Over the river and through the woods

Dallas. Where else would we be the day before Thanksgiving?
We are
Dallas. Where else would we be the day before Thanksgiving. 

Expecting heavy traffic in the morning and heavy security at the airport and heavy crowds because of the date we left home and hour earlier than usual.
There was
Expecting heavy traffic in the morning and heavy security at the airport and heavy crowds because of the date we left home an hour earlier than usual.

There was no traffic. Security was no problem at all. Not a very heavy crowd at the airport. We had plenty of time for breakfast.

We are off to Orlando to spend the holiday with Susan who is somebody’s grandmother, just not mine.  On the other hand, Frances is coming to dinner, and I might adopt her as a grandmother.

I looked in this place to see if they had a cheese plate and a glass of port with which to pass the time, but apparently port has too much alcohol to sell in a wine bar in Texas. Somebody has too much time on their hands.

We have four days in Orlando, then Gail goes home and I go to Denver for the nationals. We’ll come back through Dallas, of course. Stay tuned.

In The House

Lunch today in the City with Keith and Jan at a little place they found called The House.  A very small restaurant near the junction of Columbus and Broadway, serving a unique version of Asian Fusion in the heart of Little Italy.

The long narrow space is decorated with a considerable amount of original art, warm wooden tables and chairs, paper place mats and napkins. There isn’t much space, and you better be good friends with the person you’re sitting next to.  Good thing I was sitting next to Gail.

The menu has a considerable variety, and the dishes are mostly designed for sharing.  It’s many different things you already know put together in ways you haven’t imagined.


Salmon roll with Tobiko


A tower of tempura green beans sitting on watermelon radishes


More Salmon sitting on a work of art


Curry noodles with chicken and vegetables

The food was inventive, different and scrumptious.  We devoured all of it.  The service was excellent, and the prices were quite reasonable.

The House doesn’t take reservations–when we left there was a line outside the door, San Franciscans who know a great meal when they find it.

The House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fifty One Minutes

I have medical insurance through Kaiser.  Some people hate Kaiser, but I’m not one of them.

Ever since we got home from our cruise, I’ve been coughing like a retired Welsh coal miner at a cat show.  Since my carefully thought out program of “leave it alone, it’ll go away” wasn’t working, I finally broke down and made an appointment.  I called on Wednesday and had a 2:30 appointment on Thursday.

Moments after checking in and paying my $20 co-pay, they called my name, took my blood pressure, temperature and weight.  For a rare change they didn’t ask me how tall I am–maybe they got tired of me answering 6′ 4″.    Then I was ensconced in an examination room to wait for the doctor.

Who was along in just a few seconds. Just another Kaiser doctor, nobody I know.  He listened to my lungs, looked in my ears and said I have a cough. Maybe I should have gone to med school; I knew that already.

He gave me a prescription for a couple of things, and ordered a chest X-ray to see if I had pneumonia and that was all.

So I went down the hall and picked up the prescriptions for only $10, then into the hospital to find the X-ray lab.

Paid another $40 co-pay and quickly went in, had two pictures taken and was back out in a flash.

This seemed like a good time to get a flu shot, so I stepped into the modular building on the campus, showed my Kaiser card, filled out the form with my age and date of birth (which seems like overkill, since you can derive one from the other), told them I wasn’t pregnant or allergic to eggs, and got the shot.

At 3:21, 51 minutes after my scheduled appointment, I was back at the elevator in the parking structure.   Doctor’s visit, pharmacy, X-ray and flu shot all accomplished.

And that’s why I’m a Kaiser fan.

Leaving in style


Gail and Toby

The young master has been home for the last 10 weeks, but it’s time for him to return to Israel, go back to work and spend more time with the very cute French girl he’s crazy about.  Israel has good lamb but less good beef, so we arranged a farewell dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak house.

What is the point of snootily telling the customer “we only seat the entire party”?  Gail and I were there first, and the hostess was up on her high horse with her little rules. You can imagine how that went–somebody has to remind the staff who the customer is. We were soon seated, and then, sure enough, the rest of the family showed up.  Dinner commenced.

