Wine Country etc 9/11/13-

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by violist, Feb 6, 2014.  |  Print Topic

  1. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    UA1482 BOS EWR 0732 0853 739 2F

    No particularly interesting security this day; the PreCheck
    at Terminal A worked as planned, and I was on my way in no
    time flat. The gate agent greeted me by name as I approached
    fairly late in the boarding, and the genial FAs were very
    welcoming. I considered having an eye-opener but thought
    maybe my eyes would prefer to remain closed, and so it was.

    It was a pretty nothing flight, though seemingly
    interminable as I woke up several times wondering "are we
    there yet" and looking out to see various parts of southern
    Massachusetts and northern Connecticut instead of the
    familiar wasteland around Newark, which finally announced
    itself by a few moments of bone-jarring bumpiness as usual.
    We landed on time, even though I could have sworn that it
    had taken ten hours.

    I headed up to the club, where could be heard at the
    appropriate time in the distance a piper piping Amazing
    Grace; later people singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

    On landing, lili was at the gate to meet me, a welcome
    sight. Sadly, her upgrade hadn't cleared, so we didn't sit
    together. We discussed my trading seats with her seatmate
    but rejected the idea as impracticable, so I promised to
    send her back a glass of wine.

    UA1212 EWR SFO 1147 1505 739 1F

    The seat next to me sat empty for the longest time, and
    at the last minute I saw the gate agent bustle back with a
    boarding pass, so there was hope ... and some big burly guy
    came up to claim the seat. Turns out he was in 20D, the seat
    directly in front of lili's, as well as directly ahead of
    her on the upgrade list. Ah, well, he slept through most of
    the flight.

    The wine I sent back was the Finca Luzon Malbec, not too
    shabby for an $8 bottle. Later one of the FAs, chuckling,
    brought me a plastic cup filled with a curious and somewhat
    mystifying reddish liquid - it was the coach red wine,
    identity unknown, courtesy of lili.

    The shuttle to the car rental took about a zillion years,
    during which we were regaled with many warnings about the
    toll collection on the Golden Gate Bridge. Something about
    it going transponder only, and if you don't have one, your
    license plate gets photoed, and they charge you toll plus
    a service charge, and the rental car agency tacks on another
    service charge, and after all that, no bridge is worth the
    price. Luckily this is only on the inbound, and we were not
    planning on doing that.

    When we finally got to the office, which turned out to be
    right near a bunch of hotels (so a hotel shuttle would have
    been quicker), the friendly agent gave us the keys to a
    somewhat snazzy offbrand vehicle (something Korean). Were
    soon headed northward, just beating rush hour. The ride,
    though nerve-wracking at times owing to frequent
    construction, went smoothly enough.
    Gaucho and uggboy like this.
  2. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    We dropped our bags off at the Sheraton Petaluma, which
    though it claims to be in wine country is really a fair
    distance west of it, at a newish but seemingly a bit
    neglected marina on the grandly named but unimpressive in
    real life Petaluma River. To be fair, there are a couple
    wineries within a few miles, and Sonoma is less than half
    an hour away. A good but not great room on the first floor.

    As lili claims Mexican as one of her preferred cuisines,
    and I know a great place just down the road, Mi Pueblo,
    which I'd visited a couple times with the late great Jim
    Moraga, we headed in that direction.

    The parking lot was chockablock, so we went around a bit and
    found a place a few blocks away in a residential area. At
    the door we were informed of a wait of 15 minutes, so I
    asked if we could eat at the bar; the answer was in the
    affirmative. It was more fun, and we had pleasant chats with
    others, some eating there, some waiting for a table (at that
    sometimes way more than 15 minutes). The bartender was
    extremely busy, a regular dynamo, but had a few kind words
    here and there. And the jolly clientele makes sure that the
    atmosphere is of a fiesta.

    I got tacos de lengua y cabeza - pig tongue and cheek, which
    were delicious, and a hard taco de chicharron (actually, as
    she likes regular fatty pork if it's not too spicy, we split
    this). She got cheese enchiladas and pronounced them good.
    There is a pretty good pico de gallo to jazz things up.

    Negra Modelo for me, some really eye-openingly bad red wine
    for her.

    The meal was quite reasonable, about what a plate of short
    rib stew would cost at the hotel, sans wine.
    Gaucho and uggboy like this.
  3. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    Breakfast. The hot offerings looked pretty dubious, so I
    expanded my horizons and had a bowl of Lucky Charms, a
    cereal that appeared after my childhood, so I never bothered
    to try it. It's like Alpha-Bits or maybe sweetened Cheerios
    mixed with about 1/4 to 1/3 strange brittle marshmallow
    candies by volume. I'm sure it's appalling healthwise, and
    it's not great shakes flavorwise. That being unsatisfying,
    I took a couple hard-boiled eggs and covered them with the
    Huy Fong sriracha that along with togarashi seem to be a nod
    to an Asian-heavy clientele.

    A quick stroll through the grounds and the adjoining park,
    and that being exhausted, it was time to get an early start
    on the road.

    We'd figured on visiting Keller Estate, a somewhat boutiquey
    winery quite close to the hotel. The Internet, source of all
    things accurate and informative, said it was open at 10, so
    we tootled out there only to find the gate closed. Called
    up, and someone rather sleepily said that the Internet was,
    gasp, wrong, and in fact the place wasn't open at all, and
    please come back tomorrow.

    So we proceeded up the road to Sonoma, a pleasantly sleepy
    town, to try to find Gundlach Bundschu, which we must have
    sailed right past, as it was neither where the GPS said it
    was nor where the map did. So on up the road past dozens of
    likely-looking and unlikely-looking ones, until at length
    we found ourselves at Chateau St. Jean, not a bad winery at
    all, though biggish and a professional operation, with the
    tasting operation you would expect.

