Archive for September, 2012

Even though Bruce and I are both four-star B.F. Goodrich chefs, we do like to dine out and often. Sometimes it seems as if we’re only doing it to make ourselves feel better about our own superior culinary skills. Really, if you are going to lay down some serious currency in search of an exemplary dining experience, cost, while not the perfect barometer of quality, should be a guide at the very least. But alas, it isn’t. We’ve both have some stunningly good meals at small holes-in-the wall that one usually walks past on a daily basis. Correspondingly, we’ve also barely avoided ptomaine poisoning at some very toney, posh restaurants favored by another tire manufacturer’s stars. Go know.

A favorite hole-in-the-wall place.

However, over the years, we’ve come across a nearly fool-proof method for determining, in advance, as to whether or not a restaurant will make the grade. It’s rather simple, but then again the most elegant solutions are.

Here’s one way of knowing: if a restaurant has to promote its’ cuisine by decor, (excessive, gaudy, minimalist, thematically driven), be wary. Be very wary. We are going to share some additional examples with you. Yet, with all of this said, it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. We’ve had some wonderfully bad Chinese food from take-out kiosks at gas stations. Go know once again. What it does imply is that the food will be: over-priced; undercooked; bad; just alright; maybe even cheap; or just plain terrible. But not excellent. Never. Ever. Again, be very wary.

So, without further ado or prejudice (we love everyone!), here are the critical warning signs for restaurants by type and in no particular order or preference.

Chinese: excessive red paint, lots of faux Chinese art, Chinese lanterns everywhere, and a menu with “Specialties of the House” (that just means it’s been in a pot all day long waiting for you!) And anything named after a David Carradine movie or TV show is a dead giveaway. Run!

See?

Steak: This one can be misleading as there are so many permutations: Western decor, private men’s club,¬†and anything with what is called a “petite filet” on the menu; it’s a steakhouse, damn it, not an Ethan Allen furniture store! Ketchup should not be available, even if the bottle is in a plain, brown, paper bag.

Italian: opera music in background, Chianti bottles with candles in them, red and white checked tablecloths, drapes on the walls intimating secret rooms, trompe l’oueils as decor, and meatball grinders on the menu.

Spanish: Avoid at all costs if there are pictures of bull fighters (and bull fighting posters) and Flamenco dancers on the wall. That just looks like Hobby Lobby and you wouldn’t eat there, would you?!

Japanese: fish tanks in lobby, Sumo wrestling on the TV above the bar. Wine – only Sake. Beer’s OK.

Seafood: Lobster tanks with your dinner waiting for its impending death, nautical decor, dead preserved fish on the walls, bibs, and anything printed with a lobster motif on it.

Bagels: Decor matters less than menu here. This is a big one as the princely bagel has been bastardized by the Anglo-Saxon culture – no bagels allowed with blueberries, cherries, chocolate, asiago cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, cinnamon, sushi, jalapeno, etc. If any of these exist, run away. And certainly, a bagel should not be the size of a temporary spare tire.

A proper “Everything” bagel.

BBQ: Do you really believe that your favorite BBQ place is NOT owned by a corporation? Why does all the decor, everywhere, look like it was purchased at a Pier 1 sale? Anyway, spaghetti is never to be BBQ’d; nor is there any reason for a BBQ Pizza. Never!

Pizza: Checked table clothes (again!), Italian flag motifs, any corporately designed, new “Italian” dish such as the “Guisepizza”, WTF is that?

Diner: This is more of a what’s missing means stay away. Here more is more and that’s the way it should be. If there is no cake and pie carousel or case at the front counter, get out fast. If the menu is not at least 16 pages long with everything being a specialty of the house (and they are), you’re in the wrong place. If there are a lot of smoked glass mirrors and brushed aluminum, that is a plus. Bonus tip: if the waitresses are not chewing gum or smell like an ashtray, it ain’t a real diner.

Poifect (in a Joisey accent). (Bruce insisted we stoop to such low humor on this one.)

Gastropub: Really? Get out. This is a medical procedure waiting to happen – to you!

