I wish I’d liked it better


Sunday afternoon we had our annual outing to Cal Shakes with Mike and Linda. We saw a brilliantly directed play that somehow failed to create any lasting emotional engagement.  I really wanted to like this, and have spent the last 2 days trying to find something wonderful to say about it.  Now I realize that I can’t.

The Mystery of Irma Vep is a hilarious romp through genres, wherein 2 men play 8 roles, both male and female.  The author, Charles Ludlam,  was a prolific gay writer in the turbulent 1980’s, who eventually succumbed to the AIDS plague.  The play includes themes of sexual identity and gender identification that are very up to the moment despite being over 30 years old.

The two actors, Danny Scheie and Liam Vincent, provide a tour de force performance, whisking through 35 costume changes, different voices, different personas, song, dance and farce.  Their stamina is as important to the production as their very evident talents.

Reviews usually talk about the plot, but not this one, and that’s probably why I’m felling so empty about Irma Vep. The plot is gibberish. wandering all over the place in support of the characters, rather than the other way around.  The play roves from rural England to Egypt and back, providing an excuse for many things to happen but no real reason for any of it.  Then it strays off into werewolves and vampires, raising the important question: who would win a fight between the two?   I’m betting on the vampire.

The play is brilliantly directed by Jonathan Moscone, in his final outing for Cal Shakes.  He leaves after 16 years with the company to take a position at the Yerba Buena Center. His deft touch and impeccable timing will be missed.

So go see Irma Vep if you want a good time with lots of laughs.  The acting is superb, the sets and costumes are inventive and the directing is sparkling.  But if you can find any depth, meaning or significance here you must have been an English major.


After the play we had dinner at The Cooperage, the ordinarily excellent restaurant in central Lafayette owned by a scion of the McCormick and Schmick restaurant group.  It just wasn’t their night.

First, we got seated inside, near the kitchen, instead of outside on the lovely patio.  The noise here is deafening–I don’t know why they don’t try to tone it down.  Lafayette isn’t the center of the hip young crowd, excessive noise isn’t a virtue here.

We ordered the smoked salmon flatbread.  They were out.  And it was only 6:30 in the evening.

Gail and Mike both ordered the prime rib–but they only had one prime left, so Mike got it and Gail ordered the daily special rib eye.  More about this later.

I ordered the fettuccine.  They were out of fettuccine, would I like linguine?  Sure.

Gail and Linda both had the rib eye, and were both surprised to find it came covered in a non-wonderful demi glace, which was decidedly NOT mentioned in the description.  Neither was amused. The waiter said he was surprised, too. The kitchen hadn’t told him.

The waiter came by and was picking up the bread plates.  I pointed out that we didn’t really need them because we had no bread.  He asked if we wanted bread, and the answer was yes.  He still picked up the bread plates, then brought bread.

The bill arrived, and I found it surprisingly high.  Turns out that the prime rib is a reasonable $32.  The off-menu Rib Eye special?  An unmentioned $48.  Do I feel screwed?  Yes.

I guess we’ll go back to The Cooperage sooner or later, but I don’t think I’ll like it quite as much in the future.  And I’ll sure as hell ask about the price of the specials.

The Best Food I Won’t Have Again

Wednesday night, Gail and I tried a new restaurant that’s gotten great reviews, Parada.  It’s a Peruvian joint, owned by a guy who has 4 other successful Peruvian places around the Bay Area.  Situated next to the Pleasant Hill BART station, it’s close, has great parking and big reviews.  What more could I ask?

We got there, and the place was packed.  There are tables inside and out, and they were almost all full.  The father and daughter in front of us in line did not have a reservation and were promptly seated at the last available table; I had a reservation and we had to wait. I wasn’t amused.

But they seated us in a couple of minutes.  The indoor area is LOUD.  This is a clear design choice–concrete floors, open kitchen, metal chairs, no linen and very loud pulsing music–except it isn’t really music, just an incessant beat without melody. People shouting to be heard, the ball game on the television, clattering plates and silver, Parada is an aural assault.

And there we sat.  10 minutes later the waiter came over to take drink orders.

The menu is an enchantment.  Two pages of things you don’t recognize, but they all sound great.  Ceviche plays a big part of the Peruvian cuisine, and is proudly featured.

Gail had the Cesar (their spelling) salad, and looked on happily as she saw the two large anchovies on the plate.

