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Nantucket Addenda

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I know, it’s time to move on. The trip is receding. I’ve written enough. But I forgot two items. I will include them here in one final Nantucket post.

1. In my last Nantucket post, Sconset and More, I mentioned our bike ride last Saturday from Wauwinet to Sconset and back, with reference to one of Nantucket’s three lighthouses, Sankaty Head. I spoke in particular of how beautiful “the lighthouse is when one draws even with it on the far side of Sankaty Head Golf Club.” But I forgot to insert the photo I took of it on my phone. See above.

2. In my third Nantucket post, Hangin’ with Teresa and John (Kerry), I gave a brief description of our dinner at Topper’s, the in-house restaurant of the Wauwinet Inn. Getting to dessert, I wrote that “I had a sublime cherry sorbet for dessert, along with blueberry sorbet and strawberry ice cream.” At Gail’s insistence, I had taken a photo of the dessert. Look below and you’ll see the three scoops, along with raspberries, blueberries, a blackberry, and a wafer. It is served in a glass bowl that had been chilled in a freezer beforehand. The photo doesn’t quite capture the elegant presentation. For one, the colors don’t come through well. Nor does the illusion that the bowl was made of ice. A beautiful dessert.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

The Dark Vineyard

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Two nights ago, I wrote about the first in Martin Walker’s series of mysteries, Bruno, Chief of Police, which I finished earlier this week. I concluded by noting that “I’ve since had to resist jumping right into The Dark Vineyard, the next volume in the series.”

My resistance didn’t last long. I downloaded it a few minutes later and started reading before I went to bed. I’m a fifth of the way through and eager to get back to it. Bruno is good company, and unlike Bruno, Chief of Police, which spends many pages setting the stage in Bruno’s small town in the Dordogne before a crime takes place, The Dark Vineyard plunges straight into the action. Not that it’s fast-paced. It’s not that sort of book or series. But a crime has taken place, eco-terrorism and genetically modified foods may be relevant, and Bruno once again is making the rounds with his keen eyes, attention to detail, and insight into his neighbors and their lives.

And with his love of wine. I find myself wanting to accompany Bruno on his investigation so I can taste the regional wines he keeps sampling. It’s not difficult to imagine a digital version of the book with links that would allow me, when I read about a wine, to click and order a bottle of it. But who wants to wait for delivery — assuming the wine of the given vintage is available? What I want, and its day will surely come, is a wired and plumbed home in which I can click on the wine in the text, then walk into the kitchen and grab the glass of it from the beverage dispensary. Or perhaps it would be poured in the den or bedroom. (I grew up in a simple time. Why, in my childhood and a good ways into my adulthood, I had to get up and walk right up to the TV to change the channel. I think I could handle walking to the kitchen to get my freshly poured wine.)

Meanwhile, I’ll be studying a full-sized version of the wine map below. (Map hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. See also this interview with the map’s creator, David Gissen.)

Categories: Books, Wine

Bruno, Chief of Police

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I explained two weekends ago how I was led to download Lee Child’s third Jack Reacher novel, Tripwire, on the eve of our New York-Nantucket trip, so I would be prepared with a thriller on the Kindle when we arrived in Nantucket. As I further explained, I couldn’t wait that long. I began reading it the moment we took our seats on the Seattle-JFK flight, finishing it a week ago this morning. The other book I planned to read on the trip was 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I was already some ways into it, and with Tripwire finished, I picked up reading where I had left off.

However, by the end of the day, I decided I wanted to read another thriller or mystery instead. Just the previous Sunday, in her weekly NYT roundup of mystery novels, Marilyn Stasio had mentioned several of possible interest. She led off with George Pelecanos’s newest. There was a time when I would leap at his new books, but no longer. He wore me down with his emphasis on father-son tales in DC, less mystery and more morality tale about the importance of families. I was intrigued, though, by Stasio’s description of Martin Walker’s Black Diamond:

The residents of the quiet town where Martin Walker sets his enchanting village mysteries relish all the good things about life in the Périgord region of France: the food, the wine, the friendships and the black truffles that grow among the white oaks in its dense forests. But all it takes is a murder to stir up the animosities of people who, while still fighting old wars, are quick to take up new ones. … There are truffles to gather and market days to attend, as well as a sumptuous funeral banquet for a murdered truffle master that surpasses any meal cooked up thus far in a series that always makes your mouth water.

I looked through some of the reader comments about the book at Amazon, noting one reader’s observation that although the book was the third in the series and he hadn’t read the first two, he felt under no disadvantage. Okay, I thought, I don’t need to start with book one. But I wasn’t sure this series was for me.

The next night, after more of 1493, I was ready. And even if I didn’t need to start with book one, why not do so? I downloaded Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside from Amazon and began.

Pretty slow going for a while. Way too much setting up of the characters. Finally, the murder victim is discovered, an eighth of the way in. Not that that speeds things up much. But soon I realize the book is heading in directions I hadn’t imagined, as it delves into issues revolving around Arab immigrants and their integration into French society as well as divisions among families going back to Vichy France, with the resistance and Nazi collaborators. There’s lots of food along the way, and a pretty good mystery, but much more than that, there’s the serious treatment of French society and culture. As for the food, even the treatment of that connects to broader issues, namely the conflicts between European Union regulations and French food-making traditions.

