Hello, Dolly!

Mike and I played daytime pairs and then went to a show in Pigeon Forge, so I wanted to find someplace different to have dinner.

One problem is that very few places take reservations, and I’m not the sort to stand in line for an hour.  Looking at Opentable, I did find that we could get a table at Dolly’s DreamMore Resort, in the Song and Hearth restaurant.  That sounded too interesting to pass up.

The Resort offers valet parking, but that turns out to be mostly for the guests who are staying.  So the valet offered to just park my car up front, and get it back when we returned, without bothering with a ticket.  More southern hospitality.

DreamMore is a decidedly family place, with scads of kids running around.  It’s as open and friendly as you would imagine Dolly Parton would make it, and we enjoyed it.  Of course, there is a tribute wall to Dolly, with the covers of her many albums flanking a huge photo of the star herself.

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You can’t escape the south.  The restaurant turned out to be a buffet, not fine dining.  But a pretty good buffet, if you don’t want salad.  The salad bar was a basket of greens, a few toppings and a couple of dressings.  Tennessee is no place for salad lovers. Except this one, Jello.

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But then there are always new things for me to try.

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Heard of them, never had them.

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Not exactly lovely, but I had to try.  Turns out to be just greens, like spinach or kale, but prepared with vinegar and honey or sugar or molasses so they were both sweet and tangy.  If you want to try them, hurry on over to Pigeon Forge, I won’t be cooking them at home.

There was fried chicken, because it’s probably the law around here.

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I really like my cardiologist, but I don’t want to see her next week.  I passed on the chicken.  There was also mesquite BBQ chicken, which Mike tried and approved of.

The barbecued brisket was a very tempting sight, these people know how to do barbecue.

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There was a pot of “vegetable” soup, made with chicken stock and flavored with bacon.  There may not be a full understanding of the concept of vegetables in Pigeon Forge.

Of course there was a cornucopia of desserts.  Here’s an interesting presentation of donuts.

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Then there were cake and pies and bread pudding and cookies and more.

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The tab for all this was pretty reasonable, as you would expect.  The service, which consists of getting drinks and clearing plates, was attentive and friendly.

The valet didn’t charge for stashing the car, so the tip was pretty generous.

Dolly Parton has a great reputation as a smart businesswoman and a kind and generous person.  Everything at Dolly’s DreamMore resort proves that to be trus.

 

No controversy Dallas

Never one to go gently into that good night, naturally I had to wear my hat from the bridge tournament as we traversed Dallas yet again on the way home.

I am happy to say nobody seems to have even noticed. It’s a complete non-event. Two people in the Knoxville airport noted that they liked the hat: no one in DFW gives a darn.

One persons anecdotal experience proves nothing. There are no valid conclusions to report.

Rats. I was hoping for drama.

Oh Toto, we’re not in California anymore

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A registration gift for the ages.

Mike and I have been to hundreds of tournaments all over the country and a few in Canada.  Many offer registration gifts–a tote bag, an alarm clock, some wine or cocktail glasses.  Trinkets to remember the event by.  This plastic monstrosity, designed to hold a wine bottle, is the most ghastly we’ve encountered, surpassing even the hideous candy dish of the Pasadena Nationals ages ago. There are 8 of us here for the tournament, and not one of us thinks our wife would allow this thing in the house.

And that pretty well sums up Gatlinburg.  Lots of people like this place for the culture and ambiance.  I saw a sign claiming it is America’s #2 choice for weddings, just behind Vegas.  The number of tourists roaming the streets and cruising the Parkway is huge.  But for a suburban California boy like me, the culture shock is worse here than it is in Paris.  And the language barrier isn’t much easier, either.

I thought I’d take some photos to explain that.

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I can’t imagine what cotton candy wine is.  Even with my sweet tooth, I don’t think it’s very appealing.  Hard to imagine this in Napa.

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This is a desirable, career job here.  Well over the minimum wage. Babysitters get more than this in Lafayette.

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This is in the Walgreen’s drug store.  I don’t think you can buy cigarettes in any drug store in California.

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OK, I think you can buy deep-fried Oreos at a county fair in the central valley.

A couple of t-shirts I saw in the store.  Not the only ones of this nature.  Probably can’t find these in Berkeley.

There are good things, too.  Last night Mike and I went to No Way Jose’s for dinner, and for some reason I decided to have a Piña Colada.  I don’t drink much ever, and I’m not hardly the “shot of red eye” kind of drinker. Give me something sweet, with whipped cream on top and preferably a little umbrella.

