Dinner tonight at the Texas Roadhouse, a monument to cheap prices and fast service.
I was back at the cabin, but the other guys got here early, only to find that they adamantly would not be seated until all six of us were in atendance. I showed up, and we were crammed into a booth, because there are no tables. The tables all have buckets of unshelled peanuts to munch on, and of course shovel the shells onto the floor.
Danny distributed menus, pointedly placing them all with the back page up, so we could see the early bird specials. Can’t slip that past an accountant.
Being a big spender, I chose the 10 oz rib eye steak, served with 2 sides for $16.99. I chose the sweet potato as one of the side dishes, and ordered it “loaded” which I thought meant butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. Nobody mentioned the melted marshmallow on top, but being a well behaved young man I ate it all politely.
The rib eye was very good. The potato was good. I noticed all my compatriots finishing their meals. Texas Roadhouse serves a pretty darned good meal, fast and cheap. Steak, sides, peanuts, un-sweet iced tea and rolls came to $22.88. The waitress brought separate checks as a matter of course.
I reminded everyone that the server was making $2.13/hour here in the unreconstructed south, and they should tip well. I hope we made her day. The marshmallows made mine.
There was a big fire here last November. 14 people died, two young men are now doing 60 years in stony lonesome for being the jerks who started it.
We were very afraid that the cabin we stay in would be destroyed but were relieved to find that we had been spared. We are in the main fire area, though, as two houses right next to us were reduced to rubble.
The fire was capricious, rushing up the hills and burning houses randomly. I was struck by this site, where you can see an untouched cabin just a few feet behind a place with nothing left but the chimney.
The homes here are large, and get larger as you go up the hill. Being made mostly of stone is no protection against the firestorm, apparently.Buildings on this hill were, for the most part, either spared or destroyed. I only saw one home with repairable damage.
Being behind stone walls and iron gates gives you a false sense of security. The fire will not be denied.
Downtown Gatlinburg seems to be untouched; all the damage is up the hills from the commercial center. The motels and inns are all open for business, and they all seem to have vacancies. I think people got scared by the new stories and are staying away, as the town seems half empty and the tournament (although it is only the first day) seems smaller.
Today we were in the top bracket, which rarely happens here. And we got killed in the first round, which is why we don’t like the top bracket. Tomorrow is another day, and if more people show up we’ll be in bracket 2 and have a much better chance. Cross your fingers.
UPDATE: Micky is cranky that I said we got killed in the KO when we lost by exactly 5 IMPs. Apparently that isn’t sufficient to be deemed ‘killed’. So consider us wounded. Winger. Edged. Nosed. Squeaked.
But he other guys are playing round 2 while Mike and I are playing the side game. That’s killed enough for me.
Lunch today at the Lazy Dog, a casual sports bar kind of joint where El Torito was at the south end of the Willows.
They gutted the building, so it’s just one huge room with a full bar, five huge TV screens and too much noise. There is a good looking patio for a slightly warmer day.
I don’t mind casual, but when the greeter refers to us five separate times in two minutes as ‘you guys’ I think casual has gone overboard.
The menu has all the sports bar kind of thing–burgers, sandwiches, pastas, a few main courses. There was a weekend brunch menu as well, and Gail ordered the chilaquiles from that. What she got was more a plate of nachos and scrambled eggs, but she liked it and carefully found all the eggs.
I had the walnut chicken salad sandwich. The menu promised chunks of chicken, but it was finely shredded and mixed with the walnuts, golden raisins, celery and what was billed as curry mayo. There was no taste of curry in my sandwich, but it was a decent meal with quite nice fries.
One thing we noticed was the huge portions. Although prices were reasonable, you get an absurd amount of food. My sandwich was $9.95, and it was vastly more than I could hope to finish. Gail’s dish was immense. Even my iced tea cane in a huge glass–it needed four packets of sweetener instead of the usual three.
On our way out, the greeter said “have a good day, folks.” I think that’s a promotion from ‘you guys’.
The Lazy Dog is a decent place for a quick meal, or a place to go to have a. See and watch the game. Seriously consider sharing a dish–there will still be leftovers. You guys will save money and calories and feel virtuous and frugal.
Claudia was getting too darned shaggy, and we didn’t know how she could see out of all the hair covering her eyes, so it was time to make that traumatic first trip to the groomer. Traumatic for us, that is. The pup couldn’t care less. Just one more person to love her.
We asked Dr. Ruth, our caring vet who also has a couple of small dogs, who was the best around. She recommended Deanna, now working out of Patty’s Pet Parlor in Concord. An appointment was arranged, and off we went.
The first meeting went well–Claudia jumped into her arms and started kissing.
More hugging ensued until some calm could be arranged.
