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Planning to rent a car at Miami's airport? First, you'll have to walk, walk and walk

WALK, THEY SAID: After my flight from Newark to Miami, I picked up my luggage and set off for the rental-car center, using elevators, ...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I had to return home to New Jersey to find a perfectly cooked fillet of Alaskan Halibut

A moist, delicious Alaskan Halibut Fillet at the Saddle River Inn was prepared with kale, shiitakes, ginger and lemon ($35).
At a celebratory dinner, my wife chose a quartet of grass-fed Australian Lamb Chops with hummus, ratatouille and salsa verde ($45), and took two of them home.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- In Homer, Alaska, which calls itself the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, restaurant cooks like to dip small pieces of this incredible fish into batter and deep fry them.

Then, they throw some french fries on the plate, and charge $19.95 for the modest meal. At least, this method guarantees the strips of snowy halibut stay moist and juicy.

But at fine-dining restaurants in Alaska, a perfectly cooked fillet of wild-caught halibut isn't guaranteed, as we found out during a 15-day vacation in the 49th state this month.

So, you can imagine my surprise and delight last week when I ordered Alaskan Halibut at the Saddle River Inn, a fine-dining restaurant just 11 or so miles from my home and 4,576 miles from Homer, and was told Chef/Owner Jamie Knott always cooks the fillet medium-rare.

As someone who eats only seafood, that's just how I like my fish prepared.

The menu said the halibut would be served with kale, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, lemon and soy-brown butter, so I just asked the kitchen to hold the butter. Delicious.

The service and the rest of our meal on our first visit to the romantic BYO, where we were celebrating my wife's birthday, was nearly perfect.

I toasted her with a bottle of Kirkland Signature French Champagne (Brut) from Costco Wholesale in Wayne.

Our one real complaint: No one offered to take my straw hat, so I put it on the floor next to our table, along with my wife's handbag.

My wife started her meal with the Colossal Crabmeat Salad with Napa cabbage, snow peas, kiwi and sesame dressing ($18).
My appetizer special was called Hamachi ($19) -- diced raw Japanese amberjack or yellowtail with mango, crispy quinoa and wonton wafers.
We were offered another special, colossal Wild Shrimp, for $7 each. We ordered two, and the one in the foreground, flavored with Thai Chili, was tender, but the other one was tough.
Before our meal began, we received a gift of gazpacho from the kitchen.
We ordered 2 hard cheeses for dessert ($10) -- Piave Vecchio from Italy and Manchego from Spain.
Another gift, biscotti, were perfect, because we don't eat desserts like the chocolate and cheesecakes listed on the menu. A small pot of French Press Coffee ($5) provided two cups of strong coffee, some of the best I've ever had.
DETAILS: The Saddle River Inn is at 2 Barnstable Court in Saddle River; 201-825-4016. Open for dinner only Tuesdays to Saturdays. BYO. Reservations strongly recommended. Website: New American Cuisine.
There are also tables on a second level, along the sides of this former sawmill and basket-weaving factory that dates to 1840, but they are up a flight of stairs. New owners took over the fine-dining French restaurant in 2013. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

If you think N.J. is weird and expensive, spend a couple of weeks in the 49th state

The sun didn't set until after 10 p.m. in Anchorage during our Alaska vacation, Aug. 1-15. We came out of the movies in an Anchorage mall at 10 minutes to 10 p.m. on Aug. 12 to see this mountain aglow -- and a landscaping crew working nearby.
Alaska likely offers more natural beauty than any other state -- panoramas of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, rivers, lakes and wildlife that make you feel as if you are part of a PBS "Nature" program as it is being filmed.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Just about everything costs more in Alaska.

A gallon of regular gasoline for our rental car was selling for $3.19.9 cents, and outside Anchorage, you'd have to pay $3.49.9 cents -- this in a state with billions of barrels in oil reserves.

Yet, we saw more big, gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups than any other vehicle.

