Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Review of Jo Ann Beard's "Festival Days"

There’s an honored and honorable tradition of writers writing to explain why they write, from George Orwell to Joan Didion to Annie Dillard. Jo Ann Beard, author of The Boys of My Youth and In Zanesville, joins that tradition with her elliptical, associative essay “Close,” that is found in her new powerful collection Festival Days. “Close,” which bumps amongst ducks, preparing for an academic talk, a poem by Dennis Nurske, also offers straight forward advice likes this: 

 “So in order to make art (literature) out of just that—human experiences and emotions—we have to find new and surprising ways to convey our insights. That means we have to have insights, which means we have to think, and that means we have to work to create art out of life, to bring something new to each sentence, a surprise for the reader. Not in a pyrotechnic way, but through intelligence, through our powers of imagination, and through the rigorous refusal to waste a reader’s time.”

You can read the rest of the review at the California Review of Books.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sta. Rita Hills--20 Years of Excellence and Elegance

The Sta. Rita Hills Alliance threw itself a heck of a party this past weekend, as it's been 20 years SRH has been an official AVA--my how time flies when you're making great wine. But even better, it's 50 years since Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict planted the vineyard that bears their names, and fittingly, that's where the Wine and Fire festivities began on Thursday night.

I'm going to get a bit highfalutin here, so hang on, please. There's something holy about that mossy Sanford & Benedict barn. After all, it's not that often you get to stand where something began and by standing there totally feel history in all its effort and magic. Look at that wind whipping the banner in the photo, bringing the Pacific in thanks to Santa Barbara's famous transverse mountain ranges. That it's all beauteous scenery is just sort of bonus, but still. It makes me think of the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, where a young and too-soon-dead Masaccio figured out perspective and then painted some stunning murals that kick-started the Renaissance. Michelangelo would stand in front of these master paintings for hours, tracking to crack the new code. And we sort of know what he ended up doing.

Well, Richard Sanford, fortunately still with us, is our Masaccio, and since several generations of filmmakers have stood in Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and made some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs California has ever tasted. Many of them were being poured at Thursday's event. Bryan Babcock (more on him in a bit) poured a Pinot from the AVA's first vintage, for instance. Twenty years meant its fruit had faded, of course it was a bit brickish, but the acid life made it clear what a wine it once was.

(And on a crucial side note, that's a cutout of Jim Clendenen, who's spirit infused the weekend. While his winery Au Bon Climat is in the Santa Maria Valley, as a force of nature, friend, teacher, there was no escaping his influence anywhere in the county, and yes, he did make S&B wines that are still sophisticated and delicious.)

Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini were both on hand, regaling the crowd with stories at the Hitching Post table, while taking us on a hop-scotching vertical journey through their S&B's, 2018, '16, '14, '01, 1999. As someone said, "Hey, we're drinking a wine from a different century." But it was all very much S&B, which in general features lip-smacking dark cherry to blackberry fruit, but then something special--a saline hint of that marine influence, some coastal herbal notes (no, not the recent coastal herb crop...), some floral notes. Always complex. An S&B Pinot, for me, is like when you meet someone you find intriguing and they only get more lovely the more you get to know them. 

Again, the oldest vintages were interesting to taste as how often do you get that chance?, but I'd still argue the sweet spot for the wines was eight or nine years, as that HP 2014 and Richard Longoria's 2013 were simply singing arias of Pinot magnificence that night. And it wasn't just the "old" masters of SB winemaking that knocked it out of the park--we also delighted in the very first Dragonette S&B Pinot 2019, a wee but big baby that's worth waiting out, the delicious, light on its feet Liquid Farm S&B Pinot 2018, and two wines from Tyler, who poured both S&B Pinot and a supremely elegant S&B Chardonnay.

And Full of Life Flatbreads kept is happily munching away as we sipped, with their usually fine flatbreads, but also some killer summer-in-a-cup gazpacho and corn served as "ribs." They take a bandsaw to the cobs and then roast them in the pizza oven, serving them slathered with a garlicky aoli. 

Friday we got to attend the sold-out Dinner Honoring the Pioneers of the SRH La Paulee, held at the Alma Rosa Winery. What a group of honorees that was--Wes Hagen was emcee, and he led a pre-dinner panel of  Bryan Babcock of Babcock Winery, Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines,  Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars, Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines, Bruce McGuire of Lafond Winery, Frank Ostini of Hitching Post, and Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa. Everyone reminisced abut Jim Clendenen to start, an emotional, but still often humorous beginning, for as Hagen said after, "We didn't hold a moment of silence because Jim would have hated that." Instead, Joseph recalled his kindness letting her make her second and third vintages at his production facility for free, Sanford charmingly called him a "rascal," and Ostini summed it up by saying, "He always offered us a challenge...Jim was as important as any winemaker in California."

