Monday, February 09, 2015

FedEx

Note: this is NOT a review of FedEx, nor is it about a restaurant named FedEx for some reason. In fact, it's not a review at all. So don't fucking read it if you're going to bitch.

Sincerely, Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand




I got a call from FedEx, asking me to look into a claim a customer made about a shipment he didn't receive. Which is really fucking weird because I've never worked for FedEx in any capacity. But in the spirit of being a good Samaritan, I thought I'd try to help.

I was told to head out to the customer's house to meet the delivery driver who was supposed to have dropped off the missing shipment. The customer's residence was a rustic houseboat floating on an idyllic pond in the woods. It looked like a Bob Ross painting, with happy little trees and a meandering stream and the houseboat itself was lopsided. I parked my car, crossed the rickety pontoon bridge out to the boat, and knocked on the door.

A grizzled gold prospector answered the door.

"Hi, sir," I introduced myself. "I'm here on behalf of FedEx to investigate your missing shipment."

"Yeah," he grunted, "I ordered a 25 pound bag of Russet potatoes and they didn't deliver it. The tracking number said it was delivered but it definitely wasn't."

"Did FedEx give you a reason why it wasn't delivered?"

The old prospector gestured blandly towards the lake. "No, but I figure the guy tripped on the bridge and dropped it into the water. It's happened before."

I turned and went back out to the pontoon bridge. It really was a shitty bridge, with no hand rails, and some of the planks were missing. I peered down through one of the gaps and sure enough, I could barely make out a cardboard box, half rotten, a mossy Styrofoam corner poking through. The barely legible label of the box said “Pioneer.” Or “Pione,” rather, since the “er” had been faded off from years underwater.

“That was a DVD player I ordered. Guy tripped and dropped it right into the gap there.”

I turned to the prospector. “Have you ever considered fixing this bridge?”

“It’s not my problem if the delivery man can’t cross a damn bridge,” he sneered.

I glanced back down into the water, but I couldn’t see anything resembling a sack of potatoes. A mechanical rumble encroached on my reverie; I looked up just as a FedEx truck pulled into the clearing. The delivery driver had arrived.

I carefully traversed the dilapidated bridge and met the driver in the meadow on the shore of the pond. He was a tall skinny kid with a lank wave of tawny Justin Bieber hair, an extra medium black and purple FedEx shirt clinging to his skinny chest. “I’m Kevin,” he said.

“I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times by now, but what happened to the potatoes, Kevin?” I asked him.

He looked suddenly bashful. “You’ll never believe me,” he replied, “but an alien zapped it.”

“You are absolutely right. I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true!” Kevin insisted. He’d arrived at the prospector’s houseboat around five o’clock. The sun was getting low in the sky, though it wasn’t quite sunset. As he lugged the bag of potatoes out to the pontoon bridge he heard a rustling noise in the grass near his feet. The weeds parted and out stepped a small crimson man.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Kevin told me. “He was an orangey red, with greasy, wrinkled skin and beady eyes.”

“Was he gross or was he cute?” I asked.

“He looked like a gingerbread man made of meat or something.”

“Sounds like he looked more like a sun-dried tomato than a meaty cookie to me.” In truth I felt sorry for the alien: stranded millions of miles from home on this planet of giants, who keep trying to either crush him underfoot or toss him into a bowl of pasta, where he would bump uncomfortably against artichoke hearts before being chowed down upon by someone whose next stop after dinner would be a Yanni concert.

“I was so scared I dropped the sack and ran!” Kevin told me. “The potatoes almost fell on him.”

Kevin darted back to the truck where he watched in terror as the sun-dried tomato alien, who had jumped back to avoid the descending potato sack, aimed a Lilliputan death ray at the bag and fired a bright red beam, instantly obliterating the entire potato shipment. All that remained, Kevin insisted, was a pile of fine ash which quickly blew away. When the alien turned angrily toward Kevin and aimed the laser, the driver threw the truck into gear and tore off.

I had Kevin read and sign the statement of his account that I’d written, then he got into his truck and rumbled back down the road. I went out to the edge of the clearing. Cars were coming. Fancy cars: Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes, an Alfa Romeo. Each one turned onto a gravel drive that wound into the forest. What was going on here?

I hiked up the driveway, which went up into the hills. It was about a ten minute hike up the long and winding path, during which time another Alfa, a Maserati, and even a Lamborghini drove past. The occupants eyed me curiously as the cars went by.

