Saturday, December 30, 2006

Death Of A Dictator


Saddam Hussein - an unsatisfying execution.

Saddam Hussein is dead. Hung by his neck until dead.

And America rejoices.

But I cannot help but to wonder if this is the wrong path.

I fear that that the death of Saddam Hussein by a U.S. backed Iraqi government will only lead to severe terrorist attacks within the United States. Is the execution of Hussein the battlecry for a new intensity?

I feat that things within the United States will only get worse. That by 2008 the United States will fall casualty to a another large-scale terrorist attack that will knock the benign tenor we currently relax in and that will allow our government to push for national I.D. cards and/or electronic I.D. implants for all citizens. It will be branded for our safety and that of our children. "To protect our children" will be the mantra and the horror of another terror attack will push our nation further into the grips of totalitarianism.

This is what I fear for the next phase in our history. I hope that I'm wrong, but to look on our recent past and the number of rights and liberties we have given up in the name of "safety" and "security" is not reassuring.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Is All Around

Capitol Swell's recent post reminded me about a great Christmas move Love Actually. It's a fun movie about falling in love around Christmastime and has one of my favorite quotes.

Daniel and his son, Sam, have recently suffered the loss of their wife and mother. Sam's been acting a bit odd and Daniel's been worried that he might be getting into depression or, worse, drugs. They're spending some time together and finally have a chat:

So, what's the problem? Something odd?
Is it just mum or something else? Hmm?
Maybe school? Are you being bullied? Or
is it something worse? Can you give me
any clues, you know?

You really want to know?

I really want to know.

Even though you won't be able to do
anything to help?

Even if that's the case, yeah.

Okay. Well, truth is, actually...
I'm in love.


I know I should be thinking about mum
all the time and I am. But the truth is
I'm in love, and I was before she died and
there's nothing I can do about it.

(laughs with relief)
Are you a bit young to be in love?


Oh, okay, yeah, well... I'm a little relieved.


Well, because I thought it would be
something worse.

Worse than the total agony of being in love?

Ah, no, you're right. Yeah, total agony.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Collection of Christmas Shorts

How's your Christmas shopping? Done yet? Mine is. And I didn't step one foot into a mall or buy anything online. This year, I went to the local bookstore and went ballistic.

I bought every book in sight. Did that look cool? I bought it.
Did that look dumb? I bought it.
Could I give that as an "emergency gift"? Bought it.
Maybe my dad would like that book? Bought it.
"101 Reasons Why You're A Whore" A perfect gift for someone I love. Bought that too!

Next stop, Glarus Chocolatier.

I love chocolate. Since I was a little boy, it's been one of my addictions. Nestle Crunch, Kit Kat, Snickers, Hershey Kisses - I've loved them all but lately they've been falling flat. What was once a secret indulgence of Kit Kat bars is now a hollow experience after finding quality chocolate. Just a couple of years ago, Glarus opened in Timonium in the Swiss tradition and now I'm addicted.

This isn't some sort of commercialized Godiva or Lindt, this stuff is fresh. And delicious. And pricey. But so worth it. The milk chocolate just melts in the mouth - a sensuous and sticky experience dancing on your tongue. It's sin. One needs to repent and go to confession after a Glarus experience.

So I went ballistic there too. Boxes and boxes piled high with truffles. This Christmas it's books and chocolate.

For the past two days, the morning commute to Towson has been glorious. Almost no traffic. No backups. Nothing except smooth sailing all the way in. If the morning commute was like this everyday, Baltimore could be heaven. With a high per capita murder rate.

As I'm cruising up York Road by the fire station, an elderly gentleman starts crossing the street. He's pretty far ahead and there's very little chance I could run him over (unless he stopped), but I do have to lighten up on the pedal and slow my rate of speed slightly which is a minor irritation. I think about blowing my horn and yelling expletitives at him when I start to think that it's Christmas Time and I should love my fellow man more than usual.

What happens when something happens and road rage consumes you? You want to yell expletitives at the other person and give him/her (I'm equal opportunity) The Finger. Yelling out "FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!!!" is strangely comforting and soothing while driving the rage equally in the other person who counters the tirade and, sometimes, things escalate out of hand from there. Once in a while, you're Tupac Shakur and you end up riddled with bullets, but most of the time, you just continue on more pissed off than normal.

So I thought to myself, It's Christmas. Why not yell at people with the Christmas Spirit? See how they react. Would they still be as pissed off? Therefore, I've decided that the next time someone irritates me and forces me into Road Rage Mode, I'm going to yell:


Somehow, I don't think they'll be able to continue...

Several mornings a week find me at the local bagel bakery ordering a toasted everything bagel with lox spread and a toasted salt bagel with butter. The bagels are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like a good bagel should be. And like most foodservice establishments, Towson Hot Bagel is staffed and (unlike most foodservice establishments) owned by Hispanics (who I suspect are of Mexican descent).

The guy who actually prepares my bagels is pretty friendly, offering a smile and a hello every now and then. But the guy at the register never smiles at me. Sure he smiles at the white people, but never at me. And I think I finally know why.

Sometimes people mistake me for being Hispanic and come up to me speaking Spanish. I'm a Filipino kid who grew up in conservative Baltimore. I don't speak Spanish. I barely can speak my own language: English. I live in the Horse Country. I drive European cars. I wear khakis. I'm about as white as they come around here.

But to the casual observer none of that matters. I don't speak Spanish.

I think these guys see me and think I'm Hispanic. Therefore, they expect me to speak Spanish to them. And since I don't, they probably think I'm sort of white-washed sell-out that has forsaken La Raza for La Perla when the truth is that I've sold out Peking Duck for Duck Confit.

So what to do, what to do? Do I figure out some way to let them know that I'm not Hispanic and not a La Raza sellout? Maybe then they'll think I'm cool enough to chat with like they do with all the white people. Or maybe I'll just roll with it. They're courteous enough. And they've got good bagels. And they're convenient to my commute.

And maybe, just maybe, they'll hook me up with a hottie Latina to "bring me back to my roots."

Hope springs eternal.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Now Playing: Pissed Off For Christmas

It's the holiday season and I'm irritated.

Not the usual irritability that comes from being surrounded by Happy Happy Joy Joy people who will turn into their usual ogres come December 26th. I'm irritated for a completely different reason.

Those that know me know I like women. Heck, those that don't know me and only read this blog probably know that I like women. It's true: I like women. I like dating women. I like going out and being around women. And I enjoy being around Foxy Women.

The Cho noted in Podcast #55: . "I've seen some of the women you hang with and they're always very attractive."

Ah, vindication.

But I digress...

So, I date. A lot. As much as I can. Not because I'm a "playa" or I'm "bad like that." But rather because I don't have anything else to do in my off time so I meet, hang out and date women. Sometimes it's a noble pursuit. Sometimes it isn't. Whatever it is: it is what it is. But after doing it for so long sometimes you think that you'd like to try something else. Something that other people have been doing. Like dating someone. Seriously. Exclusively. Mano a mano. What was once a horrific thought not too long ago - suddenly, the notion of having someone to spend the holidays with sounds appealing.

Perhaps I need a doctor.

But wait, maybe it is getting tiring playing around. Maybe it would be nice to focus on one person and have that focus returned on you. Sad thing is I can't imagine what that's like since I've never been party to something like that. Maybe it's time to change.

With that in mind, I penned a note to a girl I've known for nearly three years. She's cool. She's hip. She's fashionable. She's driven. She's motivated. Most guys find a driven, independent, motivated and focused woman intimidating - I find it exciting. By now, I know her pretty well. Know what she likes, what she dislikes, what troubles her, what inspires her, her hopes, her dreams, her incredibly odd disdain for seafood, her uncontrollable need to shop - I'm down, I dig it, I accept her for how she is, what she wants to be and I want to be there encouraging and supporting her in her efforts.

So what did the note say? In a nutshell, I said that I was tired of games. Tired of bullshit. Tired of pretending. Tired of posturing. I want something more. To know each other better. To spend more time. Nothing heavy like marriage, just being Real. I thought it was honest and heartfelt, and real. I sent it on December 5th.

To be honest, there's a part of me that expects rejection. That dark side of the psyche that always tells you that you're not good enough. If that was the case and I ended up in the "Friend Zone" then I would have been hurt, disappointed and sad.

But that's not what happened.

And this isn't a Happy Happy Joy Joy story.

Nothing. That's what happened. Not a damn thing. I've been completely ignored. Blown off. Might as well have been told to "Fuck Off." In nearly twenty days, I haven't heard from her once. Oh yes, I know she got the note because she would have called out of sheer routine by now. I thought the worst possible outcome would have been told that she didn't feel that way about me.

But this is completely different.

This shows a complete lack of respect for me and whatever relationship we supposedly had these past three years. It's a slap in the face. I thought I might have been sad and hurt, but it turns out that now I'm mad. Pissed off, to be accurate.

Way fucking pissed off, actually.

And a bit disappointed too. I thought she was a better person than this. I thought she had character along with her conviction. I thought she had substance. But I was wrong.

So that's it. Game Over. Kaput. Tapos. Finis. Time to hit the Reset Button and return to our regularly scheduled programming. Can't waste time crying over spilled milk. Time to get back in the game.

But don't worry about me, gentle reader.

I've got a date lined up for next week!

Ciao Baby, Ciao.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Zuleyka, Tara and Kate during more innocent times.

The Donald (Trump, that is) was back in the news recently forgiving the reigning Miss USA, Tara Conner, for "behaviour unbecoming Miss USA." Evidently, Tara was going out drinking with Miss Universe, Zuleyka Rivera, and making out with Miss Teen USA, Kate Blair.

As the New York Daily News. reported: "...lustily kissing Miss Teen USA in public..."

I ask you, gentle reader, is this REALLY a problem???


Monday, December 18, 2006

Maggie Eeeew!

Maggie Q

Maggie, you would be unbelievably hot if you were a size four.