The panel also concluded with the naming of the 2021 Vintner of the Year, Bryan Babcock. Presenting the award, Hagen recalled decades ago when Babcock pulled him aside and said, in contradiction to some press at the time, "This isn't the west side of the Santa Ynez Valley, it's the Santa Rita Hills." And certainly the evening was a proof of that.

For, as you might know, a La Paulee dinner has its roots in Burgundy as a harvest celebration. The feast featured winemakers bringing their best wine both to impress and to say thank you to their crucial community. Things began with lots of sparkling from Flying Goat, Kessler-Haak, Pali, Sanford, and Spear, with Aaron Walker's Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir a definite highlight (plus, I got at least this picture!).

Then throughout the meal it sort of came down to what winemakers were sitting nearby as to what wines you got to enjoy. Luckily, we were next to Greg Brewer who shared a wealth of big bottle brilliance, from a 2011 S-D Chardonnay to a 2009 Ampelos Vineyard Pinot. Again, Brewer's wines proved a decade is a sweet spot for SRH wines, so if you have some stashed, drink up. (If you didn't hang on to any, that makes plenty of sense, too.) The honorees/pioneers were pretty good about making the rounds, too, so you got a sip of Babcock, a splash of Longoria, a taste of Fiddlehead, plus Kathy Joseph's story about how she beat rock promoters to the word Lollapalooza. Plus, many fun folks to dine with. (Side note: Wine Alliance, make it clearer you want guests to bring wine too, or drop that maybe they should. And no, I'm not just whining because I did bring a bottle and most other guests didn't.....)

And, of course, there was food, plenty of it, courtesy of the team from the Alisal Ranch led by chef Anthony Endy. Buffet feeding is always a bit tricky, but they pulled it off with aplomb and a lot of red oak--it was a true, classic Santa Maria style feast. But that said, it's always hard to compete with all the wine buzz at an event like this.

At that point I was celebrated out, but there were more events--focused tastings on aging wines, sparkling, and a grand tasting on Saturday at La Purisima Mission. It's been an amazing 20 years for this AVA, and one can only look forward to the next 200. To leave you with one last Sanford & Benedict image, here's a view out the barn itself, with all apologies to John Ford's The Searchers for the framing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Review of Marc Ribot's "Unstrung"


Brilliant guitarist that not enough people know by name Marc Ribot has written his first book, Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist, and all those scary words in the title are meant to warn you. Not very many pages in, while eulogizing Derek Bailey (yet another level of obscure guitarist deep), Ribot writes: “The palpable fear of beginning from, of returning to…silence/nothing…is an expression of the fear that the sounds you make won’t compare favorably with the silence which preceded/follows it. This in turn represents a deeper fear. In music, too, silence may equal death. The suspicion that both are preferable, and all this implies, is among the oldest of terrors.”

You can read the rest of the review at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Presidio Neighborhood Welcomes Alessia Patisserie

Alessia Patisserie + Café has such a musical ring to it that it’s surprising the name wasn’t the first thing that popped into Alessia Guehr’s mind before opening her jewel box of a spot on East Canon Perdido. But given that her parents, Brigitte Guehr and Norbert Schulz, are Santa Barbara food scene veterans — arguably, the creators of it — who both owned restaurants named after themselves, Alessia eventually realized, “I should keep up the family tradition.” 

 And that she does, not just in name. Guehr’s team had to demo pretty much everything in what was briefly Miso Hungry to create this inviting urban space of hardwood floors, copper banquettes, and a pastry display that demands damning the calories, as full devouring is ahead. “People eat first with their eyes,” Guehr explained, “so everything has to be beautiful.”

If you want to read the rest of this story, you can at the Independent.

(Photo of the duck confit sandwich mentioned later in the story)

Sunday, July 25, 2021

A Review of Cecilia Tichi's "Gilded Age Cocktails"


If you’ve ever wondered how historical nonfiction can be dry like a martini and not dry like a textbook tome, you need to pick up Cecelia Tichi’s Gilded Age Cocktails. A professor of American literature and culture at Vanderbilt (and the Commodore who founded that university even makes an appearance in the book, as both a figure and a cocktail), Tichi brings to glittering life what it meant to drink from 1870-1910. Chock full of quotes from primary sources of the day with titles like 1890’s Society as I Have Found It, Tichi makes clear how much lubrication kept this period of history afloat, prior to the double blow of a first World War and Prohibition.

You can read the rest of the review at California Review of Books.

Friday, July 16, 2021

A Review of Richard Buckner's "Cuttings from the Tangle"


Richard Buckner, songwriter, singer, can open a song with the lines “Tough is as she does, won’t you slump on over and stir my shuffle down,” and you don’t get too hung up on not parsing each word exactly. Part of it is this is a song, and while the melody is simple, it’s still catchy enough in its strummy guitar way to draw you in. Part of it is Buckner sells it with his emotive baritone that helps make the somewhat odd words feel lived in. You get the emotional weight of a relationship from these lines even if you don’t get the outlines of the actors.

