Food 8, Organization 3

I can’t stand it anymore, I need to write.  We’ve got a president so crass he drives his golf cart across the greens, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  So I went out to dinner.

Gail and I found a very good Mexican restaurant in Lafayette called Rancho Cantina. Not only do we like the food, they have a patio in front so we can bring Claudia with us.  That has somehow become very important in a short time.


I just liked the look of the chips.

Tonight we went there for the 4th time, meeting friends Mike and Gretchen. Our experience was pretty much the same as the other times–very good food, disorganized and random service.  We keep going back, so it isn’t that terrible, but it’s irritating.

We began with the tapas platter.  Barbecued boar, manchego cheese, flatbread and olives.  Nicely presented and a different way to start the meal.


Gail ordered some enchiladas to go, for tomorrows lunch. That was the first dish they brought to the table, plated and ready to eat.  We sent it back to be packaged for takeout.

The dish she wanted for dinner was a chili relleno, and that made up for the early confusion.


Digging in before I could get the shot.

I had the grilled fish tacos.  They are a bit spicy for me, but so good I choke them down anyway.


We split an order of the grilled asparagus with fennel slaw. Not at all what you think of in regards to Mexican cuisine, but the slaw was innovative and the asparagus were prepared expertly.


An unusual and delightful side dish.

Mike had the guisado, a stew of wild boar, cactus and potatoes.  I didn’t much care for it, thinking it was just all boiled together into tasteless mush.

Now here’s the problem: he also ordered a chili relleno and the kitchen couldn’t manage to get it to the table before the rest of us were completely finished with our meal.  Last week, Gail had nachos and was close to finished before my very good chicken came to the table.  There appears to be no organization or system to the operation.  It occurs to me that I have never seen the same waitperson twice, either. I feel like they have a decent chef but no management whatsoever.

Still, it’s a good, local, casual Mexican place with better than average food and outdoor seating so we can bring the dog.  That goes a long way these days, and if you can handle a little chaos in your life, you will probably like Rancho Cantina.


I Don’t Want to Write

About politics.

Washington is a disaster.  A catastrophe.  A shamble. An embarrassment.  Every day is another revelation, another scandal, another failure. The news is depressing, enraging, irritating and unpleasant.  There are people at the bridge club I can barely manage to be civil to because they support and cheer about this deplorable situation.

A health care plan was introduced that would take insurance away from 20 million Americans, and the GOP voted it down because it wasn’t harsh enough.

I don’t like conspiracy theorists; most certainly don’t want to become one.  Still can’t shake the sense that the entire election was stolen by Vladimir Putin.

The Supreme Court just struck down the North Carolina voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, but that doesn’t change the result of the election.

So that’s easy, just don’t write about it.  Unfortunately, I also don’t want to NOT write about politics.  There is nothing more important happening. It seems pointless to pen another anodyne article about the lack of crispiness of the fries at another restaurant when the nation is going to the dogs.  I’ve got a great post about the Tel Aviv Central Bus terminal with photos I took months ago, just can’t bring myself to write it while all this mishegoss is forefront is everyone’s consciousness.

Writing about restaurants and ballets and bus stations seems like so much re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Okay, so maybe I’m whiny and self indulgent.   I’m certain to be less important than I think I am. Probably I should just shut up and keep writing about the few things that interest a tiny group of people in my insignificant corner of the internet. Be happy to have my few hundred readers and muddle along in my irrelevancy.  Is that what a grown up would do? I wouldn’t know.

This boring funk won’t last, one hopes.  Just as one hopes this insane crisis in American politics will be resolved, in some fashion, sooner rather than later. I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned.


Spectacular Ballet

Smuin_Broken Open 2_Chris Hardy.jpg

Smuin dancers Ben Needham-Wood, Rachel Furst, and Jonathan Powell in Amy Seiwert’s “Broken Open,”
presented as part of Smuin’s Dance Series 02
in the 2016-2017 season.Photo credit: Chris Hardy


We’ve been subscribers to the Smuin Ballet for 10 seasons now, and tonight’s performance was the finest I’ve seen.  Go see it.  Saturday or Sunday.  Or the next 2 weeks at Yerba Buena Center in the City.  Or in 3 weeks in Carmel.  Or go to all of them–once you see this, you’ll want to see it again.

