Friends in Low Places

I’ve heard the argument that with a culture of music videos, YouTube and music artists who are computer generated, the live music scene is losing its relevance.  I’m not sure what the stats are as far as concert ticket sales or the number of live music performances now compared to 10 years ago, but Rebecca Black has nothing on sitting in a small venue and listening to an unknown talent work his way through 4 hours of music.

We accidentally stumbled upon Ryan McGarvey about a year ago when we were having some drinks at the Zinc Cellar Bar.  He was a long haired, fairly young blues artist who definitely knew his way around a guitar.  We liked him enough to go to Scalo’s Il Bar just to watch him play an acoustic set a few weeks later.   While the live music scene in Albuquerque is getting much better, we are not too much of a Blues town, so to find a local talented Blues musican was very exciting!

Last week friend Robin invited us out to a blues performance.  The blues singer ended up being Ryan McGarvey, and we absolutely jumped on the opportunity to see him perform again.  

holdmyticket.com

The music venue is called Low Spirits.  I had never heard of it before, and was a little concerned to find out it was on 2nd street between Candelaria and Menaul which is a more industrial, less polished part of town.  Plus, a place called Low Spirits made me envision a shady dark  hole-in-the-wall where unsavory characters hide out in between evil deeds. 

We completely missed it the first drive-by.  The lavender neon sign is pretty dim, and the parking situation is less than ideal.  We parked a couple of buildings away hoping that our car would still be there when we left.

The bar itself was close to what I imagined.  Dark, no frills, skulls painted on the walls.  But the clientele and staff were actually relatively young and lively.  The place was packed with about 150 people.  I only saw two wait staff, but our girl managed to keep our orders straight and wasn’t too inattentive considering the amount of people she was serving.  Low Spirits doesn’t serve food.  The beer list is about what you would expect with one or two craft beers and a lot of bud light, miller light, Tecate, and, if you’re really brave, Milwaukee’s Best.  The cocktails were weak (as in, I’m not convinced my $6 mojito had any rum in it)

My phone doesn't take good pictures

But really, I don’t think most people come here for the ambiance or drink selection.  Low Spirits is a music venue, and I’m guessing the crowd changes based on the act.  If an interpretive mime was on stage, then I don’t think Low Spirits would have any redeeming qualities.  But luckily, Ryan McGarvey was on stage, so the place was tolerable. 

Ryan is a local musician who can sing with a wide range, jam out on the guitar, perform a respectable Jimi Hendrix, and play three sets (5 hours) without losing his voice.  He’s great to watch in person, because he seems so emotionally connected to his music.  The entire place froze with mouths wide open to watch the way his fingers moved.  He is raw, amazing talent, and recordings don’t do him justice.

If live music is losing the battle to virtual video, Ryan McGarvey proves that we should seriously reconsider.  Low Spirits is keeping live local music alive, and even if it isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, I would go there again to enjoy good company and good music.

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Wine Down Wednesday

Today was one of those days that, for reasons far beyond my control, was not the best day ever.  While I don’t necessarily advocate drinking wine for the purpose of dealing with life, even my mom instructed us to have a glass, so who am I to argue?

The Lavenders are fans of wine.  This summer we even tried very unsuccessfully to make our own, and we haven’t given up on a dream to one day own a winery.  We are kind of starting to be able to speak wine language, but we really still have no clue what we are talking about.  I aspire to be like Frasier Crane (NOT Kelsey Grammar who I have come to dislike based on his portrayal on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) and be able to identify grape, region, and year of each wine based on taste. 

Wine glasses are souvenirs from Disneyland's Food and Wine Festival

But, alas, as of now, I am nowhere near being that cool.

 Ido  know choosing wine out of the hundreds of pretty labels is daunting, so I thought I’d share what we (aspiring wine snobs) are drinking (because who needs a bad day excuse to have a glass?)

What we’re drinking: Alamos Malbec, 2010 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Availability: Trader Joe’s $8.99

Characteristics: Definitely not the driest, but absolutely not sweet, good legs, robust flavor

Goes Good with: Any hearty meat dish, or as an after dinner glass with prime time TV

Doesn’t go good with: a first date : Our lips were pretty purple after only a few sips!

Would we recommend: Yes! Great value, not bad quality, definitely doesn’t taste bad.  We did like the 2009 version better (because 2010 is a very young bottle), so if you have the opportunity to choose, go with the 2009

Farina Pizzeria and La Traviata

Verdi’s opera, La Traviata has the usual storyline: Boy meets prostitute, boy falls in love with prostitute, boy loses prostitute, boy gets prostitute back, prostitute dies in a long drawn out dramatic ending.   But even if the story line sounds like a plot not even Lifetime would touch, Verdi’s amazing music sets this opera apart and makes it my favorite.  In fact I’ve seen it 4 times now.  The chick flick movie buff may actually recognize La Traviata as the opera that Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to in Pretty Woman (probably to emphasize the point that she too is a prostitute).

