Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Butcher of Cadiz

Please Note: The following post contains images that sensitive people may find offensive.

We visited the processing plant at Locust Point Farm in Elkton, Maryland a week after visiting the Meat Locker. I originally started writing this post immediately after that visit.

Locust Point Farm
The chickens, all 275 of them, ready to go for a ride.

I am a barista.
I am a butcher.
I am the harbinger of Death.

I am standing there, in my ubiquitious black Polo t-shirt, black short and New Balance Shoes. The concrete floor beneath my feet is a cold reminder of the horror I have become. The black-handled curved blade boning knife whips in a frenzy. At the top of my game, it's three quick cuts. At my pinnacle, it's two. At my worst, it's five cuts plus some sawing, some hacking and/or some chopping.

I feel dirty and I'm covered in a grotesque haze of guts and carcasses juices sprayed onto my once clean and pristine black uniform. Had I known what I was to become, I would have dressed differently. Perhaps some work boots, Carhartt jeans and workshirt to keep the slime off my exposed flesh.

In my continuing quest to learn about locally grown and produced foods, we've ventured to the Northeastern tip of Maryland to Locust Point Farms in Elkton where we've brought 275 chickens to slaughter at the hands of a very friendly Mennonite family.

Locust Point Farm
And so it begins with the flick of a sharp knife.

As an omnivore, we eat meat. Meats of all kinds. I handle chicken all the time. I've become accustomed to buying whole chickens and butchering them at home to save some money and understand the chicken. But chicken is supposed to be the cold meat we buy at the store, not the warm flesh it is in my hands. Until now, the warmest chicken I've held was made for me by a guy named Popeye.

The slaughter of any animal is a gruesome experience. It's real. Real Death. To see the neck sliced, its' blood draining and the bird flailing about in denial of fate is nothing short of real. To say it's ugly is a lie. It's horrific. There's nothing pretty about death. But it's what must be done in order for us to live.

Locust Point Farm
After being immersed in a hot water bath, the chickens are loaded on a conveyor.

The processing of chickens at Locust Point is done by hand. Unlike the mechanized utility of commercial plants like those run by Purdue, the Locust Point plant is small and family-run. Family members handle everything from slaughter to defeathering to dressing the birds.

Once slaughtered, the chickens are dipped in a 140 degree Fahrenheit water bath to loosen the feathers. Then they're placed in what one can only describe as a washing machine with rubber fingers set on spin, that removes the feathers and outer skin. Once the feathers have been removed, the carcass is hung and the oil gland is removed, the butt is drilled out, the internal organs are removed by hand and then anything left in the body cavity is forcibly vacuumed out. And I do mean forcibly.

Locust Point Farm
Where their feathers are removed.

Once cleaned of its' internals, the hanging chickens continue down the production line through a water shower to rinse them off, then over to the finishing table where they come off the hangers and slide down to the table where I await them with blade in hand.

For our batch of soup chickens and roasters, it's up to myself and Mariano to cut off the feet. It looks simple and the father makes it look like easy work. But actual practice is something else, especially with the soup chickens.

Locust Point Farm
Then hung onto the processing line.

The soup chickens are older. They're old laying hens that have lived past their prime production life and can now continue on their journey in someone's (grandma's?) chicken noodle soup. Since they're older, they're tougher and harder to slice through. It starts off as clumsy work. Sawing, hacking, whittling - it's tough to make a clean cut through the joint and I fumble and falter a bit. When the young roasting chickens arrive it's amazing to feel the difference. The joints are young, tender and, therefore, easy pickings. I'll admit, I can't help but wonder if this is how it feels to chop up humans, a la Tony Soprano. And was Ralph Cifaretto harder to cut up than a young guy because of the age factor, like the chickens?

About twenty chickens into my slaughter, I start getting the hang of it. Slice, slice, slice and that leg pops right off. The joint is clean - just how you'd expect the end of a drumstick to look. Gosh, I feel like a professional. If I had access to a band saw, I might actually go berzerk.

Locust Point Farm
First, the oil gland is cut off and then the body cavity is opened with this drill.

Locust Point Farm
The internal organs are pulled out by hand.

