The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lost in the Bog

Maine dirt intersection
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Plotnik and Ducknik drove BZWZ to the bus station in Bangor, Maine, in time for a 3:15 bus to Portland. They hugged goodbye, then all Plot and Duck had to do was reverse the Mapquest route to get back to Deer Isle and the Taj.

But it wasn't as easy as it should have been. You can't just flip the paper upside down.

Somewhere in the middle of the route, instead of turning right they turned left or instead of turning left they turned right. They found themselves heading down a country road that looked like all the
country roads they'd taken towards the bus station. They had no map, and had no idea which direction they were going. All they knew was they were now off the Mapquest page.

It was 50/50 they were either going the right way or the wrong way. Plot wanted to stop and ask someone, but couldn't make himself pull up to a farmhouse and walk in to ask the farmer for
directions, without being afraid he'd say "Ah-yah, but ya have to sleep in the barn with my daugh-tah."

Finally, Plot spotted a person in an old station wagon, pulling out of a driveway of sorts. A man in a plaid shirt and gray beard down to his waist was sitting in the shotgun seat. He saw Plot walking towards him, and rolled down his window.

"Ah-yah. Are ya lost?"

"I'm afraid so," said Plotnik, pulling out as much charm as he could muster. "We're trying to get to Blue Hill and Deer Isle."

"Ah-ah," said the bearded man, and "Ah-ah," said the car's driver, the bearded man's mother, a very tiny white haired woman wearing a pastel smock that she had sewed from an old curtain when she was a little girl in 1905.

"Did ya pass a road goin' left?" said the little old lady.

"Yes," said Plotnik. They had passed a dozen roads going left. And a dozen roads going right. When the lady didn't say anything further, Plotnik repeated: "Yes? A road going left?"

The old lady nodded her head, then stared resolutely forward at the windshield for quite awhile, until her son said: "Well, ya bettah tun around and head back. Tell ya what."

Now Plotnik waited for the part about sleeping in the barn with the traveling salesman.

"Ya bettah follow us," the man said, and the little old lady backed the beat up station wagon into the narrow country lane. Plot turned his rented Hyundai around and got behind her.

For the next twenty five minutes Plotnik followed a 100 year old woman driving 5 mph down a country road. She would slow down for passing mice. She would brake for dirt. Not too long into
the ordeal, Plot was grinding his teeth to dust. Finally, when she braked to take a deep breath, Plot roared by her, which is not all that easy to do in a rented Hyundai, waving thank you as he passed. Eventually he turned left a few times and right a few times and got back to the Taj McCrow.

This little island is so very beautiful. Plot and Duck are sad to have only one more day here.

Yesterday, before the trip to Bangor, Finch took P, D and BZWZ to Stonington, the old town at the Southern tip of Deer Isle. There, it became a little clearer what Plot loves about this place: in
California anyplace quaint is already a tourist destination. Quaint people once lived and worked there, and to prove it, here is the Quaint Person Memorial.

In Maine, every place is quaint, so the real quaint people who once lived and worked there still live and work there. The lobstermen's
boats are here, the little cafe is there, the old opera house is up that hill and the town hall is on that ridge. OK, you have to search for Louisiana Hot Sauce to temper the mayo in the crab rolls, but, yo. That's some serious crab in there.

If you have to get lost, Deer Isle is where to do it. The sun is shining today. Probably more lobstah tonight.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Lobster Pound in Deer Isle, Me.

The Lobster Pound serves 1 1/4 pound lobsters. They come with a metal cup of drawn butter, fries, slaw and brown bread. Duck, BZ and Finch ordered lobster and shared it around, while Crow had the haddock and the blueberry pie.

When asked why he was ordering blueberry pie, since his wife had made a delicious blueberry pie only the night before, half of which was still on the counter at home, Crow pulled himself out of trouble by saying: "This blueberry pie is only half as good as yours. But it is still worth ordering."

Plotnik dithered but went with the seafood chowder which was made up of haddock, shrimp, scallops and lobster, butter and cream. It came in a small bowl which the lady refilled without being asked. It came with homemade brown bread.

You enter the good-sized lobster shack at the foot of the bay through wooden doors. Each door sports a lobster-shaped cutout. You get a bib with a lobster on it.

The lobsters live in salt water tanks, where they have been put when taken from the lobster pound, which is a salt water pond, into which they are dumped when they come from the lobster boats. They'll stay alive in that pond, sometimes far into winter when the price gets high enough for the lobstermen to want to sell them. Otherwise, the lobstermens' families eat lobster, lobster and more lobster. It did not appear that there were any lobstermen eating dinner in Eaton's Lobster Pond.

Lobster rules in Deer Isle, Me., but Plot isn't sure how many you can eat at one time. It must be the richest food in the world. It would be worth a lot of money to bring in Kobayashi, the Japanese 145-pounder who ate 53 hot dogs in 12 minutes at Coney Island, give him a bib and a lobster pick and watch him go.

Maine crabs are called picky-toe crabs. They are small and they are an extra that come from the lobster traps. The women take the crabs and they and their children pick them -- which means removing the meat from the crabs -- and sell the picked crab meat for $15 a pound. Finch's crabcakes took two pounds of crab for nine crabcakes, and Plotnik has the recipe.

Lobsters wholesale for $3.95 a pound. The lobstermen sell them to middlemen who tack on a few bucks and sell them to restaurants and markets. Since the lobsters don't have anything done to them except boiling, it's hard to see how they get up to $25 in a restaurant, but they do. Even at the Lobster Pound in Deer Isle, one lobster cost $20 and two were $29.95.

Sadly, BZ goes back to NYC this afternoon, so we're sitting around the kitchen this morning, staring out at the harbor, pine trees and overcast skies, thinking about where we could all go together, which is is a strange thing to be thinking about since we're all together already, right now.

Indonesia has been mentioned. Perhaps BZ and perhaps even The Big E could accompany Duck and Plot to Argentina and Paraguay in the Spring. Add in The Maynard Trio (PD, 5-H and Li'l Maynard), and it would truly be a perfect world. Ain't gonna happen. But that's one of those delightful things people do while traveling -- think about the world and the wonderful way it could be, if only...if only.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Taj McCrow, Deer Isle, Me.

Deer Isle Taj McCrow 3
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
The Great Plotnik World Headquarters and Lobster Kitchen is encamped in its summer headquarters on Deer Isle, Maine. The temporary bivouac is in the Taj McCrow, the palace on the shores of Southeast Harbor, built by Plot and Duck's longtime friends Chuck (The Crow) and Deb (The Finch). The house is surrounded by water, pine trees, wild flowers and million dollar views. The 3,000 square foot house and 1,000 square foot workshop are beyond state of the art and were designed over a five year period by Crow and Finch. Finchie's crab cakes last night were as good as her wild blueberry pie.