Want to read the rest of this review, then do so at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review of Alice Waters' "We Are What We Eat"


In Charles Laughton’s fantastic 1955 fairy tale noir Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum’s curdled preacher is infamous for having “love” and “hate” tattooed across the knuckles of his hands (see Spike Lee and The Clash for just two echoes). As Mitchum puts it, these fingers are “always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t’other,” but luckily, it’s love that’s won. 

 Reading Alice Waters’ We Are What We Eat, it’s easy to imagine she’s a preacher for a food revolution with “fast” and “slow” tattooed across her knuckles. And alas, we don’t yet know who will win. But if Waters has the slightest say in it, the whole world will soon be eating slow.

Want to read the rest of the review then do so at the California Review of Books.

Friday, June 25, 2021

A Dees-licious Wine Dinner at The Lark


So I could simply say just read that menu and that would save both of us a whole lot of work--you can probably taste the yumminess just from that.

But I still want to write about how well a wine dinner can synch, for the one last night at The Lark (ok, actually held at sister property the SB Wine Collective, but created by The Lark team) featuring wines from the wondrous Matt Dees--namely Mail Road and Kimsey--danced like Rogers and Astaire, harmonized like the Temptations, even comically contrasted like Laurel and Hardy.

Let's start with dessert, shall we? See what wine paired with it? Now, when does a wine dinner end with rosé? But it totally worked, here, its copper color fitting in with the playful mix of balled melons, and the wine's acid cutting the sweet of the granita. Even the kick of the Aleppo pepper--and it was pretty kicky--turned the dish into something more (the borage flowers, so pretty and a bit tart, didn't hurt). Such a clever, refreshing course.

And refreshing might be the key word for Dees' approach to whites, too. That Mail Road Chardonnay illuminated the brilliance of the unique Mt. Carmel Vineyard, a site Dees clearly loves. (He likes his vineyards a bit harsh and unforgiving--remember he gets to work with Radian and Bentrock, too.) If you're looking for oak, this is the wrong wine for you--it's a pure expression of its fruit, with lime zest zing and then enough acid you could almost cut with it. 

Or cut a surprisingly rich dish like the opening halibut crudo, that I joked was halibut potato salad because of the grilled corn aioli that leaned a tad into its mayonnaise-ness, especially with the addition of some pickled green tomato. (I mean this is the most loving way.)  Still, that fish was rich and nearly unctuous. And then the perfectly fried avocado nuggets.... Chef Jason Paluska put together a dish cohesive and unusual all at once, and it set the tone for the rest of the delicious evening.

That's Dees explaining that when the block of marble comes in from the amazing vineyard sites he gets to play with, in this case Mt. Carmel in the Sta. Rita Hills and Kimsey in Ballard Canyon, you can either take a chisel to it and make it something else or take some sandpaper to it, and make it shine. One guess what he does.

Which he does no better than the Mail Road Pinot they poured last night. Here's how Antonio Galloni aptly put it: "A wine of structure and power…dark, sumptuous and enveloping on the palate…the 2015 possesses remarkable fruit intensity…Black cherry, plum, spice, leather and menthol…Don’t miss it." We didn't--and thanks to the staff for keeping refilling the glasses, too--very generous.

That powerful pinot was an on-the-nose match for the richness of the duck liver mousse, not quite as gamey as foie, but lavish and creamy, sort of like if meat and gelato had a baby that could live at room temp. This dish's accoutrements were equally brilliant bites, cashews roasted in duck fat so extra umami-ed, and Rainier cherries poached and plump. I might have said I would have spent the rest of my life at the Wine Collective if someone would keep bringing me boards of mousse and glasses of pinot. 

Yes, it's almost hard to see the lamb ribs in there, but that just attests to this dish being all about its strewn-composition, the smoke on the meat, the char on the eggplant and peppers, the juice of the pluot, the bite of the watercress. So much to take in, you just keep savoring bite after bite. And then there's the Kimsey Syrah, a bold wine, as it needed to be to stand up the fat and sweet lamb, but then it just cascaded with flavor, blackberry, a hint of anise, sage, black pepper, and more. 

Here are Chryss's two subs for the meaty things she doesn't eat. She says they were as good as they looked. And the couple of bites I snuck said the same.

The Lark is going to keep doing these winemaker dinners, and now that all of us vaccinated folks can sit inside next to each other and not die, they're going to be a lot of fun. The next one will be with Graham Tatomer.

