Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whining and Dining

In case you couldn't figure it out, I really, really, enjoy food. I especially enjoy a great dining experience, be it ever so humble. Two recent dining experiences left me whining.

I planned a lunch a few Fridays ago with one of my former bosses who's a trusted colleague and friend. Plus, he works right in the vicinity of the North End, one of the best places in the universe for a great meal. I was taking a vacation day and was between Boston By Foot tours, while he was merely taking his lunch break. We went to Ducali on Causeway Street, about which I have previously raved regarding their potato pizza.

We arrived at 11:40 am and were greeted by a friendly young hostess. We were the only ones there but were cheefully seated. I got to try Tower Root Beer (all jazzed up after reading about it in Edible Boston). I convinced my friend to split a green salad with me, which came out huge and wonderful. We each ordered a small pizza. We were both grateful for the salad, because it took nearly an hour - not kidding - from the time we were seated until the time we got our pizza. The hostess - who was also the server - visited us about 45 minutes into our wait to say the pizza would soon be ready, explaining that "you guys were wicked early, and the ovens weren't heated up yet."

Both pizzas, when they finally arrived, were perfectly delicious. But allow me this whine: Ducali -- your subtitle is Pizzeria. Your website is It's a Friday and you are open for business. How can you possibly imply that an hour-long wait for your main menu item (which I can get in 5 minutes at 15 other places in a 2-block radius) is my fault for showing up "wicked early"?? I know the economy sucks, but trying to save money on fuel for the ovens is just bad business. I'm sure my friend, who works steps away from your shop, will avoid you for a business lunch due to the ridiculously long wait. A shame, because your atmosphere and product are fantastic.

But Ducali, you are not the only place that apparently thinks saving money is worth angering your customers. I got together with another group of friends (members of the defunct Metropolitan Dinner Club, no less) to try out Woodward in the recently-opened Ames Hotel during Restaurant Week. I guess this could be more our fault as we naively trusted that RW is an opportunity for restaurants to attract business during slow periods like the heat of summer and to show off their creativity. By some illogical accounting, dinners are $33.10 per person for RW throughout the city. At Woodward, we discovered, food is served "family-style". We were told that the 4 of us must choose just 2 appetizers and 2 entrees to share; the only dessert choices were 2 items anyway. And the chef would proportion it all for our party.

Being agreeable types over a bottle of wine, we agreed and ordered our apps (cherrystone clams stuffed with chorizo and crispy pork belly with rhubarb) and our entrees (sea scallops over summer succotash and hanger steak with fries). The clams were presented proudly on a large platter. Exactly 4 clams. We each eyed the circumference of the clams and politely tried to select one that was not too many millimeters larger than another. Some minutes later, another large platter arrived with exactly 4 pieces of crispy pork belly. My piece involved two savored bites. Very delicious! Very tapas-ish and kabuki! Where is my food, I wondered!

Now for the kicker. Our first entree, proudly placed by the smiling waiter, was yet another large platter lined with a corn-potato relish and topped by - yes -- four sea scallops. Grimly and silently, each member of our party selected a scallop and a dollop of succotash. As we scraped the platter clean of vegetation, I finally asked whether this was a joke or what.

Unfortunately for us, it was "or what". Two platters of steak frites showed up with an OK portion of nicely rare steak and giant piles of fries and dressed greens. Our waiter explained the bizarre meal as the chef's idea of what constituted a "portion" over an entire meal. Plus, he declared, look at all those fries! And that corn succotash is really filling. Ah yes, I love paying thirty-three dollars for all the fries and corn I can shovel in.

The two dessert options were provided in individual bowls (2 servings of each) so that, to share, we had to dip into one another's bowls. We stopped short of telling the server that we had communicable diseases.

Again - a fun and lovely room with a lively atmosphere, and quite tasty food (especially that damn pork belly). Too bad a stupid and petty management decision to rip off the Restaurant Week Rubes left a bitter taste in our mouths.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Free books!

