Gordon & Barbara in Paris

Gordon & Barbara in Paris
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harpoon Henry's Restaurant in Dana Point, CA

Harpoon Henry’s by Barbara Richiusa & Gordon Richiusa

Harpoon Henry’s, situated just feet from the water on the dock in Dana Point Harbor is as close as you can get to a maritime meal, without having to board a vessel. This is an establishment with broad appeal, a meal and price for every pocketbook, lots of character along with an “all are welcome” atmosphere.

Opened in 1975 with full lunch and dinner menus seven days a week and a brunch on Sunday. Harpoon Henry’s has become notorious for its happy hour, often with a line out the door and into the parking lot. This popularity is well deserved, since this “hour” takes place Monday through Fridays and lasts from 4pm to 7pm.

This “happy hour” was started in 1993, coincidentally during the last major economic downturn in the U.S., but Harpoon Henry’s has actually seen a slight upturn in their sales for the year, even in the upstairs dining room where the atmosphere is at a premium and the service is a cut above.

Every night of the week, the happy hour packs the lounge, but on certain nights lines are out the door. The reasons for this increased interest might have something to do with their “wine ½ price” by the glass or martinis and mai tais also at half the regular price. Harpoon Henry’s “specialty” martinis are dressed Polynesian style with fresh fruit and juice served in mini-ice-beakers to keep things cool. You can almost feel the cool tropical breeze.

Other Items on the happy hour menu include but are not limited to:

As you are able choose your menu, you can also choose your style of dress. Meals can be enjoyed in very or semi casual wear, or a little more formal with fine, private dining upstairs. All three seating areas have great views of the Dana Point Harbor, from which annual boat parades can be observed. There is literally something for everyone. You can even book a catered wedding and other event in advance, by appointment.

Prices range from low to moderately high, but there is a variety of fare from which to choose. With choices ranging from fish and chips to lobster, everyone can find something they will like on a very full menu with items priced from a few dollars to around $30 for lobster or filet for the beef lover.

Chef Lupe Silva has helmed the kitchen for 32 years and has been assisted by Chris Chavarin for the past 19.

General Manager and co-owner Bob Cosgrove is an old football player who likes to run his restaurant “with a heavy team atmosphere.” We’re really very much like a family here, since two of my partners are old fraternity brothers.”

The catch phrase of this establishment is, “Make people want to come back,” says Bob. “We know there are plenty of places to eat and that we cannot survive for long with poor service or bad food. If people don’t want to come back, again and again, then we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we have.”

In fact, Bob admits that in these tough economic times, the lure of a reasonably priced happy hour coupled with a great location and great service seems to have picked up business a little in recent months. Interestingly, dinner sales are substantially up as well over last year, in the same period. “We seemed to have escaped the downturn for now and are up about 4% for January,” Bob confided.

One theory of Harpoon Henry’s staying power may be ecological in nature. Says Bob, “I think it has also been warmer this January than usual and people are still coming to the beach.”

Besides location and warm southern California sunshine, an attempt to cross over economic lines seems also to have aided Harpoon Henry’s success. For instance, even before entering the restaurant the customer is offered a choice between free (4 hour) or valet parking.

Upon entering you will pass an inviting fireplace and lounge as you are greeted by one of two friendly hostesses. The décor is what one might expect in a dockside dining experience with a name beginning with the word, harpoon and there are plenty of the spears around the walls and other touches of beach atmosphere to keep you in the waterside spirit.

A handsome Cheers-like, well stocked bar and lounge area, offer views of the waterway on the far side of the building through floor-to-ceiling windows. In the lounge several large screen TV’s have sports available, when their headline showman is not onstage. We chose to sit in the lounge, since Phil Shane was about to perform. We asked for full dining menus and were happily obliged by our server.

I selected a calamari steak with garlic-mashed potatoes. For an appetizer we tried the shrimp and crab wontons and a pina colada.

