The Future of Long Distance Relationships and the New YC App Pair

Today I read about a new app showcased at YCombinator's Demo Day called Pair—the beginning of a tool designed for those in long-distance relationships. 

To be totally upfront, I haven't tried this app at all. I am not in a long distance relationship. But as someone who has been in long distance relationships over what amounts to years, I am really surprised that a similar app has not been developed yet. 

After all, when you and your loved one are apart, money feels like no obstacle. In your most lonely moments, you would pay a lot of money to be closer. And often times, you'll factor into your cost of living expensive plane tickets so that you can see one another. I know I'm not the only one. I can recall countless conversations in which people have come to me or my friends asking for advice and for tools on maintaining a healthy relationship from afar.

I say this because there's money in it for the person who uses app technologies to bring us all closer together. People would pay for apps or services and spend a lot of time on these tools. I am very eager to see Pair—and whoever else jumps into that space—perfect that tool. Pair has already had 50,000 downloads in the last four days, according to All Things D. And I would really not be surprised if this is just the beginning. 

This should be a space to watch.

Winter Cocktails at AQ Restaurant and Bar

It really can't be said that San Francisco doesn't have seasons.

Sure, the city's east cost counterparts boast the full blusters of winter and dramatic fall displays of color and leaves. And even Midwest cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, may claim seasons intense enough to freeze your tears and melt your skin and all of the earned bragging rights in leathered character.

But thin-skinned and soft-hearted San Franciscans may be, it cannot be said that the City on the Bay does not have seasons. You really only have to look to what San Francisco devotes so much of its pomp and circumstance: the food. In city that puts events like farmers markets at centerstage, eating with the seasons is an important part of San Francisco living. Home cooks and professional chefs kow-tow to fresh catches and seasonal harvests.

AQ Restaurant is the perfect example of this. The restaurant, which just opened in November to a flurry of accolades (including a nomination for the James Beard Award's best new restaurant), changes every aspect of its service with the seasons. The interior transforms from the warm colors of fall to stark winter white. The staff rotates its garb from flannels to pressed whites. And, of course, the food and drinks shift to reflect the particular season's bounty.

AQ

If the concept sounds quaint, it is. But it avoids becoming gimmicky simply because, well, the cocktails are good.

What's cool is that many of AQ's cocktails give a strong nod to the classics. In fact, a whole section of the drink menu is devoted to "seasonal classics," common drinks that are tweaked here and there to make it the restaurant's own.

AQ also features some of its own drinks, too. They're not cocktails you'll necessarily find in the gentlemen's companion—but they were definitely delicious enough to make up a modern cocktail book!

AQ

We went to AQ during its winter menu. I was particularly pleased with my Manhattan, which featured orange-peel-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, winter bitters, and angostura bitters. It was a really lovely spicy take on the old classic. It managed to taste enough like the original but took on its own distinct mood—kind of like visiting the same place at different times of day.

AQ

Next I ordered a New Amsterdam Variant #2: raisin-infused bols genever gin, maple syrup, old fashioned bitters, topped with apple cider. It was a sweet drink that ran thick with the maple syrup. The taste of raisins and cider tasted familiar and made me feel warm on a cold winter's night. Completely appropriate drink for fall (apple season!), as well.

The drink somehow become reminiscent of raisins and of hot cider. It was the perfect spice to warm my insides on a cold winter's night.

AQ

Josh asked the bartender for a recommendation on a scotch drink, and she whipped up a super tasty Bobby Burns—a deep and smoky drink that usually includes scotch, vermouth, and Bendictine.

Our companion Kasey, on the other hand, ordered a Bison Rose, and it came in this really cool cup! (Standby for low-quality pictures in a dark, dark bar.)

AQ

Overall, we were most impressed by the drinks featured on the menu (opposed to ones whipped up off-menu), and the bar takes a really fresh take on well-loved cocktails. Drinks were really well-balanced and very accessible for food-minded folks looking for deep flavors in their cocktails. These are California cocktails at their best!