Well, my "give away" basket is now overflowing. Before I donate books elsewhere, thought my friends might want them. Just comment on the blog or FB, first come, first served.

Science Fiction: A bunch of Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort (loved all these)

Mystery/Noir: Dennis Lehane - Gone Baby Gone (ok, it's the only noir title I have right now); Alexander McCall Smith's "Ladies Detective" series 4 thru 6: The Kalahari Typing School for Men; The Full Cupboard of Life; In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (loved all these too, though "love" is a complicated word for anything Lehane writes)

Other fiction: Colin Coterill - The Coroner's Lunch; Cristina Garcia - Dreaming in Cuban; Victor Lavalle - Big Machine; Wallace Stegner - Angle of Repose (loved The Coroner's Lunch and really dug Big Machine - weird but good)

Non-fiction reference: Saveur's "Italian Classics Volume 2" - tiny recipe booklet; Zagat 2009 New Orleans guide; Steven G. Aldana - The Culprit & the Cure (lifestyle/fitness); Kellenberg and Anderson - Before the Story: Interviewing and Communications Skills for Journalists; Witt - The Complete Book of Feature Writing; Kane - The New Oxford Guide to Writing; Meyer - Pundits, Poets and Wits

History: Bruce Watson - Bread & Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream; Peter Earle - Pirate Wars; James Oliver and Lois E. Horton - Slavery and the Making of America

Other: Sebastian Junger - Fire (book of essays including one about wildfire and firefighters); Robert Lawson - Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos (a delightful narration of some of Ben Franklin's exploits and inventions that gives quite a bit of credit to a clever rodent, written 1939).

I'll hang onto stuff til Memorial Day, but then it goes!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Good stuff cooked and eaten recently

It all started with eating Alaskan king crab for Thanksgiving. I've been cooking a lot since then, but it's been much more modest in terms of cost and complexity. And traveling way too much but managing to find some very good things to eat. Among the highlights:
  • Several roast chickens, since around Christmas. Easiest non-vegetarian dinner for anyone with an oven, a pan, and a chicken. My method is to roast at 400 upside down (back side up) for about 75% of the cooking time, then turn it breast side up so the white meat doesn't dry out. You can also throw some taters in the oven at the same time. After/during carving, I eat some crackly skin on the sly and put the rest, plus the bones and giblets, in a freezer bag. Which brings us to...

  • Chicken stock. A good project for a snowy or rainy weekend afternoon. Takes time but honestly not that difficult. LaVarenne is my guide. And the house smells great. And if you have at least two freezer bags full of roast chicken carcasses, it makes incredibly good stock and then you can make...

  • Variations on Asian noodle soup, classic Eastern European Jewish chicken soup, or any other soup that benefits from a rich stock as a base.

  • Black-eyed peas, grits, biscuits, pan-fried okra, collard greens. All eaten on a recent trip through the south. Well worth the trip.

  • Broccoli. I craved broccoli after days of travel where green vegetables were not to be found. Craving - think vampire, but a vegetarian version. Lots of different methods for preparation but my fave is blanching in boiling water, draining, roasting in a 400 oven with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

  • Steamers, raw oysters, pasta with shrimp, and a steak dinner at my mother-in-law's house. I would live with her except I'd have to become a marathon runner to balance out the calorie intake.

  • Turkey and black bean chili. One of my favorite easy and healthy recipes that makes a huge amount (even when I size it down). Grated carrots and chopped celery might not sound like traditional chili, but I guess turkey isn't traditional either. Delicious and makes enough for several meals. Just have to be careful chopping the jalapenos...I can eat them but I don't enjoy getting the juice on my fingers or in my eyes.

  • Fried rice, lo mein, spring rolls, and curry chicken from a recent Chinese New Year celebration - all home-made. It's almost spring...time to go on a diet??

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Putting the "Fun" in Fundraiser

I just finished this flyer for a fundraiser for Perry's Tae Kwon Do competition team. SUCH a good idea...