Dining

Charlie Daniels Band at BB King

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Last night, Lois and I went to BB King’s to see the Charlie Daniels Band (CDB). In the past, I’ve mentioned that Lois is a huge Country music fan, and that I have (happily) come along for the ride. The truth is that I have loved CDB since I was a teen (their first album came out 33 years ago, and I’m pretty sure I still have the vinyl of it from my teens!), but I guess I never made the connection that it was “Country” that I was enjoying.

So, we were both very excited to go see a band we both loved, at a place we both love.

We got there right before the doors opened and got very good seats not too far from the stage. I ended up eating something quite appropriate for a CDB concert, a Pulled Pork sandwich. They do it really well at BB King.

CDB (and Charlie in particular) were simply spectacular. The crowd could not have been more over-the-moon for him/them. Roughly 1/2 the audience gave them a standing ovation after every number (not typical for most acts). My leg didn’t stop stomping (right, not just tapping), the entire show.

One person in the crowd yelled out “Happy Birthday yesterday Charlie”. To which Charlie responded, “Well, not quite. I turn 71 next Sunday!” (a week from today). At that point, the entire audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Wow, 71, and his fingers still fly on the guitar, and he can fiddle with the best of them as well! His singing voice is as strong and smooth as ever as well.

The band did one completely instrumental number, with every member in the band taking at least one solo, to show off their individual virtuosity. They are awesome.

One giant difference from nearly every concert we’ve seen in NYC ever. In most, if there is anything even remotely smacking of politics, it turns into Bush Bashing instantly, and the crowd typically eats it up. This is, after all, New York City. Charlie was not political, but he was 100% in support of our troops. When he dedicated a song to them (In America), the crowd went nuts, and could not have been more supportive of the troops, and of CDB’s homage to them, etc. It was an amazing difference in crowd sentiment to what we’re used to. It was refreshing!

So, what should have been a perfect evening had one small disappointment to it. CDB played for exactly one hour, to the second. This is the shortest concert that I have ever attended in NYC, and given how great they were, it was disappointing. They closed the show with the ever-pleasing crowd favorite The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Charlie introduced the song with: “I know you wouldn’t let us off the stage alive if we didn’t do this one!” 🙂

No encore, which was surprising, to say the least…

Anyway, better an hour of perfection than two hours of nonsense, obviously, but still, he left us wanting a lot more, especially for the ticket prices he commands…

Coincidence or Serendipity?

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You be the judge. 😉

As many of you know, Joe’s Pub is one of our favorite places to see a concert. We’re going again later this week, but that in itself is a good enough story to merit its own blog after the show. None of you may recall how we came to discover Joe’s Pub in the first place.

In this incredibly long post I mention seeing a number of acts at Joe’s Pub. The Duhks were the first, and I was specifically searching for any places that they were playing, which is how we first heard about Joe’s. (As an aside, pointing toward the serendipity angle here, The Duhks was a recommendation by Amazon.com for me based on the fact that I had purchased Nickel Creek CDs from them in the past, and they turned out to be a wonderful discovery!)

During that original The Duhks concert, they discussed on stage that they were really good friends with a group called The Mammals, and that they were influenced by them. That same week, The New York Times wrote an article about this genre, and included both The Duhks and The Mammals in the article, with glowing reviews of both.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to see The Mammals live, but the one time they were scheduled to be in NY, we were at Zope, and were not able to rearrange our schedule. The person The Duhks most talked about was Ruth Unger (who’s father Jay Unger was/is also a musician). Another member of The Mammals is Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete Seeger’s grandson!

In another recent post, I talked about how wonderful The Tarrytown Music Hall is. Two months ago, I noticed that they had The Mammals scheduled for last night. We were already going to be in NY, so this was perfect. I snapped up two very good orchestra seats, and was really looking forward to the show.

We got home on the 11th (concert was scheduled for the 19th), and on the 12th, I got an email informing me that the concert was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. This was definitely a big disappointment for me…

Switching gears, which will momentarily appear to be a complete non-sequitur…

In August 1987, Lois was working at Citibank. Her boss sent her to a conference in Vail, CO. As a bonus for a particularly grueling stretch of work that Lois successfully completed, he offered to pay for my airfare so that I could tag along. The conference was from 8am-noon, Monday-Friday that week, so Lois was free every afternoon and evening. I spent the mornings reading John Barth’s The Tidewater Tales. Barth is still one of my all-time favorite novelists, and The Tidewater Tales is simply an awesome book. The first 80 pages are torture to get through, even for a die-hard Barth fan, but the torture is worth it, because the rest of the book is simply amazing. In the end, he wraps it up nicely, and the first 80 pages finally make sense…

In the afternoons, Lois and I did things we rarely even think of doing, let alone actually do. One day, we rented a canoe and paddled around a gorgeous mountain lake. Another day we took a gondola (cable car) up to one of the higher mountains. On another day, we went horse-back riding. Now comes the connection with this adventure, and The Mammals disappointment.

