Avalon, Catalina Saturday

DSC08328 (Custom)Saturday morning we went to Original Jacks in the previous location of Polly’s Pancakes. They are famous for their Hawaiian French Toast with macadamia nuts and coconut syrup. I had the eggs benedict, and couldn’t complain.

DSC08308 (Custom)DSC08305 (Custom)We had reserved a pair of chaises at the Descanso Beach Club in the cove beyond the Casino. It’s a little steep to avoid the rabble at the private beach. During high season, a pair of chaise lounges goes for $75, while a cabana rental is $250 to $6oo. Or you can park yourself at the bar for free. We were treating ourselves to lounges so we could order drinks on the beach like in the movies. Unfortunately, they were undergoing construction so the only lunch available was a prepackaged turkey sandwich, and it took us forever to get drinks. Nonetheless, we did eventually get to drink fancy fruity drinks on the beach. A pineapple mojito, and a Buffalo Milk, the official drink of Catalina.

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I just loved her bathing suit!

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Do not tease the wildlife with potato chips

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We had booked a SNUBA excursion off the beach. Then I had booked massages in a cabana on the beach afterwards. This trip was a big 10-year anniversary splurge. The SNUBA guide was a big scary bastard, really rough, muscular and Marine-like. I immediately disliked him. But I was about to go into some deep, tidal waters with damaged shoulders and I could just see with this guy’s attitude, he was not going to let me drown, dammit! Not on HIS watch!

The first thing you have to do to get into the water at that cove is sit on the rocks, then push off from the rocks. Using your shoulders. And my shoulders didn’t work. I had explained this to the guide. But he yelled at me, “Push off from the rocks!” He thought I was having a panic attack.

“I can’t push. If I can’t even get this far I had better go back.”

Push off from the rocks!”

“I’m just going to endanger you by making you try to save me.”

Look at me. I’m not going to let you drown.”

Fine. I got into the damn water, and he hooked me up to the SNUBA breathing apparatus which connected the three of us like umbilical cords to a raft. Once I got into deep water, I didn’t need my arms to swim and I just got entranced and started following colorful fish. There was a big wall of kelp I had to avoid. But the weight and the snuba hose didn’t help me to dive any better than if I had been snorkeling. At one point I popped my head out of the water to look at the guide and make sure I was going the right way to avoid the kelp. That’s when i realized I was towing the two guys, raft and all, behind me. Bob later told me the guy said, “Look at her. She’s afraid of the water and she’s a goddamned dolphin.”

There were three gorgeous women free diving in their underwear, taking turns posing for cheesecake pictures in beds of seaweed. The guide said, “Those girls are crazy.” But I wished with all of my heart I was one of those girls.

Our massages were cancelled last minute, because it was just that kind of day, so we decided to bar hop, because it was also one of those kinds of days. We hit El Galleon, which has the biggest goddamned drinks in the world. They arrived in huge goblets. I remember one of them was a Buffalo Milk. I don’t remember what the other one was, but it was a disturbing shade of green. Maybe it was their Caribbean Daiquiri.

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The decor is totally crazy


A tower of very good cioppino. They say the name derives from the Italian fishermen in San Francisco who would make the communal seafood stew with whatever was the catch of the day. The name comes from their heavily accented, “Chip in!” That story may be apocryphal, and probably offensive to Italian-Americans, but there you are.

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Swordfish. I’m afraid to order it after hearing all of those stories about gigantic worms. But we don’t have to tell him about the giant worms, OK?

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Next we hit the island’s dive bar, The Marlin Club, which is the closest you can get to a local’s place in Avalon. The bar is designed to look like a boat, but it was too dark to take many pictures.

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One of the guys would tell newcomers an elaborate story about a cow that would end with him squirting you in the face from the teat of his fake cow. I managed to escape the drenching, having grown up with four older brothers. Then there was some elaborate joke involving a toy shark in a Tupperware container of water and the ever-popular who can fold the bar towel to look most like a dick.

DSC08430 (Custom)It wasn’t flying fish season, so we just walked out on the green pier. No flying fish, but we did see a Tern.

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Avalon, Catalina Friday

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Friday morning we had breakfast at Polly’s Pancakes, which had moved since the last time I visited. It’s on the waterfront now. Nothing like blueberry pancakes to start the day.

blueberry pancakes

The partially submerged submarine tour is a huge improvement over the glass-bottomed boats. We were lucky and saw a rare giant black grouper.

Catalina submarine

black grouper


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We visited a few dive shops and determined that with my shoulder problems I probably couldn’t handle the weight of the tanks, so we signed up for something called SNUBA. More on that later. We were excited to try the Lobster Trap and it did not disappoint.

Lobster Trap

A giant black bass like the one we saw from the submarine

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“Monkey Balls” Mushrooms stuffed with ahi was an unusual appetizer, but not something I would order again.

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The Seafood Pasta with shrimp, scallops, clams, and fresh fish was fantastic and worth another visit.

