Monday, January 29, 2007

Spain Love Fest.....

San Sebastian

This is the last night of our trip. I am trying to not weep......but my liver and wallet need a long break. Eighteen Michelin stars in 20 a bunch of unsung hero restaurants and bars.

We are still completely puzzled why Spain.....or at least Basque country..... works so much better than the US. San Sebastian itself is a marvel. Packed full of boutiques, bars, restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, art galleries; the streets are mostly paved in marble, which is polished daily by little trucks with brushes. There are tons of little dogs, who are so well behaved they don´t use leashes....they sit outside the shops waiting patiently. They also poop wherever they feel like it....because the little truck will be by before long to sweep up.

The streets are full of little old ladies and men, grannies and moms pushing strollers, guys making deliveries, engineers, shopgirls. Haven´t seen many lawyers.....can only recall one office in all of San Sabby. And medicial care is free, so not so many doctors. Hmmmm. Oh, and housing is subsidized. Oh, and education is free.....even college. Oh, and the public transport is almost free. Oh, and there is a six hour work day: three hours from 10 to one, then three more from four or so till seven.

Still, it doesn´t look like Moscow on the Biscay. You have never seen so many fur coats in your life. Pamela Anderson can never come here.....she would lose it before she ever got to the foie gras that is served in every bar, along with the $125 per kilo ham. There are tons of people rich enough to support the eighteen Michelin stars within 10 km of $300-500 a pop for two with wine. There is a huge opera galleries everywhere. I don´t get it.

Picture Carmel having sex with Monterey and all the parking garages are underground. Throw in downtown Santa Cruz and Los Gatos......and multiply by two to get to 186,000 people. Oh, and two bums, no crackheads, no homeless......the worst housing is brand new apartment buildings by good architects.

Amanda cannot hang tough with the twice a day food thing, so usually at night I go out on my own and walk around and eat......and, well....drink a bit. "Just leave me the bottle, sonny and save yourself the work......."

Last night I was walking over to the Boys Bar, as we call it: La Cuchara de San Telmo. It is way back against the mountain at the end of the Parte Vieja....the old quarter. Well, the old quarter is only not quite 200 years old since the English burned the place to the ground in 1814....except for the only crappy alley where this bar is. On the way over I walked through one of the big squares near the traffic allowed in most of the city, by the way...and heard singing. Across the way was a big group of folks gathered around a flute and a guitar. They were reading from sheet music handed out by the band, and sing Basque rebel songs and folksongs. Average age.......65 at least, even counting all the grandkids scattered in the group. This went on for an hour, with the group ever changing, and lots of smiles and hugs.

I can´t picture this happening in Carmel. First the arrest for the music and lack of permits and blocked traffic.....then no one would be uncool enough to stop, and there of course would be no grandkids out for a stroll at 8pm with Grannie and Gramps....that is what au pairs are for! Oh, and it was 1 degree above zero.

I went around the corner and ran into an ETA bake sale on a tiny little street. The folks running the sale: 50-60 year old women. I spent 50 bucks....keep the change, ladies.

The Boys Bar was packed as usual. Picture a place run by Brendan and a gnarlier buddy. If you don´t know Brendan.....picture a professional soccer player with a bad attitude. They like me, because I have a worse attitude, and have that Bushit t-shirt. It has a fifteen foot bar in a ten foot wide room with a tiny kitchen at the end. The Boys peer out at the crowd, and the beautiful fat bartender shouts out orders over the din. I had a plate of foie, a leg of confit of rabbit with prunes and figs and applesauce, a pepper stuffed with squid stuffed with onion, a duck breast, a plate of risotto, and some roasted part of something fourlegged and milk fed. And a bottle of new Rioja. Total cost: $25. And all the plates were presented with gorgeous new wave sauces, crisped spinach, purple crispy potatoes.....I left a $5 tip and they ran a big bell, cuz you are not expected to ever tip.