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My kind of drink. Always willing to trade an umbrella for a cherry.

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The dinner was pretty basic, just an enchilada, but then the plate, with rice and beans, was $9.45.  This place is cheap.  Really, really cheap.

One more thing I found.  The guys I share a house with are big ice cream lovers.  There are currently 4 half-gallon containers in the freezer.  I saw this and knew it was the ice cream for me–remember that the license plate on my car reads MOOSLEY, because Gail thinks I’m manly as a moose.  I don’t think Hagen-Daas makes this flavor.

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The bridge so far is decent, not great.  Mike and I have placed most events, but not won big.  Tomorrow we’ll try once more in the Fast Pairs, play miniature golf in the evening, go to an Aviation museum Saturday on our way to the airport and be home Saturday night.  Life is good.

Dallas once again

DFW, gate E35. Waiting for my flight to Knoxville. I’m off to Gatlinburg again

Although there is a whole crew of guys, this time I’m playing pairs with Micky all week. The tournament is getting a bit smaller and we were ending up in the top bracket of the teams far too often. It’s fun to play the best in the world sometimes; getting your head beat in all week gets tiresome. (The rest of the team feels differently, and they have replaced us and will go head to head with the best of the world this week. Good for them.)

We are back in the same house, although it has a new owner. I hope very little has changed.

Mike and I will stay in the airport hotel in Knoxville this evening; tomorrow Bob Munson flies in and the three of us will drive to Gatlinburg and begin play.

I am up for five days of constant bridge and lots of sweet fried food. It should be fun as always. Stay tune. I am up for five days of constant bridge and lots of overly sweet fried food. Should be fun as always. Stay tuned.

Experience pays off

There’s a new restaurant in Danville, Cocina Hermanas.  It’s casual dining with upscale Mexican food.

Cocina Hermanas is in the building Basil Tree formerly occupied, across the street from Danville Harvest.  That’s important because the same man, Darren Matte, owns both (as well as Per Diem in the financial district of the City).  The restaurant is named for his 3 daughters.

This place works.  Food and service are excellent, prices are reasonable and the experience was all around pleasant.

The chef, Timothy Humphrey, is in charge of both restaurants, maintaining the quality the area demands on both sides of the street.

I didn’t notice much physical change from Basil Tree.  The place is still casual and open, with a large deck fronting Hartz Avenue.  Everything is clean and airy, and the bar highlights a large selection of tequilas.

I had the enchilada de pollo con papas y queso, chicken enchilada with potatoes and cheese.  Not only was it incredible, but the presentation was spectacular.  I’ve never seen an enchilada that looks this good:

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That’s two humungous enchiladas on a bed of poblano rice with beans, cotija cheese and smoked crema Oaxaqueña.  It tastes as good as it looks, with a smoky complexity generally lacking in less ably created Mexican food.

Gail love pozole, so that’s what she had.  A soup of hominy, cabbage and pork, it’s rich and filling.  Hominy is a rare ingredient in Anglo diets, but somehow Gail is a big fan.  It’s a corn product, and it’s what grits are made of.

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She liked the soup but thought it needed more hominy.

Some years ago, we crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II, as classy a big cruise ship as you can find.   I ordered iced tea, as usual, and then had to badger them to bring me an iced tea spoon with which to stir.  So that’s part of my standard for excellent service, and look at what I got in Danville;

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I wouldn’t dream of quibbling over the size of the spoon, I’m just impressed that I got one.  Good for them.

And there is one more important test to pass.  Cocina Hermanas gets the Claudia seal of approval.

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I won’t fall for that again

Thursday night at dinner we were offered potato and green garlic soup, but the tomato soup was delivered.

Tonight, Gail and I went to our local favorite, Metro, and the universe got back in balance when the soup du jour was potato and green garlic.

Gail ordered a cup; I opted for a bowl.

$8 cup or $11 bowl? Which is which? Is this some kind of culinary joke?

I know every little bit helps with the tiny margins restaurants operate on, but this is ridiculous.

Naturally, five minutes later it occurred to me that the proper response would have been to tell the runner who delivered this silliness that I had changed my mind and he should take the bowl back and just bring me a cup.

The good news is that the soup was everything I had hoped for. Green garlic is nowhere as strong as the garlic we are accustomed to, so the soup isn’t overpowered.

I still like Metro, and we’ll eat there again. I won’t be ordering any bowls of soup in the future.

