Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Little Something for Jonathan Demme

I'm still processing Jonathan Demme's death, as he seemed someone so alive, always working, exploring, changing, growing. So in the meantime I dug out this, the essay I did on Something Wild as part of my MA/W nonfiction prose thesis way back in 1988.


            At a recent screening of The Manchurian Candidate, my friends and I were horrified when, at the film’s conclusion, one audience member said, “Gee, that was a well-made film for 1962.” He might as well have said, “Boy, Ulysses was well-written for 1922,” that’s how indignantly angry we became. Having a few weeks to calm down, I now don’t blame the man at all; he had simply, baldly put what is all too much truth--films, even when considered historically, are misread by false codes: say, history as continuous progress. People are all too content to let Hollywood be a dream factory that has no connection to social, political, or economic events in the world. The classic case in point is Oliver!, the big budget, mushy musical of Dickens that won the Best Picture Oscar in 1969. It’s clear what side of the barricades Hollywood felt itself on.
            Film critics of all sorts can’t be excused from this myopia. The infamous Gene Siskel can mildly like Rambo III because, in his words, “It accomplishes what it sets out to do.” Questioning what it sets out to do is beyond his 19 inch mind. Beating up on television critics is about as easy as dismissing tv evangelists--they themselves become the product, while films and God just give them something to talk about. Serious critics have also painted themselves into corners by focusing on two prevalent critical approaches--the auteur theory and genre theory.  The danger is filmmakers, too, approach their art from these angles. It’s fine to want to make a Western in 1990. But it doesn’t mean what making a Western meant in 1956 or 1969--the difference between, say, The Searchers and Once Upon a Time in the West.  John Ford made a fine film by using the image of John Wayne to question our notions of the “real man pioneer”; Sergio Leone made a fine film by turning all the 1950s Western clichés on their ears, and by questioning our very need to mythologize a violent period of colonialism--it’s Henry “Tom Joad” Fonda who is his cold-blooded killer, after all.
            Another genre periodically dusted off is the screwball comedy. The classic update example is What’s Up Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich’s mildly entertaining remake of Bringing Up Baby. Yet what Doc? lacks, not to mention stars as great as Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (substituting them with Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand is like asking Bret Easton Ellis to rewrite Absalom! Absalom!), is a historical sense. The silly gamboling of the rich had much more of a place in a Depression-mired 1938, just as Hepburn’s dangerous, since reckless, sexuality had more of a place as a threat to the (to shift decade-jargon) unliberated Grant. Instead of ending with Hepburn dangling from Grant in a desperate love-clutch, a pile of prehistoric bones jumbled beneath them, Ryan can only end by debunking his earlier tear-jerker Love Story, thereby denigrating his own work and the people manipulated by it.
            Jonathan Demme attempts to do the screwball comedy genre right with Something Wild. All the usual markers are in place, even if the place is transposed to a very hip 1980s Lower Manhattan.  Charlie, a straight-as-an-arrow businessman, still gets bored with his life, and for a bit of a thrill, runs out on his lunch bills every now and then. We see him at a now, his eyes darting about the coffee shop filled with exotics. He’s out the door but a few steps when a woman stops him. She’s dressed in hip black, covered with multicolored necklaces and bracelets, topped with a Louise Brooks-do. After some gibing, it turns out she simply saw through his little game. She offers him a ride, and his initial attraction gets the best of him.  Before he knows it, they’re in the Holland Tunnel, Jersey bound.
            Charlie, uncomfortably, goes along with the game, particularly after Lulu slops a messy kiss on him; it’s as if her character, along with her lipstick, sticks to Charlie. Of all things, he plunks down his Christmas Club funds for a motel room, where Lulu continues to surprise, handcuffing him to the bed and ripping off his shirt, then hers. All of Charlie’s world disappears, his world of work and plans and preparation. Before sex, Lulu pours out the contents of her voluminous bag: a robot-shaped cassette deck playing reggae music, a witch doctor rattle she shakes over him while forcing a little, “Woo-oo.” She does call up something, a wildness their games cannot touch, for they are privileged to have games: Charlie really can duck out of the office on motel room at a moment’s notice, not that he ever has before.
            Meanwhile, the film is filled with people who have little room to act.  In almost every other scene we see African-Americans, not just an oddity because of Hollywood’s generally white casting. Instead, Demme goes out of his way to make us confront a culture the characters in the movie seem ignorant of. The film also moves to black music; the soundtrack is dominated with songs by Jimmy Cliff, Celia Cruz, UB40; Charlie stops at a gas station where a group of blacks perform an impromptu rap, bouncing about spider-like; and the film ends with Sister Carol, playing the waitress Charlie originally dashed from in the opening (it’s her bill he cannot pay), singing her own version of “Wild Thing” next to the credits. The end suggests that no matter how grungy the Troggs may have been, black music will finally reclaim itself--rock will escape not just the Pat Boones and Julee Cruises, but also the Elvis Presleys.