    There was a big crush at the tasting bar, and it was quite
    a while before we could get anyone's attention. I guess also
    we were not dressed sufficiently California chic; we took
    our revenge by lingering at the bar and asking lots of inane
    questions. Also by just coincidentally tasting only the more
    prestigey of the releases.

    Pinot Noir La Petite Etoile 10 - I was hoping for more from
    this wine, i.e., Burgundian. Instead this was a lightish,
    red fruity nothing, quite pleasant, but indistinguishable
    from any west coast Pinot. It compared favorably with wines
    at half the price.

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) 10 - spicy with dark
    fruit; a biggish wine in a style I like. The coffee or
    toffee notes were a bit prominent, but the greeny aspect
    that I remember this brand having was thankfully absent.

    Eighty Five Fifty Five Cuvee 09 - an extremely pleasant,
    accessible wine, oaky and brambly, with a long minty and
    dark berry finish. Also a bit light and perhaps not so
    ageworthy. Very expensive, too.

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma) 10 - slightly less concentrated
    than the Alexander Valley, and with more of that brothy
    quality; still a decent buy at 25% less than the Alexander
    Valley. Good as a picnic wine or with sandwiches, if that
    isn't too damning.

    We held off drinking too much, as we had miles to go before
    we slept.
    Gaucho likes this.
  4. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    It was getting on towards lunchtime, and we were a little
    peckish, so we decided to try our luck in Santa Rosa. Parked
    in one of the handy lots and wandered town a bit. First
    thing. Right near the parking lot I smelled something
    appetizing, and I exclaimed that I wanted that, whatever it
    was; but lili is not so keen on spicy food, so we decided
    to look a bit further, which we did, wasting much possible
    lunching time. Nothing within the area appealed, so lili,
    tired and not in the best of moods, said, well, let's just
    go to the place that smelled good, and I'll make do; so we
    did. It turned out to be a joint with the imaginative name
    Sizzling Tandoor, which sort of boded ill given her food
    preferences, but we went in. It was close to the end of
    lunchtime, but the buffet was still up ($8.95). lili
    complained that she didn't want a full buffet, so the waiter
    friendlily said that he would sell her one plate of food for
    $5.95, vegetarian or chicken with rice; so we said fine.
    Well, it turns out that it was his choice what to serve,
    and what came out was butter chicken; she had expected a
    plate of rice with maybe a couple pieces of tandoor, but no.
    Luckily, as with all butter chicken, the sauce had almost no
    spice, and she could eat it; she downed half; I finished it.

    I went for the full buffet of course, which had these dishes
    and several more that I didn't try.

    Tandoori chicken was moist and delicious, mostly half-pieces
    of dark meat, of which I fished out some thigh chunks, which
    I cut up and sneaked bits across the table, hoping that we
    wouldn't end up charged for two buffets;

    the aforementioned butter chicken, actually pretty good,
    a bit tomatoey for my taste, also a bit bland for my taste,
    which of course is good for others;

    a strange pork curry with green peppers, notable for the
    use of fatty scraps, for which I was grateful, and my second
    visit to the buffet was dedicated mostly to snagging bits of
    fat and gristle;

    chicken mushroom, rather ordinary, underseasoned;

    vegan vegetable korma, sort of succotash in spicy cream
    sauce, not bad for that;

    vegan mattar tofu, which pleased me quite a bit, as it did
    remind me somewhat of mattar paneer, which I like but for
    the sordid aftereffects;

    mixed dal makhani with a lot of hard lumpy kidney beans,
    which I didn't care for (I like a smoother and perhaps
    more cooked product);

    Chinese-style noodles, just awful - salty with soy sauce,
    limp, a caricature of chow mein.

    There was a condiment table that had fruit, salad, sauces,
    and dessert. I took special advantage of the hot peppers.

    For dessert, excellent grapes (you'd think we were in
    grape-growing country or something), an ordinary kheer, and
    carrot halwa of which I had three servings.

    Just before 2 a staff person came by and politely conveyed
    the news that the buffet was about to close, and please take
    whatever we wanted. Unfortunately, by then we were both
    pretty full.

    The place gets some pretty scathing reviews on Yelp. I'm not
    sure about the sharp business practices described thereby,
    but as far as the food goes, just follow your nose.
    Gaucho likes this.
  5. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    I always liked Rodney Strong, whose Chalk Hill Chardonnay
    and Alexander's Crown Cabernet have been among my go-to
    names for years. I've watched the winery and its tasting
    facilities grow up over the last couple decades, happy
    with the general success of the place but disquieted by
    its increasing slickness. Of course, when I started coming
    here, tastings were free, as at all the wineries, and sales
    low-key. Now it's more a bustling marketplace, with gourmet
    snacks and jams and knickknacks available for those who
    are not up for buying wine but feel guilty enough to need
    to pick something out.

    There's something like a traffic director out front, and
    in a few minutes a gap at the tasting counter is pointed
    out. The staff are brisk, professional, and glancingly
    gauge your palate and willingness to buy before offering
    to help you select stuff to taste. We of course shared our
    tastes so got to try double the number of selections,
    including a couple of cellar door exclusives.

    Our pourer knew a lot about wine and warmed up to us, so
    our later pours were more like half glasses than samples.

