Breaking news–Waxman was right!!

Dungeness crab benedict

Dungeness crab benedict

Saturday mornings, Micky and Linda go walking with Lorin and Linda Waxman, then go to breakfast.  They have become experts on where to get a good short stack, or hash and eggs.

While I think it dangerous to take restaurant advice from a guy who goes to all the trouble to hike into the woods and catch fish only to put them back in the water, Lorin came up with a winner of a place for breakfast this week.

Heavenly Bistro is a new place on Oak Road in Walnut Creek, just north of the BART Station and the AAA headquarters building.  So new that they are not yet open for dinner, although their signage says they are.

It’s a medium sized bistro, seating about 75.  There is a full bar, which will make more sense when they are open later than 3 p.m.  Just a couple of tables outside, perhaps more in the summer.  Definitely not enough parking.

The food is definitely California modern–there isn’t gravy covered biscuit to be found, and a heavy Mexican influence.

I had the crab benedict, which was great.  I wasn’t crazy about the over-cooked, over-seasoned potatoes, loved the crab and spinach and real hollandaise sauce.

Gail had what she considered to be the best huevos rancheros she had ever eaten, and she’s a huevos rancheros expert.

We shared some blueberry pancakes, which I thought were excellent with perfectly ripe blueberries and thick but not doughy pancakes.

Service was fast, friendly and efficient.  We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, which is no surprise on a Saturday morning.

Prices were competitive.  My biggest complaint was the noise level–the design of the restaurant has little noise-cancelling effect, everything is hard and sharp.  The stereo is cranked up, silverware is clanking on china, the kitchen is bustling, my ears hurt.

Heavenly Bistro is a local winner–we’re looking forward to trying dinner when they get into full operation.  Thanks, Lorin
Heavenly Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Another day full of art

Off with the Oakland Museum Art Guild for a day trip. We enjoy these days with the Guild, visiting artists in their studios, collectors in their homes, gallery and museum exhibits not always open to the public.  We often travel with experts from the museum to give context and background.  I should be getting credit towards an MFA for these excursions.

Spring is bustin' out all over.

Spring is bustin’ out all over.  Nothing to do with the trip, I just can’t pass things like this up

We started by visiting the studio of Fletcher Benton, a noted sculptor of large outdoor installations.  He has a magnificent operation in San Francisco spread over 4 Victorian 25 x 100 lots he purchased for $100,000 35 years ago.

Fletcher talking to us in his studio/showroom

Fletcher talking to us in his studio/showroom.  He’s 84 and still going strong.

One of Fletcher’s smaller works.

One of the smaller sculptures. They just look like fun to create, fun to own.

One of the smaller sculptures. They just look like fun to create, fun to own.

Fletcher has a considerable collection of very old, very detailed model aircraft from the second World War.  A friend of his created the models, and Fletcher has mounted them on panels he created.  One entire wall is full of them.

 

Upstairs he has an incredible 2 bedroom apartment, fully furnished and ready to use.  He planned to move in there with his wife, but her health does not permit it.  The style is pure Bauhaus, and the decoration is marvelous.

The kitchen is perfectly clean lined and functional, with just this antique cutting block to soften the clinical look of the white cabinetry.

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Outside, there is a rooftop deck, with a barbecue pit and greenhouse.  We fell in love with this apartment instantly and could move in tomorrow.

 

The people we travel with are a big part of the enjoyment of these trips.  Our friend Ray was along, as always, looking particularly dapper:

The ever dashing Ray Kaplan

The ever dashing Ray Kaplan

Leaving Benton’s studio, we went to a building at 1809 Bryant which was once a mayonnaise factory and now houses artists studios.  First, we visited the studio of Catherine Mackey, who paints on posters torn from the walls of European buildings, where they often build up  5 or 10 deep.