There are three pieces in the performance.  The first, The Poetry of Being, is classical ballet set to Tchaikovsky.  The curtain rises on a cast clad in blue and beige, and there is an audible gasp from the audience at the glamour of it.  Lighting designer Michael Oesch has outdone himself in this, setting mood and tone before a note is struck.  The dancing is superb, the choreography by Nicole Haskins is brilliant.

The second act, Broken Open, is all modern.  From the new age score by Julia Kent to the graffiti stenciled costumes by Birgit Pfeffer and Robert Burg to the radical, angular choreography by Amy Seiwert this piece captures the imagination and dazzles the eyes.

And yet, the best is still to come.  The third act, Be Here Now, is a rousing anthem to the 60’s; the score is all music you know (if you’re old like I am) from the Mamas and the Papas, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and straight up Janis Joplin.  The pitch-perfect period costumes, more of Michael Oesch’s lighting, video highlights by the choreographer, Trey McIntyre, and the incredible, happy, bursting with life and vitality dancing of the ensemble, create a moment of pure joy at the ballet that is simply not to be missed.

Go. Go soon, go often.  I’m a committed fan of the Smuin Ballet, and I think this is the best work they’ve ever done.  Do not miss it.


Talent is where you find it

People have many talents, yet we tend to think that bridge players only play bridge, or tennis players only play tennis.  I got another lesson in how wrongheaded that is this afternoon when Jan Gunn took us to the Berkeley Tennis Club for an art show presented by club members.

The club has a large room, with a full stage at one end.  The lighting is great, and it was perfect for the event.


Here are Gail and Jan talking with one of the artists, a woman who does botanical drawing to exacting perfection:


Some amateur and some professional, all the artists displaying their work were showing a side of themselves not ordinarily seen by their fellow club members.  Here are some of their creations:

Thelma Lancaster makes bread sculptures, just for the heck of it:

Her husband, Sydney Kennedy, creates fine wood crafts.

Ama Torrance creates fiberglass sculpture.  I think one of these would look good in our yard, with lighting from within.


A didn’t get the name of this artist:

untitled-10It is interesting to see a painting and the item it was fashioned on:

Cary Lapidus was surrounded by her paintings:


The sculptures of Danielle la Fontaine were enchanting:


It wasn’t a large show, and not everything was for sale–you could have a bread sculpture for the asking.

We enjoyed the art, and may even purchase one of the fiberglass animals.  The real lesson here is to keep you eyes and heart open for the breadth of abilities the people you know have and not to limit you thoughts about them to the one arena of life you see them in.

Flamenco in Walnut Creek 

Dinner tonight at Teleferic in Walnut Creek. We were here in once before and enjoyed it, but tonight was a special occasion. 

Monday’s being traditionally slow, restaurants try different promotions to get the crowds in. Teleferic brings in three masterful flamenco dancers, a singer and an incredible Spanish guitar player. A small wooden dance floor is laid down, and the music takes over. 

There were five of us and a four year old. We didn’t even read the menu, just asked our very competent waiter to feed us. We had salmon tartare, octopus, salad, potato croquettes, scallops, jamon Serrano and of course finished with churros and chocolate. There is a rolling tapas cart, like dim sum, and we tried a deviled egg.  Every single bite was scrumptious. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the food here.  

The music is free– there isn’t even a tip jar. The three women rotate in and out, doing what is essentially a Spanish tap dance. I believe they are improvising to the music and they are so expert it just flows. 

My only complaint about this place is the same as the first time we were here–it’s too damned loud. With all the stomping in the dance surface it was even louder than before. Fortunately, this time I had earplugs with me which eased the pain. I strongly recommend them to everyone. 

