Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rocks, Stocks, and a Smoking Barrel Grill

So my wife (The Potato Queen) and I are in the midst of our annual “BIG PROJECT”. This year it involves making a dry creek bed in the back yard. It is also acting as a sort of half assed French Drain, since we have had water problems (flooded basement twice in the past three years, resulting in us losing our insurance – Thanks Evil Erie Insurance Company!). We had to dig a 92 foot long, 2 foot wide, 8 inch deep trench mostly by hand. And then we had to fill that trench with Rocks. I got Rocks. Lots and lots and lots of Rocks! Five and a half TONS of them! Big ones. Little ones. Ones the size of your head. And some smallish boulders too. We’ve been joking about building a miniature Stonehenge in our yard. Or at least a really big stone circle, like they have in Ireland all over the place. Stonehenge is right out, but there will be a stone circle. We have a little one now, but I am trying to find a good spot to build a larger one. Because I am weird, and because I love all things Irish (except Bailey’s Irish Cream – yuck!). I may build one in the park near our house too and see if anyone notices.

And speaking of Ireland….I once met a man in an Irish Pub, who stopped me and my wife and asked “So, is this yer wife then?”. To which I answered yes. He then said “Well don’t fook it up!” One of my favorite stories. I’ve fooked lots of things up, but not my marriage, thank goodness.

And speaking of fooking it up…..I had a grand scheme on how to make piles and piles of money this year. Mostly by playing Apple stock. I expected a run-up to near $500 or so early in the year, and then some profit taking to bring it back down to $475 or so, and then a run-up to $550 by mid-year, and then maybe a drop during the slow summer months to $525, and then a rush up to a price of $600 at year-end. I was going to buy on the dips and sell when it hit my benchmarks. I did NOT expect it would go from $450 or so all the way to $640 without much of a break. I sold a third of my steak around $500, and so lost out on thousands of dollars of profit. I fooked it up. So now I am re-evaluating. It has dropped back to around $610 from the high of nearly $645. I think it hits $700 around Christmas now, but it may be range-bound between $600 and $630 for a few months. But the risk is that it breaks $600. If it goes below that it might even go back down to $575 from some fear selling and profit taking. I think I dip my toes back in and buy a few shares at $605 - $608 and then wait and see how earnings season goes before the usual summer slowdown.

And speaking of summer…..I am so ready for summer! In two weeks I’ll be in Miami. Chillin’ on the beach and drinking mojitos at Larios on South Beach! Also, I love to cook out, as I may have mentioned here a time or two. I own three grills. One gas grill (which I have nearly destroyed – more about that later) one kettle grill, and one barrel smoker. The latter is my favorite. I love to put a couple racks of ribs on there and maybe some sausages and/or a pork shoulder and make enough food for the entire week. Or to feed a bunch of people. Living in Virginia means I can grill/smoke nearly all year round. I used the smoker for the first time last week. Just one rack of ribs for me and the wife. They cooked for about 5 hours and came out fantastic. I would use the smoker all the time if I could. Chicken. Ribs. Sausages. Pork shoulder. Brisket. Ducks. If I can find some good beef ribs I may try them this week.

Which brings me back to rocks, sort of. Because I also need to replace the pavers on which my grills sit. I want to pretty up that area so that it isn’t an eyesore next to the cool dry creek bed. And I’m jealous of all the cool rocks my wife has now. So I am going to pull up the plain concrete pavers that the grills sit upon and replace them with something nicer from the local quarry. The guy at the quarry is going to laugh when he sees us again so soon. We’ve been there 3 or 4 times already to order or pick up the 5.5 tons of rocks for the creek bed. 5th time’s the charm!?!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Whacking the Holly. Or "Cut that Bush! Cut that bush! Cut that Bush!" Or "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"

