Friday, October 21, 2016

Quick Oakland Restaurant Update - October 2016

Okay, a few folks have mentioned to me recently that they've enjoyed read my blog, so now I feel shamed into posting some new content after a two-year hiatus.

The restaurant scene in Oakland continues to evolve nicely, though I have to admit I'm a little annoyed by all the hipster bars that are popping up left and right. Don't get me wrong...I'm all for a good bar scene but I think we're getting over saturated with bars and the City of Oakland seems to be handing out liquor licenses like they're going out of style. Would love to see a few less bars and a few more food-centric businesses in their place...but that's just me.

I'm also happy to say that most of the restaurants I've written about before are still going as strong as ever. However, there have been a few notable closings within the past year or so. B-Side BBQ, easily my favorite BBQ in the East Bay, sadly closed earlier this year because they were having a hard time making things work financially. I found it a little surprising, as every time I've gone there business seemed pretty good and they were also handling a lot of takeout orders. However, their location was admittedly a bit sketchy...I bet if they were in Uptown they would still be going gangbusters. Two of James Syabout's restaurants also fell victim in recent months. The first, Box and Bells, closed early last year. That location in Rockridge seems to be a huge jinx or something, as no restaurant has ever been able to make it work there long term. Also, I think everyone is so health conscious these days and weren't so keen on their heavier, gastropub style of food...of course I am a big exception! The Dock at Linden Street also just closed within the past few weeks, but will supposedly get relaunched in several months. I think one of their big challenges is location as's a terrific space, but located in an area of West Oakland that is largely unknown and not well trafficked. Of course, with all the hipsters moving to West Oakland that could end up changing real soon! And lastly, Stag's Lunchette, my go to sandwich place in Uptown, abruptly closed a couple of months ago. I was pretty shocked to hear this, as the place was always slammed during lunch...this in spite of the fact that I felt they overcharged for their product.

Okay, now for some notable openings within the past year or so:

Calavera and Agave: Both of these Mexican joints are in Uptown...Calvaera in the Hive complex, and Agave on the ground floor of the new Kapor Center. I've enjoyed the meals and vibe at both places, though I still think the food quality is just a notch below that of Nido's.

Belotti: Located in a smallish location in the middle of Rockridge, I had lunch here one day recently and was simply blown away by the quality of their definitely rivals Dopo for "best pasta in Oakland". Can't wait to go back and try some of their other dishes.

Drake's Dealership: Okay, so I ragged on all the drinking joints that have been opening up recently, but Drake's is an exception. Really cool location and use of the space, fantastic beer selection and surprisingly good food for a beer garden - I especially enjoy their pizza and ribs. And very kid/dog/family friendly to boot! The only drawback to this place is that it's uber popular and jam packed every night of the week.

Delage: The owner of B-Dama recently opened this sushi/omakase place right next door, and for $65 this is the best 9-course omakase deal around. Their fish is flown in from Japan, and fresh and tasty. Very happy to see more quality Japanese fare in Oaktown.

Parlour: Great neighborhood restaurant serving mostly Italian fare. Very solid pizzas and pastas, though I have to say that their pasta dishes are a tad overpriced compared to other quality Italian places in the area. And oh...their bar makes a terrific house gin and tonic!

Clove and Hoof: This combination restaurant/butcher shop makes THE best sandwiches in the city, even a notch or two higher than Stag's used to make. Nothing but high quality and freshest ingredients, and such attention to detail for a sandwich shop. Make sure you also save some room for their tasty hand cut beef tallow fries, and if you have the time then also enjoy watching them chop up a dead cow :) More recently they've started to serve dinner entrees, but I haven't had the opportunity to try them out yet.

Hina Yakitori: This cool yakitori joint opened up several months ago and the chefs came from Ippuku, one of my favorite places in all the Bay Area. So, as you might expect the quality is on par with that of Ippuku's, though the interior and ambiance don't have that same authentic Japanese feel. However, definitely the place to go if you're not up for the trek into downtown Berkeley and/or want to save a few bucks.

