Sixteen years ago Copia opeed in Napa to great fanfare. A new temple to fine cuisine, with a museum, restaurant, classrooms and amphitheater. It was a glorious idea, that led to glorious failure. The place closed in 2008.
A facility that beautiful is too good to stay empty. The Culinary Institute of America, CIA, has taken over the building and is now operating their school, a fine dining restaurant, a store, an event facility and anything else they can think of to pay the mortgage.
They had a big open house this weekend, so we piled into the car, drove to Sigrid’s house, picked her up, left the our dog with hers and went to see the show.
The building is beautiful, as it always was. On First street, right next to the Ox Bow Market. Parking is a huge pain.
Right by the front door is the store. Think of it as FAO Schwarz for grown ups.
Inside the central gallery, various wine makers had been invited to show off their wares.
Industrial design extends to the small items, like stand-up tables for the guests:
Some people attended a class/demonstration on fancy cocktails, afterward staff was passing out tiny samples. I decided to try a margarita:
Overall, the building is pretty and the store could cause serious damage to my credit cards. The CIA will be offering classes ranging from a couple of hours to an entire multi-year professional chefs school. We are seriously interested in trying the restaurant ASAP. I was unimpressed by their marketing efforts–there was no attempt made to collect email addresses, a simple standard action to keep in touch with potential customers.
After visiting Copia, we went back to Sigrid’s house for dinner. I’ve shown plenty of third-rate meals here; it’s a pleasure to feature the first rate chicken we enjoyed Chez Sigrid. Good luck getting a reservation, you have to know the owner.
Center Rep again, with Mike and Linda as usual. We saw Women in Jeopardy, billed as “Thelma and Louise meets The First Wives Club”, a line written by someone who saw neither of those films.
The show is funny. Lots of laughing happening. If you think you’re going to get drama, or trenchant commentary on the status of modern woman, think again. Go for the jokes, because that’s all there is.
Three forty-something divorced women, one of whom has a new boyfriend. The boyfriend is exceptionally weird, and by happenstance the employer of a young woman who has disappeared. Is he the killer? This plot was written in an 8th grade English class, and got a B-.
The directing, by Michael Butler, is first rate. The dialogue is crisp and fast, with three women cutting in an out with nary a skipped beat. Scene breaks involve cast members dancing downstage to hip-hop music while stagehands work their magic behind them. The fast paced show moves along smartly, unhindered by deep meaning or difficult plot points.
The cast is excellent. Six actors, four of them Equity members. Jason Kuykendall plays a dual role as Jackson, the boyfriend, and Sgt. Sponsüllar. There doesn’t seem to be any possible reason to have these two characters who look exactly alike; there is no mistaken identity, no separated-at-birth twin gag, just something bizarre stuck in for no reason. Perhaps it’s just a cheap way to use one less actor.
The first act just sort of drifts along, lots of gags but nothing compelling happening. In line for ice cream at intermission, the two guys behind me declared the play “pretty pathetic.” The ice cream was great, though. Haagen Dazs Dulce la Leche. Why don’t all theaters sell ice cream at the interval?
The second act was better. More and better and faster gags. Plot up to 10th grade level. The acting stayed superb. The scene breaks had even more dancing. I really enjoyed it.
And then it was over. They essentially announced ” We found the killer–it was xxxxxx.” and the curtain came down.
Women in Jeopardy is in no jeopardy of moving to the big stage in New York. It is, however, funny as hell and a decent way to spend a couple of hours in the theater. Bring two extra bucks for the ice cream.
Theater Square in Orinda has been home to a casual restaurant named Table 24 for the last 6 years. Recently the owner, Michael Karp, gave it a minor face-lift and a major menu change, re-naming the joint Wild Magnolia. It’s a considerably more upscale facility these days, tablecloths and all.
The physical changes are relatively minor–new lighting, some re-purposed windows hung in front of the wood fired pizza oven, a change of tables and chairs. It’s more modern than before, but you still have to go outside and around the building to find the restrooms.