The minute Lois got up on the horse (we were in a large group of tourists), she started to cry. Yes, literally, cry. A woman on a nearby horse had her 3-year-old daughter with her on the same saddle. When Lois started to cry, the baby started to cry too (she was fine until Lois started crying). The woman looked over at Lois and loudly said: “Hey New York, stop crying or my child will refuse to stay on the horse!”

Lois was startled into stopping, and sure enough, the baby stopped crying as well. The rest of the ride was uneventful. Afterwards, we chatted and laughed with the woman. We agreed to meet later that night for dinner. We had a lovely meal with her and her husband (who was not there for the horse incident) and were very glad to make two new (and very interesting) friends.

Not surprisingly, we never saw them again (they lived in Colorado Springs at the time). Lois stayed in touch by phone for a while with the woman, but eventually, that connection faded as well. Last year, Lois did some searches on Google and found the husband’s name as a Department Chairman at Notre Dame. It would be too coincidental for this not to be the right person, so she wrote to him, and indeed, we found them again.

Two hours after receiving the email saying that The Mammals concert was canceled, Lois got an email from the woman, saying that they were going to be in NYC this weekend, for her big birthday (it has a 0 at the end, but still only a single digit at the front) 😉

They are seeing Wicked this afternoon (another amazing coincidence?!?), but were free on Friday night for dinner. Of course, if The Mammals weren’t canceled, we would have missed them. We got together for a great meal and great conversation at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, and we hope to see them for brunch again tomorrow morning, before they leave town again.

It turns out that he’s on leave this year from Notre Dame, on a research fellowship at Princeton, so we will likely get to see them a few more times before they head back to Indiana.

Obviously, I consider this incredibly serendipitous, but some of you might think it’s mere coincidence

Suzy Boggus at Joes Pub

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We have very good friends who we get together with in NYC regularly. Both couples have crazy schedules, so we try really hard to make it work whenever we can. We had suggested Thursday, September 20th for a get-together. They responded that the wife couldn’t make it that week, but the husband could. We agreed, since they were away for all of August in France, and we missed them and wanted to hear about the trip.

Then, 10 days ago, they said that if we could move it to Friday the 21st, they could both make it. Done! But, on the same day that we agreed to do that, I got my normal email newsletter from Joe’s Pub, and much to my surprise, one of our favorite artists, Suzy Boggus, was going to be there on the 21st. We immediately bought 4 tickets online.

We ended up reserving the exact same table that we’ve been at every time we’ve been there with 4 people in total, smack flush up against the stage, right in the middle of the stage. I had the same seat, meal, and drinks, that I had when we saw Girlyman there on August 19th.

Starting with the meal, I had the Seared Tuna. A giant portion, served on top of artichoke hearts, done to perfection (every time). Of course, I had to have a chocolate martini as well, also always prepared correctly at Joe’s Pub.

Suzy and her band came on at 7:35pm. She was great. The one thing that surprised both Lois and I is that she writes most of her own songs, but last night chose to play at least 4 (perhaps 5?) covers. They were good songs, and she did them really well, but still, some of our favorites got left on the floor.

Perhaps our favorite is her song Cinderella from the album Something Up My Sleeve. We spotted their play sheet on the stage floor, and Cinderella was on it, second from last song (more accurately, last song before the encore song). Unfortunately, the show likely ran a few minutes longer than timed, or started a few minutes later, and the only song that got cut from the playlist was Cinderella.