Catherine Mackey

Catherine Mackey

 

Next we visited the studio of Michelle Jader, who paints on frosted acrylic, then stacks 3 to 10 of them to give depth and motion to her art.  This piece is coming to live at our house:

Artwork by Michelle Jader

Artwork by Michelle Jader

 

Next up was lunch.  We went to the Delancy Street Grill, a business operated by the recovering addicts of the Delancy Street Foundation.  That explains why the waiter wasn’t permitted to bring us wine–we had to go to the bar and get it ourselves.

I had to have a friend go to the bar for Gail because it was impossible to get out of my seat.  We were just crammed into a room far too small for our number.  Once seated, there you were going to sit until the meal was over.  The waitstaff were unable to serve or clear adequately.  It was loud and uncomfortable.

The food was good, though.  I had the excellent pesto pasta.  Gail had a chicken sandwich she liked somewhat less.

Shells with pesto and pine nuts

Shells with pesto and pine nuts

 

The last stop of the day was the Benioff Children’s Hospital, part of the UCSF complex in Mission Bay.  They have made art an integral part of their design, and we were there to explore it.

The hospital has tried to make the art inclusive of the world, the patients and the staff. Artists were brought in before construction and allowed to pick areas they wanted to design site-specific work for.  Patients and staff were included in projects to create new art, to express themselves about the meaning and purpose of the facility.

Some art is here on long-term loan (which probably means forever) from local museums, such as this collection of drawings from SFMOMA created by children in the Chirodzo Art Center in Zimbabwe in 1950 (when it was still Rhodesia)

 

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The entry from the bus stop/muni entrance has this huge mosaic to welcome people:

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This wall is composed of hundreds of small canvasses created by patients and staff:

Small contributions create a homogeneous whole.

Small contributions create a homogeneous whole.

I thought that one panel in particular was emblematic of the entire art project, and the point of the hospital in general.

Pretty much says it all

Pretty much says it all

 

The art project at UCSF Benioff Childrens is magnificent, and we were lucky because they don’t generally offer tours.

 

Happy New Year, again

Monday night was the start of the Year of the Monkey.  I thought that the new year would begin with a full moon, but I was wrong again.  Chinese New Year begins on the night of the new moon between 1/21 and 2/20.  Fun fact to amuse people with.

The big celebration for the event was a party at Don Steedman’s house, and everyone knows I hate to miss a party.  Gail wasn’t feeling great, so I went by myself.

Don lives in Albany, and his house is chock full of the things he collects.  There is a wall with hats. He has a workbench with tools and parts to maintain his collection of vintage fountain pens.  There are dozens of different, interesting wine and cocktail glasses.  He has a shelf full of cocktail shakers:

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Cocktail Shakers galore

The kitchen cabinets are lacquered bright red; the room looks like a Chinese palace;

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I think I saw this in the Forbidden City

Don and Vicki were dressed appropriately for the evening:

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Reigning over the kingdom

The food was Chinese and Japanese.  The wine was Italian, plus a bottle of sparkling Sake Vicki found.  I might start to like Sake.

The house was full of friends and food, which is all you need for a great party.  Gung Hay Fat Choy.

 

Feeling short

Saturday night was grandson Beaux’s birthday, and he prevailed on his father to bring him and a friend up from Fresno to see the Warriors play the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena. Naturally, Gail and I wanted to join them.

The Warriors had so far had 156 consecutive sold out games, so I had to hit StubHub for tickets.  Two seats on the lower level in the same section as the rest of the family were available for a minor king’s ransom, and we were ready.

I know nothing about basketball.  Every year in Gatlinburg my roommates come home from the evening game and watch  “hoops” while I play bridge online with Gail.  Here’s what I know happened at the game:  lots of guys with serious pituitary problems ran around, made amazing passes, smooshed the ball into the net from near and far and leaned on each other much harder than I would have thought for a nominally non-contact sport. The Warriors were down at the start, then up a bunch, then tied with 3 minutes to go and finally won.

