Saturday, August 4, 2012

Golden opportunity for a foodie at Chicon

If you're a foodie, you've almost certainly heard of Alinea, the restaurant at which Grant Achatz became a culinary superstar. One of the best meals of my life was my dinner there quite some years ago.

I'm going again on the Thursday of Chicon (and will, of course, report on the dinner here), but due to paranoia I have two spare tickets for a 9:30 p.m. seating on Wednesday, August 29. Alinea handles reservations differently than most restaurants: it sells pre-paid tickets whose cost includes the meal and gratuity. Each ticket entitles you to the tasting menu, which is your only choice. You have to trust Achatz and his team to deliver something great--which I do. (Beverages and wine pairings are an additional cost you pay while there.) The pair of tickets I have cost $531.60. If you'd like to buy them, a process that involves Alinea itself so they can make sure no one is scalping the tickets, let me know via the Contact form on the site. You have to pay for the tickets as soon as you take them.

If I don't have any takers within a week, I'll put them on offer via Alinea's normal mechanisms.

This is a chance to secure a meal that is certain to be amazing.

The first person to ask for them gets them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How much do I want to see this movie?

Oh, yeah, that much.

You know where I'll be on November 9.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The joy of Josh Ritter

Wednesday night, Josh Ritter played at a local club, Cat's Cradle. As I mentioned yesterday, I rushed from the plane, which landed late, straight to Carrboro to catch the show. (I regret missing the opening act, but I arrived too late for it.) Less than five minutes after I reached the spot where I like to stand, Ritter bounded onto the stage.

When I say "bounded," I'm not indulging in hyperbole.  He quite literally moved by leaps, running and jumping his way to his guitar and then the microphone. A huge smile lit up his face, he backed up and screamed with what appeared to be sheer joy, and the show began.

Two hours later, the main set ended.  Less than five minutes later, he bounded onto the stage again, every bit as energetic as he was at the start, smiled as broadly as before, screamed again, and launched into a fifteen-minute encore.

If he wasn't singing a serious song, he was smiling whenever he could, during instrumental portions in songs, during breaks, any time he could.  The picture above is the best one I got, but you can't see his expression due to the lights (though you can see a larger version by clicking on it).  The joy of the music, the joy of performing, was always there, suffusing him, powering him, pouring out of him into the audience.

The audience responded with its own joy, and for two and a quarter hours all I saw around me were happy people.

The show marked the third time I've seen Ritter live, and it was easily the best.  I love his music, but even more I love how much joy and passion he brings to performing. This guy should be selling out stadiums, having number-one albums, enjoying a rep as a performer everyone knows. Instead, he's playing Cat's Cradle, not selling every ticket...

...and giving the show his all. 

In his wonderful song, "Snow Is Gone," Ritter sings this bit:
I'm singing for the love of it,
have mercy on the man who sings to be adored

I believe him.  I don't know him, but watching him perform, I utterly believe him.  I'm sure he has plenty of depressed times, and I have to believe that all the realities of his life are not to his liking, but when he steps onto the stage, he brings the joy. 

More, I believe he's right in those lines.  He really is, and I and every artist I know should listen to him.  

When I fret over the reception my writing receives, over how I'm selling or why I'm not winning awards or any of the other noise that fills my head, I would do well to recall these lines, smile, and take joy in the fact that I'm so very fortunate that people pay to read my stories. 

If you get a chance, go see Josh Ritter.  Bring your joy.  You can be damn sure he'll bring his.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On the road again: Bay area, day 3

I'm on a plane now and will shortly have to shut down.  From the moment we land, I'll be rushing so I can catch as much as possible of the opening act for Josh Ritter--and then, of course, Ritter himself.  I'm quite looking forward to the show and will write about it tomorrow.

Today was another of those travel days with a six-something wake-up, so I didn't start the day very happy.  That said, the first leg of our travel went well.  When we landed in DFW, we had only 40 minutes to make our connection.  That time evaporated as people filed slowly off the plane, so by the time we hit the terminal, we were down to 25 minutes.  Fortunately for us, the connecting flight was rather late, so late that we had time to eat delicious Red Mango parfaits, do some work in the Admiral's Club, stroll to the new, very close gate, and then wait some more.

