GDGNA Summit Recap

I had the opportunity to visit the GooglePlex last week in support of the Google Developer Group program.  I was participating in the first summit ever summit of organizers from North America.

The Campus

It is always interesting to visit the campus, as there is always a certain vibe.  I get a kick out of the energy towards continuous self improvement - never missing an opportunity to learn something new (even on the toilet, and yes, I did try the that super fancy bidet).

Android Statues

I am not one to miss a photo op with my favoite Bugdroids...  Not the best lighting (note to self, morning light is probably better for some of these statues).

The Summit

I have been to a few meetings of User Group leaders previously, and was expecting a bit more of the same from this event (the normal stuff - how to find speakers, and sponsors, etc).  We had a few of these types of meetings (of course, that is the real reason we were there).

The real value I got out of this event was being able to connect with other organizers.  Because this event had a smaller audience it was much easier to connect with other people.  I met some new organizers from chapters I can probably help (Tucson, and Boulder), and of course was able to extend my friendship with some other regional leads I hadn't connected with previously (from the Utah Chapters).

The enthusiasm and energy of other organizers, and from the Googlers running the organization (particularly Martin Omander - who ran a tight ship, thankfully keeping everyone focused and on time) is infectious.

Computer History Museum

I took a detour while I was in San Jose, and visited the Computer History Museum.  It was a lot of fun.  It is well organized, and they had some fun old computers.  I personally thought they displayed more computers from the distant past (up to 1960s), and I am more interested in the recent past (1970s up).  They did have a lot of fun computers on display, and interesting information, and I highly recommend a visit.

Unfortunately, while I was there on-time for the demo of the "Babbage Engine", it jammed at the very start of the demo, so that was a bust.

Overall, it was a fun event, and a nice opportunity to re-energize.  Thanks for the fun time Google Developer Group North America.

Eating in Las Vegas

My Vegas Report

Aug 4, 2008

Just returned from a weekend in LV, and wanted to capture my feelings on what I ate over the weekend.

Started out grabbing a burger at Burger Bar (we were staying at Mandalay, so it was a quick and easy destination). I had the sliders, which were 3 small burgers with various ingredients, all made with different meats. I couldn't tell the difference at all between the different meats, but the different ingredients definitely gave each a distinctive taste (I really enjoyed the one with bacon, and would recommend this as a must have ingredient on any sandwich there). Wife had the regular burger with bacon as well. It came out exactly the temperature ordered (medium rare), and she loved it. (She said it was among the best burgers she has ever had). The fries were very good as well. The sweet potato ones were actually crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside, which is perfect, and not easy to accomplish. My wife got their "Mojo" to drink, which had Chipotle syrup in it, and she didn't like it. The recommendations to eat at the bar instead of waiting for the table were spot on. We were told it would be 50 minutes for a table, but walked right up to the bar (during prime time, of Fri night around 8:00pm). The atmosphere is casual, which was nice, and overall, our meal was reasonably inexpensive, which is a plus.

Breakfast the next morning was granola bars at the pool. We then headed to Lotus of Siam for lunch. We were bummed to see that they only serve dinner on weekends, so we had to think quick about a backup plan. We decided to head to Ceaser's, and decide between Bradley Ogden, and Mesa Grill. BO, is only opened for dinner, so our decision was made for us (although we did check out the menu, which looked great, and they were offering a price fixe dinner for $55 which seemed reasonable). Mesa grill only serves brunch on the weekends until dinner, which wasn't optimal, but we were hungry, so we stayed. I got the Eggs Chiliquenes, and the wife got the spicy pork tenderloin sandwich. They were both pretty good, but I wasn't wowed by either. The service was excellent, and the bread basket they bring to each table had some real winners (in particular, I loved the blue corn muffin, and a jalapeno biscuit). My diet coke cost $4 which I find outrageous (but it seemed to be the going rate for drinks in LV). I would also comment that the restaurant space was beautiful. The different colored glass panels (following the color theme of Mesa) was well done, and the whole restaurant in general had a classy feel (but not stuffy). We loved that you could see into the casino, but still felt isolated from it. I wouldn't make a point of rushing back, but it was a solid meal, and a very pleasant experience.

Dinner was at Lotus Of Siam. We were going to eat there no matter what, and we are happy we made it. Plenty of reviews on this board for this place, so I am not going to rehash. We had the crispy rice with sour sausage, beef salad, northern Thai curry (item A from the Northern menu, which was already included in our menu), and finished with sticky rice with mango. All of the dishes lived up to our high expectations. If I lived in LV, I would open up a tab, and go there as often as I could. This is a must do for any foodie, and a stop we will make whenever we are in town. The nice thing about this place, is that it isn't stuffy, and they aren't cocky (for lack of a better word). LOS has gotten tons of rave reviews from all over the country, but all the people that work there seemed laid back, and grateful for our business (and willing to help us chose which dished to order, and explain the nuances of each). LOS gets a lot of positive reviews, and they are well deserved).