            The end also suggests that music may be the only escape for the under-privileged. They don’t have the luxury a Lulu or Charlie (or a Grant or Hepburn) has, for just surviving is enough of a worry. Demme lets Something Wild show the shoulders a screwball comedy must stand on.
            Many viewers complain about the film’s severe swing from lighthearted comedy to suddenly serious revenge-play, complete with very graphic and gruesome violence. Yet the movie has no choice. Its interest is to have the screwball genre while debunking it, to devour from within. While the characters never consciously associate the world they dominate to the suffering they cause, they do learn the danger of game-playing, of the great freedoms they possess. Things take a dark turn with the introduction of Ray at Lulu’s (now Audrey--and peroxide blonde and sweet after a visit with her mom) high school reunion. Ray, too, has a role--he’s a rebel with a cause, a smalltime hood fed on dreams of one big score, of the one girl with a slightly black heart who will love you just the same, maybe all the more. We discover Ray and Audrey are married.
            Ray does more than slip out on a bill, he knocks over a convenience store with Charlie and Audrey in tow. But first he talks Charlie into giving a speech to the store’s video protection system; it’s Charlie’s play-acting image (he’s mid-sentence about his recent promotion) that Ray shoots out when he fires into the screen Charlie plays to. It’s the first sign the performing we all do might be dangerous: Ray’s act does Charlie’s in; Ray even gets to cap the hold-up in high hood style, with Demme’s help--he grabs the pack of cigarettes he initially asked for from the counter and gracefully flips them in the air, a move Demme slows down and thereby turns to pure style.
            Charlie and Ray finally have it out in Charlie’s home in suburban Long Island. The climactic battle occurs in the bathroom--stunningly white--a veritable temple to colorlessness, the void, particularly in light of what bathrooms are for. A busted pipe sprays, the two white men battle on a white floor between white walls, the fluorescent lighting brightening their t-shirts to a glow. It’s ugly violence--something entirely separate from acting, from the complementary illusions both have chased--steel-toed boots and handcuffs as garrotes. Finally, Ray’s knife flashes, the two share some embrace, lifting up as if eager to leave the ground, the knife drops. Both seem dead, the only sound the knife clattering on the tile. Ray walks over, stares into the mirror, runs a bloody hand through his hair--it’s not what he should see. The image, the game, has gone wrong.
            It’s the danger of letting play become more, become life, and necessarily death. He dies in a moment of cool--he might be Belmondo in Breathless--but he’s just as dead. He’s learned what it’s like to have only life and death choices, which sounds dramatic, but isn’t if you’re hungry, or homeless, or unemployed.
            It’s telling how in a film filled with cameos by the famous, Demme wisely chooses their roles. John Waters, king of sleazo movies, plays a used car salesman; John Sayles, king of moral, problem pictures, plays a motorcycle cop. Then there’s also Steve Scales, a percussionist most famous for his work with Talking Heads. Scales works at a highway rest area’s gift shop. Scales is black, and busy at his minimum wage work, selling Charlie tons of “Virginia Is For Lovers” goods and telling him how wonderful it all looks on him. It’s the longest cameo--Demme’s way of balancing the scales (no pun intended)--but it’s also the most menial, a perfect emblem for the screwball comedy world. It’s a genre that disregards any race but the white, for it disregards anyone without money, anyone without freedom to pretend.
            The high school reunion slyly reinforces the point. The theme is “Spirit of ‘76,” and the bunting is appropriately red, white, and blue. The tacky band is played by the Feelies, looking as bored and as uncomfortable as they do when performing as themselves. They play only covers, the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and David Bowie’s “Fame,” which is fitting in this film of trying on others’ roles. These songs say volumes about the Spirit of ‘76, the spirit of America that insists any person can do anything; that any actor can become the president if he has enough self-impetus. It’s the hopeful spirit that damns America from ever becoming truly equal. The Monkees, created from nothing, were tv darlings made stars by our desire for stars; like rock and roll Tinkerbells, they grew on applause. By becoming what they had to they proved exactly how easy role-playing is, and how we must be careful not to take our roles too seriously. The same is true for Bowie, who has developed so many Bowies to be that he only has to change his clothes and hair--from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke--and he’s new again. Fame, and any form of personality, is something willed, as it were. For those with room to be willful.
            Up to this essay I’ve remained critical of Demme’s ending, in which, after much running about, Charlie finally runs into Audrey again, and the world seems righted. But now I feel differently, because of that huge seems. Leaving the theater, I don’t remember their reunion, can’t even recall if we last see them kiss. But I do remember Sister Carol, full of life and what they’ve left behind. They’ve still ignored her world; Audrey even has a classic car, gotten from who knows where, to drive off in.
            Then there’s Ray, the casualty of the film for he plays the wrong role. In the 1930s he’d merely be Ralph Bellamy, and only lose the girl, usually gracefully, sometimes pathetically. In the 1980s the genre has to show more, has to tell on itself.  Where else could we last see him, but at the mirror, attending to his own show, puzzled beyond words, running the blood on his hand up through his hair, staring and waiting, waiting for a change.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fun Funding the Foodbank

