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Mr. Acebo’s Wild Ride

Sunday 22 February 2015

So Fingersmith looks destined to become a huge hit for OSF this season. If you’ve seen the BBC version, this is not that; it’s more Sondheim “Sweeney Todd” (without the music) than “String of Pearls” (yeah, I’m torturing the metaphor. Deal.) I’m calling it a dark comedy; Herself is calling it more of a drama with comedic elements. Whatevs. It was a hoot of a show, with enough asides through the fourth wall and slight alterations to the plot to make the ending plausible instead of not so.

The whole cast is super. Sara Bruner and Erica Sullivan are well-cast as the leads, but Kate Mulligan captures the audience every time she’s onstage.

One of the main characters you’ll see is the staging: it’s a bit of Victorian ironmongery with some high-tech additions to round out the scene. But there’s a big mechanical feature that, hand to God, reminded me of nothing so much as part of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland.

Go see it!

Hero, Defined

Saturday 21 February 2015

In most productions of Much Ado About Nothing, the Hero character is anything but: shy and retiring, swept along by the events and other (mostly male) characters, and with about as much character development as a scrim.

OSF: fixed that.

Much Ado occupies what we like to call a “family crowd-pleaser” slot in this, the Festival’s 80th season. That’s a show that is usually a little more “accessible”, has lots of comedy, and is pretty safe for all ages. Last year it was The Cocoanuts.

The production that previewed tonight, already amazing due to the standout performances by veterans Danforth Comins, Jack Willis, and and Cristofer Jean, and Christiana Clark in her second season, is raised to a new level by the fact that Hero is a real person and not a cardboard cut-out to be chased, chastised, killed, and then propped back up for the final scene: Claudio’s girlfriend, Leonato’s daughter, the dead chick, and finally, the bride.

OSF newbie Leah Anderson brings actual fire and passion to the role, making Hero stronger and more alive than is often (usually) the case. Yes, she still has to “die”, but before and after that, she’s a presence onstage right up there with the other major characters.

This is an epochal production; if you think you’ve seen Much Ado too many times to enjoy a new production, you need to see this one.

Cinnamon, the Anti-Spice

Friday 23 January 2015

A big part of food is anticipation. You know (or think you know) what you’re about to eat, you look at it, smell it, and then, finally taste it. Your entire life to that point tells your brain “this is what it’s gonna be like”.

And then there’s cinnamon, lurking in a dish like the spoiler in a movie review, waiting for the unsuspecting eater to bite…and be disappointed. You wanted sweet! Or savory! Or umami! Anything but this nasty, acrid, don’t-want-it-in-my-mouth tree bark that may be the cause for 92% of holiday season stress. Think of it: you’re anticipating sweets and happiness and all things good going into the winter, and BAM! Cinnamon, the evil step-spice of the culinary world, comes back for its annual attack on our taste buds.

Thank goodness, ten more months until That Spice becomes fashionable again.

 

The Return of Monday Fried Chicken

Monday 12 January 2015

When last we met–really, the last post before the hiatus–our favorite Monday restaurant in Ashland (Larks) had removed their quite good fried chicken from their lunch menu. This was cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth (without even good fried chicken on which to gnash!), so we stopped going there, which probably wasn’t a hugely bad idea anyway.

Several months later they came to their senses and re-instated the fried chicken at lunch, which Herself again orders, although now as a Caesar salad with fried chicken on top–call it the Atkins version of Portlandia’s Put A Bird On It. I am going for the house salad, which involves not-so-bitter greens, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and a slightly sweet vinaigrette. With some grilled chicken, it’s three courses in a single bowl.

But now we are spending a bunch more time in PDX. I wrote about this
several times before, but we have been staying up in the great rainy northern end of the state even more since then. Let’s say that the transition from the Bay Area to Ashland full-time was a little more of a unit step function that we had anticipated, and the ringing after the impulse was causing settling problems. PDX is a forty minute flight from Ashland, so we were singing “only forty-five minutes from Nordstrom” faster than you can say TSA Pre√.

We carry our traditions with us. Eastern Europeans brought bialy and bagels, Chinese railroad laborers brought what they thought was mom’s home cooking, barbecue has its meaty tendrils all the way back to Neanderthals.

