Found the beef, where’s the bourbon?

Dinner with Kate and Brad at Bourbon & Beef in Oakland, across the street from Olivetto in the Rockridge district. Friends have been talking this place up so we wanted to see for ourselves.

Bourbon & Beef isn’t very large, and the bulk of the seating is in bright red booths along the wall across from the bar.  We ended up sitting at an extension of the bar, four stools fixed to the floor two across from two.  It may have been the only time in my life I wished for more padding in my tush.

The bar area is very nicely done, with the top shelf all backlit bourbons of varying vintage–the place stocks over 30 variety of the iconic American whiskey.

We started with the shishito peppers.  Excellent.  Quickly blistered in searing hot oil, the peppers are always an experiment because 95% of them are mild, and one in 20 is wicked hot.  You can’t tell which is which until you bite into them–which is why I start with a tiny nibble, but the flavor is well worth the danger.  It’s my version of living on the edge.

Two of us had beef–Kate had an excellent filet and Brad ordered a burger, which Gail promptly appropriated, leaving the son in law with a huge stack of ribs.

A pile of ribs and  a game of Jenga at the same time.

A pile of ribs and a game of Jenga at the same time.

I think Brad got the good end of that deal–the ribs were pretty spectacular, thick, succulent, tender and not overpowered by sauce.   The portion was huge–Brad couldn’t finish it, and I couldn’t complete the task for him.  I was impressed.

Fried Chicken, biscuit and some kind of slaw

Fried Chicken, biscuit and some kind of slaw

I broke with tradition and ordered the fried chicken. It was probably the lavender honey that sold me.  The crust on the chicken was much darker and crispier than I would expect, as though the oil was too hot, but the meat inside was properly cooked, moist and flavorful.  The biscuit was not exactly southern style, but interesting.  The “house slaw” was made of shredded cabbage, but any resemblance to cole slaw stopped there.  This dish was limp not crisp, sour not sweet, spicy not gentle.  I guess I’m a classicist when it comes to my slaw: Bourbon & Beef is not.

There are two different brussels sprout dishes on the menu. The first is an appetizer of flash fried crispy sprouts served with goat cheese, sliced almonds and a balsamic reduction, the second features the sprouts sautéed with bacon, red peppers and garlic.  We had both–order the appetizer, it’s a ton better.

As soon as the reservation was made, I started dreaming about the dessert I just knew they would have–New Orleans bread pudding with a bourbon sauce.  In fact, I was hoping that there might be other dishes on the menu featuring bourbon as a flavoring–sweet potato casserole, for instance, or buttered carrots with a hint of the Kentucky nectar.  A few drops in the slaw would be intriguing.  A shot added to the barbecue sauce would raise things to another level.  Bourbon is a fantastic all-American flavor, and can make an interesting addition of many a recipe.

Nope.  None.  Nothing.  The concept of cooking with bourbon seems never to have occurred to the chef at a restaurant named Bourbon & Beef.  I was flummoxed and gobsmacked.  What a lost opportunity, what a crashing lack of creativity, what a lost marketing tie in.  You would hope that anyone cool enough to name their business Bourbon & Beef would want to make more of it than just sell a few $20 flights of booze.

So I liked the food, thought the service was competent, wasn’t crazy about all the red naugahyde (or maybe it’s leather, I didn’t get close enough to tell), but I’m let down, disappointed and mildly crushed at the total failure to capitalize on their name and the feelings, images and senses it evokes.  What a waste of a concept.  I’d still go back for the ribs, though.

Bourbon and Beef on Urbanspoon

 

Bern-ed in Tampa

I admit it.  I’m spoiled as hell when it comes to fine dining.  We have the enormous good fortune to live here in the heart of foodie country, and are surrounded by excellent establishments on the cutting edge of the industry.

Maybe my experience is therefore atypical, but it’s the only experience I have.  And that experience leads me to think that we ate at one of the most overrated restaurants in the country last Tuesday, Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa Florida.

