Off to a good start

It’s time for Gatlinburg again, the annual trek to redneck heaven for a week of big boy bridge with my buddies.

Gail and I were in Santa Cruz for a weekend with the family in a beach house we love to rent.  I came up to SFO last night and camped out in a hotel so I could avail myself of the free parking and not have to get up so bloody early–although my alarm still went off at 5:35.

The hotel shuttle runs at 6:20 or 7:00.  I have an 8:00 flight, and if the 7 am shuttle was even 2 minutes late I would not have been able to check my bag (must be 45 minutes ahead of the flight, not a second later, and they’re strict as Dominican nuns about it).  So I got moving early and took the 6:20.

And by 6:33 I had checked my bag, cleared security and was sitting in the Admirals Club.

Not much business too early on a Sunday morning.

Not much business too early on a Sunday morning.


Mike is on an earlier flight, at 6:50.  I tried to call him, but his phone was already turned off and stowed.  I’ll have 50 minutes in DFW this afternoon to make the connection to the flight to Knoxville, which I think is plenty.  Mike is convinced it isn’t enough time and I’m going to miss the flight, which is why he’s on the earlier one.  Another of our classic differences, but I haven’t missed a flight in my life and doubt that today will be the day.

In any event, the other four guys (Bob, Jack, Bruce and Danny) are coming in through Chicago late tonight and play starts tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

On the wall art

Off to Davis on Thursday for a day trip with the Oakland Museum Art Guild.  We were going to visit the art walk–the 35 square blocks of downtown Davis are adorned with dozens of murals and sculptures.  Our walk was led by John Natsoulas, a UC Davis graduate who runs a hugely successful gallery in town and has worked tirelessly to make the city a major art center.

We started in his gallery, which is on the first corner you see when you get off the freeway.

John Natsoulas, fountain of energy, talking about the art in his gallery.

John Natsoulas, fountain of energy, talking about the art in his gallery.


Here’s a photo gallery of what we saw just in his building:

We were also accompanied by Phil Linhares, retired curator of the Oakland Museum.  These day trips are fascinating, and we always have experts along to increase our understanding of what we are seeing.

Phil Linhares

Phil Linhares

Then we went out onto the streets of Davis.  There are many murals, which John has commissioned, worked on, assisted with, planned and/or orchestrated.  Each mural or sculpture is accompanied by a plaque with a QR code that will bring up a video about the work.  The works also have RFID chips in them which some newer phones will read automatically to find the videos.  The murals are all coated with anti-graffiti clearcoat, but there is still considerable maintenance required.

After lunch, we went on-campus to the library, which John has worked tirelessly to fill with great art.  This isn’t the library I studied in years ago, it is a new building reflecting modern life–every table has a power strip, every student seems to have a computer open for work and an iPhone plugged in for music.

The works of art are amazing, reflecting the incredible output of the art department and its professors, like Robert Arneson, one of the seminal ceramic artists of our time.

Finally, we ran out of time long before we ran out of art. We were exhausted with all we had seen and tried to assimilate. John was still full of energy, talking about every piece, its history, provenance, background and artist. His knowledge of Northern California art is encyclopedic–but then, he knew most of the artists as personal friends and mentors, and continues to be wholly involved. Davis is fortunate to have someone like him, who wants to fill the streets and wall with the best art money can’t buy.

Davis is clearly not the boring town it was when I was a student–go up for lunch some day and just walk around downtown looking at all the walls, click on the QR codes and see the videos, check out the gallery and then go find the library–you’ll get a college education in fine art in a day.

Alone, desolate and forlorn

That’s me tonight.

Gail is here, that isn’t the problem.

My phone is in the shop, now that’s a crisis. The on/off button wasn’t working, the charging dock was getting finicky and I’m off to Gatlinburg on Sunday. The prospect of a failed phone in Tennessee is too awful to consider, so I had to get the phone in first class shape before I left.

I get our phones fixed by Joe Iphone, a guy who works in the front of Peoples Cafe on Shattuck in Berkeley. Usually, you make an appointment online and he fixes things while you wait, but my issues required an overnight stay in the phone hospital Now I am without my adult pacifier until 11 am Wednesday. The withdrawal is killing me.