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We had a formal dinner at Steve’s Steakhouse. They still managed to reserve us a table with a beautiful ocean view even though we had rescheduled. Very old school service.

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Simpson’s Food Wife Song

No original cartoon montage, but the song is worth it.

“…I’m all about radicchio, criticize Collichio…” They even name check Ruth Reichl.


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Avalon, Catalina Thursday

The Catalina Cruiser may only be an hour now compared to 3 hours in the good old days, but it’s still a lurching, seasickness-inducer. On the way out we stopped at 2 Harbors, where my dad used to moor his boat, so that was nice for nostalgia. As soon as I hit town, one of my first stops is always Antonio’s Pizza. A Catalina mainstay since the 60s, Antonio’s serves fantastic pizzas and pastas. But I am addicted to their Cheese Crisp, which could be compared to a white pizza. It is described on the menu as: A thin pizza crust brushed with garlic butter and topped with five cheeses and chopped pepperoncini.

The room at Hotel Atwater was a little disappointing at first, cramped and muggy. But after cranking the AC, it turned out to be very snug and comfy with very comfortable beds and a window that didn’t look out onto a noisy party street – a lucky break for a place right in the center of town. And it didn’t feel haunted, or “enchanted” as locals like to say. I may not believe in ghosts by the light of day, but you won’t find me at the Alexandria Hotel. Even the local grocery store is haunted, and our cab driver had his own creepy ghost story about that store.

It was also across the street from Pete’s, the only place in Avalon open til midnite weekdays and 2am on weekends. It gets crappy Yelp reviews, and the desk clerk at Hotel Atwater rolled his eyes when it was mentioned, but they made a killer carnitas burrito and were really nice. One thing though, as much fun as it is to be drunk, it’s equally as annoying to be around drunk people when you are sober, which is pretty much everyone at Pete’s.

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Mardi Gras 2005 Day 5

Day 5 – Ash Wednesday

Everyone is a little sad the day after Christmas. Everyone is just a little let down. The same cannot be said of Mardi Gras. On Ash Wednesday, the entire city heaved an almost audible sigh of relief. On Ash Wednesday, the city of New Orleans put on its pajamas and turned off the porch light.

We realized upon waking that we were probably not fit to be out in public on our own. Considering our severe exhaustion and sleep deprivation, we were probably at the point of malleability at which we could be lured into a cult. For this reason, and since their room service was provided by Café Adelaide, a Brennan’s restaurant, we decided to have a leisurely breakfast in bed. The Eggs Benedict were good, but I had expected something more spectacular from a Brennan. The Pain Perdue, however WAS spectacular. It was pure heaven. It was uber-french-toast, all wrinkly and scrunched up. I suspected it may have been momentarily deep-fried.

We went over to Thrift City where I picked up armloads of Mardi Gras costumes on clearance for a few dollars each. We will be having a Mardi Gras themed anniversary party in May, so I was stocking up.

Our hotel was only a few blocks from the Bon Ton Cafe, so we had lunch/dinner there. I had worn Levis, expecting a “café” to be casual. The restaurant was much fancier than I had expected, and I felt a bit underdressed. But the cheerful waitress immediately made us feel at home. She was so chatty and fun, I wanted to pull her into the bathroom to put on makeup together and gossip about boys. We chatted with her so much, I was worried we would get her in trouble. But I looked around and noticed quite a few waitresses having indepth, meaningful conversations with customers. Yet no table was being ignored. Their staff was large enough that they had time to maintain impeccable service, while heaping attention on each customer. Chatting even seemed to be encouraged. What a refreshing philosophy.

The Crab Gratin looked wonderful, but rich, so we decided to split two dishes. The most appealing second dish was the sirloin tips in a red wine sauce. It seemed comforting, like a homemade stew. But I noticed that every single waitress there had an ashen cross on her forehead. Ash Wednesday is a day for fasting an abstinence in the Catholic church. No red meat. So now we had a dilemma, sure it looked good, but would it be worth going to hell for? I decided that the previous day’s activities were far more likely to endanger my immortal soul than those delicious sirloin tips. What are floats anyways, but giant golden calves?? I tortured Kristina by making her wait to eat until I took pictures of the food. God love her for putting up with me.

The Crab Gratin was probably the best thing I ate on the entire trip. There were pieces of crab as big as my thumb. And sweet, so sweet, without a bit of fishiness. The “gratin” was a crispy cheese crust, almost like a cheese crème brulee. A fromage brulee. The white sauce was light and not at all overpowering. The red wine sauce on the sirloin tips was so delicious we could have drank shots of it. They also had a nice gumbo and a salad dressing that Kristina was wild about. When the bread pudding arrived I didn’t expect to like it. I had already seen the recipe and noticed they used margarine instead of butter. I was so wrong. But along with the delicious bread pudding was the stunning kick of whiskey. I asked if the whiskey in the sauce was cooked, and was told no…it seemed as if they had just poured a shot of straight whiskey over the whole thing.