Then across the bridge to Aloña Berri.....the high end pintxos bar. I stopped in at the was only 10pm, so the place was still packed with grannies in fur drinking coffee from little china cups and eating tiny pastries. Picture Patisserie Boissiere on crack, filled up with every pensioner in Carmel. I got Amanda some fruit jellies made on the spot for 7 euros. Good dog, Mikey.

Aloña Berri makes the Boys Bar seem like the Cachagua Store compared to Manresa in Los Gatos. Everything is perfect.....and everyone is wearing furs. They drink from beautiful stemmed glasses. Here I had another stuffed squid; a spot prawn wrapped in filo with avocado oil; a complicated dish involving a cube of risotto, a sheet of isomalt, sprouts, a skewer of more squid over a shot glass of a cider escabeche; my favorite, a paper thin sheet of grilled mango bundled around cream and more foie; a millefois of pigeon and......foie; another kind of millefois with two kinds of roast peppers, sardine......and foie; a trial dish of theirs of the meat from the roasted ribs of milk fed lamb......I was kinda full, tiny glass of Cava with each of course. I asked the owner for a dessert to go for Amanda. He made me a plate of a little of each of their six desserts and wrapped it beautifully in foil......on a real plate: English china. Total cost $25.

On the walk home I was tripping on my night, a little overwhelmed. I noticed a plunk plunk noise that almost kept rhythm with my footsteps on the marble streets. I looked down.

It was my tears hitting the foil on Amanda´s plate of desserts.......

Friday, January 26, 2007

Spanish Flies...

San Sebastian

Computers here are a challenge. They are the only way in which Spanish life lags ours.....Every ten minutes the machine dumps your it is like a poetry slam trying to get something out. Apparently no one spends more than five minutes on an email! "Sorry this is so long......I didn´t have time to make it short......" Mark Twain.

Just a brief word of personal thanks to Our President. Thanks for making all Americans look like complete dicks to Europeans. Ignorant, clumsy, uncultured, bullying.......Dicks. It takes a toll in every interaction and conversation to establish that you are not "one of those." Exhausting. At one restaurant we had to have a Basque call and make the reservation in Basque. At our favorite pintxos bar there is a chalkboard with "Bush-it" in giant letters. Luckily I was wearing the exact same t-shirt......

Speaking of exhaust: our tiny little car, a Peugeot Something, get 60 miles to the gallon. Yeah, gas is a million dollars a gallon, but.......You can drive all day long.......dawn to dark..... for $25 in gas so gives a shit how much it costs per litre? And the little thing parks anywhere; thousands of them jam into tiny streets and on highways; you can leave your charming little street alone because they all fit........It has four doors, goes like a bat out of hell, has a trunk.......why can´t I buy one in the US? True, if you die. So.....don´t crash!!

Just a brief cultural note. We are trapped in San Sebastian by massive snow we are watching TV while sobering up each afternoon......aka "siesta". Turns out a major movie star recently got nude fotos published on the front page of Spain´s People magazine. She handled it very well, low key. She was on the Spanish Letterman last night. The cameraman, most of the crew and half the audience took off their clothes in support.......All on network TV.

Wow......I really love Spain!!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hello, Dali.....

If anyone really keeps track of all this blogging from foreign places.......I have only brief moments, so I am gonna go back and forth and add and re edit stuff. Sorry.....

We are up in Roses, north of Barcelona. Roses is a tiny, gorgeous town like a mini San Sebastian. Tiny streets with no cars, tons of tapas bars, bars, little stores, etc. Since this is a beach town almost everything is closed.....but Rafa´s reopens tomorrow. Maybe.

We are kicking it for three valuable days to eat at this tiny little place called Rafa´s. This is supposed to cheer me up after days of airline flu, driving with maniacs and crappy, expensive meals. Rafa takes reservations....but doesn´t guarantee he will open: if he doesn´t get fish he likes he says "Fuck it." You have to call after ten on the morning of your rezzie to check.