I used to hate Peyton Manning.   As a lifelong Patriots fan how could I not?   I used to look forward to seeing him make "The Manning Face" when things went wrong.   Only I don't any more.   First I learned grudging respect for the man when he finally started beating the Pats in the playoffs.  Then I grew bemused and even amused by the proliferation of commercials he appeared in.   That grew into actully looking forward to those commercials.  Say what you will about him, he has a strange and appealing presence in them.    He certainly is much better at it than Tom Brady is.    Brady may be one of the best football players ever (as is Peyton) but he is not much of a pitch man.    I could see Peyton in one of those great old Milller Light commercials with Rosie Greer and Bob Ueker, but not Tom.    Finally I found myself actually liking Peyton.  His teams weren't as much of a threat to the Pats, and he was getting nearer the end of his career, and his commercials were funny.   Today I feel a bit sorry for him because he was released by the Colts and may never be the same quarterback he was becuase of injury.  But whether he plays, and plays well again, I will always remember one particular commercial he made in which he went to various businesses and cheered on the workers there.  Most famously he cheered on a butcher with the phrase "Cut that Meat!  Cut that Meat! Cut that Meat!" Wherever he ends up next year I wish him well (except if he plays against the Pats). 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dinner at Vermillion (or Olives Olives Olives Just Olives)

Tuesday night Mal and I decided to try a new (to us) restaurant, hoping to find ourselves a new special-occasion place now that 2941 is Not As It Was. And so off we went to Old Town Alexandria to try the highly rated and recommended Vermilion. We had a lovely time, but Vermilion will definitely not become our new Special Occasion Place.

The website and online menu led us to believe that the restaurant was a white-tablecloth venue. Instead, it was more rustic Colonial casual in style—cozy and attractive (especially in the bar), but not “dress up.” We snuggled on a sofa in the bar to enjoy a drink before our dinner reservation.

Vermillion has an impressive whisky menu, from which Mal chose a 15-year-old Balvenie. I decided to try some of the house cocktails. The King Street Lemonade and the Love Me Do both sounded better on the menu than they tasted in reality. But the latter blood-red concoction was worth it if only for the opportunity to toast with a glass of apparent sparkling True Blood. Mal tried the Paloma, a classic cocktail of herradura, lime, salt, and grapefruit soda, which he liked very much and I found incredibly over boozy (I don’t mind a strong cocktail, but I’ve got to have the booze taste better hidden). At this point, we paid our bar tab and moved onto our table.

At the table, Mal was impressed with the wine list. I decided to make one last attempt on the cocktail menu and ordered a hot buttered rum. Finally a win! The warm, spicy, sweet concoction not only satisfied a long-time curiosity, it was just delightful. If I had not already had two cocktails, I would have ordered a second.

And so the food: we started off with an amuse-bouche of lobster bisque served in a miniature beer mug, which even lobster-hating Mal liked very much. A basket of breads contained mild and almost sweet yeasty knotted rolls, and squares of a saltier bread, slightly seasoned (focaccia?)—both quite nice.

Starters: I went with the tasting menu ($59 for four courses) and so started with that menu’s appetizer of lobster tortelloni, which turned out to be the early peak of my meal. While the pasta was a bit thick, it was nicely textured, and the lobster was incredibly sweet and succulent. The menu described the dish as having davon crest chilies, lemon, fines herbes, and roasted shellfish broth, but I tasted no chilies and barely a hint of lemon, and the broth was replaced by a foam. Still, a nice little dish.

Mal ordered the tartare of Maryland beef, which was good, but also the first olive victim of the night. A generous portion of tartare was garnished in the center with a quail egg yolk, and a generous swipe of sauce decorated the plate. The sauce, however, turned out to be VERY strongly flavored Kalamata olive (pureed?), and an initial injudicious mixing of it into the beef resulted in the olive overwhelming the flavor of the beef.

