Tuesday, December 30, 2008

French Laundry. Chapter Four.

Apparently it's the original? I'm just surprised they spelled it right. Oh, and look! Raiders fans eat there! Wassup ese!

The morning after Christmas, Jason and I (hungover) decided to go get some tacos before the ladies arose from their drunken slumber. Down the street from our house and across from Glendale High is a little taco shack called “Taco Azteca.” All of our taco-eating friends agree, Taco Azteca is the shit. It was a complete surprise the first time we went. “Good tacos in Glendale?” Then, it had only a piece of plywood nailed to the outside of the building with the words “Taco Azteca” in messy black spray paint. The houseplants that hung around the dirty, rickety tables were for sale. And no dogs were “alowd. Sorry.” At least they were sorry.

They’ve since put on some new paint and given the place a general face lift. The houseplants are gone. And all the handwritten, misspelled “specials” have been replaced with actual signs in English, if only somewhat broken English. The menu board now offers English translations. But the food hasn’t changed: it’s still Mexican amazing.

The morning Jason and I visited, we ordered some carne asada and carnitas tacos, and a couple of carne asada burritos. After we sat down to wait for our food, a pair of white fellows arrived. One of them looked a little like David Cross, the other was on a cell phone talking to whomever they were getting food for. He had that annoying quality of speaking perfect English with no accent, except when he came to a Spanish word in a sentence and all of a sudden he was a Mexican. It was as if the word had been marinating in some sort of pungent Mexican accent sauce in the back of his throat for years just waiting to jump out of his mouth and say, “I SPEAK MEXICAN!” You know who else does it a lot? Giada on the Food Network. She probably spent a summer in Italy when she was in college, but now suddenly she’s Italian and can’t say any Italian word without letting you know that she knows how to say it the Italian way, “…so then you want to take about a pound of SPUH-GEE-TEEEEEE and put it into the pot…” It’s just fucking spaghetti lady, say it like a normal person. She needs a kick in the taco.

Nom, nom nom! How do you say "all of it" in Spanish?

“Do you want anything to drink?” The Translator asked into his phone. “Like a HORRRRRCHATA? Or a JARRRRRITOS?” Big, huge rolling Rs. Totally over exaggerated Spanish. So once he got the order over the phone down, it was time to get David Cross’ order. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that he would handle everything. He didn’t say it directly, but his body language said, “Look, these people can’t understand you, but I can converse with them. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”

“Would you like a BURRITO?” The Translator said to David like he was a child. And in a normal American accent, incidentally. Because if he said “burrito” in Spanish, David wouldn’t have understood him? David did want a burrito. “Okay, would you like chicken or beef?” (Still in baby talk.) David wanted chicken. “Okay,” he said, and turned to the dude at the window. And in a flurry of Spanish, he placed an order. Oh, but there were questions, and thank god David had his translator. “Do you want onions?” No, no, David did not want onions. “Sin cebolla.” Phew, that was a close one. “Good thing I was here to speak Spanish for you!” he beamed.

The dude was a total tool. We decided we would have liked him if he had taken David’s order and just totally fucked it up. Like ordered him tongue, or some shit. “You’d like a chicken burrito? Okay,” turning to the window, “Uno burrito con lengua, por favor. Lengua adicional.” We giggled our asses off thinking about it all the way home. David would surely eat his lengua burrito and not even know the difference. The Translator—our version of the translator anyway—would then turn to David throughout the rest of the day and randomly stick his tongue out and go, “LALALALALAAAAAAA!” After a few times, David would begin to find it rather unsettling. “Why do you keep doing that with your tongue?” he’d surely ask. Our stupid imaginary joke distracted us from our hangovers for at least an hour.

I’ve actually never ordered any other taco from Taco Azteca other than carne asada and carnitas. The latter of which is all I order now. But I’m interested in trying the lengua, the buche, and the cabeza. Especially the tongue, which I just had in Napa the night after the French Laundry.

We wanted to eat at Ad Hoc on our second night to make it a total Keller weekend, but all of his restaurants were closed on Sunday for his annual employee Holiday party. “Damn you Keller!” Tania said, shaking her fist in the air. But it was okay because there is another excellent restaurant in Yountville called Bistro Jeanty http://www.bistrojeanty.com/. We ate there the year before with Tom, Denise, and the Nieratkos. There was a lot of drinking on that first visit, so I suggested we try it again. Seeing as I basically hadn’t even been there before.

