As Kevin Costner says in the feature film Bull Durham, "Some days you win, some days you lose, and some days it rains." In other words things don't always go as you plan, but they go never the less. Such was our June adventure to Olympia.
It's always hard getting out of town. On Fridays, you can't dawdle, however. To leave from Tacoma much after two in the afternoon means you run the risk of getting stuck in both JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord) and weekend traffic early starters. This particular Friday, we were able to get our work done, calls made, files uploaded, invoices sent, meetings set for the following week, and bags packed early enough to leave Tacoma by 1:30 PM.
We ran into minor traffic as we passed Ponder's Corner and then flew past the main gate, galloped through the Nisqually Delta and climbed the hill to Hawks Prairie, where we turned off I-5 to visit Shipwreck Beads. Peg was looking for horse elements to create earrings birthday presents for grandchildren.
My grand plan was to stop at a little taco bus I had discovered the last time we adventured in Olympia. The bus was located between Lacey and Olympia. I thought we could stop at the bus and have a couple of tacos as a kind of late lunch and then Peg and I could visit a restaurant and share a salad for dinner.
Peg spent more time at Shipwreck than I figured she would and then I must have been looking right instead of left as we drove along "old highway 99" because we missed the taco bus. We rolled into Olympia about 4:00 PM. Peg saw a Japanese restaurant and we pulled in for dinner.
We had driven by Fuji in the past, but never stopped. This was a good opportunity to try a different restaurant. We entered the establishment and took a table. There were three other tables occupied, a very good sign in the late afternoon.
Peg ordered the Deluxe Sushi and I chose the Ramen. As usual I tried to order a combination of pork and tofu, but the waitress said, no. This happens to me all the time is Asian restaurants. I never know if it is a cultural thing, a personal thing, or possibly a language thing. I love Pad Thai with pork and tofu. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don't. For the ramen in Olympia at Fuji, I didn't.
The sushi was excellent, but missing perhaps two items listed on the menu. The ramen was served beautifully in an iron bowl with a bamboo lid. I didn't realize that the Ramen would be served as soup (my fault). For me the noodles were overcooked. I prefer noodles with a little more "tooth." The broth was a little too spicy for Peg. For me it was okay, but why eat something that is just okay? Although, I ate several mouthfuls of noodles and one piece of tofu, the soup was pretty much a waste. The sushi disappeared, however.
After dinner we checked into the Phoenix Inn. The hotel has a great location. It's a block away from the waterfront, a few blocks away from Harlequin Productions and a few blocks from the Olympia Farmer's Market. Every place we want to go in Olympia is just minutes away. We've stayed there many times.
As I checked in I asked if they had improved the scrambled eggs in the breakfast buffet. The young woman at the counter shook her head and we jointly commiserated about the worst scrambled eggs I've ever eaten. Oh, well. The buffet is not the reason we return to the Phoenix Inn.
After checking in, we settled in for the evening. I answered emails and then watched TV and napped . . . and then slept. We had a King Suite, which has a short wall dividing the bedroom from a sitting room, which has a desk, small couch, and coffee table. Peg created an artful envelope for our granddaughter Bunky who would be joining us Saturday afternoon. I stood for awhile looking over the wall and down at Peggy at work with her colored pencils. I could watch her work all day. After art Peg read until late in the evening.
Saturday morning I was up early, worked on my laptop for a couple of hours and the headed down the hall just before the official breakfast hours of 7 to 10 AM. What the Phoenix Inn does have is a make-it-yourself waffle iron. I could see that it had already been used. There were some remnants of a previous waffle. This is never a good sign. It means the first waffle stuck on the grill and by power of deductive reasoning my waffle would stick on the grill. It did. With plastic fork and my fingers I saved my waffle. I quickly margarined it, poured syrup on it and walked to a table after stepping over a piece of the previous waffle being ground into the carpet. After eating the waffle and drinking some orange juice I got into my car and drove to The Spar Restaurant for a decent breakfast.
The Spar is owned by the northwest food chain, McMenamins. I've dined with them from Corvallis to Olympia. In Tacoma and Puyallup we wait for their construction and remodeling. At each table there are brochures offering information on entertainment at their various venues.
Since this really "second breakfast" I ordered coffee, and three sides: ham, hashbrowns, and a cup of gravy. My hashbrowns were ordered in my regular routine of "burnt, burnt, burnt . . . with an onion cut up in them."
As I waited for my food, I read the Saturday Olympian, which must be printed by The News Tribune. It has the same layout, same fonts, same colors . . . just different people being shot, raped, and outraged by political jockeying.
The food was delivered almost perfect. It looked perfect, it tasted perfect, but it turned out I had a Potemkin Village of hashbrowns.
"Potemkin villages is an idiom based on a historical myth. According to the myth, there were fake settlements purportedly erected at the direction of Russian minister Grigory Potyomkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. According to this story, Potyomkin, who led the Crimean military campaign, had hollow facades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the monarch and her travel party with the value of her new conquests, thus enhancing his standing in the empress's eyes."
Once I got passed the very brown and crispy top layer of hashbrowns I found the standard white flabby shreds of potatoes.