The food, from executive chef Ulises Santiago, is very modern. Fresh, organic, healthy and with an emphasis on small plates that could be shared. Exactly what the health conscious, upscale, tres modern clientele of Orinda would appreciate.
Gail and Toby were taking me out for my birthday. We had a reservation, but 7:40 on a Monday night in the ‘burbs is pretty slow and we didn’t really need it.
Wild Magnolia has a full bar, if that’s your thing. They got the lime in my iced tea right, but have no Splenda or Equal–only stevia, because that’s what’s trendy. Automatic score deduction for preachiness.
Gail and Toby had a wild mushroom flatbread to start. I cadged a small slice, removed the fungus and enjoyed the thin but chew crust. The dish comes with a heap of arugula on top of the flatbread, but nobody seemed much interested in it.
I had the truffled fries, and they were excellent. The rich aroma of truffle oil filled the table and the fries were perfectly done.
We also had an order of “zoodles”, this years fad.
Drown anything in enough butter and garlic and you’ll be a happy camper. If you can label it “gluten and carb free”, so much the better.
I had the wild salmon. Of course it’s wild: a place like this would die of shame if they had a piece of farmed fish on site.
The salmon was cooked perfectly. The melangé of farro, carrots and kale was a well designed side, hearty and filling. I’d cook the farro and carrots at home. Kale, I can live without.
Wild Magnolia is a nice addition to the area. The food is excellent, the service was friendly efficient and smooth. Prices are reasonable for the quality received. Give this place a try.
No, not Jesus. I’m not a bible thumper, by any possible stretch of the imagination. Too many years of Catholic school cured me of that.
In the name of Mike Katz. My friend. My pal. My bridge partner, roommate, bookie and travel buddy. And the son of refugee Jews.
In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the shameful, cowardly, venal action of Donald Trump banning Muslims from immigration from 7 carefully selected countries. (Not the countries where actual terrorists who have attacked the US are from, like Saudi Arabia. Other countries, where he has no private business dealings. But I digress.)
In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the followers of Trump who think this is a good thing, who see all 1.2 billion Muslims as a danger, as “the other’, as inherently evil.
In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the churches that support this racism and religious bigotry. They have forgotten the teachings of Jesus to love one another.
Why Mike? Because in 1939 the MS St. Louis set out from Hamburg Germany with 937 Jewish refugees, headed to Havana. Although they had purchased visas, the refugees were denied entry to Cuba. Then, in an act of cowardice and bigotry that foreshadows today’s actions, they were denied entry to the US. Then Canada.
The ship was eventually forced to return to Antwerp, where the captain, Gustav Schröeder, refused to dock until all the Jews were guaranteed entry somewhere that was not Germany.
Two hundred eight of them were accepted into the United Kingdom. Among these were a young couple who met and married and made a life together: Mike’s parents. Mike was born in London, emigrating to the US when he was a child.
Today, Trump shamed himself and our nation by signing an executive order banning refugees from Syria. Giving preference to Christian refugees from other nations. Suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. A cap of 50,000 refugees total in 2017–less than half the previous upper limit. Calling for something called “extreme vetting”–more than the current 18 month to 2 year system that exists.
This is simply shameful. It is un-American. Un-Christian. Unacceptable. Perhaps Trump should add a line to the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And that heart has to work.
Mine wasn’t, at least not well
Just like 3 years ago, I was having chest pain whenever I tried to do almost anything physical. I could get out of breath pushing a cart around the grocery store.
Last April, I came home from Galtinburg early and had a variety of tests at Kaiser, but they didn’t find much, although I knew darn well there was something wrong. Struggling along since then, in deep denial, I finally gave up and called my cardiologist, the very cute Dr. Shah at Kaiser.
An angiogram was scheduled for last Monday. In the old days, this would often lead to a coronary bypass operation. These day, it more often ends with the placement of a stent, a tiny honeycombmetal tube that holds the artery open.
Kaiser did a great job for me. The nursing staff is marvelous, not only providing very good care but being constantly dedicated to keeping the patient informed.
