By Larry Levine –


There’s an old saying among vacation travelers: Getting there is half the fun.

It’s clearly is from another time, a distant memory of an era when travel was more glamourous and far less challenging.

Today, the fun is in planning a trip and being here. Getting here is stressful, tiring, and not the slightest bit fun. I’ll skip the details of how passengers are loaded cattle drive-like onto planes, how even in business class the seating accommodations are cramped, the futility of the airlines’ efforts to develop food that can satisfy the taste buds of passengers at 30,000 feet, the difficulty of navigating London Heathrow Airport, as user-unfriendly as any I’ve experienced, the last-minute flight cancellations, and the substitution of automated kiosks in place of human agents at ticket counters to help passengers.

It would accomplish nothing to carp about these, when I can appreciate, instead, the wonderful Indian dinner we shared with nephew Trevor at Madhu’s at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel near Heathrow Airport. I was jesting when I observed, based on the dominance of Indian faces among the personnel at the airport and hotel, that England appears to have become a colony of India. It’s meant as a light-hearted appreciation of a wonderful culture, a beautiful people and a thoroughly delicious cuisine.

At Madhu’s the ambiance is festive. Families and friends sharing plates of fragrantly-spiced delights as they chat and laugh together. Children and parents and grandparents celebrating a birthday or just being together. Outside, around the swimming pool, there’s a wedding. Women dressed in breathtakingly bright red dresses and saris. Smiles and laughter and congratulatory hugs shared all around. Inside, tables are set for as many as 20 people.

What they serve at Madhu’s is nothing like the Indian food we eat in Los Angeles, where chicken tikka and various forms of vindaloo dominate. As a side note, our favorite local Indian restaurant in Studio City CA shuttered recently and we have begun a quest for a new favorite. So far it’s been disappointing. Madhu’s has raised the bar.

On the Madhu’s menu there was no tikka or vindaloo, but an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes I’d never seen before, mostly intended for sharing from copper serving pots. The menu forced me to be adventuresome in making my selections, to break free of the sameness with which I ordered at Indian restaurants back home. I had an advantage. There was little chance I could go wrong as there was no Indian food I ever had ordered or cooked that I didn’t like.

For a starter I selected Aloo Tikki, four potato patties with peas and chickpeas in a yogurt and tamarin chutney sauce. Jennifer and Trevor went for more traditional vegetable samosas. After tasting both, Jennifer proclaimed my choice the winner and then finished off the sauce that remained in the bowl after the patties were gone. As happens often, the doughy crust of the samosas was too thick and masked the flavor of the filling.

Next, I chose the Nalli Gosht, lamb shank cubes on the bone with a sauce crafted of various spices and bone marrow. Among the wonders of Indian cooking is the artful combining of spices, which I learned to do from a cookbook at home. A teaspoon of this spice, half a teaspoon of that and an array of others, artfully added to the pan and toasted for just seconds in a precise order before adding the protein and broth. From previous dining experiences I learned it’s hard to go wrong with lamb in an Indian restaurant. Jennifer considered a chicken offering served on the bone but changed her mind when the waitress told her it was breast meat rather than a leg or thigh. Instead, she ordered lamb chops marinated in ginger and mild spices. Trevor selected Seekh Kebabs, minced lamb grilled on skewers.

Again, after tasting all three entrees, Jennifer tagged mine as the winner. Trevor’s kabobs ranked second and the lamb chops, while enjoyable, brought up the rear.

To go with all this, of course, there was the requisite Naan and rice. The Naan came in handy for mopping up the last drops of sauce in the copper pot that held my Nalli Gosht.

Indian food is not new to England. The historical ties between India and England have not always been pretty. The taste for Indian food made its way to England on the taste buds of some oppressive English men and women many years ago and Indian restaurants have occupied a place in the London culinary scene for decades. While visiting Jennifer’s family her years ago, I cooked a chicken curry for the family. A stunned American friend of mine, whose mother was British, heard what I had done and gasped, “You cooked a curry for a Brit?”

We’ll be back at Madhu’s the end of this month. We’re booked into the same hotel for the last night of this trip. We’ll be joined by Trevor again as well as niece Karen and great nephew Ryan. Then we’ll return home and resume our search for good Indian food in Los Angeles.

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir. 


By Larry Levine –

We live in a world in which the customer no longer is right. In many ways and at many times the customer seems to no longer matter at all.

Try calling a government office, a health care provider, or your local public utility and you’ll be told 1) “we’re experiencing unusually high call volume” so please wait and listen to our awful music until one of the people on our reduced staff is available to speak with you, but your call is important to us, and/or 2) “our options have changed so please listen to the following.” You then will select an option, press the appropriate button and be put on hold to listen to awful music and be reminded periodically that your call is important but they are experiencing unusual volume. This will happen every time you call and no matter what agency or corporate entity you dial and regardless of what time of what day of the week.

I’m sure you can supply your own examples of modern day marginalization and abuse of the consumer. The Facebook website tells you they don’t accept phone calls. The L.A. Times changed its customer service number and didn’t tell anyone. Instead, the busy signal will g greet any attempt to report a delivery problem or register a vacation hold.