    Chardonnay (Sonoma) 11 - I've gotten used to this brand,
    because of a certain diminution in my pocketbook; I once
    turn up my nose at it because of its unconcentration and
    flatness on the palate relative to the below, but I've
    mellowed out, and it hasn't deproved the way so many
    products have over the years. Bright, rather lemony,
    tropical fruits, moderate oak, medium finish, still a
    little thin, but that's what I can afford these days

    Chardonnay (Chalk Hill) 11 - still oaky, blackberryish,
    rich on the palate, in the big style that I became
    accustomed to decades ago. Brighter than I remember, but
    still a pretty classy wine. I never could afford the
    Chalk Hill Vineyards stuff, but this was pretty close

    Zinfandel (Knotty Vines) 11 - the complaint used to be
    that the winery tried to Cabernet-ize this grape; now it's
    gone back the other way, and I think in the direction it
    ought to go in: peppery, plummy, high alcohol, a man's
    wine, if that doesn't sound too sexist

    Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) 11 - riding around the area
    I was interested to see along the Dry Creek Road signs
    advertising acreage dedicated to growing grapes for Rodney.
    This must have been the final product, and it is very good,
    showing even more fruit than the Knotty Vines but a similar
    robust style, with the fruit having a little more dried
    quality; liked this a lot

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) 10 - chocolaty, rich,
    moderate alcohol (but then I looked it up, and it's 15, more
    than I thought; this brand tops out at 15.5, which when I
    was growing up was considered impossible), red and black
    fruit, some herbaceousness, fairly nice

    Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 09 - curranty and tart, subdued
    chocolate and coffee, smooth and ready to drink and not a
    bad deal at $40

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander's Crown) 10 - blockbuster
    flavors and alcohol, currants, more chocolate, very fine
    but expensive (the single-vineyard Cabs all go for $75)

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Rockaway) 10 - the wines kept getting
    bigger as the tasting lengthened. I admit that I was not
    able to appreciate them starting about here, noting berries
    and currants again, a certain mintiness, rather acidy, but
    truth to tell Morpheus was threatening despite my having
    spat all but the Alexander's Crown

    Cabernet Sauvignon (Brothers Ridge) 10 - the tasting
    sommelier poured these in this order, ending with the
    biggest wines, and this one almost cut through my
    consciousness, with huge fruit and noticeably more acid
    and tannin than the previous; I liked it even better than
    the Alexander's Crown and would be more likely (not that
    likely) to shell out full price for it

    Symmetry 10 - this is the signature Bordeaux blend that
    has been made for decades and an old friend, even with that
    tang of walnuts that I find disconcerting (it is much less
    in evidence now). Lots of berries, cherries, currants, nuts,
    less coffee and chocolate than the pure Cabs, but still a
    big mess of flavors in the mouth, in a good way. It's not
    as costly by comparison any more (only $60) and I think a
    quite good buy for a special occasion

    A True Gentleman's Port 08 - well, no, I am not convinced;
    Zinfandel Port just isn't quite right, and this is not the
    best example I've had. It's as though they've made these
    fancy wines out of the good grapes and thrown together the
    rest to make this. I will admit that the tasting room
    provided little bits of chocolate to go with, which improved
    things, but the caricatured pruny minty quality I can still
    do without.
    Gaucho likes this.
  6. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    J Winery is right next door: Rodney Strong used to make the
    wines for Piper Sonoma, which built a nice facility there
    before vacating it to go who knows where, whereupon the
    property was snapped up by Judy Jordan, the daughter of the
    Jordan Winery people, and now her product's reputation is
    the equal of her parents', though the focus is more on
    Pinot. The tasting room was quiet and sedate by comparison,
    a relief. The host was also pretty knowledgeable, and by
    the sound of the conversations, so were the customers.

    Pinot Gris (California) 12 - a light, floral, tropical
    fruity wine that didn't seem to have any of the weighty
    characteristics of most of the wines made here. I liked it,
    though it was rather amabile for my usual tastes.

    Chardonnay (Russian River) 11 - good oak, rather lemony
    and acid. Nice balance, though.

    Pinot Noir (Russian River) 11 - this is the basic product,
    rather brothy, plums and light earth, almost worth buying,
    but the price was quite high. We were charmed into buying
    some anyway.

    Pinotage (Russian River) 11 - the appeal of this wine
    escapes me. It's like a Pinot but somewhat overwrought
    in its fruitiness. The plumminess of Pinot is mixed with
    an overt grapy quality and maybe pear and tropical notes
    that I'd think more appropriate to a white wine of a
    variety less favored by me.

    We had neither the time nor energy nor wherewithal to
    taste the prestige cuvees, of which several were available.

    As the sun was setting and the wineries were closing, it was
    time to head back down I-5 and to the hotel.

    Dinner was simple, as we had had sufficient lunch: we just
    went to the executive lounge, where I had a Lagunitas Pils
    and lili a couple glasses of the Kenwood Cabernet. Both
    were fine; I'd perhaps have preferred the more famous and
    savory IPA, but you take what you can.


    The same old breakfast; this time I tried Cinnamon Toast
    Crunch, which tastes sort of like cinnamon toast, and then
    a replay of the eggs.

    Off to Twomey, the Merlot arm of Silver Oak, whose big wines
    are a take-or-leave proposition; I'm ambivalent, but the
    relatively subtle expressions of Merlot sort of won me over.

    The tasting guy was pretty knowledgeable, and I suspect that
    he was a bit more than

    Pinot Noir (Russian River) 11 - this was a prerelease taste,
    and the wine was very young indeed. Spicy and plummy, it
    combined the best of Oregon with the best of California.
    It was no blockbuster, like Williams Selyem down the road,
    erring on the early drinking side if anything, but the taste
    was delightful. A pity I can't afford it.

    Merlot (Napa) 06 - chocolate, dark cherries, some spice,
    menthol-eucalyptus, quite smooth and supple.

    The same, 08 - plummy and spicy, a bit of chocolate mint,
    a bit young yet, but I liked it almost as much as the 06.

    The same, 09 - a little lighter, more reddish, I didn't like
    it as much, as it reminded me more of mass-market wine than
    the other two. I suppose I should give it another chance,
    maybe next year.

    We bought a couple bottles of the 06, which for some reason
    was on sale, but which we preferred anyway.