Although Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrids and 4-wheel-drive Subarus also are popular, Anchorage, the biggest city with about 298,000 people, has only two electric-charging stations, one of them at a Ford dealer. 

I saw only one all-electric car, a Tesla Model X, and no homes or buildings with solar panels.

Meanwhile, officials in the city and borough of Juneau, the state capital, announced they will use $1.5 million in federal funds to buy an electric bus, but it won't replace a polluting diesel-powered transit bus until 2022.

That's what I call a glacial pace.

Eating out 

When we wanted to take a break from the complimentary buffet breakfast at our hotel, the Hyatt House in Anchorage, my wife and I spent $30 to $45 for that first big meal of the day, plus a tip (we don't eat fast food). 

Lunches for 2 cost about $50, and in fine-dining restaurants, 2-course dinners of wild Alaskan salmon, halibut, rockfish, shrimp or crab with wine or beer easily topped $100, again before the tip.

Low taxes

The port city of Anchorage doesn't have a sales tax, and Alaskans don't pay any income or statewide sales tax, so we wondered what essential services they forgo. 

For example, I hardly ever saw recycling bins in public places outside Denali National Park and Preserve, home of North America's highest peak.

Large junk yards filled with rusting vehicles, tractors and machinery aren't shielded from the road, and one Alaskan we met said homeowners can't get rid of their old cars, which is why we saw so many of them left to rot away in front yards. 

Costco, Sam's Club

And prices have always been high, according to our driver/guide on the Anchorage Trolley Tour who noted the opening of the first Costco Wholesale in 1984 lowered the cost of living in the city. 

In fact, the closing of another discount bulk retailer,  Sam's Club, in Fairbanks, Alaska, "was a thunderclap and a symbol of an anxious new economic chapter for the state," The New York Times reported this month.

"What comes next?" said Christina Wright, who runs a business, Cakes by Christina, from her Fairbanks home and saw the price of ingredients increase by 30 percent" after the store closed at the end January, The Times said. 

Luckily for Fairbanks residents, Costco will move into the space left vacant by Sam's Club, a competitor, later this year, adding a third Costco warehouse and gas station to the two in Anchorage.

Losing population

The most startling statistic I saw about Alaska as I was planning our vacation is how few people live in a state that is 2.5 times bigger than Texas.

In fact, more people live in insanely congested Bergen County, N.J. (about 948,000) than in Alaska (about 740,000), which shares a border not with Washington State but with Canada.

Of course, that's why residents of the 49th state refer to the continental U.S. as the "lower 48."

Unemployment, at 7.1%, is the highest in the nation, according to The Times, and more people have moved out in the last 5 years than have moved in -- for the first time since World War II.

That certainly explains all the Alaskans we saw trying to catch wild salmon in rivers and streams, including Ship's Creek in Anchorage, where it would be so much easier to buy beautifully trimmed fillets of fresh Sockeye or Red Salmon at Costco for $9.99 a pound, and pick up a can of Bear Repellent while you're there.

'That's Alaska'

Every time our guides offered a gee-whiz fact about Alaska they usually ended with, "That's Alaska" or "It's the Alaska Way."

For example, we were told repeatedly as we passed lakes filled with single-engine planes on floats that many Alaskans have pilot's licenses to reach towns and villages, including Juneau, that are off the road system and accessible only by air or ferry. 

We even saw one section of Anchorage, which sprawls over 1,706 square miles, with single-engine planes tied up behind houses on a large grassy strip residents use as their runway.

Now, that's Alaska.