I had planned to finish the book on the plane flight back here Monday night, but I couldn’t do it all. Thanks to JetBlue, TV was available on board, and that meant there was the end of the Djokovic-Nadal US Open final to watch, followed by the final episode of TNT’s series The Closer. By the time I got to the book, it was getting late, and soon I fell asleep. At home, nearing 2:00 AM New York time, I read to the point where the final pieces of the mystery were falling into place, leaving the wrap-up for morning.

I’ve since had to resist jumping right into The Dark Vineyard, the next volume in the series. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to wait, but now that I’m home, there’s too much else I should be doing. Meanwhile, if you haven’t made Bruno’s acquaintance, I recommend him. As you might expect, he’s not just a simple rural cop. Outsiders may under-estimate him, but he’s sharp guy, with an interesting past, and well worth getting to know.

Categories: Books

Nantucket 4: Sconset and More

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Sconset Post Office

We left Nantucket last Sunday afternoon. It’s over four days later and I still haven’t wrapped up my Nantucket series. I’ll take care of that here.

When I wrote Nantucket 3 last Friday night, we had just come back from dinner at Ventuno, the Italian restaurant that had replaced one of our favorites, 21 Federal. The food was great and we had the delightful surprise of being joined, shortly after we got there, by local residents John Kerry and Teresa Heinz. Our plan for Saturday was to reprise our Wauwinet-Sconset bicycle ride of two years ago.

It’s about 6.7 miles from Wauwinet, in the northeast part of the island, to Sconset, in the southeast corner. Not far, and the island is flat for the most part. But what we learned two years ago was that it’s not that flat. Indeed, although the variation in elevation is minor, it’s non-stop. Up and down and up and down, shifting constantly to find the right gear. We hadn’t been on bikes since that last ride, and the bikes the Wauwinet provides aren’t the best fit. My seat was too low last time, and no matter what effort I made to adjust it, it kept returning to its lowest position, with the result that my thigh were killing me.

This time Gail was the one with too low a seat. I didn’t fare so badly. Or maybe I’m just in better shape than I was last time. We headed out a little before 11:00 in the morning, intending to get to Sconset for lunch and then return. I found the ride down a pleasure. No doubt it helped that I knew the landmarks along the way and therefore had a better sense of where I was. One of those landmarks is the Sankaty Head Lighthouse. Two years ago, I mistakenly thought it was in Sconset itself. When I reached it and the town was nowhere insight, I despaired. Now I knew better. And what a beautiful sight the lighthouse is when one draws even with it on the far side of Sankaty Head Golf Club‘s famed course, home to the country’s last summer caddy camp.

We arrived in Sconset, parked our bikes by the Sconset Market, and headed around the corner to the Sconset Cafe, entering just moments before the noon rush.

Sconset is the second largest settlement on the island, a good deal smaller than the main town, but larger than anything else. It has the market, its own post office, and several restaurants, the most notable of which is Chanticleer, where we have yet to eat. Next year for sure. (Sconset also happens to be where my parents stayed during a short vacation a few months after I was born. My mother believes it is where she was infected with polio, by which she was beset soon thereafter. Jonas Salk had begun testing his vaccine that very year, but it would not be available for general use for another three years.)

The Sconset cafe was perfect for lunch. Gail had a salad while I ate a chicken sandwich. Then we took a walk, down to the beach, then back up to a road that runs south parallel to the beach and south a few blocks along the road, looking out over the beach and ocean. As we began to head south, there was an odd assemblage of people, one guy talking in a booming voice while another seven or eight gathered around. It almost looked like a tour group. As we drew near, I realized it was indeed a tour group, led by the booming voice guy, who was talking about the northernmost house on the street. I eavesdropped for a few seconds, learning that some movie actor a few decades earlier who was just making it big had spent a few weeks in that house each summer. The guide drew out the story for dramatic effect, listing those movies that first made him a superstar, by which point we all knew the mystery actor was Robert Redford. Did Redford really stay in that house? I’m not convinced that he did. Nor can I imagine why one would want to head all the way out to Sconset just to see Redford’s house. Whatever.

We continued our walk, reaching another restaurant, The Summer House, which has a building on the road and space down below along the beach that was being prepared for a wedding. Yet another place we’ll need to try. Then we returned to the center of Sconset, wandered around the market, which in its small space manages to stock just about every food and paper supply one might need as well as a full line of Sconset souvenir sweatshirts, t-shirts, bags, and hats. Another two blocks and we were able to check out the Chanticleer menu as well as wandering into the house that has the galleries of artists William Welch and Frederick Charlton.

No visit to Sconset is complete without peaking in at the tennis courts of the Sconset Casino. Usually at least one or two are in use, but not last Friday. It was a quiet day. We returned to our bikes, mounted, and made the ride back to Wauwinet.

In late afternoon, we headed out onto the Wauwinet’s lawn (I’m using “Wauwinet”, I should explain, as the name of both our inn and the region of the island) to sit on the chaises. After five consecutive evenings of dinner at restaurants in town, this was to be a more relaxed evening. We would read, then head to Topper’s bar in the inn for a light dinner.

That’s before we realized that the inn was about to be taken over by a wedding. Between the lawn and the harbor is a wooden deck built over the sand on which about 40 folding chairs were set up. Two afternoons earlier, I had seen what I now understood was the rehearsal for the wedding that was about to happen. The inn’s small lobby and back porch were overrun by people in suits and dresses. A guitarist was setting up on the deck. The minister, it emerged, was about 40 minutes late, the result being a steady stream of fancily dressed people milling about between the inn, the lawn, and the deck. After a while, everyone was seated or standing on the deck except the wedding party. Then, around 5:30, the party headed through the lawn to the deck. We watched it all. In fact, I filmed some of it with my iPhone. I haven’t bothered transferring it to the computer yet to watch. I’ll spare you here.