[For the interested, here are dark, dramatic photos of the AQ winter cocktail menu, which has since been swapped out for the spring menu.]

AQ

IMG_7548

AQ Restaurant & Bar

1085 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103 415) 341-9000
http://aq-sf.com

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.

Seconds

I have this theory that you know a place is really good when you go twice—once, to try it out, and then second, to fulfill the craving the first visit left. This past weekend was a weekend of seconds. :-)

We returned to Plant Cafe on the Embarcadero with my visitng friend (and, incidentally, second cousin!) Crystal. It's a super healthy cafe on the Bay that specializes in organic foods. It's the perfect place to take any guest to San Francisco—they get a full Bay view and can satisfy their stereotype of healthy Californians. 

We all thought we'd try their fresh juices. You only need a little glass because it's so potent!

They also have a delicious breakfast bowl with cinammon, apples, young coconut, and pecans. 

We also returned to 15 Romolo. I had promised myself that I wouldn't get the skillet this time, even though it was so delicious last time. But this time they had pork belly in the skillet! What's a girl to do?

Pork belly skillet

We also stopped for a drink at old favorite Heaven's Dog, where Trevor whipped up a lovely Trinidad Sour.

Trinidad Sour - Heavens Dog

Cheers to the seconds!

How to be vulnerable on social media

Photo: Exploding Dog

Vulnerability is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. It’s kind of an inevitable subject to ponder when you’re working in social media. Sure, there are a lot of corporate standards surfacing for transparency and social media (you can just look to the work of Charlene Li as one example). But the personal question is only one you can answer yourself—will people trust me if I share my personal struggles? Will it make me look lame? Weak? Self-pitying? Or worst: emo? And when you don't fit into the old boy's club in a corporate environment, it can sometimes feel that all of the world’s distrust will weigh your youth against your eagerness and smarts and come out judging you for just your babyface.

There are a lot of arguments for being vulnerable on social media, i.e. The Public. It makes it easier for people to relate to you, people say. It shows you’re a real person. It shows that you’re authentic.

But the truth is that a lot of people love gossip, too. And there is a reason why the human train wrecks that are reality TV shows do so dependably well on the networks. People love drama. And not always out of compassion. The spectacle can become self indulgent. You can make money off of it. You can gain fame. But you can also lose yourself and crash and burn.

So it’s our job to, yes, be authentic and to relate to others. But it doesn’t need to be meaningless or a target for internet rubberneckers.

And then I started to observe that there is a way to be very successful at being vulnerable on social media. And I think one of the people who embraces all these principles best is Penelope Trunk. 

Penelope Trunk is widely recognized for her popular blog about “the intersection of work and life.” She shares with graphic, almost embarrassing honesty about her struggle with Asperger syndrome, the trials and tribulations of her sex life and love life (if you’d like to distinguish the two), and the challenges of launching a startup. As a blogger, she is able to share facts and insights about herself that make many people squirm—but ultimately she still wins the trust of a large readership.

How can we embrace the same kind of vulnerability? I learned a few from reading Penelope Trunk's blog:

  1. Tell a good personal story. When Penelope discusses her vulnerabilities, it’s more than a laundry list of insecurities, trips, and falls. She tells a personal story from her real life—and she does so with excruciating honesty. It’s an effective way to make her blog interesting instead of just emo. This is where the bulk of where she exposes herself and her vulnerability. The story is immersive and allows you to care about the author.
  2. Give concrete tips on how to beat that vulnerability. This is the biggest principle I observed. Penelope might spend 1,000 words talking about how she feels terribly inadequate at something. But then she focuses the rest of the post on actionable ways she’s dealt with those feelings. Sometimes this part even comes below the fold. It’s still effective, though—the stories that she starts have a lot of traction.
  3. Take a strong stance. Penelope’s advice is often extreme. She’ll frequently defy the conventional wisdom and stir up controversy. This not only makes her blog posts a good conversation starter. It makes her decisive and demonstrates her analytical skills. While most people focus on the actual conclusions, what builds credibility is the thinking process. In this way, we shouldn’t stress out as much about being right or wrong—we all change our minds in life. But we should focus on the quality of thinking and the efficacy of our writing to really say something.
  4. Build credit. Following this formula actually builds her credibility with her readers. So, when she does occasionally share stories without advice to follow, she’s already established herself as a smart, thoughtful person who can share hardships without wallowing.