Eventually I reached the end of the driveway. Hidden in the woods were a number of charming Tudor cabins with whitewashed stucco walls and dark beams framing stained glass windows. The fancy cars I’d seen going up the driveway were parked all over the front lawn. In the back was a larger building in the same Tudor style as the cabins. I could see people going inside, so I followed them.

This was a large banquet hall. Rows of tables were set up, though almost no one was sitting down. Most people were milling about, drinking red wine from highball glasses and laughing and talking. This was quite a party. “What are you DOING here?” a familiar voice accused me. I whirled around: it was my friend Drew, holding an almost empty wine glass.

“Holy fuck Drew!” I laughed. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“This is my family’s place. It’s a vacation compound. And it’s my party! I got married last month.” She pulled up a charmingly scruffy guy. “Let me introduce you to my new husband Jacob.” I shook hands with the groom as he grinned wildly.

“Great party,” I told Drew. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding; my gorilla costume was at the cleaners.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “But you’re here now so have a drink!”

“I can’t. I’m working.”

“Working for who?”

“For whom. And it’s FedEx. I’m investigating a claim of an undelivered shipment for them.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked. “That’s not what you do. You’re some kind of scientist.”

“You’re right. I’m just trying to help FedEx out.”

“Why would you help FedEx?”

“Good question.”

“Well stop helping them and start partying!” She downed the rest of her wine in one smooth gulp and barged past me, towing Jacob by the hand. “Come on! I’ll show you all the fucking delicious food we’re cooking.”

I followed Drew and Jacob into the banquet house’s kitchen. Two old women were rolling gnocchi, deftly flicking the little loaves of dough off the back of a fork with their thumbs, then tossing them onto floured sheet pans.

“That’s a LOT of gnocchi!” I was amazed: there had to be at least twenty sheet pans, lined up on a rolling rack, each one full of gnocchi.

“Yeah it is!” Drew said as she refilled her wine. “30 pounds! We’re having eighty people here! This is a real Italian party!”

“You’re Italian?”

“They don’t call me Drew Zandonella-Whatever for nothing. But look at this,” she directed me to a handsome young man stirring a giant cauldron of stew. “This is my cousin, Stefano Zandonella.”

Stefano turned to shake my hand. “What are you making?” I asked him. “It smells delicious.”

“Braised lamb shanks,” Stefano told me. We peered into the pot, where a big pile of lamb shanks swam in a rich brown broth. He grabbed one of the shanks with tongs, then tore off a small piece of the meat with a fork and handed it to me.

The lamb was tender and fragrant with spices “Wow! What’s in it?”

“Garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, a few chopped anchovies,” he said, his soft Italian accent blunting his vowels and rolling his r’s. “Braised in red wine. ” He pointed to the rack of gnocchi. “We’ll serve this over gnocchi.”

“That’s fucking great, Stefano,” I told him. “Thank you.”

Just then three drunk assholes barged into the kitchen. “Stefano, that shit smells AMAZE!” one of them yelled. He was a greasy New Jersey douchetard in a suit with no tie. With him were two other dbags, virtually indistinguishable from the first except one of them had an earring and one of them sported frosted tips. The three guidos crowded around the pot, pushing me and Stefano away as they rudely grabbed spoons and started slurping broth directly out of the pot.

“Hey!” Stefano objected.

“Get the FUCK out of here you bitches!” Drew raged at them, pulling them away from the pot one by one and shoving them out of the kitchen. “It’s my party! Jacob, get them out of here.”

Jacob escorted the unruly barbarians out of the kitchen. “Fuck you Drew!” frosted tips spat as they pinballed back into the party.

“Who were they?” I asked Drew.

“My cousins Tony Toni Tone.” She leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “They’re mobbed up. I’m not even lying.”

“All three are Tony? Which one’s which?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. And besides, I guess there’s nothing to see here so I should get back to work. Thanks for the tour Drew!” I turned to Stefano. “Nice to meet you.”

I left the compound and walked slowly back down the winding driveway. What the actual fuck. How was I ever going to solve this mystery? I didn’t want to let FedEx down but I was super hungry. All I could think about was how delicious Stefano’s lamb stew tasted. I bet that would be fucking killer served over some of that gnocchi. Potato gnocchi.

I’d reached the bottom of the driveway. I was too lazy to go all the way back up to the compound so I fished my phone out of my pocket and called Drew.

“What’s up Surly?” she answered. “You forget something?”

