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Month January 2017

San Francisco’s Quick Sand of Retail and Restaurant Landscape Space

San Francisco is a town that has a gotten it’s food game on more than ever. I worked with someone who always said to me that San Francisco has the country’s best restaurants which I would chime in and say “except New York.” Food has been good but it the scene has been getting better over time.

The exception to this compliment is that San Franciscans are not loyal to restaurants—not the way New Yorkers are ….. New York has 21 and Le Grenouille San Francisco has …. Let me stretch… Tadich and Swan Oyster Depot and they are good restaurant but they are no 21. New York like other cities does cycle out of restaurants like anywhere but I think they give it a longer run. Look at Lutece, Four Seasons (breaks my heart that it is not with us) to name a few.

And I am aware that New Yorkers are surprised and feel there are many more resturant closures than usual. I feel, at least, for San Francisco is that the restaurant lifespan is decreasing and not for organic reason but for purely speculative ones. San Francisco on a per capita basis has one of the largest percentages of millionaires than even New York. Even with great wealth doesn’t mean that restaurants can afford to stick around for things to improve (and absurd thought as things are robust economically now). It is a simple equation of how many plates do you have to serve to pay the rent let alone the food costs and other business supporting costs. San Francisco commercial landlords do not have a skin in the game for the long term and think the highest price per square foot is appealing.

Even with great wealth —not everyone can afford an everyday lunch salad of $20…. And just because there is great wealth doesn’t mean there are great tastes behind it. Also because there is a large of upwardly mobile doesn’t mean they are always here in San Francisco to eat in a restaurant; after all people travel for business often.

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A favourite restaurant of mine just ceased operation – Range. Range took the space of a Tapas restaurant called Timo’s and closed after 12 years of operation. It was my neighbourhood restaurant. We both arrived in the neighbourhood around the same time (thought I have been here slightly longer). I was delighted that a sit down restaurant had opened up in such a tiny space. A great place for a romantic dinner and a rare place even by San Francisco standards where you could hear your dinner mate—no yelling was required. The neighbourhood still needs a sit down restaurant. Also the closure of Bar Tartine was another heartbreak. The loss of Bar Tartine is of note. I loved the point of difference was the Eastern European cuisine. San Francisco is a desert for almost any Eastern European cuisine. The closure of Old Krakow in West Portal ended any Polish cuisine in San Francisco.

I was surprised to hear that AQ, even Show Dogs had closed (amazing curry fried chicken sandwich), Volta, Umami, Kuletos, Ame, Bourbon Steak, Bon Marche, and Lulu. When Dennis Leary’s Canteen closed (a few years ago) I was so saddened. So charming and fitting for the neighbourhood. Intimate with just a few tables of chef prepared food. Books on the wall to reflect the personality of Chef Leary. I felt like it certainly San Francisco most under-rated restaurant. I also felt like this is a restaurant Dashiel Hammet would have frequented if he had lived her while Canteen was open. Dennis Leary doesn’t have a sit down restaurant in his mainly lunch and drinks establishments. I think we are missing out on his amazing culinary style.

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I look at Valencia Street area it has a rough year. It is a vibrant street with lots of foot traffic. But it showed me renamed speculation alley.   Just recently, Fine Arts Optical relocated to Berkeley, Ruby store on 20th near Valencia Street (closing after more than a decade and half) a cute gift store with jewelry and women’s clothing—when I first moved to the area Ruby had been an organizer of helping to bring together 20th Street with a few years of organizing and sponsoring of a block party for the street.

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Gingko Furniture on Valencia is closing and the gallery Campfire just recently closed on 24th Street between Valencia and Mission Streets.

This is what one might expect to see during a recession not during a 3.4% employment rate.

Even the luxury retailer have thrown in the towel—Prada, DeBeers and Giorgio Armani which I thought would always be here have given up.

San Francisco aggressive store front real estate needs to come back down to earth and think of the long haul versus the short term circus we are currently in.

San Francisco in general has lost it’s soul during this economic cycle. The only concern of Mayor Lee is for two things only 1) condos 2) office space and has shown little interest in open space, exhibition space (the Exhibition Center on 9th Street could have been rebuilt with exhibition space on the bottom and condominium on top). San Francisco artist community has been decimated and it take leadership of a visionary in City Hall that can advocate for quality of life and a richer offering of venues for activities.

