Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Thing About Expectations Is Meeting Them

Hey Masa 14?

'member when I was critical of your meat dishes when I praised your seafood and wondered if it was more hype and less food?

Yeah, I was wrong. You rocked the food right on visit number two. You were creative and tasty.


First I'm going to tell you all the good things about our meal. Because there were very many of them. And four foodies who spend a lot of time figuring out where to spend their larger-than-average food budgets left your joint fat and (mostly) happy. I'm going to put lots of my pictures up in the interwebs so people can see that even the fruit and granola looked good (and it was good, with a tangy yogurt).

Then I'm going to raise an issue because you were just plain not honoring the letter or spirit of your deal.

Your $35 all you can eat brunch was such a good idea I booked a table for four. I drove an hour to get there and put up with New York Avenue coming into town.

Because I am potentially psyonic and psychic and psychotic, I channeled my inner-Doris Day and got the spot right in front of the joint.

(You don't know the Doris Day Rule? Really? Okay. If you're looking for a parking spot pray to Doris. I'm Serious. Have you EVER seen her drive somewhere and not get the spot RIGHT in front of the building to which she's headed, get out of the car, and swoop right in just on time?)

I booked at 12 and thought I was lucky but the joint was quiet at 11:55 when I arrived and really didn't get smokin' busy until closer to 1pm.

Your server was a nice gent. Your runners were groovy.

Your food? It was AWESOME. 

The Baha Mi Pork Sandwich and the Pho Beef Sandwich? Brilliant.

The Grits were cheesy AND chipotle-y and smoove. I have been to the world of southern grits, and I have found the source. And you were not found lacking. AT ALL. Once they'd gone around the table I picked up the service spoon with them and scraped as much out of the 'bowl' as I could.

Really? A square bowl with grits in it so I couldn't physically scrape them all out with the spoon? That was dastardly folks...I love grits. And I had to give the bowl back with at least 10 or 12 grains of cheese and chipotle-covered corn meal still in the vessel.
Your Chilaquiles were a huge hit with my pals. There was a mound of chips in green chilli sauce and soft black beans. (Foreshadowing, HUGE success with the first go around of this dish).

Your Breakfast Pizza was superb and the egg was cooked perfectly. Same with the egg over the outrageous Bacon Fried Rice.

The chorizo was good and the tomato sauce with it was a nice counterpoint (the sausage could have had a bit more heat).

The chicken has was the perfect balance of meat to pepper and onion. And with gooey egg yolk pouring over it to boot? A real winner.

The eggs on the Beef Tenderloin Benedict were overcooked; but the beef was gooooood and it was seasoned so well.

We whooped up on two orders of the wok homefries because they were delicious!!! Really, poblanos? Yeah, good!

But when you have an all you can eat and advertise it don't change the rules in the middle of the game. Don't change the sizes of dishes you send to a table mid-meal. You will anger us...

You created the brunch special. Your menu was clear. Boxed in. $35. All you can eat plus drinks from your menu of mimosas, Masa mimosas, lychee cocktails, and Rye Bacon Bloodies. No limitations on the menu items we could choose. No language on the menu that there were different menus for the all vs. the a la. There is np indication on your menu that the sizes will be different if you order the all-you-can-eat. There is no indication on the menu that the portion size during a meal is subject to change.

You should clearly set our expectations about portion size and you should remain consistent throughout the meal and across tables in the restaurant on the same day.

Full-Sized Chilaquiles the first time. 1/3-sized order for the second.

Small breakfast pizzas at our table all meal but other tables receiving full-sized ones. Different sized flatbread coming to our table (full-size mushroom but smaller breakfast pizza).

If you're trying to control food costs by doing smaller portions at the brunch, tell us that up front and be consistent. I'd probably still come and try a lot of dishes; I'd even probably come and try a lot of dishes at a higher price than you charged me if I knew I was getting smaller "all-you-can-eat-sized-portions" on the menu when I ordered.

But when you downsize the dishes mid-meal, we feel like you're trying to game the system you created.

In case you were wondering and for the purposes of (as full as I can) disclosure, we likely did come out ahead at a four-top by $30 or so ($7.50/person) just based on the menu prices available on the online brunch menu. That's clearly not so much that you lost money on our table. Quick math on what we had and quick math on food costs...the $8 worth of menu priced yucca we had was likely $0.42 of food cost for you and a 3 second blast of labor time to fry and plate them. You won there big time. Ditto on our two orders of wok home fries...a couple spoonfuls of potatoes with some peppers and onions does not come anywhere near the $8 it would have cost us a la carte.

My rant is now over.

I will sleep on this AGAIN before I hit Publish.

I WILL eat at your joint again because the food is excellent. And because the service is good. And because, like Zaytinya, I LOVE watching the glitterati eat and drink.

But please, mean what you say on your menu.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It Was One Fine Weekend

It was the sunset painting the edge of a front as it crossed the ridgeline of the western Shenandoah Valley. At arm's length it was two finger's width of blue sky between the on-again, off-again drizzle & cloud and the darkening line on the right horizon where earth and heaven dance. The work day was done and week was through.

It was the last rays piercing through between the cloud line and the tops of the mountains that you could see when you were at the top heading down, but that was covered by the anlge of the slope as you worked your way to the next peak. Twisting left and right, up and down, over and about. Always a bit more south. Always a bit more west. Always a bit higher up than before the last mountain.

