Many thanks to Connie for having me along for four hours of culinary heaven. This was food that demanded at times closed eyes and a quiet room. It was also a reminder that there are standards of service, methods of presentation, restraint in portion size, creativity in composition and pacing extravagances that even very good restaurants do not approach. Between French Laundry and Elisabeth Daniel, I am developing a great fondness for lengthier meals with more, smaller courses -- five and up. If you work in the city, you really ought to try the five course tasting menu at lunch at Elisabeth Daniel. Clear a couple of hours one afternoon and really enjoy your food.
Connie's write up is excellent -- one of my coworkers asked if she reviewed restaurants professionally, and she was the only one at our table to know the chef is the only chef to win the James Beard award twice -- but she neglected a critical bit of information: how she obtained her reservation. An inside source has it that multiple co-workers were enlisted to call French Laundry whenever possible as agents for the birthday girl. Also, her review neglected to mention that when the waitstaff informed us that half of us would be served crème brulee and half lemongrass pot de crème, quite at random, Anne veritably exclaimed, "that hardly seems fair!" Indeed, Anne, indeed. Or as chef Daniel Patterson is famous in our newsroom for asking: "I think we've all seen quite enough crème brulee, haven't we?"
Overheard: behind an unidentified 26 year old male snowboarder at Sugarbowl on a beginner's "circle" run, transiting from one mountain to another on an easy straightaway and trailed by a speedy youngster of perhaps seven years, only several seconds prior to flipping over head first and injuring his ribcage: "beep beep!"
Rather than driving six hours round trip to Soda Springs, the reader is advised to simply pay a local stranger $57 for a few blows to the chest.
As a kid growing up next to Miramar Naval Air Station -- "Fightertown U.S.A." -- in San Diego, and having moved there right when Top Gun came out, I developed quite an expertise in military aviation as young teenager, mostly through books but also through gleaning information on the company where my dad is an engineer.
At some point in my youth, I read a book (probably this one) about the defection of Viktor Belenko, a Mig 25 pilot station in the Western reaches of Siberia who one day in the late 1970s flew his Mach 2.8-plus fighter jet to Japan. The U.S., if I recall correctly, spent several weeks studying the jet before returning it to the Soviets. Belenko was granted amnesty and made a life for himself in the U.S.
And it is this discovery of America -- and the experience of being an American outside America -- that makes this 1996 interview with Belenko, which I discovered today while taking a break at work, so fascinating and funny.
For example, there is this bit about visiting Britain:
I noticed, after my experience in U.S., that there was not warm reception for you, as a stranger, when you walk into their pubs. Later I complain about that to my friends in Wyoming. And they said, "Viktor, Brits love cowboys." I said, "Really?" Next trip I had cowboy hat, cowboy boots. I show up in their pubs; they look at me with astoundment. "Are you cowboy?" I say, "Yup." My vocabulary was very limited: Yup and Nope. But I did notice that they accept American cowboy with respect. And not only in England, in Europe and other countries as well.
And this on American supermarkets:
First of all American super-market, my first visit was under CIA supervision, and I thought it was set-up; I did not believe super-market was real one. I thought well I was unusual guest; they probably kicked everyone out. It's such a nice, big place with incredible amount of produce, and no long lines! You're accustomed to long lines in Russia. But later, when I discovered super-market was real one, I had real fun exploring new products. I would buy, everyday, a new thing and try to figure out its function. In Russia at that time (and even today) it's hard to find canned food, good one. But everyday I would buy new cans with different food. Once I bought a can which said "dinner." I cooked it with potatoes, onions, and garlic-it was delicious. Next morning my friends ask me, "Viktor, did you buy a cat?" It was a can of chicken-based cat food. But it was delicious! It was better than canned food for people in Russia today. And I did test it. Last year I brought four people from Russia for commercial project, and I set them up. I bought nibble sized human food. I installed a pâté, and it was cat food. I put it on crackers. And they did consume it, and they liked it.
But what I liked best was his appreciation for and embrace of freedom of choice -- something that not only well-off Americans but even many Russians take for granted these days but that is precious to Belenko, who gre up and ultimately escaped the repressive Soviet regime. His spirited embrace of freedom is inspiring, and his observation that many ex-Soviets forgot how to be free and thrive on freedom and were lost when they were unshackled, like a confused lifetime jailbird finally released, hits closer to home than one might think, coming, as it does, as a meditation not so much on government repression as on self sabotage.
After my arrival, the hardest thing for me to understand was freedom of choice. When you are in a closed society and the government is making decision where you live, what you do for a living, and even where you die, it is very hard to understand freedom of choice. Those people who spend many years in U.S. in jail have a hard time after their release. But when I discovered the freedom of choice in the U.S. it became the best part of my life today ...
As soon as I discovered freedom of choice I started doing different things. I built my own home from scratch, started from zero. I hired a few construction workers, and I told them, "Look I'm going to work for you." I learned so much. Now I have, with my partners, a construction company ...
I do not understand those Americans who like to spend their vacation in Switzerland or Italy or Europe. Many of them have never been in Yellowstone Park or Glacier Park. But that's their choice; I've made my choice. I've been in 68 different countries after I received my American passport ...
Anyway, in terms of doing fun in America there's so much. What I do I like to fish, hunt, travel. I have friends in all 50 states, and basically I have room and board in all 50 states.
Glenn McDonald has something lengthy to say about the iPod and the future of the music industry on his music review website, The War Against Silence. I feel the same way about this piece as I do about his album reviews; basically, it seems to me there is some original thinking going on here, and an extraordinary level of analysis--but I cannot make it through his writing while web surfing, and think that perhaps I should re-read when I have more time and patience. This site regularly frustrates me and makes me truly appreciate tight, news-style writing, inverted pyramid and so forth, to long for someone who can get to the point. At the same time, it is my absolute favorite place to turn for music reviews and guidance. I love what he is doing with the site. I have yet to purchase an album based on his writing. I like the idea of his writing, and the idea of liking it. If only I had time. If only I were suficiently serious about music. (Copyright guru Fred von Lohmann turned me on to TWAS back when I was at Upside.)
New story: Davis budget raids redevelopment James gets credit for chasing this one down. (page 1)
New story: Falling rents alter style of Union Square Missing uber-cool color chart. (page 1)
Hospitality column: Conventions a boost for city's hotels, but sales to stay flat