Thursday, September 28, 2006


One of the pleasures of summer in Italy is the chance to indulge in the grilled vegetable plate, usually a few slices of perfectly cooked zucchini, eggplant and tomato, warm, sweet and savory with that great olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. For some reason, this simple dish is really hard to replicate in U.S. restaurants.

But my favorite Lebanese restaurant gets it. Their dinner appetizer Matale is the best of this sort I've had in the U.S., even though it comes with tahini sauce instead of fruity olive oil. The thin vegetable slices are light, delicate and velvety soft with an accompaniment of crunchy cauliflower to offset the texture. I suppose you could ask for olive oil and they'd serve some. An order of this plus some soup and most of us would be set. Not that you shouldn't try the other items of the fabulous menu.

Karam has some touches that make a meal there a lovely experience. The owner is gracious and eager to please without being at all cloying. The service is efficient and attentive. And tea fans listen up: Karam serves it in loose leaf and in a small teapot, small but highly significant gestures.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Travel happy

So, Sunday rolls along and I pick through the papers to pull out the travel section first. Back in the day, I'd scour the front page section and then arts, and travel would be dessert. What is it about these days that I think about travel constantly? Has it become synonymous with indulgence or is that I need escapist fantasies? And I am suddenly so much more sensitive to music that evokes the seduction of travel, like Joni Mitchell's "Hejira" and "Carey".

I've been traveling for my entire lifetime so being on the move is in my DNA. I like to "curiosare" as my Italian friend used to say as she browsed her way through new towns. My senses and powers of observation seem keener when I'm away.

I've traveled solo, with a friend, with my family, with a group. Each experience has its own vibe, and, as it were, its own tune.

Paolo Conte's "Hemingway" is a deeply evocative homage to the solo adventurer, from a time when travel meant great distances, exotic and unfamiliar peoples, a touch of danger and a bit of sadness over the irresistable, addictive, ceaseless draw of travel.

After the delights of Harry's Bar,
And the tenderness of Zanzibar,
There was this road.

After the illusions of Timbuktu,
And the long legs of Babalu,
There was this road.

This silent road that flies away,
Like a butterfly, a flight of nostalgia,
Nostalgia with a taste of Curacao.
Maybe one day I'll explain myself better...

Et alors, M. Hemingway, ca va?

Falling for Venice

My friend Celia Latz is tapping into her 32 years of living and working as an artist in Venice to pull together a special small-group tour of the city. I am helping out. We will have uncommon access to Venice's cultural elites and artists, who happen to be Celia's friends. Think dinner in an 18th century palazzo on a canal with a view of Renaissance buildings across the water, hosted by someone who traces their heritage to the founders of the city state. Also, think of taking the boat ferry to Murano to visit the studio of one of Venice's pre-eminent glass artists, not one of the people who churn out trinkets or glasses for the masses but someone who makes works for the most stately homes, glamorous embassies, important state works and exclusive hideaways in the world.

Celia and I will be talking about this trip on September 28, from 5:30 - 7:30pm at the Brian Marki Gallery.

Meanwhile, for more information go to Celia's web site.

Friday, September 22, 2006

An Italian Kitchen in Portland

Some friends from Mantova,Italy visited last week. They've been traveling here almost once a year for 12 years. In that time, they've noticed quite a change in the quality of restaurants. Back in 1995, we had trouble finding places where the food wasn't embarrassing.

For those of you who do not know, Italians can be very fussy about their food. The bread, the wine, the temperature of the food, whether or not things are cooked to just the right degree of "done-ness", how dishes are balanced on a menu, all these things play a role in their satisfaction. Both these friends have wives who are great Italian home cooks, and have mothers who can cook anyone under a table. I've seen these guy take on some amazing fish dishes as well.

We started at Ken's Artisan Pizza, which they approved of so much they asked to return a few nights later. The dough was just right. The topping was a little dry on the margherita, but flavorful. The place was "simpatico." And although the wine list wasn't great, the beer hit the spot.

We then went to Nostrana's. Also "molto simpatico" in terms of the spazio (space). (I have to say I've just about given up on the place. The first time, a soup dish that was ordered never arrived. The second time, we called to reserve a table for six and were told "We already have three." We asked what that meant and were told "no." A half hour later I called again and this time was given the reservation right away. But when we arrived there was no reservation. I have to give fault to the owners. They have known all year that service is a huge problem and have not fixed it.) They praised the house-made bread, the high quality and flavor of the olive oil, and the succulent meats they ordered.