The drinks came first, quickly, and were very generously portioned looking and tasting like delicious desserts topped with both pineapple and cherry and doused with a healthy helping of whipped cream where appropriate. The rum part of the Pina Colada blend was not overdone making it possible to drink more than one during a single dining experience, but letting my wife know (I was the designated driver this night) that it was not just fruit juice in her glass. She wanted only one round (price on a Saturday night, $6.95).

The shrimp and crab wontons (price) were plump and tasty and were presented nicely (not piled ala roadside fish and chips van) with a choice of dipping sauces. A lovely orchid was added to the plate and made a great souvenir.

An abundant appetizer menu contained items ranging from just $3.95 for garlilc bread to 14.95 for Crab Cakes.

Calamari steaks are a personal favorite and I was pleasantly surprised to see that mine were properly prepared in two very large portions that overlapped on the place. Calamari steak is “REMINISCENT OF ABALONE – LIGHTLY BREADED AND SAUTÉED GOLDEN BROWN, SERVED WITH FRESH LEMON & TARTAR SAUCE, 16.95”

They were pounded very thin and fried in a satisfying (not greasy) breading that did not overwhelm. The garlic-mashed potatoes were adequate, though did not seem to enjoy as much care as the steaks had. A simple salad garnish of Spring greens, rounded out the serving, which was average at best.

The dessert menu is limited containing just five items: Fudge Brownie, Mud Pie, New York Cheese cake, Lemon or Raspberry sorbet and Ice cream with Berries all ranging in price from $5.95 to $6.95.

Having value-choices is not to say that service is lacking in any part of the restaurant. On the contrary, staff was abundant and attentive and everyone (employee and customers alike) seemed to be enjoying themselves. When Ashley--the outdoor patio bartender--was questioned about her relationship with management she said, “ I’ve been here for three and a half years and they really make each one of us feel like we are the most special employee of all.” Every patron seemed to feel the same personal investment in the total experience.

Our table was one of several loveseats around the perimeter of the lounge and was being attended by Nicole, a waitress who had been employed for six years. Although very busy, she made several stops at our table to check on our well being. When asked, she was happy to tell us about her favorites from the menu, as well as changes that had recently occurred. At her suggestion, the next time I’m at Harpoon Henry’s I am going to try Henry’s special “TUNA STACK. ” This is fresh ahi tuna, seared rare and served on a crab cake, with steamed rice and red pepper aioli and spicy Asian sauce, topped with fried wontons for $24.95.

As I said, we chose to eat in the lounge because this was the first weekend of the month and that meant to the Harpoon Henry’s regulars the appearance of Phil Shane. Phil is a little bit of Vegas in Orange County His is a great audience participation act of a class one might not expect to find in a California eatery. Between a never ending stream of requests he led an occasional cheer of “Hot Damn!”

Our total bill this evening, including alcoholic beverage, a 20% tip and the no cost-no minimum, Phil Shane performance ended up at slightly less than $40. Hot damn!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—Directed by Daniel Alfredson. Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre/ from a novel by Stieg Larsson/written for the screen by Ulf Ryberg/ rated R/147 mins

(B) This is a very exciting thriller in the classic sense. It was well written and suspenseful…It is a pity that these classic stories must come to an end, because of the death of the author, Stieg Larsson. We watched this last one with English over-dubbing instead of the subtitles and I appreciated this effort, as I don’t think I missed as much of the storyline here as I might have in the first two. Of the trilogy, the weakest was the second offering for me. The series definitely opened and closed with the strongest punches. I will likely go back and see these again when the American versions come to the big screen, but I suspect the originals will be tough acts to follow. There were no weak performances, but I have to say that I got some characters confused, as they looked a lot alike. This film seems to fit in with a recent trend toward darkness, but of those nominated for Best Pictures in 2011, it is better than the two dark nominations for Oscars (I’ll let them remain nameless here) of the long list of ten. If you want to try and figure out which films I’m talking about, then look at the list that appears in our recent post. I give this one THREE BINOCULARS.

