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February 12, 2006

Vegetate: Cozy Consumables

Abstract: Anytime a new vegetarian restaurant opens in DC, it piques my interest. I've been wanting to go to Vegetate since it opened, and finally decided to make it a Restaurant Week outing along with Ryan and Huyen.

Players:Huyen, Ryan and Viren.

Prologue: To Cliché Or Not To ...

I hate to start a narrative with a cliché, but ...bah, who am I kiddding? My stated antipathy towards clichés is nothing but a facade to hide myself from the inevitable harsh critiques. "Viren started off with a cliché!" would go the cry. "He used the oft-worn phrase a mite too much" will be whispered in the dark, dank recesses of many an IM chat. All the while, I will be cowering and berating myself for being such a fool and destroying my reputation. Of course, then I come to my senses and realize that neither my reputation nor my readers' critiques are as towering as envisioned. So, back to the cliché that needs must start my akward prose:

Act I: Weather and Grammar: Intersections

It was a dark and stormy night. This was brought to my notice when I opened the door to let Ryan and Huyen in. Apparently between the time I went to the gym in the morning and the time to leave for The City (yes, it's in caps...us poor suburbanites must speak of DC with the proper reverence). The wind was blowing something fierce creating miniature whirlwinds of snowflakes which were melting 1.12 inches above ground (shades of thiotimoline!). My immediate thought was that this was perfect weather for a nice mug of hot chocolate -- unfortunately, that wasn't quite in the books. So, girding our loins, metaphorically speaking, we set off for Vegetate. This particular destination was an easy one since Ryan and I had both expressed an interest in going there when it opened. So, you, Gentle Reader, are spared the plethora of extra run-on sentences, dangling participles and tedious writing that would be entailed by my having to describe the decision process in this narrative (you're still reading the rest of the appalling prose of mine, so that probably doesn't do you much good).

Act II: Public Transportation, An Ode To

Vegetate is located in Shaw, just south of the U street corridor. All that meant to me is that we would have to switch lines to get there. We could have walked from Metro center, but the weather caused a veto from one of the party. Riding the Metro has got to be a favorite activity of mine. There's no better place to people-watch than the subway of a major city (though, almost by definition, minor cities don't have subways). DC's subway is even better since most of the times that I do end up in it, it's just crowded enough to make it bustle with life (but never quite 'hustle') without being packed enough to make my claustrophobia act up. It gives me the time to people-watch in a relaxed accomodating environment. And just for your statistical enjoyment: by my observations, approximately 4.4 people out of every 10 riding the metro are either completely engrossed in listening to their iPods or are in a state of numbed apathy and, as such, wouldn't notice if a crazed homicidal rabbit started lobbing easter eggs at them. Though, to be fair, the rabbit would impinge upon the former group's awareness when it started stealing their video iPods to see if they have episodes of Baywatch in them. But, you get the picture -- Metro: good, people-watching: fun.

Even with changing from the orange to the green line, we were still left with a minor walk to get to Vegetate. Normally, I wouldn't even mention the 5-6 blocks that we had to walk, but it felt like the city had been turned into a maze of wind tunnels. I'm pretty sure that we were only making forward progress due to intense shivering on our parts. After some brownian motion, we managed to find Vegetate, and rushed to it with all the eagerness of pigs to mud.

Act III: Warming Up

Upon entering Vegetate, you immediately get a sense of coziness and an undercurrent of fun (luckily both are embodied in their food as well). The restaurant has 2 floors: the main floor is composed of a small area for dining (and the kitchen) while the top floor consists of a bar/dining area and a seperate dance floor with a DJ booth. The walls downstairs are bright and covered with fun pop art. I think the art changes based on which artist is being exhibited. The upstairs has more of the mood lighting feel to it -- muted ambience that felt odd without pulsating rhythms being played. Beyond the room with the dance floor is a small patio, which would be a great place to have dinner in the summer.

Even though it was relatively early, 6:30ish, the restaurant was packed. We had to wait a few minutes for a table to be readied, so we went upstairs and sat on the lone couch near the bar. (just a note: if you do use the upstairs restrooms, make sure you are feeling strong -- the doors require more elbow grease than one would expect). We were soon seated downstairs next to a calming green wall. The tables and chairs had an almost cafe-ish aesthetic (an upscale cafe, to be sure) which together with the walls and art gave the whole place a relaxed, fun feel to it. However, we soon had better things to think about than the decor. Like, say, drinks.

Act IV: Drink Me, Eat Me

We ended up going the non-alcoholic route, though now I can't remember why. So, turning my attention to the "other" drinks section, I received my first disappointment: they not only didn't have a good organic hot chocolate, but they didn't have hot chocolate at all. Imagine that. So, seeing as how I was in the mood for a hot drink, I settled for a chai, which, considering my Indian roots replete with strong, milky, spicy teas, was a doomed enterprise from the start. I've never quite managed to like "chai" mainly because I think it's a pale shadow of what it should be. Of course, most people here probably couldn't swallow the Indian chai so it's all for the best. As soon as we sat down, we were served their version of an amuse bouche: pickled green beans. This, while at first tasted strange, turned out to be one of those foods that grew on us. Right about now, you're thinking "Pickled green beans and chai? Yuk". Luckily we had finished the beans by the time the drinks arrived and didn't have to experience that blending of tastes first-hand.

The one unfortunate aspect of going to Vegetate during Restaurant Week was that they were only serving the RW menu. I had earlier looked at their full menu online and was very interested intrying several menu items. Alas, that was not to be. The RW menu was pretty decent, if limited in choice.

First Course
Wild Mushroom Trio
wild mushroom baba, tempura oyster mushroom,
and enoki mushroom salad

or
Smokey Tomato Bisque
with a balsamic reduction
and grilled croustade
Second Course
White Bean Cassoulet
with roasted turnips and rutabaga, smoked Portobello mushrooms,
and braised tofu-topped with toasted bread crumbs and a grainy mustard aioli

or
Truffled Crispy Fingerling Potatoes and Roasted Wild Mushrooms
with braised leeks, porcini vinaigrette, and arugula salad
Third Course
Dark Chocolate Cake
with caramel "creme anglaise" and raspberry coulis
topped with shaved chocolate

or
Pineapple and Dried Cherry Fruit Crisp
with oatmeal crumbs and coconut sorbet
They had obviously put some thought into the menu: it was completely vegan and gave you just enough disparate choices that most people would find something to eat in each course.

Act V: Mushroom Fantasies

Since the choice was so limited, between the three of us, we managed to order everything on the menu. The one thing that stood out after we had the food was that Vegetate handled their mushrooms very well. The mushroom appetizer was really good, with the wild mushroom baba -- a mushroom paté -- with its wonderful texture and complex taste, providing an excellent base for showing off the mushrooms. The other appetizer, a tomato bisque didn't let us down either, with the reduction adding just the kind of subtle flavor that tends to go well with a creamy tomato taste.

The food kept arriving in a timely fashion and we didn't have to wait long for anything. We had a nice server, who seemed pretty well-informed and was on the ball. So, we soon we were staring at the bean cassoulet and the truffled potatoes. The bean cassoulet seemed like an example of a dish that was trying too hard. The cassoulet, a dish normally made with beans and meats slow-cooked into a stew, was pretty good. However, the braised tofu didn't mesh well with the rest and had a taste that not only was markedly separate from the rest but one that stoutly refused to play well with the others. It felt like I was having two different dishes. The mustard aioli on the tofu was a wonderful taste and did much to mute my disappointment of the taste disparity. The other entreé certainly didn't have the same problem and turned out pretty decent. The mushrooms there were also nicely done and worked with the potatoes and leeks well.

Not Quite My Just Desserts

The portions for the first two courses were just right and so we had enough space for dessert -- not that I would ever be caught dead skipping dessert. I, of course, went for the dark chocolate cake. I't pretty instinctive by now, and certainly a habit I need to get rid of. This was a case in point: the dark chocolate cake was nice but nothing special. I liked the fact that I could taste the chocolate in the dessert, but the texture, the moistness and its accompaniments didn't really work in its favor. On the other hand, the pineapple and dried cherry fruit crisp looked really good and Huyen certainly liked it.

Ratings

Service Likeable and fast
Decor Warm, fun colors combined with dim lights
Food Cozy vegetarian fare

November 09, 2005

A long hiatus...and a roundup of restaurants

The blog's working again. Though, with the intermittent frequency of my posts here, even I wouldn't have noticed that the blog wasn't working, if I wasn't writing it myself.

In the past few months, I've been to several interesting restaurants and been remiss in writing about them. So, borrowing from the ADD reviews, here's a few relatively short reviews.

Aster

Aster, located in Middleburg, VA is a wonderful experience, especially in the fall. The combination of good food, fantastic service and a nice scenic small town location makes it just about perfect for a fall drive. I liked the combinations of ingredients used, which appealed to my need for interesting combinations without going overboard. I loved the converted home within which the restaurant is located, especially the Cartoon room. I was especially pleased with the cozy, everyone-knows-your-name feel to the place with everyone including the chef-owner dropping by the table.

Indebleu

I finally managed to get to Indebleu for dinner when Sam was visiting. I've managed to go there a few times for drinks & desserts, but had never managed to get there for a proper meal (arguably, drinks and dessert for me is a proper meal). Anyway, other than being seated in a very cold part of the restaurant (our server got Sam a wrap), it was as good as I imagined it would be. The one sour note was that they had removed my favorite dessert from the menu.

Local 16

Rekha and I went to Local 16 before a play on a weekday. It was an interesting experience -- I would definitely go back there, but not necessarily for the food. The menu at Local 16 tried hard but wasn't quite successful at getting there. However, I liked it, our server and the interesting mix of people there enough to want to go back.

Yuca

Yuca was one of those serendipitous happenings -- we happened to pass by it and decided to eat there. I liked the bright decor, though it was a little on the generic side. The food was decent: the black bean soup lacked a little panache, which it made up for in quantity. The fried plantains and the chorizo were both good, as were the mojitos.

Oyamel

Jose Andres' latest restaurant specializing in small plates is very similar to his others. By which I mean, I'll go there every opportunity I get. Just about everything I've had there has been good, though the one time I had the sangria, I found it to be lacking.

April 05, 2005

Great Sage: Palate-ial Wisdom

Players: Ryan and moi

Act I: Sequential Serendipity

So, as usual, Ryan and I are shooting the breeze at work. Now, this happens mainly because I tend to wander into his office every so often to take a much-needed break from the rigors of R&D. Ryan, being the nice guy that he is, puts up with the distractions. Anyway, back to us taking pot-shots at the wind [Phrases just don't make much sense when re-worded, do they?]; I think it was during one of my afternoon constitutionals when we started talking about vegetarian restaurants, and Ryan happened to mention Great Sage. He's been wanting to go to it since someone he knows raves about it. I, being slow-witted (and dumb to boot) took a few moments to realize that he was talking about the same restaurant that's a stone's throw from my sister's place (well, if you were Hercules, had a real good sense of direction and didn't mind hitting the occasional car on Rte. 32).

I'm usually up for almost any vegetarian restaurant (and almost any good restaurant -- where the definition of good is dictated by the vagaries of my mind). So, we decide we need to go there, thus preemptively laying to rest the hardest phase of most dinners I am involved with: the always vexing "where to go" phase.

Piling improbablility upon improbability, it just so happened that Ryan was going to be coming back from a trip up north at around the same time I had to be at my sister's for my younger nephew's birthday party! Ping! Lightbulbs go off (or is it on?), angels sing and I use up all my karma from the pot o' coincidence in one swell foop.

Well, the day arrives, and just as the birthday party is getting over (and none too soon! Watching a bunch of 8 year olds run amuck is tiring, even if I'm not the one keeping them under control), Ryan calls saying he is minutes away from Great Sage. So I head on over, and we both arrive at just about the same time.

Act II: Applications 'a Alliteration

Now, Great Sage is located in a small shopping strip in Clarksville that also contains a Roots natural foods market and Nest!. This makes for a happy coincidence since the shopping strip is a fine destination for the health-conscious amongst us. BTW: Roots has the largest selection of Dagoba chocolate bars that I've ever seen. I unfortunately did not get a chance to find out if they carry Dagoba's Hot Chocolate mixes. But a second visit to Roots is certainly in order.

While pulling into the parking lot, I see Ryan, having just parked, walking towards the restaurant. Being the humanist that I am, I try to run him over; Being the clutz that I am, I miss. Oh well. The dinner was still on. So, I catch up with Ryan and we walk into the restaurant.

The first impression I had upon entering is that the good folks of Clarksville aren't much for eating dinner at 5pm. High tea, maybe, but not dinner. I could hear my footsteps echoing in the long silent empty corridors....maybe not, but the place was mostly empty.

The second impression I got was one of bright, bold, bemused (sorry, that's the closest I can get to "cheery" while trying to be alliterative), and did I mention bright? The actual space usage hasn't changed much from when the place used to be Donna's. It continues to have a very cafe-like atmosphere, which I like. Part of the space is enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass windows that brighten up the restaurant considerably. The rest of the space is decorated in brightly colored walls with large photographs of people from all over the world. I was happy with the decor; comfortable and cheery, it made me feel right at home.

Act III: Vegetarianism at Vork

The menu at Great Sage is small but well-crafted. First of all, the menu covers are made from something that resembles cork (possibly cork itself). Great Sage offers only organic beverages, including organic teas, coffees, wines and beer. Most importantly, it offers organic hot chocolate in the form of Dagoba Hot Chocolate (they, for some reason that escapes me, don't advertise this fact on their menu)! In addition to their bevragiation, the food items seems to range through a good breadth of vegetarian (and vegan) options, consistently showing a twist of innovative flair.

Both of us start by ordering our drinks. In keeping with our predelictions, I order the Dagoba Hot Chocolate and he orders an "Evening Green and White" tea. The drinks arrived handily: my hot chocolate was yummy and correct: they didn't offer to spoil the taste of the Dagoba by adding whipped cream on top. Ryan's arrived with an hourglass timer and instructions from our server (PJ) to let it seep for 3 minutes but not a second more. Meanwhile, we we perusing the menu to see what we wanted to eat. I was amazingly enough not too hungry since it was still barely 5:30 (and this should put paid to all those rumors about me wanting to eat lunch at 11 and dinner at 5), so I opted for splitting an hummus platter (chickpea hummus, roasted red pepper humus and edamame hummus with pita) with Ryan and an appetizer portion of the Santa Fe salad. Ryan ordered the special which was a seitan piccata with a quinoa pilaf and collard greens.

   

The hummus platter was good, though a little mellow. I had never had edamame hummus before and liked it. All three hummuses had a firmer consistency than I was used to, but Ryan assured me that whenever he made hummus at home (apparently a lot), it had about the same consistency. Just as we finished the hummus, our entrees arrived. My salads was a nice blend of black beans, avocados, corn and tofu along with a host of other veggies. It was nice and just the right size for me. Ryan's seitan dish looked appealing and the seitan was nicely done (apparently they made the seitan in-house for that dish). I had never had quinoa before and enjoyed its texture and taste. Ryan fell in love with the collard greens and could have done with some more of those. We ended up being quite happy with our food and drinks.

Of course, there were still desserts to be ordered. Neither of us, no matte how stuffed, was going to leave without having dessert. It turned out that we both decided to go with the "Hot Fudge Cake A La Mode", a dessert that was almost too chocolat-y. Mine was good but parts of it felt like they were slightly burnt, which detracted from the overall taste. Ryan didn't have the same problem and loved his.

Act IV: Customary Conclusion

All in all, both of us liked the place and the food. It's a good place to bring vegetarians (and vegans) or even the health-conscious/organic food-lovers. Too bad there aren't more places like this in the DC area.

Ratings

Great Sage Review
Service Friendly, informative and timely
Decor Comfortable with bold, bright colors
Food Interesting vegetarian fare

March 20, 2005

Buddakan: Simple Serenity

Players: Dids and moi

Act I: Dali'ing in Philly

I had heard about the Dali exhibit at the Philadelphi Museum of Art a while back and being a Dali fan, was all excited and giddy like the proverbial schoolgirl. However, finding someone who not only was interested in Dali but also had the time to come along with me on a day trip to Philly was kinda challenging. Finally, Dids agreed (something about having a week off between jobs). Sweet! A nice car ride to Philly and back with oodles of Dali in the middle. The only thing that could make this better was eating a a nice place. So of course, we planned on having dinner in Philly, and we chose Buddakan.

