Cocktails with Don Draper, Dinner and Drinks at Oakland’s New Mid-Century Modern, Bardo Lounge and Supper Club

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California

If, like me, you are a fan of all things mid-century modern, then you won’t want to miss Oakland’s newest Lakeshore addition, Bardo Lounge and Supper Club. Like a vintage trip with Don Draper back in time, you’ll enjoy all the little touches that make for a perfect night out for some excellent cocktails along with lounge or supper service to go with them.

With Bardo, owners Seth and Jenni Bregman have transformed the former Michel Bistro space on Lakeshore into a sort of museum of great taste and design from our favorite wayback era — with some seriously good tunes spinning all night long.

Along with the lush 60s feel, Bardo serves up swingin’ cocktails with lounge service downstairs (no reservations required) and supper service upstairs (reservations required). The downstairs lounge features a lounge and bar where you can order “lounge fare” and some of the items off of the larger tasting menu from supper service upstairs.

Last night Mrs. TH and I tried the lounge service at the bar. In terms of the booze, I opted for the “Walk in the Orchard” cocktail, a well balanced craft cocktail with High West Double Rye, Cynar 70, Apple Cider, Fresh Lime Juice, White Pepper Thyme Maple and Angostura Bitters. Mrs. TH chose the equally delicious “Pilot Maxine,” Blackberry-Washed Gordon’s Gin, Top Hat East India Tonic, Fresh Lime Juice and Fee Brother’s Rhubarb Bitters.

From the menu I’d highlight the devilishly delicious deviled duck eggs, the super rich foie gras cacio e pepe pasta, and most definitely the broccolini casserole — the toasted shallot and almonds on top of the casserole were just perfect. That casserole would win any neighborhood bake off hands down.

Bardo’s Lounge is open from 5pm to Late Wednesday-Sunday and supper is served upstairs 5:30-10pm Thursday-Saturday and 5:30-9:30pm on Sunday. I’d recommend getting there as early as you can for lounge service. We had no problem getting a spot at the bar at 5:30pm last night, but it filled up quickly with a line as it got later. Bonus tip, go catch an epic sunset, with your old school film camera of course, for an early winter sunset over Lake Merritt and just walk on over for dinner afterwards.

More photos here.

3343 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Bardo’s upstairs supper service

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Walk in the Orchard: fall aromas and flavors in a glass. High West Double Rye, Cynar 70, Apple Cider, Fresh Lime Juice, White Pepper Thyme Maple, Angostura Bitters

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Pilot Maxine: refreshing and light with berry notes. Blackberry-Washed Gordon’s Gin, Top Hat East India Tonic, Fresh Lime Juice, Fee Brother’s Rhubarb Bitters

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Deviled Duck Eggs: Spiced red wine jus, scallions, duck skins

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Kanapachi tartare: persimmon, Calabrian pepper, brussel sprouts, charred vegetable broth, yam chips

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Foie gras cacio e pepe, beemster, duck jerky

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Broccolini Casserole: Brown mustard, gruyere, almond, shallot

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
14 oz Dry Aged Prime New York: Bone-in, grilled and loaded baked potato, greens, B1 Sauce

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California
Ice Cream Sandwich: Banana semifreddo, double chocolate cookie.

Bardo Lounge and Supper Club, Oakland, California

Why Limiting Free Users to 1,000 Photos on Flickr is a Smart Move

Tim O'Reilly

Yesterday Flickr made their first big restructuring announcement since recently being purchased by SmugMug. Beginning next year on January 8th, Flickr will limit free accounts to 1,000 photos. The previously offered free 1 terabyte of storage goes away. At the same time Flickr is returning their paid pro account to unlimited storage which had been their original offer before capping new Pro accounts at 1 terabyte back in 2013. If you were Pro before 2013 you were considered “old school” Pro and kept your unlimited storage, but new accounts were limited. Now all Pro accounts are back to being unlimited.

In 1973 the artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman broadcast a short video titled “Television Delivers People”. In that video a simple assertion was made: the product of television. commercial television. is the audience. Television delivers people to an advertiser. Since then, various influential individuals from Tim O’Reilly to Steve Wozniak to Apple CEO Tim Cook have all repeated the mantra: “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.”

To put things more simply, there are two viable business models on the internet today to deliver service. There is a paid subscription model and there is a “free” model where business sell your data and make money on advertising everything from Butterfinger candy bars on Instagram to “brain force” pills via Alex Jones.

Personally I prefer to pay for an ad-free online experience which is one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed Flickr so much where I’ve had an opportunity to pay annually since I joined the service back in 2003. Flickr delivers a clean user interface, full high res photos, a compelling app for my iPhone, unlimited storage, kick ass organizational tools, a social community to engage with, search tools, stats, and much more.

At $50/year (well technically $49.99 but I like to round up) I think Flickr delivers tremendous value. I have spent thousands of hours of my life on the site — thousands of ad-free hours not just for me, but for any of my friends or even strangers who happen to land on my photo page too. I am more than happy to pay this every year and will continue to do so until I die most likely. Hopefully I will figure out a way to even continue paying after I die as my personal life goal is to publish 1,000,000 photos before I die and then let that archive of work stand in all perpetuity after I am gone.

So obviously Flickr works for me, but what about all those people who don’t/haven’t paid and just want to use the service for “free.”

I believe that one of the reasons why Flickr was sold by Oath (who had purchased Yahoo’s content businesses) to Smugmug was because Oath realized that a hybrid subscription/free service doesn’t really work. It’s the same reason why Facebook is so resistant to offering a paid ad-free option to customers.

Oath is basically an advertising company and when you are advertising at people you need to be able to advertise to your most profitable customers to make the service work. When you give your most profitable customers (i.e. the ones with money) the option to pay to opt out of ads they do and will. What you are left with is a bunch of accounts by heavy users who are either poor Americans or more likely poor overseas accounts or very light users who can put up with ads but won’t see very many because they are only on your site 2 minutes a week. Whatever the case, you are basically providing a terabyte of enterprise storage, bandwidth, support, etc., to customers who cannot economically be supported by advertising.

In order for Flickr to survive it has to be a long-term profitable business. SmugMug knows a thing or two about how to do this as their primary model for over a decade has been entirely subscription based. As someone who wants to be able to host my photos on Flickr for the 50 remaining years I likely have left on this planet (and even after my death) in order to publish 1,000,000 photos, it’s important to me that Flickr has a long-term viable business model. This means that strongly encouraging free users (who are not currently paying their way) to migrate to paid Pro is important.

I do think it is important for Flickr to offer a free account in order to give people an opportunity to try out the service to see if it is for them. 1,000 photos gives you plenty of opportunity to do just that. It gives you hundreds, even thousands, of hours to explore and enjoy the service without paying — but if you are a heavy user of the site and are using over 1,000 photos of space, at some point you ought to pay.

