East Coast Flash

We all want our houses to look good, to stand out in the neighborhood.  Some people prize the quality of their lawns, others want big walls and gates, complex paint jobs, Disneyland lighting or colorful banners they change with the seasons. yesterday, we saw something new.

I’ve never been to the Florida Keys, so we drove about an hour south of Max and Barbara’s house to Key Largo, which certainly sounds romantic even if the town is kind of roadside tacky.

We always like to just drive around the residential streets, looking for where the rich folks live to see the nice houses. What we found in Key Largo was too interesting not to share.

On the oceanfront streets, we noticed that every house had an exotic mailbox.  Some of them were commercially available plastic molds, like the walrus, while others were clearly hand made, artistic wonders.  There isn’t much more to say about them, so I’ll just give you a gallery to enjoy.

Eat at Joe’s

We’re spending a day longer here than we planned.  I thought we were coming home on February 23.  American Air thought we were coming home March 23.  Guess who won that argument.

The upside is that we took a long drive today and ended up in South Beach so we could have dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, one of the landmark restaurants of the area.

Joe’s is open most of the year now, but for a long time was only open during stone crab season, from October to May.  The stone crab is a unique story, because the only part of the crab they use is the claw.  The crabbers haul their pots up from the ocean floor, and break off one claw from each crab, throwing the rest of the animal back into the water.  The crabs will regenerate their claws, and when they get caught the following year the same process will be repeated with the other claw.

Joe’s does not take reservations. You put your name on the list and wait.  Because we were relatively early, our wait was only 15 minutes, but when we left the wait was an hour.

The facility is enormous, and staffed by an army of well trained, efficient, tuxedo-clad waiters.  They do a huge business, and need to turn the tables over as quickly as possible without rushing the customers or being in the least intrusive.

We all had the Joe’s Classic, a complete meal for $42.95.  We started with an order of the fried asparagus.  This is the south, where they will fry anything, so it seemed like a good idea to try one of our favorite veggies. The idea is good, but there really isn’t a good reason to take something a great as asparagus and turn it into death food.

Breaded and fried asparagus, accompanied by a dipping sauce of boursin cheese.

Breaded and fried asparagus, accompanied by a dipping sauce of boursin cheese.

On to the cole slaw:

Deconstructed cole slaw, the starter course at Joe's

Deconstructed cole slaw, the starter course at Joe’s

 

You get a scoop of very thinly shredded cabbage, topped with a thick dressing, topped with relish.  You mix it yourself, adjusting the ratio of relish to your taste.  Not quite the classiest salad I’ve ever seen, but interesting nonetheless.

The entrées arrived.  Three huge claws (although you can specify even larger claws if you like), creamed spinach and a hashed brown potato cake.

This is enough food.

This is enough food.

Stone crab meat is very mild and a bit sweet–not as flavorful as the dungeness we are accustomed to on the West Coast. It is served with a mustard sauce.

Gail ordered the King Crab Claws, which are larger so the portion only includes two, but that is more than sufficient.  The stone crab is served cold, the King crab can be served either cold or warm, and is accompanied by drawn butter.

Gail thought the creamed spinach hit the perfect balance of cream sauce.  I probably prefer some more cream, but my cardiologist agrees with Gail.

The hash brown cake was food.  Not great, not bad, just food.

The whole process can be messy, so they provide bibs for the customers:

Gail and Barbara, friends since high school.

Gail and Barbara, friends since high school.  Note Gail’s two King crab claws.

Included in the price is a slice of key lime pie, a Florida classic.

Worth a trip to Miami.

Worth a trip to Miami.

 

Lots of fresh whipped cream on top of an excellent pie is the perfect ending to a meal.

Joe’s is a South Beach legend, having been in operation since 1913.  They have this business down to a science, and they are damn good at what they do.  I think you should stick to the stone crab–you can get a steak or slice of grouper anywhere, this is the single best place in the universe to eat stone crab.