The day of the trip arrived and it turned out to be a nice sunny March morn. Dids and I girded up for battle with the inevitable traffic on I-95 (which is done by either practicing curses and certain gestures or by entering a zen state of mind where none shall intrude -- we chose the latter) and got into my trusty Saab. Interestingly enough, there were no delays on 95 until we had reached Philly. That didn't mean that there weren't idiot drivers on the road who insisted on straddling lanes, refusing to use turn signals, or inisted on going at the minimum speed on the fast lane. No, it just meant that we arrived in Philly without slowing to a crawl for more than a mile or so along the way.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art was imposing and pretty big. Having set out focus on the Dali exhibit, we didn't get to see much of the rest of the museum. The Dali exhibit itself took almsot 2.5 hours to get through. The museum itself was rather packed; moreso than I would have imagined for a weekday. Word of advise: if you want to see the Dali exhibit, buy tickets in advance. When we got to the museum at 11am, the earliest tickets that you could buy were for 2:30pm. Luckily we had already bought ours for 1pm.

Since I'm not writing about art, I'll refrain from going on at length about the various aspects of the exhibit, but suffice it to say that it was well done, with pieces organized around Dali's various phases. There were some stellar pieces by Dali present there, including some not very famous pieces from his very early period and his late religious phase.

However, we finished up the Dali exhibit and spent some time meandering around the museum getting false directions from employees about where to find a particular Vermeer. *shrug* Soon dinner beckoned and we headed over to Buddakan.

Act II: Whither Shall We Go?

Now, I conveniently skipped through the whole decision process about where exactly to have dinner in Philly. As you may know, decisions of this magnitue are never easy for me. So many choices, so little time. This being especially true for Philly, where I had never been before, and isn't a normal destination for me.

Of course the first place I look nowadays is OpenTable, and in this case, they did have listings for Philly. So, I started looking at their Top 10 list for restaurant bookings in Philly. As I looked through the various restaurants, there appeared to be a sameness in their web pages. Enough that I started wondering what the heck was going on. A little research uncovered the fact that Stephen Starr owned fully half of the restaurants in that list: Morimoto, Buddakan, Tangerine, Alma de Cuba, etc. Weird and a little disconcerting. Kinda like Philly had a restaurant mafia. You only hope that the restaurant food doesn't exhibit the sameness and uniformity that their web sites do.

Well, for us the choice ended up being between Buddakan and Morimoto. I've wanted to go to Morimoto's ever since it opened, sicne I've been a Iron Chef (the Japanese original, not the American clone) fan for years. However, neither of us were in a sushi mood, and if I went to Morimoto, I would undoubtedly have to have the Omakase. So, we decided on Buddakan. I should mention that both Tangerine and alma de Cuba were in our short-list, but were thrown out for one reason or another ("dinnae feel like cuban food laddie" and "Tangerine seems ok").

So, Buddakan it was, looming buddha and all.

Act III: Idol Musings

We arrived at Buddakan early since the museum threw us out at 5pm. After some meanderings, we got to Buddakan jsut after 5:30. At that point Buddakan looked pretty empty and we were seated immediately. The first thing that strikes you as you enter Buddakan is that it's pretty dark. It's got the whole chic mood lighting thing going on. However, to offset that, a lot of Buddakan's decor is white. This works in its favor by creating more reflected light than would otherwise be there. The dominating colors presetn were white and dark wood. Even the wait staff were dressed in white: white slacks/jeans with a white t-shirt. Lemme just mention that this is not a very flattering uniform for most of the staff there. It does allow the staff to blend in to the background (go white walls!).

The one thing that Buddakan does well is the ambient noise level. There's almost a perfect blend of ambient noise and the level of chatter created by the patrons. It was very hard for us to hear conversations going on next to us, but we didn't have to shout to talk amongst ourselves. I really liked that.

Last, but certainly not least, I must pay homage to the looming buddha statue. It is the focus of the restaurant and the only brightly colored decor (yellow buddha with red background). A very conscious effort to make people focus on this over-sized calm, serene expressioned idol. I'm torn between liking it and thinking it's crass commercialization of the Buddha.

We got seated right next to the waterwall that seperates part of dining area from the reception area. It was kind of cool. However, I should have asked to be seated in the mezzanine floor: better view.

Act IV: Repast Re-pasts

Buddakan has a decent-sized menu but unfortunately not one with variety in it. We started off with a couple of drinks: the Zen-gria and some concoction with prickly pear in it. The former was nice and light, while the latter tasted heavily of alcohol. Both tasted good.

The appetizers, as happens lately with a lot of restaurants, looked more appetizing (sic) than the entrees. After a lot of debate, we settled on the edamame ravioli, the pan-seared diver scallops and ahi tuna on watermelon (the special for the day). The edamame ravioli was interesting: the filling consisted of edamame and fingerling potato paste. The scallops were very good and the combination of sake-marinated pineapples and a black vinegar syrup melded together very well. As for the tuna, the ingredients themselves (tuna and watermelon) were great. However, the flavors didn't seem to work well together and left me with a very unsatisfied palate.

The entrees were uninteresting to me. While I appreciated the simplicity of the dishes, the fact that there was nothing that leaped out at me as being interesting, innovative or even unusual was a disappointment. I chose the Japanese black cod after some thought. There were a couple of other entrees that were in the running: the wasabi filet mignon and the chilean sea bass, but it wasn't a red meat day and the chilean sea bass is being hunted to extinction. So, the black cod it was. If you are a lobster kind of person, I would suggest that you go with the Angry Lobster IV entree. The people next to us had ordered it and it looked great, served in a great big bowl with lots of garnishings. The cod, as with everything else, arrived startlingly fast. The fish was wonderfully cooked with a very subtle flavor. The accompanying wasabi mashed potatoes were divine. They made the dish. The only reason I didn't completely scarf down the mashed potatoes was that I was leaving some room for dessert.

Dessert is always a crucial element to any meal, and Buddakan delivered in this department much better than it had in the others. My first instinct was to go for the chocolate bento box (warm chocolate cake, dark chocolate panna cotta with cocoa-ginger biscotti, white chocolate-espresso pot de creme, milk chocolate mousse cube atop hazelnut crunch, chocolate almonds and bittersweet sorbet!!!!!), but it was meant for two, and someone at our table isn't a big fan of chocolate desserts. So, we ended up ordering the "Dip Sum" doughnuts and the gingerbread pudding. both turned out to be finger-licking good. The doughnuts came with chocolate sauce, blackberry jam and a ginger cream, and dipping the doughnuts in those sauces was fun and delicious. The gingerbread dish was very subtly flavored inspite of being so rich. We ended up doggy-bagging them since we couldn't finish everything.

Conclusions

A wonderful experience in everything except cuisine. And the only reason that I say that is because I was disappointed with the innovativeness of the dishes and ingredient combinations. The food itself was well cooked and implemented very well. The decor was nice and simple and the ambience cool.

I should also make mention of the overly eager staff. Our server was good, helpful and knowledgeable. However, she as well as others of the wait staff tended to want to hurry us along in our meal, which was irritating, to say the least. When you get asked 3-4 times whether you are done with your appetizers, it tends to become frustrating.

Ratings

Buddakan Review
Service Friendly, helpful and rather too quick
Decor Simple whites and dark wood, with looming buddha
Food Simple, Good but nothing extraordinary

February 27, 2005

Joy America Cafe: Alice In Wonderland

Players: Samantha and moi

Act I: Finding the right Rabbit Hole

So Sam is in Baltimore visiting a friend and wants to do lunch on Saturday. I blithely agree, not realizing how much of a pain it is trying to find a good restaurant in B'more that is open for lunch on Saturday. So, I try my site of first resort: opentable and they only have a few restaurants that are available, most of which didn't seem too attractive. I would have chosen to go to the Black Olive, but that's a place that you go to for dinner in order to get the full impact. All my favorites (Saffron, Brass Elephant, Tio Pepe, etc.) were closed. Grrr. So, after looking around some more, I discovered Joy America Cafe which is in the American Visionary Art Museum. Never having been to AVAM, and not having a clue as to what "Visionary Art" was, I was intrigued. I tried finding reviews of Joy America Cafe on the web, but that proved to be as elusive as trying to discover what visionary art meant. There were a handful of short, non-insightful reviews (and while this review may be non-insightful, it won't be short. That I promise!) on AOL CityGuide, Frommers and the like, but nothing substantive. However, the few morsels of information that were present were interesting enough for me to decide on Joy for lunch (sic). Reservations , of course, were made through Opentable.

Act II: Wonderland

Getting to the museum is easy. It's located in Federal Hill on Key Highway and is close enough to walk to from the Baltimore Science Museum and that part of the Inner Harbor. If you are coming from the Inner Harbor, you will see an old brick building with the museum name written on it. If you turn into the street just in front of the museum, there is a decent amount of metered parking. When we got there at around noon, there wee still about a dozen spots left. However, when we left at 3pm, I don't think there was a single open parking space there.

The museum, at first glance, seems kitschy. The front facade is a mosaic of blue glass, which is attractive but makes you wonder what the inside will be like. When looking at the works inside, it was hard to characterize what visionary art meant. We decided that it might be folk art with a modern twist to it. The variety of art in there is amazing. I think the most attractive quality of the museum and it's exhibits is the approachability and touchability of the pieces. A sense of delight descends upon you while going around the museum -- from the amusing robots made of recycled materials to the sequin-encrusted bed and mermaids -- the whole museum elicits a sensawunda.

The Joy America Cafe itself is located on the third floor of the museum. Just tell the nice folks over at the front desk that you are eating at the Cafe and they will provide you with a personal escort right to it.

Act III: A Mad Tea Party

The restaurant itself seems moderately sized. As you enter, the left side is full of tables and the right right is more of a bar area. The decor seems to be minimalist modern with a twist. At the very least, it was pleasant and went tolerably well with the museum theme. The dining area has a large arced window that has a view of the inner harbor. I'm told that it looks even better at night. When we got there, there was virtually no one in the restaurant, and I kinda felt foolish for making reservations. However, by the time 1pm rolled around, the place was full. The crowd frequently the place leaned towards the middle-aged range, and was very obviously contained a representative sample from the more, umm, art-aware citizenry.

We got seated immediately and got a table that was close to the view of the inner harbor (though it would be hard to get a table that didn't have some part of the view). Our server was friendly and very helpful (as well as being attractive and having an accent that was music to my ears). The menus were quirky and amusing. Both of us had menus with different covers. The inside of the menu consisted of artistically torn pieces of paper taped with various decorative stickers to sturdy paper backing. Overall, a very nice effect.

The menu items themselves showed strong evidence of southwestern and latin influences. For the most part, the dishes were not vegetarian, but there were at least a couple of appetizers and entrees that were vegetarian (and they try to be vegan-friendly in those dishes according to our server). Admittedly, seafood is a highlight of the menu.

Act IV: Eat me, Drink Me

We started off with a couple of drinks: the Chocolate Rasberry and the Dark & Stormy. The former is one of the better chocolate cocktails I've ever had -- mixed perfectly so that all the flavors blended together. The latter was a strong mixture of rum and ginger beer (real ginger beer). They also had the standard mojito and caiprinha on the menu along with a few other cocktails. The bar, I'm sure, could make anything that you wanted.

We couldn't quite decide what we wanted since pretty much everything looked good. We decided to start off with an appetizers and finally settled on the Empanaditas. The stuffing in the empanaditas had just been changed from a vegan-friendly mix of various vegetables to a mixture of ham, shrimp and rice. This was served on a sauce of jalapenos and rice. The empanaditas were good, and tasted even better with the sauce. Our server mentioned that the sauce was made out of rice instead of cream or other dairy products to keep it vegan. Of course, with the new stuffing, they kept the sauce the same because so many people liked it.

Of course, now that we had our appetizer, we had to decide on the rest of the meal. In what is becoming a trend for me, we decided on finishing off with more appetizers. We ordered a ceviche and a chalupa. The ceviche was a tuna and shrimp ceviche with lime, habaneros and garlic. It was absolutely delicious. The chalupa was a crispy flatbread with potatoes, chorizo sausage, and roasted garlic. It tasted good and was very filling (which our server had warned us it would be). At this point, we decided not to order anything more since we wanted to have dessert. There were several more dishes I wanted to try: the black bean soup, another ceviche, some of their salads, their crab cake entree and their tuna entree. All those sounded good, and I guess that's going to have to wait for another trip to Joy America.

The dessert menu looked good enough to be the whole meal. We ended up ordering the "Seven Tastes of Chocolate" and "Tres Leches de Joy". The former being seven different and great chocolate items, and the latter being a version of the standard Tres leches, with coconut flan, a creme brulee and a caramel flan (I think). Both of the desserts were very good. If I did have more of an appetite, I would have tried the chocolate cherry empanadas, too.

Act V: Conclusion

I loved the Cafe. The food was good, the view wonderful and the service great. They also seem to have a good bartender and some awesome desserts. It helps that the cafe is inside the museum, both from a stylistic perspective as well as an contextual one.

Ratings

Joy America Cafe Review
Service Friendly, Quick, and Helpful
Decor Modern minimalist with a twist
Food Delicious & Intriguing nouveau southwestern

February 04, 2005

Corduroy: Just like the fabric

Players: Rekha and moi

Pre-prandial

The last-minute decision was to go to Corduroy for dinner. Rekha had initially suggested the Willard for dinner, and we eventually decided on Corduroy. So, we decided to instead go to Indebleu and the Willard for drinks.

The Willard was what I expected it to be...old world with a well-dressed crowd. It seemed like a nice place to have a drink -- friendly, quick service and a nice, quite decor. Rekha liked it rather more than I did. We had a drink each and tons of the bar nuts before heading for Indebleu. All the museum'ing had made us hungry (the reason for the outing was to see an exhibit by Cai Guo-Qiang at the Hirshhorn)

At Indebleu, we did the usual: drinks and dessert. This time for a dessert, we had the "Choco Sutra", which is a concoction of several different chocolates (white chocolate waffle, flourless chocolate cake and a dark chocolate ribbon around it) with brandied cherries over a pomegranate glaze. It sounded great, looked cool and tasted pretty decent. I infinitely preferred the profiteroles and hot chocolate dessert over this one. My big problem with this one was that there was no subtlety in the dessert. The only interesting part was the pomegranate glaze and that was mildly overdone.

Having sated ourselves with drinks and dessert, we proceeded to waddle on over to Corduroy

Initial Impressions

Corduroy is located on the second floor of the Four Points Sheraton at 12th and K. By the time we walked over to it, it was sleeting/snowing, for which neither of us was prepared, and we were just happy to reach any safe harbor at that point. Even though there is a big sign on the hotel for Corduroy, you could easily miss it if you were looking for a restaurant at street level.

Once you walk up to the second floor (or take the elevator) and look around, you realize that Corduroy still has a very ordinary presence: located next to the fitness center, it almost looks like a hotel cafe or dining room. To extend that impression even more, the rest rooms for Corduroy are located outside the restaurant and past the fitness center.

Once you enter Corduroy, it continues to be subdued and quiet. However, it does something magical and presents more of a warm, comfortable atmosphere than one would expect. The restaurant is done in dark wood, mirrors and shades of brown, with occasional nondescript artwork on the walls. One of the things I tend to dislike in restaurants is mirrors on the walls. If you are seated facing the wall (and hence the mirror), you usually can see everything that is happening behind you as well as yourself. This tends to be distracting to me (and no, not because I'm narcissistic and keep staring at myself). If I happen to be seated with my back to the wall, I have to deal with my companion(s) being distracted. However, Corduroy dealt with this problem well, by having only half-length mirrors and hanging them at such an angle that I could only see people in the immediate vicinity behind me -- and I couldn't see myself. It was perfect, since I was never surprised by waiters showing up behind me, and yet I didn't have to deal with what was happening in the rest of the restaurant.

The name of the restaurant, however, continued to confuse. About the only genuflection towards the name that we saw was in the menus, which were covered in corduroy. A nice touch, but I'm sure it felt a little lonely being the only touch of corduroy decor. Not that I want to see a restaurant swathed in corduroy.

Once in, we were immediately seated at a table (me facing the mirrored wall, of course) and thereupon all inspection of decor ceased, and the perusal of the menu began.

Repast

The first thing you notice about Corduroy's menu is its simplicity. The focus is all on the main ingredient, whether it be salmon, or cheese. It was very evident that the chef wanted to highlight a central ingredient rather than create a fusion of tastes. This seemed inline with Corduroy's no-frills approach to decor. We settled on the "Buffalo mozzarella porcupine" as the appetizer, though there were a couple of other tempting starters. For the entrees, there was not much competition for us. We both ordered the fish dishes: tuna for me and salmon for Rekha. I was briefly seduced by the wagyu beef dish but decided to stick with the fish.

The appetizer arrived relatively quickly. As the name hints at, the dish is a ball of mozzarella in a shell of fried phyllo dough that has been "julienned", resembling a porcupine. The mozzarella is accompanied by a tart tomato sauce and a basil sauce, which combined well with the cheese.