By the way, Flickr’s original deal when I started with them was that they would only show your most recent 100 photos if you were a free account and the Pro account cost $60 (or $59.99) per year. So you might say the current account that gives you 10x that or 1,000 is 10x more generous than the original Flickr from way back.

Besides the obvious business model reasons why this is a smart decision for Flickr and their users, there are other important reasons this makes Flickr better as well. One of the things I noticed after Flickr began offering 1 terabyte for free to users was that many users simply began using Flickr as a backup site for all of their photos. Instead of sharing their best photos with a community, they simply dumped everything on their hard drive to Flickr and left and went away. These photos were then indexed for search and populated the service littering it with low quality content (screengrabs, 1,000 bad photos in a row of fireworks, 3,000 poorly composed photos in a row of somebody’s sister’s wedding, etc.). By focusing Flickr’s vision on photo sharing and community rather than simply another online photo backup dump this makes the visual experience better for those of us who are actually there to share photos and engage with each other.

Also, if people are willing to pay for something they tend to put more effort into it. If you are paying for something and perceive it’s value you’ll care more, contribute more and be a part of something. These are the accounts that I value on Flickr the most.

Yesterday morning I had an opportunity to talk to Don MacAskill (SmugMug/Flickr CEO) about this most recent decision that Flickr is making on the phone. Don is someone who cares deeply about Flickr and its community. How many CEOs do you know that spend an entire day interacting with users in an online forum about a big change like this?

I truly believe that yesterday’s decision not only paves the way to make Flickr viable for many years ahead, but that it paves the way for Don and his team to continue to spend money growing and building out the site for the community that is there and loves the service so much.

There are still so many great things that can be done with Flickr going forward. Groups need work. Search needs work. Community needs work. The app needs work. All of these things do cost money though and by getting rid of the massive storage/bandwidth demands of 1 terabyte free accounts and gaining more paid subscribers, this will allow Flickr to do this important work to continue making Flickr the best photo sharing site on the internet for all of us who are a part of the Flickr community and love the site so much.

I do understand that people don’t always want to pay for things, but I think that the right people will pay for Flickr because it provides them tremendous value. I pay for my Adobe Lightroom subscription. I pay for my Netflix account. I pay for these things because they provide me value. This is also why I pay for Flickr and will continue doing so many years into the future.

Unfortunately as we have seen with services like Friendfeed (purchased by Facebook) or even Google+ (in the process of being killed by Google) social networks oftentimes get shut down. It is very important to me that Flickr remains profitable for the long-term so that I can count on it being there many, many years from now. I think yesterday’s decision helps make Flickr more economically viable and sustainable many years into the future.

You can find me on Flickr here.

[disclosure, I know people and have friends that work at both Flickr and SmugMug]

Abstract Table, An Interesting Tasting Menu in Oakland, California

Duncan Kwitkor and Andrew Greene, Abstract Table
Chefs Duncan Kwitkor and Andrew Greene — Abstract Table, offering up a 5 and 7 course tasting menu Friday and Saturday nights at Gastropig.

Last night my wife and I had a chance to dine at the opening of a new pop up style 7 course tasting menu called Abstract Table, currently being offered as permanent Friday and Saturday night dinner service at the Gastropig in Oakland’s Uptown District. The menu is prepared by chefs/artists/friends Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkorand (formerly of Duchess in Oakland’s Rockridge District). The duo’s initial tasting menu features many unique and interesting flavors put together loosely around a Japanese style with a “Fine Dining on Paper” theme. Courses are served on paper and metal trays.

This is the first dinner series at the Gastropig and Greene and Kwitkorand plan to offer a winter themed tasting menu later this year as well. The tasting menu is modestly priced at $50 for a 5 course tasting and $70 for a 7 course tasting. Wine and sake are offered to accompany the meal or you can bring your own bottle (like we did with the excellent 2000 Peter Michael Les Pavots) and pay corkage.

Of the 7 courses that we tried I think my personal favorites were the ocean trout with wild arugula sage, pickled grilled cucumber and coconut and the dessert panna cotta. My wife enjoyed the bok choy quite a bit and thought it was an interesting and unique approach to a salad. Overall I found every course quite enjoyable and appreciated the artistic orientation and presentation to the food. It is nice to see an interesting tasting menu approach and a new addition to Oakland’s food scene, especially at a fairly reasonable price.

They are currently offering two dinner services, one at 6pm and one at 8:30pm. Reservations are available via Resy.

More from Eater San Francisco here and the San Francisco Chronicle here.

More of my photos from last night’s opening here.

Oh and if you still haven’t had the baconslut egg sandwich at breakfast at Gastropig yet you are missing out!

Abstract Table

Abstract Table
First course: Japanese mushroom soup, mitsuba, negs oil

Abstract Table
Second course: Bok choy, sea bean, pear, hazelnut, yuzu kasha vinaigrette

Abstract Table
Intermezzo: Coastlive Farms heirloom tomato, purple yam, miso

Abstract Table
Third course: Charcoal beet, oyster mushroom, furikake granola, fish caramel

Abstract Table
Fourth course: Ocean trout, wild arugula sage, pickled grilled cucumber, coconut

Abstract Table
Fifth course: Beef cheek, turnip, tamari onion, edamame puree, sake glaze

Abstract Table
Sixth course: Lamb breast, smoked cauliflower, Japanese eggplant, togarashi honey

Abstract Table
Seventh course: Hojicha panna cotta, persimmon, white chocolate tile, pomegranate granita

Peter Michael Winery 2000 Les Pavots
The excellent 2000 Peter Michael Les Pavots

Abstract Table
Dinner service Friday and Saturday evenings at Abstract Table

The Apple TV 4K Device is a Deeply Flawed and Frustrating Product… for Me

Pictures are so broken on Apple TV

About 12 years ago, in 2006, I had what at the time felt like the biggest technological change in my life. I switched from a PC to my first MacBook Pro. Switching computer operating systems at the time seemed like a massive chasm to overcome, but I did it and I’m glad I did. My main motivation was that I was tired of all of the errors that I was getting from PCs and all my friends with Macs just kept saying pretty much the exact same thing, “it just works.” After hearing that enough I broke down and made a decision that it was time for a change.

Over the last decade, that first decision has brought dozens of new Apple products into my life. Every three years or so I’d upgrade MacBook Pros. I bought a Mac Mini for the kitchen which I upgraded to a nicer iMac latter. I bought a high end iMac to edit my photos on for my home office. I bought a Cinema Display as a second monitor. I spent the night in line overnight to buy the very first iPhone. I bought the iPhone 3g, the iPhone 4, 5, 6s and most recently the 10. I’ve bought iPads, MacBook Pros and iPhones for my wife and kids. I always buy Apple Care. Apple iCloud storage, movies, tv shows, airpods, the list goes on and on.