Albuquerque’s  opera company, Opera Southwest, is running their version at the downtown Kimo Theater (converted from an old movie theater) complete with a beautiful set, amazing costumes and a fantastic soprano in the title role. 

For better or worse, Aaron married into a family that is a little opera-centric.  We go to two productions a year, one here in Albuquerque during the spring and one at the Santa Fe Opera House during the summer.  While both opera companies have very different ways of producing a show, Opera Southwest usually has more extravagant sets and costumes than Santa Fe making the spectacle a little more interesting to watch, plus sitting in the glam Kimo theater almost makes me feel like a 1930’s movie star sitting at a movie premier. 

 

The occasion also let us get a little swankified.  Aaron pulled out his Cole Haan shoes and the cuff links and tie clip that I bought him for Christmas (I savor the rare occasions when he dresses up…the boy cleans up very well).  I also finally wore an Anthropologie dress I bought at Christmastime.  Definitely one of those dresses that I spent too much money on only to wear once a year but I’ve noticed that Anthropologie has that effect on me. 

Before attending a show at the Santa Fe Opera House, it is customary to “tailgate” (usually with wine and steak rather than beer and burgers) in the parking lot.  Because there isn’t really a parking lot directly associated with the Kimo and no definitely no tailgaters, we usually attend a preshow dinner downtown instead.

 

I’m not sure when Farina Pizzeria opened, but sometime in the last couple of years this little restaurant popped up in the “EDo” neighborhood in downtown Albuquerque (What realtors are now calling East Downtown)  on Central a few blocks west of I-25.  While this area of town was constructed before the invention of cars making parking   harder to find, Farina actually shares a large parking lot with the Artichoke Café, so parallel parking/driving over and over around the block isn’t necessary.  On Saturday night there was even a parking lot attendant (tips appreciated but not required).

The result of trying to take an inconspicuous photo with my phone

This is one of those places that suggests Albuquerque is really coming along with the Urban Renewal.  The walls are brick and covered in art, and the restaurant is narrow and cozy giving it a San Francisco feel.  They offer Marble Brewery selections on tap along with a good wine and bottled beer selection.  The menu is somewhat limited…about 5 salad choices and 5 pizza choices along with some other non pizza options, but everything is super tasty and beautifully presented.  While similar to Nob Hill’s Il Vicinio, Farina is a little more under the radar, making it less crowded and more laid back, and everything seems a little more organic.

Verde Salad

Farinia's Saturday Pizza Special

We ended the night with a drive home under the beautifully full moon. 

Happy Spring!

-A&A

Top O’ the Evening to Ya!

After some corned beef, a Guinness, a Black & Tan, Irish folk music blaring on the stereo, and some YouTube instruction, I am fairly certain that I can be a professional Irish Jig Dancer!

Anyway….

I love holidays like St. Patrick’s Day that allow people to have fun without being disappointed by unmet expectations (unlike other holidays that require expensive gifts and grand romantic gestures that may or may not happen).  Today, as long as I wear green (check!) and can drink some Guinness (check!), all is right with the world as far as I’m concerned.  Irish jigging myself into exhaustion hasn’t been all that bad either. 

I am 100% NOT Irish (though I am a Gael which should count for something).  Aaron is just Irish enough to get the occasional red hair in his beard.  We live in a town with very little Irish influence (corned beef and green chile, anyone?).  There are only 2 Irish style pubs in town that I can think of (one now has 2 locations), and I noticed that the overwhelming majority of people weren’t wearing green today, and this didn’t bother anyone.  This hasn’t stopped the Lavenders (who actually met on St. Patrick’s Day three years ago) from trying to be festive.  For example, we like Irish things:

1)  Guinness: for some reason it tastes much better with a clover imprint in the foam

2)  Bailey’s Irish Cream: makes coffee happier

3)  James McAvoy: This married lady isn’t ashamed to admit a major crush.  I still hold a grudge against Briony for causing him to die

4)  Van Morrison: who doesn’t love a Brown Eyed Girl or a Fantabulous Night for a Moondance?

5)   Blarney:  a fantastic word that really should be used more in everyday conversation

Our quest to be festive has caused us some headaches (and not just of the hangover variety).  Last year we made the mistake of going to O’Neill’s pub in Nob Hill (one of the two Irish inspired pubs in Albuquerque).  As one of two Irish places, the line to get in was a little ridiculous, and by the time we got there, they were letting people in only as people were coming out. But we waited the 30 minutes like troopers… only to have our friends decide to go elsewhere once we made it inside. The other Irish Pub is Two Fools also in Nob Hill, which on a regular day is quite pleasant (if you don’t mind their strict “no shot” policy).  It is also rather authentic minus the cigarette smoke and the old owner/cook/waitress/bartender with bad teeth that you would find across the pond.

