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WTN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 12:31 am

TN: Bob Ross
Janet and I recently celebrated our 37th Wedding Anniversary. Over the years we've devised a variety of templates to celebrate family events -- birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.. The Wedding Anniversary Template involves an exchange of cards, an exchange of small gifts, flowers from me, and dinner for two at a fancy restaurant. It's fun to modify The Wedding Anniversary Template from time to time -- last year in addition to the basic paradigm, I filled the atrium with 600 helium balloons, for example.

This year we followed The Wedding Anniversary Template exactly -- two very nice cards, a tie destined for our joint 60/70 birthday party at Disney World next December, a bouquet (disappoining at the get-go; splendid a day later), and 10 eight-foot quarter rounds. The restaurant was Veritas in Manhattan: the glass vases on the shelves, the flowers, the high ceiling, the comfortable chairs and tables -- the Veritas setting is quite wonderful.

Tables at Veritas are about 12 inches apart. We had a twotop. Roger Ebert and a lady who seemed to be an old friend shared the twotop to my right. Ebert's apparently gained a hundred pounds since I saw him on TV two years ago, and he was loud and outspoken -- waving off a book the lady offered him: "That's something I've known everything about ... for years." Ebert spoke of personalities: Woody Allen, Lorraine Bracco, the Italian political and movie scene, all in a dynamic and loud voice. His companion had a soft questioning voice. They seemed to enjoy their dinner.

Walter Cronkite, Joanna Simon and another lady of a certain age shared the fourtop to my left. [Janna Simon and Cronkite are "keeping company" according to Wikipedia.] Cronkite's sonorous, reassuring voice helped me through a rough patch a little later in the proceedings.

[Its quite usual to be seated next to celebs and near celebs in NYC upscale restaurants. Janet is always careful to ignore them and give them their privacy; I'm always on the lookout for reasons to BS with them -- much to her horror. Usually I strike up a conversation while Janet's in the Ladies and she'll join happily in the conversation on her return. That night she made the necessary visit as we entered the restaurant, and before I could seize on either of the opportunities to talk with the celebs on offer. I suppose it's pretty rude to listen and report on overheard conversations, but then when people speak in loud or sonorous voices 16 inches away from me, how am I to block them out? Aren't we are all on public display in such a setting?]

Janet had read about Veritas's signature Braised Short Ribs and our son David had released a glowing personal review of the dish. Janet chose the roasted asparagus special as a starter to go with the ribs. [Veritas has a fixed price of $76, with only a very few supplementals.] I chose beef as a main course to make the wine choosing easier, and Chef Scott Bryan's lineup for our twotop was as follows:

Amuse Bouche
Smoked salmon with pureed cauliflower
[Absoluely superb, the salmon very fresh and lightly salted, delicately smoked and with firm fine grains, the cauliflower elegant with hints of Northern India.]

Wild Mushroom Ravioli
mascarpone, tarragon and hon-shimeji mushrooms
[Superb -- the essence of forest floor.]

Roasted Asparagus
hon-shimeji mushrooms in a white sauce
[Superb asparagus and mushrooms, a little heavy on the sauce.]

Tender Braised Short-Ribs
parsnip purée, porcini mushrooms, glazed carrots & barolo
[Delicious vegetables and mushrooms, and half the boneless ribs were falling apart good, the other half were overcooked and just a bit burned. The Veritas staff couldn't have been nicer about offering a substitute, but Janet was content with the properly cooked half. (Neither of us would recommend this signature dish to others.)]

Grilled Dry Aged Rib-Eye Steak
haricots verts and red wine jus
(Excellent beans and quite a nice rib eye, which might have been trimmed a bit better, but the center portion was beautifully cooked and delicious.)

The wine? Ah, the wine.

The Veritas wine list is massive, printed on double sided parchment in a multipage book, which makes fascinating reading for a wine geek. It's worth checking out the website; the whole list is online there, and you are encouraged to call ahead and order your wine if you would like it decanted. You can also buy a copy of the parchment list for $70; allow two weeks for delivery. I particularly liked the description in the front matter of how the wine list was put together: "Veritas is all about having a great time with food and wine. We hope the wines in this book will help you do that."

We found a number of Turleys on offer, one of Janet's favorite producers. Janet was intrigued, searched the rest of the list, especially for the one Burgundy she's ever really enjoyed, a 1990 Domain Ponsot Griotte Chambertine, unfortunately available only in magnum at $880.

