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THE GILBERT DINNER
14 July 2006
Well, our 20th annual Gilbert Dinner (G.R.U.B. and honestly, I've forgotten what "G.R.U.B. stands for now!) has now taken place. Another interesting Will Connolly production.
I'm always very happy to go to San Francisco in the dead of summer, when the temperatures are soaring here and there is FOG on the hills of the City.
Dinner this year was at the St. Francis Yacht Club, which is located on the San Francisco Marina. Oddly enough, though I grew up in the city and spent a lot of time on the Marina, I never noticed this building before. Undoubtedly because I did not grow up in the "yachting set."
One reason why Will chose the place was because of the gorgeous view of the Golden Gate bridge, though the fog was so thick you could hardly see the water, much less the bridge. But I did enjoy watching the lines of pelicans flying back and forth, low over the water.
Will had told us of the dress code, requiring all gentlemen to be in suit and tie, so Walt dutifully donned his W.C. Fields tie (Will does a great W.C. Fields impression), only when we got there, there were lots of men around with bare necks.
Likewise, the "committee" which planned the event spent lots of e-mails trying to narrow the food choices down to the three meals which Will told us we had to choose from, only when we were handed menus, it was for the full menu, not only three dishes.
There was some confusion about paying at the bar, whether we paid as part of dinner, or individually. Apparently we were supposed to have bought drink tickets when we entered the club, and didn't know that, so there was some confusion as we had to go back to the entrance to purchase tickets for the drinks we had already consumed, since the bar didn't seem to know how to take cash money from us.
The dinner menu was wonderful, but I do wonder about the kitchen staff. The food was great, when we finally got it, but it took forever to be served. The shrimp crab bisque was fabulous, but after waiting for over half an hour for it to arrive (after waiting the same amount of time for our order to be taken), it arrived warm, not hot.
We were told that the sea scallops were not available and that the prime rib (always a favorite) was available only in medium or more cooked, not rare, so that was out as a choice.
Walt and I both ordered rack of lamb which was cooked to perfection. I was again reminded of what I hear on some of the shows on Food Network, that being that if the food is cooked well and fully flavored, you don't need huge portions. In fact, I had two small bits of lamb, nested in a bed of cabbage with 3 tiny carrots and 2 tiny potatoes. I was too full to eat the potatoes, believe it or not.
Everything was served with a flourish (which probably added $5 to each order), even though we had waited. And waited. And waited for the food to emerge from the kitchen. The affable waiter set up two tables and a parade of wait staff carried trays of covered plates out to place on them.
If this had been any other group, I might have been a bit testy at the lengthy wait for food, but I love these guys. There is Will, who has been organizing these things from the beginning. He's a larger than life performer who has sung with the Lamplighters for years.
Will's father, also named Will Connolly, was a well known sports writer for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years. Will has recently unearthed a goldmine of his father's articles with a whole history of sports, including the truth behind the famous incident where Babe Ruth pointed to the outfield, supposedly to indicate that he was going to hit the next pitch out of the park. I hope Will puts his father's writings into book form some day.
Will, Henry and Gilbert were a trio that went on a lot of fun trips together. Henry's wife Willa is a performer (a soprano) and a costumer, who now is concentrating on making costumes for several theatre companies. Henry and Walt became friends when they worked on many Lamplighter tech crews together. Our paths cross with them more often because they are also part of the former Lamplighter tech crew (which will get together this weekend to attend a Giants game).
Then there was Barbara and Bill, both performers. Barbara ran the Lamplighters for many years and now is its artistic director. She also writes killer parody lyrics and scripts for the Lamplighters yearly galas. I loved the year that she named her own character in the Gala "Benecia Martinez," in reference to two towns east of San Francisco, Benecia and Martinez.
Husband Bill is a wonderful baritone, a real leading-man type, who has performed with the Lamplighters, as well as other local opera companies.
Diana was one of Jeri's teachers, when she reached a point where she wanted pointers on bettering her clarinet playing many years ago. Diana has been the contractor for the Lamplighter orchestra, and other groups around San Francisco.
Roger has performed in the Lamplighter chorus for so many years I've lost count.
Marie no longer performs but is this wonderfully fey, ditzy Aunty Mame kind of character who used to refer to her now-late husband as "Underfoot," which I always loved.
I was also pleased to see Connie there. Connie's husband, who died recently, was a leading tenor for the Lamplighters for many years and head of the board for more years. He was a very sweet man. And he was about 12 feet tall, it seemed.
It was funny. I ran into Connie in the lobby of the place. She's not someone I know at all, really, though she and Adrian had come to several of these dinners. But I had this a-HA feeling that I knew her and almost stopped her to say "Hey don't I know you from somewhere?" but stopped myself, thinking that was silly and that I obviously was not "in her league" and she just must look like someone I had seen before. And then when I walked into the bar and saw her talking with Will, I realized who it was.
Missing were contralto Jeanne and husband, bass John, both of whom were battling a bug; and Jill, the marvelous dresser and long time Board of Director member from England who has been in this group from day #1.
So these are all fun, talented, interesting people, the kinds of friends we see rarely, but thoroughly enjoy and that made the long wait for food more palatable.
Each year as we go through the confusion of setting everything up, I wonder if it's really still worth the hassle. Every year as we sit around and offer our toast to Gilbert ("Oh...it's you..."), I'm glad that Will is around to make sure that we continue the tradition.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
St. Francis Yacht Club