Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Do People LIKE This?!

Oysters Rockefeller -- Grand Central Oyster Bar
Grand Central Oyster Bar

Generally speaking, it is usually not a good sign when we can be found spitting out a Best Thing I Ever Ate delicacy into an oyster cracker bag.  In fact, being that we're above the age of five, we really do not make a habit of removing food from our mouths once it is on the way down the hatch.  If anything, we merely power through, and then write a nasty recap.

Not so with Grand Central Oyster Bar.
The Place Brings Out the Worst in Us
In theory, we should love this establishment, as it is seemingly the only restaurant in the world where people like to eat as early as we do.  Indeed, when Vodka wanders in at 5:15pm, the bar is packed.  PACKED.  Who eats as this hour?!
Does This Place Have an Early Bird Special?!
Begrudgingly, Vodka is led to a table in the restaurant area of the room, and when she requests that we be granted a two-person table at the end of the row, she is denied.  Why?  "That table doesn't have waiter service until 6:00pm," the hostess says.  What now?!

Said table is located DIRECTLY NEXT to eight other tables, all with "waiter service."  How is this remotely logical?

Clearly, we should have known from the beginning that this place would give us trouble.
Next Thing We Know, They'll Be Telling Us They Don't Have Booze
Ginger arrives, we order our cocktails and decide on our choices: two bowls of New England clam chowder, a side of French fries, and the oysters Rockefeller, as recommended by Scott Conant on the OLD SCHOOL episode.
Old School Food, Old School Architecture
As our waiter retreats, we launch into our favorite complaint: why is there no bread on our table?  In our defense, this is a logical gripe, as all of the tables around us have rolls (which are not being eaten -- what is WRONG with you people?) resting atop them.
Come On Now - We Need Something to Soak Up Our Alcohol Intake
Instead of warm, delicious rolls, we are tossed two bags each of oyster crackers, which we tear into immediately as we continue to moan about our lack of carbs.
Welcome to Dinner at the Clam Shack
"Just because we're cheap doesn't mean we don't deserve bread," Vodka says, referring to our rather paltry choice of "entrees."  Less than a minute later, Ginger calls out, "Where is our bread?  Now I'm obsessed.  And plus, my cookies are gone!"

For the record, by "cookies," she means "oyster crackers."  Which were actually meant to be placed IN THE SOUP.
Patience Is Not Our Strong Suit
When we mention our breadless problem to our waiter, he has the bread boy escort a plate of rolls and grocery-store-generic crisps over immediately, along with a bowl of frozen butter.
Well, This Looks... "Fresh"
As one may recall, we HATE cold butter.  The whole point of the heavenly substance is to make it SPREADABLE.  And ice cubes are, guess what?  Not spreadable.
See?! Now We've Lost One!
Before we have a chance to be as crabby about the state of the butter as we would wish, our food begins to arrive.  First comes two bowls of New England clam chowder, in which we sprinkle our remaining oyster crackers.  Thick and chunky with clams and potatoes, the soup is definitely good -- standard, but good.
Although the Presentation Leaves a Lot to Be Desired
However, we both notice that once the oyster crackers have disappeared from within it, we grow decidedly less interested in the endeavor, and neither of us can seem to finish the remaining chowder.
Of Course, If We Had Some More BREAD With Which to Lap It Up, We May Feel Differently
The French fries are similarly tasty enough, though decidedly like something that could have come out of a freezer.
Ore Ida, Straight Out of the Bag!
Once Vodka has doused them with enough salt to put Ginger's (apparently high) cholesterol over the edge, they are more palatable.
Also, We Appreciate the Portion. In That It's Large
And then come the oysters Rockefeller.  Now, neither of us makes a habit of eating oysters, but we have no real prior opinion of them.
Open-Minded? That's So Unlike Us
Neither of us has tasted an oyster Rockefeller concoction before, and it appears to be oysters topped by spinach and a mustard-cheese sauce.  Ginger manages to commandeer an oyster into her mouth first, and upon impact, she makes a face.

