On the Road, Part II

July has been filled with travel! Apologies for the lateness of the Saturday newsletter!

When I was a junior in college, I met the managing editor of The New York Times, Arthur Gelb, who was renowned for nurturing aspiring reporters such as Gay Talese and Maureen Dowd. Knowing that I was about to embark on a junior year abroad, he said, “You should write a Travel piece for us.” I said I would love to.

“A great travel piece,” he advised, “is nothing more than a great letter home or a great letter to your best friend.” He made it sound easy. I set my sights on a story I hadn’t read before, the diamonds of Antwerp, and after considerable struggle and much editing from The Times I had my very first byline.

And that’s what this newsletter must be as I’ve been on a five-city travel, a letter to a friend. I consider everyone who enjoys reading this newsletter just that. It’s one of the lucky things about being a writer.

For instance, on my flight into Denver Friday, I bought an IPA on the plane. When the flight attendant, Adam, read the name on my card, he asked, “The writer? I’ve read a couple of your books. I loved Soul of a Chef.” We talked. He had been a pastry chef at Grammercy Tavern, when Claudia Fleming was the pastry chef. He still eats there when he’s back in the city—it remains a fine restaurant—but he had to move on from NYC and the kitchen. I meet people like this all the time and love the interaction.

So now I’ve returning from Denver where I saw my daughter, Addison, for the first time since well before Covid and was so happy to be there!

Travels began more than a week ago in NYC as Ann took her daughter to visit colleges in southern CA, and I had a fabulous last-minute dinner with my old friend Claudia Young at Michael Lomonaco’s Porter House. We began with oysters, and Claudia insisted on two dozen, bless her.

And I’m glad she did because the universe returned to Ann and me the pearl that fell out of Ann’s wedding ring, the pearl I’d found in my oyster with her in the West Village more than four years ago.

I have to think the odds of finding a pearl in my oyster, twice, have to be high enough to suspect divine intervention.

After New York, I rendezvoused with Ann and Annabelle in San Francisco, that fabulous town. We began at Perry’s, looking out on the bay and the Bay Bridge where Ann ordered a turkey club, and happily, it was a proper turkey club.

Notice, it’s a tripe decker, cut in triangles. Amazing how many places get it wrong. Improper Turkey Clubs make Ann cranky. Good fries too. And of course no visit to SF is complete without a visit to Buena Vista for their fantastic Irish coffees!

We stayed at the Triton Hotel on the edge of Chinatown (a little down at the heels, alas), and so were able to walk to our favorite restaurant there, Z&Y, where I love the chicken with “explosive” chilis. It has chilis-to-chicken ratio of about 3 to 1 and is fantastic.

Thence from San Francisco to Portland to visit Lewis and Clark and Reed College. What was so lovely about Portland is that Ann has two dear friends there, so rather than dine out in Portland we had two alfresco splendid meals at two splendid homes. With splendid food and wine.

But for lunch, our dear friend and Reed graduate, Henry, suggested we go to Otto’s Sausage and Meat Market a few minutes away from the Reed Campus. Otto’s had a charcoal grill going outside, cooking up smoked pork sausages, hot dogs and chicken sausages.

That evening, more friends’ food (fabulous tacos and guacamole from Heather and Mark) and extraordinary wine.

That’s Leather Storrs in the background, a chef I met when I was at the Culinary Institute on his return from a stage at Chez Panisse where he said he hand dried lettuces all day for six months.

In Denver, with my daughter and her bf, Anders, we ate at Aces Eat Serve (thank you, Cactus!)—an eccentric Asian cuisine (get the fried Brussels-sprouts-and-shishito-peppers dish, and ask for the soup dumplings, which aren’t on the menu!) The highlight though was the speakeasy Run For the Roses, fabulous cocktails and an equally fabulous menu, 52 cocktails on playing cards.

The next day we toured Red Rocks, which I’d been wanting to see since my Deadhead days in the early 1980s, an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by awesome sandstone and shale rock formations. It’s so beautiful that even on the day of a show, Colorado keeps the theater open for sightseeing.

And for dinner, those amazing steaks at the top of the post. Mise en place below, steaks, asparagus, for the grill, compound butter, lightly smashed potatoes to crisp under the broiler.

Now at last, back in NYC.

What we’re watching…

I usually don’t love 30 minute comedy series (I never quite took to Schitt’s Creek which everyone else, especially Ann, loved), but Ann urged me to watch Hacks (HBO Plus), about an aging Vegas comedienne (think Joan Rivers) struggles to maintain her career. Beautifully acted by Jean Smart and her comedy writer assistant Hannah Einbinder. I’m sorry season one is over for me. But I see that Ted Lasso and Dickinson are back with new seasons on Apple TV so I’ll look forward to those (if you haven’t seen those, HIGHLY recommend).

What we’re reading…

I’ve been reading USA Noir, a collection of the best stories from the esteemed noir series published by Johnny Temple and Akashik books. It began with Brooklyn Noir and has grown to more than a hundred volumes with many illustrious editors, such as Denis Lehane (Boston), George Pelecanos (DC), Laura Lippman (Baltimore), and Joyce Carol Oates (New Jersey). Temple writes in the intro to USA Noir that he “wanted stories of tragic soulful struggle against all odds, characters slipping, no redemption in sight.” That was how he broadly defined Noir.

My wife, Ann, who edited Providence Noir, I think got more directly to the definition when, in her introduction, she quotes Otto Penzler, owner of Manhattan’s Mysterious Bookshop: “Noir is about sex and money and sometimes about revenge,” adding, there are no heroes and no happy endings.

And I’m reading it because I’ll be editing Cleveland Noir, with my fellow Clevelander Miesha Headon. My city is long overdue.

And Ann writes:

My favorite reading this week was The New Yorker Fiction issue. I was on college tours, flying and driving and walking around campuses, so it was perfect to dip into when I sat still. Airplane reading was a big fat British murder novel, The Dinner Guest, by B P Walter, with enough plot twists and turns to make me forget I’d had a mask on for five hours.

What we’re listening to…

The Noble Blood podcast is a fabulous look at the stories of ancient royalty (we first listened to the stories of each of Henry VIII’s seven wives). Dana Schwartz does a great job of bringing history to life in these bizarre tales.

My Autobiography of Carsen McCullers, on Audible, Jenn Shapland’s quirky and fun personal memoir and McCullers biography, which looks especially closely at both authors sexuality, both queer women.

Links we’re loving…

I’ve always argued that pork rinds should be considered a protein snack! They’re not junk food anymore. (From Vice, with thanks to my pal Les for the link.)

Confused about that vanilla extract? Here’s everything you need to know about this exotic fruit.

This is a fabulous profile of the publisher Alfred Knopf, worth reading even the very first graf, from The New Yorker archives, 1948.

And finally, Cleveland’s baseball team gets a new name from these grand statues at the entrances to the Loraine-Carnegie Bridge.

Thanks for reading and have a great couple of weeks everyone!

Watch Brian Williams 4-minute story on Cleveland and the baseball name change which includes the entire Tom Hanks announcement. Thanks Mr. Hanks!