Deanna and Gail had a serious talk about what was required–just a trim of face, feet and tail. No big haircut. No scalped dog. Plenty of fuzzy, rag-mop left to run around the house.
Getting ready to say good bye. You can see how overgrown her face was.
Deanna wanted 90 minutes to give her a bath, blow her dry and make her beautiful. That’s when Gail and I went to Mimi’s Cafe for breakfast, with Gail slightly trepidacious all the while.
When we went to pick her up, Gail stayed in the car. Which was good because Deanna had placed a pretty bow in Claudia’s hair, and I knew that wasn’t Gail’s style at all. Safely de-bowed, I brought her out to the car and Gail was very happy with the results. So happy that when we went home I set the newly shorn puppy on the stool in my photo studio and took a formal portrait for you:
Here’s one more I took Sunday
We are lucky to have such a cute pup, and I’m awfully glad we found Deanna. Next up: a full dog trim, not cut, just trim. I doubt that she can get any cuter, though.
It’s traumatic leaving the dog at the groomer’s for the first time but it had to be done. We had some time to kill in Concord so we went out for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, right on the corner of Willow Pass and Market St.
Mimi’s has a New Orleans theme with a constant Mardi Gras decoration. There’s a full bar as well as the dining room, and a few outside tables for clement days. It isn’t a fancy joint; paper napkins and cheap cutlery. I’d consider it a notch and a half over Denny’s.
The menu has more than the typical coffee shop fare. There are pancakes and eggs, as expected. But then they get put into some more sophisticated combinations. I ordered a smoked salmon omelet, with red onions, capers and sour cream.
Often when a dish promises three eggs, it’s because management is buying tiny eggs. They are cheaper and three sounds better on the menu. Not here. My omelet was clearly 3 large eggs. The salmon was excellent, the capers made me think the traditional bagels and lox had been transformed to an omelet. The potatoes were decent, certainly different. Some more salt would have been nice, but mostly they were dry–no butter. Probably healthier that way, but who eats breakfast out to be healthy?
I had a choice of toast or muffin, and chose the muffin.
Muffins are the way we have cake for breakfast with a clear conscience. This one was too crumbly for me, but I choked it down somehow.
Gail had a bowl of the corn chowder and a cappuccino. She enjoyed the soup: I thought the fancy coffee looked great and seem to be huge.
Service was coffee shop friendly, after a slow start. The food came out promptly and still hot, except the cappuccino because apparently the bartender is the only one who can make it, and he was busy. Prices are reasonable.
Mimi’s Cafe is a fine place for a quick meal from 7 am to 10 pm every day. Great value for the price. Watch out for the muffin crumbs.
Gail and I subscribe to the Bay Area Cabaret. 5 or 6 times a year we see an intimate show in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel: an hour or so of singing by someone incredibly talented from the world of Broadway or jazz or cabaret. This week we saw Christine Andreas, and wow!, were we impressed.
There is a whole world out there of people with capabilities you can barely imagine, yet you’ve never heard of them. Christine has made a long career in musical theater. been twice nominated for a Tony Award, performed around the world in concerts, and continues to awe audiences, without ever being a household name.
We’ve seen many performers at Cabaret. Some you know, like Judy Collins or Leslie Uggams, the others you don’t. We have never seen a better show than we did Sunday night. Gail says she only cried twice, but that may be optimistic.
Gail’s favorite song was What’s it all about, Alfie?. I was completely taken by the two Edith Piaf numbers, La Vie en Rose and Le Ombre de la Rue. Her accompanist was Oscar nominated composer Kenneth Ascher, who wrote the score to The Muppet Movie. Naturally, she sang Kermit’s theme song, The Rainbow Collection and everyone was enchanted.
After the show, Christine rushed out to hawk CD’s because a girl’s got to make a living. Who still buys CD’s? Any music I want I’d buy from iTunes. The audience for Cabaret skews older as much as bridge does, so maybe they are a little less up to date on their technology.
We always enjoy our evenings at Cabaret. We just enjoyed hearing and seeing Christine Andreas more. Lots more.
You go to Israel, it only makes sense to go see Old Jerusalem.
There’s thousands of years of history, and I don’t know enough of it to even sound vaguely well informed. So today, we have lots of pictures and not so many words.
Bar Mitzahs are permitted here three days a week, and we were there on one of them. Happy, joyous, festive occasions, frequently high-budget productions. We watched two of them parading in towards the Western Wall:
Getting into the central Western Wall area entails some serious security–if you are a man. The lines are separated by the sexes, and the women’s line moves much faster. The metal detector for the men buzzed over the two small coins in my pocket.
Once inside, you see the Western Wall, which is the outside of the Temple.