They only do seafood, only cooked a la plancha.....on a wood or steel grill. There is one grill, and one guy. And one wife. We got here yesterday and immediately checked out the spot, two alleys over from our beachfront place. They were scrubbing and painting and sweating like dogs. I offered to help....even in my broken Spanish I got across that Amanda and I would rather work than take a vacation. "Prefiero limpiar que descansar!!" They said no......two people were enough. Yeah, they were at work at 8am yesterday.....and still at it last night at 10pm. And all day today. I have been back three times to offer help. My rezzie is under "Our Clean American Friend."

Turns out this area is where Salvador Dali was born. He was a rich kid from Figueres, an actual Marques. His parents had a place in Cadeques, which is an even tinier port city than Roses, and about 10 crazy Cachagua style miles over a mountain from here. Matisse, Miro, Picasso and guys like that also painted in Cadeques. And, the most famous restaurant in the world, El Bulli, is on the same tiny road. The chef there, Feran Adria is another insane person worthy of his old neighbor Dali.....frozen oils, popcorn dust, melon caviar... ( )

What to do while recovering from plane flu, and Comerc24 poisoning....we are definitely off the food track till Rafa´s..... Let´s go look at a CLOSED restaurant. Off to find El Bulli and visit Cadeques.

The road was so small....mostly dirt....and so insane that Amanda reflexively snacked on her juana loaf on the way. Think Big Sur before the Coast Road. The area must date back to the Romans or before, because it is terraced almost Inca-style.....obsessively, everywhere, every crazy mountain....just with smaller rocks. There is no NO ONE around. I have no idea how anyone gets back alive from El Bulli. Brendan says they all hire private drivers. Yeah, well.....when dinner is $400 a pop, what does a driver matter? (At The Store, we have the opposite rationale: "Dude, dinner is only 50 bucks for two.....take a friggin´ limo, you cheap prick!") This is mountain bike heaven: dirt roads, beautiful mountains, no people, and hidden beach every two kilometers. Will Chesebro take note.

El Bulli itself has its own private bay....big gates.....lots of security even in the off season. They only open from April to October, and have been sold out for 2007 since LAST October....

Cadeques itself is amazingly gorgeous....right up there with Vernazza in Cinqueterra. They built it on lava rocks, and sometimes IN lava rocks. It becomes immediately clear that there are no tort lawyers in Spain. The roads are tiny and mostly base lava....and still have cars. When the road ends, sometimes there is a steep staircase with a railing, or just slates mortared into the wall with no railing. The town has real fishing still, cafe´s.....maybe like the south of France was a hundred years ago.

Dali´s house was closed of course, but we found a bistro with a pile of fresh sea urchins out front.....always a good sign. The place was right on the water, full of white linen and French people. Not always a good sign.....but hey.

I ordered them right up, with Cava, the local champagne and a pile of mussels. Amanda had no wine and fish soup. Suddenly, she went completely grey and dropped like a rock. Bang on the floor of the nice bistro! Too much juana bread!! I have been trying to convince her that "Cava is Bettah than Juana".......

I have fotos...... though publishing them will cost me alotta time on the couch!

By way of recovery, we went back on a nicer road to Figureres to the Dali Museum. Way wack. He was a busy man....eight hours a day of crazy detailed madness: jewelry, sculpture, line drawings, holograms, tapestries, clothing, films....yeah, and big weird paintings.

I have my own Dali stories. The old guy used to eat every Thursday at The Colony when I was the maitre d´ back in the seventies in New York. He would come after the theatre matinee let out and drink a bottle of Vichy water and a half bottle of full Dali regalia of cape, silver cane he made himself and big moustaches. He always sat with his legs stretched out at a tiny bistro table, and would sit and sketch in a copy of his own book that was shaped like a candy box. He was adding sketches to the blank back pages of the prints in the book.