Among the endless list of offenders, none is more persistent and troublesome than the travel industry. In the first three days of a planned 23-day visit to Ireland and England, we experienced ample evidence to support this observation.

1. British Airways cancelled our flight from London to Dublin two hours before flight time after posting confirmations of the flight online all morning.
a. British Airways has removed all human ticket agents from its terminal at London Heathrow Airport and replaced them with automated baggage check and check-in machinery.
b. After posting the flight cancellation on an electronic board, three beleaguered “customer service representatives” at a make-shift podium told stranded passengers there was nothing they could do to help because the airline had removed all ticket agents from the terminal.
c. The representatives told us we could go online to book another flight or call a number they gave us. There was no public wi-fi service at the airport so the online option was foreclosed. A call to the number provided was met with an automated response informing us that they were unusually busy and we would need to call back later.
d. We had planned two days in Dublin. One was lost to the cancelled flight. The British Air website informs that they will reimburse with limits for the booking of a substitute flight but will not reimburse for missed hotel reservations or other similar expenses.

2. The following day our Aer Lingus flight from London to Dublin was delayed. The new arrival time deprived us of a second day of sightseeing and activity in Dublin, leaving is with time for dinner and a night’s sleep before having to move on to our next stop.
a. Even though we called to inform the hotel in Dublin that we would not be arriving because of the cancelled flight, they insisted on enforcing their 48-hour cancellation rule and refused to deduct that missed day from our bill.

3. When we arrived at the Hertz Auto desk to pick up our car, we were informed that people over 75 years of age – that’s us – could not rent a car without a doctor’s letter attesting to their ability to drive. They told us it’s the law in Ireland.
a. Checks with other rental desks revealed the same policy, except at Enterprise, where they said they have no such prohibition, but they also had no automatic transmission cars available. For an American driver faced with driving from the right side of the car and on the left side of the road, a manual transmission is beyond problematic.
b. In the U.S. this would be cause for a massive age discrimination lawsuit. But with the courts in their current condition, that could lead to wiping out all anti-discrimination protections.

We got a bit lucky, however, in finding taxi driver Terry Murphy. (Is that Irish enough.) He got us from the airport to our hotel, where we had a very good pub dinner at Truman’s Bar. Terry also suggested what turned out to be an excellent choice for visitors without a car. Taxis in Ireland are more like chauffeured driving services than the Yellow Cabs to which we’re accustomed in the states. We could take a taxi from the east coast of Ireland the west coast and then for all our sightseeing activities for about half what it would have cost to rent a car for the week. (More on this in a subsequent post.)

At Truman’s, I started with a pint of Guinness and Jennifer with a mimosa to unwind from the trying day. I enjoy Guinness in Ireland but never drink it elsewhere. (Another subject for a subsequent post.)

The Cesar Salad at Truman’s was a surprise. I ordered it only because I was in the mood for a salad. The dressing was nicely laced with the taste of anchovy and pieces of anchovy were found among the crisp lettuce. Then we order a lamb stew and a beef and Guinness pie. We split each and both were very good. The lamb stew I make at home and that we get at restaurants in called Irish Stew. But we are in Ireland, so it’s just lamb stew.

In chatting with Terry about our travails, we arranged for him to pick us up the next morning and take us to our next stop at Athlone. From there we will arrange a taxi to Ennis. Then, five days later, Terry will retrieve us from Ennis and get us back to Dublin. The cost of all this taxiing will be about half what the car rental would have been. But we won’t have a car for going out and about at Ennis. Terry assured us that we will be able to arrange local taxis for whatever we want to do and it still will stay under the car rental cost.

So, here are some lessons from all this: 1) don’t fly British Airlines, 2) avoid Aer Lingus, 3) if you are over 75 and plan to drive in Ireland be sure to bring a note from your doctor, and 4) if you are offended by all this cavalier anti-consumer business and age-discrimination, don’t go to Ireland.

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 


By Larry Levine –

So there. Take that Hertz and Avis and all you other auto rental companies. You saved us close to $1,000 by refusing to rent us a car in Ireland because of some absurd, discriminatory law. And, by the way, you made our week more relaxing and enjoyable. Were it not for you, we would not have met a helpful and friendly taxi driver named Terry Murphy. (Is that Irish enough?) And we would not have learned the secret of Irish taxi drivers.

Sure, we got lucky. It started when we arrived at Dublin Airport and reported to the Hertz auto rental desk, where a surly clerk refused to provide the car for which we had a confirmed reservation. After trying to sell us insurance we didn’t need, and after barking something about Jennifer being in a wheelchair, Sir Surly cited a law that says people over 75 need a note from a doctor attesting to their fitness to drive. (The wheelchair? Back and leg issues prevent Jennifer from walking distances and it seems airports in London and Dublin are designed as training grounds for marathoners.)

Turned down by Hertz, I tried Enterprise, where they said they don’t require the doctor’s note but had no automatic transmission cars available. Clerks at every other desk turned us down for want of a doctor’s note. We faced a week in Ireland without a car to get around.