Sometimes I want something normal, and sometimes I want the weirdest shit on the menu. The night we went to Bistro Jeanty I wanted the weird. The “Langue D’Agneau” (warm lamb tongue and potato salad), for instance, sounded good. “How’s the lamb tongue salad?” I asked our waiter. LALALALALAAAAA!

They said it was tongue. It kind of looks like ball sack, though, huh?

“Uh, it’s good,” he said hesitantly. “It has kind of a hotdog consistency, which some people really like.” He wasn’t really selling me on it. He pointed at some other choices that he was more enthusiastic about. The pork belly also sounded good. But I didn’t really like our waiter that much, so I ordered the lamb tongue because I could tell he didn’t really like it. Showed him. (You ever do that?) Tania ordered the “Crème de Tomate en Croute.” Tomato soup in a puff pastry is one of their signature items. We ended up both winning. The tomato soup was tasty and silky, and the lamb tongue was actually pretty good, albeit a little unusual. The tongue was indeed the consistency of hotdog, but it kind of tasted a little gamey and a little iron-y. Do lambs lick their buttholes? I assume they do. They probably lick each other’s buttholes too. Mmmm, lamb tongue. LALALAAA! Oh and the German-style potato salad the sliced tongue came on was delicious. I ate the whole thing.

The puff pastry is gone. It looked like a space ship. What if you could eat aliens? Everyone is all scared of aliens. Fuck those dudes. Let's eat 'em. "ET Burgers!"

While we were enjoying our appetizers, we were forced to watch the table across from us against the wall. It contained three, loud, drunk ladies who were obviously having a “ladies night out.” They were done eating when we arrived, but they lingered for almost our entire meal. My guess was that they spent the day wine tasting, and ended up in Yountville for dinner. One of the ladies, the frailest of the three, was very drunk. She obviously wasn’t using a spit cup at the wineries. The other two convinced her to drink coffee, but it was too late. She was practically falling out of her chair. At one point I looked up from my plate and found her staring at me. Although I don’t think she was looking at me because there was no one home in her eyes. Lights out. I stared back. She suddenly caught my gaze and flicker of recognition caused her to retreat back to the safety of her cell phone where, aside from the occasional drunken outburst, she spent the rest of the evening. She provided the entertainment to our meal.

"Derrrrr, Uhm tefting my ex bouey fend. THUTUP!"

For our mains, I got the cassoulet again. Besides being totally awesome, it’s one of those dishes you almost have to order if it’s on a menu. Which it rarely is. Steak frites? I love it, but I can also make that at home. I don’t often get a chance to savor a cassoulet. Especially a proper one. The last time I had it was when Caleb brought a can of it back from France. Their house in France is in the region where the dish reputedly originated. Apparently there’s a bit of a debate on the subject? Anyway, I fell in love with it and I order it every time I see it. Which has been exactly twice. Both times were at Bistro Jeanty. Duck confit, sausage, bacon, beans, oh man, it’s heaven. As a bonus, it makes me fart like crazy. It’s so rich, that I boxed up my leftovers, brought it back to LA where it was enough to make two lunches. More farting.

Bowl of farts.

Tomatoes are one of Tania’s favorite things in the world, but before tomatoes, before anything else, Tania’s favorite food is cheese. So naturally she ordered the quiche. The quiche turned out to be nothing more than a giant plate of melted cheese. I think there was a salad in there somewhere, and there might have been some ham and leeks in the quiche, but mostly it was cheese. Tania was all smiles.

This is what Tania wanted to marry. A plate of cheese. But apparently that would have destroyed families. Her ONLY choice was a MAN! So she got stuck with me. Domage fromage.

If you ever plan a trip to Napa, and you can’t get into the French Laundry, or one of His other restaurants, try Bistro Jeanty. It’s a casual, cozy little place with excellent French food. And drunk old ladies. LALALALALAA!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

French Laundry. Chapter Three.

After we ate at the French Laundry, we went to one of the best bars I’ve been to in awhile. (Yes, AFTER. The French Laundry story is the best, so it comes last in this series. It’s the headliner, if you will.) The bar is called Pancha’s and it’s just a couple doors up from the French Laundry. Denise spied it on her way in and, while we were done eating, we weren’t done drinking. And after spending $600 on wine, we were ready for something a little more affordable. Pancha’s appeared to fit our budget. Plus I think it’s the only game in town.

What made Pancha’s so awesome wasn’t the prices, or the casual atmosphere, or the pool tables, or even that you could smoke in there, no, those things were all great, but the real reason to go to Pancha’s is the bartender: Rose. Rose is awesome. She’s a portly Mexican lady with the mouth of a sailor.

