Next week, as we all know, is Thanksgiving. Some of us will have big family dinners; for others it will be more intimate. Some of us will spend hours in a kitchen; others will choose to go out. Some of us will enjoy the festivities; others of us will show up bearing the heavy weight of obligation. One nearly universal truth about next week, though, is that on Friday morning we will wake up feeling overindulged. We here at this little hotel have two little amenities for you to keep in mind when that feeling comes for you.
Number one is the exercise balls you now find in your room when you’re here with us. It’s amazing what a few crunches first thing in the morning will do for your general sense of fitness and willingness to take care of yourself. Never mind that a handful of sit-ups are not quite the anecdote for eating an entire pie alone. It’s peace of mind you need to strive for in the immediate aftermath of the chaos of Thanksgiving. Christmas, after all, is just around the corner, so you may as well not bother shooting for perfection just yet.
Number two is our canned food drive. A giant feast is really nice, and a day designed especially to give thanks for all we have is great, but when all that you have contrasts so sharply with what some of those around you do not have, feelings can get a little conflicted. Bring the canned version of your favorite Thanksgiving foods in to us. Share your bounty.
First, though, you get to do the indulging. Enjoy!
Friends, the holidays are upon us. And whether that sentence fills you with tingles of eager anticipation or a dark foreboding, we’ve got a treat for you: Our annual holiday canned food drive.
If you’re the type for whom the holidays bring the joy of family reunion, if you rejoice in the sacred act of giving thanks for all the blessings the world has bestowed on you and those you love, then a bring a can or two in to our drive. It’s another chance to spread the love and bounty that this time of year reminds you of. We’re only too happy to be the intermediary in this small act of generosity that can have such a big impact.
If, on the other hand, you’re more the bah humbug type, this drive will help your holiday cheer in a different way. As you all know, drinks in our bar are free for our guests from 5-7pm every night and after that we make you pay. However, at this time of year, there’s a little caveat. For every can you bring in, you get a free drink. Whether it’s a 99 cent can of beans, a 20 year old mystery can from the back of your pantry, or some fancy Amy’s organic curried something-or-other, you’ll get a ticket for a post-7pm cocktail of your choice.
Please, no frozen items. And please, don’t bring anything that you’ve taken from the mini-bar.
For all that’s good about the weather in California, there is one thing that’s kind of bad, and the season for that one bad thing is upon us. We all know that to use the word winter to describe what happens here at this time of year is kind of a joke, relatively speaking. There’s already a 25-degree temperature difference between here and New York and it’s only the beginning of November. Still, it gets chilly out here. We put on sweaters and jackets, and sometimes even hats and gloves.
The problem is that, because it never gets truly cold, our winters never get the respect given to “real” winters. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in restaurants. In the winter months in California it is typical to go to a restaurant for dinner and never take your coat off. Maybe you’ll remove your hat, out of social considerations or because it’s itchy and you don’t like to eat with an itchy face, but it’s just as likely you’ll keep that on too. We’ve done away with social conventions out here, synthetic fibers almost never itch anymore and taking off your hat very likely means being just a little too cool all through your meal. Restaurants, you see, do not turn on heaters and often they’ll keep their doors open all night long. Can you even imagine such a thing in New York or Chicago? It would be unthinkable; it would be dangerous. Here, though, where on any given night someone could say “it’s not THAT cold” people don’t really bother to change anything.
The truth is that it’s possible to be colder in California in the winter than in Chicago. In Chicago, the inside of everything is heated like a furnace and people have the right clothes and bundle up well. Here, somehow, people can’t quite be bothered. Heaters are neglected. People opt to leave coats at home for fashion reasons, or choose flip-flops out of laziness. We shiver through our winters because it’s not dangerous to do it, but we’re all kind of mildly suffering. It’s silly, but we’re all in on it. See if you don’t fall right in line when you’re out here with us.