Of course, they still wake you up at 6 am to draw blood. Yes they give you a roommate who moans in Hindi all night and has a family who don’t understand inside voices. If you use a CPAP machine, the one the hospital provides is ungodly loud–they didn’t tell me I could bring my own. Naturally, the food is dreadful, all the more so in the cardiac care wing where salt is only slightly less acceptable than cigars.
The process is quick and mostly painless. I went in at 6 am Monday and was home by noon Tuesday. There is a small incision in my rightgroin where the doctor inserted the catheter. It’s still bandaged so I don’t know exactly how large, but it causes me no difficulty. Mostly, I look silly from some bruising and lots of green disinfectant that dyed my legs.
This was my third procedure–a double bypass 16 years ago and a stent 3 years ago. I’d like to think it will never happen again, but even with much more attention to diet and exercise than I am noted for, the bypass arteries have a tendency to close up. I may need a tune up again in a couple of years. I get my money’s worth from Kaiser.
So that’s what I’ve been doing lately instead of blogging. Not exactly the first choice, the results were worth it.
Mondays are typically dead for most restaurants. People are tired and broke from the weekend and just stay home. That’s why Monday is the traditional day off for the senior kitchen crew, and, to complete the circle of logic, is yet another good reason not to eat out the first day of the week.
But since the rent has to be paid every day, some bright restauranteurs try to find ways to break that cycle. The Commissary, in the Presidio across the bay, has come up with a brilliant solution.
The first Monday of the month (or the second, if the first was a holiday) they are offering a “chefs dinner”, inviting innovative chefs from other restaurants to come in and cook just a single dish, to be part of a tasting menu for foodies on the prowl for something different. Each month has a different theme–November was pumpkin, December was caviar and this month the theme was truffles.
The Commissary features a conventional dining room in front, with a second room containing a large open kitchen with a counter running around 3 sides. You want to sit at the kitchen counter if at all possible–you get to watch the numerous chefs, who have all staked out an area for their own efforts, working together in a smooth dance to get all the parts of the meal to guests without a hitch.
Our first dish was a deconstructed potato salad prepared by Chef Jamie Simpson, from The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. The presentation was impressive and the flavors were spectacular. The Chef’s Garden grows over 800 different veggies for high end restaurants around the country.
Chef Jamie came over to introduce himself and his creation. It doesn’t hurt that he’s very, very, very cute. Or so all the women were noticing.
The guest chefs weren’t necessarily from far away. We had a very creative bean dish prepared by Chef Val Cantu of Californios, a Mexican restaurant in the Mission.
Chef Val’s dish was “Tres Frijoles”, a concoction created of 3 different beans, none of which I recognized, prepared in ways I cannot describe, dispensed as foam from whipped cream canisters and topped with truffles. The small serving dishes were hand made by the general manager of The Commissary in her ceramics class. I have neither the words nor the requisite culinary training to properly describe the rich, soothing, fulfilling umami qualities of the dish ,heightened with a touch of serrano chile, but it was the most memorable of the evening.
The main course was prepared by Chef Dave Cruz, of Little Gem, a gluten-free small plate cafe near City Hall. It was a piece of perfectly prepared rib steak with pureed potatoes. Never has meat and potatoes reached such heights.
I gave the mushroom to Kate, the cleaned my plate. “Brassicas” describes an entire family of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbages and mustard greens. The potato puree was much finer and looser than the traditional mashed spuds. The dish was napped with a red wine jus Chef Dave described as similar to a bordelaise sauce.
Chef Jamie struck again with the “pre-dessert”. An absolutely stunning presentation of “churned sweet potato, crispy skin and truffle salt”. You’ve never seen anything like this.
Sweet potato ice cream, sitting in a cone created of sweet potato skin. The whole thing was a triumph of creativity and innovation, and shows the heights that great chefs can attain in both flavor and visual design. We were stunned with both.
Finally, as if we needed a bit more, there was a dessert of goat cheese cheesecake with truffle roasted parsnips, prepared by Chef Kristi Gauslow of The Commissary. I liked the cheesecake, thought the parsnips were clever merely for the sake of being clever.