Tuscany Grill was our spot on another night. That restaurant has always been uneven in my estimatation. Who puts balsamic vinegar on milky mozzarella? And why drown the ravioli in cream sauce? And can't the pasta be really al dente and not a dash too pasty? However, the Italians really liked the pork with figs (which appeals to my penchant for meat with fruit, particularly chicken with pomegranate, apricots, lemons or prunes). Mantova and nearby Vicenza use quite a bit of mostarda, a locally made chutney-like dressing, on meats.

Now they're talking about spending more time in Portland on their next trip, getting a suite hotel so they can shop at the markets and cook up some meals with the great ingredients we have. I'll be happy to be a dinner guest.

So, count your blessings, Portland. There are few places in the USA that can boast any affinity with an Italian kitchen. We are getting there.

Verizon 'Wireless case closed

So, it turned out the problem with my Treo was a data corruption problem that commonly occurs during a hot sync. Something about the process causes computer data to go berserk, and then the Treo freezes up. So the problem that began on September 9th probably could have been cleared up THAT DAY if the person I had reached at VZW tech support had diagnosed the problem correctly. Scarily enough, it was PURE LUCK that the smart tech support dude I spoke to on Tuesday, after my new battery did nothing to get the reconstituted Treo working, was someone who knew what he was doing.

George, you deserve a promotion.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Verizon Wireless nightmare

So, I received my battery. The one I had originally ordered, which VZW later said had never happened. After reconfiguring everything with a very competent Martin in tech support, I thought I was back to work.


The wireless sync for email was not working. This time, my call to tech support landed me with a blithering idiot who I think did more damage than anything. I hung up and called in again, hoping to find Martin.

Meanwhile, my earnest sounding tech support person who said she'd be there to handle my issue personally is AWOL today.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I hate Verizon Wireless

I haven't blogged for a while. That's because I've been spending all my spare time on the phone with Verizon Wireless.

As a customer, I'm being told by business publications that I'm in charge. What horse hockey. Take my Palm Treo 650 from Verizon Wireless. On Sept. 9 I fell victim to a common problem among owners. The thing froze up and died. Sept. 17 and I'm still without a working replacement. The latest insult is that after being sent by VZW to a store to buy a replacement battery on the bet, best guess, or hope that a new one would fix the problem, the store clerk informed me they didn't actually sell them in stores. So I ordered one. After checking today on why it did not arrive, I was told there was no record of the order.

This is after realizing I cannot just go into a store and return the prematurely dead device for a replacement...

after realizing that I have to pay for VZW to ship me a device to replace the dead one...

after realizing it is not a new device, but a reconstituted one...

after realizing that VZW won't give me a loaner while I wait for someone in customer service to turn the lights on and get me a working phone...

after having to ASK for a rebate on the data services fee for the days I am without any data service...

after getting the feeling the customer rep at my local store didn't give a rat's you know what from my predicament, judging from his tone, look and general lack of engagement...

after noticing that my 2-year contract is feeling really onerous right now.

I feel like a chump for being a VZW customer.

But I guess so do these and these and these .

Here is what VZW should do to make its customer LOVE being so:
sell products that don't die

immediately replace ones that do with new ones if within the warranty (what use is a warranty otherwise?)

supply loaners if a customer is going to have to wait for a replacement

do not charge for shipping, boneheads

address billing adjustments where appropriate, as in my case, proactively

throw in a sweetner to account for the customer hassle, like extra minutes, to show appreciation and understanding and CARING

check up with customer on the day the new device or battery or whatever is supposed to show up, and not wait for them to call to let you know it has not

And that's just for starters.

The Pendulum Swings

There wasn't much I could say yesterday. But I did mourn the sense of unity we felt on 9/12/01. So different from today. For that we have the "uniter, not divider" to thank.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Oregon's bliss

It is not just the many wonderful restaurants that make dining a singular experience in Portland. It is the food products. The marionberry jams and syrups, the hazelnut brittle, the organic chocolate are a few examples. Now I've discovered Eugene-based Larry and Luna's Coconut Bliss. just the sort of dessert I've been waiting for. Coconut milk is substituted for cream, and agave is the sweetener. You'd be surprised how delectable it is. Now, if you didn't know this already, take heed: coconut is actually a health food, particularly for people who have intestinal problems. My friend with Crohn's Disease buys it by the case. I do recommend you not EAT it by the case although you may be tempted to do so.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Blog on Portland dogs

Today a report was released that ranks Portland #1 among cities for dogs.

Well it is a paradise for Portuguese Water Dogs, given all the waterways and nearby streams, lakes, ocean beaches.

I don't know how they feel about all that rain, though.