Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jack on the Town

(Being an overlong tale of my perambulations around downtown Bend, books under arm, in search of a good place to drink and read)

I was hankering for a Friday evening out, but Mrs Elliott didn't quite feel up to it. She'd picked up a case of pneumonia earlier in the week, but once her doctor (Dr Uri) diagnosed it and set her up on a course of antibiotics, she was well on her way to recovery. But needing a little more downtime before feeling up to snuff, we agreed that she'd drop me off downtown on a errand she needed to run,  go back to the house to nest and catch up on her "chick" TV (Gray's Anatomy,und so weiter), and I could a taxi home later. 

So with a copy of The Best American Short Stories, 2008 (Salman Rushdie, ed.) , under my arm, I forayed out for an evening on the town. My goal was to find a place where a fellow could sit at a table, read a book, sip some wine or good local ale, and people watch. 

But first I dropped into Pegasus Books to chat with Dunc about graphic novels. A few months ago I had read a copy of Watchmen, (Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons) considered to be a pretty outstanding example of a medium which sits between the novel and the comic book form. Though it was an interesting take on the concept of super heroes living amongst us, I wasn't impressed with it: the dialog was corny, the illustrations at times clumsy. 

I wanted something a little more literary, more nutritious. So Dunc suggested that I try Fun Home -- A Family Tragicomic (little play on words there) by Alison Bechdel. "If this doesn't do it for you," he said, "then I don't know what will." 

So now I was packing two books as I strolled over to Wall street in time for a 3 o' clock  massage appointment.

On the way I saw a man peering into the windows of Merenda, now closed for nearly two weeks.

"They're gone," I said.

"I guess they are," he said. He was about my height (i.e., short) and appeared to be in his late 40's. 

"I'm looking for a place where I can watch sports," he said. "I don't want a noisy sports bar, though. Do you know any place like that?"

I didn't. He wondered of Ciao Mambo had a TV. I didn't recall seeing one when Mrs Elliott and I ate there, and told him. I also told him that since I'm not much into sports so I don't notice such things, my information could be wrong. JC's? Westside Tavern? I dunno.

I wished him luck, he wished me a good weekend, and I continued down Wall street for my massage. 

Yasuko Narita, LMT, of Balanced Life Massage, runs a discount coupon at the back of The Source Weekly, and Mrs Elliott used one last week for a 1-hour massage. She said that Yasuko did a right nice job on her, and so I booked myself a 90-minute deep tissue/Swedish massage session for this Friday afternoon.

It's been two years since my last massage, and this creaky old body with all its old broken bones and joints (auto accident decades ago, don't ask, but kids -- don't drink and drive) needed some serious poking and prodding so I told her to go for it. 

Yasuko is a pretty small person. Shrimpy, even. 

But she has strong hands and totally kicked my ass. She found tender and sore parts I wasn't even aware of.

She has a nice shop: clean, organized and she knows what she's doing. Recommended. 

I left feeling relaxed and sleepy. 

Before I moved on, I spent a little time exploring that old building which houses her office, as well as those of many other massage therapists, small businesses, contractors, engineers, lawyers, therapists, String Theory (in the basement), and CPAs. I don't know what the building is called, when it was built, or any of its history. 

I noticed that a portion of the mezzanine floor seems to be missing. 

On the Wall Street end of the building, the stair flight to the second floor is very long, plenty long for there to be a floor between the ground floor and second floor. The elevator doesn't have a button for this missing floor. At the rear of the building there is access to the mezzanine level which the front stairs bypass, but the mezzanine floor at the rear covers only about one-third of the building. The entire front 2/3rds of the mezzanine floor appear to be inaccessible. 

I mulled this mystery as I walked over to the Deschutes Brewery public house. I like this pub -- it is a cheery place with a "happy" atmosphere. The bar area was pretty busy, but even so, I scored a stool, ordered an ale (whatever was on nitro -- I couldn't hear the name over the sound of the crowd) and opened Bechdel's book. 

It quickly became clear that this book was an entirely different animal than Watchmen. A personal story, I soon became engrossed. 

Finishing my beer, I decided to move on, still in search of the good place to read -- I had it in my mind that The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar on Minnesota might fill the bill, so I headed south on Bond street. 

As I walked past Zante, a "lifestyle salon & spa," I noticed, in this order, (a) that they had a massage chair near the front window, and (b) that they were still open. Thinking of poor Mrs Elliott at home recouping from her illness, I recalled that she has on more than one occasion said she wished she knew of someplace in town where she could get a quickie chair massage. So I popped into the shop to inquire about prices. 