Second course: Mal ordered the mixed local baby greens salad, which was very generous but, well, just a pile of greens with shaved parmesan. My second course was the line-caught virginia rockfish, with “orecchiette, chorizo, little neck clams, and mediterranean flavors.” While the fish itself was cooked beautifully, with a brown crispy skin and moist inside, the rest of the dish was a bit of a muddle: the chorizo was okay but appeared unexpectedly in the form of gray ground sausage. The clam was nice, the orecchiette was nice, but they didn’t really come together in any way. Unfortunately, the element that I suspect was meant to bind all the components was the “mediterranean flavors,” which turned out to be a powerful mince of olives that was not visually recognizable as olives (I initially took them to be the chorizo). The unsubtle and overgenerous portion of this “sauce” overwhelmed all other flavors, and I ended up leaving most of it on my plate. Unfortunately, that left the fish and pasta basically bare and somewhat bland.

Main course: Mal had ordered my fish a la carte and encountered the same issues I did. My main course was Maryland beef ribeye, baby potato confit, wilted mizzuna, local onions, and salsa verde—sadly, another disappointment. The slices of beef were cooked exactly to order, medium rare, but were surprisingly bland, without that delicious beefy flavor I was looking forward to. The potato “confit” turned out to be two little fingerling potatos that seemed to have been simply boiled and then hidden under a pile of (not wilted) greens. The salsa verde was another overpowering element whose over-strong flavor of parsely and olive eclipsed everything else on the plate. The one truly satisfying bite was the tiny whole carmelized onion, so dark it resembled a morel more than an onion. That was a tasty morsel.

Dessert at least ended the meal on a high note. While Mal decided to abstain, my tasting menu included figgy toffee pudding with sour cream ice cream and candied walnuts. The cake was like a fig newton that goes to 11, with a toffee glaze that complemented the moist figgy goodness. The sour cream ice cream was nice, although it didn’t have the tang I expected from sour cream. The dessert was quite yummy, and I was not ashamed to swipe the last bits of ice cream and cake from the plate with my finger (etiquette frowning on licking the plate in public).

Regarding service: we did a good bit of waiting between courses, with our server nowhere to be seen. However, when present our waiter was informative and gracious. No terrible complaints there.

And so we left Vermilion, sated if not completely satisfied. We will return, but with very different expectations. We’re now curious to see how the chef handles the more casual items on the bar menu, and looking forward to hanging out in the very nice bar (even if the house cocktails were uneven). Meanwhile, the search for a new Special Occasion Place continues.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Silence is Golden.....I Hope

My wife, my mother and I went to see The Artist the other day.    I have to admit that I was not terribly enthusiastic.  It looked like it would be just a gimmick; a silent and black and white movie.     Not that I dislike either.  I have watched and enjoyed several silent movies, including at least two that were referenced in The Artist. One of my all-time favorite movies, UP, goes all but silent (except for the score, which makes me weep pavlovian-like almost every time I hear it) for more than 10 minutes early on to tell you almost the entire story of the main character’s life up to that point.  I consider those ten minutes among the best ever put on film.  And I grew up watching movies mostly on a black and white TV, so color has never been a necessity to my enjoyment of movies.  At least two black and white films are among my personal favorites, Stalag 17 and Young Frankenstein.

My wife and my mother were both pretty enthusiastic about watching it though, so I went along.   And within a few minutes of the start of the movie I was totally hooked.  I may have to re-do my list of 10 favorite movies of all time. Is it deserving of a Best Picture Oscar?   I’d say yes, but I don’t have a vote.

The opening scene reminded me immediately of Metropolis, if only because of the science fictiony electrical doo-hicky the hero of the movie within a movie is wearing, with the requisite bolts of lightning coming off it. He is being tortured, and yelling “I won’t speak!  I won’t say a word!”.  And therein lies the problem for the actor George Valentin.  He is a silent movie star in a time when talkies are about to become all the rage.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about how George see his star fall with the advent of talkies, or how the young woman he accidentally helps get into the movie business becomes a rising star in the new medium.  Suffice it to say that while the material may be familiar to anyone who has seen Sunset Boulevard or Singin’ in the Rain, it is done with such wit, humor and panache that it makes said material new.   Jean Dujardin as George Valentin is a revelation.   He’s Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly all rolled into one, with a little Chaplin thrown in for good measure.  He is, I suspect, what Jim Carey always wanted to be.   You find yourself rooting for him right from the start, even as he descends into despair and near madness.   And Beranice Bejo isn't just another pretty face.  She is beautiful, yes, but she is also a terrific actress.  There is a lot going on in that face besides a pretty smile.  Her eyes convey a myriad of emotions without saying a word.   Like the Nora Desmond in Sunset Boulevard she and Dejardin don’t need dialog.  They have faces that tell you all you need to know.