And it's not a pleasant face either.
Again With the "Presentation" Skills....
Vodka dives in, and for a moment, she finds them less offensive than Ginger does.  Certainly not GOOD, but not awful.  Maybe 3 stars.  Verging on 2.

And then we both take another taste, which is when things begin to go downhill fast.
Could We Have Some Oysters With This Velveeta?
First of all, these oysters are lukewarm -- not hot, not cold, but warm.  Far from appealing in temperature, they taste as though they have been sitting out too long.  Second of all, the combination of the wilted, sad-looking spinach and preponderance of mustardy cheese (we determine later this is supposed to be hollandaise sauce) grows less palatable as we attempt to make our way through the plate.  And then there is the issue of the oysters themselves. To summarize, we might as well just have been handed a fistful of the beach to eat, because they are THAT gritty.
Someone Give Us a Pail and Shovel So We Can Build a Sand Castle
All in all, we are astounded that Scott Conant, of all people, picked this dish.  After all, Scott is the chef behind Scarpetta, which is pretty much the most delicious place on the planet.  It's not like he doesn't know how good things taste.  And these oysters Rockefeller are about as far from a good thing as one could get.
And Also, Heaven Knows Scott Knows His Way Around a Good Bread Basket!
At the end of our meal, the waiter comes by and asks how things were.

"Egh," Vodka answers.

"Terrible," Ginger says.

Listen, buddy -- don't ask questions that you don't want answers to.

When our waiter persists in asking what was wrong, Ginger points to the plate of oysters and says incredulously, "Do people LIKE these?"  Our waiter assures us that people do (clearly the same people who don't eat the free bread placed in front of them), but out of the goodness of his heart, he takes the price of the dish off of our bill.
Note the Hot Sauce Smear on the Plate - Ginger's Attempt to Make Them More Palatable
And for this, we give you, Oyster Bar, extra credit: 1 star +, for at least having some semblance of good customer service.  Of course, the "plus," doesn't really mean anything when it comes to this blog's record books, where you will be filed in the one-star territory.  Because, well, your food is still terrible.

Grand Central Oyster Bar's Oysters Rochefeller: 1 star

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Is It So Modern In Here?

Liverwurst -- The Modern
The Modern

If there is something one would expect from a restaurant located in the Museum of Modern Art, it would be a stark, clean, and uncluttered setting, right?

Well, not if you're Vodka.

Apparently, She Believes the Name Must Be False Advertising
Instead, as she perused The Modern Bar Room's website moments before our reservation, she metaphorically stuck up her nose and scoffed at the deluge of grays, blacks, metalics, and straight lines.  "Ugh, it’s so modern." Vodka complains to Ginger upon entering the space.

"Um, it's called THE MODERN," Ginger replies.  Clearly, Vodka's penchant for shabby-chic decor has rendered her use of context clues completely moot.

No One Around Here Appreciates a Good Throw Pillow
As it happens, Ginger is suffering from her own problems, as she is in such a state of hunger that she is just as perturbed at the lack of accessories on our table as Vodka.

Only by "accessories," Ginger means "bread basket."

Some Girls Only Travel with Designer Purses. We, With Bread
"Our waitress already came over," Ginger explains.  "I don't think she's going to handle our drama well."

"Why?  Humorless?" Vodka asks.  Ginger nods.  "Then let's torture her."

Because clearly, the proper way to deal with all folks who don't find comedy in our idiocy is to make even bigger morons out of ourselves.

Here's a Tip, Waitress: If You Ply Us With Cocktails Immediately, We're a Lot More Agreeable
Our waitress eventually reappears and is confronted by a barrage of questions: Vodka concerning which drink would most fill her desire for a "hardcore cocktail" and Ginger with "Do you have bread?"  Backing away from our table slowly, she vows to fetch us a cocktail list and a basket of carbs and then promptly disappears.

Less than a minute later, we can be found tapping our silverware against the table and jiggling our legs in various states of booze- and bread-withdrawal.  "Where is service?  I need a cocktail and you need bread!" Vodka calls out.  Obviously, our 5:30pm dining time does not mean that we are prepared to partake in a leisurely meal.

