Monday, November 28, 2005


RIP George Best.....1946-2005

Two great quotes from the best soccer player ever, and the dubious role model for Joe Namath and every hotshot athlete since: "I spent millions on booze, women and fast cars.

The rest I just squandered."

When dropped by Manchester United after 10 years he was asked why. "I went missing.

Miss UK, Miss Universe, Miss America....."

The difference between Republicans and Democrats:

Cindy Sheehan from Camp Casey.....speaking seated from behind six-foot white Costco folding table. No linen!! No drape!! Aaaccck! Come on people, we even drape our tables when we go camping..... The devil is in the details.

In the eighties, when Nancy Reagan headed the "Just Say 'No' to Drugs" campaign, I overheard a Pebble Beach Grand Dame say: "I told Nancy....For God's sake.....Just Say 'No, Thank You'...whatever happened to manners? Even drug dealers should have manners....."

Speaking of manners.

Friday we were working for Lizardo in Pebble Beach. (Lizardo and family fly in for Thanksgiving each year and rent the old Taylor House. We do dinners from Wednesday to Saturday. They are a really nice family.....they flew Brendan to their Bahamas house for two weeks last winter on their jet. Nice...)

Anyway, Friday at 5 we were preparing for cocktails and dinner at 6:30. The doorbell rings, and ''Voila!", two guests are at the door. They had been invited for drinks before dinner. The guy had a zillion dollar leather jacket, and the woman had a zillion dollar breast implant, and they were already smashed. Lizardo and crew were not even home yet. The guy poured himself Mr. Lizardo's crazy expensive Argentinian cab and had us open a white for Mrs. Tits. "Is there any food? "

We were shocked when the guy recognized us: "You are from the Cachagua Store, aren't you? What are you doing here? We know them from our ranch in Wyoming...." Like we had broken in and were making off with the silver.... We explained that we come with the house, and have done this for a few years. "Oh, yes. Liz doesn't cook. They even fly in a chef to their Caribbean house...." I pointed at Brendan and said, "There he is....." They were stunned.... Cachagua trash and jet set?

When the Lizardo's did arrive, they had to tag-team the guests and showers to get ready for dinner. We offered Goldfish with a straight face.

At the proper 6:30 sharp moment, the doorbell rang again, and in came 6 more guests for drinks. Seconds later the power went out. We scrambled for candles and flashlights and carried on with hors d'oeuvres. I called PG&E (clueless) and Pebble Beach security (non-English speaking and clueless that the Lodge, the Beach Club and the whole Gold Coast were dark). Everyone asked me what was going on. "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!" I replied. No one laughed.

Proving once again the existence of a female deity, the power outage locked the security gates to the Taylor house tight. (Keep those Negroes at bay!) We were stuck with the Leather and Tits couple, and the possibly even more overbearing Wolcott's (''We have dinner reservations! Do something!"). The younger Lizardo's went out to the dark to smoke something while we continued appetizers and drinks by candlelight and desparately tried to open the gates. P.G. Woodhouse was there somewhere, chuckling in the shadows.

Pebble Beach Security finally arrived. Non-English speaking. No tools on the truck. A barely glowing flashlight. "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!" We were able to commandeer the truck, drive to Donny Brascoe's and borrow tools.

Meanwhile Mr. Leather had told Gilda to shut up (someone asked her the selling price of Holman Ranch, where she was manager). He went for the tri-fecta when he barged into the candlelit kitchen, shoved her out of the way and snarfed a half dozen uncooked fandangos from a half sheet. Mmmmm. Mayonnaise and green onions.

We pulled the pins on the gate and freed the beasts. Leather was too drunk by now, so he gave the keys to Tits. Off they went. As I went back in to the house, Gilda was standing there with a certain look on her face. She handed me a sheet of paper: New silver Aviator; Oregon plates XOH 433, Watsonville license plate frame (no sales tax in Oregon, you see).

"Hello? Highway Patrol? I'd like to report a drunk driver......New silver Aviator, eastbound on Carmel Valley Road, Oregon plates.......Oh, and they are California residents, so check that sales tax thing........Oh, thanks. Just doing our duty....."

Revenge is a meal which is best eaten cold. And with the hands.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


My friend Richard called from Hollywood, upset….His mom had died. It was his first important death, and the first death he witnessed. He was clearly rattled and drifting……and Richard is our go-to guy in any emergency. He and his wife Kate and kids Danny and Jenn have the unit nuclear family everyone checks in with every holiday……

He scheduled the wake, the shiv’a, for the following Sunday. “I want you there…..” He even scheduled it around my flaky Sunday catering schedule: 2pm. Bring nothing. Just a gathering of friends and family to share memories of Lucille.

