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Weekend Preview: ‘Heidi Chronicles,’ ChileCo Socials, ‘Alive and Well’ And Grant Grill

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Aired 3/25/10

Theater and food have our attention this weekend. We'll get recommendations from North County Times' Pam Kragen and Riviera Magazine's Troy Johnson.

The Grant Grill in downtown San Diego's US Grant Hotel.
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Above: The Grant Grill in downtown San Diego's US Grant Hotel.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): If your idea of a perfect weekend is to eat a lot in front of the TV, we've found a way for you to broaden your horizons without losing the essence of food and visual stimulation. On this Weekend Preview, we’re talking exclusively about eating out and going to the theatre. I’d like to welcome my guests. Pam Kragen is the arts and features editor at North County Times. Pam, good morning.

PAM KRAGEN (Arts & Features Editor, North County Times): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Troy Johnson is the senior editor of culinary, art and culture for Riviera Magazine. Troy, thanks for being here.

TROY JOHNSON (Senior Culinary/Arts Editor, Riviera Magazine): I just swallowed an owl whole.

CAVANAUGH: I can still see the feet.

JOHNSON: Oh, wow. That was the best story in the world. I don’t want to talk about food anymore. More Molly the owl.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’ll start out – we’ll start out with theatre. How’s that?

JOHNSON: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: Pam, the Old Globe has a new romantic comedy on its stage. It’s called “Alive and Well.” What is it about?

KRAGEN: Yeah, that’s right. It opens tonight so I haven’t seen it yet.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, okay.

KRAGEN: But it’s an opposites attract sort of romantic comedy about a woman newspaper reporter from New York and a taxi driver from Virginia whose name is Zachariah and he’s a Civil War reenactor. And it’s about how she hires him to drive her out for research on Lee’s retreat trail, which is the road that Robert E. Lee took when he went to surrender to U.S. Grant in 1865. And they, you know, get into all sorts of clashes and they get lost and they argue about north versus south and red versus blue and liberals versus conservatives. And eventually, apparently, they surrender to each other as well. And it’s very much inspired, I think, by the current divide between the Republicans and the Democrats.

CAVANAUGH: The red and blues, yeah.

KRAGEN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the playwright Kenny Finkle. You interviewed him recently.

KRAGEN: Right. I talked to him last week and he’s a 38-year-old playwright. I think he’s from Philadelphia. He lives in New York right now. And he’s written about a half a dozen plays, still kind of coming up on people’s radar. His best known play is something called “Indoor/Outdoor,” which is apparently about a talking housecat. Another one I haven’t seen, but he’s pretty adventurous. And he focuses mostly on comedy.

CAVANAUGH: What else do you know about the Old Globe production?

KRAGEN: Well, I know it’s a co-world premiere with Virginia Stage Company where they actually presented it first last fall. And it’s been undergoing quite a few revisions since then. Kenny said he’s scrapped a scene and he’s beefed up a character and he’s changed a lot of the dialogue and he says it’s going to be like a new play when Old Globe audiences see it. It’s been in previews for the last week or so and it opens tonight.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s what the Old Globe productions are all about.

KRAGEN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: “Alive and Well” opens Saturday, this Saturday and runs through April 25th. Now let’s move over to – I promised theatre and we’re talking about food but we’re talking especially drinks at the Grant’s Grill. Why are these drinks so impressive, Troy?

JOHNSON: Jeff Josenhans or it’s maybe (phonetically) Yosenhans. He was born in the methamphetamine wonderland of Riverside County and he spent the last 12 years in Sweden on the Swedish bartending team, he was actually – It’s kind of like the Swedish bikini team with a higher BAC. He – but he was number four in Sweden. And he is making the most amazing cocktails. He’s sourcing really arcane, small batch spirits like Devil’s Door, White Whiskey, Old Town Tom Gin, and then he’s just going to the farmer’s market, following the chef and creating these amazing farmer’s market-based cocktails.

CAVANAUGH: Now tell us what exactly is mixology?

JOHNSON: Oh, it’s a marketing term that used – that bars use to sell you more alcohol. No, it actually started out as a really, you know, a genuine term was that these chefs that were going to the farmers market and using really fresh ingredients and sourcing these really rare whiskeys and gins and everything else weren’t just bartenders anymore compared to like somebody who was down at Moondoggies just putting some Jagermesiter and Red Bull. They were doing something more elevated. They were doing something more artistic. And now, everybody who’s a bartender, they call it, you know, a…

JOHNSON/CAVANAUGH: …mixologist…

JOHNSON: …and people are getting a little bit jaded about it. But mixology basically is taking really great ingredients that you would find in the kitchen of a high end chef and making drinks out of them.