Ruth’s Chris is a high-end kind of place, with big portions and big prices.  The service isn’t particularly fast, because you don’t want to feel rushed.  You go there to dine, not to eat, and should plan on taking your time.

My starter was the apple, walnut and blue cheese salad.


That’s a big salad, well made and nicely presented.  The dressing was bright and vinegary, the apples were crisp, there was more than I could eat.

Although Ruth’s is mainly a temple to large slabs of beef, I had the scallops, the better to please the cardiologist.


Grilled scallops with fresh corn and spinach

Not bad; somewhat overcooked.  I think my dish was cooked first and sat under heat lamps for too long before it was served.  The beef dishes looked quite a bit better:


12 oz. Rib Eye steak

Meat.  Big, unrepentant chunks of meat.  That’s what Ruth’s Chris is all about, and they do it well.  USDA Prime beef, cooked on a 500º grill. These people know beef.


8 ounce Filet Mignon

The above is just food porn.  It doesn’t need words.

Most of us ordered the prix fixe meals, with salad, side, entree and dessert all for a reasonable (for Ruth’s, at least) price.  Sadly, the white chocolate bread pudding was not part of the special, but I had to have it anyway.


White chocolate bread pudding with Grand Marnier sauce

So much for heart healthy dining.  It was spectacular, as good as any I found in New Orleans. It’s definitely too much for one person to eat.  I know that now.

The deliberate pacing of the meal was too much for us–the young man had a plane to catch. Dashing through our desserts, I called for a check which resembled the national debt of Bolivia.

It was worth it.  Ruth’s Chris is the place to go for a rich, heavy meal in elegant surroundings. Don’t let the hostess bully you–sit when you are ready, not when she is.  Be sure to share the bread pudding.
Ruth's Chris Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Silly and Goofy and Noisy and Deep

Marcia Pizzo and Jackson Davis perform in Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike at Center Rep. Photo from Center Rep

A few months ago I was watching the Tonys on the TV and there was this play I had never heard of winning everything in sight.  When Mike told me that it was coming to Center Rep I was all atwitter looking forward to it.  That’ how we got to see Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike Saturday afternoon.

I think the production in New York had a different cast.  Or director.   Or script.  Something didn’t make the trip from Broadway to Locust Street.

Playwright Christopher Durang wondered what if his life was more like a Chekov play, and wrote this to find out.  The characters all bear the names of Chekov characters, the plot is cribbed from Chekov, there is even a cherry orchard.  it’s all very interesting if you have an MA in lit crit, but self conscious and pretentious if you don’t.  I don’t.

One of the things I wonder about in life is how to tell if I’m seeing a poor actor or the results of poor direction.  One of the characters in this play is Cassandra, the housekeeper. All four of us thought she was chewing the scenery, overacting with every line.  The fault of the actress or the director?  Beats me, but  it was a major weak spot in the show.

The plot is simple–Vanya and Sonya live in their parents house, which is now owned by their sister Masha, a self-centered actress who is rarely present but pays all the bill and supports them.   Masha shows up with her boy-toy, bosses everyone around, threatens to sell the house and put her siblings out on the street.  Some stuff happens, everybody lives happily ever after.

The strongest part of the play is in the second act when Vanya (Jackson Davis) has a long monologue railing against modernity and longing for the old days when you dialed the phone and watched Ozzie and Harriet. I don’t know that the sentiments expressed are all that original or important, but the speech is well delivered and decidedly electrifies the house.

Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike wasn’t a bad play, it just wasn’t very good.  After the awards it won in New York I was expecting something wonderful, and it just doesn’t deliver on that promise at all.  Drat.

A thing worth doing is worth doing badly

Doing everything well would be nice, but sometimes you just need to do something any way you can.

This morning I went to the College of Marin for a drawing marathon, put on by the Bay Area Models Guild.  For 3 hours I could sit and draw from live models, for a measly $30.  Although I have no talent whatsoever, nobody cares.  There are no photos because cameras are strictly verboten.  Accompanying me was our friend Ruth Hussey, who is an accomplished artist.  Even after 60 years of drawing and painting, she still likes to go to these events and practice.

