Saturday, July 01, 2006

No Live Blogging from Amherst (by Me)

Someone asked, "Didn't you promise to live blog the Media Giraffe conference?" Yeah, kinda, but I didn't blog live. For anyone seeking a vicarious attendance, I apologize.

I did take my laptop and I did register with UMASS for a wireless logon. However, not only did I manage to bury my logon slip, but I am glad that I did not go from session to session trying to snippets. I certainly would not have been in the moment and could not have taken decent notes.

In my defense, my temp logon was not mnemonic. I did not recall mgir102 az}drq{. The slip fluttered out of a sheaf of papers when I returned. This clearly was Ganesha's way of seeing that I wrote during the conference.

The conference deserved attention, even for us poor stepchildren, the bloggers allowed for one day for $40. Thank you Media Giraffe and Michael DeChiara of WonkNOT, who organized our foray.

I'll drop a few posts in the next several days. I already have a rant about Christopher Lydon's session. You can catch the straight and nice version now at BlueMassGroup, where David put his very restrained Chris Lydon looks for the "New England Common".

For nothing much in particular, I add that my wife and I went Thursday night, partly because the boys are at camp and we can be adults 24 hours a day, and we wanted to catch our whole $40 worth.

Even smarter than the conference was the Thursday dinner choice -- Chez Albert in ho-hum-just-passing-through downtown Amherst. Our contrast came at the end of our full day of the conference on Friday. We noticed the brewpub when we walked around on Thursday and drank up/chowed down at the Amherst Brewing Company before were headed back to Boston. There was a great symmetry to Friday. We had pretty good ale (a moderately hoppy, but overly chilled Cascade IPA) and an insipid house Chardonnay, with a pretty good salad and a pretty good Reuben. Shortly after we were seated, Lord Lydon arrived with his claque. His celebrity is certainly modest, even by New England standards, but the 10 or so younguns were not dissuaded. He was king of the brewpub, or at least that one table.

Back in time and a block away, Chez Albert is worth a trip to Amherst and certainly if you are there for a conference, get a reservation. The bistro is only a year old and is respected chef Paul Hathaway's first solo effort. It is a winner for foodies.

Unfortunately for them, most of the guests we overheard in the small room loved their own voices much more than they paid attention to the food and its presentation. Pity. They should have reveled in the food, but competed to say how smart they were, how smart the people they knew were, and how much this or that cost them or made them. Honk. Honk. Squeeze the big red nose.

Chez Albert is almost Japanese in the simplicity and artistry of its presentation. Vegetables are highly colored and complement the tones of the entrees. Dishes are alternately arranged as artwork horizontally or vertically. The food tastes superb, but the display makes it visually pleasing too.

We had the house paté, which the chef makes himself. It is coarse and earthy. The accompanying breads are likely not from the small kitchen, but wonderfully challenging -- no pseudo-baguettes here.

Main courses for us were the grilled grouper special and bouillabaisse. We matched our favorite hot-weather wine, muscadet. We could rant about the entrees and shall if you ask. The overview is that flavors were charmingly balanced. For example, my stew relied on a counterpoint between well cooked fennel and the saffron base.

We shared a chocolate crepe. It followed the theme of the meal, rich flavors, a gorgeous sunburst of strawberry sauce accents on the plate.

Our waiter was a treasure. We may have helped our case with the wine. He told us he was born and raised in the Loire. He concurred that muscadet was the perfect wine for the season and our dishes. He was a toucher, in the European style, and we left feeling he was a relative.

Chef Paul himself was charming, with a solid handshake and warm smile. He seemed genuinely pleased when I specifically complimented dishes. He gave us a hearty, "Come back soon." We'll certainly try. We have Dad's Weekend at camp coming up. This seems like a call for a sidetrip on the way back.

Oh, supposedly this post was about the Media Giraffe conference. That shall come. Otherwise, I noted that the laptop users in sessions were 1) largely Mac types who seemed uncomfortable when they were not hiding bechind their screens, and 2) those with machines on were obviously looking at stuff on the Net and grinning or otherwise tuned out. Bozos.

We took notes on actual paper. More to follow.

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