We first heard about this place from a fellow passenger on the Danube in October, who thought it was one of the great restaurants in the country. .  Since we were going to Orlando, we decided to invite friends we know in Tampa and make a party out of it.

Berns has been a fixture in central Tampa for over 50 years, starting out as a tiny coffee shop and expanding to a 350 seat emporium. They don’t use opentable.com; you can send them an email but you don’t have a reservation until you talk to them personally. I jumped through the requisite hoops and scored a table for 6 people at 6:30 for what promised to be a culinary experience.

The website makes it clear that no jeans, shorts, tee shirts or flip flops allowed, so I was dressed decently. The valet took the car, and we entered a lobby decorated in early New Orleans whorehouse, red lights and all.

We were absurdly early, so we took a seat in the bar and ordered drinks.  Karl had a Bombay martini, but didn’t feel the need to get his vermouth in the offered eyedropper.

The big thing about Bern’s is the winelist.  They have what is reputed to be the largest wine cellar in the nation, with over 500,000 bottles, ranging in price up to $30,000 for a double magnum of 1947 Latour, and as far back as 1815 for a dessert wine I couldn’t afford.  Yes, I mean 1815–a 200 year old wine.  Gail and Susan ordered chardonnay.

After dawdling a bit, we asked for the kitchen tour–another part of the service and mystique of Bern’s.  We filed into the kitchen and waited for a trainee waiter to lead us through the facility, which is enormous.  6200 square feet of kitchen, where from 60 to 80 employees are required to turn out the 500 to 800 dinners they serve nightly.  Two women making salads by the score, each with one olive, half a hard boiled egg, a pinch of carrot, two slices of cucumber.  One man whose sole job is peeling and slicing onions for the onion strings that adorn every entrée.  A pair of guys who cut each steak individually.  It’s an amazing operation, but the good part was about to come.

The wine cellar. Wow.

Just a tiny entryway.  With our guide and SR

Just a tiny entryway. With our guide and SR. Very old ports and madeiras on the left.

I’m not a wine lover, and I still think this place is stunning.  Rack and racks of wine in an apparently endless array.  Young wines, old wines, ancient wines.  A king’s ransom in fine grape juice, loving and expertly tended by a crew of ardent oenophiles.

What we saw was only a small portion–there is an entire large building across the street with the bulk of the collection.  A building with no windows and 9 large air conditioning units on the roof. Tourists don’t get into that building.

Tours over, our friends Phil and Muriel Altus showed up right on time and we went in to dinner.  The hostess tried to give us a rectangular table for six, but I’m wise to that and insisted on a round one so we could all converse together.  There are 8 or 9 dining rooms, with varying status levels.  They don’t know us, so I assume we were sitting with the hoi polloi.  The room was nicely decorated, quiet and comfortable, the table linen clean and crisp and the silverware heavy.  ‘We were prepared for a memorable meal.

First, though, the drinks waiter from the bar chased me down to pay the bar tab.  I had given him my name and asked that the tab be transferred to the meal, but that isn’t the way they do things at Bern’s, he had to be paid NOW.

Our waiter arrived and the meal began.  The waitstaff at Bern’s doesn’t turn over–our waiter’s silver tie indicated that he had worked there at least 20 years. He was professionalism personified, and made the meal flow expertly.  We had all studied the 16 page menu online, so we knew what we wanted. Phil and Muriel have eaten here twice a year for the last 40 years, they know what to expect.

Bern’s dry ages all their own beef, and cuts each steak to order.  You order the exact weight and thickness you want, specifying precisely how you want it cooked.  I suppose you can order some fish, but this is a place for beef lovers.

Before the beef comes the appetizers.  I gleefully ordered the torchon of foie gras, which is now illegal in California.

Lovely foie gras

Lovely foie gras

I wasn’t crazy about the rhubarb strawberry compote, but everything else on the plate was wonderful as I got to enjoy an old favorite the tree huggers have managed to outlaw in the Golden State.