What if Mike wants to text me? How will I keep up in Words with Friends? How can I call Gail from the grocery store to find out what kind of pickles to buy? What is on our calendar for Sunday, May 4? Will  people still think I’m smart if I can’t Google the answer to anything in a flash on my little black amanuensis?

I admit it, I’m addicted. I am powerless before my phone. If I could have it surgically implanted, I would.  Now I just have to survive until 11 am………………………..

This is a tough field

Here are the results from the 4 pm speedball on Bridge Base this afternoon.  Notice that Gail and I  (Chairman and Fatslice) did not scratch.  The team above us did not scratch.  We had a great game, just didn’t get anything for it.  Life is hard.


Fredp+SandraGeb  66.68     0.78

jbr_dk+erikwied  65.84          0.84

underace+audrey33  64.38    0.68

carnadian+atthebea  63.96     0.36

gram2+dogmandobe  62.28    0.38

pinewind+snooker12  60.95

Fatslice+Chairman  60.69

everna+oronda  53.30

komalk+zoomnee  48.95

donnaa33+s1benson  47.54

ddlion+eieieio  41.46

txgal+judy3  40.78

paulkh+ilane  37.89

2 + 2 ≠ 6

Dinner before the theater last night at the Daily Grill in San Francisco, on Geary just up from Union Square.

There were six of us. I made a reservation 3 weeks in advance. Open Table tells them we are “VIP’s” because we eat out so often. We showed up, they led us past a round table set for six and plunked us down in  a space where they had taken two 2-tops (restaurantese for a table for two), squished them together and crammed three chairs on a side.  I guess I’m so svelte they figured we’d fit comfortably. They were wrong.

One thing I’ve noticed in writing about dining out these last few years–my complaints are almost always regarding service and management, not the food itself. This meal was no different.

The food is great. Each of the three couples elected to split a wedge salad, and we were all pleased.  The kitchen does the right thing and splits the salads, serving each of us half a salad on a plate. The excellent sourdough bread was served hot.

Daily Grill centers on basic American food, and their house specialty is chicken pot pie. It has mushrooms, so I don’t order it, but I still recommend it:

This is a beautiful dinner

This is a beautiful dinner


The pie is huge and theoretically freshly baked. This one came out of the oven well before it was served, as it was only slightly more than lukewarm. Still, the crust was incredibly light and flaky, the chicken inside was succulent, even the slices of carrot were cooked to perfection. If only they had gotten it to the table sooner………..

Never one to pass up a plate of pasta with pesto, that’s what I ordered:

Pasta good, chicken meh

Pasta good, chicken meh  


I liked the pesto sauce and the fact that it was loaded with pine nuts. I liked the portion size. The chicken was plain, unseasoned, dry, tasteless and boring. Save the $3 extra and just have the pasta.

Also recommended is the fish and chips:

Good fish, good chips, great  cole slaw.

Good fish, good chips, great cole slaw.

Fish and Chips  seems a trifle déclassé for dinner on the town, but it’s very well done and had grown men raving about the salad, and how rare is that? The “chips” would be better served by being properly cut instead of just standard frozen french fries, but I’m picky. We thought the grilled lemon was a nice touch in the presentation even if it makes no difference in the quality of the juice.

Saturday night is a busy time, but managers are supposed to hire enough staff for that.  I thought the entire process just took too long. Too long to order, too long to get the food, too long to get a refill on my tea or get a spoon for the pot pie (which should be served with a spoon in the first place), too long to clear the plates, just too long. It wasn’t that the staff was lazy or unconcerned, there just weren’t enough of them to handle the number of diners. I keep hearing about the unemployment problem, why doesn’t Daily Grill solve two problems at once and hire somebody?

And that perfectly fine six-top we passed on the way to being crammed into our tiny space? Still empty when we left. Maybe they were hoping to crowd 8 or 10 people around it.

Daily Grill on Urbanspoon

More Barefoot Country


Out in the wilds of Antioch last night to see our favorite country band, Barefoot Country.  The steel guitar player is Jim Hussey, son of our friends Ruth and Bob.