We Come From the Hoover School of Food Consumption
Finally, a new waitress returns (it seems that, as we had predicted, we have managed to scare off the original) with a cocktail list that is awash in gin options (needless to say, Ginger is thrilled) and, even more importantly, a bread basket stuffed with mini baguettes.
Gin, Gin, Everywhere, And Not a Drop to Drink
Vodka orders the Kina cocktail (which Ginger initially poo-poos when the waitress describes it as "crisp," because she fears that "it won't be alcohol-y enough") and the Heights for Ginger.  
The Ultimate Vision of "Gin O'Clock"
Once our cheeks are properly stuffed with an entire winter's worth of bread, we peruse the food menu.  Along with Michael Psilakis's Best Thing I Ever Ate TOTALLY UNEXPECTED choice of the liverwurst (with pickled vegetables), we also choose the tarte flambee (with mushrooms, chives, and Munster cheese) and the saffron tagliatelle (with rabbit, mushrooms, and kale).
Excuse Me, Could You Throw In Some Extra Pickles Please?
"I hate liver," Ginger repeats for at least the tenth time after we have placed our order.  "I can't believe we're eating liverwurst."

"Have you ever eaten liverwurst?" Vodka asks.



"No.  But I know I hate it," Ginger reasons.  

Liver Lovers, Only Not
In the meantime, we make our way through an entire basket of bread ("Put this last piece on your plate so they'll bring us more”) and the beginnings of a second before the liverwurst is placed in front of us.  A scoop of gray, speckled, mashed-up meat sits next to three slices of toast, a pile of spicy dijon mustard, and four varieties of vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, beets, and our beloved pickles). 
We're Gonna Make Mincemeat Out of You
Vodka, who had been served liverwurst in her youth by her grandmother, spreads the concoction onto her bread slice happily and takes a large bite.  
PS Strong Move on Providing Us Even More Bread, Modern
Nodding her approval, she assures Ginger that, despite her reluctance, this is the best liverwurst she will ever eat.  Ginger dips her slice in at least half of the pile of mustard before diving in, and, much to her own shock, actually enjoys the stuff.

Look who doesn't hate liver so much after all!

Wonder of Wonder, Miracle of Miracles
While the liverwurst itself is the star of this plate, the pickled vegetables are also quite pleasing, though some are more successful than others (the carrots are a hint too spicy, while the beets, to Ginger at least, taste like dirt).  
In Case We Have Not Already Made Clear, We Do Not Enjoy the Taste of Soil
Overall satisfied with our liverwurst experience, we use our refilled bread basket to scoop the remainder of the stuff into our mouths once we have demolished the rye bread toasts, and we patiently await the rest of our dinner.
In This Case, "Patiently" Is Decidedly a Relative Term
The flambee arrives and looks essentially like a flatbread pizza, and clearly, anything featuring bread and cheese is generally a winner.  
NOW We're Talkin' -- See All That Cheese, Serious Pie?!
Indeed, the combination of the cheese and mushrooms is a successful one, and we polish off the entire thing with the last of our first cocktails.
Yes, We'll Take Another Upscale Pizza Delivery. Thanks in Advance
At this point, we nearly begin tapping the sides of our glasses with our forks, searching for someone -- anyone -- to bring us another round.  
Clink Clink Clink - Empty Glasses Over Here
"I dare you to ask, 'Do you guys give free refills?'" Ginger pipes up, and when our renewed (if not free) cocktails and a bowl of pasta appear before us, we are appeased once again.
Noodles and Gin -- What More Could We Possibly Need?
This tagliatelle is superb, though entirely too difficult to eat thanks to the short prongs on the restaurant's overly "modern" forks (sporks?).  
More "Rustic" Restaurants Have Properly Sized Silverware. Just Sayin'
After many an unsuccessful bout of twirling, we eventually begin shoveling the noodles into our mouths willy-nilly, washing down each bite with our phenomenal cocktails.
Even Better? No Rabbit Bones In This Bowl!
And so, we skip out of The Modern on a gin and liverwurst high resigned to the fact that, despite our preconceived notions, modern and liver-infused locales might not be so bad after all.

Though next time, Modern, how about some free refills?

