Frustrating and relaxing . . . what a weekend. We had a great time, but what in the heck was going on? From the beginning we felt just off kilter. Getting group reservations for the Harlequin Productions of Sixties Kicks was a chore and that kind of set the tone.
We booked our King Suite at the Phoenix Inn for both Friday and Saturday nights. Friends were joining us there on Saturday evening and staying over and more friends were coming to Olympia for dinner and then the musical revue at Harlequin. We ran into traffic of course from Tacoma to Olympia even though we left Tacoma before three in the afternoon. Peg read a couple of chapters from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo outloud as we traveled south. We checked into the hotel and began considering our options.
Peg read a restaurant review for Aqua Via. The food sounded fun and delicious. We knew approximately where the restaurant was. We drove by it five times. A small sign was under the awning and almost impossible to see unless you knew where it was. We didn't. Our observation: signage is poor in downtown Olympia. The review touted the porchetta, which I ordered. Peg ordered the lamb chop. We decided to share a salad. The waitress returned to ask, "Did you mean the bruschetta?" The porchetta was a special from a day or two before and the menu had not been picked up from the table. We switched our order. I picked the linguini with clam sauce. Peg kept her lamb, but asked for the tomato soup. The waitress replied, "We don't have a soup." Taking the "correct" specials menu Peg pointed out the tomato and arugula soup. It must not have been ordered before. Next the waitress brought the wrong drinks as we waited and thought about our choice of restaurants. Bread and salad were delivered with the meal, which we thought was a little strange, but all was forgiven with our first bite. Peg's lamb was perfectly cooked. The tapenade with parsley, olives and pistachios was both interesting and very tasty. My clam sauce was excellent and the bread was toothy and served with olive oil. The soup was served cold like gazpacho, which was a surprise . . . a pleasant surprise. It was nice and refreshing. Peg saw a can of tuna fish on a display case and had to have it. The cost? $6.50 a can. I had seen Alton Brown on the Food Network's Good Eats talking about the best canned tuna coming from Italy, so we purchased the slightly pricey tuna to take home.
After dinner we drove back to the hotel and made ourselves at home. We had stayed at The Phoenix Inn before. It's comfortable and well situated for our downtown Olympia activities. It's maybe two hundred yards from the waterfront and just south of the Olympia Farmer's Market. Our first-floor suite looked out on Gardener's, a fine dining restaurant where we've eaten before. The hotel is an easy walk to the hub of downtown Olympia where you find more restaurants, musical venues, bars, and interesting shops. There is art almost everywhere you look.
Across the street from the Phoenix Inn parking lot is a sarsen-type sculpture. There are native grasses and shrubs there to help provide a calming feel to the the piece d'art. There are fountains and parks nearby between the hotel and the state capitol building, which is no more than a mile away.
We read some and watched TV some and napped and had a full night's sleep. The next morning I checked email and then had breakfast in the dining room at the hotel. I was disappointed. Although there was a waffle maker, which I always appreciate, the hotel only had margarine . . . and what good are waffles without butter? When I mentioned this shortcoming. along with a lack of yogurt to the desk clerk upon leaving, she claimed they had butter and yogurt. Like the waitress from Friday evening, I think the desk clerk should become familiar with the true offerings. On a second inspection on Sunday I found no yogurt and no butter, but rather only the "buttery spread" Promise. Disgusting.
Peg slept in a bit and then after she had cereal and coffee in the dining room, we drove to the Farmer's Market, which takes about a minute to drive and park. We knew we were coming to the market on Sunday, but it never hurts to scout things out. At the market Peg saw some hanging flower baskets and picked out one she liked. She informed the vendor and he promised to have a similar one there on Sunday. Luckily, Peg brought along her checkbook. They didn't take credit cards. Peg also saw several booths with baby beets, which we both love. While Peg was looking around I made a bee-line for the smoked meat stall and bought a buffalo stick, a barbeque stick, and a long piece of salmon jerky. Seeing no Peg around I retreated to our car and listened to a CD of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as I sampled my meats. The salmon jerky was the best. The long piece became shorter and shorter until it was merely three inches long. Peg also thought the salmon best, and she never asked about the original length, which had been well over a foot long.
Back at the hotel we received a call from buddy Donn Irwin. He and his wife were on their way. I waited in the lobby for them as I surfed the web. They checked in and walked past me without them or me noticing. We finally connected. They were a little hungry so I suggested the nearby Bayview (Thriftway) grocery store, where I knew they had Donn's favorite vice. Olympic Mountain Ice Cream and gelato. His favor choice is always Madagascar Vanilla, which I had eaten there the day before. As he ordered, we noticed they were all out of it and they would not replentish until Tuesday. He had to settle for chocolate. Darlene Dennewith called and was nearby. Darlene was the second wife of Debbie Irwin's father, Ted. She was staying with them at the hotel and joining us for dinner and the revue. Soon after she arrived, Rob and Vickie Erb arrived from University Place and we spent the next hour or so sitting on the back deck of the grocery store enjoying the waterview and a nice cooling breeze. My lemon lavender gelato was to die for.