    The genial host finished our tasting by offering us a small
    bunch of Pinot Noir grapes meant for the 13 bottling. These
    were small, intense, sweet, delicious.
    Gaucho likes this.
  7. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    We turned down into the Other valley and moseyed among the
    vineyards and looked fondly at the mountains to the east.
    lili had read about this eccentric folly out in Napa, the
    Castello di Amorosa, which is the home of the V. Sattui
    tasting room, so we went there, planning on walking the
    grounds (but not going in - it costs), so that's what we
    did, along with dozens of other rubberneckers, after taking
    a tour of the jam-packed parking lot. It's an amazing and
    amusing place, but one wonders about the sanity and taste of
    someone who puts up something like this.

    The property is surrounded, no surprise, with vines, and
    I snitched a couple over-the-hill grapes from one; these
    offered an intense grapiness and huge sugar - there were no
    seeds, though, so I wondered what they were and how one
    might make a decent wine out of them. Perhaps there is a
    seedless Sangiovese clone?

    Angele, which was one of our visits on our French Laundry
    centric tour a bunch of years ago, remains a place of which
    I am quite fond, and so I detoured us into the town of Napa
    for lunch. Despite our not having reservations, we were
    quickly seated in a prime table outside and served
    efficiently and with grace.

    We had a Picpoul de Pinet La Domitienne 12, refreshingly
    citrusy with a considerable floral kick, which went down so
    quick that it caused an almost instant pleasant tipsiness,
    followed by the Frogs Leap Zinfandel 10, a fruity, rich, and
    exuberant wine, very delicious.

    The white nicely cut the richness of my sweetbreads, which
    came with cauliflower polenta, golden raisins, almonds,
    capers, brown butter emulsion, so the menu said. The dish
    was three or four almost 1-oz nuggets of meat, fried just
    a little more than my preference but well within normal
    tolerances, bathed in a somewhat tasteless butter sauce that
    served to make one think that perhaps the after-frying drain
    was incomplete. The capers had been fried as well. The rest
    of the presentation was riced cauliflower with the raisins
    and almond slivers mixed in - intriguing, but I used it
    mostly to soak up the grease (I like grease).

    With the red I ate the oatmeal-crusted pork belly, nice and
    crispy, which came with French plum and mint compote (sort
    of sour; I didn't know what to make of it), napa cabbage
    (get it?), and a tartish mirabelle plum jus. I could have
    done with "more pork" and less veggies, like the fabled
    Munich burgher. And, if I'd had any brains, I'd have got a
    Pinot Noir instead.

    lili's pave de boeuf hache (aka hamburger) was quite rare
    and quite good. The sturdy brioche-style bun would have been
    good if we'd bothered to eat it. Fries - excellent.

    Desserts were coconut sorbet and chocolate gelato. The
    former was a little pallid, but the chocolate just sang out.


    Accidents on the highway, and the GPS took us on a rather
    circuitous route into Sacramento. We arrived a half hour
    later than we had planned, no big deal.

    The Sheraton Grand is right downtown, a nice location if you
    like Sacramento. Parking is kind of tough unless you use the
    hotel garage, which is not the one attached to the hotel but
    rather in the next block.

    We were given the room next to the club lounge, a dubious
    honor, because that means you wake up when they start
    preparing breakfast. We gave it a try - the floor-to-ceiling
    window was gorgeous, but from home we could hear the
    attendants horsing around even in the middle of the day. So
    we asked for another room; we got our pick of a couple the
    floor below and settled on an almost equally nice one.

    Evening wanders involved looking at various bars (and maybe
    the inside of one or two, who remembers) and turning up our
    noses at various eateries.
    Gaucho and Newscience like this.
  8. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    Breakfast - sad fruit, sad pastry. A cheery attendant who
    greets all comers, hoping for a tip. We just turned tail
    and left, hoping for better pickings out on the economy.

    What's to do on a nice sunny but cool day but take a look at
    Old Sacramento, which on the face of it is a nice stroll
    along a pedestrian street down to the river. Well, it's
    nothing to write home about, the walk taking one through a
    slightly dubious area into a rather down-and-out mall and
    then across under the freeway to the tourist area, which we
    found seriously underwhelming. I think we stopped for some
    kind of snacks at some point, but my memory is wiped on

    The Crocker Museum is a pretty nice facility, befitting a
    greater city perhaps. I enjoyed the physical plant and some
    of the California modern work but found the huge collection
    of 19th century locally produced landscapes rather boring -
    in this it reminded me of the Oakland museum only not as
    interesting. A good overview of European art from the middle
    ages on, with a focus on Dutch and Flemish works of the 18th
    century and a quite fascinating though confusingly arranged
    collection of 20th century glass. Also a neat origami
    collection next to a small but select gallery of
    pen-and-inks, both I think temporary exhibitions.

    We gave the place its full due and were peckish, though not
    enough to give over to the blandishments of the school caf.
    Instead, we headed down to Grange, because it's not that far
    a walk from the museum, and the Lucky Something burger is
    said to be one of the best in town. We were greeted and
    seated in a high-ceilinged pleasant techno sort of room and
    handed ... brunch menus. It turns out that though it was
    just Saturday, they were serving that horrible godforsaken
    meal, so it was my turn to be in a mood;, I refrained from
    ordering food and just stuck with beer.

    Luckily, the burger appears on the brunch menu, so lili's
    little heart was satisfied. When it came, it was indeed a
    pretty good burger, not quite as rare as hoped, big enough
    that I had more than a taste of it. With this she had a
    Rhone blend 11 from Neyers, a caricature of the Grenache-
    Syrah quaffers we have become accustomed to in the last
    30 or so years. I doubted that it should ever have been
    bottled, much less offered under that supposedly prestigious

    My first beer, a Ruhstaller Kolsch, just didn't do the job -
    it smelled like nothing and tasted like nothing. Might have
    been fine if it was 90 outside, but it was maybe 55, and my
    fault for ordering it, but to do me credit I had originally
    asked for something more interesting which was out.