Now, "spa/salon women,"  with their flawless skin, flawless hair, and seriously aloof attitudes are generally an intimidating breed, at least to me. Seems like they would scare off more customers than they would attract, but apparently not, since most spa/salons employ them. Zante is no different in this regard, but I found the two young women working there to be quite friendly. They did have the requisite complexions and coiffures, but attitude-wise, they were fun. 

I purchased a gift card for an hour of chair massage, divisible into as many smaller chunks as she might like, for Mrs Elliott.

Moving on, I passed Giuseppie's Ristorante. I recalled that someone on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board had described them as having the best Italian food in Bend. I noticed a table for two in the front window. The lighting was low, but not too low for reading, so I backpedaled to the menu posted by the door to inspect their comestibles. I spied a Gorgonzola & roasted garlic antipasto that appealed so I decided to check the place out. 

Restaurants can be risky business for the gentleman seeking leisurely time to read a book. The wait staff can pester a man so frequently with "How's everything?" and "Would you like some more water?" that one must resign oneself to the fact that one will not be left alone and just eat and leave.

However, the cheerful server who seated me immediately "got" what I was after, and led me directly to the table I had eyeballed. We discussed the reds by the glass wines, and I settled on a montepulciano. She said it was her favorite mainly because "montepulciano" is so much fun to say. 

She left me with a glass of wine and the menu, and moved on to take care of another table. 

The wine was excellent, and the literary Fun Home drew me back into its tale of family dysfunction and secrets. 

After a comfortable period of time, my server returned to take my food order. In addition to the cheese appetizer, I also ordered a Caprese salad. I had some trepidation about this. A proper Caprese salad is a simple affair: tomatoes, fresh mozarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The simplicity of the salad demands excellent ingredients, and while I've had some amazing Caprese salads (on the island of Capri), as well as in restaurants that have a clue, I've also had my fair share of disappointments in this department mainly due to waxy, tasteless supermarket tomatoes. January in the northern hemisphere is not tomato season, so I was curious to see what Giuseppie's kitchen would do. 

I went back to reading. 

After a bit, the cheese appetizer arrived. It was pretty darn delicious: melted Gorgonzola, some crusty bits of bread, and a lovely large bulb of garlic which had been sliced open and placed under the broiler just long enough to completely soften the cloves, giving them a mild, delicious taste. 

I ate them, secure in the knowledge that even though these fragrant little garlic bombs would result in devastatingly potent breath, I was going to have a good time anyway. That's one of the benefits to being a married man, not on the prowl, not needing to impress anyone. As a single man, one must take care not to become too terribly offensive in appearance, behavior, or odor.

Not my problem. 

So far, the ristorante had been perfect -- but what about them tomatoes? 

When the server brought the salad, it looked as though they had used sun-dried tomatoes. Perhaps not a bad choice if good fresh tomatoes are not available, but not very traditional. However, my fork cut easily through the first slice just like it would through a fresh tomato, rather than a leathery dried tomato. 

And the taste? It was excellent -- rich and full-bodied, like a good ripe tomato. What were these? I wondered. They were quite dark ... heirlooms, perhaps? "Romas," said my server. "With a little pesto brushed on top."

These were Romas? I know what the stores are selling right now in the Romas category -- waxy, pale orange, and fairly tasteless. Except in size, I saw no resemblence between those unfortunate fruits and these delicious slices.

"B-but . . . how can this be?" I asked. 

"It's our chef, Russ -- he's a genius. He was just out a few moments ago," she tilted her head in the direction of another table, "helping them to decide on what they wanted for dinner."

I had to buttonhole this Russ fellow and find his secret. 

A few minutes later, I had my chance. "Dude," I said. "Seriously -- these tomatoes are amazing. They're Romas? How did you make ordinary Roma tomatoes so flavorful?" 

"I roast them."

I knew that roasting vegetables for an hour or two in a medium oven before using them in stews or soups is a common technique for deepening and concentrating their flavors, but I'd never heard that roasting tomatoes could be so magical. 

"No kidding. These are brilliant! So . . . what? 250 degree oven for a while?"

He spilled. 

"More like 300 degrees for an hour and a half, then leave them in the oven overnight with just the pilot light on. That dries them out some. After that, I refrigerate them. When I serve them I brush on a little pesto sauce."

