Saturday, October 12, 2013

Picking the right comparison for the delightful [ONE] Restaurant

A couple of months ago, I wrote an entry praising Chapel Hill's [ONE] Restaurant and calling it one of the Triangle's best dining spots.  Earlier tonight, a small group of us visited it again to see whether it was still delivering on the promise of its obviously talented chefs. 

The answer is a qualified yes, but how qualified depends on the comparison points I use.

If I limit myself to only area restaurants, then I need no qualifications at all: [ONE] remains one of the elite establishments of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.  Service continues to be a challenge (more on that later), but the food is both inventive and excellent.

The problem is, I don't want to limit myself.  I've eaten in many of the world's very best restaurants, and I believe these chefs have the talent to stand up to any of them.  Bits and pieces of various dishes demonstrate what they are capable of delivering, but one offering justified that belief beyond any doubt: the snowball.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

A group of chefs served us this dish as a special, after-dessert treat.  The serving bowl was ice-cold, and the chefs told us to pick up the snowball with our fingers and eat it in a single bite.  It proved to be a mound of cold joy, a concoction whose flavors of lime (I think) and sugar and other goodies mingled and amplified one another perfectly as it melted in our mouths.

This one bite proves just how much game these chefs have.

The thing is, I want them to make every bite that amazing and delicious, and I think they can.

Not, mind you, that the other dishes were bad.  All were extremely tasty and quite lovely.  My main, for example, featured glazed beef with sweet potato, house-made soy forms, puffed tendon, and other goodies.

As delicious as this dish was, though, the beef was chewy, as if they had gone for a cheaper cut to keep the entree price under $30.  That's a very reasonable business decision, but I still regret it; I wanted that beef to melt in my mouth.

The amuses, a strength of my last meal at [ONE], were much weaker this time, three of them served lukewarm and all a bit doughier than they should have been. 

Again, though, the comparison issue rears its head, because at almost all other Triangle restaurants, those amuses would have been superstars.

I've put off service as long as I can, largely because I liked all the people I met, and all were trying hard, but it simply was not up to the standards of the area's better restaurants, much less the food. The service team felt shorthanded and in the weeds, and the errors were frequent and numerous.  Each and every person was extremely nice, apologetic for all mistakes, and quick to rectify any issues they could, so I hate criticizing them, but if [ONE] wants to hit the levels it has the potential to reach, it must invest in more serving staff and better training for them.

As dinner was ending, I had the chance to chat with C. Paul Jennette, the General Manager.  He gave me his card, so I emailed him earlier and asked if he and the chefs would be interested in creating a special, screw-the-cost tasting menu that would let them show off their complete games.  I hope they choose to take me up on the offer, because I believe the result could be an amazing meal.

Regardless of their response, however, I will absolutely go back to [ONE], and I recommend it highly.  It is indeed one of the best restaurants in the Triangle.

I just want it to aim to be one of the best restaurants in the world.  Succeed or fail, that is the goal at which these chefs should aim their talents.

Friday, October 11, 2013

WTF Machete Kills

If you thought Machete was over the top, or if you felt that director Robert Rodriguez had gone as far afield as he possibly could in his Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse, you need to run, not walk, away from Machete Kills. Its excesses are so far past those of its predecessors that at times it felt as if Rodriguez was trying to find out if there was anything he could do that would stop us from watching Danny Trejo lumber through a landscape of ever-more-insane violence.

For my small group, by the way, that answer was, no. We were in it the whole way, and we weren't backing out. We laughed, we oohed and aahed, we groaned, we recoiled, and we kept on watching. Trejo's stoic manner only served to amplify the scenery chewing of every other person in this movie, and they all chowed down as if to compensate for his restraint. 

I'm not going to tell you about the plot, because, really, what does it matter?  Machete goes places, kills people, and does it again.  On a Friday night after a hard week, it was a fine bit of insane, ultra-violent entertainment that I enjoyed even as I periodically flinched. 

If you walked out of Machete desperate for Rodriguez to turn the volume to 11 in the next film, you must not miss Machete Kills.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In praise of Luther

If you don't already know Luther, it is a BBC show that's aired on BBC America and whose three seasons are now available here in the U.S. on DVD.  I watched the first two seasons some time ago, and I recently completed the third, four-episode season. 