We were in a sports bar called Bases Loaded, which seems to be the newest, nicest and most prosperous building on the downtown street.  The last time we saw this group was in a dive bar in Clayton–which actually seems more appropriate.  I kind of like a stinky old bar with brassieres hanging from the ceiling for the once or twice a year I might be in a bar.

For dinner I had a Monte Cristo sandwich, one of my great delights that has mostly disappeared from menus because it is simply death on a plate.  Make a triple decker ham, turkey and swiss sandwich, batter and deep fry it, cover it in powdered sugar and serve it with a bowl of strawberry jam–you can get a heart attack and diabetes at the same time. I tried to complete a trifecta of unhealthiness with a side of garlic fries.

The music started, and people danced.  The lights came on and a very clean and modern sports bar became a nightclub, sort of.

Just because the band is playing doesn't mean they turn off the Giants or A's game.

Just because the band is playing doesn’t mean they turn off the Giants or A’s game.

The light show sort of reminded me of the 60′s


Jean and Ruth

Jean, Ruth and Bill


Enraptured fan

Enraptured fan


Some things I don’t understand in life.


Bulky security guard to make us all safer.

Bulky security guard to make us all safer.


The steel guitar player is 62 years old.  His mom and dad came to see the show.  How rowdy was this crowd likely to get?  Hiring a security guard makes about as much sense as the TSA does.


I saw a woman in an interesting shirt at the bar:

Wouldn't this pique your interest?

Wouldn’t this pique your interest?


So I walked around to see if the front of her shirt had anything interesting, and me Sharon:

The AnEEmaul herself.

The AnEEmaul herself.


Sharon is with the roller derby team, The Undead Bettys.  Roller derby is a great sport and fun to watch.  The next Undead Bettys match is May 10 in Antioch and I’m crushed that we won’t be able to go–we have ticked to the A’s that day, and there is only so much fun we can have.  If you’re free that night, go see them–you’ll have a blast, guaranteed.


It’s Vegas, baby!

Yep, I’m back in Vegas.  Flew down last night to be ready to play cards at 9 am with Mike Rippey–we’re here for 3 days of intensive card play to get him the silver points he needs to make life master.

Things have started out well:

Nothing like seeing your names on the top of the sheet

Nothing like seeing your names on the top of the sheet


The tournament is at the Flamingo Hotel–the one that Paul Soloway’s family used to own 5% of, before the mob made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.  It turns out that Bugsy Siegel was Paul’s cousin.

People are complaining incessantly about this hotel, which is somewhat justified (the carpeting in the halls is loose and wrinkled and some of the worst I have ever seen), but after last week at the Las Vegas Hotel, this place is a paradise.

Our plan was to play in the KO’s and try to get into the second bracket.  It almost worked–we were the last team in the first bracket, and that isn’t good.  The top team (of 6, these are only 3 session KO’s) had 80,000 masterpoints.  We had 8200.  I don’t like those odds, and just what you would predict happened.

Tonight we played in another side game, had 55% and must have scratched, but we didn’t stay to see the final results.

Dinner was at a Mexican place just across a small mall from the hotel, but the wind was just howling and it was a struggle to get there.  I had the most incredible slab of sesame crusted seared Ahi you could imagine.

Playing 3 sessions a day doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing, and the chill winds make walking up and down the strip inhospitable anyway.  I guess I’ll turn in and try to play as well tomorrow.

We found Chef Arnold!

Mike knows all the ball players, their numbers and stats.  I follow chefs.

And my favorite local chef has long been Arnold Pulido, who was the executive chef at Va da Vi, then Metro, then he disappeared.  Tonight, we found him.

Chef Arnold Pulido at the helm.

Chef Arnold  at the helm.


Gail and BJ played bridge at the sectional this afternoon, and I wanted to meet them for dinner after.  Looking on Opentable I found Martini Sky, billed as a small plate establishment in the Danville Livery.  We decided to give it a try.

I got there first, sat down at the table and looked into the open kitchen, which projects into the dining room, and was ecstatic to see Chef Arnold.  He was looking my way because he recognized my voice when I walked in.  Apparently, I have a voice that carries.  Who knew?  Arnold has been Executive Chef here for about 5 months, and has clearly put his mark on the place.

Martini Sky is a one medium size room, with a bar on one end and dining on the other.  The hostess offers you a choice of a tall table and high chairs or the normal size.  The noise level is quite loud on a busy Saturday night.

