Sunday, June 26, 2011

Oink, Oink, Burp

Welcome back to our regular program. For those of you just tuning in, this is where I tell all of you what I ate in Las Vegas. Just my side of the table, though. Ask Robert to blog his stuff if this isn’t enough. Yeah, right.

First things first. On the way up, we stopped at the doughnut place in Victorville as usual. The proprietress greeted us with, “It’s been three months, I was waiting for you guys.” It’s a rut I can live with. I hadn’t had blueberry doughnuts (& a bearclaw) since March. Hummos, tabbouleh and dolmades at the Mad Greek in Baker held us over til we got to Vegas and the Bellagio. We split a dulce de leche brioche and almond croissant at Jean Philippe. Spending all that time in heat and traffic left us not so hungry. We naively thought we’d eat light at the new Fleur, impossible in the face of such deliciousness. Tomato flambé (much more descriptive than “pizza”), deceptively addictive hot salty crispy fried chickpeas, the amazing, immortal, glorious truffled onion soup which is still my very favorite thing to eat ever, artichoke barigoule, and those poetic little tuna tacos -- crispy, crunchy, with jewel-pink perfect tuna and just the right amount of avocado cream and Serrano chili. (Tied for my third favorite thing to eat, the second being a defunct childhood memory.) Their new bread chef is a maestro; we got a smorgasbord of baked bounty too numerous to list, each splendid. Listen to this dessert: a chocolate Parisian macaroon was filled with strawberry marmalade (not jam, it was tarter and stronger in flavor) and a peanut buttercream. Not peanut-butter cream, this was a buttercream made with peanuts. The chocolate, strawberry and peanut flavors blended in every bite. Served alongside rum iced milk. You’d like it. Also a warm coconut almond cake with coconut cream, mango gelee and kiwi sorbet.

We had a 6:45 a.m. wake-up call. Go ahead and mock, but I can sleep at home and breakfast is normally just coffee and protein powder. Breakfast at Bouchon would humble the fattest gods and I couldn’t wait to get to it. Our friends there (Hebe, Sally and Philip) gave us a pastry basket heaped with almond brioche and a strawberry croissant and that delectable, flaky marvel they so ridiculously call a cheese Danish. My eggs, obviously laid by blissfully enlightened chickens, were poached perfectly and rested on fresh multigrain toast in a light bath of beurre blanc. There was strawberry jam for the rest of the toast, and on the side a sliced real tomato (as unlike the pink rocks in the supermarket as I am to a supermodel) and spinach sautéed in butter with garlic and shallots. Much, much better than an extra hour of mere sleep.

Later, at Max Brenner’s, I had a hazelnut cream chocolate milkshake with dulce de leche ice cream and some thick, dark, Italian hot chocolate. The next table was filled with thin pretty girls who had gone nuts with the menu and were happily discussing various vomiting techniques. I guess “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” by whatever means necessary. Dinner was Craftsteak. The wild arugula salad with toasted pine nuts and pecorino cheese was so much better than you can imagine. I love arugula anyhow, but these greens were startlingly bitter and delicious. White beech mushrooms and a revelatory corn dish accompanied the seared diver scallops with shaved fennel. Dessert was a lemon tart with rosemary-infused meringue and blueberries, and a scoop of fragrant lemon verbena ice cream. Robert’s cucumber-mint sorbet deserves a mention, just in case you happen to be there and have the opportunity to try it.

Okay, deep breath. Sitting here, with the protein-bar wrapper that had contained my lunch, it’s bittersweet to relive the yumminess as I type. Another 6:45 wake-up, another magical breakfast as detailed above. We went to Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood for lunch. Sadly, the food has diminished in glory in an inverse ratio to Moonen’s rise on television, but we managed to find two very nice sushi rolls on an otherwise pedestrian menu.