I started off smelling fresh and looking trim in my nice, clean clothes. The longer I stand around in the facility, the more water and chicken bits are splashed on me from every direction. At first, I'm mortified. Disgusted. Gross. As the metal of my blade flashes by, I grow more accustomed to being coated in chicken film. I butcher chicken. I am chicken. I am the Chicken Master.

Slice, slice, slice and more feet pop off and into the icy tub, destined for a future in some exotic kitchen where a Chinese guy is going to slurp and scarf down my professional goodness. Moments of glory flash by when I can sever the feet in two slices instead of three. Mariano and I discuss the best way to cook these chickens and rotisserie is the hands down favorite. We're not grossed out by our carnage. We're not renouncing our consumption of meat for some ill-conceived ideal that vegan-ism is going to Save The Chickens of the World. We're enthused by this. So enthused that we're getting hungry.

Once Mariano and I have lopped off the feet, the chickens are basically done and look exactly like the fryers you buy at the local supermarket. The mom of the farm cuts a slit in the skin and tucks the legs, then plops the whole thing into an ice bath where they will drop in temperature to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in under three hours.

Locust Point Farm
Anything left inside is vacuumed out.

Locust Point Farm
Gutted chickens are then given a cleansing shower.

Still coated in chicken grime, we take a moment to enjoy a little yogurt from a local farm. It's sweet, delicious and better than any of the commercial yogurts I've tried, and it's a nice respite from the massacre we've just been part of. And I do mean massacre. In about an hour and ten minutes, we've killed and processed two hundred seventy five chickens. Sure, that's small potatoes for a processor like Frank Purdue, but for our little crew doing everything by hand, it's been a veritable blood bath.

Locust Point Farm
Mariano and I doing "our thing."

Blood bath or not, it was an amazing experience. To see where the food comes from and how it's processed is something that more people need to do. If I had asked, I could have been one of the guys dispatching the chickens by slicing their necks and letting the blood drain out. Next time, I want to be one of them. To know the feeling of actually killing the food. To give it honor and respect for its' sacrifice so that we can live.

Seeing all of this is incredibly amazing. Respect. There's no other way to describe it. From the farmer who raised the chickens and cared for them to this Mennonite family who processes them, it's respect all the way around and now that respect is placed upon us to treat our food properly and respectfully.

Locust Point Farm
No looking back now.

Meat - It's What's For Dinner

Please Note: The following post contains images that sensitive people may find offensive.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Sirloin steak, as we know it, being trimmed down for retail sale.

Readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of meat. Give me a nice ribeye steak, some grilled veggies, hot white rice and a big cigar and I'm happy as can be.

Lately, I've been getting into locally grown beef that's grass fed and free range. Unlike commercial beef that's raised on large ranches where the steers are confined in pens and fed a corn-based feed, these animals are allowed to roam around, eat grass and are herded in small numbers. It's what they call "Grass Finished" beef - meaning that the animals are left to eat grass throughout their existence until the last couple of weeks when they're fed a corn-based feed that fattens them up a little before slaughter. I realize that, to the non-cattlemen, the name sounds opposite to the reality, but that's how they categorize it.

This "old is new" kind of approach to beef gives great flavor, texture and quality to the meat. It's absolutely delicious. I can't get enough of it. Give me more.

In the interest of understanding where our food comes from (other than the refrigerated case at the grocery store), Spike, Mariano and myself headed up to Mount Airy, Maryland to visit the Meat Locker where the beef and pork that we consume is slaughtered and processed.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Pork doesn't get any fresher than this.

It's an unassuming building in the very sleepy town of Mount Airy. You could pass it by and never know what was going on inside. There's a school across the street it's so innocuous. And considering the carnage that goes on inside, it's a strange juxtaposition that I can't help but to think of something as odd as Jeffrey Dahmer.

Not that there's anything sinister going on inside. The place is clean. Spotless even. The USDA has an inspector in the building at all times observing the processing at every step and checking for any problems or contaminants.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Sides of beef waiting 21 days.

The animals come from select farms in the region who grow quality steer and pigs. They're loaded into holding pens at the side of the building which lead into the Kill Room.

The Kill Room. Concrete. Tile. Utility. There's nothing glamorous about the Kill Room or working in it. It's gruesome work. Pigs throats are cut and steers are shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. The animals are hung to drain their blood, then hit with hot water to remove the body hairs.