At any moment's notice, I'm happy to admit that I am both an admirer and lover of women. Woman is beautiful and I do not apologize for that fact. The world is a strange place because I'd much rather watch women than watch football.

But what is it with this emaciated look? Does anyone really find this Famine Look fasionable? Is it really "beauty"? Who beholds starvation and malnutrition as the face of desire?

Take Maggie Q for instance. Born and raised in Hawaii to an Polish-Irish father and Vietnamese mother. As most of these Asian/Caucasian mixes go, she's quite beautiful. Downright hottie, I would say. But take a closer look and she's just a hollow sack of bones with some skin. She's embodying the epitome of this Emaciated Look and it's absolutely horrifying.

It's a shame really. She could be unbelievably gorgeous, if only she ate a few cheeseburgers once in a while and gained maybe fifteen pounds.

So please ladies - PLEASE! Please don't fall for this Hollywood stereotype that you should be wearing 00 clothing. Men like real women and real women wear at least a size four.

The Horror! The Horror!

I've been thinking about taking a month-long sojourn to a new city to refresh my life's focus and spend some time learning something new. To that end, I've been searching the Internet looking for furnished, short-term apartments for rent.

The apartments I've found range anywhere from $1450 to $2200 per month. Of course, that seems high but I'm only talking about one month and completely furnished so I don't think it's too bad. What I would like is a nice apartment that has a good number of amenities such as cookware and perhaps Internet access and an available laundry. It also needs to be conveniently located so I can readily walk to the place where I'll be learning that new thing.

Yet while having a nice and decent place to live that's conveniently located is important, what's really emerging as Factor Muy Importante is the interior decoration of the apartment.

I'd like to think that I have some sense of taste and what's fashionable. God knows I've made a number of missteps in this department, such as the all black furniture. Smooth and chic in 1989 but by 1992 it was well played out. One thing I have found over the years is that I'm not necessarily a "one style, fits all" kind of guy. Visit some people's homes and it's one theme, such as Federal with wainscoting all over the house. Nice, but it gets a bit monotonous to me.

For myself, I like variety. Perhaps a bit of eclecticism. I don't necessarily mean a mish-mash of pieces in one room, but perhaps a collection of rooms that are as varied as my own interests. Today, I let the architecture of the space be my guide. I let the space speak to me on what it can become.

For example, none of the shops I've built (or planned to build) are alike. They each had their own character. The original Jay's Shave Ice was a reflection on the plantation style homes Hawaii with it's white paint, blue trim and corrugated steel roof. The second Jay's kept the spirit of the 1928 house and incorporated design elements that combined modern cabinetry with colors that gave it a homey, country, Waimanalo feel.

The original design for Spro Coffee was very rock star to play off the Recher Theatre next door. Translucent illuminated glass and steel bar with a La Marzocco Mistral espresso machine, electronically controlled concert lighting and sound system, it would have been off the hook if we could have landed a deal with the landlord. Spro Coffee Fells Point would have been stark white modern in the front room, with primary accents, and a warm, earthy coccoon for the back room. The Spro Coffee Kiosk at the Towson Library reflects the contemporary concrete structure of the building with an industrial pine and steel facade and black lacquered cabinetry.

For my personal spaces, I've played with the hip and modern (all black everything) and the post modern (contemporary) but there's something about the old that seems new to me. While most of what I have is modern in design, my favorites are a bit older. Like the Kamehameha V koa tea table. The King George II tilt-top, pie crust, claw-footed table. The Audrey Poole Kelley original oil paintings. The relic arrows from Northern Luzon. The Hawaiian kukui nut lamps made of lava rock that were absconded from the collection of the Honolulu Academy of Art.

Give me interesting pieces and give me a wonderful palette of colors to compliment them.

But what I found most disheartening about this apartment search is how poorly decorated they are. I mean, just horrible. $1750 for an apartment that still sports the off-white paint the builders put on the walls. White couches with gray and pink throw pillows - can you imagine the rest?

Suddenly, I'm finding myself willing to pay nearly any price for a place that's decently appointed...


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Seven Days 'til Christmas

This is the time of the year when I wish I was travelling. I'd much rather be in some foreign land, alone, during Christmas. That way I don't have to see all the fucking happiness going on. It drives me nuts.

Everywhere you go there are people wishing happiness on each other. In just a few days they'll be cursing and giving the finger to each other, but that's what the Christmas Spirit is all about: being fake to each other for about a month.. Sure, the lights are pretty and the crispy weather means you can wear your nice coat and snuggle up to someone warm, but I have neither a nice coat nor a snuggle friend so I'm left hanging out in the cold watching some cheap WalMart lighting blink on and off.

It's not pretty.

But I can manage being cocooned in all this psuedo-happiness. What drives me absolutely fucking insane though is the bloody Christmas music that every radio station deigns that it must play. Hey, Mister DeeJay, turn that shit off! I'm tuning into your rock station so I can hear rock music. I want to hear Metallica's Enter the Sandman and not Frosty The Snowman.

Seven days. I hope I'll make it.

New York Fatties

I've been reflecting on my trip to the Big Apple this past week and I've come across an interesting revelation.

The American Media continually touts the Obese-ification of America and everywhere I turn, it seems to be true. Walk around Baltimore and there are chubby people everywhere. Chubby people, fat people, BBW people, Thunder Thigh people. Diets abound. Atkins, South Beach, whatever. People constantly talk about "going to the gym" but no one really goes except for the skinny people.

It didn't hit me right away until I had returned to Baltimore - but there are no fat people in New York.

Okay, maybe there are a few fat people. But you walk around New York and just about everyone is in decent physical shape. Maybe New York really is an island unto itself. Maybe it is the center of the universe. Maybe it's just that everyone and their mother WALKS.

No one really drives a car in "The City." It's too penalizing. Parkings' a bitch. And costs too much. Traffic is fucked. Commuting by car from outside Manhattan absolutely sucks. The tolls cost your youngest born. That said, everyone walks. Even if they take the train, they walk. And walk a lot.

I think that's the key to the obesity epidemic. We need to walk. So many people I know talk about "the way to lose weight" or complain about being chubby. Well, stop yer bitchin' and get to walkin'.

Daniel Craig, in a recent issue of British GQ, discussed how he lost weight and it necessitated him raising his heart rate to 160 bpm for ten minutes. Most of us fat-asses would have a heart attack at 160. We just need to walk more and let the sweat start.

In fact, I'm going to walk over to Hooter's for fuel and inspiration...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

Just finished watching the Anne Hathaway film The Devil Wears Prada and enjoyed it thoroughly. Meryl Streep was deliciously evil, Stanley Tucci was deliciously fabulous, and Anne was just delicious.

But I'm not here to blather and slather about some fashion movie. I'm here to bitch.

I the movie, Anne's character takes on the job as assistant to the editor of a major fashion magazine. It's all-consuming and forces her to choose her work over all else. Nothing new there. Her boyfriend gets upset and eventually breaks up with her. Nothing particularly new there either.

The thing that rankles my goat is that Anne's character is forced to work late and comes home late. Now, if the boyfriend was some sort of office worker doing the 9 to 5 thing it would be understandable that he's sitting at home at 10 or 11pm getting pissed off, but he's not. He's a cook working in a restaurant.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't know any cooks who are lounging around at home at 10pm looking perfectly showered and rested. I mean really, if this was the real world, she would be working late, he would be coming home later - it would have been the perfect match. That lazy bastard even has time to party on his birthday - which just blows the whole movie for me.

At least they live in what could pass for a standard crappy Manhattan apartment instead of the usual $5000/mo loft that movies usually put their "just out of school and trying to make it" characters.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Captain Incognito

During one of the Podcasts, Nick and I discussed visiting shops. He felt that one should introduce himself, I didn't. It's not about being sneaky or spying, it's about respect. I'm just a humble visitor to a shop and I feel it's presumptuous that anyone in that shop would know me or kowtow to me because I announced my presence.

Anticipating chilly weather in the Big Apple, I grabbed my trusty La Marzocco baseball cap before jumping on the train to New York and threw on a button down over the 2004 USBC Atlanta long sleeve t-shirt I was wearing underneath.

That said, I really hate going into shops and being pegged for a "coffee person." It's embarassing. And the only way someone will know that I'm one of those "coffee people" is if I let some piece of clothing display that fact, or have gone off the deep end and become some proselytizing schmuck telling the shop staff "how to make coffee." If I'm ever the latter, please kick me in the nuts. I never want to be some jerkoff acting like he knows more than everyone else about coffee.

Which brings us to the point of this entry.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006 - 7:30pm, Spring Street, SoHo, New York, NY
As Lindsay, Karen ("Kahn" to the uninitiated) and myself are mindlessly drifting down Spring Street after a day of shopping (or in my case, traveling), Matt notices the Alessi store on Greene Street. If you're unfamiliar, Alessi is one of those European accessory companies that makes all sorts of unique, intersting and expensive furnishings for the home. Things like bowls, cups, pitchers, tableware, etc, etc. They're also the creator of a pricey latte art pitcher that those latte artists (like Defurious) seem to prefer.

Suddenly, for Matt, it's a "must see" and since we're just wandering aimlessly, into the Alessi Store we go.

But on the way in, I notice a small sign in the window that reads: "Joe The Art of Coffee."

We've just stumbled haplessly upon Joe's third location.

Inside the store is gorgeous in a modern, hip, Euro-urban kind of way. White walls, chrome store fixtures - everything is streamlined and integrated. The Alessi stuff is in the back while Joe takes up the front. The Joe half is scrumptuous. More white, a cushioned bench, what looks to be uncomfy stools along a very long and very abstract artsy bar. It's hard to describe. You'll just have to see it for yourself. For this location, Joe has armed itself with a two group La Marzocco Linea - a departure from the Synesso love at the other two locations.