Dinner was at Aureole. With the rest of Las Vegas streamlining into faster, less sophisticated “small plates”, the dining room at Aureole maintains its majesty. Our friend Jalil pampered us with his usual graciousness and charming efficiency. He brought us the loveliest little amuse bouche, a trio comprised of heirloom tomato bits with burrata cheese and a sprinkling of the freshest herbs, a crab spring roll so light it was like a crunchy song, and a fried cannoli filled with richly tasty avocado cream. Next, Jalil surprised us with a perfect diver scallop sitting on a square of crispy creamy potato gratin, with beurre blanc and wild grapes. Robert and I shared the ricotta-filled ravioli with smoked salmon, baby artichokes and sugar snap peas, covered in lovely lemon thyme foam. We also shared a marvelous Peruvian ceviche, so good that words fail me. Scottish salmon rested on a lobster-corn risotto with glazed English peas, accompanied by a bowl of the cutest and most delicious little roasted vegetables. Dessert was a Meyer lemon trio, olive-lemon gelato (don’t make that face, it was gooood) lemon tart with candied lemon peel and a warm lemon pudding cake so wonderful that I saved it for last. Jalil also brought us a pyramid of sorbets, two scoops each of pineapple, mango and cantaloupe with a slice of crunchy candied pineapple for garnish. As you can imagine, by this time we were tipping over in our seats, making happy burbling noises. That’s when Jalil came out with one last plate, this one filled with little artisan chocolates, each different, each exquisite. We ate it all, every bite, though I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t finish my second piece of the wonderful bread which I left off of the list.

After another glorious breakfast (see above) and a LOT of walking around, we got to the most anticipated meal of the trip. At lunch we finally got to catch up with our dear buddy Juan in Fleur. Xavier was there too. It was a family reunion. I’ve enjoyed food all my life, but my first meal in Fleur de Lys really taught me to love eating. Juan served us that meal. In the years since, he has become a genuine friend and I have become a Serious Eater – at least when I’m in Las Vegas. This meal included my beloved onion soup and tuna tacos, Caesar salad with truffles and fontina and brioche croutons, spicy green gazpacho oyster shooters and gorgeous Vietnamese-style rock shrimp stew with vegetables. They make two different ice creams fresh every day. That day, it was fragrant apricot served with crispy maple cookies and creamy pistachio served with candied pistachios. The guys also brought us these things they call “brownie lollipops”; excellent dark chocolate shells over milk chocolate mousse and caramel, dipped in chopped chocolate and decorated with edible gold flakes – all on sticks! You’ve never seen such a perfect blend of class, whimsy and over-the-top chocolateness.

A simple dinner after that, just “The Unforgettable Spicy Tuna Salad Sandwich” with pickled jalapeno and crushed BBQ potato chips back at Max Brenner’s. Another hazelnut chocolate cream milkshake. A stop at Payard, for Mango mousse, pineapple soufflé and roasted pineapple encased in meringue sitting on a coconut dacquoise (pastry-speak for “cookie”.)

We had one last transcendent breakfast the next morning, then lunch at Jose Andres’ China Poblano, which is Mexican/Chinese cuisine. Three tacos; wild mushroom and guacamole, traditional fish, and lobster. The tuna ceviche with crispy crunchy amaranth is the other half of my third-favorite-food tie. Dessert was coconut tapioca balls with mandarin orange sorbet, mango gelee and coconut cream, and strawberry sorbet with macerated strawberries. We headed for home with the requisite stop at the Mad Greek and of course, one last blueberry doughnut. The proprietress commented on the brevity of our trip (if she only knew!) and said, “I’ll see you in three months” when we left. I’m knocking on wood.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

There And Back Again

We’ve been to Las Vegas. This is where I’d normally put the food log, but that will have to wait. I’ve just finished writing my Thank You’s, so my mind is on the people.

Shout out to radiant Hebe and sweet Sally and stalwart Philip. A big hug to our buddy Juan – honey, please tell Tenisha we’re sorry we missed her this time, but we’ll plan better next trip -- and extra smiles for the irrepressible Xavier. Ken, good luck in San Diego! Charming Beau, I told you that you’d be in here, now don’t forget about the dulce de leche. Jalil, I sent that email, try to read it if you can, I meant every word. And of course warmest thanks to our extraordinary Tina, who made it all possible.

The bride count was eight and a half. (Just because she was wearing a “bachelorette” t-shirt doesn’t mean she made it to the wedding. It’s Vegas, baby. A whole lot can happen in one night.) I gave up counting bridesmaids because the slutty ones look like prostitutes and it became impossible to tell which was which. But the biggest count this week was also the most tragic, and that was the Life Lesson Learned.

Tube dresses are “in”. Unfortunately, posture is “out”. In the beginning, after being inundated by a parade of unattractiveness, I started to count women whose tube dresses pooched out at the belly to the point where you couldn’t tell if they were fat, pregnant or just slouching. I gave up at 37. In two days. There were many, many more.