Gail and Susan shared the escargot, which was served with some sort of green sauce, not the usual garlic butter, so I wasn’t busy dipping my bread.  Their plate went back clean, so the sauce must have been good.

Dinners here come with soup and salad–if you want the onion soup and the house salad.  Other choices cost more, but I couldn’t resist the vichyssoise, garnished with black truffle and caviar.  It was completely spectacular, redolent of the truffle, rich, slightly tangy, altogether one of the best soups I’ve ever enjoyed.

Gail had the Caesar salad, prepared tableside in the classic fashion:

Our waiter assiduously rubbing the bowl with garlic.

Our waiter assiduously rubbing the bowl with garlic.

And that’s where the brakes came on.  My house salad was one of the ones we saw being made on the assembly line.  Plain iceberg lettuce, a carefully designed assortment of other items, this was a salad just slightly better than I would expect from Denny’s.

About this time the waiter plunked down a plate of “bread” for the table.  Small squares of organic matter toasted hard, some with garlic, some without.  Tasteless, brittle and unpleasant.  I know that Acme bread doesn’t deliver in Tampa, but there must be something better than this available.  Poppin’ Fresh biscuits would be a huge improvement.

Finally, my steak.  It was good, it just wasn’t great.  I ordered the Delmonico, which is the East Coast way of saying ribeye, choosing the 12 oz serving, medium rare.  I got an excellent steak, accompanied by a pile of over seasoned, limp, onion strings, some carrots and string beans.  A baked potato was proffered with all the traditional fixings.  This was a fine meal for any roadside steakhouse in the midwest, it just wasn’t the spectacular feast we had been promised.

Phil and Muriel had a filet mignon, which was a truly special piece of meat, tender as butter and perfectly cooked.  The same onion strings and mediocre veggies.

Once the main courses were consumed, the meal is over at Bern’s–no dessert here.  You get your check, with a 12% “service fee” attached–the menu says it all goes to the waiter in lieu of a salary.  You are encouraged to add an additional tip to the substantial bill.

For the finale to the experience, your party is led upstairs to the dessert room, which consists of 48 small rooms created from old wine vats, each holding a single table to provide a romantic atmosphere for the coda to the meal.

The dessert menu is extensive, and includes a large cheese section on can enjoy with the incredible variety of wines available.  I settled on the banana split:

Peach, strawberry and chocolate malted ice cream and 3 cherries.  Heaven on a plate

Peach, strawberry and chocolate malted ice cream and 3 cherries. Heaven on a plate

 

Finally, after about 3 hours, I whipped out the credit card for the third time for one meal and we were on our way home.

Bern’s is a very good restaurant, with excellent service and a wine cellar to write poetry about.  It just isn’t one of the great restaurants because the menu, systems and decor have not been updated in 40 years or more. Some things are spectacular, like the vichyssoise, the caesar salad and the escargot.  Others not so much.  The house salad was below average, the vegetables are insipid, the bread inedible.  There is no flow from the bar to the meal to the dessert, and paying three separate checks is insane.   All modern restaurants take reservations online.  The New Orleans whorehouse look went out in 1875, unless you really are a New Orleans whorehouse, in which case they need a very different staff.

Bern's Steak House on Urbanspoon

 

Your government at work

We used Uber quite a bit in Miami last week, and found them to be useful, efficient and convenient.  What they aren’t is accepted by the establishment.

The police will watch the Uber app to see when a Uber car is going to the airport, then cite the driver because the company is not certified to drop off or pick up passengers.  The local taxi companies, who wield tremendous political power, are understandably opposed to the upstart encroaching on their territory.

When we go to Orlando, I saw yet another example of the way this game is being played.  Here is a sign posted on the baggage carousel:

Always try to scare the citizens, it's the easy way to motivate them.

Always try to scare the citizens, it’s the easy way to motivate them.

 

See how it begins?  “For your Safety”.  This is an economic argument, but they want to frame it as a safety issue to frighten potential passengers away.  Big notice that the new guys DO NOT meet permitting rules (which don’t have much to do with safety, and everything to do with bureaucracy) and a final threat to YOUR SAFETY.