Teleferic is a great place for an authentic Spanish experience with brilliantly prepared and presented food. Give it a try on a Monday evening and get in the groove with the music and dance. It’s truly wonderful. 

No Dallas for me. 

Micky working in the Admirals Club while we cool our heels in O’Hare

We were headed for home through Dallas. It’s always Dallas. But our plane kept getting more and more delayed. 8:15. 9:30. 10:25. 2:30. It was looking ugly. 

With the help of an enormously competent young man named Jesse, we were able to reroute home via Chicago. A few minutes later we heard that our original flight had been further delayed until 9:30 PM!  A full 13 hours behind schedule, and too late to get any flights out of Dallas even if we got there. We had definitely made the right choice. 

The flight to O’Hare was quick and easy. Now we are ensconced in the Admirals Club, waiting for a 5 pm flight to SFO. 

We will end up about 6 1/2 hours behind schedule, wasting a day we each had plans for. 

I try to remember we’re still having a better trip west than the Donner Party had. 

Not even in Dallas 

Mike and I finished playing in Gatlinburg yesterday and headed to Knoxville and the airport Hilton. We had a gorgeous drive on back roads through pouring rain and the beautiful, lush Tennessee open space.

Up far too early this morning, I walk the 200 yards to the airport and checked in for my flight. All was well as we boarded and backed away from the gate.

Then disaster struck. The pilot said we had some mechanical issue and we’re taxiing back to the gate. This is never good. 
After about 15 minutes he announced that it would be over an hour and we should all deplane.

Settling back in on the oh so comfortable airport benches  I got on the phone to American Airlines to rebook our flight, hoping that would be faster than waiting in line with everyone else. Mike, who is no  fool, handed me his boarding pass so I could rebook us both. 
The good news is we are on a flight about three hours later. The bad news is we are both in middle seats. I asked to be put on the upgrade list, but was told they couldn’t because I had already checked in, in Tennessee. This makes no sense of course, but that’s not surprising when dealing with the airlines. 

So we’ll sit here until we finally take off and fly to Dallas, sit some more, and fly home squooshed into middle seats. 

If all goes well.

Vaudeville lives


Scott Johnson, Chris MacPherson (standing) Christopher Sullivan and Stephanie Butters play a cast of thousands

Saturday night in Gatlinburg, Mike and I traditionally do something non-bridge.  Frequently, this involves miniature golf, but that seemed too presidential this year so we went to the theater.


There are about 100 seats in the house.  It wasn’t filled on a very rainy night.

Not Hamilton or The Lion King or Streetcar, but the Sweet Fanny Adams Theater which has a comedy show every night, right there in downtown G’burg.  We learned about it while having dinner at the Trout House.  The players come through the local restaurants advertising their shows.

This is a small troupe, just 4 actors play all the parts.  Of course, one of the skits is just one actor playing all the parts in Romeo and Juliet by himself.  Other skits make good use of the audience for stooges, actors and foils.  The guy in the suspenders turned out to be a great singer, for instance.

The show runs 2 hours, with a 15 minute intermission.  They sell soft drinks but no alcohol, which disappointed Micky.  They also sell a CD of the performance, taped live every night, which is great if you were one of the ones called onstage and need to watch your humiliation anew.  That may explain why they try to get so many people into the act.

Scott Johnson performs a number of tap dance acts.  Christopher Sullivan is a comic, clown, juggler and magician.  Stephanie Butters is the femme fatale, the straight woman and singer.

Chris MacPherson was born into this theater: his parents founded it in 1977.  He does it all–hosts, sings, dances, acts and is creative director of the joint as well.

Most theaters give dire warnings about taking photos–this place encourages it.  So here is what the show looks like:

The price is a pittance–$25.  The actors are in front as you walk out so you can shake hands and say hello.  We had a completely enjoyable evening, and you will too.



If it’s good, it will be better fried


A deep fried deviled egg. Death on a plate.

I’ve always contended that the people around here would fry coffee if they could figure out how, and tonight did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion.  We made our annual stop at Bennett’s Barbecue, and the new delicacy on the menu is deep fried deviled eggs.  naturally, we had to order them for the table.