Enter Terry Murphy. His taxi moved to the head of the line at the very moment we arrived at the taxi pickup stand. Any more or less time spent debating car rental agents and we would have missed him.

On the drive from the airport to our Dublin hotel, we still wondered how we were going to traverse the width of Ireland, move around after we accomplished that and then return to Dublin. When Terry heard of our dilemma, he came up with the solution: use taxis the whole week; it would cost about half what the car rental would have cost. So, that’s what we did. Taxis in Ireland are more than the Yellow Cabs with which we are familiar at home. They’re available for and accustomed to long-haul travel.

It would be Dublin to Athlone with Terry, a golfer and former certified butcher. Plenty for us to talk about on the 90-minute drive.

Athlone to Ennis would be with Mark Grimberg, an Armenian who lived in Israel for 12 years before visiting Ireland and liking it enough to stay.

In and around Ennis and the surrounding countryside taxi service owner Tony Woods and his driver-employee, a different Mark (didn’t get his last name), took over. Both life-long locals were filled with suggestions of what to do. Tony previously worked in a diamond import and export firm and took over the family taxi business after being “made redundant” by the diamond firm because he was making too much money each year. Mark had been working for Tony as a driver for eight years. At the end of our week on the west coast of Ireland, Terry crossed the island to take us back to Dublin, 146 miles in each direction.

Fares and tips included came to 1,345 euros. The Hertz rental would have been 2,249 euros plus fuel. At about $10 per gallon for gasoline, add the equivalent of another 100 euros. We had personal service; we were able to get to know and chat with four local people about life, history and Irish lore; and Jennifer could sit back and enjoy the scenery instead of driving.

Tony took us to Doolin for a boat ride to view the dramatic Cliffs of Moher and he took us to Bunratty where we bought some beautiful hand made Irish wool sweaters. Mark showed us the Burrens, a geological wonder, and delivered us to a bird sanctuary where we saw an eagle, hawks, and owls, including a demonstration of how kestrel hawks and barn owls hunt for prey.

Our fist night dinner was at a pub called The Poets’ Corner, at the Old Ground Hotel, where we were staying. The un-pub like menu offered an excellent Atlantic seafood chowder and roast duck for me and a lamb shank for Jennifer. Lamb on an Irish menu is no surprise. But duck?

The next night we went to Brogan’s Bar & Restaurant where we heard Irish music and learned food at Irish pubs was rather different from what we had experienced at English pubs in past visits. We shared a remarkable bowl of local mussels in a garlic and cream sauce that I will try to replicate at home. Then Jennifer had a seafood chowder that didn’t measure up to what I had the prior night, and I had delicious cod fish and chips with mushy peas. We enjoyed the place so much that we returned the next night. Again, we shared the mussels. Then we split a rack of spare ribs. Yes, we traveled from L.A. to Ennis Ireland to eat spare ribs. That’s the kind of thing you find on Irish pub menus these days. No (Irish) lamb stew and no beef and boiled potatoes, but spare ribs.

If I could have scrapped our Avis rental in England and swapped it for a series of taxis, I would. We prepaid 4,200 pounds for 11 days of auto rental and they won’t do a refund. So, Jennifer drove – Heathrow Airport to Andover and then on to Fowey in Cornwall. Jennifer does the driving on our UK visits because, though she’s been gone a long time, she grew up in England and learned to drive on the right side of a car and left side of the road. When I do that, we’re both terrified. She did announce, as she threaded along some very narrow roads and met oncoming cars in places not wide enough for two cars to pass, that this was the last time she would drive in England. That came about the same time I decided that if she ever again suggests a trip that includes London Heathrow Airport, I would take her to LAX and wave goodbye.

While we’re on the subject of airports, Dublin Airport is abundantly adorned with signs announcing masking requirements. Still, thousands of passengers mixed and mingled at check-in lines and waiting areas without masks. The over-under on mask wearers would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 1,000. Take the under. One in 5,000 might be a closer guess.

You can’t get a rare hamburger here because there was a mad cow disease outbreak some 30 years ago that hasn’t been repeated since. If you’re over 75, they’re afraid to rent you a car. They don’t put electrical outlets in bathrooms because they’re afraid someone might electrocute themselves. But in the midst of a pandemic there’s no one around to enforce the posted mask requirements and no one seems concerned.

While we’re on the subject of electrical outlets, I think we may have discovered something about the stereotypical issue of bad teeth among the British. Jennifer believes the discolored teeth are caused by the historical affinity for tea rather than coffee. Seems tea is worse for staining teeth. Add to the discoloration the matters of crooked teeth, missing teeth, and other lapses of dental care and we may have the reason why there are no electrical outlets in British hotel bathrooms. If they aren’t concerned about their own teeth, why would we expect them to care if I can’t plug in my waterpik.

(NOTE: “Made redundant” is British for being fired.)

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 


By Larry Levine –

Fowey, in the Shire of Cornwall, England, is a lovely resort city built into the hills where the Fowey River empties into the North Atlantic.

