"The Accidental Tourist…"

October 25, 2010

Here’s a post I found, hiding out in my Drafts Folder.  It was trying to keep its head down, hoping I wouldn’t notice; but like that one big lobster hiding under the rock in the back of the tank, I spotted it. Still fresh, too…

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport here in Atlanta is, depending on what’s going on at Chicago’s O’Hare,  either the busiest or second busiest airport in the country.  It’s a hub for Delta, of course, but also a jumping off point for hundreds of flights from other airlines to Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.   Its massive amount of connecting flights has allowed millions of people to be able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been to Atlanta…” even though they’ve never left the concourse; and with all that was going on here this past Holiday Weekend, it was surely at or near capacity.

Memorial Day Weekend is literally the kickoff of the College Football season, and here in The ATL we had Georgia State winning their inaugural game last Thursday, and Georgia Tech playing at home on Saturday.  LSU was meeting North Carolina in the annual Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome, while  The Dawgs were hosting their first drunk-fest of the season for sixty thousand up in Athens.  Add to all of that a NASCAR Race at Atlanta Motor Speedway half an hour south of here; Dragon-Con, the geek-fest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention (that’s not just for nerds anymore by the way), The Black Gay Pride Festival at Piedmont Park, plus various and sundry other neighborhood festivals, and you wind up with upwards of a couple hundred thousand people rolling through the airport over the weekend.  At least the Braves did the highway traffic the favor of leaving town for a series against the Marlins.  Amongst the throngs wandering the vast terminals at ATL this weekend, trying to make the best of things during a 20-hour layover on his way to a business/vacation excursion in Buenos Aires, was a great friend of ours from New Orleans, now living in exile in Indianapolis.

Glenn was one of those in attendance at “The Last Supper” at our house the Saturday before Katrina.  In true NOLA fashion, we decided to have a dinner party rather than do the sensible thing and prepare for evacuation the next day.  We cooked a grand Asian dinner with homemade potstickers, dumplings, and several other dishes, for a dozen guests.  Earlier that day, when we had ventured over to the West Bank to shop at a great Asian market in Algiers for supplies, was when we first noticed the lines of cars at all the gas stations, people preparing to evacuate.  I had seen the hurricane news on Thursday night after I’d gotten home from work (when I lived in California, I could never conceive of watching the Weather Channel for any reason; but down in the Gulf, people literally live by it during hurricane season).  That Thursday night, Katrina was beginning her march across south Florida and I figured it was hitting land and would lose steam and that would be that.  After our trip across the river on Saturday, we turned on the Weather Channel and saw Katrina filling the entire Gulf of Mexico; so we decided we would go ahead and fiddle while Rome burned, have our party, but pack the car and skee-daddle on Sunday morning, along with everyone else and their brother.  Glenn had left the next day, too, along with all the other party guests. So, long story not-so-short, we hadn’t seen him except during a brief visit he made to Napa over two years ago.  We just had to get together, airport crowds and traffic be damned.

So, after a quick excursion downtown to watch the Dragon-Con parade Saturday morning, it was off to the airport to pick up him and his new girlfriend.   We began making our list:  lunch at JCT on the Westside, then maybe on to King of Pops or Morelli’s for sweets.  Or should we hit Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland for brunch and then a visit to Green’s for some wine browsing?  We settled on JCT and two bottles of wine to go with lunch.  We had to pass on the frozen treats in favor of JCT’s irresistible Rum-Soaked Coconut Cake, followed by some lounging at home.

Except we didn’t have time for lounging, as my wife and daughter had pending appointments to get their hair done at a salon, half an hour north in Buckhead.  So, being a one-car family for now, the plan was for me to ferry the two of them North, then return to pick them up after I had gone back home, picked up Glenn and dropped him back at the airport, another fifteen minutes past our house to the South.

On the way to the salon, we get a phone call from another of the thousands landing at Hartsfield-Jackson over the weekend; our friend Jimmy from California had just arrived in town for a wedding.  We hadn’t seen Jim since we drove off from Napa last June, so we decided to try to work him into the schedule for a cocktail.  We arrive at the salon to find out that the hair appointments were two hours earlier and had been missed.  So, it was back into the car, back South for twenty minutes to pick up Glen; then another 15 minutes back down The 85 to the airport to drop them; and then back up to Buckhead to meet Jim.  Jimmy lived in Atlanta for about 8 years, so touring him around was not an issue.  We met him for drinks and appetizers on the patio at Nava, a Tex-Mex place that we discovered, on this visit, is decidedly a few years past its prime.  We had a great visit with Uncle Jimmy, though, and he went off to follow the rest of his agenda for the weekend, and we headed home.