It was Augusta, Rockingham, and Bath Counties through the towns of Buffalo Gap, Augusta Springs, Craigsville, and Goshen. The Tastee Freeze was doing land-office business on the western end of Craigsville. Prison guards and locals teens heading in for a Friday treat. It was Warm Spings and Mountain Gap and the folds of the mountains covering each town over. A quick turn and you're on a 'main street,' and then a quarter-mile later you round another bend and the George Washington forest has swallowed you up.

It was the burnt-orange leaves swirling in the bend as I headed down the mountain into Warm Springs. There was the road, the leaves, the wind, my car's headlights, and my thoughts. That was it. By this point in the drive it is always the older memories that creep in. Summertime and lemonade. The only time I could eat sugary cereal; and I got to pick it myself to boot. Sorry? Oh, of course it was Cookie Crisp. If you were an eight-year-old who could choose any cereal on the shelves, and the shelves contained a cereal that was LITERRALY chocolate chip cookies over which you pour'd choose that one too.

It was the lights through the trees to my left that could only be the farm house across the creek and through the fields; one more turn to make. Hilarity as I passed the house over my left shoulder to keep on to the turn at the end of the road so I could whip around and jog the last mile back to the entrance, the yard, and the farm. There are (were) three stop lights in the county. One in front of the bank and one in front of the county building downtown. Regulating traffic around the diner and the bike/coffee chop. And there was one at the end of the bridge in town on the other side of the river. Now there are (were, by the time you read this they may be gone) two more regulating the hum and drone of local truck traffic and campers hurtling along WV 39 over the bridges on either end of the stretch in Minnehaha.

It was the rock wall in the front yard putting those ubiquitous garden-stoppers to work for once. You havne't appreciated gardens and growing until you've picked a pepper from the back yard. And even then, not all gardens are created equally. Mom's is rockier than that top in Tennessee. It's just plain moonscape under topsoil and over clay. Retirement is hard work when it's clearing garden space rock by rock. Mom handed me the scissors because my shoes were still on (a rare occurance as family bliss and relaxing is best achieved in bare feet) and I took fewer than 50 steps to get to the herb garden and gather some chives to mix with the garlic and cottage cheese for a dip.

It was crisp edges and soft flesh of a butternut squash that became a round loaf rising on the vent from the stove. It was mom kneading and turning, hands working, telling me that she didn't used to work the dough long enough. A later conversation about biscuits and the fact that neither of us had tackled them yet. But those squash rolls, sweet and tender and sopping up butter at the dinner table; those she knew how to make well now.

It was a trip up the road to Gene's so we could help stir the nine bushels of apples bubbling in a copper pot. Kin, neighbors, and even friends from over the Mountains on the East Virginia side started at 8am with the fire. They'd peeled and cooked the apples into sauce the day before. Didn't do that one time and they couldn't start canning until after 9pm. So a day-ahead prep. We stirred, Mom and I. Ms. S provided us with clear moral support and a well-thought out desire to avoid being scalded by roiling apple butter.

It was the quick dance of cooks in a family kitchen as guests arrive. The potatoes were done but needed to be put back in to warm as the lamb came out to rest. There's no way that thermometer is right...but the touch test bears it out. We'll pull it and rest in, then slice it and put back in what's too rare (though the cooks, Mom and I, would not have put much back at all). Here are the guests, one cook lost to provide tours and hosptality. Four guests means both the ladies who call the farm home are out of the kitchen. But I kinda like that; I get to play more and plate it all up.

It was the light frost on the grass tips as the sun struggled, wavered, and then burst over the east with clean early-Fall rays that don't let you forget summer; but you still know it's just a memory now. By 8:30 the frosted tops are green and covered in sun unless a stray building gets in the way and makes a shadow. The forest out the window is all rust. If I were a Leafer I'd decry the early turn and my schedule that didn't let me see the peak turning. But I'm no Leafer, and that rust on the hillside fits perfectly with the coffee in a worn mug sitting on the counter next to me. There's a full pot on, and whenever the rest of the house rises we'll pull some breakfast together. It was going to by cheese grits and ham steaks, but Mom reminded me she had green tomatoes to give me. So now we're having fried green tomatoes and poached eggs for breakfast and I'll think of the Bluegrass crew and wonder how many people in Charly-West will have the same breakfast as me today.

It was a quick trip home to the water's edge; have to be back by seven for supper at Dad's. Lamb shanks, you know, are a favorite of mine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Curried Ham and Vegetable Hash with Apple

A simple recipe to get me back in the swing of this writing exercise I use as food catharis. And a part of my renewed 'cooking good food for yourself is more healthful' meme.

I know it's been a long time. I've been eating. There are actually quite a few things I have to write about that are meta, larger-picture food pieces on place and places, on growing and providing. For now, I cooked lunch at home today because I could.

I give you...

Curried Ham and Vegetable Hash with Apple

For a nice lunch for two...

1/2 cup diced potato
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 minced cloves of garlic
1/3 cup diced apple
1/3 cup diced ham
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup shredded Brussel's Sprouts
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp curry powder
4 T water

Salt and pepper throughout the cooking process.
Saute the potato, onion, and garlic until the onions sweat and the potatoes begin to brown.
Add the apple, red pepper, and ham and stir through.
Add the curry powder and water, cover, and steam/saute for 10 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.
Add the sprouts and toss through on high heat until the leaves are wilted and heated through.

It's a hot, crunchy, soft, bright, sweet, salty delicious mash-up of all good things. If you have other things to throw in, do it. If you're doing this for brunch, add poached eggs. If you're a die hard 'hon from Bal'mer, you could sub Old Bay for the curry powder. If you're vegetarian, by all means, please omit the ham.