Walking back to the hotel, we were followed by two men who refused to pass us when I slowed and moved to the side. I turned and acknowledged them just to let them know I knew they were there. The one said casually, “I was just thinking about grabbing that ass” as he gestured in Kristina’s general direction. I channeled Janis’ take-no-shit N’awlins attitude and said, “Look, MISTER, Mardi Gras is OVER. You better straighten up and act right.” They rushed into Mother’s and we thought, “They don’t DESERVE Mothers.”

We went back to the hotel and put on our walking shoes for a foray through the Quarter. Really I was just biding time until I could eat again. We took a taxi to the Café Du Monde. Coincidentally, the taxi driver asked us if people had been behaving themselves around us. So we told him somewhat lightheartedly of Kristina’s groping and near-groping. At the end of the ride, the driver refused to take my money. I said, “We know it’s not locals. It’s stupid tourists. It’s not you.” He opened my door, and in this huge taxi driver’s eyes I saw such an infinite sadness, I threw my arms around him and we stood holding eachother in front of the Café Du Monde. He said, “God, we’re bonding.” I leaned back to look for sarcasm on his face and saw none at all.

The warm glow of the lights at the Café Du Monde and the gentle murmers of the crowd were calming and comforting. Everyone was relaxed in the quiet aftermath of Carnival.

We shopped for gifts, CDs and cookbooks, then headed over to Acme. I figured if the “Peacemaker” was truly meant to be brought home after a night of drinking, Acme must be open past 11pm. Who gets in trouble with their wife before 11pm? I was sadly mistaken. Or perhaps that story is apocryphal.

After 11 pm, it is as hard to find food on Bourbon street as it is easy to find alcohol. We were finally sent over to Déjà vu (no, it’s not a strip club, in spite of the name), a bar on Conti a few blocks up from Bourbon. Nice, cozy wooden benches. An “assorted” clientele of colorful characters. They had a good variety of beers, and the waitress was cool. I was hesitant to order seafood in a bar, though I had my heart set on a shrimp Po’Boy at Acme. I got pork chops, and they were outrageously good. The gravy was good. The potatoes were good. You just can’t get a bad meal in New Orleans.

So, for those of you in the Big Easy late at night, you have four
choices that I know of:

1. Camellia Grill…uptown where the streetcar stops. Way out there. Open til 3 am for Mardi Gras, open til 1 am.


2. Coops’ …on Decatur toward St Peters…across from Margaritaville..I have yet to ever find it closed.

3. Jumani …when the jukebox is turned down it’s not so bad. …Iberville a block down from Bourbon…they may close

around 3 am, but may not close at all

4. Déjà vu …Conti and Dauphine, 2 blocks up from Bourbon…24 hours

We had a scant few hours before we had to leave for the airport. Acme or Uglesich’s??? Uglesich’s or Acme??? The Sophie’s choice of Po’ Boys was driving me mad. Finally, since we were worried about missing the flight, and Kristina was still waxing romantic about her Ferdi, we made the rash decision to go back to Mother’s a second time.

I ordered a shrimp po’boy and red beans and rice. I knew their Po’boy couldn’t match Acme, but I hadn’t had a shrimp Po’Boy yet. I couldn’t leave town without having had a shrimp po’boy. Once again, I was proven wrong. The Po’boy was bursting with the most glorious pink, juicy shrimp I have ever had. I realized that every shrimp I have ever had in my life was overcooked.

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Mardi Gras 2005 Day 4

Day 4 -Tuesday

Mardi Gras morning I woke at exactly 8 am and decided that it meant we were supposed to go to the Zulu parade. You may wonder why I was willing to get up so early for a parade. Or why I would want to go to another parade at all. Especially after taking to many beads in the face. Because the Zulu parade is the greatest parade of Mardi Gras. It is the African-American parade and they have the best costumes and bands. Also, Professor Longhair insisted “When you see the Zulu king, you gonna know what carnival’s for.”

But the big draw was the coveted golden coconut, the holy grail of all parade throws. They are not allowed to throw them; they are gently bestowed upon the chosen few. Which was lucky for me, because they are big, fucking heavy, real painted coconuts. I’m sure if they were throwing them I would not be here writing this today. It soon became clear to me that due to an abundance of adorable children and sexy college girls, that I would not be getting a coconut. So I acquired one in what was perhaps the most New-Orleanian way of all…I bought one off a shifty-eyed street person on Bourbon Street later that afternoon.

***WARNING: If you are at all uncomfortable with the discussion of breasts, and my breasts in particular, read no further. It is not too late to turn back***

We had paid for an all-day package at Mike Andersons for Mardi Gras. Open bar, buffet, balcony: 200 bucks. Clean bathroom: priceless. We had felt a little ripped off by the price, but when we escaped the screaming, sweating, undulating throng and entered the cool, dark sanctuary of Mike Anderson’s, it was so worth it. Elbow room!!! Freedom!!! Personal space!!!

