Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween at Almaden Winery

Friday, October 31, 2014

Despite drizzly weather, we enjoyed our regular Halloween trick'or'treating at Almaden Winery.
Inna dressed up as Cersei Lannister, a character from the Game of Thrones. I dressed up as Jon Snow from the same series. Alex decided to dress up in his last year's costume - a banana.

Surprisingly, during our walk in the neighborhood, no one recognized either my costume or Inna's. I guess there are not too many people watching "The Game of Thrones".

Alex had a fun time collecting candy from all the neighbors. In general, houses were not as well decorated as last year, but there a few outstanding.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eating well in Evvia Restaurant

Sunday, October 19, 2014

To mark our 13th Wedding Anniversary, Inna and I decided to visit the well-regarded Evvia Restaurant in Palo Alto, CA.

We checked both Yelp and Michelin ratings and decided that this was a fine restaurant to try.

We arrived in Palo Alto a bit early and walked around, enjoying the shops. We arrived at Evvia right an opening time - around 4:55pm and there was already a line! We did not have reservations but we did share a table with a large group.

Since Evvia is a Greek Restaurant and one of our favorite Greek Restaurants is Dio Deka in Los Gatos, it was natural for us to compare the two. We were pleasantly surprised by the decor, the quick service, and the excellent Greek appetizers and entrees in Evvia. In many ways, we thought it was superior (and more inexpensive).

For appetizer, we shared a dish of Arnisia Plevrakia - or lamb chops. They were exquisitely prepared and seasoned. We enjoyed them a lot.

We also shared two Spanokopitas. I am usually not a huge fan of Spanokopitas but these were straight out of the oven and so delicious! 

For my main entree, I ordered an "Arni Souvlaki" - lamb kabob . It was the best that I can recall. Even my local favorite - Dish Dash - paled in comparison.

Inna ordered a Lamb Kebob and it was also extremely well prepared.

We really enjoyed our dinner here and hope to come back again.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Botto Italian Bistro and the Yelp Controversy

October 7, 2014

I have been using Yelp for many years and posted many reviews. However, one story on intrigued me.

There was a restaurant in Richmond, CA - Botto Italian Bistro - which was asking customers to give them 1-star reviews on

I knew Yelp had a reputation of extorting small businesses (not proven in court, but widely known). If a business did not pay for advertising on Yelp, it's rating could experience a downward spiral, and it could lose significant business.

The 1 star reviews was Botto's way of defeating Yelp's mafioso advertising tactics. After all, if a restaurant has only 1 star reviews - how can Yelp hurt it further?

Many Yelp reviews were quite amusing:
(one star)
Your food seems delicious, but that you do not offer shipping to Canary Islands (Spain).... That I cannot accept...
C'mon what kind of service do you offer if you don't deliver to 10000km afar?
I better go to another place!
(one star)
Don't try the pizza, it's so good you will come back every day, it completely ruined my social life cause each night I only want to go there
I hate this place!
(one star)
Great food, great drinks, great service awesome experience overall. However...
- No pet giraffes or tigers allowed inside
- No shower in the bathroom
- No gym inside to work out after meal
- One time they wouldn't serve me because I was completely naked and very drunk
- Food is not free and I have to pay for it
- They always get your order right
So for these reasons I hate this place and will not return for a day or two.
(one star)
I have never been here before.
In fact, I have never heard of this place before. But, it is SO AWFUL that I am going to refuse to get within 500 miles of it. Therefore, all because of how bad this restaurant is, I am going to have to cancel my plans to visit the Bay Area. In fact, this place is so I have heard...that I may have to move out of the state due to the embarrassment of being in the same state as this place.
(one star)
Too much integrity. No thanks!
How can I be sure that you care about your food if you won't be manipulated by the Yelp powers-that-be?
How can I trust that you care about quality if you won't spend your time whoring yourself online for 5-star reviews?
How can I expect you to care about your staff and their families if you won't give money to Yelp instead of them??
(one star)
Can't stand this place. Came here and asked if I could substitute the pizza dough with cardboard... they could not accommodate me.
BRB going to Dominos.
It's easy for Yelp to hurt a business, as it controls which reviews are published. Yelp can easily remove the positive or negative reviews that it deems "not useful" and make a restaurant have whatever rating it wants.

I decided to try an experiment. I would publish a 1-star review on Yelp and see what happens:

It did not take long for Yelp to yank my review:
OCT 07, 2014  |  02:27PM PDT
We wanted to let you know that we've removed your review of Botto Italian Bistro. Though we understand this business has recently received media attention, your review was removed because it lacks a core consumer experience. Please note that at this time we will be removing any repostings from you to this business listing.
Please visit our Content Guidelines for more information ( We hope you'll help us keep Yelp fun and useful for everyone!
Yelp Support
San Francisco, California

The problem with Yelp that they do not have any customer support. There is no way to get a hold of anyone - unless one is a paying advertiser. I could not reply to Clarence as he has no return email address!