Then the bombshell…….”I am sure you will have a story or two to tell……..”

So I did some research. This did not help. The traditional shiv’a, or funeral process, lasts a week from the funeral, and preferably happens in the morning, right after morning service. Already Richard was moving the thing back to accommodate me. Jesus. No guilt here…..

The problem with telling stories about Lucille was that she scared the living shit out of me, and I always stayed back on the fringes. We did a bar and a bat mitzvah for the kids, Cousin Joey's wedding, and innumerable family gatherings....but I always gave Lucille a wide berth. First, I am not sure she was completely comfortable with the goyisher caterer so close to the heart of her family, but also there was an almost visible……ferocity about the lady. The Spanish say it best: Feroz! Like a mama tiger, you knew not to get between her and her people…..and I am enough of a natural fuckup to stumble right into that zone. No way….Clumsy but not stupid.

So I had little interaction…..and no stories.

We Irish take the whole toast/speech thing seriously, as befits a culture that was only recently weaned off the pure oral tradition for dusty, tacky print. A proper toast requires that the recipients both laugh AND cry….Having to give a wedding toast means a week of preparation…..none of this “Here’s to Bill and Nancy, what a couple….” Shite.

I checked John Donne, an always reliable death guy. Meditation XVII is the ‘no man is an island’ one everyone has heard.....good, but there is another nugget:

All mankind is of one author and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.
God employs several translators;
some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice;
but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

I was hoping this passage might help Richard see his mom’s passing as part of the greater continuum.

Ho hum.


Day of the event, I really brought nothing…..Sunday brunch, meetings, another wake….I barely got there, my Donne printout mashed in my pocket.

People yakked a bit, drank a little, knoshed a little, then Richard got to it. He had a nice memoir of Lucille’s life…complete with revelations.

Lucille was a Mendoza...not your usual Jewish name. The Mendoza's survived Isabella's purge in 1492 in Spain, and still hung tough.

Lucille’s brother was a physician at 21 in Pittsburg, and enlisted in the Army in WWII. He was killed in action, and Lucille was changed forever. She became a hard-core anti-war spirit. She was against the Korean War, forget Vietnam….She went to Israel with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 to meditate for peace in Jerusalem. Wow!

When Richard graduated from college in 1968 he was prime material for the draft, and it was prime-time Vietnam. He was going on to law school, and the day he drove off from home in Hollywood, Lucille ran out to the car just as he was driving off. She pounded on the window. Richard rolled it down, and she grabbed his arm: “They will NEVER TAKE YOU! I promise! THEY WILL NEVER TAKE YOU!” Ok, Mom….Sure, calm down…..

Not long after, the North Hollywood draft board was bombed, and burned to the ground. Richard never heard a peep from them. As it turns out, that same draft board had the files of many of my friends: Richard; Michael Sherman the local jeweler; and Stuart Thompson, my co-Stanford guru and Hopkins professor, among others. I tried to picture those guys taken out of my life by war….

Now, no one is saying that Lucille……..well. John Donne was looking kinda peeked about now…..

And of course, Richard then turned to me and said, “Michael, I’m sure you have something to say…….”

Fuck. Here goes:

Amanda and I were talking today about parents and kids. We have a couple of different people that work for us whose kids are complete nightmares, and the parents have no clue. The warp their lives every second to support and cover these kids who are ungrateful, even criminal…with no care or concern for their folks.

And then we have kids….you all know Ollie…whose parents have no clue how great they are. The kids operate in a vacuum, with no support, no real love, no appreciation from parents with no care or concern for their children.

This was clearly not Lucille’s way.

I can’t share little anecdotes of her, because she scared the crap out of me, and I stayed out of her way. But I learned something in all these years of working for great photographers: we don’t ever actually see objects. What we see is just the light that is reflected off them. We infer their presence and shape from the light they reflect…shadow and light.

This tells us all we need to know about Lucille. Look at her life’s work: this beautiful family that all of us here love, and this beautiful home that is filled with enough love that all of us here constantly come back to it like hummingbirds.

I don’t want to say that Lucille cast a shadow…because shadow implies darkness…But right here before us you can see the reflection of her light in all that we see here today


Here’s to you, Lucille.

Friday, November 11, 2005

No Proseco

Blog Proseco
This is an old post that never got posted...... This was a review that I did for Coast Weekly. They were looking for a new restaurant reviewer. They never called back......Hmmmmm.