“Yeah I’ve got a weird request.”

You?” she laughed sarcastically. “Have a weird request? Never!

“Yeah, yeah, you fucking comedian.”

“What do you want?”

“Where did Stefano get the potatoes for the gnocchi?”

“Hold on,” she replied. “I’ll go ask him but he’s still in the kitchen and I have to go back there.”

“Okay I’ll hold.”

I could hear the noise of the party as she wove through the crowd. She gave a periodic “Thank you!” and “I know! It’s so great!” to well-wishers as she made her way back to the kitchen.

“You know,” I told her, “You could have just called me back. Besides, who even answers their phone at a wedding party?”

“Your mom answers her phone,” she spat back.

“Your mom’s a lesbian,” I snarled.

“I know,” she laughed, and I could hear her nodding over the phone. “Both of them are.” Finally: “Here he is. Hold on,” she told me, “He’s making like a million gallons of gremolata. Hey Stefano,” she asked, her voice becoming echoey and distant as she held the receiver away from her mouth while she talked to her cousin. “Where’d you get the potatoes for the gnocchi?”

I couldn’t hear his reply over the kitchen din, but Drew seemed interested. “Oh really. That’s unusually generous of them.”

“Where’d he get them?” I asked her.

“From the Tonys!”

“I knew it! Thanks Drew.”

“No problem.”

“One more favor? Do you think you could get the Tonys to meet me down at the clearing in front of the prospector’s house?”

“No, but I’ll try.”

“Thanks again. Send them down here in 20 minutes.”

I hung up with Drew and made a few more phone calls. In a half hour this whole thing would be settled. I’d reached the pond, so I sat down on a stump in front of the prospector’s house boat to wait. It was sunny, at least, but it was completely still. The pond was as flat as a mirror. The trees didn’t move. It was quiet, except for an occasional creak as the rickety houseboat bobbed upon the water. The prospector’s truck wasn’t parked out front. I was completely alone out here. Suddenly I got spooked: what would happen if there really was an alien? What if he reappeared now, in this remote area? If he turned his wrinkled crimson sun-dried face toward me and pointed that mini death ray at me I’d have no choice to defend myself and chop him up and put him into an arugula and goat cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.

I was starting to get scared when the FedEx truck finally rumbled into view. Kevin shut off the engine and jumped out of the cab. He sauntered over to me.

“Thanks for coming out here again, Kevin,” I told him. “I’m almost done with the investigation but I just have a few more questions.”

“No problem,” he answered.

“I’ll be direct: we know an alien didn’t vaporize the potatoes. You lied.”

Kevin’s face went pale.

“Why didn’t you just say you’d been robbed?”

Before he could answer, another car pulled into the clearing: a black Escalade. The Tony with frosted tips was driving. The Escalade stopped and the three Tonys jumped out, followed by Drew. They made a beeline over to us.

“Hey, thanks for coming down here guys,” I told the Tonys.

“Drew said you were going to smoke us out, so let’s go,” Tieless Tony told me.

“Oh Drew said that, did she?” I looked over to Drew, who shrugged. Luckily I did, in fact, have a bunch of weed on me. “First thing’s first,” I told Tony. “Do you know this guy?” I pointed to Kevin.

None of the Tonys gave any trace of acknowledgment to Kevin. “Nah, we don’t know him,” Tony said, but the FedEx driver turned completely ashen in fear. The implication was as clear as the pond behind us. “And he doesn’t know us. Right?”

Kevin nodded shakily. I dug in my jacket pocket and tossed Tony a bag of weed. “Thanks guys.” They turned wordlessly and went back to the Escalade.

“And thank you Drew,” I told her.

“No problem,” she replied. “Come up to the party whenever you’re done doing whatever the fuck it is you’re doing here.”

“I will!”

She joined the Tonys in the Cadillac and they drove off.

More cars were arriving: the cops. A police officer with wraparound Oakley sunglasses and a buzz cat ambled over to us. “What’s going on, fellas?” he sneered.

“Officer,” I started, waving to Kevin. “This gentleman would like to change his statement about an alien zapping his potato shipment. Isn’t that right Kevin?”

“Okay!” Kevin stammered. “I admit it. It wasn’t an alien. A leprechaun stole the potatoes!”

I facepalmed as the cop quizzically cuffed Kevin and led him away. The Tonys would never face the misdemeanor charge they so desperately deserved. Kevin, meanwhile, would go to jail for filing a false police report, and would pay the ULTIMATE PENALTY: 24 hours of community service and a $300 fine.