As good as a Cesar salad can be

As good as a Cesar salad can be

The dressing was excellent, although the ‘garlic butter brioche croutons’ were huge chunks of stale bread too hard to cut and too large to eat. Nonetheless, Gail said it was the best Cesar she had enjoyed in months.

I decided to grow up and order the beet salad.  It turned out to be the right night to be an adult.

Corn and Beets

Corn and Beets

The use the Latin American corn with the huge white kernels.  This salad was unlike any I’d ever had before, and was certainly something I would order again.  My idea of beets has always been the awful purple circles that came out of a can, but it’s time to get past that and understand that fresh roasted beets are something completely different than Mother served 60 years ago.

My entreé was the Adobo 21.  I don’t think there were 20 other Adobos.  It was a succulent piece of slow roasted pork shoulder.

Adobo 21

Adobo 21

The dish comes with a bit of upland cress and a potato gratin, which is more French than Peruvian but I’m flexible.  I ate it all.  Now for the best part:

Gail ordered the Aji de Gallina, a chicken stew with Aji peppers.  It was fantastic.  Delectable. Savory.  Just plain wonderful.

Aji de Gallina

Aji de Gallina

The meal wasn’t perfect.  I ordered the sauteed spinach, and it never came.  Nobody refilled my iced tea.  The service in general wasn’t very good, but I decided to cut them some slack because they were obviously slammed–every table was full.

We liked the place so much that we went back tonight.  Big mistake.

There were a few empty tables, but the noise level was still extraordinary.  Our waiter showed up, but seemed to be poorly trained.  Gail asked for a ‘buttery’ chardonnay and he had to go ask which one to sell her.

Gail ordered exactly the same thing as Wednesday.  I ordered a quinoa salad, the daily ceviche and a potato appetizer.  The waiter started to tell us how the food would come to the table as it came out of the kitchen, and I made it clear we expected our meals together.  Appetizer, two salads, two entreés.  This business of serving at the convenience of the kitchen is good for them but stupid for the diner.

Our salads came.  They were good.

My ceviche came.

Then nothing.

More nothing.

The place was busy.  There was a crowd of waitstaff around the kitchen waiting for plates.  We didn’t get any.

We saw what appeared to be a manager.  Told him we came to eat dinner together, and wanted our food.  NOW.

He brought the appetizer.  Gail just lost it.  She rather forcefully expressed that she wanted her dinner.  NOW!!!

Then nothing.

More nothing.  Still lots of people at the delivery end of the kitchen, waiting.

Incensed, enraged, frustrated, angry and hungry, we got up and walked out, my ceviche and the potato appetizer untouched.

This kind of service is a disaster for any decent restaurant.  Gail’s stew was made this afternoon–all they had to do was put it on a plate with a scoop of rice, and they couldn’t manage that simple task.

We went to Mona’s, and had a really good burger. Parada has excellent food, but completely lacks the capacity to get it to the table.  Go there at your own risk, we won’t be back.

Gail not eating Aji de Gallina

Gail not eating Aji de Gallina

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To Each His Own

Out to dinner tonight at the local favorite, Wences. Best chicken enchilada soup in the county, Gail loves the artichokes.

Then I notice the guy sitting right in my line of sight:

Just a man and his dog

Just a man and his dog

So here’s a guy, having dinner with an attractive woman, with a little stuffed doggie under his arm.  At first, I thought maybe they had a little kid he was hold the dog for, but that wasn’t the case.  No kid, just a stuffed pet.

A little while later, he got up to go to the men’s room, and was careful to take his bag with him.  A bag with another tiny stuffed animal sitting in an outside pocket.  Men don’t usually take a bag, that’s a girl thing.

He came back.  Put the doggie on the table, patted it gently on the head, and finished his dinner.

Very carefully placed to watch the meal.

Very carefully placed to watch the meal.

No, this doesn’t mean anything.  I just like to notice things, the odder the better.

Virtue Rewarded

My fortune increases

My fortune increases

Two half days of jury duty, which involved nothing more than sitting around, have reaped me the above massive amount of cash.  Fifteen bucks for the service, $5.10 in mileage.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys getting rich on a fat government paycheck.

Let’s bear in mind that there were 50 in the jury pool, so it cost the county a grand just in jury costs before the trial even started.  All to try some poor schmuck for public intoxication. There might be something wrong with this system.

Overlooking Chicago

Mike and Linda and Gail and I have visited many cities together, and one of the traditions we have developed is finding the restaurant in the tallest building, preferably one that revolves.