Rose likes to prop her knee up on the cooler for some reason. I wouldn't be surprised if she was farting. She's that type of gal.

“You can see there are fucking ashtrays on the bar, what the fuck do you expect?” she said to us in the middle of a story about a woman who recently complained about second hand smoke. “We didn’t ask you to come into our shitty little bar, you dumb bitch.”

The clientele is mostly locals, most of whom work at one of Keller’s restaurants in town. She pointed to a small group at the end of the bar, “They work at the French Laundry,” she said. But there’s another crowd of rich people that enjoy the quaintness of “slumming it” after a day at the wineries. Rose has no tolerance for the latter. We were to see that in action on our next visit.

Tom, Tania, and Denise enjoying some AFL beverages. (After French Laundry. Our lives our now divided into two categories, BFL (Before French Laundry) and AFL.)

So we went back the next night. Sunday night. My actual birthday. When we arrived, there was nobody in the bar except for Rose and a couple of dudes who she promptly kicked out when we walked in. “I just 86’d them,” she said proudly. “Why?” we asked. “Those are my nephews,” she said.

We ordered a couple drinks and asked how the night before had gone. She told us that it was busy, etc., and then she casually mentioned that she had gotten in a fight at the bar. “WHAT?” We were smitten with Rose. She cusses like fuckin’ crazy, AND SHE BRAWLS! Don’t fuck with Rose.

Apparently some “stupid fuckin’ chick” couldn’t handle her liquor and was barfing all over the bathroom. Rose jokingly offered her a shot. “You sure you don’t need another shot?” she said laughing at the Stupid Fuckin’ Chick. Then the Stupid Fuckin’ Chick started talking shit and made some derogatory comment about Mexicans which of course got her thrown out. Outside in the parking lot, the argument blossomed into a fight. “Rose ends up pushing someone up against their car,” Tania said, “and everyone knows Rose was right. Because Rose kicks ass. For real. She'll kick you out, and then she'll kick your ass.”

It wasn’t long before we were joined at the bar by a crazy lady. She reminded me of Faye Dunaway’s character in Bar Fly. She looked like a drunk dressed up as a woman. And she wouldn’t stop talking. She was friendly and all, but something was amiss. I turned to Rose at one point and went, “Coke?” Rose nodded her head, “Oh, totally.” Unfortunately for Tania, Tania was closest to her.


“The crazy lady I talked to was just nuts,” Tania said. “Her husband's in jail, San Quentin, I think. She doesn't know where to get coke in that town. Shit, they don't even sell cigarettes after 10pm. She likes country music and used to be a wild child, hitch hiking, and squatting in San Francisco and shit. But, again, she still does not know where to get any cocaine in Napa Valley. No idea. Right about then I decided she was a waste of my precious time that could have been spent talking to Rose.”

Fortunately we got a few games of pool in before the douche bag parade arrived. Apparently somebody’s Christmas party ended early, so all the fucktards that were at it descended on Pancha’s. They were young, loud, drunk, and stupid. And acting like assholes in formal clothes. Rose hated them more than we did. “Hey! Don’t touch my fucking pool tables you fucks!” she yelled at a group that was trying to lift a table to get a ball to drop. “God, fucking idiots,” she mumbled.

By that time, we were drunk and it was time to go. Which was a good thing because I had fightin’ on my mind. One of the little shits sallied up to the bar a little too close to me for my tastes. As he stood there waving a $20 bill around in front of my face to get Rose’s attention, I grabbed the bill and looked at him with an expression that said, “Stop waving this around in my face.” The kid looked at me and turned to his friend and said, “Looks like a second grade stare. Doesn’t it look like a second grade stare?” I’m not even sure what that means, but it was coming out of the mouth of a cocky little frat boy and I wanted to fucking head butt his face and break his nose. I must not have been that drunk, because there was still a smidgen of reason left in my head. “Don’t do it, Dave,” the voice said. I let go of the bill and I said, “You two gentlemen have a fine evening.” Then I turned to Tania and said, “Let’s go.” I think I made the right decision. For once.

We thanked Rose and Tania gave her a huge tip. As we were leaving, Rose pulled a bottle of champagne out from behind the bar and handed it to us. “Happy Birthday,” she said. Yes, Rose is awesome.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

French Laundry. Chapter Two.

Chris Johansen paintings on the wall behind our table.