We being people who mostly eat bagels, not boil them; eat dim sum, not push the carts; eat barbecue, not…well, we do smoke a fair amount of pork shoulder…the point remains, we bring the tradition of what we eat with us and seek out the local variant. So we had to seek out a local version of Monday Fried Chicken Lunch.

PDX has a lot of fried chicken, almost all of it boneless, some of it quite good, so the problem came down more to choosing the best from the rest than separating the fowl from the foul (yeah, I really did that). Key criteria are close to downtown to minimize travel during the Monday lunch window, inside seating to avoid being rained on while eating, and a reasonable price.

After sending many chickens to their oily, crispy demise in the search, we finally settled on one winner: Vitaly Paley’s Imperial. Like Larks, this is a restaurant in a hotel, but being a Paley product, goes way beyond the usual diner-in-a-dorm. High-end full bar, amazing exec chef, and the occasional Russian-themed pop-up dinner set this apart from many hotel restaurants.

So here’s a picture of the same fried chicken, as served at the 2014 Portland Feast event this past September. It was served by Chef Paley himself, and was a reminder that sometimes the best things are the simplest.

Imperial also does a nice sausage du jour, made in house. Charcuterie and similar meat products are a big deal in PDX, where half of restaurant menus are vegan and the other half have bacon in everything (same restaurants, same menus; facing pages). Today’s was a really nice kielbasa, just a little spicy and properly smoky; somewhat of a departure from the watery, bland kielbasa I remember from my childhood, and much, much better.

Fried chicken at Imperial keeps us on familiar ground at the start of the week.

Stay dry.

Resuming course

Sunday 11 January 2015

So it’s been a while. I’d cite a busy work schedule, or fascinating personal life that so totally engrossed me that posting was impossible, but…nah.

So anyway…

I’m going to rant about LED Xmas lights. I have no problem with LEDs in general (full disclosure: I have a tiny amount of stock in Cree, a leading LED device maker) or even the general concept of LEDs for Xmas lights.

Xmas lights are A Big Deal in Ashland. People leave up strands of (usually) white lights and illuminate them all year. It’s A Thing that adds a beautiful element to Ashland’s residential neighborhoods.

I put up three strands of LED bulbs a couple of years ago to replace some incandescents that finally failed after a decade of service. I was thinking: LEDs should last forever (ask my TI watch from 1976); LEDs use less energy per lumen.

But.

Come this season, all three strands had failures: long sections of each strand had bulbs that were out or unusually dim.

LED light strings and incandescent Xmas lights share some common failure points: the bulbs can loosen in the socket, an excess of moisture at the connector can cause a short, the wiring harness can fail at a connectors (plugs and sockets). So LED strings don’t have an advantage there.

Incandescent bulbs since Edison’s original require a pretty strong vacuum to work at all. No vacuum, the filament burns out instantly. This makes a broken bulb easy to spot on the assembly line. It also makes a bulb unlikely to test as working on the line, and then fail due to a bad seal on the filament leads after being installed outside. It’s what’s called “mechanically stable”.

LEDs can come from the manufacturer encased in resin so that the silicon die itself (the “filament”) is never exposed to the air. But the contacts and other electronics in the bulb may not be so well protected; they rely on the plastic bulb to keep out moisture.

So there’s the problem: on the testing line, where it’s relatively warm and dry, before the product is shipped, either kind of bulb is going to pass the final plug-and-glow test. Every incandescent bulb has to have a good vacuum, and that will also keep it from failing when exposed to moisture (like outside, in the rain or snow). But an LED bulb can pass even if it has no protection against moisture getting in and eventually ruining the bulb. So when you put them outside, the same bulb that has to protect the filament in the incandescent light is of necessity a lot more likely to be better at keeping out moisture than the plastic bulb of an LED light.

Testing LED bulbs to the same rigor that an incandescent bulb has to have by design is hard. You’d have to expose the bulbs to heat, cold, and wet for hours at a time, and no vendor is going to do that (very expensive gear). And the warranty is short enough that the return rate during the warranty must be low, so there’s no pressure on the manufacturers to make a product that will really last for years under harsh outdoor conditions.

So I’m still a big fan of LED lights–inside, where it’s warm and dry. Outside, I’m staying with incandescent.