Deer Isle is the home of the sainted Robert McCloskey! Robert McCloskey wrote 'One Morning in Maine,' 'Make Way for Ducklings,' 'Homer Price' and 'Blueberries for Sal.' Of all the zillions of children's books that Plot and Duck have read to their kids and to a generation of other kids, and had had read to them themselves when they were little Plots, these books are at the absolute top of the list. The picture of the Mama duck and her ducklings crossing Boston Common with the policeman holding up all the traffic with his outstretched palm? Little Bear and his Mom eating blueberries on the hillside around the corner from where Little Sal and her Mom are picking blueberries?

For those who remember 'Blueberries for Sal,' Lttle Sal herself, now in her sixties, and her kid sister Jane, still live on Deer Isle. They are apparently active in ecological causes. Should Plot run into Sal on the street he will fall on his face and salaam the earth in front of her. He will donate gladly to her foundation.

Yesterday, on the all day drive from the Block Island Ferry NE to Deer Isle, the traffic on I-95 was completely stopped. A man in a plaid shirt and gray beard at a rest stop said: "A cah went into the riveh." "Cah." "Riveh." Plot loves this Maine accent and promises to have learned it by the time he and Duck get home.

Scrawled on the wall of the Mens Room in Ellsworth, Maine, was this inscription: "Islam is the Enemy." It was strange to see in a store filled with moose heads and stickers in Red Sox colors that read "Yankees Still Suck."

Tomorrow, Tuesday night, Plot will drive BZWZ to Bangor, where she can take a bus down to Portland and catch a quick flight to La Guardia. Meanwhile, the plan so far is to go to The Lobster Pound tonight, then listen to the steel drummers on the pier after that. Baseball news is sparse. BZ looks great.

She is still asleep. The fog is lifting. Finch and Crow's kayak, dinghies and sailboat are out there beyond the pine trees at the tip of the point. Coffee is ready. Plot will read his mail and catch up today. Hope the boys in Blue are still in First.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Free Library, Block Island R.I.

There is one computer available in the Block Island Free Library. Nobody seems to be waiting for it, so Plot has hopped on. It's beautiful on Block Island, half an hour from the Rhode Island mainland by ferry. Huge, and we do mean huge, wood frame, Victorian google-y homes, most of which are Inns or B&Bs and are filled during the season, then empty from October through May, because after tourist season the island is deserted due to inhospitable winds, cold and lack of...well, tourists.

It's gorgeous. You can have it.

Tonight is the wedding. Plot can't wait to see the beautiful bride that he and Ducknik have known since before she was born. Then tomorrow morning Plot and Duck will get up early, catch the first ferry back to the mainland, hop into their parked rental car, drive up to Providence to meet BZ and The Big E, and continue on to Maine.

Duck feels in her element on an Eastern island -- she grew up next to water and tidal inlets, swimming in bays, smelling salt. When she sees sailboats, she swoons. Her dream of dreams would be to live on a body of warm water big enough to own a Sailfish. Sleep late, eat clams, sail.

Plotnik grew up on hot beaches and his dream has plenty of room for warm water, but no boats. No fog. Clams are OK.

But not here. Block Island is a little too conscious of itself, or so it seems. Too Country Club. It's precious. You can have it.

Tourists really are fat, y'know? They must have to resurface the sidewalks after the last ferry leaves in September. Everyone rents mopeds, or takes little shuttle buses down the tiny roads. They hang their chins out the windows sucking down double deck ice cream cones and leaking blueberry spittle. Plot and Duck stare back from their bicycle seats.

(Both are thinking: "I wish I had an ice cream cone now.")

This morning at the breakfast table there was a real Connecticut Conservative among the B&B diners, complete with suspenders and that patrician chin like Wm. H. Buckley. Every other sentence was 'Ted Kennedy' or 'Jimmy Carter' or 'Hillary Clinton.' He even brought up Wendell Wilkie. When was the last time you heard anyone mention Wendell Wilkie?

He got under Plot's skin -- OK, Bucko, that's enough. Do you really believe Ted Kennedy has nuclear fuel rods stored in his backyard? So Plot reasoned with him: "Ronald Reagan. George Bush. Dick Cheney." No blows were exchanged. The scones weren't too bad.

The wedding will be perfect, no doubt about it. Everything is cool. Calm. Civilized. You can have it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Thomas Dodge(r) House, Providence R.I.

What should have been a 7 hour trip took 12, with an hour delay getting into Phoenix and another hour delay getting out of Phoenix, but at least the airline didn't lose the Plotniks' luggage. They did learn one thing: with the new no-liquids rule on airplanes, everyone ends up checking their bags instead of carrying on. This means the overhead racks are not crammed to overflowing, and people aren't so desperate to push their way onto the plane to get to an open overhead rack. It's nicer this way, though it's kind of stupid -- if you buy a burrito in the airport you can't take the salsa on board, because it's a liquid. You have to spread the salsa on your burrito first. Is this idiotic or what?

Providence Airport is old and small, which is always better than huge and sprawling. Lots of Bostonians drive to Providence to T.F. Green Airport instead of getting hung up forever using Logan Airport in Boston. By the time the luggage comes out Plot already has the keys to the rented Hyundai in his hands.

The Thomas Dodge(r) House in downtown Providence is a great old B&B in an old restored mansion in a neighborhood of other venerable homes, some restored, some not. True, the Mayor who led the restoration efforts is in jail (a few kickbacks, we suppose), but the old downtown area looks great -- apparently a whole lot better than it did fifteen years ago.

Plot and Duck have brought along their own coffee. It's a good thing, because once you leave SP, the rest of the world forgets to put coffee in the coffee. This morning it's off to the Point Judith/Block Island Ferry. The wedding is tomorrow night on Block Island.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The New Camera Phone and the Hello Kitty Coffee Cup

Plotnik and Ducknik are heading to Block Island, Rhode Island tomorrow, for the wedding of a dear friend's daughter. Afterwards, they'll spend a few days with BZWZ at other dear friends' home on the coast of Maine.

In anticipation of this trip, The Great Plotnik upgraded his cell phone yesterday. He now has a camera phone that takes really bad pictures. He thought that he would be able to use his new camera phone to email a bad camera phone picture of his Hello Kitty coffee cup to someone else's computer (Mush) who knows his Blogger Codes (Mush) and he (she) would be able to post the picture to his blog.

Nope, doesn't work. Apparently one needs to subscribe to some extra multimedia system for the camera phone to send a bad picture to someone else's computer.