Matt goes up and orders an Americano while I ask for a double espresso. As I'm looking for money in my wallet, the girl behind the bar notices my hat and comments, asking if we're in the coffee business. Crap, I'm Joe Jerkoff with the La Marzocco cap. Totally forgot I was wearing it. I wish I had buried it. Oh well, too late now. I acknowledge that we are in the coffee business when she asks where we are all from. I rattle off where we're all from, the Coffee Capitals of the World: Vancouver, Copenhagen and Baltimore.

That's when things took a turn to scary. "Baltimore? You're not Jay, are you?" she asks.


"Um, well, actually, yes, I am." Shit, don't know what else to say. Can't lie now.


Meister, Lindsay, Jay, Karen and Matt cold chillin' at Joe.

It's weird. This whole podcast thing. Whether it's by reputation or from hearing my voice, some coffee people seem to know who I am, and it's just odd. Don't get me wrong. I'm honored that people choose to listen and find the show enjoyable. I'm honored and humbled. But I'm also conscious about visiting your shop and coming off the wrong way. Besides, it helps to roll with a crew of baristas who are far more skilled, talented, passionate and committed than I will ever be.

So how was the visit to Joe's Alessi? Very cool. Meister (her name) made me a killer double shot of espresso. Full-bodied, tasty, complex, oh-la-la, I really enjoyed it. She was cool, friendly and welcoming - even though we waltzed in a half-hour to closing. The next day, we ran into Meister in front of Cafe Grumpy - seems that all of the New York baristas hang out there. She invited us to a NYC Barista Kickball Challenge on Sunday but we were gonna be gone by then.

Next time we'll be back and they shall fall.

Oh yes, they shall fall.

Back In The Saddle (Empire Goes Kaput, Part Two)


Woe is me.

I'm back behind the bar again after a five day sojourn. And I'm suffering.

These mid-week jaunts are a tempting mistress. They're the sweet seductive fruits that cause mighty men to crumble and fall weak at their knees. Spend a few days doing nothing in particular except eating lavish meals and hanging out with beautiful women and you too wil succumb to the warm waters suspending and massaging you body and mind into blissful submission.

Until you wake up and your empire has crumbled, your fortunes wiped out and you're left penniless sleeping under a highway overpass.

Another weekday holiday with Lindsay and Matt in New York City was just too good to pass up. Coffee. No Coffee. It didn't matter to me. I was enjoying taking off during the week, in spite of what Donald Trump once said:

Bad for business. You start missing weekdays, you start to like it too much, your whole empire goes kaput."

They said my momma raised an intelligent, articulate and inquisitive son. They didn't say I was smart.

From Wednesday to Saturday, it was a dizzying array of activity and people, punctuated by hours of nothingness. Weird. Even though I had lived in Greenwich Village and cut my teeth in the pretentious clubs of New York, there were times when I just felt bored and out of place in the busiest city in the world. Hours would pass and I would do nothing. Then, once Lindsay arrived, it would be a tornado of activity.

It's too much to process in one post. It was crazy and beautiful at the same time. We saw everyone in New York. All the usual suspects and then we ran into the unexpected - people like Karen from Estate Coffee in Copenhagen who wasn't in town for the coffee as much as the record shopping. Turns out Karen (pronounced: "Khan") is an aspiring deejay with hiphop and funk influences. I hope she names her CD release "Wrath of Karen."

A morning stop at the Chelsea Cafe Grumpy found a surprised Daryn Berlin of Counter Culture Coffee and Tony from Atlanta's Octane Coffee and a Clover made cup of Red Mountain Papua New Guinea (which was deelish, by the way). But the true surprise of the trip was the very excellent double-shot of Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso made by Dan Griffith at Cafe Collage. A true first, since I had never experienced a shot of Black Cat that I liked. This one was dark, chocolately, complex, thick and very good to start. However, the last half ounce was just incredibly bitter and not to my liking. But finally, a good pull of Black Cat.

All in all, it was too much. Lindsay liked to walk. And so we walked. We walked like pilgrims on the way to Mecca. From Spring Street in Soho, all the way to 57th and 7th Avenue. Then back again. I was a sore bitch by Friday morning. But I wasn't going to let it show. If she wanted to walk to 242nd Street, I would be there: humping it. Thank goodness a bitter cold front moved into the city, making walking just miserable and forcing us to use the subway or cab.

In the end, it was a fun trip. One that I wish didn't have to end. I really was hoping for a Miami extension. Oh well, some other time.

Meanwhile, I'm just trying to find enough clothes to keep me warm under the highway...


Monday, December 04, 2006

Yo Soy Daniel Meade

I'm hooked.

It's true. I'm obsessed with Ugly Betty.

The sets, the scenes and the wardrobe. I love it all. I see the blue tailored shirts with purple ties and I too want to be Daniel Meade, editor in chief of Mode Magazine. I want to be stylish and fashionable.

Oh, and I've been spending recklessly at Nordstrom Men's...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Saturday at Pazo

I'm not a Saturday Person.

Meaning that while I enjoy going out to eat at fabulous restaurants, I don't like eating at those same fabulous restaurants on Friday or Saturday nights. Why? Because everyone and their mother is also eating out that night. Those are the nights restaurants rake in most of their money, the house is packed, the wait staff is harried, the bus people have a harder time keeping up and the kitchen just won't give your food the attention it deserves because, like everyone else, they're just trying to stay out of the weeds.

But I can't control birthdays and I don't like to be the one poo-poo-ing on the parade, so I'm happy to go along with whatever. It was Vanessa's 30th and Pazo was the place. Seating time: 8:30pm.

Just pulling up to the place and I could tell it was packed. The valet line was a bit long and the attendants look harried. A quick chat with my attendant revealed 130 for the 8:30p seating and possibly another 80 at 10p - a busy night indeed.

I had been to Pazo once before with Sam H. on the night the OnoGrill was born. It was that blustery spring night in 2005 that we sat down and hammered out the ideas which would propel us to 4 stars from the Baltimore Sun. Back then, Pazo was spanking new and I was interested to see how the restaurant had matured over the past year and a half.

The brainchild of Baltimore's media chef darling, Cindy Wolf - who also owns Charleston and Petit Louis, Pazo is supposed to be a Spanish-style tapas restaurant that doubles as a hip spot where the trendy want to see and be seen. After years in Nell's Basement, Michael Alig parties at Tunnel and years in the movie business, a place to see and be seen is the last place I usually want to be.

The interior is dramatic. High ceilings, timber structural supports, Spanish-esque chandeliers (think: Mask of Zorro) fill a cavernous converted factory space in the grey area between Fells Point and Harbor East. It's a pleasant looking space whose lack of any sort of acoustic dampeners make for a very noisy place - and that's without the loud euro techno music.

I want to like Pazo, I really do, but it's hard. Maybe that's just their thing or maybe it's because we were there on Saturday night, but I found the food to be bland and relatively uninspired. For our large party of 20 plus older-than-twentysomethings we had been given the "head table" - a dark wood table that dominated the lower level, featuring bar height chairs. I have to admit, I absolutely HATE bar height chairs. My feet dangle and there's no place to rest them (like the floor on normal chairs), so even while the upholstered seats are comfy on the tushy, it's hell on the legs and a complete and utter distraction from the main event: the food.

We had what must have been a fifteen course meal, prix fixe. Like I said, the food was okay, but for the price I expected better. I expected something dazzling. I expected to hunger for the dishes, like I do at Las Vegas' Firefly on Paradise.

Out of all the dishes, which just kinda blended together, the most memorable were the beef empandas, the beef course and the spaghetti squash. The empanadas were good, tasty and cooked just right. Lightly spicy, slightly sweet with a delicate crust. The beef course was a nice fatty flank steak with sliced almonds. That was tasty. So tasty that I could help but to devour as much of it as was possible - of course, it could also be that the rest of the meal was unfulfilling and I just was trying to build some sense of satiation. Another highlight for me was the spaghetti squash. Thin julienne slices of squash sauteed with lardon style bacon. That was tasty.

The honorable mention goes to the pistachio topped white fish. I think it would have been a smashing dish had it not been overcooked.

The rest of the meal was largely unmemorable but Capitol Swell lists pretty much the entire meal in his blog entry. And while I don't necessarily disagree with him, he is incorrect about the salad - it's romaine, not iceberg.

As I said earlier, chef/owner Cindy Wolf is Baltimore's media darling. She's reputed as "the best" in Baltimore. Which makes me wonder why I have such a hard time thinking that her restaurants (Charleston, Petit Louis, Pazo) are as good as the reputation? Most of the meal was unmemorable because it's just bland. Perhaps the great unwashed masses of Baltimore are into bland food, or the clientele is too worried about being seen in the hip spot so the food doesn't have to measure up, but it's just disappointing.

Some missteps: while our server was very good, top-notch even, there were a couple missteps by those supporting him. Most irritably was midway through the meal. I was drinking a very good Allende Rioja 2003 in one of those stemless Riedel glasses when a blonde waitress brought another course to the table. Now, maybe I expect too much, but I do expect that it is the waitress' problem to move other dishes to make room for the next course - especially if I'm engaged in conversation with my dining companion. But to take my wine glass, move it out of place and drop the dish where the glass was is just inexcusable. It's poor service. It's a lack of understanding on what service is all about. If Cindy Wolf is the best chef in Baltimore then this is just shit.

The next misstep occured during dessert as a bowl filled with two scoops of mousse and six raspberries were brought to the table. One of the raspberries had a big splotch of green mold on it. That's bad enough and had the raspberry been placed in such a way that obscured the mold, i might have thought that maybe the kitchen didn't see it. But there it was, the mold was right side up and in obvious sight - it might as well have had a neon sign. Either the kitchen was so slammed they weren't taking their time to plate and check the plates carefully, or they were just incompetent. Neither situation is desirable.

Oh well, enough slugging on Pazo. I'm disappointed. I was hoping for something tasty, adventurous and authentic, but what we got was mild, bland and uninspired - I mean really, a plateful of mini cannolis? Is that considered imaginative and bold in this town?

Maybe that's why I usually find myself in D.C.