Sweet Belly: Belly Uptown's dessert spinoff recently took over the space of this incredibly shitty Chinese takeout place which surprisingly lasted for over a decade. Terrific made-to-order mini-donuts in 6 flavors that you can buy by the dozen or half dozen. Also some great soft serve ice cream in several flavors and your choice of toppings. Super delish...Alice and her team have another winner!

Itani Ramen: Oh, how I looked forward to the opening of this place, as it owned by Kyle Itani, co-owner of Hopscotch and one of my favorite restaurants in town. However, it's been really hit and miss during the course of my 8 or so visits there.  The first few times were very mediocre experiences as the ramen preparation was very inconsistent - sometimes the broth was not hot or flavorful enough, or the noodles were overcooked, or the chasu pork was not sliced correctly. However, my last couple of visits were a lot better, and I'm hoping this is a good sign for them going forward. Definitely can't compare to Ramen Shop, but on the other hand it's conveniently located, easy to get into and open late 7 days a week.

Happy eating!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Oaktown Restaurant Update - September 2014

Whether you love or hate this "Brooklynization of Oakland" movement that's been going on, as a foodie you've got to acknowledge that it's done nothing but wonders for the Oakland dining scene. New restaurants are still popping up at an incredible clip throughout the city. Over the past few months I've dined at a number of new places that have recently opened and which I wouldn't hesitate to go back to - Captain & Corset, Shakewell, The Dock at Linden Street, Michel, Belly Uptown, Abura-Ya, Bissap Baobab and Liba Falafel are amongst the newbies and are all excellent.

I guess it's also time to update my "Top 10" Oakland restaurant list again, though it's getting really hard with the proliferation of all these new great places. I've adjusted my list a bit to include more balance in terms of food variety as well as price points. So, without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order:

B-Side BBQ

Still the best BBQ joint in the city, and by a long shot. They recently tweaked their dinner menu a bit to allow you to order a two-way combo...which is fantastic because I love both the St. Louis ribs and the brisket. They also now include a side with your dinner entree, and only charge a couple of bucks more than they used it's even a better deal now. For awhile they stopped serving lunch, which was really a bummer, but I'm pleased to report that they resumed lunch service a couple of months ago.


James Syabout's flagship is still worthy of its Michelin Star, and it's the only restaurant in the entire East Bay to be awarded one (Chez Panisse lost theirs a few years ago). Though the price of the prix fix menu has continued to crawl up I still think it's a relative bargain given the quality and preparation being put into each meal. When booking a reservation I would highly recommend requesting seats at the Chef's Counter, so you can watch the artisans at work. The wine pairing at ~$55 is also a bargain in my opinion.

The Dock at Linden Street

Syabout's latest has fast become one of my favorites. The place is split up into two halves; the main restaurant and the beer garden, which has its own hours and serves a few snacks and desserts from the restaurant menu in addition to the wide variety of beer selections...many of which are from the Linden Street Brewery right next door. The food menu mainly consists of small plates meant to be shared, and can best be described as upscale bar food with an Asian twist. Gorgeous restaurant and in a very cool West Oakland location with plenty of free parking onsite. And oh, you must order one of the sundaes for dessert!


A fair number of Italian restaurants have opened in Oaktown during the past couple of years, but Dopo continues to be the king when it comes to pizza and pasta. Their thin pizza crust is still consistently the best of the bunch, and their pastas are also expertly prepared and never overcooked. I've heard of some service issues there from a couple of my friends, but never a complaint about the food quality. They also take a limited number of reservations now, which is great because the waits can be on the long-ish side there.


Into its second year now, Paul Canalis' beautifully designed restaurant is still firing on all cylinders. The arroz negro paella is still one of my favorite dishes anywhere, as is the steak. Their menu changes constantly, and one of my current favorites is the lamb and lobster sausage...delicious! And in addition to their live music they're now starting to show art house films, free of charge. Their Bodega is also a cool place to hangout during mornings or on weekends for some coffee, pastries or an ice cream sandwich made from Ici in Berkeley - owned by Paul's wife.