Another car was pulling up. It was a white stretch limo with the orange and purple FedEx logo painted on the sides and hood. The limo stopped and a chauffeur hopped out. He opened the limo’s back door and a distinguished gentleman in black and purple tuxedo tails emerged. The gentleman came out to me.

“Inspector Surly!” he greeted me in a rolling baritone, and extended his hand. “I’m Jackson Woodruff, Inspector General for the FedEx Corporation.” We shook hands. “I hear you’ve broken this case.”

“Well, yes and no Inspector General. Kevin admitted he lied, but he didn’t point out the Tonys as the potato thieves, so while we know that an alien didn’t in fact incinerate the spuds, we’ll probably never bring the real culprits to justice.”

Inspector General Woodruff adjusted his Pince-nez glasses and laughed. “That’s quite all right, Inspector Surly. As long as we can pin the loss on Kevin, our insurance company will gladly pay! Ho ! Ho! Ho!” he roared. “But do tell, how did you break the case?”

“It’s simple, really: when Stefano mentioned he was making 30 pounds of gnocchi, I did a quick calculation. A 30 pound yield of a typical gnocchi recipe would require about 25 pounds of potatoes and 5 pounds combined of flour, eggs, and microplaned parmigiano reggiano. And when Stefano said that the Tonys gave him the potatoes, it all clicked into place: who would be arrogant enough to steal $40 worth of potatoes, just because they could? The mafia, of course.”

Inspector General Woodruff contemplatively twirled his neatly trimmed handlebar mustache. “I see! Kevin feared violent reprisal from the mob, so he concocted a ludicrous story about his potato shipment being destroyed by a vengeful extraterrestrial!” “That’s pretty much it,” I told him.

The Inspector General slapped me on the shoulder. “Well done, my boy! Well done! Your tenacity and dedication set quite an example for our other inspectors! I’ll never regret hiring you!”

“About that: with all due respect, I don’t even work for FedEx.”

The Inspector General pulled off his Pince-nez and fixed me with a twinkling glance. “Perhaps the $15,000 bonus you’re due will refresh the memory of your employment with our firm!”

“A fifteen thousand dollar reward for solving the disappearance of a bag of potatoes?” I was incredulous. “I’ll take it, of course.”

Inspector General Woodruff laughed his uproarious laugh again. “Of course you will! Of course you will!”

Ultimately, I spent the fifteen grand on the world’s biggest white truffle: 18 ounces! I shaved it over a SHITLOAD of pasta. And eggs. And your mom.

Drew felt really bad about serving stolen food at her wedding celebration, so she brought all the leftover gnocchi—six pounds of it!—over to the prospector. Unfortunately, as she was walking up to his houseboat to deliver the pasta, she tripped on the bridge and dropped the bowl of gnocchi into the pond.

Kevin lost his job at FedEx and hanged himself.

THE END

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Meat and Bread

Sandwiches are sandwiches, but of course some are better than others. At the shitty end of the spectrum is, as you might imagine, Subway. I hate Subway. I can’t stand the weird toppings, as if anyone really wants canned black olives on a sandwich, and I hate Jared and his weird smirking fish face, and I hate the bread that smells like elementary school cafeteria bread, and I hate how fucking cheap those dickwads are, suspiciously dispensing ONE FUCKING NAPKIN to you with your sandwich purchase, as if the profit-and-loss statement of a Subway franchise rests solely on the price of paper. Then again, you know what they say about sandwiches: like a night with your mom, if you only need one napkin afterwards, it wasn’t worth it anyway.

Subway’s sandwiches are most assuredly NOT as sloppy as your mom. Subway’s legendary stinginess isn’t restricted solely to its ungenerous napkin policy: the ham is sliced seemingly by laser into paper-thin sheaves precisely one pig muscle cell thick. You might think that thinly sliced meat isn’t a bad thing: thinly sliced meat is a hallmark of a great sandwich, because no one wants a big thick slab of pork leg, looking pink and sweaty and strangely iridescent, protruding obscenely from the side of one’s sandwich. But thin slices only work if you put MORE THAN ONE FUCKING PIECE OF HAM ON THE FUCKING BREAD. And that, of course, is exactly what Subway’s cheapskate corporate overlords order their sad minimum-wagers to do: one transparent, surgically dissected slice of ham on an enormous loaf of bread that’s way too yeasty smelling for its own good.