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Day I Became A Barista

The other night, whizzing along I-95 at nearly the same speed, Lindsay posed the question on when I considered myself a "barista." At first I was stumped. I don't know, maybe three weeks ago? I wasn't sure what she meant. After a bit more probing, it turned out the consensus was that there was some sort of challenging event that took place that really solidified your ability to perform and grind out professional-level drinks. For both Lindsay and Matt, they had been working baristas for quite some time before that day came around.

Part of what brought this up was the fact that there seems to be a number of "baristas" out there who lay claim to the title with very little knowledge or understanding about their craft or what they are doing. These are the same chaps who posit that they are "the best" in their "town", "shop" or "city" and that they know more than their employers and those around them. While this may very well be true, how difficult is it for one to become "the best" when they're working in a vacuum?

Even though I've toiled on the hind end of the coffee business, I've been lucky to have met mentors and friends willing to share their thoughts, ideas and expertise with me. Unlike some of my friends who enjoy daily interaction with their experts, I only have brief moments, conversations and trips with mine, resulting in a mad rush to memorize the theories and lessons to implement when I get home and try to execute faithfully. The difficult part of this approach is that you never know truly how you are advancing - or if you are advancing at all. Perhaps you've plateau'd and remain stagnant but you just don't know it, while thinking that you're "the best." A scary thought indeed.

My day of reckoning came without notice in April 2005. It was during the La Marzocco party at Hines Public Market Coffee during the Seattle SCAA Conference. The La Marzocco party featured rare antique espresso machines, free alcohol, free food, free coffee and the illuminati of the coffee industry. When it came to the coffee biz, everyone and their mother was there.

True to form, I arrived late. The place was jam packed so I sought refuge by the five group Linea espresso machine being manned by Bronwen Serna, who was increasingly late for another event she had to attend. Finally, she decided that she had to go, leaving me to defend the fort behind the five group with Andy Newbom (of Barefoot Coffee Roasters). Um, I think we should get someone else that's better than me to do this, I told Bronwen. Nah, you'll be fine. You do it, and she was out the door.

Left with no other choice, I stepped behind the machine and prepared to get hammered. And hammered we did. The orders for drinks came at a dizzying rate. Double espresso, macchiato, single espresso, cappuccino, honey macchiato, mocha - an endless cacophony of drinks yelled out from a blizzard of the industry's finest. These were the true experts of the industry. Those who had written books, articles, publications, papers, done studies and trained the best of the best - all drinking the drinks I churned out from behind the Linea. It would have been an appropriate time for a mental breakdown.

But there wasn't time for that. There wasn't much time to think about the different variables that affect the espresso. Dose, distribution, level, grind, tamp - that espresso might end up in the hands of Piero Bambi. Merde. National champions, world champions, usually it's impressive to have just one of them in your shop. There were a gaggle of them. A thirsty gaggle of them. Did I really get enough coffee in that basket? Whoa, that chica looks muy caliente, wish she'd come over for a hazelnut latte. Fuck it, I'm pulling that shot anyway.

It was a rush. A crushing rush. Chances are that I'll never experience pulling shots for such a notable group ever again. Thank God. Nothing is more nerve wracking than making drinks for the industry elite whom you know is critiquing each and every drink you prepare for them. If I sucked that suckiness would have been amplified ten fold and I would be labeled a poseur, or worse. Doom. But there wasn't time to think about that, just keep your head down, pump out the drinks and avoid falling in the weeds in front of your friends.

I wasn't sure if that was the right answer when I told Lindsay but now that I think about it that was the day I cut my teeth and made my bones. After that night I felt good about the work I did but it wasn't until several months later, while Googling myself, did I find this quote from Doug Cadmus' blog who had been there that night at Hines:

Best Espresso: Tied between Jay Caragay's espresso macchiato at Hines' and Jennifer Prince's version in the BGA Booth.

Not a bad way to start your day.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Empire Goes Kaput

In his book, Who's Your Caddy? Rick Reilly chronicles his adventures caddying for various characters both famous and nefarious, including a stint with Donald Trump. He joins The Donald on a Tuesday golf outing at Trump's New Jersey country club where Trump notes that he doesn't like taking off during the week to play golf or generally goof around.

Why? Because if he takes Tuesdays off to play golf, he might enjoy it. In turn, this might become a regular outing that erupts into more weekdays off, more leisure and his entire empire going kaput.

And kaput is something undesireable for The Donald and His Empire.

I've spent the last three days enjoying a brief weekday vacation with Lindsay and Matt on a segment of their East Coast Coffee Crawl, a two to three week odyssey that will take them across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and a quick jaunt to Chicago. It's been a fun and intoxicating (definitely non-alcoholic intoxication) adventure with The Intrepid Two from Canada. Happily, it hasn't been only about the coffee.

Monday started out with an evening at Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia with The Cho, Coffee Wonderkind Peter Giuliano, El Salvadorean coffee producer Aida Batlle, a bunch of coffee fanatics, The Intrepid Two, sizzling platters of beef, a Korean style restaurant reconstruction project, as well as visits to Abe's Place, Korea, Vietnam, The Hill, Exorcist Stairs, Cho's Rice Rocket and being surveilled by Uniformed Secret Service and White House snipers.

Tuesday brought fatty beef brisket, mystery coffee, cupping notes, runny water, the Star Spangled Banner, Eat Bertha's Mussels, totalitarianism, snowboarding down Federal Hill, $2600 love seats, Irish Pubs in Greektown, duckpin bowling and big, fat crab cakes at G&M with Beto and Anna.

Wednesday morning found headaches, triple-toasted jalapeno bagels with fried eggs, sausage and cheese, Mazzer Major Mods, latte art demonstrations, Sidamo tastings from David George, returning old lingerie to Old Flames, Twix, the Bad Ass interior design of Chesnut Hill Coffee, finding great makeout spots behind dodgy warehouses, waking a bewildered John Hornall from his slumber, Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Virgo-isms, truly innovative inner-city parking methods, "It's just Philly," 57% like sex, Tacos in Little Italy, 8/9-Ball Tournament, and the Jim's-Geno's-Pat's Cheesesteak (Whiz with) Trifecta.

It's now another Thursday afternoon at Spro Coffee, the Intrepid Two are probably gorging themselves on Hershey bars while I'm conniving and bullying my staff into working next week so I can take another weekday vacation for their New York City segment where there's been promises of Les Halles, Carnegie Deli, Ninth Street Espresso, twin Clovers, hanging with the Murky Crew, Chinese food, podcasting from MTV, and who knows - there might even be tour extensions to Miami, Atlantic City, South of the Border, Disney World, Terry Davis' couch and an opening of the new Key West Espresso Bar.

Looks like my empire might be going kaput.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oh My God, They're Turkeys!

With the unofficial holiday of Black Friday upon us, I thought it would be a good time to remember the meaning of Thanksgiving with this quote from WKRP radio's Les Nessman:

What a sight, ladies and gentlemen. What a sight. The copter seems to be circling the parking area now, I guess it's looking for a place to land. No, something just came out of the back of the helicopter. It's a dark object. Perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air. A second and a third. There's no parachutes yet. Those can't be skydivers. I can't tell just yet what they are but - OH MY GOD THEY'RE TURKEYS!!!!

Oh my God, Johnny did you get this? Oh, they're crashing to the earth right in front of my eyes. One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible. The crowd is running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness. Oh the humanity! Oh, people are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement. I don't know how much longer - the crowd is running for their lives. I think I'm going to step inside. I can't stay out here and watch this any longer. No, I can't go in there.

Children are searching for their mothers, and - Oh, not since the Hindenberg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don't know how much longer I can hold my position here Johnny. The crowd...

Hope your T-Day was a good one and you can see the actual video below.

To fast forward to the transcript above, go to 07:30.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gobble Gobble

It must be some sort of male fantasy.

After a long night's slumber, one awakens to find a smoker filled with delicious meats ready for the eating. Some, like the ribs, are ready for morning chow. Others, like the turkeys, are almost ready. And yet more meats, such as the Kalua Pig and Monster Brisket, will be ready in several hours.

There's so much effort put into starting up the smoker that it seemed a darn shame to only smoke a couple of birds. The Fast Eddy FEC 100 smoker has so much more room available that it seems very un-Christian to smoke it almost empty. This prompted an evening trip to the local supermarket to pick up the aforementioned ribs and pork shoulder picnic.

Perhaps it's due to my desire for simplicity, or perhaps I'm just being unimaginative and lazy, but I chose some very simple preparations for last night's meat load. The turkeys received a rubbing of sea salt, ground black pepper, ground thyme and rosemary. Both the Monster Brisket and ribs received the Ono Grill's Hines Spro Rub and Pig Powder, respectively. And the pork shoulder picnic received a serious lomi lomi of Ala'e Salt, garlic, one ti leaf and wrapped in banana leaves that will transform it into that Hawaiian staple known as Kalua Pig.

All this meat, along with a good helping of steamed white rice, promises to make for a delicious Turkey Day meal.

But the best part of waking up today were the ribs that I stashed in the smoker strictly for today's breakfast...

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Night Before Thanksgiving

It's just past midnight the night before Thanksgiving.

Outside in the cold rain sits my trusty Fast Eddie smoker running at 230 degrees Fahrenheit. It's filled to the brim with three fifteen pound turkeys, four racks of ribs, a pork shoulder for Kalua Pig, and a twenty pound beef brisket. All being slowly smoked to perfection for Thanksgiving feasts around Baltimore and New Jersey.

In the refrigerator is a honey baked ham and in the oven bakes both a pumpkin and sweet potato pie. My house is packed with food being prepped and cooked for tomorrows feast.

But there isn't a damn thing in this house that I can eat now.

And I'm bloody starving...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ongbat? Ong-what???

Was at K's place last weekend for a mini-feast and thought I would share my recipe for onglet aka Hanger Steak.