I was there the day they first opened, there again on their first anniversary, and again on their second anniversary...that's how much I love this place. Still going very strong, so much so that it's getting pretty hard to get a seat in the place without booking well in advance. To keep up with the demand they've rented out the space two doors away which they typically use for larger groups. The fried chicken continues to be amongst the best anywhere, and lately I've been enjoying some of their brunch specialties such as the Soy Braised Pork Belly Benedict...very yummy indeed! And for those of you who are whiskey lovers, Jenny has curated a most impressive collection of Japanese whiskeys in their bar.

Miss Ollie's

Speaking of fried chicken, I would say that Miss Ollie's is in a tie with Hopscotch for the best fried chicken dish in Oakland, though the preparations are totally different. For about $18 you get 4 pieces of creole-style fried chicken, plus a bowl of potato salad and some greens...quite the bargain! The staff at Miss Ollies is always friendly and helpful, and you definitely must remember to order the Creole doughnuts for dessert.


It took me three visits to finally warm up to this place, but I have to say now that this is the finest Mexican restaurant in Oakland. The best dishes there are ones that are non-traditional, with the pork Chuleta perhaps being the best pork chop I've had anywhere. They serve some great margaritas as well, with my favorite being the spicy Picosa. Believe it or not, their kitchen does not have a you know everything they serve is going to be fresh.


Growing up Asian, I'm always a bit suspicious of Asian restaurants touted as "fusion" or being run by non-Asians. However, after a couple of friends recommended this place I decided to try it for myself, and boy I'm really glad I did. Located in the old Nan-Yang location in Rockridge, Osmanthus serves up modern renditions of classic dishes across all of Asia. Among the dishes I've tried are the tea leaf salad, trout fried rice, kabocha short ribs,  brussel sprouts  and the pork belly...all are highly recommended. The menus somewhat resembles that of the uber-popular Burma Superstar, but their preparations are a bit more refined in my opinion.

Ramen Shop

I resisted going to this place for the first couple of months after it opened, because I couldn't understand how anyone could get away with selling $17 bowls of ramen. But when I finally gave in and tried it I became a total convert and now it's one of my main "go to" places...despite their no reservation policy. If you're looking for traditional Japanese ramen you might be disappointed, but if you've wondered what it would be like if Chez Panisse alum were to make ramen...well, that's exactly what you get here. In addition to three ramen choices per day they also serve a number of tasty side dishes, including some type of fried rice which I usually get as an appetizer. And for dessert the black sesame ice cream sandwich is the bomb!

And now a few comments about some the restaurants that dropped out of the Top 10, as well as a few other notables that didn't quite make it:

Flora: Kind of pains me not to include them, as they were the first ones to embrace Uptown and set the stage for what that area has turned out to be. But their food is a lot more hit-and-miss these days, plus they continue to suffer from constant staff turnover...I keep seeing all their good bartenders and waiters showing up at some of the other restaurants listed here. I'm still a fan, though, and I think their burger is still one of the best in is their bar.

Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service and Penrose: All three of Charlie Hallowell's restaurants are excellent and come close to making the list, and Penrose has one of the coolest interior designs of any Oakland restaurant. But I do find that the pizzas at Pizzaiolo and especially at Boot & Shoe to be inconsistent in terms of the all important "crispy crust" factor. And one thing that all three of these restaurants share - very high interior noise levels.

Haven: Daniel Patterson's Jack London joint has unfortunately gone downhill. I was so in love with this place when it first opened, when Kim Alter was at the helm in the kitchen. But after she left in an effort to salvage Patterson's other restaurant Plum the food quality suffered, and the service issues which I had previously overlooked became a lot more bothersome to me as a result. And speaking of Plum, though I was pleased with the improvements when Alter took over their kitchen, that proved to be short lived as the restaurant was recently rebranded as Ume and Alter was gone as well. Now both of Patterson's Oakland restaurants are merely okay, but definitely not great.