The main courses arrived minutes after we finished the appetizer. I had ordered a seared rare tuna over sushi rice and a sesame vinaigrette. It tasted very good, in part due to the well-sized chunk of rare tuna at the center of it all. The sushi rice and vinaigrette added a nice touch, almost like sushi but with a twist. I enjoyed it a lot, though the portion was a mite generous for me. The salmon came with wild mushrooms and had a very homogeneous flavor to it. It tasted pretty good, but wasn't remarkable in any way.

As usual, even though I was stuffed by this point, we couldn't resist dessert. Well, I couldn't resist dessert. Rekha decide to opt out. I ordered the pistachio bread pudding. It turned out to be a a square of cake-like pudding with layers of pistachio pate sanwiched inbetween. The overall taste was very good, with the nuttiness of the pistachio shining through. Unfortunately, I couldn't do justice to the dessert since it was on the heavy side, and had to leave it half-finished.

Conclusion

I liked corduroy. The ambience was warm and comfortable, with a subdued, almost introverted feel to it. The focus on a central ingredient was refreshing and the food was good.

I haven't mentioned the service at Corduroy so far, because it wasn't much of a factor. It was quick, mostly unobtrusive and helpful. This is a good thing.

Ratings

Corduroy Review
Service Unobtrusive and helpful
Decor Comfortable and subdued
Food Good, solid and pleasing

January 27, 2005

Chicago Restaurants: A Cornucopia of Tastes

Players:{Paco, John, Jui} and Viren

Prologue: Variety is the Spice of Life

Much to my surprise, Chicago has a wonderful collection of good restaurants of diverse types, cuisines and leanings. I went there expecting meat-n-potatoes food -- ok, very, very good meat-n-potatoes food -- but was pleasantly surprised to see the variety present. Most of the restaurants I went to were in and around downtown, and I've been told I missed out on some great restaurants in the 'burbs.

Act I: Japonais, Japonais, Japonais

Maybe if I say its name thrice, I will be magically transported to it. Japonais is a great contemporary Japanese restaurant in the River North area. The focus there is of course on sushi and especially sashimi. It is here that I've had some of the best sashimi cuts I've had the pleasure of tasting. It's a very popular place and a little on the expensive side, but definitely worth the visit. The decor is great: the main restaurant is divided into two main rooms -- the red room and the green room, each with its own particular style. They also have a bar/lounge downstairs that gives you a good view of the river and is a great place to people watch. A must if you are in Chicago. Try the Chef's special selection.

Act II: Topolobampo: Bayless to the Rescue

Topolobampo is Rick Bayless' upscale restaurant showpiece. Weirdly enough, it is situated inside the Frontera Grill, which is the poorer cousin from across the railway tracks. Having eaten at both the Grill and Topolobampo, I would recommend the latter even with the price difference. When we ate at Topolobampo, not only was the food (which falls into the nouveau Mexican category) great, but we had one of the most knowledgeable and savvy waiters I've ever had. Highly recommended, reserve early.

Act III: Vermillion

An Indian-Latin fusion restaurant in River North. The menu seems a little contrived in order to get Latin and Indian influences in dishes, but the food is good. I liked the decor a lot, but it did not fit with the restaurant cuisine: the decor was very modernist with the walls exhibiting black and white photographs by Indian fashion photographer Farrokh Chothia, and the place is strewn about with red and black leather couches that make you want to lounge before your meal. The menu is split between tapas with a decided Indian flavor and more traditional entrees. I wish that the food had more of a kick to it, but everything was rather subdued, contrary to what you would expect from two of the spiciest cuisines around. The bar makes some of the best mojitos and caiprinhas that I've had the pleasure to get drunk on. Also, do not leave without trying the "Vermilion Hedonism", a wonderful chocolate dessert.

Act IV: Monsoon

Yet another Indian restuarant, this time with an upscale Asian twist. The decor is elaborate, silk curtains, copper-topped bar and framed quotations from eastern philosophers capped by a gigantic silk "chandelier" that looks like an inverted fez. The food is not quite as breathtaking as the decor or the service, but is definitely pleasing to the palate (if not the pocketbook). Like Vermilion, nothing on the menu here is bad. So, be adventurous.

Act V: Mambo Grill

Small, fun restaurant of the Cuban persuasion, with a contemporary twist. Worth going to, especially since it has some wonderful vegetarian items. Their black bean soup is great, and do not leave without trying their unique chipotle chocolate cake. There's usually a good crowd at the bar and the restaurant plays some great music.

Act VI: Sugar: A Dessert Bar

Right around the corner from the Mambo Grill is "Sugar: A Dessert Bar", a bar/lounge that serves desserts and alcohol to go along with the desserts. All the desserts are literary themed: "Hunchbaked of Notre Dame", "Marquis de Sucre", etc and include some unique items including edible plates made of sugar and items that have millet and dates are the main focus. Sugar also has some great cocktails to complement the desserts, as well as some greats liqueurs (ports, cognacs, dessert wines, etc). The decor is wonderful and whimsical, with beehive chandeliers, multi-colored curtains and glass walls. Do not miss going to this place!

Act VII: High Tea

Who would have thought that there would be so many places to partake of high tea in Chicago? Luckily for us, two of them were around the corner from us: Pierrot Gourmet and the Peninsula Hotel. The former is a great little french sidewalk cafe that server coffee, pastries and sandwiches. It was a filling afternoon tea, complete with scones, devonshire clotted cream and finger sandwiches. If you want to go a little upscale, afternoon tea in the lobby of the Peninsula hotel is for you. They have a much better selection of teas and provide the standard selection of scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, pastries and souffles. Worth going to. Just plan on not having any dinner. BTW: the Peninsula also hosts a chocolate buffet every Friday and Saturday. Try to make it.

Act VIII: Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe

Aah...my favorite cafe in Chicago -- The Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe. They have a great line of truffles and chocolates, but my reason for going there is their variety of hot cocoas/chocolates. They have a fantastic selection including choco-chai, Mexican, and Mayan. Do try their chocolate desserts as well. They make all their own chocolate and it shows.

Act IX: Chicago Diner

The only all vegetarian diner that I've been to, and frankly I was a bit disappointed. I had one of their salads which, from the ingredients, had a lot of potential, but the practice fell short of its promise. However, their vegan desserts are great. I had the chocolate chip cheesecake and it was pretty good. If you are in Wrigleyville and feel like trying some fun vegetarian food, go here.

Act X: Green Zebra

Lots of promise, lots of hype. This looked like an interesting place to go, since it catered to vegetarians and was supposed to have some great food. Well, it did have wonderful food that was nicely complemented by nice soothing decor. The problem was that the portions were appetizer sized, while the prices were expensive entree sized. Go there, but don't expect to be sated.

Act XI: Flat Top Grill

A better class of mongolian BBQs. Flat top grill has a lot going for it, including good desserts and alcohol. The staff is great and the place is hopping in the evenings.

Act XII: Fogo de Chao

Fogo is a standard Brazilian churrascaria. The meats are wonderfully cooked and the salad bar is plentiful. However, at a price of $50 (without alcohol), there are other places where I would rather go.

January 16, 2005

Ortanique (with a dash of Indebleu): Ethnically Inspired

Players: Dids, Sunit, Rekha, John, and moi

Act I: The need for alcoholic consumption

Well, it wasn't so much the need for alcoholic consumption that brought me to Indebleu, as it was the need to be efficient, garner two birds with one stone, make hay while the sun shines, and other such pithy meaningless phrases. To be specific, it is my wont when driving into DC, to experience as many of its wondrous pleasures as I can while there. Since we were already slated to be in town for dining at Ortanique for DC Restaurant Week (RW), I did wonder out aloud (and by means of email e'en) whether anyone would like to arrive earlier and join me for drinks before the main event. Well, Dids, Sunit and John , having been planning to drive down together felt that they couldn't make it in any earlier due to diverse reasons, including the rather crucial one that John is invariably tardy. So, it fell upon Rekha and me to handle this part of the evening. Given the plethora of chocies available near MCI Center, it is truly a wonder that we managed to decide upon Indebleu so fast. Rekha had initially suggested Poste, but was won over by my description of Indebleu.

We both arrived at Indebleu at around the same time, tho Rekha was already seated at the bar by the time I got there. Given that only 2 weeks had passed since I was last at Indebleu, not much had changed, save that it was more crowded. That didn't distract us from our main task of sampling the wares at the bar. Both of us were trying out different drinks: I had a Kama Sutra and a Spanky while Rekha had a Neontini and some other drink that the fog of alcohol has erased from my mind. In the midst of the imbibing, I felt a sudden need for solid sustenance. Now, I would normally (in my safer, saner, somber-er days) have asked for the appetizer/bar menu. However, having recently resolved to throw caution to the winds, gastronomically speaking, I convinced Rekha that ordering from the dessert menu was the correct choice here. Upon being handed said dessert menu, the very first choice we saw looked intriguing enough that we went for it: Oreo kulfi profiteroles with cardamom hot chocolate (not without much agony and angst since some of the other items looked almost as seductive, especially the (sic) Choco Sutra).

When the dish arrived, it looked scrumptious and pictureque. It consisted of 3 profiteroles, each of which was made up of a scoop of oreo kulfi [1] sandwiched between a small round pastry cake sliced into two. Along with the profiteroles was a small cup of strong hot chocolate flavored with cardamom. The effect was simply sublime.

The Lounge at Indebleu
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The Lounge at Indebleu

After polishing off the dessert, we decided to retire to the lounge to finish our drinks. The lounge is done in shades of red and yellow, and is nice and comfy. Just watch out for those $200 table minimums during prime time. Around this time, we realized that it was almost time to make like a tree....and head to dinner.

Act II: The Restaurant

Ortanique
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The varied decor at Ortanique

Ortanique was pretty close by, seeing how it is located near Metro Center, and that we went to Indebleu since it was close by. When we got there, the rest of the party were already waiting and so we all went in together. The immediate impression one gets walking into Ortanique is one of warmth and old-fashined aesthetics. Pillars with painted on ortanique vines. A massive red wall with sheer curtains running down its entire length, and a fishtank with a huge projection screen showing a live feed from the fishtank.

We were led to a corner booth which gave us a nice view of the restaurant. Along with the booth, we also inherited one of the most garrulous servers I've ever had. He was fun, had a sense of humor, and gave pretty good service. You can just see him to the left in the picture of Ortanique. He did in fact raise the entire level of the experience with his interactions with our group.

Act III: Decisions

Ortanique
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Us, enjoying dinner

For restaurant week, Ortanique had, in its infinite wisdom, decided to forego simplicity and the KISS principle in lieu of complexity and confusion. The normal restuarant menu was annotated to indicate RW items. Double asterisks indicated items that were on the RW menu, items with supplemental charges on the side in parentheses indicated items that could be used in the RW menu for additional money, and the non annotated items weren't available for the RW menu. Sounds kind of simple, except if you were sitting there, trying to understand the servers explain this to you.

Most of Ortanique's menu, as befits its Caribbean roots, is seafood. There was one vegetarian entree (available in the RW menu, too) and some animal dishes, but for the most part, it was fish and various other denizens of the deep. Being 5 people at dinner, we tried to order so as maxmize the potential for sharing and tasting different dishes. We ended up with the mango salad, curried crab cakes, steamed mussels and the ceviche of the day (shrimp) as the appetizers. For the main course, we had the Bahamian black grouper, the Caribbean seared ahi tuna and the Seafood bouillabaisse. There were only two choices for dessert: rum cake and banana bread pudding, and our table ended up with both. All this took much longer than you would think, but eventually we got it all sorted out.

Act IV: Partaking of the Sea

The food arrived pretty fast, though that might just be an effect of the old, hackneyed adage: Time flies when etc., etc. The mango salad, while following an used formula, was well done with a nice blending of the various flavors. The mango in there was green unripe mango, which added a tartness that worked well in the dish. The curried crab cakes were the hit of the table with everyone exclaiming over them. Flavorful with the taste of the crab meat coming through in a distinct fashion. A good start to the evening.

The seared ahi tuna
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The tuna entree

As for the main courses, they were uniformly good. The grouper was marinated in teriyaki and sesame oil with a orange and limon liqueur sauce. This was paired with a sweet plantain mash and julienned chayote and carrots. The fish was cooked almost to perfection, tho for some it might have been slightly overdone, and the teriyaki influence while present wasn't overpowering. A very nice combination. The tuna was done right (as asked: rare and medium rare) and the accompaniments seemed secondary to the fish itself. The bouillabaisse was tasty fro mall acounts, though I only tasted the lobster in there. The coconut flavor in there was very evident.

The food so far having sated us, we looked forward to the desserts (my second dessert course for the night). The desserts, when they arrived, looked good with decent-sized portions. The banana bread pudding was a little banana-y and about the only dish, none of us were enthralled with. The rum cake on the other hand was gooood, and made a great end to the meal.

Act V: Conclusion

Ortanique was a good experience. The food was good, and sometimes very good. The jazz band upstairs was inconsistent but added nicely to the ambience. All in all, an enjoyable repast. Our server certainly added to the whole experience with his vibrant personality.

Ratings

Ortanique
Service Fast, Interesting and Fun
Decor Warm and Varied
Food Good seafood with occasional brilliance

Footnotes

  1. Kulfi is the Indian version of ice cream: dense and creamy with strong flavors.

January 12, 2005

Kaz Sushi Bistro: Mediocrity, thy name is ...

Bobby, Susan, Neil, Francois, Corinna and moi

Act I: Restaurant Week Decisions

So, DC Restaurant Week (RW) approaches and I start prodding people to see if anyone is interested in going out to eat. Well, Bobby and Susan are usually up for food, so we sort of decide that that's a good idea, and leave it alone. About a week before RW we start figuring out when we can make it. Bobby's roped in more people, which is cool: the more, the merrier. Of course, getting everyone to agree on a day and a restaurant is nearly impossible. Hence, we get no verdict until Friday to go somewhere on Tuesday, which leaves few options. However, Kaz Sushi Bistro had seatin available on opentable, so that was the decision.

Act II: Getting there is half the fun

As usual, in order to make it to DC is always an adventure. Drive to East Falls, Take the Orange line in to DC and switch lines if needed. In this case, Bobby, Susan, Neil and moi had decided to meet at Dupont for drinks. I, of course, decide that stretching my legs is a good idea and so walk to Dupont from Farragut West. One the way, I get lost (well, not really, but I went a couple of blocks further than I should have), got solicited for money about half a dozen times , stopped for a hot chocolate at Caribou Coffee [1], and got helpful advice from a building security guard on the advisability of carrying umbrellas. After getting to Dupont, we decided to get drinks at Pizzeria Paradiso (Plan A). We walk in and were told that the "bar" is in reality a counter and we shouldn't sit and have drinks there. So, we implemented Plan B, which was to go to the Brickskeller. As usual, the first 3 beers that bobby wanted weren't available (one wasn't even on the menu). So we settled for other choices (Lindeman's Cassis for me, The Raven for Susan, a Sierra for Neil and something in a cool looking bottle for Bob). Of course, we had to quaff the beers down in order to have enough time to walk to Kaz and meet Francois and Corinna there on time.

Act III: The Restaurant

So, we arrive at Kaz, and I was immediately impressed that the restaurant had the sense to have removed the plug-ugly awning that you can see a picture of on their site. Impression #1: good. Moving into the restaurant, we spied the rest of our party already seated at a table and so we made our way there. Now, lest you get the idea that this took some time, desist! The restaurant is small and cozy and thus it took us only about 5 steps to arrive at our table. Having sat down and murmured the customary hellos and nicetoseeyas, I began eyeing the decor. White walls holding melanges of art that were interspersed with cutouts in the wall that held twigs backlit with different brightly colored lighting (this looks much better than my description seems to convey). Impression #3: soothing decor. The place does look like they have put in as many tables as the space can hold. Try not to bang your knees into things while walking around. Impression #4: Cramped space.

Kaz's had a seperate RW menu available. You could choose 1 appetizer (out of 4), 5 "main" dishes (nigiri, rolls, etc) and 1 dessert. After a lot of discussion, all of us went with the RW menu, at least initially. I ordered the grilled baby octopus, 3 rolls and a couple of nigiri, along with the banana tempura. In addition to choosing from the RW menu, Bobby and Francois had to order sake flights (damn alcohol connoisseurs).

Act IV: The Feasting

After a short wait, the appetizers arrived. My baby octopus dish was small (which was expected) but chewy (which wasn't). This seemed especially disappointing after eating Ceiba's grilled octopus salad a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the other appetizers seemed to be doing better. The fried calamari was acceptably cooked though not great, and the mussels were realy good (though I didn't taste any). I was willing to give the restuarant a break seeing as how it was pretty packed for dinner, and hoped the entrees would be better.