Between the tube dresses, and the 4,000 strong Women In Business Conference wherein all 4,000 women were using Dayrunners and paper folders instead of electronics (we saw a husband and wife at a table, he had an iPad and she had a mountain of paper) this is the Life Lesson:

Apparently the women’s movement has come far enough and it’s time to slide back into the 1970s.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sanitation Sexism

(Not for the squeamish. You’ve been warned.)

Today’s topic is public restrooms. I’ve been in more than my share of Men’s Rooms, but only as a tourist. Focus on the distaff side of the sanitary divide, mostly because in this context I’m ashamed of my gender. I’ve been told that Men’s Rooms are always filthy. So stipulated. Not arguing. The Women’s Rooms are still worse.

Somehow I missed the memo that there’s a prize for the most Jackson Pollack-like toilet seat. The sight that really got me was a bright pink lipstick smear on the outside edge of an otherwise reasonably clean seat. That smear will remain an enigma forever. Feminine hygiene, for the most part, isn’t.

The true nasty secret that they don’t want you to know is how few women wash their hands in public. The ones who don’t are almost belligerent in their nonchalance. If so many of them hadn’t given me dirty looks (pun intended) as I stood at the sink, I might not have written this.

I used to equate the people who grab a paper towel for the germy door handle on their way out with those other people who wear tinfoil hats to protect them from alien rays zapping their brains. I’m not reaching for an extra paper towel just yet, but those tinfoil hats are starting to look kind of snazzy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Obsessive Percussion

You’ve found a fabulous new idea/diet/activity. Hooray! I wish you all the best. It’s wonderful. You’re really onto something there. No, I’m not going to try it myself. No. I said no. I’m not interested.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the way you soak toilet paper in red wine to make those marvelous little papier mache Christmas ornaments. Oh, that wasn’t you. Sorry. Are you the transcendental chicken fucker? No? Well, phew. It’s hard to say anything good about that one, consenting adulthood aside.

Are you on the all-fajita diet? Do you polka to bamboo flute music? I’m sure it’s great for the glutes, but I’ll pass, thanks. Sorry your start-up doing hair extensions on Chihuahuas failed, blame the economy.

Look, I admire your focus and your discipline. See? I used positive words. But talking about it more isn’t going to get me to join you, nor will hitting the same points over and over again prove you right.

That’s what we do. We repeat ourselves because the truth is so obvious to us that we assume others must see it the way we do. That kind of obsessive percussion never works, but it happens all the time.

Trust your judgment. If someone is being recalcitrant and refuses to accept castor oil as the flavor of the future, don’t repeat yourself. Offer the same evidence that convinced you in the first place, or bake some castor oil flavored cupcakes and give them away. Just don’t give any to me. I told you before, I’m not interested.

Friday, June 3, 2011

And Ever

Without the Internet, I’d be writing this in a little leatherette book with a cheesy faux lock and no one would ever see it. I like the Internet. It’s basically useful, but people give it too much credit. For the most part, it's more of the same.

You may say you remember what things were like before the Internet, but you don’t, not really. I spent more time without it than with it and I don’t really remember, in much the same way that we don’t call it “history” until long after people wore clothes.

Speaking of naked people before the Internet, there’s always been porn. Videotapes were more revolutionary than the online stuff. For the first time, a perv – sorry, an aficionado -- didn’t have to worry about someone seeing him/her buy a magazine or go into a theater. (Side note: I miss those theaters. The titles were a hoot to drive past.) “Tales of the Arabian Nights” preceded youtube, as the giant annual Sears Roebuck catalogue did Amazon. And people could wipe their asses with the catalogue pages when they were done shopping. Now that’s multitasking.

No, I pretty much only credit the Internet with two things. One is the death of linear conversation. Thanks to Facebook, people now converse in a series of stated facts. It’s boring as hell, which is why I haven’t looked at Facebook in nearly a year. No more ideas developed inductively through complete sentences, no more intelligently allusive humor. My beloved Twitter has me thinking, not just speaking, in non-sequitur aphorisms. If it’s not funny, I don’t take time to make it so, I just move on to the next. Yes, that’s my fault, but the medium makes the message, and the medium is set to full auto rapid-fire.

The Internet is responsible for one other thing, and it’s quite a paradox given that Mr. Warhol’s 15 minutes has been micro-circuited down to 15 seconds. I credit the Internet with the creation (and devaluation) of forever.

Your 15 seconds exists in an ever-evolving perpetuity along with everyone else’s. A sonnet inscribed by a monk on 15th century vellum will decompose. The art of the great masters eventually will be reduced to pixels. But this blog will be here forever and ever, along with those pictures of you from last weekend. Hooray for technology.