How much do you like to share about yourself online? Do you have certain safeguards?

Mint Plaza & Blue Bottle Coffee

“The one across from Square” is what my friend Ben called the Blue Bottle Coffee location, referring to the tech startup across the street. You know you’re in Silicon Valley when coffee shops are referenced according to the nearest hot startup. 

If you were really to get technical about it, the little space is called Mint Plaza—a little yuppie inlet, set off from the busy Mission Street. That part of Mission Street is actually where things get a little dodgy—crack addicts in wheel chairs and kids playing craps and other rough types who scatter out from the shelter on 6th street. People say it’s an area prime to be gentrified with Square and Twitter (both productions by entrepreneur and CEO Jack Dorsey) setting up shop and ever more fancy condos filling the lots. But for now the homeless and bored still congregate around the bus stops and benches. 

But once you turn right onto Mint Street and walk a block down to Mint Plaza proper, the yuppies and startup types appear. Young guys on iPhones and ladies with laptops, women in yoga pants and people helping their dogs to the puppy biscuits on the store counter. A BMW flies past every now and then looking for parking. 

Inside the coffee shop, the brightly lit space is fitted with long, beautiful wood bars. Fit for the cool geeks that the shop attracts, this Blue Bottle location is stocked with “our prettiest and most delicate gear,” says the coffee shop itself. This means fancy Japanese apparatus made of glass—high tech all in the name of good coffee.

The five-light siphon bar is said to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

It produces the coffee at just the right temperature in exactly the right time. 

They also have a selection of simple sandwiches for lunch—like this ham, cheese, and butter ‘wich made from ACME bread. 

Blue Bottle Coffee
Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street, San Francisco
M-F 7-7, Saturday 8-6, Sunday 8-4.

Stockton Street & an amazing night at Parallel 37

The 500- to 600-block of Stockton St. is the perfect portrait of San Francisco.

As you come to the 500 block, you are met by the Stockton tunnel, the urban marker that divides the busy financial and shopping district from the bustling Chinatown on the other side.

If you choose to climb the narrow flight of stairs at the end of the tunnel, you will find yourself among great, beautiful brick buildings with Victorian facades—tall, majestic San Francisco houses with big windows that sit in the sunshine among big, leafy trees.
But those who choose to go through the Stockton tunnel—the fastest and flattest way to Chinatown on the other side—they will find the path cold and dank. Matted city pigeons stare menacingly at you from the railings that line the road, and no matter how sunny it is outside the tunnel, there are always suspicious pools of water on the path that require careful stepping. Every now and then, you might even come upon an odor of mysterious origin. Mostly, you will encounter droves of busy Chinese grandmas on their way to and from the markets and only the occasional bearded hooligan.

It’s a story of stark contrast. Of majestic wealth and hilly peaks. And a dank underground that the city sometimes tries to sweep away or, at least, sequester. That’s much of San Francisco.

I came to the mouth of the tunnel yesterday, while on my way to a dinner. Not knowing whether the destination was on the other side of the tunnel or above it on the incline beyond the stairs, I weighed my options. I considered for a moment that my dinner was in the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. And the choice was clear.

Upstairs, of course.

What awaited inside the Ritz-Carlton was Parallel 37, the product of a recent transformation from the more stuffy Dining Room into a fresh, modern concept for the elite San Francisco hotel. My friend Reid was in town, and he was good enough to invite his other friends and me to enjoy the culinary imaginings of Chris, another Hawaii person who has previously graced kitchens of the ranks of Per Se and Aziza.