As you might expect from the name, Martini Sky has offers quite a selection of cocktails with a huge variety of liquors.  It looks good if you like that sort of thing; I can only attest that the iced tea was acceptable.

When Gail and BJ arrived, Chef sent over a treat for us–Gail’s favorite appetizer, carpaccio.  She fell in love with this when it was available at Va da Vi, and was crushed when it went off the menu there.  Getting a gift of a special, off-the-menu dish is pretty wonderful.  Life is who you know.

Paper thin raw beef--it pays to know the chef.

Paper thin raw beef–it pays to know the chef.

The menu offers quite a variety of dishes, small plates designed to be shared.  There are appetizers, salads, main and side dishes, generally of the Asian-fusion school of modern California cooking.

BJ had the Manilla Clams:

A frying pan full of Manilla clams served in a Thai curry broth

A frying pan full of Manilla clams served in a Thai curry broth

I started with the Sesame Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna–which is in the salad section.

A very Asian salad topped with seared Ahi

A very Asian salad topped with seared Ahi

Portions here are good–these are some of the largest small plates I’ve ever seen.  Two or three people could easily share one order of the Ahi and get a satisfying taste, not just a tiny nibble.

Meatball in soft polenta.

Meatball in soft polenta.

Gail had the meatballs in soft polenta with roasted tomato sauce.  She won’t eat the meatballs I cook, but she loved these.  Maybe I can get Chef to share the recipe.

Here’s another work of art:

Crispy Southwest Wontons

Crispy Southwest Wontons


Wontons filled with ground chicken, fried, topped with chimichurri sauce.  Tex-Mex meets Hong Kong.  The rich purples and greens make this a visual treat even before you taste it.  Then the taste explodes in your mouth.  They should make this the signature dish of the establishment.

Service was just OK.  My order of fish tacos got inexplicably lost, but once I pointed that out the kitchen produced it toute de suite.  Ice tea was refreshed regularly, plates cleared somewhat more slowly.

The food was very, very good. The bill was moderate for an upscale place in the ‘burbs.  The noise level is too loud, but I’m willing to work with that for more of Chef Arnold’s brand of brilliant small plates.  Go give it a try.
Martini Sky on Urbanspoon

International Pizza Expo

The reason we were in Las Vegas was to attend the International Pizza Expo, the annual conclave of pizza store owners and the people who sell to them.

The trade show actually runs 4 days, and includes many excellent seminars and classes to improve the way you run your business and increase the bottom line.

We went just for the exposition–the trade show with hundreds of booths selling everything from huge automated pizza ovens to magnetic advertising signs to frozen pizza dough.  There were many point of sale computer systems, people selling kitchenware, a few massage booths for the footsore, tiny craft beer manufacturers and huge cheese conglomerates.

We walked for miles, up and down the rows, looking for a few specific items but mostly trying to keep our minds open to new ideas and possibilities.

After hours of purposeful trudging, we left with a bag full of swag (I even scored the rare and valuable Tabasco Apron), tired legs and plenty of things to thing about and implement to make Fat Slice run better.

Here is a gallery of photos of the fun and variety of the Pizza Expo.Click on the photos to see them larger.

This could be dicey

I left Dallas and flew to Las Vegas, checking in at the Las Vegas Hotel.

FIRST:  This isn’t a complaint about the League tournament planners, especially Wendy.  Contracts are signed years in advance, and I think this hotel has plummeted very recently.  I expect that she will do everything she can to improve the situation before July.

NOW: This used to be the Las Vegas Hilton, but the clerk at the front desk told me the Hilton dumped them and ran away the moment their contract was up.  I’m starting to see why.

We’ve all been here before–I can recall at least 3 NABC’s in this same hotel.  Remember how the place used to be?  Well, not a damn thing has changed–and I don’t mean that in a good way.  The elevators were slow and insufficient 20 years ago, and they haven’t gotten any faster or more plentiful.

The first bad sign was the front desk.  Besides the fact that there was a long line to check in and too few room clerks to do the job, the staff just doesn’t look good.  Most hotels keep the front desk staff in natty suits; these people looked like they were hanging around the bus station this morning, got an LVH tee-shirt to wear and were put to work.  Not a good first impression at all.