Many people find it hard to believe that our food comes from these animals. They'd much rather know their food as that plastic-wrapped cut they're used to. Watching how our food comes to be is slightly unnerving, but it instills respect. Respect for the animals that have been slaughtered so that we can survive. Respect for the meat so that it's cared for and cooked properly.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Spike checks out the quality of the pork.

Walking into the Kill Room reminded me of being in the Philippines. The aroma was fresh - like that of the open-air markets. Men in jeans and boots did their deeds of slaughtering pigs and preparing them for storage then butchering. The USDA inspector taking their heads and inspecting their glands for any signs of problems or trichinosis. Brutal efficiency.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
A pig head after the USDA has inspected it for contaminants.

When looking at a 150+ pound pig, one has to wonder just how they take this animal and break it down? Once the hair has been removed from the carcass and the entrails removed, it must be split with a stainless steel chain saw.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
The Kill Room - splitting the carcass.

Once cut down, beef is kept in refrigerated storage for 21 days to "age" the meat. Pork can be used right away. The sides are rolled into large, refrigerated rooms and then are later brought into the cutting rooms where they are broken down into the pork chops, sirloin and skirt steaks we all know and love.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
The End gives us a new beginning.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Studs of Shave Ice

Artscape 2007
The Line.


That's the only way to describe them - both the boys and the girls. Whatever their gender, they are The Studs of the Shave Ice industry.

1300 pounds of ice
65 gallons of syrup
1400 flower cups
1850 spoons

Shave it all together and you get the last day of the Jay's Shave Ice booth at Artscape 2007. At a crisp 89 degrees with cool breezes, it was another perfect day for shave ice.

Artscape 2007
Isaiah, Isabel and Sara working it.

Returning for the final day was our tough crew from yesterday, along with the return of both Mariano, the cook who cooked for a Michelin 1-star restaurant in Italy, and Isaiah, who spent yesterday gallavanting with his wife at a roller coaster park in Pennsylvania. joining us for the first time was Isabel, fresh from building decks in the wilds of Kentucky.

Artscape 2007
Stud Mariano - this guy from Argentina never left the line - all day.

There's not much more to say than these guys are studs. All of them. No breaks. No pissing. No whining. No moaning. Just hard, solid work. Drilling out over a thousand shave ices in a seven hour period. Maybe a quick phone call here and there to scheme and connive for their next gig, or to answer that important text message, but the beat never wavered and they kept pounding it out.

It was amazing. It was awesome. It was awe-inspiring.

I can't wait to do it again.

Next year.

Artscape 2007
The view from the catbird seat.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It Must Be Prime Time - Artscape 2007

Artscape 2007

Today had to be one of the most beautiful days of 2007 in Baltimore. The weather was cool, breezy and about 85 degrees. No humidity. Absolutely perfect.

It's also prime shave ice weather.

After eight years in the shave ice business I've come to realize the ideal weather. Dip down into the 70s and it starts to be a bit chilly for shave ice. Reach up into the 90s and humidity and people just don't want to leave their air conditioning at home. But right in the middle is where everyone and their mother (including mine) come out to play and eat shave ice.

After six years of Artscape, it's never this nice. Usually it's on the hot and humid side. Perhaps not as bad as the Dog Days of Summer, but close. Sometimes, we'll have passing showers and even the odd thunderstorm (that was exciting).

Four shavers, four crew, myself and mom. Pounding it out in the hot sun in front of hundreds of thousands of attendees, cranking out well over a thousand shave ices in just over eight hours. Grueling. Tough.

On the front line were two Jay's Shave Ice alumni. Sara (2005 Seasonal Manager) and Derrick (2006 Season staffer) rocked the front line, taking orders, fielding questions and putting on a friendly and hospitable face for the company. All by herself on the third line to the side of the booth was mom - holding her own in a never-ending line that was 20 deep (after Jordan decided to pull off the front and work the shaver line). Holding it all together was long-time friend Tony M. whose main job is to prep and cut ice, as well as maintain inventory and prepare dinner.

Artscape 2007

Mom's line. This line never grew shorter than you see it here.

I rocked the shaver line the whole day, along with some help in the late afternoon from Jordan. Four shavers, never stopping except to reload. Shaving ice in a never ending ribbon of fine, delicious stuff.

