Per Se

12 Nov 2013 • #

We ate at Per Se Saturday. Getting the reservation was not too bad. I set a rather precise and accurate timer, but I am pretty sure the line was already being dialed by many folks before myself (and they got through). I remained on hold 26 minutes, and then was able to pick on my desired day either 18:00 or 21:30. Not wanting to complete my meal on Sunday, I went with the 18:00 reservation.

Given the extended duration of a tasting menu, starting early has some advantages. We were into our main courses by a normal dining hour, and were out the door just before 22:00.

In addition to the normal choices of chef or vegetable tasting menus, there was a third option: The Fall Game Menu. The game menu came with somewhat heartier and richer selections, and no choices. The chef’s menu had several options, generally involving an additional charge. Uni with caviar was a $75 additional fee; risotto with white truffles an additional $150. The vegetable tasting looked good, but we ended up with three game menus and one chef’s menu.

I have little to say about the food. It was all good to great. There was not a single disappointing course. There was not a single course that stood out. There is something to be said for this: Each bite is enjoyable with nothing shocking or overwhelming. Achieving this level of consistency of quality is not trivial, and Per Se perfected it.

So, we enjoyed the food, but I think for the money, a foodie may find more interesting/exceptional food, per se.

Per Se excels at dining. It is the best dining experience I have had at a restaurant. Good food is a foundation for their success, but transcendent service and impeccable attention to detail seals the deal.

Let me start with the only service mistake the entire evening: Our head waitress (you will forgive I don’t know the technical term for this, but they were clearly the person in charge of our table) did not notice one of the party’s handbags, and thus it briefly was on the floor instead of on a purse chair. Yes, there are chairs for hand bags.

The staff are the some of the best I have seen, and they work together as a team with incredible subtlety, precision, and expertise. Just watching the way they interact via gentle touches to signal where they are or what they are doing when in close proximity is a joy.

A small amount of sediment was apparent in the first pour of our Barbaresco. As we approached the end of our first glasses, the sommelier provided three additional fresh stems for the next pour.

The glassware used for the evening was all from the Riedel Sommeliers collection or from the Zalto Denk Art. Each piece had not so much as a water stain or a spec of dust on them.

The Sommelier was excellent. I had no interest in spending a lot of time with the iPad app representing the 145-page wine list. My assumption was the staff better knew the food that was coming and were familiar with the wine they had on hand. I requested a white, a red, and something for dessert and set a budget. I confirmed the choice of a 2010 Montrachet, a 2003 Barbaresco, and a 6 puttonyos 2000 Tokaji. All three were brilliant examples and paired well with the food. I confirmed that I would like the red decanted. The wine was opened elsewhere, sparing the awkward occasion of the sommelier standing next to the table working on the bottle while nobody is quite sure whether to make small talk, ignore him, or be silent.

Our water never lacked for filling. Sparkling preferences were remembered without prompting, despite water being served by half a dozen different staff at various points in the evening.

Awareness of dietary restrictions and concerns were remembered after being clarified at the beginning of the meal with no further effort or concern.

Our head waitress in large part left us alone except for when we needed something. She never skipped a beat, but was never in the way or distracting. I saw another table where a couple was struggling for conversation or comfort. There she frequently stopped by to converse and brighten the mood. The deftness and adaptability was incredible.

By the third time somebody got up to head to the restroom, the game was clear. None of us could make it more than a few steps from the table before being asked if we would like to be shown the way to the restroom. Since I was watching for it this particular time, I noticed the maneuver necessary to achieve this. As soon as the chair pushed back in preparation to stand, a staff member dashed to the center service island to examine the supply of waters. The movement was swift and certain, but I had not noticed it before. Without watching for it, it is invisible. My friend made it no more than three steps before said person examining the water just happened to turn to face him and offer to show him the way to the restroom. When any of us who had been to the bathroom already stood, nobody offered assistance and the entire path was clear of staff.

It all may sound somewhat silly, but this this is finest example of the art of service I have witnessed. It may sound mechanical or awkward but in truth it was effortless and comforting. No need to say “excuse me, where is the restroom.” I also have the sense that if I stood and already knew where the restroom was, I would not have been offered guidance. The instincts of the staff seemed to border on telepathy.