Everyone involved in this film is terrific, from John Goodman to Uggie the Jack Russell Terrier, who steals every scene he is in.  Of course my dog could do all those stunts too.  He just doesn’t want to.  The score is terrific, among the very best I have ever heard.  My mother made a special note of it, and we all agreed that it would be tragic if it didn’t win an Oscar.

Near the end is one of my favorite moments in the movie.  A completely broken man now, George stands outside a men’s haberdashery, looking at a set of clothes in the window.   It is the white tie and black tails he used to wear in all of his movies.   You see his face reflected in the window, superimposed just over the collar of that suit of clothes, and for a moment you see a wry smile on his face, as he remembers the man he used to be.  It is an echo of the scene at the end of City Lights when Chaplin looks into the window of a flower shop, and remembers the little flower girl he once loved and lost.  Both are poignant moments, beautifully rendered and made special only because of the talent of the two great performers.  In both movies you sense that the director had a choice.  End there, with that poignant moment, and garner the admiration of reviewers who love a sad or enigmatic ending, or move on and give the audience the happy ending they want.

It won’t spoil anything I think to say that the Artist gives you that well earned happy ending, although things continue pretty grimly for George for a while longer.   How do they get there from that scene of a sad, broken man literally looking at the reflection of a past beyond reclaiming?   I Know, But I’m Not Telling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Also Mourning Our Favorite Restaurant

I feel like I’ve lost a good friend. Last week, Mal and I went to the newly reinvented 2941 to see whether our favorite restaurant could remain so after its transformation. Alas, the answer is no.

Until this January, 2941 features high-end French-influenced cuisine that was creative, innovative, beautiful, and just incredibly delicious. The dinner menu, apt to change any given day, consisted of an a la carte menu and a daily pre-fixe tasting menu. Every meal, every dish we had there was a revelation. In spite of our thrifty natures, we became regulars because it was simply worth every penny.

Come 2012, however, the restaurant closed temporarily for remodeling, not just of the physical restaurant but of the menu and overall mission. In place of our special occasion indulgence spot is now a high-end casual dining restaurant. And it’s fine. But no longer fine dining. And last week for the first time, we left disappointed.

The food was fine. For this restaurant where before, every dish rated WOW, that’s a huge demotion. Our “nosh” of deep-fried truffled mac n cheese was perfectly fried, but oddly bland, actually needing a taste of salt. On the plate, the bites appeared like nothing less than a gathering of tater tots, unadorned. Nothing to recommend itself visually.

Appetizers were also… fine. Mal was surprised to find his composed chicken salad appetizer was closer to a pub-sized portion than to the restaurant’s more traditional small appetizer size (we were inventing our own tasting menu by ordering and sharing from each menu category). The salad itself was more reminiscent of pub food, with large deep-friend chicken overwhelming the sprinkling of frisee and practically obscuring the poached egg (perfectly cooked) buried beneath the chicken. The chicken hunks were so dominant, in fact, that we initially thought the wrong plate had been delivered—a far cry from the delicate, balanced constructions we’d become used to here. My appetizer, a lobster and foie gras risotto, was also fine… but while the lobster pieces and (admittedly) generous chunks of foie gras were lovely, the rice itself had no special appeal, no outstanding flavor.

Mal and I shared an appetizer portion of “The Forest Delicacy,” an open-faced ravioli of chanterelle with a sauce of mascarpone and parsnip, and this one disk recaptured the flavor of The 2941 That Was: pasta parchment-thin, with the sweetness of the sauce perfectly balancing the deep earthy flavor of the mushrooms, and a lovely presentation. It was the only moment where I had to close my eyes to slowly savor each bite.