My waiter, Joel returned to my table to check on my meal and asked about the hashbrowns. "Nope," I responded, "It looked like they were cooked perfectly and then just turned over and served." He apologized and offered to have a new order delivered just how I wanted them, but I declined. If they had been absolutely perfect I would have forced myself to eat all of them. Served as they were I was able to eat the top layer and stop. The ham was thick and excellent. The gravy was flavorful and just the right consistency. I ate the gravy with hashbrowns and ham, but didn't eat it all.
Many servers don't even bother to ask about the food and service. Some ask and don't listen or comment. Joel was friendly and professional and obviously wanted his customers to enjoy their dining experience. Employees and managers like that are invaluable. He promised on my return the hashbrowns would be served like I ordered them. I considered checking out The Spar the next day, but one must look for new horizons
I returned to our room to find Peg still asleep. I woke her up to see if she wanted to eat at the hotel. There were still a few minutes before the buffet was closed down. She declined, but asked me to bring something back to her.
When I had been to the breakfast buffet there were fresh blueberries, so I was hoping to retrieve some berries and yogurt for her. The berry bowl was empty. There were no yogurt offerings as well. I made her some toast, grabbed a banana and some orange juice and returned to our suite.
Peg sat at the desk and ate her breakfast, while reading first the comics and then the both of us took the Super Quiz of trivia questions. The subject on Saturday was world cities on rivers. The quiz would give the city name and we had to come up with the river name. Between the two of us we usually kick butt. We missed one and fumbled over two. We were embarrassed. We figure we know everything.
After breakfast and a shower we visited Peg's favorite book store, across the street from the State Theater, which houses Harlequin Productions. She was looking for several books. I was looking for Operation Mincemeat, which is the July selection in my book club. We found nada, but got some good advice from the owner who sent us to Browser Books and Orca. Browser has a good selection of World War II and military books, but didn't serve Mincemeat. Orca however, was a delight for Peg. She scored with Operation Mincemeat and two other selections AND found some cards she liked.
Our book shopping took a couple of hours and the last shop took us closer to Lacey, so I suggested we look once more for my taco truck. Peg was ready for an actual meal, so we left Olympia and within a few minutes found Mad Tacos. I ordered three tacos and Peg ordered a shrimp taco and flautas. I asked for a Tamarind soda as well AND their hot sauce. We took our plastic bag of Mexican goodies back to the Phoenix Inn.
Back in our room I sat on the coach and ate my tacos from atop the coffee table. Peg chose the desk.
I enjoy the pickled carrots that are served with the food items. The Tamarind soda was refreshing and not too sweet. Peg found the shrimp taco a little too spicy, but really enjoyed the flautas. For me wrap anything in a corn tortilla and I'm happy. I love Mexican food and little mom and pop hole-in-wall restaurants. My favorite memory is a little roadside restaurant in Tucson, where I had to point at the food I wanted and then watched as the cook/waitress used her fingers to pick up the tortillas on the grill and turn them over. I didn't see that at the Mad Taco truck, but I enjoyed the tacos, the carrots, the soda, and the salsa.
I think our only disappointment was that the truck forgot to put Peg's (mild) red sauce in the bag. We got by, however.
For the rest of the afternoon, we read our new books, checked email and napped until our granddaughter arrived. Talia, or Bunky as she is called by family and our family friends, had just graduated earlier in the week from Clover Park Technical College. The envelope that Peg had been working on was part of Bunky's graduation present. Inside was a money order.
We chatted with Bunky about her family and friends and about her prospects now that she has graduated. She has an interview this coming week already.
Leaving Bunky's car behind we went driving around Olympia looking first for an advertised flea market and then a visit to Bayview Thriftway for gellato. Peg and Bunk sampled various kinds before ordering. I knew I wanted the Lemon Chiffon with lavender . . . okay, I ordered the salted caramel in addition to the lemon. I should have stuck to my guns. The lemon chiffon was to die for.
We took our gellato to an outside table to enjoy the view. It was a little cool, but once seated we were pretty much out of the wind. The overcast northwest sky was still glorious. The waterfront was quiet except for a few crows.
I think the gellato was too rich for Bunky; she went back in the grocery store and returned with some beef jerky to counteract the sweetness and rich smooth texture. Peg and I had a piece also. Gellato and jerky. Who knew?
After our snack we drove over to Archibald Sisters. This is a novelty and notions shop in downtown Olympia. It's only a partial block from the theatre were we would be going later after dinner and less than a hundred yards from the restaurant where we would be dining . . . or so we thought. As I looked for a parking place I thought I recognized Nita Sell's car at Aqua Via. After parking, I went to the restaurant even though we were about half an hour early for our reservation. I went in, but found no Nita or Robert Sell and was told by a waitress that there was no reservations for us or them.
An old Seinfeld episode flashed through my mind. He's at a rental car counter being told that the agency doesn't have the car he ordered. Seinfeld explains about reservations and the female clerk responds, "I know how to make reservations." To which Jerry responds, "I don't think you do."