There was lots of entertainment besides the game.  Because it was being televised, there were plenty of breaks to allow for the commercials, and the Warriors fill the time admirably for the fans in attendance.  There were contests where fans could win cash, contests where a fan could win a new car. People came out with air guns shooting T-shirts into the stands–inexplicably including a dancing dwarf, which seems sadly un-PC.   At half-time there was a Gospel singing choir.

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Since I have nothing trenchant to say about how anyone played, I’ll talk about the people and sights.

This was the day before the Super Bowl, and the town was full of celebrities, the biggest of whom were Beyonce and Jay-Z.   They had courtside seats, natch.

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The pointy hat is Jay-Z.

The blonde in the shades is Beyonce.  The huge bald guy behind them who never let go of his phone, and had a wire in his left ear, was clearly security.  The Mr. Miyagi lookalike in the yellow shirt was a stadium guy who was there to make sure everything went perfectly for the famous guests.

The auditorium is LOUD.  19,000 screaming fans can be deafening.  I was pleased to see this couple were protecting their baby’s hearing from damage:

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Babies are sensitive, the headphones are a wise idea.

Stadium food is pretty good these days, not just hot dogs and beer. I saw this guy and wondered how he could get something to drink with both hands full.

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He can hold those but how does he eat?

Just walking around was strange.  Many basketball fans played in high school or college, and there are a lot of exceptionally tall fans.  It was just our luck that one of them was sitting right in front of us, and spent much of the time standing up.  We had to look around him just to see the giant TV screen, he completely blocked out the court.  His tattoos were unique, too.

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Hard to believe that anyone would choose to look like that.

We had a great time.  The home team won, yet again. (Which crushed the grandson, who roots for Oklahoma for some reason).  We got a good parking space and made it home quickly.  I don’t think I’m going to become a big time fan, but at least I can say I’ve seen Steph Curry, Jay-Z, Beyonce and a dancing dwarf. Life is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making life easier

Life in the suburbs is great, except for nights when you don’t want to cook and don’t want to go out.  If you lived in the big city you would have your choice of hundreds of restaurants that deliver: here in the ‘burbs you can get Domino’s or Pizza Hut.  Yuck.

Now there is a new company solving that problem.  DoorDash is an internet start up who walked into our pizza store in Berkeley and offered to deliver our pizza for us.  They do the work and we sell more pizza–I like that idea.

DoorDash contracts with dozens of restaurants, and puts them all on a website so you can look around and order the kind of food you want.  They charge a measly $5.00 to deliver, and you tip the driver what you think is fair.

They have expanded to our area, and I’m loving it.  I can choose from over 130 local restaurants, ranging from pizza parlors and burger joints to white tablecloth places.  I can get Tandoori Chicken or Prime Rib or enchiladas, all delivered in about an hour.  Everything is paid for by credit card on the website, including the tip.  Ordering is easy and clear–the site is well designed.

Here is a link to DoorDash.  Yes, I get a tiny bonus if you order from them–not enough to retire to Pago Pago, but perhaps enough for lunch in San Leandro someday.  Just click on the big name:

Doordash

You’ll like the service.  Tell me what you think.

 

45 Years

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Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years

Entering the theater yesterday, it felt like I was at the bridge club–once again I was the youngest one there.

This years’ indie hit, 45 Years, is a story about a couple who are approaching their 45th wedding anniversary when they get word about something that happened to the woman the Jeff, (Tom Courtenay) the husband, had gone with 5 years before he married Kate (Charlotte Rampling).

Jeff seem weak, old and dispirited.  Kate is more vital, tenderly caring for Jeff in his apparent dotage.  Yet she is consumed with interest in the story of Jeff’s earlier love, although they have been married close to half a century.

The movie is typical foreign film fare: slow takes, lush scenery, dour weather to match the mood of the story.  For the first 15 minutes it was exceptionally hard to understand the dialogue given the thick accents and murmured idiomatic speech.  Then somebody went to the office and made them turn up the volume–or they figured out that the theater was full of old folks.

