Monday, August 26, 2019

The World Is Sadly Less Sly

(photo: Paul Wellman)

Chef James Sly passed away Friday night and the world is less delicious and less sweet. I wrote a very quick note for the Independent, but I could just keep writing, and in some way I already have, as I will get to.

In the meantime I need to share a story from Michael Graham, co-owner of C'est Cheese, which I got too late (thanks email!) to include in my Indy article: "When we were in the throes of construction on our expansion, we were having dinner at Sly’s and complaining about how difficult it was and how we had no money left. A few days later he and Annie show up in the middle of our Saturday morning rush and James calls me over. He calmly hands me this huge wad of cash and in a super casual voice says 'I’d like to purchase a $10,000 gift card please.' It truly really saved us. I loaded a card up for him and he (very) slowly used it to make purchases for Sly's for the next several years."

Here's the article I wrote about Sly's a year in that gives some of his background, too.

And Sly was the coordinating chef for the annual Central Coast Wine Classic's fabulous dinner at Hearst Castle for over 30 years. I had the delightful opportunity to volunteer for a bunch of those years, and wrote about the magical, Brigadoon-ish appearing and disappearing kitchen back in 2009.

Then, one micro look. The fried wonder that was Sly's half-and-half of onion rings and home fries.

You will be so very missed, Chef.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 10)

I'm starting with this photo as you are both no doubt astounded and a bit stone petrified by now that I've not continued the blog posts on our trip. In the meantime, welcome to Regensburg. (We are still in Germany. On the Viking Tir. Just in case you forgot.)

Water under the Bridge

There's more and more water under the bridge, so instead of just spending the morning in Regensburg, the crew decides we will spend the whole day, hoping things lower and we will fit under the bridges ahead on the Main-Danube Canal. So while the view out our cabin from our bed towards shore looks like this

the river looks likes this

Not actually a problem for us, as we're on a ship so we won't flood, but a problem if we want to keep going. To their credit, Viking does very little to scare you about anything. They know how to deal, as we shall see in a bit. But for Regensburg it's a bit scary as it's got a bunch of river action that's clear from this cool brass relief map.

We do the usual included shore walking tour but also opt for the variation with some extra info about the Jewish communities in the area over time, and we do mean time. The first synagogue in town was built in the 13th century and made it until 1519 after the death of Maximilian, who protected the Jews. Once he was gone, they were expelled from town and a Christian chapel was built on the site. Today, there's this memorial built on the floorplan of the synagogue.

While Jews were allowed back into Regensburg, and had an architecturally notable synagogue built again in 1912, that one was destroyed during Kristallnacht. And what followed during the Holocaust led us to see the first of the Stumbling Stones memorials, artist Gunter Demnig's simple but affecting mini-memorials to many lost during that horrible time. (Talk about timing--learn more about these stolpersteine in a LA Times editorial today.)

To think we can once again begin to demonize "the other" so it means nothing if our government kills them, and it's not even a 100 years ago.

Oh well, sorry to be a bummer on a vacation blog. Here are randy, wacky, Dali-inspired bodega signs, to show humans like life too.

And like to drink, even if some people ruin it for the others. I also think it's notable this sign is written in English, sort of as if they don't mean their message for fellow Germans.

Or just like their signs to be fancy for no other reason than pretty (and to get your attention, sure).

Regensburg was lucky to have avoided much WWII damage, so it remains one of Europe's best places to see medieval structures we haven't rebuilt every other century. Most famously there's Steinerne Brucke, a 1,000 foot long bridge over the Danube that got finished in 1146. You still walk on it, and even the swollen river doesn't hurt it.

The bridge might hurt this guy sitting on it on a painful point, though. I never quite got the full story of this statue, and this version of him has only been around since 1854, so he's a veritable youngin'.

If medieval isn't old enough for you, the area was originally founded by the Romans, and sure enough there are ruins from them, too, from about 179 AD.

So I guess people have been building walls for a long time. If you want at least a reference to something older than that, there's this terrific mural of David and Goliath.