Entrees, however, were back to fine, and even a bit off. Mal 's veal was cooked perfectly to order, but was plated awkwardly and extremely oversauced. My bay scallops came in a pasta plate, several dozen sweet morsels swimming in a citrusy sauce with a scattering of diced Buddha’s hand confit, and a few microgreens on top as a garnish. It was tasty, but felt oddly unfinished.

We chose to skip dessert, but were brought one anyway (unexpected gratis treats appearing to carry over to the new 2941 from the old). It was… fine: the pistacio “milkshake” with granita was quite tasty, as was the yoghurt panna cotta, but the accompaning dry baklava was begging for honey. The sweets that came with the bill—formerly rich homemade chocolates, delicate one-bite tarts, and the like—were two warm glaze beignets that looked like nothing less than two honey-dipped doughnut holes. I found them tasty, but far from exciting, and Mal declared he’d just as soon get his Munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts.

The bar, at least, gave us no cause for complaint. 2941 has instituted a new happy hour and added a TV tuned to sports television, and the bar has become noisy and crowded, making it harder to find a seat. But the bartenders are as friendly and attentive as ever, and still inventing new cocktails that tempt even this mostly teetotaling customer to drink.

For that matter, the entire staff remains attentive, friendly, and knowledgable, and we at least were glad to greet the faces we have become familiar with.

In general, the new 2941 is not bad, nor is it fine dining. It’s… fine. The restaurant clearly has a different diner in mind with its new menu. They will hopefully be very successful with the new direction. However, this old regular hopes that they don’t completely give up on their loyal old fans, and that after the awkwardness of the first few months of NEW, that they find a way to accommodate both old and new fans on their menu.

Friday, February 17, 2012

When Change is a Bad Thing

My wife and I went to out favorite restaurant last night.   We went with high hopes, but in the end were both saddened and disappointed.

2941 became our favorite restaurant about 3 years ago, when we went to it for our second wedding anniversary.   We had talked about going for some time because it was literally in our neighborhood, being just a mile or so from our house, but (at least for me) the menu was a little intimidating, and I couldn’t justify the price for food I may not appreciate.  And I was a bit skeptical of a ‘High End” restaurant that was in the basement of an office building in the suburbs.

But we both love food, and over the past 5 or 6 years we have made it something of a goal to improve our pallets.  We also watched a lot of Top Chef and did a lot of drooling.   We started picking out restaurants that made the top 50 in the Washingtonian Magazine rankings.    We were never disappointed.   We had some fabulous meals, from Contemporary American and French, to Italian, to Thai, and everything in between.    I ate things that made my mother shudder when I told her about them.   Raw, live scallops.   Beef marrow.   Sweetmeats.   Squid.  And many others.

Finally we decided it was time to try 2941, which at one point had reached as high as #2 on the listing of best restaurants in the area (behind only The Inn at Little Washington, which we have not tried yet, but will one day).   I was still a bit skeptical because of the location, but it kept getting such rave reviews that it had to be tried.  Oh, how I now begrudge those lost two years that we could have been regulars there, as we would become from that very first night!

My first impressions were that, despite being in a bad location the restaurant was quite attractive.  It was quiet, with a nice elegant bar off to the side of the dining area, beautiful artwork on the walls (naked ladies are always a plus!) and chandeliers made of Murano glass hanging from the ceiling.   One entire side of the restaurant has glass walls too, so that you could see the small park and pond next to the building.   At night there were lights highlighting some artwork too, which added to the ambiance.    The wait staff all wore black suits and ties, and a sommelier could be seen going from table to table recommending wines  from a vast list to go with your meal.