CAVANAUGH: Well, for example, there’s a White Whiskey Sour that’s made in a very painstaking way at Grant’s Grill. Tell us a little bit about that.

JOHNSON: This White Whiskey Sour, Jeff Josenhans wanted to get the element of smoke into a drink so he took his sugar back into the kitchen and actually applewood smoked his sugar and so it kind of tastes like a citrus barbeque in a glass. You really taste the smoke, and he pairs it with Meyer lemon and then he tops it with an egg white float. It is just an amazing cocktail.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds like it is. What price point are we talking about these drinks?

JOHNSON: They ain’t cheap. No, they are not cheap. I mean, anywhere you go downtown, you’re going to spend – you buy Jack and Coke at the wrong bar, you’re going to spend $16. I hate those kind of places. I absolutely abhor them. This is the only place in town that I would pay $16 for a drink. He’s got 9 sorts of bitters, he’s buying Buddha’s Hand, this exotic citrus and putting it into drinks. It’s literally worth its cost. I would absolutely get it before you go to the Old Globe Theatre.

CAVANAUGH: The Grant Grill is, of course on Broadway in the U.S. Grant Hotel. We go back to the theatre now and, Pam, a new play opens at Diversionary Theatre. It’s called “Speech and Debate.” It’s about teenagers. Tell us about it.

KRAGEN: Right, well, I have two of my own so I will let you know after I see it if it’s very true to life. But it’s by a playwright named Stephen Karam, and it’s about three really nerdy misfit high school teenagers who form a debate club at their school to kind of get their angst out and to raise awareness about a sex scandal that is kind of brewing in their town. And the three characters, there’s a gay student and there is a preppy high school newspaper reporter, kind of crusading reporter, and then there’s this emo goth girl who sings in a grunge band. And apparently a lot of the dialogue is that sort of ‘I am’ speak, you know, LOL and that sort of thing…

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

KRAGEN: …that the teens speak in these days.

CAVANAUGH: Now I’m reading that the playwright wrote this when he was 25, so he’s pretty close to the time he was writing about.

KRAGEN: That’s right. He’s actually not that much older at this point.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

KRAGEN: And so it’s a pretty recent play. I think it had its off Broadway premiere 2007 or something like that. So it’s a pretty recent play and he actually said in an interview—I haven’t interviewed him—but I read that he got a lot of the language of the play from some IM chat transcripts that he read online somewhere. So he picked it up directly from that. And then I guess he talked to a lot of teens, and he was young, too, and I guess he spends a lot of time on the computer so it’s supposed to be very cliché free and quite authentic in the dialogue.

CAVANAUGH: Dialogue ripped from the IM…

KRAGEN: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …screen. Has he worked with Diversionary before, Stephen Karam?

KRAGEN: I do not believe so. I believe this is his premiere at Diversionary in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: So, overall, would you characterize this as a dark comedy?

KRAGEN: Yeah, you know, I – that’s how they’re describing it. Again, I haven’t seen it yet but from what I can tell, the town that he sets this play in is called Salem, and I think there is a reference to the Salem Witch Trials and this person being persecuted publicly without any proof against him. Apparently the mayor in their town has been accused of having sex with teenage boys and it hasn’t been proven and it’s sort of a witch hunt.

CAVANAUGH: Ahh…

KRAGEN: And I think it’s a coming of age story where these kids are sort of losing their idealism. They’re trying to report but, you know, it gets out of hand. So I think it is dark. I think it’s sort of cynical but it’s supposed to be really funny, too.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. “Speech and Debate” opens at Diversionary Theatre Saturday, March 27th, and runs through April 11th. We move back to eating and drinking. Troy, a new restaurant bar open downtown. It’s called Quality Social.

JOHNSON: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Have you been there yet?

JOHNSON: I have a few times, and it’s a very interesting concept. It’s getting a lot of flack among the community for claiming to be a dive bar or so everybody says they are, but they’re not really claiming to be a dive bar. Basically, they’re opening a big club downtown and they all, the owners all like dive bars so it’s kind of a museum of dive bar, you know, erota (sic). Just anything you would find, you know. I mean, the décor is very naugahydish, you know. They have – they’re kind of spray painting and stenciling their artwork saying ‘this artwork not available.’ You know, and some people are liking it, some people aren’t. I personally love it.