The last apartment I lived in in San Francisco was on Mission St. a little south of 30th. I lived there with Dave Peters and Ethan Fowler. We partied, mostly. Much to the chagrin of our crazy neighbor. In hindsight, he kind of reminds me of that guy in Office Space that cherished his red stapler. According to him, we made too much noise. I really don’t think Ethan played his drums that loud. I hardly ever played guitar, and when I did the volume on my amp was only on, like, eight. Nine, tops. He called the cops on us all the time. We got to know them very well. He would even call the cops when we weren’t home. I remember coming home one day and finding the cops knocking on our door. “We got a complaint for too much noise here.” “Really? Well as you can see, the occupants, us, aren’t home.”

It was kind of a shitty neighborhood. Dreary, sleepy, grey, perpetually hungover. There were a few dive bars that I hated, a couple burrito joints, a few Mexican dancehalls (which I could never summon the courage to enter), and Zante’s Indian Pizza. “We make three things at Zante’s,” we’d always say in a heavy Indian accent, “Peeza! Indian fud! And Indian peeza!” It was a weird place, yet charming. I remember Chris Pastras really liked it. And then down the street was the Palace Steak House. “Support your local steak house,” the sign out front still reads. When we could afford it, we did. It was kind of like a steak cafeteria. You’d get a tray, get in line, pick a steak and a side, they’d slap it on your plate, then you’d push your tray to the cashier, pay, then find a table to eat at. They had Jello in cups. I had some good times on Mission Street.

It turns out that our first stop on my birthday weekend was to be just a few hundred feet from our old apartment on Mission St. at a restaurant called Blue Plate http://www.blueplatesf.com/. The walk from the BART station to the restaurant was an interesting one. All the old shit was still there, Zante’s, the Mexican dance halls, and of course it was raining like it always seems to be in SF, but people were on the street, and the dive bars were filled with annoying young people dressed in stupid clothes, and there were new restaurants up and down both sides of the streets. The neighborhood had some life.

My Johansen, on my wall, behind my stereo.

Meeting us for dinner were our friends Dan and Danielle, and Kevin. Kevin loves Blue Plate, and for good reason. It’s a mellow little place, small and casual, and Kevin is a local and friendly with the staff. The walls are adorned with local artist’s work, most notably a few paintings by our old friend Chris Johansen. The chef, Cory Obenour, grew up, like me, skating in and around San Jose and is also friends with Chris. He looked familiar.

“Yeah, I think we used to play baseball against each other in high school?” he said when he came over to our table.

Baseball? It was true our respective high schools did indeed compete against each other in sports, but I never played baseball in high school. And while he admitted never having skated our ramp, Mush Ramp, we had skated the same spots and had surely crossed paths at some point.

“By the way,” he said, “I wanted to ask you, what’s the deal with your Whale Cock jacket? What is that?” My coat was hanging on a hook behind me. I told him about my fake—but kind of real—skateboard company, and he went on to explain that the words “whale cock” were scrawled on the back of a clipboard they’ve had since the restaurant’s inception in 1999. It’s a source of amusement to the staff because the hostess often forgets that it’s there and clutches the clipboard to her chest for all to read. “WHALE COCK.” Oops. No one knows where it came from. Since ‘99 was about the year Whale Cock was created, I can only assume a former employee from the time was a skater and read it in Big Brother? Because surely no one in history has ever put those two words next to each other before I did.

The one thing we really suck at is food photography. It's not so much the photography, as it is the food. It's never around. We always forget that you have to shoot the photo before you eat it. On the left, you got the remains of Danielle's squid. Behind that is what's left of a plate of chicken liver pate. Dan's plate is empty. In the bottom right is the end of my rib eye carcass. And there's no more wine, time to go.

The food at Blue Plate does not match the surroundings. It’s modern, high-end comfort food, but at a moderate price. The menu changes daily as they strive to use only the best, local, freshest ingredients. The emphasis is on quality, and it shows on the plates. My appetizer, for instance, was a smoked lamb sausage served with refried cranberry beans. Tania got her favorite beef carpaccio (really good) and Danielle ordered a really nice cauliflower soup. For the mains, I was very uninventive and ordered the rib eye—as did Kevin—which came with a twice-baked cheddar potato, which was kind of like a potato gratin. Tania went the little kid route and simply ordered the mac and cheese which was done just right. Dan ordered the coriander crusted lamb sirloin, but when the waitress put it down in front of him, it sounded like she said, “Here’s your pork and fish.” It did indeed look like a pork loin next to a Filet O’ Fish patty. The meat turned out to be lamb, but we couldn’t make out what the Filet O’ Fish was. Not fish. Vegetable? Someone said artichoke, and I went with that. Tania said something about falafels and it turns out she was the closest: it was chickpea mixture put together like a crab cake.