To be honest, I've never rocked four machines at once. At one point, Tony was about to step in to help but I shooed him away with my ego being the main reason. I wanted to see if I could rock the four machines and keep up with the demand of three lines of customers. I rocked it for about two hours. I was in love with myself. Then mom came and Jordan stepped back to run two of the shavers.

Artscape 2007

Sara's Line - amazed and in awe to get shave ice.

Day two is over and while I'm usually wiped out and dreading one more day at Artscape, tonight I'm feeling good. We worked it - hard. My crew are studs. They never looked up. They never complained. They never took a piss. They're fucking awesome.

Tomorrow, the same crew returns, but this time they're going to be joined by Mariano and Isiaiah, two of some of Baltimore's best line cooks - studs in their own right (Mariano worked for a Michelin 1 star in Italy), as well as first-timer newbie Isabelle.

Whatever the outcome, I'm stoked and pumped that we're going to have a rockin' crew for the final day in the sun.

Maybe this time we won't run out of ice...

Artscape 2007

Throughout the day we see old friends, like B.J. and his family - long time supporters of Jay's Shave Ice.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Like Riding A Bicycle

Artscape 2007

It's been nearly a year since I stood behind a proper ice shaving machine - and I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. But it was just like riding an old bike, once you know how to do it - you just can do it.

Artscape weekend is here and on full-blast. The weather is beautiful (if slightly cool) and the crowds are on the street and hitting our little shave ice stand at the corner of Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street. It's in the heart of Artscape. The "crossroads", if you will, of the entire festival. And we're smack dab in the middle of it.

This week is traditionally the worst week of the year. It's the busiest as we try to cram everything together. It's crazy and everything falls to the wayside as we prepare ourselves for battle.

But I'm happy to report that even after all this time, I can still rock an ice shaver. No line is too long for this strapping chap. i'll spin three machines simultaneously and beat down a hundred people in line. Never mind that all these unused muscles are aching, in pain and in need of a rubdown from a (younger) woman, I can still kick it with the best of 'em.

Let's hope my creaking bones make it through the weekend...

Artscape 2007

Rockin' the Fujimarca 709.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The End Before The Beginning

Locust Point Farm

The Egg. It's a symbol of life. New life. A life to come. But this egg is anything but that. It's a sad reminder of a life that was and one that will never become. An ironic twist to the lives that will continue as a result of the end to this one.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


On July 26th, I board the aluminum behemoth known as a Boeing 777 and fly to the Land of the Rising Sun. It's been 17 years since my last trip to Japan. A trip that included visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Osaka and a couple of rides on the Shinkansen or Bullet Train, not to mention shopping in Akihabara, strolling through Shibuya Park and general mischief at Club Gold with Nat and Misuzu.

Preliminary reports indicate that Japan is one of the few places left on Earth whose cellular telephone system does not work with GSM wireless phones. Evidently, one has to rent a phone in Japan or be left without wireless communications.

It's a horrible thought. Especially since I spent $500 on a 4GB iPhone that is supposed to revolutionize my travel and bring the world to my fingertips.

As the thought of not having a cell phone in Japan seeps into the mind, I'm scared. How will I live? How will I communicate? How will I make plans with friends?

It makes me wonder how I survived in the years prior to a cell phone. When large groups of my friends would plan, meet and party the night away - all without the convenience of calling each other on their cell to arrange everything. How did it happen? Did we just plan to meet at a certain place and at a certain time and just made it???

This trip will encompass hanging out with friends who are arriving from all over the world. All of whom will have some form of crippled communication. How will we meet and coordinate? I've also got friends who live in Tokyo - how will I coordinate with them?

No cell phones? That's a Brave New World.

It shouldn't be all that bad. When I was in Ethiopia, my cell phone didn't work at all (despite reassurances by Cingular prior to my trip that it would) and I was left to fend for myself in the African badlands. Now, I'll be dragged away by screaming Harajuku Girls in schoolgirl uniforms carrying Sanrio tchotchke and I won't be able to tell anyone about that fortunate incident nor send them photos of the carnage.

No cell phones in Japan. I don't know if I'm ready for 1987 all over again...

Friday, July 06, 2007

USBC, Seriously?


Not quite the "USBC" we have in mind.

You don't take this seriously enough.