Mediterranean: Carved (really mass-produced stamped) wood chairs and tables (most likely made in China), grape leaves in every dish and painted on the walls, and bouzouki music in background. Zorba does not live here anymore!

Vegetarian: This surprised us the most. We thought they just went to the produce counter and chowed down right there. Key give-away – hemp wall hangings, table clothes, tofu-inspired art, and rough fabric napkins (they’re good for Mother Earth!). Soulful guitar players are an enormous warning to stay away at all costs.

There are of course more examples, but we didn’t want to belabor the point. Dining out can be a wonderful experience, made more so now that you are properly prepared and know that for which to avoid. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Be wary, be very wary. And don’t forget the Zantac.

It’s no secret the other Bruce has a fondness for orphans, lovable losers, small cars, and stray puppies. So it should come as no surprise when Bruce, unbeknownst to me, brought home yet another stray dog. However, this was not your typical ASPCA, look-at-me-with-the sad-eyes dog to the strains of Sarah McLachlan music mutt. No, this was Frankendog.

After a lengthy argument as to whether or not we would keep it, (we did), the OCD gene kicked in and Bruce had to determine its lineage. This is of course easier said than done. One can’t just go to their local Petco and get a DIY home canine DNA kit. We had to travel 347 miles to the dog equivalent of a genetics lab who specialized in such nonsense. So, we loaded ourselves and said pooch into our trusty Pignasaurus GT and off we went in search of doggy DNA.

Now, before I go any further, let me describe Frankendog, not his real name. That has yet to be decided. The two names in the running currently are Grendel and Petey. Can you guess which one Bruce wants? Petey – aww c’mon! Frankendog is without any doubt the most unusual looking dog I’ve ever seen. I don’t need to see the results of a DNA test to know he is the bastard off-spring of some demented canine version of Dr. Moreau. He just isn’t what nature intended. Anyone who has been around dogs agrees with this description. Frankendog appears to be the result of an unholy mating of a Pomeranian with a Newfoundland dog. If these are unfamiliar to you, let me just say this – the Pom is really, really, little; the Newf is really, really, big.

Pom.

Newfoundland.

Poms yap. Newfs make a sound like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story – deep, soulful, bellows. I don’t even want to imagine the conjugal image of this creation. However, here he is. With such a hybrid, he shares a melded body, personality, and voice. The body defies easy description, but I’ll try to do it with compassion. Frankendog is almost as big as a full size Newf, but blessed/cursed with rather short front legs that give him the appearance of a jacked-up hot rod ready to leap off the starting line. The problem is when he actually tries to do that. Because of the uneven weight distribution, he usually winds up grinding his face with much injury into the pavement. When that occurs, he lets out his unique bark – it’s a keening whine followed by an emphatic cough.

But, he is incredibly smart. He already understands complex math problems. Ex: If you have three bones and you eat one, how many do you have left? He knows the answer! When certain types of music are played, he displays an unerring ear for quality – loves opera, hates rap. Likes classic rock, looks down his misshapen snout at country. And as a watchdog, has the size, sound, and terrifyingly odd look that stop miscreants from proceeding any closer to our humble abode. Lucky for us that stops these wannabe thieves for if they came any closer, they would probably just drown in his slobber.

His personality too is a contradiction. He has the gentle, good natured attitude of the Newf, but it’s punctuated by the gritty, growliness of the Pom. It’s like he’s saying “I really like you” when in reality he’s probably saying “I’d really like to bite you.” Keeping Frankendog is going to be a test of our friendship.

So, we make the trip to the lab and get the tests done. In spite of the wonders of technology, we got the results back in four days. We were told it would only take a few hours, but upon seeing the results they ran the tests over and over again as they felt they must have been wrong. What they found is what I’d already postulated – a Newf and Pom mating. There was $ 1,600.00 out the window! But that was only the start of the “good news”.

We then learned that Frankendog was only 9 months old and would not reach full physical maturity for another 2 years. It was estimated that when fully grown, Frankendog would be about 250 lbs, requiring at least one full side of beef per day to stay fed properly. Walking the Frankendog is a singularly unique experience. Were this the frozen tundra, he on his own could win the Iditarod! Try it on pavement though at your own risk. Because of all the scraped hands and knees received from trying to teach him about walking on leash, we now have a standing order for neosporin at our pharmacy.