Next we headed to the Wynn for a show (Le Reve), and needed to cancel reservations at Tablau for brunch the next morning. We were a little bummed we couldn't eat there (not enough meals in a day). It was a beautiful space, and the menu looked really great.

So instead, we went to Bouchon for brunch on Sunday. It was great. We ate outside (which was surprisingly pleasant for a August morning). The space reminded me of a French brasserie, but more upscale. I had the corned beef hash, which came in a cast iron skillet, with some wonderful bread (light and airy). The wife had the French toast. It looked somewhat small at first, but turned out to be a perfect portion as it was very rich. She commented that each layer had candied apples, which she loved. My corned beef hash was very good. Our service was only OK. My coffee cup was empty at the end of the meal, and I would have liked more. It also took a while to get our check (our table definitely got forgotten when the waiter became overwhelmed with other guests). We would have also liked to have a small basket of bread included with the meal (you could buy one, for $13, but we thought this was expensive). Brunch is an inexpensive way to experience Bouchon, but in hindsight, it probably would be wise to have dinner there, as it is probably more extraordinary.

On our way out of the Venetian, we made a point to stop at Bouchon Bakery. We wanted to get some "road food" to have on the way home. This little counter (just behind the escalator into the shops outside of the casino) is something special. We got four items: Focacia, Chocolate Croissant, an "Oreo" cookie, and a lemon tart. They were all unbelievably delicious (and expensive our bill was close to $20 for 4 pastries). The focacia had a wonderful pesto on it, that matched well with the white cheese, and tomatoes. I only got 2 bites (was concentrating on driving while the wife devoured it before I knew it), but it was one of the highlights of anything I ate this weekend. The chocolate croissant was only fair. The chocolate in it was very high quality (you could taste, and I think they said it was Valrohna), but the bread was too flaky (fell apart into millions of crumbs), and was just OK. The "Oreo" was to die for. It was very light, and the white chocolate ganache in the center played well with the crisp cookie. The lemon tart had a pine nut crust, and was perfectly tart. The meringue on the top tasted like a fresh marshmallow, and cut the tartness perfectly.

Overall, we ate well in Vegas, and look forward to getting back again sometime, and knocking some of the other places off our list.

La Jolla, what we ate

La Jolla, my review

Sep 05, 2007

Here is my brief review of the dining experiences we had in the La Jolla area. Overall, I would say we ate very well, in some great environments, relatively inexpensively.

Day one, went to Girard Gourmet for sandwiches. We split the Italian on Italian roll. The meat was wonderful, but the roll was too big and hard for the sandwich, so all the fixins squished out the sides. We also got a Turkey, Cheddar, Avacado on 12 Grain. This bread was terrific (which is so important in the sandwich). The ingredients were all well proportioned, and this sandwich held together better. They had a large variety of wonderful frosted sugar cookies, but we were trying to be relatively good, so we skipped them (but they were enticing).

For dinner that night, we tried to hit Georges on the Cove (without reservations). We were told it would be a 1.5 hour wait (for the restaurant on the top floor). So we put our name down, and headed to the middle bar to get drinks and wait. We were able to snag a table in the bar after waiting a short time - this place was hopping, but the table turnover was quick, so while there were never any empty seats, no-one had to wait more than 10 minutes for something to open up). We were hungry, so we just decided to get apps at the bar. We got a bowl of their famous bean and chicken soup, and some fish tacos (my only chance at getting this San Diego specialty, since the wife, isn't so into them). Both dishes were wonderful, especially the tacos. I thought the soup was OK, but $9 for a bowl of soup is very expensive. We also got a specialty drink off their menu (which was recomended by Chowhounders). It was a Mojito, which was absolutely terrible. The mint was barely muddles, and there was barely any lime. We probably should have sent it back, but weren't in the mood to make a scene. For a specialty drink, I would expect something that is better executed, and not something basically undrinkable. Overall, I thought the scene at Georges was a little too much. I don't like to wait so long for a table.

Decided to head to Jacks after that for another drink, and another round of apps. We ended up heading to the lounge (downstairs), which seemed like the easiest, most informal way to go. There were too many choices regarding which Jacks restaurant to hit, and quite frankly we were a little overwhelmed, so we just decided the lounge was easiest (in hind site, the middle, open air bar looked pretty neat, and probably would have been a good choice). We found some couch space, easily, and ordered drinks and two apps. The atmosphere was great, and the people sitting across from us were extremely friendly (something we found all over SoCal). Our "dining partners" were actually competitive sky divers, and a bit crazy, but it certainly added a fun element to our evening. We got a Potato and Goat Cheese pizza which was tasty (probably 10" around, light but sturdy crust, and fresh ingredients). We also got the tuna tartar. It was a very large portion, of very fresh tasting tuna, with specks of scallion, and lime juice. Really great flavors. I am not a big fan of tuna tartar regularly, but this dish may have changed my opinion. My wife found a reasonably priced glass of Prosecco, and I had a rum and coke which were both fine. The service was very attentive, and we didn't have to wait or ask for anything.