Hawker Fare and Box & Bells: Either of these can justify being on my Top 10, but hey, we can't have all four of Syabout's restaurants on the list, can we? Hawker Fare recently changed up their menu for dinner, so now there's quite a selection of new and tasty items to try. And Box & Bells is a great addition to Rockridge, taking over the former (and mediocre) Somerset space. The fare there is high-end gastropub, a bit on the "heavy" side but which is fine by me.

Camino: Still very good, though the last couple of times I went there I thought it was just okay. What's always a bit challenging with this place is the fact that they only serve three entrees per day, so you sometimes end up going there just to find out that nothing sounds terribly appealing.

Cosecha: This is the best tacqueria in town, which is not surprising since it's another restaurant run by a Chez Panisse alum. I actually boycotted this place for over a year because of some horrific service I received on one occasion, but after finally coming back I was happy to see that the food quality has remained consistently great...I particularly like the shrimp and pork belly tacos.

Abura-Ya: This new pop-up in downtown Oakland is housed in a salad bar on 15th St. and serves 6 varieties of the most awesome and tastiest Japanese chicken karaage that you'll find anywhere. And dirt cheap too...4 large pieces for $7; 8 pieces for $12. In addition to the karaage they serve some really tasty salads, including a delicious and creamy wasabi slaw.

Belly Uptown: Finally...a takeout place just a stone's throw from my office that serves high quality food. I love, love everything this place serves. The burgers are delicious and sort of Umami Burger-like, and the tacos and burritos have Asian influences in them that work just perfectly. In particular, I'm nuts for the burritos because they use sushi rice which gives them an additional slight chewy texture in the fillings...really well done!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Best Restaurants in Oakland - According to Me

This is a departure from my usual tech-oriented writing, but a few of my friends have previously suggested that I write a food blog as I'm always checking out the latest restaurants in Oaktown and have pretty strong opinions about who is or isn't serving quality food. Quite honestly I don't have the time to write such a blog, plus I don't consider myself to be anything close to an expert when it comes to the culinary arts - I just love to eat!  However, I do have my favorite hangouts, and so without further ado here is my official "Top Ten Restaurants in Oakland" list.  In alphabetical order:

B-Side BBQ

If you're looking for quick and cheap BBQ with the meat piled on high then this isn't your place. However, if you're looking for very well prepared fare using quality ingredients and a great atmosphere then you've come to the right BBQ joint.  My favorite two dishes are the brisket and the Dark & Stormy St. Louis ribs.  The sides are excellent too. I've had their cornbread, mac 'n cheese, spicy coleslaw and potato salad...all were great. Even the toast that comes with the BBQ is done really slices of Wonder Bread here.  And finally, how can you not like a place that often shows Blazing Saddles on their big screens?


Run by an ex-alum of Chez Panisse (as are a number of restaurants here) I guess it's no surprise that I consider this place to be the closest thing to Chez Panisse without having to actually go there.  Some people might be put off by their "community" seating arrangement, but it doesn't bother me at all.  The reason I don't come here more often, though, is because their menu changes daily, you don't know about it until they post it to their website they day of, and they only serve three entrees per day - so it's always a bit of a gamble.  On the plus side they'll serve you boatloads of Acme's "Pain de Mie" rolls, which I am terribly addicted to. Though I haven't eaten here a lot, the times that I have I've walked away thoroughly satisfied...I think the last time here I had some terrific roasted crab.


Quite simply, the best fine dining in the East Bay.  James Syhabout's first restaurant is a winner and has deservedly earned its Michelin Star.  The attention to preparation and detail is amazing in this place.  In fact, when you're in there it sometimes feels a bit eerie because the kitchen is right in the middle of the restaurant but you never hear a peep from any of the chefs because they're all meticulously working on the food preparation/presentation.  Their multi-course fixed-price menu changes frequently, but definitely count on a couple of the courses bordering on molecular gastronomy...Mr. Syhabout evidently worked a stint at the famed elBulli restaurant in Spain.  The food here isn't cheap and in fact is probably the most expensive restaurant on this list, but after eating here I've always come walking away thinking it was a bargain.