So here is how far we've come: We can now use the digital camera to take a good picture of the new camera phone where we can see the bad picture of the Hello Kitty coffee cup. We can then post it ourselves to The Great Plotnik. This is what grown people do with their time.

Back to the trip: you wouldn't think so, but The Great Plotnik is the Great TravelWimp. A few days before any trip to any place, he starts worrying (YAHHH! TERRORISTS! YAHHH! WHITE BREAD!), and he worries until he zips up his packed suitcase (filled with gels and liquids, as well as Martha Brothers coffee) and starts to get excited.

Right now, he's done worrying (YAHHH! JACKET AND TIE FOR WEDDING!) and is already thinking about an Italian dinner at an old line spaghetteria on top of a hill in Providence, R.I., a beautiful bride, a new island (thunderstorms forecast all weekend)(YAHHH! A THUNDERSTORM ON THE FERRY TO THE ISLAND!), seeing BZ, a designer home on a bay near Acadia National Park, friends with a boat, lobster, possibly even a trip to Provincetown to see Large Pants, though the timing is getting tougher for that one.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Curly Fries

Curly Fries
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
There is Summertime Food (fresh corn, sweet tomatoes, bbq steak on the beach with sand on it so your teeth grind with each bite), and then there is Summertime Festival Food. These Curly Fries are a prime example of Summertime Festival Food and were spotted, photographed, and, presumably consumed by Blogmaid and RR the Unicorn at the San Mateo County Fair.

Not all food purchased at Summertime Festivals qualify as Summertime Festival Food. SFF can not have a scrap of nutrition. It must be deep fried. It has to be served in a paper container stained with transfat grease, by a teenager with at least one zit and two tats. Most importantly, the line to get at the SFF must be around the block and back again, proving that Summertime Festival Food is the most treasured grub on earth.

Other examples of SFF: Deep Fried Twinkies at Santa Cruz Pier, Deep Fried Battered Corn Dogs at the Balboa Pier, Deep Fried Chocolate Covered Bananas at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a whole Deep Fried Garlic Bulb, also at Gilroy, the Amish Funnel Cakes at Bloomsburg County Fair and the Deeply Deep Fried Block Of We're Still Not Sure What It Was at the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival in Chalmette, Louisiana.

Perhaps you have favorites of your own? Send 'em here and we'll put 'em in.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bel Canto and Catacula Zin 2000

Catacula Zin 2000
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
It's been a long time since The Great Plotnik read a book that grabbed him from first word to last word. Most of the books he starts end up under the bed within 40 or 50 pages, and of those infrequent ones that he actually finishes, almost none have endings as beautifully crafted as the starts and setups.

It's no different than writing songs -- Plotnik has always preached in his classes to write songs backwards -- get the chorus, the most important part first, then make sure your verses and bridges relate only to that chorus. Of course, he violates his own rule constantly. It's far easier to stumble upon an idea and just run away with it, and end up stalled later, than it is to use craft from the beginning.

Ursula Hegi's almost wonderful 'The Vision of Emma Blau' has one of those bad endings, and then, of course you've got the terrible conclusion to 'The Life of Pi.'

Now comes 'Bel Canto.' Yes, Plotnik knows everyone else in the world read this book a long time ago, but Plot just got to it. WHAT a tale! Exciting, involving, philosophical, political, with a great beginning, a profound middle and a fantastic ending. (Duck didn't care for the Epilogue, Plot did.)

The Great Ducknik had been trying to get Plot to read Bel Canto for months -- I mean, music, Spanish, Japanese, travel, it had everything Plot should like. She was right.

So to celebrate the very rare occasion of an exceptional book, last night Plot and Duck broke out their bottle of 2000 Catacula Napa Valley Zinfandel. It had been given to them by their friends Jim and Karen Martin, and was waiting for the right moment.

Plotnik and Ducknik even drank the Catacula the way Jim would -- they opened it, let it breathe for half an hour, tasted it slowly, ran it around the tongue and mouth, drank a bit, ate a little food, drank a bit more, ate a little more food, kept drinking.

Those hostages in Bel Canto -- you never know when your life is going to change, so drink the great wine while you can. Thanks to Jim and Karen for the Catacula, and profound thanks to Ann Patchett for Bel Canto.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Meg and Billy

Meg and Billy
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
The Great Plotnik usually takes the day off on Sunday. He knows he should be posting Blogmaid's fabulous photos of Ryan with the Unicorn and Curly Fries, but first he wants to alert all of you to 'From Ballads to Blues,' playing at the N.C. T.C. theater on Van Ness and Market. Meg Mackay and Billy Philadelphia have put the show together, culling through more than 400 songs written by the immortal Chaim Arluck, who changed his name first to Hyman Arluck, and then, remembering the reason he was changing his name in the first place, to Harold Arlen.

Arlen composed the songs that are among the most beloved in the Great American Songbook -- songs composed for theatre and film in the 1920s-1960s. We may not all be familiar with Harold Arlen, but we all know 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' Plotnik's Number One favorite song of all time (also voted the Number One Song of the Twentieth Century by Billboard). Most of us also know 'That Old Black Magic,' and 'Come Rain or Come Shine' and 'Stormy Weather' and '(Throw off your Troubles, Come on) Get Happy,' and 'Blues in the Night' and 'One for My Baby (and One for the Road),' and 'The Man That Got Away.'

Those who have labored in Arlen's compositional shadow, like your own Great Plotnik, look at songwriting differently than other people. They hear a song and think Form. They think Inspiration. They think Reciprocity (between music and lyrics). They think Range. They think all kinds of stuff, and then they hear

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemondrops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

...and say, well, OK. So Number One is out of reach. Let's all just shoot for Number Two.

Do go see 'From Ballads to Blues.' It's in the tiny 45 seat Theater Three at N.C.T.C., where there is little but a grand piano and a mike and five rows of seats, so you're practically sitting right on the piano stool next to Meg and Billy. They're funny, and good, and the two hours fly by like little birds on chimney tops.

Yeah, the Plotzers won yesterday. Yeah, RR looks as cute as cute gets, and yeah, those fries should be kept off airplanes because of the threat of grease fires. Looking for a place to take Mom and Dad? This is it. You've got a month.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Cha Cha

The Cha Cha Bowl was its usual savory self last night. Plot had spent the day in the soup kitchen, though, and different thoughts kept going through his head, echoing those he'd had while serving up salad to the homeless lunchers a few hours earlier.

Like: these people are really messed up. They look bad, smell awful and behave like each one is missing some irreplacable part, like the handle on a broom or the steering wheel on a car. But they are also polite, orderly and, above all, very hungry.