I haven’t added it all up yet, but I’d say over the past decade I’ve easily spent tens of thousands of dollars on Apple products.

I feel like at some point I’ve just about purchased every product as a good Apple consumer is supposed to… except maybe the watch. The watch feels stupid to me. If I want to know what time it is I can just look at my phone. I haven’t worn a watch in 20 years. I don’t need an uncomfortable thing strapped to my hand and my health is good enough that I don’t need to constantly run ECGs or have someone notified if I fall down and can’t get back up (which hasn’t happened once yet in the 50+ years I’ve been on the planet).

Unfortunately for me though, it’s the Apple TV which I’ve always been the most excited about and which has also unfortunately frustrated me more than any Apple other gadget I’ve ever owned. I’ve bought every version of the Apple TV as they’ve been released dutifully. Giving Apple my hard earned money for the promise of something great, the ability to watch my photos in my living room — and it’s been a completely frustrating experience along the way.

I’m not sure exactly why I’m writing this blog post about Apple TV. I haven’t blogged in a while. In part it’s probably cathartic for me. In part I feel like I’m giving up on photos tonight and hope that maybe someday someone will Google one of my error codes and have a better answer. Maybe someone will read it and have some suggestion that I haven’t considered. Maybe someone will suggest a better way to watch photos on a TV.

My most recent problem revolves around the new Apple 4k TV. Of the six Apple TVs in my house I have two connected to Vizio 4k TVs. Of course I upgraded to the 4k Apple TV because what’s the point of having a 4k TV without a 4k device.

For the most part over the life of the AppleTV product photos have been frustrating. I have a large library of images that I want to play on my Apple TVs. I use home sharing and point my iTunes to a folder of images and ask for my Apple TVs to stream those images. (File >> Home Sharing >> Choose Photos to Share with Apple TV…) Frequently my AppleTVs lose their connections to my iTunes library and the only way to get the photos to play again is to quit iTunes and relaunch it. I frequently would have to restart the Apple TVs. The Apple TV in the living would be working but then the one in the attic couldn’t connect. The one in the attic would work but then the one in the bedroom wouldn’t connect. It was a constant exercise of frustration. I set all of the Apple TVs to update automatically and I’d constantly check for updates to apply them manually.

About a year ago I spent several weeks working with Apple Engineers. They sent these trace packet things to me by email and I’d do different things, run the logging software and send them log files. After several weeks and many log files I did get an answer back about a year ago that Apple engineers had found a problem related to my Apple TVs constantly disconnecting from home sharing and that a fix would be coming. They couldn’t tell me when but said that it was an issue on their end and to keep checking for updates. So at least I wasn’t totally crazy and at least there was hope… kind of?

Although this was a frustrating way to use my AppleTV, the payoff of being able to relax on the couch and watch my life’s work, my photos that I love so much, while enjoying a glass of wine was such a high payoff that I put up with it… until, unfortunately now, with the latest dreaded TVOS12 update.

Last week I updated all of my Apple TVs to TVOS12. On my non-4k Apple TVs, it’s the same sad, frustrating experience of having to restart Apple TVs, restart, my iMac, restart iTunes, constantly to get them to work. But when they do work it will play my photos for hours. Unfortunately on the two 4k Apple TVs photos crash 100% of the time. Usually within 10 seconds, but sometimes I can get them to play for 20 seconds or 45 seconds or maybe even 2 minutes before it crashes. But they crash 100% of the time. I’ve spent at least 20 hours trying to fix my photos over the past week (including a good 3 hour phone call last night with an Apple Care tech) but nothing seems to work.

If I try to stream photos on my iMac to my 4K Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my MacBook Pro to my 4k Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my home network to the 4k AppleTVs the photos crash. If I create a hotspot with my iPhone with just my MacBook Pro and one 4k Apple TV photos crash.

If instead of pointing home sharing to a folder, I import all the photos into Apple’s Photos app on my iMac (I hate the Apple Photos App on my iMac) and share from there instead still photos crash.

Every time after the photos crash there is a brief error message on the screen for about 1 second that reads “No iTunes libraries available. Home Sharing lets you stream content from your computer’s iTunes library to your Apple TV. To access your iTunes library, turn on Home Sharing on your computer and use the Apple ID. Retry.”

That message disappears and brings me right back to the main home sharing page on the Apple TV.

I’ve made sure that the photos that I want to share are all on the internal hard drives of the devices I’m trying to stream. I even upgraded yesterday to the new Apple OS Mojave, in the hopes that this might fix things. I’ve turned my Comcast router on and off.

The bottom line is there is simply nothing that I can do to make photos work on my 4k Apple TVs since updating to TVOS 12. And, of course, Apple will not allow you to roll your OS on your Apple TV back to a previous version so there is no getting out of TVOS 12 hell. I did a reset of the entire device back to factory settings, but instead of resetting it back to the factory setting from when I bought it. It reset it back to the factory settings for TVOS 12.

The Apple Tech I spent hours on the phone with yesterday suggested that I take my Macbook Pro and my 4k AppleTV into the Apple store and set an appointment to show them there. I had an appointment this afternoon at 2pm to do just that, but after only getting three hours of sleep last night trying to troubleshoot my Apple TV I just couldn’t go through with it today. It’s just too much, too soon.

In the meantime it looks as though I wasted $200 each on some useless Apple hockey pucks, but maybe at some point I’ll regain the strength to try again, or maybe someday, somewhere I’ll find an answer on how to make these devices stream photos for me again.

Or maybe like I ditched Windows back in 2006, it’s now time to ditch Apple again and maybe go find something that you know, “just works.”

Needless to say, your 4k AppleTV may work flawlessly and perfectly for you. This is my personal experience though and it’s my blog and this is what the experience has been like for me.

I made a video of this problem here. If anyone does have any constructive advice I’d love to hear it. Thanks.

Update, October 7, 2018, I am still struggling with photos not working on the Apple TV and trying to get them to perform consistently. One thing I have found that helps, at least temporarily is to turn off home sharing on the Apple TV unit. Next turn home sharing back on. Next reboot the Apple TV. Next try to launch photos. Typically it fails here and crashes. Keep trying to launch photos until it works. It may take 4 or 5 times. I’ve found a few times now that if I repeat that process in various forms photos will not crash immediately.

Update, October 14, 2018, I am still finding photos crashing all of the time. I have tried a new sequence though that will sometimes get photos playing for a few hours. Step 1: log out of iCloud on the Apple TV. Step 2: Log out of iTunes on the Apple TV. Step 3: Log out of Home Sharing on the Apple TV. Step 4. Restart the Apple TV. Step 5. Turn on iCloud (enter password). Step 6: Turn on iTunes/App Store (enter password). Step 7. Turn on Home Sharing (enter password). Step 8 (important): Restart the Apple TV again. Step 9. Launch photos.

I find that if I do that sequence photos do not crash immediately. It is only a matter of time before they crash again but it can sometimes last several hours.

