You know, it seems that every time I come out to Jackson, I find myself eating some new animal: wild boar, bison, elk, and now this time - quail. I know, I know... that's probably a lot less exotic, and just something that I could have had anywhere if I'd gotten around to it on the menu. But the truth?: worth the wait.
Last Friday night at Nani's (now remodeled, to my surprise, and no longer the little house pictured in the prior entry), I was torn with whether to go purely with the month's regional menu from Sardegna, and have Cosciotto di Maiale (Braised Leg of Pork in red wine, garlic and onions served with borlotti beans with fennel bulb), or to go with the regular menu's offering of Quaglie Agrodolce: two quail marinated with honey & balsamic vinegar, wrapped in pancetta then grilled. Camille, the chef, was out chatting with Frannie and with Kev, and so I consulted her about the choices, not only because she was the chef, but also because I'd heard of her standout knowledge of cuisine. Explaining my interests and tastes, she recommended that I go with the quail, and I certainly was not disappointed. I went with the appetizers of the Chickpea soup (with fresh fennel bulb, red onion, garlic and fresh sage), along with Fran, and I found that to be earthy and filling, though it was not at all thick. I also had asked about the Broccoletti appetizer, which was broccoli rabe sautéed with EVOO, garlic, red pepper flake. I'd heard of broccoli rabe before, but had never eaten it, and found from Camille that it was not a broccoli plant, in fact, but the leaf of something more turnip-related. Frannie and I tried this, but I found the red pepper to be too overwhelming in it, while Frannie quite liked it and finished it off. We also went with a wine from Sardegna, a bottle of Argiolas Costera Cannonau ’05, which was not so sweet, but was very pleasant nevertheless. Camille made wicked fun of Kevin for generally ordering a Pinot Noir, which she seemed to think was a cop-out wine choice that she could equate with ordering a giant fruity umbrella drink. Perhaps it was revenge for that that Kevin actually asked the Catholic Camille about being fixed up with me as a theologian, to my and Frannie's eye-rolling mortification, but she took it in stride and simply said that her boyfriend wouldn't care for it, and so that, mercifully, was that.
Once we settled in, it was just a night of adult fun and conversation, which Fran especially seemed to be enjoying as an alternative to the toddlers. Her brother Bobby, who I'd met and enjoyed before, showed up and sat with us for a bit of chat as well. Kevin disappeared to his office for a few hours of follow-up paperwork for the clients of his past two days, while Fran and I continued to hang out at the restaurant, watching the preparations for some kind of "Mafia Night" event that was coming together, where the single crowd of Jackson began to show up for this bit of nightlife, decked out in gangster style, especially the women in almost universal black dresses, with the notable exception being one woman as apparently a 70s-era Mafia Mistress in her Leisure Suit. Our conversation was interrupted by a guy named Steve, called "Cowboy," who turned out to be a builder and Bobby's partner in the construction of some properties north of town that Bobby had been developing. This lead to an interesting conversation on the real estate economics of the area, which are kind of out of control, but which I was rather fascinated by, never having seen a community that was so unstable by being economically top-heavy. After this, as the restaurant was now cleared out except for Madame Camille's party crowd getting ready to move from the bar and take over the whole property at 11pm, Fran and I went back to the house and continued talking 'til Kev got back, whereupon we played some more music, with Kevin mostly just being content to play mandolin leads while I played his Takamine, which I had forgotten had such a rich-in-the-middle sound, especially for a Tak.