And one tiny issue--why is "served to share" still a thing? I imagined COVID would have knocked that one out of the kitchen playbook, but even without the fear of cooties, it's often just awkward, especially with something like the mousse board. And our end of the table sat three people with dietary restrictions, all different (one gluten free, one pescatarian, one lactose intolerant), so they had to bring up a bunch of different dishes too. I get the largesse of it, and the sense we all dip into the communal plate and all that. But that's also not quite reason enough. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review of "Ladies Who Lunch: a satirical taste of L.A." by Josef Woodard


It’s 1990-something, and although fabulous Danielle Wiffard’s marriage is about to blow, fortunately for her (and this book’s readers), all of L.A.’s eligible bachelors, not to mention its ineligible but still very willing married men, are eager for a dalliance and maybe more. But not much more, for this is L.A., of course, and the surfaces tend to run surface deep. At least in the way they’re reflected in Josef Woodard’s biting but far from bitter debut novel Ladies Who Lunch: a satirical taste of L.A.

Care to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books site.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Introducing Pico’s John Wayne Formica

Think of Pico’s “Explore the Central Coast Winemaker Series” as Chef John Wayne Formica’s coming-out party. Formica officially became chef of the restaurant, which lives inside the Los Alamos General Store, on March 3, 2020, but then COVID cruelly crashed his party two weeks later. The restaurant, as he puts it, “bobbed and weaved” through the pandemic’s tiers and openings and closings over the next year — Zoom cooking classes for 70, takeout trials, and supporting the Feed the Valley project led by Bell’s down the road. But now, as the vaccines improve our outlook, Pico finally gets to shine under Formica’s vision.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site. (P.S. You will encounter the pork chop above in the story.)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Growing Up in Public


It’s 1981, a few months after U2 released their debut album Boy. Perhaps the editors at The News-Letter knew a good joke when they saw one, so they assigned a boy to review it. That’s how I, a freshman and not even 18 yet, got to pen a review that’s not quite as embarrassing as I feared it would be upon re-reading it 40 years later. “Since all members of this group are under 21, musical history could be rewritten if this act gets itself together,” I offered in a bet-hedging opening graph. 

Of course, there’s that old line about all criticism being a form of autobiography. The News-Letter was certainly a place where one could get oneself together, and I’m pretty sure the first time I crossed the Gatehouse’s drawbridge I was terrified the crocodiles of my own lack of confidence swam beneath. Everyone inside seemed so much older, wiser and wittier, so I’d drop off my Smith-Corona-typed copy and scamper back to Gildersleeve, convinced the whiff of clove cigarettes stuck to my clothes. (I could be confusing the cigarette smoke with the air in the Hut — yes, in the early 1980s people still smoked everywhere.)

Care to read the rest then do so at the magazine celebrating the 135th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter. I did not write there at its inception.... (It was cool to be part of this project!)

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Review of "Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught Between" by Eric Nusbaum


If there were any justice, the names Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop would be as well-remembered a baseball triumvirate as Tinker, Evers, and Chance. But if there were justice, there’d be no need for Eric Nusbaum’s wide-ranging, moving, and powerful history Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught Between. That first list of three names are the Mexican-American communities that existed in what we now know as Chávez Ravine, erased by history. Nusbaum’s book helps us see the vibrant life of those communities, done in at first by what was (arguably) a misguided desire to build public housing, but eventually became the golden real estate opportunity for Walter O’Malley to leave Brooklyn and bring Dodger baseball to the west coast.

Want to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Enchanted at El Encanto

When a chef shows up with a board he insists is "a little bit of where I'm from," you have to be happy to learn his story by tasting away. Such was the case this Saturday when we got to enjoy a delightful dinner at the re-opened Dining Room and Terrace at El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel. Executive Chef Bruno Lopez took over the top toque at the property in November of 2020, obviously not the most auspicious time to do so. So this late spring is sort of his coming out party, assuming the folks coming out have been vaccinated, of course.

That charcuterie board shown above isn't on the menu, but it does capture his soul, sense, and savory simplicity. The meaty star is Bayonne ham, and as a New Jersey born and bred boy, that doesn't led to instantly desirable connotations. Luckily, Chef Lopez's family has Basque roots, and that leads to Bayonne ham, tender and salty and delicious, if pleasingly not as fatty, as Jamon iberico. Keeping with the theme, the cheese is p'tit Basque, the semi-hard sheep's cheese that manages to tease you along with a creamy, salty, nutty flavor that never over-powers so you keep wanting that next bite for more.

The two hints Lopez could surprise, of all things, were accoutrements on the board--those raisins and that honey comb. The latter, which generally I might shy from, not a big fan of sweet with my cheese, was redolent of fennel, and walked a sweet-herbal line that really sang on the raisin bread. And then the raisins--they came as if someone managed to dry a cluster of grapes, a kind of memento mori of the promise of wine. Beautiful, it also elevated the raisins, as they weren't quite as dried as most. 