Belotti, Oakland, California

Belotti, 5403 College Avenue, Oakland, CA

Had dinner tonight at the lovely Belotti on College Avenue in Oakland, California — a wonderful Italian restaurant with some of the most amazing dishes. Definitely a memorable meal and definitely a new local favorite. Since we were speaking Italian, brought a nicely cellared 1998 Barolo which accompanied the meal perfectly.

Belotti

Belotti

Seńor Belotti

Clerico 1998  Ciabot Ginestra Mentin Barolo

Belotti
Hand cut certified Piedmontese ribeye dry aged beef tartare, carasau bread, parmigiano reggiano, micro arugula, aged balsamic, truffle caviar, quail egg yolk.

INSALATA DI BURRATA
INSALATA DI BURRATA — Organic mixed leaves, celery, California nectarines, Italian burrata, crostini, Piedmontese amaretti cookies, 8 years aged balsamic Giuseppe Giusti

Tortino
My favorite dish of the night. Don’t miss this one! Tortino. Organic spinach flan with runny egg yolk center, Grana Padano D.O.P. sauce, sauteed spinach, brown butter, Alba black truffle.

AGNOLOTTI DI LIDIA
AGNOLOTTI DI LIDIA — Traditional Piedmontese style stuffed pasta with beef shank, flat iron, pork loin, sausage, escarole, spinach, parmigiano, beef reduction

BRASATO
Brasato — 5-hour braised flat iron, Italian organic polenta, organic hen of woods mushrooms, nebbiolo reduction

Panna Cota
Panna Cota for dessert.

Note, they also have a bottega on Piedmont Avenue at 4001B Piedmont Ave. Oakland.

Top 10 Ways to Improve Flickr for 2018

Having spent thousands of hours on Flickr over the past 15 years or so, on a personal level I’ve become fairly invested in the site. To date I’ve published over 140,000 of my photographs there. I publish 40 or so new photos there every single day. It’s my primary archive of my photography work on the internet. I’ve also been actively involved in groups over the years which have led to many personal friendships for me. I’ve favorited over 720,000 photos that I’ve browsed over the years. I blog about it. I search it for photos to map as I’m going about my project of documenting America. It’s my favorite site on the internet.

That said there are some significant ways that Flickr can improve and given the new recent ownership change I thought now would be a good time to write about some of the ways Flickr can improve from here. Jef Poskanzer another early Flickr user also made his own excellent to do list for Flickr here.

The power of Flickr in my opinion has always been the community. I think there are ways that Flickr can recapture some of the community spirit that it did have in years past and grow to become the primary community for photographers on the web going forward. This will take work but will be worth it in the end for the community, it’s users and now SmugMug.

Flicker Meetup, 7-7-2005, #3
Flickr Meet Up, Crossroads Cafe, 2005.

1. Community. In the earliest days of Flickr when a new user would join co-founder Caterina Fake would greet them personally on the site and welcome them — not a bot or a script, but Caterina herself. While this would not scale today, I think the original founders of Flickr realized how important community development was in the early success of the site. I remember shortly after I joined Flickr going to some of my first photo meetups in San Francisco at a local coffeehouse. Flickr’s other co-founder Stewart Butterfield would show up and so would Cal Henderson and many of the other early Flickr staff and engineers. They eventually brought Heather Champ on as Community Manager and her sole focus was in managing this new community that was growing at Flickr.

Stewart and the Skatepods
Flickr Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield introducing Flickr Photographers at a group show at the Apple Store, 2005.

Back in those early days Heather organized an event at the San Francisco Apple Store where some Flickr photographers shared their photos on the giant large screen upstairs in the old Apple Store off Market Street. There was a show where Flickr photographers from all over the world sent in a photo and Flickr printed them all for a group gallery show at 111 Minna. There were active meetups and drinkups and photowalks and even a giant party hosted by Flickr once a year. Flickr Fiesta, Flickr Turns 2, Flickr Turns 3

I think what Flickr realized early on was that getting users to connect personally offline after first meeting online could be a powerful thing. Friendships were created. A group I was in started doing phototrips together. We did a trip to Miami, a trip to Detroit, a trip to Las Vegas a trip to Toronto. These trips would originate and be planned out in groups on Flickr. When out of town Flickr friends came to town you’d meet up and go shooting together. Meeting Mr. Chalk for the first time in person was fantastic! Because Flickr was the online community bringing all of these people together, it became a very beloved site for so many early Flickr users.

The challenge now is to try and restore much of that sense of community that over the years has been lost in my opinion. I think SmugMug should invest in this aspect of Flickr more than any other. They should hire perhaps a few community managers. They should host events. They should engage directly with the most active users on the site and promote Flickr evangelists from their user base who work to build and maintain that photography community at Flickr. I think Don MacAskill (SmugMug’s CEO) is the type of guy who will be good at this. It was good to see him engaging publicly about the acquisition on Hacker News shortly after the purchase. Management most of all has a role in actively engaging with the users of the site following the early example of Caterina Fake.

2. Groups. Much of Flickr’s early success was built around groups. More than just places to post a photo about a certain topic the group threads were vibrant conversations. Conversations about photography and Flickr itself sure, but also conversations about politics, about popular movies and television, about really anything and everything. Through some redesign over the years group discussions lost ground to the photos themselves. Discussions became harder and harder to track and follow. Facebook showed up and many people moved conversations over there, etc.

There are some significant ways that Flickr could rebuild group conversations.

The single most significant thing Flickr could do to improve group discussions would be to allow users to subscribe to individual discussion threads and then give them a central page where those conversations are bumped as activity/conversations happens in those threads. These are the conversations that I care the most about.

Many Flickr users belong to many different groups. Having to go to each individual group discussion page one by one just does not work for monitoring all of the conversations you are a part of. I may really care about a conversation about William Eggleston’s photography, but if there is only one new update to that conversation a week, as much as I care about it, I may not be checking it as regularly as I should. What’s more, the best time to see a conversation is as quickly after it happens as possible because that’s when others in that conversation still might be online. If I reply to a conversation 10 minutes after it happens that generates much more activity than if I reply 1 day after it happens. Giving users the ability to track all of the conversations they are interested in across the site would be a powerful tool.

Conversation begets more conversation. Activity begets activity. Give users the tool to track all of the group conversations across Flickr that they care about. This thread subscription page should be easily accessed in the mobile app as well.

After building conversation subscriptions, Flickr should also allow users to hide conversations in groups. Groups can get very noisy at times. The most recent group discussion is bumped to the top of the discussion page. If I don’t care about Game of Thrones, but that is the conversation that is repeatedly being bumped to the top of the threads I should allowed to hide it and make it disappear for me.