After several cell phone calls to Nita and three trips to the restaurant, the problem was resolved. She had emailed in a reservation, but the restaurant owners have two restaurants just two blocks apart. They booked the reservation for twelve at the Waterstreet Cafe rather than the Aqua Via. Initially, a few years back, Peg had read a review of the newer Aqua Via, which mentioned the Waterstreet Cafe. Since then we've eaten at the Aqua Via, but never the Waterstreet Cafe.
All of us gathering at the Aqua Via piled into our cars and drove the two blocks to the Waterstreet Cafe.
The Waterstreet has outside seating, which will be really nice if summer ever arrives to the Pacific Northwest. The manager apologized profusely for the reservation mix-up and we were ushered into a private dining restaurant. The Waterstreet is much larger. We will return there for sure.
The menu is virtually the same for both restaurants. We sat down and began chatting and enjoying ourselves. In the private dining room were two gorgeous lamps sit on top of a five foot high bases. The bulbs were inside a Japanese-style red rice-paper lantern . . . very artistic.
Making our selections took quite a while. Our friend, Rob Erb is on a strict diet, so he dined on air and water. His wife Vickie and Peg decided to split the New Zealand lamb chops (dijon mustard and fresh herbs, mushroom risotto) in conjunction with my order of a roasted beet salad (Stilton cheese, julienne carrots, candied walnuts, spinach, orange vinaigrette), scallops and dumpling is a raspberry sauce, tomato and goat cheese soup with herb creme fraiche, and tuna. Bunky also opted in for sharing she ordered the Blue Back Salmon and herbed tomato bruschetta (fresh tomato, basil, Parmesan Reggiano, toasted baguette).
As atonement for the reservation mix-up the management treated us to a glass of white wine for Bunky and two bottles of Montepulciano Italian wine for the rest of our party. Peg really enjoyed the wine, but we are such light-weights anymore that two bottles was pretty much all we could drink. Of course, there were some mixed drinks as well and I drank Sprite along with the cherry from Bunky's Whiskey Sour.
In addition to our twelve for dinner, Donn and Debbie and her step-mom Darlene arrived during service. Our little party of fifteen had a great time eating, joking and laughing. Donn admired one of the fancy floor lamps. He touched the lantern and the delicate two-foot plus structure plummeted five feet to the flour. He scrambled to pick it up and replace it with the torn paper facing the wall. It was like watching a solo performance of the Howard family (The Three Stooges).
I wish the roasted beet salad hadn't had chopped up beets as opposed to slices of beets. It's difficult to eat little pieces of beets. Medallions of beet would have been easier to eat. The tomato and goat cheese soup was ordinary. But, wow, everything else worked for me and everyone else. Vickie and Peg loved their lamb chops. The four of us had half a scallop each. (I thought about ordering another order or two of the scallops. They were the best things I tasted all night, but second best wasn't that bad either. Bunky loved her salmon. Jan's pork empanadas were great.
Peg originally was going to order the braised rabbit, but it was served with a polenta cake containing poblano peppers. I ended up with one of Mike's cakes and shared it with Peg. There was no hot spicy taste and I think she regretted not ordering it for herself, but she had no real regrets with the lamb. The dark demi-glace with the rabbit paired with the polenta called to me, also. You can't eat everything . . . although another order of those scallops . . . if I could have been assured no one else would muscle in on a scallop would have been nice . . . so nice . . . so very nice.
Then of course our server brought out the dessert menu. I refused to order anything, until I saw the rhubarb cobbler with candied ginger. Common sense left me and I ordered it. Divine intervention! There was none left for the evening. I turned my face away from the menu only to hear Bunky order the raspberry brulee.
When the brulee was served, again I couldn't restrain myself and I had a bite. The shell of burnt sugar gave way to the creamy raspberry custard. The fruity aroma drifted from my spoon to my nose. My eyes closed as I had my one bite . . . okay, okay the first of two bites and then I watched others share.
The brulee was the right note to end dinner with. Rhubarb cobbler with candied ginger will have to wait, the brulee was a wonderful closing.
Down the table I could see a raspberry sorbet. It was probably good, but I knew it couldn't equal the joy of the brulee. There was sorbet left in the dish. There was nothing left but streaks in our little brulee ramekin.
If the evening had ended at dinner, it would have been just right . . . however, the evening continued on to Harlequin Productions' of Summer in the Sixties. Each June for the last seven (?) years we have been traveling to Olympia for a musical revue of songs from the sixties. Enough is enough. I think the sixties should be left behind.
Not every song from the sixties was written in protest, not every song was an anthem for change, not every song needs to be sung as a testament to anger at the top of your lungs. Earlier June revues have seen everyone eager to buy raffle tickets at intermission and open seats were few and far between. At intermission this year raffle sales went quickly. I could see empty seats in most corners. I'm sure Harlequin will make money out of this cash cow, but it's time to butcher the beef.
Nita Sell, summed it up well, "Just because you can sing loud, doesn't mean you have to sing loud."
I look forward to more Harlequin productions, especially Cyrano de Bergerac in September, but I hope they rethink their June 2012 offering. In the Harlequin program I found an ad for the Governor Hotel offering a deluxe room AND two play tickets for $129. Now, that is a super deal. They have a hot breakfast buffet included, too . . . of course I've never tried their scrambled eggs.