Uber (and competitor Lyft) are trying to get legal in Orlando, but the current taxi operator, working through the city government, is pushing for a rule requiring them to charge a minimum of 125% of the standard taxi fare.  If you can’t beat ‘em, legislate ‘em to death.

The new mode of transportation has a ton of advantages over the old, and probably some disadvantages.  I’d like to see the issue settled fairly in the court of public opinion, not in the smoky backrooms of old school politics.  It’s interesting that the supposedly pro-business right wing is the one trying to put an end to business innovation while the theoretically anti-business left is in favor of the new ways.  Looks like once again, money trumps philosophy.

 

Magic in Walnut Creek

#NewMagic

A photo posted by @alexramon on

 

(Guess you can see where I stole the photo from.  Wish he had some better publicity photos I could find.)

I’m a sucker for a good magician.  If you can saw a girl in half and put her back together, I’m there for you.  My own magical talents are limited to one poor sleight, but I love watching people do it well.

Tonight we saw a young man named Alex Ramos at the Margaret Lesher theater, and I think you should grab the kids and grandkids and hurry over while you can.  Alex is not the very greatest prestidigitator in the land, but he’ll have you scratching your head more than once with a few truly astounding illusions, and keep you laughing all the while.

Ramos is from Richmond, and has travelled the world with his skills as a ringmaster for Ringling Brothers and with Disney in “Mickey’s Magic Show”.  He’s clearly comfortable on stage and relating to his audience.

As you can tell, I really liked his show.  I hated the music, which was played at ear-splitting level.  Three minutes into his show I was ready to leave just because of the aural assault, and had to hold fingers in my ears for many of his more illusions.  That volume is just unnecessary–if your act can’t galvanize the crowd, loud music won’t do the trick.

A magician needs a persona to tie everything together, and Ramos comes across as exceedingly likeable and funny.  Some magic acts are serious, some are at least half comedy. This show is of the latter persuasion, with Ramos being every bit as talented at comic timing as he is at illusion.

This is a short-run act for the Lesher–just Friday night, two shows on Saturday (3 and 7:30) and another matinee on Sunday.  The show is completely family-friendly, and is guaranteed to amaze and amuse the kidlings as much as the adults.  I recommend it much more highly that the Nutcracker or that dreary old Christmas Carol.  Go have fun with the family.

 

Weeki Wachee Springs, or how I learned to love mermaids.

Writing a blog makes travel more interesting–if we find something fun, that’s great.  If we find something horrendous, I have something to write about.  This has made me a connoisseur of tourist traps of all varieties.

This week we went to Weeki Wachee Springs, a 67 year old roadside entertainment that falls into the category of “so bad it’s good”.  We had a great, strange, time.

Weeki Wachee was opened in 1947, the same day Kukla Fran and Ollie premiered.  The big deal was the mermaid show–swimmers in a lagoon who are getting air pumped into tubes they can suck on .  The seating is below water level, and there are huge windows into the lagoon.

The list of “famous” people who have visited includes Elvis, Don Knotts, Arthur Godfrey and Larry the Cable Guy.  With a distinguished honor roll like that, how could we not go to visit?

The place does a good business, I guess, but you couldn’t prove it by us. First off, we decided to go on a Monday in early December, in the rain.  There was no worry about beating the crowd:

In the parking lot, getting out coats and hats.  Notice the vast emptiness behind the girls--no problem finding a parking space.

In the parking lot, getting out coats and hats. Notice the vast emptiness behind the girls–no problem finding a parking space.

The joint was deserted. In the summer there is a large water park, but it was sensibly closed for the season.

We paid our $13 entry fee, and strolled in. The girl selling tickets said they had sold 27 tickets that day. No security lines, no security at all.

Decor is what you might expect. A large turtle in the first pond we saw:

Okay, it's plastic.  No food or vet bills that way.

Okay, it’s plastic. No food or vet bills that way.