Service is excellent.  Our waitress was completely on top of the entire meal, brought me drawn butter when i wasn’t fond of the mustard sauce and showed us how to get the meat from the shells most efficiently.  For some reason I cannot fathom, the house wants the customers to sign the back of their dinner check–not the credit card slip (though that must be signed as well), but the actual dinner check the waiter has filled out.  I’ve never seen that before and don’t understand it.

If you have to spend an extra night in Miami, Joe’s Stone Crab is a pretty darned good way to do it.

 

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Worse than the sixth grade

Miles Teller and J K Simmons in Whiplash

Miles Teller and J K Simmons in Whiplash

 

The worst teacher I ever had was Sister John Lucy, my sixth grade tormentor until we moved to Orinda.  She was domineering, abusive, nasty and all around miserable–and she particularly hated the smartest kid in the class who asked questions she couldn’t answer.  That was not a fun semester of school, and my parents of course sided with “Sister”, who could do no wrong.  20 years later they would admit she was seriously disturbed, but that was a bit too late.

What makes me thing of that particular black veiled monster?  The movie Whiplash.  The story of a freshman at a prestigious music college and his evil bandmaster is a movie with some very good sequences, some dreadfully bad scriptwriting and an evil antagonist who is so well performed that the actor J. K. Simmons is a favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

The movie is the story of Andrew Neyman, a young man who burns to be the best drummer possible, attending music school in New York.  He is plucked from freshman obscurity to try out for the premier jazz band by Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons), the terrifying, imposing, brilliant bandmaster who rules with an iron hand. Just to be a jerk, Fletcher tells the kid to get the bandroom at 6 am, although class starts at 9.

Life goes downward from there, as Fletcher terrorizes the band members in relentless pursuit of perfection.  Wining an annual band competition is his only real purpose in life, although he contends his behavior is for the purpose of improving the players.

J K Simmons is magnificent in this role.  I just can’t get behind a movie that ultimately honors this insane, psychopathic misanthrope.  He should never be allowed in a classroom, and it is inconceivable to me that he would be allowed to continue his career of terrorizing, abusing, insulting, demoralizing and physically attacking his students.

Further, the script contains some of the laziest, cheesiest plot devices ever seen.  Here’s one sequence:

The band is to perform somewhere out of town, and everyone is to be in their place by 5:30.  Our hero, Andrew, takes the bus–apparently the only one in the band to do so, everybody else has other methods of transportation.

Oh no! The bus gets a flat tire.

He finds a car rental place.

Oh no! They are closed.

He gets them to open, gets a car (and how does a 18 year old college freshman rent a car?)  and arrives at the auditorium.

Oh No!  He forgot his sticks at the car rental agency.  He has exactly 10 minutes before the performance begins.

He races back to the agency and grabs his sticks. (Why are they still open? They were closing an hour earlier when he got there?)

OH NO!  Racing back, he is distracted, runs a stop sign and is T-BONED BY A SEMI!.

He crawls out of the car, which is upside down.

He crawls back into the car to get his sticks.

Bleeding and wounded, he runs 4 blocks and miraculously makes it in time to perform.

I can’t take it.

The plot goes downhill.

Fletcher the tyrant is fired.  Andrew finds him playing in a cafe, and makes nice with him, for some unfathomable reason.  Fletcher offers him a chance to perform in another band, then trips him up by providing no sheet music.  The kid tries to fake it, and is embarrassed publicly.  He flees the stage.  He returns to the stage.  He gets fired up and gives the performance of a lifetime, with Fletcher helping lovingly.  The end.

I’m not a fan of Whiplash.  The performances are excellent, Gail loved learning about drumming, the cinematography is beautiful, but the the character of the teacher (who should be considered the lead, not a supporting actor) is too unpleasant and unrealistic for me, and the holes in the plot could supply a swiss cheese factory for a month.

 

Dallas, where else?