The wedding was entertaining, but the one downside was that they were going to stick around. We headed up to our room as the wedding ended and discovered that next up for the wedding guests was cocktails on the patio below our window, with saxophonist and guitarist. I suggested to Gail that we discuss in-town options with the concierge at the front desk, who was able to confirm that the party would move into Topper’s at 7:00. Private room and all, away from the bar, but I wanted out. The concierge got us a table at the bar at Boarding House and we took the shuttle into town.

Boarding House

The bar at Boarding House is never quiet, especially on a Saturday night. We squeezed into a two-top right by one end of the bar, with a TV near us on which we watched the Nadal-Murray semi-final at the US Open tennis championships.

The bar, with our table in center back of photo

I suppose Topper’s might even have been quieter, but we had had plenty of meals there already, and hadn’t been to Boarding House in a couple of years, so we were happy to be there again. We both had their soup of the night, tomato and eggplant with some fried cheese thing floating around in it — better than I’m making it sound. And we both had one of their specialties, their Chicken Under a Brick, served that night with chick peas, red pepper, and some grain I can’t remember, farro perhaps. We then shared their incredible chocolate chocolate chip cookie dessert with small glasses of malted milk shakes on the side. Our last walk around town followed, and then the shuttle back to the inn.

Chicken Under a Brick

That’s pretty much it. Sunday we had breakfast at Topper’s, packed, checked out, made a request for our favorite room for next year, then spent another couple of hours on the lawn, reading and having lunch, before taking the taxi to the airport. Our JetBlue flight to JFK was delayed a little. Once it got in from JFK, they got us on pretty quickly, only to have us taxi out and learn that we wouldn’t be allowed a landing slot at JFK for another half hour. It was 9/11, and the pilot explained that there were air traffic delays in New York, in part due to the president’s earlier arrival. The demand for landing slots was over-subscribed and we would have to wait our turn, which we did.

Once in the air heading west, we encountered clouds. Our day and a half of perfect weather was at an end. New York was completely clouded over, as we soon discovered. We landed, collected our bags, took the AirTrain to Hertz, got in our rental car, and began the last 24 hours of our trip, some family time in New York.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Nantucket 3: Hangin’ with Teresa and John

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Ferry entering Nantucket Harbor at Brant Point

[Taken yesterday by Gail]

Two more days in Nantucket. I’m going to aim for a more concise report than the last two.

As I explained in the first one, we had to split up our stay between our usual place, The Wauwinet, and its sister inn, the White Elephant. Yesterday was transition day. After breakfast at the Brant Point Grill, the hotel restaurant, we packed up, left our bags with the White Elephant, and took a walk out to Brant Point, which I wrote about two nights ago. (See lighthouse photo there.) Then we walked along Hulbert Avenue, which I also mentioned in the previous post. This time, unlike two days ago, I was able to figure out which home is that of John Kerry and Teresa Heinz. It’s obvious after the fact — the one with the 15 foot hedge that makes viewing the property impossible, except for a small break in the hedge for a gate. It’s a lovely property, but then, so are all the others on Hulbert, hugging the shore at the entrance to Nantucket Harbor.

After circling back to the White Elephant to confirm the plan for our move to The Wauwinet, we headed into town, stopping at Le Cherche Midi, just about the first store one reaches on our route in, and one of our favorites. We hadn’t made it there yet, partly because it closed early the day before on our first attempt. They have wonderful house goods from Provence and beyond, some of which will soon grace our own home.

It was lunchtime. We headed to Arno’s, an old reliable restaurant on Main Street. I had one of the day’s specials, halibut on couscous with broccolini. The only problem was, there was no broccolini. I inquired, the waitress investigated,and she reported that there was asparagus today, was that okay. Sure. It still didn’t explain why I initially got no vegetable at all.

After lunch, we strolled down to the end of Straight Wharf, looked at the activity in the harbor, then headed back to the center of town for the Wauwinet shuttle van, which picked us up, picked up our luggage at the White Elephant, and took us out to the Wauwinet. We arrived around 2:30 to the welcome news that our room was ready. Good old 302, the room we have chosen for the last five years. Not the biggest, but with the best view out over the eastern end of the harbor (miles from town) and up the arcing peninsula toward Great Point to the north, with the Atlantic in view off to the right across the thin peninsula on which we sit.

The weather, by the way, has been mostly cloudy and often rainy, at least until we walked out of Arno’s yesterday. Suddenly the sun came out. Once settled in our room, we went out to the lawn, the Wauwinet’s great amenity, to lie on the chaises, read, and look at the view. But after a few minutes, we were in the clouds. Or so it seemed, as we watched the clouds blow right past us. Fog was rolling in, and fast. Within the hour we were totally ungulfed. Then the wind picked up and we were freezing Well, I was. Gail had gone in. Eventually I did too

Dinner was at Topper’s, one of Nantucket’s famed restaurants, the Wauwinet’s own, and in any case the only restaurant for miles around. Not a hard choice. And we were pleased to see our favorite waiter there, the one who served us the first time we came to Topper’s, five years ago, and most years since. (He wasn’t on the island one summer.)