It's a paraphrase but I think it's succinct enough for you to get the gist of the message and it's basically what Tracey Allen (judge) of Seattle's Zoka Coffee tells me every year after the USBC.

For the uninitiated and newer readers of this blog, this "USBC" isn't the United States Bowling Congress, but rather the United States Barista Championship - an annual gathering pitting the nations' top baristas against each other in a head-on, all-out barista brawl of artful delivery, technical skill and drink-making fabulosity.


Chris Deferio and Kyle Larsen ponder the inevitabilities of the USBC.

The competitors range from competition neophytes to seasoned professionals. From those who are there to win at nearly any cost to those there to deliver a message - people like Jon Lewis and Chris Deferio who are finally showing that a poetic, thoughtful and artistic presentation can indeed make it to the Finals. Or Peter Middlecamp, a first-time USBC competitor, finishing in the Top Six - ahead of some of America's greatest barista talent.

They range from 2006 USBC Champion Matt Riddle with his smooth and flawless style to the in-your-face, shake it 'till your booty drops, sending-a-message-to-your-mama kind of presentation from Tatiana Becker. The former as the first competitor in a sweater and the latter as the first competitor from the Kappa Kappa Chino Sorority.

As a competitor, I fall somewhere in the middle - with a leaning towards the Tatiana side of things - without the mini skirt and halter top combo. Not because of some sort of "it's disrespectful to the competition" kind of mantra that some people exclaimed, but rather because I think the audience wouldn't appreciate the splendor of my physique in such an outfit.

So how was the USBC?

Well, in retrospect, it was "nice."

Fun, for sure. It's always great to see industry friends hanging out, sharing in their passion for coffee and seeing who's doing what on the cutting edge of our industry. But now that I'm two months removed, I'm actually a bit disappointed.

Disappointed for several reasons.

First, there's the ego thing. I didn't make it past the Preliminary Round. No Semi-Finals for me. Out. Finished. Kaput. One round and that was it. My scores just weren't good enough. I thought I had been disqualified, but I wasn't. I just didn't cut the muster. It was a buzzkill because I had a completely different presentation for the Semi-Finals. Doomed. My fault.

Secondly, I'm wondering who we're playing to and why? The USBC is held in conjunction with the SCAA Conference. It's on the show floor. In a convention center. You have to go there specifically for the event. There's no walk-by traffic to draw from. The show is a Trade Only event and even though the public can get passes, it's a pain in the butt to do so.

And while the event can help to increase public/consumer awareness about the craft and quality coffee, we're really playing to a very limited audience of ourselves, our friends (and family - if they're in the same city) and other people from within the industry. There's no coverage by the mainstream media or cable networks. The performance videos of the competition have not been released since the 2003 USBC.

So who are we playing to? Ourselves? We're trying to show ourselves the passion and commitment of the professional barista? It's a noble cause, but we're just preaching to the choir.

Lewis Mug

"The Lewis'" and "The Mug" - a nice gift. Thanks!

Thirdly, after three years of competing, I'm wondering what impact this competition thing has on our craft? Is it resulting in us "pushing the bar"? Or are we just resting on our collective laurels?

After watching numerous competitions, I'm definitely seeing a growing culinary awareness in the signature drinks, but to what means? On one end, there's a growing resentment of the signature drink - that it somehow is too similar to a crappy Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and, therefore, we should eliminate it from competition and focus on the purity of the coffee.

On the other end, those that are developing interesting signature drinks are letting them wither and die. There's very few shops or baristas actively developing quote/unquote "signature drinks" for public consumption. Most everyone develops one for competition and that's it. Game over.

To my mind (and experience) it's the signature drink that captures the public eye and imagination. Most everyone has tried a cup of coffee and, for most, it's a bitter and mildy offensive experience, one best served with lots of cream and sugar. These are the unwashed masses that we serve everyday and they are the same people who are caught perplexed by these so-called "exotic" drinks. But yet, the majority of shops poo-poo these drinks and toss them aside as soon as the Finals are announced.

Judge Jarrett

Judge Jarrett on patrol by the Zoka Coffee booth.

Fourthly, where are we heading with the judges and rulings? Uniformity in judging is a perennial problem. The lack of explicit rules are a perennial problem. One year after the finals fiasco in the 2006 USBC, where performance videos were inappropriately used to overturn scores and Finals standings, there is still nothing in the rules to address this hole.