We took an Alaska Railroad sightseeing train to the port of Whittier, where we boarded a 26-glacier cruise. This blue iceberg was one of the eye openers. But don't forget a warm jacket, if you go out on deck to snap photos. On the way back to Anchorage, the train crew alerted us to a pod of Beluga Whales that seemed to be keeping pace with us.
We saw the most wildlife on an 8-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali National Park, but got closest to this moose and her calf (not shown) while walking in Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
A caribou framed by a wild flower called fireweed, above, and a red fox, below, in Denali National Park.
One of the views from an Alaska Railroad sightseeing train with dome cars that took us to a rail station near the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a luxury hotel outside the national park. Each dome car has a bartender, and tasty lunches are served on the lower dining level, photos below.
I asked for a Seafood Salad Sandwich with the bread on the side ($14.95), and drank Kodiak Brown Ale from the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Alaska ($7.25), below.
Our sightseeing train crossing a trestle bridge.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Stage is set for end of Trump presidency after lawyer names him a co-conspirator

Marian Kamensky, a cartoonist for satirical magazines in Europe, labels his vision "Guilty," showing prison jumpsuits for lawyer Michael Cohen; ex-Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, who was found guilty this week; and President Trump, but he is getting far ahead of events.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Suddenly, events have caught up to Donald J. Trump, the New York developer, con man, liar and racist who many believe stole the 2016 presidential election with the help of Russia.

Michael Cohen, the lawyer who worked as Trump's fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court this week to several violations of campaign-finance laws in 2016, and named Trump as his co-conspirator.

Referring to Cohen's plea, The Washington Post's Fact Checker said on Friday:

"There's no question Trump lied -- repeatedly, intentionally, over more than a year, enlisting top aides and advisors to further the deception -- to cover up the hush money he arranged during the 2016 campaign" for two women who had separate affairs with Trump.

What is astounding is that the report is the first time the newspaper used the word "lie" to describe a statement from President Trump.

The Post's Fact Checker is a prime example of how the news media failed us during the 2016 campaign, and after Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.

No reporter from that august publication, The New York Times or any other medium has confronted Trump and asked him to "stop lying to the American people" about everything he's done, especially his rollback of Barack Obama's policies.

"The president has made a staggering 4,229 false or misleading claims since taking office to the end of July, according to our database," Fact Checker's Salvador Rizzo reported.

"In many of those cases," claimed Rizzo, "it's not possible to tell whether Trump was intentionally fibbing or simply careless or wrong."

"Careless"? Give me a break.

Mueller and Trump

Meanwhile, on Thursday, The Times published a long article on how the Mueller investigation might play out for Trump:

From Jeff Darcy, staff cartoonist for Cleveland.com.
From David Fitzsimmons, cartoonist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Don't forget to pack your cholesterol meds to counter butter, cream in Alaskan dishes

These beautiful slices of fresh, wild Sockeye or Red Salmon were a gift from the chef at Arctic Sushi in Anchorage, Alaska, after he prepared nine pieces of the melt-in-the-mouth salmon as sashimi, below, instead of the nigiri I had ordered.
Great seafood often can be eaten raw or cooked gently with just a spritz of fresh lemon or lime juice. The meal at Arctic Sushi included a large California Roll.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- If you truly love seafood in all its many forms, you know fish, clams, oysters and other items don't even require cooking to be delicious.

Take the melt-in-the-mouth slices of raw Sockeye Salmon -- one of the world's greatest fish -- I enjoyed at Arctic Shushi in Anchorage on the last day of our 15-day vacation in Alaska.

For the second year in a row, I picked our vacation destination based on the seafood available there, because I stopped eating meat and poultry about 8 years ago.

Last August, my wife and I spent 8 days in and around Reykjavik, Iceland, which offers an astounding variety of finfish from the pristine waters of the North Atlantic, plus the extraordinary langoustine or the tails of small lobsters.

The level of cooking in fine-dining restaurants and bistros in Iceland is unusually high.

You don't see as many finfish on Alaskan menus, but Iceland doesn't have fresh, wild salmon.

Meanwhile, the port of Homer, Alaska, lays claim to being the Halibut Capital of the World (the flatfish can weigh up to 500 pounds), and the state is justly famous for its enormous Red King Crab. 

So, you can imagine my surprise when fine-dining restaurants in Alaska offered many heart-healthy fish or seafood dishes prepared with lots of artery clogging butter and cream, both of which I've tried to eliminate from my diet.