Wine events have decreased in San Francisco over time not because there is a lessened interest but because event space is decreasing rapidly.

I look forward to a new leader in City Hall and I hope the city’s retail space and restaurant real estate can come back to earth to help sustain the reason people want to live and visit here.

Santé,

James

James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

Wines courtesy of producer.

© 2017 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine GuyJames the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Two 2015 Rias Baixas Albariño – James Melendez

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La Val Rias Baixas Albariño 2015

Scent characterisation:  mineral, white stone fruit, and orange blossom and flavour characterisation white peach, apricot, almond and white tea.

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Maior de Mendoza Rias Baixas Fulgent Albariño 2015

Scent characterisation: green citrus, white tea, sesame, and white flowers and flavour characterisation  verbena, golden citrus, pine nut, and tea

Santé,

James

James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

Wines courtesy of producer.

© 2017 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine GuyJames the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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My Fourth Quarter France Food Adventure – A Renewed Love for French Food – James Melendez

I always look longingly to go back to France.  I was in France for the Champagne Harvest tour in September.  I miss France and the food never disappoints.  I am both excited by the farmers markets which always encompass beautiful displays of cheese and fish.  I was glad that I was staying at an AirBNB to enjoy charcuterie, cheese and wine.

I can compare and contrast fine food in the Bay Area and in many ways it is rarefied in most parts of the American experience.  I think the abundance of food is not just evident it is easily experienced on a casual walk in central Paris.  I was there with a friend and he was there to experience the chocolate since he is a professional chocolatier.  I was there on a mission to see the grape harvest in Champagne and enjoy a few days in Paris.

The food hall at Galleries Lafayatte has it’s own building–the old food hall was in the upper floors of the boulevard Haussmann store.  The food hall (diagonal of it’s original location) is glorious and has been further refined.  I arrive just in time to have food at the Spanish food bar.  I thought should I be eating Spanish food in France?  The food was superbly fresh and loved each morsel and it was a great homage to Spanish cuisine.  I loved the Octopus.

San Francisco doesn’t really have a food hall.  The closest might be the Ferry building but that is not a cohesive setting–it is a group of vendors.  The cohesiveness of a Grand Magasin like Lafayette is a goal of completeness — not exhaustiveness but to have a wide range of foods available.

I think French food culture is just as alive and is a world heritage country to preserve the fineness of food culture.  Traditional French cuisine has often been thought of as too heavy—too high in fat–too something.  But the French cookery is too ingrained into not just the French but a world dependent on tradition.  The French cookery has been under many influences such as Haute cuisine or Nouvelle–but ultimately what is important is the general heading of French cuisine.

I was delighted with the recent opening of Restaurant Racine in Reims the cuisine style is French with a Japanese accent.  Freshness and delicateness headline this experience–especially on my long journey to Paris then Reims –this meal could not have been more special and perfect for the recent long sprint.

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Restaurant Racine - Racine meaning root proves a great fundamental name to this wondrous presentation and food.

Restaurant Racine

8 Rue Colbert,

51100 Reims, France

*****

Another great and such a perfect place to eat especially during the relative warmth of a Champagne autumn is Les Avisés.  Les Avisés is a very small hotel and restaurant at the Domaine of Jacques Selesse.

Eating outdoors and enjoying the freshest produce along not just beautiful plated food but food that is a shining example of food excellence in Champagne.

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While this is at the Domaine of Jacques Selosse which I recommend ordering his wines here as such a special touch to your food experience.  If you don’t order Selosse wines the wine list is fantastic of both RM and NM wines.   I got to walk Jacques cellar–small and storied–I wish I could have chatted with Jacques a bit but it was harvest time after all.

Les Avisés

Hôtel Restaurant Les Avisés –

59, rue de Cramant – 51190 Avize

*****

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Frenchie

5 Rue du Nil,

75002 Paris, France

I loved my tasting menu at Frenchie.  Frenchie is something I thought for certain we wouldn’t get into.  I approached the restaurant and made an inquiry and of course they had no reservation.  The next idea was to line up at their wine bar and eat there.  Not a bad alternative.  Then a few minutes later Maître d’ finds me and my friend Basel in line and says “good news, there is a cancellation…would you like to come over.” So welcoming and warm and very casual.