I won’t go into all the details for a change, but it was a great meal. We both started with the heirloom tomato salad, which had these amazing little vinegar pearls in it. Gail had cavatelli. I had, oh gosh, I don’t even remember. So many meals this week. I had a sublime cherry sorbet for dessert, along with blueberry sorbet and strawberry ice cream. Gail had some chocolate concoction with nutella ice cream.

Our plan today was to stay put at the Wauwinet until dinner. We had breakfast at Topper’s. I always look forward to their turkey hash, but last year I didn’t enjoy it as much. This year’s version is revised and the best ever. After breakfast, we took a long walk north along the road, up past the 15 or so houses that lie beyond the Wauwinet, after which the road turns into sand and continues for miles to Great Point. This stretch, the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, is owned by a Massachusetts land conservation organization, The Trustees of Reservations. Open a map of Nantucket and take a look at the upper right corner. You’ll see Wauwinet, Coskata, Coatue, and Great Point. Here for instance:

We sat out on the porch for a while, ordering lunch from Topper’s while we waited for it to warm up. We had one of our favorites, Topper’s crab and lobster cakes with corn relish. And we had a lovely mixed green salad. Plus, a cupcake for dessert.

Then it was time to head out to the lawn for more reading in the beauty and quiet that we love so much here, with the always magical view of the harbor. I started a new book. More on that eventually in a separate post.

In late afternoon, we came back up to the room, then we caught the 6:30 shuttle into town for dinner at Ventuno. I explained two months ago how shocked I was to discover that our favorite restaurant in town, 21 Federal, had closed, unable to continue its lease. I wasn’t happy, but ended the post saying we would try its successor and report back in September. Ventuno is that successor. (Ventuno — get it? Twenty-one in Italian. I’ll admit that I didn’t get it until we were discussing the place with the White Elephant concierge three days ago.)

The location, 21 Federal Street, is an old home, with small rooms and small dining tables. The space is one of its charms. The food was the other. Ventuno has left the space intact. So far so good. And it has come up with a brilliant menu, with superb food. We couldn’t have been happier.

We sat at the very same two top as a year ago, a year ago to the very day. It’s private in a way, not pushed up against any other tables, but near the vibrant, loud bar, its one drawback. I was looking around at other tables, pointing out a space across from us where we ate a few years ago, quieter but with several two tops on top of each other. I speculated about whether one of those two tops, in the corner, would be more comfortable. I wasn’t looking to move, just wondering. I thought that if the room were packed, it might not be so enjoyable.

A half hour later, that room was packed, thanks to the arrival of a couple who took the corner two top. Gail pointed them out to me. A local couple. John Kerry and Teresa Heinz. They must be regulars, since Teresa knew enough to bring a small flashlight for menu studying. Their waitress spent at least five minutes going over it with them. All I could think of was, if only he won in 2004, though in that case he and Teresa probably wouldn’t be dining at Ventuno as they did tonight.

What did we eat? The online menu is a little out of date, but it does list our little starters, the meatballs and the chickpea fries. Next we had pastas that aren’t listed, very small servings, as the menu explains (at not so small prices). I had an extraordinary ravioli with braised chicken and sopressata in a light creamy sauce. Just four. Gail had some sort of tagliatelle dish. Next I had a veal porterhouse, also not on the online menu, with a lovely, light accompaniment: some slices of tomato, slices of potato, circles of onion, and lettuce. Gail had duck on farro with broccolini. For dessert, Gail had an apple crostata with mascarpone ice cream. I had honey vanilla, black raspberry, and chocolate gelati. The vanilla was unbelievable, the raspberry even more so. But that pasta! Wow. I can’t wait to go back.

When we left, we saw our dining neighbor John out on the street talking on his cell phone. Big business in DC? Who knows? We didn’t get to say goodnight. We took a lovely stroll around town, took the shuttle back to the Wauwinet, and sat on the back porch for a while. This has been the first clear evening. Stars. The moon. And, when I walked out to the lawn, rabbits. One ran away. Another stood there like a rock. Rabbit or not? I wasn’t sure. I circled it. Then it gave up its rock act and rotated, allowing me to see telltale white markings. Rabbit.

Now I’m in the room, writing this instead of reading. Time to stop.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Nantucket 2: Another Day in Paradise

September 7, 2011 1 comment

Madaket Beach

[Taken by me today, with my iPhone camera]

We had another great day, despite rain, cloudiness, humidity, and fog. Our day began with an early breakfast in the hotel restaurant, the
Brant Point Grill. Around 10:45, we headed into town. Our plan was to shop, take the public bus out to Madaket for lunch, then return to town.

First stop: Jewel of the Isle, to conclude our business with owner and jewelry designer Gary Trainor. Gail wanted to see if he could turn one of his pendants into a pin to use for a specific purpose that I won’t describe here, and of course he could, since he can do anything. We had a pleasant chat, as we did our first two days here, and ultimately left him to do some work on the pendant while we headed over to the Whaling Museum, where the bus route to Madaket begins.

We caught the noon bus. The buses on Nantucket are large vans, and they run only in season. Many routes ended two days ago, on Labor Day. A couple run into October. And the Madaket route will end this weekend, having dropped from half-hourly service to hourly service on Labor Day. We were the only two on the noon run.

