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consider the cat

Yesterday was Mari's birthday. That's right -- our little girl isn't a kitten anymore! (Although she still whines like one.)

To celebrate, we went out for sushi at Gohan, the other reputable Japanese restaurant in Petaluma. (We've already been to Hiro's, and we weren't that impressed.)

Gohan is much, much better than its competition -- tastier food, friendlier staff, kinder prices (though not as low as my favorite places in San Francisco). We started with the Napoleon Dynamite Roll, which was accompanied by tater tots. (I've never seen the movie, but apparently tater tots are a favorite in it.) Then we had some black snapper nigiri and Amberjack nigiri. And then it was time for tamago and saba, our sushi staples.

And then we asked for an order of salmon sashimi to go and told the chef not to put anything on it -- no soy sauce, no garnish, nothing. He seemed shocked that basically all we wanted were a few slices of fish in a to-go box. He kept saying: "Daikon? What about daikon?"

And eventually, we had to explain that the sashimi was for our cat's birthday. Which made the guy sitting next to us laugh out loud.

It feels good to be home.

time for a digestif?

It's past midnight here on the East Coast. Today I left the D.C. area for Atlanta, where we'll be pouring at a wine auction and meeting with media.

The trip is going well -- lots of positive comments about our wines. And lots of amazing meals. Some highlights:

Mandalay: I remember what it was like to discover this place, years ago, when I was a poor grad student in College Park who subsisted largely on 89-cent bags of lentils. Back then, Mandalay was just a hole-in-the-wall former doughnut store with only a handful of tables. Finding this place was like finding god. (Only god was Burmese and harassed you if you didn't finish all of your food or at least ask for a takeout box for the leftovers. And most of the time, you agreed with god because the food god provided was so unbelievably good. Especially the vegetarian stuff. My favorite is the tofu and bean sprouts. Or the pepyoke. Or the tofu in coconut curry. It depends on my mood.) I make it a point to go back to Mandalay every time I'm in town. (The restaurant has since moved to a swank new location in Silver Spring and now even has a liquor license.) I went twice during this last visit. And I hope I can go back again soon. I've tried a number of Burmese places in the Bay Area, and I swear to you, nothing even comes close to Mandalay.

Central Michel Richard: Now this was a first for me. Central opened about a year ago, and they carry our Chardonnay by-the-glass, so we actually stopped in twice -- once for a media dinner and a second time to host a happy hour for our distributor. I loved Central. The food is excellent and fun. I loved the gougeres and the "foie gras" pâté (which I'm told is not really foie gras but is chicken-based). And there's a fabulous dessert called the Kit Kat bar, which pretty much looks and tastes like a giant Kit Kat bar made with all the best ingredients (it even has crunch).

Equinox: Had lunch here today. We sent our wines to the chef, Todd Gray, and he made us three courses to pair with them. For the Chard, he created a warm mushroom salad that pretty much made me swoon (I'm a big fan of the fungi). With the Pinot, he sent out some duck breast. And for the Bordeaux wines (Merlot and two Cabs), there was veal (I sort of feel guilty about this) over spinach and grits. Yes, and this was lunch -- lunch! Unbelievable! And we still had plenty of time to catch our flight.

Penang: And then it was off to Atlanta, where I saw my aunt and uncle briefly for dinner. They took me to Penang, a Malaysian restaurant they discovered through a Malaysian friend. I've never had Malaysian food before. Tasty stuff. The appetizer was a chicken broth-based curry that is served with a side of roti (very thin bread, sort of like the Malaysian version of naan) for dipping. I wanted to die. My uncle also ordered a whole fried fish that was excellent (although I have to admit it is kind of hard for me to eat around the bones).

And now off to sleep. Because it is ridiculously late. And I need to digest.

gigantic cat

From Vegas to Virginia ...

Today Carisa and I were in Occoquan when we met the biggest cat I have ever seen in my entire life. His name is Mr. Large, he lives in a Wiccan store and he was rescued from kitty death row in the nick of time. He is also orange, which means he is magic (or magick, I should say, since he is most likely Wiccan).

Mr. Large weighs 30 pounds, which is more than Meep (13 pounds) and Mari (nine pounds) combined.

This cat is so fat that he waddles. He also has a dirty butt because he probably is too chubby to clean himself.

When I get home, I am going to print out a copy of Mr. Large's photo and stick it to the refrigerator at cat height. Next to it, I will attach the following note:

Dear Meeper Man:

This is what you will look like if you continue to act like a cat-shaped vaccuum cleaner who attempts to convince his family that feeding time is every hour and that chewing counts as exercise.

Please also note that your butt is dirty enough as it is, and we will be very unhappy if it gets any dirtier.

Your Humans

In other cat-related news ... we keep getting these e-mail updates from our pet-sitter bragging about the "super playtime" she is having and "new games" she is teaching our cats. And she says they are all becoming "best friends."

I can't even tell you how jealous I am.

viva las vegas

Still here. Spent the afternoon visiting our accounts and thanking restaurants for putting our wines on their lists (and wondering why the hell there is a scary puppet on the wall at Smith & Wollensky).

Vegas is friendly. People want to tell you things: "Yesterday was our anniversary" or "He is a sweetheart" or "We had three sets of twins but we lost one set." Sometimes it is hard to come up with the right response.

I pour at another event in 15 minutes. Will be working until 1 a.m. Trying to ignore the fact that my throat is starting to hurt ...

I never stay up this late

So I am in Vegas, wearing pajamas, an overcoat and too much eye makeup. I arrived today. I already poured at one wine event, and tomorrow I am meeting with media and pouring at two more tastings.