The next day was a low-key Saturday, sticking around the house and taking it easy with the little ones. Paul had spent the night at a friend's place with a gang of other boys, and so it was easier for Kev and Fran to just manage the two left at the house. We ended up drifting out for an early dinner to a place called Dornan's some miles north of the town. There had been a light snow falling, of the sort common the days I'd been there, not collecting on the ground, but obscuring any long vision of things – the Tetons were out of sight. We paused on our way out of town, seeing through the fence on the north side that a herd of elk had come all the way down into the valley during the night. (The north of Jackson is bordered by a tall wire fence, being the southern border of the National Elk Refuge, which goes right up to the border of the town and the property line of the houses there.) There is an open lot or wide yard where people go to observe the elk from within town, as it were, and we saw a few people with cameras there now. Kev asked me if I wanted to take a look and so I jumped out and did a bit of shooting. I was shortly joined by Kev and Sophie, who apparently had decided she wanted to see the elk as well. She was still dressed in her princess dress over her regular clothes, and somehow Kev and I soon were playing with her as the "Elk Princess," who came out once a year to give the elk her ritual blessing and to forestall the Apocalypse for one more year. She kept responding positively to our leading questions, and so Kevin lead her through her long blessing and dance, confirmed that she hadn't seen her shadow, and announced that the world was safe for another year, much to the laughter of the two grade schoolers and their Dad standing closest to us. Sophie herself seemed rather pleased with her hitherto-unknown importance.
We made it up to Dornan's, then, which turned out to be a Western-themed resort out in a middle-of-nowhere called Moose, Wyoming. Passing on the Western-style Chuckwagon, we headed for their Pizza Pasta Company. This actually turned out to be quite good, and food-wise very much a cut above your regular "pizza place." While the kids either hovered close to us or crawled and peered at the other people interestedly, we gulped down a very satisfying meal in the way of people who are trying to squeeze their lives in around the immediate needs of their young ones. Along with their thick cheesy and garlic "Moose Break," Kev and I oped for the day's duck and mushroom soup (with rice, very yummy), and I grabbed the Thor's Peak pizza (Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and onions). I also had a bottle of this gourmet root beer they sold there, which name I hope to recall [Edit: Henry Weinhard's Root Beer], which was really striking: a very strong vanilla flavour, almost buttery, and the most active head on a root beer I've ever seen: you had to be very attentive and careful in drinking it in order to not make a mess. It rather startled me when I casually tossed it back and it surged into my mouth. I wouldn't mind trying to find that out here, but I think root beer often is a very local enterprise in the U.S., even moreso than the beers of local brew-pubs. Kevin again was very generous in insisting on picking up the tab, for which I was gratefull and once again in his debt. The Tetons began to be increasingly visible, but none of the shots I tried to take of the view through the well-placed wrap-around windows of the restaurant and bar did the scene any justice.
Outside, we strolled down to the Snake River while Frannie gave me more early history about the area than I'd ever heard before, and particularly how the government came to control so much of the valley, and the Rockefeller family role in that, Mr. Rockefeller having at one time owned the Grand Teton range. The way this impacted the locals like the Turners was rather striking. Down on the edge of the river, where she described her and Kathy Turner's youthful obiviousness to the dangerous undercurrents as they tubed down the stream during the summer, she showed me the old ferry across the water (much more money-making than a bridge, the owner had realized) and kept a firm eye on Sophie's explorations of the spot. We then went over and peered into the new Tetons Visitors Center that had been constructed just across the river, but they had already closed as it was now after five, which surprised us, given how light it was outside. Now we knew that we really had started the day very late. From that point we headed back toward Jackson, turning aside to go down to "The Meadows," a property along the Snake that Frannie's dad had owned for a long time, but had not built upon, although there were plenty of other people reasonably close, including a Domer on the plot immediately upstream, and the Turners' home within a half mile. Frannie said that the way the Snake kept shifting (part of the plot was across what had been a stream and was now a major branch of the river) made development something that would have to be very carefully planned. I hopped out and took a look around the land, listening to the river and seeing the downstream view, which headed toward the Death Canyon mouth, which I could dimly glimpse through the snow clouds. I was so busy looking around as I worked my way back to the Jeep that I was completely taken by surprise when I opened the passenger door and found Kevin and Frannie harassing me by pretending to be making out in the front seat and startled by the my "unexpected" return, while Sophie and Max watched curiously. Nice. We had a good laugh and worked our way back toward town, heading south to pick up Paul, and then staying in the rest of the night, watching the Red Sox make their surprise comeback against the Indians, and then, after the kids were asleep, just chatting quietly and watching a John Cusack/Morgan Freeman thriller called The Contract, which was well-acted and entertaining for what it was.