At the OTHER end of the sandwich shop continuum, however: is Vancouver’s Meat and Bread. As the name might indicate, it’s a minimalist sandwich shop, though the minimalism applies pretty much only to the décor. Napkins are always abundant and free, and good thing, too: these sandwiches are sloppy as fuck.

A meatball sub ($9, and all prices here are listed in Canadian dollars. Because it’s Canadia, remember?) featured the kind of meatballs that everybody claims their Italian grandmother makes but nobody’s actually does. And I know: my grandmother was Sicilian and her meatballs were a study in granular globes of ground beef, cooked into desiccated golf balls, and splashed in a crimson Ragu bloodbath. But the meatballs on this sandwich were intense: silken and luscious inside, they were more like spherical terrines. Seriously, these meatballs were so delicious I wish I could cut open my scrotum and replace my testicles with these meatballs. Then I would finally be a real man. The meatballs were doused in an unapologetically spicy marinara and topped with a few melted shreds of grana. The menu promised gremolata but I think they were lying.

The most vaunted sandwich on Meat and Bread’s menu is the porchetta ($9). When the chick working at the counter told us it was their most popular sandwich, she wasn’t lying: there were only two of these left to purchase, but I resisted the impish urge to buy both. I’m actually glad I didn’t because the porchetta was a bit of a letdown. I expected the pork to be unctuous and intensely seasoned, like any good porchetta, but it was actually dry and bland, though the fennel seed flavor was at least apparent. Rather than slice the porchetta into thin sheets, so that each sandwich becomes a dense pile of meaty pinwheels suitable for Prince Meatyass, they instead chose to dice the porchetta into a porky gravel pile. The skin was crisp. Finely diced and tossed in with the meat, it was like a crouton of sorts. The salsa verde was a dizzying, lush green and had just enough acid.

The special of the day was a roast beef sandwich ($9.5). While it was more of a shredded pot roast than a proper English roast beef, I’ll forgive them because they’re Canadian and since they can’t even get bacon right, how could they possibly master roast beef? Still, the “roast beef” was superb. The meat was as tender as a child cuddling a puppy, and it was studded with a lot of black pepper. A little bird’s nest of red cabbage slaw contributed the requisite crunch. And a smear of shallot jam managed to walk the edge, like a snail crawling across a razor blade, between sweet and savory. This sandwich was a master’s thesis in sandwichology. The bread itself, curiously, was the same across the board for all the sandwiches: small neat rectangular loaves with an open, bubbly crumb, sort of like mini ciabatta, but not quite.

Meat and Bread is solid as fuck. We were befuddled by the fancy Canadian credit card reader which taunts you with a fake rail on the side of it, along which you think you must slide your card, but SURPRISE STUPID AMERICAN! you have to stick your card into the bottom of the thingy. The waitress noticed our card reader confusion, then asked if we were from the USA. When we admitted that yes, we were visiting from Seattle, she cheerfully informed me that Meat and Bread is coming to Capitol Hill’s Central Agency Building in March. Finally, Canada is paying us back for inflicting the Crash Test Dummies and Mike Myers and ketchup flavored potato chips upon America. U! S! A! U! S! A!

Rating: 8.5 Canadian dollars out of 10

Meat and Bread is located in Canada. Unless you are planning to go to Canada, you don’t need to know the address.

Meat & Bread on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 09, 2015

Tallulah's

I have two major problems with Tallulah’s, the first one being that the mid-century décor in no way matches the menu. It seems like they put a lot of effort in giving the dining room the feel of a suburban 1970’s ranch house, though noticeably missing was shag carpeting, and I also sincerely doubt that the wait staff are sporting the requisite, period appropriate, giant teddy bear tumbleweed pubes. One would logically expect the menu to feature classic midcentury dishes like gelatin salads, Steak Diane, Crepes Suzette, or Baked Alaska, and a bar menu that includes Harvey Wallbangers, Grasshoppers, and Pink Squirrels. People love Mad Men shit; mostly because everyone loves the idea of getting shitfaced at work and fucking a secretary, so why not capitalize on it?

But of course the menu is nothing like that: instead, it’s a very Matt Dillonesque flirtation with middle eastern flavors, with shit like walnut muhammara ($5) and red pepper hummus ($5) and grilled halloumi cheese with grapefruit and fennel ($12). We skipped that stuff because we’d just eaten at London Plane and everyone bitched at me about it.