Madaket is the westernmost settlement on the island. There are some homes and the beach, plus Millie’s, a surprisingly upscale Mexican-influenced restaurant, bar, and takeout joint seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Our plan was to have lunch at Millie’s, then take a short walk on the beach, and that’s what we did. My “Cambridge salad” was excellent: Grilled marinated chicken with mixed summer greens, mandarin orange, radish, peanuts, crispy tortilla strips, cilantro, and honey scallion dressing. Gail had the Pocomo tacos: Braised pork carnitas in flour tortillas with peach tomatillo salsa and chopped radish, cilantro, and onion. High quality food, filling, well served, and with views over Madaket Beach to the Atlantic.

The sun poked out as we arrived in Madaket and stayed throughout our time there. It also seemed a good ten degrees warmer than back in town, and more humid. We returned on the 1:30 bus and had to step over a bit of a flood in the street along the curb as we got off the bus. We had missed quite a downpour.

Back to Jewel of the Isle to pick up the pin Gary had worked on, then to Dokkim to arrange shipment of a bag purchase, then back to the White Elephant (our hotel in exile, as I explained in last night’s post).

We had hours until dinner and a chance to relax in the room or on the chairs outside, which we proceeded to do. Around 5:00, I headed out for an hour-long walk. As I had yesterday afternoon, I headed first to Brant Point and the Brant Point Lighthouse. Yesterday’s walk was a struggle, straight into a strong westerly wind and driving rain. No rain or wind to contend with today, but fog that seemed to get denser by the minute. Past houses that hug the waterfront, past the Coast Guard station, and on to the point itself, a sandy triangle with shore on the south facing the harbor, shore on the northeast facing the passage leading into the harbor, and a vertex where the two shores meet — the point itself and home to the lighthouse.

Brant Point Lighthouse

[Also taken by me today with my iPhone]

I wandered back and forth around the lighthouse and along the beach, staring into the fog, when suddenly there was a horn blast and one of the fast passenger-only Hyannis-Nantucket ferries, the Iyanough, emerged, heading south into the passage to the harbor. (See the fleet here.) That was quite a sight, no more than 200 feet away as it rounded the point.

I couldn’t believe how thick the fog was getting, until I realized it was condensing on my glasses. Once I wiped them off, some of the fog lifted. I headed back west past the Coast Guard Station, only to hear a massive horn and realize the big passenger/auto ferry was departing. I had left the point too soon. I looked back a minute later and saw the massive ship rounding the bend in the distance.

My walk continued along Hulbert Avenue, which runs to the northwest along the shore, with a line of homes between me and the water. And what homes! One of them got a lot of attention in 2004, when John Kerry was running for president, as the home he and Teresa Heinz Kerry were married in and one of their five homes altogether. Teresa, of course, is part of the Pittsburgh Heinz family and came into the marriage with the Nantucket home and a fleet of others. It’s easy to see why she would have wanted a home on Brant Point. I walked up Hulbert to its end. I can say with confidence that any of the homes on it would suit us just fine.

I came in from the fog a little after 6:00, dried off, and read some more of Tripwire, which I could be finishing tonight if I weren’t writing this. A little after 7:00, we walked over to the Brant Point Grill for dinner.

They were offering quite a good deal. Not at all inexpensive, but in light of the menu prices, an exceptional bargain. For $70, you could order any appetizer, main dish, and dessert and get a particular selection of three glasses of wine: a Sauvignon Blanc with the appetizer, a Merlot with the main dish, a Muscat for dessert. There were a couple of exceptions, such as lobster, but otherwise, anything goes. The upshot of this was that one was getting three glasses of wine almost for free. I wasn’t looking to drink three glasses, but I was looking to eat an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. It was too good to pass up.

Gail started with duck proscuitto, served with some arugula. I had the baby rocket salad — arugula, pecan brittle, grilled stone fruit (which turned out to be nectarine), and a honey lavender vinaigrette. Then Gail chose the sizzling balsamic skirt steak with grilled asparagus, radicchio, potatoes, and fig reduction. I had the New York strip steak, which doesn’t come with any vegetable or potato accompaniment Just steak, and some bone marrow, though the bone marrow wasn’t listed on the menu. And there’s a choice of about ten sauces one can choose on the steak or on the side. And there’s an extensive list of sides one can order. I took the garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert, Gail took the “cinnamon pull-a-parts” with caramel sauce and coffee ice cream.

Everything was superb. The Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot were from Chalk Hill, in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. We didn’t ask about the Muscat.

We’re in the room now. Time to get back to Tripwire.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Nantucket 1

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

White Elephant

Yesterday, for the sixth consecutive Labor Day, we arrived in Nantucket. We flew JetBlue from JFK, which sure beats taking Cape Air’s two propellor Cessnas from Logan. Flight time was supposed to be 35 minutes. It’s always fun to look out the window, see Martha’s Vineyard in the distance, then pass MV and see Nantucket get closer and closer. Despite light clouds, I could still make MV out, then Tuckernuck Island ahead, off the western end of Nantucket, and then all of Nantucket, to the northeast, then due north (as we flew east). I could see the airport on the southern shore as we continued east, then Sconset on the southeast corner of the island as we continued further east. Some 7 or 8 minutes later we were still flying east, with Nantucket far behind us, and I wondered why no one else seemed concerned. Had the pilot and co-pilot fallen asleep? Would we continue heading east over the Atlantic until, well, I didn’t want to think it. But I couldn’t think of any possible reason why we weren’t making our 180 degree turn and descending. And then we turned. That was a relief. I still can’t figure out what was going on. It just may be that they did fall asleep.

Long-time readers of Ron’s View know that we always stay at the Wauwinet. But this year some party booked the whole place for tonight and tomorrow night. We were asked if we could change our dates. Since the answer was no, we instead agreed to spend the first three nights at their sister property, the White Elephant, before moving out to the Wauwinet.