Overall it was a great dinner and a good time. It didn’t even need to be a great dinner because it was just a good night out, hanging with friends. But it was nice to spend it at a nice restaurant where you’re not distracted by crappy service or shitty food. The only thing distracting about our dinner was the silly bday gifts the Dans got me.

My birthday presents. Dang, how'd they know about my love of High School Musical and my crush on Troy? And there's nothing like a package of dangerously toxic "B'Loonies" for children. "Blue" has gotten me the most high so far.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

French Laundry. Chapter One.

We weren't the only dorks taking our picture out front. Tourists that weren't even eating there were having their portraits taken. And after you pay the bill, you too will feel entitled to be able to do anything you want on the property. Like act like a total fuckin' food nerd. But, like the Grand Canyon or the Great Pyramids, you'll want to say, "I've been there."

My birthday was Sunday, Dec 14. Tania told me some months ago that we had plans from Dec. 12-15. What those plans were, I didn’t find out ‘til day of. I knew we were going somewhere, but I didn’t know if it was by plane or car, north or south, east or west. My initial suspicions included Vegas, Palm Springs, Mexico, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, or maybe even Sacramento.

“Damn it,” she said when I guessed Sacto, “you ruin everything. Yeah, and we’re having your birthday dinner at Arby’s.”

My constant guessing did eventually manage to drive her bonkers. But I’ll let her tell that story.

When I woke up Friday morning, I started guessing again in my head. Then I took a step back and made some calculations. First, we have to get in the car. Then the car will leave the house and surely she’ll get on a freeway. I had convinced myself that the vacation was north, but that morning I decided we were going south. Wrong. She steered the car onto the 5N.

“So where are we going?” I asked near Magic Mountain. It was driving me crazy.

“You don’t know?” she said incredulously. No, I didn’t. “Well we’re on the 5 north, where else would we be going?”

San Francisco. We were staying downtown at the Hilton (China Banks!) and we had dinner plans for the evening. Lovely. What I didn’t know was that the next day the plans got exponentially lovelier: Tania, with the help of our friends Tom and Denise in Petaluma, had finally scored reservations at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry in Yountville. The four of us have tried every avenue for the last two years to get a reservation at that place, but to no avail. “How does someone like Brad Pitt even get a reservation there?” Tania asked. Because, seriously, we have tried everything, but the list is impenetrable. I gave up hope of ever dining there long ago, so I was absolutely stunned when she finally coughed up the news.

“So are you going to finally tell me where we’re going today?” I asked Saturday morning as we were getting ready. I was mostly wondering why I had to wear my goddamn suit. I hate that thing. Even when it’s freshly pressed.

She reached into her bag and pulled out a book and threw it on the bed. “There, bitch,” she said proudly. Lying on our messed up hotel bed, gleaming in the sun, was The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller.

“Oh my God,” I said. I had absolutely no problem ripping off the dry cleaner bags and getting into my suit—well, that’s not entirely true: mentally I had no problem getting into it, but physically I can’t button the pants on it anymore. “You’re the one for meeeeee, FATTY!”

So, yeah, we went to one of the best restaurants in the US—some say THE best restaurant in the US—if not the world. There is much to tell and the details of our adventure will sputter out over the next week. It was a Norcal, Food On Drunk extra-ganza!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pee Soup

Pea soup with bacon, croutons, and mint. Served with a side of grilled cheese.

Pea soup. What are those two little dudes on the Andersen’s billboards names? I’ve seen them up and down the 101 since I was a kid. They’re funny because the billboards are hundreds of miles from the restaurant. “105 miles ahead!” I thought the billboards were retarded and pea soup was disgusting, but goddamn if those two little fuckers didn’t make me want some pea soup. The power of advertising. From Andersen’s website:

“Robert [Andersen’s owner] commissioned Disney-trained artist Milt Neil to re-draw the two cartoon chefs to use for promotion and they became Pea Soup Andersen's trademark The big fellow is shown having all the fun and the easy side of the work, as the little one holds the chisel, looking sad and a bit frightened, always in danger of the big mallet. A contest was held and from thousands of entries the names Hap-pea and Pea-Wee were chosen.”

I got the Pea-Wee part right. I thought the other one was named Sweet Pea. Whatever. They’re fags.