The rest of the meal didn't start off any better. It took almost 30 minutes after finishing our appetizers for the main courses to arrive. Our server explained this away by mentioning that the kitchen had to get everyone's order to the table at the same time, thus taking longer. (Of course, no other restaurant is afflicted with this high standard of service. Thus allowing them to get dishes tothe table faster *rolls eyes*). When the dishes finally arrived, we were starving. My main course looked pretty interesting: Salmon and Tuna nigiri, a DC roll, a red pepper and asparagus roll, and a spicy tuna roll. I went pretty conservative with the choices since I like to figure out how well a restaurant does with the standard items, especially a sushi restaurant. Getting 3 rolls was a bit much, but luckily I was starving.

The tuna and salmon pieces were decent. The meat was acceptable but nothing to write home about. I can pretty much echo that sentiment for the 3 rolls as well. I had high hopes for the DC roll, but somehow the flavors in that were pretty subdued. I tried Neil's "fushion" sushi choice of tuna with pesto, which was interesting in that the pesto gave it a zing that simutaneously took away from and added to the taste of the fish, depending upon what you were looking for from it. I think it's something that I would order only for the sheer novelty factor.

The finale came in the form of dessert. My banana tempura was pretty decent. Served with a black rasberry ice-cream. It was interesting and tasted pretty good. Apparently, the green tea tiramisu was really good.

Act V: Conclusion

From the faces of people around the table, everyone seemed to be a mite disappointed with the food. We had expected better from Kaz's. Dessert did seem to partially make up for the mediocrity of the main course, but the overall experience didn't quite live up to our expectations. In Kaz's defense, I should say that we didn't actually try much of the "fushion" (or chef's speciality) items that were on the main menu, mostly due to the choices present in the RW menu.

Ratings

Kaz Sushi Bistro
Service Slow and mediocre
Decor Sudued but interesting
Food Decent sushi but below expectations

Footnotes

  1. Caribou's hot chocolate is even worse than Starbucks, if that's possible. The only thing good about it was that it was hot enough to please on a cool evening.

January 08, 2005

IndeBleu & Ceiba: Dynamic Duo

Players: Dids and moi

Act I: Begin the Beguine

So Dids and I decided to out to dinner in DC the eve before new year's eve. Sorta the precursor to the celebration. I drove up to pick her up from work and then took the Red line into the city. Taking the Metro from the 'burbs into the city is always an interesting experience. While I mostly travel the orange line ("yuppies to the left of us, yuppies to the right of us ..."[1]), taking the western branch of the red line from that far north proved not to be that different. Since we actually had some time, we ventured forth into DC in search of the mythical National Christmas Tree, which from certain angles looks decidedly hunchbacked. Notwithstanding the deformities of said landmark, it still made an impressive sight. One that unfortunately was overshadowed by the blazingly huge yule log fire burning near it (they had forklifts shoving massive logs into the firepit). After appropriate genuflections in the direction of the tree and the fire, we proceeded onwards and eastwards to IndeBlue.

Act II: IndeBleu

Now, there was a lot of talk going on about Indebleu in various circles: the Washington Post has a couple of small pieces mentioning it, there were posts about it on eGullet and a bunch of other mentions including DCist and the DC Socialites. All this intrigued me enough that I wanted to go experience the wonder that was supposed to be IndeBleu. I was hoping that it was measure up favorably to the only other Indian fusion restaurant in this area: Saffron in B'more.

Since we already had reservations at Ceiba for dinner, and were in town much earlier than that, it seemed like a good opportunity to head to IndeBleu for drinks. We headed over there at around 5:15, at which point the bar has just opened and the place was deserted. I didn't mind that since it allowed us to talk with the bartenders (who seemed like fun people to have bartending) and poke our noses around the place.

We managed to cadge a tour from Arjun after one of the bartenders asked him to give us one. The main bar is the first thing you see when you enter IndeBleu: long, sleek and modern. Most of the bottles are hidden behind panels, which is a nice touch. I'm tired of seeing bars displaying all the bottles as if it were something to be proud of. Behind the bar was the lounge, complete with a central sunken area with sorta communal lounge-y seating. If you are eating, you get to head upstairs, where you will encounter the secondary bar, which is smaller, better lit and is right in front of the wine storage. You also, by design, get to pass in front of the kitchen table/booth, which can be rotated to kill tow birds with one stone: to afford the diners a measure of privacy from the people walking past on their way to the main dining rooms, and also to get a view of the chefs at work. Very nice. Walking onwards you arrive at the private dining room, which is suavely decorated in themes of red. This connects to the main dining room (that can also be reached from the stairs near the upstairs bar). All in all, I got the sense that the Bleu people had spent a lot of time and money on the decor of the place and it shows.

Back at the bar, we got to looking at the bar drinks menu (I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to have the image up on the site), which is cleverly done to resemble the Metro map. We ordered the Mangotini (simple but delicious), the Spanky (the crushed rasberries made the drink) and the Truth or Consequences (smooth, tasty and just a little too subtle). There were quite a few other drinks I wanted to try but getting drunk wasn't on the menu. We also ordered food from the lounge menu, which is limited but appropriately so. We got the foie gras sandwich appetizer, which was done nicely but no great shakes. The bartenders were also kind enough to provide us with the dining menu and there were quite a few things that looked tempting and were enough to warrant a second expedition back to Indebleu.

Overall, without having tasted the food, Indebleu seems like a nice concept that destined to be successful: it's got great decor, a nice lounge, a fun bar menu, and menu items that seem a little pretentious (but hopefully live up to their descriptions) and of course, location!

I'm not being particularly descriptive about the decor or food because I'm writing this almost 2 weeks after the event. Maybe a better, fuller review will be forthcoming soon. I wrote another short review of Indeblue at Ortanique (with a dash of Indebleu): Ethnically Inspired

Act IIII: Ceiba

After Indebleu, we walked over to Ceiba, which was chosen partly due to DC Foodies' raving about Ceiba and partly cause I was in a ceviche kind of mood.

The decor at Ceiba, to say the least, is ummm....eclectic. From where we were seated, we could see at least 3 different decor themes, not counting the pink background of the bar. This was all the more apparent after having been at Indebleu. However, all for forgiven and forgotten once the food arrived.

As I seem to be doing frequently of late, we ordered mainly appetizers for the entire meal [2]. We started with the ceviche sampler, which gets you all four ceviches from the appetizer section. Note that this is enough to sample only for two people. If you have more than two, ordering only one smapler is going to be a disappointment. The ceviches themselves ran the range from okay (the grouper) to really good (the shrimp and the bass). Of course my bias towards more flavorful dishes is definitely at play here. I'm not normally a shrimp person, but the shrimp ceviche was particularly well done.

To follow up the ceviches, we had the crab fritters and the octopus salad. The former were mediocre, more heavily fried than I would have liked since it deadened the crab taste. However, the latter was simply awesome. Some of the best octopus I've had in a while, and probably the best non-fried octopus I've ever had. The dish is very well done with other ingredients (cheese and aioli) adding their own flavors to the octopus without detracting from it. This dish alone is worth the visit.

I almost forgot to mention the drinks. Instead of going with instincts and ordering a Caiprinha or a Mojito, I ordered a Yucatan Sunset. It was nice, but not memorable (hence me almost forgetting to mention it).

Act IV: Conclusion

I liked both Ceiba and IndeBleu, but for different reasons obviously. Indebleu has had a lot of thought go into it, from the drink menus to the decor. Not having tasted the food there, the pronouncement on that will have to be postponed. Ceiba on the other hand underwhelmed me with its decor and ambience, but I loved the food.

Ratings

IndeBleu
Service Fast and friendly
Decor Sophisticated and generally well done
Food Opinion withheld, but the drinks were interesting and well-made
Ceiba
Service Friendly and good
Decor Eclectic
Food Wonderful seafood

Footnotes

  1. Says the guy who is writing a review about IndeBleu and Ceiba. Pot, kettle, black.
  2. A couple of weeks ago at Cafe Atlantico, three of us had ordered the entire appetizer section including the appetizer special for the day. This turned out to be an awesome choice.

May 18, 2004

Parallel 33: Around the World in 80 minutes

Abstract:This restaurant having propelled itself to the top of my restaurant list, I'm left mostly at a loss for words. Hence this one is short and sweet. Just a warning: If I know you, and you manage to visit San Diego without eating at Parallel 33, I'm going to be doing drastic life-altering things to you.

Players:Michal and Viren.

This plot unfolds in San Diego, and as such may not be exactly convenient to those NoVa/DC residents wanting to follow the trail.

Prologue: Fuschia or not to fuschia

Being in San Diego, and having had a great experience in one Asian/European fusion restaurant, I decided to keep rolling the die. I found Parallel 33 while searching for fusion restaurants, and upon looking up reviews on the web, decided that it must be visited. This decision, while impulsive, was arrived at at least in part due to the name of the place. If the owners had given half the thought to the food that they had put towards the name, I figured it would be a good place. I was not mistaken. Far from it, I absolutely loved the place.

Amiko Gubbins and Robert Butterfield are the people behind Parallel 33. The concept is cool and interesting: fusion cuisine from countries that lie on the 33rd parallel: Morocco, India, Japan, China, Lebanon and of course, the USA. "They had me at 'Hello'".

Act I: Location, location, location

The location is interesting by itself. A little bit out of the way in Mission Hills, Parallel 33's neighbor's include a liquor store and a run-down strip of stores, all blazingly advertising their wares in a haze of neon. Rather than being distracting or disappointing, the neighborhood somehow felt right -- like being in an oasis, succored by manna from heaven. Though I did have fleeting blasphemous thoughts about my car being stolen, but that's just me.

Act II: Taste, it's a wonderful thing

Parallel 33 is a shining example of what happens when people with taste get to expending time and money on decorating a place (or possibly hiring an interior decorator). The restaurant is small and cozy; expensively and wonderfully decorated with a focus on the natural and organic. There is a heavy accent on the same countries that the cuisine borrows from.

In shades of ochre and yellow the decor follows the 33rd parallel as it circles the globe, so that the small bar boasts a shrine to Ganesh, the elephant-headed Indian deity, while a ceiling sculpture composed of newspapers printed in Hebrew and Arabic emphasizes another important region crossed by this busy geographic line. Star-shaped cutouts in the walls that separate two dining rooms are centered by flickering Moroccan oil lamps, and the booths are upholstered in fabric embroidered with Asian pictographs. The bamboo shoots, with exquisite homage to the form follows functionality paradigm, serve as decoration and as table separators and privacy curtains.

What makes the interior of Parallel 33 great is the thought given to every detail. I loved the interiors from the cushion-like objects on the ceiling to the comfy sacks that formed the back of our couch.

Act III: Manna, I say. Manna.

The menu was small and simple. Almost everything in there was a confluence of different ingredients and flavors. I, as usual, went for my 3-course meal: an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. The toughest choice was the appetizer. Every one of the items under there looked interesting and very appealing. I finally decided on the Ahi Poke because, as our waiter reminded us, it's the only one which the chef has put her name on. The main course was an easy choice. I just went with the seafood special which turned out to be halibut. The final course, for me, is always a tough one. Parallel 33 didn't make it any easier. I finally decided on the Date Madeleines because of their unique blend of flavors.

Amiko's Ahi Poke with Asian Pear and Mango salsa, wasabi dressing was priceless. The Ahi, pear and mango were mixed into short stacks upon crispy wafer bases and finished with a sprig of seaweed and sesame. The flavors blended exquisitely.

Pan-seared halibut on a bed of couscous with spinach and a delicious sauce. The fish, while wonderfully done, served as a great foundation for the flavors from the spinach and the sauce.

The dessert I chose -- Madeleines of Medjool dates with vanilla rose gelato -- was mouth-wateringly delicious. The taste was unique as well as scrumptious. Puddles of toffee sauce hidden beneath the scallop shell-shaped madeleines served to intensify the flavors of this amazing dish.

Ratings

Service Fast, unobtrusive and knowledgeable
Decor Exquisite and well themed
Food Damn good eclectic fusion with an emphasis on seafood

March 11, 2004

Roppongi: Best of both worlds

Players: Michal and Viren

This plot unfolds in San Diego and as such may not be exactly convenient to those NoVa/DC residents wanting to follow the trail.

Chapter I: The Search

Having finally gotten inured to our exiled state in the other side of the continent in what a normal human being could safely call "Paradise" (with a capital P), we decided to stir out of our immediate prison (in the form of a Quality suites Hotel) to venture forth and experience the culinary delights of San Diego.

As usual, this turns out to be a harder task than initially supposed. Some days, I feel life would be more akin to the apt nautical analogy of "smooth sailing" if I had no choices. At least then, I could just spend my days whining and muttering disconsolately about the fascist restrictions imposed on me, rather than spending my life burdened with the Herculean task of deciding amongst a plethora of options (xxxxxDo you know what a plethora is?). It wasn't as bad this time around. Michal was set on going someplace in La Jolla, and so my online searches (Zagats, DigitalCity and miscellaneous other sites) were limited, focused and short.

My culinary predilections are pretty straightforward and anyone who's known me for a while (say, an hour or so) can soothsay my opinions. Given any cuisine that has the words nouveau, fusion, or contemporary attached to it, I sorta kinda tend to jump in that direction. Mainly, I think, due to the aura of excitement and uncertainty I feel it would impart to my other drab, humdrum existence. In this case, being the predictable creature of habit that I am, I, given a choice between exemplary restaurants that served Hearty Italian, Traditional Seafood, Steak, and Asian-European fusion, dove in headlong flight towards the latter. That being an establishment that went by the rather quaint name of Roppongi (The corollary to Clarke's Law [1] is that any sufficiently incomprehensible foreign language phrase is indistinguishable from quaintness.)

Chapter II: The Area

So after work, we venture to La Jolla, the land of beautiful people, fast cars and of course, Starbucks. And while I'm stating the obvious and duh'worthy, let me add that it's also the land of milk and honey, air and salty water, sun and rain. Leaving aside such minor details, La Jolla looked pretty much like any other "sunset walks by the beach next to million dollar beach-houses filled with 6-figure objets d'art" area. It was a little deserted owing to recent rains, slight windy conditions and it being a weekday. Roppongi is located in downtown La Jolla on a street lined with stores whose names I couldn't pronounce even while sleep-talking, and restaurants without menu items were cousins to the store names.

Chapter III: The Experience

Roppongi starts off with a good impression and somehow manages to better it. The decor is muted and subtle without being bland. Even the blazing fires on the outside seemed to blend in. Everything was in tones of brown with varying themes, all influenced by the far east. You enter through the bar area, narrow and busy, into the main restaurant section, which is open but busy. The restaurant was well laid out and, even with it being fairly busy, the ambient noise was minimal [2]. The serving staff were courteous, knowledgeable and good-looking.

The menu at Roppongi is sharply divided down the middle. The left page of the menu is devoted to Asian tapas and sashimi/sushi, while the right side is divided into the more traditional western courses of starters, salads, entrees and side dishes. While the food obviously had a heavy Asian flair, the ingredients also had connections more western cuisines. In addition, Roppongi also has a good wine list.

It didn't take us long to decide on what we wanted to eat and the ordering went smoothly except for a slight tussle with our waiter concerning what kind of water we wanted (we ended up with a cool-looking cylinder of Voss water when all we wanted was tap water.) Michal and I shared a Ahi Sashimi appetizer, but thence our choices differed. He went crazy over the tapas ordering Indonesian tiger shrimp skewers with tomato horseradish and mango salsa (looked scrumptious), Woked black mussels with leeks, lemongrass, coconut milk and green curry, and Grilled portobello mushroom with spinach and miso dressing. All of which met his Atkins requirements. I, on the other hand, went with Organic greens with a sesame soy vinaigrette, Hibachi grilled seabass with roasted vegetables and papaya ponzu, and a side of Hibachi grilled asparagus with seven spice hollandaise sauce. The salad dressing was great, tho overall the salad wasn't anything to rave about. The seabass was great and the papaya ponzu gave it an unique flavor that initially felt strange but I quickly grew to like it. The asparagus was really good with the sauce complementing it perfectly.

Having not punished my stomach enough, I decided to order dessert. The dessert menu had some interesting offerings as well as a nice list of dessert drinks. Being an in-your-face chocoholic, I of course went for the Warm melting chocolate decadence with vanilla gelato. This required (as was stated in the menu) 20 minutes of preparation time. However, it was worth it in the end. While very good, the dessert wasn't quite in keeping with Roppongi's unique offerings.

Ratings

Service Polite and knowledgeable
Decor Subtle and non-intrusive
Food Good east-west fusion

Footnotes

  1. Clarke's First Law is "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  2. One of my pet peeves with restaurants is that the growing trend is to design them so as to exacerbate the ambient noise in the restaurant, presumably to make it seem busier than it is. While this also serves to mask sounds from crying children and particularly loud diners, the cure seems to be worse than the poison.

September 15, 2002

Mandalay: Inviting waters...