When I cook seafood at home, I rely on extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, pesto, Dijon mustard and fresh herbs to add flavor to fish, crabmeat and lobster.

I also found that I had to ask kitchens in fine-dining restaurants in Alaska not to overcook my fish, with mixed success.

And without fail, casual spots like Wild Catch Cafe in Whittier, where we took a 26-glacier cruise, and Cosmic Kitchen in Homer turned out juicy fish sandwiches or sliders with wild salmon or rockfish, a flaky white fish we don't see on the East Coast. 

And the wildly popular Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage offered delicious lunch salads with smoked Alaskan Salmon and Pacific Shrimp.

You also won't have to worry about butter or cream in your food at Tequila 61, a stylish Mexican gastropub downtown, where you can get guacamole and a trio of overstuffed wild-salmon tacos for lunch, washing them down with the Negra Modelo beer on tap.

You'll still need your cholesterol medicine, though, especially if you choose fine-dining options.

Bridge Seafood Restaurant, a showcase for Alaskan seafood in Anchorage, is built over Ship's Creek, and from many tables you can watch anglers trying to catch wild Coho or Silver Salmon, below. 

At Bridge Seafood on Aug. 8, an entree of Halibut was listed on the menu with Citrus Chive Butter ($43), and I asked the server to eliminate that and for the kitchen to cook the fish medium-rare. The fillet came with the large disc of butter melting on top, and another server whisked the plate off the table to have the kitchen make the adjustment.

A disastrous meal

I had my worst experience on our second visit to Bridge Seafood Restaurant in Anchorage, where entrees come with seven complimentary seafood and other salads.

That's why entrees are priced higher there than at other fine-dining seafood restaurants, but you can eat only so much salad.

My wife ordered a half-pound of Red King Crab Legs ($42) with a double portion of vegetables (and, of course, those seven free salads).

I ordered the Halibut Fillet cooked medium-rare with roasted potatoes, vegetables and salad bar ($43), but without the disc of Citrus Chive Butter listed on the menu. 

Well, it came with the butter, and another server grabbed it off the table and took it back to the kitchen.

Instead of just scraping off the butter, the fillet went back on the grill to "cook" it off, and this premium fish came back overcooked and dry. 

I know I should have sent it back, but I just wanted to cry, especially when the check came and I saw an insert about Chef Patrick Hoogerhyde's Halibut with Wild Mushroom, Leeks and Lemon Vinaigrette (hold the butter).

Why wasn't that entree offered to me instead of the bare, dry, overcooked filet of Halibut?

Another problem was that on our first visit to Bridge Seafood on Aug. 1, we decided to share a special starter combo of Halibut, Rockfish, Crab Leg, Crab Cake and Alaskan Oysters ($40), and then hit the salad bar for another $19.95 each.

But when we returned 7 days later, the a la carte price of the 7-salad bar had dropped to $12.95. 

Best seafood in Anchorage

My vote for the best seafood dishes in Anchorage goes to Simon & Seafort's Saloon and Grill, hidden away in the back of an office building with a gorgeous view of the sound. 

Reservations are a must, and the only negative is the din during the evening service, when conversation from contented diners enjoying wine and beer with their food combines with the shouts of an expediter calling out orders and the clamor of pots and pans in the open kitchen.

We had our last big dinner at Simon & Seafort's, my pick for the best seafood dishes in Anchorage. My wife and I split two entrees, a sinful Seafood Fettuccine with Scallops and Shrimp ($30), above, and crab-like Halibut Cheeks with Asiago Cheese, below, supplemented with Norton Sound Alaskan Red King Crab Legs, not shown ($63).

Before our shared entrees, I loved this appetizer of raw Ahi Tuna Poke with passion fruit coulis and sweet soy reduction ($16).
On an earlier visit, crispy tortilla chips came with another Simon & Seafort's appetizer, Alaskan Ceviche (King Crab, Halibut and Sidestripe Shrimp) for $18.

