Category Archives: Featured

Featured Sailing Travel

Weekend Visit: Bayfield, Wisconsin

On the waterfront, Bayfield
On the waterfront, Bayfield

Bayfield, Wisconsin: I spent the weekend looking over my schedule trying to make sure that the various calls of duty don’t manage to fully crowd out opportunities for fun and leisure.

For The Observer, those opportunities come in the form of sailing weekends and the best ones take place in the Apostles Islands, that beautiful cluster of islands lying scattered just off the coast of Bayfield. read more »

Featured Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Bin Wine Bar

The view towards Mears Park in Bin Wine Bar | Photo via
The view towards Mears Park in Bin Wine Bar | Photo via

Saint Paul, Minnesota: Bin Wine Bar is in a great spot, nicely decorated, comfortably furnished and serves exquisitely delicious morsels of food that complement an intriguing wine list.

Set on the northwest corner of Mears Park, Bin is perfectly situated in the heart of a resurgent section of downtown, an area that has sprung to life over just the last few years.  The room is perched on Sibley Street and offers a relaxing setting with pillowed benches, decent space between tables, and a noise level that makes it easy to have conversation with your friends. read more »

Featured Sailing Sport

Guide to the 2012 Autumn and Winter Sailing Season

2012 Sailing Season
Fleet after the start, Gaeta in the background, 2011 Maxi Volcano Race – © Rolex / Daniel Forster

Saint Paul, MN: We’ve just wrapped up a fantastic set of racing this summer. Bayfield Race Week saw terrific weather and great competition.  Chicago-Mackinac saw 350 boats compete in the 104th running of the race. The highlight, for us though, was the fast pace set by Team Shockwave in the Newport-Bermuda, whose finish two minutes ahead of Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente doesn’t immediately indicate the excellent sailing required for the achievement that its corrected time reveals. read more »

Featured Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: The Happy Gnome

The patio at the Happy Gnome
The patio at the Happy Gnome

Saint Paul, MN: The LSW and and I were driving through one of our old neighborhoods on a recent weekend in that happy quadrant that encompasses the University Club, WA Frost, Whole Foods and F Scott’s old townhouse on Summit.


read more »

Featured Sailing Sport

Luna Rossa Wins America’s Cup World Series Naples

Naples, Italy – After extraordinarily high winds and rough seas caused a suspension of racing yesterday, competition resumed in Naples this morning with Luna Rossa, skippered by Chris Draper, winning the fleet championship.

The next competition in the AC Word Series begins in Venice in May.

More here.


Featured Food | Drink

Restaurant Review: Fuji-Ya

Tucked away in a small space at the corner of Divisidero and Geary in San Francisco is a little place which offers what may be the finest sushi in the world. Perhaps it was because it was my first time eating sushi, but Godzilla’s will forever be the best in my mind. It was also a dinner the cemented my now 20-year friendship with the High-Energy Bond Guy.  HBG and I were among the Friday night crowd trying to get into the place.

Divisadero and Geary is a bustling corner and Godzilla’s is a pretty small place so when they fill their 20 or so seats, the waiting crowd spills out onto the sidewalk.  HBG and I were among the Friday night crowd standing curbside to get into the place and the whole thing had a festival feeling.

In addition to the delicious tuna sashimi, the tender edamame was infused with just the right amount of saltiness, and I will forever be grateful for having been introduced to wasabi, truly one of the world’s most fabulous creations.

A few years later, I was staying and working in Knightsbridge, in a place just around the corner from Harvey Nick’s. It’s then that sushi became a staple of my diet.    On the fifth floor of HN’s is their famous food court and I would often run over there to have a rolls for lunch at Yo! Sushi. Yo! Sushi is a Kaiten-zushi restaurant, where plates of food come by on a conveyor belt.  You grab what you want, stack up the plates then hail the waitress who comes over to count them up, does the math (colors on the plates indicate different prices for the dish), and gives you your tab.  The food court had terrific atmosphere.  The great energy of one of the world’s great cities could always be felt at that counter and I had lunch there frequently enough to become a recognized regular.

There’s something terrific about being a regular.  They know your name, your preferred table, and, if they’re good, know enough to let you know what special things are on hand that you’ll care about.

Here in Saint Paul I’ve had trouble finding that place where I could return frequently without tiring of it – until Fuji-Ya opened at the corner of Wabasha and West Seventh a few years ago.  Like Godzilla’s, it’s a smallish space that provides an intimate atmosphere.  It fills up quickly providing a nice buzzing energy without feeling crowded.

Sit at the sushi bar, if possible, where ordering is quickest and you’ll get your sushi as soon as it’s ready.  Be sure to order the Wasabi Crunchy, a roll with cucumber, shrimp in a spicy mayo covered with wasabi tobiko flakes. The decor is bamboo-meets-bang and olufsen and the “Godzilla vs Mothra” movie playing on the big-screen plasma near the bar adds a hip-kitsch vibe to the whole experience. This is a place where you can pop in, be certain of a terrific meal, and simply enjoy the experience.  This is a place for regulars.

About Town Featured People

About Town: Irv Williams

A good sax player, over long years of playing ought to become known for range, deft handling of ‘the axe’, mellow tone, and skillful phrasing.

Irv Williams has mastered all these skills and more to attain a revered status, certainly among local jazz fans.

