Thursday, October 15, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 2

I've never been to this city before. I doubt I would have come had Bouchercon not been here. As always seems to be the case, however, with places that are new to me, I find it more interesting than I would have suspected.

For one thing, the service people I've encountered here have all been amazingly friendly and perky. Stepford Wives perky. Scary perky. I don't think I've smiled as much in any decade of my life as the hotel check-in clerk smiled during the times I saw him yesterday.

It's also clearly a real city, which the statistics would tell you, but what they don't communicate is that it's got a city vibe, at least here downtown.

The foodie Web sites generally agree that you can find good meals here, but that there are no great meals to be had. I've now had lunch at one well-rated place and dinner at two of them, and so far my experience supports this assertion. Of course, three experiences is not enough to use to judge a city.

For lunch yesterday, we walked to 14 West, one of the places we'd seen receive good ratings. Standing in front of the restaurant was this sign, which I have to say was not particularly encouraging. (My brief visits to Lexington, KY, which is horse country, left me with a decidedly different expectation for a "hot brown.") The waiter put us at ease by explaining that it was an open-faced sandwich of sourdough bread, turkey, bacon, and a sauce, served with asparagus. We had to try it, and it was okay, tasty enough but not great. The sourdough led to comical cutting affairs with the steak knives they gave us, which simply were not as tough as the bread. We prevailed, of course, but it was nip and tuck for a while there.

Dinner that evening was at Scholars Inn, about which we'd read a few good comments. The decor was decidedly big-city and the menu appeared decent, maybe even better than that. The meal itself, though, was only okay. I won the dinner derby by erring on the side of caution and going with something the Midwest can handle--a steak, which the kitchen did in fact prepare perfectly. (The sauce with it was far less successful.)

Being in Indiana and seeing a red velvet cake on the menu meant we really had no choice but to order it. Our server, who was scarily perky, encouraged us to try it. We did. The photograph above gives you just a hint of how day-glow red that sucker was; I wish my iPhone camera had better resolution and light sensitivity. We were convinced the cake was laced with some glowing substance, and this photo of my face--shot right after I ate my half of the slice--proves we were right.

On our way out, we noted these odd creatures, which upon closer inspection we determined to be made of old tires distressed and painted. Interesting, though nothing I'd want in my house (or restaurant). Staring at them while waiting for a cab, I was seized by an almost irresistible urge to ride one of these strange rubber animals into the street while screaming loudly to passersby that they should help me catch the thieves and not let them get away.

But, that's my brain for you.

Tonight's lunch was at a local Noodles and Company, which like so many chains delivers dishes that taste the same no matter where you are when you eat them. When you have less than half an hour for lunch on a cold, damp day and have slept almost not at all, that approach is just dandy.

Tonight's dinner was the best meal yet here, a very pleasant dinner at R Bistro. Nothing was particularly complex, but everything was executed well and very tasty.

I've been rather snarky so far about the meals, and that's not fair. The prices of the dinners in these two restaurants have generally been in line with the value they delivered, with R Bistro actually representing a bit of a bargain. Both were better than anything you could have gotten in Raleigh a decade ago. Both restaurants focused on local-sourcing as much of their meals as possible. These folks care about their food and are working at their craft, and for that I commend them.

If it sounds like I don't have much to report about the con, that's because I've done very little con stuff. Aside from breaks for meals, I've mostly been stuck in my room working. I did my 45 minutes on the continuous conversation program item today, and 15 minutes were very good, 15 were okay, and 15 left me wondering if falling off the platform might give me an acceptable excuse for leaving.

I got to see one panel, on which Lee Child was speaking, and I enjoyed it, though the room was warm enough to put a lot of the attendees to sleep and to make me decidedly drowsy at times.

I also spent 15 minutes in the dealers' room and from that time and conversations I've overheard, I've been reminded of the thing I love most about Bouchercon: the attendees all read and love books. You can go to SF cons and talk to people who are media fans or anime fans or fandom fans, and many of them can't recall the last book they read. As a writer and a lifelong reading addict, I find that sad. It's great to be among avid readers.

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