We have, in recent years, been serving pretty good food at our little hotel. Ever since Norman, our executive chef, came on board, the sauces have gotten more interesting, the combinations a little subtler. Still, among the words one would use to describe our food, in general, old-school would have to be in there. Part of that was because Norman would have to respect the suggestions of our dear general manager, who would come to him with brilliant “new” ideas like tater tots, thus filling the space for new stuff with really old stuff instead. The other part was that the kitchen staff is not exactly made up of spring chickens either and there were limits to what they were willing to put up with.
How ever many years later, though, Norman finally put his foot down. It’s unclear how he managed to woo the boss lady, who probably was on the verge of suggesting adding Twinkies to the catering menu, but he decided to quell the anxieties in the kitchen by doing a few weeks of training. Norman held the hands of our kitchen staff as he led them into the brave new world of trendy superfoods. Quinoa and kale were demystified in these sessions. Some people are still trying to get the beet stains off of their hands. The whole thing ended with a night of tastings and, however much those weeks of teaching old dogs new tricks may have hurt, the project was a success. Now, when’re looking to feed your team, you’ll have options that feel, not just comforting and easy, but nourishing and healthy. Thank you, Norman, for leading us into the present moment.
The strangest story I heard during the government shutdown came from a friend who happened to be visiting Washington DC just as everything was boarded up. The Smithsonians were all closed, which bummed her out, but was not unexpected. Still, she thought, it was warm and sunny and DC is full of iconic monuments to finally get to see up close. She headed out first in search of President Lincoln and found that a barricade had been set up and was being actively guarded against visitors. Did you follow that? The government shutdown, according to my understanding of it, was all about not paying workers’ salaries and yet in this case workers were actually brought in to do a job that does not normally exist, specifically for the purpose of punishing the public. Very strange, in my opinion.
Next in line for bizarre punishments meted out in those days had to do with the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco. It sits on government land, but it’s privately owned and run and so did not shut down when the government did. At least not at first. A couple of days into the ordeal, the Cliff House, which, I repeat, is a privately owned small business, requiring no funding from the federal government to maintain its day-to-day operation, was ordered to shut down because it sits on government land.
If you’ve never been to the Cliff House, you should put it high on your list. There aren’t many views in the world like the one it’s got. It’s the kind of place that normally gets ignored by this little newsletter because it’s so ubiquitous on everyone else’s San Francisco list. But with the next government shutdown scheduled for January, maybe you’d better try to get out there sooner rather than later.
The worst thing about having a young, ambitious staff is that eventually you’re going to have to say goodbye to each and every one of them. Stephen, who our general manager would only ever refer to as Little Stephen, will be an especially tough one for her in particular because he grew up on her street. She met him when he was a five-year-old who just kept wandering away from his parents’ house and showing up at her doorstep. She had no kids his age at the time, there was no one in particular for him to play with there, but he’d turn up every day, not unlike Dennis the Menace. A few years later his parents divorced and he finished his growing up somewhere else, but when he turned up at the hotel looking for a job, all he had to do was remind her of who he was and he was hired. He’s been here for a few years now and every time she looked at him, she saw the skinny little towhead wanderer. Well, now it’s time for him to wander away.
The funny thing about Stephen’s departure is that, while we’re all saying our goodbyes and wondering if and how we’ll ever see him again, there are some of you who’ll now be seeing a lot more of him. You see, he’s leaving us to be a courier at Apple. For those of you who are getting more Stephen from here on out, maybe think of indulging our boss with whatever little bits of gossip you can dig up from his new life. For the rest of us, we’ll say goodbye for now, and look forward to how he’ll show up the next time.
I think a lot of you already know about Dish Dash, the super-fresh, super-delicious Middle Eastern restaurant just a short little hop away from our hotel. It’s been mentioned here before, a lot of our staff talks a lot about it, plus it’s now permanently, constantly packed, so I just figure everyone’s going there, and that that probably includes you too. And, anyway, if you were one of the few people in the South Bay who didn’t know about it, it seemed better not to add you to the list of people I’m competing for tables with whenever I try to go there.
Good news, though! Dish Dash has just opened up a more casual version of itself, just a few blocks away. The new one is more about sandwiches and salads, you order at a counter. You know, easy take-out lunch style. This new one is called Dish N Dash and it has a separate website from Dish Dash’s, though Dish Dash does refer to Dish N Dash as its sister restaurant.