When we needed some time to catch our breath or when conversation was energetic, the service of courses adjusted to fit. A conversation was never interrupted by service. Plates never showed up when one of us was missing, plates were never cleared until we were all done, and service items never lingered beyond the appropriate time.

The white wine ran out at precisely the correct time and the red wine ran out precisely before dessert service. This is not as easy as it sounds, and is not really a function of the diners. It takes a lot of skill in pouring, timing, and estimation to pull this off. Nobody’s glass ever looked especially different in fill despite wildly different rates of consumption.

For the member of our party not drinking, a quite nice sparkling cider from France was offered. This selection stuck, but staff was more than willing to explore other options for novel pairings or beverages that did not involve alcohol.

When I wasn’t sure what was in a dish, or when I asked another person at the table what something on their plate was, somehow the staff materialized out of the ether. They answered my precise question and then disappeared without me realizing their departure. When I write this, it sounds obnoxious and disconcerting, but in truth it was incredibly elegant and helpful. I have no doubt if the person consuming the piece had the answer to my question the staff member would not have materialized. This was all the more amazing as I never noticed staff watching us, and I never noticed staff hovering.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Sufficiently advanced dining service indistinguishable from magic. Recommended.

Beverages Blog

08 Nov 2013 • #

For those of you that aren’t big twitter people, I’ve a new blog focusing on beverages. I’ll continue to write here, though articles about beverages are likely to be uncommon now! Check it out and let me know what you think. I have a lot of things lined up about which I am excited to write.

iPhone 5s, IOS 7

08 Oct 2013 • #

The iPhone 5s is fantastic. I upgraded from a 4S, so a lot of the change of the 5 gets rolled up in this. The media may suggest the upgrade is subtle (whether from a 4, 4S, or 5), but it’s not. The phone is fast, feels great (consistent with the 5), the fingerprint reader is better than a gimmick, and the battery life is improved in my use. The camera works better and is faster. LTE networking works great, and it wasn’t even slow before. None of the changes are revolutionary, but they’re all good. More important, there are no regressions. Nothing I miss or that I felt was better executed on the 4S. If every product I bought “just” got better without exceptions, I would be a far happier consumer.

iOS7 is a drastic change. Count me among the crowd fearing that Lisa Frank had possessed Ive’s body. But then a funny thing happened. I installed it on my 4S and was stunned. This has continued with the 5s. iOS7 has done a tremendous amount to make using the Apple hardware even more pleasant. It’s cleaner, simpler, less skeuomorphic, and more intuitive. Most of the change takes things that were irritations and fixes them. There are a few rough edges that I imagine will see polish going forward, but the only real irritations come from apps that have yet to update. The changes are all evolution, if a substantial one. This is not a revolution or a new paradigm. Again, I am at peace with this. Crazier yet, the apps that haven’t adopted the UI style and aesthetic of iOS7 feel dated and sloppy. This is not unlike the way it now feels to use a non-retina iPhone (or non-retina application).

It’s easy to get excited about new and different, but that’s not my speed. Take good things that I like and “just” make them better, and you keep me as a customer.

Flunking Out of CPPGM

18 Sep 2013 • #

I’ve flunked out of CPPGM. Technically speaking, that hasn’t quite happened yet, but as of PA6’s Sep-22 deadline, I’m not going to have a functioning PA6.

I failed because I didn’t budget enough time for PA6, and focused on end-of-year tasks at work instead. I assumed by burning hard on work up to mid-September, I would have some free time to get back to CPPGM. In reality I’m in Paris this week for work, California next week for work, and have had too much work work to do. It’s not work’s fault, just bad planning on my part.

As of last week I’d completed encoding the C++ grammar1 in my source code. There were a number of defects that I presumed were due to incorrectly transcribing the grammar, and a few things I had to still implement, but I thought I was in the home stretch.

Then, last night, I realized I still know nothing about compiler construction and there’s a big problem. Many of the grammar productions have things like:

cast-expression:
  unary-expression
  cast-operator cast-expression

The problem is that something like (x) looks like a unary-expression or a cast-operator. For those of you that have written more parsers than me, you’re probably saying “duh” right now. For many more obvious cases I didn’t fall into this trap – I caught most of the things that could be determined by single or dual-token lookahead and kept the parse path coincident until that point. But for more complicated constructs like these, about my only option to salvage what I have is to attempt a full parse of both and pick the longest one. Or to attempt promotion from one parse tree to another, but that’s got its own problems. In any event, within my current framework, working around this isn’t even particularly possible in the time frame I have left. C’est la vie.