We have eaten high in the sky in Dallas, Seattle, Vancouver, Louisville, St. Louis,  Las Vegas,Toronto, Montreal and some others.  These places tend to be pricey because of the location, but have good food as well as the view to justify the price.

The four of us entered the Mixed Board a Match Teams on Wednesday, but failed to qualify by a mile.  We collectively had a totally hideous day, with a score we will never admit.

Thursday, therefore, we entered a new event.  We chose the Daylight Swiss teams, so we could go out for a leisurely meal.

Relying on the hotel concierge, we chose The Signature Room on the 95th, in the John Hancock Tower.  We hoped that we would get a better table if the hotel made the reservation for us–they have pull, I don’t.


The view to the south

The view to the south

We started to think we were in trouble when we had to line up for the elevator, next to signs indicating bags and ID’s would be checked.  The staff were brusque and unwelcoming, but didn’t find a need to check anything, although people going to the 96th floor lounge had ID’s checked to ensure they were old enough to drink.

My hope for a good table was dashed quickly.  The hostess informed us that the window tables were all taken, and we would get a “one up”, one table from the windows.  Turns out that they speak a funny kind of English, because this was our table:

Their definition of one table from the window

Their definition of one table from the window


I pointed out that we were two tables away, and was told that’s what they call one table.  I wonder if we could have paid in corn nuts and said that what we call dollars.  I have no comprehension of how people can lie with that kind of conviction.

Still, the views were spectacular and I walked all around the floor taking pictures.  Then I did it again in 45 minutes as the sun went down, and again before we left.

Seven pm

Seven pm

Seven forty-five

Seven forty-five


Eight Thirty

Eight Thirty

I wasn’t pleased with the management, but the dinner was certainly fine, beginning with the torchon of foie gras. 

Very upscale liverwurst, with a strawberry coulis

Very upscale liverwurst, with a strawberry coulis


Gail had the excellent buffalo carpaccio.

Paper thin slices of raw Bison

Paper thin slices of raw Bison, shaved Parmesan and micro basil


It was time for another photo:

Navy Pier

Navy Pier


I had the duck breast entreé.

Duck Breast on wild rice and bok choy

Duck Breast on wild rice and bok choy


Perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside and rare in the center.  The wild rice mix was delightful, I can live without bok choy.

Gail and Mike both had the black linguine and seafood.  The squid ink that makes the pasta black doesn’t, I think, impart any flavor, it’s just an effect.  The dish comes with shrimp and scallops,  in considerable profusion.

Squid-ink linguine, scallops and shrimp. Citrus black garlic sauce.

Squid-ink linguine, scallops and shrimp. Citrus black garlic sauce.


Gail preferred the shrimp to the scallops, which is rare for her–I think the scallops were overdone.  The citrus black garlic sauce on the pasta was different and interesting.  The dish was so large and heavy that for the first time in memory Mike didn’t clean his plate.  I helped him out.

The service was very good.  Our dinner moved along at a decent but not rushed pace, the ice tea was replenished frequently and plates were cleared promptly. The prices are quite reasonable for the location.  It still wasn’t enough.

When you go out for a special meal, in a destination restaurant, you should feel like the restaurant is happy to see you.   This joint, albeit with good food and table service, manages to make you feel like a number.  They know you are most likely a tourist who will never return, and make no effort to even pretend to give a damn.  We felt we were herded like cattle into and out of the elevators, shunted to a crummy table because we don’t matter, looked on as just another number in the process.

Signature at the 95th could be a great experience, if only they cared just a bit about the customers, about making it an event instead of a meal.


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Mike and I, along with Franklin Lowenthal and Gary McGregor, came in 20th overall in the National Senior Swiss Teams!!!!!

We get 16 platinum points each, which was also enough for Gary to go over 10,000 points and become a Platinum Life Master.

You could say it was a good day.

Yesterday was the qualifying, and we had a pretty good game and qualified 24th out of 135, so we had a bit of carryover. Today we won the first match, and had to wait for almost 45 minutes before the directing staff could get the same sorted out.

I have no idea what the problem was, but I know that 35 years ago I played in events scored entirely by hand on little cards, and the directing staff managed to get the postings done on time.  We are apparently going backwards.  It was like watching the Marx Brothers trying to get the first round posted.

