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"Basquing" in
Central California

I'm not sure which part was most amazing: eating something called Migas... drinking from a group bota bag... or when my "often-quite-reserved" sister-in-law Sally stood up and started belting out show tunes.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOO ----OAK-----LA--HOMA, where the wind comes racing down the plain....! Come on everybody!"

Sally, who was the only one standing, smiled widely and thrust her arm out toward a guy at the end of the long table, who was warbling out his own rendition of Oklahoma, which was in the key of Sauvignon Blanc, I think.

"Do you know her?" the young lady on the other side of me asked.

"Ahhh, no," I said. "But I think she's with that guy."

I pointed to my brother-in-law, Bob, who had a wine glass in each hand and a hunk of Albacore with tarragon/butter sauce stuck in his beard from the hors d'oevres portion of the seven-course/seven-wine Basque dinner we were enjoying.

bota bag photo

That's when the bota bag came to me. I hadn't used a bota bag in a while, but it turns out it's kinda like riding a bicycle -- you never really forget.

"Go go go go..." the forty or so other diners chanted as I hoisted the bag, began a perfectly formed stream, and stretched my arms outward for dramatic effect, while trying hard not to get any up my nose -- a mistake one only needs to make once in life.

In the background, Dallas Holt, the owner of the 10th Street Vineyard Cafe, wearing a red beret that matched the one on the wild boar's head hanging over the fireplace, was hitting a pot lid with a wooden spoon. He was also chanting...

"No lips on my bota. No lips on my bota..."

I stretched my arms further and opened my mouth wider.

"Know what a bota bag is made from?" I heard Bob ask my wife. He paused for effect. "Bull scrotum," he said, answering his own question. Then he and the guy on the other side of him laughed loudly and slapped each other on the back.

I stopped my stream, and quickly passed the bota on, wiping my hands vigorously on my pants.

"Well, we're definitely not in Santa Barbara anymore," my wife whispered.

Which was true. We were in San Miguel, just north of Paso Robles. An area I formerly thought qualified for the Sleepyville USA title. Matter of fact, when Bob and Sally suggested meeting here in the middle of the state, we thought it was because they wanted to avoid a raucous Santa Barbara weekend of dinner salads and a movie and just share a few quiet moments together.

"NEW YORK. NEEEWWWW YOORRKKKKK," Sally finished her latest a cappella.

I looked down at her feet, nervous that she might be wearing taps and about to perform some kind of high-energy shuffle, but she just took a few bows, sat back down and reached for her glass.

"Who are these people and what have they done with Bob and Sally?" I whispered.

My wife shrugged. "I lost track of them briefly at the hotel. Maybe they got cloned or something."

"Could be simultaneous hormonal spikes," I suggested. "Or, maybe they're both doing some kind of new herbal supplement."

"Well, let's make sure we ask where they got it!"

The next course was placed in front of us. It looked like a giant pasty.

"It's pulled beef," co-owner Caren Holt yelled out over the din of multiple conversations. She, too, was wearing a red beret and pounding on a pot lid with a wooden spoon. The Holts probably had some kind of Basque rock group on the side. "It's served on steamed spinach, with garlic mashed potatoes on top, all rolled up together in filo dough, which is topped with a cabernet mushroom reduction sauce."

Everyone cheered.

"Know where they get pulled beef?" Bob asked. Before he could answer my wife shoved a piece into his mouth.

The room was getting louder by the minute. I looked at my watch. We'd been eating and drinking "Basque-style" for almost two hours.

"Cabernet Sauvignon?" asked Lisa Pretty, co-host, and owner of Pretty-Smith winery.

I hesitated.

"Anyone know 'Give My Regards to Broadway'?" the warbler yelled. I could feel Sally rising to the occasion beside me.

"What the heck," I said. "When in San Miguel..."