Abstract:An irregular outing in that it was for Sunday lunch. However, it all turned out for the best. My writing however in this review is pretty insipid and uninspired, so apologies in advance of you reading this.

Players:Back to the original trio of gangstas: Susan, Bobby and myself

Prologue: Behind the Curtain

Imagine a glorious day -- the bright sun a beacon in the sky beckoning you to bask in its warm glow and go frolicking in meadows, blue skies with a hint of wispy clouds like pale brushstrokes intended to highlight the blueness of the heavens and a slight breeze that ruffles people's hair without dissarranging it. All in all, a day that made you thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy it. Thus was the weather on the day of this outing [1]. The gods were smiling, candystripers skipping along while helping people and humanity was generally in a very mellow mood (except for those who weren't.)

It was a Sunday, and I had promised Bobby that I would come over to his place to look at his new toys on my way back from my sister's. So I arrive there at 11ish and get treated to Bob's new sound system. It sounded pretty good....and if I had more discerning ears, it probably would have sounded much better -- but at some point, my ears reach the peak of their operating efficiency and everything better than that point sounds about the same. Anyway, enough about the new audio setup (except that most of the equipment was from Nad, about whose name the less said the better.)

Given that I had to get back home in a couple of hours, we didn't have time for a long, lingering lunch or even a long, lingering discussion of where to go for lunch. It turned out that, Bobby having gone to take a shower, Susan and I decided that it was either an unnamed Italian place close by that we hadn't eaten at, or it was a Burmese place on Route 1 called Mandalay. The decision was short and easy.

Act I: The Setting

Mandalay is located on Rte. 1 within the beltway, near the UMD campus in College Park, MD. Anyone who's seen this part of the road knows that it's a veritable plethora of commercial and retail enterprises. The surroundings look busy, mostly due to the number of cars venturing hither and tither. However, there are very few people to be seen, and so I have no idea as to why I was left with this impression of busy-ness.

Mandalay is located in a small single-storey building on the east side of the road that seemed to house only a couple of establishments. It's kind of hard to know where to turn since the presence of Mandalay is only heralded by a yellow sign, and it's almost too late to turn by the time you read the sign. There's ample parking in front, side and back of the building. In fact the back resembles a free-for-all parking jamboree with no delineations for parking spaces, or where the parking lot ends. Its operating philosophy seems to be " Here's a blank canvas -- paint your car in there somewhere and make it look good."

Act II: Be it ever so humble...

When you enter Mandalay, you get hit with a sense of blandness and homeliness. The decor is simple and not much to speak of. The walls are painted a light sea green, and there are paintings and trinkets hung on the walls. It has two big windows on the front, which let in a goodly amount of light thereby brightening up the whole interior. There are about a dozen cheap-looking tables occupying the floor space, scattered about in an organized fashion. The whole place seems like the owners paid minimal attention to all the accessories and environment -- which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since all their attention went to the preparation of food, as we see later in this adventure.

Being a Sunday, and around noon, there weren't too many people at the restaurant. We were seated immediately by the friendly staff, and the only delay in our orders was due to the fact the we couldnt' make up our minds as to what to get.

Act III: Smiles and Spices

Now, Bob and Susan had been here before several times, and so they were in a quandry -- get the usual, or try something new. Meanwhile, I was happily lost amidst the unique choices the menu presented me with. There were the dishes with sour mustard (Chicken with sour mustard), those with mango pickle (pork with mango pickle) and a bunch of less exotic sounding dishes. The Burmese cuisine seems to have been influenced by not only India and Thailand, but also China, which made for a rather scrumptious menu (sorry, I just had to use that word). The food seemed to concentrate on highlighting one or two ingredients, but that didn't mean that the taste was simple. In fact, some of the dishes turned out to have rather subtle and complex tastes.

Bob ended up ordering one of his favorites, a noodle dish, while Susan ordered the tomato-tofu curry. I decided to order a cabbage salad and the chicken with sour mustard. I couldn't resist the latter, being curious concerning the taste of a dish with sour mustard in it (and not knowing what sour mustard was). Now, let's focus in on one particular part of the ordering process: after each person stated what they wanted, the waiter would ask what level of spiciness that person wanted. Now, Susan was the first to go, and she, after an initial hesitation, decided to go with "spicy" (the other choices being medium and mild). This small and rather insignificant utterance almost was our downfall. Since Susan went with spicy, neither Bobby nor I could go with anything less. There lieth the problem.

The salad arrived very promptly. It was a composed of a bunch of juliened veggies, cabbage and lettuce. It tasted amazingly good...with a myriad of flavors engaged in a friendly fight over which one got to tickle your taste buds. Unfortunately, the salad was soon over, but we didn't have to wait long for the main courses to arrive.

My dish, the chicken with sour mustard, was very good and very spicy. At least I thought it was very spicy until I tasted Susan's curry. Gak. That crystallized the meaning of "pleasure and pain". The taste was wunnerful -- probably the best tofu dish I've had to date. However, the spice was killer. The amazing part was that the spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors in the dish. Bobby's dish, while not quite as spicy as Susan's, was just as good. Other than the fact that my stomach was writhing in agony -- well, it was mostly my taste buds that were doing the sad dance. My stomach was just practicing for what was to come in the near future.

Epilogue: What's a Climax without dessert?

[Yes, it's the same heading as one of the previous reviews, but it's such a nice one] In order to sooth the savage beast that was my stomach, I decided that dessert and iced tea might be called for. Mandalay offers a very limited variety of desserts. However, one of them called "Shweji" looked appealing. It was made out of baked semolina, coconut cream and sugar, with some raisins addded in for fun. It looked similar to an Indian dessert called Sheera. It tasted pretty good to me -- though I don't think Susan was quite taken with the taste.

Ratings

Service Fast and very friendly
Decor Bland and uninteresting
Food Very good

Footnotes:

  1. Frankly, the weather had nothing whatsoever to do with the food outing, except that it put me in a really good mood -- and that might color my highly subjective opinion of the restaurant and the food.

May 28, 2002

Rain: I'm Singing in the ...

Abstract:I'll keep this one short and mostly boring for my sanity. It's a wonderful story about hungry friends and a quest for sustenance in the City That Never Sleeps (or is that Las Vegas?)

Players: Samantha, Angelique, Viren, lotsa non-thai staff and one thai/pan-asian restaurant.

This plot unfolds in the heart of New York City, and as such may not be exactly convenient to those NoVa/DC residents wanting to follow the trail.

Prologue: To Rent or not to rent?

The plot doesn't have too many twists and turns. In fact, it is positively brilliant in its simplicity. We (Angelique, Samantha and moi) would try to obain tickets to Rent (the musical) through its wonderful lottery system[1]. After several hours of walking all over the city, allowing someone else to sing and dance seemed like a wunnerful idea to me[2]. Besides the practical aspect of it, I'd have really loved to see a show in NYC.

Well, we did our best (which only included writing our names on a yellow piece of paper with some flourish and a lot of elan), and were rather confident since there only seemed to be 60 or so people there, and they were giving out 34 tickets -- not bad odds. However, our quest was doomed. We waited, with some semblance of bated breath, until the last name was called, but dissappointment dogged our footsteps, taking miniscule nips at our heels (which as I've mentioned before were already dog-tired). So, we leave the readers sympathetic to our plight but looking forward to our further adventures, as we turn to our backup plan -- eat at Rain.

This was only slightly more difficult than it sounds. We didn't know where it was, or what its phone number was. Of course, with the modern marvel that is the cell phone, we quickly ascertained -- thanks to the good folks at AT&T Wireless --that there were 2 locations that Rain was at, and Angelique decided that one of them was nearer than the other. So, off we went....to the place at the end of the rainbow.

Act I: The Protagonists arrive

After the relatively short journey on the subway[3], we arrived in the vicinity of Rain. It was extremely unprepossesing on the outside. We might have missed seeing it, except for the fact that Sam was actually using her ocular abilities.

Upon walking into the restaurant, we were greeted with subdued lighting and a sense of tasteful blandness. The lighting is achieved thru several hanging ceiling lights with orange lantern-like cylindrical shades. There's enough light to see by, but not enough to brighten the rooms. While we seemed to have enough light at out table, I can see where certain other tables would present problems in reading the menus. The decor in the restaurant seemed to follow in the same footsteps as the lights. There was enough so that it could be called decor, and not a whit more. While I'm all for minimalism (my preferred taste in furnishings and style being "less is more" and other adages to the effect), this followed the letter without attempting to satisfy the spirit of the style. The paintings and paint on the walls were on the bland side with no sign of the touches of creativity which turns a decent effort into a really good one. For all that, I wasn't unhappy with the decor. It did give a nice feel to the restaurant, and in general would suit most people, except snobbish poseurs trying to write restaurant reviews and attempting to impress people with their veritable plethora of culinary knowledge.

Act II: Saucy Dialogue ensues

After being seated, we were immediately served with shrimp chips and peanut sauce. Now, excuse me for a minute, while I mention that the shrimp chips were more grease than anything else. Ok, now that that is out of my system... the peanut sauce was absolutely wonderful. None of us could actually resist it, and Sam actually went so far as to be very assertive about demanding more chips and sauce. I have no idea what they did to their peanut sauce to make it so much better than the norm, but to borrow a quote from a friend: "they put crack in it".

As is usual with restaurants, I need[4] to order the fried calamari appetizer. It's not like I insist every restaurant offer me this wonderful dish, and it's not even like I eat seafood, but if it's there I just can't say no. So I forced everyone else to agree to the calamari appetizer (not that either of them were against the idea of calamari per se, but they were just concerned about ordering calamari, when it is a well-known fact in food circles that I don't do seafood.) We ordered calamari along with the obligatory request for more chips and peanut sauce, and proceeded to cogitate on what we wanted to order for our main course.

Soon enough, our appetizer arrived and we dove in. The first couple of pieces I had were kind of chewy, but the rest were very well cooked. The batter had some kind of spices added to it which made it pleasantly flavorful. However, it was the dipping sauce that made the dish. It was wonderful -- mildly hot (spicy) and slighly sweet, and filled with peanuty-goodness. It certainly made my top 5 calamari dishes list.

Act III: The Culinary Verbiage flies furiously

On to the main course. As is usual, we made a point of ordering different dishes so that we could taste a wider variety of the food. Just a note here to mention that the menu in Rain is not very authentic Thai. While it does seem to have been born and bred in the same geographical area, it also has influences from other cuisines. I, of course, thoroughly appreciate this.

So, back to the situation at hand. We had left our players sitting around eating calamari and meditating on the correct and proper main course to order. Angelique quickly settled on the duck special (duck wrapped around a nori wrap with lobster and rice). Sam, as usual, didn't read past the third item on the entrees part of the menu -- it had the magic words in it "jumbo shrimp" and "coconut". At which point, several chemical reactions occured in her body (about which the less said the better) and she proceeded to swoon. I, as usual deliberated for a painful amount of time (ask Sam how long it takes me to decide on chocolates) and finally settled on the Atlantic salmon with a crab meat crust in red curry.

Our food arrived post-haste, or so it seemed -- what with us being entranced by the calamari and the chips and sauce. There were no complaints about the quality of the food. I liked my salmon with the crab meat and red curry sauce. Together, the ingredients made a nice blend of flavors. Angelique's duck was pretty nice....though it tended to be a table-rattling experience every time she attempted to cut into it. The jumbo shrimp was pretty decent, and while Sam managed to palm off most of it onto us, she didn't complain about it (which means nothing).

Epilogue: What's a Climax without dessert?

No, don't answer that (in any sense of the question). We debated whether to have dessert there, but Angelique managed to convince us that there were much better dessert places out there (see the next chapter). So, we decided to take our leave of the place. For future reference, a few asides:

Do not have the ginger-whachamacallit after-dinner "mints" they give you. They taste weird and it's not the taste I want hanging around in my mouth.
At some point during the evening, we realized that not only were the waiting staff not asian, but they were also all male. The former considerably dissappointed Sam, and the latter devastated me.

Ratings

Service Fast, polite and male
Decor Soothing but cliched
Food Good nouveau pan-asian cuisine

Footnotes:

  1. The producers of Rent have decided that it would be cool to allow the hoi polloi a chance to see their smashing performances. They do this thru the simple expediency of running a lottery for the front 2 rows of seats, 2 hours before every show. You put you name on a piece of paper, and after 30 minutes, they will raffle off 34 tickets for $20 apiece (note that these are normally $90 tickets).
  2. Note to all you Doc Marten wearers. Do not attempt to spend a day walking (whether it be thru a nice wooded trail or thru a concrete paradise) in your 2-pounds-a-piece-I-could-sleep-with-the-fishes-without-needing-special-concrete-shoes sandals. Don't get me wrong, I love the things, they are comfortable and gain me 2 extra inches in height (not to mention doubling as weapons. Forget about Oddjob's hat -- just watch me throw these babies), but wearing them on a day trip where I walked all day wasn't quite the smartest thing in the world.
  3. Until now, I hadn't realized that the NYC subway was sponsored by Sesame Street. But after travelling on it on several different lines, it finally hit me: my soujourns were usually brought to me by the letters "N" and "L" and the number "4". Not only that, but you eventually got to see all the Sesame Street characters at the subway stations -- though there seemed to be a huge bias towards Oscar the Grouch and Bert& Ernie.
  4. I don't think anyone understands how deep-seated my need to order fried calamari appetizers at restaurants is. My whole dining experience revolves around it. A good calamari dish centers my food chi, and makes me a not altogether almost bearable person to not stay away from. There's something in the combination of fried batter coating cooked (hopefully not chewy) cephalopods that is attractive to my palate. Anyway, what it boild down to is that, a fried calamari dish is one of the central categories by which restaurants are judged in my book.

February 12, 2002

Thyme Square Cafe: A Study In Green Contrapositions

Abstract: A day of opposites, but all in all a good experience -- good food, splendid company and a rainy day.

Players: Susan, Morgane, Bobby and Yours Truly made up the quartet this time around. The staff didn't play much of a role, except as a possible somber foil for the rest of the cast.

Act I, Scene I: Jolly Nice Weather We're Having, Old Chap

The weather is always a safe subject that everyone agrees on. Sunny = nice. Rainy = bad. Icy = very bad. There's some variability, but for the most part, general consensus runs rampant. So, onto my first contrariness for the day. I wake up this morning, peer out of my bedroom window, and decide that I've been abducted by aliens and placed in a limbo dimension awaiting my fate. Now, thoughts like this can be excused by the fact that I (the non-corporeal, holistic me) was still asleep even though my body was being forced to wake up at the insistence of the alarm clock which I had forgotten to turn off in spite of it being a Sunday. Well, thoughts like that also tend to shake you awake due to the sheer absurdity of them. A tiny little siren goes off in the inner depths of my being, indicating to the PTB that the hoi polloi are rioting due to scare-mongering tactics by the militant left-wingers. Of course, this sets off immediate and drastic action on the part of the ruling junta, the end result being that I lose a few brain cells, but retain what's left of my sanity. An internal memo goes around informing everyone that it's merely very dense fog on the outside, and there's nothing to worry about -- It's just the weather. Then, in order to further disassociate any feelings of panic and doom from the general public, the cabal authorizes the release of endorphins. Now, all of this happens in just a few nano-seconds. By the time the beast that is my consciousness wakes up completely, it is left with a confused feeling of anxiety that is quickly replaced with an all-encompassing feeling of happiness. Thus, my mostly unexplainable embracing of the dreary, foggy, rainy weather that befell us on this surprisingly pleasant day.

Act I, Scene II: I Say, Librarian Ahoy?

Having decided that the day was indeed a glorious one, I decided to leave early for the brunch and visit a bookstore. Specifically, The Barnes & Noble that is next to Thyme Square Cafe in Bethesda -- what with it being convenient et al. After the usual 35 minute trip to Bethesda, I walk in there and decided that I wanted a book on the Knights Templars. Hmmmm....where would I be likely to get help? Luckily for me the folks at B&N anticipated my predicament and had a big sign reading "Information Desk" that seemed to invite all souls in literary distress to gather around and petition the Oracles within. Elated by this wonderful example of forward thinking on the part of the B&N management, I sauntered over and proceeded to get the attention of one of the high priestesses at the desk through the simple expedient of giving her my most winning smile. She, obviously thinking I was in great distress due to the expression on my face, immediately asked me if she could help me. So, I asked her if they stocked books about the Knights Templar, and if so, where would I be able to find them. Apparently, as with most Oracles, it seems we had communication problems. Unlike communications problems with Oracles of old, which centered around the Oracles sniffing various gases and substances to enhance their far-seeing ability, this communication could be laid at the feet of ignorance. She, while being nice enough, decided that I meant the "Nights Temple" and proceeded to type such a query in. The encounter degenerated from there, and wasn't helped by me mentioning the Crusades, or anything else relevant. I finally gave up and decided that this reflected yet another contrary event for this day -- Non-knowledgeable Information Desk people.