Right before the encore, Lois asked Suzy to play Cinderella. She leaned over to Lois and said: “Maybe I can play it for you privately later on…” Oh well…

Anyway, another lovely evening at Joe’s Pub, and another one of our favorites that we can now check off our list as having seen them perform live. 🙂

I you want to hear some of Suzy’s songs for free, here is her Myspace page. Ironically, at least 3 of the 4 songs currently available there are covers, not her own. She played two of them (maybe even 3?) last night…

Finally, according to the new Terms of Service instituted roughly a month ago by the management of this site, I am required to include an obligatory link to the Girlyman Myspace page whenever a post mentions anything about music. 😉

Jonathan Pytell Graces the Piano

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A long while back, there was a crew at CBS TV that were customers of ours at Zope Corporation. That crew broke up, and after having moved to different places, has reassembled again at CBS Radio. CBS Radio is a very small customer of Zope Corporation, but this crew has no part of that.

Lois and I have remained friendly with our former customers, in particular with the boss of the crew. We knew the second guy in the chain second best. The third guy is someone I had only met once or twice until recently.

A few months back, we invited the crew to dinner at our favorite NYC Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande. That’s the first time we got to know Jonathan Pytell (the third guy). At dinner, we discovered that he was a musician. He plays regularly (every Wednesday from 6:30-9pm and every Saturday from 7-10pm) at F.illi Ponte.

We’ve been wanting to go see him every since that dinner, but our schedule is just so crazy that it didn’t work out. Last night we finally got to go. F.illi Ponte is a very high-end restaurant (prices and likely food quality), and we weren’t in the mood for a big (rich) meal, since both of us had separate business lunches out yesterday. So, we ate at home first, and intended to have a drink in the bar, which is where Jonathan plays anyway.

The restaurant is gorgeous. The dining room has beautiful views of the Hudson River. The staff at the restaurant is one of the nicest that we’ve seen (at least 8 different people that we noticed). The bar doesn’t have a view of the river, but in addition to the traditional bar (with stools), there are a number of plush couches and leather chairs. We chose a sofa behind Jonathan, 2 feet away from him.

The bartender (a very sweet and cute, likely Russian woman named Natalia) made me a perfect chocolate martini. Yummy. As bad as I look in the photo below (I know, it’s accurate), I included it so that you could see Jonathan, and more importantly, the chocolate martini, which stars in the photo. Click on the photo to see a larger image of the martini. 😉

Jonathan Pytell and Hadar

Jonathan played a wonderful set of classic songs, including taking at least 10 requests from Lois and me. Thanks for that Jonathan. He’s a wonderful musician with a real feel for the music. He brings a very nice creativity to a number of the classics.

In between, as the bar cycled through people waiting for dinner, we got to talk a lot with Jonathan and get to know him better. He’s as nice and interesting a person as you could want to know.

If you find yourself in lower Manhattan on a Wednesday or Saturday evening, I highly recommend stopping in for a drink and catching Jonathan tickle the ivories. Feel free to ask him to play one of your favorites, and tell him I sent you. 🙂

While I can’t recommend the food at the restaurant, simply because I haven’t tasted it yet, the ambiance is amazing there, so it’s definitely worth trying out at least once, if you have lots of cash or credit handy…

I’m sure we’ll be doing this again in the near future, in particular, when I have a hankering for another perfect chocolate martini. 😉

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. 😉

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. 😉

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. 😉

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. 🙂

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. 🙂

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. 😉

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. 😉

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. 😉

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. 😉 Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. 😉

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. 🙂

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. 😉

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. 🙂 While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. 😉

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. 🙂

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. 😉

Long Weekend with Company == Food Orgy :-)

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Our godson and his friend (and for years now, independently our good friend as well) spent a long weekend with us (arriving Saturday morning, and leaving this afternoon, Tuesday). We packed in tons of fun during the 3.5 days, and I’ll post a number of blog entries about our escapades. This one is about the food, and I’ll combine all of our meals into this one post.

First, the good news: every meal that we had was outstanding. Next, the bad news: I gained way too much weight, as I purposely let myself go, choosing to enjoy every last morsel of things I should have avoided even tasting. 😉

It started with an early lunch on Saturday at Jackson Hole (it’s a chain, and we ate at the one on 35th and 3rd Avenue). While you can get lots of stuff there, they are known for their amazing burgers. Every New Yorker has their favorite burger joint. Jackson Hole is mine (every location, not just this one).

Lately, I’m good about getting a Turkey burger. I did that this time too. But, they have dozens of specialty burgers, and I went nuts and started off a glutinous weekend by ordering a Mexican Burger, yes, with the chili. Of course, the waitress correctly asked me if I was sure that I wanted the chili. since she realized that I ordered Turkey, rather than beef. Of course, I said “Yes”, and I plattered it up with the fries as well. Oh well. It was fantastic, but I was stuffed to the gills after the meal.