The final sequence is at Jeff and Kate’s 45th wedding anniversary party, by which time Jeff has gotten a shave and a haircut and lost 20 years.  He is suddenly peppy, active and alert in a transformation that makes little sense.

Last week somebody sent me a tacky meme about the new football ref that pretty much sums up this entire movie:

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I guess you could say we were disappointed with 45 Years.

What a Wonderful World

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OBIE Award–winning John Douglas Thompson in Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf playing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater January 13–February 7. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Must an entertainer be an agent of social change?  Is it enough to be the best at what he does, entertaining millions for half a century?  That’s an important issue at the heart of the excellent Satchmo at the Waldorf, playing at ACT.

Louis (pronounce the “s”, he was no Frenchy “Louie”) Armstrong was a product of the New Orleans slums with a magnificent talent.  He was on the road playing while still in his teens, and hiding out in France by the time he was 35, threatened by the Mob.

That’s when he called Joe Glazer, a club manager he knew from Chicago.  A partnership was formed, with Glazer managing and Armstrong playing the horn.  Glazer did all the grunt work–hired and fired the band, made the dates, arranged the travel, mollified the Mob.  Armstrong had one job–play the hell out of the horn and keep the customers happy.

And it worked.  For almost 40 years the two prospered.  To outsiders, it looked like a landowner and sharecropper arrangement, but they were both happy.

However, the world was changing.  WWII brought tens of thousands of black people from the farms of the south to the factories of the north, Rosa Parks refused to move, Brown v. Board of Education, the entire Civil Rights era.  And Louis just kept putting on his tuxedo, smiling and playing.  He made headlines when he called Eisenhower “gutless” over the efforts of Orville Faubus to keep the schools segregated, but wasn’t a civil rights activist otherwise.

In the ACT theater, John Douglas Thompson portrays both Armstrong and Glazer in this play, and Miles Davis as well, switching characters seamlessly.  For 95 minutes he owns the stage, bringing the back story of an artist’s career to life. Louis is often foul-mouthed and angry in his dressing room, never onstage.  He relates the indignities of the segregated world in a real and personalized way you won’t get from books.  This isn’t a musical–the only song he sings during the performance is in Hebrew and you likely won’t recognize it if you don’t go to temple regularly.

The single stage set is the dressing room at the Waldorf Hotel where Armstrong is performing at the end of his career.  Lighting changes turn it into the office of Joe Glazer or a nightclub where Miles Davis is performing.

Satchmo at the Waldorf  is more than just a night at the theater; it’s an education, an American history course and a window into the life of a great American performer.  See it while you can.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Sauce for the Goose

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The marvelous SF Jazz Center

Sunday night we enjoyed seeing Chris Botti again, this time in the new SF Jazz Center. The Center is a magnificent facility, purpose built for concerts.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the acoustics are everything you could hope for.

Chris Botti puts on a great show, not just with his own playing but with singers and musicians to whom he gives an impressive amount of stage time.  Indeed, the main show finale is a solo by his drummer!  I’ve never seen a show as open and generous as this one.

After the music, we moved down 3 blocks to a restaurant named Sauce: Gough.  That’s to differentiate it from their other location, Sauce: Belden Place. The Gough street location also includes a 9 room boutique hotel.

This was Restaurant Week, which means they had a special $40 prix fixe dinner.  I didn’t want the entire menu (too many mushrooms), but definitely wanted the braised leek and brussels sprouts salad.  Sadly, house rules precluded that simple choice.  I had to cajole the waitress to cajole the chef to let one of his prized salads out of the kitchen unaccompanied with the remainder of the special.  Fortunately, common sense finally won out, and this beauty hit the table:

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Braised leek and brussels sprouts salad, topped with strips of white sweet potato.

 

Gail loves Caesar salad, but isn’t doesn’t really care for the tough ribs of the romaine lettuce.  Sauce improves on the norm by making their Caesar with little gem lettuce, and is generous with the anchovies, too.