Instead we started with baby beets and goat yogurt ($6). A motley collection of red, yellow, and pink beets, plated awkwardly, root side up, so that it looked like the minarets of the Kremlin, only made of beets. There was a tangy slick of yogurt beneath these. Despite the strange presentation, the beets were sweet and seasoned well, soft and crimson like an infant’s still-beating heart; the yogurt efficiently cock blocked the beets’ almost cloying sweetness.

A pick from the happy hour menu, grilled chicken wings with harissa ($6) was a pretty good deal, because for this price we got six chicken wings, grilled and tossed in a spicy harissa marinade. These were mostly good, but the “drumette” part of the wing, AKA the chicken’s bicep, was missing, with only the “forearm” part of the wing and the wing tips served. Plus, the skin was flabby and swayed loosely in the breeze like your mom’s upper arm, but on the other hand the meat was succulent like your mom at a Michael Buble concert, and the sauce had a defiant backbone of sour and spicy harissa paste. The wings were definitely not a slam dunk, though they weren’t terrible: let’s call this one a push.

Brussels sprouts with apples and hazelnuts ($6) were okay. The sprouts were halved and obviously pan roasted, caramelized as fuck on the cut surfaces, and the apples and hazelnuts were great textural additions, but in general the sprouts had that farty smell lingering about them, like brussels sprouts you were force fed by your mom as a kid. Now, however, the tables are turned: I force your mom to eat things all the time, and I assure you it’s not brussels sprouts.

A wild mushroom, chevre, and aged sherry vinegar flatbread ($11) was generally tasty, with a bubbly crust and lots and lots of sautéed mushrooms on top, but chevre always pisses me off: it’s just one rung above cottage cheese in the bland fucking boring cheese hierarchy. If you want to use goat cheese, how about one with some balls, like goat’s milk feta or a bleu goat cheese.

Lamb burger with zucchini, harissa, and fries ($14), on the other hand, was masterful: a succulent patty of ground lamb was seared ruthlessly on the outside, while still remaining a confident medium rare inside. This was topped with a mandolined ribbon of zucchini, which was as unlikely a condiment as it was tasty, serving as a cooling counterpoint to the harissa, once again used with restraint. The fries were quite salty, but not in a bad way, and very crisp.

We didn’t get dessert, which brings me to the SECOND problem I had with Tallulah’s: the bartender, hereafter referred to as Oblivia Wilde, fucking sucked. We sat at the bar to eat, and it was like an act of Congress to get the chick to get us a drink. And when she eventually DID bring our drinks, they sucked. The house made rootbeer ($5) was fucking gross as fuck. It was a cloudy and opaque brown, like they used too much sarsaparilla, or birch, or something. The classic flavors of wintergreen and vanilla were sadly lacking, and it was bitter, and so grainy it actually clogged the straw when I tried to sip it!

I was sad like a kid whose ice cream fell on the ground when I drank this stuff. I mean, COME THE FUCK ON: I realize that this is probably how root beer was made back in the cowboy days but one of the benefits of living in the modern day is that technology improves things. For instance, there were no left and right shoes until about 1800. Doctors once prescribed mercury, a highly toxic metal, to (unsuccessfully) treat syphilis. And anyone who’s ever had a 2400bps modem knows that downloading porn in those days was an exercise in futility which could drive even the Dalai Lama to paroxysms of rage.So thank fucking god modern rootbeer like Virgil's or Thomas Kemper's doesn't taste like storm drain runoff.

I really couldn’t understand what was going on. It wasn’t like we were drinking pain in the ass drinks like a pousse café or a mojito or a homonculus. We were having whiskey and champagne for fuck’s sake. All Oblivia Wilde had to do was POUR the damn stuff. But that was apparently too demanding a task, so instead of getting dessert and drinking until I was channeling Peter O’Toole, we went elsewhere. Too bad, Tallulah’s!

Tallulah’s isn’t bad, just maddening. The food is actually pretty tasty, with a focus on interesting vegetable dishes and bold flavors that still manage to show chivalrous restraint. But it just doesn’t sync with the décor. The food should scream STAGFLATION! or GAS SHORTAGES! or even, god forbid, BRADY BUNCH! But sadly it doesn’t. And if you do decide to go to Tallulah’s, for fuck’s sake, just drink water.