First off, there is only one onglet per steer. That's right, only one. The more onglet you order, the more steers need to die to satisfy your cravings, but it's so worth it. The hanger steak sits on the bottom of the animal and kinda, well, "hangs" there from the diapraghm of the steer. It's a stringy cut of meat that's V-shaped, marbled and oh so delicious. Most importantly, it's not well-known in America so you can seem very continental to your friends.

The problem with this exclusivity is that it's difficult to find in most supermarkets. Don't confuse this with a plain, old flank steak. This steak takes commitment. Chances are you will need to order it from your butcher.

Which brings me to another point: go find yourself a good butcher. One who knows what he's talking about and can order what you need. Need onlget for a special dinner? No problem. Need fifty pounds of veal bones for stock? He'll get it. It's a love affair in the truest sense of the word. Just say the word and in a couple days there is your meat, cut and trimmed specially for you (to your specifications), wrapped elegantly in butchers paper and ready for your culinary expertise.

Like I said, the onglet is v-shaped with an inedible center seam that must be removed (or at least left uneaten). My personal recommendation is to have your butcher cut out the center seam, leaving two long halves that can then be butterflied to even out the thickness and prepared for grilling.

Grill or pan sear, the choice is yours. Either way, the hanger steak is meant for medium and nothing more. If you're a well-done kinda steak eater then please click off my blog and get away.

For K's party, I chose a simple preparation of freshly ground pepper and Hawaiian Ala'e Red Salt. I like to use both liberally. Meanwhile, make sure you are preheating your oven to 375 degrees Farhenheit. In a saute pan, heat up a little oil and add a couple pats of butter once the oil is hot. Wait for the fizziness to subside and then sear the steaks on both sides for two mintues.

Once seared, transfer steaks to a roasting pan and into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. This should result in nicely medium steaks. Once finished, put aside and let them rest for about five minutes before serving.

If you're interested in making a sauce for the steak, reheat the pan and deglaze with a bit of white wine, reduce by half, add some butter, add a little dark chicken stock, reduce by half, pull from the heat and whisk in a little dijon mustard. If you've allowed the steaks to sit, there should be some au jus - whisk that into the sauce and you're good to go.

While hot steamed rice is preferred and frites are a nice accompaniment, R's corn casserole did the trick just nicely...

Friday, November 10, 2006

I Know Jay

A curious thing happened to me this morning...

I'm manning the bar at Spro Coffee Towson when a customer inquires if Spro is related to Jay's Shave Ice in Timonium. Why yes, I tell her and she continues on how she enjoys Jay's Shave Ice because she's from Honolulu and that she's talked to Jay before...


Of course, there's not a glimmer of recognition in her eyes that I look anywhere remotely familiar to her. Without skipping a beat, I continue on the conversation as though I'm just another staffer working behind the bar at Spro Coffee.

I didn't have the heart to say anything to her.

But I could've sworn when I looked in the mirror this morning that I am Jay!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Riedel Riddle

It's not quite 10:30 in the morning and already I'm feeling happy.

You know, that happiness that numbs you in the face and in most areas because you've been drinking before you've eaten. Maybe it's a sickness or maybe it's just a Sunday Morning Indulgence but I'm feeling quite relaxed already.

Outside of this early morning drinking, I've succombed to one of my Ultimate Temptations - I've bought a pair of Riedel Vinum wine glasses.

It's true, I've been secretly lusting after these glasses for years. Wondering if it's true: does the unique shape of the Vinum really enhance the wine experience? Yesterday evening, while shopping at Beltway Fine Wines, I decided "Fuck it, I'm buying them." Six glasses for one hundred and twenty dollars. Okay, that's a bit rich for me so I settled on the two-pack for forty bucks.

So far, I've only unwrapped one of them since I was a lonely man last night and no one go out with. Lady G was busy at a party, K was still on her whirlwind China Adventure, and things with Ms. V are kaput, I was just left at home with my sexy new glasses, a bottle of wine and a flavorless roasted chicken from Wegman's.

But do the glasses work?

One thing I like about Beltway is that they've got some serious wine guys working there. What started out as a simple question: "What red will knock my socks off for under forty bucks?" turned into a dizzying tour of wines from California, France and Spain. I appreciate the enthusiasm and knowledge, but I only want to buy one bottle. Finally, after a bit more coaching, we settled on a bottle of Chateau Bellefont-Belcier Bordeaux 2000.

I drank a couple glasses last night and a couple this morning (hence my current state of numbness) and I really don't know. The aromas are deep and astringent with black cherries and maybe apricot. Lots of body and mouthfeel with strong spice notes. There's an acidity that dances on my tongue as well.

I'm comparing the wine in a simple wine glass that I keep in my cellars. It's the standard Libbery foodservice wine glass you see at most wineries. Cheap and affordable by the case. To me, the flavor is bolder in the Libbey, not subtle and refined as in the Riedel. While the wine is very good in both glasses, I have to admit that there is a difference. The Bordeaux seems less refined in the Libbey.

So there it is, there is something to this whole Riedel Riddle. Fantasies of cabinets full of Vinum glasses dance in my mind. All it would take is a moment of reckless finance with the credit card and the fantasy could be mine. But I shall exercise restraint, for I could purchase a 36 count case of the Libbey glasses for the price of the two-pack. So dear friends, I apologize that you'll have to enjoy the wines at my house in the Libbey instead of the Riedel.

Unless, of course, you feel so inclined as to remember me on your holiday gift-giving....hint, hint.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Smell of Oranges

A clean and fresh-smelling rest room is a wonderful thing. It's even better when you don't have to do the cleaning.

Each morning I'm greeted with a clean and sparkling restroom. The soap and towel dispensers are full, the urinal basin has that familiar blue cleaning agent. The floors are freshly mopped and all is well in the world.

It's a small respite from the usual day's work and I know in about 40 minutes the building will be open and the throngs will pound this restroom non-stop for thirteen hours. By noon that citrus-y smell will be gone. The toilets will not have been flushed. Paper towels wil be strewn across the floor and, horror of horrors, there will be suspicious "drips" nearby. Good thing the floor sports colored tile to hide any yellow hues that may be inherent in the "drips."

Cleaning toilets is crappy work (pun intended) and I have deep admiration for those who choose this life. That vida brings a whole new meaning to dans la merde. It's too easy for us to disregard these people as those who don't take pride in their work, but that would be acutely inaccurate. There is pride to their work and I see it every morning from the vacuumed floors, to the clean tabletops, to my morning restroom ritual (that does not include a seated session). However, this pride is framed in the one place where no one would ever see for themselves: the custodial closet.

In my building there are two closets. One for waste and the other a mop closet with sink. The waste closet is always in proper order but it's in the sink closet where one can see their pride. White cotton mops perfectly cleaned and hung to dry after a morning of endless cleaning demonstrate to me that these are true professionals who take pride in what they do and treat the tools of their trade with respect. That's something I can admire.

Regardless of the mountain of used paper towels that grows right next to the 33gallon trash can and regardless of the "drips" that have now coalesced into a small stream, the intrepid team of custodial engineers returns each morning to make my morning respite civilized once again, and to them I am eternally grateful.

So thank you to those of you who work so hard in the early morning hours in obscurity to make our lives a bit more civilized, no matter how uncivilized our society acts in your work area. My morning is better because of you. I hope you remain in your profession for many years to come.

Until then, the smell of oranges will always be a comforting scent.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Les Halles

What is it about those places where you just feel at home?

You know, the kind of place that's "comfortable." That feels like you belong. Thomas Keller once wrote:

I felt as if I'd been there already, knew the place in my bones, as if the bistro were already a part of me before I was conscious of it, and that by stepping into one, I simply engaged a part of myself that had always been there but until that moment was dormant.

I couldn't have said it any better.

Because that's how I felt the first time I arrived at Washington D.C.'s Brasserie Les Halles.

Maybe it's the tin ceilings, the dark wood, the tobacco patina on the walls. Maybe it's the ice cubes in the urinals, or the humidor of Paul Garmirian cigars. Maybe it's the denim shirts on the waitstaff or the al fresco dining area. Maybe it's all those things combined with some very tasty food.

Les Halles may sound familiar to some of you, the New York restaurant is the home of now celebrity chef Tony Bourdain and one of the focal points in his bestseller Kitchen Confidential. But that's neither here nor there.

My first experience with Les Halles was back in 2002, just after Peter Gunn had opened the eponymous Adam Leaf & Bean tobacco shop. We were invited to attend a cigar dinner at Les Halles hosted by Paul Garmirian. I had heard about Les Halles and their reputation for pommes frites so when they called with the invitation, it was a no brainer. Dinner and cigars and the same time with steak and french fries? I was in and I didn't need to hear anymore about it.

I don't remember too much about that evening other than the cigars were excellent, the wines were flowing and it was steak frites and then more frites on top of the frites, and a very sharp waitress named Aicha.

Since that time, I've been to Les Halles on a somewhat regular basis. Usually monthly, sometimes weekly and, occasionally, more than once a week. In the beginning it was Steak Frites and some Macaroni and Cheese, then I discovered the Onglet a L'echalote, then the moules, then the cassoulet, then the onion soup, then the merguez, then the steak tartare, then the chocroute, then the steak aux poive, then the escargot, then the pate de campagne - in all, we've probably tried just about every item on Les Halles menu.

The question comes up - is it the "best" food available? Probably not. It's not expensive to eat there. The food is standard French workman's food. There's very little of the haute cuisine you'd find in those fancy French restaurants. The plating isn't wild, just relatively simple food prepared in a simple manner. But gosh is it good.

Sad to say that while I've tried most everything on the menu, I had never tried the Confit de Canard.

By now, I've been to a few other French bistros. Places like the old Aud Pied du Cochon, La Madeleine, Marche, La Chaumiere, Petit Louis and Bouchon, but there's no place like home. There's no place like Les Halles.

Food and Bloating in Las Vegas

Vegas. I used to think it was a weird place that I would never like. It was that odd pit stop on the way to Edmondton after being taken down in the California desert by the BATF and DEA. It was the place I saw Wayne Newton in concert. It was never a place I thought I would find interesting.