The narrow, single-lane, one-way streets of the four-blocks of downtown Fowey (pronounced: Foy) are shared by autos, taxis, delivery vans and swarms of visitors, many of whom are attached to leashes extending from the necks of a variety of dogs of a seemingly unlimited variety of shapes and sizes.

The houses and dry-docked boats across the river in Polruan sparkle in the crystal clear sun lit morning air. At night, lights on moored boats dance on the gently rippling water.

A massive stone church towers over the city and hundreds of vessels of all manner and description fill the river and harbor. Water taxis and a car ferry shuttle locals and tourists back and forth to villages on the other side. Sail boats sail, crews stroke the oars of skulls, motors hum on small self-drive rental boats. It’s a deep water port, so there’s an occasional cargo ship being towed up or down the river.

I don’t want to sound unappreciative of what I have or of what is here. Or, to use an old term, I don’t want to be a killjoy. I’m fortunate to be able to be here and beyond fortunate to be here with a fun-loving, easy-smiling woman who is my wife, Jennifer.

Now, here comes the “but”.

But there are a few things Fowey doesn’t have that I miss, things that probably speak at least as much to who I am as they do of the English.

Top of the list is the restaurant scene. The one here at The Old Quay House, where we are staying, is very good. Our first night here I had a seared mackerel starter and a delicious local cod fish entrée. But fish is not everyone’s favorite. The only non-aquatic protein on the menu was chicken breast, which is Jennifer’s least favorite part of the chicken. So, we dined there just once.

A few doors down, there’s Sam’s Bistro & Lounge, recommended by the staff here at The Old Quay House. I popped down there on our first day in town and learned the first available reservation for dinner was at 5:45 three days later. I grabbed it. The menu was large, varied and seemed interesting. Our Farewell to Fowey dinner at Sam’s was disappointing. There seemed to be a fair number of locals dining, along with some of the holiday crowd. Perhaps our tastes and standards are too high.

Also recommended was a place called Appleton’s, where the posted menu offered nothing that interested either of us.

The English on vacation don’t seem to care much about the restaurants. Give them a good ice cream shop and they’re set for the holiday. Ruby’s in the center of town seemed to fill that need, with frequent lines out the door.

The pubs of Fowey all posted ordinary menus with no reason to believe the food would be anything above ordinary, which seemed just fine for the Brits who fill the town at this time of year.

One of those pubs worked fine for us one night. The Ship Inn was built in 1570, 50 years before the pilgrims set off for the new world. It bills itself as the oldest pub in Fowey and it operates like a real pub – no waitstaff, order at the counter and someone will deliver the food to your table. Jennifer had a lager and nachos. (Yes, she traveled from L.A. to Fowey to have nachos for the first time in her life.) I had a pale ale and a bowl of mussels. After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, took a table on the deck and watched the boats tying up for the night as we sipped two steaming Irish coffees.

If we wanted to vacation among unmasked Americans during a pandemic, there are lots of places we could have gone that wouldn’t have included the turmoil of airports. But we had an airline ticket and a resort credit left over from a trip we cancelled when COVID-19 first struck in 2020. So, we are spending days on end among unmasked Brits during a pandemic, and seeing very few Americans.

We were here in Fowey for 36 hours when something dawned on me. I had not seen one other man wearing long pants. At dinner at the hotel the night we arrived and at breakfast the next morning, the women all wore dresses. The men with them all wore shorts.

So, I started counting. The first two men I saw with long trousers, other than myself, were at the aforementioned Ship Inn. I kept counting the next day and stopped when I reached 10 at a little after noon while enjoying a cream tea for lunch and watching the foot traffic pass the bakery shop window. Suffice it to say, men in long pants is not a big thing in Fowey.

That’s probably true of seaside resorts around the world. I think of recent visits to Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport in Maine. I wore long trousers there as I do here because I have frightful legs, which my sister and I inherited from our father.

In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter all that much – the pants that is, not my legs. Just something I noticed – men in shorts with women in dresses. I remember fondly times when people dressed, even on vacation. Don’t get me wrong. I like the outdoors. Hiking, boat rides, browsing in shops, playing golf. But at the end of the day I liked it when people repaired to their rooms and dressed for dinner. And I like places where there are a variety of choices of what and where to dine.

The third thing I find in short supply in Fowey probably is a reflection of my being an American. We Americans can’t tolerate idleness, just sitting quietly and reading, or enjoying the view. The word Fowey doesn’t even appear in Rick Steves’ England travel guide book. In Fowey, once you’ve strolled through the town, looked in every window and shop, and maybe did an outing on the river, you best have brought a supply of books. Although there is a very nice, old-style book store in town.

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 


By Larry Levine –

Fine food still can be found if you look for it, but fine dining may soon be a thing of the past.

Between dress codes that are relaxed and not enforced and limits placed on how long a diner can occupy a table, the experience of fine dining is becoming elusive and increasing numbers of restaurants are abandoning even the pretense.

I recall often a dinner I shared with my friend and former California State Senator Kevin Murray some years ago. We were at Biba, the former shining star of a restaurant in Sacramento CA. I did nothing I thought was out of the ordinary that night, but when we finished Kevin said, “You don’t eat, you dine.” I took it as it was intended, a wonderful compliment. In all fairness, Kevin, too, knows how to dine.

