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Friday Fishwrap: old wine writers never die, we just eat pizza!



Hello. My name is Steve and I’m a “grand-fatherly white male traditional print writer.”

That’s what Amy Corron Power called me in her blog today. She was referring to my recent panel on wine writing at the Wine Bloggers Conference; my co-panelists were Mike Dunne and James Conaway, who are pictured, with me, in this little graphic Amy put up.


She wrote, apparently facetiously, that we were “the only ‘true experts’ to whom we should aspire.”

I must admit that when I saw my panel I had the same thought. Three aging Boomers in a room full of bloggers mostly in their twenties and thirties: Yes, it did seem a little weird to me.

But let’s break it down. There’s lots of collective career success between Dunne, Conaway and me. And the Wine Bloggers Conference always has had a pedagogical or mentoring relationship with the bloggers who attend: I’ve gone there for long enough, and sat on enough panels, to know. If you’re a young and ambitious blogger, who better to get advice from than older guys (and gals) who have been around the block a few times and can tell you what’s up?

* * *

I’ve written a fair amount (here, on Twitter and on Facebook) about Oakland’s changing culinary scene. One classic example of it—and of what not to do—centers around Michelin-starred Daniel Patterson (Coi, in San Francisco) and his recently shuttered Oakland restaurant, Plum. Much was made of Plum when it opened in 2010 in the Franklin Square area off-Broadway. It was from Patterson, it was at Ground Zero of the restaurant scene in the newly-dubbed Uptown District, and it was high-concept and expensive. Those last two distinctions sealed Plum’s fate.

I ate there a few times in 2010-2011 and was always disappointed. I’m not big on high-concept food, where the abstract thinking and plate design seem to be more important than the flavors. And the prices were quite high. It was the experience of eating in places like Plum that always led me to tell people I’d rather have good, cheap Mexican or Thai than throw my money away for a “culinary experience.”

Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Patterson closed Plum and has reopened the spot as Ume, a Japanese-themed restaurant whose prices aren’t bad. I haven’t eaten there yet, but plan to; Michael Bauer gave it a pretty good review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Plum’s closure does say something about Oakland and what its citizens want in a dining establishment. We want nourishing, delicious food in a friendly environment that’s filled with people who look and sound like us. Oakland isn’t San Francisco or Manhattan; high concept doesn’t cut it. (I still don’t understand the success of Commis.)

The quintessential Oakland resto is Boot and Shoe Service. Loud, easy-going, happy, hip and boozy, this pizza-themed joint caters to a blue-jeaned, tattooed crowd that knows how to have a good time. I love bringing friends, sitting at the bar munching on a margherita pizza and gulping vodka gimlets while all the pretty people come and go. There’s money to be made in Oakland, only you have to know what people want. Whole Foods understood that when they built their big store around the corner from me. I credit Whole Foods with helping to turn my neighborhood around. I think Josiah Baldivino understands that, too, with his launching of Bay Grape. We Oaklanders are proud of our culture and traditions, and will support entrepreneurs who believe in us and respect our way of doing things.

  1. 1. commis has remained because it is excellent
    2. It’s too bad about plum, my experiences were good to excellent
    3. Oakland will continue to change, and money will continue to flow in as SF becomes more expensive. “High Concept” (hate that term) will find a place, as it has done in Brooklyn

  2. You have to admit that the organizers kind of set you up for that. While I wasn’t in the session, I’ve read some of the reports afterward. What I like is that it has spurred debate and conversation. That is always healthy for an evolving vocation, as long as the name calling is kept to a minimum. Thanks for being a good sport, Steve.

  3. Thanks Michael W.

  4. How come I wasn’t on that panel. I’m older than you.

    As for Oakland, it is all a matter of disposable income. Commis, Chez Panisse downstairs exist, and others will join them. The Brooklyn analogy is very apt–I just spent ten days in NYC including two trips to Brooklyn to visit folks there and to eat there. The food scene is more hip than NYC to some extent, especially because it is more accessible–as it is in Oakland.

    Pican happens to be my go-to restaurant, after Bay Wolf which has been hip for the last forty years and still is. Oh, and Hawker Fare is a brilliant lunch and fast, savory dinner place at an incredible $10-20 cost.

  5. Steve, I would consider source. that blog has had a napolean complex for years.

    Also, last i checked, not too many grandfatherly types are willing to make the career move you recently made nor are they sleeved.

    Keep on keeping on.

  6. hawker fare is awesome
    Had a great dinner at Haven last night. The pork was really bloody good

  7. Dear Jeff, thanks.

  8. Sao Anash says:

    What Jeff said!

  9. Jeff,

    It helps to read what you’re using to “consider the source” and comment on, to make sure you’re not attributing a “Napoleon complex” to a woman who has no issue with being short of stature, Nor tattoo envy. My very obvious point being: I would venture that over 50% of the participants in WBC are women bloggers, but we continue to have print writers, who primarily are men, on the panels – with diversity in ethnicity at all.

    And further (which I assume is the cause of your misplaced ire since I linked to one of your old posts about it) is that it is silly to call the ‘Rockaway incident’ (which you organized) unethical, but request writers write about WBC in exchange for registration discount, since they are basically different sides of the same penny.

  10. Dear WineWonkette, I will defer to nobody in calling for greater diversity across the board in all aspects of life. But, regarding the preponderance of men on WBC panels–if it’s true–it’s because until comparatively recently the field of wine writing and criticism was almost exclusively dominated by men. Thankfully that has changed.

  11. doug wilder says:

    Steve, you are only an old wine writer if your pizza is consumed through a straw!

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