Thursday, March 5, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 03/04/20: Lunch at Cafe Carambola, Russian/Ukranian Menu at Ruins, The Music of Cream and Classic Clapton

1. I got myself packed, delivered Charly to Carol and Paul's, drove over the pass, gassed up at Costco, and, before driving from CdA to Spokane, I stopped in at Cafe Carambola in the strip mall just before the corner of Hubbard and Northwest Boulevard. It's next door to Camera Corral.

Cafe Carambola is a lunch spot, serving food, I surmised, from Latin America. It's a bright, colorful, spotless, tiny cafe with a handful of tables. I knew going in that I wanted a salad and bowl of soup. I ordered a black bean, mango, and spinach salad. It was lightly dressed, fresh, and a perfect blend of tastes. The earthiness of the beans, the fresh sweetness of the mango, and the slight crunch of the spinach leaves were refreshing to eat and the salad was visually beautiful.

I loved the soup I ordered. I didn't see the name of it in writing so I can't write it myself -- if anyone reading this has been to Cafe Carambola and knows the name of this soup or if you are more familiar than I am with Latin American cuisine and can name it from my description, I'd love to have the name of it.

It was a smooth, slightly creamy, lightly spiced chowder. It was seasoned in a way similar to some tortilla soups I've eaten before. I would call it a hominy chowder. Its smoothness, slight bit of heat, chewy bits of corn/hominy, and perfect seasoning made this a chowder so good it nearly brought me to tears.

I came into Cafe Carambola wanting a light and flavorful lunch and what I ate today fit my wishes flawlessly. The chef, and co-owner, Colomba Aguilar brought out my food with a wide, warm smile and her interactions with other customers were warm and hospitable.  The other owner, Carlos Aguilar, shook my hand as I left, hoping I enjoyed my lunch and all I could say was, "Yes. I did. I'll be back." And I will.

For my tastes, it's a perfect cafe. The Aguilars make their customers feel at home with their gentle warmth and I love eating food that is not only packed with flavor, but is nothing like anything I can even dream of making at home.

2. Once I got settled into my airbnb accommodations, I requested a ride from Uber to take me to 825 N. Monroe (the corner of Monroe and Mallon) so I could have dinner at Ruins and see what the space that was the Top Notch Cafe looked like.

As is too often the case with me, once I sat down in a booth at Ruins, I was so locked into the present moment that I couldn't remember what the Top Notch looked like when I was last there 30-35 years ago.

Oh, well.

Today, Ruins is a tiny, very handsome cafe with about ten booths/tables and a row of stools at the bar.

Because the menu is rotating, ever changing, all I was pretty sure of as I walked in the door was that today's offerings would be from some region of the world outside the USA.

And I was right about that. The current menu is Russian/Ukranian, featuring such choices as borscht, stuffed cabbage, herring toast, and other delights. The menu is concentrated -- five choices for starters, two dumpling choices, and four entrees. (If you go to Ruins' Facebook page, you can see the menu.)

I got settled in comfortably and ordered a dry, stirred martini up. It was superb.

I ordered, for starters, the Tzar salat, a fascinating blend of kale, herbs, pickled carrots and mushrooms, and Bulgarian feta cheese with chunks of beautifully prepared and seasoned cod scattered on top.

As I dove into this unusual and very fresh and delicious salad, I realized that the plates of food at Ruins are prepared to be shared. I loved this salad and there was definitely enough for more than one person, but I was a good lad and cleaned up my plate, happily.

For my main course, I ordered pork and beef dumplings (pelmenis). This wonderful bowl of medallions of doughy bliss came with a dollop of sour cream plopped at the peak of the mountain of dumplings and scattered throughout the dish were the richest, sweetest bits of pork shoulder I've ever eaten.

I love dumplings. I loved these dumplings. Again, there were enough dumplings in the bowl to share, and, again, I was a good lad and cleaned up my plate.

I left Ruins full, satisfied, and intrigued, curious about the Russian/Ukranian food I didn't order and curious about what other dishes Ruins offers at other times. Today was the first day of the Russian/Ukrainian menu and this will be Ruins' theme for the next month or so.

My dinner was definitely one I would never dream of replicating at home!

3. I left Ruins with about 90 minutes or so to spare until the Music of Cream show started at the Bing Crosby Theater.

I walked south on Monroe, across the Monroe Street Bridge, and on into downtown Spokane.

My stomach felt full and I decided it would be satisfying to have an after dinner drink that might feel pleasant in my full tummy.

So, I went to the Sapphire Lounge and ordered what turned out to me the perfect drink: a brandy Alexander.

The crowd that showed up for tonight's concert were mostly people around my age, men and women who listened to Cream in junior high, high school, and college fifty or more years ago.

The band had two Cream family members: Ginger Baker's son, Kofi, played drums and the lead guitarist and lead vocalist was Eric Clapton's nephew, Will Johns. Tonight's gifted and versatile quartet was rounded out by bassist Sean McNabb and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Chris Shutters.

The band played the entirety of Disraeli Gears for the first half of the show and then powered us into intermission with a firey "White Room".  The second half of the show featured Clapton classics including, among many others, "Crossroads", "Wonderful Tonight", "Badge", songs from Blind Faith, and the set ended with a crowd pleasing "Layla" and the band returned for an encore and played "Cocaine", but subbed "Spokane" (SpoCan not SpoKane) into the song for the word "cocaine" -- another crowd pleaser.

To my delight, the band did not play note for note imitations of Cream's and Clapton's recordings, but opened up several of the songs with awesome jams featuring terrific solos by all of the musicians, including a long drum solo by Kofi Baker. A drum solo! When did I last hear an extended drum solo? Have I heard one since the last Grateful Dead show I went to?  I'm not sure, but I loved it.

Since I wasn't driving, I felt at liberty to return to the Sapphire Lounge and let the concert sink in over a couple of gin martinis. I listened while some others who'd also been to the show raved about it and talked with each other about other shows they've been to over the last 50 years or so.

I returned via Uber to my airbnb and, for the first time in several months, thanks to Carol and Paul taking in Charly for a couple of nights, slept through the night without interruption.

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