Instead, Janet chose:

Turley 1996 Black Sears $345 (1*)

Tim Kopec is the Wine Director at Veritas. Tim showed me the wine bottle, I asked Janet to look at it, she nodded, Tim went off and returned with the empty bottle and the cork which he placed on a little silver tray. The wine was in a beautiful clear decanter, deep red and glistening, and Tim poured a bit into a beautiful Riedel glass. He offered it to me, I passed it over to Janet.

Janet smelled, Janet sipped, Janet frowned. My heart sank. I took the glass and sniffed. Cardboard. "No fruit" said Janet. "Corked" said I. "No, just no fruit", said Janet. Tim took the decanter away and said, "Let me taste it in the back." He returned in a couple of minutes: "Well, it's not corked, but there's something wrong with this wine -- there should be more fruit -- it's out of balance." Janet said: "It's not corked, but it should have more fruit. It's over the hill."

That wine was corked. I could smell the cardboard. My blood pressure rose. "Well, maybe I'm overly sensitive to TCA, but there's cardboard here." Tim: "We want you to be happy. I'm very sensitive to cork as well. Let's try another bottle so you'll enjoy your evening." Janet: "It's over the hill Bob -- it's not corked."

But, but ... what about the cardboard? ... and then I heard Cronkite's voice -- calm, soothing, "They had six flavors of ice cream ... don't you remember. No cones ... they weren't on the menu ... but they had cones too." And the lady who wasn't Joanna Simon said "We had to sleep on the floor that night, don't you remember Walter." I could remember the cardboard smell ... but I also remembered the Cuban missiles and that same calm voice from so long ago -- and relaxed. Somehow it no longer mattered that neither Tim nor Janet thought the Turley was corked.

Tim returned with another bottle of:

Turley 1996 Black Sears $345 (1*)

This time Tim showed the bottle to Janet, she nodded, Tim opened the bottle, Tim decanted the bottle somewhere out of sight, Tim returned, and poured an inch in each of our glasses. Janet sipped and frowned. I picked up my glass. I sniffed from a foot away. I put it down. "This wine is corked," I said. Janet said: "It's not corked, but there isn't any fruit." Tim sniffed my glass. "It isn't corked, but it's badly out of balance -- it's acidic -- there's no fruit -- there's something seriously wrong with this bottle too. But it's not corked." My blood pressure rose again, and then I heard Cronkite's voice: "Strawberry. Vanilla of course. And Cherry. I remember cherry."

I remembered a terrible day in November long ago and that same soothing voice. "It's corked" I muttered to myself, but my blood pressure subsided as Cronkite rumbled on.

Janet and Tim decided on a replacement wine, Tim opining that people thought the Jackass Hill was superior to the Jackass, and he believed the younger vintage would have more life:

Martinelli 1999 Jackass Hill Russian River $220 (3*)

The Jackass Hill smelled pretty good -- although after you've smelled two corked wines, I'm not so sure when that your sense of smell recovers. Janet said she was embarrassed to refuse two bottles of wine. Tim said it wasn't our fault, the wine was flawed, we shouldn't be upset, he wanted us to enjoy the evening. Janet made Tim laugh with sympathy as she described three corked 1982 Bordeaux we had opened from our own cellar in honor of a friend's birthday three years ago.

We didn't enjoy the Jackass Hill as much as I thought we should -- the fruit seemed a bit subdued. Janet didn't finish hers, and I didn't finish mine. But that wonderful Cronkite voice rolled on in the background -- everything would be all right so long as he kept talking, even if the Jackass Hill wasn't up to expectation. Janet and I chatted about everything and nothing at all; she was particularly pleased that Ted and I had painted the quarter round while she got dressed for dinner. Janet looked enchanting that night. Cronkite's voice was nice -- but listening to Janet was so much nicer. Who cared about the Jackass Hill?

The Roger Ebert party left. They played the New York City game -- Whose Credit Card Pays? Ebert moved first (an AmEx Business Green), the lady moved second (an AmEx Business Gold). The lady handed Ebert's card to him. Ebert took it and threw it back into play. They smiled at each other. Stalemate!

The lady checked to see how much Ebert was tipping before she filled out her credit slip, then checked again after he totaled his slip. Was she weak in math? Did she want to be sure she didn't overtip and embarrass Ebert? The joys of people watching. :-)

I watched the lady who wasn't Joanna Simon enjoy her dessert. Janet and I studied the dessert menu. Walter Cronkite and Joanna Simon got up to leave, and I pulled the table back so the lady who wasn't Joanna Simon could get off the banquette she shared with Janet. The lady thanked me, and I asked her how she like the Lemon Meringue Tart. "It was delicious", she said, "light as a feather with a little crunch at the end, and a hint of lemon all the way through." "Good," I said, "We'll order one."