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Thyme Square in all its glory

Act I, Scene III: Subtle, it ain't

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Susan and Bobby bemused by the gigantic vegetables

Having decided that B&N was scaring me, and having remembered that I had decided to take pictures this time around[1], I walked on over to the Cafe. If you've never seen TSC (Thyme Square Cafe) before, it definitely worth a look. Set amongst a bustling neighborhood and city where restaurants seem to go out of their way to blend in, TSC decided on the opposite route. The external decor catches your attention, through the ocular equivalent of a punch in the solar plexus. It isn't as painful or violent, but does take your breath away. The walls are a rustic yellow, reminiscent of adobe dwellings. Liberally, almost grandiosely painted on the walls are fruits and vegetables, all of which as green. Now, this isn't just green as in painted green (which they are), but green as in only fruits and vegetables that are actually green -- pears, green peppers, peas, etc. Of course, if you take the time to reflect on this a little bit, you see the word play. TSC is all about green food i.e. healthy food. If you haven't already figured out from the name, someone at TSC likes puns.

Anyway, I took a picture of the restaurant, and about the same time Susan and Bobby made their presence felt. Timing it just right, Morgane calls and says she will be late, so the three of us decide to venture forth and wait for her inside, what with us starting to be barraged by the raindrop-shaped little missiles of watery doom. And yes, it was still a wonderful day.

 

 

Act I, Scene IV: "Of Course I'm Schizoid." "No, I'm not"

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Looking from the purple wall end towards the explosion of color. You can also see the bar on the right

So, we go in, and my first impression is "huh". So as not to deceive, I should say that I approve of the interior decor. It is fun and kinda buoys your spirits. However, there's this weird feel to the place, as if it was a design-by-committee. Not the usual give and take where you end up with the lowest common denominator, but the schizoid process whereby everyone does whatever they want to their allocated section of the restaurant. You look to the left, and the walls are a riot of colors, emblazoned with multi-colored fruits and vegetables. Very fun and spirited. Look to the right and you are treated to purple walls with multiple copies of a painting that looks like it came straight out of Ikea, and tiny multi-colored lights above each table. Look straight and slightly to your right, and you see a bar that seems to be acting kind of like the divider between the two sections, trying mightily to reconcile the two through it's sheer existence. Finally, you get the completely incongruous plastic trees that are wrapped around the supporting beams that are strewn around the place. The hope being that plastic trees (only the trunk mind you, no leaves or branches) are better than thin columns -- someone was obviously not thinking. All in all, you have a feeling that the designer of this place would do very well when given full rein, and seems to have come out of the school of design that's a mysterious blend of "Willy Wonka", "Wizard of Oz", "Toys", the Museum of Modern Art and bad Scandinavian furniture design. Mmmmmmmmmm.

We were greeted by a timid looking waitress who looked like she would be more comfortable in goth chic than in whatever she was wearing. I figure practicality and job demands prevailed and we got treated to the pale shadow of what she could have been. She was a little hesitant but otherwise she was fine.

Act II, Scene I: Ahh, behold the power of.....Health Food?

The restaurant was completely empty, partly because they had just opened, and partly because people don't seem to go to brunch until much later. Our waitress was still inserting the day's specials into the menu, and got flustered since she now had to do two tasks. Humans...nature's multi-tasking machine. She, for some reason unknown to us, took us to the somber (i.e. purple wall) side of the restaurant. That set me to wondering whether we looked like the type of people who would be happier sitting under purple walls than under red, green and generally brilliant hued enclosures. Does the wait staff over there make quick, on-the-spur decisions as to whether I'm a purple person or a vibrant red? I would love to hear their reasoning. And can I get training in this?

The menus, to along with the food-colored theme, were pumpkin colored (or at least they left that impression[2]). I don't remember much about the actual items on the menus themselves, but on the whole they looked pretty appetizing. As evidenced by the fact that it took me a while to figure out what I wanted. While we were waiting, we decided to while time away by having drinks (Coffee for Susan and a Harvest Moon for me. The latter being a delicious concoction of apple, pear, pineapple, and a bunch of other fruits topped off with almonds and honey. Mmmm, mmmm, good) and admiring Susan & Bobby's photographs[3]. In keeping with the theme of photographs, discussions were had about how various parts of the restaurant would photograph well.

I should say a few words about the menu, what with this being superficially a restaurant review. The first thing to catch my eye were the fruit smoothies, and I would certainly like to try all of them. They had about half a dozen of them on the menu and they all sounded good. Then they had what I classify as normal entree choices broken up by whether they were vegetarian, fishy or chickenish. I call them standard, but they had elements of nouveau cuisine in there with a dash (or more like a dollop) of healthiness thrown in for good measure. There was also the brunch menu, and more will be said about that later. One of the things the Thyme Square prides itself on is that it only uses organic, locally grown produce when possible, and I appreciate that. Although, if you are allergic to puns, do not, I repeat do not, look at the back page of the menu. About the time I finished scrutinizing the menu, Morgane popped in.

Act II, Scene II: Let the games begin

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The rest of the cast posing for the first official cast picture for an Exotic Outing. Bobby, Susan and Morgane. All smiles are we.

Morgane, being Morgane (which all told is how it should be -- impersonating other people doesn't work well) apologized profusely for being late. We teased her about it for a while, but since she had a good reason, we relented[4]. Our waitress immediately came by, being the stellar exemplar of her profession. We decided that Morgane needed more time to peruse the menu, but she did manage to get a pear concoction that seemed to be pretty good. The talk then turns around to the usual swapping of stories and also, since Morgane hadn't seen them, The Photographs (remind me next time to wait until all are accounted and present before perusing the pics). By and by, our lovely hostess walks over and we all make last-minute hurried decisions about our food. Bobby, Susan and I decided on getting the "omelette with grilled asparagus and roasted Yukon gold home fries", while Morgane, ever the individual, went with the "cinnamon and brown sugar French toast with fresh berries". I also ordered the "wild mushroom and leek soup with goat cheese crostini, tomatoes and chives".

The food came pretty quickly, with the only thing happening before then (that I remember) was me using the word flabbergasted and sending Bobby off into peals of laughter. The mushroom soup was really good. My only problem with it was that it could have been a touch warmer. But everything from the texture to the accessories (crostini, etc) was perfect. The omelettes were well done (I exchanged mine with Bobby since he preferred underdone eggs, and his was more cooked than mine) and stuffed with vegetables. The home fires and the asparagus that came with the omelette were pretty decent. Morgane's french toast came in a ginormous[5] bowl, which seemed to exemplify the restaurant in my mind. Every time I think of it, I'll see this huge bowl of french toast. Apparently, the french toast was wonderful (Morgane's opinion). So the food gets a positive rating form all concerned.

We devoured our food like a pack of rabid hyenas, since we were all starving and asked for our damages. Along with those, we also got comment cards and so we (with the exception of Bobby "Filling out comment cards is too plebeian for me" Bhattacharjee) filled them out. I mean, here's someone actually asking for my opinion -- how could I refuse?

Act II, Scene III: The Sun Sets

Well, the sun didn't actually set any time soon, but after a brief stint at Second Story Books. I, unfortunately, had other commitments. And so ended a pretty nice brunch. Yes, it was still raining, and for once seemed appropriate.

Ratings

Service Acceptable and yet Somber
Decor Bright, Colorful and Eye-Catching
Food Healthy Standard Fare with spots of brilliance.

Footnotes

  1. It's in the nature of a scientific experiment -- all exotic outings from now on will have accompanying pictures. Then I run a poll to see if having pictures makes people stay at the review longer. If there is a statistically significant difference then I'll call it a success and move on.
  2. In general, my memories have more to do with holistic impressions rather than reality. That way, I figure I'm getting the essence of what the object/place/encounter was about.
  3. They are taking a photography class, and as with all things Bob, have decided to drown in the ocean that is amateur photography. This makes their idea of photographs distinct from mine. Whereas I go for the snapshot moments not caring a whit about framing, color, light or depth as long as the subject shows up well enough to be recognized, they go for all those parameters plus a few more that I couldn't name if I wanted to. I guess the best way to summarize would be that I take pictures, they take photographs. I like their stuff, and they do seem to be getting better, but I definitely miss all the nuances of their photographs, what with me being a barbarian illiterate.
  4. Her cat got into a fight with her window curtains 'cause she was having a bad hair day (the cat, not Morgane). The curtain, now really mad, billowed up, tore itself off the rod and fell on Morgane, who not being able to see anything stepped on her cat. The cat, startled, teleported itself (you do know cats are much more scientifically advanced than us mere humans, right?) into the kitchen, where it proceeded to upset the Mrs. Butterworth's Original (24 oz.) -- which Morgane had left open) all over herself. So, Morgane spent the next hour or so shampooing her cat's hair.
  5. Yes, that's a word. Go look it up in the "Viren's Smashed Up Words Dictionary". A delicious combination of gigantic and enormous.

November 03, 2001

Mallorca: A Heavenly Experience

Players: Samantha, Angelique, Viren, several very attentive servers, and one vereeeeeee attentive and good-looking ogler.

For all you DCites (DCers?), this would be in the part of the world that is dark, dank and dreary all the time...no, not London, England but Cleveland, Ohio. But, when all said and done, the trip out there might be worth it just for the food (needless to say, and in imminent danger of turning this sappy, it's always worth it for the company).

Act II, Scene II: Whither goest thou?

Now contrary to all my previous dining sojourns, where the bulk of our time is taken up by pretentious (because really, who are we kidding with our snooty dining preferences?), semi-coherent ramblings concerning the locus of our gastronomic endeavors, which mainly take the shape and form (while remaining completely amorphous) of ever-changing opinions, impromptu vetoes and childish sulking, this time around was refreshingly different (which circumstance had nothing to do with the fact that I wasn't given a choice). Samantha, taking matters into her own hands, decided to be proactive and suggest Mallorca as a destination and I agreed (and stop with the amazed gasps). We were going to go on Thursday night for dinner, but Tony having an inexplicable hatred of Mallorca, we instead went to Sergio's (which, my dear readers, is an entirely different tale). So, having resolved to go to Mallorca, Samantha decided that we should go there for lunch on Friday (she was being amazingly decisive that day). So the decision was made with haste, but not unduly so, and with certitude, but again not overwhelmingly so. I, being in Cleveland for the company and not the food (even though we all know that Cleveland is a virtual gourmet oasis situated in the midst of a rather large wasteland), was happy and content, and thus most agreeable to informed suggestions.

Act II, Scene III: Who ventures afield with thee?

So, the original plan was for Friday lunch to be with Samantha and Lisa (who I hadn't seen this trip since she didn't wanna leave Ryan alone on Thursday night, and didn't want to bring him to the bar either -- excuses, excuses). However, the gods intervened and decided to mix things up. We managed to coax Angelique out from her busy schedule (twice in as many days -- wow! Since I am usually filled with a grandiose sense of self-importance, I'll attribute that to me being in Cleveland -- most sane people wouldn't, but then *shrug*),and that's an impressive feat, or so I hear -- this girl's got way too many things going on, doing the time management equivalent of juggling a 7-ball circle with no hands. Color me envious, and let's move on (True Confessions: I've always had a complex about my complete and utter inability to manage my time better). Lisa' story is a little more complicated, but it boils down to her not being able to make it to the tete-a-tete. I'll update Lisa's situation as the story unfolds.

So, it ends up being me all alone with Samantha & Angelique, and as you can imagine, I had an absolutely 'orrible time (right, and I also dress up as the Queen of Sheba every full moon, but don't tell anyone, please).

Act II, Scene IV: Morning Ramblings

Friday Morning:
Here I am, having just woken up from oblivion, by the passing hug bestowed on me by Tony as he left for work (Other than the fact that Tony's very touchy-feely, there was also the matter of the goodbye commiserations -- he had to work and I had to leave for parts unknown). Though, I guess I would have woken up anyway, being in a strange place on a strange couch with no strangers to lure me back to sleep.

So, I commence with my morning ablutions, which in a strange place are always in some state of discombobulation. Nothing's in the right place, and more importantly the right things are not there at all! I seriously do not know how people expect me to walk into the cold bathroom in the morning without my furry green bunny slippers, which imbue me with a feeling of warmth and a shield of warm fuzzies to battle the frigid, clinical environs of bathrooms. Now, I grant you that calling my bathroom at home "clinical" would be a massive misuse of the word, bordering on a language felony, but it's the shiny, white quality of nearly all bathrooms that leaves me with such an impression. Back to the topic at hand (rather than the multitude in the nonexistent bush -- which is another peeve of mine, but I'll spare you that self-pitying ramble): So, I go thru my morning routine as best I can, ever mindful not to trip over Tony's gym that overlaps his living room in this time-space continuum such that you can never tell which room you are in, and what furniture/equipment you are next likely to encounter. I get through all these obstacles and am finally done with it, all shiny and sparkly and ready to brave the new world out there (literally -- it was all sunny and nice that morning, and 'twas a different Cleveland, like someone spray-painted a new facade on it overnight), and about to resign myself to a couple of hours spent in front of the ever-dreaded idjit box, when lo and behold, who should appear but a heavenly messenger sent to rescue me from the dreary dearth of dancing dromedaries. [HUH? That didn't make sense even to my warped brain, but you get the meaning]. Oh, did I mention that that was Samantha at the door? I didn't? Well, read my mind, dear reader -- it's not like I'm supposed to be communicating with you through any other medium.

Act II, Scene V: The Descent of Angels

So there's Samantha, wearing jeans (why do I feel a need to mention that? because she's gonna be reading this and I feel I should continue riding my current hobby horse about her and jeans, flogging it to death even). This is not to imply in any fashion whatsoever that she wasn't wearing anything else, because I wouldn't dare do so, even if it were true, which it wasn't, so can we just let this whole thread waft away into the breeze? Thanks! Anyway, there she was, being Samantha'ish. Now, you realize what this meant? No? Let me enlighten you concerning this fiasco. There's the two of us in one room with no one else there, and we had to decide on what we wanted to do for the rest of the morning until such time as lunch would demand to be eaten, and we didn't even have my pet Ouija board there to help us. The conversation concerning this topic was not pretty, unless you were a student of psychology studying the psychosomatic phenomenon of chronic iudiciophobia.

Now, I'm all for witty conversation and extended debates about various topics, but our meandering vocalizations on what to do until lunch went along sooo slowly that a passing snail that was creeping along the window sill was hard put to slow down enough to catch the gist of it. There was mention of Presty's but its donut place had already closed (damn stores that close by 10am), and then there was the nebulous "we could go somewhere" and finally the mention of some coffee shop. Samantha meanwhile called up Lisa, who was in a meeting and thus couldn't be found, and Angelique who was in some place where the phone wasn't ringing. Then, prompted by divine inspiration or just bit in the ass by the passing snail (who apparently couldn't bear it any longer), I sprang from the couch and pulled Sam off her non-comfy chair -- which left her with such a bemused expression on her face that I could hear her brain going: "What the heck? this is very un-Viren-like. Oh God, what's he up to now?". Anyway, we were soon on our way to Arabica, this coffee shop that's on the CWRU campus and very close to some of the more important sorority houses (which, for some people, is all that matters. And truthfully, it probably is awfully convenient for the smoke and coffee sessions after. Bye. Now we talk of other things)

So we arrive at Arabica, and order 2 hot chocolates (my drink of choice at coffee shops) complete with huge mounds of whipped cream. Angelique decides to take this moment to call and so I run outside to where I can actually hear her, and she decides to join us at Arabica, much to everyone's delight. Meanwhile, Sam and I sit down and inject some much needed life into our corporeal selves by ingesting the steaming beverages. We while away time by talking about frivolities

--
(pardon me while I take a huge sidestep down another trail for a while, but this can't wait. Is anything in life really a frivolity? at least as far as conversations go. I could be talking about the amount of hair that Ashley Judd's dog sheds, and it could still be meaningful conversation -- BTW: I really wish that the amount of hair that Ashley Judd's dog sheds would be a constant irritation in my life. That would indeed make me happy -- you learn about the way my mind works (don't worry, professionals have failed in this task), and what I think about (Ashley Judd), and in general you get an inkling into my inner being. So, why is the conversation trivial or frivolous? It could be boring, I suppose, but frivolous? that's just you not wishing to learn about me, and if that's the case, fie on you.)

-- and waiting for the final member of the trio to appear. I get to listen about life on campus which gets me wondering about why I ever left academia -- I mean it might be a separate world, sort of disconnected from most of reality, but isn't that what we are all looking for? Reality is for those with an underdeveloped sense of imagination and lack of abusable substances, and no one has ever accused academics of either of those things. Eventually Angelique appears (along with the obligatory thunderclap and trumpet solo -- you think I'm kidding, don't ya?) and we hang around a bit more, while continuing the process of getting hold of Lisa. The latter continues to fail since getting access to Lisa at work seems to be a futile task [enough so that Sisyphus took a break from his labor to laugh at us]. We eventually give up and decided to wend our way to Mallorca, after leaving a suitable message for Lisa.