Alas, we’re in an age when it seems we need to donate to everything, as so much seems at risk — women’s rights, the air we breathe, the arts, bear cubs in their den … So it’s great to see that the Foodbank continues a wonderful way to raise some funds with the Fork & Cork Classic, celebrating what’s good to eat and drink in Santa Barbara. This year’s event happens Sunday, May 7, at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Easter Poem

Sirecz Song

In my mind there was a “d” in it
but that might be because it
dangled just like that
from a dowel stick as its whey
dripped dry.

Easter might have meant
resurrection, but in the basement
it was about farmer’s cheese,
part of the Sunday feast after
a fasting since Friday.

My mom would hang it there
and tell me to keep away,
but still I’d never
resist a poke or two
at its settling goo.

Something about Slovaks
always takes the delicious
and dials it down,
as if there’s danger
in that much pleasure.

So imagine milky scrambled eggs
hung to dry. That’s sirecz,
looking like a bland brain
sliced for Easter autopsy.

I’d risk trying to stomach
it again to have my mom
and Baba back, full knowing
the first thing they’d do
is chastise me for the faces
I’d make trying to get it down.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Barbareño Hires New Head Chef Justin Snyder

Chef Justin Snyder’s very tatted arms delicately place down a black bowl with what looks like an exquisite sea creature. But it’s not from the sea at all; it’s a mound of Wagyu tri-tip tartare, with translucent crisps of crostini set in it like fins, sprinkled with delicate sorrel and red mustard greens. His secret, very local ingredient is Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. That, along with his house-made Sriracha sauce, gives the dish length and lift, so the deep beef deliciousness lingers as long as a classic cabernet. “Santa Barbara has such a rich history of food. It’s waiting to boom; it’s going to pop,” he exclaims. “Here I get to have fun and open up my creativity.”

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sip This: Lustau Vermut

Just introduced from Spain to U.S. markets, this isn’t your father’s red vermouth. Those usually begin with a base of neutral grape wine. This product, coming from a longtime winemaking family in the Jerez region, begins with sherry: both an Amontillado (drier) and a Pedro Ximénez (sweeter). That creates a vermut that’s as deep in flavor as it is fun to say. 

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Wide Wide World of Pinot and More

(photo credit: Jeremy Ball)

There's no such thing as a World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara without the two gentlemen in the photo above, so let's start with them, which is pretty much what I did Friday at WOPN since there they were as I entered the ballroom at the Bacara. How can you not want to visit Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini from Hitching Post? Yeah, Yeah, movie, blah blah blah. We're talking guys who make killer juice and seem to enjoy it more than practically anyone and therefore you better too. They were kindly pairing up 2007s and 2014s of Julia's, Highliner, and Bien Nacido, and what we quickly learned was SB pinot does age well (we learned this again when Rick Longoria poured his 2013 and 2008 Fe Ciega).