We took one look at the seafood buffet and immediately regretted drinking gin and tonics the night before. We asked the bartender for a hangover cure and he made us “Colorado Bulldogs” which involved milk, coca-cola, Kahlua, and possibly Baileys. I was somewhat wary, but they did the trick and we proceeded to drink them for the next 10 hours.

We soon discovered that the overkill of beads I had ordered paled in comparison to the other guests’. One person had 26 boxes of beads. And they had the big, giant strings…some with stuffed animals dangling from the beads. Mike Anderson’s has the best beads in town, and the guests are all very competitive about it. We joined the others on the balcony and soon saw the reason for the elaborate beads. Tits. We saw tits. We saw tit after tit after tit. We saw more tits than a person who does mammograms (a Mammographer? A Mammogrammer???). The tit gangs worked in threes. One guy dangled a long, tempting string of beads. The second manned a camera or video. The third guy was down on the street, pointing to the beads and cajoling girls into flashing…closing the deal. They were total pigs. Within a few hours we were total pigs too, cheering on the girls and throwing beads. The women throwing beads from the balcony were always trying to figure out what they should make the men do for beads. Some of them were totally brutal, “Kiss the ground!!” I don’t think an offer to pay off my mortgage could make me kiss Bourbon street, the filthiest street in America. Mostly I made guys guys pop-lock or do the robot. One of the tit-gang guys mocked my modest beads, which I was throwing with abandon. I told him, “You should be grateful. This is chum. I’m chumming the waters for you.”

While on the subject of tits, one of the girls there told us about “The Judges”. They had a spot in a little bar down the street, and meted out judgement and certificates of exposure to those willing to flash their tits. Kristina and I had a mission #3. To flash on Bourbon during Mardi Gras. We decided that sounded like the best way to do it, in a lighthearted spirit, with less chance of Webcams or being grabbed by strangers. Plus, we were about 5 “Colorado Bulldogs” along.

As we walked out, Janis, who is a combination plate of motherliness with a side of I-take-no-shit-and-I-mean-business, who also happened to have been my wedding planner, blocked the door and asked suspiciously, “Where y’all goin????”
“To the judges.”
“Oh no you’re not!!! Over my dead body!!!”
“Look, Janis, they’re almost 40. If they’re ever going to come out to play, this is definitely the time and the place.”
“Oh no, they never get to come out to play. The puppies NEVER get to play!!!”
Finally, after much discussion, she threw her arms up in disgust and sat down, glaring at me.

Kristina and I wandered down Bourbon, and soon came across a group of men in robes and old-fashioned barrister wigs. I said, perhaps a bit melodramatically, “We have come to be judged.” We were ushered one at a time into the small, dim room. Before I went in, I put on a mask (I’m not totally insane). Four “judges” sat at a table with such props as yardsticks, scales, and calipers. A fifth man had a digital camera, and a sixth a video camera. I was told to lift my shirt. Click, whirr, STAMP!!! Stamp?? Out of nowhere came 2 rubber stamps and stamped my breasts with the seal of approval…a circle with the number 10 in the middle! I was totally taken aback by being rubber-stamped and warned Kristina as she stumbled in. Maybe not “warned”, so much as screamed in her face, “Oh my God, Kristina!!! They rubber-stamped my tits!!!!”

As we swayed back towards Mike Anderson’s it started to rain. I don’t think I mentioned before that we were dressed as Catholic school girls. In flimsy white tops. With no bras on. In the rain. I looked over and Kristina’s right breast was bright red. The other was bright green. I looked down at my own shirt. The ink from the judge’s seal had seeped through my shirt intact, like the shroud of Turin, with the number “10” perfectly visible on my right breast.

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Mardi Gras 2005 Day 3

Day 3 – Monday

From the moment we were awakened prematurely by a call from the front desk, almost everything went wrong Monday. Mostly the usual hotel problems, but I had a total drama trying to get my 90 pounds of beads to the Mardi Gras party we were planning to attend at Mike Andersons. They insisted we bring them Mardi Gras day, when cabs don’t run in the Quarter, or that night, when we had Neville Brothers tickets. They wouldn’t let me bring them right then. They fought me and fought me on it and Janis, my “connection” there was off that day. So I called the bell desk and a guy came up to discuss the situation. I wanted them to take the beads over for me in a taxi later that night since we had Neville Brothers tickets and couldn’t. What followed was a conversation straight out of the Sopranos. The bellman wanted to know how much I would give him to “take care of the…ummm…”situation”. He shook me down for 40 bucks and assured me he was going straight to Mike Andersons and they were “gonna take dem beads”. Kristina asked me why I gave money to such a pushy jerk. I figured fight fire with fire.

We had breakfast/lunch at Mulates. It is made to look like a big warehouse, in a Disneyesque way. There was a zydeco band playing and old people dancing the two-step. It was clearly the kind of place where a local would not be caught dead. My stuffed crabs were mediocre but Kristina went nuts over her crab-stuffed catfish.

