Saturday, August 4, 2007

Home again

I'm home safely after a long day of travel that began with three hours of sleep during which I woke up twice. Exhausting.

I always come home behind in work and everything else, and this time is no exception. So, I'm keeping this short and crashing.

Slanted Jack continues to grow, which makes me happy, but not as quickly as I'd hoped, which makes me sad.

Nothing new there.

To bed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Food as art

My fascination with food extends beyond mere appetite. Through eating at a wide variety of good restaurants and then dining at a fair number of the nation's best restaurants, I've come to appreciate that at a certain level of inventiveness and skill dishes become more than just food; they become art. Similarly, chefs become more than cooks; they become artists.

This realization is hardly new or unique to me; I do realize that fact. I mention it because people sometimes ask me why I bother to spend all the money to eat in these places, why I'm interested in great chefs, and so on. It's not simply because I love to eat, though of course I do; it's to appreciate their art, an art I get to view, smell, taste, and feel as I literally consume it. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Another day, another fine dinner

Tonight's culinary treat was at The Heathman Restaurant & Bar, which by happy change of plans happens to be downstairs in our hotel. We had requested ahead of time a tasting menu, and Sous Chef Phil Oswalt (I hope I have the right name; I did not get a card) and his team obliged us.

I took photos of every dish, and if energy permits I may someday upload them, but I'm tired and so a list of courses will have to suffice:

- Kumomoto oysters Rockefeller
- Offal terrine (duck) with wild arugula and egg yolk
- foie gras (seared perfectly) with PBJ (and a demitasse of milk)
- roasted and confit duck with sweet corn crepe
- roasted rack of lamb (flawlessly prepared) with eggplant serrano ham and goat cheese pocket and with artichoke heart with fava beans
- epoisses en crote with serrano ham sandwich
- sampler of five desserts, including creme brulee flaming as it arrived, tiramisu, homemade maple (I'm not sure) ice cream with chocolate sauce, berry compote, and flourless chocolate cake

You get the idea.

I'm not an eggplant fan, but the eggplant pocket with serrano ham and goat cheese was perhaps the most revelatory thing I had, combining tastes one rarely sees with eggplant into an absolutely marvelous dish with great flavor and mouth feel.

Wow, am I fat.

Of course, I burned off my whole dinner (okay, five calories of it) by walking all the way up to the corner and snapping a picture of the theater marquis across the street. Top of the sign, which I hope to post some other time, was this one-line movie tease:

Knocked Up Transformers

Now that's a group whose mood swings could be really scary.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A beautiful day in Portland

Warm, almost hot, and sunny, clear skies greeted us the entire day in what I've usually found to be a very cloudy, rainy place. The night was clear and brisk and simply gorgeous to be alive in. What a beautiful day.

Dinner at Le Pigeon was excellent, all I had read it would be. I started with a pigeon strudel that came with two small bits of foie gras on the side. The dish combined strong flavors with an almost delicate feel, a neat trick with foie gras. My entree was the restaurant's signature dish, one that one of the chefs told me never leaves the menu: beef cheek bourguignon. Wow. Rich and tasty and a pleasure to get to eat; I can see why it's still on the menu. I also went with a signature dish for dessert: maple ice cream over honey, bacon, and apricot cornbread. Ignore how it may sound: it was brilliant. Gina's dishes were completely different but equally good.

We sat at the bar that wraps around two sides of the open kitchen and watched Chef Gabriel Rucker and his two other chefs--sorry, guys, for not knowing your names--work and occasionally chatted with them. They were nice folks, passionate and focused on their work and on food.

If you're out in Portland, definitely eat there. I know I'll go back on some later trip, time permitting.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Moving time

Today's journey began with tension and ended in a nice place after a ton of work.

At the airport this morning, a large group of frustrated travelers were trying to get home to New York after being stranded in RDU due to weather in the NY area. Delta, which we were flying, was trying to check in many angry travelers in line in front of us. One arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes before his flight, which is simply not early enough on a Monday morning unless you get lucky. He didn't. He reached the front of the check-in line about twenty minutes before his flight's departure time, at which point the Delta agent told him he was out of luck. The agent was right, if a bit cold about the whole thing. The guy freaked, started shaking and yelling and cursing occasionally, and the agent who'd been helping him called a supervisor. The supervisor clearly got annoyed, and for a minute or so I thought we might get to see airport security in action.