One day some drunk bankers from Texas were finishing lunch when he came in. They stared, giggled and started making comments. I tried to shut them up and not embarrass Sr. Dali, but hey, they were Texans. Finally, one of them asked out loud to Sr: "Hey, Mister! Are you on drugs?"

I was appalled and raced over. Dali just looked up from his sketch.

"Sir.....I AM the drug. You should take me!"

This shut them up long enough for the veternary laxative I had added to their complimentary Drambuie to take effect....about 45 seconds.

Dali´s visits to our place were easier than when he used to visit Auberge d´Lil in Strasbourg when Gerard Bechler was working there. The place is a Michelin three star. Part of Dali´s deal was a girl under the table to......well, let´s just say that at Auberge he didn´t sit with his legs stretched out........And I am not sure he was sketching.

Turns out at The Colony Dali was sketching each performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. His crazy wife Gala was fascinated with the lead, some pretty boy named Jeff. She wanted to give the guy a present, so she sent Dali to fill up the backsides of every page of the candy book.....some hundreds of pages.

This was fine with us.....who wouldn´t want Dali hanging around at least a couple of times a week? I did have to poison a few more bankers to keep the peace, but......

Finally, Gala herself came to us one day and wanted to book the whole restaurant for lunch. The book was done, and she wanted to present it to Jeff.

We said "Sure, why not." When it came time to figure out menus and staffing, she just gave us a list of champagnes, chocolates, fruits and such. For two only! Then she asked when she could pick up the key. What the hell?

Gala wanted the whole place to herself. She insisted that we set up, then all leave. She left the key at Madame Romaine de Lyons next door when she was done.

Just Dali´s kinky wife and Jesus Christ Superstar for six hours in a beautiful old restaurant full of champagne and chocolate. Where´s the video!

Dali and his wife are buried at the Museum in Figueres. The monument is a giant column of tractor tires with their little boat on top. Dripping from the bottom of the boat are blue tears made of condoms.


Monday, January 15, 2007

24 horrors

I can now begin to come to grips with being back in California, and reliving our three weeks in Spain....for those of you who have bitch-slapped me for the info.

Oh, Lord...stuck in Bilbao...with those Barca blues again. We lost a day waiting for our luggage to arrive....(well, not lost really....since we discovered Andra Mari and Zortziko). Still, we had reservations at Comerc24 that had been made months in advance and had to have Igones move them up a day.

We were excited about eating at Comerc24. This place had the hot buzz last year among all the young chefs that Brendan worked with at Mugaritz. We got Carles Abellan's cookbook flown over from Spain at great cost, and stole his chocolate/olive oil/sea salt dessert recipe. We were excited enough to drive six hours across the entire country to make our reservation.

Here is the result.....typed in the penthouse suite of a hotel on aptly named Street of Grace....the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona, sort of.

Wow......Last night we finally ate at Comerc24. We drove all day from Bilbao and were very excited.....The two hour traffic jam on the autoroute, no problem, the awful hotel we had reserved that fucked us for our missed day, no problem. Two hours lost in Zaragoza, the worst town in the Universe, no problem; an hour lost in the Senegalese ghetto in some other weird town, no problem. In my kitchen we have been aping several of Carles´ dishes for years and we were pumped. Even the completely insane Barca drivers (an order of magnitude beyond Roman drivers) could not still our ardor.

Too bad: Comerc24 absolutely sucked from beginning to end.

The place is on a commercial surprise, Comerc means Commercial.....right around the corner from a cute, Greenwich Villagie type area. The building is very Villagy....a shit hole that is chic because of copious amounts of plywood and black paint.

Upon arrival we were instantly treated like dumb Americans and dumped at the worst table in the house, in the back by the waiter´s station and baños. There we sat for 20 minutes. A brusque mesera finally came over and took a drink order: "Two copas de cava, we have been driving all day! This order she unceremoniously dumped into the glasses and over the tablecloth and my arm. Ditto the water. Perhaps she was not a robust supporter of our administration's foreign policy? She also didn´t like the way I moved my silverware around my place setting, and put it back her way. Twice. OK......