We walked over to the Orpheus parade, which was just gorgeous. Their parades were covered with gigantic flowers and the bands were rocking. Very “Drum Line”. As I was taking a picture of a lovely float, a bag of beads hit the camera lens, smashing the camera into my face and possibly scratching the lens.

By now I had learned how to catch beads. You have to block the face with the hands, like you would catch a baseball. But then a huge bunch of beads came flying towards me that were not in a bag so I could catch them. They were tied together with a band at one end, and were like a spinning whip. They flew between my hands and got me right in the face. Hard. REALLY HARD. It felt like what I imagine it would be like to get shot with 100 BB guns at once. Tears immediately streamed down my face as I staggered away. A parade worker tried to lead me to an ambulance. I refused, saying, “I’m OK, I just need to cry for exactly 5 minutes.” As he continued trying to coax me into the ambulance, a bright shiny float passed by, and I ran off to take a picture. Oooooh, pretty….

I thought I would have purple dots on my face the next day, but it seems my face can take alot more than I had ever given it credit for. No bruises at all. But Kristina and I were wondering if the Krewe meetings went like this:” OK, I’ll give you 10 bucks for every hat you can knock off an old man, and 20 bucks for every redhead you can smash in the kisser…”

We headed over to House of Blues at 11:30 and the Neville Brothers were right on schedule. It was packed like a sardine can, if sardines were really big and sweaty revelers. I figured if we couldn’t see, we could at least hear well, so we went to stand by the soundboard. We were lucky and got a clear view from the platform by the board. When they played “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky Way” it was magic. Mostly they played religious music and covers. They did “Ball of Confusion” and two Bob Marley songs. Aaron did an a capella version of “Amazing Grace” that was so touching it probably would have made me weep if not for the distraction of the pain in my feet from all the walking, and the pain in my face from all the bead not-catching. I was disappointed that Art didn’t do his old stuff, but he didn’t really look well. They had to help him from the keyboard when they left the stage.

After the House of Blues, we headed over to Jumani, my favorite late-night bar that also serves food. I was very disappointed to discover that during Mardi Gras they don’t make their infamous “ass-pork sandwiches”.

If I may digress for a moment, I will tell you the story of the ass-pork sandwich. Delicate ears need read no further. The first time I ate at Jumani, it was on the recommendation of a cab driver. It was very late at night, or very early in the morning, depending on your perspective. On that first visit, my boyfriend and I ordered pulled pork sandwiches. While we waited, I asked a patron if I could sit on the empty barstool next to him. He looked at me as if I had just suddenly appeared out of thin air, and he could do nothing but blink uncomfortably at me. I looked around and I noticed that I was the only woman in the bar. I looked up at the TV and I saw a screenful of BARE NAKED ASSES. It was some kind of home video shot outdoors in a large crowd, comprised of nothing but naked ass after naked ass. In retrospect, it was probably a “Girls Gone Wild Mardi Gras Ass Fest,” but I was still innocent of such things at the time. I’m not a prude, but those asses weren’t just playfully wiggling. Those asses were up to no good. I asked for our sandwiches “to go”. The aggravated bartender groused, “Why didn’t you tell me they were ‘to go’ before I started making them?!” I replied, “ Because I just now decided that I prefer my pork without so much ass on the side.” Well, as it turned out, those were the best damn pulled pork sandwiches we have ever had outside of Tennessee. We have returned to Jumani time and time again, willing to brave homemade porn just to get to those sandwiches. Ever since that night, though, there has never been anything on the television except for ESPN sports. But the damage had been done, and for us Jumani will forever be known as the home of the “ass-pork” sandwich.

Back at Mardi Gras, the complete and utter lack of “ass-pork” was strike one for Jumani that night. We ordered and paid for beer and fried Nackitoches meat pies intead. Second strike, they were CRANKING heavy metal. Slayer. And I mean LOUD. I had just come from a live concert. I have been front row at The Who, Alice Cooper, AND Ozzy Osbourne. Those concerts were loud. But this jukebox was LOUD. I screamed into the bartender’s ear, “What’s up with cranking the music?” He said, “It’s Mardi Gras!”

That is pretty much the standard answer to every single question from
“Why isn’t the toilet working?”
“It’s Mardi Gras!!!”
to something as conversational as “What song are they doing next?”
“It’s Mardi Gras, Baby!!!”
I guess I would interpret it as basically, “Chill out. All hell is breaking loose and you should just ride with it.” It also means “No.”

Soon, every time Kristina and I experienced bizarre, inexplicable, or rude behavior, after staring at eachother momentarily puzzled, we just yelled simultaneously, “It’s Mardi Gras!!!”

Finally we couldn’t deal with Jumani’s Slayer torture any longer, and got “to go” cups for our beer. The guy asked, “What about your food?” I said “You eat it! It’s Mardi Gras!””

