The owner (I'm guessing) seemed thrilled to have two new, non-Russian-speaking customers with whom he could share his products. Dan and I went through (heaping) taste fork after taste fork of various allegedly Georgian salads, none of which struck me as in any way Georgian whatsoever, especially the one with surimi and mayonnaise, or the one that was mostly kidney beans. However, who's to argue with free taste forks? He also gave us a free container of a salsa-like tomato salad, which wasn't bad, really. Sadly, they only had one khachapuri left, and it wasn't very good. The aubergine-and-walnut rolls we bought were too greasy and lacking in flavor, alas; all in all, it was disappointing.
However, the high point of this visit to Tbilisi came when I asked him if he sold any Georgian wine. The answer? Nope... but he had some friends up in Santa Barbara who made wine, just for fun. I could order some for $12 a gallon, and he could have it in on Monday. (It was available on special order only.) He did invite us to have a slug from a gallon he had under the counter - he poured us a good hit from a reused plastic milk gallon jug into two Styrofoam cups, and we drank up. Good stuff! Very Russian in that it was very young, very fruity (sugary), and also very alcoholic. I would have bought a gallon if he'd had one to sell me, if anything for the special frisson of breaking all kinds of laws in the process.
Even though the food was lacking, the experience was in fact pretty cool. I don't know how often it is you feel you're suddenly privy to a secret underground network of mediocre Georgian-inspired Russian food, but for a few minutes I felt daring and special. If you're ever in Encino and would like to check this place out, just look it up in the phone book. I can't guarantee you'll like anything, but the place is an experience. (Oh, and the surimi salad was actually very good.)
The drive back tonight was uneventful, although we came closer than ever to breaking the all time speed record for the San José - San Fernando Valley run. If it weren't for a green VW van (complete with "Too Slow? TOO BAD!" bumper sticker) doing 50, we would have made it home in four hours. As it stands, with time for a gas and tea break at Harris Ranch, we did it in about four hours twenty minutes. Not at all bad!
The family pre-holiday luncheon at the country club was a success. It's always (understandably, I think) weird for me to attend McKean family gatherings, but to their credit there's no one there who doesn't make me feel as welcome as any other not-related-by-blood family member. Dan's grandma, especially, is always delighted to see me. Talked Windows XP with a couple of aunts (hey, they started it, not me), talked Internet stocks (run away) with an uncle and aunt, and all kinds of other stuff with cousins. I believe I may have been invited to address a congregation about homosexuality, but I declined. Heck, I need more experience before I can talk competently about that. (Just kidding!)
Wine: The Los Angeles Wine Company has batted a thousand so far. The $11 bottle of German riesling was great - just really fun, flavorful, and pleasant. Oh, and it was a full liter, so we couldn't finish it, even with Jason helping out. The $4 bottle of Spanish tempranillo was nothing special, but a damned sight better than $4 would have you think. The other purchases are disapearing into the wine cellar tomorrow (OK, one might wind up as a birthday present for my Dad), save for a bottle of Z Gris ($6) - I'll probably break into that tomorrow afternoon.
Europe: Almost at the 48 hours and counting mark 'til we take off. Still have to buy tortillas for Mom and figure out how to get the key to their flat, among other things. Otherwise, all systems are go. Dan even found my thermal underwear, so I'm basically set. (Yes, it can get cold in Germany in December.)
So, I think I'm about ready to get on out of here on Wednesday. Woohoo!