Archive for January, 2010

Craftbar Atlanta

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Saturday night, I wrotefrom our Atlanta hotel room that by arriving in Georgia that evening, I had added #45 to my list of visited states. I had intended to write a second post that night, about our superb dinner at Craftbar earlier in the evening, but I was too tired. I’ll make up for it now, though the excitement has dissipated along the way.

When choosing our hotel, we didn’t have a clear idea of where to be. From what little I read, I decided we might enjoy staying in the Buckhead neighborhood — the northern part of Atlanta with some of the best hotels, restaurants, and shopping — and so we booked ourselves in one of the newest Buckhead hotels, The Mansion on Peachtree. It’s a fifteen-story boutique hotel and our room was on the eleventh floor, with views of some other nearby high rises and one of the malls. Only the next day, when we drove off, circled around the mall, and came around on the far side, did I realize that the hotel is in fact one of the two or three tallest buildings in Buckhead. Tall and very narrow. The hotel occupies the bottom floors, but there are another 30+ floors of condos. There’s a mid section with two two-bedroom condos per narrow floor and an upper section, narrower still, with a three-bedroom condo filling each floor. The condo residents have a separate entry on the other side.

Hotel residents arrive by driving into a big courtyard, with the hotel on one side and a two-story building on the other. That’s where the restaurant is, or rather two restaurants. On the upper floor is a fancy restaurant, Craft, and on the ground floor is Craftbar, a combination bar and more casual restaurant. The original Craft, I should note, is in Manhattan, started by chef/owner Tom Colicchio. There are now additional Crafts in Atlanta, Dallas, and LA. You can read more at the website.

We got into our hotel room around 9:00 PM and weren’t eager to get back in the car in search of dinner. The options seemed to be room service or the restaurant across the way. We didn’t want a fancy, leisurely meal. Nor were we ready to call it an evening and stay in the room, since for us the time was only 6:00 PM. The casual Craftbar appeared to be our best choice. To our surprise, when we arrived there at 9:30 PM, without having called over for a reservation, the place was crowded and noisy. Fortunately, there was a two-top available. It was, in fact, the only open table in the whole place. We were lucky. We felt luckier still when we studied the menu. Everything looked fabulous. See for yourself, here.

How about that veal ricotta meatballs, pappardelle, tomato dish? I thought that was just what I wanted, until I looked at the next one down: smoked pork chop, fingerling potato, smoked bacon, grilled apple. Under the list of snacks, Gail liked the idea of crispy risotto fritters. But she’s a sucker for pork belly, and the pork belly, apple, curry, maple syrup appetizer sounded awfully tempting. We ended up relying on our excellent young waiter for advice. The meatballs are indeed their classic dish, but he loves the pork chop. And he assured Gail that the pork belly comes out crisp on the outside. But we had to try the risotto fritters. So here’s what we did. We ordered the fritters to come out with the appetizers as a shared snack. Gail got the pork belly. I got the baby spinach, applewood bacon, pickled egg salad. Then I got the pork chop entree and Gail ordered the hanger steak, potato purée, roasted root vegetable, garlic confit.

How was it? Every bit as good as it sounds. I was insistent that I didn’t want to try the pork belly, since my salad was more than ample and had bacon in it, but Gail insisted, and I can’t imagine how it could be better. Likewise for the pork chop. Likewise for everything. We had to pass on dessert. We were too full. But our visit to Atlanta had gotten off to a perfect start.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Georgia on my Mind

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Hoagy Carmichael

[Encyclopedia Brittanica]

I’m writing from Atlanta, where we arrived 4 1/2 hours ago. Neither Gail nor I have been here before, or anywhere in the state of Georgia. I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it here. As of 5 hours ago, I had been to 44 states, but hadn’t been to one in the south in decades, and the six states I had never been to formed a contiguous southern block: South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas. So Georgia is my 45th state. Five still to go, but no longer contiguous. Georgia and North Carolina form a barrier, isolating South Carolina from the other four.

