Sunday, February 22, 2009

VizThink 09 Saturday Pre-Conference Tweet-up and Restaurant Reviews

Karen and I arrived to the conference hotel late Friday night and spent most of Saturday wandering around the neighborhood checking out restaurant options. More on that below.

The Tweet-up was scheduled for 6:00 in the hotel lobby and we arrived around 6:15- 6:30 and didn't see anyone we recognized or any indication of a VizThink Tweet-up. We did recognize Rodolpho and chatted with him for a bit. It wasn't long before Tom showed up and honed in on the Tweet-up crowd. Tom served as our bird-dog and we followed him to a group of 6 - 8 people chatting in a corner.

We introduced ourselves to Tom and Tom introduced us to some others and we chatted with Tom for a bit. I was struck by how much energy Tom still had after two days already spent setting up the conference. Sounds like attendance at this conference will be a bit smaller than last year, but still well over 200 attendees and the line-up of facilitators is very impressive.

Before long the Tweet-up group had expanded to about 20 people, mostly dispersed in small groups of 4 or 5. We found ourselves conversing with Tom again, as well as Mark and his SOAP (VizThink Sponsor) Brazilian compatriots, and Julia, a local VizThink volunteer.

Lots of good conversation about visual thinking, presentations, books, culture, surfing, physics and local restaurants. At some point, Ryan showed up, as well as Dave Gray and Karl Gude - veritable visual thinking celebrities. The get-together was planned to last until 7:30, but it was still going strong at 8:45 when we pulled ourselves away to go find some dinner. All in all it was a great little gathering with some good conversation and networking - and the conference hasn't even officially started yet.

Restaurant Reviews

There's seems to be a pretty diverse variety of eating options within a 3 block radius of the hotel, in addition to the hotel restaurants. On arrival Friday night we opted for Gordon Biersch, a chain brew pub. We're both fans of microbrew beers. Gordon Biersch isn't the greatest, but they do have some pretty decent beers. Food was ok, nothing fancy. Ambience is a bit noisy as you'd expect. The schwarzbier and Marzen were both pretty good.

For breakfast yesterday (more like brunch actually), the hotel Concierge recommended Flames, about three blocks northeast of the hotel, next to San Jose State University. It's apparently a chain restaurant though I had never heard of it. Nice, clean, open atmosphere, good service an enormous selection of breakfast choices. Belgian waffle for me and crab cakes benedict for Karen - both very good. They've got a weekday early special which might be a good breakfast option for VizThinkers if you want a good sit down breakfast outside the hotel at much better prices than the hotel restaurants. Another option is the Bijan Bakery in building adjacent to the hotel (actually in the same building as the hotel's south tower). Lots of pastry options, bagels and coffee. A bit disorganized when I went down for coffee and croissants this morning, but pretty good croissants.

Since we had a big late brunch we weren't hungry until late afternoon and skipped lunch. On our way to Gordon Biersch we had past by E&O Trading Company. At VizThink 08 in San Francisco we had had dinner at the their San Francisco location and both enjoyed it so we popped in for an appetizer and drink before the Tweet-up. E&O's fare would probably be described as Asian Fusion. It's an eclectic blend of southeast asian (Thai, Singapore, Indonesia...) with some Indian influence as well. They also have some good beers on tap. They're seasonal beer right now is Alaska Winter Ale from Alaskan Brewing Co. I didn't have to hear anything else. Anything from Alaskan Brewing Co. is going to be good and the winter ale didn't disappoint. Outstanding beer! Nectar of the gods. For appetizers the sesame beef satay and panir cheese naan bread we're also very tasty.

At the tweet-up we got some recommendations from Julia, who lives in the area. Her recommendations; La Victoria for Mexican, Il Fornaio or Original Joe's for Italian and Hanuman for Thai. The Thai food options on Maui are a bit disappointing so good Thai food was high on our list of dining on this trip. Hanuman is a pretty small little family place located between E&O and Gordon Biersch, within a block or two from the hotel. The dining room is on the second level, nothing fancy, very quiet, very good service. I can't seem to every expand my Thai horizon past phad thai so I ordered up a big spicy plate of chicken phad thai and Karen got a bowl of tom ka with shrimp. Tom ka soup was excellent, some of the best in Karen's opinion and the phad thai was the best I've had since the little neighborhood thai restaurant in Seattle where we lived several years ago. If I order it again though I'll go for the medium spicy level, rather than spicy.

So, high recommendations from both of us so far for E&O Trading Company and Hanuman. Highly likely that we'll be back to both of these two during our VizThink stay. And we still need to try at least one of the italian restaurants and La Victoria.

It's a cool, cloudy, rainy day in San Jose today so we'll likely spend our day inside on some visual thinking projects before the reception this evening. Should be an interesting reception this evening. In addition to hundreds of visual thinkers, the hotel is hosting an Oscar awards party in the lounge and the timing of the two will partially overlap. So, if you're torn between watching the Oscars and coming to the reception, you can do both at the same time. We'll be there tonight, sporting our visual thinking t-shirts. See you there.

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