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.