I’d like to draw better than I do, and the only way to get better is to practice.  Models are not only expensive, but if you aren’t an established artist you can’t just call a model and say “come on over to my house, get naked and let me draw you”.  People seem to be wary of that.

There are different stages set up, with models working for different lengths of pose.  I started out with the one and two minute poses, which are mostly just to get gesture, a quick outline of the pose.  Since I’m not good at that, it was exhausting to try.  On the other hand, after 2 hours of trying I was a tiny bit better.

The last hour we moved to the 5 and 10 minute poses.  With more time, I could do a slightly better, but not anything I’d want to scan and post here.  I got some of the lines of the poses, made a few sketches that might have looked vaguely like what I was looking at.

So I’m not good, and didn’t make any worthy art.  The day was still a success, stretching my limits and trying something different.  Sometimes you just need to do something badly.

The wheel keeps spinning

Restaurants come and go, that’s the way of the world.  We used to enjoy Patrick David in the Danville Livery, then it closed and became Martini Sky.  That closed, and something new opened--Dana’s.  Since we knew the way, tonight we gave it a try with Micky and Linda.

Dana’s has had a minor facelift since its last incarnation, and it’s all for the good.  High backed booths do an effective job of making the place much quieter–which was my main complaint about Martini Sky.  The tablecloths, heavy napkins and other smaller changes work to deaden the sounds from the bar and make the restaurant an enjoyable place to have a meal.  There are a goodly number of tables outside, with heaters above them.  I think it would be pleasant to try one even on a crisp evening.

The menu has plates both large and small so you can share with friends or tuck into a 16 ounce rib-eye all by yourself.  There is even a 40 ounce bone in rib-eye designed to be shared.  It must be a heck of a thick slab of beef since it takes 45 minutes to prepare.

Micky started with the roasted beet salad:  He won’t eat brussels sprouts, but he likes beets.  Go figure.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

I enjoyed the butternut squash soup, which had a particularly nice presentation:

Butternut squash soup decorated with creme fraiche

Butternut squash soup decorated with creme fraiche

I’m not much of a squash eater, but I almost always love this soup.  Dana’s makes it thick and rich with a hint of cinnamon, then decorates the bowl with a ribbon of creme fraiche turned into art.

My entree was the daily fish special–pan seared halibut.

Halibut, pesto, green beans and a pumpkin/potato cake

Halibut, pesto, green beans and a pumpkin/potato cake

The expertly cooked halibut was topped with a dollop of pesto and served on a potato/pumpkin cake. Just plain old potatoes would make more sense, but I guess you need to chi-chi up the menu to look fancy.

Linda had the crab cakes, which are really an appetizer and not quite enough for an entreé.  Tasty, though:

There are crab cakes somewhere under the salad.

There are crab cakes somewhere under the salad.

Fortunately, Mike had a filet and was willing to share with Linda.  She was saving room for dessert anyway, and that gave her an excuse to enjoy the creme brulee.

Service was decent, not great. I wanted a 5:30 reservation, but could only get a table at 5:00.  We got there late, but at 5:30 we were almost the only table seated.  I don’t understand the science of reservations.

As you would expect, the winelist is deep.  Gail ordered a La Crema chardonnay, and for the first time I can remember she thought the wine was off and sent it back.  The house was completely cooperative and her second glass was satisfactory.

Dana’s is a fine restaurant, and much more pleasant to visit than Martini Sky was courtesy of all the sound deadening.  Prices are reasonable, not cheap. I expect we’ll go there again.
Dana's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I love a Cabaret

Another Sunday at the Venetian Room, attending Bay Area Cabaret,  feeling elegant listening to live singing from an era that is no more.  The performer tonight was Jane Monheit, a 38 year old singing the music of Lerner and Loewe, Cole Porter and the great Ella Fitzgerald.

Jane Monheit wowing the crowd.

Jane Monheit wowing the crowd.