Flickr should identify 50 or so of the most active groups and have their community managers personally be involved in those groups and conversations. People should know that they can interact with management there. Flickr’s help forum is a bit like this, but the help forum is really only about Flickr help which can be boring at times. Flickr should promote these groups across the site and do everything that they can to make them as active as possible. If the discussions are not active in a group people stop coming. If the discussions are active it becomes a wonderful watering hole where people will spend hours online engaging with each other.

In the early days of Flickr Stewart Butterfield was active in Flickr Central threads. He’d frequently chime in and interact with the community there. This was a great thing.

I should also be able to mute certain users in a group. Inevitably trolls can/will invade groups and while some trolls can be charming and funny, others can be destructive. Allowing me to mute certain people gives me a bit of control over these conversations.

Groups should have photo pools, but these should really be secondary to the discussion threads and the groups pages should be designed to reflect this.

Flickr Explore
Some sample photos from yesterday’s Flickr Explore page.

3. Explore is so broken. There are so many bad photos regularly in Explore. The algorithm screens out more active users (like myself and many others). I looked at Explore for the first time in months yesterday and what do I see? Exactly the type of photos I don’t want to see on Flickr. Macro photos of insects. Lots of photos with signatures and watermarks. Three photos in a row of a LEGO airplane. Some screengrab of some user mocking Explore. Photos of big trucks and other transport. I don’t mind great train shots actually, but shots of boring city busses and big trucks that some Flickr transport fans collect are less interesting to me.

As much as I dislike Instagram and their world of ads, of all things, Instagram is doing a great job with their version of Explore. When I click on the search bar on Instagram it populates their version. What do I see there? Lots of photos of neon signs. Interesting analog photography. Great architecture.

The problem is that everyone sees the exact same version of Explore. In today’s world of AI Flickr should be smart enough to look at the photos I’m favoriting and serve me up my own customized version of Explore. Photos that I might be interested in based on what it knows about me.

Do I never favorite the classic bee on a flower shot? Then don’t show more to me. Someone who favorites 10,000 Second Life screengrabs might like to see more of them that they don’t know about on the site. I don’t. I love neon signs. Show me the most kickass photos of neon signs that I haven’t seen yet on the site from the past 24 hours. If I hate watermarked photos and never favorite them, don’t show them to me. If someone else watermarks their own photos and only favorites watermarked photos, show lots of them to them.

4. Maps. Although Stig’s excellent Flickr Fixr already fixes this, put a link to the Google Maps location under the map of a geotagged photo on Flickr. Google’s maps are the best in the world — and while it may be too expensive to actually license the maps to embed themselves, put a link there so users can go actually find the place. As it is now the Flickr maps are worthless. They won’t show you where something is. They will provide you the general vicinity of where something is, but they won’t show you exactly where it is. [Update: another link to Stig’s Flickr extension.]

If I am going on a trip and want to research a new city on Flickr, I want to know EXACTLY where things are so I can build a Google Map to go see and photograph those things myself.

5. Fix the Yahoo Log In. This is probably easy to do and from what I’ve read Don MacAskill is already on this one as a first priority. The Yahoo Login system (and especially for those using old legacy AT&T, PacBell, etc, versions of the login) is much too difficult to use. Pre-yahoo Flickr had a very simple user name / password log in that you set yourself. Users should be given an easy option to have that again and to get back into their Yahoo accounts that so many seem to be locked out of.

6. Fix the jumpy problem in photos from your contacts. Jef Poskanzer mentioned this one in his post as well. For years now whenever you browse photos by your contacts, right before you are about to favorite a photo on that page Flickr will inexplicably jolt and jump to some other random area on the page making you lose your place. Worse, right when you press the favorite button, because the page has suddenly jolted somewhere else you will accidently click on a photo which will take you away from that page and you have to press the browser back bar to get back and reload your contact’s photos page from the beginning. It’s a frustrating user experience and something that has been broken for YEARS now. It is time to fix it. Photos from your contacts is a very popular page and it is a problem that your most active users are having.

Flickr No Connection Issue

7. Flickr app connection issues. The Flickr photo app has a connection problem that other apps don’t. Just about every single day at some point you get a red “no internet connection” message at the bottom of the app. Even if you are connected to the internet and even if all your other apps work just fine. Flickr will not work. The only way to make the Flickr app work again is to quit the app and relaunch it. I think what may be happening is that at some point the Flickr app loses internet connection and isn’t smart enough to try and re-establish connection. So the app is dead and the only way to re-establish the connection is to quit it and relaunch it.

Searching Pennsylvania by Interestingness

8. Fix search. I’ve got a trip to Pennsylvania planned in a few months. Why when I search “Pennsylvania” (over 3.5 million photos on Flickr by the way) and sort by interestingness is the 2nd most interesting photo on all of Flickr a dumb aerial map screengrab with a squiggly blue line with a “whacking fatties” watermark? The photo has zero faves, zero comments and only 11 views. In fact there are four “whacking fatties” screengrabs in the top 20 most interesting of the millions of photos of Pennsylvania. This is dumb. If Flickr’s interestingness algorithm is so broken that it puts this photo as the 2nd most interesting photo in all of Pennsylvania at least give me the option to sort the photos by favorites. If I sort the photos by favorites chances are that some of the most favorited photos might be better and more interesting photos. While favorites alone might not be the best indicator of what photos are most interesting, at least give me that option. Alternatively, stop showing photos with low faves, comments, views on the first page of search results by interestingness.

9. Fix recent activity. The recent activity page is the most important page on Flickr. I load it more than any other page. For me (and many others) recently it stopped loading. It times out the majority of the time and returns a server error. I can get around this error by changing my recent activity settings from “since the beginning” to “in the last month” but I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to get it to load reliably 100% of the time since the beginning. Your most active users are users are your most valuable users. This should be fixed.

10. Let users favorite multi photo batches from the Flickr homepage. At present if I go to the main flickr homepage at flickr.com and I hover over a single photo there I’m given an option to favorite that photo by pressing a little star. This is great. But if I hover over a batch of photos that a user has uploaded I am not given this option. The only way there I can favorite a photo is to click through on the photo and leave a favorite. Flickr should treat all photos whether individual or batch on that page the same giving me a hover over star to favorite the photos.

Bonus: The “taken on” date on a photo’s photo page, really should be a hyperlink that you can click that will take you to that date in your camera roll.

That’s all for now. Much more later. See you on Flickr.

You can find me on Flickr here. 🙂

My Thoughts on the SmugMug Flickr Acquisition

Disclosure: I know people and am friends with people who work at both SmugMug and Flickr.

Earlier today we learned that the photo sharing site Flickr has been acquired by the photo sharing site SmugMug. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Flickr was purchased by Yahoo back in the early days of the internet in 2005 for probably somewhere around $40 million (give or take $10 million). Yahoo managed Flickr for many years, but more recently Yahoo’s core holdings were sold off last year to Verizon. Verizon folded Flickr into a new division called Oath which was made up of various Yahoo and AOL assets (another Verizon acquisition) run by ex-Google executive Tim Armstrong. Now Verizon/Oath has sold Flickr to SmugMug.