All this came to mind the morning after Jennifer and I enjoyed a meal at the Carbis Bay Hotel near St. Ives in Cornwall, England. Dinner was at Michelin Star Chef Adam Handling’s Ugly Butterfly, where a smile-inducing view of the broad beach spread below us and the Atlantic Ocean stretched grandly before us.

The published dress code on our confirmation email said, “smart casual”, so we dressed accordingly. Me in a nice sport shirt and wool sweater with slacks and matching blue shoes. Jennifer wore one of her many stunning tops and nicely matched pants.

The slight Hawaiian/Polynesian tilt of the décor was appropriate to a seaside restaurant if a little amusing on the Atlantic coast of England.

The meal certainly qualified for anyone’s list of fine food. I had oysters harvested at Fowey on the other coast of Cornwall. Softer and creamier than the oysters I prefer from the northwest U.S. and the west coast of Canada, they were only slightly briny and deeply refreshing. We saw no oysters on any menu at Fowey restaurants during our four-night stay there, but here they were at St. Ives.

From the five-course tasting menu, I was served two flights of four bites-sized stunningly creative and astoundingly tasty starters, including pea mousse with croutons, podded peas and smoke eel; beef tartare with chili emulsion; charcoal waffle with smoked cod roe; and a cheese donut of Cornish gouda and English truffle.

After the eight small bites of starters came poached monkfish with an asparagus spear, smoked potato and sea lettuce. Next was Cornish hen coated with minced chicken and haggis along with wild garlic and pureed peas. After a palate cleanser of “last year’s cherry” sorbet and compote I was served a strawberry and elderflower shortbread with vanilla ice cream. Portions were modest and I didn’t feel I’d eaten too much. This chef deserves the Michelin Star he earned at one of his other restaurants. I just wish this kitchen would show some restraint on the salt something that could benefit chefs everywhere.

As wonderful as the food was, no one could suggest this was a complete fine dining experience. Most of the men in the restaurant either didn’t bother to read the dress code or just couldn’t be bothered. We saw men in shorts, sweats, and cargo pants, with sneakers, flip flops and even a baseball cap. It was more beach casual than smart casual. In each case they were accompanied by well-presented women in nice dresses.

I’ve seen is often at the opera – women in gowns and jewels accompanied by men in plaid shirts and jeans. Doesn’t she care? Doesn’t he care? How insulting to her for him to behave that way. How insulting to the venue they are attending. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the psychology of it. Are these men so desperate for notice that they will violate all standards of decorum? Are they so in need of validation that they will flaunt civility? Do they think they are making a statement of independence when actually they are joining a heard of the uncouth? Maybe they just don’t really want to be there and this is an act of defiance against the women they are with. Maybe the women would do better to find a friend to attend with them. It isn’t just the opera. It’s epidemic and restaurants.

I don’t get it. I think back over the decades to my earliest years of dating in high school and through the decades of dating and with Jennifer over the last 55 years. In the 1950s and ‘60s, we wore coats and ties, or at least sport jackets and nice shirts, even when it was just some guys with no dates. Never would we have acted disrespectful of the people we were with or the place we were attending, whether we were with dates or not. But it is happening more-and-more today and restaurants don’t want to turn away business.

Then there are the growing number or restaurants acting to undermine the fine dining experience by placing time limits on how long we can have the table we’ve reserved.

Our reservation confirmation at Ugly Butterfly said we would have the table for two hours. At the end of our allotted time, five of the fourteen tables in the room were vacant. From the time we were seated until the time we left, we were there two hours and twenty minutes. We started with pre-dinner cocktails, then had a nicely paced multi-course dinner with wine and we finished with coffee. We dined. No one asked us to leave or tried to charge us an overtime fee. Would they have been so lax if people were waiting to be seated?

This time limit on dining seems to have become an international affliction. The first time I ran into it was at Nobu, the sushi restaurant in Malibu CA, where the limit is 90 minutes. Upon hearing that, I decided to pass. Anyone who’s seen me at a sushi restaurant knows I can’t have a satisfactory meal in less than two hours. A few weeks ago, I was by myself at The Brothers Sushi, Mark Okuda’s excellent restaurant in Woodland Hills CA. I dined for two and one-half hours. Friends have said when I go to a sushi restaurant I don’t have omakase, I have Larrykase. I construct my own multi-course meal of cooked, sushi and sashimi dishes. I guarantee you that whoever might take the seat at the table from which I’m evicted after 90 minutes will not eat as much in the next hour as I would. Mark doesn’t call time on the diners at his place.

I understand the economic pressures on a restaurant to turn over tables and do multiple seatings in an evening. I understand it, but I find it sad that those pressures are robbing us of the true experience of fine dining. You cannot rush through a meal, no matter how fine the food, and call it fine dining. Then again, that guy in a sweat shirt, shorts and flip-flops, with his hat on backward, probably is glad for the excuse to speed through the meal.