We got in a taxi and asked him to take us to Camellia Grill, which I know is open late, is “Roadfood” approved, and was somewhere on St. Charles. He insisted he knew where it was and proceeded to take a very strange route. I thought, “Where the fuck is he going? He picked us up a block away from St Charles.” but I figured he was taking some shortcut. We were soon in a spooky, deserted warehouse district. This was no shortcut. Then we were driving through a dense fog near the shipping docks. I thought, “Oh Fuck. We are going to be sold into white slavery. That’s all we need.” But aware that I am prone to hysterical paranoia, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt that possibly he was not running a white slavery ring into East Asia. I asked, “Is St Charles closed to clean up after the parades?” He parroted back to me as non-native English speakers tend to do, “Yes. The parade. The parade.” We arrived at a dark restaurant. Kristina, with great foresight, had us wait while she ran over to check it out. Not only was it closed, it was the wrong restaurant. I called on my cell phone for the cross street while he insisted he knew where he was. As we drove down St Charles. Which was clearly not closed.

There is a point during every vacation where I decide I hate this city/country/world. This was my moment.

Finally the comforting glow of the Camellia Grill came into view. A juicy burger, a chocolate-cherry shake and a waiter dripping with charm made me hate everything just a little less. Kristina told him of our long expedition, and he told us in great detail how the taxi driver ripped us off by going out of the way.

People in New Orleans love to tell you what you did wrong after it’s too late. They are full of head-shaking hindsights and dire warnings. Sometimes it seems like half the city is trying to take advantage of you, and the other half is desperately trying to prevent them from doing so.

As I headed to the restroom at the Camellia grill, I chanced upon a man in the hallway, just standing there, randomly pondering a cabbage held aloft in one upraised hand.

After a much faster cab ride back to the hotel, we got to bed at 4 am, and decided to not set the alarm and let fate decide if we would make the Zulu Parade at 10 am the next morning…

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Mardi Gras 2005 Day 2

I woke up around 2 pm. We looked out the window and the parades were going right past us, plus we were kitty-corner from Mother’s Po Boys. We went over and got in line at Mother’s. They had a cop working the line to make sure everyone followed protocol. We ordered a Ferdi (roast beef, ham, and pan drippings known as “debris”), a roast beef sandwich, grits, red beans and bread pudding. We could only manage to eat one sandwich and some bread pudding. One tip I learned…take the sandwich and turn it upside down. That way the meat doesnt fall out the soggy bottom. We were stuffed. That sandwich was a revelation for Kristina. A parade started going by and I ran out for a quick sec to watch. I was almost immediately beaned right between the eyes with a full dozen bag of beads. OUCH!!! There is an art to parade watching.

Kristina came out and we got caught up in the fun. The mood was festive, everyone was cool, it was the exact opposite of Bourbon Street. We spent around two hours out there, and caught a bunch of stuff. But then as I was going long for a doubloon, I fell on my ass in the gutter and broke the lens right off my new digital camera! But at least the pics are still accessable. And Kristina got a great shot of me falling down. Then Kristina got beaned in the head with a full bag of beads, so we returned to the hotel and relaxed in the jacuzzi.

Sunday evening we walked down to the Bacchus parade. We had been led to believe it was a somewhat risque parade, but there were kids on the floats and it was your standard parade. It had a football theme this year, so we weren’t that into it.

The crowd was not as cool as the day crowd. One guy in particular managed to pull off a triple-header of spilling my own beer on me, screaming at ME for it, and copping a feel off Kristina. Here is what happened: a float rider had tossed some beads to me, even though I was standing away from the crowd with my beer. This guy leapt in front of me to intercept the beads as if he were taking a bullet for the president. Then he screamed at me when my beer spilled. As I yelled back at him, an incredibly smooth local woman took my by the elbow and led me away, saying, “Look! Look at that! You have to get a picture of that!” (Look at the birdie, look at the birdie…) I took the obligatory picture, accepting her intervention. Then I got hit right in the eye with a huge bag of beads.

After a fresh beer and bag of ice, we continued walking along the parade route. Someone yelled in my face, “Peristyle!!!” I stared at him stupidly, dumbfounded that he knew my favorite restaurant, before recognizing him as the maitre d’. We asked him where we should eat, and he yelled over the marching band,

“Eat Elvis Presley!!!!

“Go Eat Elvis Presley!!!”
“LeKit Brossree!!!!”
“Oh, Le Cote Brasserie!!!”
“Kristina asked, “What’s a brossree??” Then she took a bag of beads in the side of the head.

At Le Cote Brasserie, we took seats at the bar and ordered appetizers (tempura shrimp and crab cakes). When I returned from a restroom break, I found a Phish-type guy cozying up to Kristina. He was in the middle of a hard-luck tale about how he had no place to stay. I told him to go to Le Richeleau and ask them to call him a cab.

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Mardi Gras 2005 Day 1

Since I can’t be in New Orleans this year, I might as well relive the magic.