She must have been a journalist: "How do you know it's good? You don't know me," she said. "Ah", I said, "but I watched you eat every last bite, and then you rubbed your fork over the plate to get all the flavor." The lady who wasn't Joanna Simon smiled at me, and she wished me good night.

The Pastry Chef at Veritas is Dalia Jurgensen. For dessert Janet and I had:

Warm Apple Tarte Tatin
vanilla ice cream, macadamia nut brittle and butter rum sauce
[Lovely apples nicely under cooked, crisp chewy brittle, a marvelous sauce, all melded together into a delightful concoction, accompanied by a tiny Krumb Krakken cookie, or at least that's what my Norwegian mother called that type of cookie.]

Lemon Meringue Tart
Graham cracker crust
Green tea puree
[Light as a feather, a little graham cracker crunch at the end, Meyer lemon hints cascading. Just as the lady who wasn't Joanna Simon promised.]

Janet had a Cappauchino and we each sipped the dessert wines recommended by Tim Kopec:

Burge Family, Vintage Port, Barossa, Australia 2003 (4*)
[Smooth as velvet. "Velvet trousers", I thought, but that's Burgundy, isn't it?]

Brisebarre Vouvray Mouelleux Loire France 1989 (4*+)
[Flinty, limestone, honey sweet, lovely long finish.]

Our waiter delivered a plate carrying six lovely little cookies, two each of three different kinds. Janet and I shared one of each -- delicious little things. We asked for a "cookie bag" to take the remaining three cookies for Ted, our friend who was driving us. Veritas's staff delivered a bag filled with a dozen more cookies.

Ted was delighted with the food from Veritas. He reported that he liked the warmed over rib eye steak, but he said he devoured those 15 cookies "with great joy".

Madeline (she asked me not to use her last name in this report) who works in the coat check room, said: "I've been here for over a year. 98% of our guests enjoy their visits. They almost always plan to come back."

And so shall we.

Regards, Bob

Note: I've sent copies of this tasting note to Walter Cronkite and to Roger Ebert at their websites, and to Veritas by email. I'll update the note if there are any interesting or amusing responses.

Walter Cronkite Personal Blog -- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-cronkite/

RogerEbert.com -- http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage

Veritas -- http://www.veritas-nyc.com/

For the "keeping company" quote, see Wikipedia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Cronkite

And although she plays only an incidental role in this tasting note, if you are interested in an upscale New York City apartment, check with Joanna Simon -- http://www.foxresidential.com/prof_deta ... broker=246

B.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bill Buitenhuys » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:22 am

What a great read, Bob! It sure was fortunate to have the calming influence of Cronkite so close to you.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:58 am

Thanks, Bill. Cronkite was fun, but frankly Janet was so much nicer. We really had a great evening -- that quarter round was the best anniversary gift I've given her in years. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Sam Platt » Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:54 am

Nicely written Bob. I have to admit that I would likely be too intimidated to send wine back at a place like Veritas. I probably would have kept the second bottle even if it tasted like sewer water. The food sounds delicious.

Some years ago my wife and I ate near Roger Ebert at an Italian restaurant in Chicago. Ebert was fine, but a man in his party was obnoxiously drunk. The guy kept shouting something that sounded like "BREAK THE COFFAZILLA!", whatever that meant. Finally he was escorted out. Ebert and the others remained behind, and were in no real hurry to finish and join their inebriated companion.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 11:06 am

Thanks, Sam.

Sometimes I'm a little hesitant about sending wine back, but Janet's a real New Yorker and that's never a problem when she's with me -- if she doesn't like it, the restaurant always takes it back. :-)

[I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and dreamed for years about living in New York. Even now, every time my plane lands at JFK or LaGuardia, I feel like I'm home. Even married a New York girl in part because I thought it would keep me there.

Like so many of the surprises in marriage, it turned out that Janet couldn't wait to move to the burbs. In a funny way, I've got the worst of the two worlds -- but as time has gone on, I've seen the benefits of being close to both farms and the City.]

I can't emphasize enough how great the staff at Veritas was about the wine -- they really did want us to be happy with it. And I would say that is generally true in New York City -- I can't remember a restaurant that's given us any trouble with accepting a wine back we didn't like.

Not that anyone gives Janet much trouble about anything! :-)

Thanks for the nice words, Sam.

