Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

The theme of this trip is “No rest for the weary”. Granted that statement has gotten rather weary in itself, there really isn’t a more apt description for the three weeks I just finished.

Upon finishing up in Rochester I hopped back in the car and drove back out to Burlington. The original plan was to do dinner/drinks with Abram and then do brunch with my mother in the morning. Well, I didn’t get into Burlington until about 9p, much later than I had hoped. Abram and I did track down dinner, but alas we did stay out a bit too late and we slept the entire morning away.[1] It was at the very least, though, nice to reconnect with Abram, something we hadn’t done in way too long.

Saturday afternoon found me flying to Tampa. Tampa in July is certainly, well, an experience. It’s hot, but fortunately it’s humid as well. In fact, when I landed at 10:30 on that Saturday night it was 90°. That’s 10:30PM. 90°. There really aren’t many words to describe that kind of weather. It’s Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.

The nice thing about Tampa is the opportunity to see friends. Disappointingly I was not able to see “Anonymous” (as he comments from time to time here), but I was able to see Michael. Beyond that, the week turned out to be a pleasant one while not overly exciting.

The Travel Note

I don’t know what it is about the Burlington Airport’s TSA contingent, but they just hate me.[2] I’d say about 3 out of every 4 times I fly out of that airport I am pulled aside for special treatment. Usually it’s just my computer bag that gets the extra attention (I often wonder if they’ve seen technology), but this time it was both me and the computer bag.

As for the bag, well they pulled basically every piece of electronics out of the bag and scanned them separately. Anyone who knows me knows that’s quite a bit. It also meant I had to completely repack my bag. Granted, the TSA agent was nice enough to offer to repack it for me, there wasn’t any way I was going to let him do that.

As for me, well they decided to frisk my pockets on my cargo shorts. In the lower left pocket I had a bit of cash and my boarding passes. The agent asked to inspect those and I of course handed them over. He took a glance at them, placed them on the table, and then continued his inspection of my pockets. After confirming I had nothing else in them, he grabbed my miscellaneous papers one more time, placed them back on the table, and said I was free to collect my belongings and move on.

Now, let me be very clear here – I’m in favor of the TSA’s job.[3], as I’ve blogged many times in the past. But there’s a little bit of common courtesy that I think should come with the job. The agent picked the papers back up, inspected them one last time, and tossed them back down on the table before telling me I could collect them. Common courtesy here – just hand them back to me. Just sayin…

The Restaurant


Just keep that number in mind for a couple of minutes. I’ll get back to it later.

While I generally try to avoid chains, there are times when convenience wins out, and others where it’s just too hard to avoid a chain restaurant.. I found myself heading to Maggiano’s when I saw a new restaurant in the parking lot of the mall I was headed to named Seasons 52, which, as it turns out, is a chain. Either way, I decided trying a new restaurant was better than my original plans. I was not in the least disappointed.

Regular readers know of course I settled in at the bar for dinner. The first thing you notice at the bar is the piano player on a small platform in the bar area. The first night (yes, first night) I went there the singer was a guy in his 60’s who was both talented and very “loungey”, to coin a phrase. I love me some live music, and I was already sold on the place.

The bartender came over, took my manhattan order, and introduced the menu. He explained that the restaurant focuses on seasonal, fresh and local ingredients, and that they’re health conscious. In fact, he explained, they don’t cook with butter or oil.

Wait. Hold on. Say that again?

“We don’t cook with butter or oil.”

I’m going to pause now for effect.

It’s the butter/oil content of many dishes served in restaurants that turn what would normally be a healthy dish into anything but. As a perfect example, the night before I ordered a cedar plank cooked sea bass. The sea bass was awesome, but it was also cooked in bacon. While I do try to stay healthy, I also know that basically anything can be improved by the addition of bacon, and the word “fat” is shorthand for “flavor”. And now here’s a restaurant cooking with no butter or oil. I’m intrigued.