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Caesar salad done right.

My salmon Saturday night was so-so.  My salmon Sunday night was great.  A decent size portion of properly cooked fish, served atop a spinach salad dressed with olive oil and horseradish–something I’ve never seen before.

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Turns out horseradish is a pretty good salad dressing.  I really liked this–how often is it that the side dish on the plate upstages the main entreé?

Gail had the stroganoff, and pronounced it excellent.

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Braised Beef Short Rib Stroganoff, with Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, Papardelle and asparagus.

Sauce is tres modern, with all local, organic, tree-hugging ingredients.  The food is excellent, the service was first rate, the prices were as upscale as the food.  We liked it, and will be returning following more concerts at the Jazz Center–they make a good combination.

Sauce Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Opa!!

That’s “Bravo” in Greek.

After the art opening, we walked three doors up Grand Avenue to Ikaros, a Greek restaurant doing a very good business on Saturday night.  Fortunately, we had a reservation and were quickly seated.  This place is in the same block as the Grand Lake Theater, so parking can be a hassle but there is a lot to do in the neighborhood.

Ikaros is the real deal–so Greek our waiter barely spoke English. Ordering was, er, difficult. We managed, somehow.

Ikaros isn’t very upscale, it’s just a local ethnic restaurant. The food is very good, and that’s what counts.

We started with the dolmades, stuffed grape leaves. You probably know them as dolma.  Gail, from the Central Valley, associated them with Armenian food, but I think they are part of both Greek and Armenian culture.

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Dolma

Gail and Keith both had the lamb souvlaki, skewer of grilled lamb served over rice.  Her portion was vast: we could easily have shared this dish.

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Lamb Souvlaki

I had the salmon, which was pedestrian except for the Ikaros fries that accompanied a rather meager piece of overcooked fish and lukewarm steamed veggies.  The fries are pan-fried in olive oil, then topped with Greek cheese and oregano.  Phenomenal!

Prices are very reasonable, the service is prompt.  This isn’t a fancy place; they have paper napkins.  We enjoyed our dinner and I’d love to try their gyros for lunch one day. Give them a try.

Ikaros Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

Stay Flexible

Gail’s middle name is Flexible.  Yep, Gail Flexible Giffen it is.

We’ve had a busy week and thought we’d stay in tonight and binge on The Staircase, a series on Amazon about a murder.  We watched Making a Murderer on Netflix last week, and we’re on a homicidal roll.

Then I got a message from Keith: Did we want to go to a gallery opening and dinner?  Well sure we did–that’s the flexible way to be.

So we went in to Oakland to a super fancy upscale liquor store called the Alchemy Bottle Shop.  The kind of place that sells 30 year old single malt Scotch, obscure wines from Catalonia and small batch bourbons.  Not a bottle of MD 20-20 in sight.

On the second floor we met Sally Petru, a friend of Jan’s from the Berkeley Tennis club.  She is a tremendous botanical artist–one of those very talented people who draw plants precisely, exactly, essentially photorealistically.  This is a second career, one that entailed many years of study in places around the world.  Sally is a big fish in the very small pond of botanical illustration, and the art on the wall makes it clear why.

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Sal Petru, botanical artist

 

We’ve been to plenty of gallery openings; this was the first in a liquor store.

Sal’s (because that what she calls herself, Sal) work was on the wall, just above the fancy grape juice.

 

I’m learning to appreciate art even when it doesn’t move me.  These works are truly special, imbuing plants I would ordinarily consider mostly meaningless with life, dignity and presence.  Yes, you could much more easily just take a photo, but you would be missing the life Sal manages to create within her watercolors.  You can of course see more of her work at her website, http://www.sallypetru.com/

Tonight my horizons were widened a bit.  I saw a liquor store that was actually a class joint, not just a booze outlet.  And we got to meet and learn about an artist in a tiny niche specialty and see some precise, intricate drawings with a life of their own.  You just gotta stay flexible.

 

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