Ready for even more good news? In looking up the new Dish N Dash, I found yet another version of the same restaurant. This third one is called Dish Dash Middle Eastern Grill, again with a completely separate website but referring to the other two as its sisters. The menu is the same as Dish Dash’s and it seems to be a sit-down, table service kind of a place, again like Dish Dash. I know it’s got to be basically the same restaurant because even the text describing the restaurant’s name is identical and yet they do not claim themselves as a chain. I’m not saying I quite understand the strategy, but it’s pretty exciting to have unearthed two more of one of the best restaurants in town.
I wasn’t allowed to eat very many TV dinners when I was growing up. As an adult it makes pretty good sense, but at the time it felt like cruel deprivation. I loved the packages, the compartmentalized trays. I loved the easy, rich flavors. I loved TV dinners, and Swanson was always the best. Swanson’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes was my specific favorite, though, to be honest, it didn’t matter very much.
Now, I’m not sure the Swanson people will like the line I’m about to draw because there is no place on the Swanson Winery’s website that acknowledges that it is, in fact, the same Swanson of TV dinner fame. It’s more like something you’ve got to just learn. But now that I’ve learned it, I have to say that the Swanson wines give me a similar rich and easy pleasure. I know it seems like I must either be insulting the wine, or that I’m a horribly uncultured idiot to compare wine to TV dinners, but I’m going to stick to this and say that the Swanson family knows how to prioritize comfort, as has now been demonstrated in two very different fields. And, lest you think that I’m speaking of this wine as if it were not of a high quality, let me just remind you, because I think we all know, that there is nothing comforting, rich or easy about cheap wine.
I know I’m a little late with this news, but Lou Reed is dead. And so there followed a week of sweet remembrances, well deserved for someone who contributed so much to our culture. There’s something, though, in the story of his death that has me questioning reality as its always been presented to me. I wonder if any of you are feeling the same way.
First I’d like to start with the Velvet Underground song Heroin. It’s not my favorite song that Lou Reed ever sung, but somehow it’s the one that sticks in my head, revisits me when I least expect it. I’ll be walking down the street, minding my own business, and suddenly finding myself humming “heroin, it’s my life, it’s my wife.” The power of pop music is strong. The point, though, is that that was not a work of fiction from Mr. Reed and matrimony is a serious commitment.
Next I’d like to move on to the obituary written by his final wife, the inimitable Laurie Anderson. She writes that he “spent his last days… being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature.” This, of course, was four decades after his first marriage to Miss Heroin.
According to everything I ever learned, one should not be able to have all that Lou Reed had in one lifetime. It would seem that he got to the furthest reaches of both the darkness and the light. I think we can look at his example and know that way more is possible than what we have been allowed to imagine.
Is this the most inappropriate business hotel blog ever written? I apologize.
The Oakland A’s just lost in the first round of the playoffs. Last year the Giants won the World Series, for the second time in three years. The San Jose Sharks go to the playoffs every year; one of these days they may even win. The point is, it’s no secret that the Bay Area is a nice place to be a sports fan. Recently, though, it became official. ESPN put all the cities in the country with pro teams through some kind of convoluted algorithm and came to the conclusion that the Bay Area is the best place for professional sports. I believe it took into account things like how often teams played in the post season, but somehow it also accounted for things like the ineffable insanity of the Raider Nation. (Have you all seen the Raider Nation first hand, by the way? It’s a big experience, highly recommended. And it’s football season right now, so you don’t even have to wait and hope to remember.)
Everyone likes to brag about the place they’re from, especially to an audience of non-natives. Sports fans can, arguably, be the worst on the subject. In England people have been bludgeoned to death for choosing one city’s soccer team over another’s. Mostly it’s subjective grandstanding, completely unverifiable. Here, though, we have ESPN, a brand that, if not universally trusted, at least can’t be accused of having any dog in this particular race, devising the kind of mathematical equation sports junkies love so much and coming up with little old us. Our beloved Bay Area is the best place to be a sports fan. We could have told you so, but it’s so much better this way.