Conductor only gets better

  • Article by: BARBARA FLANAGAN
  • Updated: November 5, 2010 - 2:58 PM

Re: Skrowaczewski, restaurants and the month of November.

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Book cover for ''Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski," by Frederick Harris Jr.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, our wonderful conductor laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra, turned 87 last month and is going stronger than ever. His recent stint on the conductor's podium at Orchestra Hall was a knockout. Not only did he conduct Brahms' First Symphony with great creative vigor and style, but he also took on his own composition -- the new version of his Passacaglia Immaginaria -- to show his spectacular ability. He seems to have grown and regularly improved himself.

In years past, Stan, or Skrovy as some call him, was adept at mountain climbing and speedy downhill skiing; I guess he doesn't indulge anymore. But we will find out in a new book about him, ''Seeking the Infinite: The Musical Life of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski'' by Frederick Harris Jr.

The book begins almost at the beginning -- in Poland, Stan's native land and that of his wife, Krystyna. It covers the dramatic Nazi years of World War II and the later Russian occupation. When I met the Skrowaczewskis when they first arrived here in 1960, they were charming but cautious. The years have changed them somewhat, but they remain two of our very special people and friends.

•••••

Bar La Grassa on N. Washington Avenue recently was named one of the best restaurants of the year in a prestigious food magazine.

So we went with our San Francisco visitors and I will say it was good -- make that very good. For the record, I ordered something I have had often over the years -- fettuccine Alfredo. My first bite of it was of the original at Café Alfredo in Rome about 50 years ago.

Bar La Grassa's was almost on a par. And they do an outstanding chicken, all deboned and pressed. Even though we had to accept a reservation at 5:30 p.m., we will go back.

•••••

It took us a little longer to warm up to Il Gatto, the spot that has replaced Figlio. You remember Figlio, or you ought to. It was a dandy place in Calhoun Square, right at the corner of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, where for 23 or so years it fed us splendidly. Then its owners, Parasole Restaurant Holdings, decided to change. Il Gatto ("the cat" in Italian) was the replacement.

The first and second times we ate there, we were dissatisfied. We did not return until I read that Parasole decided to make some changes and brought in Tim McKee. McKee not only presides over La Belle Vie, but holds the 2009 James Beard Best Chef: Midwest title. On the side, he advises owners of other restaurants.

A big guy who looks like a Scandinavian, McKee, wearing his chef whites, roamed Il Gatto on the night I dined. I had to ask him his name when he stopped at the table. He seemed to be greeting and even serving the tables. We had already ordered when he stopped by, but he seemed to approve of what we were eating. And when I pushed him a bit, he admitted to creating the Mint Fazzoletti, a dish of handkerchief pasta, braised lamb, tomatoes and olives ordered by my husband, who ate every bit of it.

As for me, well, I was overjoyed to see the words "Can't Get Over Figlio?'' on the menu. And there, for my delight, were some of my old favorite dishes. I ordered one -- the Tortellini Baronessa -- and it was tasty as ever.

OK, so I am old-fashioned, but Parasole has shown that if you must change, do it with wit and a great chef. Bravo!

•••••

November is a good month except for one thing. It's too late in the year -- and too cold -- for baseball. So why does the World Series fade into November nowadays? Too many teams? Too long a season? Overlong playoffs?

I would like to take it back to late September and early, very early October.

Just wishing.

•••••

Finally, as winter slips in, my wishes include the obvious:

Drive with headlights on most of the time.

Don't forget to use turn signals.

Don't text while driving.

Don't drive while on your telephone.

Did I forget anything? Oh, yes, don't smoke, please. And enjoy!

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