For our actual off-the-menu appetizer order, we got the spicy yellowfin tuna tartar. See above, on the black wide bowl that sits it off so well. Lopez likes draping edible flowers over dishes for effect, and it certainly works here, adding color palette to the flavor palate. The see-through thin taro root chips are great vehicles on which to devour this dish that ranges beyond a mere sushi-esque exercise, especially given the soy sauce vinaigrette also gets a surprising double-down of umami from some smoked truffle, and then the lime, daikon, and chilies do all the expanding flavor work you would expect. Clean tasty, and the fish remained the star.

For my main I thoroughly enjoyed the seemingly too-medium rare but someone knew better than I did Maple Farms duck breast. So crispy the rendered skin, so tender the meat. Served in a seriously amped up jus, the plating also delivered, with roasted figs, frisee bringing some crunch and bitter, especially in a perfectly simple vinaigrette. And then homemade Kennebec potato chips. I like chips.

Chryss had the kombu Portobello ramen--yep, a veggie ramen with what she joked was at least three whole portobellos (that's not counting the ones that made the intensely rich broth). It offered red cabbage, ramen noodles, scallions, sesame seeds, wakame, and a really warm bowl on a still slightly chilly April night on the Terrace. (There are heaters. And you can get a blanket if you need one, too.)

There's also one side on our table, the artichokes "southern France style," which evidently means a kind of fricassee with chopped up artichoke hearts, very tender, along with carrots and capers and lots of oil and probably a good shot of lemon juice. Better with the duck than the ramen, of course (sorry, Chryss).

We had no room for dessert, but wished we did have second stomachs to nibble at either Goleta lemon--lemon curd, pistachios, white chocolate, and yuzu mousse--or tres leches chocolate tacos, and all I ask is that you go back and read those four words again.

Is the wine list somewhat over-priced? Well, is this a luxury hotel?

But that's why you come here, for luxury, extravagance, and a simplicity of conception and execution only time and money provide. Plus, that Terrace--what a wonderful aerie above our town, making Santa Barbara (at least before things dry out through the summer) shimmer with green and then ocean blue as far as the eye can see. Our night the moon rose to our left as the sun set to our right. It was as if the whole solar system was willing to offer a show. Hard to beat that. Especially with a meal so satisfying.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review of "Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice, 1967-1975" by Richard Thompson


When my physical therapist saw the book I brought to PT, asked what I was reading, and looked totally nonplussed, I have to admit it hurt more than what he would soon do manipulating my balky shoulder. No matter how I tried to describe Richard Thompson to him—brilliant guitarist, musician’s musician, started in the 1960s with Fairport Convention, great run of albums with his then-wife Linda Thompson in the 1970s-early 1980s, witty raconteur during his live shows—it all rolled right off him. But my therapist’s reaction, alas, has been much of the world’s.

Want to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Whenever You're on My Mind


You never know what lurks outside the frame. That's what makes life lovely and Halloween. (Long digression that really shouldn't come as the second sentence of a quick essay: John Carpenter figured out in America we read screens left-to-right, just like we read books. So if you shoot a film widescreen, and always have your boogieman pop up from the right of the frame, he's there! already!! before the audience quite gets their eyes over there to see him. Extra scary. Not sure how the film plays in Israel, though.) 

So as I wait for my last C-90! Go! radio show to air tonight at 11 pm, and I can't even begin to explain how weird it is to do a radio show while I'm already asleep most weeks (it's pre-recorded, that's not some horribly self-mocking joke), I'm getting pre-nostalgic for my nostalgia. So, so, so many layers of past and memories and longing and singing along when I have hoped no one was listening. I've loved the Marshall Crenshaw album since it debuted in 1982 when I was all of 19 and Crenshaw a wizened 29; it particularly seemed so when I got to interview him  for WJHU, one of my first rock one-on-ones, in the gnarly dressing room at the old 930 Club in DC at one of his shows. I'm sure he thought, "Why am I talking to this child?" He never took off his shades.

But, of course, I figured my heroes shouldn't like me--if they did, how could they be heroic? Especially when his magic all seemed so simple--just perfect little pop tunes that seem a kind of rehash (he had played John Lennon in Beatlemania, he'd play Buddy Holly, his encyclopedic recall was part of his charm and skill). Of course, he flies in and out of verses and choruses in unorthodox ways, he leaves the lyrical cliches pristine so they almost regain their original meanings, and if he wants to, he can drop in a tasty guitar lick, if the few bars he allows himself could ever be considered solos. And on many of the albums, that's his brother on drums, how familial and charming is that (and it helps with the harmonies, too).

Still, here's this video from a concert in 2011, Almost 30 years after "There She Goes Again" was released, and it's already been ten more years since that. And who, of all people, suddenly appears from the left of the frame, and my guess is the person filming on their phone has no idea what they've captured, but it's Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo, another of my favorite musical artists for decades. It's easy to want to assume all the people we admire secretly hang out together, and if only we were cool enough for that club. But, hey, there they are!