(G) The original title, Luftslottet som sprängdes translates to something like The Pipedream That Was Blown Up. How this turned into Hornet’s Nest, I don’t know. However, the new and improved title really does fit better the multi-layered suspense thriller that was presented in the previous two films and culminates here. There are really several villains in this storyline, and several subplots to go along with the classic approach to unraveling this complex mystery. We see, for instance why so many different and diverse groups appear to be conspiring against Lisbeth and all the loose ends are neatly trimmed. After all, having obstacles interfere with a protagonist’s “dramatic need” is the screenwriter’s go-to device. So, from a writer’s perspective, I liked the fact that the story is still the most important part of the final product. I too found it a little bit challenging keeping track of some of the secondary characters without a scorecard. In the first film of the trilogy I commented that I liked the fact that major American stars were not cast in the Laarson opener, and I’m sticking with that, but there were some men and women who resembled one another which made for momentary confusion. After seeing, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the first of the trilogy) I hoped that no one would try to Americanize the cast, but now that I know that an American version is on the way, I’m looking forward to it. Like Barbara, I have to give this one three binoculars as well, and I heartily recommend trying the English dubbed version which lacked only a little bit of emotion in a couple of scenes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Valentine's Day--Guadalajara

The ‘Heart’ of Mexico

story and photos
Gordon Richiusa
Barbara Richiusa

(G) As a hopeless romantic I am always looking for some way to impress Barbara on Valentine’s Day. We both love Mexico and last year, I found the perfect trip to Guadalajara. The second largest city in Mexico offers an unparalleled, totally Mexican experience that, when combined with the calendar date of February 14th, will explain my impression and why I now refer to this city as “the Heart of Mexico.”

(B)Situated about 4 hours east of Puerto Vallarta, this inland metropolis boasts much more consistent weather than the coastal town and is not reliant on tourism as many of the port towns might be. So, if you’ve spent any time in Mexico or if your experience is limited to short excursions from a cruise ship, you’ll likely notice several pleasant things right away. First, the people are generous, happy and most of all extremely proud to be Mexican. Secondly, there are few vendors and those that do exist are available as much for the locals as they are for visitors. You won’t find the frantic hawking of trinkets as one might find in a U.S. border or seaside tourist town. Certainly bargains exist (for instance Tequila, the drink gets that its name from the close by town that uses Guadalajara distilleries to complete the liquor making process). Then there is Lake Chappala, the largest lake in Mexico and home to many rich U.S. expatriates. A short trip to this inland haven and you’ll know why.

(G)Tlaquepaque—a suburb of the city, is a haven for artists. Shopping is a treat in and around massive cobble stone plazas and buildings that are often more than 600 years old.
The architecture is extremely colonial and in many of the shops one will find residences in back of storefronts. Almost every old building has beautiful, serene interior courtyard of some sort.
The Aniversario de la Ciudad (Anniversary of the City) is actually celebrated for a full week. This makes for a double-barreled fiesta, the likes of which can be found in no other City in the world, let alone in Mexico.
The name "Valentine" is derived from Latin valens meaning worthy and was popular prior to Christianity. Not much is known about Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or several martyred saints of ancient Rome. This is the real reason that the holiday was not kept in the Catholic calendar of saints. However, "Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome" remains on the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. It is no wonder, then that Guadalajara (supported strongly by the Catholic Church in it infancy as well as today) chose this day to officially found the city in 1542. All of Mexico came under Spanish eventually and by extension Catholic rule. Regardless of why you are in town, February 14th is likely to have perfect weather to enjoy Guadalajara.
The cofounders of the city were, ironically a female, Doña Beátriz de Hernández and a male, governor Cristóbal de Oñate. There are monuments to honor them both in the Plaza de Los Fundadores. Open-air concerts, live music and a marathon race are some of the other attractions offerered around the central plazas. When we visited, a giant mural of John Lennon had been erected in honor of the musician’s song, “All You Need Is Love.”