You got a mermaid theme, you need to have mermaids everywhere:

Not quite like the one in Copenhagen harbor.

Not quite like the one in Copenhagen harbor.

We were hungry, but had not stopped elsewhere so we could have the full Weeki Wachee experience. Therefore, our first stop was the Mermaid Galley Restaurant.

I had the corn dog (classic theme park food, I should think), everyone else had burgers.  There was an order of fries, and an order of the chili cheese fries.  This is not a gourmet operation:

The Guide Michelin won't be calling.

The Guide Michelin won’t be calling.

My expectations were not low enough.

Following our afternoon repast, we headed for the wild animal show.  There we found the other customers of the park, and had a very pleasant, intimate show:

Why sit in the stands in the rain when you can get right up close and near cover?

Why sit in the stands in the rain when you can get right up close and near cover?

The “show” (at least in the rain, for 9 or 10 of us) consisted of a very knowledgeable and personable young man presenting a few reptiles he is raising and maintaining for the park.  We had a wonderful opportunity to get right up close with them, to ask him anything we wanted and to actually learn a bit.

The stage where all this was presented was beyond tacky and hideous, but who cares?  We had a good time.

Next up was the big mermaid show.  When this place was built in 1947, the lagoon theater seated 18 people.  Then it was expanded to 50, now it holds about 300.  You go down a flight of stairs and are sitting perhaps 15 to 20 feet below water level, watching through large windows.  The performers come up from a hidden entry, and are carrying their individual air hoses, which they switch on and off as needed.  Being a mermaid is a major honor in west Florida.

The show is a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Little Mermaid, who longs for legs.  The Evil Sea Hag gives her legs but takes her voice in return.  The mermaid falls in love with a human, who fights the Sea Hag and gets the mermaid’s voice back for her.  Everybody lives happily ever after, The End.  Not a heavy drama, but this isn’t Broadway.  It’s enough of a plot to amuse the children and move the action along for a 25 minute show.

 

The show was fine. Everybody liked it, no tears were shed, the Little Mermaid and the Prince got married.  The swimming was excellent, the girls were pretty, the music was loud.  What more can you expect?

After the big show, we went on the river cruise.  20 minutes up and back on the Weeki Wachee Spring, we saw birds and trees and fish.  The spring is fed by the deepest know fresh water cave system in the US, 407 feet down.  Overall, this may have been the best part of the day.

Cypress tree covered in Spanish Moss

Cypress tree covered in Spanish Moss

The water is perfectly clear and the “river” is only 3 feet deep.

Nothing hidden on the bottom of this river.

Nothing hidden on the bottom of this river.

I love oddball tourist attractions, and this is about as oddball as they come.  If you are ever on the west coast of Florida, just north of Tampa, don’t miss it.  But eat before you go–the food is pretty bad.

On the way out of the park, we saw one more mermaid.

weekiwachee-162

Heavy solid dinner

Right at the very southern tip of Miami Beach lies Smith and Wollensky, an old fashioned chop house, part of a New York chain of extra premium dining establishments.  We ate there Friday night with Max and Barbara Tudor. Gail and I arrived 40 minutes late because we were stuck in the traffic jam caused by the “I can’t breathe” protest, but that just gave Max and Barbara time to have a second glass of wine.

In a free standing building facing the sea, this is a place for quiet business deals and romantic dinners.  The waitstaff are in white tuxedos, there is linen on the table and thick carpet on the floor.  The tableware is heavy, the china is custom made with the house logo, the crystal rings when you clink it.  Smith and Wollensky is a place where serious people savor serious meals in hushes tones.

It’s a chop house–they specialize in large slabs of meat. Management buys full primal cuts of USDA Prime beef and ages the meat onsite for up to 28 days.  That’s expensive, but it gets you the best meat, which is then cooked perfectly in high-temperature ovens.

Of course, in Miami they are going to have first class seafood as well, including stone crab claws when in season.