IMG_2787

Gail’s sister Susan and her husband Jimmy went to visit his brother in the Virgin Islands last week, and stopped in Miami to spend a few days with
Max and Barbara. Gail hates to miss a party so we’re off to Florida for two nights to join the fun.

This means we have to change planes in DFW, as always. There’s a lot of construction going on here, which seems to be more a matter of upgrading than expansion. Possibly its related to the merger between American and US Air, but I’ll take any and all improvements to this place I seem to visit so often.

Now we’re on the plane to Miami, just starting to taxi. Every single seat is full. How can airlines not be making money by the ton when they sell all of their product? I’ll never understand.

Two hours from now we land, get a rental car and head straight to a restaurant to join our friends for dinner.

More to come.

That’s my ducks

Elizabeth and Frank taking a dip

Elizabeth and Frank taking a dip

 

Now back, for their sixth consecutive year, my migratory ducks Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I.  Every year they stop here for a visit.

Valentine’s Day romance

A beautiful photo of the sky over Maui.  I wish I had taken it, but I swiped it from Daniela A Nievergelt.

A beautiful photo of the sky over Maui. I wish I had taken it, but I swiped it from Daniela A Nievergelt.

 

Here it is, Valentines Day, and we’re in Maui for a wedding.  Seems like a fellow should do something romantic, and I don’t mean pre-printed cards garish mylar baloons and overpriced roses.

We had a very pleasant dinner with the bride and groom and 13 of their relatives. I’m not a big fan of meeting a ton of new people, (I’ll make an exception for the 13 month old grandson) but the evening went smoothly.  The only problem for me was that we sat down to dinner at the absurd, inexplicable, irrational time of 4:45. Gail and I finished lunch at 2, as adults do,  so to say we weren’t hungry is a masterpiece of understatement.  We shared an appetizer and a salad.  Who knew I could be such a cheap date?

After the meal, the evening was magnificent; sultry and balmy.  I’m driving a convertible Camaro here, so we put the top down and decided to take a drive in the warm, moist air left by the afternoon storm.

Driving north from Lahaina, we quickly passed out of the humungous oceanfront developments into the quiet part of the island.  The road narrowed to 2 lanes, and only 1 lane over a bridge or two.  There were no buildings, no street lights, no traffic.  It was lovely.

Finally, I pulled into a turnout and shut down the engine. We sat in the car for 20 minutes, as our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and the stars became brighter. Only one car came by in that time. Living in the San Francisco megalopolis there is so much incident light pollution that we can never really see the sky, and in the Stygian darkness looking out over thousands of miles of Pacific, the myriad of stars were enchanting.

Okay, so maybe there was a bit of necking going on–the quiet evening, the cute blonde in the passenger seat, the Valentines mood, all reminded me of the submarine races of my youth.  I don’t fit in the back seat of a Camaro anymore, however.

This was a romantic moment at its finest.  Gail and I just sat, held hands and shared quietly our love and our lives.  The sea crashed on the rocks below, the stars glowed in the heavens, the gently winds blew steady and smooth.  Life is good.

 

February 13, 2015

I’ve been waiting for this a long time:

Not quite heaven

Maui is often thought of as a piece of heaven on earth, a mortal Eden for the enjoyment of man. Soft sultry breezes, blue waves, green mountains. It’s hard to find a nicer place to be then this little island in the middle of the Pacific.

We are here for a long weekend of sun and fun and celebrating the wedding of Gail’s bank manager. I’m easy, I’ll take any excuse to hang out in paradise.

We’re staying at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, One of those behemoth facilities right on the water in Lahaina. The entire island is sold out for this three day weekend in the middle of a frigid winter, so I guess I should not complain that our room was not ready until the very last second before the official check in time

What I will complain about though, is the complete lack of Internet service in the room. That’s right, 1980 is calling and they want their hotel back.

The hotel guidebook says that there is at least wired in room Internet, but I couldn’t find it. Calling the front desk, I was cheerfully informed that the hotel is upgrading its system, so they have taken the wired Internet out. They just haven’t installed wireless Internet yet.