I've eaten at every decent Italian joint in the city, but Dopo stands out for me as having the best pasta and thin crust pizza of the bunch.  Their menu changes constantly, but when they offer a squid ink pasta I almost aways get that.  They serve lasagne pretty regularly and that is excellent as well.  Their calzones are also a great alternative if you're not quite in a pizza mood. I really like that the crust on their pizzas/calzones have that perfect amount of crispness without getting burnt. If there are any downsides it's that the place is pretty noisy, I sometimes feel cramped in there, and their pasta portions are a bit on the small-ish side.


This is the hot new kid on the block, and I'm currently addicted to it.  Paul Canales of Oliveto fame recently opened up this place, and not only is the food terrific but the space itself is stunning and ambitious - they spent what looks like a small fortune gutting it out and creating a sense of openness throughout.  The restaurant is broken up into several sections: the main restaurant; the central bar area with shared table seating; the all day "Bodega" where among things they offer coffee, dessert, Spanish wine selections and olive oil; and an upstairs lounge where they occasionally host live music.  The food is Spanish tapas style and meant to be shared.  My favorite dishes include the squid ink seafood paella, the prime rib steak, and the stuffed peppers with lamb.


Whether or not you like this place, you have to give props to Flora for being a groundbreaker in Uptown, being the first ones of their stature to take a huge gamble on the neighborhood.  And it's paid off handsomely for them, as they've continued to be one of the most popular restaurants in the city. They've gone through several chef changes over the years, but I think their most recent one has made them as good as they've ever been. About half the time I go here I sit at the bar and eat their burger, which for my money is the best burger in town.  Their menu changes constantly and I've rarely been disappointed with any of their meat and seafood dishes.  And oh, their caramel pudding, which they've had since the very beginning, is simply to die for.  Great art deco look and feel too, and the best bar and cocktails in town.  They also recently opened up their sister bar Fauna right next door.


Daniel Patterson's second restaurant in Oakland (Plum being the other) is easily their best.  The location is a bit hard to find for a first-timer, as it's tucked away in an area of Jack London Square that isn't obvious as being a retail space.  But once you go inside, the modern industrial look is great, and I think the best seating location is right at the bar overlooking the kitchen.  Kim Alter is the executive chef here, and I guess the best way to describe her style of cooking is "bold and aggressive", with dishes like bone marrow and shepherd's pie cooked with pig's blood often on their menu.  Some folks think her "bold" style results in dishes being overly salty and/or buttery...but I'm a sucker for all that.

Hawker Fare

James Syhabout's second restaurant is one that I go to quite often for lunch or a casual dinner. They primarily serve Thai rice bowls mixed with various meats and favorites are the poached chicken, pork belly and veggie curry.  You would think that Asian restaurants could not possibly screw up making something as simple as steamed rice, but the reality is that many unfortunately do.  Hawker Fare makes their rice just about as perfect as can be, and they also do a great job with it in their congee dish - just the perfect texture and consistency.  Recently they expanded their menu to include more small bites, mainly meat skewers done Izakaya style...they are delicious.  And from what I've heard they plan to offer even more dishes in the not too distant future. Oh, and they've got a cool assortment of old school music posters featuring local acts on their wall, and they often have a lot of soul/R&B classics that I love playing in the background.


I have a special fondness for this place because they are super close to my office, I was there for dinner the first night they opened and had a fabulous meal, and Jenny and team are always super nice and fact we had our company holiday party there last year and had a blast.  The restaurant looks like a 50's diner which is cool in and of itself, and perhaps the best way to describe the cuisine is "diner food with a Japanese twist". Their signature dish is the fried chicken, marinated in a soy/mustard sauce and perfectly executed.  Other menu items come and go; I recently had an oxtail stew which was just out of this world.  They also open for lunch and serve a fantastic Tonkatsu sandwich, along with their First Base Burger which you can order with a slice of beef tongue on top - awesome!  Within their first year of operation they received a 3-star Michael Bauer review and also made the Chronicle 100...very impressive!  Great bar too, and one of the few that serve Asahi Super Dry on tap.