I started with the tomato carpaccio with burrata, which is a very fancy way of saying tomato slices with high class mozzarella infused with cream, dressed with oil, balsamic vinegar and basil.

Tomato carpaccio with buratta

Tomato carpaccio with buratta

This is one of my favorite dishes, and S & W knows how to do it well.

Gail had a crab cocktail–not the sweet dungeness crab we are accustomed to in California, but the richer East Coast blue crab.

Colossal Crab Cocktail.  Yep, that what they call this.

Colossal Crab Cocktail. Yep, that what they call this.

Our friend Max had the  Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail–which has precisely THREE shrimp, but three is really enough.

When they say Jumbo Shrimp, they mean Jumbo.

When they say Jumbo Shrimp, they mean Jumbo.

I’m sure we were a great disappointment to the house because we only ordered 1 entrée, everyone but me just having starters.  I had the Pink Peppercorn Crusted Tuna, which was splendid.  An extravagant serving of lightly seared sushi-grade Ahi, crusted in the aforementioned pink peppercorns over an Asian slaw that has no equal.

Seared tuna the way it was meant to be.

Seared tuna the way it was meant to be.

Restaurants like this are an invitation to gluttony–every dish is much larger. than it needs to be.  I suppose that’s one way to justify the exorbitant prices, and the locals can always take the leftovers home.  Sharing a dish is a wise choice here.

And share we did, when it came to dessert.  We chose the coconut cake, which is not only served with whipped cream but then the waiter brings a bucket more to dress each plate with an additional pile of fresh whipped heart attack.  One slice of the cake was more than enough for the four of us.

S & W is really too much.  I loved everything, but I couldn’t eat here often.  Come for a special occasion, celebrate an event, close an important deal over port and cigars.  Bring money and dress well, this is most definitely not a casual joint.  Prepare to be well fed and roll home stuffed and happy.

Smith & Wollensky on Urbanspoon

Art, art and more art

Thursday we walked the halls of Art Basel.  Friday and Saturday, we visited quite a few of the other art shows available in Miami this week.

The first stop was a show call Sculpt, which seemed to be just what we would like most.  It turned out to be one small gallery feverishly getting ready to open the next day.  We wandered a bit, actually saw a couple of things we liked, and left, serendipitously getting the same Uber driver we had used the night before.

There are more than 20 shows happening this week, and the oldest and largest of these is Art Miami, which is celebrating 25 years this season.  Situated in the Wynwood district of Miami proper, it’s just two huge temporary buildings full of art galleries and artists exhibiting their goods. (I don’t know where these large canvas buildings come from–somewhere there is a company that rents them, erecting acre sized buildings for a few days and then removing them.  Must be a fascinating business.)

Across the street from Art Miami was Red Dot.  It was here that we found something to take home–Gail always swears that we aren’t going to buy anything, but the sees something like this:

Bronze sculpture with a silver patina.

Bronze sculpture with a silver patina.

Coincidences abound.  I had been actively looking for Bruce Lurie,  the gallerist who presented this work, as he presented the work of our friend Harry Siter last year and I wanted to talk to him.  Then it turned out that I had wandered into his gallery in Los Angeles last year and even written about it in the blog.  Cue “It’s a small world after all”.

These shows are all put on by different arts organizations, featuring different classifications of artist–new, emerging, modern, contemporary (not that I can discern a difference between modern and contemporary), established, classic, etc.  Overall, they struck me as distinctions without a difference.

After those two shows we got into an Uber (taxis being completely unavailable).  They stuck me for quadruple the regular fare in “surge pricing”, but that’s what happens when you’re the only game in town.

One solid hour later, I could still see the building we started from.  We had travelled perhaps 5 blocks north, over a block and then 5 blocks south.  That turned out to be the night of major “I can’t breathe” protests in Miami, and we were very, very close to them.

The ride to dinner took an hour and a half for the six miles, and cost about $100.  That’s life in the big city.