Birthday at Esin

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Gayle 

Our friend Gayle Everett had a birthday this week, and we went to celebrate at one of my favorite local places, Esin.

Established over 20 years ago in Danville as Cafe Esin, they are now just Esin, right off the freeway at Sycamore Valley Road.  The chef/owners are Curtis and Esin deCarion, hence the name.

Esin deCarion is the pâtissiere and in my opinion the heart of the operation.  Lots of restaurants have great halibut, only Esin has the best desserts in the county.

To get to dessert, though, you have to eat dinner first.  That’s no challenge here.  The waiter told us the soup of the day was potato garlic, so that’s what I ordered:

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This is beautiful.  It just isn’t potato garlic–the kitchen switched up on him and gave up tomato soup.  Excellent tomato soup, and Gail certainly enjoyed hers, but my heart just wasn’t in it, so back it went and I ordered the burrata instead:

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That’s a generous serving of fresh burrata cheese topped with diced beets and pistachios, grilled asparagus, and warm (not cold and stiff) grilled bread.  Really an appetizer large enough to be shared.

I fell for the lamb chops, served with green garlic risotto.

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Lovely chops perfectly cooked, savory risotto with a delicate garlic flavor, beautifully plated.  This is everything an entree should be.

Our friend Barbara joined us for the evening.

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Barbara chose the halibut:

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She says halibut is the hardest fish to cook correctly, and the house got this one just right.  Look at the colors of that dish–what beautiful design and plating. The flavors were as complimentary as the colors

Gayle had the phyllo wrapped chicken with Israeli couscous.

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Another beauty, another delight.

Some people (Gail) have no interest in their own birthdays.  Some people (Gayle) do.  The reason we were there wasn’t kept a secret, and so with all the usual pomp and circumstance, a slice of the lemon meringue tart appeared.

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Some meringues are dry, some are thick and creamy.  I like them both. At Esin, thick and creamy is the order of the day.  The lemon filling was smoother and less tart than most, giving the dish a gentle cohesiveness.

I had to have my own dessert, of course, and chose the apple caramel bread pudding.  This is one of the best bread puddings I ‘ve had this side of the Palace Cafe in New Orleans.

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Warm bread pudding with ice cream is one of nature’s delights; I can not pass it up.

I love Esin.  Their service is great, their food is fantastic, their desserts are out of this world.  My birthday is February 13, if you’d like to make a note.

Albatross

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I can’t hear the word Albatross without thinking of John Cleese walking among the audience at the Hollywood Bowl trying to sell an albatross to the crowd like it was beer or peanuts.

Nonetheless, Gail and Carol Scott and I went to Danville to try out the new restaurant there, Albatross.  It’s a shame they don’t have the bird on the menu; who could resist?

Albatross has a gorgeous facility just across the street from Lunardi’s.  Bright and airy, with plenty of outdoor seating for the clement months and a very colorful, modern looking bar.

We started with the “crispy artichokes”, which weren’t really crispy and didn’t have much artichoke.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That little tiny stem sticking out of the bottom of the pile is a small slice of artichoke.  The rest is endive and spinach leaf, burrata cheese and pistachio gremolata.  The three of us shared 2 portions of this, and while we enjoyed it, kept looking in vain for more artichoke.  A $13 dollar dish should have more of the first item mentioned in its name.

Carol had the Jidori Chicken.  That’s just a brand of chicken, not a style of cooking.  Adding brands (like Niman Ranch Beef or Frog Hollow Farms peaches) is good marketing–makes the food look “special” and you can charge another $3.

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This was a serious failure of presentation.  Carol loved her chicken, but not how it was served.  There was an indeterminate mass of white stuff, which turned out to be Country Friends Polenta (more branding) mixed with wild mushrooms, some nameless greens and perhaps the rest was broccoli rabé.  The polenta was very thin, white not yellow and pretty tasteless.  She ate the chicken.

My dinner was more interesting.  I had the green garlic cacio e pepe, a pasta dish with cheese and pepper.  It is supposed to include morels, but I put the kibosh on that quickly.

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Apparently, you can’t get out of culinary school these days if you don’t cover everything with arugula.

The pasta here was a thick, al dente bucatini, which is not my favorite but stands up well to the thick cheesy covering on this dish.  The green garlic is not a strong flavor but gently leads the pasta in taste. I got my veggies from the fresh peas that gave flavor and pop to this very pleasant meal.