As They Pulled You Out Of The Oxygen Tent You Asked For The Latest Party
Flickr Fiesta party celebrating Yahoo acquisition in 2005 at Yahoo Campus.

Flickr Turns 2 (12)
Flickr Turns 2 Party, San Francisco, 2006.

As someone who joined Flickr back in 2003 pre-Yahoo and has been on the site pretty much daily since then, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on what this acquisition might mean for Flickr users and the larger Flickr community.

First off, I have to say that I think that today’s news is *very* good for Flickr users and the Flickr community. While time will tell how this acquisition goes, I have much more faith in SmugMug running Flickr than I do Verizon.

Before getting into the particulars about why I think this is a good fit, I think you have to take a general look at the types of companies Yahoo/Verizon/Oath were/are and the type of company SmugMug is. Yahoo/Verizon/Oath like Google and Facebook are largely advertising companies. These companies offer you free content and use your personal data to advertise at you. One of the things that I always liked about Flickr was that advertising was largely secondary to paid subscription accounts. Sure, Flickr had a free account, but at least as it was initially designed, the free account (which limited you to only seeing your last 200 photos) was really more of a trial for the real thing, Flickr Pro, for which you paid a subscription.

SmugMug has always been a profitable paid photo sharing service. They’ve never had a free option. This has served them well and has kept them profitable. At the same time it is hard to get people to pay for things on the internet so this in some ways limited their user growth compared to Flickr and other services offering a free option.

My own view is that I think people are waking up to the fact that “free” on the internet doesn’t really mean exactly free. The age old adage of if you are not paying for the product, you are the product is becoming clearer and clearer, even to the point of Mark Zuckerberg having to head on up to Capitol Hill and try to explain how all this social media stuff works to Senators and Congress.

Now, does this mean that SmugMug is going to kill the free Flickr account? Absolutely not. But I do think that they might try to nudge people in the direction of paid Pro — which I also think is smart and ultimately more sustainable than simply giving everyone a free terabyte. I LOVE that I have a complete ad free experience for my own use of Flickr AND also for the users who browse my pages of photos. I will happily continue paying for it indefinitely (assuming Flickr continues grandfathering my unlimited storage Pro account). I also think that SmugMug will likely be much better for Flickr from a privacy standpoint as well without having to worry about how to sell off our private information because we pay.

Ivan Makarov, SmugMug HQ
Ivan Makarov, one of my early Flickr contacts (now SmugMug’s VP of Finance) posing in front of a giant wall print at SmugMug’s Mountain View office.

In buying Flickr SmugMug more than anything is buying a community. I think that they are going to be very careful not to disrupt this community and look for ways to grow it thoughtfully. Having known the MacAskills (the family that owns SmugMug) for many years, one thing I can say for certain is that they LOVE photography and photographers. If you ever get a chance to visit their offices in Mountain View do it. What you will find is wall after wall covered with the biggest prints you have ever seen in your life. These are people who are passionate about photography, not advertising.

Baldy Behind the Camera
Chris “Baldy” MacAskill on a SmugMug photowalk in 2013

Flickr Over San Francisco
Flickr Photowalk, Bernal Hill, 2013

For SmugMug I think what is probably most exciting is that they are getting a very large community of photographers by purchasing Flickr. I think that this will allow them to do even more with community, photowalks, meetups, etc. They will need to make sure Flickr is profitable (and it will be) but they will have a much larger group to build a bigger and stronger community with. While Google+ sort of became a place for the photographic community for a bit, before Google largely abandoned it, there really is not a good place for a larger community of photographers today and I think with the acquisition of Flickr, SmugMug hopes that it can build this and I think they have a pretty good chance at doing it.

I think the other thing that SmugMug owning Flickr will do is that it will allow them to be much more nimble in terms of hacking on and developing the site. Big organizations (like Yahoo and Verizon) have layers of bureaucracy that sometimes make things difficult to get done. Small organizations, by contrast, can move much more quickly. While I don’t expect any immediate changes to Flickr, I think that going forward it will improve more rapidly. I also think it’s great that from what I can tell the entire team at Flickr is being retained.

Mostly what I’ve seen online since the acquisition was announced earlier today has been a positive response. Flickr co-Founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake have posted positive tweets on the acquisition as well.

As far as I can tell from looking at the new SmugMug/Flickr TOS everything looks pretty much for things to be business as usual at Flickr for the immediate future.

SmugMug and Flickr will be run as two different sites/properties.

Since Flickr is one of the few sites on the web that allows moderated adult content, I did wonder how SmugMug would treat that — at least per the current TOS it looks like that is going to be handled as it always has been at Flickr. Make sure you moderate your adult content, keeping it away from the kids, and it’s allowed.

If you want to read more in depth at what this might mean for Flickr users going forward I’d point you to a thread in the Flickr Help Forum where more details are provided and where the community is currently reacting to today’s news.

A big congrats to both the Flickr and SmugMug teams. I’m looking forward to being an active user on Flickr for many years ahead and am looking forward to all the ways you will continue to improve both sites.

You can find me on Flickr here.

Thoughts on YouTube TV

YouTubeTV

I’m currently on day 3 of my 7-day free trial with YouTube TV and I’m very torn about what to do and if I should continue it or not. I think that the only way to justify the $35/month charge is if I actually use it to cut the cord with Comcast for my TV content.

Pros

1. I *LOVE* that YouTube TV is now available on Apple TV. This is my biggest beef with Comcast. Because Comcast wants to sell you dumb cable boxes at $10/month on all your TVs, they make using Apple TV very difficult. Not only does Comcast not have a TV app for Apple TV (even though they falsely advertise watch TV anywhere at anytime) but they make you reauthenticate over and over again on all the individual content apps from people like CNN, CNBC, HBO, Showtime, etc. Having to reauthenticate over and over and over again is a huge pain. At present I’ve got 7 Apple TVs in my home and it would be nice to watch live tv on every one of them.

2. I could get rid of the ugly Comcast box that sits in my living room and I would also no longer need to toggle between inputs on that TV when using it. I would be able to get rid of one more remote control.

3. I would save money (I think?) I’m not so sure on this one just yet. I’m currently paying Comcast around $328/month for their triple play service. When I called them about cancelling TV they said they’d still charge me $65 for highspeed internet (up to 250MB) another $50 for unlimited usage, another $99 for the upgrade to 1 gig service (which has never really been at 1 gig, usually at 500MB to 800MB at best), and another $44 for phone with long distance (I’ve wanted to cancel the house phone for years but can’t sell this idea to the wife yet). So that’s $258/month before all the fees and extras, so $70 less — but once you add in all those miscelaneous fees and Showtime and HBO, I might be pretty much already at where I’m at today in terms of cost. I need to get the fine tip pencil out and do the exact math, but I’m not sure the savings would be as much as I’d hope for. I wish Google Fiber or somebody else would offer service in my area (Oakland, CA) in order to compete with Comcast, but at present it seems that Comcast is the only high speed provider in my area. ATT Uverse offers service but at only 50MB that speed is too slow for me.