The Modern's Liverwurst: 4 stars

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Off the Map: Who Eats Calamari With a Fork?!

Calamari -- Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, Seattle, WA
Purple Cafe and Wine Bar

So after three days and seven prior restaurants, Vodka and Chianti have arrived at their final Seattle Best Thing I Ever Ate stop, still reeling from the intense amount of caffeine consumed during our morning's coffee tour and Vodka shielding her eyes from the ever-present Seattle sun (seriously, how does the girl who HATES the sun come to Seattle during the three most pleasant days in the town's existence?!  It's an injustice).

A Cloudless Ferris Wheel Ride = Unacceptable
We are at Purple Cafe to consume the favorite calamari APPETIZER of Melissa D'Arabian (who is not exactly batting a thousand on her Best Thing I Ever Ate choices...).  
No Pressure or Anything, Melissa
As Chianti mumbles about her desire to eat pho instead of calamari, we each order a glass of red, and Chianti manages to photo-bomb four pictures before Vodka succeeds in taking a somewhat acceptable shot of the glasses.
There Are 18 Other Similar Photos Featuring Snippets of Chianti's Big Head
Settling on the smoked salmon crostini (with preserved lemon, capers, and red onion) to go along with our calamari (which comes with moroccan tomato aioli), Vodka compliments Seattle's preponderance of ready-and-waiting bottled water on all of their restaurant tables.  
And Also, This Napkin Ring Is Nice. Trying to Be Generous Here....
Within moments, our salmon crostini arrive, and we are in heaven.  Thin slices of toast are topped by a solid dollop of smoked salmon, which we quickly spread into a thin layer across the bread.  
One Little, Two Little, Three Little Salmon Breads
A Smattering of Capers
In what has absolutely become the pattern of Seattle, were this the Best Thing I Ever Ate choice, it would without a doubt receive 5 stars.

Unfortunately, that title belongs to the calamari.

And Guess What? This Ain't Great
Now, calamari, Chianti and Vodka both agree, is not a dish that we tend to order.  Mostly because it is fine, if completely unremarkable, at most places.  Purple Cafe's version fits this description exactly, as the one and only distinction that this calamari has over all others is the shape.  Instead of thick rounds fried to a crispy, crumbly texture, these pieces are essentially the shape of microwavable onion rings.  Unfortunately for Purple CafĂ©, the batter is light and crisp, and we all know, based on various crab cake experiences, how Vodka feels when restaurants go light on the batter.
Here's a Hint: Such a Practice NEVER ENDS WELL
The accompanying dip is, in Chianti's words, an "experience."  Apparently, it tastes of the most intense curry imaginable, although Vodka is much less specific in discerning its flavorings than Chianti (ironic for the girl who's done nothing but eat across the country for two years).  Additionally, the whole serving size is on the sparse side (another running theme in Seattle); that or, once again, the size of the platter is just entirely too large for the calamari itself (here's a hint, Seattle dining establishments -- if you serve on small plates, your food looks bigger!).
It's Not Rocket Science!
As Chianti stabs the calamari rings with her fork (inciting a reign of judgment from Vodka as to her finger food eating practices), Vodka attempts to chew through one of the tentacle versions of the fish... and fifteen minutes later, she is still chewing.  This tooth-exhausting experience puts the nail in the coffin of Vodka's tolerance, and if anything, she finds this calamari even less exciting than the standard platter of most restaurants.  
Poor Showing, Purple
Slapping down our payment and forcing our exit through the heaviest front door this side of the Mississippi, Vodka prepares to leave Seattle and return to the land of jaywalkers, reservation confirmers, and properly-sized flatware.

And preferably, some clouds.

Purple Cafe and Wine Bar's Calamari: 3 stars

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Off the Map: Comparison to a Munchkin Is the Highest Compliment

Made-to-Order Doughnuts -- Lola, Seattle, WA

After a study of three Tom Douglas restaurants, one thing seems clear: the man does not believe in electricity.  At least, he does not believe in lightbulbs, as the atmosphere of Dahlia Lounge, Serious Pie, and now Lola hover somewhere between "dim" and "pitch black."  Perhaps it is for this reason that each of the locations is accompanied by a bushel of free matches at the front of the house.  Are we supposed to light our own way to the table, Little House on the Prairie-style?