My how times change. For the past year I've been exploring Vegas and some of the things it has to offer. I've come up with a triumvirate of must eat places for my trips out there and now I'm sharing them with you.

First off, there's KJ Kitchen on Spring Mountain Road. At first, most people think it's in the megaplex that looks like China's Forbidden City but it's not. It's down the street a ways and it's got to be one of the best damn Chinese seafood joints I've been to in the United States. The patrons are mostly Chinese (and in-the-know Filipinos), the menus are in Chinese and the staff is Chinese. There's a big fish tank filled with live seafood for your choosing. The "don't miss this" dish is the wok fried dungeness crab - don't know what it's really called, we just find a way to communicate with the staff for what we want.

The crab is chopped up and dredged in what must be corn starch with salt pepper, garlic, onion and jalapeno peppers. Whatever it is, it's fucking insanely good. It's the best goddamned crab I've ever had. The flavor pops. It's so good, I DREAM about it.

I've tried a bunch of other dishes and they're always excellent, but it's the crab that does it for me. Set me up with the crab and a bowl of steamed rice and I'm good to go.

The Cho took us to his favorite seafood restaurant in Boston's Chinatown where we ordered the fried crab and it was lifeless in comparison.

Holy crap, there's only one dish that you must have at Firefly on Paradise and it's the Stuffed Dates. Bacon-wrapped with smoked almond, red wine reduction and bleu cheese - oh my God, it's The Bomb. Order four, just in case.

The rest of the menu is top-notch tapas fare but it's the dates that you kill for.

Nestled in a predominantly Korean stip mall shopping center on Sahara not too far from Maryland Parkway is the very non-descript Lotus of Siam. It's a cheap looking place with cheap looking chairs and cheap-looking tables. And while you can dine at The Venetian's Bouchon with expensive surroundings and expensive food, here you get cheap surroundings, Thai servers and some of the most rockin' Thai food I've had outside of Thailand.

I've had nothing less than stellar at Lotus but the one thing you must order is the Plar Laad Prik. Imagine a whole pomplano fish that's been scored, rubbed with seasoning and deep fried until the outside is crispy and the insides are moist and tender. Jesus, it's fucking unbelievable. Now serve that with fresh chilis and a garlic sauce and it's beyond description.

I took my brother Al, his wife Polly, Nessa and The Rod the last time we were in Vegas and we tore that fish up. Nothing was left. It's suck the head and eyeballs good. So good, I'm shaking as I write this, wishing that there was a Thai place in Baltimore that measured up to this.

Other Places
Of course, these aren't the only places to eat in Vegas. In Vegas, you could easily spend over $700 on a meal for two at the posh and famous eateries run by celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, Emeril Lagasse, Alain Ducasse and a host of others. But you needn't go further than the places I mentioned above for some truly soul-enriching meals.

Outside of those, there are a couple of other places in Vegas close to my heart, like the late-night eating at Roberto's Tacos, or the local Hawaiian food at L&L Hawaiian BBQ or Ohana Hawaiian BBQ. Then there's the strange 24/7 old school style Becker's Steakhouse where you can order big rib eyes, mashed potatoes and cabernets at 8am. And of course, there's the cheap eats at Main Street Station and the California Hotel, with their Hawaiian-style Oxtail Soup and 20x Odds craps tables.

Next time you're planning to go to Vegas, call me and get ready for that fried pomplano fish.

Getting Schooled

Every once in a while, each of us succumbs to our own personal desires. To be the Mack Daddy. To be the pimp. To be the hustler. To be the gourmand.

I've spent the last couple of years reading, reviewing and testing recipes from the tomes of Thomas Keller (The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon), Anthony Bourdain (The Les Halles Cookbook) and have successfully completed a number of their recipes, as well as lots of meals on my own, cooked with chef friends and brief stints at institutional size cooking. My delusion doesn't include my knifework (which is atrociously poor) or a depth of knowledge equal to Keller. Just a decent ability to cook just about anything.

To keep myself growing, I've been buying books to read and help expand my knowledge base. After waiting several weeks, the bible of the cooking world finally arrived today: Escoffier's Le Guide de Culinaire in the English translation by Cracknell and Kaufmann. It's what I've been waiting for. The herald to a new level of culinary excellence and understanding. I was excited to pour through the book and get cracking.

I got schooled.

If you're like me, nothing prepares you for this book. Escoffier presumes the reader has a certain level of understanding and experience in order to tackle the thousands of recipes he has to offer. This is serious. This is old school. Things like Poulard Parame, Ecrevisses a la Bordelaise and Merlans en Lorgnette au Gratin. Jesus, I don't know if I'm up for this but I'm gonna try.

Reading The Guide is like swimming - without a firm grasp of swimmings' fundamentals. I'll give it a go but I'll probably end up flailing about and producing results like my first attempt at Pancit Bihon in 1988 (not a pretty picture and a story for another day).

Looks like I'm going swimming tonight...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Eating The Towel

Saturday night found myself and Lady G at Baltimore's Dukem Restaurant (that's pronounced "doo-kem" and not "duke-em"). It was a cold and blustery night with high winds and a crisp feel in the air - but crap was it cold.

Dukem was recommended to me by a friend who eats there all the time. It's a lot smaller than I expected and at 9pm the dining room was absolutely empty. Lady G and I were the only people there. At first I thought they were closed but the friendly hostess/owner greeted us warmly and we made ourselves at home.

I've never had Ethiopian food before. Didn't know anything about it. But a friend said it was good and that was good enough for me to give it a try. Our young waitress who hails from Addis Abbaba had good command of English but I tend to speak very colloquially and some (read:many) of the euphemisms and slangs didn't translate well and she ended up coming off a bit curt. Like when I told her I had never eaten Ethiopian food and asked her what I should try somehow that didn't translate well. Or the sizes: "Yes, they're pretty small."

Started out with some hot tea. I'm no tea expert but it was fascinatingly good. I'm sure it was relatively cheap stuff but it was a bit spicy and that was very enjoyable. Of course, Lady G asked for a bit of lemon and our waitresses responce was pure Third Wave Barista - that response of surprise and look of incredulity when someone asks to pour hazelnut syrup into that $100 per pound Brazilian Fazenda Santa Ines. I almost started to laugh.

Lady G had eaten Ethiopian before and referred to the traditional bread, the Injera, as eating a towel. The Injera is completely fascinating to me. Looks like a huge, grayish-brown, spongy crepe. Very neutral tasting at first that finishes with sour notes. Completely odd and totally different, in many ways I didn't know what to make of it.

When I'm out and trying something new, I prefer to allow the kitchen to prepare something for us. I'm adventurous, I'll try anything. But getting our waitress to recommend some dishes seemed next to impossible - although she finally recommended that we try the Dukem Special Lamb Tibs. Combine that with the prime short rib Goden Tibs and the Special Dukem Veggie Combo 1 and we were ready to try something new.

I'm no vegan but I found the veggie combo to be quite tasty. Spicy split lentil, yellow peas, greens, cabbage, shiro and potato all served on top of injera with the lamb tibs in the center and the Goden tibs on the side. Honestly, I didn't know what veggies we were eating. Most were mashed in some way, or chopped and I didn't know how to eat since the food didn't come with a knife and fork.

Okay, I hate to admit it, but I felt uncomfortable without the knife and fork. I didn't know what to do. Even though I'm Filipino and very skilled at eating with my hands, I didn't know if that kind of exercise was welcome here and had to consult with our waitress on the proper Ethiopian technique. She promptly came out with a small plate of injera and some veggie paste thing and showed us how it's done in Addis Abbaba. Just tear off a piece of injera, support with your fingers and grab whatever food you want. Note: please be sure that you grab/wrap the food with your injera and not your fingers.

Properly indoctrinated into Ethiopian grinding methodology, I went to town. The Goden was okay, nothing too stellar. Just some thick cut short ribs marinated and then grilled. The meat was pretty tough and I think if they braised it, it would have been incredible. Like I said, the veggies were good. Some spicy, others acidy, but a good accompaniment.

The Lamb Tibs were fantastic. Marinated and cooked so the outside of the meat was slightly crisp. It was heavenly. I tore it up.

In the end, that was it. No dessert. The food was way too much for Lady G and I - even though our waitress assured us the servings were small. Maybe compared to Macaroni Grill. Whatever the case, there was enough food leftover to fill two takeout containers. Being that we were in the city out and about, I started thinking that maybe a sojourn to Vaccaro's in Little Italy for some cannoli might be in order, but Lady G had some other dessert in mind.....

Oh la, la!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The $288K Home for $365K

For the past year I've been bullish on the Las Vegas housing market. Perhaps it was just geniune optimism or perhaps it was market ignorance but I was bullish. The point of laying down some earnest money for a new home.

It's been a fascinating experience, and one that I've tried very hard to remain objective, but it's exciting to build your own home, pick and choose all the fixtures and options. In the end, I'd like to think that I built a very nice home that splurged on what mattered, i.e. ubatuba granite counters, deep maple cabinets, picket rail stairs, 16" clay tile, concrete driveway pavers, 9' ceilings, super master bath and a covered patio.

I toured the house back in June. It was nearly completed. It looked great and I was a bit disappointed that my tenants were going to be the ones enjoying my optional open den/workspace and not me. Of course, if I had lived in the house, I would have installed a casino grade craps table because it's Vegas and I wanted to practice for the World Series of Craps (whenever that would happen).

One thing that wigs me out about West Coast Living is the proximity to your neighbors. I mean, the large bay window next to the jacuzzi tub is very cool, but with your neighbor's house ten feet away, it's a bit unnerving. However, it goes without saying that had I lived in the house, my neighbor would at some point come up to me, congratulating me because of the ever-changing parade of women going through the house and my prowess as a physical champion (as evidenced through the bay window next to the jacuzzi tub). Without a doubt, I would remain humble in my victory and console my neighbor in his marriage and lack of sex life.

I digress.