After winning the second match, we fell into a slump and lost the next 4, although two of them were very close.  Then we got hot, won the last two with a good margin, and had a spectacular day.

On top of this, Gail flew in this afternoon and we will begin tomorrow in the Mixed Board a Match Teams with Mike and Linda.

I guess I have to stop bragging now, so come back tomorrow for more from the Nationals.

Not exactly luxury travel 

John Denver wrote a song about Columbus Ohio and said he spent a week here one night. 

I’m heading to the Nationals in Chicago and changing planes in Columbus.   I could have flown from Santa Barbara to Phoenix to Chicago in economy class for 50,000 miles. Instead, I flew from Los Angeles to Columbus and then Chicago in first class for 25,000 miles. The airline systems never make any sense.

Landing in Columbus, I asked the first gate agent where the admirals club was. She said there is none, go to Starbucks. You’re in Columbus Ohio now.

I’ve made four laps of the terminal just stretching my legs. The layover will last a couple of hours, and then a short flight to Chicago.

The layover will last a couple of hours, and then a short flight to Chicago.

Meanwhile, Gail’s flight has been delayed two hours going home from Santa Barbara. I think it’s better to wait in Santa Barbara than Columbus. Gail even has better bad luck than I do.

Mike and I will be playing the senior Swiss teams tomorrow. Gail arrives Tuesday so we can play a national event with Mike and Linda. Chicago is a great town, stay tuned.

Friends and food, this is the life

Leslie Strong has been my friend longer than I can remember.  We met playing bridge, and have played as partners and teammates all over the country.

Leslie and Sonny Boy, a long legged pony

Leslie and Sonny Boy, a long legged pony

Retired from being executive assistant to the big cheese at some medical company, Leslie now lives in Santa Barbara and keeps, tends, trains and rehabs horses.  She’s from a farming family in the Northwest and has been around equines all of her life.

This morning I went up to the facility where she keeps the hayburners. I met her horses, large and small, and watched her demonstrate the training procedures of a young pony.  There is a small show every Saturday morning for the guests of the rancho, and the kids all love the horses.

The first step at jumping--just learning to step over the obstacle.

The first step at jumping–just learning to step over the obstacle.

Leaning not to be afraid of things--the green ball is a teaching device, not a toy.

Leaning not to be afraid of things–the green ball is a teaching device, not a toy.

After the show, we visited a couple of her mares, Debutante and Odyssey.

Debutante, wearing a fly mask.  She can see through it.

Debutante, wearing a fly mask. She can see through it.

Debutante was getting fed a special mix that is essentially Metamucil for horses, to protect against colic, the great equine killer.

Odyssey was just visiting.

Odyssey was just visiting.

Odyssey is a “paint”, which means a horse with white splotches.  But not just any paint, a Tobiano, which relates to the markings, and the fact that they blend at the edges in that inch wide strip rather than being starkly delineated.  That is apparently important, at least to another horse.

Finished with the horses, we drove from the secluded valley in the Los Padres National Forest back to Montecito, to join Gail and the family for lunch at the San Ysidro Ranch.  The Ranch is a boutique hotel where rooms start at $845/night, set on 500 priceless acres of Montecito land overlooking the Pacific.  It’s owned by Ty Warner, the Beanie Babies zillionaire who owns a lot of this area.  Oprah Winfrey lives in the neighborhood, but all the houses are behind huge hedges and gates, not just hers.

We had lunch at The Stonehouse, which looks just like its name implies, dining in a covered loggia surrounded by lush greenery and ocean views.

I began with the tortilla soup.  It’s on the menu as “SYR Tortilla Soup”, and it took me some time to figure out what Syria had to do with anything.  I’m a little slow some times.

Perfect plating for a great soup.

Perfect plating for a great soup.

Sometimes tortilla soup is chunky, sometimes it is smooth and pureed.  This was the latter, rich and savory.  Leslie thought hers wasn’t hot enough, sent it back and got another full, perfect plate.

Just because it’s on the menu doesn’t mean you can’t have it your way.  I wanted the local yellowtail tuna, but served on the corn risotto from the roasted chicken plate.  I asked for it that way, and I got it that way. It’s a restaurant, they are here to make you happy.

Yellowtail and corn risotto

Yellowtail and corn risotto

The dish was everything you could want in a piece of fish and some rice.  The julienned peppers on top added sweetness and flavor, the sauce was delightful.

Dessert was the SYR Lemon Tart.  I had it figured out by now.