With a little more time, we wouldn’t have to go far to slip over the border to Alabama. Or Tennessee. Or South Carolina. But not on this trip. And anyway, I always imagined we’d get to South Carolina when the blessed day came that we attended the Masters. We’d fly into Atlanta, drive down I-20 to Augusta, and then, just for the heck of it, drive over the Savannah River to North Augusta and SC. I’m no longer so sure we’ll ever get to the Masters. But I know we want to see Charleston. So somehow or other, we’ll make it to South Carolina.

I was stalled on 39 states for a long time. Then, in June 1999, Gail and Joel and I joined her father on a trip to Groton, South Dakota for his 60th high school reunion. We also explored Claremont and Langford, the towns near the old family farm, staying in Claremont with his sister-in-law, went over to Aberdeen for a big reunion dinner, and then spent another few days driving across the state, from Sioux Falls to Rapid City and beyond. Beyond included Wyoming, state #41. How could I pass up a visit to Devil’s Tower, which I always think of when I eat mashed potatoes? (If you don’t know the reference, I’ll leave it to you to do the research.) Then came Hawaii and Alaska, thanks to dean conferences in successive years, 2004 and 2005. And New Mexico, #44, in the fall of 2005, when I went down to Sunspot, in the Sacramento Mountains, to visit Apache Point Observatory.

What do you think? Should we make South Carolina #46? Or maybe we should wait until Jim DeMint is no longer one of its senators. Tennessee? Lots to do there.

Well, no matter. For now, we’re in Georgia, and we plan to enjoy it, despite the sub-freezing temperatures.

Categories: Travel

What Type Are You?

January 8, 2010 2 comments

Two evenings ago, my friend Chris was kind enough to pass on to me the wonderfully clever What Type Are You online test from Pentagram. Pentagram is a design services company. As they explain in their 12-23-09 entry on the webpage here, “Every Christmas since 1971, Pentagram has designed and published a small annual greetings booklet and sent it to our friends, colleagues and clients. Usually designed around a game or activity, these small books are intended to provide a diversion during the hectic holiday period.” The online test is this year’s game or activity.

When you go to the webpage to take the test, you’ll need to sign in with your name and a password. Chris let me in on the password. As far as I can tell from looking elsewhere on the web, it’s not really a secret, so I’ll let you in on it too. It’s the word ‘character’. Go take the test. You’ll be asked four questions about your personality, each requiring a choice between two alternative types. Thus there are 16 possible ways to respond to the four questions, or 16 personality types. This may sound like a Myers-Briggs Type test, and in a way it is, but there’s a clever twist. I don’t want to spoil the twist, so I’ll say no more, other than that you should be patient, as the test takes a few minutes.

Oh, one more thing. I took the test two nights ago, then watched Gail take it yesterday morning. On all four questions, we chose different types. I’m not entirely sure that was surprising, but it was fun to see the outcome.

Thanks, Chris, for sending me the test.

Categories: Design

Food Notes

January 7, 2010 2 comments

[Photographs by Michael Hansen for The New York Times]

I have several different items to write about and limited time, so I’ll collect them all in one post and write briefly about each.
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Categories: Food, Restaurants

Book/Kindle Update Update

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m reading Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World at last. I have mentioned this book many times, so I will say little here. First I wanted to read it, then I expected to get it for my birthday (or the closest approximation to my birthday, at the end of last February) but didn’t, then I finally bought it in August but didn’t want to carry such a big book to Nantucket with me so didn’t take it, then I realized in October that I certainly didn’t want to carry it to Europe but was tired of postponing my reading of it and so I bought it yet again for the Kindle, but then I loaded more books on the Kindle than I could possibly read while away and Ahamed’s book didn’t get read, then I got home in mid-November and read other books, and so on. In my New Year’s Day post about my latest reading, I talked about how some books, such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, are unsuited to the Kindle because of front matter or back matter that is not easily accessible. In contrast, William Langewiesche’s Fly by Wire, which I had just finished reading on the Kindle, was perfect.