I’ll always remember Irv – not just for his skillful musical phrasing, but for one, very telling phrase. I was hosting an event at the University Club in the early 90s where he and his trio were hired to play. The crowd had assembled and, many of them having gotten their cocktails, started to have that ‘what now?’ look that crowds get.

Irv was sitting serenely in a chair at the far end of the room near the piano watching the crowd but showing no signs that he was on the verge of producing the mellifluous tones he’s known for. Although he came highly recommended, I’d never met the man before or heard him play so I walked over to introduce myself. We chatted briefly before I was able to bring myself to the key question: “When do you plan to start?”.

He looked me in the eye, paused for a two count, and let me have it:

“I play when I get a scotch and I’ve been paid.”

My eyes locked with his, I snapped my finger for a waiter and pulled out my checkbook, scribbling out Irv’s payment with a wry smile all the while taking his words to heart. The evening clicked along beautifully from there and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since.

In the years that followed, I’ve trekked all over town to hear him play. There were the gigs at the old Bristol Cafe in St Anthony Main and that lounge at the Doubletree Hotel in Minneapolis in the late 90s.

Recently, the LSW and I sat through a couple of Irv’s sets at Il Vesco Vino, the Italian restaurant that replaced The Vintage. Ably accompanied by pianist Peter Schimke, Irv is clearly as comfortable as ever blowing out a range of tunes, mostly mellow and gentle but with occasional bursts of energy. As always, too, he welcomes the audience request but will adjust the range and tempo of these standards to his liking rather than play them as we might be accustomed to hear them in what we might think of as their definitive, recorded versions.

Irv is a gentleman and a generous performer, but, in keeping with the best tradition of jazzmen, make no mistake – it’s his world and you’re just passing through it.

Williams and Schimke perform Saturdays from 8-10 at Il Vesco Vino and have just released a new CD called “Duo”

Featured Travel

Weekend Visit: Boulder Junction, WI

If you get on Wisconsin state highway 51 just east of Menominee and head north, you’re headed straight into cabin country. This is an area covered by vast patches of farmland – pig and turkey farms, and huge swaths of pine forest which hide lakes and the cabins to which long lines of Suburbans with TVs in the headrests and kayak-topped Subarus can be seen heading, side by side, on any given summer weekend.

The best lakes are remote and, therefore, a long drive from Saint Paul. This means you to drive past a seemingly endless series of exits containing a Hardees, a Citgo station, and a fireworks tent in a vacant lot.  Or a Culvers and a guy on the side of the road selling corn and Mutual Funds out of the back of his truck. You get the idea. It’s all a blur after the first hour.

Most people don’t seem to make it further east than Balsam Lake or further north than Minocqua and I’ll admit that five hours into a drive from St Paul makes the Thirsty Whale seem like a genuine oasis.

But give the Crocs and Coors Light crowd a miss. Persevere.  Forge ahead. Ignore the siren song of the many cold Leinenkugel’s on ice at the TW, and continue just a little way further north for your patient efforts will be rewarded. Branching off 51, north on county road M, and a little way beyond the Chequamegon National Forest lies the delightful little town of Boulder Junction.

True to its name, Boulder Junction sits at the intersection of county roads M and K and is the natural path interconnecting the various villages and resorts nearby. It’s here that the road turns sharply east/west for a quarter mile then resumes its north-south path through the woods.

And it’s this quarter mile that has one of almost everything – but just one:  the gas station, the hardware store, the outfitters, the motel. It’s sort of like Sesame Street for the north woods.

Thankfully, there isn’t only one of everything.  There are two restaurants on this stretch – if you don’t count the hot dogs on the heat rollers for sale at the gas station – and they are very different, which is why they can coexist in this microcosm.  The Outdoorsman is for the posh outing. At least it aspires to be and doesn’t do too badly. We had a very nice dinner there on a recent trip, of which I’ll write more some other time, but they could invest in some air conditioning and a door for the bathroom that latches.  After dinner, go to the imaginatively-named Boulder Beer Bar and Restaurant  for the cold Leinie you passed up earlier.

The town also has its fair share of antique stores and ‘northwoodsy’ craft stores.  It’s worth going in to one or two of them for the experience though I expect you’ll soon be visually and intellectually gorged on all things related to loons.  Chances are good, though, that on any given summer weekend there’ll be a yard sale that has real wood furniture, and if you’re lucky, maybe an old Hamm’s beer sign that will make it worth a stop.

Bring your bikes, too.  There are several miles of great bike paths that run south from town along county road M.

Below are a few details to help round out your trip.

Where to eat:
The Outdoorsman Restaurant
10383 Main Street
Boulder Junction, WI 54512


Where to Drink:
Like anyone needs any help finding a place to drink in Wisconsin. Just stay away from anything that looks like it doubles as an icefishing house in the winter or a place that’s a ’50’s rambler in a residential neighborhood and you’ll be OK. If you still want advice, try:

Boulder Beer Bar and Restaurant
5509 County Road M
Boulder Junction, WI 54512


Where to Stay:
Northern Highland Motor Lodge
PO Box 347
Boulder Junction, WI 54512


Where to get gear:
Coontail Sports – also for bike, kayak, and canoe rentals
5466 Park Street
Boulder Junction, WI 54512