August 20, 2006

My excuse for not blogging during SIGIR; or, How I Spent My Summer Half-Vacation

Posted in Conferences, Food, Life at 9:23 pm by mj

Well, I am back in my cozy (read: messy) home, and I am pooped. My plan to blog SIGIR during SIGIR just sort of evaporated. They kept us much busier than I expected. I had to sneak away from a couple of lunches and one dinner just to catch up on email from work and try to read some of the papers prior to their presentation.

Instead, I will, over the coming week, write up some of the highs and lows of the conference through my eyes. I don’t really believe in the blogging-as-stream-of-consciousness paradigm of conference blogging, anyhow. I do have quite a few notes (both hand-written and typed), and there were some interesting papers presented.

Post-conference, we spent a week exploring Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and Oregon, from the shores to Crater Lake, and visited a number of smaller towns along the way. The locals were, without exception, friendly, helpful, upbeat, and environmentally-friendly. The vacationers from Portland, on the other hand, … well, I digress.

It’s all about the meals
Boeing, Google, and Microsoft sponsored buffet-style dinners on three consecutive nights at SIGIR. And, interestingly, they all offered salmon as the entree. I like salmon (as you’ll see, sometimes I can’t resist ordering a salmon entree, perhaps subconsciosly to test how the chef treats it as an indication of how he/she treats the rest of the menu), but none of these meals were all that great. The best SIGIR-sponsored meal was probably the last lunch, which offered self-serve fajitas.

During our vacation, we’d ask the locals what restaurants they recommend. (Yes, I should have checked Chowhound first.) This turns out (not surprisingly) to be a great strategy.


  • Lunch at the 42nd Street Cafe in Long Beach, our favorite meal, and a surprise recommendation from the lady at the Chamber of Commerce. Better–and cheaper–than any other meal, including those more than twice as expensive. I had a salmon (hmm) with some kind of walnut-based sauce (and I don’t like walnuts!), while Yinghua had a bowl of clams seasoned with (I think) some kind of pesto base.
  • Dinner at The Drift Inn in Yachats. From the outside, it looks like a typical local bar/hangout with typical food. On the inside, it’s a great atmosphere with awesome food. I had another salmon (wth?) with blackberry sauce (delicious–and I don’t like blackberry seeds!), and she had a bowl of seafood chowder, half of which I ate. The live music (the night we were there, it was Richard Sharpless) adds to the atmosphere, and somehow put us in a better mood leaving than when we went in.
  • Lunch at The 3 Crabs in Dungeness, Washington. The building itself looks like a typical fast food joint, but the seafood is fresh and the wait staff (including the owner?) is friendly and fast. Of course we had a fresh crab and a bowl of mixed seafood. There’s not much room for chef-ly artistry here: it all comes down to freshness and not drowing the flavor in butter/herbs/salt the way many American restaurants do.
  • Dinner at Crater Lake Lodge. Once again, I ordered Salmon the first night (Yinghua ordered it the second night). Their Chef’s magic didn’t happen with the flavoring, but by subtly undercooking the center (and serving a huge fish). Unfortunately, their other meals–including the duck and halibut–weren’t nearly as well prepared. The other downside was the garlic butter-based sauce served with the Salmon. Trust me: just move that to the side. I’m glad I didn’t think to smother my meal with it til I was at the last third, because it just gets in the way of the juiciest salmon I had the whole time. (The butter was good, it just gets in the way of the fish.)

The biggest disappoinment to me was our dinner at Sky City in Seattle’s Space Needle. Perversely expensive and touristy, none of the food was outstanding in any way. The wait staff was friendly, the atmosphere was great, the view was good. The food just wasn’t worth it.

With that, I must prepare for my first full on-site week in a month. Between the family emergency, SIGIR, and my real vacation, I’m actually starting to miss the urine smell in downtown San Francisco. I think tomorrow I shall open my window and breathe in huge wiffs of the stuff.