This year, even though O’Neill’s has opened a second location bringing the Irish pub count to 3, we decided to play it safe and go to the NE Heights version of Gecko’s.  Gecko’s, also a Nob Hill staple, is known for their tapas and Bloody Mary’s, making it a very un-Irish selection.  Luckily for us, this also made it a much less crowded place with no line and no overworked bartender. Plus, Gecko’s is only 2 blocks from our house, greatly reducing our chances of getting hit by a drunk driver (please don’t drink and drive).

We got a lovely patio table with no wait.

We got our Guinness.

We got our corned beef and cabbage.

We got our Jameson (well, Aaron got his Jameson.).

We got everything we needed to have a pleasant and successful Saint Patrick’s Day without the frustration of fighting crowds and worrying about drivers on the road. Now we can sit at home and relax with another round and some Irish jig dancing!

StreetFood Asia: Far From Roach Coach

We have never been to Asia.  We have been to China Town and Japan Town in San Francisco and China Town in Honolulu, all of which I’m guessing are somewhat authentic, but I didn’t see anything in any of those places that resembled what I think of as Street Food.  In fact, when I think of Street Food, I think of Austin, TX and the plethora of makeshift trailer eateries scattered across the city (Aaron and I call them roach coaches, but there is a good chance that we are the only ones that do).

Austin Street Food

The unfinished storefront of StreetFood Asia on Central just west of Carlise has been tantalizing us for months.  We’ve walked by, we’ve seen the trendy looking décor and façade coming together, and we’ve wanted to know 1) what is Street Food if not roach coach style and 2) When is this new Nob Hill restaurant opening?

Apparently the restaurant opened sometime in January without our noticing, so this weekend we decided to check it out with the Lavender In-Laws.

I will preface by saying the food is REALLY good here.  I am by no means an expert in “authentic” Asian cuisine (I do love me some Chinese take-out, and have been known to overindulge in sushi but I hear they don’t actually eat that in China or Japan), but the food here is what I imagine authentic Asian to be.  No Beef and Broccoli, no Teppan  Grill.  Just soup with noodles and an assortment of Asian tapas.  Everything was flavorful and aesthetically presented, and I heard no complaints about anything food related from anyone.  Plus, the menu seems diversified.  I had curry, Aaron had something from Tokyo, and Mr. Lavender had a Korean sandwich.  Different Asian countries seem well represented. 

Kuala Lumpur Street Malay Curry Lasaka

That being said, the menu was pretty confusing.  For an entrée you have a choice of soups  but I didn’t really understand that all the entrees were soups until someone told me.  The soups come in huge bowls that are supposed to serve 3 people, but I don’t really know if I would like slurping soup out of the same bowl as 3 other people, especially because this is one of those chopsticks only eateries. Also, the menu is completely fish based, which is not good for this fish resistant person, but anything can be ordered with beef as a substitute for fish, which isn’t  noted on the menu.  You can also order sandwiches, but I feel that’s like ordering a burger at an Indian restaurant, so I bravely ordered curry with beef instead of the fish balls and fish chunks that are supposed to be in there, and was satisfied.

The tapas menu is much easier to handle, with staples like egg rolls and satays that are much easier shared than the soup bowl along with other items like chicken buns that I hadn’t heard of.  And, if you haven’t had a bad experience with sake like I have, then they have a good looking Sake selection.  I think even the pickiest and unadventerous eater can find something on the menu to munch on.

StreetFood Asia Tapas Sampler with satays, egg rolls, and ribs

Bejing Street Steamed Chicken Buns

I’m glad that Albuquerque is finally becoming cool enough to add more international flavor.  We need more places like this that expose us to cultures outside our own while also adding curb appeal to Nob Hill which was kind of  a rundown neighborhood only a few years ago.  The restaurant was packed on a  Saturday night, so I think it will do well, but I urge everyone to support local restaurants and Asian culture and give this place a try.

 

Sidenote: I saw Anthony Bourdain’s Cambodia episode yesterday, and in one scene he is seated next to a street vendor eating some type of noodle soup.  This leads me to believe that StreetFood Asia is an authentic representation of what you would find exploring the bustling streets in Asia.

The Time Change Hangover: Surviving the Day After

The Soundtrack of My Life: Monday, Monday by the Mammas and the Pappas

Waking up on most Monday mornings isn’t the most awesome part of life, but I am usually ready to take on the week after a cup of coffee and some Matt, Meredith, Ann, and Al .  Because Aaron wakes up at 4:30am every weekday,  getting up  for him is bloody awful any morning no matter what day it is.