She brought bread, salt and poured olive oil into a bowl, onto the table and on my other sleeve. A theme was emerging.We finally got to order food and wine. I had to ask for Spanish menus, and ask each person to explain the dish in Spanish, not badly fractured English. I mean, we COOK in Spanish......we also EAT in Spanish.

The cava had been awful, so I opted for Billecart to wash it away, and asked the wine guy to pick a nice local red. Meanwhile, Amanda suddenly turned grey and sprinted for the bano....luckily only feet away behind a curtain. She was poisoned by her non-one star meal in Bilbao. Great.....though she is proud to announce to all that she vomited ten times in Comerc24. Instead of Stars, we could award Barfs!

When the champagne came I was alone.....and it took another struggle with the waitress to just put the damn bottle on the table and let us pour our own.....she insisted on an ice bucket in the tiny gap between us and other Americans next to us. I tried to explain that: "Senora, this is not a is a fucking DRUG! I need this right now....."

The first course, exactly as pictured in the earlier post was OK......the olive spuma was nice, as were the ootato crisps. The olives were just olives. Fried macadamia nuts? Is this sexy and revolutionary? My Grannie made this in 1959 in Honolulu. She served them with Tang. Hey, what was good enough for the space program was good enough for Grannie.

Things went downhill fast. There was a greasy mushroom ravioli with instructions from the mistress to use our hands to dip it in an utterly tasteless sepia (squid ink) coulis. Then came a cloudy broth with a crusted over (not on purpose, just sitting on the line too long) quail yolk with a little cracker stuck in it. Awful......and it went well with the sommelier´s red wine: thin, acid and annoying.

Finally, out came sort of truffled glop on some white glop. It looked like brisket, and was stone cold. I pushed it away and asked for coffee. The coffee came.....also stone cold.

I am not a hard guy.....I love food. I have worked alongside Andoni from Mugaritz and David Kinch from Manresa, and a bucketful of Three-Star froggies. We had had two one-star meals the day before in Bilbao (Zortziko and the wonderful Andra Mari) that each featured at least a couple of glorious dishes.....and no dingers....with really nice, sweet, accomodating service, despite our either growling desperation, or our desperate growling.....

I have survived the restaurant wars in NYC, so I have ancestral memories of the snotty, condescending and incompetent service of crappy, pretentious, overpriced food. Who knew I would have to drive all across Spain to find it at Comerc24?

We had the festival menu, if you are insane or disbelieving enough to go there. Trust me, it was awful. I have been doing this for thirty years, and if any of my staff had acted so badly....or produced such murky glop, no one would ever find their bodies....To add insult to injury, they charged me for Amanda's meal she did not eat...and Carles himself was standing in the bar when I paid for my abbreviated meal. He wimped out on talking to me about my obviously ridiculously awful experience.

Fuck him. As I said in my posted review: "If Carles Abellan had any pride he would draw a warm bath and open a vein.....if he could find a knife sharp enough and a waiter not busy texting his dealer to help him turn on the taps....."

The good news.....I was so upset with the meal, I called my friend Txema who is working at Bar Inopia. Txema worked with Brendan at Mugaritz. He told me to calm down.....and called me back and sent us to a hotel. When we arrived, the room was bumped to a suite on the roof with a deck, a hot-tub, a giant plasma TV, a revolving bed that Britney would marry for........ the whole thing comped by.........who knows? A Barcelona llocal with pride.....and not Carles Abellan.

Talk about locals: we went to Bar Inopia for lunch next day to seek out our benefactor from the night before. Turns out the owner of the Hotel (the Prestige on the Gracia) is a regular and was there when I called with my report. He was so appalled at the story that he comped us a suite to save his city´s honor.