At dinner time, we had a reservation at The Palm West. I recently joined OpenTable after being aware of it for a long time. It’s very cool in a large city like NYC, where there are lots of choices. This was the second time I made a reservation through them. The first was The Palm One (the original Palm) a few weeks ago, and that worked perfectly. When we showed up at 6pm at the restaurant this time, they didn’t have the reservation. Very disappointing, since OpenTable sent me an email confirming it just the day before.

Anyway, after 15 anxious minutes, they seated us, and we had an amazing meal. Of course, I had to have some of the gigantic chocolate cake that we all split for dessert… Stuffed again (the same day), but happy nonetheless…

On Sunday, we had lunch at the Duck House. I’ve blogged about it before, so I’ll spare my regular readers. For those who want to learn more, read this. As usual, it was delectable. While I was full, I wasn’t nearly as stuffed as I was on each of the meals on Saturday.

We had dinner at Joe’s Pub. We were there for a show, but that will be the subject of a separate posting. I had my usual for dinner (seared Tuna steak), which was great, but I also had a side of fries, which they nail every single time (so I have to order it every single time). 🙂 Our friend did not enjoy his meal there, which was the first (and only) individual meal that wasn’t rated highly the entire weekend.

On Monday, we had lunch at Pizzeria Uno at The South Street Seaport. We ate outdoors, looking at the East River, and all enjoyed our pizzas (individual sizes and choices) immensely.

We had dinner with an additional friend of ours, our godson’s college roommate for the last two years that he was at Duke. We ate at El Rio Grande (across the street from our apartment), and I’ve probably blogged about it in the past, and if I haven’t, shame on me. It’s our favorite Mexican Restaurant, with incredible food and even better margaritas. I was expecting to use a gift certificate that our goddaughter and her boyfriend gave us when they left NYC 2 weeks earlier (they were both summer interns), but our newest companion faked us all out and pretended to go to the men’s room and instead slipped his credit card to the server, and treated us all. It was, indeed, a treat.

We had dessert and coffee at home, both Sunday and Monday evenings, and I partook of too many of the goodies on both nights…

Today was the last day, and we snuck in an early lunch at Hane Sushi (also across the street from our apartment), and also one of the best Sushi restaurants I have ever eaten in. The link shows two locations, with the one across from our apartment listed as “2nd location”. Ironically, our location was the first one, and it was written up so many times, with the only complaint being the small size. So, they opened a larger flagship location, but ours will always be the first. 🙂

We then dropped off our guests at LaGuardia, and headed to our house, which we’ve sorely missed, but not this weekend! 🙂

More posts tomorrow, but not about food. 🙂

Alison Krauss is Awesome

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Last night Lois and I went to see Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We went with our friends who took us to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall.

We were all looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Ruby Foos first. Of the four of us, I was the only one who had eaten there before, the night of The Allman Brothers Band concert.

Since Lois and I buy our tickets well in advance for most shows, we have a drawer that we keep them in, stacked in the order that the shows will be held. On the day of the show, Lois typically bugs me 10+ times (no, this is not an exaggeration) to make sure I take out the correct set of tickets. I always get annoyed, but we always end up with the correct tickets when we leave the apartment.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, Lois didn’t ask even once if I had taken out the tickets. We got in a cab at 6pm heading to Ruby Foos. At 6:25pm, we were still in the cab, 1/2 a block away from the restaurant, when our friends called my cell. They were running 10 minutes late, and wanted us to order for them. While they were still on the phone, Lois casually asked me whether I had the tickets on me. Of course, I realized instantly that I did not.

Oops. Role reversal. Now I told our friends that we would be the late ones, and that I would call once we were headed back to the restaurant, to see if there was still time for them to order for us. We stayed in the same cab and headed right back to the apartment. When we got there, we asked the driver if he wanted to take us back to the restaurant after waiting 3 minutes for me to go upstairs, and he declined. So, we had a $31.00 cab ride from our apartment, to our apartment…

I grabbed the tickets and we caught a cab to start the entire journey again. At 6:57pm, I called our friends and told them what to order for us. We walked into the restaurant at 7:20pm (the show was called for 8pm). The food was late in coming to the table, around 7:36pm! We asked for the check as the food showed up, and walked out of the restaurant at 7:58pm. The food was amazing (as is the atmosphere there), and Lois and our friends all wanted to return there for a more leisurely dining experience sometime in the future.