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Duck

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Sorbet

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Heirloom Tomato

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Chocolate

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*****

Porte 12 is another tasting menu experience–a very beautiful and simplified approach.  What I loved about this tasting menu is the minimalism and the experience was harmonious notes accented with fresh and focused notes.  And I had the best chocolate dessert of all time–like a Pot de Creme with dark chocolate dust.

Porte 12

12 Rue des Messageries

75010 Paris, France

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Country Egg

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Smoked Beans

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Langostino

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Rabbit Loin – one of the most delightful dishes I have ever tasted.

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Cheese Plate

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The Most Amazing Chocolate Dessert of All Time – Like a Chocolate Powder–pure delight.

 

These were just a few of the spectacular meals I had in France.  I will write up more of Champagne visits and the foods I had along the way.

I find food in San Francisco to have changed and upgraded over time.  And yet I still miss the food in France.  Always spectacular and even with Euro to Dollar exchange rate to be completely reasonable.  Every meal was memorable and I loved everything I ate.  And this is why I take pictures of food–never ashamed to take food photos at the dining table.

I hope to go back to France this year.

Santé,

James

James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2017 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine GuyJames the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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The Seven Bridges of Königsberg and My European Travels – James Melendez

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I had a great journey through Europe last year—spending over a couple of months and visiting 11 countries. I knew I had time to travel; it was how to see and do as much as possible. I had an opportunity and problem in how to travel—complexity builds in quickly. How do I get to each place efficiently? I thought of Leonhard Euler’s Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem – the problem statement is how to cross these bridges once without having to go over one a second time. This “problem” helped to lay foundation for Graph Theory in the discipline of Topology.  Basically through the aide of Graph Theory there is no way to not cross a bridge twice in Königsberg (city is now named Kaliningrad).

Yes, you guessed it a math and science nerd here.

I looked at my travel wish list and it was chock full of places I had never been to or had never spent enough time in. I will describe the problem that I came across…. It was more of a mathematical problem than a difficult or hard problem to overcome. I did well but I could have done better.

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The problem came from a crossroads issue. While in Bologna I thought and stood with my decision to go north to Venezia (Venice) and Padova (Padua) because they were closer. It was just not a closeness decision point—it came from an airport one. I thought from Italy my journey would take me next to Vienna. I thought taking a flight would make the most sense—while taking a train would have worked I would have most likely been on an overnight.

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I looked at flight from Venezia and there were fewer options and much more expensive. I thought that even though the last Italian city I would see is Torino I could still take a train to one of Milano’s airports for maximum possibilities. The problem kept compounding on this option because I would have to go to the Milano Centrale and then a train to either Linate or Malpensa the time lag was getting longer and fewer options (this option would have meant waking up extra early too). Timing was too long and surprising the options were not as numerous as I would have liked. So my choice was to fly out of Torino. While I was looking at Torino the options started to decrease. Originally there was a Turkish air option—rather inexpensive via Istanbul. As I was ready to buy my ticket the flight day I selected this was no longer an option. I decided to try Air France and when I was ready to make purchase—I could not select seat even if I paid for a seat assignment as this was not an option. Oddly, I then went to Air France partner KLM Royal Dutch and found a similar flight where I could select seat. I finally went with this flight from Torino to Vienna.

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What I wish I would have done with take a train from Bologna to my furthest westward point in Italy to Torino and then went east to Milano, Verona, Trento and then Padova and Venezia.

I then could have gone eastward to Ljubljana, Slovenia and the to Zagreb, Croatia and then to Budapest and finally to Vienna. I could have saved a bit more time and taken the train but my calculations showed I would have to shave a day off for my Vienna adventure but would have see two more countries.

You can never always predict as well is how you will like or love a place. I thought I would love Torino. Capital of Italian chocolate, beautiful backdrop of Italian mountains and the Mole Antonelliana would make for an outstanding experience. I should have taken warning when a friend from Southern Italy who said to me “Why… are you going to Torino?” Though he didn’t “warn” me not to go he was just questioning if I should go to Torino.  While the alps were scenic it was not as compelling of a city to visit than I had hoped for.

Travel tips—you might get especially with familiar and larger cities:.

