A deeply dedicated blogger would have written 1000 perfect words by now, but I’ve been stuck in idle just sitting in my chair with the window open listening to the rain on the roof, the whine of the jet engines and the occasional thunderclap. Storms around here come from the south, airplanes land into the wind, and bad weather means the landing pattern for Oakland airport is right over the house–the roar and rumble of the jets just adds to the music of the rain.
It’s hard to believe that we’re running out of restaurants, but lately we’ve been going back to some favorites. Last night was at Farmshop in Larkspur, for the third time. We must think it’s pretty good.
Gail is a huge fan of Caesar salads, but doesn’t particularly like the thick stem of romaine lettuce. Farmshop offers a chicory salad with Caesar dressing that solves all her issues.
Next, she tried the beef cheeks. It’s a strange sounding cut of meat, but it tastes good, and the presentation is excellent.
Here’s the part where I lost: I always try to order the best, most interesting dish. I had the pasta Carbonara, which was not bad but not great and probably overpriced at $25 for a not-large portion. Brad had the Porchetta, a huge slab of pork tenderloin wrapped in pork belly, which was vastly superior. Then Kate had the roast chicken, which is one of the best roast chickens I’ve ever tasted. My pasta might have been a bit better than the beef cheeks, but I still came in third in the ordering sweepstakes.
Dinner was fine and the service was very close to too good, there were so many bussers hovering making sure everything was just right. I suppose we’ll go back there for the fourth time. I’m ordering the porchetta.
Now I can go back to listening to the rain. Sure hope it keeps up for ages.
There’s probably a way to write about a restaurant named Pearl without a bad pun, but I’m not up to it.
Lunch today with Harry, who chose Pearl, aptly located on Pearl Street in downtown Napa. The name doesn’t really come from the street, but is related to the oysters they serve raw or roasted with salsa and feta.
I’m not an oyster guy, so I started with the cream of broccoli soup.
This is the illusion of healthy food. It’s really a just bowl of cream they drag a sprig of broccoli through, but it tastes great. Even the croutons were perfect.
Gail had the house specialty flank steak tacos.
Although she really, really liked them, Gail said she wouldn’t order them again because they were way too messy, dripping juice all over everything.
I had the bratwurst sandwich, with grilled onions and celery root slaw.
The sandwich was fine, the celery root slaw was superior. Shredded celery root, orange zest and a tiny chop of apples created an intriguing salad unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
Pearl is owned and operated by a couple, Peter and Nikkie Zeller. Peter runs the front of the house, Nikkie the back. He was our waiter this afternoon, she was in the kitchen.
This is Napa, so of course there is a fancy wine list, and of course I don’t know anything about it. The iced tea was just right, though.
So many modern restaurants are parts of chains, or “restaurant operating companies”. The same company, for instance, owns Maria Maria and McCovey’s in Walnut Creek. It’s a pleasure to go somewhere where the owners are on site and personally making sure that everything is as good as they can make it.
Since the Academy Awards are here, Gail and I watched a couple of the nominated movies last night. We saw Her, and August, Osage County. Here’s a couple of words on them:
Joaquin Phoenix gives a excellent performance as a man who falls in love with the very advanced operating system on his computer sometime in the near future. Scarlett Johansson is incredible as the disembodied voice who captures his heart and imagination. The plot is imaginative but extraordinarily weird, and occasionally unpleasant. As an exploration of how, why and what we love, this movie asks questions and opens doors you’ve never thought about and takes you down some strange paths.
Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her paints a picture of some things that may actually come to pass as computers continue to develop. You’ll have to see the movie your self to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
August, Osage County
In any body of work, there is a best, and there is a worst.
For Meryl Streep, one of the greatest actresses of her generation, this flick is the worst. I hated it. My tolerance for nasty screaming drunks is non-existent. The original stage play may have won a Pulitzer Prize, but this turkey should have closed in Philadelphia.
Everybody screams. Everybody fights. There is a vast stinking sea of gratuitous nastiness. There is alcoholism, drug addiction, illicit sex and marital infidelity. What there isn’t is any sort of redeeming value. The only mildly sympathetic characters get kicked in the gut and thrown aside.
Her probably isn’t the greatest movie you’ll see this year, but it’s infinitely superior to the painfully unpleasant shrieking termagants of Osage County. Maybe you should just stay home and watch True Detective on HBO.
They can’t all be fancy white linen joints, sometimes you just want dinner.
Tonight we ate at Royal India Grill in Danville. Nothing fancy, paper placemats, paper napkins, good food.