Turkey Red

We stopped to have dinner at Turkey Red
in Palmer, Alaska, on the way back to Anchorage after driving to the Matanuska Glacier in Susitna.

Turkey Red's owners say they operate the leading fresh-food restaurant in the farming community, serving high quality, local and organic ingredients.

But the specials board displayed inside the door showed that many dishes were prepared with butter or a cream sauce. 

My server told the kitchen I had a dairy allergy when he ordered my Rockfish Special ($25) without butter (I don't).

He did the same for my appetizer of Scallops with Pesto and Bruschetta ($15).

My wife had another special, a grilled local Pork Chop with a mustard and white wine-cream sauce, apples and butternut squash ($26), but had to send it back to be refired when she discovered the thick chop was cooked medium-rare.

A juicy Thai Wild Salmon Slider and Blackened Rockfish Slider, served with sweet potato fries ($10.25), was the special of the day at Cosmic Kitchen in Homer.
I asked for the delicious Salmon BLT Salad at Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage to be made without bacon ($16.95), but when I found two bones around an inch or longer in the smoked fish, they took the item off my bill.
My wife's salad with Pacific Shrimp, pineapple and clementine sections was $15.95, but she didn't like all of the corn starch used to thicken her cup of Salmon Chowder ($7.95).

 Next: If you think New Jersey
 is weird and expensive ....

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Trump wages campaign to make America white again in image of his beloved Russia

From cartoonist Ed Wexler. See more at PoliticalCartoons.com.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Thanks to satirist Bill Maher for reminding us how firmly President Trump has rejected the melting pot in favor of the despot, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

In fact, a popular drink in Putin's realm is the White Russian, made with vodka, coffee liqueur, cream or milk, the acerbic comic noted on his HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Trump and other white Republicans are waging war on people of color, whether they live in the United States or just want to come here.

Nearly all of Trump's official actions have been to roll back laws and regulations enacted or adopted during the administration of Barack Obama, our first black president, many of which helped minorities.

Payback for tax cut

His one big legislative accomplishment -- the Trump tax cut -- is helping the GOP by "unlocking tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives and corporate interests that benefited handsomely from it," The New York Times reports.

"Billionaires and corporations that reaped millions of dollars in tax cuts are pumping some of that windfall into the Congressional Leadership Fund, a 'super PAC' ... that is flooding the airwaves ... with increasingly sharp attacks on the Democratic candidates vying to wrest control of the House [in the Nov. 8 elections]," according to today's Page 1 story.

For example, casino magnate Sheldon Anderson gave $30 million to the PAC after his company, Las Vegas Sands, reported a nearly $700 million windfall from the tax law this year, The Times says.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with Russian athletes -- all white -- who won medals in the 2018 Winter Olympics (Russian government photo).
From Steve Sack, editorial cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
From cartoonist Milt Priggee, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. The news media appear to be losing their titanic struggle with President Trump, who calls them the "enemy of the people." Despite the attacks, reporters are falling all over themselves to be the first to disseminate the president's latest lies, whether contained in a tweet or shouted over the roar of his helicopter. It's a sad day for the Fourth Estate.

Friday, August 17, 2018

3-hour airline delay, dog pooping in busy hotel lobby mar first days of visit to Alaska

After the Gray Line tour company bounced us from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge in Alaska at the last moment, we were taken to the Denali Park Village Resort, but the cheaper hotel lost power just before we arrived, and a dog ran into the darkened lobby not long after that. 

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series of posts on our 15-day vacation in Alaska, which is often called "The Last Frontier." 


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- If you're planning a vacation in Alaska, American Airlines is absolutely the wrong airline to use.

No. I'm not talking about how a malfunctioning gauge in the cockpit of our American Airlines plane in Phoenix delayed our arrival by more than 3 hours, so we staggered into the lobby of our Anchorage hotel long past midnight.