Even better, at the gate I learned that American had upgraded me, so the flight home was pleasant and, thanks to the on-plane bandwidth, quite productive.

All in all, it's hard to complain about travel that works out this way, even with the rough start.

Now, I must shut down.  Soon, Josh Ritter live!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On the road again: Bay area, day 2

I can say so very little about work travel days that I often end up resorting, as I am here, to a meal description.  Fortunately, tonight's dinner was a very tasty affair at Los Cubanos, a place I've eaten in the past. We started with croquetas, had small house salads (pleasant but unremarkable), and then my entree was a Cuban classic, ropa vieja.  This version featured the beef in a dish with peppers and olives and a lot of juice, and it was darn tasty.  Mix a bit of beef and some rice and black beans in each bite, and you have a definite taste treat.

The only disappointment was the dessert, an indulgence that in retrospect I would not have permitted myself.  I tried the quatres leches, which came in a sundae cup and was far less satisfying than most of the similar dishes I've had over the years.  Of course, that didn't stop me from finishing it, which was an error on my part. 

On balance, though, I have to recommend Los Cubanos if you live in the area. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

On the road again: Bay area, day 1

I am never going to love a day that begins with me getting up at 6:30 a.m., so today had lost my heart before it started.

The rest of the trip went about as well as one could reasonably expect.  I was fortunate enough to get an upgrade for the first flight, and the plane offered WiFi, so that leg of the trip was pleasant and productive.  In DFW, I had time to do more work and also grab some Red Mango; a day that includes Red Mango's delicious berry parfait cannot be all bad.  The second flight was nowhere near as good as the first, but I did have an exit row aisle seat, so I cannot complain but so much.

I can't talk much about work trips, so I'll conclude by mentioning a phrase I read recently, in Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World,  and quite love:  "sheer furious affection."  Something wonderful right there, something powerful and wonderful indeed.  The paragraph surrounding it is almost as lovely. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Piedmont disappoints

Back in late February, I wrote a blog entry in which I noted that Piedmont Restaurant, which once was one of my local favorites, wasn't what it used to be.  I haven't been back since then, and I had no plans to return, but then two things happened: I learned that they had hired a new chef, and I received an email extolling a special heirloom-tomato dinner.

I decided to give Piedmont another try.

The menu that came in email looked interesting:

First Course

 Sunburst and heirloom farmer’s market tomato gazpacho, Coastal sweet poached shrimp, radish salad

Second Course

 Coon Rock Farm Heirlooms, Chapel Hill Creamery mozzarella, puree of basil, toasted pecans, balsamic reduction

Third Course

Roasted swordfish, byaldi, wilted butter lettuce, Roma tomato confit, herbed butter sauce

Fourth Course

Grass fed beef short rib ravioli, roasted garden heirlooms, Brinkley Farm’s snap peas

Final Course

Tomato curd, peaches, shortbread cookies
I admit to being concerned about the tomato curd in the dessert, but I'm always game for interesting food prepared by a good chef. 

After three in our group sampled this menu, while another ordered off the main menu, I am sorry to have to return a very clear verdict: Piedmont is a shadow of once it once was, and I won't be going back until something significant changes.

The meal started out fine, because the gazpacho of two types of tomatoes was both attractive and tasty, if a bit bland.  The salad was also good, though it needed twice as much cheese.

Things began to fall apart with the swordfish dish, in which the tomatoes were lost and the fish merely meh. 

The ravioli dish was a failure in every way.  The dish featured a single ravioli as big as some muffins.  The ravioli itself was chewy, the meat dry--a sin with short ribs, and the tomatoes again lost. 

As for the dessert, one of us liked the tomato curd, but the rest were desperately hoping to sneak in some ice cream later.

The service, which was weak last time, was simply bad this time.  Our main server was a very nice young woman with good intentions, but she was lost most of the time and failed to get even the basics (such as asking if anyone wanted a beverage) wrong.  Another person brought one of our dishes and wandered to all the nearby tables offering it to them before we could flag him down and get it.

An old friend owns the company that owns Piedmont, and I want to support his businesses, but there are so many better restaurants in the Triangle now that I just can't see myself going back to Piedmont anytime soon. 


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