I start perusing the menu when I notice the sentence at the top: “Seasonally inspired cooking with every item under 475 calories”. Yes, 475 was the max calorie count of any dish on the menu.

IMG_0624 On to the food, then. I decided to start with the arugula salad, which came with goat cheese (one of my favorite things on the planet), grilled golden beets and a light dressing. The salad also had a light curry dressing that gave the entire thing “pop”. For an entree I went for the “tiger shrimp penne pasta” which was done in a lemon basil sauce and a bit of parmesan cheese. Dynamite. The shrimp was cooked flawlessly and the dish had a ton of flavor.

The one thing that the entire meal reminded me of was this – you don’t need to douse things in heavy sauces. Food in and of itself has flavor. Let the food shine, and use spices to accent the flavor, not overpower it. Awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that I went back the next night. The place was hopping and I couldn’t find a spot at the bar. Fortunately, the bartender recognized me, came out from the bar, and informed me that a couple was going to be leaving very shortly and I could have their spot. Full marks for that!

IMG_0626 This time around I went for the specials – gazpacho and a grilled lamb. I’m actually not a huge gazpacho fan, as it always reminds me of tomato juice. I learned that I’d just been having bad gazpacho. This was amazing. The lamb… Well, the lam was just out of this world. Now granted, j’adore lamb, so it usually doesn’t take much for lamb to be a homerun for me, but even still this was just outstanding.

Yes, it’s a chain. And I feel guilty for loving a chain restaurant this much. But I’m sorry, the food was just that good.

The Five

General nonsense this week.

  1. I generally don’t do dessert. But if you offer me something with peaches, I’m going to have a hard time turning that down.
  2. I think I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things I miss most because I’m on the road so often is cooking. This is why I try to host many dinner parties.
  3. Only because I get asked this rather frequently, yes I do sometimes forget what town I’m in.
  4. If I’m doing something where I’m trying to disengage my brain (driving long distances, running, etc) I need either a podcast or talk radio. Music just doesn’t do it for me.
  5. I’m very thankful I can sleep on planes. I can sleep almost anywhere, really.

[1] Sorry, Mom.
[2] Or I suppose love, depending on your perspective.
[3] I’m not just saying that to suck up to any TSA agent who might be reading this, but I suppose it can’t hurt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

Wow. Will you look at that. I have a blog!

Well, if I have any reader[s] left out there, I do apologize. I have been slacking quite a bit on the blog. I don’t really have any other excuse besides that I needed a bit of a break. It wasn’t that I planned on a break, but I really just didn’t have the desire for a while to sit down and type anything out.

Fortunately for me, and I guess you[1], I am back and ready to go. The one warning I will give you is the next couple of months might be a bit sporadic, but that’s just because of my schedule and not because of a lack of motivation.

The Week[s]

It’s been so long I actually had to go look at where I’ve been recently.

3 weeks ago found me in San Jose. Despite the fact that I haven’t been blogging in a while, I still know the way. A trip to San Jose is generally, well, a trip to San Jose. This was a huge shift in mentality after the fun week I had in New York. While it was nice to do dinner with friends, and I’m not discounting that in the least, it certainly wasn’t New York.

IMG_0602 The following week found me back in Tampa, FL. Tampa is nice as it’s an opportunity to see friends, which I was able to take advantage of. On in particular was kind enough to invite us out for a trip on his boat, which couldn’t have been better. The weather was perfect, the sunset was gorgeous, and needless to say a great time was had by all.

IMG_0604 Then life got interesting. Well, busy, anyway. This week I was teaching in Rochester, which is about 6 hours away from where my father and mother live. Since I was this close I had to stop by, especially since my father was hosting a “Gathering” and I hadn’t seen my mother in quite a while. The weekend was an absolute blur, seeing me land in Burlington, drive to my fathers, and then drive back to Burlington to see my mother, before driving out to Rochester. Phew! Fortunately, I did not get my annual speeding ticket in Vermont. But all was not lost; there was good beer to drink.