So.....we had this guy: his new wife had thrown an extravagant party for him back in the day. The bill had somehow slipped through the cracks......Then...Oops! Divorce! Now what? We billed her, we billed him.....Nada. So, Carolynn offered to do a spell to encourage ‘justice’: ie. someone paying the bill. As a card-carrying skeptic, I reserved judgment.....but did allow her choice of any restaurant on the Peninsula (or elsewhere) if we got paid.

So.....the poor bastard finally paid (I should have invited HIM to dinner). Carolynn, flush from her triumphal trip to Tuscany, capitol of old world hospitality, chose to eat at Pisello, at the Conde Nast Traveller Top Ten Bay of Pigs Resort.

Restaurants are the second oldest profession.....the exchange of the hospitality of locals for goods and services from the traveller. This simple contract is obviously different in the new millenium....we are after more than mere survival when we hit the road seeking food and comfort. So, we set out to celebrate justice and re-experience the warmth of Tuscan hospitality in its supreme American exponent (designed and run by the Marchese di Antipasti) at one of our greatest resorts.

Upon the day......I arrived on time! I even made reservations! And to set the mood, I picked up Carolynn in a ’71 Alfa Romeo GTV......with working lights and doors and everything!

We parked.....and walked the half mile from the non-valet end of the lot.......At Bay of Pigs the valets have a hundred of the closest spots....(Assuming perhaps: fit guests, fat valets; no one parks his own car anymore? Fine, but do you let a valet drive a ’71 GTV? Not a FAT valet, certamente…..)I am 5'9'', 160 and I barely fit. While we walked, we were giggling like school kids.....’Oh, do you think they will bring us bruscetti and proseco as soon as we sit down?’ Will they have riboletta? Will they have the real Tuscan bread? Cantucci with Vin Santo?’ I think we were even holding hands......we may even have skipped!

Well, no; no; yes; kind of, and yes. Anyway, we arrived, with actual reservations, and were shown to an actual table. No window, of course....Pisello would never give a window to a 7:30 deuce—obvious losers. Our table was in the middle of the empty room and cozy in size, if not location......cozy enough that we were worried we would have room for the food and glassware (we can eat, for ectomorphs).

So....No bruschetti upon arrival....and it was pretty clear the waitress had never heard of proseco....At some length the captain appeared to explain that it was the Marchese di Antipasti’s wine list, and the Antipasti’s did not make Proseco, or any other sparkling wine....though there was a Moscato with a little spritz to it at $25 the half bottle. I pointed out the ‘’Amici di Antipasti’’ part of the list and suggested that some Amici might be in the sparkling wine biz. Well......No, actually. With a superior tone she then told us that there is very little sparkling wine in Italy, and Italians don’t drink it anyway, so they did not feel it was necessary to have on the list.

I could not help but flash back to the tiny wine shop in the Milano market, where (unable to choose from the dozen sparklers available) the proprietor whipped out a fat book listing all of them, with all the data to help me in my selection, and refused to let me leave until I had the perfect one.....and a back-up. Or the harried waiter at Sandro’s in New York stopping in his tracks upon recognizing me, racing to the back and returning with a bottle......’This is from MY village....the best Proseco in the world.’ Or every single restaurant I ever ate at in Italy, from peasant to Michelin 3 stars…..

Anyway.....having failed the Proseco test (us, not they) we were denied a chance to pick a second aperitif. The captain stalked away, and the waitress was clearly too terrified to approach us. We sat....Our stomachs thought our throats had been cut.....When the waitress eventually returned for a food order, she discovered that we actually still wanted a cocktail. As total self-parking, 7:30 dining, proseco-ordering losers we dropped back five yards and had Campari Sodas. What a couple of pretentious geeks……..still clinging to the remnants of our Tuscan dreams......

They did forgive us enough to let us order wine. We eventually settled on a mid-range ($50) bottle of something from ’96. I ordered by the number, so as to try to alleviate the waitress’ trembling at any mention of Italian words. We passed at the opportunity of dropping a couple of hun on a Brunello or a ‘Super Tuscan’. The wine was opened with the typical Californian death-struggle.....bottle flailing around as the screw sinks home.....grand views of the waitron’s armpits. Ecole Somellier Sherwin Williams) Why can’t the bottle be placed quietly on the table? Has the linen been consecrated, and is the corked bottle ritually unclean......should we be concerned? Or does pulling the cork in such a violent manner send the evil spirits fleeing at a rate sufficient to allow the bottle to be placed on the table without fear? We received new glasses. Apparently the $50 mark rated fish bowls. The waitress, having presented the ears and tail of the bottle she had killed,proceeded to glug a quarter of it into Carolynn’s glass at one go. I, of course, responded like a scalded eel.....and refused to let any of the wait staff touch any of our glassware for the rest of the evening. Talk about ritually unclean! Back Satan!