But it’s that time of year when the sky turns a flinty grey, and the light seems dim and murky, and the air is crisp and chilled. It’s the time when you want to throw some wood on the fire and curl up on the couch with a hot cup of cocoa and good book. Except I hate cocoa. “How about a bowl of pea soup, David?” Oh, yes, thank you, I would like that very much. And a glass of wine. Leave the bottle. Thank you.

As much as Tania hates winter, I think she enjoys winter foods more than any other. She gets really excited this time of year and starts blathering about stews, and pot pies, and soups. I have never been a soup person, but Tania is slowly changing that. In part because soup is fun to make because it’s so damn easy. I’m retarded, so if something’s easy to make, it makes me feel like a genius. And it doesn’t get much easier than pea soup.

Tania's pea soup.

Pea Soup:

Half a bag of peas.
bay leaf
Ham hock

Rinse the peas and pick out any bad ones. Cut up your bacon and cook it in the bottom of the pot you’re going to make the soup in. Remove bacon, set aside. Leave fat in pot. Cook the onion down, then add the garlic, carrot, bay leaf, and celery (it can all be loosely chopped because you’re going to puree it at the end). Once cooked down, add the peas, ham hock (we found if you slit the skin of the ham hock, it imparts more flavor), and water to cover. Simmer ‘til the peas are cooked, about an hour. Remove the bay leaves, and get out “the boat motor” (or food processor) and puree. Serve with bacon bits and a dollop of sour cream.

(I sent the above to Tania for approval, and here are her comments: "More like 3/4 bag of peas, but no big deal. Water, I put in 8 cups for approximately 12 - 16 oz of peas. Mint for the top, if you swing that way. I don't like tooth paste for dinner (not to be confused with toothpastefordinner.com, which I like quite a bit). I add some additional seasoning; thyme, sage, onion/garlic powder, celery salt, etc... and my universal secret: chicken powder. But otherwise, it's a pretty basic recipe. Oh! My secret, also, this time was a WEEEEEEE bit of cayenne for a little background heat. Next time I'm gonna spice it up with hot sauce instead to see which I like better.")

My pee soup. (That's Morrissey's toilet, by the way.)

We made grilled cheese sandwiches with ours and retired to the couch to, not read a book, but watch a movie. We watched Christopher Guest’s last offering
For Your Consideration. It’s worth renting, but I found it to be his weakest offering yet. As you may know, I hate movies, and this was a movie about a movie. Double bad. Plus, making fun of Hollywood just seems too easy for Guest. I’m more interested in dog shows. But his characters, and the people that play them, are great in any situation and they’re enough of a reason to give it a look-see.

That might be the first movie I’ve ever reviewed. What the hell? Well, that just goes to show that pea soup makes everything good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One of Those Days


I got everything we needed at Trader Joes. Wine, some fizzy water, toothpaste, and Tania loves this new blood orange Italian soda they have. I got everything pretty quick. It wasn’t very crowded. I got in line. The lady at the next cash register was open so she said, “I can take you here.” I wish I hadn’t moved. So I pushed my cart over and while I was taking stuff out of the basket—POW! I’m covered in liquid. The fucking shopping cart didn’t have one of those child seats in it, so the whole back of the top basket was open. And when I disturbed the contents, one of the bottles of carbonated Italian soda fell out. It hit the ground standing perfectly straight up. It didn’t break, but the force caused the carbonated insides to blow the top off causing a geyser of blood orange soda to shoot straight up in my face. It was like someone held a hose in front of my face and turned it on high. More than half the bottle came out and I don’t even think that much of it made it to the floor. It hit me in the face, it got in my beard, it got in my hair, it was all over my shirt, it even got in my armpit, and my pants were soaked.

“One of those days, huh?” the girl said after everything settled down and we began the checkout.

“No, it’s not,” I said, “it’s actually been a pretty good day so far.” I wasn’t hungover, I got up kind of early, I was getting shit done. Then not even two seconds after I said that, while trying to punch in my pin code, I lost control of my wallet and the whole thing emptied out all over the floor. Money, cards, receipts, everything. All over the place. A couple cards even went into the puddle of sticky soda.

The guy who was cleaning the mess was all, “Wow, everything’s going wrong?” He said it while looking suspiciously at the Gentleman’s Beer Drinking card which, of course, landed face up. I was like, “NO, IT’S NOT ONE OF THOSE DAYS!” But it was. It had become one of those days.