Lisa and Jack both ordered beer. Lisa had the large, Jack had the small.
The menu has some “fusion” things, like garlic fries and “chili fish”, but then it is solidly Indian, with all the standard things you would expect. In the daytime they serve a lunch buffet, at night it’s off the menu.
We started with the onion pakoras, which are just onion rings with Indian spices, so you can eat death food and think you’re very cosmopolitan and international. They were great.
We each ordered a dish. Gail and Jack both had lamb saag, lamb curry with spinach. Lisa had chicken tikka masala, a mild chicken curry, and I had lamb rogan josh, another lamb curry, this one considerably spicier than I care for. The menu isn’t marked with the incendiary properties of the various dishes, and the waiter doesn’t ask how how you want it. You have been warned.
To accompany the meal we ordered two kinds of naan (fresh cooked bread), one with garlic and one with onion. Liked them both, the onion is better.
The food was excellent. The service was dismal. Awful. Execrable, I ordered a sweet lassi (a yogurt drink) and got a salted lassi–not quite the same thing. I drank it anyway and ordered another sweet lassi. It took 20 minutes for them to get it to me. We sat there for quite a while before our plates were cleared. It seemed to me that the waiter was well equipped to handle the buffet business, had no idea of how to actually wait tables.
Nonetheless, we quite liked Royal Indian Grill. Don’t take you wife there for your 23rd anniversary. This isn’t the place to celebrate getting your PhD. But if you want some darn good curry without frills, it’s the place to go in Danville.
It isn’t often you hear applause and cheering in a bridge club, but that’s what happened when Gail returned today after her two week suspension.
Gail was suspended for having the temerity to speak up when the director began haranguing the players for “abusing the privilege” of being guests and not properly cleaning the club after the game. When I directed games, cleaning up was the responsibility of the directing staff, which included collecting and washing the ash trays. The computer already does the scoring; if the players are required to clean the facility the director won’t have anything to do except recite the five options for a lead out of turn.
Gail rightly pointed out that we aren’t “guests”, we are paying customers, and cleaning up is not our job. She forgot to point out that we entertain frequently and have never, not once, even thought of asking our genuine (not paying) guests clean up. I think it unlikely that the next time I buy a shirt at Nordstrom they will ask me to vacuum the fitting room when I’m finished, either.
Nominally, Gail was suspended for a Zero Tolerance violation of embarrassing and humiliating the director. I should think that the club management who put him up to addressing the clientele so rudely was the real cause of the embarrassment.
I am surprised at how many people have told us both that they were thinking the same things as Gail was saying. Gail is just a trifle more willing to speak up than most. Nobody likes to be talked down to, nobody likes to be hectored and insulted, nobody likes to be accused of being a poor guest, decidedly so if they aren’t a guest in the first place.
Playing today against one of the nicest women in the universe, she told me of bringing some tasty goodies to the club, only to be rudely told not to bring them again because they made too many crumbs. We won’t be getting any more goodies from her, that’s clear.
Here’s the good news: when the director made his last round announcements today, there was no mention at all of picking up, tidying, pushing chairs in or stacking the equipment. Perhaps this incident has brought about a change of attitude in club management. We can only hope.
You can score a team match two ways–board a match, where each board counts for one point regardless of the difference in result, or imps, where the amount of the difference is paramount.
Yesterday, we played 64 boards against good friends, and beat them mercilessly at board a match scoring. Sadly, the event was scored at imps, and we lost. This proves something, I guess, but I don’t know what. We were more consistent, they got the bigger swings. They’re going to the semi-finals, we’re staying home. We’re laughing about the win and crying about the loss, all at the same time.
At least lunch was better; we ate at The Elephant Bar. I was stunned at how crowded they were at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon. My meal (too late for lunch, too early for dinner. Maybe we should call it tea?) was a small salad with seared Ahi, which was the sort of healthy, lo-calorie food I live on. Sometimes. While contemplating one of their small desserts (the large ones would feed 5 people) our opponents called and suggested starting the second half early, saving me from myself.
Such is life. A long weekend of very enjoyable bridge, 1.87 masterpoints, one good meal, one so-so meal and home to watch the Olympics. Life is good.
Played bridge all day today; a single match of 64 boards. This is the Grand National Teams, flight A. They changed the rules this year, allowing players with up to 6000 points, the field is littered with good players who had too many points to play last year.
There are 17 teams, who will play head up matches until only one remains, and that team wins a trip to the summer NABC. As opposed to club bridge, this is the serious big-boy variety of the game.