(And yes, one of our number suggested that the waitress could split the $7.99 six way and add it to each of our checks.  We found a better way.)

They batter and fry the whites before piping the yolk mixture into the now crispy whatever you would call that item, then top it all with “chow chow”, a supposedly “oriental” topping of pickled I don’t want to know what.

It tastes good.  I’m starting to figure out why I have had to heart issues twice right after Gatlinburg.

After the eggs, I had the salad bar, which is at least the illusion of healthy, and a brisket sandwich.  Nothing special in any of that.  Then came dessert:


I’m a sucker for fresh baked, still warm, peach cobbler with ice cream. It was all it was supposed to be, with still crisp peaches, a gooey crust and cooling vanilla ice cream dripping off every spoonful.  The bad news is that I just can’t east as much these days and offered it to the rest of the gang to share.

Bridge continues to be desultory. We win a bit, lose a bit, just can’t hit a groove.  I still enjoy the trip–where else can I get deep fried eggs?

Fish in the land of meat

This seems like meat country to me–the restaurants serve steaks and ribs and chicken, not pasta and veggies and fish.  There is usually some token piscatorial choice on the menu, like the salmon at Calhouns, but they don’t really know what to do with it and only Californians order it anyway.

We found an exception to this rule, thanks to ACBL President Bob Heller’s wife, Barbara. She recommended The Trout House, and we were off on another Tennessee adventure.

The Trout House is a small place, east of the main drag on the road to Pigeon Forge.  So small that you need reservations, in a town where nobody else even takes them.  It seemed strange to see our table for 6 with its little “RESERVED” sign on it just waiting for us.

Our waitress was a Gatlinburg institution.  She is 76 years old, bent and crooked, and has been scuttling around the Trout House for over 25 years.  She’s friendly and capable without any of that “hon” and “dear” and “sugar bear” that you get from so many others.  She’s a true delight.

The Trout House serves trout.  Grilled, fried, smothered in almonds, smothered in lemon rice, smothered in dill, sauteed, smoked, broiled, baked, smothered in cheese, and a few more variations.  They have a prime rib on the menu for people who can’t read the name of the place, but it isn’t a specialty.

We started with hush puppies, the quintessential Southern balls of deep fried cornmeal.


They were significantly dry and hard, but dipping them in honey made them pretty interesting.  The first time I came to Gatlinburg I kept expecting to find them on every menu, but that hasn’t happened.  I think this was only the second time I’ve seen them here.

I had the trout, just grilled.  Being the healthy person that I am, I chose the glazed carrots instead of some variation of potatoes.


The healthy eaters delight–grilled trout and carrots. Ignore the ramekin of melted butter to pour over it all.

My dish was fine.  Nothing fancy, nothing that would get  the chef an audition at a restaurant with a Michelin star.  Just a solid, decent meal. The fish was cooked just right, properly de-boned and nicely presented with excellent glazed carrots.

Bill had the trout stuffed with lemon rice.


Lemon rice trout with a baked potato.

I have a hard time getting over the low prices on things here.  The key lime pie was $3.95. Limes are fruit, so that made it a healthy think to eat.


Unfortunately, $3.95 is about what it was worth.  If Nancy Munson ever made a crust like that she would not let it see the light of day, and neither should the Trout House.  The filling was good.

Prices were tiny.  As little as they charge, we got a 10% discount because we were from the bridge tournament. My dinner, with un-sweet iced tea, trout and pie, was about $24.  The waitress got the bills all mixed up and put the pie on Bill’s check. She wanted to straighten it out, but we thought that might take forever so we took care of it ourselves–Bill and Danny are CPA’s, so they can figure these things to the last cent.  $3.95, minus 10%, plus sales tax, plus tip.  I just left a huge tip and Bill didn’t have to leave any.

The Trout House is an adventure, a delight, a big change of pace for G’burg.  I’m glad we found it and will put it in the rotation for next year.  Hold the pie.