“I love Paris”

“You have to go once…”

“Amazing…”

“Vibrant…”

“So much to do….”

You get the idea….  Smaller cities don’t always have a register in our social circle. Sometimes you are a pioneer when it comes to travel. Sometimes you will never get an absolute from people around and sometimes people won’t give their opinions or at least the opinions that you need. Reading and researching online only gets you so far. Rick Steves is not someone I hang my hat on… I think people fall in love with his rhetoric but his highlights I find limiting and not always insightful. I think he became popular in the US because American’s fear travel (they want to travel but fear going as well). He makes it comfortable. I would say for me what was a turn off about Rick Steves in general is that I feel he has a negative feel even though he may not say it on his well edited featured travels. In an on line lecture I saw I thought he was negative… I remember he was talking about what you might experience in Europe and he mentioned that you will probably be around people who will smell bad…… I immediately stopped watching because I was turned off by his tone—it was this and it was just his general tone seemed so negative. I didn’t need to watch and listen anymore.   I have not experienced this myself and I have traveled to Europe often from top to bottom and side to side (meaning eastern, western, northern and southern Europe).

While I do know people who travel to wide and far and all continents and yet I know that if I want challenge I don’t need to go necessarily remote. I find my love of history and adventure is still Europe and yes I will travel to other places. On my 2016 journey to Europe, I found people who didn’t speak English and I had to find my way around perhaps they were speaking Slovak or Hungarian I would lean on perhaps another language such as German, French or Italian—which was not always successful. But there was the challenge and even excitement with how to I get around or find out information.  This is the only time in my life that I spoke so little English.

My mobile phone worked most everywhere and thank goodness for an outstanding data plan I used it everywhere I went.

Here is what I downloaded prior to visiting each city:

  • map of the area I was going to be (especially train station area in great detail)
  • the city
  • the areas you will be visiting
  • the metro or tram lines
  • a phrase sheet on basics of the country you are visiting

I download this prior to my visit just in case my network is operating slowly.

I think it is my responsibility to fit in terms of being as local as possible. I don’t want to be conspicuous traveler. I try to be sensitive to my surrounding and make it a great journey for myself. I was so fascinating in how people perceive me. Here in San Francisco I am asked “what am I”? And that happens to me in Europe as well. In Poland, I was mistaken for being Italian and in Berlin I was mistaken for being Polish. I am fascinating in how perception of affiliation or background is what guides ourselves and people around. I think when I was in Italy speaking Italian as much as possible and I know that I work on using the accent of the language I am speaking. I have wondered if I am speaking in Italian does someone wonder whether I am Italian or even make that something they think about.  Treading lightly is the utmost of importance.

I think what I learned about this long trek is to fear less, embrace more often the uncertainty that travel will always holds out for you. I have been rewarded more than punished. I love travel and I love adventure.

I think the Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem is more likely to be a feature of your travel if you are visiting a lot of cities on your journey. Also, when you combine several cities and trying to either map out a potential trajectory the issue of not just if it is possible comes into play but how many options do you truly have (train, car, bus, plane)? Europe is a place that tempts you with always pushing forward to go to “one more city.”   It is also to look at travel in terms of how to reduce your hotel / air BNB check-ins but that some feature of movement requires the necessary step of going to where you will be staying.

I had never gone through so many inter-country train journey’s as I did on this trip. I was not certain what that would be like. I know that I would lean on finding a place you are going to visit and perhaps there is a Deutsche Bahn option. I was surprised to take an in county trip from Verona to Trento on DB. I suggest that you look seat map options on how to get you and your luggage to your desire location. I have looked at business or first class options to make my journey more comfortable and less stressful. For me it was worth the extra money to not worry where I would sit or where I would place my luggage.

When you think of your many stops in Europe—think about your ground transport options. I would also share your journey with one of your friends for their comments and suggestions. I would also look not just at air options but keep a train option in mind—look at your routing and question it if you can be more efficient.

I would redo travel for 2016 if I have the knowledge that I have today.  I know that I might have missed a city but it was through the experience of visiting that city that I new I would not want to visit again.

May your travel be amazing and filled with great experiences, food and may you connect with good people.

Wishing you a great new year!

Santé,

James

James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2017 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

I will also post this on my James the Travel Guy blog site–the reason I do this is that I have two different audience’s per blog site.

James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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