Regards, Bob
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Dale Williams » Tue Apr 18, 2006 4:42 pm

Very nice story! I confess I almost missed it, as I have little interest in Martinelli Jackass hill, I'm so glad I peeked.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Rahsaan » Tue Apr 18, 2006 6:27 pm

I can't remember a restaurant that's given us any trouble with accepting a wine back we didn't like.


That's interesting. I can sort of see the justification in high end restaurants where they want/need you to feel like you've had a magical experience that was worth the heavy expenditure. But in more "mid-range" restaurants do they really take back wine just because you don't like it?
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Hoke » Tue Apr 18, 2006 6:42 pm

Do mid-range restaurants take back wine? Many of them do, Rahsaan. Might surprise you how many make that their policy.

I don't think it is to the degree that Veritas maintains...but that's because most restaurants (or rather most restaurant personnel, who are poorly trained if trained at all) don't have an enlightened business sense to do it.

Still, more and more, it's becoming fairly common.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Rahsaan » Tue Apr 18, 2006 6:50 pm

Do mid-range restaurants take back wine? Many of them do, Rahsaan. Might surprise you how many make that their policy.


Really? Even if it's not corked? Seems kind of silly to me. But, I guess it's sort of like when people complain about the food being "too spicy" or "too cold" or whatever, they may just have idiosyncratic tastes but to the degree the restaurant can promote good customer service they will try to serve those people/take back dishes, etc..
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Hoke » Tue Apr 18, 2006 7:26 pm

Rahsaan wrote:
Do mid-range restaurants take back wine? Many of them do, Rahsaan. Might surprise you how many make that their policy.


Really? Even if it's not corked? Seems kind of silly to me. quote]

Then perhaps you are not suited to the restaurant biz as a career? :)

Seems eminently reasonable to me as a customer. Might seem eminently reasonable to a restaurateur who understands good (and bad) word of mouth and knows the worth of a steady customer (and only happy customers are steady customers).

I don't believe that silliness about a customer always being right. Quite often they are wrong. But they are the ones who decide to leave you the money, so they do have to be catered to (within reason). Our ideas of what's within reason might differ.

Let me ask you a question: You read Bob's post, right? What was the worth of that post to Veritas? If Bob had screamed about the way he was treated by the rude sommelier and manager, and at the prices he was paying, what would that have meant to Veritas?

And why should the price range change the level and quality of service anyway?

Okay, that's, like, four questions...
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Rahsaan » Tue Apr 18, 2006 7:42 pm

I know, I understand the whole customer service/keeping people happy and returning and spreading good reviews. And I also know that I'm not cut out for a career in the restaurant business.

And why should the price range change the level and quality of service anyway?


Two reasons.

1) Isn't that the whole reason you are paying top prices? For a superior level of food, ambiance, and service? Isn't it wrong to expect the staff at Subway to pull out my Plastic Formica chair for me before I sit? (Assuming those chairs aren't bolted into the floor)

2) Rightly or wrongly I assumed high end restaurants were working with somewhat different margins, and while I understand it can be difficult for them to make profits, they have to be prepared to remove china if it is tarnished, discard food if it is not pristine, etc. I.E. make decisions about short-term losses to maintain their image and reputation as top quality places. Middle-level restaurants work a more pressured game, with less room in the budget for broken glasses, imperfect carrots, returned wine, etc. No?
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Hoke » Tue Apr 18, 2006 8:01 pm

Rahsaan wrote:I know, I understand the whole customer service/keeping people happy and returning and spreading good reviews. And I also know that I'm not cut out for a career in the restaurant business.

And why should the price range change the level and quality of service anyway?


Two reasons.

1) Isn't that the whole reason you are paying top prices? For a superior level of food, ambiance, and service? Isn't it wrong to expect the staff at Subway to pull out my Plastic Formica chair for me before I sit? (Assuming those chairs aren't bolted into the floor)

2) Rightly or wrongly I assumed high end restaurants were working with somewhat different margins, and while I understand it can be difficult for them to make profits, they have to be prepared to remove china if it is tarnished, discard food if it is not pristine, etc. I.E. make decisions about short-term losses to maintain their image and reputation as top quality places. Middle-level restaurants work a more pressured game, with less room in the budget for broken glasses, imperfect carrots, returned wine, etc. No?


See, there you go being all reasonable again.

As to 1, yes, of course you are correct. You pay higher prices and you expect greater levels of service, or at least, fawning. It's only wrong of you to expect the Subway staff to pull out the chair if they've led you to believe that would be part of the Subway experience. But they don't, so you can't complain about the level of service there. That's part of the contract you made.

As to 2, again you're correct, although one could argue that the difference at the mid-range level could very well be in the service. Actually, I think it's in the overall quality of the experience, and service is simply a part of that, albeit an important part.