Another potential pitfall for the USBC is this "defending of the faith" that is starting to emerge both within the competitor and administrative ranks. Tatiana Becker's performance mimicking a sorority/frat rush, with members of the audience chanting "chug, chug, chug" and the judges being asked to wear beer hats pushed the limits of even some of the most progressive judges while outraging a number of judges and competitors.

Like I said in the now censored and removed (at the command of the SCAA Board of Directors) Portafilter.net Podcast Number 69, I support competitors' efforts to push and prod the competition in new directions. Some contrasted Tatiana's approach to my own and that's fallible because we have very different viewpoints and experiences from which to draw. For her to attempt a "Jay" style of presentation would be as absurd as me donning a halter top and mini skirt.


Myself with Tatiana Becker - it should be obvious why she looks better in the halter top.

As the competition continues into the future, we need to become increasingly vigilant against "keeping things safe." As an evolving craft, we need baristas to push the limits of our "comfort zones."

As it stands, the competition is starting to morph into a format that discourages innovation and this is movement in the wrong direction. A look into the rules and judging problems within sports such as gymnastics and figure skating are testament to this "defending of the faith" and is something we, as a community, need to avoid.

This year, when Tracey Allen gave me the "you're not taking this seriously enough" talk, I agreed with him. I'm not taking it as seriously as many of the other competitors. I hardly practiced my routine. I didn't have a signature drink until a few days before the competition. I didn't know what I was going to do until I did it. It wasn't a "serious" approach, I admit it.


Chris Owens as "Sylar" from the NBC television series "Heroes".

Some say I could be a "contender", but I wonder: "a contender for what? A "champion" to a narrow group of industry insiders who follow the competitions? Does this mean I have to abandon my preferred style for a more reserved, muted and perhaps boring one so that I can "win"? I don't find that remotely appealing.

Right now, the champion wins and toils in relative obscurity. Historically speaking, the USBC Champion has been given little opportunity to encourage greater awareness in the public consumer. The USBC Champions' domain has been the barista competitions and some regional barista jams, as well as perhaps some recognition by the hardcore coffee enthusiasts.

So, in the darkness of my own mind, I ask "what is the advantage of compromising on my personal vision in an attempt to win the USBC when it amounts to almost nothing?" What does it say about this pursuit when the National Air Guitar Champion, as well as the champion ranks of the International Federation of Competitive Eating receive greater media coverage and potential to influence the public?

I don't know myself, but it certainly makes it harder to take this "serious" thing seriously...

SCAA Kisses

Did I really say that I was going to give up competing and all this? Nah, that's crazy talk!

Monday, July 02, 2007


A man and a woman had a little baby.
Yes, they did.
They had three in the family,
And that's a magic number.

An unexpected call from Christine and Chef Mike about a long ago girl (psycho that she is) led to the three of us going out to check out Baltimore's new Three Restaurant (in it's third week of business) in Patterson Park.

Patterson Park. Don't know what it was like years ago but for most of my life it's been a drug-infested, crime-ridden area with corner dealers and lots of street hookers. About ten years ago, the pioneers started coming to gentrify the area and it's been steady progress since. However, I like a little adventure when visiting one of the most violent cities in America and while gentrification is "nice," I prefer that it doesn't come with Starbucks and a Cheesecake Factory.

Three took over the space formerly occupied by Parkside - whose owners spent big bucks transforming this run-down remnant of a pharmacy into a modern and gorgeous space. And Three is pretty gorgeous-looking. From the wood floors to the great-looking open-paneled bar (an idea for a future project), it's a modern and great-looking space - that really needs acoustical treatment. Badly.

I really don't like going out to eat on Friday or Saturday nights as I think the kitchen just isn't able to spend as much time with the food if they're trying to churn out 200 covers and two table turns. Where on a weekday, the chef may take his time lovingly swirling the saute pan, on a weekend, he's madly tossing in the ingredients, setting the flame to afterburner and tossing it a few times before he falls into the weeds. Not exactly my idea of an ideal meal.

But there we were, on a Friday night, waiting by the bar for our table for three. For forty minutes. While Chef Mike and Christine sloshed themselves on a variety of alcoholic treats.