So working to give them a meal is a nice thing. But it takes a lot of work. There are a ton of chores to do to provide them with a plate of green salad and a bowl of soup -- chopping onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, greens, cooking enormous kettles of soup, washing endless amounts of dishes, trays, cups, glasses and food implements, busing tables, mopping floors, emptying and cleaning garbage bins...and for what? To feed 100 or 150 zonked out men and women who are the dregs of society.

And in the end, what have we accomplished? Tonight they get drunk and tomorrow they are hungry again.

At the ball game, each time Plot looked up another Braindead home run left the park. So he had plenty of time to keep pondering the larger question about the soup kitchen: given that there are a limited number of hours he is willing to donate to any cause, is feeding soup to the homeless it? Isn't there another place his energies could be utilized to help people who are actually helpable?

But he can't stand seeing people hungry. Including himself, which I suppose is why he ran into the left field corner to grab his Cha Cha Bowl the minute he got to the ballpark. The Cha Cha, yummy jerked chicken, rice, black beans and cole slaw, lasted well into the Fifth Inning.

The reason it lasted so long was that Plot and his friend Mike were sitting in the seventh row, right above the dugout. Foul balls could have been lethal. Eating and not paying attention was not possible, except between innings.

The Plotzers rolled over like Marge Schott's dog wanting his tummy rubbed. Braindead closer Armando "John Wilkes Booth" Benitez retired the Plotzers 1-2-3 to end the game, to a sea of raucous boos. Worse, there weren't even any foul balls hit into Plot and Mike's area. Plot had his mitt and was perfectly willing to knock over an old lady to get to a ball, but none came close.

One thing must be said about this stadium and this city, though: there is little in the world half as sweet as when they play "I Left My Heart in Saint Plotniko" as fans are marching out of the stadium. The fog is low and dances off the reflections of the left field lights hugging the baselines, and Tony Benn-nik sings, and every last person, in blue cap or orange cap, gets to remember how lucky we all are to live in this fabulous burg, even with society's questions unanswered, even with the Plotzers losing, even with war raging practically everywhere else on the planet, where a bowl of rice, beans, chicken and cole slaw would be like an unimaginable gift from God.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Duck Tongues in XO Sauce

Duck Tongues in XO Sauce
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Yesterday, Plotnik had to do something he found despicable. His restaurant editor at work gave him an assignment, and the editor is new, which means Plot cannot turn down any request, no matter how asinine.

Plotnik works for an online entertainment giant who once wished to swallow the world. When that failed, they decided to become "hip." The closest they ever get is "cute." Most often they are "morons."

The company has decided to run a photo series on Scary Food. By 'scary food' they mean any dish that their target audience, white, 14-year-old suburban pre-diabetic computer potatoes, would find yukky. This includes anything at all ethnic, especially if it involves innards and doesn't come with fries.

Plotnik isn't crazy about innards either, but ho freaking hum.

His new restaurant editor asked him to go to a famous Chinese restaurant and order both Duck Tongues in XO Sauce and Deep Fried Whole Frog, take pictures of the dishes, and leave.

Friends, The Great Plotnik loves food and he takes his job seriously. He was not looking forward to taking pictures of a restaurant's creation in order for his boss's boss's boss in Virginia to get a few "laughs" so he could feel "hip." Plot therefore insisted that the company allow him to write the 40 word-max blurb that would accompany the photo.

Which he did. You are looking at the duck tongues in XO Sauce. They were fresh out of frog.

Plotnik sat down to write the blurb. Here is the first one that popped in to his head:

"Bet you didn't know ducks had tongues, didya? Well, the Chinese eat 'em, sauteed in a sauce that would burn the dick off a dog. They eat dogs too, by the way, oh no, that's someone else."

He figured they'd like that one, so he wrote another one:

"Colonel Sanders's entire arsenal of secret herbs and spices couldn't make it any easier to gag down a duck's tongue, unless one of those spices was WD-40. It feels like you're eating your own finger, if your finger came with snow peas."

Plot was really getting warmed up now. He dashed out another:

"Don't you just "hate" it when Mom and Dad take you out to "try" other "foods" in a "restaurant" when all you want is a burger, fries and a few hits of "meth?"

Then Plot thought: Do you want to keep working? Do you like reviewing restaurants, theater, museums, city events? Do you like free tickets to shows, free food, pura vida?

So here is what he turned in:

"Duck tongue is small and bony, more like a chicken foot than a fleshy beef tongue. You can't do much with Koi Palace's Duck Tongues in XO Sauce except pop 'em in your mouth and suck off the delicious, gingery sauce."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Thinking about Biosphere

The other night, Plotnik and Ducknik were talking with some friends about the Biosphere, where BZWZ spent a semester in Spring of 2003. The Biosphere was situated in the high desert outside of Tucson, Arizona, and was the most extraordinary place Plotnik has ever seen.

The idea had been to see whether people could live indefinitely inside the dome, growing their own food, recycling their own wastes, creating their own living biome. The answer was no. The first batch of students found carrots grew well but not a lot else. The kids all turned yellow. There was a huge political brouhaha when the second group went in, and after a few weeks they took those kids out of the dome and no one ever lived inside again.

Instead, they turned it into an astounding scientific campus and observatory. BZWZ's job, when she got there, was to monitor the ocean biome, which you are looking at here. She would dive to the bottom, regulate the algae, keep detailed accounts of water and air temperatures, and walk in the trees of the cloud forest biome next door.

Remember, this was all inside a glass dome. A lot of research was accomplished at Biosphere (The Big E and BZWZ met there, after all). But it's all history now. Columbia closed it down several years ago and there are no more students, no more research, no more observatory. It is dumbfounding to think this facility can be allowed to rot in the desert sun.

Plot, Duck and BZ had a great time climbing around the high desert there. It's gorgeous country. It's stone certain that BZWZ will spend time there again one day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The City's New Lunchtime Corner

As everyone knows, The Great Plotnik always travels with a camera, for the sole purpose of taking pictures of great food. And yet -- the photo here is of Mangosteen Restaurant, not of the Garlic Noodles with Lemon Grass Beef, one of the finest plates o'lunchgrub upon which Plot has feasted in some time, particularly on this corner in the Tenderloin, known primarily for Indian food (it is also called the Tandoor-Loin), crank cruisers, homeless drunks, idiot hipsters, tourists from Germany who misread the Guide Book and the Saigon Sandwich Shop.