Pretty disappointed in myself for failing this early in the program, but I’m not seeing a way out of that reality when combined with my schedule for the next few days. The course is not easy, but it’s set up well and I believe provides plenty of time, if you make enough time for it, and I didn’t.


  1. It’s not strictly accurate to say I’ve encoded the C++ grammar as much as I’d implemented parsing for Annex A.3 through A.13. This technically parses a superset of C++ syntax, since context is necessary to correctly parse it.

Vacation Time

25 Aug 2013 • #

It’s been a while since we’ve been on a vacation. Sarah and Anthony got married a week ago, and that was as good an excuse as any to spend some time taking it easy in California. We did the wedding, went up to wine country, spent some time near the city, and finished with a day on the coast. Not a bad trip!

The wedding was in Oakland. I’ve never visited Oakland. It’s an interesting city. Staying downtown, there were a lot of nice things within walking distance. Some of the winners were Cock-a-Doodle Cafe (featuring a marvelous fried chicken and french toast breakfast plate), Umami Burger (a chain, but my first visit, I enjoyed it), and of course Blue Bottle Coffee.

We had some time to kill before the ceremony, so we headed over to St. George Spirits, distillers of all sorts of intoxicating things. They provide a tasting and 30-minute tour for $15 a person (IIRC). Honestly, it’s a pretty incredible value, even if you’re not a huge fan of their spirits. If you are (and I am), it’s fantastic. It’s on an old Navy base, which at first looks pretty sketchy, but it worked out.

navy base!

the truck

Here’s a lot more pictures. I’ll let them speak for me.

tour guide

you may die

barrel

some bottles in boxes

tasting vodka

Anyway, then we went to the wedding, which was lovely, and headed up to wine country. I lost track of where all we tasted, honestly. There was a lot of tasting. A lot of spitting. I drank virtually no wine again, which is always weird, and all I wanted at the end of the day were a few beers.

There were a few standouts. Continuum was lovely as always. The 2010 is showing a lot more fruit now and the winery is still under construction. Production will be there, even though the building isn’t complete yet. When we visited they were in the process of relocating barrels.

Littorai was really interesting. Their wines are certainly fascinating to taste, but visiting the vineyard was something else. Ted Lemon’s a bit of a legend and this is my first experience with a deeply biodynamic producer. Say what you will, there’s a fanatical attention to detail and thought on the property. Whether or not having five women and five men to build the compost pile matters, however, I’ll never know. But yeah, some delicious wines.

gnarly, eh?

Probably our favorite tour was at Ridge Lytton Springs. Our guide was just fantastic. We got a private tour of the vineyards and facility and all questions were answered. At the end we tasted a bunch of things, culminating in the Monte Bello (from Santa Cruz). Remarkable opportunity and highly recommended.

bottling top-off area

zin grapes? maybe.

Let’s see. Ate at some favorites, including Gott’s Roadside, Bouchon, La Salette, and Girl an the Fig. All were great. Tried a few new places, including El Dorado Kitchen, Farmstead, and Barndiva. All are worth a revisit. The fresh produce in California kills me. It’s so good.

Did some touristy things thereafter. Went into the city, ate at a personal favorite, House of Nanking. Been going on and off for a decade, and it’s been fantastic every visit. Sushi Sam’s in San Mateo was excellent as always, with absurdly good Toro. Will miss visiting San Mateo for work to be sure!

Our last day, we drove down the pacific coast highway for a while, taking a few side journeys. We didn’t get too far, ending up in Monterrey, visiting the aquarium and eating at a relatively forgettable restaurant. The aquarium remains very clean and well-maintained. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how short the exhibits were on information. It seems like they’re striving to keep it simple and straightforward, with little more than the colloquial name and perhaps some flavor text for an animal. Sort of depressing.

But it’s alright, as we got some In-N-Out on the way back to finish the trip out right.

the shore off the pacific coast highway