And poor Ira, always appearing so mild-mannered, but as anyone who has seen YLT live knows, is just a feedback burst away from going gonzo, flinging his guitar about or jamming an elbow on an organ that needs some squelching. Here he is trying to fit notes into this tight little construction, and at best he flints off a spooky spark or two, just so you know he's there, so there's a reason he's on stage.

What a lovely discovery, this video. So much I appreciate and have appreciated in 2:51. It's almost enough to make you ignore the lie that's the title of Crenshaw's greatest hits CD--This Is Easy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

If I Were to Say to You, "Can You Keep a Secret?"

 So it's almost time for me to cash in on an old half-joke of mine: for my 60th birthday I want a horn section, for my 70th a string section. (Never got further in the time line than that, but perhaps for my 80th, a single bugler playing "Taps"?) That's not to say even young me didn't get suckered in by the strength of strings, for there's this, ABC's debut album Lexicon of Love, which, in 1982, when I was all of 19, delineated how perfectly ridiculous and profound coexist. At that point I'd teen love-and-lost a couple of times, but those heartbreaks are the most stinging because you can't imagine anyone has ever felt as raw as you have, as even you haven't yet. And strings, dammit, they make that hurt so gorgeous.

How lovely is it, then, for much much older me to find this 2017 live version of the band, with a Martin Fry five years older than me (that's all?), still tuxedo-clad and immeasurably sad, leading the band in front of a whole orchestra. As the swell builds, there are so many versions of me to cry for. I'm sort of pleased this particular video never zooms in for a close up--it might be too much. Or even more, the too much is the wide shot, the panorama, the whole world winging its strings for you. (And who wouldn't want that?)

Speaking of want, I never got to see ABC live myself. Despite having not only tickets, but the opportunity to interview Fry himself as a novice radio DJ before a show in DC in 1982, it didn't happen. Fry was sick, it was the last gig of the US tour, the show was cancelled. And my love was unrequited. How perfect is that? If that's the trash aesthetic I suggest that we forget it....

Which, of course, gets me to the fourth to last C-90! Go! radio show on KCSB in March of 2021. I'm an old fuck now. I'm more deeply in love than I ever could have imagined at 19 (well, let's sure as hell hope so, no?). But I feel all the ages of my aches when the simple, stupid, lovely, so much of everything songs on a mixtape like 1990s' "Only the Lorn-ly" play. And especially when the strings come in.

You can listen to the show on Spinitron for two weeks from the post.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Well, I'm a Just a Pretty Thing that You Wanted for a Day*



 OK, not food, at least the down the gullet kind. But perhaps food that hits the gut, if you're as old as Pops Yatch. That's been my alter-ego on KCSB for the latest round of radio for me, doing a show called "C-90! Go!" on which I dig out old mixtapes--there's a hefty box of them in the garage--and re-create them each week.

The ditty above, studio version, is part of this week's tape, "Only the Lorn-ly," for who doesn't love a good wallow, especially if that who lived through all the synthesizers the 80s threw at him. The tape is from 1990, and at the time I wasn't probably particularly lorn-ly even, but why should that stop me? 

But enough about me...how about Eurythmics? To be honest, while I like them I've never like liked them, no doubt partially because they were actually kind of popular, and especially in the 1980s I would have none of that. Never wanted to be part of any fandom that had more than me as its member. (And if you think that's a dick joke, well, it sort of is.) But I did get to see Eurythmics live once, and while that was even longer ago than this tape, than the recording of this video, it's still one of the best shows I've ever seen. Because it was a show. I mean, before they even appeared at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the stage had a curtain that looked like it was zippered together at the front. Much edgier than opener Howard Jones and his mime. (He really did his show with a mime! I guess the roadies liked having to schlep his gear.) And then the zipper unzipped and Annie Lennox came out full butch laced into leather dominatrix, and we were all just putty in her hands.

You can catch a lot of that aiming to please in this clip for "The Last Time:" the clearly choreographed bits (I'm a sucker for a band when the musicians move like they are in the same group--another favorite '80s memory is Peter Gabriel doing pretty close to aerobics with his band on "I Go Swimming"), Dave Stewart, cool in his shades, slashing his guitar (more on him in a bit), a background singer that can belt with Annie, so much leather there are probably cows outside the venue in protest. Energy, everywhere. 

You know, I miss live shows. 

You know, I never forget live shows. 

For that July in Columbia, MD in 1984 when I got to see the band, two wondrous things happened. One was Lennox pulled some folks up from the front row, and lo and behold one was a long-haired friend of mine who danced so madly I thought his flopping lengthy locks might hurt somebody. He was the happiest grinning fool, and in normal life his radio show back in the day played what that station called NAR--Not Available Radio. (Indeed, a Residents reference.) Ken worried not a whit that he shimmied next to a pop star. I wish I could say such a revelation changed me.