Jane came onstage and sang, accompanied by her husband Rick Montalbano on drums, Neal Miner on bass and Michael Kanan on piano.  Sometimes the artists are accompanied by musicians from the local union hall; it’s always better when they are a seasoned unit.

The cool shoes went well with the cool jazz.

The cool shoes went well with the cool jazz.

In just over an hour, Jane sang her way through some old standards and some less familiar sounds from the swing era, paying tribute to her idol Ella Fitzgerald.  There was the obligatory encore, which is just a standard part of the act these days.  Jane’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was a show stopper, slotted inexplicably in the middle of the act. Overall, we thought the show was a journeyman act–solid, professional, well put together, not star quality but more than good enough to keep us coming back.

These cabaret shows are well run.  They start on time, run for an hour or so and then they are over.  We’ve developed a pattern of going across the street to the Mark Hopkins hotel to have a bite at the Top of the Mark, living large with the great view and some spectacular nibbles.

Marinated California olives with Feta cheese

Marinated California olives with Feta cheese

You can’t make a reservation here, you just have to hope there’s a table. Ideally, you want a window table to enjoy the immense views from the 18th floor on top of Nob Hill.  We got seated almost immediately, but in a center table.  The waiter then helped us move the window when something opened up.

Miso chips with tahini and avocado

Miso chips with tahini and avocado, garnished with radish sprouts

The Mark has the most confusing, unreadable, misleading, baffling, bizarre menu I’ve ever encountered.  It looks like a drinks menu, but it isn’t.  The food is good, if you can figure out how what to order.

Italian sausage flatbread.

Italian sausage flatbread.

“Flatbread” is the way you can charge $19 for a tiny pizza.  It’s a damn good pizza, though.

The drinks menu, the real one, is full of fancy cocktails using all sorts of obscure ingredients.  If you’re into modern fancy cocktails, this would be a good place .  I drink iced tea.  They have good iced tea, too.

The Top of the Mark has been a San Francisco institution since it opened in 1939. When you go there you feel like a member of the upper crust, giving the servants a night off while you paint the town.  It’s a perfect finish to an afternoon at the Cabaret.

Top of the Mark Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Learning from the best

The class takes a break, Scott doesn't.

The class takes a break, Scott doesn’t.

There’s a guy named Scott Kelby who lives in Tampa and lives the busiest life imaginable.  He runs a company that teaches people how to be better photographers and graphic designers.  Every Sunday he shoots NFL football.  He travels around the world teaching photo classes.  He’s written about 60 books, and is the best selling author of photo books ever.  He shoots weddings, and exotic cars, and fashion.  I don’t know if he ever sleeps.

Today, Scott was in South San Francisco to teach his Shoot Like a Pro class.  I’ve wanted to do this for a year, but circumstances kept getting in the way.  He was here last year, and we were gone. He came to Sacramento a few months ago, and we were gone.  I thought I’d miss again because today is the day we were scheduled to return from our cruise, but getting home two days early created an opportunity I could not pass up.

The class is held in a large meeting room just north of the airport, Scott on stage flanked by two large screens connected to his laptop.  There is essentially no light on him as he speaks, which must be intentional but I’ve never figured out why.  I can’t see him and it’s unpleasant.

The class is broken down into 5 separate lessons of roughly an hour.  During the breaks, Scott stays on stage and answers questions from all comers.  He’ll look at your photos and tell you what he thinks, but is open and clear that there is no sugarcoating–you get the whole truth.  I asked him about one of my photos and got valid feedback, not bland mealymouthing.  That was worth the entire cost of admission.

Even after the class ended everyone got a chance to talk to the teacher.

Even after the class ended everyone got a chance to talk to the teacher.

Scott talked about what to shoot, how to shoot it and how to process the shot in Lightroom and Photoshop.  The least effective section, to me, was about how to light a portrait–the stage was crowded, it took too much equipment, it didn’t work well and I couldn’t really see much anyway.

The best part was when Scott talked about shooting what matters to you, about how the photo is a tool to express an feeling or emotion, how a better camera is never the answer.  That you only see other people’s best shots, and you see all your own bad ones and you need to judge accordingly.