We were both immediately impressed with the bar.  Whoever the mixologist was he had talent.   We both tried one of their specialty drinks, and were glad that we did.    In future visits I would also try one of their impressive number of single malt scotches.   They have everything from 12 year old Glenfidich (moderately priced) to 21 year old The Balvenie (super expensive, but so worth it).    The bartenders at 2941 have all been attentive, generous and easy to talk to.    The bar at 2941 may not be a place where everybody knows your name, but they remember the faces of those who have been there, and always make you feel welcome. Cheers to them.

On to the food!  

I wish I could remember everything we ate that first night.   We decided that as this was a special occasion we would treat ourselves.  And what better way than by choosing the chef’s “tasting menu”.   This menu consisted of 5 courses.  An amuse bouche (in french, a “small bite”), an appetizer, a fish, a meat and finally a desert.   While my wife does not drink wine I chose to have the wine pairings with my meal.  A small (3 ounce) glass of wine that went with each course.  

From the beginning we were astonished.  The food was as good as anyplace we have ever been, including 1789 in Washington DC and American Seasons in Nantucket Massachusetts.  The presentation was beautiful,  and the food was sublime; restrained where restraint was called for and bold where boldness was necessary.  You could tell they were using great ingredients, even if you couldn’t identify them all.  And a lot of those ingredients were local, which was a plus.   I remember in particular the “Lobster Roll”.  Let me say now that I do not like lobster (being the worst New Englander ever) but this was among the very best things I had ever had up to that point (and still has a place of honor in my memory).  Fresh lobster (no bread here; this isn’t Virginia Beach after all) rolled up and placed on a plate with Rhubarb gelee.   Rhubarb!   Something my wife says can be found on the side of the road in West Virginia!    So simple.  So beautiful to look at.  So incredibly delicious.   And this was an appetizer!  

Time and again my wife and I would find excuses to go to 2941, despite the chance that we might (and have) drop $300 on a single meal, even before the tip.  Time and again we would marvel at the quality and inventiveness of the food.    I grew up with very simple tastes in food, but in large part to 2941 and my wife’s insistence that everything must be tried (twice!) I have grown fearless about food.  It is one of the few things that I have no hesitation spending money on, because a good meal can nourish not only the body, but the soul as well.

Shall I wax rhapsodic about the black sea bass that I loved so much that I had to have it on two consecutive trips (which were very close together, as they changed the menu sometimes DAILY, leaving some things on the menu for no more than a couple of weeks at most)?   Or I could tell you that the truffle popcorn at the bar was so good that my wife and I started talking about how we could steal some of it.   Or I could regale you with stories of how we would go “just to have a drink at the bar” and ended up eating dinner there instead because we made the mistake of looking at the menu.   And almost from the beginning we were nearly always given something complimentary, either an additional amuse bouche at the beginning of the meal, or more often an extra desert (or two) at the end.   And oh, the deserts!    Truffles with gold leaf!  Homemade marshmallow!   Baklava!  Oh, my!

So it was with mixed emotions that we heard a couple of months ago that they were changing the format of the restaurant from high end French cuisine to more moderately priced Mediterranean.    We understood though.  In a tough economy they must have been having a difficult time.    The restaurant was pricey, and badly situated  (again, in the basement of an office building in the suburbs!).   They must have hoped that by making it a little more reasonably priced, and by making it a slightly more casual place (no more suits and ties for the wait staff, just vests, and a TV in the bar where there were now happy hours from 4-7) it would draw in more people.

It seems to have worked.  My wife and I have been there twice since they re-opened in mid January.  Once just for a drink and again last night for dinner.    The bar is still very nice, but is now more crowded and  louder to the point where they have constructed a barrier between it and the dining area to minimize the noise level there.   And the specialty drinks are still great, as are the bartenders (one of whom let me have a tiny drink of Absinthe for free when I asked if they really had it;  something I had always wanted to try partly because it used to be illegal).   No longer are most of the people at the bar waiting for their table.  Now most of them seem to be there just to have a drink and maybe something off the new Bar Menu.  

As for the dining room, I miss the white table cloths.  I miss the waiters and waitresses being dressed formally, which made me always want to wear a suit and tie also, so as not to feel underdressed.   I like the new light fixtures, but they aren’t as cool as the old ones.   At least the naked ladies on the wall remain.  