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 

CHAPTER SIX – BRITISH COFFEE? They’re still getting even for the tea party

By Larry Levine –

The tide rolled gently toward the sands of Carbis Bay. Waves were playing tag with the ankles of children, perhaps two or three years old, their little legs carrying them full tilt toward the sea only to turn and run away as the white foam lapped at their feet.

It was still early and men were pounding poles into the sand for the shields they would post to block the constant wind.

Already, holes were being dug in the tan sand around the point from St. Ives, Cornwall, England. From the window of our room at the Carbis Bay Hotel we watched this curious ritual each day, the digging of holes in the beach, some deep enough to hold a fully grown man up to the middle of his chest and wide enough for his children to join him. Together, armed with small plastic shovels, they dug their holes, the men and women, boys and girls. Some dug casually, others feverishly, as they fashioned the pits that would dot the length of the beach above the tide line by day’s end, when the families were packing up.

We asked hotel staff and taxi drivers about this digging compulsion. None could explain its origin or reason.

We had just come back to our room from breakfast. I camped on an easy chair in front of the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door, my legs propped on an ottoman. As I watched the day emerge, I realized I had started to count down the time to the end of this vacation with still week to go. It wasn’t that we weren’t having a nice time, or because I wasn’t enjoying the company. It was because the British refuse to make a decent cup of coffee and I was counting down the days to my next cup of brewed 100% Kona Peaberry.

This stubborn British insistence on filling cups with brown water and calling it Americano is nothing new. It plagued me through previous visits to the UK. But I’m older now and perhaps less tolerant and I’ve come to realize the English may actually resent coffee. It’s something they could well do without were it not for the pesky Americans and their annoying end-of-meal or start-of-day habit.

So, any old package or pod will do. Just pour hot water over a tea bag type envelop containing a brown powdery substance, steep it for a couple of minutes, fish the envelope out and call it coffee. Or run the brown powdery substance through an espresso steamer and you’re good to go. No matter how much or how little water ends up going through the brown, chalky powder and into the cup. Or even worse, it’s instant coffee. The notion of brewing coffee is a foreign concept at English hotels and restaurants.

Why they call black coffee Americano defies explanation. No self-respecting American would drink this if there was an alternative. Yet I couldn’t stop. The addictive craving for a hot beverage at the end of a meal or to begin the day is so strong that I would order black coffee repeatedly after having sworn previously to not do it again.

I have a theory about all this. The proud British tradition of a tea-drinking people just won’t yield to coffee. Maybe those Americas defeated us in that unfortunate war 286 years ago, after they tossed all that tea into Boston harbour, they seem to say, but we’ll never give in to their coffee. We’ll never brew a pot of coffee if we can present some other version that will make them regret having won their little war.

With this new-found knowledge and a dose of resignation, we moved on from the seaside to the country resort called The Pig Near Bath. Strange name, I’ve thought since I booked a reservation six months earlier. It’s part of a chain of resorts that share The Pig name and not at all that strange after having dined at Carbis Bay in a restaurant called Ugly Butterfly. Quirky people, these Brits. Sly senses of humor and an ability to carry on in the face of just about anything.

I owe much of my appreciation for England to my British-born wife, Jennifer. She’s our driver when we’re here and my personal travel guide. From her I learn tales of her youth and much about the lore and language of this place. How else would I know a trolley is a luggage cart and not something on tracks that runs down the middle of the street. Her feeling for her homeland is as enduring as mine is for my native Brooklyn NY.

On a five-week drive through England, Wales and Scotland some years ago, I became aware that if you stick a shovel in the ground anywhere in the United Kingdom you will strike something at least two hundred years older than America. You know that innocent looking row of bushes along the left side of the road? Inside those bushes is a 400-year-old stone wall waiting to chew on your car door when you squeeze over to avoid oncoming traffic on a road not wide enough for two. This trip, without the help of a shovel, we came upon Sally Lunn’s, a restaurant in Bath. The building housing the restaurant was erected in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed and 140 years before the Pilgrims set off.

I have a penchant for these kinds of places. Oldest restaurant in Hollywood? Musso and Frank Grill. Love it. Oldest restaurant in San Francisco? Tadich’s Grill. Wow. Oldest steakhouse in New York? Keens. Huge disappointment. Oldest restaurant in London? Rules. Wonderful. Paris? Le Procope. Love it. Sally Lunn’s? Worst cream tea we’ve had on this trip. The scones were dry and unchewable. The cream and jam served with it was skimpy. But the black tea? Ah, yes, the Brits know how to do tea.

At The Pig Near Bath, which actually is a bit closer to Bristol, I strolled through the garden. Astounding. The inspiration for the dishes served at the restaurant. They call it the 25-mile menu, meaning to the extent possible everything served is grown and sourced from within 25 miles of the restaurant. I didn’t know there were so many different kinds of rosemary. Red onions. Brown onions. White onions. Scallions. Leeks. Shallots. Several different kinds of apple trees. Blackberry and raspberry vines. Gooseberries. Corn. At least half a dozen different kinds of carrots. Delicious beets. Scores of tomato plants. A bunch of different kinds of kale. Dozens upon dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables. Some of which I’d never before heard. Most are well marked so the stroller can keep track of what’s there. All organic. No pesticides. Bees everywhere doing their job. Hives for locally-sourced honey.