OK, so the danger with any review of a WOPN weekend is diving so quickly into the details you forget the broad strokes, plus, simply put, so much great wine! I'm not going to write about every luscious swirl and sip, and frankly I admitted early on Friday in my notes "you're going to run out of adjectives for lovely, George," and late on Friday I wrote, after inhaling deep on a Brewer-Clifton 2008 Sta. Rita Hills, "I want to smell like this--everyone would love me!" That was Friday. I was back Saturday too, and at that point was reduced to pleasured grunting, practically.

One important thing to stress first: if you didn't realize it, we live in a golden age of pinot noir. First, cause people know what they're doing with it now, even in California where we've only had decades and not centuries like those lucky French to practice. But you can even get fascinating stuff from Spain (try Alta Pavina) or Austria (Weingut Wieninger). Second, because the world is one big market until someone messes that up (no tariffs, please). Third, who knows where our climate goes in a world where the EPA is run by someone who doesn't believe in the EPA? (I'm looking forward to that first atheist pope.)
 This year's WOPN was also a stunning showcase for what people are doing with the fruit from Gap's Crown on the Sonoma Coast. Expression, Guarachi, Lutum, Ram's Gate, Black Kite, Saxon Brown--the brilliant wines just kept coming from this spot that hits some magic warm enough yet sea-breeze-cooled calculus. It's never really cheap but it's always luscious.

Then there's these lessons, too--perhaps we're supposed to be looking at chardonnay from Santa Barbara anyway. The folks who were semi-sneaking pours of it delighted (well, Sonoma's Hirsch did too), and part of that was just the break from more cherry and berry; think of the chard as palate cleanser, if better than any sorbet. But winemaker Matt Dees from The Hilt insisted, "The chardonnay is so much better," and he could be right. 

Or it could be all the wine is better in so many fine hands, from old-timers like Lane Tanner, pouring a 1991 Lane Tanner pinot that still held some fruit and fascinating graphite, to Square Peg, dryfarming pinot in Sonoma in the middle of a zinfandel vineyard. Because then there's even something like Dolin's non-WOPN pour, The Blue Note, a Bordeaux blend...from the hills above Malibu. Like I said, it's a wonderful, unbelievable world.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In the Kitchen with Laurie Zalk

Laurie Zalk, the former longtime owner of Our Daily Bread and a brave, brave soul, has her work cut out for her. She’s leading a group of six middle-aged guys in an afternoon she’s billed Men Only: There’s Nothing to Eat in the Fridge.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ernest's The Artist Pinot Noir

From a very young vineyard (planted in 2012) in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, this pinot noir is surprisingly evolved and sophisticated — not hinting at any immaturity. Lovely and fetching, it leads with floral notes of dusty rose echoed in the body along with dried cherry/cranberry fruit. Aging it in 40 percent new French oak for 10 months adds more to the silky texture than the flavor. Pop it with something such as salmon with green harissa and you’ll have a fine evening.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pinot, Pi-yes!

Not one for alternative truths from the get go (I just called it BS in those simpler days),  I have to admit I bridle a bit at anything billing itself The World of anything. It's a big place, you know, the world. Pretty hard to encompass. Mighty ambitious of you.

But then there's the World of Pinot Noir, about to hold its 17th annual event at Bacara Resort & Spa March 3 and 4. It might not capture the whole world - there's probably some pinot growing in Slovenia or some place that doesn't make it past Ptuj - but it also gives you a chance to taste more of the world of pinot than you can get in a couple short days. Especially if you're fond of California pinot noir, as that tends to be the majority of pours. (Not to say I haven't had fine ones at previous iteration of the event from places as odd as the Finger Lakes, NY or Austria.)

And while the photo I led with is from one of the seminars a couple of years back, I want to spend this post discussing how best to navigate the two major tastings as opposed to attending the special events, which I'll get to next week. After all, I figure someone with a budding interest and more than a budding wallet (you sort of need one in full bloom, as tasting tickets start at $85), would want to taste up more than sit and learn. But at 100 wineries a day with 2-4 wines open each, you have to be selective or else you'll end up discovering a word 100x stronger than regret.

Decision 1: wide or deep?