I got a room in the center tower, which is a bad thing.  They offered me a “renovated” room for $20/night more, but we’re only here for one night and I’m cheap.  When I saw the rooms (we have 2, Kate and Brad are on this trip too), I changed my mind and asked for the better rooms but was told the hotel is sold out and there are no more rooms.  When you can’t even pay for an upgrade things they must be jammed.

Finding the elevators on the ground floor is difficult, finding the room on the 20th floor was a maze worthy of B. F. Skinner.  Then I got there, and the adventure kicked into high gear:

Your basic room.  Notice the light not working over the bed on the left.

Your basic room. Notice the light not working over the bed on the left.


The room is plain.  The beds are old, the carpet is ancient, the furniture was on the Ark.

Sterile is supposed to refer to the sanitation, not the decor.

Sterile is supposed to refer to the sanitation, not the decor.  The dark area to the left is the toilet/bath–the light is on, it just isn’t very bright.


The bath has minimal amenities.  There is a blow dryer, iron and ironing board in the closet.


Functional but not pretty.  At least there are 4 bath towels,

Functional but not pretty. At least there are 4 bath towels,

The TP is thin and cheap–but it isn’t any worse than I had yesterday at the Sheraton in Dallas.  The toilet/bath area is also exceptionally dark–there is one tiny, under powered light.  It looks like there used to be a retractable clothes line over the tub but it has been removed and the holes in the tile patched.


Wallpaper peeling away next to the tub

Wallpaper peeling away next to the tub.  That grout looks pretty groady, too.

The housekeeping isn’t anything to speak of–I found these behind a chair while I was scouting for an electrical outlet.

Not quite my style.

Not quite my style. Or size.

I also found a plastic stencil one might use to draw on eyebrows, carelessly dropped on the floor and not found by the maid. .  I wouldn’t have know what it was for if it didn’t say “Savvy  Beautiful Brows” on it.

A man I was speaking to in the elevator said his room hadn’t seen a maid in 2 days.

Times have changed and this hotel hasn’t.  There are nowhere near enough outlets for your computer, iPad, phone charger, etc.

Internet service is $14/day, and for only 1 connection.  The Sheraton allowed 3 connections, the Hyatt in Phoenix allowed 5.  The service is very slow. Download speed is 0.8 mps, upload is 0.3.  My phone is faster than that.

There was a woman in the gift shop searching for a toothbrush.  I said that most hotels would provide those, but she had called and was told “we don’t do that anymore”.  Neither of our rooms smell great, and one is pretty poor.  I found a maid and asked for some air freshener, but she said I had to call downstairs, they don’t give her any for her cart.

There are 3 towers here–Central, North and East.  The front desk told me that the North and East towers had been renovated, but that renovation for the Central tower was “on hold”.  I don’t like the sound of that word–it isn’t like Vegas is hurting, the joint is sold out on Wednesday night.  There are at least 3 conventions in the place today, and they are still pinching pennies.  I was not able to see a renovated room, but I don’t think they are remodeled, just some new curtains and beds.

[I just looked up to see what was blowing in the air conditioned breeze and it's the tatters of the curtains.  The sheers have been removed completely but the tracks are still there on the ceiling.]

These belong in the Bates Motel, not a supposedly 4 star resort hotel

These belong in the Bates Motel, not a supposedly 4 star resort hotel

Just looked at the coffee maker–the cups with the coffee pods are sealed.  It costs you $3.50 for every cup you open.  That’s dreadful, and I don’t even drink cofffee.

For this price I want a barista to come to my room and brew it.

For this price I want a barista to come to my room and brew it.

Spending 11 days here in July might be an adventure.  I suppose they will charge more for the renovated rooms, but it will probably be worth it.  On the other hand, I doubt that they are significantly remodeling, so bring an extension cord and power strip.  Consider getting a mobile internet device–it will be cheaper and faster than the pig slow service they offer here.  Don’t lose your toothbrush.  Bring your own air freshener and coffee maker.  If you really want a first class hotel, this isn’t it.  The MGM Grand is at the other end of the light rail, the Venetian is in between.  I’d consider them.



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