As for the food served at the restaurant, once we settled the matter of salt, it was well above average. The first night we each ordered the pork loin in a desperate hope of finding pork with flavor. It was a nice piece of pork, ruined by being overly salted. I spoke to the property manager and restaurant manager. They agreed to tell the kitchen to knock it off. As a starter I had smoked salmon, which was wonderfully textured, lightly smoked, and distinctly not overly salted.

The second night I hit a home run. I started with grilled sardines. It was well worth the effort to sort through the tiny bones to get to the oily meat of the fish. For a main course I had the Hake. Although I’ve seen it on menus in the UK for decades, I’d never ordered it before. It was served with pureed carrots and steamed New Zealand spinach, which is grown on site. Hake is a flaky, mild, white fish that reminds of cod or sea bass. The skin was crisped, the fish moist, and no one sprinkle salt on it.

Our third dinner at The Pig Near Bath was a disappointment, but probably one of our own making. We each started with Hock Eggs, a whole quail egg, encased in minced pork hock meat and deep fried. The yolk is slightly runny. All that flavor exploding from in these two eggs. Our mistake came in the entrée. We ordered the eight-ounce sirloin steak to share. It came mysteriously cooked partly medium rare and partly rare. It needed a bit of salt. There was nothing wrong with the steak itself, except it wasn’t to our individual tastes. We decided neither of us is a steak eater any more. I think I’ve ordered steak for the last time, unless I can find a nicely seasoned T-bone or rib eye, which I may have to do at home.

For our fourth and final night I returned to fish. Atlantis Ray Wing actually is Thornback Ray, which makes the name change I understandable. There’s a rule here at Table Talk atLarrys and at our sister restaurant site, atLarrys. The word “best” is not permitted because it implies we have tried every one everywhere. Well, I’m suspending the rule. The Atlantis Ray Wing I had for dinner is by far and away the best fish dinner I’ve ever eaten. It’s served on the bone but the sweet meat just peels away. And there’s plenty of it. Both sides of the wing are laden with the soft meat. It’s an Atlantic only fish, so this may be the only time I’ll ever taste it, unless, as Jennifer suggests, I fly here for dinner every month or so.

Now it’s back to London and another dinner at Madhu’s, the terrific Indian restaurant at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel near Heathrow Airport. It’s where we had our first dinner at the start of this trip and it remains among the best meals we’ve eaten while here. We’ll be joined by nephew Trevor, niece Karen, and great nephew Ryan. Then it’s on to home and the search for a good Indian restaurant to replace the favorite we lost.

(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 


By Larry Levine –

It’s a debate that has festered for generations, often rising to level of a raging argument. It once even became the subject of quasi-scientific research. I’ve been a minor part of it the last forty years or so and I would be remiss to finish these Essays without at least touching on it.

THE QUESTION: Does Guinness Draught beer taste better in Ireland than it does any place else?

Former President Barack Obama thinks so and so do I. My late brother-in-law, British-born Brian, disagreed.

Brian entered my life in 1970 when Jennifer and I were married. He was the husband of Jennifer’s sister Sylvia. I have no recollection of the time, place, or circumstances, but Brian was the first person to tout the wonders of Guinness to me. On a visit with us in Los Angeles, he suggested that I try a glass at a restaurant. I did and instantly did not like it.

Some years later, while Jennifer and I were visiting in England, Brian tried again. Same result. Others couldn’t understand my aversion. “Try it again,” they kept urging. I didn’t, until 2014.

Jennifer and I were in Dublin, Ireland to start a 15-day golf and sightseeing visit. On our first night in town a hotel bellhop He suggested Foley’s Bar, within walking distance, for good pub food. I’ll never know what possessed me to do it, but before even looking at the menu I asked for a half pint of Guinness. When in Ireland, and all that stuff. One swallow and I was a convert. Stunned, I said to Jennifer, “Oh, my god, this is fabulous.” I downed the half and ordered a full pint.

From the menu, I selected the lamb stew. In the U.S. we call it Irish Stew. In Ireland it’s just stew. I make a pretty damn good Irish stew at home and I had to see how it compared. “Just like mine,” I proclaimed at first taste.

Over the next two weeks, before we moved on to visit family in England, I enjoyed a good amount of Guinness.

I told Brian what happened. A few days later, when we went out for a Sunday Roast somewhere in England, Brian ordered a pint for each of us. One swallow and I said, “It isn’t the same.” I couldn’t drink it.

So, there I was, fully enmeshed in the great debate.

Fast forward eight years to this trip. First night in Dublin, at Truman’s Restaurant, first thing I did after thanking the waiter for the menu, was ask for a pint. In Ireland “a pint” means Guinness. If you want anything else, you have to ask for it by name. Once again, one swallow and I was transported. So deep, so rich, so creamy.

It was in researching this essay that I learned President Obama had the same reaction when he tasted a glass of Guinness at a pub in Moneygall, where his great-great-great grandfather was born. “… you guys are keeping all the best stuff here,” he said.

