Friday, October 4, 2013

curse of the restaurant guide

The curse of having prepared popular restaurant guides for the last two Bay Area Potlatches is that I've been asked to do the same for the next one. Which is in a different location than the other two, so I have to do it from scratch.

Our new hotel is smack in the middle of downtown San Jose - it was one of the overflow hotels for the 2002 Worldcon - so downtown it is. My belief is that a con restaurant guide should be organized by location, because time is something that runs short at conventions, so "nearby" often becomes the first sorting factor in desirability of somewhere to eat, with "good" coming in second.

Consequently my guide will, like the last one, in the good old George Alec Effinger/Nolacon tradition include literally everywhere to eat within walking distance, becoming considerably more selective outside of it, so the first step in planning is to define "walking distance." For the previous Potlatch I used 3/4 mile, because it coincided with good geographic cutoff points, but that was a rather generous definition. This time, to be flexible, I started by drawing a 3/4 mile travel distance circle around the hotel. I did my research on Google Maps (see, I don't always hate Google). I switched Google Maps Directions to "walk" mode, and made a directions path with one end pinned to the hotel, moving the other end around the city, watching the distance marker. As it crossed between .7 and .8 mile, I drew a line around a printed out map. (I did not use Google for the printout. Google Maps print out in shades of light gray and are impossible to read. I used my old DeLorme CD-ROM US street atlas; for all its flaws and out-of-dateness, it prints in readable black and white.)

Next step was to comb the area to see where the restaurants are. I knew already where the foci are, but there are some out of the way places, as well as a few neighborhood groceries and such I felt bound to include. I do this work in person, because I don't trust online or printed sources. I did most of it today, since I had an errand down there anyway, just driving around in my car, pulling over to make dots on my printout map.

That gave me enough of an idea of the populated and barren zones to draw a more reasonable close-in walking distance boundary that won't cut awkwardly through a business district. And my boundaries are: South to I-280. West to the Guadalupe Parkway. East to the SJSU campus (i.e. 4th St.; there's nowhere to eat on 5th). And north to and including San Pedro Square.

I'm doing this now to allow time for the next step, which is to eat lunch in as many of these places that I haven't been to before, or not for a long time, as possible between now and then so that I can make writeups for them. For instance, can I bring myself to visit the North Market area without alternating between Sonoma Chicken on one side of the street and Back-A-Yard on the other, which is what I've been doing for a while now? Apparently so, because I had lunch today at a Mexican place on San Pedro I hadn't known, after browsing the weekly farmer's street market which also has lunch booths, and it was pretty good, except that the waiter grabbed my nearly-empty water glass, not to refill it but to whisk it away as if I were done with it. Fortunately another waiter soon appeared to ask if I needed anything else and promptly brought another glass, but sheesh.

The guide will also venture outside walking distance; I want to include a special note on East Santa Clara St. between 5th and 10th, which is just outside walking distance but full of exciting cuisines, and I have at least three other favorites in central San Jose outside the immediate downtown.

Your writeups, both within the walking zone and outside it (most of San Jose and Santa Clara are close enough to be reasonable), are also welcome, but first you have to send them in.

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