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Memory Surprise

January 25, 2009 Leave a comment

deanmartin

I’m hardly breaking new ground in saying that the way memory works is a continuing surprise. And I’m no Oliver Sacks (alas), so I’m not about to write an engrossing essay with startling anecdotes. This is a simple tale, about the memory I know best.

Late yesterday afternoon, Gail and I were driving (well, you know, we were in the car together. I was driving) out of the neighborhood for an early dinner down the hill at The Attic, our local tavern. As we were heading out, I was thinking of a restaurant a few miles south where we might have gone instead if we hadn’t already made up our minds. It’s a restaurant we ate at regularly years ago, then stopped going to, until we stumbled on it again two Marches ago on the way to the airport to pick up Joel. And then we didn’t return again until a month ago, when we had a superb dinner. The place is down towards the Mt. Baker neighborhood. It sits atop the I-90 tunnel, practically on a cliff, with dramatic views to the west of downtown, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, and the Olympics. When we stopped in last month, no one else was there. (It was only 5:00 PM. We were on our way north from a holiday open house and decided we may as well have dinner before heading home for the evening.) As a result, we were given one of the three tables at the window, allowing us to take full advantage of the view.

Anyway, in the car yesterday, I wanted to mention to Gail that we could have gone to this restaurant, but I couldn’t remember its name. I knew the name had two words. Or was it three words, with “The” being the first word? Could be. But two content words. I always have trouble remembering its name. But I figured Gail would remember. So I asked if she did remember. I didn’t want her to give the name away. I just wanted to know if she remembered the name of the restaurant across the street from where her Great Uncle Harry used to live. Harry moved to Seattle in the late 1930s, became a policeman, had a house that still sits across and about 30 yards south of the restaurant. And when other relatives, one by one, moved from South Dakota to Seattle, they would spend some time in Uncle Harry’s home before finding their own accommodations. We took Gail’s father to the restaurant when we first started eating there and he pointed the house out to us as his own first Seattle home.

Here’s the thing. Gail said sure, she knows the name of the restaurant. Well, it didn’t help that I first described it as the restaurant across the street from Uncle Butchy’s house. Wrong uncle. But once we cleared that up, she knew the name. As a hint, she suggested I think of a song. Without hesitation — without hesitating for a moment — I said the first song name that came to mind. My Cherie Amour. The Stevie Wonder hit of 1969. I knew fully well that this was not the restaurant’s name. But it’s the song I thought of, so I said it. And here’s the surprise. Gail laughed, saying no, it’s not My Cherie Amour, it’s That’s Amore. (The famous Dean Martin song, a 1952 hit, though if I have to say Dean Martin, you probably don’t know the song. Maybe if I tell you the opening lyrics: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”)

I had no idea what the restaurant’s name was. It wasn’t on the tip of my tongue. It wasn’t in the back of my throat. It was nowhere. Or so I thought. But something was going on in my brain, because when Gail told me to think of a song, out of the blue I came up with one whose key word is also the key word in the restaurant’s name. Wrong language, but still. Amour. Amore. My brain was getting there, unbeknownst to me. I have new respect for it.

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Categories: Restaurants, Science

Olive Garden

January 25, 2009 Leave a comment
Culinary Institute of Tuscany

Culinary Institute of Tuscany

The Weekend Journal section of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article by their restaurant writer Raymond Sokolov comparing Olive Garden to Spiaggia (famed Chicago Italian restaurant in the news lately as one of Barack Obama’s favorites). Just the idea of such an article delighted me. Massively popular national chain restaurant typically found by suburban malls versus fancy, urban stand-alone restaurant in one of the great restaurant cities of the country. The article didn’t go into the issues as deeply as I would have wished, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Olive Garden is one of the six national chains owned by Darden Restaurants. (Its siblings are Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, The Capital Grille, and Seasons 52.) Spiaggia, as it turns out, is part of a national company of a different sort, Levy Restaurants. The Levys, as far as I can tell, started with a family deli in Chicago, but expanded to the point where they now own restaurants in Chicago and a few other cities, but provide food at sports sites all over the country (baseball stadiums, football stadiums, basketball arenas, car racetracks). Though owned by a now-huge restaurant and catering company, Spiaggia is the vision of a single chef, Tony Mantuano, whom Larry Levy found in 1980 and asked to create the restaurant. (More details at the Spiaggia website.)

Olive Garden and Red Lobster have become on-going jokes in our family. We’re happy to eat at them. We even have some admiration for them. But we have trouble taking them seriously.
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Categories: Food, Restaurants

Lunch at Rover’s

January 24, 2009 1 comment

rautureau

We had lunch at Rover’s yesterday. Rover’s, as many of you know, is one of Seattle’s most famous restaurants. Here is how the restaurant describes itself at its website:

During a visit to see friends in Seattle, Thierry Rautureau, known as the Chef in the Hat due to his ever-present fedora, dined at Rover’s and discovered the restaurant was for sale. Charmed by the converted house tucked away in a private courtyard, and inspired by the ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest, Rautureau moved to Seattle and opened Rover’s in August 1987. Chef Rautureau’s vision is a warm, comfortable dining environment, similar to dining at a friend’s house. Rover’s is dedicated to professional service, exquisite wine and food, and an intimate environment.

