Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Last Night

My friend Jeff and I got together. I think it might have been the first time since the Trisagion prayers for my son, Billy. On the way to San Francisco where we were to meet at Sam's Grill (It's the oldest restaurant in S.F., established just after the Civil War.) I was able to read much of one of my textbooks. That is, I think my favorite thing about the train: An hour and a half of near quiet, in a reasonably comfortable chair, and a good book.

When I got to San Francisco I got on the 30 to head up to Bush Street. I hadn't taken the 30 in a few years and wasn't entirely certain it was the right bus. I thought maybe the 45... Anyway, I asked the driver, "Does this bus go to Bush?" She slowly turned her head to look at me with her misshapen eyes, one lid almost closed. She paused to licked her lips - her tongue sliding over cobblestone teeth - and said in a whisper "All buses go to Bush". Then she turned to face the front of the bus, laughed, and floored the accelerator pedal. I fell over into an empty seat but righted myself before the next stop. And that is where - surprise! - my friend Anastasia got on the bus! We had a short but fun conversation about our books (we are both writers). Short because she had to get off at Market Street but fun nonetheless.

I got off near Bush and walked over to Sam's where I drank Wild Turkey on the rocks until Jeff got there. For dinner he had sole. I had veal. I really wanted the calf liver but felt it was overpriced. After dinner, which was very good, we walked up Belden Place to pine and the Occidental.

The Occidental is one of the few places in California where you can smoke inside without breaking a law. They are able to allow smoking because the owners are the only people who work there. It was a great good time. Barman Jake was really happy to pour samples. I tasted a 50 year old Irish Whisky (I forget the name now) that was the best whiskey I ever tasted. It is my opinion that most whiskey is too sweet and that sweetness smothers all the other flavors, but not this one. I tell you, I could taste the dirt of County Cork in that glass!

After a Fonseca 10-10 Maduro (very nice, good spice, a little dry) I took out my pipe and filled it with bourbon soaked burly leaf. Jeff had a Fonseca 10-10 Maduro and a lonsdale size Arturo Fuente natural. He said he liked the Arturo Fuente, which I thought was nicely aromatic, more than the Fonseca. Then something interesting happened.

The Canadian man to my left, dressed like million dollars, said to Barman Jake,"want to trade me for a Cuban hand-rolled?" Jake took a look at the cigar. He took a step forward. He looked around the bar."What is it?" he asked, half to himself. The man to my left, a Canadian, quieted his voice answering, "it was made by a roller in a state factory from his own daily ration. Do you want to trade?" Jake looked around the bar again. Looked at the cigar again, and said,"I can't but maybe one of my guests would want to trade you." The Canadian glanced at me, and I offered, "I'll trade you an Arturo Fuente" and the deal was done. I have to admit that until last night I thought the Cuban cigar legends were exactly that, legends. I always thought they couldn't be that much better than Honduran, Dominican, or Jamaican cigars. But I was wrong. What I had last night was the most expertly rolled cigar I have ever smoked. It was like the ocean and soft leather and chocolate and caramel and cinnamon and warm Caribbean breezes and fresh coconut juice and the brown thighs of Cuban women. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe that cigar. All I can say is that the Cuban cigar I smoked last night was the telos of the tobacco leaf.

The last thing I drank while at the Occidental was a glass of the best rum I have ever tasted. Now Bacardi used to be a client of mine back when I was an ad man, and I have been loyal to them, only drinking their product on those extremely rare occasions when I drink rum. So, as I was smoking a Cuban cigar I thought I'll have a Cuba Libre, but Barman Jake had other ideas. He said, "Why would you want to ruin rum with sweet soda?" and I didn't have a good answer. He asked what rum I'd like, and I said something about only drinking Bacardi. Now, as I mentioned above, Barman Jake enjoyed offering samples. So it seemed only right that I taste every sample offered. I tasted many before I tasted the best rum ever and ordered a glass of the best rum ever. Zaya. It is from Trinidad & Tobago and it is excellent. It was like drinking a chocolatey cane syrup, but it wasn't syrupy.

After we left the Occidental I noticed we were on Kearny Street, home of my fave Vietnamese place (It is one or two doors down from the House of Nanking and 10,000 times better). The most amazing imperial rolls I have ever tasted. I am not kidding about this. They are amazing! And super inexpensive. I implored Jeff to go get some with me, but he begged off, claiming work the next morning. So, he hopped on BART and went back to the East Bay,and, well, I didn't want to eat imperial rolls alone, so I walked down to the train station (Oh! I walked by the Hotel Utah on my way to the train station. So many good memories of that place.) and came home. It was a good night. I haven't done anything like that in a couple of years. Didn't really have the time or money for it last night, but it was fun, and my grades this semester are good enough that I can risk one wild-ish night.

Oh! News: Jeff changed churches. He is CMA now (Yes, he does change denominations often, but they are all very like each other.) and is pursuing ordination. And I think he is going to go duck hunting with me. He has a boat!


GretchenJoanna said...

Wonderful, wonderful story, even though I know nothing about cigars or whiskey, and precious little about SF--but I do know the House of Nanking, so perhaps I will try your better place next time. Thank you for this whole thing.

Matt said...

GretchenJoanna, maybe sometime you and your husband can meet me and my wife in SF for spring rolls, whisky, and cigars!