(B) While visiting the city, be sure to see this colorful history of Guadalajara (and Mexico) as depicted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, where Orozco Clemente’s murals are featured at a former orphanage. The orphanage—now cultural museum-- is an architectural and artistic marvel. There are twenty-three internal courtyards, varying in size and use. The entire structure is a must see and we recommend the guided tour. Known as Hospicio Cabañas, it was founded and financed by Bishop Juan Ruiz de Cabañas (who is featured in the murals) and was a home to shelter orphans, the elderly, the poor and handicapped. It was deemed a World Heritage site in 1997.

Ed Rampell, art-and-entertainment critic based in Los Angeles, CA says this of Orozco Clemente, “Simply put, he is a genius.” The Hospicio Cabañas opened to the first orphans in 1810 while it was still under construction and was named (Casa de Misericordia) House of Charity. That same year the War for Mexican Independence began and construction came to a halt. It was used to house Spanish troops, Independent troops as well as supplies. Rumor has it that secret passages were constructed by workers prior to this occupation and the workers were killed and sealed into the tunnels, to assure their silence. After 1829 the building resumed to house the people it was originally built to serve. The construction was finally finished in 1845 and the name was changed to Hospicio Cabañas in honor of its founder and depicts a deep love of and respect for Mexico and of the city of Guadalajara. Truly, almost every building in this city has this kind of historical significance attached to it, as is often the case in a town of 600 plus years. When you sit down for a meal, or look to buy a keepsake, ask the shop owner about the building. Most of the time, they are happy to oblige.

(B)To guide us through the intricacies of touring the area, especially at this time of year, I was lucky to find a couple that not only love one another, but are intensely fond of the city of Guadalajara and the country of Mexico, as well.

Dr. Armando Hernandez an internationally known surgeon was trained in England, but has chosen to have his central practice in Guadalajara (his hometown). It is a city that he loves and he knows a great deal about the culture and history. Perhaps his most important reason to love Guadalajara is because his lovely wife, Evita is a native. She has lived in the Jalisco state her whole life, except for a short stint in London with her husband. “This is a very rich and unique place, “ she points out. “Many of the things which people around the world associate with Mexico, got their start in the State of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is situated. This area is the cradle of tequila production, the foundation of Mariachi and the birthplace of LaCaheiria or Mexican Cowboys. We have our own unique food, dances and folklore here.”

Amemonos means “let’s love each other,” and more accurately defines the attitude of the Mexican population who celebrate Valentine’s Day. Indeed, it is pure chance that has made the lover’s holiday so important in Guadalajara. “I don’t know any other city in Mexico that celebrates February 14th, especially in the same way, “ said Evita. “And, not everyone in Guadalajara knows the historical significance of the day, either. It is a day of love and friendship not just love of lovers. It’s an important day to show affection to friends, mothers, fathers and other relatives though many, many young ladies get their engagement rings on this day.”
So, how would these two lovebirds suggest one celebrate a romantic version of Valentine’s Day? “Everything is so crowded on Valentine’s Day, you may want to wait until the next day to go out to a restaurant or make your reservations far in advance!”
“If you do go out, two of the best are Santo Coyote and Sacramonte. Both have Mexican food and atmosphere, but Sacramonte is more a Spanish-fusion mixture. Santo
Coyote is very festive in a different way, and is often used for a different kind of celebration. Sacramonte is a little more sophisticated, a smaller restaurant with not too many tables. So, it is a little more intimate.”
(G)Flights are available from every major airport in the U.S. and Canada. So, regardless of which eatery you choose, why you are visiting this wonderful city, or what
time of year it might be, the adventure will be authentically Mexican and in more ways than one, you will experience the true Heart of Mexico!
(B) It was one of the nicest Valentines Day gifts I have ever received.