4. Skipping commercials with the app on AppleTV using YouTubeTV seems easier than skipping them with the Comcast remote.

5. I like the YouTube TV interface better than the Comcast interface. I like that I don’t have a bunch of stupid channels getting in my way in the guide. Comcast won’t let you hide channels in the guide and it’s always seemed dumb to me that I’m constantly having to navigate around shopping channels, foreign language channels, unsubscribed pay channels, etc, that I’ll never use. While I haven’t used the app on my phone or laptop much I suspect that Google’s nice clean interface is better there too.

6. I like that YouTubeTV offers me an unlimited DVR.

7. YouTubeTV has the Warriors which I’d want on my TV package here in the Bay Area.

8. Up to 6 people in my family can use it and with four kids our family has exactly 6.

9. I feel much more favorably towards Google than Comcast generally speaking. Google seems to care more about their users than Comcast does and if given the choice I’d rather my money go to Google than Comcast. I’d love to be able to stick it to Comcast.

Cons

1. The biggest con (and frankly probably a deal breaker for me) is that I’ve read that YouTube TV will replace your DVR’d shows after a few days with on demand versions that don’t let you skip commercials on that version. Other than live sports, CNBC and some live news, I simply refuse to watch commercials. If this is true and my DVR’d content only lasted a few days per show, this would unfortunately probably kill the deal for me. I haven’t confirmed this myself yet, but I’ve read this in other places and in comments on blogs about YouTube TV.

2. I think YouTube TV broadcasts in 720p. AppleTV now has 4k capability. I’m blown away at how good some of Netflix 4k content looks and sounds on my 4k TV. I’m not sure what Comcast broadcasts in but on some of the content it feels like the Comcast version still looks a little better than the YouTubeTV version.

3. While YouTube TV does have a pretty strong lineup (all the major networks, strong sports, AMC, FX, etc.) it is missing CNN. I’m a little bit of a cable news junkie and would worry only being able to watch Fox News each night might move me too far to the right. Of course since every single night these days over and over again CNN is just Trump/Russia on repeat, I might not miss it so much after all. 😉

There are some other minor channels like TNT, Spike, etc. that I could live without but which are nice to have from time to time. Comcast has way more networks (most that I never watch, but once in a blue moon I just might).

4. YouTube TV still doesn’t exempt you from ads on YouTube. YouTube has a paid service called YouTube Red that lets you skip ads on YouTube. It sort of feels to me like this should be bundled in for free when you are paying $35/month.

5. I think I like Comcast’s voice controls better. If I say “CNBC” into my Comcast remote it just smartly tunes the TV to CNBC. With the Apple TV it seems like even when in YouTube TV if I try and use Siri on the remote it doesn’t limit it to YouTube TV. And when I say CNBC into my Apple TV it launches the CNBC app which stupidly takes me to a menu page rather than to CNBC where I want to watch live. From the menu screen I then have to navigate to watch CNBC live.

Anyways, these are my initial thoughts. I’ll probably cancel YouTube TV before the 7-day trial ends unless someone else can convince me I shouldn’t. Appreciate anyone else’s thoughts on the new service vs. Comcast.

Update: I cancelled YouTube TV earlier this week. Unfortunately I did it on day 8 instead of day 7 of my free trial so I’m stuck with the service until March 8th and had to pay $35. Oh well, I should have paid better attention to my trial. Maybe someday if they give you a true DVR and not one that replaces your recordings with on demand that don’t allow you to fast forward adverts I’ll be back. 🙂

New Ayesha Curry, Michael Mina San Francisco Hot Spot International Smoke, A Contemporary Take on Barbecue

International Smoke
International Smoke, San Francisco’s newest restaurant in the lobby of the Millennium Tower

International Smoke

Last night mrsth, the four kids and I had the opportunity to dine at San Francisco’s newest restaurant hot spot from celebrity chefs Ayesha Curry and Michael Mina, International Smoke. The restaurant is the latest lobby tenant in the great leaning tower of Millennium at 301 Mission Street in San Francisco’s SoMA district.

Only a week old, International Smoke is already solidly booked for months. The good news though is that they take walk ins at the bar and have several tables that can seat up to six in the bar. Before getting into my thoughts on the food, I will say that with a big family (six of us) one of my frequent disappointments is when too many diners are crammed into a small table at a bar. In the case of International Smoke this is not the case for their 6 tops. They are large, roomy and comfortably accommodated our large group. There are also several 4 tops in the bar and of course you can also dine seating at the bar itself. We luckily got the last table in the bar last night just before dinner service started at 5:30 pm.

The bar also has several televisions which can be viewed from almost every seat and which were appropriately tuned in last night to the Warriors 124-116 win over the Philadelphia 76ers during dinner.

Although barbecue features prominently on the International Smoke menu, it would be misleading to call it a “barbecue” restaurant. While definitely a place for carnivores, the barbecue has a more modern and international presentation and the menu also includes many non-barbecue offerings.

Many of the offerings are also fairly theatrical in nature, not quite what you’d find at say Edith’s down in Cabo San Lucas, but they incorporate smoke prominently to give you your fun little dinner show to go along with the food. In addition to serving two of our dishes (the smoked burrata and instant bacon) in glass encased smoke filled canisters, they prepare the Wagyu Shaking beef in a hot skillet tableside and use a cooking torch to caramelize the sugar while serving the ribs. It’s always nice to get a little extra pizzaz at the table when taking the kids out.

So let’s get into the cocktails and food.

I started off the evening with the Curry Up Now cocktail, because, well Steph Curry right? Plus I like bourbon. The drink is made with Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Madras Curry, Amontillado Sherry, and Corazon Bitters. It was served in a beautiful Waterford crystal style tumbler over one of those giant ice cubes you get at fancy bars these days. Although I’m not sure that Steph drinks one of these things every day at cocktail hour, it was a well balanced, slightly sweet bourbon based cocktail and it worked just fine for me.

We also tried the Rhinestone Cowboy, made with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka, Espolòn Blanco Tequila, and Coconut Calamansi, refreshing served over that nice soft crushed ice that you also find at fancy bars these days.

WAGYU SHAKING BEEF, International Smoke
International Smoke’s Wagyu Shaking Beef

International Smoke
International Smoke’s Wagyu Shaking Beef

Our first dish was the aforementioned Wagyu Shaking Beef, cooked in that black hot skillet tableside. It comes with lettuce and you make little lettuce wrap taco like things. This was a favorite. The beef was delicious, cooked slightly rare and very juicy. They added a marinade to the beef as it was cooking. It’s Wagyu so it’s bound to be tasty, but as expected for things labeled Wagyu, it’s also expensive and you wish you got a lot more of it. I would probably order this again, and probably again, and again.

