Thursday, March 16, 2006
MY BAD… A couple of weeks ago I relayed a story that happened at Anton & Michel a while ago about a group of golfers that happened to turn back both a 1982 Chateau Petrus and a 1982 Lafitte. I assumed it was because they were California wine palates with more dollars than sense and couldn’t appreciate the French style. Well, I ran into JOHN SPUNG at the Whaling Station. John just happened to be the one that waited on the table that night at Anton & Michel. He told me, “Dude, the wines were both corked. These guys knew their stuff.” So, even here, my own propensity for dismissing Cal-o-philes—often incapable of recognizing great Old World wine—prejudiced my perception of what is clearly a great wine story, but for a completely different reason than I first reasoned…thank you MARK TWAIN, who taught us that “history is fluid prejudice.”
MUCH LATER… I started writing this column on a Wednesday, very early in the morning, as is usual with my no-sleeping, high-strung self. I only got in the Samuel Clemens part, then halted production to be able to report about the two following activities I attended. Meanwhile, between then and now, my man HARRY “SKEETER” DAVIS, one of the greatest bartenders alive, a guy I opened the LA House of Blues with, sent me two tapes of some blues he mixed up for me. So I’ve got just the nastiest, grab-something-and-hold-on-for-your-life blues wailing, courtesy of my man—also a diehard Pittsburgh Steeler fan, living the happiness hangover only those sorry sonsabitches can understand.
SLICE O’ HEAVEN… So last night, me and the interminably SWEET THING got in our chariot and cruised to the Lodge, sauntered down the velvet stairway to Club XIX, sashayed inside that warm, clubby, dreamy room and proceeded to get wined, dined and nearly suppined by the talented and relentlessly fine staff of folks at that Monterey Peninsula landmark. We went because we had heard so much chatter about Club XIX’s new chef, LISA NAKAMURA…here’s the absolute deal…the I’m-screaming-with-the-truthful-blues original deal right from this horse’s mouth. Brings to mind a line from the movie Mommie Dearest, when JOAN CRAWFORD goes into the boardroom and addresses the old-boys table: “Don’t f@&% with me boys.” Chef Nakamura is in charge, so move over boys—you know who I’m talking to—‘cause this gal’s on the top shelf with all you kingpin knife-wielding pan pushers. She doesn’t scream or intimidate, she’s got much too much serene sensibility for that, but the food announces its intentions clearly.
The Club XIX menu is pretty straightforward, with dishes that folks from Middle America can feel comfortable with. That type of menu can be a little restrictive for a talented and creative chef. Fortunately, Chef Nakamura is being given wide enough rein to create and celebrate and elevate, not just regurgitate…call ahead and say you want something to stretch the strapped-in sensibilities of the company store.
The service, masterfully undertaken this night by a combination of pros, including but not limited to NICHOLAS “STUYVESANT TOWN” CALAMARAS and BERTRAND DEPREZ, was professional without being stuffy or constrictive, just what you expect and hope for. The pace was perfect, the ambiance unmatched. The only bad thing about the experience was having to break away from the fantasy to actually leave there and go home…oh, but a room overlooking 18 would have been a nice way to ease the suffering.
DADDY’S GOT A SQUEEZE BOX…The night before that, I hung out with ANDRE and NARGIS LENGACHER at the one and only Lugano’s Swiss Bistro in the Barnyard. Andre called me a couple days before and said, “Ray, come down, I’ve got a surprise.” So I went down, settled in with a schnitzel and some wine and grooved on the sounds of MIKE MAROTTA and DAVE DALLY. That’s accordion and violin my friends and the music that was coming from those two put a magical spell upon everyone. You could have transported that joint anywhere in the countryside of about 13 European nations (are there 13 European nations?) and felt equally at home in any of them.
Then, in walks the other MIKE MAROTTA—IL PAPA. Out comes another accordion and next thing you know, the music has us all flying around the world, singing, dancing, dreaming…Then a couple of Paisans, NINO and GIUSEPPE GENNARO, took turns singing some Italian favorites. Then RICHARD DENIER, who plays accordion with Dave Dally every Thursday at Lugano’s, sat in for young Mike and kept the musical vibe going with Big Mike pumping that squeeze box like a man possessed, which is what accordion players are after all. Go down to Lugano’s on a Thursday and catch the fever.
WINDBAG WRAPUP… March 23, RICH PEPE takes Pep Talk on the road to Galante Vineyards for food and wine pairings with JACK GALANTE, 595-7398…Talbott Vineyards Tasting Room is the place on March 25 for great Talbott wines plus treats for the tummy from WENDY BRODIE and for the ears from RICHARD DE VINCK, 659-3537…Chef of the Year Dinner is March 26. BERT CUTINO, DAN ALBERT, et al, 277-5556…Stay tuned and stay cool.