All in all, the house was going to cost me $365,000 - or, if you looked at the Truth In Lending Statement, $1.5 million over thirty years. Holy crap - one point five million??? Gee, how many 21 year old female "companions" could I buy for that much money? Six thousand - to be exact, which would take me 16.4 years if I had one per day.

Oh, fantasies.

So what happened to the house? I ejected from the deal back in September when I finally realized that I no longer had confidence in the housing market and good timing too.

Today I looked up the price of the house I would have bought and it had fallen to $288K.

So much for the World Series of Craps...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

R&R at The Ram's Head

After my brief sojourn to Caffe Pronto in Annapolis yesterday, I called my dear old friend R., who does black ops for the Erlich Administration, to see if she had time to catch up and eat. It's two weeks from the hotly contested race for Maryland governor and she's forehead-deep into whatever they do to get re-elected and keep their jobs, but she made some time to see an old friend for a fifteen minute meal before jetting off to some other secret agenda. Just like old times, except for the three beefy guys in dark suits and menacing bulges of automatic weapons under their jackets.

How about Macaroni Grill?
After last Monday, I didn't know how to respond to that.
Well, how about someplace different?, I offered.
Let's meet at Ram's Head.

The Ram's Head Tavern. It's an Annapolis institution. And a damn nice music venue. And the place I met that other R who I spent two and a half years chasing. Not the best of memories.

But I can put my romantic pain and misery behind me. Forget about the longing and hurt. I've had a month and a half to recover and refocus. I'm okay now. I'm okay to eat at Ram's Head without all the memories flooding back.

I feel a tingle.

Perhaps that's because I elected to wear shorts today and it's 34 degrees out.

Walk into the Ram's Head and it's a true taste of Maryland. Everyone is sporting "the uniform" of khakis, brown shoes, button down and maybe a tie. Everyone looks and dresses the same. If you've ever seen the movie Wedding Crashers, that's exactly what I mean. And coming from a prep school background, it almost makes me want to puke because I got out of high school so I wouldn't have to dress like I did in high school.

The owners of the Ram's Head also own Fordham Micro Brewery. The brewery adjoins the restaurant/bar/venue and I'm feeling interested in trying a beer. Give me the Oktoberfest. Too bad it's too cold to sit outside in the courtyard because I've got a hot nut for the PG Belicoso Maduro cigar sitting in my pocket.

Anyway, let's cut to the chase. This is about the food and the food is, well, "pub food." Nothing to get excited about or write home to mamma. Started out with the beer battered onion rings which were quite good. Very good, in fact. But it was one of those nights where I was in the mood for more fried foods and decided that I would start with the rings and then progress into the Steak Chili with all the "fixings" and a side of fries. R ordered the crab cake with rice.

The chili sounded promising, but that was about it. The "fixings" were more cheese, jalapenos, tortilla chips - basically crappy filler for an extra buck fifty. It's a shame too because I suspect the chili could have been much better without all that stuff.

The real down point came with the fries. I don't understand what possesses humans to bludgeon and violate something so natural and so perfect as the french fried potato. Too many places use that shitty frozen batter dipped french fries and Ram's Head is one of those places. And they came out on the cold side. Jesus, can you help me please? This abomination should be outlawed.

R's crab cake looked decent. She didn't finish it but she did take it home so it probably wasn't too bad. For dessert, we split a chocolate cake. Not too bad, I liked the choc chips on the outside layer.

In the end, the food wasn't very good. But I suspect that it's good enough for most of their usual patrons - especially if you're consuming a pitcher or four of their brewskis.

Next time I'll stick with their Fish and Chips.

Sins from the Dark Confessional


That's the word. Stoked.

That's exactly how I feel at the moment.

In the galaxy that is quality coffee, our little shop is at the point farthest from the bright center. We're in the outland. The far flung planets. The Outer Rim. The Border Planets. The Hind End of Space. Tattooine.

Because of this, every blue moon we have some supply line problems. Deliveries from the Center of the Universe take a bit longer than anticipated and we run dangerously low on coffee. And maybe one time out of fifty, we actually run out of coffee and must source coffee locally. It's not something to be proud of but it does happen.

For the past sixteen hours we've been serving what I consider to be Elegant Dreck. Coffee of questionable lineage and dubious origin. And just a small amount of coffee at that, meaning that we've stretched things a bit. Slightly lower on the TDS levels, different brewing techniques. Longer than optimal holding times. It's been a horrific day and a half.

Imagine running out of your daily coffee, as well as your decaf and espresso coffees. That's the nightmare. Compound that with turning to the local roaster who's not quite up to the level you desire and that's the reality. It's been so bad that I haven't drank the coffee and I've been encouraging our customers to try something different - something that will mask the odd taste of the coffee. A little raspberry and white chocolate syrup? A lot, perhaps?

It was so bad that I made the hour-long trek down to Caffe Pronto in Annapolis to source a five pound bag of their Espresso Vincente. I have to say, it's a beautiful and tasty espresso - and one that I'm not ashamed to serve to our customers.

The FedEx website said to expect delivery by 4:30pm tomorrow. Crap. That's a long time to wait for coffee. Screwed.

You can't imagine the elation I experienced as the FedEx guy came rolling up the elevator with our eighty pounds of glory from Hines Public Market Coffee.

It was almost as good as being told by the Magic 8-Ball that four girls are currently in love/desire with me...


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Falling In Love at the Bistrot du Coin

Like I kind of said in the last post, it's all about the company that makes an outing a special event. Last year I had the possibility of eating solo at The French Laundry. For sure that would have been an incredible meal but I would have enjoyed it alone and that's not much fun at all.

Seems that this month is the month of birthdays and last Saturday night found a large group of friends (some I knew, others I didn't) jammed into the upstairs dining area at Washington D.C.'s Bistrot du Coin. Evidently, the Bistrot is jammed all week long. It's on the 1700 block of Connecticut, just above DuPont Circle, which means that it's a serious pain in the ass for a suburban living, automobile-driving sucker like myself. The weekend before we were eating at my favorite joint, Brasserie Les Halles when Michelle suggested trying their (hers and Christian's) favorite: du Coin. And there we were.

Bistrot du Coin is a bit of a departure from Les Halles. It's brighter, louder and definitely more packed than Les Halles, which is a minus in my book. You can smoke at the bar but there's no tables for smoking (advantage: Les Halles) and while they do have Foie Gras (advantage: Bistrot) and a wide variety of mussels (advantage: Bistrot), it's just not the same, nor is it a replacement for me (advantage: Les Halles).

But let's talk about the food. Simply, it's deelish! While it is a bit disappionting to see the bread precut, placed in baskets and jammed into a bread pantry for ease of use, the butter was soft when it came to the table and that's a lovely thing. It amazes me how many nice restaurants we go to and the butter is hard as a rock. Then you try cutting and spreading it and it's just this clumpy mess that doesn't mix well with the palate. I'm hoping that this was intentional on the part of du Coin and not just happenstance.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the meal (other than the girl, details to follow) was the foie gras. Perfect thickness to show off the delicate nature of the liver, it was just heavenly. Paired with some greens and a small glass of sauternes and it's waaay better than Les Halles foie.

The onglet and shallots was interesting. Too much black pepper on the meat for my tastes but it was cooked just right and the roasted shallots made for a tantalizing accompaniment. But not as tantalizing as my dinner companion, Vanessa - the Chinese girl from L.A. pursuing an MBA who strangely reminds me of a snowflake-y, Jennifer Tilly-esque looking sensation, eating mussels in a white wine sauce and sharing it with those around her.

It's true, I try to be an objective observer but I'm a flawed human who succumbs to his weaknesses: food and women. I can no longer offer an objective opinion on whether or not the mussels were truly good. Perhaps they were cooked just right, with the perfect amount of wine, butter, veggies and whatever else goes into that pot, or perhaps they were just being shared by the sensation to my left. Personally, I think it was the latter.

BTW, the mussels were smashing.

Los Italianos - Suburbs From Hell, Part 2

Dateline: Monday Night.

It's The Rod's birthday and we're at the local Macaroni Grill and I don't understand why.

Baltimore's a town that can be hard to find some good ethnic foods, but good Italian food is not one of them. Just a quick shot down I-83 to Little Italy and some of the city's best Italian can be had at places like Boccacio's or La Scala. Even in the hellish suburban enclave of Timonium, in the shopping center behind Jay's Shave Ice, one can find a group of Neopolitans working behind the counter and producing some tasty and authentic Italian cuisine at the oddly-named Pasta Blitz

With such a plethora of great Italian going on I'm continually perplexed as to why suburbia refuses to take a short drive for some excellent food instead of an hour's wait outside a national corporate chain restaurant with a penchant for bland dishes and vacuum bagged sauces and pre-portioned foods. Even more perlexing is why this group of friends are choosing that same national chain over the good stuff when they too know where to find the good stuff.

But I try to be an affable chap and since Macaroni Grill is pretty close to my house, I didn't raise a concern. Perhaps I'll be surprised and head off to meet everyone for our 8pm seating.

It's a Monday night so the dining room is slow. For me, there's no better time to head out into the restaurant scene than during the week. The dining rooms are slow which means that a good kitchen can take more time preparing their dishes properly and you generally receive better service and food. Otherwise, you're going out to eat during the weekend with everyone and their mother, smushed into position on a two-top, surrounded by a gaggle of amateurs who don't know what to order off the menu but want everything NOW. Not the ideal way to enjoy an outing, if you ask me.

Our waitress was nice enough, she took care of things and was generally friendly. Started out with some appetizers that everyone shared. There was the ubiquitous Fried Calamari with a light batter and generally uninspired red dipping sauce. Our uncle had some mussels, which he didn't share but they looked kinda interesting. And I had an order of the minestrone soup. I ordered the "cup" size which came out in a frickin' huge bowl. I was shocked, but grateful that I didn't order the "bowl." The soup could have been quite enjoyable. If it was served hot. Instead it was limp, lifeless and tepid.