Next morning we decided to stay in our hotel for the Sunday Brunch. We were staying at the Hotel Valencia (really great place, I would strongly recommend it, but this isn't a hotel board, so back to the food...). We were lucky enough to get a ocean view table (got the reservation the night before, and reservations are recommended, as they weren't able to accommodate walk ups in any of the dining rooms on Sunday morning). The view from our table was worth the price of admission by itself. The food was pretty good. It wasn't anything spectacular, but they had a good variety (including seafood - crab, oysters, and shrimp). a carving station for meat, an omelet bar, and a large variety of hot dishes (loved the eggs Benedict, and tried some of the pastas, and potatoes). The deserts were great (including a Chocolate fountain, and one of the best key lime pies I have every tasted) Champagne and Mimosas are included in the price, and since I wasn't going anywhere, I indulged in many, many of those (they just refilled your existing glass, so I have no idea how many I actually drank, but I was feeling no pain!). The price of the buffet is $45, which is somewhat of a splurge. We looked at the Seafood buffet Sat night, and it had much less food, and didn't look nearly as good, and it was $65. I would recommend the brunch over the seafood buffet. Service was excellent, our waters, and Mimosa glasses never went empty (my head still hurts thinking about all those drinks I put away that morning). My only tip, is to avoid getting there right at 11:00 when they open. The lines at the food were pretty long, they quickly dispersed (by 11:30), but it was kind of annoying to have to deal with all those people, when you are hungry, and just want to get back to your table, and enjoy the awesome view of the ocean.

That meal held us over until fairly late, but we still wanted something for dinner, so we headed to a Thai Restaurant named "Spice and Rice" (stupid name IMHO). It was really good. We got the summer rolls, as a starter, and they were great, very fresh crisp ingredients. They cut them up as part of their presentation, which made them difficult to eat, it would have been better if they left them whole). We then had a green papaya salad. I loved it, as it was heavily spiced. Warning, if you are spice averse, I would mention it, as all their food was pretty spicy (my wife couldn't eat the salad). Lastly we had the Pad Thai. It is a pretty run of the mill dish, and their version wasn't anything spectacular (but I think there is no such thing as "spectucar" Pad Thai). They had little pieces of Tofu, in addition to the chicken, which I really enjoyed. This dish was also spicy, but tolerable to my SO. If Spice and Rice was located in our home, town, it would definitely get a spot in our regular rotation, as we really liked it. (Comment, there were long lines for "Sushi On the Rock" place next door, which seemed like a lousy place, the wait was long, and the restaurant was packed, and was so loud you could literally hear it from outside where we were sitting next door. I didn't eat there, so I can't vouch for the food, but the atmosphere wasn't inviting to me).

Wanting to satiate our sweet tooth, we stopped at Gelato Frizzante (on Prospect). It was really great (we have had our fair share of Gelatos in our lifetime, so we know good stuff when we find it). I go the chocolate toffee, which had alot of chunks in it (how I like it), and my wife mixed Green Apple with another flavor (can't remember). I would definitely recommend this independant (they also have a shop in Gaslamp, but I think that is it) over the commercial Hagaan Daas store down the street that also seemed to be doing a brisk business.

Breakfast the next day consisted of granola bars, on the way to hike Torey Pines. But again, this isn't a hiking board, so back to the food...

Lunch at "The Cheese Shop" in Del Mar. Delicious sandwiched. We got a Regular Torpedo, which also came on Italian Roll, but held together must better than Girards. It was great, and we also got a Turkey and Avocado (basically same sandwiches as Griards, if we're anything, we're consistent). Turkey was thick cut, fresh, and not "lunch meat". Both sandwiches were terrific. I also loved all the funky candy (a lot of European candy bars, and other stuff you haven't seen since you were a little kid) they had for sale.

We then took a sail around the bay, and enjoyed snacks on board the ship (Sunchips, and stale corn chips).

For dinner we didn't have a plan, so figured we would just head to Gaslamp, and look around until we found something that looked good. We parked the car, and my wife noticed a restaurant right across the street that looked familiar (although we have never been to this area before). It was Agua Al 2, which is part of a chain (really only 2 restaurants), with one in San Diego, and one in Florence, Italy. We couldn't beleive it. We ate there in Florence, talked a lot with the owner, who told us to come visit him in San Diego if we were ever there (of course, this conversation was a distant memory). So we ate there. The menus were exactly the same. We kind of mis-ordered (actually had a language problem with the waitress who was Italian, which is kind of weird since we are in the states). But the dishes we got were still wonderful. The highlight of our meal was the cheese plate. It was large, with ample servings of 4 different cheeses, and some salad greens (I think one was arugula, as it had a very peppery kick). I also loved the bread they bring in paper bags. It was toasted on a grill, then you dip it in olive oil, and balsamic. I pretty much filled up on that. It was really neat for us to stumble upon this restaurant, as it really brought back good memories from our Italian vacation.

That is all we were able to do. On my list (for next time), is San Diego's best fish taco (this will take some research to figure out exactly were that is). Nine-Ten (their breakfast menu actually looked great), a real meal at Georges, Mission Cup Cafe, Chuao Chocolates , and Barbarella.

We had a wonderful time, and look forward to getting back.