After a busy November and December filled with family angst, holiday pressures and winter colds, we needed some "we" time. We found it on the first Friday in January.
We chose to see the musical La La Land at the Grand Cinema and have a late lunch at Top of Tacoma.
Official Synopsis: "Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams."
"Behind the fake tinsel of Hollywood, is the real tinsel of Hollywood."
I first noticed Ryan Gosling as the young, white, country-western loving goof in Remember the Titans. Knowing that he's a good player, but not a great player, he asks his coach to replace him with a "colored" player, who is a great player, in their newly integrated high school football program. Keeping the request simple, but heart-felt made the moment memorable. Before Titans, Canadian Gosling was a Mouseketeer with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera.
At the Grand Cinema, most Tacomans probably first saw him in Lars and the Real Girl. His first comedy role was in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, with Emma Stone. La La Land is their third film together.
Emma Stone grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. Her first two films were two of my favorites, Superbad and Zombieland. Like Gosling, she was involved in acting from an early age. She was one of the highest paid actresses by 2015.
La La Land opens with an energetic music/dance number with individual drivers emerging from their cars-at-a-standstill on a clogged Los Angeles freeway. The dance numbers fade away as the musical progresses. There are some great moments, but I think the essence of the film is revealed as Sebastian (Gosling) explains jazz to Mia (Stone). He talks about the various voices of a jazz combo breaking in with new variations as they combine and share a song. The essence of a relationship, life, and this movie.
There was a smattering of applause at the end of the film. Peg and I stayed for the credits, while most people left. La La Land is one of those films that begs for discussion. Friends want to see it, so we may watch it again, or just add to a discussion when conversations lead that way. Peg and I talked about the film as we drove to the McKinley area and Top of Tacoma for a late lunch. I thought arriving after two in the afternoon would give us an easy seat in the bar. Not so. We walked all the way through and found half a table open behind the pool table in the very back of the bar, guarded by a wooden (plaster?) Indian.
We first shared the table with a couple. I asked the man, "What did you order for us?" He quickly responded, "You can buy half my pastrami sandwich." The woman then touted her fish taco. When they left, they took the uneaten pastrami half with them. They were replaced by another couple who moved over from a tiny table. As we began taking photographs of our food, the woman invited us to take a photo of their food. also.
Since part of the ShellFish Friday special was mussels, I knew what I wanted. They had a traditional version (white wine and butter) and one with tomatoes. They had a similar offering for the clams. I chose the traditional mussels in wine sauce. There must have been two dozen mussels . . . not one of them with a broken shell. Since most shellfish start with being alive at the time of cooking, and shellfish open up their shells as they cook; broken shells are a sign that the shellfish had been dead before the cooking process started. Bad cooks or those trying to save money simply brake the shells so people can eat the meat.
I've been served a shellfish dinner with a couple broken shells at a decent Tacoma restaurant, where I'll never order shellfish, again. And at a well-known family restaurant here in Tacoma, I've been served shellfish with half the shells being broken. I haven't dined there since.
The next time I eat at Top of Tacoma and have the mussels, I will make sure I order extra bread to soak up the broth. With good broth like they serve at Top of Tacoma, you need to slurp, drink, and dunk all you can. Don't let it go to waste.
Quite often when we are writing reviews, I'll over-order. This is not because I'm a big . . . , well hopefully not, but because I like to sample and always tell myself, "You don't need to eat everything." In addition to my mussels I ordered fried oysters (a personal favorite with both Peg and me).
Peg ordered a personal pizza, but ate a couple of the oysters. I had a couple of the oysters. For both of us, they were a little too crunchy. A bit crispier than we like. We loved baked oysters, oysters on the half-shell or in shooters, fried, deep-fried, and in stuffing. Perhaps, they offer different versions of oysters as well. They sell Taylor Shellfish from Shelton.
Peg loved her pizza, but our take-home box contained three-quarters of her pizza, and two large pieces of oysters. The oysters were good, but it was the style that didn't work for us. Now, chicken livers with that coating and fried really crisp would be worth trying.
McKinley Avenue is off the beaten path, and the neighborhood sometimes feels left out from the rest of Tacoma. The exterior, especially on cold days in January is not very inviting. The building next door appears to be boarded up, and about twenty-five feet from the door of Top of Tacoma is a "butt" can sitting near the curb for smokers. There are a couple of chairs and tables outside but it looks like they have been taped off for police crime scene protection.
The clientele is mostly white. On this trip one of the two couples we met were black. Other than that we saw one black patron who came in as we were leaving. I know that people visit Top of Tacoma from different locatons all over Pierce County. Good food and service attracts good people. The decor is quirky with interesting posters, and more. They have a photo booth and there are hundreds of photo booth images on the walls. We felt welcome and we've not dented the menu, yet. We will return.