We started off lousy, losing 37 imps in the first quarter and 41 more in the second, so we went out to dinner 78 in the hole. In truth, I expected to just play out the evening hands politely, accept our loss and go out with Gail on Sunday. Since dinner was a bowl of Pho in a cheap Vietnamese joint we found on the street in Burlingame, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the food department, either.
Instead, we were as good in the evening as we had been bad in the afternoon, and made up the entire 78 imps and 3 more, to win the match and live to play another day.
Snatching victory from the slavering jaws of defeat is always sweet. All that high school coach stuff about not quitting, not giving up, fighting to the very bitter end, turns out to be true. The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and she was singing pretty sweetly tonight.
On Superbowl Sunday, I wanted to go out to brunch, and made a reservation on Opentable for a place we’d never been in Martinez, named Barrel Aged.
As we were getting ready to go, the restaurant called and said they would have to cancel because they had a mechanical problem in the kitchen. They very kindly offered me a $50 gift certificate to make up for the trouble.
Tonight, Gail and I went to try it out, and were very pleased with the excursion.
Main Street in Martinez is turning into a very gentrified mini-Paris, with every restaurant having a dining area on the street. It was a mite chilly for that this evening, but it bodes well for the summer.
Barrel Aged turns out to be an old fashioned bar/restaurant. There is the al fresco dining on the street plus a few booths just outside the front door, then you enter and see the bar on the right and a half dozen old-style semicircular leather booths down the left side of the room. The center of the room contains 8 or ten tables, all tall with high chairs. No tablecloths, very cheap flatware rolled and taped into a paper napkin. It’s sort of a blue collar redneck Paris, I guess.
The hostess started by looking in her book for our reservation–there is no computer terminal up front to see online reservations. Then she went back to the computer near the kitchen. Finding our reservation, she promptly seated us at a high table right up front, next to the entertainment.
I really, really liked the guitar player. You see a guy playing in a bar, and you don’t think he’ll be playing J.S. Bach. This guy does.
The menu is eclectic, to say the least. A great selection of appetizers, ranging from fried pickles to bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed dates. Warm Kale and Bacon. Battered green beans. Deviled eggs. I was amazed.
The entrees are strange–vegetarian choices, lots of beef, some prawns, NO fish. I can’t remember the last time I saw a menu without fish–even in Gatlinburg I can get trout or salmon.
We started by splitting the warm goat cheese salad. Splitting is a good idea; the $13 salad is huge, an enormous bowl of greens with two hockey pucks of goat cheese that are breaded and baked until warm and gooey.
Since I couldn’t have fish, I chose the brined pork chops.
Two good sized boneless chops, a bit of applesauce, some ordinary mashed potatoes and a portion of excellent brussels sprouts. Your basic meat and spuds dinner.
Gail chose meatloaf, which I never understand. To me, meatloaf is what you have when you run out of money before you run out of month; it isn’t something I ever choose. On the other hand, if you must pick this big square bunless hamburger, Barrel Aged offers a good one.
Yup, the chef has no creativity–both dinners had the same side dishes. This place isn’t the French Laundry, and doesn’t pretend to be. The meatloaf was moist and juicy and considerably spicier than one might expect.
Even though it was my birthday, I didn’t have dessert. Given a choice of fried Oreos or fried Twinkies, I had neither.
Service was more than excellent. Both the waitress and the hostess checked regularly to see if we had everything, and even went out of their way to ensure that Gail had lime wedges not slices for her club soda. (you can’t really squeeze much out of a slice)
Allowing for the $50 gift certificate, the bill came to $5.44. They use some system with an iPad to process the credit cards, and it offers you choices of percentages for your tip. I left 20%, which was $1.08. Seemed right for such good service. (Okay, I left another $20 because they were really great, but that isn’t funny.)
The bottom line on Barrel Aged is that it has good solid food, great service, no fish and a tremendous guitar player. Gail wants to go back to try the veggieburger, I want to hear the musician again. It will be nice to eat outside in warmer weather. Dinner won’t always be $5.44, but it will still be worth the price.
Just after midnight, I tried to Google something and noticed the doodle. ”What’s with the cake?” I wondered, then I realized that since it was after 12 it was my birthday, February 13.
I have great hopes that the Google doodle is celebrating my birthday on every computer in the world, but I suppose it’s more likely that they know which computer is mine. Those people are smart.
My phone should know that sort of thing, too, but Apple won’t be wishing me a Happy B’day. Only Google. Which is why they will take over the Earth, and soon.
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