Finally seated, our waitress was pleasant, courteous and steered us toward a very fruity (with hints of cherries and peach) California pinot noir. Alas, I can't remember the name and since Three doesn't seem to have a website...

Three is a "small plate" kind of restaurant - what most other places would call "tapas" without the actual Spanish dishes that make a tapas joint a tapas joint. There's some interesting stuff on the menu and we ordered most of them.

Unfortunately, the dishes were hit and miss. Some were good. Some were very good. Others were just "blah." Here's a quick rundown of the memorable ones:

Ahi Tartare
There's a ball of finely chopped ahi. It's got some spiciness. It's pretty darn good. It's worth checking out again.

Scallops wrapped in Bacon
These were two small scallops. Wrapped in bacon. Kinda bland. Kinda boring. Nothing to jump up about.

Lamb Chops
These three grilled lamb chops were perfectly executed and perfectly seasoned. Medium. French cut. Beautiful.

Grilled Romaine
Sliced a head of romaine in half down the center, sit the side on a grill. Char. Add some seasoning and some olive oil. Simple. Tasty. Nicely done.

Pomme Frites
Take a potato. Slice it a very thin (nearly chip thickness) waffle cut in a mandoline. Deep fry. Slather it with duck fat and serve with a side of mayo. This dish sounded incredible: duck fat. In the end, the fat was just that: fat, sitting on the chip, making it damp. No crispness, no flavor, no nothing. This needed a liberal dosing of salt. Too bad they don't put salt on the table at Three.

Grilled Polenta
One of the best grilled polenta's I've ever had was at Valhalla Restaurant in Sausalito, California. That was some incredible polenta. The texture was perfect with enough seasoning and butter to make it beautiful. Three's version was two thick slabs of polenta. Great texture, but again, they needed a little salt and some butter to give it some life.

Ahi Sashimi
The disaster of the lot. To me (and most of the free world), "sashimi" means one thing: raw fish. Perfectly sliced, unseasoned and served with some soy sauce and wasabi on the side. It is, by no means ever servedcooked and drizzled with terikayi sauce and mayo. This fish block was seasoned and pan seared, cooking the outside and leaving a perfect raw oval in the interior. This is called (by many places) "black and blue ahi" and should never ever EVER be called, or misconstrued as "sashimi." The only similarity between this dish and sashimi is that the fish was sliced.

But note that I said that the raw oval was "perfect." If they had called this "black and blue ahi" the execution of the cooking would have been perfect. In fact, the fish itself was beautifully meaty and luscious - just the way I prefer raw yellowfin tuna. That said, the sugar heavy teriyaki sauce with accompanying mayo drizzle was a mistake. Leave fish of this quality stand on its' own. It can!

Coeur la Creme
Ah, dessert. This one was tasty. Smooth, rich, velvety. I loved it. Perhaps a bit too rich for me though. An indulgence.

Coconut Chess Pie
Unlike the Coeur la Creme, this pie came from outside the house. From Dangerously Delicious Pies. Typical for DDP, the pie was rich, tasty and fattening. Their pies are good. We used to offer them at Spro. But they're not cheap. At DDP's own shop, a big slice of pie is $5.00. We offered an slice (8 per pie) for $3.50. At Three, what looked to be a 10 per pie slice cost $6.00. Too expensive for me to order next time around.

So there you have it: Three. Like I said above, the food is hit or miss. Some were good. Others were "ah." But it's still early for this new, hip restaurant and there's lots of promise. Michael, one of the three owners of Three, came by to ask our candid thoughts about the food. We were pretty candid with our candor. He seemed interested and I hope they take our suggestions to mind.

One thing: they need salt and pepper on the table if they're going to season the food this lightly. Many of the dishes could have been stellar if they just gave a pinch. Please.

Another thing: Please, get something to help the acoustics. I like modern looking spaces. I like hip-looking spaces. I don't like to nearly shout to talk to someone sitting across the table. Three is just "too loud." Hang some fabric panels on the wall, put up tapestries, whatever - just put something up to bring the noise to comfortable level.

In the end, I plan to go back. While I'm not jumping up and down for the food, the quality of the ingredients shows promise for potentially great food to come.

Next time, it will be a mid-week meal and not a weekend meal.