After shopping and a nap, we all headed out to Ramblin Jack's restaurant. Most of us arrived about the same time (shortly after 5:30 p.m.). There were fifteen of us for dinner. We didn't expect granddaughter Talia and her fiance (Chris) to join us until just before curtain time at the theater, but they joined us early. The motto for Ramblin Jack's is "Praise the Lard." There was smoked meats and barbequed items. Of course, the cooks missed my order, so my brisket arrived late. But I didn't have to wait. Friend Jan Brazzell gave me a couple pieces of her brisket and Chris Quinn-Brintnal gave me a slice of her cornbread pudding. Once my meal was officially delivered, I provided pieces of brisket to a number of friends who had never had brisket before. Like almost any barbecue it was a little uneven. Some pieces were overdone and some were just right. I enjoyed the sauces provided. There was regular, sweet, and spicey barbecue sauces. I mixed the sweet and spicey for a nice flavor that went well with the plateful of onion rings, which also made it around the table for sharing.
During dinner I chatted with friend Marsha Schorer. It turned out we are both the same age and both moved to Washington State when we were two years old. Her family settled in Morton. She grew up in a small town atmosphere until the family moved to Tacoma where she attended Wilson High School her senior year. My family had landed in Tacoma and then moved to Lakewood the summer before the fifth grade. I graduated from Clover Park High School. Marsha didn't have too many friends from Wilson and rarely connects with anyone from there, but has found many of her childhood friends from Morton thanks to Facebook. I rarely meet anyone from my high school class at Clover Park. The last time I did was at a Lakewood Rotary meeting when I realized the president had been on our basktetball team as a senior (my junior year). I have quite a few friends from the University of Puget Sound, even though was locked away in the art department there. My friends now were all mostly business majors. Go figure.
I moved to the end of the table to allow room for granddaughter Talia and Chris. They had just returned from Cairo, where she had been on assignment to help train customer service representatives for Expedia. Chris had traveled on his own to Cairo to take in the sights by himself during the work day and then afterwork with Talia and her new Expedia friends. Both Talia and Chris were once employed by Expedia. When they closed the Tacoma office she elected for re-training. Eventhough she's going to school and no longer working for Expedia, they asked her to help train customer service representatives in the Cairo office just like she had done in San Salvador and the Philippines. Chris is now employed at coporation headquarters in Bellevue, but is continuing his education as well. Talia told some stories and we all laughed and then finished up and headed to the theater, which was only about three blocks away.
Each year for the past six years or so, Harlequin Productions has a musical revue to start off the summer. This year's Sixties Kicks was an extension of last year's wonderful Sixties Chicks. Like our entire trip to Olympia, the production was uneven, but enjoyable. The singers didn't seem as strong as they have been in the past. Peg declared Mike Lengel to be the weakest, but he redeemed himself when he played guitar and sang Bob Dylan's Rolling Stone. I had an issue with Alison Monda, who performed every song as if she were Janis Joplin on speed and Jim Beam. The run was extended and every show is pretty much sold out. For our performance I only counted six empty seats.
After the show the Tacoma people begged off staying for a beer. Marsha had to play piano at church the next morning and Chris Quinn-Brintnall had flute duty at her church as well. Those of us staying at the Phoenix Inn went to McMenamin's The Spar for a late beer and lots of laughs. Rob and Vickie were able to get a King Suite with a Jacuzzi for only a few more dollars than our room. Sometimes it pays to wait until the last minute to book. Seven of us stayed the night.
Sunday morning saw us back at The Spar for breakfast. We dumped the free breakfast, but perhaps we should have combined the two. Peg and I drove while the rest walked. It was a nice morning. Many of the buildings in downtown Olympia have murals painted on them. Since Friday we had been driving past a huge painting that covered quite an area. It was a tree with leaves acting as individual icons. There must be a story somewhere to give a clue about the actual meaning, but we thought it colorful and interesting.
At The Spar we were able to grab the same table we had the night before. We placed our orders for coffee and juice and then ordered our breakfast. Then we waited and waited and waited as the restaurant filled up.
When the meals were finally delivered much of selections were cold. The hashbrowns were delivered almost like I prefer them, brown and crunchy. They were a little oily, but they did include the chopped onions like I asked for. The bacon was excellent as was my sausage. Donn sent his eggs and hashbrowns back and asked for them to be warmed. When they returned the eggs were different. Peg and I were given dry toast with no butter. Perhaps, Olympia has something against butter. I asked for butter for my toast, but it never arrived. I'm willing to bet the main problem was lack of wait staff. A long wait and cold food usually means that the food was ready for delivery, but didn't make it to the table quickly enough . . . that we knew. We still had a good time. On Friday Peg and I thought we were just being a little too picky or perhaps Olympia was more laid-back than we had rememberd, but when other people pick up on the same problems, it becomes concensus.
After breakfast we returned to the hotel to check out and then continued on to the Farmer's Market. Peg got her hanging basket from Gull Harbor Nursey and everyone had a bag or two of produce to take home with them. Our bag contained baby turnips and baby beets in both candy cane and golden varieties.
Peg and I sat down and listened to The Sister Project featuring The Rhythm Brothers, a local band with two sisters (Jane and Yvonne VanCamp) as the singers. They had a nice blend of voices and really seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage. They sing blues, rock and country. I really enjoyed Dance Me to the End of Love, which is one of my favorite Madeleine Peyroux covers and written by Canadian superstar Leonard Cohen. I bought their CD and would sit and listen to them again. They had some gray in their hair, so must have been in their late thirties. They had no need to be loud, just ear friendly. The sisters had super phrasing and harmony. Their brother (?), Bruce VanCamp did a great job on lead guitar and I enjoyed the entire band. Below is a link for Madeleine Peyroux's version of the song, Dance Me to the End of Love.