I came away educated, inspired and elevated.  This is the fifth or sixth class I’ve taken from this company, and they have all been both enjoyable and educational.  The price is a completely reasonable $99 and even includes a very thorough workbook so you don’t need to take any notes.

Let’s wrap this sucker up

We’re home.  Gail was feeling poorly the last 3 days of the trip, and we had no reason to stay in NYC for the planned two nights. Changing our flights home on short notice the weekend a hurricane hit Mexico had its issues, but flexibility won the day.  Instead of direct from Kennedy to SFO, we flew from La Guardia to O’Hare to San Jose. I would even have considered a flight to Sacramento if that’s what it took to get us home–it’s probably only another 30 minutes or less.

We made a stop in Boston, completely enjoying the JFK Presidential Library. He really was a force of nature, achieving so much in so little time. There were displays talking about the Peace Corps, the missile crisis, his work on civil rights, the effect Jackie had on fashion and style, the space program and finally a brief story of his tragic death.  Do not go to Boston without seeing this.

The whimsical building of the Harvard Lampoon

The whimsical building of the Harvard Lampoon

Onomatopoeia normally refers to sound, but this building seems to exhibit it visually.  I’m impressed.

We walked to Harvard Yard, but it didn’t do anything for me.  Just a square, not as nice as the quad at UC Davis.   The big deal is the statue of “founder” Mr. Harvard.  Except he didn’t found the place, and the statue depicts an available student, since nobody knows what Mr. Harvard might have looked like.  I was not impressed.

It was a good thing I had reserves of impressedness, because the next stop was Newport, RI, there to see the “cottages” of the very very rich of the 1890’s.  These vast mansions were only used for the “season”–July 4 to Labor Day, by people who had homes on Park Avenue, Long Island, South Carolina and perhaps London.  In an era of no taxes and few laws, the wealthy were in a world no longer imaginable.

We toured the Breakers, the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. The first home burned down, so he built another in the miracle time of 2 years.  It’s the kind of place William Randolph Hearst would have considered a bit over the top.  I’d love to bring you a multitude of carefully composed photos, but they prohibit photography, with the lie that it is for the preservation of the building. They don’t allow photos because it keeps the crowds moving faster and sells more books.

I snuck as many shots as I could, until a woman came up and told me they had me on the surveillance cameras and I had to stop or leave.

The house was really 2 houses in one, with many passages so the 40 person staff could move noiselessly and unseen. There were 2 complete plumbing systems, so you could bathe in salt or fresh water. This was a lifestyle that will never be again.

Nearby, was the mansion of Corny Vanderbilt’s brother, named Marble House because it was constructed from 500,000 cubic feet of marble.  It cost over $11,000,000 in 1892, which would be more than $1 Billion today.  And was used for just a few weeks a year.  The youngest son here was Harold S. Vanderbilt, the creator of modern contract bridge, although he was better known for his involvement in the America’s Cup yacht races.

Next door was the home of Mrs. Astor.  It has recently been purchased by Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, and is in the midst of a complete rehab.

Mrs. Astor's house

Mrs. Astor’s house

There were dozens of these “cottages”, sitting cheek by jowl along the shore in a display of conspicuous consumption that would make Rodeo Drive blush.  This is from the back yard of Marble House across the inlet:

More and more huge homes

More and more huge homes

Many of the large homes have been demolished due to the immense cost of upkeep and operation, many of the remainder have been cut up into elegant condos.  It’s just a breathtaking drive.

Seems like I should have at least on photo of the Silver Whisper so you can see where we were roughing these last two weeks:

Silver Whisper

Silver Whisper, capacity 380 guests

One last photo–stopped at a light in Newport, I notice that the street lamp was gas, not electric.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gas street light:

Light the streets the old fashioned way

Light the streets the old fashioned way

And that’s it.  We docked in New York, took a car to the airport and here we are for a month.  Susan Rowley gets here tomorrow, so there will be things happening.  Stay tuned.


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