So......on the menu there was riboletta!.....and it was great: robust flavors, interesting stuff floating around, not the mushy hot gazpacho I saw once or twice over THERE. There was bread.....unsalted in the Tuscan fashion......but limp, flaccid crust. I was thankful, having lost ANOTHER tooth since Italy.....I sense that the Pebble Beach dental demographic may have something to do with the lack of authenticity of the Pisello could throw real Tuscan crust at a burglar
There was also tripe, Florence style. Here, two roads met in a yellow wood.....and longing to travel both (crunchy, vitamin-rich nouveau vogue or old world peasant) and be one traveller the chef apparently set off for the middle, swinging his machete. Crunchy tripe? Wow....I never considered that one. I admit to mortal terror sinking in when I realized I had ordered tripe in Pebble Beach—how many orders could they possibly serve in a week? Two? How many servings in a typical cow stomach? Visions of projectile vomiting danced in my head.....Turns out I had it all backwards......maybe instead of letting it sit around, they prepare it to ORDER! It was a serious, well needed workout for my incipient TMJ, though. And served at such a violent temperature that I strongly suspect MicroWave By the Bay. (Hoist by my own petard, by the bye......I ALWAYS touch the plate when the waitress says ‘Don’t, it’s hot.’.....well, at Pisello: is HOT! The Bay of Pigs Resort is not subject to PG&E Block 11 rolling power outages.....plenty power here, baby).

By now our entrees had arrived. I had the veal, which was cooked perfectly. The sauce had lovely flavor, but was so dilute I had to chase it around the plate basting each morsel. I further annoyed the staff by having the nerve to order the brussels sprouts side with my entree, as well as the veg o’ the day. I was overwhelmed at the idea of FREE Contorni (in Italy, everything is a la carte—no egg roll with two from Column B). Only a sadist (or is it the other way?) either serves or orders brussels sprouts in a modern restaurant. Brussel Sprouts are the Saddam Hussein of vegetables. No luck here. We were back in the yellow wood with the tripe......Talk about cantucci: these sprouts were .50 caliber. All I could think of was that poor beaver that five or six arms of government came down on last year for eating cherry trees in the DC Tidal Basin. Between the tripe and the vegetables, Bucky Beaver is badly needed at the Bay of Pigs.

But, they had cantucci with Vin Santo.....not together, but we captured a real waiter from the drunks at the next table and he assembled the dish for us from different places on the menu. Carolynn was thrilled. I was a bit staggered at the $20 per half bottle price for what is essentially spoiled wine. In Tuscany, those of us whose teeth have fallen out eating the bread use Vin Santo to dip the rock hard Cantucci (Italian for cartridge, as in rifle......the carabinieri version of Dunkin Donuts....) Our new waiter tried to pretend that Vin Santo was some fine treat, until he realized we were in on the secret. When he heard our proseco story, he managed to sneak us some of the erstwhile Moscato, which made the Vin Santo price go down a little better.

Meanwhile our new waiter (our waitress was off calling her therapist) and the drunks provided what had been missing—personality. Nevermind that the drunks ran off the honeymoon couple at the window table by (horrors!) actually talking to them. The waiter was a 4:12 miler at PG High, scholarship kid at Cal Poly, Dad a plumber in Carmel, and he is off to the Big City Lights of Las Vegas with the contacts he has made at Pisello. I am not surprised. His warmth and interest in his guests stuck out like a sore pisello in the sterile atmosphere at Bay of Pigs.

Back in the early days of California cuisine, as the portions shrank and style became the goal, I had a theory that the ulitmate exponent of new cuisine would be a photo of a plate, to be shown to the diner, rather than acutal messy food. Dining at Pisello reminded me of this. Tuscany? All that was missing was a plywood mural of The David, or a Tuscan farmhouse, with holes cut out for us to put our faces through for a souvenir photo. Better than the Holiday Inn Grand Island, Nebraska if you are a travelling salesperson......but Tuscan? No more than a rose is to a photo of a plastic rose. I am sure old school warmth, care and expertise exists somewhere on the will be an interesting search. I’ll let you know.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wal Mart....The Movie, The President....

On sale now! Executive branch access! For a short time, down to five figures! You, too can have a Piece of the Bush!

We are committing commercial and political suicide by hosting the "Wal Mart Movie: The High Cost of Low Prices!" We have billed it as: "The Cachagua Store vs. Wal Mart". That is smart...WalMart is known for being benevolent to critics. We will be serving Guinness, Newcastle or local organic wines to Store supporters.....and Coors to Wal Mart people. I expect a crowd of several.