Service was friendly and helpful.  Gail asked for 1/2 glass of the Chardonnay and was told the house doesn’t do that.  Then a 1/2 glass appeared, which is as it should be.

I thought there was a considerable wait between the first and second courses, on a night the house was less than half full.  Makes me worry about what it will be like on a warm summer evening.

I have to call this a mixed experience, but we’ll most likely give Albatross another chance. The facility is too exciting to miss when we can eat outside and bring Claudia.  I want the cacio e pepe again, and we’ll try some other dishes.  Hope they can find more artichokes and improve that dish–it had such good intentions, just not enough of the star ingredient.

And I still want to try some of that albatross John Cleese is hawking.

Commercial Stupidity

I think I’m well preserved and youthful looking. Although I’m 68, I could easily pass for 64.

Today I stopped at Rite-Aid to buy a bottle of Bourbon, the better to cook pulled pork for tonight’s dinner.

The friendly clerk, wearing his Easter Bunny ears, insisted on seeing my ID.  I said no.  He said then you don’t get to buy your Bourbon. An impasse had been reached.  I refuse to give in to these absurd depredations on my life.

The clerk assured me that this was inviolable corporate policy.  I assured him that my, equally strict, policy was not to give in to corporate silliness.  I expect to be treated with courtesy, not disdain.  I’m doing them a favor by shopping there; they aren’t doing me one by condescending to sell me liquor if I prove myself to their satisfaction.

The rule-following appeasers of the world will tell me that I was being childish, that I should have just shown him the damned ID and been done with it.  Perhaps so, but that’s how the camel gets his nose in the tent.  I’m well over 21, as even a Rite-Aid clerk is smart enough to recognize, and I won’t be a party to their bullying.

The bad news is that now I have to go somewhere else to prepare for dinner. Bev-Mo, which sells a lot more booze than Rite-Aid, will treat me right.  I’ll still have my self-respect, and Rite-Aid will still have a bottle of Jack Daniels in inventory.

High-Class Memphis

One night we’re eating in a tourist dive, the next night it’s very old South taste and class.

Thursday night we dined at Chez Philippe, the super-upscale dining room in the Peabody Hotel.   The menu is very modern, the service is straight out of the 1940’s, the room itself is out of the 1840’s. The experience was completely delightful.

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Gail, Mike Rippey, Marie-France and Signore Garozzo

The high ceilings make the room seem larger, but in fact it’s quite small and barely seats 40 people.  The other side of the room:

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The four-course prix fixe menu has sufficient variety to be interesting without so many options your head hurts.  I started off with the chilled English pea soup.

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Rich, thick, bright with the taste of the peas.  The burrata cheese is an excellent addition to almost anything.  I can never pass up a chilled soup.

Second course, sea bass with marinated fennel and beurre blanc.

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Perfectly cooked, the fish just melted at the touch.  Slices of elephant garlic on top added just a mild, measured accent to the easily overpowered fish.

Gail had the lobster bisque,  A dollop of lobster salad surrounded by soup.

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After the fish course, a palate cleanser.  This is really just an excuse for a tiny dessert in the middle of the meal.  Strawberry sorbet topped with meringue.

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On to the meat course; passing on the filet, the pork tenderloin or the Colorado rack of lamb, I went for the venison.

memphis-8Tiny medallions of medium rare Bambi, with itty-bitty sculpted pearls of potato in a demi-glacé.  The meat is mild and very fine-grained, not the least bit gamey.

A meal like this deserves a great dessert.  I chose the strawberry soufflé with chocolate creme anglaise.  It would have been nice to get a photo before someone dove in, but I’m just not fast enough.

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Service is magnificent. Signore Garozzo has a tender stomach, and chooses to eat only pasta with butter and cheese.  Chez Philippe doesn’t serve that.  Nonetheless, the guest must be catered to.  I don’t know how, but a plate of linguini appeared, just to the Maestro’s liking.  These people know how to take care of their customers.

The pace of the meal is, shall we say, temperate. Very measured and slow–you are expected to savor this meal, not rush it  If you’re in a hurry, go to Burger King.  The dishes are presented to everyone at the table at one time, by a crew of runners. After the meal we were presented with lovely chocolate coffee cakes to enjoy the next morning, and a handwritten thank you note signed by all the wait staff.

Chez Philippe is an experience, not just a meal.  It is an event to be cherished and remembered.  Not cheap, but not as absurdly expensive as its equivalent in San Francisco or New York.  They are only open Wednesday through Saturday, for both lunch and dinner.