A Classy Guy And Some Stir-Fry

Turandot: North China Gourmet Cuisine

John Trenalone plays Fridays and Saturdays, 6-9

1851 Esplanade

Turandot isn’t like some other Chinese restaurants. It doesn’t have a murky fish tank, with a single, depressed fish swimming back and forth. It isn’t dank, or poorly lit. It isn’t patronized exclusively by zombie-lumbering, morbidly obese clientele, squeezing into booths for an Orange Chicken salt/sugar/fat fix. (I don’t want to name names, but the place I’m thinking of’s name starts with a “G” and ends in an “inger’s.”)

It’s broad and bright, lit by huge skylights and a long wall of windows. There are beautiful traditional regalia on display. The servers are cheery and sweet and good at what they do. The diners are non-suicidal looking, even happy. The color scheme of mauve, maroon, and salmon-pink is terrible, true. But that’s part of Turandot’s unpretentious charm. And the food isn’t overtly toxic. In fact, it’s fresh and tasty.

But the reason that Turandot is my new fav go-to place to avoid human contact and read alone on a Friday or Saturday night—while hip people go to “shows” and college kids get drunk and date rape each other—sits on a little leather stool, behind a glisteningly-polished black Concert Grand piano.

His name is John Trenalone and he turned 80 a month ago. Mr Trenalone plays jazz standards from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, with a feather-light touch, a deep, intuitive emotional understanding. The music is tinged with melancholy. It’s the perfect music for watching the Esplanade traffic drift by in the rain. Mr Trenalone bobs his head here and there, emphasizing a note, but nothing ostentatious. When he works the petals, with polished loafers, it’s as if he’s chauffeuring a Bentley, easy on the gas, easy on the brake. I love his play.

I convince him to join me, during his intermissions. Mr Trenalone has white hair, dark brows, a broad, fleshy, handsome face, with strong masculine features: a good chin; an old fashioned nose—the sort they don’t make any more; a bottom lip that pouts out a bit, or pulls back into a little grin, his dark eyes twinkling.

Piano is all he’s ever known. He’s been playing since he was eight, and playing professionally since he was 16, when the owner of the piano bar where he was hired had to paint a mustache on him to make him look of age.

Mr Trenalone grew up in the Stockton area, where he once played for the likes of Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck, on a showboat that had been brought across the Panama Canal from Louisiana, and moored in the Stockton Deep Water Channel.

“I was told, when I moved here, that there was a nice piano in this place,” Mr Trenalone tells me, when I ask him how he wound up playing in a Chinese restaurant. And how does he avoid burning out on these old tunes? “I never play ‘em the same way twice,” he says. “Never.”

Mr Trenalone, so God Damn classy.

About Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff

View all posts by Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff
Former busboy, sauerkraut-mixer, and Japanese hair model, Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff is a writer and father of two, living in Chico. After quitting a job as an Erin Brockovich-like legal investigator, then hitting rock bottom in a scene that involved roommates, tears, nudity and police officers, the UC Berkeley graduate decided to go for broke (and he’s accomplished his goal!) in the exciting world of small town weekly newspaper writing.


  1. Jamie Trenalone says:

    Thanks for the great article Emiliano. I am living a little far away right now so I don’t get to hear my dad play too often. Felt like I was there listening! Learned something as well, never heard the Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck story. Thanks,

    Jamie Trenalone
    Cote d’Ivoire