Classic American Wedge, nternational Smoke

Smoked, Burrata, International Smoke

Next up was International Smoke’s take on an all time classic, the wedge salad. It’s prepared cut in half with everything served up on top. Again, a little small, but delicious and a beautifully balanced mixture of dressing, bacon, onions and tomatoes.

The burrata was served at the same time as the wedge and came in the previously described smoke filled canister. The aha moment comes as the canister lid is lifted and the smoke disappears into the air, leaving you with a very creamy piece of smoke flavored cheese. The brussel sprouts went well with the cheese and it was a nice bit of salad before getting into the meats.

We also ordered a mixed pickle jar which is a myriad of pickled vegetables. At $6 it felt like a bargain on the menu and if you like pickled veggies I’d recommend it. I liked the pickled onions the best.

Kalua Style, Instant Bacon, International Smoke
The big reveal, Kalua Style, Instant Bacon, International Smoke

Kalua Style, Instant Bacon, International Smoke
Kalua Style, Instant Bacon, International Smoke

The Kalua “Instant Bacon” is more like a pork bun than anything, served in another one of those smokey canisters with the big reveal — a very rich piece of pork served in a bun — again very tasty, but two to a plate a bit on the small side.

Smoked Pork Shoulder, International Smoke
Smoked Pork Shoulder, International Smoke

We tried two orders of the Trio Sampler smoked pork shoulder. This consisted of an American pulled pork slider, Cuban Mojo Tostones and Korean Scallion Crepes. The American pulled pork slider was the favorite (especially with the kids) but I liked the Cuban Mojo Tostones the best myself. I did not care for the Korean Scallion Crepes.

Double Duck Wings, International Smoke
Double Duck Wings, International Smoke

The double duck wings were up next. These were ok but my least favorite dish of the evening. They were pretty basic and a bit bland. The sauce they came in was tasty and interesting, but I would not order this again. We didn’t eat most of this dish and took it home with us in a box. I tried it again for breakfast this morning and it tasted a little better cold, but still not a favorite.

Smoked Pork Ribs, St. Louis Cut, International Smoke
Smoked Pork Ribs, St. Louis Cut, International Smoke

Up next was the main event, a full slab of the smoked pork ribs. As previously mentioned, they bring these out with a cooking torch and torch the sugar on the ribs right there tableside. As far as ribs go these were perfectly adequate but nothing spectacular. The ribs probably had too high a bar to live up to in my mind though. When I read “St. Louis Cut” on the menu the only thing I could think about from then on was how much I love the ribs at Pappy’s in St. Louis. Those juicy, beautiful bone dripping ribs at Pappys, or if not Pappy’s at least all of the great sauces at St. Louis’ latest downtown barbecue spot Sugarfire with one of the best neon signs ever.

International Smoke’s ribs were just fine, but they were not as good as what you’d get at the best spots in St. Louis, or Kansas City, or Texas or Alabama. Again, I’m spoiled having experienced some spectacular barbecue over the years though. I probably should have known San Francisco celebrity chefs would be no match for hardcore pitmasters who’ve been doing their thing for 30 years.

Along with the ribs we ordered the french fries, which were pretty much the same basic fries you’d get anywhere and three sides of the mac and cheese.

Smoked Rib Tip Mac and Cheese, International Smoke
Smoked Rib Tip Mac and Cheese, International Smoke

The mac and cheese was interesting — actually it was my favorite dish of the evening, but I’m a big mac and cheese fan. It’s served with rib tips and cornbread crumble on top. It was very good. I was very happy with this dish… but… would I rather have International Smoke’s mac and cheese or the buffalo chicken mac from Homeroom? See, again, it’s a high bar in my opinion, so while I was perfectly happy with this dish it was probably doomed from the start in my mind.

Anyways, there you have it. We ordered too much food for dinner so didn’t have room for dessert. Apparently my youngest daughter Kate was promised ice cream earlier in the day, however, so we stopped by Fenton’s on the way back home to pick up a half gallon of toasted almond. I’m sure International Smoke’s ice cream is probably just fine, but I doubt they hold a candle to Fentons. 🙂

More on International Smoke from Business Insider, SF Eater and the San Francisco Chronicle.

International Smoke
Bar at International Smoke

Curry Up Now, International Smoke
Curry Up Now cocktail

International Smoke
Front desk at International Smoke

Rhinestone Cowboy, International Smoke
Like a Rhinestone Cowboy

Mixed Pickle Jar, International Smoke
Pickles at International Smoke

French Fries, International Smoke
French Fries, International Smoke

Brown Sugar Kitchen, Great Chicken and Waffles in Oakland, California

Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland
Chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, CA 94607

If you haven’t had breakfast/lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland yet you are missing out. Having eaten here several times now I’ll make some observations.

Plan on waiting a long time to get a seat. Every time I’ve been to breakfast/lunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen I’ve had to wait at least 30 – 60 minutes — this is on Saturday or Sunday mornings though. I suspect weekday the wait is not as long. This is fine if you plan to make it a full weekend morning event, but be aware that you are in for a long wait time. I always love photographing around West Oakland, so I really don’t mind so much. I just put my name on the list and set a timer for how long I’m supposed to wait and go walk around and shoot some local street art. American Steel Studios is just down the street and there usually are interesting things to photograph around down there.

Of course the thing to order here is the chicken and waffles. The waffles are cornmeal waffles and taste delightful. They come with an apple cider based syrup but I recommend paying the $2 extra for real maple syrup. It’s worth it. The chicken is a buttermilk fried chicken and is equally delicious.

Most everything is good here, but other standouts for me include the mac and cheese (only available at noon or later), the breakfast potatoes, the pork hash and the cheesy grits.

Definitely order the coffee — it’s Bicycle Coffee and is one of the best tasting local brews I’ve had anywhere for breakfast. They also sell it by the bag if you want to take some to go.

Obviously with wait times being as long as there at Brown Sugar Kitchen it’s nice to know that they are in the process of opening up a second location (inside the old space where Pican was before they closed down in Uptown on Broadway). No word yet on the timing, but the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.

Enjoy some photos of breakfast at Brown Sugar and some of the local West Oakland street art below.

Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland
Chicken and waffles, cheesy grits, pork hash at Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland
Poached eggs and pork hash at Brown Sugar Kitchen

Jamaica the Artist
A mural by Jamaica the Artist at American Steel Studios down the street from Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland
Artwork on the wall at Brown Sugar Kitchen

For Dave Johnson
A mural by Gats at American Steel Studios

Brown Sugar Kitchen, West Oakland
Homemade pop tarts, Brown Sugar Kitchen


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