Culture vulture

Gastronome at large
In spring a hungry columnist’s thoughts peckishly turn toward thoughts of al fresco dinners served on a riverfront deck. Preferably at a place that serves good beer and burgers and doesn’t frown on lively conversation.

For Culture Vulture the place that specifically comes to mind is the venerable Scotty’s Landing, perched on the bank of a backwater of the Sacramento River several miles west of Chico. Scotty’s is just the sort of marvelous confluence of cultural cross-currents that draws Culture Vulture like a bee to a flower. What other place so harmoniously blends the down-home hospitality of an old-fashioned roadhouse tavern with the effervescent boisterousness of a college beer hall? No other, in our experience anyway, and that is why you’ll find us ever and anon sipping beer on the deck and furtively scribbling notes between bites of a patty melt and wisps of conversation with my beloved, I. Daphne St. Brie, not to mention French fries.

Such was our recent occupation on a warm Monday evening on the Scotty’s deck. A lively birthday celebration was taking place at the adjoining tables, and an ancient and enormous chocolate-brown rottweiler crossbreed kept nudging his slobber-soaked tennis ball in our direction while gazing at us hopefully through cataract clouded eyes, but the scene was idyllic, cast in a rosy sunset glow.

As we were soaking up the ambiance, we noticed that several of the birthday revelers had dropped their conversations and shifted their attentions to something or someone behind us, so we turned to see what or who could capture the attention of this garrulous crowd.

It came as a bit of a surprise to see a somewhat familiar figure coming down the ramp from the tavern. As if on cue, a beam of sunset orange slipped between the trees on the opposite bank and hit him like a spotlight, illuminating a Crate & Barrel meshback cap canted at a jaunty angle over a head of curly dark and immaculately cut hair; the burgundy polo shirt with its accenting strip of forest green stretched a bit over the well-padded torso; of the shorts or pedal-pushers the less said the better, but the gussied-up size 12 jailhouse slippers were, if possible, even more disturbing. Finding out later, after an unfortunate incident with our aged canine friend, that they were called espadrilles didn’t make them any easier to take.

The newcomer was, in short, our erstwhile colleague, the gastronome Henri Bourride. We had never actually met beyond a perfunctory introduction by our mutual editor, but since he glanced in our direction with a hopeful lifting of the eyebrow and hoisted the pitcher of beer he was carrying a couple of expressive inches while delivering a quizzical grin, we surrendered to decorum and curiosity and waved him over to join us.

A wiser wave was never given. Midwestern farm boys who have spent time roaming the continent are not something you run across everyday. And any fellow who can go into rhapsodies over a well-served cheeseburger while simultaneously expounding on the subtleties of Parisian poulet roti and crème brûlé, with tangential commentary on the use of food as a literary motif in the works of Marcel Proust, is a fellow who can share a pitcher of Pale Ale with Culture Vulture anytime and any place. Under certain circumstances I might even pay for the pitcher myself and be glad I did.