The owner of Inopia is an in Feran Adria of El Bulli, and the chef is Txema, our buddy, ex Mugaritz, who started at El Bulli) so they knew that if I said it was was BAD.

Sorry guys. Inopia was everything one would want in hospitality, grace, and quality. It looks like a cross between a sushi bar and a Baskin Robbins, and jumps with locals. Everyone treated us as locals...well, me (Amanda sat in the plaza in the car with residual food poisoning, and made a cameo appearance).

I sat for the entire service (2pm to 4:30pm) and ate 15 dishes at the bar.....drank a full bottle of Cava, some peach booze they make, plus plus. The place started out slow: I came in just as the owner was raising the steel gate over the entrance. The place quickly filled up until it became insane.....three deep at the bar.

Inopia is simple, local fare, perfectly prepared. I had a "brava", chips with pepper sauce; local anchovies; local sardines tempura; tuna belly grilled by a little geeky intern guy working in front of me where the chocolate sauce would be at 31 Flavors who had no other job. I had tempura baby sole.....maybe two inches long, eat em whole. I had a Catalan goat cheese warmed with Catalan honey that you had to ask the fat guy next door to pass over. The twenty something local girls next to me watched what Txema brought me and mirrored my orders......these girls could EAT, and they could DRINK....still thin, gorgeous, smart and raucous. And employed. Not Carmel in any way.

The owner was a dead ringer for Guy Richie. I saw this over and over in Spain. The guys with a vicious aura, bad razors, short hair, soccer-style fitness and a simmering hostile/friendly attitude.....had some of the best food. Wow, just like Brendan! Hmmm.....they were all his friends. Hmmm.

Despite the presence of his famous brother, the owner took the time to say "Hi" to me and to Amanda on her brief visit. He knew the story of the bad meal. He had arranged the hotel suite with Txema. He knew Amanda was sleeping, nauseous in the rental car on a beautiful Saturday in Barcelona. A passing car honked. The guy sprinted out of his busy restaurant, ran into the street and pounded on the hood and windshield of the car until the terrified occupant not only stopped honking, but probably left the city. He did this three times, to three different honkers. "Do not disturb the peace of my diners! I will fuck you up!"

I did not know that I had a brother.....or, more accurately...a Barcelona.

Txema is coming to California to work for us in August. As a vacation.

There is a god, after all.

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Almost homesick......

Naah.......just kidding. Still, sitting in the internet spot in Roses, north of Barcelona.....I had to put Conall´s Mix on the ipod.

We arrived in almost one piece. I was a little concerned flying into Bilbao a week after ETA hit the Madrid airport....and two days after the guardia civile found the THIRD cache of C4 ten kilometers from Bilbao. Also, Gilda sent two green loaves of bread from the marijuana store to calm Amanda´s nerves on the trip. They looked alot like bricks of C4 to me.....assuming they slipped past the pot dogs.....What price peace?

So, it was no surprise that we made it and the bags didn´t. We were stuck in Bilbao......with the Barcelona Blues again. As in many things, this was a Zen lesson. Our last trip to Bilbao sucked: bad, expensive restaurant; fought like cats and dogs; nearly got the car towed, etc. And, we had reservations at Comerc24 in Barcelona for the next day!

We sucked it up. The owner of the pension, a food nut. She got us a reservation at a place in her home town of Galdako called Andra Mari. It is family owned, been there a thousand years, and is across the street from the high school she went to. I was scared. Still, Michelin gave them a star last year (and took one away from another place in downtown....though not from the piece of crap that stole my money last year).

First, we had to go buy clothes. Jesus wept!! We went to a department store in Bilbao and fought like dogs against every grannie in the world over every questionable piece of clothing we could find. It was Macy´s basement sale in hell......Amanda was in desperate need of those loaves. I was wrecked, soaked in sweat and half an hour late for lunch.