This mural is particularly fun as you get a first glimpse of it heading up a block between buildings. And I love how Goliath casually leans his left arm on the one window. And that frog on the far right is a nice touch. Otherwise Regensburg seems to just pose for photos--I call this one Very German Buildings.

Yeah, sometimes they have a name, like the old town hall, which simply sings of political comment in German--the Altes Rathaus. Where else would the rats meet?

And then there's Baumburger Turm, one of the 20 remaining of what used to 60 palatial towers built to show off folks wealth in the 14th-15th centuries. Evidently the best way to appear wealthy was to pretend you lived in northern Italy. Still, a gorgeous survivor, you have to admit.

Meanwhile, some more charming streets and signs and clocks. They like their clocks, the Germans.

Of course there's a cathedral, too, Dom St Peter, some of which first started getting built in 1250. Years that sound more like AM radio stations freak me out a little bit. (And the millennials just said, "What's AM radio?") We don't go inside, but it imposes from the out, particularly where there is a Judensau (Jews' sow) statue in the form of a sow and three Jews hanging onto its teats; it faces in the direction of the former Jewish quarter. And people wonder how anti-Semitism gets codified. Sort of came ugly full circle there, didn't I.

A Moving Lunch

According to our original schedule, we should have been setting sail at noon for our next destination. Instead, we backed up and moved around a couple of peninsulas over, or at least that's how it looks on the very focused map I still have. Basically it means we're now on the far side of the land that's on the other side of Steinerne Brucke, so we have a good reason to cross it. And see the view, too.

And while we sail, we eat, because this is a cruise and there are rules. Did I mention there's a pasta station every day at lunch? In honor of the Roman gate, I have some of that freshly dished up rigatoni alla romana. And some other things, like a smoked salmon roll and a "Russian Salad," which is potato, pickles, peas, carrots, egg and a mayo dressing, with a radicchio leaf and a beet blob for some color, and fresh dill because, well, if you need to know why to use fresh dill, I can't help you.

That left room for the pear tart Bourdaloue. A bit French for this part of the world, but all delicious.

The Food between the Food

We did go back into town after lunch, wandering through some of the shopping areas, including a store I wanted to move to Santa Barbara called The Whisky Brothers (I'll give you three guesses what they sell and the first single malt doesn't count). We were good and didn't really buy anything.

But all that moving around got us a bit thirsty, and I'd been wanting to try some more of the local beer experience. Right on what was now our side of the bridge was Spitalgarten, almost awash with the rising river, but even more scenic than that. You have to walk a bit to get to it, so it almost seemed closed, but we pushed in to find a homey room filled with non-tourists. Gold!

Messing with their 800 years of tradition, I went for one of their newest brews, the Bio Roggen--both organic and rye malt, so a win win in my beer book. Alas, it's only in bottle, but still quite good for an easy-going drink.

Of course, drinking without a snack is a mistake, and we don't make those. Instead we ordered Catherin's, a board filled with goodness and pretzels and bread on the side (plus, see Chryss's dunkel).

That introduced us to the joys of obatzda. Think of a German take on pimento cheese with some beer thrown in, of course. And aren't you proud of me to get this far before making a spit joke? (It didn't take me anywhere that long in Regensburg.)

The Last Food (This Evening)

Dinner time! (Time has passed, promise.) One of the best things about a Viking Cruise is you don't get dinner seat assignments, so you can find your favorite folks along the way and then just hang. This might take some trial and error, like the mistake of sitting down with anyone who says, "I'm not from the U.S., I'm from Texas!" It got worse from there, but the good news is you can dramatically leave a table of bigots after dessert  and not ruin the entire evening.

But then we did have the great luck/honor to meet Carol and Steven, and did our best to have them dine with us most of the nights. They were doing the drink package I talked myself out of, where you pay a bunch up front and then just drink, even off the wine list. Which I hadn't looked at by this point, because why torture myself, or talk myself into buying something. But when Steven ordered his wine for the evening, I had to look. So how fitting was it to find this as the opener.