CAVANAUGH: Are there any windows at all?

JOHNSON: There are some windows, yes. Yeah, and there’s no…

CAVANAUGH: Not that I’ve ever been, of course, in a…

JOHNSON: The smell of rehab is not in the air, you know.

CAVANAUGH: What’s the menu like?

JOHNSON: The menu is one of the more interesting concept (sic) in San Diego. The chef, who came from Chicago – he used to be called the ‘sausage king of Chicago’ by Timeout magazine, and he’s a good, good chef. He turned down the show “Top Chef” to come and do this concept. He’s basically taking bar food and putting a culinary twist on it. He’s doing duckwings instead of chickenwings. He’s doing duck in Harissa sauce, which is a North African hot sauce. He’s doing a short rib chili. He’s making his own hot dogs back there. I spoke with him the other day and he said, I just want a place that, A, is really going places with food, and using short ribs and, you know, and cured meats and everything else that’s really hot right now but I want a place where my dad can come in and want to eat, you know, like a hot dog. He doesn’t want foie gras on top of, you know, some other random part of an animal. He wants it to be accessible.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Well, if you want to see dive bar chic, Quality Social is on 6th Avenue in downtown San Diego. Pam, we’re moving to a play, “The Heidi Chronicles.” I think a lot of us have heard it.

KRAGEN: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: It opens at the New Village Arts. Give us a sense about this play’s reputation.

KRAGEN: Well, “Heidi Chronicles” was – you know, today I think people look at plays – this play and they think it’s dated or it doesn’t – it’s not really relevant. But at the time that it came out in 1988, it was really groundbreaking. It was one of the first major plays to be produced on Broadway by a woman playwright and it was talking about issues that nobody really had talked about before like feminism and women’s roles in society, and it was pretty bold at the time, you know, for her to take on the male establishment, particularly when all the producers and theatre owners were men and actually they still are, which proves that the play is still relevant because women still have a hard time getting plays produced.

CAVANAUGH: And this New Village Arts production has a first-time director, Amanda Sitton. What do you know about her?

KRAGEN: Amanda? Yes, you’re right. This is her first time directing. She is a very accomplished actress in San Diego. She’s still young but she has won – I’m the president of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and we have given her two awards in the last two years. She’s just a really smart actress. She’s subtle and I hope those qualities transfer over into her work as a director.

CAVANAUGH: “The Heidi Chronicles” is at New Village Arts. It opens April 1st and runs through the 25th. And, Troy, you’re going to take us home with a San Diego catering company launching a series of dinners called socials. You recently attended one. Tell us about them.

JOHNSON: They’re amazing. It’s ChileCo Catering Company and these socials are basically dinners, elaborate, elaborate dinners with deejays and lights and music and cocktails in places where you would not expect to have a dinner: on a rooftop, in a fish warehouse, on Torrey Pines State Beach the next one is. You’re going to have a table full of – 90 people long on Torrey Pines State Beach. Last year, they had to actually build a berm to stop the high tide that was coming in on dinner. And it’s candles and everything. It’s really an amazing concept.

CAVANAUGH: So this catering company chooses the location of where it’s going to stage these dinners.

JOHNSON: Exactly. The last one was in a fish warehouse. You walk in and – It was Catalina Offshore Fish Warehouse over by USD. You walk in and there’s – you just kind of smell fish and there’s all this great, you know, sustainable seafood and then all this ice coming out of a massive bin where you could store a dead body. And then you walk in and there’s flowers and candles and a deejay and it’s just – it’s really next level kind of secret dinner parties.

CAVANAUGH: Well, how do you make a reservation if, indeed, these are secret dinner parties?

JOHNSON: I know. Well, I totally misspoke. You can go directly to their website. It’s not as secret as I make it out to be. But you go to their website and it’s – they are $95.00 for this dinner but everything is worth it. I mean, nobody’s putting this sort of production on for a dinner party in San Diego. It is absolutely next level, and they’re all – they’re really concerned with, you know, sustainable food and everything else. All the earmarkers for being a cool event are there.

CAVANAUGH: The next ChileCo Social takes place on May 16th at Torrey Pines State Beach. Once again ChileCo Catering to learn more. I want to thank you both. We got through a lot in a very short period of time. Troy…

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …thank you. Pam Kragen, thank you so much for talking with us.

KRAGEN: Thanks, I…

JOHNSON: I gotta get to my owl cam. I’m so sorry, Pam.

CAVANAUGH: Now, These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke and senior producer Natalie Walsh. Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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