And that brings me to Lords of Finance, which I’m now about 75 pages into and enjoying even more than I anticipated. The heart of the book, or so I understand, is a recounting of international banking issues of the 1920s and 1930s, as seen through the lives and actions of four bankers, the head bankers of the US, Britain, France, and Germany. But I’m still in the first part, in which each of the four bankers is introduced and his life described up to the summer of 1914, at the onset of World War I, along with the story of the banking crisis that ensued. It’s a gripping story.

What I want to talk about isn’t the book but the experience of being able to read it either on the Kindle or in actual physical book form. To my surprise, I seem more inclined to go for the Kindle. I forced myself to take the book to bed with me last night and was able to confirm that I simply like holding the much thinner and lighter Kindle when I’m lying down. It’s easier to hold, the pages are easier to turn, and this more than makes up for the lower level of contrast between the print and the background. One annoying feature of the Kindleization of this particular book is the large vertical space between paragraphs. I haven’t seen that before. My first night reading the book, I thought Ahamed was breaking his chapters into a surprisingly large number of sections, until I realized that those big skips were happening every paragraph and were just the Kindle’s rendering of the standard space before a new paragraph. It’s not really a problem. It doesn’t distract from the reading. It’s just incredibly inelegant, something I would think unacceptable in a printed book, but something one quickly gets used to.

My procedure, then, seems to be to read the book on the Kindle when I’m in bed and in ordinary physical form during the day. This brings me to the real inconvenience. I can’t sync the two! Thanks to the magic of Amazon’s Whispernet technology, if the Kindle’s wireless connection is on (at the cost of significantly shortening the time the Kindle runs before the battery needs re-charging), it tells the Amazon’s cloud server where you are in a book. Then, if you pick up the book on another platform — your iPhone say, or another Kindle that someone else in the family has on the same account — you can turn to the book and it’s at the right page. This turns out to be a great feature, one I’ve used more than I would have expected. And one I am now so accustomed to that on some unconscious level I expect the physical bookmark in my book to move to the appropriate place after a reading session on the Kindle. Maybe Amazon can work on this. In the meantime, this problem highlights one drawback of reading a book on the Kindle: the total lack of physical awareness of where you are in it. There are location numbers, but these are a by-product of the Kindleization process and don’t correlate with page numbers. That’s not even the point, though. The point is that there’s no immediate intuition about how far along you are in a Kindled book similar to what we experience unconsciously just by holding a physical book.

By now I have probably exhausted every thought I have on the Kindle. I’ll stop writing about it and focus more on the books in future posts.

Categories: Books, Technology

Book/Kindle Update

January 1, 2010 2 comments

I still haven’t entirely sorted out when I prefer to read a book on my Kindle and when I prefer to read a physical book. But I have just had what may be the perfect Kindle experience. Two days ago, the current New York Review of Books arrived in the mail. As always, on inspecting the table of contents, I was eager to read many of the articles. I began with Jonathan Raban’s review of Sarah Palin, then continued with the next article, James Salter’s review of William Langewiesche’s recent book on the crash landing last January of the US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

I had read about the book — Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudsonin the NYT and elsewhere, but I hadn’t anticipated wanting to read it. Salter’s review got my attention. I’m interested in airplanes and flying. Who isn’t? And I realized the book is much more than an account of the flight itself. The larger theme is Airbus’s decision over 25 years ago to design the A320 as a fly-by-wire airplane, one controlled by computers and electronics rather than cables and hydraulics, and one whose programming would limit errors on a pilot’s part, with no option for the pilot to over-ride the computer settings. The story of US Airways Flight 1549 is interwoven with both the history of the A320 and gripping accounts of famous airplane crashes or near-crashes. These accounts highlight the role of pilot error and the benefits of limiting the pilot’s range of options.

Anyway, after reading Salter’s review two evenings ago, I thought this is a book I would enjoy. And it’s short — just 200 pages. Minutes later, we headed off to a party. We were back a little before 11:00 PM, and while I was catching up on some news on my computer, I realized I could be reading the book. All I had to do was download it for my Kindle. I went to, found the book, clicked that I wanted the Kindle version downloaded, and when I headed upstairs, the book was waiting for me.
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Categories: Books, Technology