However, today was the Monday after the Spring Forward time change.  Even the promise of extended afternoon sunshine wasn’t enough to get the Lavenders through the Monday blues.  (Couple that with reading about people in Japan coping with the death of loved ones while also starving with no relief in sight, and I wasn’t too interested in facing the world this morning*).

I know it is just one stupid, measly hour.  Really, it shouldn’t make THAT a big difference.  Even interstate travel from one time zone to the next doesn’t seem to make too much of an impact.  But the time change? That throws us for a loop and leaves us disorientated for at least 2 days, even when we gain an hour in the morning.   

Maybe it’s going to bed before it feels right.  Maybe it’s the waking up every hour worried that the alarm is still on daylight savings time.  Or maybe it’s waking up when my body KNOWS it is an hour too early. In any case, sleep was restless, and waking up was not fun.

Two days ago, this was 4:41 am.

Today is Maximum Caffeine Monday (a term coined by one of my old co-workers).

Even Aaron, who doesn’t drink coffee except for rare occasions, knew he would need some this morning for his 5:15 am commute.  I made him reminders in case he was too sleepy to remember.

 

Made cooler by Retro Camera

I’m kind of a coffee junkie anyway, so I have a caffeine corner with all the necessary tools to keep myself hyped up on legal stimulants. 

Cup 1 was enough to actually make it so that I wasn’t literally sleep walking.  Cup 2 helped my eyes open.

Aaron took his coffee to go.  Since he doesn’t drink coffee in the first place, his first cup got him through the entire day.  I got cups 3 and 4 at the office (you know you are working at a good place when the office coffee stash is as good as what you would buy for yourself!)

We both managed to make it through the day, and we are now enjoying the evening daylight.  In just a few more hours, we will get to wake up too early all over again.

Sweet Dreams!

– A&A

*On a side note, please consider donating to the Japan relief effort.  I’ve seen several ways to go about it, but the American Red Cross is definitely a good starting point. (http://www.redcross.org/)

S is for Saturday

S is for Santa Fe.

With the weather finally warming up and road conditions finally safe for travel, Aaron and I decided to take the rather short drive 45 minutes north to Santa Fe.  Growing up in Albuquerque, I was never one to care too much about the highly hyped up Santa Fe.  Yes, walking around the Plaza feels like stepping into an antiquated European village, and the city boasts a world class art community, but, like any major tourist destination, the place feels a bit pretentious and unauthentic. 

However, despite being smaller and less accessible than Albuquerque (Santa Fe doesn’t have a major airport), I cannot argue that Santa Fe offers better (and higher end) shopping options .  For example, the only premium outlet center in New Mexico is in Santa Fe (http://www.fashionoutletssantafe.com/index.shtm).  While selection is much more limited than say, the Premium Outlets in Las Vegas, the Nike Factory and Coach Outlet are worth the drive. 

While we are up at the outlets we usually make a quick stop by the Santa Fe Brewing Company (http://www.santafebrewing.com).  We love to try out microbreweries wherever we go, and I really think the smaller ones, where the bar only seats as many customers as the bartender can keep up conversation with, are the ones worth visiting again and again.  If they also happen to have great beer, even better.

Santa Fe Brewing is one of those places.  Most New Mexicans know the Santa Fe Brewing brand with the Zia Symbol cap.  They are available in most grocery stores and restaurants.  We even served it at our wedding.  However, despite the availability, I am always pleasantly surprised at how quaint and personable the tiny brewery at the south end of Santa Fe is, even on a Saturday afternoon.  The bar seats 5.  There is probably room for about 10 more people in chairs down stairs, and room upstairs for people wanting to lounge on the couch.  You get your beer from the bar because the place is too small for a cocktail waitress. And, best of all, conversation with complete strangers happens naturally.  On this particular day we talked to a man just off a mountain climb in Turkey, and a man who, years ago, had been held hostage in Yemen. 

Every Saturday is Small Batch Saturday where an experimental brew, usually crafted by a home brewer, is featured.  This Saturday, the brew was Red Ginger Wheat (like Christmas in a beer).  We’ve also had Green Chile Beer and Hard Cider on other Saturdays that we’ve been there, and a pitcher on the bar begs for suggestions.  But our house brew picks are  1) the Java Stout (for the diehard coffee lovers) which is actually made out of coffee, 2) Pale Ale, 3) Nut Brown, and 4) Oktoberfest.  Needless to say, I was delighted that this late in the season, we were still able to pick up a 6-pack of the Oktoberfest before heading home!  I hear they have a good IPA, but I pretty much think IPA tastes as good as Lysol smells, so I don’t know from experience. The beer is great and original, and the Brewery is a delightful place to spend a Spring Saturday afternoon. 

S is also for Sun Tea.

To take advantage of the natural heat, Aaron put some sun tea out today.  That in itself isn’t too exciting, however, with the amazing Retro Camera app, even sun tea on our fence can look pleasant. 

Happy Spring!

-A&A