The area in front of the wall is divided 2/3–1/3 into male and female sections. The Bar Mitzvahs were being celebrated very close to the separating wall so that mothers and sisters could look over and see their sons on the big day.
The men praying at the wall fascinated me.
There’s always somebody with his own twist on things. I noticed this man praying and getting his exercise simultaneously. Look at what he has in his hands.
Some faces are too good to pass up. This gentleman was a bookseller.
Here’s another face–this time a little girl having a big day with the family.
Later, we took a tout of the tunnels beneath the area, and saw excavations many, many feet deeper. Old cities didn’t grow outward, they grew up, so one civilization is built on top of another. I was amazing seeing the walls Herod built 2000 years ago.
There are 9 gates into the city, not all still working, named for the cities they led to, or the figures that adorn them, or historical persons, or, in the case of the gate we left by, the main cargo that passed through.
Saturday, Shabbat, Shabbos is taken seriously around here. Orthodox Jews won’t turn on a light, write a note, plug in a heater, drive a car or even ride in one. The stores are closed and there is nothing for the non-observant to do.
So we got out of Dodge. Loaded up the tiny car and drove down to the Dead Sea. Oddly enough, it was the most alive place around.
Wikipedia says the sea is 1416 ft below sea level, but that’s probably an understatement. The level of the water is decreasing by 1 meter a year, because the only feeder is the River Jordan, and so much water is taken from the river for agriculture that there is little to none available to replace the evaporation from the sea.
There have been many proposals for how to save the Dead Sea, with the most probable being to dig a canal 125 miles through the Negev desert to the Red Sea and use that water to replenish the loss.
We went to a private beach, Kalia. Besides the beach, there was a restaurant, bar, spa and shops. The clientele was a mix of Jews and Arabs, with both Israeli and Palestinian license plates in the parking lot.
The Arab women stay covered up, even when they go swimming. Once you get out of the extraordinarily saline water, you need to shower off, and there was a shower next to where we were sitting.
You can see how far down we had to go to get to the water.
Swimming is everything you have heard of. The water is so salty that tasting even a single drop is unpleasant. You float so high in the water it’s hard to get your feet in, or you roll over and float on your stomach with you head in the air. Nobody puts their head in the water, for good reason. Your eyes would burn, your nose would hurt, it would taste awful. About all you want to do is splash around a bit, try some floating and head for the showers. Except for the mud.
There is a huge industry involved in beauty products from the Dead Sea, much of which is centered on mud. Supposedly, the mud improves your skin and brings out some mythical “toxins”. You can buy a half pound of mud nicely packaged for $12, but the people in the water just dig down and cover themselves in the black, sticky goo. Toby had to give it a try.
People need pictures of themselves to show off with:
We lasted a couple of hours in the sun, then left for less salty adventures. We had considered going for lunch to the town of Jericho, which is quite close to the Dead Sea, but then we ran into this sign:
As American citizens, we could have continued on, but Toby is now an Israeli citizen as well, so we moved on to plan B–anywhere but Jericho.
We had lunch somewhere, I just forget the name. I’d like to forget the fettuccine I had. Toby ordered the gray mullet, which sounds like the haircut on an aging redneck. He seemed to like his dish when it arrived:
The it was time to goback to the hotel and take a nap. There are parts of this tourism thing I could get very good at. Tanned, ready and rested, we went to dinner at the Happy Fish restaurant, right in the hotel. It didn’t open until 9 pm because it was Shabbat, and the staff could not turn on the stoves and start their prep work until sundown. That was fine with us, grownups eat dinner later.
The facility was beautiful, with dramatic lighting that made the meal an event.
We had an appetizer of hummus and falafel. Food wise, the best thing about Israel may well be the hummus. This was also the best falafel I’ve ever had. Two for two is a good average.
I had the grilled salmon as an entree. I suppose I shouldn’t ask where the salmon came from; it sure as heck wasn’t local. But it was delicious.
That was the end of a long and pleasant day. More tomorrow.
Generations of American tourist set off on their grand tour of Europe in Paris, heading to the Louvre for their cultue fix only to find the place is closed on Tuesday.
Last Tuesday, Gail and I, along with Jan and Keith Gunn, found out that the Cantor museum on the Stanford Campus follows classical French tradition. So there we were, in Palo Alto, all dressed up with no place to go.
Being creative, we began with an overpriced lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. The place was full of techy hipsters earnestly pitching ideas to junior VC’s, both hoping to be the next billionaire in town. It wasn’t really the right place for us.
Our fall back plan became the Hiller Aviation Museum, at the San Carlos Airport. I’ve seen it from the freeway, and it’s the perfect place to take an engineer like Keith.