It was on the final drive South and home that we began to realize our priorities as tour-guides are a little skewed.

My wife’s cousin and his wife have recently re-located to Atlanta for her internship at a local hospital; and when his mother-in-law visited from Mexico he took her, all in a single day, to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Stone Mountain, the Zoo and practically every other attraction known to man.  Now it’s not to say that we haven’t been to, and mostly enjoyed, many such places that are on the top of most tourists’ lists.  But Glenn and his new girlfriend are dedicated food and wine nuts like us; so our itinerary for  today had excluded the traditional spots in favor of those of a more culinary nature.  Asking us to show you around town is a little like asking the guy emerging from an AA meeting for directions:  “Go two blocks down, take a left at Joe’s Bar, head south until you pass two Package Stores, and turn right at the Irish Pub on the corner…”   We’ll take a pass on World of Coke in a hot second if it means we get some of that Coconut Cake.


"We're back in 5, 4, 3…"

August 16, 2010

Unknown and unforeseeable nonsense on the part of my web hosting company took SNMT off the floor for almost two whole days.  But, after a couple of Nasty-Grams from Yours Truly,  it looks like the Tekkie Roto Rooter Guy finally got the hair out of the drain, and we’re free to run the water again.

Actually, having the site down was a great excuse to be lazy and uninspired.  Not that I need any assistance in that department, but any excuse is just that:  an excuse!  I would be no credit to my gender if I didn’t jump on the chance at inactivity.  And no court in the land would dare convict.  It was the writer’s equivalent of a “Get Of Jail Free Card.”

Not to have the 36 hours of down time be a total waste, I did use the opportunity to run errands, one of which was to hit Greene’s, the only decent Package Store within a tolerable driving distance, for supplies:  tequila, of course, but also a couple of bottles of Leasingham “Magnus” Riesling, a really excellent value for a Down-Under Dry Riesling.   A nice bit of diesel, apricots, pears and spice; a great bottle of wine for under $10, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?  It was perfect with a Thai Noodle and Vegetable Salad topped with Grilled Salmon that we put together for an early Sunday Supper with friends visiting from St. Augustine.  We also picked up a bottle of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, as we were trying to replicate a drink we had at Rosa Mexicano at Atlantic Station on Saturday (see, I told you I was making good use of the down time!)

The Flor Blanca is listed on Rosa Mexicano’s drink menu as “Silver tequila and muddled lemons, balanced with tropical notes and sweetness from St. Germain Elderflower liqueur”.  It was a great use of my most favorite of spirits; tasty and refreshing.  There were no other clues as to ingredients except those listed on the bar menu; and there was obviously more in this Witch’s Cauldron than just what was listed.  An intense interrogation and severe beating of our server revealed that there was also a bit of Agave Nectar in there; so doing our best “BSI-Atlanta” (Bar Scene Investigation) we reversed engineered that puppy to come up with this recipe which, by no small accident, I am enjoying right now.  When we bought the not inexpensive bottle of St. Germain I thought “It’s pricey, but a bottle will be a lifetime supply.”  Well, if we keep making libations like this one, it will be a short life, but a merry one.  It will all be in my report, Lieutenant…

"I have absolutely no idea what an Elderflower is, but it gaves its all for the cause here..."

Rosa Mexicano’s Flor Blanca (as reproduced by Nativenapkin, with sensory evaluation assistance from Ms. NN):

2 ounces Sausa Blanca Tequila

1 and 1/2 ounces St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1/2 ounce Agave Nectar

1 lemon, cut in half; with one half cut in 3 or 4 wedges


Put wedges of lemon in bottom of cocktail shaker and muddle until they scream Uncle.  Add tequila, St. Germain, Agave Nectar and the juice of the remaining half of lemon.  Add enough ice to fill a decent sized Old Fashioned glass.  Cap the shaker, and shake it, baby, shake it.

Pour into glass and enjoy a break from your ordinary, everyday Margarita…

SNMT will be back later in the week with a full fledged post; maybe an entry in The Continuing Saga of The Native Napkin, as I haven’t written any self-indulgent bullshit about my life “back in the day” in some time now.  Cheers!