I somehow made it out of there and went to Ralphs to get firewood. Tania said she’d trade a blowjob for some firewood. Prices have gone down, apparently. Of course the parking lot is packed, people are honking at each other, so I find a spot on the roof lot. After a short search around the front of the store, I find the wood. The bundles of wood are stacked ten feet high. No exaggeration. And nothing within reach will budge. It’s like a big Jenga game. I go as high as I can and start testing the bundles. None will budge and they all threaten to bring the whole pile down if I keep touching them. I finally settled on one that I thought I could get out without toppling the whole tower. Guess what happened?

It was indeed one of those days.

[Note: this story was originally an email to Tania that I wrote right after all this happened. You know, just like a funny story, a little gift, to my wife in the middle of the work day. Next thing I knew, I was getting all these emails saying, "OMG, THAT WAS SO FUNNY!" Apparently instead of sending it to TANIA I sent it to the group THE GENTLEMEN. It really was one of those days.]

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oysters and the Rogue Mexican Island

I'm not sure what this pose is. Perhaps I was trying to pantomime how staggering good the oysters we just ate were? Or maybe I was just retarded.

Thanksgiving was good. We visited my parents in Cupertino and enjoyed our traditional dinner. Then we visited Tania’s brother’s bar, The Duke of Edinburgh, “for one drink.” We finished our “one drink” at about 3:30 in the morning. It was a good night.

Tania's family at the bar (l to r) Craig, Cary, and mom. Way past Beckett's bed time.

The morning after Thanksgiving, however, was a little weird. My parents sat me and Tania down to tell us some news. We were hungover. On top of that I was being made to feel like I was 12-years-old again and in trouble for something, or I was going to get the sex talk, or something. It turned out to be a rather intimate family issue which I'm not exactly at liberty to blab about in public. Let's just say it's weird, but not that big of a deal.

At the time, however, upon hearing the news, Tania and I immediately packed up our stuff and went to the bar. I ordered a Jim Beam on the rocks. I didn’t really want a Jim Beam on the rocks—I didn’t even really want to be at the bar, it was only 11am, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do at the time. The Jim Beam tasted like Jim Beam, but it didn’t make me any less confused. I think I was most confused by my lack of confusion. I didn’t really care about the news. There’s nothing really good about it, but it's not really bad either.

We finished our drinks and decided the best course of action was to continue with our holiday plans and visit our friends Tom and Denise in Petaluma, just north of San Francisco. Gary’s birthplace (Tom and Denise are the owners of Queenie, who is Gary’s mom.)

Volpi's is an old speakeasy in Petaluma that operated during prohibition behind a hidden door with a secret code. I think the code was "cocksucker" or something? Now it's an Italian restaurant and bar. Good clams. Even better accordions. That place is awesome.

This was the correct decision because we went up there and had a great time. We drank more, we ate more (I got to eat at my favorite Petaluma speakeasy, Volpi’s), and I dropped their baby Jack on his head. Oops. I’m not sure what I was doing with a baby in my arms, or who even allowed me to have a baby in my arms, but the baby wasn’t in my arms for very long before it ended up on the floor. There’s been some debate about whether or not I “dropped” Jack, or if li’l Jack “jumped.” Even if it was the latter, I was told it was still my fault because a tiny little baby shouldn’t be able to overpower me and leap to his death on a hardwood floor. I thought that everyone knew that swan diving onto hard surfaces could result in death, but apparently babies haven’t learned this important bit of information? Fuckin’ babies. So, anyway, we both learned something and I’m not allowed to hold babies anymore.

I'm not even allowed to take photos of Jack unless he's wearing protective head gear.

On Sunday, rather than drive home, Denise suggested we drive out to Hog Island Oyster Company and eat oysters and drink champagne. I also think they weren’t satisfied about my level of guilt and wanted to yell at me about dropping their baby on his head some more. Because that’s all I heard on the drive out there. Fortunately the Irish highways of Petaluma make for one of the most beautiful drives on the planet, so it wasn’t hard to tune them out.

The Hog Island Oyster Co. is directly west of Petaluma on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay. The night before, Tom showed me the bay on a map and fed me this long tale about how the peninsula that creates Tomales Bay is actually a rogue island from Mexico (it’s original Mexican name was Tamale, but the English Pilgrims of California couldn’t wrap their white tongues around the Spanish word). Tom said the island is slowly making its way up the coast, presumably to devour Alaska and then attack Canada. He says it swims about two feet north per year. At the time, I totally believed him because I was drunk, but I’m now beginning to wonder if it wasn’t all a bunch of hogwash. Still, if it’s true, I’m rooting for the Tamale Island which is currently disguised as a peninsula. At the very least, we need to keep an eye on that thing. One thing that is certain about Tamale island, however, is that it has created a body of water perfect for great white sharks, flying great white sharks, orcas (which can be seen snatching small sea lions from the shore and playing volleyball with them at sea), giant otters, excellent hiding places for submarines, alligators, sea horses, off-shore abortion clinics, wake boarding (the new rollerblading!), tuna, jellyfish, octopus, sperm whales, grey whales, narwhales, and, best of all, oysters.