Rating: 6.5 shortages out of 10

Tallulah’s is located at 550 19th Ave E

For reservations (parties of 6 or more) call 206-860-0077

Tallulah's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Damn the Weather

I’m pretty much done with craft bartending. If I walk into a bar like the Diller Room or Tavern Law or the Hideout, and the bartender is wearing a vest and an arm garter and a monocle, top hat, a cane, a watch fob, a cape, riding boots, driving gloves, a monkey on his shoulder, a codpiece, and a scarf, I sigh sadly and resign myself to waiting at least 20 minutes to get my drink as the august apothecary of intoxication gradually mixes some $16 concoction which doubtlessly contains house-made bitters. I thought bitters only came in two flavors: Angostura and Peychaud. Apparently I’m a provincial rube who doesn’t realize that bitters come in every flavor including mirepoix, gummy bear, and your mom.

It’s even worse if the bartender has a mustache. I really, seriously, do not get how mustaches got lumped in with precious, asexual hipster bullshit. After all, men with waxed mustaches are hard men, like John L. Sullivan or Theodore Roosevelt or Otto von Bismarck: men who are much more likely to strangle lions to death and have tertiary syphilis and unify empires and bust trusts than they are to wear a cardigan and listen to Mumford & Sons.

So it was with great trepidation that I entered Damn the Weather. With its oddly specific name and fancy cocktail list and giant ice cubes, I expected a maddening descent into twee mayhem. But the food menu seemed interesting so we decided to press our luck.

We started with chicken fat fries ($8). These are pretty much like regular fries, but with a savory undercurrent. Unlike French fries fried in suet or duck fat, chicken fat doesn’t swing its dick around (or cloaca, rather), but you just can’t get this kind of flavor from frying in any kind of vegetable oil. The chicken fat fries were crisp shoestrings and they came in a cone of wax paper nestled in a parfait glass. The presentation was too precious for my taste: I’m bored with frites served in a cone. If you want to impress me, send out your French fries in a hypercone. With a tesseract of housemade quantum ketchup.

Beef Heart Tartare ($12) was great. A neat loaf of finely diced beef heart was served with a very orange egg yolk floating atop it. When mixed together, this was unctuous and beefy like Channing Tatum, but a pile of minced cow offal is much better at portraying inner conflict than Channing Tatum is. Big crunchy sheets of what the menu billed as “sourdough crackers” but which really tasted like Munchos potato chips were provided for scooping up the tartare. The only aspect of this dish I didn’t like was the droopy pile of used-up tea leaves they garnished it with for some reason: they didn’t offer much flavor and they looked gross. At first glance I thought that these were fried sage but unfortunately no.

Celery salad ($10) was less refreshing than I hoped it would be, though it was killer nonetheless. A notebook sheaf of sliced celery was tossed in a creamy dressing, with lots of anchovy: the unapologetically fishy flavor was like an obvious hardon in a pair of tight jeans.

A reuben ($12) was the very paragon of this sandwich, an exemplar of its breed. Razor thin slices of corned beef were piled up in squamous layers, salty and smoky, draped with a caul of melted swiss, and a crisp bale of sauerkraut, on toasted rye bread which was cut too thinly to possibly maintain its integrity, yet somehow did.

The thing I liked the least was tajarin ($12). Normally I scarf down pasta like a Biggest Loser contestant, and this dish at first seemed promising: we were served a heaping tangle of very soft and supple egg noodles, with butter, diced chives, and uni. Unfortunately, sea urchin is such a polarizing ingredient that it’s going to be impossible for me to not get complaints about anything I say, so fuck it: I hate uni. Yes, yes, I know, it’s an aphrodisiac, etc. etc., but midgets are aphrodesiacs too, and you don’t see people garnishing pasta with Peter Dinklage. When used sparingly, sea urchin is a thoughtful tool for adding a nebulous briny and savory flavor, thus making any dish taste like the beach. The problem is that uni is like cilantro: NO ONE EVER USES JUST A LITTLE. Instead, the tajarin was studded with big smeary orange globs of urchin, which no amount of stirring could successfully incorporate into the bowl.

Dessert was drinking caramel ($6). This drink is fucking ridiculous. You get a coffee mug full of thick, sweet, melted dulce de leche, made interesting with the addition of Mexican spices and a golf ball of ice cream floating serenely in the midst of it all like the Unseeing Eye of Ben & Jerry. There is just no goddamned way to make this a sensible dessert option. It tastes like you are actually guzzling a gallon can of hot caramel sauce, purloined, perhaps, from a Menchie’s. The spices are a great addition but maybe they should either sell this stuff in smaller quantites, e.g a shot glass, or thin it with milk. Preferably skim milk.