One might think we eat at Rover’s regularly. After all, it is one of Seattle’s finest restaurants, and it is by far the closest to us of any of Seattle’s great restaurants (1.3 miles away). But in fact we had never eaten there before yesterday. They serve dinner five nights a week, offering an eight-course menu, a five-course menu, and a five-course vegetarian menu. (Current prices, according to the sample on-line menu, are $130, $95, and $80.) The main reason I haven’t been eager to eat there is that, with this fixed menu, I wasn’t too keen to have three or four courses consisting of foods I’m not fond of eating. Sweetbreads, caviar, oysters. I know this is my loss. I’m not proud of it. But why would I want to pay a lot of money to be served food I don’t wish to eat?

Lunch is a recent development. They serve lunch Fridays only, offering a three-course menu. One can also order à la carte (as one can do now for dinner as well), which mostly means ordering items from the regular menu and paying more. But at least with three courses, there will be at most three items I don’t like to eat. Not five. Or eight.
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Categories: Food, Restaurants

Unaccustomed Earth

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment
Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

Just five days ago, I wrote about my cultural activities for the day — seeing the movie Slumdog Millionaire, reading the first story of Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, and watching the TV show 24. I thought I might put the book aside temporarily in favor of some other reading, but to my surprise, I’ve continued to read it. I’ve now read five of its eight stories. (These five, which are independent of each other, form Part One. The three remaining stories, Part II, are about the same pair of characters.) Even though I have more to read, I’m taking a moment to write about some of my thoughts to this point.
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Categories: Books

Nantucket Again

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment
Wauwinet Inn

Wauwinet Inn

For the last three years, we have gone to Nantucket on Labor Day. The nascent tradition (described in one of my earliest blog posts) started when we helped Joel move into housing in Boston in 2006 before his first semester at Northeastern. We flew down to Nantucket once he was settled, returning to Boston three days later to spend a little more time with him before flying back to Seattle. We discovered that three days wasn’t enough time, so the last two years, after spending Labor Day weekend helping Joel move to different apartments, we’ve headed down to Nantucket on Labor Day and stayed until Friday. Each year, we have come back to Seattle thinking that even four days isn’t enough, or a week, or a month. We want to live there. This spell seems to last about two months. By Thanksgiving anyway, I’m no longer talking about moving there and starting a restaurant. But now I’m getting excited all over again, because yesterday I called the Wauwinet Inn, where we always stay, and confirmed our reservation for Room 302 from Labor Day through the following Friday. Joel may not be at Northeastern this time around. He may be studying in France, or preparing to go there. We may find that Labor Day week isn’t a good time to return to Nantucket. There’s time to figure that out. But for now, we’re ready.
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Categories: Food, Travel

In Memoriam: Peter Sofie

January 24, 2009 1 comment

peter

Two Sundays ago, when Jessica was in San Diego, Gail and I went over to her condo to spend some time with her cat, Peter. By the time Gail managed to find the right key and get the door open, he was at the foot of the door waiting to see who was coming in. He was also breathing loudly, and with seeming difficulty. We spent an hour with him, as he alternately sat in the couch with us or walked around. At times, his breathing would be less audible, but then the sound would return. Between that and his runny nose, we (and Jessica) assumed he had a bad cold. Jessica returned the next day, her birthday, and the vet came two days later to check on Peter. The diagnosis was a shock. There was something in his head blocking his breathing passages: an infection or a tumor, probably a tumor. Peter spent the last 10 days on antibiotics, but didn’t improve. Today the vet returned. Late this morning, with Jessica holding Peter and Gail providing support, Peter died.

Peter showed up as a kitten at Gail’s parents’ house in Ballard about eight years ago. Gail’s brother Gary lived with their parents at the time and began to feed him. Soon he moved in. A lot would change in the next few years. Gail’s father died, Gary moved out, Gail’s mother’s health declined, Jessica moved in to live with and care for her, and then in July 2006 she (Gail’s mother) moved to an Alzheimer’s home. Two months later, Jessica and Peter moved into the condo, where he quickly adjusted to smaller living quarters and a 9th floor view. He was a good cat and a wonderful companion to Jessica. He will be missed.

Categories: Animals, Family

Daniel

January 21, 2009 Leave a comment
Daniel

Daniel

Rarely does the NYT award four stars to a restaurant. Today is one of those rare days, as Frank Bruni renews the four-star rating for Daniel Boulud’s eponymous Daniel previously given in 2001 by William Grimes. The only other restaurants to have four-star ratings are Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Jean Georges, Eric Ripert’s Bernardin, Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, and Thomas Keller’s Per Se. I may never eat at these restaurants, but I always enjoy reading their reviews, so I can learn what would excite a reviewer so much. Here are some excerpts:
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Categories: Food, Restaurants