Best word to describe the trip so far: Random.


1. I am walking to the pool. Suddenly, I am being followed by a man in a bright (bright!) yellow shirt who is in town for the Century 21 conference. He is still wearing his conference badge. He tries to hold doors open for me. It is 80-plus degrees outside. He keeps saying, "This is a long walk. I might give up." In my head, I am thinking, Please give up. Please. When the pool attendants ask if we are together or separate, I say "separate" and walk away quickly.

2. Tonight's wine tasting is held at the UNLV Cox Pavilion. So basically, a basketball court. One girl shows up in a shirt that says "Beer Drinking Team." She doesn't like my wines. Another woman is in a bustier and a collar.

3. A woman with a "Bride to Be" ribbon pinned to her shirt walks up to my table. I make the mistake of congratulating her. This opens the floodgates. I now know exactly what her dress looks like, exactly how much her makeup/hair/mani/pedi will cost, exactly how many people will be at her wedding and exactly what time they arrived at the airport tonight, requiring her and her future husband to pick them up. But this is not so bad because she gave me a ride back to my hotel, thereby sparing me the cab fare, and she also rescued a one-eyed dog from doggy death row, which makes me insanely happy and convinced that despite the wedding hoopla, she is really a good person.

4. I befriend a couple about my age. He is a woodworker, bartender and former go-go dancer (hell yes) who invented a drink called the Dirty Sanchez (think Irish Car Bomb but made with Mexican liquors). She has a law degree but wants to go into the wine industry. We meet for drinks after the tasting. We end up at a high-end strip club, where a bunch of winery folks are also hanging out. Three drinks costs us $44. There is no stripper pole, but there is a lot of lap-dancing. We leave and get fried food at the Palms. I make them promise to visit me in Napa.

hello from my cubicle

On Tuesday at our companywide meeting, I have to make a presentation about my job and exactly what it is I do. So instead of standing up and reading a list to everyone, I thought I would show them.

So I drew.

This is my cubicle. I have pretty much been sitting here since 7:50 this morning. I did not take a lunch break; instead, I ate my Ranchero salad (romaine, roasted corn and carne asada) at my desk. I am tired. I am stressed out. I am planning a 10-day media trip and I am sick of reviewing the itinerary and making last-minute changes and double-checking which wines we will present.

I wish I could just be in it already: Fast forward to the taking off, the landing, the shaking of hands, the hauling of bottles into taxis, onto subways; the swirling in the glass, the lights, the strange air, the sound of silverware tapping plates, the nods and gestures, the falling asleep afterwards, exhausted, surrounded by too many pillows, the TV still flickering.

to shell beach

I have been trying to blog about my experience at last weekend's World of Pinot Noir, but for some reason, it's been hard to describe. I spent Friday and Saturday in Shell Beach with our winemaker for the event; it was the first time our winery participated.

But it definitely wasn't my first time at WOPN, or in Shell Beach. I used to cover the event for the local paper in San Luis Obispo County. And Shell Beach ... well.

It is weird to be on this side of things now, to stand on the opposite end of the table and pour, instead of being the one with the glass and the mouth stained purple at the corners. (Funny, most people didn't even realize we make a Pinot. There was so much explaining to do.)

Weirder still to be in Shell Beach itself, to drive past That Apartment and see the light on ... and then keep driving by.

But weirdest of all were the little things: How I got up from our table and returned, only to find our winemaker engaged in a conversation about Botox. How the man at our table was a plastic surgeon who practices on his wife, and throughout dinner, I couldn't stop thinking, This man specializes in breasts and face. And I wanted to hide. How toward the end of the meal, right before dessert, the sweet smell that can only be pot wafted into the very formal dining room. And we all recognized it immediately. And the catering staff laughed as they closed the doors.

free meal?

We were at the très French Hyde Street Bistro on Saturday to celebrate Brian's 21st birthday. (Imagine that -- finally legal! At last!)

There were five of us, and I was the only woman. And as is common practice, after we were seated, the server gave me my menu first. But when I looked at it, I discovered it was very different from the menus everyone else at the table was holding.

It didn't have any prices.

Filet mignon -- free! Sea scallops -- free! Rabbit pâté -- free! It was like a shopping spree of French cuisine.

Meanwhile, my male companions -- including the birthday boy -- had double-digit numbers after all of their menu items.

This has never happened to me before. I've been to restaurants where the server will leave the bill next to where the man is sitting (this is something that has always bothered me), or even worse, after running my credit card for a meal I paid for, the server will give the book to the man to sign. But never has a restaurant assumed from the very beginning of the meal that I was not going to pay for anything. I mean, Hyde Street Bistro was basically telling me payment is not an option.

Imagine if this had been a first date instead of Brian's 21st birthday (way to go, Brian -- woo!). Talk about awkward. What if the guy was poor and I unknowingly ordered the most expensive entree? Or what if I didn't like the guy? Would my menu sans prices automatically mean the guy would expect me to put out?

Or what if I were a lesbian? Then what? Would my date and I both get menus with prices because people would just assume we were friends and nothing more, thereby failing to recognize our relationship as legitimate? Or would they try to figure out which of us was the "manlier" one and make that person pay, thereby playing on stereotype?

All in all, having two different menus is just unfair and makes way too many assumptions. The only way I can see this working is if the restaurant contacts you ahead of time and asks if the meal is a special occasion. Because if there was anyone who wasn't supposed to pay on Saturday night (and actually did end up paying, even though I protested) at our meal, it should've been Birthday Boy Brian. Because 21 is a big deal!