Sure, you can just stumble around from table to table without a plan, and you will still have wonderful wines - it's pinot noir, after all. Or, you can opt for a theme. It's probably easiest to focus, to go with a region - hunt out only the Mendocino/Anderson Valley producers, since you like rose-leaning pinot, say - or if you're from Santa Barbara, stick close to home. (Even though you might choose to specialize and taste only Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley.) Or maybe do only the roses, as producers at this event often bring their roses of pinot noir as spring is just around the corner, if that corner is wetter than it's been in years. Luckily the WOPN website let's you sort wineries by location, so you can be all set.

Or, go deep, and try some comparison shopping - perhaps a Sta. Rita Hills vs. Santa Maria Valley taste-off. Some wineries can help by having wines from both locations, even.

Decision 2: what you know or what you don't?

It's also good to decide how adventurous you feel. There's nothing wrong that visiting all your old favorites for on Friday, for instance, that could mean Alma Rosa, Brewer Clifton, Dragonette, and that's just the ABCD and we haven't got into SLO County, even. Or, you could only drink wines you've never drunk before, and you will be able to do that, too. Remember, 100 producers a day.

Part of me wanted to make recs, but there are too many good winemakers at this event. Just enjoy! And be sure to eat some food and drink water, too. Hydration today will be less headache tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Club at UCSB Suits the Times

The Club doesn’t serve a club sandwich ​— ​the atavistic, multi-bread-layered favorite of our forefathers ​— ​and that’s a huge hint about what’s up at UCSB’s recently renovated on-campus restaurant/hotel/conference facility.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wine + Food = Two Times Good

What's in a name? Well, if it's both wine and food, that's twice as good, no?

That's what the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum figured, so to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest running feast in Santa Barbara County it officially changed the name of the Santa Barbara Wine Festival to the Santa Barbara Food + Wine Festival.

In the photo above you see Meredith Moore, the extraordinary organizer of this fete, showing off the new logo. The name isn't just branding bluster but the lord's honest truth, for no wine festival has as much or as good food as this one, which makes sense since SB has so much fine food to offer. But Moore has always also worked to get food booths close to wines that could suggest spot-on pairings, and her hope for the 2017 edition is to have a food vendor alongside each winery, 50 for 50.That's a perfect score in more ways than one.

Here's some history of my coverage of the Festival in past years, when you had to suffer with only 20 or 30 food booths (of course, you might have got on the line at Chef Michael Hutchings or Renaud's or Ca Dario more than once, but I won't tell).

Away from State Street for Solstice

A Festival from the Winery's Perspective

Under the Oaks

A Museum-Quality Wine Festival

And, in a moment of prescience, we gave the festival a Santa Barbara Independent Foodie Award back in 2012.

So you might want to take advantage of the deal they've got cooking right now:
Member Price: $75, Non-member Price: $100
*LIMITED TIME OFFER* Use promo code "wineandfood" to receive Member pricing on general admission. Hurry – this offer expires on Sunday, 1/29/17, at 10:00 PM! Tickets on sale here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sip This: Dulce Vida Grapefruit

Flavored tequila might seem a superfluous notion, like gilding a lily or bronzing an orchid. But if you don’t have the time to pour and shake, there’s Dulce Vida. (They’ve got a lime version in addition to the grapefruit.) They infuse with real flavors, so you definitely get your Paloma on as soon as you open the bottle. Just pour over ice, and add club soda depending on how many you will consume.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marco Fossati Finds Focus at Four Seasons The Biltmore

Talking with Marco Fossati — executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore since May — is a thrill, as he tosses out ideas, words, and even his hands in a wonderful expression of creativity and passion. That energy is already transforming what’s happening with the food at the hotel, as he leads his team of 82 cooks and seven chefs so that room-service breakfast is as fabulous as the most spectacular wedding feast.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Sip This: d'Aristi Xtabentun

If you want something unusual, exotic, sweet, and lovely, this liqueur is worth your attention. Its history goes back to the Mayans, and then the Spaniards whipped a bit of anisette into the mix, a rare time that imperialists actually added something of value. That flavor base gets mixed with rum, and the result is Xtabentún (pronounced shtab-en-TOON, or just point at the elaborately decorated yellow label).