This place been a Temescal mainstay for a decade now, and it's still going strong.  Excellent pasta and other main dishes, and their pizzas are fantastic as well...just a hair below Dopo's in my opinion.  They also serve homemade toast and Blue Bottle coffee in the mornings...great place to hangout before starting the workday. The vibe at night is pretty hip and so the place does get pretty loud.  The restaurant seems to be booked solid all the time, and for whatever reason they've never taken online reservations; otherwise I'd go a lot more. Wassup with that?

Okay, I just realized that there are a lot more good restaurants in town than just these ten.  Here are a few of my other favorites in no particular order:

Oliveto: Been a Rockridge institution forever and it's had its ups and downs, but recently on an upswing again. Great location on top of Market Hall serving upscale Italian fare.

Wood Tavern: I just haven't been here enough to consider it for my Top Ten, as the place is just so damn hard to get a table. I will say that the last time I went they prepared a fabulous steak.

Stag's Lunchette: Best sandwich shop in Oakland...period.  The grilled cheese and pastrami reuben are menu fixtures and are excellent.  And some of their "guest" sandwiches have just knocked my socks off, like the meatloaf and the coca cola braised beef.

Burma Superstar: Sister restaurant to the SF institution.  Pretty much the same menu, but pricier and in a more upscale setting.  The Rainbow Salad is always popular, though really not my thing. My favorite dish is their pork belly with pickled mustard greens.

Chop Bar: Great place to have brunch on a nice day where you can sit out on their patio area.  Very well prepared egg dishes, nice assortment of muffins/pastries, and very friendly service.

Sidebar: Their ribeye steak frites is huge and the best steak bargain in the city...I pretty much get this every time I go there.

TrueBurger: The closest thing to a Shake Shack experience outside of NYC.  Really well prepared burgers, and I love the brioche-like buns they use. Great shakes too.

Boot and Shoe Service: Same ownership as Pizzaiolo and same thin crust style pizza. However, the place is even louder than Pizzaiolo (and too hipster) and I find the pizza quality to be less consistent.

Miss Ollie's: This place is fast becoming one of my favorites and may be in my Top Ten before too long. Fried chicken is amazing, and other dishes are also excellent.  Very reasonable prices too.

Rosamunde: Recently opened in Old Oakland.  Love the variety of sausages; my two favs are the chicken habanero and the Mission Street.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Going the Opposite of Cord Cutting - The Tivo Stream

You would think that my being a tech geek/early adopter type means that I would have been one of the first to jump on the "cord cutting" bandwagon and dump my cable subscription.  And trust me...the thought of cutting out a $100+ monthly Comcast bill, along with the usually horrible Comcast customer service department, crosses my mind each time I see that charge on my Visa statement.  But attractive as that sounds, and despite the fact that I am downloading/streaming more and more of my video content, I can't seem to escape the clutches of my cable subscription.  One of the main reasons for this is the obvious one for many us, namely live sports.  Until the major networks come up with an equitable solution for cord cutters to access their live content over the internet this may be a huge stumbling block for me and other sports fans.  The other reason is simply convenience...having all my video content stored on an easily accessible hard disk still beats picking and choosing content from various sources (Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, etc.) and having to deal with the occasional internet connectivity issue while downloading or streaming.

Which brings me to Tivo...I've used quite a number of DVRs over the years, and their UI's range from simply horrible (Comcast) to pretty decent (DirecTV) to Tivo, which is still the best of the bunch despite not having done much in recent years to advance their technology.  The one nice thing about Tivo, though is that it's an open platform, so as a result there are some extremely clever and useful 3rd-party projects such as PyTivo and kmttg that extend the functionality of the platform.  I recently decided to upgrade my unit, because believe it or not I watch enough TV that I occasionally run into situations where I need to record more than two shows at once...their new Premiere 4 allows you to record up to four shows concurrently.  One of the other reasons I picked up the new unit is because Tivo was offering a bundled deal which includes the Premiere 4, a MoCA adapter which basically allows you to attach wired devices to your network via your home's existing cable coax, and their relatively new Tivo Stream mini-device which lets you stream and/or download content from your Tivo box to your iPad.  The device itself is small (4"x4") and super simple - just plug in the AC adapter and connect to your home network with an ethernet cable and you're all set to go.

The Stream allows you to stream content from your Premier that was previously recorded or is currently recording, and it also lets you downloaded content directly to your iPad for offline viewing...both of these functions are performed using the free Tivo iOS app.  As you might expect the app looks and feels similar to its TV sibling, so there was zero learning curve involved.  One cool feature is that you can "slide" the playback marker to any specific time within the program - something that you can't do with the TV remote.  For the most part everything worked pretty flawlessly and as advertised.  If you began watching a program on your TV, paused it and later resumed watching it from your iPad, it remembers where you previously left off and picks up from that point...and vice versa. The one annoying bug I found is that if you stream a program that is still being recorded, your streaming gets interrupted when you get to the location where the Tivo was recording as you began your streaming have to jump back out to the "Now Playing" list, select the program again and then it will resume streaming from the point where it left off.

Will Tivo sell many of these Stream units?  Probably not, as it's really a niche product at the moment with a fairly limited audience.  First off, it only works with the iPad, so if you're thinking about using it to stream to your desktop/laptop computer or Android device you're basically SOL.  Secondly, the streaming function only works within your internal home network, i.e. you can't stream over the internet...which is really a shame because if it did this then I would no longer have a need for a Slingbox.  And lastly, it obviously only works with Tivo and specifically with later modeled Tivo's...and your Tivo needs to be ethernet or MOCA connected to your home network to boot.  However, if you can deal with these limitations then the Stream is a nice add on and essentially turns your iPad into an additional (and portable) home television.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bluetooth Finally Comes of Age - The Jawbone Big Jambox

Well, it's almost the end of the year and I have to say it's been a pretty ho hum one in terms of tech gadgetry...why else would I be talking about something so mundane as Bluetooth!  But seriously, Bluetooth technology has come along quite a way since it was introduced over a decade ago.  Back then the technology was so flaky - slow speeds, compatibility issues, connection problems, etc...and this seemed to continue on for a number of years.  Did anyone back then ever get Bluetooth to work on a Windows machine?  I bet not!  It was only during the past 3 or 4 years that things got progressively better, probably due to a combination of evolving/maturing Bluetooth standards along with the proliferation of Bluetooth headsets and "hands free" automobile products that brought the technology to the mainstream.  Nowadays Bluetooth seems to be pretty robust and I can't recall the last time I had issues pairing a device.  To paraphrase the late Steve Jobs, "it just works"...finally!

A great example of the above is the latest gadget I purchased, the Jawbone Big Jambox wireless Bluetooth speaker.  Talk about a dead simple setup procedure - the first time you turn the thing on it smartly goes into pairing mode automatically and has voice/sound prompts to guide you through the process.  The speaker can store a total of 8 paired devices, and 2 of them can be simultaneously connected to it.  In addition, it also comes with a built-in microphone so that you can use it as a wireless speakerphone.  So, for example, if you're streaming your favorite tunes from your iPad to the Jambox and your phone happens to ring, the Jambox will recognize this and pause your music, announce the incoming call (w/ caller id even), and when you pick up the call it immediately turns itself into a full-duplex speakerphone with amazingly good call quality.  Audio quality is generally very good for a speaker of this size - as long as you keep that in perspective you should be fine.  The device's software can be updated through the Jawbone website, and there are even some supplemental apps (e.g. voice dialers) that you can download to the device as well as a plethora of optional audio "voices" in case the default one doesn't suit your taste.

The versatility and simplicity of the Jambox makes it a better choice for many audio enthusiasts over the more elegant (and non-Bluetooth) wireless solutions offered by Sonos.  Don't get me wrong, though...Sonos products are in a league of their own in terms of versatility and handling complex, multi-room environments.  But they can also be a bit finicky in terms of setup and least that's been my experience.

The Jambox is also quite stylish-looking too; don't you agree?