem I see, to be honest, is convincing Matt himself to stop hanging his head when he says he doesn’t really know where he’ll end up. Maybe he’s a little non-Western in his life vision, but he’ll certainly enjoy his path.

September 12th, 2010

Normally when I write to you about a chain, I’m very apologetic. I do what I can to justify myself, feeling guilty for trying to send you to anything but quaintly charming local haunts. This month is a little different. This month I’m going to tell you about a blossoming little chain that I hope continues on to take over the world. It’s called Pluto’s and it’s been quietly spreading itself around Northern California for the last several years.

So, how am I going to explain singing the praises of the kind of place that’s opening up identical restaurants in as many cities as will give it leases, stretching whatever soul it started with to its utmost limits? Well, I am going to start by saying that I am a modern girl and I have a desire for fast food in my life. The ultra-casual ease is so appealing to my busy American lifestyle that I sometimes overlook the ridiculously fatty, salty, over-processed side of that oh-so-cheap and available burger. Pluto’s makes that compromise unnecessary.

At Pluto’s, in the time, for the price and with the ease of any of the monster chains that come to mind, you can have a fresh salad bursting with seasonal vegetable and fruits, a hand-carved roast turkey sandwich on fresh baked bread, or a plate of roast beef with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Plus they’ve got a really fun space theme. If Pluto’s manages to infiltrate every nook and cranny of this country, the results will only be good. Give it a try, I bet you’ll agree.

September 8th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but up until today the closest I had come to seeing the wine making process was that one episode of I Love Lucy, of which all I really remember is that face she makes when her bare toes squish through the grapes. I assume that most of the wine I drink today doesn’t start with foot-crushed grapes, but I don’t actually know. My nightly glass of wine could be the footwork of Santa’s elves’ offseason employment and before now I wouldn’t have known the difference.

The winemaking process is not secret information, I know, and what I just saw is far from revolutionary. It was a sweet, simple slide show on the Burgess Cellars website following the 2009 harvest. I saw whole, partly crushed and fully pulverized grapes. I saw the crazy big machines that do the crushing, followed by the machines’ warning sign that features a drawing of severed fingers. I saw the Burgess men, father and son, both in action and repose. And all of it set against the stunning Napa valley. It was humble, unglamorous and honest, and such a nice illustration of why the SF Chronicle would say that Burgess represents “the valley’s heart and soul.” I watched their slideshow, learned something about the work they do and came away trusting the people put it up for me to see.

We stock our bar with a wide array of local wines for you to sample, thinking mostly of giving you a nice variety. But it’s also an act in support of local businesses. The Burgess Cellars make us feel proud of that act.