And then there was the bit where I could just close my eyes, which often seems counterintuitive at a live show--"dummy, you can do that when the record is playing"--(note, this was 1984, so even pre-CD), but just as often is necessary for a moment, when it can get to be too much. As it was as Stewart didn't just go through the rockstar catalog moves but unleashed a wholly unholy solo at the tremulous end of the brilliant "Jennifer" that built past the place where building seems possible, something nearing noise and heaven in the same arcing sustain. 

I'm going to go close my eyes now, as I need to be at a live show right now.

*Yes, that does mean 2 out of my last 3 posts have titles nicked from the same band.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Review of "I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are" by Rachel Bloom


Think of Rachel Bloom’s memoir I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are as a bathroom book. It’s written in zippy chapters—some lists, some mini-screenplays, some poems from her childhood (they are often illustrated, as it seems she’s kept all her life’s journals, and yes, she is OCD)—so makes for quick, diverting reading when you might be busy otherwise. But it’s also a book about the bathroom: turns out it’s one of Bloom’s favorite locations, and you will get details. If you’re a squeamish reader, you have been warned.

Want to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Samin Nosrat on Fame, Food, and Writing

The James Beard Award–winning author and Netflix star Samin Nosrat needs no introduction. To call her thought- and taste-provoking. Salt Fat Acid Heat a cookbook is like saying Hamlet is a ghost story — except Shakespeare didn’t have such nifty infographics.

It’s our great fortune that she will be part of an UCSB Arts & Lectures virtual talk on Sunday, February 28, at 11 a.m. Moderated by Santa Barbara’s own restaurateur Sherry Villanueva, owner of The Lark, La Paloma, Loquita, and other hotspots, the chat also features Israeli-English author/chef Yotam Ottolenghi — remember when his book Plenty would be set dressing on television shows as a symbol that characters had hip taste?

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

And, yes, she's as warm and funny and self-deprecating and engaged as she seems on the Netflix show in real life, if a 35 minute phone interview is real life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A Review of "Having and Being Had" by Eula Biss


Eula Biss wants me to be better and I’m not sure I’m up for that. When I refer to the quick several page essays that build up to her book Having and Being Had as prose poems, I do so to praise and not blame, warn, not scare. Her jewel-like essays are pristine and precise, exciting and exacting. They ask of you as reader to weigh every word for there’s always a bit more there (and it has to do with you). It’s as if the space between each period and the first letter of her next sentence is a silent accusation of your life.

Want to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Genever, With Your Orange Hair, Genever, With Your Green Eyes*

Which came first, the genever or the gin? Wait, you don't know genever? Well, then you should have been on the Zoom tasting I was part of on Monday, all about genever, America's Lost European Spirit (which as a tag line is brilliant marketing, no?).

So it's simple (unless you're trying to distill a good one)--genever, originating in the 1500s in Holland (well, The Low Countries, back in the day), must have two things: malt spirit + juniper berries. Like gin, which it preceded, it's usually got botanicals, sometimes of the "if I told you I'd have to kill you" variety. It can be aged or un-aged, in oak or not. It can have added caramel color to suggest it had been aged (kind of a reverse Grecian Formula for spirits). It's got a great history, helping create the term "dutch courage" and being connecting to William of Orange--when he married into English royalty, genever and gin came with him.

And this is way too late in my post to add the most important thing, it's damn delicious, in lots of different styles. Sarah Lawson-Stopps, bartender at Wildhawk in San Francisco and a genever brand ambassador, took us through the evening, a tasting of five different expressions showing the ranges within the two basic styles. The first, the old style, is darker and with more malt (15%-100%) and makes one think of whiskey, the second, the young style, is lighter, brighter, and more like a dry style gin (with a malt percentage under 15%). 

That younger style is a bit more in ascendancy now, as genever is still recovering from its near fatal moment during U.S. Prohibition. But mixologists of the past 10 years or so find it fascinating for its backstory and versatility, so get used to seeing it more frequently behind your favorite bars. Why not, given Bobby's Schiedam Jenever you could easily assume was just a dry gin, but then its Indonesian botanicals sneak up on you--lemongrass, cardamom, ginger. Or when you could drink Rutte Old Simon Genever, 40% malt, so brilliantly complex, even more so with its additions of celery, carob, and a distillate of roasted hazelnuts! How convenient that along with our sample bottles (nowhere near the gorgeous full 750 ml bottles most genevers sell to the public in) we were sent snifter packets of classic botanicals to snort. Makes a Zoom event a lot more sensory.