Countdown Continues; Naked Man Reveals Himself…

May 17, 2010

The countdown to takeoff is officially on.  We have fewer than 30 days now until our departure from this fine Valley, and I am officially in the weeds.  I have less than a month to pack up the house, get a new job, finish training my replacement at the old one, and hire and train enough staff to handle the expected up-swell in business for The Season here in Napa, which is imminent.  On June 12 we will pack the dog, the cat, and the daughter into the Highlander, and drive off into the sunset (actually, we will be driving away from the sunset, as we are going East, Young Man!).  We plan to roll into Atlanta, and our new home, somewhere around the 20th.

It’s definitely a bittersweet time for me.  On one hand, I am “pee my pants” excited about the move back to the South; on the other hand I am saddened by thought of leaving so many close friends and family.  The real bummer is leaving a job that I have put so much time and effort into, just when it is finally starting to get fun.

Work has been an up (mostly) and down experience for us over the past almost-two years.  There have been many good, a few bad, and the occasionally ugly nights at the restaurant.  I have had Neil Young in the dining room; done a James Beard Foundation Legends of Wine Dinner for the Barrets of Chateau Montelena with some of the biggest names from the restaurant and wine business in attendance.  I have had drinks thrown on my newly cleaned and pressed suit by drunks I had to cut off; and we had the “Night of A Thousand Drunks” when Naked Steak Guy and his crew dropped in.  We have endured the longest Winter in the History of Mankind with so many ups and downs in business volume since we opened, we have made the Dow look like a rock by comparison.

Attrition is a fact of life for start-up restaurants and hotels.  Having been in on quite a few openings,  I can tell you from first-hand experience that the people who are there at the beginning, getting all the nuts and bolts nice and tight and establishing the systems and procedures that make like so much easier are seldom, if ever, the ones around to harvest the fruits of all that labor.  When things finally smooth out and people start making some money, it’s always someone who just started that profits.  It’s just like moving into a fixer-upper house, working on a remodel for almost two years and getting the place just how you like it; then you turn around and sell.  I have gotten all the metaphorical books on the shelves nice and straight, replaced the flooring with shiny, new hardwood, gotten the new appliances in and working, and remodeled the baths.  Even though I can’t take credit for the entire remodel, my contribution to the restaurant has surely been the equal of, say, picking out the new tile for the bathroom, or re-doing the landscape for curb appeal.  We have gone from struggling to do 80 covers truly well, to being able to do a hundred-plus standing on our heads on nights like last Saturday, without so much as a single plate returned or a significant issue of any kind.  So, much as the Gun Slinger in an old Western says “So long ma’am…” and rides out after cleaning up the town, I’ll be packing up my guns and moving on, little doggies.

The Westin, where we are located, has a tendency to attract oh, how shall I put this?, the denizens of the hotel-guest-underworld.  If we were a St. Regis, or even a “W” hotel, we would have far fewer demanding weirdos doing stupid shit like the people last Saturday.  And, just because I’m heading out soon doesn’t mean there’s not still adventure and excitement to be had.  Last Saturday night saw the debut of “Naked Man” (no relation to “Naked Steak Guy” or at least I don’t think there is.)

Naked Man made his initial appearance in the hallway near the restrooms.  He had emerged, alone, from his guest room and was walking toward the lobby bar.  Naked Man was not, at this early stage, truly naked; just exposed from the waist-up, wearing no shoes and just a bath towel.  We have people in the lobby all the time wearing bathrobes and flip-flops on their way through to the pool and hot tub, so we are kind of used to seeing skin, and were not entirely shocked by his lack of apparel.  Fortunately for us all, he was not a bad-looking guy and was even in decent shape; so no one had their eyes burned out of their skull from looking at hairy man-breasts.    He proceeded to the bar to order drinks to take out to the pool.  As he reached for his key-card to verify the room number for his tab (and come to think of it, where the hell was he keeping this card, anyway?  Eewww!) his elbow dislodges the knot on his towel and drops it straight to the floor, leaving Naked Man standing there living up to his name, in a bar filled with around 70 people at 10:30 on a Saturday night.

After such a splashy debut, Naked Man made his way on out to the Hot Tub and was joined by some friends (no definite reports as the whether they were Naked Friends or not, but one can only assume) who had all the good taste and decorum of a frat party.  Reports filtered in of kegs floating in the pool, and of guests that were so insulted that the cops were called.  Two police cruisers clogged the valet circle in front of the hotel for the better part of an hour, serving as welcoming committee for a couple of Wedding Parties returning from their respective receptions.  Now we not only have Naked Man and his buff buddies and floating kegs, but a bunch of drunk bridesmaids carrying their shoes and groomsmen in rumpled tuxedos, stumbling in to join the fun and games.