Saturday, we headed back to the same neighborhood, and more shows. That was after we had lunch on the terrace of our hotel, the Hilton Cabana.  The place was so gorgeous it looked like an ad for Corona beer:

I'm not a beach guy, but i could sit out here all day.

I’m not a beach guy, but i could sit out here all day.

The first  show of the day was Pinta, a show of Latin American artists.  Here, at least, you could see a difference in style–the extensive use of bright primary colors, the vivacity and vitality of the art are a clear variant from the more subtle and nuanced American and European work.

Then we crossed the street to another show.  More people, more art.  A gaudy Rolls Royce in front:

This seems like a terrible thing to do to a Rolls

This seems like a terrible thing to do to a Rolls

And yet more to come.  A block to the south we wandered into Artecho, a tiny show of interesting photography which was auctioning off the art for a charity to build homes for the homeless in third world countries.  There was one photo I liked enough to bid on, except that it was printed on very glossy paper and wouldn’t work in our house.  Of such small things are decisions made.

Artecho at least was free. The other shows all cost from $15 to $30 to enter.  We managed free entry to Red Dot by downloading an app from one of the sponsors–supposed to help you find and secure parking in the big city, but they don’t have it in San Francisco yet.  Must be the only app in the store that wasn’t written in the Silicon Valley or SoMA.

The last show we entered was called Spectrum.  There was a big crowd in front watching somebody complete a rather garish painting at the same time a woman was putting on her Cirque du Soleil makeup in a glass box.  No, I don’t know what that is supposed to mean.  There was a guy pushing people to get Uber on their phones and offering sunglasses to new signups.  He wouldn’t give me any because I had already signed up.  Bastard.

And that’s all the art we saw, but most certainly not all the art that was there.  We arrived on Thursday because that’s when Art Basel opens, but I now realize that many of the other shows open on Tuesday, so I would come at least one day earlier if we should do this again.  I also think we would stay on the Miami side, near the concentration of large shows, and not in Miami Beach where Art Basel (and some of the other shows) drive up the prices of the best local hotels to over $800/night.  Even 2 miles away where we stayed the Hilton was getting seriously premium prices, albeit nowhere near $800.

I’ll leave you with a gallery of people and interesting clothes–the joy of this week was as much people watching as it was art:

Art Basel Miami

The biggest travelling roadshow of the art world is Art Basel, which is held in Switzerland every summer. They figured out that they could make twice as much money if they held two shows, so Art Basel Miami was born, held the first week of December. Then they added Art Basel Hong Kong in the spring.  Next year they may have Art Basel Fresno–the promoters are gonna milk this thing till it squeals.

Nonetheless, Gail and I are here in Miami to see the sights. We don’t often feel like hicks from the sticks, but this show will take you down a notch pretty quickly. I was looking in the mirror to see if I had straw in my hair and mud on my boots within the first hour.

Here’s an example–sometimes you go somewhere and there are union protesters, usually from one of the service unions. The group demonstrating here were private jet pilots:

A pretty high class of union pickets.

A pretty high class of union pickets.

 

This show may have a higher percentage of attendees who arrive on private aircraft than any other, so it’s a logical place for this protest.

We arrived on a private jet, but wanted to be modest so we painted “American Air” on the sides to fool people.

Our hotel is a Hilton about 44 blocks north of the convention center. Decent, not great, but half the price of anything close to the show. Traffic is horrendous at the best of times on the narrow strip of land that comprises Miami Beach, and this isn’t the best of times. Everything is jammed solid, the waits at the traffic signals are eternal and taxis are as scarce as bipartisan Senators.

We got there, though.  Our plane landed at 3:15 and we were in the Convention Center by 5:30–too much going on in town to lollygag in the hotel.  Besides the big show, there are a couple of dozen other art shows in town to take advantage of all the hoopla, and we only have until noon on Sunday to see them all.