I've had great experiences even in fast food places, where the level of service, or attentiveness of staff, exceeded my expectations. I've had mediocre experiences in some high end places where they met the basic expectations but certainly didn't justify the prices I was paying. And I've had horrible experiences in some high end places where they treated me with condescension and downright rude behavior, falling far below my expectations (in most cases I suspect that was the fault of a person or small group rather than the owner/manager, but still it relfects on the entity for allowing that to happen).

So, sure, when I go to Gary Danko's place, I expect everything to be spot on and everyone to be both polished and gracious. And if it is, I rave about it and go back. If it isn't, I don't rave and don't go back, and might even trash the place to my acquaintances.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Henrick » Tue Apr 18, 2006 8:09 pm

I almost missed it too Dale, and like you, I am glad I peeked in. With this guy we probably ought to just read the post no matter the subject?
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:20 pm

"I'm so glad I peeked."

I'm glad you did too, Dale. Thanks so much for the kind words.

Regards, Bob
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:37 pm

"That's interesting. I can sort of see the justification in high end restaurants where they want/need you to feel like you've had a magical experience that was worth the heavy expenditure. But in more "mid-range" restaurants do they really take back wine just because you don't like it?"

You're really making me think about that question, Rahsaan. I suppose our experiences are not very typical. We have a big cellar and we are very lucky to have many BYOB restaurants in our area. So, if we go out and buy restaurant wine, it's normally at a high end restaurant.

I'm addicted to asking for suggestions from the wait staff -- many of my friends wonder why since I've studied wine so intently. My reason is simple: the sommelier should know the wine list and the food much better than I do. And Janet is very clear about the kinds of wines she likes. Normally, we would take the best recco of the sommelier -- and if the wine is different from what he or she described, of course we feel justified in sending it back.

In a mid level restaurant, we follow the same process, but if we're doubtful, we would ask for a taste if one is available. In NYC and Northern New Jersey, they normally are, at least in the $35 to $50 range, or a bit higher.

In inexpensive restaurant, we keep what we get or order something else. Most of the places we frequent will offer to replace the wine if we don't like it. I'm not sure why that is, but it's the same for the food.

And, of course, there's give and take -- Janet had no hesitation in refusing the wine just as the sommelier urged us to do so.

But, she didn't return the ribs, even though she didn't really care for the half she ate, and neither of us could eat the part that was slightly burned. The restaurant staff urged Janet to get something else, but she was content with half a portion.

I'm sure some of this is just our age and experience. When I was courting Janet, I took her out to fancy restaurants all the time. Until I ran out of money on our fifth date, and she had to lend me half the fare.

She said it was time for her to start cooking dinners for me, so "we" could save money -- Boy, I was a goner then and there. :-)

In other countries, we would never send back food or wine, and probably we wouldn't do so in other parts of the US unless we were at a really upscale restaurant, or in a touristy location like DisneyWorld or Las Vegas.

But in northern New Jersey and in NYC -- we're at home, and both we and the places we go to accept back food and wine pretty easily. Somehow it just seems natural to both of us -- the restaurants want us to be happy and to come back.

Regards, Bob
Last edited by Bob Ross on Wed Apr 19, 2006 2:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:42 pm

"With this guy we probably ought to just read the post no matter the subject?"

You mean you don't make it a practice, Bob. You're breaking my heart! :-)

Regards, Bob

PS. Thanks. B.
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by James Roscoe » Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:58 pm

Bob,
You are quickly becoming a "must read" poster. I too almost skipped your post. What a great night. While I never expect to eat at such a high end restaurant, it's nice to read about real people who do. Congratulations on the anniverary by the way. What did you do to deserve it?
Cheers!
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Wed Apr 19, 2006 2:24 am

"Congratulations on the anniverary by the way. What did you do to deserve it?"

Luck, James, just great good luck. (I have to admit I've been asked that question before. :-)

Thanks for the nice comments.

Regards, Bob
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by James Roscoe » Wed Apr 19, 2006 10:30 am

Bob,
Going on twenty-six years myself, I'm not sure luck has anyting to do withit. I think it involves persistence, courage, faith, trust and most of all love. I suspect you have the right formula. Congratulations again. Keep up the good work.
Cheers!
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Re: TN: '99 Martinelli Jackass Hill, couple of sweeties.

by Bob Ross » Wed Apr 19, 2006 10:35 am

"it involves persistence, courage, faith, trust and most of all love."

You hit that exactly right, James, thank you very much.

Regards, Bob

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