The Wauwinet is about 9 miles out of town on the southern end of the spit of land that juts way north on the eastern edge of the island, separating the inner harbor from the ocean. It’s a remote but spectacularly beautiful location. The White Elephant is a 5-minute walk from town. A couple of years ago we walked out to it from town to see what it was like. We even were shown a couple of rooms for future reference. But we’d rather be at the Wauwinet. We always stay in the same room there, with its four windows looking out over the eastern end of the harbor, a glorious view. We have no desire to be elsewhere.

Nonetheless, and not that we had a choice, we figured it would be enjoyable to try out a location near town. So far it has worked out well.

We arrived at the White Elephant around 2:15 yesterday. A little over an hour later, we walked into town. The first major building one reaches in town is the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, which also happened to be our first destination. Already we were benefitting from staying at the WE. The museum is great in itself, but we were eager to see the new 45-minute movie Nantucket, which was made for the museum and premiered on July 1. It’s a documentary made by Ric Burns, brother of Ken Burns and collaborator with Ken on the PBS Civil War series.

We arrived, bought a membership in the Nantucket Historical Association, entered the museum, took our seats for the 4:00 showing, and then watched the film. It’s a mostly historical look at the island, focusing on the whaling industry of course, but looking also at some of its early pre-Columbian days and its more recent shift to tourism. There are some fabulous shots of the island filmed from a helicopter. Alas, I had trouble staying awake early on, having had limited sleep over the weekend in New York. Once the movie ended, the museum was closing, so we headed to the gift shop and bought our own copy to watch at home.

On to two of our favorite Nantucket stores, Jewel of the Isle and Dokkim. Gary Trainor, Jewel of the Isle’s owner and jewelry designer, is also a local musician and one-time Nantucket High School music teacher. A year ago, we spent some time talking to a friend of his who was helping out in the store for a bit: Seth Burkhart, jazz drummer and leader of Opus 3 Trio. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear Opus 3 play, but Seth did give us one of their CDs, which is first rate. They spend a lot of time in Asia or on cruise ships, not much time in the US. I was hoping they might be on Nantucket again this summer, but Gary brought us up to date on them, and they’re not.

After wandering around town some more, we headed back to the WE for a rest, then returned to town to have dinner at The Pearl. We had long intended to eat there, but never made it. Last year we were booked to go on our final evening, but were tiring of running in from Wauwinet every evening, so cancelled. This year, we booked it first so as to have no excuse. And we sure were glad.

The dinner menu as a pdf file can be found here. We started by sharing the Golden Pork + Shrimp Potstickers with sesame + soy + chili oil and the Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with crispy chicken + crab spring rolls, mint + basil + butter lettuce. (I’m taking the plus signs straight from the menu.) Sublime. I don’t know how to describe how great the lettuce wraps were. Just wonderful. Then Gail went with the Lemongrass + Cilantro Beef BBQ with green papaya salad + candied cashews, traditional sticky rice, thai green chile sauce and I had Grilled Kurabuto Pork Chop with black garlic butter + crispy island egg, toasted almond fried rice + fresh herbs. Both again were fabulous. We never should have waited this long.

We awoke to rain today, ate breakfast at the WE’s Brant Point Grill during some heavy rainfall, then headed into town around 11:00 AM when the rain took a break. On to a Nantucket landmark, Murray’s Toggery Shop, home of the classic Nantucket Red line of clothing. I wrote about this a year ago. I won’t again, or even link to it. Suffice to say that if you were hoping to dress like a New York Yacht Club commodore (don’t we all?), you’ll need some Nantucket reds.

Last year I bought a pair of Nantucket red shorts. Color aside, and any whiff of WASPish upper class snobbery aside, they’re made of an excellent cotton fabric and this summer became a mainstay of my wardrobe. I needed to branch out. Today I got the red slacks and a complementary blue pair. They may change my life. Sailboat next.

On down Main Street to Jewel of the Isle, more chit-chat with Gary Trainor, and a purchase for Gail’s Nantucket charm bracelet. It was nearing 1:00 PM, time for a light lunch at another island institution, Fog Island Cafe. It’s a deceptively simple lunchtime place with tons of business and maybe the best modestly priced lunch in town. And we didn’t make it there last year, so it was a must. Gail had her usual chicken quesadillas. I had the curried chicken sandwich.

Back to Dokkim, which I won’t say much about because it just isn’t the same to go there when the owner and bag maker, Dok Kim, isn’t in town, and he isn’t this week. Then next door to Grand Union, the supermarket, for some snacks to bring back to the room. A couple more favorite stores and we headed back to the White Elephant. Soon it was raining heavily and stayed inside to read. Or actually outside, as our room leads to an outdoor seating area covered by the room above’s deck.

In the late afternoon, rain falling and wind howling, I borrowed a hotel umbrella and made my way a few hundred yards east, directly into the wind to Brant Point, site of a Coast Guard Station and one of the island’s three lighthouses, returning by a circuitous route that brought me past a line of homes that look out onto the open water of Nantucket Sound, with Cape Cod 30 miles to the north.