Finally, on to the concert. We were seated in plenty of time, and even got to continue schmoozing with our friends for a reasonable time before it started, at roughly 8:20pm.

Alison Krauss has a voice that is nearly as good as Martina McBride (previously reported on by me), but not quite there. One of the few complaints (and yes, I feel silly using that word to describe her stupendous voice) is that she elevates her volume dramatically when she shifts to high notes. She hits them flawlessly, and her voice is crystal clear (at all octaves), but it’s occasionally a tad disconcerting that the volume shift is so pronounced.

While the style of music is eclectic, with a reasonable range, the heart and soul of Alison Krauss’ music is Bluegrass. For 30+ years, I have always liked Bluegrass (and Dixieland as well), but until recently, I never really knew any specific artists. For example, in the past, I used to buy Bluegrass “Collections”, with 20 “hit songs”, for $3 in a bargain bin somewhere. I have a number of those.

As reported previously, after seeing Ricky Skaggs with Bruce Hornsby, and then discovering the Bluegrass channel on XM Radio, I have now come to appreciate specific Bluegrass bands (as well as purchasing a number of their CDs). Ironically, I believe that the real first step in this new discovery was falling in love with Nickel Creek (led by Chris Thile, also previously reported in this blog). I say ironic, because Alison Krauss produced at least one of Nickel Creek’s albums.

I recognized 80% of the songs they played last night from the CDs that I own. I am not crazy about her newest one (and she played 2 or 3 songs from that one last night as well), but I’ve only listened to it straight through once, so perhaps it will grow on me. I can heartily recommend Alison Krauss and Union Station Live (2 volume set) and Lonely Runs Both Ways. They played a bunch of stuff from those CDs, and they were great on all of those numbers.

The crowd was nuts about her and the band, and gave rousing ovations after each and every song (even the ones I could have done without). 😉

Talk about loyalty, most of the band members have been together 16+ years! They also were the award winning music behind the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

They performed two songs during the encore. After the first, they quickly (and impressively) rearranged all of the microphones on the stage, and the entire band (sans piano player) got together in the center in a tight grouping, and played an acoustic number called A Living Prayer from the Lonely Runs Both Ways album (the last song on the CD). If you were in the audience, and didn’t get chills when she sang this song, get thee to a doctor (you can pick which kind) right away! 🙂

Anyway, another smashing success in our nice run of fantastic concerts. We both look forward to catching Alison and Union Station again (and again). And, we can’t wait to relax with our good friends at Ruby Foos as soon as possible!

Harry Connick Jr.

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After going on and on about all of the live music we’ve taken in lately, friends of ours surprised us with tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. this past Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall.

Neither Lois and I were particularly familiar with him. We both knew he had an exceptional voice, and we’ve seen him act as well (mostly in Will and Grace on TV). I thought of him as a “crooner”, a modern-day Frank Sinatra.

We were definitely looking forward to the experience, but neither of us was excited from a musical perspective. We were extremely excited about spending the time with our friends, and weren’t disappointed in that regard.

The evening started at the Peking Duck House. ‘Nuff said about that. 🙂

The concert was wonderful. Radio City Music Hall is a fantastic place. We were in nose-bleed territory, but still enjoyed everything. There was an 11-piece “big band” playing with him, and they were amazing. For roughly half the show, two other Jazz stars played with them, Leroy Jones and Lucien Barbarin.

Now for the star. Harry Connick Jr. was great. His voice was as good as expected, but neither of us realized he was such a talented pianist. Moreover, his charm is infectious, and when he talked to the crowd, he was mesmerizing. There were lots of other wonderful touches on the night (including a proposal from one of his trombone players to his girlfriend, now fiancee) 😉 and his daughters dancing on the stage with him during the finale.

Anyway, we’re now officially fans of his, and can’t thank our friends enough!

Delectable Duck!

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My most loyal readers should already be salivating, as they have all personally had the experience I’m about to describe. 🙂

Those who know me know that perhaps my favorite restaurant (though there are many that I love) is the Peking Duck House in mid-town in NYC. I had dinner there last night. This isn’t unusual, as Lois and I have calculated that (including delivery) we have enjoyed somewhere between 500-1000 meals in/from that restaurant over the past 25 years!

I’m writing about it now because last night was the first time I was there since I started blogging, and the meals there are at least worth mentioning once. 😉

There are many restaurants in NYC that serve Peking Duck. There are relatively few that serve it outside of the major metropolitan cities. This is largely due to the fact that it’s a time-consuming process to prepare the duck (typically 24 hours!), and it’s expensive. So, restaurants don’t want to prepare a number of ducks, only to have them go unordered.