You're probably wondering what we were doing in Phoenix, Ariz., catching a connecting flight to Alaska instead of in San Francisco, Seattle or some other northern city?

That's the problem with American, which has hubs in Dallas, Texas, and Phoenix, Ariz., and routes its connecting flights to Alaska through those southern cities.

I chose American because I'm a member of its rewards program, but my wife and I ended up enduring four of the longest, noisiest and most uncomfortable flights we've ever experienced, despite spending more than $500 to purchase extra legroom on all four segments.

14+ hours to Alaska

Flying time between Newark and Phoenix on July 31 was listed on my itinerary as 5 hours 33 minutes. Then, the connecting Phoenix to Anchorage flight was to be another 5 hours and 41 minutes.

The layover was listed as only 50 minutes or so, but once we were aboard the flight to Alaska, that cockpit gauge started acting up, and the maintenance crew contacted their counterparts at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

Here is how the pilot stated our dilemma:

Was the low hydraulic pressure real or was it only the gauge that was malfunctioning?

After 90 minutes, cabin attendants gave passengers a chance to return to the terminal, but warned the flight might leave without them.

The exodus began, mostly from steerage -- those cramped seats, six across, in the back half of the aircraft. 

Later, all of us were told to deplane. The aircraft wasn't going anywhere.

Back in the terminal, airline employees apologized and said sandwiches were being prepared. 

Then, another aircraft materialized, and we were told there wasn't enough time to prepare sandwiches, but we'd get snacks.

In the end, we left more than 3 hours late, arrived in Anchorage well after midnight and called for our Hyatt House shuttle to pick us up at the airport.

Old and new aircraft

The return flights on Aug. 15-16 were listed as 6 hours 20 minutes to Dallas from Anchorage, and 3 hours 31 minutes to Newark from Dallas, but we beat those times on each segment.

Still, we had four flights on newer and older aircraft -- all of them packed -- with free entertainment on some, but not on others.

I foolishly followed the advice of a travel writer, who said if we book the aisle and window seats, the airline wouldn't sell the seat between us.

That never happened. 

And sitting behind the bulkhead separating you from first class has only one advantage; you can use the first-class lavatory, but will have to bring your own sandwiches, and then endure salivating over all of the premium food and drinks served to those passengers.

When the lights finally went back on at the Denali Park Village Resort, a cheer went up from guests waiting in the lobby.

Bounced from hotel 

We had our first day at leisure in Anchorage, but on Aug. 2, we boarded a rail tour that I had booked through Gray Line Alaska, a division of Holland America and Princess Cruises.

The total price for travel in dome rail sightseeing cars to and from Denali National Park and Preserve, two nights in the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and one night in the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge was $1,940.14 for two.

Meals and ground tours were extra. But we weren't told that Gray Line routinely overbooks this tour.

As our sightseeing train approached the rail depot near Denali on Aug. 2, the Gray Line representative announced our lodgings weren't guaranteed, and we would not be staying in the Denali Princess, a luxury property outside the national park. 

Instead, we were bused to a cheaper hotel, the Denali Park Village, where the lights and air conditioning had gone out just before our arrival.

Our room was in another building, and we had to schlepp our heavy suitcases up to the second floor.

The toilet in the cramped bathroom didn't flush and the TV showed only static, so we beat a hasty retreat to the hotel lobby to wait for restoration of power.

We could have had dinner in the hotel dining room, but were told the kitchen couldn't cook anything; we didn't eat until more than 2 hours later.

While we were sitting in the lobby, a dog ran in and pooped on the floor, but I'll resist saying how appropriate that was after American Airlines and Gray Line let us down during the first days of our vacation.


I called the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge myself, but was told they were fully booked that first night.

An assistant night manager, a woman named Michelle, eventually was able to find us a large king-bedded room and bathroom with a walk-in shower for the second night.

The Gray Line Alaska rep didn't lift a hand for us, and never apologized.