Soon it was time to return to town for dinner at Company of the Cauldron. Every time we’re here, we walk past it, look in at the darkened room, and wonder whether to try it. I have resisted because it has a fixed menu each night and I fear the menu won’t be to my taste. There’s a single seating this time of year, starting in fact yesterday, with two seatings in July and August. They post the coming week’s menu on-line, so one does have the opportunity to see what they’re serving before booking. This time, we booked well ahead of time, deciding to take our chances. While sitting at JFK yesterday morning, I went online and was relieved to see that tonight’s menu was an appealing one.

A few words from their website:

Located in the heart of Nantucket’s Historic District, the abundant charm of this small red building with ivy-covered windows invites you to enter. Inside the doorway massed flowers greet you on the antique bakers rack. Just beyond, tables glow softly, lit only by candles. The kitchen is open and can be seen from the dining room. Classical harp music wafts in the background three evenings of the week. Romantic ambience abounds.

Our harpist Mary Keller has been playing her harp on Nantucket for over 20 years. In addition to delighting our diners with her gentle lyrical music

That sounds about right, though it doesn’t begin to suggest just how good the food is. By Gail’s count, the restaurant holds 36 people in mostly two-tops and four-tops. We were sat in one of four closely arranged two-tops. It’s tight. But what a warm and welcoming setting!

We had four courses. I’ll just copy from the website:

Lobster & Leek Crepe
with a Lobster, Brandy-Chive Sauce

Red Oak Lettuce and Yellow Cherry Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and a Preserved Lemon and Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette

Grilled Nantucket Stout-Marinated Filet Mignon
with a Caramelized Shallot Sauce,
Roasted Potatoes, and Local Green Beans Provencal

Valrhona Chocolate “Pudding”
with Dulce de Leche

I know I shouldn’t, but I inquired about the goat cheese, learned it was feta, and they offered me an alternative of Argentinian parmesan. I accepted. I have to say, the salad might just have been the best course of the meal, and whether or not I would have liked the feta, the parmesan seemed like the perfect touch. But really, everything was perfect. The potatoes were sliced thin, like quarters. The dulce de leche sauce was a delight. Why oh why did we wait so long to eat there?

We’re back in the room now. I’m halfway through Tripwire and thought I’d spend the evening reading it. Instead, I’ve written this. Time for bed. And there’s still our New York weekend to write about. Maybe tomorrow.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Copy Editor for Hire

September 3, 2011 Leave a comment

There’s a new copy editor available for hire. Me! I’m not sure why no one has made an offer yet. But I now have proof that I can teach The New Yorker a thing or two, and I figure that has to look good on my résumé.

Reeves Wiedeman has been posting a series of notes on the New Yorker’s blog about the US Open tennis championships taking place here in New York. Two days ago, he had a short piece about Andy Roddick with a last paragraph that had the opening sentence, “It would be a stretch to say that Roddick, two days into his twenty-ninth year, has aged gracefully.”

Now, I don’t walk around with the birth years memorized for the world’s top tennis players, but I had a feeling, and the feeling was that Roddick was two days past his twenty-ninth birthday, the number twenty-nine having been planted in Wiedeman’s brain because of that. And if my feeling were correct, then Wiedeman had mis-spoken.

I googled Roddick and found that, sure enough, his birthday is August 30, 1982, which meant, sure enough, that he turned 29 two days before Wiedeman’s post.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s how I explained it in a comment responding to the post:

I don’t wish to distract from your main point, but perhaps nonetheless it’s worth pointing out that having turned 29 two days ago, Roddick is now two days into his thirtieth year, not his twenty-ninth. When we turn a certain age, we have just completed that year in our lives, as is evident when one thinks about infants on their first birthdays.

I was nervous about posting this. I didn’t want a backlash of comments about how compulsively precise I was being. I was afraid to look again to see what new comments appeared trashing me. I tried to be courteous. But, the thing is, Wiedeman was simply wrong. Someone should tell him, no?

There’s a history to this. Back in 1998, we attended an open house at the school Joel would ultimately attend for middle and high school. The headmaster gave a talk about the school’s history, emphasizing their preparation for the year-long celebration of their upcoming 75th anniversary. They began in 1924, would turn 75 in 1999, and 1999-2000 would be the celebration year. He then described what it would be like to celebrate during the school’s 75th year.

Someone had to tell him. I took on the burden and sent an email — a long one — explaining why the school, which was free to celebrate its 75th anniversary whenever it saw fit, would in fact be celebrating it during its 76th year if it chose 1999-2000 as the year. The headmaster responded in wonder, amazed, it seemed, that anyone would think about such issues, much less write to him about them.

Had I just ruined Joel’s chances of being admitted to the school? I had months to worry about that. But it worked out. He got in, the headmaster moved on to another job, and no one spoke about celebrating the 75th year of the school during its 76th year.

How did The New Yorker respond? I didn’t think they would at all. I was more concerned with flames from readers. And I wouldn’t have had the courage to look back except that I had told Joel to look at the post and he wrote back to me about it this morning. I checked and discovered that no reader had flamed me after all. No reader had even written. There was just one comment after mine, and it was from The New Yorker itself, yesterday afternoon:

When you’re right, you’re right, rsirving. We’ve amended the sentence in question. Thanks!

Posted 9/2/2011, 3:17:08pm by tnywebedit

How about that? When you’re right, you’re right. That’s what I was thinking too. Here’s the amendment: “It would be a stretch to say that Roddick, two days after turning twenty-nine, has aged gracefully.”

I might have preferred that they keep Wiedeman’s original version and simply replace “twenty-ninth” with “thirtieth.” They chose a different direction. Regardless, it’s correct now.

I won’t work for just anyone, but I’m ready, if The New Yorker wants to hire me on. Nothing like starting at the top.