They claim that there is free wireless Internet in the lobby and public areas. Apparently all I need to do is take my laptop and camp out. Fortunately I can do many things on my phone, including dictating this blog post.

Torc

Main street in Napa has become a major mecca for Bay Area foodies.  Gail loves Angele, we’re both crazy about Morimoto, Le Toque is trying to become another French Laundry or Manresa and now Torc has joined the passing parade as a big time player.

Located where the ultra-upscale vegetarian Ubuntu met its earthly demise, Torc celebrates all the proper buzz words of local, artisinal, organic, slow food culinary hipitude.  That’s standard today–what is important is that they do it really, really well.

We had to start with a couple of appetizers.  The deviled eggs were particularly appealing.

Green eggs and ham, ad Dr. Seuss never imagined.

Green eggs and ham, ad Dr. Seuss never imagined.

One of the big attractions of Torc is the foie gras.  Animal rights do-gooders got the heavenly goose liver banned in California, and it has just recently been returned to menus. My cardiologist won’t approve of the high fat treat, but I’ll die happy.

Sauteed foie gras and huckleberries.

Sauteed foie gras and huckleberries.

The foie gras was excellent.  Our state attorney general is going to court to try to get the ban reinstated, because we need more nanny-state rules. I may have to vote for her for the Senate just to keep her out of the AG’s office.

Gail had the tagliatelle, topped with the Perigord truffles.  Chef Sean O’Toole personally comes out of the kitchen to shave the 5 gram portion over the pasta. I asked him how he knew we had received the proper amount, and he said he has a scale in the kitchen.  He even came back out, saying he had only given Gail 4.5 grams, and added a few shaves to bring the total up.

Tagliatelle with shaved truffles

Tagliatelle with shaved truffles

It was a topsy-turvy night because I’m usually the one to order the pasta, and Gail is a big fan of short ribs. So this is what I had:

Very slowly cooked short rib.  That's  rutabaga in the back.

Very slowly cooked short rib. That’s rutabaga and brussels sprouts in the back.

A boneless slab of short rib, cooked so perfectly no knife was needed. Flavor infused all the way through, a beautiful glaze on top.  The accompanying rutabaga surprised me, tasting like sweet potato or butternut squash. Maybe I have a negative opinion of this vegetable without enough experience.

We had a side order of the purple potatoes.  It’s hard to believe that just spuds can looks so picture perfect:

Potatoes, bacon, scallions and creme fraiche

Potatoes, bacon, scallions and creme fraiche

We had to have dessert, of course.  Gail and  I had a couple of very good cheeses and a glass of vintage port, while Sigrid opted for the dark chocolate Marquise.

Dark chocolate, hazelnuts, lace crisp and salted caramel ice cream.

Dark chocolate, hazelnuts, lace crisp and salted caramel ice cream.

 

Chef O’Toole is from Ireland, and the name Torc is Gaelic for wild boar.  So why isn’t there any boar on the menu?

The service is completely first rate.  The staff is well trained, and there are enough of them to keep everything moving. All our dishes came out at once, the way it should be. I just can’t find anything to cavil about.  Prices are in line with the quality of the food and service.  I don’t know enough to comment on the quality of the wine list in general, but the dessert wine selection was outstanding.  Torc is a fine reason to make the little trip up to Napa for a special meal.

Torc on Urbanspoon

Daisy

I posted about the issue of trying to find the perfect place to install our new sculpture, so it’s only fair that I show you hot it all turned out..

Daisy is a very large piece, with legs of bronze and an upper torso created from a single immense piece of redwood.  Harry delivered, and I hired 5 guys to help carry her in and set her up.   We decided on a location in front of the kitchen, near the large oak tree and the Nina Lyons fountain.

_DSC8546

 

Here’s the view from the front deck:

Looking over the Topher Delany suitcases.

Looking over the Topher Delany suitcases.

 

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