Act III: Scene I: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

So you would think that you, my dear reader, are finally getting down to the gist of things, the heart of the matter, the meatballs among the sauce, the pigs out of the swill, the actual restaurant review ( but really, if that's all that you wanted to read, you wouldn't be here, would you?), but there I thwart you again, or rather fate does thru the simple expedient of giving me more to talk about. The next obstacle in our quest was that none of the natives knew where Mallorca was. Now you would think that in these modern times, finding the solution would be a mere phone call away. Riiiight, maybe in your part of the world, but Cleveland's special (or maybe it's just Ohio). We call up 411, and get the number for Mallorca. Easy enough. We then call up said number and ask for directions. We get directions from random spot "A" in the city to Mallorca, which would be all fine and dandy if we knew where "A" was. Now, I blame this all on Samantha -- if she had just wheedled some more, promised a few things, breathed heavily and generally acted normal, we would've, I promise you, had directions in a jiffy. But no, she had to get all coy, which left us at square one. But, I or rather my car, came to the rescue with my rather (on the face of it) absurd statement "Let's go in my car, it will tell us how to get there." That statement emanating from my mouth, the universe created an instant noise dampening field around said part of body with the result that no one heard me, or maybe they were all just ignoring me (say it isn't so!). I finally explain my thought process to them, and we shimmy over to my car which is at one of the afore-mentioned sorority house parking lots.

Debemos apagado ver al mago

It's kinda like magic having an Onstar system in your car. You press the button, and some omniscient, all-knowing voice resounds in the car, and always seems eager to fulfill your wishes, which isn't all that great since most of my wishes need corporeal entities to be present, but it stills ranks up there in wunnerfulness with Oreos, talking dolphins and Douglas Adams. And while it doesn't begin to approach Audrey Hepburn and chocolate, I sure like it. Tho, I've never seen anyone as excited as Samantha upon discovering Onstar. She was bubbling over with so much excitement that all she could get out of her mouth were these little noises that probably sounded really weird to the all-knowing personage (except being all-knowing, they knew what Samantha was trying to say). Now, I'm usually modest in my wants when it comes to Onstar, a little direction here, some whirled peas there, every now and then I would like fantasies brought to life -- all relatively minor stuff. So, it came as no surprise to them when all I did with the might of Onstar was ask them how to get to Mallorca (note that I could have asked them to teleport us there, but I'm a man of little needs), and they didn't bother telling me that it was beneath their dignity to move the awesome might of Onstar to perform such a trivial deed. Now I know how the Major felt on "I dream of Jeannie" and how Darren felt on "Bewitched" (no, no, get your mind outta the gutter, I just meant that they must have been in awe of these superhuman abilities at their command/request). Anyway, we got directions and all was well with the world. Though, at some point, remind me to tell you about Samantha discovering the buttons to heat the seats in the car.

Act III, Scene II: In the Land of Oz

It's surreal being in any city's downtown area during a weekday, when you are not there for business purposes. Cleveland's was no exception. You have all these people walking determinedly from here to there (and sometimes even from yonder to thither) who couldn't be bothered to smile at another person when they make eye contact (which to be fair is not all that often, since they stare fixedly at the ground most of the time). there's just this aura of aloofness about everyone with the "Beware of Dog" sign prominently painted on people's backs (which sometimes I mistake for the "Kick me" sign). It makes me feel sad that I've joined the ranks of the business zombies wearing deeper and deeper ruts into the same old path everyday. I keep hoping that behind the dull, boring, pretentious facade, there's this little likeable man pretending to be the mighty wizard.

So there we were, finally within a stone's throw of Mallorca, in the heart of downtown (actually, for all I know it wasn't quite the heart of downtown, but close enough). Finding parking was surprisingly easy, and I nearly had apoplexy when not only did we spot a parking garage right next to the restaurant, but we also found lots of available parking spaces in it. We choose one after due deliberation, parked there, and walked over to Mallorca. Now, Mallorca didn't seem to be very imposing. It was on the first floor of a nondescript middle-aged building with a semi-washed out sign proclaiming to all of Cleveland that here lieth the restaurant you desire. But, the important part of this is that we were finally at Mallorca.

Act III, Scene III: The Royal Treatment

And the stage is set. We enter the restaurant, eager and willing (partly from hunger, partly 'cause that's jus the way we are). We are greeted at the entrance by no less than 4 employees, all of whom were dressed impeccably in a white jacket of the standard server variety -- not quite a tuxedo, not quite a lab coat, but more of a scientist dressed up for a formal date with the talented labrat -- and black pants. Now, I recognize that I was with 2 young, dare I say nubile women, but that's no reason to ignore me like I was a piece of rotting fish (though I'm sure they would have paid more attention to rotting fish since it would smell bad). The conversation went something like this:

Me 3, please
Waiter #2 (staring at Samantha) How many?
Me (rolls eyes) umm...3, please.
Waiter #2 (giving me a dirty look) Of course.
Waiter #3 (looking in the direction of Angelique)Smoking or non-smoking?
Me (just to be irritating) Non-smoking, please.
Waiter #3 (forms dirty look curiously similar to the one afforded me by waiter #2. They could have been brothers if similar expressions were all that mattered.)
Waiter #2 (stares significantly at waiter #1)
Waiter #1 (shakes head as if to clear it) Oh, follow me, please.
We (Exit stage left)

Now the more perceptive among you might begin to wonder as to what waiter #1 was doing all this while. I mean, he seemed to be the de facto "head waiter" with authority to order everyone else around (as we saw later), so why was he mum? Maybe because he spent the entire time staring at Samantha's midriff (or maybe just at Samantha, though later events validate my initial hypothesis).

As we followed "midriff-guy", I did my usual looking around at the restaurant knowing that I'll, in all probability, be writing up another excessively long non-review of this restaurant. In spite of this attempt on my part, I can't remember a thing about Mallorca. I have this vague impression of a sea of dark wood with walls of white bobbing on it. Everything below the waist level was either made of the same dark wood or matched it. The restaurant was broken up into these pseudo-rooms that gave it a feeling of a cozy, personal dining room, which I liked a lot. There was very little noise, which may have been due to the scarcity of diners present, but I figure it also had something to do with the way the restaurant was laid out. The interior parts of the restaurant were a little on the dark side, but we shortly emerged into a nice brightly lit (natural light courtesy the huge windows and the unnatural sunniness of that Cleveland day) room where we were seated. Now, you may think that being seated is a trivial task not worthy of being mentioned here. You would be wrong. Not that I had problems with the seating process, but it hearkened back to days of royalty and ostentatiousness with more attendants than diners. I had not realized that we were being followed by the entire coterie of employees that had greeted us at the entrance. However, I quickly found out, as mysterious hands smoothly and efficiently pulled out and proferred chairs for us to be seated upon. The cherry on the sundae was that they nicely tucked the chairs back in concordance with us sitting on them. Do you know how difficult it is to seat someone such that not only do you not hit the back of their knees with the chair, but so that their read end (buttocks, even) firmly abut the chair back? You need to spend years in meditation and practice to perfect this art! And yet most of us dismiss it as of no consequence. Learn to appreciate the finer points in life.

Anyway, seated and ready to enter the fray, we started perusing the contents of the menu. The first thing that struck me was the there wasn't anything resembling what I thought of as Spanish food (my spanish cuisine thoughts being limited at that point to paella). Most of the dishes sounded like they could be obtained at any neo-cuisine restaurant. However, I did not let that faze me at all. Now, one of the items on the menu in the appetizer section was Calamari. So, of course, Samantha immediately suggests that we get it. This, in spite of having the knowledge thoroughly embedded in her mind that I hate seafood. Me, being a good-natured fellow decided to make the terrible, terrible sacrifice (after a bit of an argument with my taste buds) and agree to the fried cephalopod dish. The things we do for friends! That settled, we tried to harmonize our entree selection. Just as we were about to start that, "midriff-guy" came to our table to recite the list of specials that they had today (I won't bore you with details as to whom he was facing, where he was looking and to whom the recital was directed. You are of moderately intelligent stock; figure it out). Now, lest I lead you to think that upto this point the employee cabal had been dissing us, let me disabuse you on that point. About a millisecond (I don't have greater granularity than that as far as time-keeping is concerned) after we were seated, we had one of the waiters flit around our table filling in all our glasses with water. He then disappeared, only to emerge out of thin air everytime someone's glass was less than 95.69% full, do the needful and vanish again. Now, it is conceivable that he was merely blending into the white walls (what with wearing a white jacket) but I consider that highly improbable. This continued for the rest of our dining experience, much to our delight and amusement. But, back to the recital of specials. About a third of the way thru the recital, "midriff-guy" mentioned the "Crab-stuffed jumbo shrimp" special, and you could see Samantha's eyes dilate, her body go all limp and mouth start to drool (I don't even want to know what midriff guy attributed this change in her demeanor to). I figured we all knew what Samantha was getting. Now the question devolved to Angelique and me. I, being the seafood hater that I am, was trying to decide between two chicken dishes and finally settled on the "Pollo Al Vino". However, Angelique had just come to that decision too. Now, anyone who's ever read Miss Manners knows that given a small party of diners, one should not order the same dish as another person at the table -- it's the worst of table sins (And speaking of Miss Manners, I was apparently sitting next to one of her disciples -- who for her sake shall remain nameless -- and I proceeded to learn the exact uses of my 2 forks, one of which I swear was cloned from the other). I also remembered some vestige of civilization buried deep inside me, and so trying to act the gentleman, volunteered to have a *gulp* seafood dish -- the the same dish. Now that the orders had been given, we sat back, relaxed and swapped parental anecdotes (in case the meaning is not clear enough: no, not anecdotes of our kids, but anecdotes of our parents).

Act III, Scene IV: Manna from Heaven

Shortly after, we had our first dish arrive -- the Calamari. I had already nerved myself to eat this wriggly, tentacle-y dish, so I did not shirk from my duty, but instead vigorously attacked the dish in the hope that the quicker it was dealt with, the sooner I could rest easy. The Calamari itself was the most exquisitely cooked that I had ever eaten (and that's saying a lot). It was tasty without being in the least bit chewy. It almost melted in your mouth. The only problem with it was the extremely sparse coating of batter that they applied to it (Fried batter is the life-blood of most good foods), combined with the mundane sauce they provided with it. We quickly finished most of it, inspite of the huge amounts that they saw fit to present us with. Almost before we were done with it, our food arrived.

Now, here's some trivia: George Crum in 1853 invented what we know today as potato chips. Interesting as that fact is, what I really want to know is why we got served potato chips under the guise of "Spanish fried potatoes" at Mallorca (they are a side dish that come with every entree). Here I was, expecting a nice exotic variation on the whole fried potato theme, when, to my dismay, I get served potato chips. Now, as potato chips go, they were fine, thin, crispy and not greasy. But, I still felt I got cheated out of a good side dish. Other than the above complaint, the food was wonderful -- delightfully flavored and pleasantly perfection and slightly charred in places, which is what with my intense dislike of seafood). The only thing that I would have added was a sauce to go with it, preferably something tangy or sharp. I, being piggish when it comes to food, tasted both the other entrees. The shrimp were fantastic. The crab and the shrimp seemed to work together so well that you didn't get the strong shrimp taste that I normally detest. The dish was well cooked and very well flavored (if I continue this, I'm going to feel like one of the commentators from "Iron Chef"). The final entree was the chicken cooked in a wine sauce. This, while a very good dish, did not in my opinion, measure up to the other dishes we had. Don't get me wrong, in most other circumstances this would have been accorded the place of honor, but the field here was just too good. I think part of the reason is that Mallorca seems to primarily be a seafood place -- though maybe that's just because Spanish cuisine leans that way.

We were now asked the age-old question: dessert anyone? We, after considerable inner struggle refrained. Then we had the same ole struggle about paying, and Samantha finally won that battle thru the wily use of the "I'm going to be hurt and saddened and my eyes are getting all teary"-eyes and judicious pouting of the lips. I gave up in a hurry and resolved to stare at blank walls next time we fought over this. The arrival of the bill and the taking of the credit card was as speedy as their service and so departure time was soon upon us. Now, this would've have been non-eventful except that Samantha decides to stretch (or some similar body motion) just as she got up resulting in her exposing even more of her midriff. This apparently stunned "midriff-guy", who was clearly taken aback by this maneuver. Samantha had just won the war. I may have neglected to mention that "midriff-guy" was a good-looking, exotic half-spanish, half-random-other-nationality "tight package" that may or may not have been noticed by her.

Act III, Scene V: The Aftermath

We left in good cheer, sated by the good experience. The only problem with the whole outing being the non-appearance of Lisa. All in all, one of my better dining experiences. Tho I left there with a saddened heart since I had to leave Cleveland soon in order to make Jennifer & Michael's wedding rehearsal.

I end with my usual reassurances that while the events and people described in this piece of work are based on reality, they may not mirror every facet of the truth due to the taking of certain artistic licenses by yours truly. The ability to discern the truth within the pack of lies above, I leave to you, good reader, in order that I not limit your fervid enjoyment of it.

Ratings

Service Speedy yet unintrusive
Decor Bland
Food Good

October 14, 2001

Jaleo: It's a Small World

Susan wrote the review, with commentary from Bobby (in red) and from me (in blue)

The Setup

After drinks and nachos at Parker's and a brief stop at Second Story Books, the usual suspects (Bobby, Viren, and myself) took to wandering the streets of Bethesda in search of food. As usual, every restaurant in the area was suggested, and then promptly vetoed or had Bobby's nose turned up at it on the grounds that it was too fancy, too weird, or Levante's.This inspite of the fact that Susan and I offered to go to Bobby's favorite hobbyhorse restaurant -- some random Korean BBQ place in Rockville.

The Decision

Finally we mustered up the courage to look at the menu posted outside of Jaleo, the tapas bar, in hopes of finding out what the heck tapas means. Upon seeing the phrase "Levante style" on the menu, my eyes lit up (Literally! Kind of a surreal effect -- like Tinkerbell glowing, except it's only Susan's eyes).. We decided to go for it. The moment we entered, Viren and I knew it must be a good place because the hostess table had a bowl full of matches in little Jaleo match boxes. Despite Bobby's disapproval, we took one each. (It should be noted that both Viren and Susan have a penchant for playing with fire... at the dining table!). How rude! I don't "play" with fire -- I'm a professional when it comes to fire, and ways of creating it, thanks to the wonderful institution of boy scouts...

The Restaurant

I should add a few (and, never fear, I will keep it to a sane definiton of few) words about the decor and ambience of the restaurant. The predominant color in there seemed to be yellow -- now I'm not sure at this late date whether there was any actual yellow in there, but I'm left with that impression. Other than that, Bobby liked the wall decorations (which included this gigantic painting encased in frosted glass depicting 3 people -- about the only thing I remember about it is that it's predominant color was red). The animate scenery wasn't too shabby, especially the ones gracing our neighboring tables. Although, one of them decided that she would complete the restaurant experience for the rest of us by talking loudly on a cell phone for an extended period of time. Now, if I had happened to be one of her companions, I would have been very inclined to snatch the cell phone out of her hand, walk to the kitchen, and see what kind of tapas they could create from the innards of a Nokia cell phone.

The Food

We promptly put in our order for a chicken and shrimp paella -- they make them fresh, and hence they take about 45 minutes to prepare. They provided very salty olives, pickles, and cocktail onions to tide us over while we waited.

Since Jaleo is a tapas bar, we figured that the experience would not be complete unless we ordered one each. Viren tried to order a (fill the blank) but our waiter convinced him to get an order of red peppers with goat cheese instead two thumbs up. In my opinion, this turned out to be the best thing we ordered, and, oddly enough, was the only thing we got which looked like the mental image each one of us had about what tapas are -- stuff rolled up in bread like a burrito.

Bobby, as usual, got fried calamari. And, as usual, he convinced me to try one. Also, as usual, I hated it (nothing against the calamari -- I just prefer that my food not give me the impression that I am chewing on a dried up rubber band).

I ordered a spinach, raisin, pine nut, apple tapa. The first bite was good. But the more I ate, the saltier it got ( I'm forcing myself through herculean effort to not make remarks at his point). Meanwhile, people at the tables on either side of us ordered the same thing and added salt to it! Either mine was the anomaly, or the sweet champaigne we had to drink made it seem that much saltier.

When the paella arrived we forgot to wait the suggested 5 minutes before digging in, but I don't know that it made that much of a difference. The paella was served in style, in a large (still hot) skillet, adorned with lemons and garnishing. The rice was orangish yellow and had a pleasant smell. The rice turned out to be somewhat undercooked (on purpose?), and the chicken could use a bit more spice.