“If you enjoy a food that tastes like snot, after it has been rubbed on rocks and old silverware, then you may enjoy oysters. But do not listen to the killjoys who tell you never to eat oysters in the months that do not contain the letter R: May, June, July, August, Octobah. You know. They say that you should not eat oysters during those months because they are the warm months, they are the traditional spawning season of the oyster, and that, of course, is when the oyster tends to beg for its life while you're eating it, which some people find distracting, or embarrassing for the oyster. But I'd say if you're going to eat a creature alive, you're going to have to expect some screaming. That is the carnivore's burden.” —John Hodgman on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

We actually didn’t intend on going to the Hog Island Oyster Co., Denise had somewhere else in mind. But after driving past a half dozen places and not finding the one she was looking for, we just kind of settled on Hog Island. We had a great time and enjoyed some great oysters, but there’s something annoyingly touristy about the place. I gathered this immediately from the weary looks of the dreadlocked employees, and the menu which looked eerily similar to the bait shacks at the end of the pier that sell you fish to throw at the seals: the place was set up to be idiot proof, but the hippies’ eyes said “too many idiots.” Still, there was hardly anyone there and, even if there were, I don’t know how they could have disturbed such a beautiful day.

Denise, Jack, Tom, and Simone.

I’ve always loved oysters, but it wasn’t ‘til recently that I actually committed some names to memory, and so now Tania and I’s favorite is the Kumamoto. I think it is named such because it is Japanese in origin and it has a hunched back. I have read that if you hold the Kumamoto’s shell to your ear and listen closely, you can hear church bells softly ringing beneath the roar of the ocean. I have yet to confirm this claim. The Kumamoto’s flavor and texture, however, I have determined to be the best. I don’t shy away from large, loogie-like oysters, but, like a slice of pizza, I prefer a smaller, more manageable package. (If you’re not thinking the joke that Nieratko is thinking right now, perhaps the next sentence will help you out?) Plus the flavor of the Kumamoto is a tad sweeter, and I would describe the texture as milkier. Mmm, small, milky package.

Have you ever heard the expression, "Never turn your back on a tamale"? Neither have Tania and Simone.

The young, dreary employees wore hoodies and orange waders with suspenders over them. You go to the window and you ask them for some oysters. They take your money, then you walk over to a table where they give you a small plastic tray and they huck your oysters and some ice onto it. I said “huck,” not shuck. You have to do that yourself with the oyster mothershucker that comes chained to the tray.

“Are you left or right handed?” the dirty hippie girl droned. I’m right handed, so she threw a filthy, blue, plastic, left-handed glove on top of the oysters. We grabbed our tray and made our way over to the picnic table we had picked out. There weren’t many picnic tables, and most of them were either occupied or had “reserved” signs on them (something you might want to do if visiting during peak hours). There just so happened to be a table right next to the fence, closest to the water. It was a perfect spot to catch a glimpse of an orca snatching a pup, or a great white catching air. I took solace in the fact that we were behind a fence.

I've done my share of fuckin' shuckin' so I volunteered to be the master motherfucker shucker.

“Hey the coals are still hot,” Tom said. There were dirty little campsite grills around the picnic tables. I’ve never cooked oysters. I like them raw with very little on them. Maybe a little lemon and/or a mignonette. But in this case it worked out great because, besides the Kumamotos, we got one of their other species, and they were big. So I shucked the big mothershuckers and threw them on the grill with a dash of hot sauce and lemon. I have to say, that shit was good. The larger ones were better cooked on the grill than raw. But the Kumamotos still reigned supreme. Still can’t hear the church bells in the shells.

Speaking of churches, this church is right up the road from Hog Island. We've decided we're going to have Black Metal Thanksgiving there next year. Behind me is the inappropriately named "Peace Bell." Simone rang it and it is anything but peaceful.

Overall it was a wonderful afternoon and a welcome distraction before returning to reality. An afternoon spent drinking champagne with friends beside the sea in the sun, cavorting with oysters, does wonders for one's disposition.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."
—Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter

A view of Tomales Bay. There's a reason why that dingy is on land: SHARKS!