Yep. The man knows what he's doing. I don't know whether Giuseppe's is the best Italian restaurant in Bend, but Russ's salad is a hopeful sign that the kitchen is indeed better than average. I asked for a second glass of the Tuscan red, made a note to myself to bring Mrs Elliott here when next we felt like Italian, and returned to Bechdel's memoir. 

I surfaced a while later. The wine glass was empty, the food was gone from my plates, and I wanted to move on. The wine shop was calling. Paid my bill, thanked my server, chatted to the owner and complimented the chef, and left.

The night was getting decidedly colder so I hurried to Minnesota. "What've we got happening tonight?" I asked. 

The woman behind the bar (she looked very like the owner but she wasn't the owner) said that they were having a happy hour tasting of two syrahs: a blend and a straight syrah, for $5. 

"It's almost 7:30," I said. "When's happy hour?"

"4:30 to 6:30."

Okay. I guess that happy hour ends when happy hour ends. Cheered by this news, I said I'd like to check out the wines. 

The blend was okay, nothing worth writing home about. The straight syrah, a Porcupine Ridge 2007, was, on the other hand, quite good. And at $17 a bottle, a good value. I've always found pretty good values at The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar. In December Mrs Elliott and I enjoyed a sparkling wine tasting, and bought a fine bottle of prosecco (which we drank on New Years Eve, aka our wedding anniversary) for $24. 

Anyway, somehow there were these two women who were out on the town for the evening sitting next to me and we started talking about this and that. They asked about Fun Home, which I was continuing to read when they weren't pestering me. I overheard the blonde say to the brunette that she liked how the woman who was serving us (who looked like the owner but wasn't) had done her hair. The blonde ordered a split of sparkling wine, the brunette had just finished tasting the syrah blend. She said she thought it was very good, but having overheard me comment to the woman (who looked like the owner but wasn't) that I thought the syrah was better, she ordered a glass for herself.

By this point I was about three sheets to the wind, and said so. 

"You're pretty contained for a drunk," said the brunette. "Why do you like this wine better than the other one?"

I tried to describe to her why I found the blend to be bland, but the straight syrah more interesting. "The finish is more interesting . . ." I struggled for words. " . . .  it leaves a kind of fuzzy burn down the throat."

"Who doesn't like a fuzzy burn?" she asked. Then, changing subjects, she pointed out that her friend, whom she had known for six months, who was a manufacturer of jeweled collars and leashes for dogs, and other pet bling, had just been granted a patent on a design. 

I was impressed. Patents cost a fortune to get, and I reckon she was the first person I've ever met that has a patent. A woman with a patent is nerdy attractive. 

I asked them about the woman who was serving us (who looked like the owner but wasn't).  

"Twins," the brunette said. "She and Melanie are twins, I think," said the blonde. 

Oh, right. Once I saw them side by side it was super-obvious. The owner, Melanie, had chestnut brown hair, while her sister's was much darker, maybe even black. 

The next half hour was a pleasurable mix of reading and being interrupted by my increasingly playful wine-bar mates. But I was getting the itch to move on. Still looking for the nice places to read. 

I paid my tab, said good night to the inventor and her gregarious friend and, with a bottle of syrah added to my two books, walked over to the Bend Brewing Company. Like I needed more alcohol. But, in my defense, it should be noted that I had not yet found a companionable place to drink ale and read. Sure, Giuseppe's and the Wine Bar were both perfectly fine, but they were wine places, not beer. I still hadn't found the beer place. Deschutes Brewery's pub is fun, but it's just too noisy and crowded. 

But the bar at the BBC looked like just the place. There were plenty of people yet it wasn't crowded. Folk were having a good time but it wasn't so noisy that a fellow couldn't hear what the bartender was saying. 

I settled myself at the bar, and ordered a nitro Cream Stout. I am a fan of dry stouts. Most stouts are too fruity for me. I am not interesting in a stout that boasts of caramel malts -- I like my stouts crisp. And low in alcohol. A good draft Guiness is my idea of a good time.* And I also found BBC's cream stout to be quite good. 

Well, anyway, I read some more, finished my beer, and asked the bartender to call a cab for me. 

I was home in 10 minutes. 

Mrs Elliott had spent a most restful evening, watching her shows. I gave her the massage gift card, which she loved. 

"Whew," said Mrs Elliott. "Your breath sure smells like alcohol and garlic!"

No surprise. 
* Andrei, who does wines and beers at The Newport Market, has gone to the trouble to locate a dry stout for me. He told me that Moylan's Brewery makes one and that he's expecting some 22 oz bottles any day now.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that was a good day.
    I hardly walked around downtown, let alone observed them like you do :)


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