Anyway.....we gave Wal Mart a chance. The president and heir was at a party we catered at the Hatfield's last month, during Katrina. He and his wife professed to love our food.....and be willing to fly us out to Mississippi to do some down-home, California cookin' for them.

Well, the phone never rang.... So, fuck 'em.

When I mentioned to Wal Mart Sparky that our Chloe was in Little Rock, working for Uncle Billy....Sparky told me to watch CNN in the morning. The fix was in, and Uncle Billy was going to be announcing something great about Wal Mart, storm relief, and .........

How depressing is that? Uncle Billy as the Wal Mart sidewalk monkey? Is there no hope?

I was much cheered up to hear Robert Greenwald on our local communist radio station, KRXA540. He is the auteur of the Wal Mart movie, and has a sense of humor loose enough to require medication.

His marketing plan is to release the movie nationwide on DVD and in theatres at the same moment, and have community activists all over the place put on small opening-week screenings. After five minutes on his website I too, was a producer. Other local screenings will be at the Unitarian Church (!!!???!!) and at the N.O.W. offices. Also at a nice man's house in Aptos, capacity five. Check it out: Our zipcode is 93924. Check our our offering. And go to one near you....

All good. In the intervening two weeks since we signed up I have received congratulatory emails from former residents of Carmel, ex-Carmel High kids....even my ex, who has not spoken two words to me in two years.......

Then, today I received an email from Tom McMahon at the Democratic Party. It seems they are having a Nationwide Day of Action!!! To chart the course for the next umpteen years!!! Conference call with Howard Dean!!!!

Their Day of Action is Tuesday. In five days.

This is the first I have heard of it.....and I am on every lefty-pinko email list that lives....and am a former delegate to the Democratic Convention. Well, I was a Republican at the time, so maybe I slipped through the data cracks.....

I did an email search for local gatherings within 50 miles of Cachagua. There were two, both in Santa Cruz. (One was at Dharma's...which is sort of the Cachagua Store of there: instead of toothless crackheads wandering through in search of a sandwich or a beer, you have bra-less hippy waitress chicks straight out of an R. Crumb comic. Both places have good food, though. And, you have to love Dharma's......They tried to change their name to McDharma's and got sued by Mickey D. They should be sponsoring the WalMart movie, not the fucking Democrats! )

So.....if this is the best organization that we can expect from the Democratic Party...five days notice to put on major policy events.....Only two events within 50 miles of Monterey and Pebble Beach when the WalMart movie has is time to jump off that ship.

I am looking for a new party. It should have humor, good nice to the environment.....and their food should not involve bottled condiments. Oh, and all explosions should be airborn and festive, and preferably alcohol-related.

And they should know their way around the internet. Al Gore lives in San Francisco now for chrissakes! Someone please stuff Howard Dean in a goddam bottle and float him out on the Japanese current.....I hear they need doctors in Peru.

Spanish Fly Away

Brendan escaped from Spain on Tuesday. Dinners at The Mug were down to two and three during the week, lunches the same. This is with 30 hot chefs in the back....chomping at the bit to show their stuff, and stabbing each other in the back to get the opportunity. Literally. Stabbing.

Everyone of the 30 chefs wants to move to California. Including the main support chef, Paco. Just because Brendan is owner of a restaurant in California, Paco decided he was moving and gave notice. This, of course made Brendan's position impossible: main chef kissing his ass for a job, all the buddies trying to kill him for the attention. And, on top.....Paco is a dick. The guy has time at El Bulli and at the Guggenheim, and knows everything about Mugaritz, but........He bailed on El Bulli early to get the Mugaritz job, and now is bailing early on Mugaritz to get the job at......The Cachagua Store?

We did hook him up with Walter at Bouchée in Carmel....but that may be passive-aggressive on our part. We are still pissed about the wine chick from a year ago........Another story. Good luck, Paco.

The good down-side of this adventure is Brendan wading into the incredible pool of talent sloshing around Europe, working for free. These kids are the fuel that is feeding the amazing European culinary machine. They have the skills, and are like honeybees cross-fertilizing all the kitchens of Spain, France and England with new ideas and new skills.

And they all want to come to California. And they are used to working for free.

Not just for the babes......George Bush's ruinous economic, social and foreign policies are finally hitting even Europe. Business is down. The American middle class that fueled a significant portion of culinary discretionary spending is getting hammered by the Hummer in Chief. You can shoot a cannonball through many of the best restaurants and hotels in Europe and not hit a client. Even Prague, with 70,000 ex-pats....and 7 million visitors each on the ropes. It is a buyers market if you want to open a restaurant......or hire a hot, young chef.

Call me.