Anyone Have a Lantern?
As it happens, Chianti and her roommate are currently engaged in a quest to create a "hurricane kit" for weather emergencies, and they thus begin stuffing the available matches into their bags with the swiftness of a bank robber.  (For the record, to this day, the only items available in said 'hurricane kit' are these matches).
Because They Keep Drinking Their Booze Supply
In any case, we arrive at Lola with the intent to secure one of their most coveted tables for cocktail and dessert consumption only.  As it happens, not one of the restaurants where Vodka has made a reservation has called to confirm all week -- Not. One. -- which stands in stark contrast to the constant barrage of restaurant calls she receives in New York.  Clearly, in Seattle, the fine dining folks' philosophy is also "Homie don't care."
"Show Up or Don't Show Up -- Not Our Problem." --Seattle
Crawling into our booth, we order yet another round of cocktails and begin reading the dessert menu with the enthusiasm of drunkards on their fourth cocktails of the night.  Which is when we discover that the made-to-order doughnuts, as recommended by Giada Di Laurentiis on the TOTALLY FRIED episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, ARE NOT ON THE MENU.

Come ON now, Seattle!

Breaking into a flop sweat, as she has decades of experience concerning how Vodka reacts when her obsessive missions don't go as planned, Chianti flags down our waitress and inquires as to the status of said doughnuts.  And the waitress assures us that our requested dessert is, in fact, available.

Good thing, Lola.  GOOD THING.

Now Please Bring Us Each a Serving Immediately
Chianti's friends order the loukoumathes (cinnamon, honey, walnuts) and the goat cheese turnovers (pistachio, mint, honey), while Vodka and Chianti, at the waitress's urging, each order their own bag of doughnuts.  When our sweets arrive, Chianti immediately begins diving across the table towards her friends' choices, murmuring sweet nothings about how she "wants to make out with that honey."  Indeed, both of these dishes are smothered in honey gooiness -- a happenstance that is great if you love honey, which Vodka, well, does not.
Turnovers of Greekness
Apparently, All of Tom Douglas's Desserts Essentially Look Like Doughnuts
Hence, why in front of her is resting a plate of doughnuts.
Well, Actually, a Bag, But the Doughnuts Soon Emerge
Six miniature rounded rectangles of fried dough rest within a mound of fine sugar and cinnamon, with two bowls of huckleberry jam and vanilla mascarpone resting beside them.  
That's a "Neat" Jelly Transfer You Did There, Lola
One would think that it would be impossible to screw up something as naturally perfect as a doughnut, but sadly, both Buddakan and the Doughnut Plant has proven this theory wrong in the past, so Vodka is not making any grand judgments until she tastes the things.

And when she does, she is immediately ecstatic.

Cue the Choir of Angels, We Have a Winner
The doughnuts themselves are light and fluffy – a perfect balance between dense and airy.  They taste as good on the tongue as a Dunkin Donuts munchkin, which coming from us, is just about the highest compliment one can afford a doughnut.  
Carbs Covered in Cinnamon = Instant Success
While the huckleberry jam is sweet and enjoyable enough, Vodka is never one to choose a jelly doughnut.  This is especially the case considering that the vanilla mascarpone is downright delectable, and she scoops hearty portions of the stuff onto each corner of the "munchkin" as she aims it towards her mouth.
Rapidly Depleting Vanilla Cream
After demolishing all remnants of our cocktails and desserts, we begin to stumble out of Lola, Chianti secure in the knowledge that finally -- FINALLY -- Vodka has found a Seattle Best Thing I Ever Ate location that she has deemed worthy of 5 star status.
Only Took Three Days and a Literal Mound of Sugar
Of course, one could essentially go to Dunkin Donuts and have the same fried dough experience, but let's not split hairs here.  Chianti needs something to hold onto as she prepares for the end of the world, and memories of Lola's munchkins will keep her warm at night, even if her hoards of matches will not.

Lola's Made-to-Order Doughnuts: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate