Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Montreal, SED, and Pulp(o) Fiction

To start with the last item in the title, it wasn't to be for The Netherlands... a third World Cup final wasted. Mais, c'est la vie. However, even though I predicted wrongly the winner in the very last game, I still managed to eventually rank 411th among 497,206 participants worldwide, in the Castrol's FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge. This simply states that 99,99% of success in such a football prediction competition can be ensured by good use of basic statistics plus priors updating after each game :-). The remaining unexplained part is the sole domain of Octopus (Pulpo) Paul, who can now retire in full glory.

The Society for Economic Dynamics Annual Meeting 2010. The SED Annual Meeting is by far the best conference (NB: this does not include more specialized workshops) I have ever participated in (this being my second time, after the SED 2008 at MIT): the average quality of the papers presented is high, while, crucially, there is no extreme quality variance (as, unfortunately, some European conferences tend to exhibit over and over, though you'd think they've had enough feedback on that by now). Excellent invited talks, some quite inspiring, by Bob Hall, Susan Athey (no slides online, but she surely was-- seems to me she always is-- the best orator), and Ellen McGrattan. Moreover, the organizers did a terrific job, while at the same time keeping conference fees to decent levels (another problem of many European conferences). Last, but not least, if you're interested in my SED presentation, you can download the slides here (the paper is being revised at the moment, so older versions you might find online might be too old).

Briefly on Montréal: definitely a city I could live in (to the extent I've experienced it in my week there), though I still might, slightly, prefer London and Chicago over it (unconditional reasoning, obviously). In particular, the Mile End and Plateau neighborhoods are true gems, with Old Montreal my next favourite. Oh, and I've discovered I can actually manage quite well in Québécois, which is probably the most exciting Franglais around. On the minus side: it is as hot and unbearable in the summer as Chicago right now (and I understand it goes cold extreme in the winter, again just as Chicago).

To get to what I find truly amazing in Montreal (neah, despite some being surprised at this, it is not the fact that most hotels have great open-air swimming pools on their top...), that is its dining scene-- again comparable to the food scenes in Chicago or London, for instance, in both variety and quality. There wasn't a lot of time available, but I could not in any way miss Restaurant Toqué!, which for the connaisseurs I would relate to Spiaggia in Chicago (in terms of food class, locale ambiance, and service), except that it is about half as expensive (hold your horses, that is still very far from cheap; but again, in my opinion, worth every penny). In particular, the way they combined what you might think are elements that simply cannot go together, in my "Cavatelli, morceaux de foie gras et huile de truffe blanche" is something bordering on sublime (preceded by wonderfully fresh-- yes, in Montreal-- oysters). The wine list is also impressive, with plenty of choice for any taste. Wrap it all up with a classy vintage port and you will know you have to come back. Talking about wine however, my favourite place in Montreal has to be Bu; it is precisely the wine bar concept with small, high quality, dishes, to pair with great wines, which I think is missing from most other places, including all of Eastern Europe, all of Scandinavia, and so on and so forth, in fact I yet have to discover such a place in Chicago (the latest such place that amazed me was a nice wine bar with tasty "montaditos" and good Spanish wines on offer, in Sevilla, Spain, where I will have to return as soon as possible). In any case, as my Romanian friends living in Montreal, whom I had the pleasure to meet after many years in that evening at the Bu, will surely testify, a Pierre Gaillard Condrieu (2003 in this case; there are also vintages I like better) is not something you will drink every day (or, every month, year etc., depending on the person), but you will remember its taste for long thereafter; and probably it wouldn't really matter what you pair it with, though my "Ravioli frais de mozarella di bufala, pesto et tomates séchées" seemed a perfect choice. Finally, to keep the list manageable, well worth mentioning is what I'd label the best tapas place in Québec (prove me wrong!), Tapeo Bar à Tapas. While it took me some effort to organize this, we did eventually manage a great dinner for no less than 10 persons (true, starting no sooner than 10 PM, nothing unlike a Spanish tapas time...), and I had the feeling there was eventually nobody left unsatisfied. All dishes were superlative (with perfect service, accomodating extremely demanding foodies....), my weaknesses being the octopus salad (sorry, Paul), and the calamari fritti.

PS. I also promise myself never to follow fellow conference go-ers into random (red) piano bars, where all you have on offer is Heineken, Cheval Blanc, (one) bad Chianti wine(s), and ad-hoc suspect-looking-cocktails, all that plus tone deaf live singing, when you are in a city such as Montreal, and you (ought to!) know that life is too short for conscious failures.


Anonymous said...

El Profesor, and Chicag o, will you tell us about Alinea, and Charlie Trotter's and the rest? Then we come to visit :)

Sebi Buhai said...

Con calma, con calma... We are getting there soon, with Chicago culinary episodes :-). I still have to try many, but indeed, already tried a few great ones.
On the other hand, I thought one cannot import foreign M&M's to the USA :-).

Anonymous said...

there are conferences in the US of A where the dispersion in quality of accepted papers is very large, and there are conferences in Europe where that seems not to be an issue. your sample looks too small to generalize.

a Danish economist

Sebi Buhai said...

With the caveat that my sample is larger than any typical sample :-). But sure, that was anecdotal evidence, no thorough empirical investigation. I would be interested in specific names on both sides, though, then we know what we talk about.

Nicole said...

Sebs, tried Condrieu Really really really really really nice!

Sebi Buhai said...

Where was that?
PS. Got both your comments, just too busy to publish them yesterday.