For the main course, I ordered the Penne Rustica. Penne pasta with shrimp, sliced chicken and a cream sauce, covered in cheese and crusted under a salamander. Mine came out hot and actually pretty darn tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Finally, something worth eating at Macaroni Grill.

Everyone else ordered some sort of pasta dish and the serving sizes are just ridiculous. Who can eat all that food? It's just dumb. I chowed the shrimp and chicken and left a small pile of penne.

All in all, it wasn't the worst dining experience. The penne made it decent and the company made it a fun outing, which is what really matters because it's lonely to eat fantastic food all by yourself.

Still, I'm harboring desires of dinner at La Scala sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lechon In The Suburbs From Hell

I'm Filipino.

It's true. I really am.

Because I've lived in Honolulu and because I started Jay's Shave Ice, many people think I'm "Hawaiian." Understandable, but I'm not.

Day in and day out, friends and people I know constantly ask me to open more food places because they too want to eat something beyond the typical national chain restaurants and fast food outlets that comprise this suburban hell known as Baltimore County. It's a horrible way to live. I mean, I sit around all day long trying to figure out where to eat something tasty and delicious that wasn't cryo-vac-packed by the corporate kitchen somewhere in Middle America, trucked in frozen boxes, sent to the restaurant by Sysco and reheated in the steamer by some cooking school hopeful who takes ladlefuls of alfredo sauce and sloshes it in a saute pan with some penne and sliced grilled chicken.

The problem is that it takes a herculean effort to open any sort of business, much less one that's food related. I know, you want a place where you can order a Chicken Katsu Curry plate just like L&L back home in Honolulu, I want a place to eat serious Japanese-style ramen at 3am, but if you're waiting for me to build it, it ain't happening. I cannot afford to go out and start a new company simply because I'm hungry for something unavailable in the Baltimore Metro Area.

Thank God for other people who are interested in pursuing serious ethnic food. This morning I stopped by the local 7-Eleven owned by Wilma, the Filipino lady, to pick up a couple gallons of milk because we're running short at the shop and I cannot afford to run out of milk. While there, I spy a little green brochure with the promise of Filipino Food next door at Tako Seafood Market.

This can't be real. This is Timonium. And everyone knows there's no good ethnic food in Timonium. Okay, outside of Jay's Shave Ice, there's no serious ethnic food in Timonium.

Filipino Food is an interesting anomaly in the restaurant world. It's a misunderstood category. No one really knows what Filipino food is all about and that's a shame. It's not the firery spices of Thai cuisine, or the succulence of lamb curry and naan that is Indian, or the delicate harmony of sushi that is Japanese. Of course, it isn't bastardized into something that no longer resembles anything traditional, like General Tso's Chicken that is suspiciously posing as "Chinese."

Filipino food is wide and varied, and like it's people, the cuisine absorbs influences from the SouthEast Asian region that it comes from. There's kilawin tanigue, that spicy raw fish concoction that mimics Spanish ceviche, to the down-home traditional adobo, a chicken and/or pork dish sauteed in garlic, oil, vinegar and soy sauce - with a little bay leaf and black pepper thrown in for good measure. The cuisine is much more sublime and subdued than the rest of Asia, but once you get to know it, it's heaven. It's comfort food defined.

So, after a long day of working behind the bar slinging coffee for a living, I decided to give this place a try. Turns out the owner, Jojo, is the brother of Wilma who owns the 7-Eleven next door. The menu is simple. Just printed on an inkjet. The offerings are limited. The experience is True Filipino. Just some guys hanging out, waiting to cook you up some food. Today's special was Lechon Kawali, should be known as the "heart attack special." Roasted pork belly that's cubed and then deep fried 'til crispy. I had to order that. Add a small order of Pork Adobo and Pancit Bihon, a quick fried dish of vermicelli rice noodles, chicken broth, veggies and some sliced shrimp and I was out the door and on the way home to where I knew a cooker of rice was chugging on it's way.

Let me state upfront that taking the Kawali home in a styro container is no way to treat this fine treat. It deserves to be eaten hot. Eaten right away. With San Miguel Beer. But reality is reality and I want to eat this with rice dammit!

How was the food? Delicious. The Kawali was everything I hoped for. Fried just right so it's barely oily. Jojo also gave me some lumpiang isda, strips of tuna wrapped in lumpia wrappers then deep-fried. Deelish. The Adobo was money. Just the right balance of soy sauce and vinegar. The only stumble was the pancit. The dish was on the dry side which left it wanting for flavor. Oh well, three out of four is great - especially in suburban hell.

The sad part of all this is that I must limit myself to one visit a month if I want to avoid a heart attack.

Calls From The Morning Rush

Dateline: Typical Weekday, 8:47am

"Spro Coffee Towson."
"Yes, this is Daniel from Excelsior Merchant Services is the owner available?"
"Do you accept credit cards? Because we're ready to offer you great rates..."
"Do you know what company you're calling?"
"Yes, Sapporo Coffee."
"Do you know what time it is?"
"And do you know what we do?"
"Yes, coffee."

This usually results with me slamming down the phone on its' cradle for effect.

I've opened a new shop in Towson called Spro Coffee, even went so far as to call Verizon for a new phone line to process credit cards. I haven't released the number to the public so the only people that call are merchant services soliciting business. I've learned that most of these merchant services don't want to talk to a shop owned by a corporation so when they do call on the off-hours, I tell them that we're corporate owned (which we are) and they usually hang up.

I've decided though that as long as they are going to call, I'm going to challenge them. Give me a rate of 1.19%, swipe fee under fifteen cents and no monthly fee and I'll give you a listen.

So call now, I'm standing by.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dans la Merde

Today began rather nicely. Woke up early, had time to lounge around the house a bit and even had a little extra time to stop by Wolford's and try their French Toast (nice!).

Things progessively went downhill from there.

Got to the shop only to find some early arrivals. Regulars. Who came early today. The drinks they ordered aren't difficult to make, except when you've just walked in and still need to prepare your mise, get the morning brew up and running and attend to the big delivery that just walked in the door.

From smooth sailing into the merde - fast.


The problem with getting into the "weeds" is that it builds from there. Every little setback or misstep compounding on each other until you're so deep into it that recovery seems impossible. Everything is off. The grind. The tamp. The pull. The technique. It attacks your psyche and that's the worst part because that's the only thing holding it together. The only choice left is just to plow through it, try to work it out and hope you can pull back into the groove.

Until then, I'm screwed.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Frakking Starbuck

I know what you coffee people are thinking, but that's not it!

When the RagTag Fleet jumped away from New Caprica leaving the Colonials to fend for themselves against the Cylon Occupation, I was left feeling a bit betrayed and a bit unenthusiastic about the Third Season of Battlestar Galactica. This wasn't the "Holy Frak, Sharon shot Adama!!!!" ending of the First Season, or the "Holy Frak, Adama's going to duke it out with the Battlestar Pegasus" ending of the Second Season Midseason Break, it was just kind of, well, disappointing and I wasn't losing my mind that I would have to wait until October to see what happened.

But tomorrow has finally come and tomorrow, Friday, October 6th is the premiere of Battlestar Galactica Season Three and I'm frakkin' pumped! I told K that I'm busy Friday and cannot be disturbed. It's just me, the TV and BSG.

Oh, I can't wait!

Tasty "Taste"

Finally found myself at Taste Restaurant in Baltimore's Belvedere Square last night. Been wanting to check it out for several weeks now and headed down there with The Affable Dave.

The interior decor is modern with an edge. Large Manila ropes are draped across the main dining room with pendulum-style halogen lighting amongst a red theme. Red is predominant throughout from the red upholstered chairs to the walls to garishly painted red bathrooms. The split-level floors are done in rich wood amidst a showcase kitchen and a sexy-looking glass wine room.

There's outdoor seating and a spacious bar area and they even have a cigar humidor, which could be an interesting development for our fun-loving, capricious and cigar chomping crew.

What can I say about the food? It was solid. Probably one of the most solid restaurant meals I've had in a long time. Nothing extraordinary or mind-blowing. Just solid cooking and solid food. I had a delicious Shrimp and Grits appetizer that featured slightly runny grits with chopped tomatoes and decent sized shrimp (I'm guessing U-20). The Affable Dave had the soup of the day (split pea) that he said was good but a bit on the cool side, fried oysters as an appetizer (lightly breaded and light but tasty) and the Pork Chop as his entree. My entree was the Veal Anna - lightly breaded and fried veal served on mashed potatoes with three Old Bay seasoned steamed shrimp. Again, nothing mind blowing, just solid, tasty food.

Our server suggested pairing the meal with a 2004 Mark West Pinot Noir - a light and fruity wine that matched the food tastefully. And since Wednesday night is "Half Price Wine Night", it was even more delightful. That $38 bottle of wine was notched down to $19.

While our server was on the money, the only misstep of the evening came when another server (one with dreadlocks pulled back) came to deliver food to our table. I inquired if they welcomed cigar smoking at the bar (since the bar has a cigar humidor) and he came back with a dumb look and a dumb response. Note to the Chef: fire that guy or get him into some serious training - he needs help and is a poor reflection on the restaurant.

My personal misstep came with dessert. I should have stopped after the entree. It was deliciously satisfying but I ignored my heart and continued into dessert. Not to say that dessert was bad, just that I was satiatied and didn't need to continue. I ordered the Fried Apple Fritters which is basically a peeled and cored Granny Smith Apple dipped in tempura batter, fried and served with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon powder. It was a good effort but the apple is just too darned big. When I had small bites of the apple with the batter and ice cream, it was dreamy. But you had to battle with this big apple and it was just unsatisfying.

I would have prefered to pair my dessert with a good coffee but upon inquiring which roaster they used, I declined. It is such a shame that any chef who takes their food this seriously just chooses crappy coffee to end their meals. It's a tragedy.

Overall, my impression of Taste is "solid." Just solid cooking making solid food. Good stuff and I think I'll explore the menu further in the coming months.