    A glass of North Coast Old 38 Stout, rich with roasty malts,
    thick with notes of coffee and chocolate, helped my
    disposition immensely.

    After what turned out to be an okay meal we were forgotten
    for half an hour so I went up to the bar to ask for the tab.
    The staff were suitably embarrassed, and we got a sizable
    discount off our bill, which brought the total well into the
    reasonable range.
    Gaucho likes this.
  9. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    The Press gets good press, and as it seemed jolly enough
    when we went past the other day, we earmarked it for today.

    Our waiter was a wild-eyed enthusiastic young man who
    reacted with overt pleasure at each choice we made. Okay,
    it's nice to be given approval, but this was a tad much.
    We noted that he did likewise but in a more subdued way
    when serving nearby tables. Did we look as though we
    needed more hand-holding than normal, or what?

    Perry Creek Zinfandel 11 is a solid, typical example, with
    brambles and plums and black spice, but I thought that it
    could use more oomph and less sugar. Nonetheless, it went
    quite well with food, of which we got too much, encouraged
    by the small-plate-friendly menu.

    The short rib in red wine sauce was as delicious as its
    exalted reputation, almost melt-in-the-mouth but with some
    texture left. It had been a little too well trimmed, though,
    and the gratifying nuggets of fat you wish for were not
    common. Why serve or eat a fatty cut minus the fat? Which
    reminds me that I recently had a short rib sandwich at D&W
    in Las Vegas, and the meat had its fat and membrane intact,
    the way I like it, but that establishment had seen fit to
    chop everything up and shove it in the middle of a bunch of
    other admittedly tasty things so as to fool the clientele
    into eating something delicious that it would normally not.

    Crispy pork belly, peaches, pine nuts, frisee, gastrique -
    a little too salty, and the skin was not intact, and what
    there was of it wasn't as crispy as I'd have hoped, and the
    meat was a little firm, and the fat was a little absent,
    but it still tasted pretty good. The same question obtained
    as above but was answered not quite as satisfactorily.

    Summer corn soup with chives - I have no idea why we got
    this - suspect it was an amuse on the house. It was as
    described, though I had to use a pill to find this out.
    There was chervil with the chives, which I found peculiar.

    lili's hanger steak, potato gratin, bordelaise was fine -
    done very red and just a little jiggly in the middle; a
    plain rendition for just plain folks.

    To keep her company at main course time, I got a half order
    of pappardelle alla Bolognese - this would have satisfied
    me even if I hadn't eaten the greater part of the starters.
    Delicious firm-tender wide wide noodles in a rich sauce that
    made up for too lean beef with a touch of butter or cream
    along with the olive oil. Fresh herbs.

    The bill was moderately large but not extortionate, and we
    we happily toddled back in the dark, quite satisfied.
    Gaucho likes this.
  10. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    I don't know how or why we came to the Champagne brunch at
    the Cast Iron Bar & Grill in Suisun (an artificial town of
    which I had not previously heard). Maybe one of us had read
    about the mural by Miro Salazar (one of the great self-
    promoters but not at all a bad artist in the Diego-Rivera-
    folky way) that fills the long wall; maybe we had a coupon.

    The place was quite hopping, and we were asked to perch out
    front, which we did for an extended period, as we did not
    have reservations, which are suggested. We were seated
    eventually at a nice table by the window, which got nice and
    warm, with a good view of said mural.

    The staff was kind of inefficient but friendly. We didn't
    have any particular issues as many of the Internet reviews
    do, but the large table across the aisle did, mostly, it
    sounded like, from a combination of finickiness and the
    customer is always right syndrome, to which the help were
    nonplussed but gracious enough.

    To start, a fruit plate that looked just like what would be
    on offer at breakfast on the plane, accompanied by all the
    J. Roget bubbly one can choke down, free-flow throughout the
    meal, so you can imagine.

    lili's tri-tip sandwich rare was pretty good, the meat
    flavorful if masked by a salty rub, the bread sturdy and
    almost good enough to be eaten. I think it came with slaw,
    though I admit I had no interest in this.

    My jambalaya came out of a boil-in-bag and was augmented
    by 4 medium shrimp and maybe a quarter pound of chopped-up
    andouille, perhaps Aidell's. It was decent.

    $16 apiece for decent food and unlimited wine the quality
    of kept us from gross intoxication, and we were soon on the
    road again, across the newly rebuilt Oakland bridge, off to
    return the car, and on to our next destination, the always
    reliable Hilton SFO Bayfront, from which the airport is but
    a short shuttle hop.
    Gaucho likes this.
  11. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    I got dropped off at the Hilton with the bags while lili
    returned the car, which took longer than it should have,
    but that was made up for the shuttle taking her straight
    back to the hotel for couple bucks tip.

    A corner room was not particularly big nor luxurious. It was
    pleasant enough, and as I was paying less than a hundred I
    could obviously not complain.

    Snacks at the lounge: fairly decent eggrolls from frozen;
    decent fruit. The gracious attendant leaned on me to try
    "her" focaccia, but I preferred to take my carbs in the
    form of an Anchor Steam. After eating my fill, it was time
    to toddle home.

    Around suppertime someone came around to each door knocking
    softly and announcing "room service" - clearly a way of
    casing the joint. If one had anything in the way of ears,
    one could hear this. I complained to the front desk. I
    hope they sent security up, but I didn't hear anything more.