And then there's the origin of a shot and a beer, which goes back to genever. Kopstootje is the Dutch term for this special ritual, and it translates as "head butt." So if you want to be a mating ram at your bar, get them to pour a healthy shot of genever into one of the classic tulip classics that match the spirit and have your beer ready to go. And by healthy shot, I mean one that almost over pours--the goal is to have an arcing meniscus of genever above the glass, the rainbow for you to wish the exciting future of your night upon. Then you lean in--I mean, you aren't trying to pick up that close to an overflowing glass--with your hands behind your back and sip deep. There's even a crazy method where you lip-lock the tulip into your mouth and toss it back that way, but I'm too old for that kind of uncouth thing. Even if the genever itself has a good four centuries on me.

*OK, this title doesn't really make sense, but I just really like this Eurythmics song, sorry.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

To Syrah, with Love


While the term Rhone Rangers always makes me think of winemakers astride giant wine bottles in Monument Valley--"Heigh ho, Nebuchadnezzar, away!"--the serious side of me never minds a ride with a few glasses of Syrah (or Grenache or Mourvedre or...). For as Santa Barbara legend Bob Lindquist put it, quoting Jim Fiolek, "Syrah delivers what Merlot promised." 

All of that is a far too fanciful way to introduce a quick look at the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers' recent event on February 4, a Syrah tasting that took viewers on a quick tour of the county. Moderated by Lamar Engel of The Wine Militia (sorry, but by now that's a name that has to change, no?), it featured a stellar winemaker cast with brilliant bottles to boot:  

 Larry Schaffer of tercero wines with his 2014 Syrah - Larner Vineyard, Ballard Canyon 

Matt Brady of SAMsARA Wines with his 2017 Syrah - Zotovich Vineyard, Sta Rita Hills  

Kristin Bryden of Zaca Mesa with her 2016 Syrah - Black Bear Block, Estate Vineyard, Los Olivos

And the aforementioned - Bob Lindquist of Lindquist Wines with a barrel sample of his 2019 Syrah - Bien Nacido Vyd Z Block, Santa Maria Valley  

The group was wise, entertaining, and sometimes geeky, even entering into a clone discussion of Syrah as if it were all finicky like Pinot Noir or something! (Although they seemed to agree that site trumps clone for making a good wine.) Whatever the topic, this free Zoom also made clear Santa Barbara winemaking stands tall (and often foot stomps hard). 

And, perhaps, underlined one of the "problems" for creating a vinous Santa Barbara County identity. For this event featured four delicious syrahs (and we were lucky to taste three of them, all except for the barrel sample, and for that we swapped in a Jaffurs 2016 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, which was a gorgeous monster, btw) that made clear site and winemaking will lead you to very different expressions of the same grape. The tercero, at just 12.9% ABV, lured you in to its loveliness, with a floral character the others didn't touch. It's the kind of wine that forces you to wake up and be aware, which is a good thing. The SAMsARA, with Brady's fondness for whole cluster, added a pleasing, despite the words I'm going to use, vegetal funk--a unique wine that made you keep sipping more. The Zaca Mesa, from the warmest location (and the SB vineyard that first planted Syrah way back when--we got a lot of history, too), had a fascinating depth and spice. And then Bob's wine--well, we don't know as we couldn't have any, but how could it not rock having been made by one of our county's founding wine fathers?

Even better, the SB Rhone Rangers will be doing more of these events, so go check out what they have to offer. And drink their wines--you won't get one expression of anything, but you will get a scrumptiously expressive everything. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Peregrine Supreme at Barb’s Pies Is Umami Bomb


It’s easy to forget the delight, amid the rest of the memorable meal, of bread service at Barbareño. But when that sourdough and fresh butter arrive, it’s a transformative moment, the simplest of food made transcendent. (And that’s part, I’d say, of a strong Santa Barbara tradition: think back to Downey’s Irish soda bread and Sly’s rye raisin rolls.)

So it’s no surprise that the pizza dough from the same punchy starter kicks off the crust to-die-for at Barb’s Pies, which is Barbareño’s sister restaurant “hiding” in the kitchen at the recently opened bar/restaurant Venus in Furs on East Cota Street. What a crust it is, formed into leftover-providing 18-inch ovals, thin in the center but puffed and charred on the edges. 

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Hotel Californian’s Blackbird Is Ready to Fly (well, except for COVID and all...)

 Somehow I never posted this item I wrote for the Indy that ran back in December. Have been doing so little freelance work that I don't remember how to follow up properly! 

But here's the first graph:

Forget fine dining, think clubby casual chic. Au courant cocktails and share plates emphasizing global flavors and local produce. That’s what the recently reopened and reimagined Blackbird at Hotel Californian now offers, both in its inviting red-and-black-tiled dining room and its street-side terrace. Although it’s not easy to remain relevant and COVID-19 safety rules compliant, this edition of Blackbird seems ready to fly.

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