Fortunately, the presence of uniformed Police Officers kept this Fellini-esque scene from getting much wilder.  Things settled down, no one was injured, and Naked Man took his place amongst all the other Stuff of Legends that will be my legacy here.

Trizzle, trazzle, truzzle, trome…

"Scary Movie VIII: Bachelorette Party, Napa Valley"

March 8, 2010

Let’s face it, people come to Napa Valley to drink.  Some do it in “moderation”, trying to experience new wines and wineries, some just do it.

Working for a couple of years at Domaine Chandon’s étoile Restaurant, I’ve had more than my share of power drinkers.   Limos full of  tiara-wearing bachelorettes were a common occurance at 6:00pm on weekends all summer.  After a full day of wineries, a salad for lunch, and maybe a “what the hell” margarita, or a couple of shots in the car, they decide it might be a good idea to stop in and power down a bottle or two of Sparkling.  They get the “drunken munchies”, see the restaurant is now open, and think that eating a five-course meal loaded with foie gras and pork belly sounds like a good way to top things off.  The survivors of the group always seemed mystified as to why some of their party end up in the bathroom driving the porcelain bus.  Chandon had the distinction of being open later than many tastng rooms, so we would end up with a lot of these “end ups”.

We ended up with a similar group at La Toque on Saturday night.  A woman had called in to see if we could take a party of 10 at 8:30 that night.  I am always wary of late Saturday night reservations made at the last minute, say around 5:30pm that day, called in from a winery.  Most of the time, it goes like this:

1)  Make reservation after a full day of visiting wineries.

2) Return to hotel room to change at 6:00pm.

3) Fall asleep for three hours.

4) Wake up with the “fuck-its”, and order a cheeseburger from room service.

5) No-show, no-call at the restaurant.

Or the alteranative scenario, where they go through Steps 1 and 2, but instead of proceeding to nap at Step 3, they try to power through and just keep drinking, resulting in them being a hot mess when they show for dinner.  Even though I have always been a fan of the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy, most first timers to Napa don’t have the stamina they think they do, and this second scenario always spells trouble.

So when I got a call for a last minute 10-top from the hotel next door at around 6:00pm I was, to say the least, skeptical they would actually make it.  But having a late 10-top is like finding 50 bucks in your jeans when you are folding the laundry.  So on the off-chance that they would show, I offered them the only option I could, which was to seat them on two separate tables of five.  “Okay, we’ll be there…”

The night is going fine, busy yet smooth; and as 8:15 rolls around I actually have two adjacent tables available, so I tell the crew to put them together and we’ll give this late party a thrill by letting them all sit together, if they show at all.   Then, as it always seems to when things are going well, that other shoe drops.

The advance guard of the 10-top has arrived and two of them can barely stand and are propping each other up; the other two are distancing themselves slightly, talking loudly on cell phones in the foyer.  I approach, ask if the rest of the group is en route and am told they are now eight.  Okay, only eight.  Thanks for calling.  Normally I would know better and not make a table adjustment until I have the entire group assembled, as drunk chicks are notoriously bad at math; but I look out the front door and see the other four ambling up the stairs, with no stragglers in tow.  They are all pretty buzzed.  So the table is adjusted and they are seated, the loud-talkers quieting down somewhat as they enter the dining room.  Safe so far.

I tell the back waiters to get some bread to the table immediately as these chicks clearly need something in their stomachs.  They get themselves situated, get the menus and start looking them over.   As I do a walk-by, I see that one of them has folded her napkin into a little square pillow so she can comfortably lay her head down on the table for a little snooze.  Another, a couple of seats over has put on her sunglasses and is trying to navigate the menu through her Chanels in our dimly lit dining room.  The girl seated next to Shades is groping over at her face, trying to grab the glasses off of her head, “Ooh, those are CUTE, let me wear them.”  One of them, who actually still has her wits about her, asks me for a Wine List.  Uh, no.  I proceed to explain we will not be serving their group any more alcohol for the obvious reasons.  A tall blonde looks up at me and whispers loudly, “I’m not THAT drunk…”  Yes, you are.