As toasts go, there are much worse. As friends to make on a cruise, Carol and Steven were none better. And we will hear more from them along the way....

Meanwhile, this evening's meal itself kicked off, for me, with a Bavarian forest salad (we are in Bavaria, if you didn't know), with plenty of mushrooms doing their delicious funky thing but not taking a very good photo. Still, a good, light way to kick off a meal (following a pre-meal of sausages and pretzels).

As usual I stuck with the regional specialties, and the main was a seared river perch getting to do a rustic take on surf-n-turf as the plate also featured creamy turnips (a great variation on just mashed potato, with its bit of taste tingle) and some glazed beets.

Chryss got to have the roasted vegetables and corn risotto special, which admittedly doesn't look too risotto-y, but it does look like something you want to dive into--the roasted corn and tomato and basil delivering on summer flavors surprisingly early, as it was a cold day out there in Regensburg.

And, indeed, dessert definitely had to warm us up--it's heisse liebe, which translates as "hot love." Simple and perfect, some vanilla ice cream gets coated in crunchy nougat, dimpled with a raspberry and served on a plate with warmed raspberry sauce. Donna Summer did go to Germany and work with Giorgio Moroder for her hits, no? (OK, that's "Hot Stuff," but close enough for me.)

Go back and read Day 9 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Go ahead and read Day 11 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 9)

Puttering about Passau

Today was our first day in Germany but the weather didn't recognize international borders. Our shore excursion is through drizzle+, depending upon the moment (Chryss above amidst flowers one of the rare breaks), and it turns out Passau is getting ready for flooding, so town crews are about installing the flood gates Danube-side. Here's Old Town Hall and some civil servant buzz.

Passau is actually where three rivers meet, with the Ilz across the way from where we docked and then the Inn running into the Danube and making Passau perfectly pointy in a Pittsburgh kind of way. The historic portion of town between the rivers is hilly, with narrow "streets" and lots of great views.

And slippery cobblestones in the damp, too. So there's lots of looking down when you want to look up. It's best to keep stopping and peek around, including around all the giant Viking-provided red umbrellas. (We are an easy to spot group.) The umbrellas do make for some challenging framing of appropriately gorgeous photos; here's the Domplatz (cathedral square), not looking as good as I want it to.

That said, it's an enchanting town, to say the least, from passageways like this one

to a roofline asking for a photo

to signs on a fenced in yard at one house like this one, that makes me want to hug a hunde.

While not getting interior tours, we do get to see into a few buildings like the Bishop's Residence, which proves once again how humble the religious were, and how seriously they took their vows of poverty. Totally men of the people.

Luckily some of the old gods fought back, and Bacchus was well-presented here (never deny the power of the god of wine).

Since Passau is castle-less (there's a fortress, but that seems like such a step down) we make up for that by actually getting to hear an organ recital in its major cathedral, St. Stephan's. It's a crazy Baroque god-fest of a church, having been rebuilt in the late 17th century after the old one burned down. Here's a glimpse of one spire between the streets.

The organ is arguably the world's largest cathedral organ at almost 18,000 pipes. To be accurate, it's five separate organs, all of which can be controlled from one console, but that's supposed to give it even more character, if only because they get to write things about one of them like, "Over the long nave in the attic in a separate organ chamber is the 'Fernwerk' (echo division); its sound floats through grates (the 'Holy Spirit hole') into the nave." If you ask me, Holy Spirit Hole sounds like the name for a dive bar for clergy.

Our domorganist, as he was billed, for the day was Ludwig Ruckdeshel, who took us through a three-piece 20 minute concert that got ever more challenging (aka Modern!), so some folks, despite having to pay to get in, left before he had the organ let loose its final internal organ-stirring blast. We got some Bach, a self-"penned" free improvisation, and then some Jean Langlais that sounds like this if you want to hear a different performance of it.

All that time in the church didn't keep the river from rising, especially on the town's other side along the Inn River. As an American, can you imagine a scene that looks like this?