Categories: Counting, Writing

Tripwire

September 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I was late to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers, not reading one until Janet Maslin wrote a rave review of number 12 in the series, Nothing to Lose, in June 2008. I found it silly. But also, I couldn’t put it down except to sleep, starting one night and finishing the next afternoon. I hadn’t had that experience in years. When Gone Tomorrow came out the following May, I snapped it up. And then I began my remedial Jack Reacher reading.

Having read 12 and 13, I went back to number 9, One Shot, because it seemed to have the best reviews of the recent ones. Then I started at the beginning. I must have written about this at the time. We had arrived in Nantucket on Labor Day two years ago, our room at the inn wasn’t ready, we went into town and wandered around, and I thought, I should read another Jack Reacher novel. I went into Mitchell’s Book Corner and they had Killing Floor, Reacher #1, in paperback. So I bought it. A couple of months later, brand new Kindle in hand, I downloaded number 2, Die Trying. By this time, I was getting saturated and decided to leave off my remedial program. I would just wait for the new ones.

May 2010 brought 61 Hours and October brought Worth Dying For, two new ones almost back to back. The first of the two was maybe the best ever; the second a bit of a come down. In any case, it was again time for a rest.

The rest is almost over. On September 27, The Affair, #16, will be released.

But that’s just a few weeks too late. Here we are, about to head to Nantucket again, and I’m ready for a thriller. Not necessarily Reacher, but someone. Two days ago, I looked through the options at Amazon. I had almost settled on James Lee Burke’s most recent Dave Robicheaux novel, The Glass Rainbow, but the more I read about it, the more I realized it might be just a bit too violent for my taste. (Burke also has a new novel out on September 27.) I finally settled on picking up my remedial program and downloaded Reacher #3, Tripwire, to my Kindle.

My plan: I’m well into Charles Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which I wrote about a few days ago. I would finish it early in our Nantucket stay, then switch to Tripwire.

The reality: We boarded our flight to JFK early yesterday morning. I got settled in my seat, took out my Kindle, and began Tripwire. What can I do? It’s Jack Reacher. How can I resist?

The problem is, I don’t have time this weekend to read it more or less straight through, as I might have done in Nantucket. I’m not here to read. I’m here for a variety of family events, not least of which is having my sister and her husband in from Paris staying at the same hotel as us. In minutes, we’ll be off to see our parents. Then there’s a cousin’s daughter’s wedding rehearsal tonight, her wedding tomorrow. I don’t anticipate bringing my Kindle to the wedding. I should have waited.

As for violence, if you know Reacher, you know how peculiar a notion it is to pass up one book for its violence only to turn to him. There was violence aplenty in just Tripwire’s opening pages. But forget that. What I’ve come to appreciate, all the more with each book, is his character, his thought processes, and Child’s attention to detail. I find myself reading some paragraphs over and over to make sure I’ve absorbed all the subtleties of what Reacher is taking in.

I still fear overdoing it. I pre-ordered The Affair months ago. I’ll read it in a few weeks, then put Reacher aside until next summer.

Categories: Books

More Books from War Criminals

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

No, I’m not going to write about that guy. I’m not going to provide a link to his book that came out this week, or an image of it at the top of the post. I don’t promote the works of war criminals. But how about a link to this post two days ago by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate?

I want to quote her, but I don’t want to mention the author of the new book by name. Let’s call him Dr. Evil. I’ll replace appearances of his real name with that.

It’s currently fashionable to believe that political and ideological battles are “real,” and it is the law that is empty symbolism. But Dr. Evil stands as an illustration of the real-life, practical value of the law. Torture really did become legal after 9/11, and even after it was repudiated—again and again—it will always be legal with regard to Dr. Evil and the others who perpetrated it without consequence. The law wasn’t a hollow symbol after 9/11. It was the only fixed system we had. We can go on pretending that torture is no longer permissible in this country or under international law, but until there are legal consequences for those who order or engage in torture, we will only be pretending. Dr. Evil is the beneficiary of that artifice.

[snip]

Most of agree that we should not be a nation of torturers, and that torture has tarnished the reputation of the United States as a beacon of justice. Most of us do not want warrantless surveillance, secret prisons, or war against every dictator who looks at us funny. We may be bloodthirsty, but we aren’t morons. On his most combative and truly lawless positions, Dr. Evil still stands largely alone.

The tragedy is that it doesn’t matter if we are all Dr. Evils now. That there is even one Dr. Evil is enough. He understands and benefits from the fact that the law is still all on his side; that there is only heated rhetoric on ours. As John Adams famously put it, the United States was intended to be a government of laws, not of men. Dr. Evil is living proof that if we are not brave enough to enforce our laws, we will forever be at the mercy of a handful of men.

By the way, I’m not letting Obama off the hook on this. His decision to look forward, not backward is the reason the law is still on Dr. Evil’s side. It didn’t have to be this way.

Amy Davidson managed to slip in a good line about Dr. Evil in a post at the New Yorker blog, also two days ago. The subject was the imminent end of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I’ll pick it up in mid paragraph:

These soldiers have already given quite enough, and still are — sixty-six servicemembers died in Afghanistan in August, the highest toll for any month yet. And, again, they gave up part of themselves by lying: an Air Force Captain said, “It’s a sanity issue…How many times can you lie before you go completely nuts?” (This would be a good week to ask that of Doctor Evil.)

Categories: Books, Politics, Torture