    Another burger at the bar for lili; a dish of fried squid
    for me (this came with a large quantity of frizzy greens,
    which I actually ate). The food was decent, the bartender
    overly lippy, which was points off. A relief when he
    (overentitled California surfer boy, by the looks of him
    and his attitude) was spelled by a quiet Hispanic guy, thank
    goodness, for my second Anchor Steam.

    The bed was conducive to sleeping. The extremely loud whir
    of the building's heat exchanger right outside (but 12
    floors down) was not.

    Breakfast: cold rubbery scrambled eggs much improved by
    sriracha sauce; bad sausages that were nonetheless not so
    bad as what United serves.

    I had very late checkout and lolled around much of the day.

    UA 499 SFO LAX 1857 2030 319 21A Ch9^

    Harbor Village is one of two Cantonese joints in this
    airport, both of which I frequent if I am going to be
    spending time in economy, depending on whether I am
    going international (here) or domestic (Fung Lum). Both
    have reliably decent roast meat and reliably mediocre
    at best noodles. On this occasion I felt dehydrated and
    went for the roast pork noodle soup, which took quite a
    long time to come out. By the time it did, the formerly
    good char siu bits had partially blanched out into the
    shrimp-flavored stock and the noodles were gummy.

    I asked for a side order of brisket ($4.25); this turned out
    to be about a quarter pound of gelatinous shin meat, not
    quite cooked enough, but of decent flavor, in a star-anise
    flavored soy sauce. It went well with the last clump of

    Shing Kee sriracha, a mainland brand, was needed to render
    the noodles edible; it did a good enough job of it that I
    stole an extra packet for a rainy day.

    My upgrade didn't come through, not a big deal as I didn't
    need extra drinks, and it was an hour flight, and 21A and F
    are the best seats in the house, bar none.

    It was a pleasant little flight, and the the only one out
    of the lot to have Channel 9. The next time I had Channel 9
    was on a 320 on February 1, 2014, some 4 months later.

    ATC communications kept me amused for the duration. We got
    in really early, and I had hours to kill, part of which I
    spent wandering around yet another big airport, marveling
    at how people will spend gazillions on mediocre fare just
    because it bears the sainted name of Wolfgang Puck, while
    somewhat better though still mediocre fare can be had at
    Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom for half the price.

    I went to the club to sign the sheet and see if my favorite
    bartender was there (he wasn't); then as my flight was
    leaving from the Continental area over to the other club,
    where I have a new unfavorite bartender - I asked for
    Bourbon, and he poured me what tasted like Dewar's. I didn't
    send it back, because its main purpose was to wash down my
    Benadryl for the flight, which is what it was good for.
    Gaucho likes this.
  12. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    UA1445 LAX EWR 2344 0752 753 2A

    This cabin was full of Chinese folks with limited English;
    the FAs lumped me in with them and didn't try to communicate
    with me, so no predeparture drink or anything. I went to
    sleep almost immediately on takeoff, despite the discomfort
    of the seats (I shudder to think what a coach seat would
    have felt like). Vague smells of tomato and green pepper did
    nothing to entice me to wakefulness.

    Midflight I got up and got me a Courvoisier, which struck
    me as harsher than normal.

    The shower room at the club was most welcome. My name was
    called within 15 minutes of application, and I was issued
    the rather cold first room on the left. It did the job.

    Orange juice and a banana, but something else was needed.
    As it was still breakfasttime I didn't want the hard stuff
    so had a couple glasses of appalling red wine instead.

    UA4849 EWR PVD 1045 1150 Q30 2A

    I sat next to Angela, an expert on the role of social media
    in social change, a very high energy, attractive brunette,
    articulate; she had given a Ted talk not too long ago and
    was flying from someplace in Iowa to repurpose it here as a
    conference presentation. I wondered what an Iowa girl could
    teach the easterners about social media, but she talked
    knowledgeably, and I reflected that that rare combination
    of expertise and enthusiasm would certainly qualify her.
    The flight went quickly.

    UA1483 BOS EWR 1004 1130 738 3E

    Lots of people clogging up the PreCheck line, which went
    like clockwork nevertheless. Total elapsed time, boarding
    pass machine to club, 10 minutes.

    Though I have been an infrequent visitor to Terminal A, the
    staff are getting to know me, and I was greeted especially
    warmly at the club. Bananas and hot chocolate this morning,
    and I was set to go.

    The gate agent and I also recognized each other. Maybe my
    Terminal A experience is more extensive than memory admits.

    DirecTV offered various gems on the Food and Cooking
    channels, amusing me sufficiently during the insignificant
    (again, aside from some significant bumps on the way down)

    UA3885 EWR DCA 1235 1350 Q40 3D

    Just time to hustle over to the A gates, but I didn't have
    to - this left from the downstairs stub at the end of one
    of the C piers, so I had time for a quick snoot of Bourbon
    before rushing in where angels fear to tread.

    The flight was a bit late, no big deal, as I wasn't so eager
    to go to Washington anyway.
    iPaulo and Gaucho like this.
  13. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    I had to activate my GE card, so I got my brother to turn on
    the wireless, which meant also that I could return from an
    enforced retreat from the world and do various treatlike
    things such as do my e-mail, the Fido, and so forth. Turn
    out the Dodger sent me an e-mail that said "hope to see you
    at the reunion," which sort of saddened me as, alas for my
    failing powers, I had forgotten about a reunion at all and
    had just flown back from there and had made weekend plans
    in Washington. So I sent the Dodge my regrets and told him
    to transmit them to our mutual friends, especially my old
    buddy Donna the radical feminist reformist lawyer from
    Texas and my old buddy Ellen C. the radical reformist
    social worker in Chiapas.

    One of which plans was lunch with this kid from the next
    class Alan; we met at Friendship Heights, which has a wide
    variety of eating options - a decent Indian, decent sushi,
    decent Chinese, Lia's, Clyde's, Maggiano's, Cheesecake
    Factory, Chadwick's (now known as Chad's, probably because
    the real Chadwick's in Georgetown finally got tired of this
    one pulling on its reputation for decades - I am not clear
    on whether there was ever a connection between them). Alan
    was inclined towards a burger, so Chad's it was.