The Great Mushnik and Dollar Bill (previously known as Silent Bill or Laughing Bill, but when he's kind enough to pick up the check it's Dollar Bill) took Plot and Duck to Mangosteen for Duck's Birthday Lunch, and it was fabulous. The neighborhood (corner of Larkin and Eddy) now sports two of the finest, inexpensive luncheries in town, and if you need a packet of crank or a pint of Thunderbird in a paper bag to wash it all down, you can get that too. Plot has no idea what was in the bag that the bearded but confused homeless man wanted to show him. (Plot knows the man was confused because he called him Good Looking Brother Man! as Plot approached, but Don't Show Yo Ugly Ass Down Here Again! after Plot declined the invitation to look into the bag.)

The idea was to have Pho, so Bill and Mush had Pho. Their enormous soup bowls smelled quite delicious, but the garlic noodles were in another league. From Mush's seat, she could look out at the people lining up outside the Saigon Sandwich Shop, if she hadn't been quite so occupied with her Phabulous Pho, but Plot only had eyes for his large plate of noodles. He finished every morsel on the plate, then licked the lime green chopsticks.

It is of interest to note that Bill and Mush ordered the same thing. This is something they frequently do. Duck and Plot have always thought there were ordinances against doing that kind of thing, and there are two clear reasons why: 1) if the food is good, you can't argue afterwards about whose was better, and 2) if the food is bad, you can't whine and feel sorry for your unfortunate choice, while cadging yummy morsels from your aggravated partner.

Larkin and Eddy, who'd a thunk it? The Plotniks thank the Mushniks for a wonderful day, and, best of all: MEMO TO DOLLAR BILL: the next birthday is Plotnik's!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jess and Jason's Wedding

Plot and Duck spent Saturday night in a Bodega Bay water tower. It was the only available room in the town, and it would have been cheap, but for the summer two-night requirement at all motels, hotels, inns, b&bs, b-without-b's and water towers in Sonoma County. The room was, well, cute.

Jessica's wedding was the Opposite of Cute. Jess is one of the Chicago Six, six women from the North Side who have remained close friends since High School. The Great Five Point Seven Head is another of these women. So is The Great Shutter-nik, second from the left in this picture, seen several times in these pages. (The other three, Colin, Molly and Jane, are as of yet Nik-less.) The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik were proud to have been invited to Jess and Jason's wedding.

My, but it was fancy. The Sonoma Villa Resort had been rented out for the weekend and no expense was spared. The pathway to the chuppa was strewed with rose petals, except for the spot worn clean by the Wedding Planner who stood at the entrance to the rose petal path, from which vantage point she could give frantic cues to everyone by shaking her fist. Father of Bride: March! Mother of Bride and Partner: March! When the string quartet did not start the next tune immediately after the first fist she shook both fists.

There were many sweet touches: one's directions for walking into the reception tent in the dark could be found in a personalized mason jar, lit by a scented candle, with the table number embossed on the bottom. Each guest received perfume in little vials, freshly made by The Chicago Six. It was a band, not a DJ, and the band knew Kool and the Gang.

Jess and Jason are Jewish? Who knew? It was a Jewish wedding, with a RNB (Rabbi, No Beard) and a Grandma named Rose.

But Jews have this thing now -- it has become mandatory to bare one's soul at every family function. So the wedding and the reception included many, many speeches and declarations of eternal love and recitations about being present in the Now, and welcomes to the bride from the groom's side, and welcomes to the groom from the bride's side, and grand predictions of love and prosperity to surely follow this couple, blessed in God's eyes, for all the days up to and including their Honeymoon in Bora Bora, and thereafter as well.

To be sure, they are great kids. Jason wrote and performed a beautiful song for Jess, and the CD of the song was tucked in everyone's Goody Bag ahead of time, along with the apricot-cayenne truffles and a book of poetry.

Plotnik danced with Ducknik and his ribs said Hi There, Bucko, after the party, but only for a short while.

He and Duck kept falling down into their chairs and staring into each other's eyes to say: "What will we do if BZWZ wants this?"

The answer, of course, is that whatever she dreams of, she will have, and Plot and Duck will be blessed and thankful to provide. And standing up to Bare His Soul will be The Great Plotnik himself, perhaps joined by Schmekl Plotnik, and the thought of Plot and Shmek making The Speech of a Thousand Tears will probably make BZWZ elope and get married in Unalaska. Plot hopes not.

Look, The Great Plotnik has played piano for perhaps 500 weddings, and several times again for the bride and/or the groom's second marriages to other people after the first marriage crapped out. Whether it was a Huge Production or a shotgun affair at the Knights of Columbus Hall, it always seemed to be true that if the Bride slammed the Groom's face into the Wedding Cake, it did not bode well for the future.

Jess and Jason almost apologetically rubbed a little cake onto each other's radiant cheek, and then seemed poised to lick it off crumb by crumb.

True, life is not plannable, like weddings with wedding planners. The best weddings are where everyone walks away a little drunk, feet sore from dancing, throat hoarse from screaming, with love in the heart for not only the Bride and Groom but for the whole process. It's even nicer when you can carry away a Goody Bag with the Song to listen to later.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Could This Get Any More Northern California?

Sunday's Gravenstein Apple Festival in Sebastopol was just the right size. The Great 5.7 Head allowed the Pregnancy Card to be played so the Plotniks got a good parking place. There was a country singer with a deep Johnny Cash bass voice on the bandstand. Old apple picking engines put-puttered away behind a display picket fence while old men in railroad caps and gray stubbles sat in chairs, drinking lemonade, holding screw drivers to tinker with the engines and keep them going. If you broke a balloon (small) with any of four darts you could win a bag of Gravenstein apples. You could play with a twenty pound rabbit or ride a llama in the petting zoo. The bratwurst with sauerkraut, onions and Secret Yellow Mustard was delicious.

Before the Apple Festival, Plot, Duck, PD and 5.7 stopped at the notoriously and ridiculously fantastic Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone, just up the road from the wedding. (Thanks again to famed authoress Nguyen Steinbeck Tyrone Rodriguez for turning us on to this place.) They bought fougasse, filled with gruyere, gouda and jack cheese, and they bought sticky buns, big enough for four people and two hundred napkins, and they bought Egyptian sweet bread, with ginger in the crust, and then they went out into the courtyard and ate of their bounty. The wind and sun were chatoyant. Heh heh. Aromas of whole grains and nutritious yeasts wafted from the bakery. A bicyclist couple in blue slicks paused in their day's ride from Healdsburg (25 miles each way), to sit on a bakery bench and re-carb. Convoys of American classic cars, tricked out and polished, passed the bakery heading North.