I used to trust Yelp, but now I realize that it's not a trustworthy company.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Visiting Boston aka Harvard, here I come

In September, Inna decided to visit Boston, to explore the city and discover its main attractions. She has always wanted to visit Boston but never found the time or the occasion. She found some really great tickets on JetBlue with a direct flight from San Francisco to Boston. It was a very early morning flight (flight 434, departing  SFO at 7:00am PST and arriving in Boston at 3:37pm EST).

Inna had a really hard time finding affordable lodging in Boston, for the first week of October. The prices for hotels seemed stratospheric, so she decided to look on Airbnb. She found an apartment near Northeastern University, close to downtown (which turned out great).

She found that Boston has a great public transportation system (though the buses were a bit old), and he took public transit to her apartment on her day of arrival.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

One of the first stops as a tourist was the Trinity Church.

Afterwards, she explored Copley Square. She found that she really liked Boston.

She liked some of the quaint Coffee shops and eateries downtown. She also found that seafood in general was of much higher quality than in San Francisco (suprisngly).

She was really impressed by Boston's Public Library. She did not expect it to be so vast.

She spent a few hours in the library exploring books.

One of the museums that Inna planned to visit was. Inna visited the museum and was very impressed by the vast and extensive collection of paintings.

There are some old and some very modern pieces of art there.

A famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware by Thomas Sully is prominently displayed.

There is a also famous paining of Paul Revere by John Copley.

I was surprised to learn that the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) also has a very extensive collection of French Impressionist Art and many paintings of Monet were on display.

Monet's "Camille Monet and a Child in the Artists's Garden in Argenteuil" had lovely impressionist strokes and rich colors.

The museum is vast and Inna enjoyed it a lot.

There was an ongoing exhibition of Jamie Wyeth, so Inna explored some of his works.

There were also exhibits of contemporary Japanese art.

Inna really enjoyed the exhibits at MFA and would like to back again.

After leaving the museum, Inna learned that the Boston Symphony had a concert planned and she decided to get tickets and enjoy it.

Boston Symphony orchestra featured selections from Beethoven Symphony No. 8 in F, Bartok's "The Miraculuous Mandarin", and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor.

Inna really liked the Tchaikovsky piece, as she was not very familiar with Bela Bartok. The full program is shown below:

Friday, October 3, 2014

One of Inna's first stops was the Church of Christ Scientist. It's an interesting looking building in Boston.

Afterwards, she went on the Freedom Trail walk (to explore the historical artifacts from the time of the American Revolution and the war for independence)

Along the way, she saw a few monuments, one for Benjamin Franklin, a very famous American, anad one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Here is a memorial for Paul Revere.

The Old City Hall is a three story colonial building on the Freedom Trail.

After the Freedom Trail walk ended, Inna walked to the Quincy Market, a large indoor market built without taxes or debt.

There was an interesting exhibit of "The Art of The Brick" - using Legos to build fine art - and Inna decided to explore it.

There were many Leg0 versions of fine art - including a copy of a "Girl with Pearl Earring". Originally, this was painted by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.  The Lego version is also quite intriguing.

Of course, there was an obligatory "Mona Lisa", originally painted by Leonardo Da Vinci (and is now hanging in the Louvre Museum).

There were many interesting sculptures as well, including skeletons of dinosaurs.

From here, Inna walked to the Massachusetts State House and then onwards toward Boston Commons.

The Boston Common Frog Pond has a few cute statues.

Inna stopped by to admire and photograph some still blooming flowers.

The fall has arrived in Boston, and may trees were turning to beautiful reds.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Today, Inna decided to visit the famous Harvard University.

Sometime in the 1990s, tour guides began encouraging visitors to emulate a student "tradition"—​nonexistent—​of rubbing the toe of John Harvard's left shoe for luck, so that while the statue as a whole is darkly weathered the toe now "gleams almost throbbingly bright, as though from an excruciating inflammation of the bronze

Inna decided to uphold the tradition.

Harvard campus is rather beautiful, especially in the fall, when all of the tree's leaves begin to turn red and orange.

Harvard's campus is quite beautiful.

For fun, I told Inna to try to audit one of the classes in Harvard, just to get a sense of what taking classes at Harvard would be like.

Inna sat down in a Harvard classroom but the class was not of much interest to her. It was a C Programming class. Harvard has a very impressive projection system.

After enjoying Harvard, Inna decided to explore the campus of M.I.T. Inna did not have time to audit classes there, but she was impressed by the contrast between Harvard and MIT. Harvard has the American Colonial Classic look and feel, while M.I.T. looks thoroughly modern.

MIT's building look like they're from the future.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How time flies! It was time for Inna to return back to sunny California. She enjoyed her last day in Boston (but did not take any photos), since her Canon G15's battery ran out (and I did not get her a charger).

She had a great time in Boston, and would happily return for more sightseeing.