Viren and I were somewhat disappointed that the chicken was still on the bone, which prompted Bobby to remind us that America is one of few places where one can find skinless, boneless chicken breast (God Bless America!). Hence, to my surprise, I found that the shrimp was my favorite part (and I am not a terribly big fan of shrimp). Unfortunately, having filled up on nachos and tapas and salty olives beforehand, Viren and I were not too interested in the paella, leaving Bobby to do most of the work and scold us for not doing our share of the work. He even tried to bet us that he could eat the whole thing (enough for two to four people) in one sitting, but we declined to take the bet when he informed us that one sitting would last at least another 2 hours.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, I think I would have preferred Levante's, but I wouldn't mind returning to Jaleo to see the flamenco dancers and drink some sangria.

September 04, 2001

Betawi Grill: Hurts So Good

Players: Susan, Bobby, Viren, several extras in the form of young women, a maitre d' wearing a loose silk batik shirt, and a dearth of service.

Act I: Prelude

It started innocently enough, with Bobby calling up and wanting to get together for a drink in our favorite watering hole (Rock Bottom Brewery) in Bethesda. Having just returned home from that general direction, I was of course reluctant to retrace my steps, but he finally badgered me into it[1]. That resulted in the three of us -- Susan, Bobby and me, in case you were off dreaming about aliens and kidnapping, which seems to be a common theme among people who come in direct contact with my writing. Sometime I'll have to get that analyzed -- being the whole and soul of the current story.

It was a wonderful day: blue skies, birds chirping, yuppies basking in the sunlight, motorheads cruising in their riced-out cars. All in all, it had the necessary omens that indicate to the informed Washingtonian that Mother Nature, in her kindness, hath decided to grace us with a preview of fall, with a dash of summer thrown in to prevent those of us who aren't Weather Channel fans from being caught with our pants off (freezing in our shorts). And there we were, sitting outside Rock Bottom enjoying some of their wunnerful brews (we mostly favor the stout, with Susan leaning slightly towards the red). Did I say 'sitting'? What I really meant was that we were slouching, postures indicating with every nuance that, at this point in time, the world was a mere day-dream that barely impinged upon our consciousness. If say, Ford Prefect had chosen that moment to land and inform us that the Vogons were about to destroy the Earth to clear space for a hyperspace bypass[2], we would have nodded politely (rudeness takes too much effort), smiled to indicate that we had heard him, offered him a fine stout, maybe toasted him with a "Cheerio, old boy', and returned to our main pastime of watching people strut on by[3].

Act II: 12 Angry Men (or 3 indecisive people)

By and by, Bobby (him being the energetic one at this point) brings up the subject of dinner, and elects to make this an EET (Exotic, ethnic trip). Susan and I being too tired to argue, the motion was carried thru. Bobby put forth the suggestion of a Korean BBQ place up in Rockville. I immediately used up my Veto on this - it's kind of a reflex nowadays, a survival instinct that years of associating with Bobby have sharpened to a fine, razor-sharp (speaking of which: who here can explain to me the difference between razors marketed for women and those marketed for men. E.g. Gillette Mach3 and Venus3) edge. From then on the discussion degenerated into the culinary equivalent of "Around the World in 80 Days" with various different cuisines being suggested and then thrown into the discard pile like so many ideas from a writer with writer's block -- everything was good, but just not quite right. As inevitably happens with all creative people suffering from a lack of well, creativeness, we decided that we needed a muse to provide us with inspiration. I almost instantaneously found us half a dozen (Bethesda's just that kind of place), but figured that that wasn't the kind of inspiration that my fellow travellers were referring to. Oh well, it probably was for the best. Muses and me don't get along. It's not that I don't get inspired, it's just that my mind starts frolicking thru paths that my body can't or won't venture into (forget about frolicking into). It's a failing of mine, but one that's dear to my heart (well, I can't get rid of it and I certainly can't ignore it, so what the hey!). Anyway, back to the point -- the muse took the form of a stroll around the area.

Act III: The art of strolling

Now, let me venture to suggest that there is indeed an art to strolling. Strolling walks (I would apologize for the pun, but why lie unnecessarily) a fine line between sauntering and walking. Both of these imply a purpose: walking implies you have somewhere to be, while sauntering suggests that you are making a determined effort to be nowhere in particular. Strolling, the way we did it, involves a seemingly convoluted path that is easily explained by 2 words : Brownian Motion. Other than that it requires the cessation of all time-based thoughts....sorta visualize driftwood floating along a slow river. It manages to get places, but without much effort on its part. So, there we were driftwood, floating along with the tide of people, peering myopically everywhere in the fashion of tourists found in every metropolis. It's amazing how many restaurants that part of Bethesda has. Everything ranging from standardized fast food to sorta snooty restaurants serving haute cuisine (tho they were obviously not snooty enough since they would have allowed us in there with our getup, with the maitre d's frigid glare being the only sign of reluctance on their part).

We passed a bunch of possibilities: there was a whole street corner full of mediterranean and faux mediterranean restaurants. They all looked good, except for one which Bobby said he couldn't eat in for ideological reasons. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for ideological reasons, I'm even fine with ideology every now and then, and I occasionally do come up with an idea or two, but ostracizing a restaurant 'cause of it's name is dragging this concept too far. So we stroll past some more ethnic restaurants ( and no, Italian doesn't count) and also Night Dreams, which if you are going to pretend to be ignorant of, is a nice little adult lingerie and toy store (Susan having decided that she already had everything she needed from there, there was no need to make a stop at Night Dreams, much to my chagrin).

Bobby, having recovered from having his choice vetoed, put in the additional constraint that it had to be Asian cuisine. We walk around some more, with despair dogging our trail and end up across the street from this Indonesian place. It was kinda like finding the missing sock pair right when you were ready to heave the whole laundry load into the trash in frustration. You could see all three of our faces glow with a heavenly light...as we all but kneeled right in the street to offer prayer to whichever deity led us to the end of our journey. We walked across the street ostensibly to look at the menu before deciding whether to grace it with our presence. However, this was a foregone conclusion: I would have eaten dried chewy leather soles prepared in coconut curry if it meant that I would be eating soon. We wordlessly[4] agreed that this would be the EET destination du jour, all the while muttering "Betawi Grill" like a mantra over and over again like it was to be our salvation.

Act IV: Walk into my parlor said the spider to the fly

Auspicious beginnings are supposed to be omens of good fortune for the duration of that enterprise, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the outside patio of the restaurant was quaintly decorated with 3 rickshaws. This coupled with the fact the there were people sitting in the patio that seemed to be enjoying themselves, seemed like a fairly good beginning. Feeling our hopes go up a couple of notches, we ventured into the inner sanctum, and waited like all good citizens to be seated. There we received our first setback -- no one felt like seating us -- inspite of the fact that I distinctly remembered showering twice that day, and while we weren't dressed in top hats and monocles, we did have clothes on. We waited a few minutes longer looking expectantly at every passing employee (not to worry, there seemed to be only 2 people working there). While loitering in the lobby, we had plenty of time to glance around the place. The decor at first glance seemed tasteful and minimalist (my kind of place). The tables seated four and were of a adequate size, accompanied by straight-backed chairs that were surprisingly comfortable. A covered piano stood looking extremely lonely right by the entrance -- apparently they have live entertainment periodically. Across the room, was present a pretty standard bar with a mirror-covered wall. If you were of a mind to look into the depths of the restaurant, you would be pleasantly surprised by the space and number of tables present in the interior. The whole place gave off a clean, airy, moderately friendly ambience.

This inspection of the place didn't actually occupy even a tenth of the time that we were standing, but for lack of anything else to do, I kept re-doing my inspection hoping beyond hope that I would find something new -- kinda like I open my fridge periodically hoping that the gods have seen fit to deposit manna into it to reward me for being me. Finally, a waiter took pity on us and started to clean up a table on the outside patio. Of course, the maitre d', resplendent in a silk batik shirt, happened to come by at just that time and said we couldn't sit there since it only seated 2 people, and what with us being 3, it might be a trifle tight there. We, of course, weren't in much of an arguing mood and pointed at the nearest empty table and said that that would do. We followed word with action, not actually waiting for him to acquiesce. For some reason, Mr. Silk Shirt decided to hold out my chair to seat me, instead of doing the customary and seating Susan. Weird.

Act V: Seated, but not sated

Seated. That felt good. Sub-goal #2 accomplished. In the beaten path that is the restaurant process, you would expect a waiter to walk up to us, smile (being careful to look at everyone while doing so, in order to not show any favoritism), mention delicately that while we looked to be in the prime of health, we, if he may be so bold as to mention, looked a little parched, and inquire thereafter if we would like to cure this condition by getting something to drink. There you would indeed be wrong. This restaurant felt no need to follow the herd, but instead decided that we obviously looked like people who wanted peace, quiet and solitude, and they being the customer-centric establishment that they prided themselves on being would give us just that. So, we made small talk for a little while. Remarks were flying around about Indonesia, food, the dishes that were on the menu, what we wanted to eat, fish, flying fish and even bugs (since Bobby happenned to spot one crawling around in the tablecloth). By and by, someone mentioned the lack of potables, and so we once again proceeded to mimic dogs looking for a bone. We did manage to catch the eye of our presumed waiter, who made his way to our table, all the while indicating through gesture and composure that it was his idea to come by and chat with us. He, amidst the ensuing conversation, did manage to get our drink orders (2 waters and a Sam Adams), and our appetizer and food orders.

However, there was obviously some miscommunication there, because 5 minutes later we see the bartender pour the beer, and add 2 glasses of water to it, all of it in a nice quiet pile that should immediately grab the attention of a passing waiter. In fact, I distinctly heard the beer crying out to be taken to us. But, again, with the whole "we are going to be discreet" attitude, our waiter decided that bringing the drinks to us would be a major faux pas. After trying to bore holes in our waiter thru the sheer strength of our gazes, Bobby took matters in his own hand, and decided that he would go ask the bartender for our drinks. This course of action was necessitated by the fact that he was worried about the state of his beer after it had been standing around for this long. So, he manages to get the bartender to pour him another Sam Adams, picks up a pitcher of water and pours us 2 waters, and brings them to the table. At this point, our waiter materializes and makes some sounds, which don't affect us. Meanwhile, at the bar, our originally ordered drinks are still standing there all alone in the limelight.

Now, this should have been the end of our drink troubles, except that the water tasted like it was the liquid remains of a particularly bad experiment gone wrong in the labs of Aquafina. It tasted alright while you were drinking it, with just a faint taste of wrongness about it. However, as soon as you finished, the aftertaste hit you with the speed and power of a lioness protecting her cubs, and the taste of a skunk who had just gotten mad at you. A poll taken of my fellow diners elicited several strong opinions about the taste of the water, including "leopard piss" and "I've tasted bad water before, but it was never so bad that I couldn't drink it. Or that I worried that it had contaminated all of the other glasses and dishes in the restaurant". And I still don't think we have adequately described the wrongness of the water. So, Susan wisely orders (well, more like she goes and pours herself one) a beer, while I break down later and order a coke. By this time, we must have been there for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, our dear waiter returns to say that one of the appetizers we wanted isn't available. So, we finally choose something else from the menu that seems innocuous enough. Time passes....

Act VI: Lessons in eating fish

...our appetizers arrive. Or at least one of them does. This would be the one that we had to substitute in. The appetizer looked like rolls, except that the wrap had the consistency of dead tissue that had been drowned in water for a few weeks. All of us tasted this and decided that they couldn't possibly consider this a dish of any kind. Other than the consistency of the wrapping, the shrimp meat in there could have been tofu for all the taste it had. We, in our hurry to substitute in an appetizer, had apparently forgotten the crucial phrase that began the description of our appetizer (A-3 on the menu) "Soft crepe rolls ...". So, this part of the disaster was partly our fault (tho Bobby disavows all responsibility since Susan and I made the choice). We finally manage to ask Mr. Silk what happenned to our other appetizer, and were rewarded shortly with the appearance of the dish in question (A-1). This was a dish of fried egg rolls, and actually tasted good, with a thing crisp layer of wrapping that enclosed mainly chicken. Our feelings of disappointment were temporarily assuaged by this and we sat down to wait for our main course.

When our orders were taken, Bobby had ordered a whole fried Tilapia. Susan had ordered rice noodles with chicken, and I had ordered a dish that seemed to be rice with beef and chicken (K-10 on the menu). The server brought 2 dishes out -- one was Susan's and the other one looked like it was a sampler platter and thru some obvious communication difficulties, she (the server) managed to convince us that the sampler came with the Tilapia which would be arriving shortly. So, we started consuming the items in the sampler, or at least poking around at them trying to figure out what was what. Very shortly thereafter, out waiter arrived with the Tilapia, and we found out that the supposed sampler platter was in actuality my main course. Needless to say I wasn't very thrilled. There was some beef in there that was palatable but chewy, some chicken which was dry, some sort of wafers, and a potato dumpling that had the bizarrest consistency (it was like eating regurgitated food that had be dehydrated and then rehydrated -- the damn thing just felt like it had no business being in my mouth).

But the highlight of the evening was the Tilapia. It was brought on a plate sitting upright with its beady eyes staring right at you, and its spiny dorsal fin sticking straight up in the air. The effect was heightened by the fact that the mouth was a little open and you could almost see the teeth shining inside it. Susan was very amused (Bobby says I'm using the wrong word here: bemused should be the correct one) with the little critter staring straight at her, and finally managed to arrange some lettuce over its face such that the eyes were hidden. Meanwhile having finished our food, Susan and I started watching Bobby, who was in his element now, demolish the fish. The wonderful part is that he didn't quite stop at the flesh, but ate the eyeballs (something I would rather not witness again), and then started crunching away at the cartilage skeleton. In the process of eating the eyeballs, Bobby decided that he would be remiss if he didn't share this delicacy with Susan. So, he did so, with all the nonchalance of someone offering a fellow diner an after-dinner mint. Needless to say, Susan was definitely not amused (or even bemused). Hmmm.....somehow me thinks I'll choose not to sit across from Bobby when he next orders whole fried fish. I have to admit that it was fascinating watching him absolutely destroy the fish. I've always wondered what it would be like to watch piranha destroy their prey. Now I know, and Bobby's probably faster to boot.

We decided to forego the dubious pleasures of dessert, and asked for our bill. This arrived with amazing alacrity. We paid, and there ended our stint at Betawi Grill.

Act VII: The Aftermath

While leaving, Bobby had managed to snag a flyer expounding the virtues of the Betawi Grill. Reading it was absolutely side-splittingly hilarious. Especially since it treated us to phrases like "provide you with a catering experience unlike no other" (bad grammar, but true enough) and "This offer is open to young professionals" (excuse me?). What capped the writings was that they had customer testimonials in there -- "The service was spectacular" and "More than I expected". The sad part is that both fragments are true. The service was spectacular, though not in the sense they meant and the experience was more than I expected.

What can I say? Marketing never lies.

We did salvage the evening by going to Ben and Jerry's and then stopping by this Irish pub that except for the irritating DJ from 94.7FM was pretty nice.

Ratings

Service Abysmal
Decor Understated but elegant
Food Mediocre

Footnotes

  1. Note for all you people who know me: If you want to get me to do something or go somewhere, just wheedle (and alternate that with some choice threats to mind and body). Occasionally guilt trips work, too.
  2. If you didn't recognize the scenario presented there, walk to the nearest bookstore and buy yourself a copy of each of the books in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. Now, the discerning reader will have noticed that I made no mention of the possibility of ordering these books online. Allow me to explain: First, notwithstanding the fact that I work in the realm of software research, I'm a Luddite. Screw computers (To paraphrase a particularly intelligent simian: Computers -- the cause of, and solution to all of life's problems.) Secondly, ordering online doesn't let you indulge your yearning for immediate gratification. Finally, there's nothing better than holding a book in your hand that you really want to read, but having to (in the words of John Steven:) "wait for it" until you get home. The anticipation is excruciatingly painful.
  3. There's a whole other treatise to be written on people and their walks. If you catch me in a reminiscent mood one day, ply me with drink, and venture forth the question as to "what pray tell, Viren, is it about people and their walks", you would not return home disappointed (though, if you find me in any kind of mood and ply me with sufficient drink, you probably have other, possibly sinister motives in mind, and even then you still wouldn't return home dissappointed).
  4. Another of my endless theories on life, the universe and everything: people can communicate psychically in times of high emotion. Well, alright, so maybe that's a little far-fetched. How about the fact that the pheromones we emit in times of emotion can sub-consciously be understood by those around us to mean joy, satisfaction, etc? Hmm...don't like that either? I have a whole slew of other explanations. I'll save those for another time