Needless to say, I was excited. I had been looking forward to this gathering for weeks. Accompanied by a great group of people (who were all super knowledgable in the world of food, no less!), we had set ourselves up for all the makings of a completely enjoyable night.

And it did not disappoint!

I confess that I am not well-versed in the technical aspects of cooking, nor am I particularly well-traveled in the halls of fine dining. But I can really feel it when I enjoy it. If it makes you feel happy, if it makes your heart sing, if the food tells you a story, if the flavors show you something new or remind you of something dear, if it’s a moment you will remember for a very long time—you know that it’s good food.

This was the third time I was lucky enough to sit at one of Chris’s tables—and Chris makes good food. And even to type that feels like an understatement. There were so many aspects of the meal that made the food delicious (though Lord knows I don’t understand all the complex ways it got there!), but my favorite part of the meal was that it showed so much heart. Every dish looked so meticulously beautiful, and amazingly, as fellow diner Amy remarked, every element of it contributed a necessary flavor. “Nothing is superfluous,” was how Amy put it. Everything was a part. Each piece was deliberate. Like singers in perfect harmony, each part of the dish worked together.

So without further ado, here are the pictures! (I confess to not recalling every ingredient, perhaps delirious from impatient excitement, and none of it was written down. But I hope the photos tell the full story!)

We started with a amuse bouche, featuring a yummy green tea gelee. Super refreshing, really clean.

Followed by savory churros—crunchy all the way through and dusted with spices. For shame, Disneyland.

We moved onto this seaweed bread—a bit crunch on the crust and soft and crumbly on the inside, like cornbread. I swear, I could eat this stuff every day.

Next was this kanpachi. Sweet, tender slivers.

Beautiful tobiko and apple over a savory mash. (I think on this dish I asked whether it was acceptable to lick my plate.)

Abalone! Tasty and tender and gone too fast.

Perfectly slow-cooked egg. The textures in this dish are amazing. Anyone who loves rice would appreciate the satisfying mix of egg yolk and grains.

And yes, right before the San Francisco ban—it's foie gras. The gel was particularly exceptional. Bright and a little bit tart, it coupled with the rich foie. Yum yum yum.

Cod belly. One of the surprising stars of this dish was those delicate slivers of cucumbers, which were so fragrant and flavorful that it tasted like honey dew melon.

The tender cut of pork was delicious, as expected—but what really took me was these BBQed beets. The absolute best part was the beet tips, which were sweet, rich, and chewy—like dessert french fries. I was so taken with them that I let out a yelp when I ate them.

Oh, this duck was cooked just how I love it—red on the inside, which made it rich and gamey.

Last was this very pretty platter of desserts. Lucky us!

What amazing food and a memory to cherish. My hat goes off to the chef: Mahalo, Chris—you, sir, are a rock star.

Parallel 37

600 Stockton St.

San Francisco, CA 94108

Tea Tins

Confession: I am kind of a tea geek.

I started drinking tea in college because the Hong Kong tea shop down the street was the only cafe not inundated with chatty students pretending to study for their sociology exams. So Josh and I made it a "Saturday thing" to go down to Dream About Tea. No crowds. No loud students. No Internet, even! The space was completely free to find our own ways to waste time without being bothered by others. ;-) So is college.

Since then, I've amassed quite a number of teas over the year. And the problem becomes storage. I have dozens of little wax paper bags and tiny tupperware holding my many leaves.

But the thing is that tea actually does have a shelf life. And it has to be stored a certain way, away from too much heat and light and air and moisture.

That's why I love these Japanese tea tins from Teavana. They're cute blue and just the perfect size. The 5-oz tins have a special removable seal that keep the elements away. As if they were, well, made for it.

Teavana, $12.95.