If you’re looking for a definitive answer, you won’t find it here or anywhere else. Guinness seems satisfied to keep the debate alive, the internet is a jumble of confusing and contradictory information spread over a number of years in no particular order as the internet is wont to do, and the Irish love to stoke the fires of legend and lore. What I will provide here are some of the many answers and opinions I’ve been able to gather from taxi drivers, bar tenders, hotel clerks, restaurant workers, relatives and several hours of grazing the internet.

My favorite explanation has to do with the yeast that kicks off the brewing process. Beer has been called liquid bread. It’s made from grains and yeast. A taxi driver told me he had a passenger once who was a brewer at Guinness. The claim was that to ship the yeast anywhere to start the brewing process, the yeast had to be frozen and when it defrosted it wasn’t quite the same as it was at the Guinness home in Dublin. I like this one better than the one that claims it has to do with the water because if it were the water there are chemical remedies that could be applied.

Freshness is an explanation that may have been true once upon a time when all Guinness was brewed in Ireland and shipped abroad. But Guinness opened a brewing plant in Baltimore Maryland in 2018, so the freshness claim doesn’t work as well after that date. Another part of the freshness argument is that the beer is consumed so quickly in Ireland that it doesn’t sit in kegs as long. There’s some sense to that one. Even in England, we were in many pubs, bars and restaurants that didn’t even have a Guinness tap among the several available brews.

I like the one about how the taps are cleaned and maintained. Guinness dispatches staff on a three-weeks cycle throughout Ireland to properly clean the taps that draw the beer from the kegs. That cleaning doesn’t necessarily happen anywhere outside of Ireland, where barkeeps are responsible for the chore.

A story broke in publications around the world in 2011 that claimed scientists had proven Guinness in Ireland was different from Guinness anywhere else. The Institute of Food Technologists conducted taste surveys in 33 cities in 14 countries. A majority of taste testers said they preferred a pint in Ireland more than in anywhere else. The study used “non-expert” tasters from different countries. One-hundred and three tasters visited 71 different pubs. Factors including ambience were considered as well as the appearance of the beer, flavor and aftertaste. The study was designed to match Guinness against itself, not against other beers.

A scale of 1 to 100 was developed to rank enjoyment. Guinness in Ireland registered an average score of 74. The average everywhere else was 57. This may, or may not confirm there is a difference, but it doesn’t begin to explain what is the difference.

Pete Brown, an acclaimed beer author, believes it may all be a matter of mystique. He said: “Drinking Guinness in Ireland is always going to be more enjoyable than in London or Paris, or anywhere else. There is a feeling of authenticity that you associate with drinking a beer in it’s true home, so the ambience you feel in an Irish pub would be like no other. People will go to Dublin with the intention of ordering a pint of the black stuff, so you’re already gearing yourself up for that satisfaction before it’s passed your lips.”

(NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, Guinness is not black. It’s a very deep shade of red.)

Another theory sounds a bit provincial. Irish beer drinkers believe their bartenders pour the beer better than others, partially because their taps are cleaned and functioning correctly, and partially out of respect for the product. The prescribed two-step pour, they claim, is essential to a proper glass of beer.

The Guinness website instructs: “… using our famous two-part pour. First, pour the Guinness Draught into a clean, dry glass tilted at 45 degrees, until it is three-quarters full. Now, it’s time to wait. Allow the surge to settle before filling the glass completely to the top, culminating in a beer that’s made to be savored from your first sip to your last.”

Elsewhere there’s an instruction that a poured glass of Guinness must be left to rest on a flat surface for 119.5 seconds before being brought to the lips.

Strange as it seems, there may be something to these latter two claims. Scattered across the internet are various references to how the beer is carbonated in different places and to changes in the proportion of nitrogen used in carbonation, as well as to how the alcohol content has varied over the years.

In its feature called the Explainer, Slate said in 2011: “… a publican outside of Ireland is more likely to use an inferior combination of carbonating gasses. A proper pint, which has a carbonation level about half that of normal beer, is served using a precise blend of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The former accentuates some of the sharper components of the brew. Nitrogen, used primarily to stabilize the head, adds creaminess while mellowing the taste of the roasted barley that gives Guinness its coffee-like flavor and dark color.”

While the Guinness website addresses the two-step pour, it’s silent on the five-step drink described by a taxi driver. The proper way to drink a pint is in five-steps, he explained, pausing between each to allow the head to leave its mark as it descends in the glass.

Oh, and by the way, Guinness recommends using its custom brand glass which is crucial to the experience of drinking their beer. The wider neck, they claim, helps the nitrogen bubbles move downward along the sides of the glass and then back up into the beer to create the unique creamy foam.

I warned you earlier not to expect any definitive answers in this Essay and I think I delivered on that promise. For me, I’ll restrict my Guinness drinking to Ireland, and given the state of airline travel these days, it may be a long time between drinks.
(Larry Levine is the author of Cooking for a Beautiful Woman / the tastes and tales of a wonderful life, which was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Nancy Pearl Award for be best memoir.) 


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