Friday, December 6, 2013

“Just Because You're Paranoid…

doesn't mean they aren't after you.” 

For some reason, I kept thinking of this quote from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 as we sat having lunch at Foster’s Bighorn in Rio Vista, CA.
To say that this restaurant is one-of-a-kind is a mild understatement. I am not sure that there is any place quite like it. Or, at least, we haven’t come across one. “Foster's Bighorn Bar and Restaurant was established in 1931 by Bill Foster, designed as a trophy haven…. This famous collection of wild game trophies shows off…wild animals, birds, and fish…. High-ceilinged, yet gloomy, claustrophobic—the vague musty flakings of big game kill still in the air. Moose and snarling wild boar heads stare down bar patrons” (roadsideamerica.com).

“…When Howard Lamothe visited Foster’s Bighorn…for a sundowner one night in 2004, he had no idea he’d soon be the proud owner of the California Delta’s most famous watering hole—complete with its 255 bristly inhabitants. ‘The previous owner was upset at being 73 years old and still having the bar when all she wanted was to be out having lunch with her friends and visiting her kids,’ says Lamothe.”
“…Walk into Foster’s, two hours east of San Francisco, and you see right away why people travel from all four corners of the globe to raise a glass at this…landmark. And also why an unsuspecting few take one look, turn tail—and exit at high speed when they see 510 beady animal eyes peering from an astonishing array of mounted trophies…” (Wanda Hennig at examiner.com).

You enter through the long narrow bar where “(b)lack and white photos…chronicle African vacations where Foster cheerily posed with a variety of carcasses” (roadsideamerica.com).
Then it’s on to the dining room. You thought there were trophies in the bar? Just wait.

“In the rear dining room, layers of heads reach the ceiling—water buffalo, lions, a rare giraffe. And the centerpiece of Foster's: the mounted head of a full grown African elephant—13 feet from base to trunk tip, with five-foot long tusks!
It is supposedly the largest mammal trophy in any collection in existence. Families ask to be seated under the elephant, which is posed, trunk extended, as if roaring in anger…” (roadsideamerica.com).

It is this trophy that I consider to be the most disconcerting. And while I would like to think that we have evolved in our thinking, an article by Adam Vaughan in the December, 2, 2013 issue of The Guardian states: “Africa will lose one-fifth of its elephants in the next decade if the continent's poaching crisis is not stopped, data published on Monday shows. There were about 10 million African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at the turn of the 20th century, but that number has fallen to half a million due to poaching and habitat loss…” So perhaps we haven’t evolved that far.
My next thought was whether they ever clean these things. Fortunately, “(w)hen he became the proud owner of Foster’s Bighorn, Lamothe made the removal of 60 years of dust a priority. First he closed the bar area, took down the animals, brushed their coats, repainted the walls, and returned the critters to their spots… Then the walls and animals in the dining area got their makeover” (Wanda Hennig at examiner.com).

“…Soon after taking over, Lamothe was enjoying the attention the new-look Foster’s was getting and the fact that everybody seems to be coming back. But times—and attitudes—have changed. Just as Lamothe has no desire to hunt and shoot, he doesn’t want anybody under the table. ‘I tell my bartenders we’re interested in people’s first three drinks, not their last three. We don’t need to get them drunk. We just need to cheer them up’” (Wanda Hennig at examiner.com). And the volume of business that Sunday noon is testament to the success of the new Foster’s.
But Foster’s is not just a curiosity piece. It is also a restaurant and, based on our two visits (the first in August of 2009), a pretty good one at that. And in a place that celebrates big game hunting, there are a number of “sissy” menu items. The list of salads includes: Asian Chicken Salad with mandarin oranges, crispy won tons, and toasted almonds with a light Asian balsamic dressing; Crunchy Thai with spring mix and slivers of veggies topped with shredded chicken, peanuts, and Thai dressing; and Endive Salad with thinly sliced red and white endive and other greens, bleu cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, and toasted walnuts with light honey vinaigrette.

Barb’s choice of lunch was the Fish and Chips—three large pieces of cold water Alaskan Pollock (one of which Chuck ate along with his lunch and which he pronounced to be very good due to its thin and crisp coating).
Chuck, displaying his inner macho, ordered the Double Foster’s Burger that is described on the menu as “available for seventeen year-olds, truck drivers, or roughnecks.”
I could smell the “char” as soon as his plate hit the table. This was the Maillard reaction (see our December 1, 2013 entry) in spades.

I had no trouble with my choice. I had fond memories of the calamari strips that I had eaten here in 2009; it was at Foster’s that I had my first experience with calamari that was not in rings and tentacles form.
So was my memory correct? No. They were even better than I remembered. Sweet. Tender. Coated with the same almost brittle batter that covered Barb’s fish.

And the fries that accompanied all three of our plates were also first rate—crisp and not oily.

As we left following our 4.5 Addie lunch, I felt that all 510 mounted eyes were following our departure. But I’m not paranoid.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.