No railing, no warning signs, no life buoys. Raging river easy to step into and wash you downstream. Do they even have lawyers in Germany? Maybe instead of lawyers everyone has decided to be an artist. I'm down with that. They even have an Art Alley, Höllgasse, where the town cuts breaks for artists to have studios. Hey, Santa Barbara, give Passau a call. The route is marked with luminescently painted cobblestones, so you can't get lost.

We get a few minuted to wander through on our way back to the Tir for lunch and our beguiled by this little guy, who has made the trip back to the States with us. The devil made us to do it.

A Sailor's Life for We

Again, while the idea of eating at any of the ridiculously attractive spots in town itches at us, it's just too hard to pass up what awaits us pre-paid on the boat. Here's a host of lunch items, and note how many greens there are. You've got to eat healthy if you do that much eating.

For instance, it's awfully hard to pass up dessert, which at home we rarely have even for dinner, but then for lunch it's an ice cream delight like this, doing a classic Germany choco-cherry combo for you.

We leave Passau a bit after 3--we did get back into town to walk off some of that lunch first-- but it seemed worth showing, once again, the joys of river travel, with views that top views that top views. Bye bye, Passau.

And so we don't get immediately to dinner, let's talk about what we drank that night. One of the better Viking rules is there's no corkage fee, so I'd been wanting to score some wine and have it with our dinner. In our post-lunch walkabout we found the terrific little shop Bachl Feinkost, which is sort of a bit of everything--cheese/charcuterie shop, wine shop, and wine bar. Seeing what were clearly locals enjoying themselves made me assume we'd found the right place and the owner was very helpful and spoke English, a plus for us with only our Stein-lessons of German to lean on. Most striking is the store seemed well-stocked with bargains. We chose an Austrian Manfred Gruber rosé that cost a mere 8.5 Euros. (Oh, the cabins all have little fridges, so keeping it cold was no problem.)

It turned out to be great for it's price, bright and refreshing, wild strawberry and key lime, and a mere 12% ABV. Lots of grip and great with dinner, even if I kicked mine off with something that could have used a heavier wine, rindfleischsuppe mit leberknodeln. Of course I just pointed.

If you've been reading along you know your knolden by now--that's dumpling--but this isn't just any, it's a liver dumpling. Now, that might sound nasty, but this was tempered well, just organy enough to make it clear you were a bit offal. That edge was soothed by the soup, a rich beef broth. This isn't a dish I eat much in the U.S.

My main went perfectly with the steely rosé, though, a quite rich maultaschen, aka German ravioli with goat cheese and spinach and some extra creamy sauce since it wouldn't be rich enough otherwise. I did not call it Baron Von....

For dessert I went back to that choco-cherry pairing, but in donauwelle this time. Googling about to see other versions of this pastry, it often looks a bit more homey than the version the Tir served up, but that's the cruising life for you. How elegantly each layer is arranged.

And then more dessert came, but that was sort of my fault. As you should know, this terrific trip was thanks to all the hard work Chryss put in to get her Ph.D.--it was Roger and Judy's graduation gift. It was clear the Tir crew liked to do little post-dinner celebrations, so I asked for one for Chryss and tonight was the night. Some sweet singing, some not so accurate spelling, but it was lovely all around.

Speaking of the fearless crew, here some of them are, but it doesn't highlight the dining room crew that got to know your likes and dislikes and would deliver dinner with a sweetly sung, "Bon appetit!"

Or include head bartender Harris, who of course I had to befriend as early in the cruise as possible. You spend a lot of time in the lounge on a small boat that sails most evenings. Sure, you sneak out to get some shots of one of the first of 68 locks that we'd elevator through on our way to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, back in the lounge, this is the evening Harris points out he realizes I care about beer in more than a guzzling manner and says, "Here's something we don't have on this ship." And he takes out this

We are due to have time in Bamberg, where Schlenkerla is brewed, in a few days, but to get to enjoy some early is a surprising treat. Such smoky depth. Which we totally, didn't have. Thanks, Harris.

Go back and read Day 8 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George 

Go ahead and read Day 10 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George