Stay dry.

We Leave Town For A Few Days, And Look What Happens!

Wednesday 5 February 2014

So we were in Portland for a long weekend (notes to follow).

We get back, head to Lark’s for our not-infrequent Monday lunch. They had been closed the prior week for…something. We don’t know, we don’t care.

So we get in the door, and notice that the specials list, usually two soups, a salad or two, and a main or two, is just a soup and one salad. “Today is the first day of our new lunch menu,” says the hostess, “so we have no specials.” Ok, let the chef focus on the new stuff the first day of a new menu, get settled, etc. We’re good with that.

Table. Menus. Water. Review menu for changes.

No fried chicken.

Look again, must be a mistake.

No fried chicken.

Ask the waitress, “Is the fried chicken really gone?” “Yes, although it’s still on the dinner menu.”

Waitress leaves. Concerned looks between us.

“Do we bail?”

“No, that would be rude.”

“You can find something else?”

“Hmm, yes, I suppose the Caesar with chicken.”

“Ok, because we come here almost entirely because you love the fried chicken.”

“Awww…”

I’ll leave it to you to puzzle out who said what, with the hint that Herself’s blog is called “Chickenfreak’s Obsessions”, one of which is fried chicken.

So we stayed, and had an adequate lunch (one Caesar with chicken, one trout salad). And while there is a wide selection of other dishes, and they had finally gotten around (after many years) to asking if one would like butter with one’s bread (used to just be olive oil unless one knew to ask), this will greatly diminish our lunches there. Probably to zero. The fried chicken was, for us, their signature dish, the anchor that pulled us in.

Looks like we’re heading elsewhere on Mondays. Luckily Amuse will be starting lunches later this year, and Taroko is also open on Mondays (along with others we haven’t been to in a while). And Smithfield’s has darn good fried chicken.

Change can be good. We can change; we can change where we eat.

Change what we eat? Don’t be absurd!

Ashland Restaurant Update, Early 2014

Wednesday 29 January 2014

The OSF season opening is in just over three weeks. 2013 was a hard year on Ashland restaurants; some good changes, but some significant losses.

GONE:

* Alex’s Plaza Restaurant: Closed just last week. No word yet on any replacements.

* Boulton & Sons: Gone. Replaced by The Lunch Show.

* CJ’s Bistro: Apparently closed–menu and website are down, business listed as being for sale.

* Happy Falafel: Closed, replaced by Campus Grill. We will miss their fries!

* Munchies: Closed. Space absorbed by Mix.

CHANGES:

* Amuse: Reliable rumor has it that they will start serving lunch in 2014. We ate there during a couple of their test lunches and it was excellent and competitively priced vs. Larks or Standing Stone. Fries so good they might assuage the loss of Happy Falafel’s fries.

* Chateaulin: Still in limbo. A notice for application for a liquor license was posted in September, and there have been signs of construction, but still not open.

* Deli Downstairs: Expanded into the former Larry’s Cupcake space.

* Mix: Moved all their baking operations downstairs into the former Munchie’s space. Upstairs is now all seating and the coffee bar.

* Playwright: Apparently on the market (http://www.realtytrac.com/property/or/ashland/97520/258-a-st/204228272). Anybody want to buy a pub?

NEW:

* Alchemy Restaurant and Bar: Replaced the prior restaurant at the Winchester Inn. DInners most days and Sunday brunch. We haven’t been yet but reviews are generally positive.

* Campus Grill: In the former Happy Falafel space, owned by the same people who own and run Red Zone.

* Oberon’s Three-Penny Tavern: On the Plaza. Renaissance-themed tavern. Music and drink, not much food.

* Salame: On the Plaza in the former Grilla Bites location. Meat, meat, more meat in a general Mediterranean setting. Really good, especially the charcuterie.

* Sammich: Sandwich restaurant opened by former chefs from Cucina Biazzi. Good stuff, way way way above most of the other sandwich-only places in town. They’re down on Bridge Street, just off Siskiyou.

* The Lunch Show: In the former Boulton and Sons space, providing some competition for Sammich and Deli Downstairs. Menu changes daily–I mean, the ENTIRE menu changes daily.

Cross your fingers for 2014!

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