Stanley Hiller invented the co-rotor helicopter (two rotors running in opposite directions on one shaft) when he was 15. He got the Defense Department to fund him to devolop a model for the Army when he was 17. (This was during WWII) At 18 he tested the prototype at Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley (where he had been admitted at 15, but he dropped out after 6 months to invent) He founded a company, then partnered with Henry Kaiser, then 20 years later sold out to Fairchild. The remainder of his career Hiller worked as a turnaround specialist, making failing companies profitable.
The museum is a large building just full of aircraft, from the oldest Wright flyer to a mock up of the Virgin spacecraft that will take passengers to space. There are plenty of Hiller Helicopters, natch, but this place is much more than a shrine to its founder.
If the word “Albatross” makes you think of Monty Python, you’ve got my kind of humor. If it makes you think of a large amphibious airplane, you belong at this musuem.
All the displays you see are school science projects. Many of them went right over my head–these kids have educated parents and get into some pretty advanced science. I liked the one where a fifth grader tested whether penne or fettucini cooked faster–her hypothesis was that the fettucini would. Finally, some science I can appreciate.
There was a flight simulator set up so yu could fly a Wright biplane, with only two large controls, up/down and left/right. Gail gave it a try:
In the rear of the building, the museum has obtained the entire front section of a 747=100, retired after millions of miles of flight.
Entering through the rear, you can climb the tiny, steep circular staircase to the upper level where first class sat, and then enter the cramped cokpit, with seats for 3 crew and 2 observers wedged in among the hundreds of dials, fuses and switches.
Attached to the museum is a repair/restoration shop where som serious craftsmen are preparing new machines for display.You can watch them throud large windows, and I thought we might lose Keith forever-the workshop is an engineer’s paradise.
The museum is easy to get to, friendly tovisit, full of fascinating exhibits and open on Tuesday. That make it even better than the Louvre.
Actually, I don’t much know what a goober pea is. Just seemed like a good title.
The first Monday of the month, on a chef’s traditional night off, The Commissary in the Presidio has an open kitchen night, where they invite well known chefs from around the area to come and contribute a dish to a special prix fixe dinner. There is always a theme, and this month the theme was fresh spring peas.
The wine pairing this month featured the wines of the Del Dotto vineyard. They also provided the chefs for two of the dishes. I’m pretty sure their founder, Dave Del Dotto, was a bridge player at one time–I remember sitting with him and his beautiful blonde wife after sessions at the Anaheim Nationals in 1987.
On to the dinner. We began with an amuse bouche, pea sprout soup served in a tiny shooter, topped with a chip and a pea. They were brought to the table in terraria, each containing 3 servings.
Here is the shooter itself:
The first course was prepared by Chef Rogelio Garcia, executive chef at The Commissary.
Local sturgeon, poached and topped with its own caviar, house cured. Sitting on a bed of fresh English peas. A simply magnificent preparation and presentation. The dark circle around the plate is trumpet mushrooms, which fortunately don’t taste like mushrooms and add an umami richness to the dish.
Each of the visiting chefs comes with an assistant, and they are assigned a small area of the kitchen. This leads to a very crowded work area, but these guys are all pros who know how to work hard in a crowded conditions.
The next item was from Chef Joshua Schwartz, of Del Dotto Winery. A totally new envisioning of lasagna, like mama most certainly did not make.
I can hardly begin to describe this marvelous dish. No tomato sauce, housemade ricotta, housemade prosciutto, a tiny loaf of bread; the whole thing was breathtaking. This is the sort of thing these chef’s nights are for–this dish is way too complicated and labor intensive to be on a regular menu, but here the chef can be as creative as he likes.
The next dish was from Chef Ryan McIlwraith, of Bellota, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.
I liked this dish, and think I want to try the restaurant where the chef works. It was a novel combination of flavors and textures. Maybe I’m just not a fan of blood sausage.
Now the big finale, and one of the worst photos I’ve ever posted.
That’s a slice of perfectly cooked rib eye–what I think is the tastiest cut of beef, albeit not the most tender. The triangle thingy is a pea custard glazed with carrot. There is also a smoked pea puree, fresh peas, a bit of carrot and some sauces for color. It was all done perfectly, by Chef Michael Dengelegi from Del Dotto.
Finally, dessert. I was full already but manned up and powered through to give the meal the attention it deserved.
Chef Andrew Marcus, pâtissier at The Commissary, created this dish to complement the theme. His pea and sunflower seed cake was unique–I sadly expect that I will never have another. You don’t often think of food as a once in a lifetime experience, but there you have it. Finally, the perfect reason to eat your vegetables.
The Commissary Open Kitchen nights are a delightful adventure. They had to go looking for guest chefs at the start, now the hot local chefs are lining up for a chance to show off their talent and creativity. First Monday of the month, don’t miss it.
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