    Chad's is pretty much the same as it used to be under its
    old name, as is the staff and as is the food. Alan's burger
    looked pretty good, and my Philly cheesesteak hold the
    cheese was made with reasonably real beef, authenticated by
    a substantial amount of gristly bits. I'd eat here again
    but would probably return to my usual order of the calamari
    appetizer with extra hot peppers.

    Alan's own reunion is coming up, and his class has done
    better with the nag letters, so he was thinking of actually
    showing up, interesting as he has missed all 7 of his
    previous ones. So his unwonted enthusiasm shamed me into
    promising I would look into plane fares.

    Which were ridiculous, so I looked into award tickets, of
    which none were offered. The claim is made that if one logs
    in as a high-tier elite, more award space opens up, and so
    it was - for 50000 miles I could ride in the back of the bus
    on a pair of 412-mile flights. I e-mailed the Dodger back
    saying I might make it after all and to recant my regrets,
    but I'd miss his presentation (on the challenges and
    opportunities of spreading democracy in the world, not that
    a bunch of sexagenarians can do much about it anyway). Turns
    out he had already transmitted my good wishes to most of my
    colleagues already - he does do things efficiently. And I
    waited for better award space to open up.

    In an hour (I keep ExpertFlyer working on this; a bargain at
    $100 a year) a couple 10000 mile flights opened up, the
    outbound in three or four hours, so I snapped them up and
    hustled right to the airport, forgoing a much-needed nap and
    getting there in time to watch Ripert and Bourdain on the TV
    chowing down on shellfish in Peru.

    UA3878 DCA EWR 1944 2110 Q40 4B

    These craft have been reconfigured with rows 1-3 a sort of
    first class; clearly 4A had been upgraded, as the seat was
    empty, so I settled in there. Row 4, especially with no
    seatmate, is more than adequate.

    As usual, the blender of Newark kept our plane bouncing
    around, and I was pretty queasy as I hustled to the next
    gate, arriving toward the end of boarding.

    UA 523 EWR BOS 2156 2308 319 7F

    The bulkhead seats had plenty of room owing in part to an
    unadvertised little foot cutout big enough to nestle my
    computer bag into. Service was unexceptionable but almost
    nonexistent at this hour and for this length of flight.
    I must admit that the Airbuses are less uncomfy than the
    737s they replaced. We landed about on time.

    Every hotel in town was over $200 (the ones near the event
    $400 and up if available at all), but I discovered I could
    get the Crowne Plaza in Newton for half that, but I'd have
    to brave 80 minutes (if on schedule) of public trans
    starting around midnight. I decided to hang around the
    airport instead for free.

    Researching my future trips and making stray remedial hotel
    reservations actually kept me up, and I ended up doing an
    all-nighter without thinking much about it. Result: not good,
    but I didn't have anything to actually do, so no great loss.
    Gaucho likes this.
  14. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    When the time came, the T got me where I wanted to go.

    Looking for the late registration table, I was pointed to a
    tent in the science center triangle; I went in and was
    appalled to see that I was in the midst of a sea of old

    It turned out that I was at the wrong gathering, mine being
    at the other part of the tent, so I trotted over there and
    was appalled to see that I was in the midst of a sea of even
    older people. I crashed breakfast among my fellow senior
    citizens and made plans for the day with old friends whom a
    day ago I had no idea I would be seeing. I shortly found
    Donna, who convinced me to buy a ticket for the "tailgate"
    dinner before the game (I didn't know or care who was
    playing, so I gave the game pass that came with dinner to
    the pert little undergraduette cashier, who seemed more than
    appropriately grateful), so I dutifully trucked back to
    reception, where I was cheerfully charged $90 for dinner as
    well as the $40 registration fee.

    The feature early presentation was How the Digital Age
    Affects Relationships from the Office to the Bedroom, a sexy
    topic to begin with and the moderator being a famous ham,
    so that seemed like a good choice to start off with, but
    some of my classmates, perhaps stung by having been the
    alternate attraction at such gatherings in the past, lobbied
    for attending a lecture on the first worldwide census of
    marine life, which turned out to be pretty cool despite the
    presenter's every second word being "um." I shouldn't cast
    heavy stones here, as the few times I have been in this
    unenviable position without my usual violinistic prop, my
    every second word has been "um."

    After that, a symposium on Decline and Resilience in the
    Economy, a topic of universal interest, so I don't think
    there was a secondary offering, if you will. The star was
    one of the architects of Greek economic reform, George
    Papandreou, who was of our vintage but at Amherst. Also on
    the panel were a few of our more eminent economic and
    governmentally oriented classmates, and much attention was
    paid by the audience; at our age we are more hit by decline
    and hope just as ardently for resilience compared to younger
    folks. I caught sight of the Dodger, who expressed pleasant
    surprise before introducing me to the former prime minister
    as one of his greatest fans (I don't know if that's true or
    not, but close enough).

    Donna convinced me to go back to my first residential house
    for lunch; I had first thought of listening to the forum on
    effecting societal change, where Ellen C. was presenting.
    Lunch, as it turns out, cost bunches of dough for college
    dorm fare, so I just sat with my classmates, especially
    Lindsay, who now gets a lot more acceptance than when she
    came out as transgendered at our 30th. I chatted with a
    bunch of the folks and refrained from envying the elderly
    reliving their childhoods with cafeteria food.