I can either show you lots of art or none, so I’m going to stick to the other fascinating part of the spectacle–the incredible people watching.  There is a fashion going on here, with seriously artsy people from all over the world dressed to impress, and it’s a good chance for me to get over my reticence and take their photos.  Here’s the first batch, from the 2 hours we spent there this afternoon:

 

Leaving the show, we crossed the street to try the taxi line, but I noticed lots of people and no taxis.  It was time for Uber, even though they were using “surge pricing” and had doubled their fares.  We didn’t care.  I used the app, phoned the driver, and in 6 or 7 minutes we were in a car and moving towards dinner.  The taxi line hadn’t budged.  We also noticed a brand new Rolls Royce picking up people in front of the hall–and were gobsmacked by the suicide doors, something I thought had gone out of fashion forever.

I don’t know any of the local restaurants, of course, so I used Opentable to find a place to eat.  To our pleasant surprise, there is a branch of Morimoto here, and a reservation was available.  Lots of reservations were available, the restaurant was mostly empty.  That’s because the show doesn’t close until 8, and many Miami tourists are from Latin America anyway and wouldn’t dream of eating before 9.  Or 10.

As usual, they tried to give us the worst seat in the house.  Also as usual, we declined, ending up with a lovely table facing the swimming pool, with an open wall and the warm breeze to make dinner wonderful.

Morimoto in Napa is one of my all time favorite places, and this is just as good.  We ignored the entrees (including the $95  New York steak) and just had small plates.  Gail’s favorite was the wagyu beef carpaccio, mine was the tempura rock shrimp.

One of the trendy things chefs are doing is “foam”.  I have no clue what it is, but it makes a nice presentation.  The gyoza came wreathed in “bacon infused foam”, which is air that tastes like bacon.

Looks like soap suds, tastes like bacon

Looks like soap suds, tastes like bacon

“For your convenience” Morimoto adds an 18% service charge, even for a party of 2.  I’ve seen this before in Miami and I think it’s because they have so many foreign clients who are not accustomed to tipping.  It won’t surprise me to see this idea catching on and the gradual end of the current silly system.

Morimoto is a treat. The service is everything you would want it to be, the food is inventive, different and delightful, the pounding rain was romantic and we were happy. Perfect end to a day that started at 4;15 this morning in Lafayette and ended up in the Hilton in Miami.  More tomorrow.

 

 

Pretty girls

That title ought to get me more readers.

Gail’s sister sent us a packet of old family photos, and I’ve been having fun scanning and restoring them.  Here’s my current favorite:

Gail and her sister Susan getting a bath in the kitchen sink.

Gail and her sister Susan getting a bath in the kitchen sink.

I continue to be amazed at the power of Photoshop and my limited but growing skills.  Here is one of the worst of the old photos:

Susan on the her father's horse.

Susan on the her father’s horse.

Ten minutes of computer work, and I ended up with this:

The more of them I do, the better I get.

Here’s an important note–Gail’s mother was very good about labeling pictures with dates, places and names.  The only thing worse than finding a photo with a bunch of people you don’t recognize is to find one labeled “All the gang, yesterday.”

I’m really enjoying this project, and the practice makes me better. Have any old photos you’d like to preserve?  Let’s talk.

A different kind of thanks

I’m not the type to write the traditional Thanksgiving glurg.  We all live well and have much to be thankful about–if you don’t know that by now I can’t help you.

We got an email today from Carol Scott. Kaiser told her about the results of Jack’s organ donation.

There are 6 people walking around healthier today because of Jack Scott’s generosity of spirit.  The hospital was able to transplant his corneas, his liver, both kidneys and one lung to people in need most dire.

8 years ago granddaughter Demi suddenly came down with auto-immune hepatitis at the age of 17.  If she had not received a donated liver she would have died that summer.  The generosity of others is why she is alive today.

Today I’m thankful that there are people like Jack, people who are willing to help others. I’m thankful that Jack was my friend. I’m thankful that Demi is with us.

The best way to show my gratitude is not by overeating and watching football, but by asking all of you to be sure you have signed up for organ donation.  It’s easy, it’s free, it’s a matter of life and death to somebody.  Maybe your granddaughter.  Honor Jack and do it today.

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