The show is uniformly excellent, with the first season downright superb. Every single cast member delivers the goods in every installment, but the stand-out is its star, Idris Elba.  He storms through the show, a huge, powerful presence who can barely (and not always) contain the flood of emotions that constantly threatens to drown him.  He is mesmerizing on screen. 

I don't want to give away any spoilers, and if you haven't seen the show, I encourage you not to seek them out.  Instead, start at the first episode, sit back, and watch some of the best television available. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Library happy snaps

Gina was kind enough to take some photos of Tuesday night's library event, so I thought you might like to see a few of them.

First up is our host librarian, Carla Payne, setting the stage for the evening.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

She did a fine job of running the event.

The four of us, all hesitating to answer a question.

I find it difficult to express how much I dislike photos of myself.

It wasn't all hesitation, though.  We certainly did laugh, as Mur and Dave are doing here.

For those who tell me to post smiling photos, here's as close as I can manage right now.

Did I mention how awful I look?

John hasn't suffered a close-up yet, and Gina went to the trouble of creating some black-and-white shots, so we'll close with John in mid-answer.

Thanks to my fellow panelists, Ms. Payne, and our swell audience, the event was a good time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Spec-Fic Writers Throw Down In Library War!

Well, not exactly.  We sat for an hour and fifteen minutes, answered questions, and left as quietly as we entered.  Still, I'm working on my New York Post headline writing skills, in case they need to call me up to the show, so I need to practice whenever I can.

As I mentioned in Sunday night's post, this second (for Dave and me) library event of the month featured David Drake, John Kessel, Mur Lafferty, and me.  Our gracious host librarian, whose name I'm embarrassed to admit I did not write down, asked us a bunch of questions, and then the audience--which again outnumbered us, for which I'm grateful--hit us with a few.  We talked a lot about writing, with all of us generally agreeing that the most important thing was, surprise, to actually write.  As Mur noted, everyone who wants to be a writer knows this secret, but few actually take advantage of the knowledge. 

After the panel, a small group of us headed over to Gonza Tacos Y Tequila for a tasty dinner.  I'd not been there before, but I'll definitely go back if I'm in the area and craving Mexican food.

Now, to write.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My reaction to the Tesla Model S fire

For those who don't follow such things, last week a Tesla Model S ran over a piece of metal debris in the road and caught fire.  The incident made national news, Tesla's stock dropped heavily for two days, and multiple folks emailed me with questions, the more extreme of which ran along the lines of,

"OMG! Aren't you sorry now you bought this over-priced flammable death machine?" 

In a word, no.  I am not sorry I bought the car.  It's still the best car I've ever owned, and it's still the safest car around. 

For Tesla's take on the fire--and a pretty good set of supporting facts--check out this blog entry on its site. 

To go a bit deeper, did I ever think a Tesla was immune to fire?  No.  It has batteries, so fire is possible. 

Did I expect one now?  No.  No one expects the Spanish Inquisition--or a car fire. 

What do I think of the way Tesla handled the incident?  I quite approve.  They gathered data, they wrote the above sensible post, and they seem to be treating the owner well. 

Will I now fear a car fire more than before?  No.  It was possible but highly unlikely before, and it is possible but highly unlikely now.

I remain quite happy with the car.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Come see me Tuesday night (October 8) at the
Wake County North Regional Library

Last week's gathering of SF authors nearly destroyed a library (okay, that's a lie), so there's no telling what might happen Tuesday night (that's kinda-sorta true, in that no one can know the future).  We might sit around and talk writing and genre fiction, but we might also pull out our light sabers and duel, throw down with the audience, or even share milk and cookies (I wish). 

The "we" in this gathering, by the way, includes John Kessel, Mur Lafferty, David Drake, and me.  That's a group of four writers with strong opinions on pretty much every topic, so the discussion should not lack for enthusiasm.  All we need is an audience, which is where you come in.  Bring questions, bring friends, bring milk and cookies (would the library even allow that? why am I on a cookie binge?). 

Let's pack this room and show those rowdy librarians how SF fans rock! 


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