But the food.  We decided to make our own tasting menu, since they no longer offer that option as a regular feature of the menu. To say we were disappointed would be to understate things.   Part of the problem is that we had had so much mind-bending food there that anything less was bound to be disappointing.  But there were some serious flaws.   We won’t even go into the missing artesian breads (a small thing, but small things become larger when they are gone).    

We shared the Mac and Cheese Croquettes.   They were ok, but something I might have expected at a very good pub.   They lacked seasoning (salt), and they came very plainly presented on a small white plate.  

Next we each had an appetizer.   Lobster and fois gras risotto for my wife, and a  De-composed Chicken Salad for me.    Both were a bit underwhelming.   My wife had had similar dishes elsewhere and been wowed by it.  Not here.    My Chicken Salad was made up of three small deep fried chicken croquettes (more deep fried food?  At 2941?) with pancetta, greens, and a poached egg.   It was too big a portion for an appetizer.  The chicken was ok, but again, nothing that you couldn’t find at a good pub, and the poached egg (which was the best part of the dish) was hidden at the bottom, instead of being on top of the greens where it belonged.  And again, it was not well seasoned.  The pancetta and the chicken both added salt to the dish, but there was no pepper to offset it, making it out of balance.

Then came the pasta dish.  We shared an appetizer portion of homemade pasta with chanterelles and mascarpone.   This harkened back to the best of 2941.  The pasta was perfectly made, and the earthiness of the mushrooms was perfectly balanced by the cream sauce.   This was a keeper, and gave us hope.

Then came the entrees.   Bay scallops with Buddha Hand confit for my wife, and veal with fois gras for me.    Again, I have to say that while they were fine, they were not Fine Dining.    The scallops were very small (not unusual with bay scallops) but seemed a little overwhelmed by the confit and the citrus-y sauce they were paired with.  My veal was cooked perfectly medium rare (as requested) but the presentation was a jumble, with everything just piled up in the middle of the plate,  and it too was overwhelmed by the sauce, which was both too sweet and too salty for my tastes.  Like many high end restaurants 2941 never had salt and pepper on the tables.  It was never needed.   But for the third time in 4 courses I felt the lack of them.    And the over-saucing was disturbing.   There was simply too much of it, as if the chef was afraid to let the food stand on its own.    There was no balance or restraint shown.

We both declined desert, but as is their want they provided one (or again, two) complimentary.  One was a pistachio “milk shake” which was actually pretty good (at least my wife, who ate most of it, thought so).  The other was a “beignet”, which was actually no more than a honey-dipped donut hole.   On the whole I could have done without.    Or gone to dunkin’ donuts for some the next morning.

Had we eaten at someplace else I think we would have thought “it was ok, but not some place we need to rush back to”.  And while the cost of the meal was less than we were used to it felt overpriced.    Another first for 2941.   Until last night I had never balked at the bill.    The experience was always worth it.   Not so last night.  

Last night felt like something beautiful and special had been taken from us.  2941 was our “special” place.  A high end restaurant right in our own little town where we went to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, and New Years,  and…well,  Thursday.  A place where we felt special, because we were eating special food in an elegant setting and being served by true professionals.  And let me digress here by saying the wait staff is still excellent.  We had a new waiter last night, who was very good, and saw a couple others who had served us before (one of whom came over twice to say hello and ask us how we were doing).   The new 2941 is a nice restaurant, but while we will probably still go there once in a while (after all, they still have that awesome popcorn at the bar) we are both resigned to the fact that we may need to find a new special place.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bill and Tom, meet Randolph and Mortimer

As the last seconds ticked off the clock in Super Bowl XVI a lot of things went through my mind.  Chief among them was “Nnnnnnoooooooo!”  It felt like the death of everything, sports-wise.   The improbable run of excellence of all 4 of the Boston teams began with a the 2001 Patriots, who came out of nowhere behind a quarterback that nobody else wanted, and featured a bunch of guys that other teams had given up on.   Since then the Patriots have gone from beloved underdogs to the reviled overlords of the NFL.    Belichick was too arrogant, they said.  Brady was too pretty.   Bob Kraft too powerful.   And they just won too much.  And then along came “spygate”, which cast the Patriots, and Belichick and Brady in particular, as villains. 