Day 1 Saturday

We flew in and made it to Peristyle for our 10pm reservations. I knew their scallops were amazing, so I ordered them as an appetizer. The menu options were exotic, and I knew it would all be good, so I let the server choose. I had duck, with duck bacon and foi gras. Normally I would not order fois gras, but it something to try once in your life. Remember SQUIRT gum? Your entire mouth is flooded with pure fat. It is like meat custard, the richest fattiest thing in the world. The duck was not at all gamey, but cooked medium rare, the flavor was just too “ducky”. Although most people probably prefer that their duck taste like duck, I need it cooked longer and to have some type of fruit sauce to make it palatable.

I had a mission to get a photo of me flashing at “Girls Gone Wild” for the comedic effect. We walked over to their party. They didn’t have banners for me to pose in front of, but I put on one of their hats while Kristina got a photo…mission accomplished. We went over to where their back rooms were and saw a giant, burly guy “escort”, no…, “lead”, no, “strong arm” a young, totally wasted girl into the back room. It made the hair on our necks stand up. We were skeeved out, and left immediately. We walked a few blocks down Bourbon street and soon hated everybody. It was a bad vibe. Withing 10 minutes, I was splashed with beer, Pimm’s cup (mine) and vomit (not mine). I cleaned up at the Napoleon House. I scrubbed up with water hot enough to burn me. I noticed Kristina hadn’t given away any of her beads and she said, “Those people don’t deserve my beads.”

We went to Coop’s, quite a walk away, but by now we needed crab claws and sanity. We sunk into a cozy wooden bench. We feasted on their unbelievable crab claws, and Pasta Opelousas. I bought their cookbook, since that Pasta Opelousas is Bob’s favorite.

Now we were ready to go home, but there were no taxis. NO TAXIS. So we walked over to Hotel Le Richeleau where I knew they have a taxi stand. But there were NO TAXIS. We went into Le Richeleau and the lady called for one. She wouldn’t let us wait outside because she said the driver would get mad if she called them and then we were gone when they arrived. She insisted that we wait in the lobby. We passed through the bar on the way to use the ladies room and there were only two people in the bar, one at a table, and one on a stool, both sound asleep. We went back into the lobby and each took a seat on their two Queen Anne sofas. We slowly slid down in the couches, and Kristina immediately fell asleep. I gave up after trying to wake her up twice. The next thing I knew, I was waking up myself and asked the lady how much time had passed. She said, “Only twenty minutes…I called twice…they’ll come.” So I let myself drift off again. Soon I awoke in a panic. We were in the poppy fields of The Wizard of Oz! As we left, Kristina said, “I don’t think that lady really called a taxi”. We luckily caught one a block away (well, I stood in front of it and it either had to stop or run me over….desperate times…desperate measures).

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The Taste 2013

I had a blast at The Taste this year! First off was “Field to Fork” which offered a lot of fresh dishes to whet the palate. Then came Jonathan Gold and Song Yoon’s “Tastes of LA”. Not only did I have some exotic tastes, but they had uni! And tequila! This is antelope, and I ate it! It was good, too.

John from Social Domain and I started with the cocktails and moved on to the shots.

Then I babbled at Jonathan Gold

Then I got risque with Nguyen of Starry Kitchen

ate some uni

Then this happened

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Carlsbad Wednesday

Wednesday we walked around town and shopped. We were again sucked into the vortex that is the corner of Carlsbad Blvd and Carlsbad Village Drive. We found a gastropub called Compass, with all the current hip food, like sweet potato fries and beet salad with fried goat cheese. Which was good, because I was in the mood for some beets. Did I mention it was all organic?

They also had the de rigeur chalkboard of brews, whichwas good, because Bob was in the mood for a Sculpin IPA. His chicken sandwich was so-so and they sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on the sweet potato fries, which annoyed me, but it was worth it just for that beet salad.

We watched movies and read for the rest of the day and ate takeout Italian subs. The next day we headed home. Not my usual action-packed and misadventure-fraught holiday, which makes for a dull blog but was really nice for a change.

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Carlsbad Tuesday

We decided instead of going to San Diego for Sea World we would continue with our mellow beach holiday. We went to the well-reviewed Naked Cafe, which surprise, surprise was on the corner of Carlsbad and Carlsbad Village in an outdoor mall next to the old Victorian. I got a half order of the coconut French toast that is their claim to fame, and it earned its reputation. It was not too sweet, but very coconutty. They have a huge selection of coffees and teas, and a cool mix of reggae and calypso playing over the sound system. I also tried the carrot-ginger soup. The carrot tasted like it had just been pulled out of the ground, with a definite bite of ginger. Bob and his mom were very happy with their sandwich and salad.

We had a hard time finding the Museum of Making Music. Hint: approach it from Armada, not from Fleet. It is sponsored by or a part of NAMM, which puts on a huge convention in San Diego every year. It’s a nice little museum, small enough that you don’t get tired or bored. The interactive musical instruments were fun for everyone.

They had session musician Hal Blaine’s drum set, which was used on Good Vibrations, Be my Baby, Galveston and Mr Tambourine Man by the Byrds.