Galdako is a tiny little town perched on a scary industrial highway. We found the high school, and eventually found Andra Mari. We changed in the parking lot....a Mike Jones special activity.....Impresses the hell out of the locals.

Andra Mari itself is perched on a cliff overlooking a beautiful big valley and mountains that we hadn´t noticed in our terror at fighting giant speeding trucks. Of course I failed to take a picture......Damn!! Gotta go back!!

The people were very sweet. Basically saying "Basque" and sweet, warm and wonderful is a waste of time. For some odd reason, the waitresses (chicks only here) dress in an odd traditional style from Aragon that looks like a cross between Austria and the Flying Nun. Blushing and smiling.....even the Basque version of Rachelle, though I took care not to piss her off.

The food was wonderful. Beautiful, perfectly prepared, imaginative without being weird....even inspirational. Quickly:

Little piece of squid on something something
Salad of baby mussels and fresh baby cepes in a cider escabeche. Wow!!
Foie gras wrapped in a lace thin piece of smoked bread with a jelly of salted cherries. Wow!!
Artichoke puree with cardoons a foam of something. Well, three out of four aint bad.
Soup of some kind of little mollusk in an amazing creamy risotto. Wow!!
Bacalao with essence of garbanzos. Mmmm.
Roasted hare and mushroom essence. Thank god this was the entree.
Apple sorbet with vanilla cream. Perfect
Parfait of something with brownie.

All this for fifty bucks a pop, including tip. Smiles, no extra charge.

After lunch we went in search of Extebarri.....the best restaurant in the world. It is lost in a lost mountain valley not farm from Galdakao. All the top chefs: Andoni, David Kinch, Arzak, etc say that this guy is the best. No one has ever heard of the place, not even Igone.

We found the place eventually, after a scary alcohol and bomb checkpoint. It is in Axpe, which is positively Alpine. And the place where the cops found all of ETA´s C4. A great place to be a lost tourist in a rent a car. Extebarri is closed till next week, and they are stilling thinking it over about me working there.

Upon return to Bilbao, still no luggage. What to do? Go out to dinner of course!!

This time we hit Zortziko, another one star. The kid from the pension made the call for us and talked them in to seating us at 9:30. We walked across the bridge into the new town and passed the department store.....the grannies were STILL battling over the sales clothes!!

We were a little nervous because Zortziko is a very elegant place.....Amanda was still wearing her Converse sneakers, and we had our department store clothes only. When we arrived, they showed us into a very elegant, empty dining room. At first we thought we were so badly dressed that they hid us in the back. Eventually we realized that we were IT! In the middle of a big city, on a Thursday, a Michelin one star restaurant was doing two covers!

You would never know. The food was perfect. The staff was just the right mix of super professional and helpful. The wine guy ....a local 22 year old, served up a local red of his choosing. He gave a two minute speech about the wine while carefulling pouring little tastes from glass to glass, checking the bouquet, checking the color. It was such a beautiful performance that Amanda was crying by the end of it.

Yes, I got his card. And, yes....he wants to come to California.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Man of the Year: Keith Ellison

Just three days in to the New Year, there is reason to live.

I'll just let the article speak for itself:

But It's Thomas Jefferson's Koran!
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; Page C03

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

If Keith Ellison takes the ceremonial oath of office using Thomas Jefferson's Koran, will he and Virgil Goode at long last be on the same page? Don't hold your breath.

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.

Ellison will take the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then use the Koran in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself," said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert.

One person unlikely to be swayed by the book's illustrious history is Goode, who released a letter two weeks ago objecting to Ellison's use of the Koran.

"I believe that the overwhelming majority of voters in my district would prefer the use of the Bible," the Virginia Republican told Fox News, and then went on to warn about what he regards as the dangers of Muslims immigrating to the United States and Muslims gaining elective office.

Yeah, but what about a Koran that belonged to one of the greatest Virginians in history? Goode, who represents Jefferson's birthplace of Albemarle County, had no comment yesterday.

Go, Keith.......