Damn the Weather has an ambitious menu and the bartenders dress like regular people, instead of steampunk villains, and the gigantic ice cubes, while totally evil in their mastodon-entrapping and Titanic-sinking ways, are actually quite useful to chill a glass of whiskey without watering it down. If there isn’t a Sounders game later, go to Damn the Weather. Otherwise, avoid Pioneer Square like the plague since, you know, fuck soccer: our goal in the USA should be to adopt Europe’s social safety net and environmental legislation and DOC protections, not its effete sports.

Rating: 8 vests out of 10

Damn the Weather is located at 116 1st Ave S

Damn the Weather does not take reservations, but they can be prank called at 206-946-1283

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vespolina

Last Friday I got my hands on a pot brownie. Not some random pot brownie that somebody’s roommate made, but a commercially packaged, legal brownie from one of Colorado’s state-run marijuana stores. Yes, Colorado. Our home state hasn't yet gotten its collective head out of its ass yet re: reefer. I split the brownie four ways with three friends. Then we went to see Interstellar. What a fucking mistake. Every second was an excruciatingly loud eternity. I think I had a stroke!

Anyway, the next day was Saturday and, still completely stoned, we went to Vespolina. We started with the antipasto misto ($11) which was delightful. A plate of mortadella was sliced as thinly as bible pages, and wouldn’t you rather swear on a 1000 page pile of mortadella instead of the boring fucking bible? Sure, mortadella is the most polarizing member of the charcuterie family; it’s the uncircumcised penis of cured meats and you either love it or hate it, but luckily for me I love it, despite the fact that mortadella is really just baloney with a master’s degree.

Along with this came a cute little pile of roasted radicchio with pine nuts and some balsamic vinegar. There was also a novel salad of cold calamari with chickpea puree and a few razor thin rounds of sliced watermelon radish. The calamari was prepared masterfully. It was very tender, which is great because if you don’t cook calamari properly it turns into a leathery cock ring that you are compelled to chew for decades. Luckily this calamari was delicate and lovely. A word of warning about the antipasto, however: the price on the menu is PER PERSON and they failed to tell us this when we ordered. Caveat emptor, or whatever.

Apple radish salad ($12) was generally inoffensive, with sliced apples and discs of watermelon radish, along with a few big curls of pecorino, and some fried leaves of arugula or dandelion greens or something. The server claimed that this was chervil but I’m calling bullshit.

Spaghetti “carbonara” ($17) was a fair interpretation of the famous Roman pasta dish, but I couldn’t understand why they put “carbonara” in quotation marks. I asked our server, and she stammered out an incoherent reply; I suppose that I wasn’t the only one still reeling from last night’s pot brownie. Still, the “carbonara” was great: supple swirls of “pasta” were tossed with a "creamy" sauce of “egg yolk”, “pecorino”, and little porky chunks of “guanciale.” See, Vespolina: “I” can misuse “quotation marks” “too.”

Squash ravioli ($22) was so fucking good that I’m breathlessly hyperventilating while reminiscing about it. The ravioli was masterful: thin pockets of pasta as delicate as an infant’s eyelids enclosed a silken and savory orange squash filling. Fried sage leaves and a few shavings of cheese on top finished this dish, and if I could eat this every single day I would. It was a symphony in orange and green and tasted like a stroll through the autumn woods. If there had been a hint of smoke in this dish I would’ve dry humped the table.

Dessert was bombolini ($7). For this price we got six fried doughnut balls, burnished a rich mahogany outside and with a mystical custard interior. The bombolini were drowned in a sticky pool of black truffle honey. I’m making no comments about the honey: I get bitched at no matter what I say about truffle flavor, so fuck you. But the bombolini were crusty outside and soft inside and being completely drenched in honey, like a group of medieval princesses bathing decadently together, didn’t hurt either.

Vespolina is pretty solid. The service leaves something to be desired, but in Vespolina’s defense I was as high as a fucking kite so my questions probably sounded like a poorly translated DVD player instruction manual. The dining room is gorgeous and the pasta will inspire serious Proust moments so go there now. Don’t do drugs though. Or if you do drugs, make sure you go to see a fucking mild-mannered Merchant-Ivory film.

Rating: 8.5 drugs out of 10

Vespolina is located at 96 Union St.

For reservations call 206-682-3590

Vespolina on Urbanspoon