IMG_0608 And in case you  didn’t already pick up on it, I was in Rochester this week. I know I’d been to Rochester, or at least the area, years ago but I have no real memories of the place. I certainly won’t have a lot of memories to leave with as it was a typical business trip, but I did get to jog along the Erie Canal. I will say this much about being a runner[2], it’s a great way to see an area.

The Travel Note

See the five

The Restaurant The Cocktail Bar

I’ve been visiting a lot more interesting cocktail bars than restaurants lately. I think a big part of that is I’ve been visiting places I know I love and haven’t felt overly adventurous in the restaurant department. That said, I have come to the realization that this fact needs to change, and thus begins my quest to find a good cocktail bar in San Diego.

A Yelp search led Karin and I here on a fateful Friday night, and while I did wind up giving the place four stars it's not quite what I was expecting. Let me explain...

My wife and I took the little hidden elevator up to the second floor to this place - you can see the sign, but it's very easy to walk right past the elevator you use to actually enter the place. When the elevator door opens you're instantly greeted by a great lounge atmosphere. There's a little dining area, nice bar and a huge patio.

There's also a stage where there was a piano player and singer playing. I dug the music (they were very talented), and I appreciated the low volume level (you could actually have a conversation), it was actually a bit too low (you couldn't understand what he was singing).

On to the main reason to come to a cocktail bar - the drinks.
I want bitter. I want savory. I want, well, I want basically the exact opposite of what this place serves. They have a huge menu of fufu drinks which Karin loved. Me - I wanted a good manhattan. We ordered, and the manhattan I got was good but nothing special. Karin loved her drink.
When it came time for the second I decided that since I was in Rome... I grabbed the menu and looked for something that I thought would be up my alley - "cool as a cucumber", which is gin and muddled cucumbers. Karin, of course, went for another fufu drink.

The following sums up the approach of the bartenders at Martinis Above Fourth: Karin's drink involved no less than four different liquors, a martini glass with chocolate sauce drizzled inside of it, and I think there may have been lemon juice squeezed fresh between the thighs of a virgin. Mine? My drink involved the following steps:

Add pieces of cucumber to bottom of glass.
Fill with ice.
Fill with Hendricks gin.

Don't get me wrong - my drink was actually very tasty. And again - my wife loved hers.

And this leads me back to the point I made at the top of this review. This is not the place I was expecting. But I had an absolute blast. And while I'm generally not looking for fufu drinks, when I am I know where to go. And I also know where to take Karin when she wants to get her drink on.

The Five

Every week I go through airport security at least once, if not twice (coming and going), and it amazes me the number of people who still struggle with this process. Granted, I’ve done this many times (no less than 50 times so far this year). But there are still simple things I see people do constantly that get themselves into trouble, or make the process more excruciating than it has to be. There are really just a few things that, if followed, will make your lives easier.

  1. Accept the fact you’ll be in line for a while. There’s nothing you can say/do that’s going to make the line move faster. Just accept it and your life will be easier.
  2. Wear easy to remove shoes. Granted, I do violate this one when I wear Chucks, which are a PITA to take off. But I do unlace them while I’m waiting.
  3. 3 ounce bottles in a zip top bag. It’s very easy. Yes, that means anything spreadable, sprayable and pourable. The number of times I see people having those items pulled from their suitcases is innumerable.
  4. Have your ID and ticket ready when you reach the front. Ready does not mean in the bottom of your purse.
  5. Above all else – do whatever the TSA agent tells you. Shoes, socks, patdown, bag search, whatever it is. Arguing is only going to delay your trip through TSA, or worse. I’ve witnessed my fair share of arguments, and never once did the passenger win.

[1] Really, after all, blogs are rather narcissistic. It’s more about me, isn’t it? ;-)
[2] Can I call myself a runner now?