There are really only three of the eight that needed to be cut off, but in group situations you are asking for trouble if you attempt to serve only some, as those that are banned will attempt to drink covertly.  Drunks are not good at being sneaky, so you will have to cut off the others anyway.  Might as well deal with it right from the get go.

The two that were doing the three legged race trying to hold each other up earlier, offer to leave if I will agree to serve the rest.  Before I can even get the word “No” formed on my lips, they are up, pinballing back out of the restaurant and down the hall.  I follow them out to make sure the bartender at our other bar in the lobby is aware of their status.  Their situation couldn’t be more clear if it was tatooed on their foreheads (“Ooh, cool!  Lesh gedda taTOO!!”), but better safe than sorry.

So I get back to the table and the remaining six are debating whether to stay and not drink (“Where’s the fun in THAT?!”) and “threatening” to leave.  Really?  Promise?  But most of the group seems okay to me now, so I acquiesce and they decide to stay.  Four of the six order the Wine Pairings with their dinner, the other two are smart enough to stick with water, and lots of it.

This group is like one of those horror movies with the eight Summer Camp girls in cut-off jeans and bikini tops huddled together in the dark cabin, with a maniac on the loose in the woods.   Two of them have already been picked off, but now another one goes off to try to find help, or get wood for the fire, whatever; and when she doesn’t return, another says, “I wonder what’s happened to her…” and one by one off they go, until all of them are in pieces in Hefty Bags.  Halfway through her first course, one of our Survivors gets up and walks quickly out and towards the restroom.  She reappeared briefly about 15 minutes later.  She gets her check, pays quickly and leaves, obviously preferring to vomit in the privacy of her own hotel room.  And then there were five…

"Maybe we should go see if Lisa is okay..."

The rest of the evening passed without incident, and several of the girls actually thanked me for letting them stay, and for helping get rid of their drunk friends which they had apparently been trying to do unsuccessfully for most of the day.   Like a movie where the Mob Hitman has an attack of conscience but needs proof the job is done, they ended the night by having their waiter take a photo with the rest of them in “passed out” poses, with a couple of wine glasses knocked over for effect.  Good thing they got the photographic evidence as actually remembering the events could prove problematic.  We go a phone call from one of them ten minutes after they left saying she had lost a sweater.  I didn’t even bother looking as I knew she was probably wearing it.  Girls just wanna have fun…


January 19, 2010

A recent post by “So, You Want To Be A Waiter?” (excellent blog, by the way, with lots of interesting posts, links, news, etc.) talked a bit about the increasingly common occurrence of screw cap, or Stelvin Closure, wines on wine lists, even in the “higher end” establishments.  Indeed, check average at our place is well over $120 per guest, and the wine list has an extensive collection of older Burgundies, Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabs.   Yet, we have quite a few screw-top bottles in inventory.

The now somewhat subsiding wine glut of the early 2000’s put an incredible amount of strain on cork suppliers resulting not only in increased prices due to the supply and demand curve, but also in inferior, too-young, and tainted cork entering the market.  Wineries like to tell the public that TCA or “Cork Taint” affects about two percent of their product.  Those of of us that open and serve wine for a living know the real number to be closer to ten.  I know of no other industry where you can stay in business when so large a percentage of your product has the potential to be flawed.  I can guarantee you that if they were making brake pads with these percentages, they’d be in Court being sued and out of business soon after.

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"My Old Appliances Be Forgot…"

December 31, 2009

So it’s New Year’s Eve again, that “special” evening, when people get all dressed up, all liquored up, then stand and sway at midnight, slurring the “words” to Auld Lang Syne.  Is there even a second verse to this song?  If there is, no one knows it; and God only knows why they would.  I am going to start a movement right now to have the official New Year’s Eve song changed to “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt”.  Much easier to learn, and eminently more danceable…

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"Party On, Garth…"

December 23, 2009

One of the more interesting Holiday Traditions practiced in Western culture is the Office Holiday Party.  When I say “office” I actually mean any Holiday get together that the company has organized, sanctioned, and most importantly, paid for.

We had our party last night and it was quite the enjoyable affair.  It’s always interesting, though, to observe the interactions of co-workers in an entirely social situation when you have removed what is often the only commonality for the participants:  the work.  Once you remove the work, co-workers often find they have very little in common besides the work. People, who normally have no other reason to interact with one another besides working at the same place, now find themselves making small talk and trying their best to remember their bosses’ wives names.

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