I also discovered the Mellotron, the sound of which I immediately recognized as the beginning strains of Strawberry Fields.

We took a friend’s advice and checked out the Crate and Barrel outlet. Bob got a pair of shoes at the Rockport outlet and I bought a few birthday presents for family.

By now it was time for dinner. We escaped the Carlsbads corner and checked out Village Kitchen and Pie on Tamarack just east of the 5 freeway. It is kind of like a Spires, but family-run. My chicken pot pie had a thick, flavorful gravy and lots of fresh vegetables in a thick housemade crust.

The salads were enormous. I’m not usually jealous of the person who ordered salad. The cornbread was sweet and cakelike.

But the big draw was the fruit pie. My blueberry pie was so good I ate more of it than I intended, and Bob’s raspberry sour cream pie was flavorful and not a bit tart. It’s such a treat to find raspberry pie and at the height of the season.

I fell into a food coma at 7pm and slept.

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Carlsbad Monday

Everything is happening at the corner of Carlsbad Blvd. and Carlsbad Village Drive. There is Pig Liquor, which is where locals gather to catch up on the news. All they need is a checkerbord on a barrel. They have a huge selection of rare and microwbrew beers. Next door is Cessy’s, a small Mexican joint that always has a crowd.

They are known for their carne asada, so I ordered  burrito which comes with only guacamole and pico de gallo salsa. There was a tiny bit of gristle, but that is common for carne asada. Where they really excelled was with their traditional fish tacos – deep fried fresh fish with cabbage and a mayonnaise sauce. One of the best fish tacos I have ever had.

Onthe other side of Pig Liquor stands a rare bookshop called Farenheit 451 – a nice place to while away a few hours. They had around 12 of the Oz books. I could have spent a fortune. As it was, I got a linguistics book, an Edward T Hall book about how different cultures understand the concept of time, and an autobiography by Gary Gilmore’s brother, who we strangely just discovered is one of Bob’s FaceBook friends.

After a rest at the hotel, we headed back to the corner of Carlsbad and Carlsbad Village to Jay’s Seafood and Pizza. We ordered a pesto pizza with ricotta and spinach, and added artichoke hearts. We took it back to the hotel and had a pizza party while watching Silver Linings Playbook. The pizza was so rich, it almost seemed like the base was butter instead of pesto. The crust was thin, but like most California pizzas slightly sweet.

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Carlsbad, CA (No, not the caverns) – Sunday

This weekend Bob’s mom, Bridin, took us to Carlsbad for a 4-day beach vacation. Best known as the home of Legoland, Carlsbad also features 7 miles of beach, a cute little village with some great eateries and great surfing.

We arrived at the Hilton Garden Hotel around 4pm. It’s kind of a cross between a hotel, a residence inn and a motel. The room is large and clean and the hotel is quiet. It’s directly across the highway from the beach. It is raining, wouldn’t you know it. Boo. After settling in, Bob, my mother-in-law Bridin and I went to look for Vigilucci’s Italian. We came across Vigilucci’s Steakhouse first and everyone was ready to eat. I tried to stop it, because she’s a vegetarian, it looked pricey, and because I was wearing the only warm thing I had – a Harley Davidson sweatshirt. But it is ruder to argue than to be treated to a fancy dinner, so in we marched to the white tablecloth restaurant.

We started with a fantastic caprese salad – 3 towers on heirloom tomatoes, basil and big balls of fresh mozzarella. Bridin found a lovely butternut squash and walnut tortellini and Bob ordered vodka penne with shrimp. Although the tortellini were first rate, the vodka sauce was slightly bland. My papardelle was a mixed bag. The cream sauce was delicious with just a hint of brandy. The serving of papardelle was too generous, so the delicate pasta clumped together, and the scallops were bland. Still, the sauce made for a semi-successful  plate. I know am being much tougher on them than usual because the food was so expensive.

Sometime in the night it stopped raining and the next day we were ready to do some exploring.

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Sacramento: Wonder Weiners and Fairytale Town

The next day we went to check out Wonder Weiner for lunch. How can you resist a name like that? Unfortunately, the skin was too tough and the buns were too soft. A shame for a 14″ dog.

Then I took a taxi over to Fairytale Town. It’s an old playground with really cool retro statuary. There is a rule that every grownup has to be accompanied by a child. I approached a few people with kids, but they were all going to the zoo across the street.

So finally I walked right up to the window and set down my $5. The woman said, “I’m sorry, you need to be accompanied by a child.”

I said, “Oh I know, my friend and her daughter are meeting me inside.”

“Do you have her phone number?”

“I left my phone in the car.”

Now we were just staring at each other, waiting for the other one to break. Was my willingness to lie to her face greater than her reticence to call a customer a liar? Finally I wore her down.

I had fun tripping out on the old fairytale playground, and checking out the petting zoo animals. I even ended up taking pictures for a lot of families. I walked out with a family I had befriended and waved over at the ticket booth, “See…I found my friends!”

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