    Soon it was time to mosey to the class photo on the library
    steps. My old townie buddy Malcolm is now a bit mobility
    challenged (I am not sure - motorcycle accident or beatings
    from rival gangs, probably one or the other), so we left a
    half hour early (he has also become very cautious about
    time); even at his pace it took us only 10 minutes, and we
    had lots of time to mingle with the gathering crowd and
    chat about our ailments and the olden glory days.

    Chaos at the class photo, as not only was our class among
    the most rebellious of a froward bunch, but many of us are
    now somewhat hard of hearing. The procedure took much longer
    than it should have, even with a megaphone, but it was a
    sunny day.

    I passed on the class survey report, as it is a matter of
    total uninterest what percentage of my mates have died,
    earn over a million a week, are divorced more than seven
    times, and so on, instead finding people from the freshman
    dorm and my other residential house who were still alive,
    still married, and not raking in quite that amount of dosh.
    Getting reconnected with them - some over the space of the
    whole 40 years - was worth any number of statistical self-

    The class memorial service was sort of de rigueur, though,
    though I am equally indifferent to the list of passings, but
    some of my friends were playing or singing or preaching.
    Gaucho likes this.
  15. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

    Likes Received:
    Status Points:
    P.S. I rode in the newly refitted 319 today, and 21A and F no
    longer boast their advantage of having no seat in front.

    End of this adventure
    Then across the bridge to the athletic complex, where we
    were supposed to be entertained with a symposium entitled
    "Brains and Brawn" or something like that, where we got
    proof positive that the two are incompatible, with a host
    of laughworthy presentations with unbelievable glitches in
    the audiovisual systems. May I ask for compensation, please?

    We were offered insufficient warm beer and snacks that would
    (if one hadn't paid $90 for dinner) have sufficed for a
    light supper, including a hummus that would give Air
    Canada's a run for its money. The beer was Sam, so you could
    drink it warm; there was also some appalling white wine that
    you could not.

    The technical difficulties and smug presenters left a bad
    taste in the mouth; perhaps that's why they ran out of beer.

    Lindsay, from wild Room 31 in our freshman dorm, had been
    supposed to air a preview of her PBS documentary on high-
    school football brain injuries (apparently, thanks in part
    to her, this is a hot topic these days). Unfortunately,
    the earlier speakers had taken way too long talking about
    nothing, and the hardware glitches, well, they would have
    no doubt prevented this happening anyhow and would have
    done MIT proud.

    It was relief that we repaired to an open bar with booze
    that was perhaps a notch or two less eminent than what they
    regale the 25thers and 35thers with; better than nonexistent
    beer, though. I stuck with Beam.

    Our table had Donna and Ellen C. and Patty Potter and some
    other likeminded souls. Oh, yeah, Rick, cartoonist of Tommy
    the Bopper, now doing good work on Katrina recovery.
    Luckily, despite their tree-hugging natures, they are not
    by and large vegetarians.

    The buffet line featured rather tough overdone flank, not
    untasty, but I don't want to break another tooth, and
    quarter chicken breasts rubbed with cumin and paprika that
    also tasted okay, but toughness in chicken is even less
    appealing than it is with other meats. The saving grace was
    that some health-conscious classmates had abandoned the skin
    from their servings, so I managed to scoop up some of that
    more chewable and better-tasting substance.

    Salmon looked, as steam table salmon generally does, dry and
    overcooked, so forget that.

    One of the attendants saw me pass on the corn and avocado
    salad and pushed it hard; full of red peppers, cilantro, red
    onion and dressed with a somewhat spicy vinaigrette, it was
    actually pretty decent for cafeteria food, and I went back
    for seconds.

    After way too much socializing I trained it back to the
    Airport station and then made my way to my hotel. Award
    stays at Embassy Suites Logan were going begging, so I
    got a reasonably good night's sleep followed by what might
    be the city's worst breakfast - greasy not in an appetizing
    way meats, clotted eggs, bananas that might be green day
    after tomorrow. I had a ton of orange juice and promised
    myself a slice of cinnamon toast at the club later.

    UA 285 BOS IAD 0930 1112 752 8A

    Figured I'd walk to the Massport bus, unless there was a
    hotel shuttle right there, in which case I'd take that, save
    five minutes, and visit the B-team at the club. There was a
    shuttle, so I spent the extra buck (tip). The airport was
    pretty quiet on a Sunday morning.

    When I checked in, the volunteer screen came up, offering a
    potential $300, for which, yes, I'd be happy to take the
    2 pm flight. The machine spat out a coupon but made no
    promises. There is now PreCheck in the C terminal, and
    from all appearances they were putting everyone in the lane
    - nonetheless, everything went smoothly and getting airside
    took mere moments.

    I didn't recognize anyone at the club desk. I used to visit
    at least twice a month on weekdays and got to be known
    there, so it was a slight but predictable disappointment not
    to see any of the old crowd.

    An unhealthier but more palatable breakfast, with an almost
    ripe banana, more OJ, and the e-mail, and I was good to go.

    The flight was leaving from the gate right across the way.
    I dutifully gave the coupon to the gate agent, who said that
    though the flight was way oversold, there were still plenty
    of seats, and please take my original place.

    This, the former seat 9A, is one of the more coveted places,
    and I was interested to see that a zone 3er was next to me,
    all excited about the seat. Wondered how she got assigned
    it, but more power to her.

    A perfectly fine flight, after which I had time to check out
    the Bourbon situation at the club and add it to my list of
    recent tipples on Jeff's tab.

    IAD C19 - Evan Williams green label (the 80)

    DCA - Evan Williams black (86)

    EWR C74 - Jim Beam white label

    SFO domestic - Wild Turkey white label (80)

    LAX terminal 6 - McCormick Scotch, no other whiskey

    LAS - Evan Williams white label (100)

    PHL, SFO international, IAH C - McCormick American blended

    DEN - Ten High

    BOS - Four Roses 80

    SAN - Blanton's

Share This Page