5.7 Head turned to PunkyDunky and said: "This can't get any more Northern California, can it?"

Eventually Plotnik followed one of those cars through the woods, which is how they found the Apple Festival. But what about the wedding? What wedding? Tune in tomorrow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

String of Pearls

Today is The Great Ducknik's birthday. Two of her favorite three presents in the world are still asleep in Dan's room. The third called this morning from a camping trip in Vermont. The Duck even decided not to go to her workout, saying "it's my birthday. If I don't want to go down there I don't have to." First, however, she secured a promise** from Plotnik that he wouldn't play basketball either, although he DID ride his plotkicycle down to the court, just to say, you know, hi. We can talk about that ** some other time.

Now, about this string of pearls. These are probably the finest in the land, and The Great Plotnik acquired them for The Great Ducknik's birthday after scouring bazaars and souks and provincial markets and fine haute jeuleries around the world. Finally, he uncovered a rare box in the Cookware store on Castro Street.

OK, so they're not pearls. This is a Pie Weight Chain. You put it on top of the crust when you bake it in advance of putting in the filling, as in sour cream lemon pie, as in lemon mirengue pie. Duck has been wanting one.

The lady at the Cookware store said "I usually just put a pound o' beans on my crust. That works as well as these, but if you wanta buy 'em..."

"I want to buy them," said Plotnik. "I can't give my wife a pound of **!*% beans for her birthday."

"Oh, no, ho ho," said the lady, and her assistant also said "Ho ho, no." She knew right where to look for the pie weight chain, which was only covered with perhaps two inches of dust.

That's not all Ducknik got from Plot, but it was a good start, after the phone call at 7AM from Vermont, and the calls from Atlanta, L.A. and L.A. again. All this, and PunkyDunky and Five Point Seven Head are still asleep and they've got something up their sleeves for sure.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ugly people can do ugly things.

Does everybody know that artichokes will flower into a beautiful blue ball if you just let them grow?

More young hooligans in England decide to plan to kill themselves and us. CNN recycles the old photos of Ramsi Youssef and Khalid Muhammad. Look at those guys. If you were that butt-ugly you might harbor dark thoughts yourself.

But The Great Plotnik agrees with The Great Mushnik. Let other people talk about it. There are more important things to contemplate.

Like how Large Pants made the little box in Leah Garchik's column today.

Like how the Plotzers play the Braindeads three games this weekend down there and three games next weekend up here. Like how Plotzer pitcher Ted Hendrickson looks like Herman Munster on the South Coast Diet.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Once. Bang. Twice. Bang. And again. Bang.

What does Archimedes have to do with

...The Great 5.7 Head?

Directly, little. But indirectly it's like this: Plotnik and Ducknik are both getting antsy to be somewhere else. They had long been planning a trip either to

Argentina, or

Syracuse. Syracuse is on the island of Sicily (blue ocean, black olives, eggplant with red peppers). Argentina is on the Southeast coast of South America (beef, empanadas, more beef).

Syracuse is the ancient Greek colony defeated by Rome in the Second Century BC. Syracuse is also where Archimedes lived. Only last week they used some high-falootin' laser-guided techno shmeckno to read one of Archimedes' writings for the first time in a thousand years. The Great Plotnik wrote about that event for AOL. It did not make him want to go to the Exploratorium to see the event, but it did make him want to go to Sicily.

But then came NEWS about BABY. Now, Plot and Duck are going nowhere for awhile. Is it worth it? OHHHHHH YEAH! The Great 5.7 Head is in town for the weekend, and this morning, this very morning, as she was walking down the stairs Plotnik was walking up the stairs. As they passed, 5.7 said: "Listen, Grandpa," and Plot put first his hand and then his head on her belly. Right there, on the stairs, in the land between the old world and the new world (Oh, all right, between the main floor and the lower floor), the baby kicked Plottie right in the ear. Once. Bang. Twice. Bang. And again. Bang.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Roosevelt Tamale Parlor: Bully!

Last night Plotnik, Ducknik and Chef Pickle went to Roosevelt Tamale Parlor for a review/feed, along with Plot and Duck's Arizona pals Jack and Ashley. The old Roosevelt was one of Plot's few Saint Plotniko college hangs, in the pre-BART days when crossing the Bay on public transport was a lenghty adventure, and the place had stayed open through much turmoil, until 2004. Now, newly re-opened, with new owner Cesar Morales at the controls, Plot is happy to report Roosevelt Tamale Parlor is better than ever.

Oh, he has read all the reviews whining about how the new Roosevelt isn't as charming as the old Roosevelt, but that's only if you consider the old place's 'dark, dirty, grumpy and lard-laden' to be more desirable than 'bright, clean, friendly and organic.' The chile colorado is better than ever, rich and beefy in a red chile sauce, but you can't discount the
...calabacitas tamale with an enchilada on the side. If it appears to be served sideways, that has something to do with the Gravity of this Blog.

To the five diners, one a famed chef who knows her fats, two who hail from Tucson, where Sonoran cuisine is plentiful, and two who are just plain food snobs who know it all, it seemed that Roosevelt has everything -- inexpensive, delicious, authentic and no sign of the cholesterol truck parked in the back, pumping extra dollops of life-threatening gunk into each tamale.

The Great Plotnik Restaurant Review Division is proud to award Roosevelt Tamale Parlor Three and Three Quarter Stars -- two for the Chile Colorado, one for the tamales, rellenos and chile verde and one for the unique explanation of how the vegetarian tamale masa is allowed to have half lard, but minus a quarter for some pretty average rice. Three and Three Quarters Stars, and room to grow. Roosevelt has vaulted back to the head of the class in the Mission, where it always used to be.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mummy Plotnik - Part Two

Barb and Mom
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Blogmaid reminded Plotnik that he had forgotten to post a picture of the Birthday Girl. Here she is...92 years old and sharp as a machete.

Plot always thinks about his family when he comes home after spending time with them. He suspects every family is the same...interdynamics are always minefields and everyone is a terrorist.

Family Plotnik is small -- Plot has a mother and a brother. His brother, Schmekl, has a wife and two children, and Plot has a wife and two children. That's it. You wouldn't think the play could get too complicated with that small a cast.

Oh, but you'd be wrong. THE DOG, the freaking dog. It's always THE DOG. It's always been THE DOG. There can be a new dog, but it's still THE same goddam DOG. Without THE DOG, everyone gets along, a little oil, a little water, still OK. But oi, THE DOG.

Saturday night Schmekl and Little Bearnik slept over at Mummy Plotnik's, with Plot and Duck. Schmeckl is a big guy, and he needed a bed. Plot had very sore ribs, and he needed a bed. There are only two beds, and two sofas.

The negotiation included exchanges like these:

Mummy Plotnik: "I've got a huge bed, and there's just me. Somebody can sleep on the other side."

The Great Plotnik would bungee jump off Mt. Everest before he could imagine sleeping with his mother in her bed. Schmekl, clearly, is far more well-adjusted than Plotnik.