If you want to read the rest do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sip This: Ciù Ciù Bacchus Piceno

Explore outside the better-known regions of Italy and you can find some pleasing values, such as this red blend from Marche (on the Adriatic Coast) made of 50 percent sangiovese and 50 percent montepulciano — that’s the grape, not the village in Tuscany, which makes a red wine from sangio, actually. It does get confusing.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

You Need a Visit to Loquita

Smoke. A scent, a flavor, a memory. Something calling us home to a home we never had (I'm assuming I have no cave-dwelling readers). Or, perhaps we've evolved into homo ignis in a hope to return to the fire (plus of late it's been really hard to buy we've earned the sapiens, but that's a different kettle of Trump).

Take that first paragraph as a slow burn to the topic of this post--Loquita, the latest restaurant opened by Acme Hospitality, who have already graced Santa Barbara with the likes of The Lark, Les Marchands, Lucky Penny, and Helena Avenue Bakery (surely sad its name also doesn't begin with a "L"). When you walk in you can't not sense the wood-fire that's the heart of the open kitchen, waiting to make your dinner smokily luscious. And we're not talking a pizza oven, but an out-and-out grill, early in the evening's service crammed with halved lemons, their citrus crisping.

For Loquita, taking its cuisine cues from Spain, does things simply, but that word can seem so diminishing. Here it means get to delicious with the fewest amount of flourishes. Much of that is topnotch ingredients--Spain was farm-to-table before we invented hyphens. But it's also not being afraid of flavor; acids are everywhere, bright and beautiful, coming from those grilled lemons, from sherry vinegar, from the salted, preserved sea (ah, white anchovy, bait turned delicacy).

As an eating strategy you're meant to share, so pick several pintxos with your cocktails--and do have cocktails, from the currently in fashion Spanish G&Ts, which means craft gin and celery bitters and peppercorns in one option, say, to the mixed drinks, like one rooted in mezcal (more smoke) and amaro--and then a bunch of tapas, and close with a shared paella. Bring lots of friends, as it's supposed to be social, shared food a currency, a language, a love we can then all have on our tongues. (I don't mean to wax poetic, but those cocktails....)

Don't skip something like a salad, especially as it goes by Hinojo, and that means fennel. Someone plays a mean mandolin in the kitchen, it's shaved so fine, as is apple, so much crunch and vivid flavor. But there's more, if only a bit--radicchio for yet more bite, this shading to pepper. Then some walnuts, not so much candied as once neighbors to something candied--it's hard to believe they could be sweetened so delicately. The dressing is a quick coat of honey mustard vin, all written very lower case, and think how hard that is as you remember every other heavy-handed honey mustard dressing of your life. The last perfect touch, Manchego, Spain's national cheese (if it isn't officially I'm naming it that), but in little blocks, distinctly declaring their fatty cheesiness amidst the rest of the pure, insisting, "Sure, this is a salad, that's healthy, but c'mon! you're out to dinner!"

And please, for the sake of all that's holy and swims in the sea, don't skip Pescado. This is one of the best fish dishes I've had in years, and if you thought the salad was simple.... Mediterranean sea bream, aka dorade, is the star, a perfect filet with crispy skin and all of the ocean in each tasty bite. But under that there are also excellently executed gigante beans, skins solid, interiors creamy. Atop some frisee,  not just the visual curlicue the plate needs but again that pepper and zip, the latter echoed in the lemon no doubt squeezed from more of those wood-roasted fruit. Get a bit of everything in one bite and you might be in Barcelona. (Oh, I haven't meant to ignore the great remodel of the space Loquita's in--I said it was an Acme project, so you know it's going to be designed elegantly. Try to get a seat at the "chef's table" bar right along the kitchen, so you can watch everything else you won't be able to eat get prepared, too.)

I don't mean to pooh-pooh the paella, which was lovely, especially the lowest rice level done to delicious diamonds (ok, eating diamonds would hurt, but you know what I mean). But Pescado! I dream of Pescado! Even with the paella, the vegetarian paella--that's how tough we were on the kitchen, not letting them easily please us with meat or mariscos--a roasted delight, thanks to the wild mushrooms, the Brussel sprouts (what better use of them than on something blasted by an oven for heat), the eggplant melting into unctuous ghosts of itself--I still want to swim with Pescado.

And that didn't stop us from churros, because what do you take us for, penitents?