And what have the Pats done since then?   Won more games than any other franchise (including an 11-5 year with a guy at quarterback that had not played a game since HIGH SCHOOL).    Been to two Super Bowls.   Yes, they lost them both, and people point to that and say “see, they can’t win without cheating!”.  But they got there, which is a lot more than can be said for most teams.  And they lost because they played a team that is exceptionally well coached, and matches up very well with the Pats, and because Tom Brady may only be 95% of what he used to be, and because other coaches have maybe closed the gap with Belichick in terms of game-planning.  But they will still be a very good team for years, and will have a chance at another title before Brady calls it a career.  I tell myself that, and it feels  true. 

And yet in my heart… the aftermath of another heartbreaking defeat I could not handle the truth.  All I could see in my mind’s eye is Tom getting another year older, and maybe a little less effective than he was when we were winning, and a team that may not have as much heart (which this year’s team had in spades) or talent (Wes Welker could be gone, as could Matt Light. - two huge parts of the team)  next year.  If they don’t get to the SB again next year Tom will be yet another year older.   And then maybe their window of opportunity will close, and they’ll just be another good team that might be good enough to make the playoffs, but not to win it all.   And when Tom eventually retires maybe they just go back to being an also-ran.  This is what kept me up the other night, wondering if we’ve seen the end of the Patriots as a serious contender.   It reminded me of the scene late in the Eddie Murphy/Dan Ackroyd movie “Trading Places”.   They both are less than sympathetic characters in the beginning of the movie.  In fact, they’re both jerks, before being redeemed and made to be the heroes, defeating the evil Duke And Duke (sort of like how Eli and Tom Coughlin were not very popular, even in New York, until they won the SB while defeating the evil Belichick and Brady).  In the penultimate scene in the movie Eddie and Dan corner the market on Frozen Orange Juice, using stolen, proprietary information that was supposed to be used by Duke and Duke brothers (yes, a sort of spygate for the commodities market) , the firm for which Eddie and Dan had worked until they were framed and disgraced by D&D.   But D&D were given false data after Eddie and Dan stole the information.   The result as the market closes for the day is that Eddie and Dan are made fabulously wealthy.   The Dukes on the other hand, are bankrupted, and lose their seats on the NYSE.   One of the Dukes has a heart attack on the floor of the exchange.  The other Duke rants “ You can’t do this to us!   There’s been a Duke on the board of this exchange for 100 years! We built this exchange!   Turn those machines back on!   Bring back those traders!  Nnnnoooooooo!“

That’s how I felt on Sunday night, as if the Patriots had been kicked out of the top echelon (losing their seats in the NFLSE  - NFL Stock Exchange - as it were).   As if Bill Belichick had been left stunned to the point of near death by the experience, while Tom Brady (or his wife) was left to rant at the heavens for the return of something that is lost and gone:    “You can’t do this to us!   We’ve been the best team in this league for more than 10 years!   The popularity of this league is due in large part to us!  We built this league!   Turn those lights back on!   Bring back the Giants so we can play this game again!  Nnnooooo!”

My head tells me that the Patriots will still have more chances to win the Super Bowl though.  That you can’t keep B&B down forever (as was the case with the Dukes. In the epilogue of another Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America” they are two destitute bums living on the street,  only to get a second chance when someone hands them a stack of money and one of them says “we’re back!).    Would I trade places with a fan from Green Bay, or New Orleans, or even New York?  No.   Who knows what will happen in the future.  Maybe someone will hand the Patriots a stack of money, in the form of a stud defensive lineman, or a great wide receiver, in this year’s draft.    If so, like the Dukes, I believe that Belichick and Brady will be back.