Schmekl: "Well, OK, Mom. I'll sleep in your room with you."

Little Bearnik: "But Mom, remember he snores and farts."

The Great Plotnik: (OK, he should have stayed out of this) "God, yes. He snores like a drowning chain saw, and the room smells like..."

Schmekl: "Hey!"

Somebody: "And what about THE DOG?"

Silence. Then Schmeckl says: "THE DOG sleeps with ME!"

Mummy Plotnik: "Well, forget it, then. I ain't sleeping with THE DOG too."

Plot realized Schmekl was adamant about sleeping with THE DOG, so he gave in. He slept in one of the beds in the guest room, the one on the floor, and Schmeckl and THE DOG slept in the other bed, the one on legs.

Before he turned out the light, Plot was astonished to observe that Schmekl Plotnik sleeps on his stomach, and THE DOG crawls in under the covers, between Schmekl's legs, nestled up close to his asshole.

"Jeez, Schmek, are you want THE DOG...there? Does she really want to be there?"

"She loves it. Good night, Plottie."

"Good night, Schmek."


Of course, an hour later THE DOG jumped out of Schmekl's bed and landed on Plotnik's stomach. Plot sat straight up. Schmekl was snoring like The Manhattan Project.

"Schmek!" Plot shook him.

Schmekl woke up. "What! What is it?"

"You're snoring! Roll over! And do something about THE damned DOG!"

"OK. Oooh, widdle poopsie doopsie, doggie woggie, come up here, you sweet little cutsie schmootsie, good widdle girl, good widdle girl, good widdle..."


THE DOG hopped back on Schmek's bed, jumped down to his butthole under the blankets, and they both went immediately to sleep.

But Plot lay on his back, seething. His thoughts, distilled, went something like this:

"I hate this. I hate this. Why do I hate this? I don't know, but I hate this."

An, of course, an hour later, it happened again. Dog. Snore. WAKE UP! This time, Plot took his blanket and curled up next to Duck on the living room sofa. He should have done it in the first place. His ribs were happy. They all went immediately to sleep and slept like babies.

The next day there was the usual small family burnout nestled amongst the larger family fun day together. At some point this week someone will call someone and determine no one is really mad at anyone.

The moral of this story, children, is simply this: We're all imperfect. When we should shut up, we pipe up, and when we should pipe up, we shut up. Our point is to make our families perfect, in our eyes. They don't want to be perfect in our eyes, they want us to be perfect in their eyes. And so it goes. We are still really lucky to have them.

But Jeez. THE goddam DOG.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mummy Plotnik's 92nd Birthday

The Great FiveHead has passed into Month 7. As the Great 5.7Head, she is looking great, sounding great, feeling great. She pats her belly a lot, and everybody else puts their head against it, to listen to any new sounds or feel any unmistakable kicks. BZWZ keeps sending name ideas by text message; so far, the only two names that seem to have been ruled out are Hepzibah and Yassr.

Ducknik made a lemon merengue pie for Mummy Plotnik's 92nd birthday pre-dinner dinner. It was fabulous, even without the graham cracker crumbs in the crust. Plot spent some time afterwards thinking about that pie. We've all had so many bad merengue pies in diners and restaurants that we forget what the big deal is...that is, until you finally taste it. Burnt gooey on top, crispy crunchy on the bottom, and lemony squishy yummorama in the middle. This is a hard act to follow, which is why we always eat it last.

On Sunday, the Plotniks all went to the newly reopened Getty Villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean. J. Paul Getty decided to recreate a Roman villa with architecture, sculpture and art dug out from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Best of all, when Getty died, he stipulated the museum always be free. It's a magnificent place. Plot loved the gardens, planted with fruits and herbs the Romans would have used. We still cook with all of those plants -- rosemary, garlic, sage, mint, apple, pomegranate, quince, lemon.

Afterwards on Sunday, Plotnik and The Great PunkyDunky took the inflatable kayaks down to the ocean in Malibu and...well, they did nothing. When they got to the water, the tide was at its high point, crashing against the rocks and making it very difficult to set the kayaks into the water. After the last two weeks of body parts getting mauled, Plot was not unhappy when P.D. said 'Dad, you know I don't think we should try this today.' Parents should always know when to listen to their children.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Shark and the Lexus

Plotnik drives down to the corner to get a newspaper this Stiletto City morning, and Sarah Jessica Parker parks her Lexus next to him, and gets out of the car putting a baby into a back pack...wait. Sarah Jessica Parker is short. This woman is tall...oh, wait, she's Turkish or Persian, too. Every other thing about her seems like Sarah Jessica Parker, her posture, her clothes, her hair, the way she walks, but that's definitely not her nose...nope. Just another Stiletto City wannabe.

In Saint Plotniko one hears conversations about, oh, world peace or the Middle East or politics. In Stiletto City it's all about reality shows and bit parts and this line producer and that stylist...oh, and cars.

Stiletto City is like a poker game where the minimum buy-in is a Lexus. Anyone can play, even a Turkish girl who looks like Sarah Jessica Parker, but you have to have a Lexus or better to get in the door. Maybe a Prius, not sure.

Plotnik has noticed there is one particularly square-jawed, dark-haired face that is popular on TV down here, a few days stubble, a hundred glistening teeth and a heartless glare. Lots of guys are going for that look. They drive by, by the scores, in their Lexuses or Priuses, cell phones ablaze. They look like hungry sharks, but in the coffee houses they all have voices like Tom Ammiano.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Stiletto City Moment

Arriving at Shburbank Airport yesterday, Plot and Duck walked to the taxi stand. As the taxi drove up, Duck noticed she had a message on her cell from The Great BeeziWeezi. So she called The Big Shmapple and began talking to BZ as the taxi driver drove away.

The driver was Armenian. Like Plot's ribs, Mr. Khachaglagian's English was bruised but functioning. The moment after he turned left on Vineland Avenue, he picked up his cell and made a call. He may have been talking to his wife, because he kept saying "ZHHHZHHGLXLFGZ (Armenian) SORRY! (English) SJZKLLSKFHVG (Armenian)." So now the driver was talking on his cel and Duck was talking on her cell.

The cab weaved through traffic. "This is SO Stiletto City," Plot thought, already planning how he would blog about it, but he was unable to think further because his cell phone rang. It was his nephew Nefnik. So as the taxi flew up the hill towards Mummy Plotnik's house, Duck yakked to BZ, Plot gabbed to Fefnik, and Mr. Khachaglagian apologized continually to Mrs. Khachaglagian.

Their is something really absurd about this situation, and Plot would discuss it more, but he is having a good time listening to the two men sitting next to him in Peet's, talking about reality shows and styling and TV and their hair. The guy talking most about his hair doesn't have any. Wadda town.