We consider the night an unqualified success. The food was brilliant, innovative, creative and scrumptious. It’s a pleasure to be able to meet the chefs and talk to them about the food and how they developed it. At $95 the price is quite reasonable for this level of quality and brilliance.
The next chef’s dinner will be February 6, and features chocolate, fittingly for the month ofValentines Day. Our reservation is already made.
We expect politicians to be hypocrites, albeit not necessarily to the grand heights Mitch McConnell reaches when he broadly asserts it would be wrong for the Democrats not to vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominations. Why don’t that mans teeth jump out of his mouth in shame?
You expect a bit more in the way of integrity from a hospital, though. I was surprised this morning, then, when I bought a bagel at the “Wellness Cafe” after I had my blood drawn in Kaiser, Walnut Creek.
The “cream cheese spread” in the cooler was this ghastly mix of chemicals that is either food or the embalming agent for a rhinoceros. One suspects that even un-refrigerated, it would keep for the next 7 years without losing any of it’s synthetic charm.
Kaiser preaches healthy living, decorating the walls of the cafe with large scale photos of presumably organic fruits and veggies. There are signs next to the elevators in the garage suggesting taking the stairs for your hearts sake. Classes on healthy living are offered at no charge.
Okay, using the cheap cream cheese substitute is probably a petty and irrelevant issue. Mitch McConnell betrays his honor more than that every morning before breakfast. But character is composed of a thousand small decisions every day, and you ought to be able to get the little ones right.
Otherwise, you could end up in Congress.
Gail and I always want to see the good movies, and then haven’t gotten around to actually going to one in months. One of the nice things about being in Santa Cruz for a few days is going to the Nickleodeon, a local branch of the Landmark theater chain that always has the serious, often foreign, movies that we prefer. And real butter for the popcorn. Ever since the Cine Arts dome in Pleasant Hill was razed, we lack a local outlet for the cinema we prefer.
Manchester By the Sea has been hailed by the critics as one of the year’s best. It rates an impressive 97 on the tomatometer, and deserves every bit of it.
Lee (Casey Affleck) is an unhappy guy, doing grunt janitoral/maintenance work in Boston, living in a tiny room and not enjoying life. When his brother dies, Lee has to go back to his home town of Manchester to settle affairs, affairs which include the custody of his brother’s 16 year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This is a task for which Lee is manifestly unsuited.
Slowly, for this film has a quiet and stately pace, we find the backstory. Lee was married, to Randi (Michelle Williams), and had 3 children. One dreadful night, while Lee was out buying more beer, the house burned down and all three children perished. His life shattered, his marriage destroyed, Lee left town for his life of solitude and despair.
Lee can’t stand the town, and the town isn’t very fond of him, either. He has problems finding work, even though he is a skilled handyman. A chance encounter with his re-married ex-wife and her new baby is excruciating as she tries to express her sorrow for the dissolution of their marriage and he is inchoherent in his pain, finally running away in frustration.
Patrick wants to stay where he is, finish high school with his friends and operate his father’s lobster boat. Lee wants to get the heck out of town, taking his young charge with him. Drama ensues. Patrick attempts to re-unite with his estranged mother, but it’s a disaster. A longtime alcoholic, seeing Patrick seems to make her fall right off the wagon. A cameo appearance by Matthew Broderick as the mother’s new husband is close to comic relief, but the pain of this movie can’t be relieved that easily.
Of course, in the fullness of time a resolution is reached. Lee seems to be slowly, achingly, coming out of the darkness and rejoining the world. Patrick will stay in his school and make the life he wants.
Affleck does a wonderful job in this film, trying to convey the emotions that his character is incapable of expressing. Lucas Hedges is marvelous as a young man bursting with the possibilities of youth. Michelle Williams is transcendent, as always.
If you aren’t going to get to a lot of movies, this is likely the one to see.
I’ve never been a dog person. Don’t understand why people want to complicate their lives with the sloppy, messy things. Wouldn’t have a girlfriend if I had to follow after her with poop bags, so why would I want a dog?