A very different take on a classic dish.

A very different take on a classic dish.

Lemon tarts are usually quite stiff, this one had a thin and runny lemon custard that was a fascinating change.  The dollop of whipped cream was thick but not sweet, the tiny edible flower a variety I’ve not seen before.

It was Leslie’s birthday this week, a fact she was sure to mention so they would celebrate it:

Happy Birthday Leslie!

Happy Birthday Leslie!

Service was first rate, which you would expect at a world-class resort.  The price is steep but the value is excellent.  We are coming back to Santa Barbara in a few weeks and decidedly want to have dinner here.

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Here comes the groom

We’re home from the big wedding.

The location was beautiful, on the rooftop of a boutique hotel in the middle of Santa Barbara.  Great view, great weather.  Kind of breezy at first, but the winds calmed and the wedding was perfect.  It got cool while we were eating dinner (in the same location), but they turned on the heaters and everything was AOK.

It’s strange going to these wedding because your friends have a kid getting married.  We had met Gayle’s son once before, but in truth I would not have recognized him.  The only people we knew were other bridge playing people–Mark and Lynne Humphrey, Pam Edgley and Sue Schlicht.  I have no emotional investment in the wedding, and that’s just odd.

The event started right on time and moved swiftly.  First came a gaggle of flower girls:

A good way to start

A good way to start

Then some people I don’t know, followed by Gayle, her mother and Groom #1

Grandmother, Andrew and Gayle

Grandmother, Andrew and Gayle

The ceremony was delightful.  Warm, funny and loving.  The ignorant redneck Bible-thumpers who are all up in arms about gay people getting married don’t know what they are missing.  This was great.

After the ceremony, there was an hour of socializing while the hotel took down the chairs and set up the dinner tables.  Open bar means its’ time to have a Baileys, or two.  The kids had fun with the gag mustaches for Instagram photos:

Cuteness multiplied

Cuteness multiplied

Gayle looked spectacular.  She had a new necklace that hung down her back; I’ve never seen anything like it.

The new jewelery

The new jewelry

The front side of Gayle:

Happy day, happy girl

Happy day, happy girl

I made a new friend, a co-worker of Groom #2, Jonathan.  A very interesting photographer from San Francisco, who was using film cameras and a Polaroid.



During dinner it got chilly.  I went to the swimming pool and liberated a couple of towels:

Pam and Sue keeping warm

Pam and Sue keeping warm

As the sun went down the light was fantastic.

We left too soon, but Gail was tired.  I hope they danced until midnight.


Jamie knows tacos

Last night, Jamie Ney commented on my blog post, recommending La Taqueria Super Rico here in Santa Barbara, so that’s where we headed for lunch.

Jamie mentioned that we might have to wait.  Wow, was she right:

Waiting for the best tacos in Santa Barbara

Waiting for the best tacos in Santa Barbara


The place is as simple as can be, with a window for ordering, a window for pick-up and a few picnic tables.   All of the people you see above are in line, and there were more inside waiting to order.

Here’s the bald facts:  Gail wouldn’t wait in line 30 minutes for the express lane to heaven.  She sure as hell won’t wait that long for a taco, no matter how good.

Driving along Milpas Street to Super Rico, we passed at least 4 other taqueiras, so we just drove back to one with good parking, which turned out to be Taqueria La Colmena.  You know you are in an authentic joint when the menu board is all in Spanish.  We were the only gringos there, of course.  That’s usually a good thing.

If you can read this, you've lived in California long enough

If you can read this, you’ve lived in California long enough


Gail loves pozole, a Mexican soup made with hominy, so that’s what she ordered.

Soup and all the fixings.

Soup and all the fixings.

There was also a plate of fresh shredded cabbage to add, which Gail says is important.

I had a fish taco, which turned out to be two of the tiny tortillas and some fish.  There is a table with many different salsas and toppings you could add, but they were all way too spicy for my delicate sensibilities.  Which is to say I’m a sissy when it comes to hot, and in a genuine Mexican joint everything is very, very hot.

We also had a couple of enchiladas, one red and one green.  They were smaller and simpler than the heavily cheesed and sauced version you get in more mainstream places, and we both enjoyed them.

The tab for all of this was $21.

This was an excellent, authentic Mexican meal, from what was at best the second best place on the street.  I’ll keep looking to see if we can get into La Taqueria Super Rico without a line another day.  Thanks Jamie.

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