Fortunately, we finished our check-in process, the understandably angry man gained control of himself, and when we left the original agent was trying to find him a way home.

The remainder of my flight experience was blissfully drama free. Due to the magical world of airline pricing, a world that makes Harry Potter look mundane, a Delta first class ticket had been my cheapest option for this trip. I played with my iPhone in the gate for a few minutes and read some email on it, boarded, and flew to Atlanta without incident.

But also without getting enough work done. As it turns out, the Delta seats, at least in first class, contained on their backs small displays that offered a wide variety of movies, TV shows, music, and even games. They were spiffy devices that combined with the nice layout of our 757 to make the flight, well, fly by. I unfortunately discovered Bookworm on the display in front of me and pleasantly wasted more than a few minutes on it.

We landed in Atlanta on time and had a tight connection, so off we hustled. As luck would have it, our outgoing flight was delayed 20 minutes, so our shuttle ride was easy, and we made the gate with no trouble.

A pleasant lunch, work, more Bookworm, more work, and we even made up ten minutes of the delay--an excellent flight.

I stayed in the terminal for fifteen minutes to send some urgent work email, courtesy of PDX's free wireless, for which I commend them. Our luggage was just coming around the belt when we arrived, and our car was ready.

Finding our lodging, the Jupiter Hotel, which we were trying for the first time, proved to be blissfully easy. It's a funky place, a reconditioned motel with chalk in every room for writing on your door, fun furnishings, and a great atmosphere--but, at least today, worthless Internet access. After twenty-five minutes of being unable to do any work email, we packed up, checked out, paid a thankfully small cancellation fee, and moved across town to The Heathman Hotel, whence I write this posting.

We went from funky to classic swanky, but I don't mind at all. My Internet access is wired and wonderfully fast, my room is great, and I'd already planned to eat a tasting menu here Wednesday. I quite like this place and see why Bourdain recommended the hotel. It's also only a few blocks from Higgins Restaurant, where I enjoyed my third dinner. I still rank it below Portland's other top-drawer restaurants, but I quite enjoyed my meal.

I've yet, however, to encounter the ghost that legend (at least per Bourdain) says haunts an elevator shaft here. Maybe I'll get lucky yet.

Long day, but for a travel-heavy one, better than most.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On the road again

Tomorrow morning early, I head to Portland for PT business. I go there once a quarter and have come to quite like the city. I've also found some great restaurants there, and on this trip I have reservations at Le Pigeon, whose chef, Gabriel Rucker, Food and Wine ranked one of the top rising stars in the U.S., and at The Heathman for a tasting menu from Executive Chef, Philippe Boulot, whom Anthony Bourdain acclaims one of the great cooks of the northwest. I've eaten one very good meal there already, but I'm looking forward to trying the unpublicized tasting menu.

I also hope to do a lot of good business and, of course, make progress on Slanted Jack. I'm just now introducing an odd group of personal favorite characters, which may seem weird at this point (about 75% along) in a book, but there you have it; I do what the story demands.

Time and energy permitting, I'll report from those meals.

Eat at Rue Cler

On Saturday night, we did, and it was a marvelous meal. Rue Cler, which sits on the corner of a pleasant but, on that night, largely deserted downtown Durham street, offers both a very reasonably priced ($25) three-course, prix fixe menu and a la carte options. All four of us opted for the prix fixe menu, though we did add a side of pommes frites, cheese course, dessert, and so on. The frites were easily among the best, if not the best, in the Triangle, and they came with a bearnaise sauce that was perfect.

I had a tomato consomme that was light and perfect and flavorful, pork confit in a crepe-like roll under a marvelous sauce, and for my entree rabbit in two forms: a few perfect bites of loin and a small tart. Happy mouth.

My only complaints were that the cheese course--two tasty but not superb slabs--was not up to the rest of the menu and that even at 7:50 p.m. they were already out of a dessert we wanted to try.

Those are minor issues, however; this place is excellent. If you're anywhere near Durham and looking for a good place to eat, go here or to Piedmont, and you'll be glad you did.


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