A wonderful Saturday evening began with friends and The News Tribune. Over Friday morning breakfast Peg and I read the "Go" section of the Tribune. We first saw Sue Kidd's review of Hue Ky Mi Gia (Chinese Noodle House) and then saw a notice about a Jewish Bluegrass band playing at Temple Beth El. Later over dinner a friend mentioned she had seen Nefesh Mountain playing Jewish Bluegrass and the University of Puget Sound on Wednesday.
When we go to Seattle for a weekend, we usually stay on Capitol Hill. We like it because of the little shops and the multicultural restaurants on Broadway. The Lincoln International District in Tacoma is beginning to offer some of the same attractions. We had no trouble finding a place to park less than a hundred yards from the front door of the Chinese Noodle House. As we approached the restaurant we saw people coming out as well as people going in. We had no trouble finding a place to sit. We looked over the menu decided on some of Sue Kidd's recommendations.
We started with the butter fried chicken wings. They were good, especially dipped in their sweet and sour sauce, but we weren't enamored with them as much as Sue was. Next time we'll try the butter fried garlic prawns (I always figure you can't go wrong with butter.) or the honey walnut prawns.
The other appetizer we ordered was the baked duck. For $4.50 it was a super bargain. We've had duck before at other Asian restaurants, but this offering seemed to have more meat. It was tender and the color alone made our mouths water. The skin looked like you want your Thanksgiving turkey to look like before you attack it with an electric knife. The skin and the meat was a treat. Half of our appetizer later went into the soup.
As I had walked up to the restaurant and took the exterior photo, a couple sitting together but the window smiled. When we walked into the restaurant we received a nice welcoming nod from them as we first sat down at a and table then moved to a booth. Later when we had our left-overs bagged up we stopped at the table and compared notes with the couple. They had ordered the gyoza and loved it as an appetizer. They had also ordered the braised duck soup as we had and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.
I think we chose the restaurant based on the promise of out standing broth. That promise was fulfilled.
Good broth is the magic elixir of great food. The soups at the Chinese Noodle House all begin with their chicken broth. They prepare it like Peg does. She saves and collects bones in our freezer and then one say will roast them in the over and then coaxes the flavors out of them for soups and casseroles. That is the type of broth the Chinese Noodle House uses for starters.
With the addition of flavors and juices of the duck added to the broth it was dark and mysterious. I fell in love with the first spoonful, which was followed by a second and a third. The noodles and the bok choy were excellent, but they paled in comparison to the mushrooms and skin of the duck.
Later in the evening when we returned home I put two styrofoam clamshells in the refrigerator and then I grabbed the container of soup. It was just a little warm. I fought off the urge to drink the broth. Peg would have killed me.
In addition to the soup I had ordered a vegetable stir fry with tofu and steamed rice. The vegetables were brilliant in their colors and were certainly fresh. Excellent. I did miss noodles, however. Next time we visit I'll probably order one of the won ton soups and then start working my way through the noodle and broth variations.
I love fried rice, but didn't order it because I wanted to sample something different. Next time around I order at least of their variations.
Sunday morning I was telling a friend about the broth. He and his wife were on their way to Red Robin for a hamburger when she mentioned perhaps having dinner at Hue Ky Mi Gia. They decided to save it for a different day. Too bad, we could have had even more variation for sampling with our friends . . . and perhaps we could have enticed them into going with us for Jewish Bluegrass music afterwords.
When I was in high school (Clover Park) my friends and I attended different houses of worship and then talked about the differences. I had never been to a Jewish temple before, however. Although, one of my favorite books when I was younger was Jews, God and History by Max Dimont and both Peg and I used to enjoy the detective services by Harry Kemelman of "Friday the Rabbi Slept Late" where Rabbi David Small solves mysteries, I had never before been to a Jewish temple.
We parked in the parking lot at Temple Beth El where Nefesh Mountain was performing and immediately saw a friend walking toward the entrance. We followed suit. People standing by the doors said "hello," which we acknowledged and continued on down the hall way. We soon passed a painting of Rabbi Richard Rosenthall, the first rabbi at Temple Beth El and when we entered the sanctuary I looked at the blown glass artworks (The Burning Bush) on either side of a raised platform and I began to feel more comfortable. Rabbi Rosenthall was a long time member of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8, when I had been club president. The artwork had been donated by Herman and Babe Lehrer. I never knew Herman, but had both worked with Babe and knew her niece (Dyann) and nephew (Jeff). Then right before the band began playing, old friends joined us on the bench.
The stage had been set for the musical performance. I asked a gentleman wearing a yarmulke if I could take photographs. He said, "Yes, it's fine with me." He then realized that perhaps I should talk to a member of the band. I didn't realize until later that I was talking with Rabbi Bruce Kadden.
I soon found Eric Lindberg of Nefesh Mountain, who was glad to have photos taken. "Nefesh Mountain is the place where the Jewish spirit and soul meet with Bluegrass and Old-Time music. Husband and Wife team Eric Lindberg & Doni Zasloff are pioneering this blend of Jewish Americana throughout the country, bringing their unique knowledge and passion for both Jewish and Bluegrass traditions to the fore, singing English and Hebrew songs alike. Their songs and spirituals draw from the beautiful depths of Jewish culture, illuminated with the timeless sounds of Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, Fiddle, Bass, & Dobro."
Eric says he usually get a laugh when he tells people that the group plays Jewish Bluegrass. If they don't laugh, he adds "We're from New Jersey." Then they laugh.
The individual performers were as varied as their choice of shoes. Tim Kiah wore stylish black oxfords with a tan sole. He played bass and did a great job slapping, plucking, and bowing. Eric Lindberg on guitar, banjo, and vocals had well-worn, brown work boots. Doni Zasloff, the "Singing Jewish Girl," had knee-high, nicely tooled, cowboy boots with a walking heel and turned-up pointy-toes. Alan Grubner on fiddle, wore a plaid cowboy-ish shirt buttoned down to the wrist. Jeans (were those ironed>) and black old-style gym shoes with faded blue shoestrings.
Eric did most of the talking, but had Tim tell a couple of jokes . . . bad jokes . . . like you might hear around the table of a family meal. Each song and every little story drew the audience in. I liked Eric's story about Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, who performed for 69 years. Monroe was finally convinced to travel to New York City to perform away from his Kentucky and Tennessee base. He loved New York, the beauty, and the people, but complained about the stale donuts (bagels).
The members of Nefesh Mountain are far cry from a garage band. Not one of them was like members of the Carter family playing country or bluegrass from the day they were born, but accomplished, studied musicians and singers. One of my favorite songs was written by Eric for his wife Doni and her relatives in Poland. You knew it was bluegrass, but the sounds were soul-searching, alternating between sweet and heart-rendering. With the addition of a clarinet it could have turned klezmer. It flirted, but it never crossed the line.
Binding everything together and making the evening an absolute joy was Doni. She bounced, she jumped, and for one song she ran out into the audience and pulled us along with her. We danced through the aisles (thankfully they turned the house lights up a little bit) and around the benches. In other songs she had us clapping, holding on to each other, and for the final number we all moved within inches of the stage as we all swayed together and sang "Will the Circle Go Unbroken." From little kids to great-grandparents, we all joined in and had a wonderful time.
In the future perhaps we'll find a Jewish deli for dinner and then enjoy Chinese Bluegrass later in the evening.