Then we went to Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, and Gail fell in love with her son’s cockapoo, Justin.
We got home, and Gail was online instantly searching for a cockapoo puppy. She found one in the tiny burg of Nappannee, Indiana.
The next two weeks were spent preparing for a new arrival and deciding on a name. We chose “Claudia” in honor of the artists Claude Monet and Camille Claudel. I texted that to the breeder so he could start addressing her properly.
When the pooch got to 8 weeks old, I was dispatched to fetch her–everyone we know is vehemently opposed to shipping dogs in the hold of an airplane.
Monday, I flew to Chicago. We landed just after sunset, and the approach was spectacular:
Don’t ever rent a car from Thrifty at O’Hare airport. I stood in the 12º cold for 30 minutes while 8 Hertz buses, 8 National/Avis buses, 7 from Enterprise and 6 from Alamo passed by before one, tiny, overcrowded bus from Thrifty arrived to take me to the rental facility.
Then they gave me a Hyundai Sonata that is either badly designed or had a broken seat, because I could not move the seat back far enough to drive it. I had to explain that they cannot rent me a car I physically can not drive.
Safely ensconced in a Toyota Camry, I drove almost 3 hours, passing through Chicago rush hour traffic onto the Indiana Toll Road and thence to Goshen, IN, the nearest town to Nappannee with a decent motel.
Way too darned early the next morning, I was up and excited and on my way through the snowy Indiana countryside to meet the breeder and my new pet.
Driving on country roads towards Nappannee, I was suddenly in traffic moving at 3 miles an hour. Here is the reason:
This is Amish country. There was a big fight years ago about the red lights and triangle, which the Amish considered “adornment” and therefore unacceptable, but after a few buggies were rear ended at high speed they bowed to reality.
(I’ve been writing this for a week now, with the intervention of Christmas and the constant interruptions of a new dog who needs petting. I will finish it. Life must go on, even with a new puppy in the house.)
The breeder turned out to be a young Amish man who has a farm and breeds pups on the side. I turned off the road to find a large brick house, barns, silos, outbuildings of many descriptions and deep snow that made me nervous that I’d get stuck. The man was about 35 or 40, with a beard but no moustache as is the Amish way. He was wearing broadfall pants, which have a large flap in the front and no zipper. He must be some version of “reform” Amish, since the house had electricity and he had a cell phone.
There were two tiny puppies playing in the office, one of whom was Claudia. We talked for a few minutes, he gave me a starter kit of supplies, and then Claudia and I set off for O’Hare and the flight home.
Of course, I had to stop a couple of times to put her up on the dash and take photos for the folks at home.
If you want to fly with your dog, you have to make a doggie reservation, have a carrier that will fit under the seat and pay another $125. I did all that, or at least the Travel Goddess did. Under the seat can be crowded for older dogs, but there was plenty of room for Claudia.
Sometimes the universe tells you you are on the right path. This was our gate for the flight from Chicago home:
I have a shirt with the America Airlines logo on it–purchased at their store in DFW. People tend to think I am/was an employee when I wear it, and I get treated extra nicely. That, plus the fact that I was travelling with an impossibly cute puppy, made me a hit on the plane. The rules prohibit taking your pet out of the carrier, but that was no problem and she rode home on my lap.
Arriving at SFO, I could not find my car key and thought it had been lost in the security theater in Chicago, so we came home in an Uber. (The key turned up in the dog’s carrier and I went back by BART to fetch the car then next day.)
And now came the best part, introducing Claudia to her new mom.
Our lives are totally disrupted, and we’re loving it. We take her everywhere, and she is always the star of the show. I’ve become one of those doofusses you see standing outside in the cold waiting for the dog to poop–which she doesn’t understand and just wants to wander around and attack leaves. I get nothing done because I have to stop and play with the pup every 90 seconds. I know the location of every pet store in the county, in case there is a chew toy emergency. Our always tidy house is a wreck, and we don’t care.
God help us, I’m a dog person.
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