When your main calling is delivering delectable ducks to the majority of your customers, you don’t worry about this, and prepare an insane number of ducks every single day. Their home page currently highlights a picture of what the duck looks like sliced up, but I don’t know if they rotate the home page photos regularly…

Last night, Lois and I had the pleasure of going with a couple who had not dined there before. That said, both are Peking Duck lovers, who considered the duck at Shun Lee Palace to be “the best”. I’ve eaten there many times in my life, including having the duck there. I hadn’t been there in over 10 years, but went there for lunch a month ago with another VC who chose the place. It’s a fantastic restaurant, and I have nothing but praise to heap on them, but unfortunately (for them), their duck, as outstanding as it is, doesn’t measure up to the Duck House.

So, I will admit to being a little nervous as to how our friends would rate their new duck experience with “the best”. All I can say is that they are either very classy and very good actors, or I should believe them when they say that the duck they had last night was officially the best duck they had ever had (Shun Lee Palace included). Whew 🙂

Basically, this post is done, since it’s ostensibly about the duck. For those who clicked on this only for the duck, stop reading!

OK, if you’re still here, then you either know that the rest of the menu is fantastic as well, or you just couldn’t resist finding out what else I had to say about this restaurant…

Over the years, with as many meals as we’ve enjoyed there, we have developed a set of favorite dishes that never fails to satisfy. Amazingly enough, nothing that has ever been on that list has ever fallen off due to a decline in the consistency or taste satisfaction. Dishes sometimes don’t make the cut because there are too many great choices, and new favorites end up bumping down an old standby which simply won’t fit in your stomach during that particular meal.

Last night is a good example. Typically, a duck produces 10 pancakes. When there are only a few people sharing the duck, the waiters at the Duck House will stuff each pancake a little more, knowing that two people won’t necessarily want five pancakes each. Lois never eats the duck (don’t ask) 😉 so there were only three duck eaters last night.

That could have been three pancakes each, easily. For most people, that’s an entire meal. For sure if you add any soup/appetizers and rice, etc. But, somehow, we always manage to order more than we should there. Last night was different, as we wanted our friends to at least taste a few of our favorites. They were certainly game. 😉

So, we ordered our current top three non-duck favorites:

  1. Orange Chicken (undoubtedly the greatest version of this dish ever created, anywhere on earth, I’ll bet on it!). This has been my personal top choice for 25 years, and I’ve never waivered.
  2. Grand Marnier Prawns (a relatively new favorite at this restaurant, as it was introduced less than 2 years ago there. We were enjoying it 20 years ago at a long-gone place called Fu’s.) This dish is also mind-bogglingly delicious.
  3. Paradise Beef. This is their take on filet mignon. Lois and I are always amused when people realize they can get top quality steak, in a Chinese restaurant. This dish has been consistently outstanding for 25 years as well.

There wasn’t room (in any of us) to even consider other dishes, like the amazing Prawns in Chili Sauce, etc. In fact, as I mentioned above, I really thought we’d each just sample the above dishes. Not only did we devour all of the dishes (there was one measly strip of Paradise Beef left that I think everyone was eyeing but somehow thought that it would look like we weren’t gluttons if we left something on at least one plate). 😉

Of course, then there was dessert (Lois and I are such regulars over the years the we always get dessert on the house, whether we want it or not!). Green Tea ice cream, Red Bean ice cream and lychee nuts (and of course, chocolate and vanilla ice cream as well). I’m very proud to say we only finished 1/2 of the dessert… 😉

All in all, a fantastic evening of great food, even better company and yet another fond memory of a meal at the Duck House. I’m sure we added two more regulars to their roster…

P.S. Now for another irony that the universe loves to throw at me. I had considered blogging about this even before we went last night. When we got home, I was sure that I would do it when I finally had a second to breathe today (which turned out to be mid-afternoon). But, in the morning, a good friend, fellow VC, many-time co-investor with me, LP in my fund, etc., etc., etc., wrote out of the blue to say that he and the family would be in town in two weeks, and could Lois and I join them for a meal at the Duck House. Guess who first introduced him to it? 😉

Unfortunately, we’ll be down at Zope on the day they come to town, but they have already confirmed that they’re going without us, so apparently we are not the primary attraction in this city… 😉