Jane, tune out here. Plotnik watched Greg Maddux throw six pretty danged amazing innings last night. He forgot how much he hates him, and started loving him a lot.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bball shoes

Bball shoes
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Plot and Duck are hopping on the Twentieth Century Extremely Limited today to head down to Stiletto City. The walk to Bart to Oakland Coliseum to the Bart Shuttle to the Southwest counter should take a little more than an hour. The flight, including a Two Course Bag Lunch (both of them peanuts), takes another hour. The taxi from Shburbank Airport fifteen minutes more. Hugs at Mom's house, another ten.

The concept, originally, had been for Plotnik and The Great PD to play basketball tonight, but that plan was scratched by Big Reese and his Get Plotnik Rib Attack. Plot can report, however, that today, for the first day since his two big spills last week, he is finally feeling like his old self. Headaches, gone. Ribaches, not gone, but becoming more manageable. Scabs, healed. Knee, still funky, but not James Brown funky, Borat funky.

Now, Plot knows perfectly well that if he packs his basketball shoes, he will attempt to play ball tonight, pain or no pain, and the pain will come from Mummy Plotnik and The Great Ducknik screaming in both ears at the same time; moreover, if he should play, AND get hurt again: let's just say the potential for sympathy is minimal, as in No Chance, Mr. Big Shot, You are On Your Own.

Also, it still really hurts to cough or sneeze.

So the shoes are still in the closet. So far.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Three Stars for Bistro 1689 or You Can't Hurry Spaetzle.

The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik reviewed the new Bistro 1689 on Upper Church Street last night. Plot had already sketched out the puny 120 words he is allowed to turn in, but needed to taste the food to be sure. Here is Plot's AOL Review together with comments he doesn't have room for in AOL's 120 word Max format.

"Executive Chef Scott Drozd left the security of running the Anzu restaurant in the Hotel Nikko downtown to take a chance on Church." He sure did. The two Chinese restaurants that were the Bistro's predecessors, were disasters. The first one, China Pepper, managed to screw up fried rice, and the second, Long Island Restaurant, founded by a Chinese couple who had operated restaurants on Long Island, New York, and in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, never had a chance. They would stand at the door, heads down, as diners packed into Eric's down the street.

"His slick and sparkling Bistro 1689 showcases food from the Southwest of France, updated slightly for California tastes." This means no dog sweetbreads in beet kvass with one fava bean.

"This is simple, rustic food, so technique really does matter." He told me this, I have to take his word for it. After tasting, I have to agree. The Chef is really good, and, amazingly, his food is not overly pricey.

"Try the fresh corn, Dungeness crab and mussels veloute for starters." It's not a soup, but it's not not a soup either. True, the description on the menu does use one word of fearsome B.S. French -- the word is 'foam' -- but the veloute is a homey, rich, savory shellfish puree with pieces of crab and mussel. It barely takes up the bottom of the flat soupbowl, but it's so rich you couldn't possibly eat any more.

"Move on to the short ribs with rosemary spaetzle" Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah. GOT to learn how to make this one. The ribs fall off the bones and the spaetzle, tiny rosemary-laced dumplings that have absorbed all the flavor from the ribs, are to die for twice. Plus, you get pieces of lemony chard mixed with the spaetzle. The Great Plotnik's brother Schmeckl, who puts blackberry syrup in coffee, would lick up every drop of this dish (we'd tell him it's roast beef and noodles) and so will all the trendy boys working their way through the Gourmaze.

"Finish up with crispy apple fitters, served with -- get this -- a chestnut/Cointreau milkshake!" WOO HOO! YOWZA! All right, calm down. It's not a milkshake. It's a bowl of sauce into which you dip your three battered, highly sweetened apple fritters. The sauce of chestnut puree, vanilla ice cream and Cointreau is so good you want to guzzle it down, or put it in your coffee, or rub it all over your face and let your favorite dog lick it off in the morning. Or -- the method employed by the Restaurant Reviewer and his wife -- spoon it daintily out of the bowl until every last drop is gone.

Bistro 1689 has a drawback or two -- it is not a warm place, in fact it's kind of dark and a little forbidding, but you get around that by sitting near the front, especially in one of the two window seats. The service is rather slow... but that may be because of all that TECHNIQUE IN THE KITCHEN. Food this good takes time. You can't hurry love. Diana Ross said that. You can't hurry spaetzle. I said that.

"Good things are clearly happening on Upper Church." The skanky Greek place that smelled like lamb-and-clorox has closed. The miserable Pizza place finally coughed up its last hairball. We've got La Ciccia and Bistro 1689 now -- unfortunately, they've also closed Hungry Joe's, and they're 'modernizing it,' God help us all. Those wonderful home fries will be replaced by yet another $9.95 omelet with Niman Ranch Pig Product

"Bistro 1689 is the kind of place you hope to keep for yourself, a chef-driven restaurant that takes chances." The $30 three-course Prix Fixe, available between 5:30PM and 6:30PM, but still available when Plot and Duck arrived at 7, is a bargain for food this good. But none of the three courses drooled over above are part of the special.

The Great Plotnik Restaurant Awards Division awards Bistro 1689 a star for the Veloute, a star for the ribs, a star for the fritters and half a star for the sea bass, but takes away half a star because of the Abu Ghraib vibe in the back. Three Stars, friends. This does not happen all that often. Ooh, them fritters.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sore ribs and Cesar Izturis

Today, TGP's ribs hurt. Just like yesterday. It hurts to move too fast, it really hurts to cough. He talked to the Kaiser Advice Nurse. She said make sure not to stop breathing deeply, because that's how you get pneumonia. Now he's sitting at the Control Panel of the entire Great Plotnik World Empire, typing with one hand, as he holds the heated up hot thingy against his ribs. The nurse says this will help, but if it's not better in two weeks...two weeks?

Criminy. And Plot and Duck are heading down to see Mummy Plotnik in a few days, where Plotnik will have to keep repeating to himself "DON'T talk about Israel. DON'T say one word. If you hear the word 'Israel' run out of the room without coughing."

"It's all Hezbollah's fault."
"How 'bout them Dodgers?"
"Poor Israel has no choice but to incinerate Lebanon."
"I sure will miss Cesar Izturis."

So long Cesar Izturis. What a smooth shortstop. Baseball teams never understand the value of great fielders. Plotnik always identifies with smaller, quicker players, like Cesar, like Wally Backman, like Randy Winn, like Davy Lopes, the players who don't make a lot of headlines but always help their teams win pennants. Now Cesar's a Cub. Cough. OUCH.