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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Squab A La Vahl

By Eric A. Carlson

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold."

--Robert Service

DINING AT Vahl's in Alviso the other evening with some bitter Willow Glen friends, the conversation turned to the curious goings on in San Jose of late: glass-domed City Halls materializing--fading out--and reappearing as busts of Al Ruffo, Cisco being awarded Coyote Valley by a Santa Clara County Judge--and then finding there wasn't the wherewithal to accept it, underground parking garages failing to capture the imagination of the public, and fiberglass-shark vandals adding to their résumés by cutting the legs off of one of the critters--The Patriot, Made in America--and absconding with it--probably to a chop shop in the swank hills of Los Altos. Mysterious.

Not as strange, perhaps, as the great mystery of why professional baseball players are given days off. Is bunting too onerous? Sitting in the dugout overly stressful? It is so rare for a ballplayer to "play" every day that Cal Ripkin was granted a parade and worshipped like a Balinese Buddha for doing so over a period of years--eclipsing perfect-attendance king Lou Gehrig? Small boys and grown men weep at the mere mention of Cal--and name their spawn in his honor. The Air Force boot camp is even stranger. Sky jockeys receive a medal for successfully completing boot camp (six weeks of heck), and are granted a second medal if they finish in the top 10 percent of their class. Two medals for having a heartbeat.

Pal Dave ordered the Royal Squab A La Vahl and then asked the waitress what A La Vahl entailed. "It's how we cook it," she replied, friendly and concise to a T. And at this point my profound ignorance of the gastronomic world took control of my mind, and I ordered the squab as well--thinking it was white meat, like a little chicken. Not so. Squab is more like a little duck--dark, gloomy and gamey. And not something to savor if one has the palette of a 5 year-old. A visit to In-N-Out Burger the following day would bring me up to par (very generous helpings of onions are a plus). I took the squab home and presented it to Scratcher, the orange, tailless, neighborhood cat, who is a fancier of game.

Picking through Vahl's exquisite hors d'oeuvres, I expressed my chagrin over the San Jose Redevelopment Agency's decision to not pursue underground parking beneath San Jose's historic parks--simply because it would shut down San Jose for a year or two, rip away a few significant historical buildings, and whack out some old trees. Digging up San Jose was a bold and exciting concept that would have yielded valuable parking real estate, as well as provide subterranean refuge for indigents. Aboveground garages will be built instead, and the cost eventually recouped from parking charges and additional fees added on to downtown parking meters. No doubt these additional fees will entice countless of thousands of shoppers to explore San Jose.

I had intended to photograph all 100 fiberglass sharks in San Jose and environs (Willow Glen and the airport), but for various reasons failed miserably. Although the sharks are in the process of being uprooted, it is not too late to view them--or buy one if one is so inclined. Joey Jesus Peralta's Reflections is a personal favorite. On Nov. 14 the sharks will be on display and auctioned off at the Compaq Center (yes, Compaq doesn't exist anymore, but the ex-San Jose Arena still does)--same thing. Public can view the sharks from 5:30 to 7:30. The live auction costs $100 to attend, but the cost is mitigated by wine/champagne, dinner and dessert (408.817.5996 for tickets). Unless The Patriot is recovered, there will be only 99 sharks to view.

Slim Whitman and Eddie Fisher played successively on Vahl's dining room soundtrack as Dave cleaned up his squab, and Mr. P raved about the pork chops. I excused myself from the table. Vahl's bathroom is accessed by walking through the bar and around to the back. In that short walk, much can be learned, gossipwise. It is rumored that R., my secret Alviso source, has been seen in the company of a mysterious woman.

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From the November 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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