Bruce wants so much to keep him. I so much want to ride him. But neither of those are really good options.

This is what riding Frankendog might look like.

We could put him back on the side of the road where Bruce first found him or we could get him a job as a judge on American Idol. I’m opting for the TV gig.

Bruce and I were having one of our late-night-up-until-the-early-hours philosophical/theological discussion. He’d just seen an episode of Whale Wars and was bemoaning the fact that there were fewer and fewer whales in the world. I misunderstood him and thought he meant that with all the whales gone there’d be no more episodes of Whale Wars. Boy, was I ever wrong! He was really worried about the fate of the world, the way we take things for granted, our criminally poor stewardship of dear old Mother Earth (his words, I swear!), and the amount of waste in our lives. Taken in the context of his life of wretched excess and gas-guzzling cars (the Pignasaurus not withstanding), this was an amazing about-face for him.

It just made him weep.

I looked up and he was crying! “What is going to happen to all those poor, dead whales just floating around in the sea?” I opined that they could be harvested for ambergris, a key ingredient in his favorite cologne, but he found no comfort there. And it went downhill from there.

He calmed down enough for us to go out for dinner as our dear Mrs. Crosby had the night off again. (Aside – does she ever work? I’ll have to ask Bruce when he’s in a better mood.) So on our way to Casa del Pies for a favorite dish of ours – the pigs feet in rose wine and guacamole, Bruce saw a dead raccoon in the road. This set him off once again. First the whales, now the raccoons. (Please lord, give me strength!) But this gave me a brilliant idea.

Since Bruce was now exhibiting a concern for the world around him, this was going to be a winner. If you are like us, and we assume you are for you are reading this blog, then you are probably hyper-aware of the increasingly large amount of road kill these days. Ignoring them and leaving them on the road is poor stewardship. As our primary premise, we will be publishing the first ever gourmet road kill cookbook. Think about it: no more unsightly animal carcasses befouling our thoroughfares; we will now use all that is provided to us by a higher power, if you believe in such things; and finally, nutritious meals that can be had by all. We are going to provide a few of the recipes now slated for inclusion in our new French-inspired, but globally-adaptable cookbook, Rue de la Morte. What you will undoubtedly notice is that all palates can be entertained by these and all road kill can be adapted to multiple cuisines.

We wanted to make sure no children were traumatized by this post.

Tex-Mex Armadillo stew: 1 armadillo; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

New England whale chowder: 1 whale; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

New Jersey squirrel pate: 1 squirrel; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in blender.

Montana Bambi stew: 1 deer; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

Brazilian dolphin ragout: 1 dolphin; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

Pepe Le Pew Jambalaya: 1 skunk; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours. Add ketchup to kill smell.

Jambalaya – it’s all good.

I think you get the idea. Anything with this universally helpful recipe can turn the most disgusting road kill into a gourmet’s delight. And keep in mind, if it’s been on the road for a day or two, even better. It’s just like aged beef. So, take a chance. What have you got to lose?

Get aside Bruce, I’m writing this one myself, move it! I’m pissed! I just lost an hour and a half of my day that I’ll never get back and it’s all Larry’s fault. Stop it Bruce, I’m warning you. I’m doing this one alone. Oh, put down the fireplace poker and have another sherry. You’re getting tedious. There, that’s better. And, Readers, please forgive me in advance as the post that follows is not written with our usual decorum and tasteful prose. Poor service gets both of us upset. We tip exceedingly well and expect exemplary service. It’s only proper.

I don’t know who to blame for this, but the concept of globalization and out-sourcing has gone too far. Maybe Ross Perot was right after all.

We have plenty of non-English speaking people here without jobs in the US without having to employ non-English speaking people in Pakistan. That’s just not fair. It’s truly a non-partisan issue as far as I’m concerned and that IS all that counts.

You know it’s one thing to complain about immigration and illegal aliens taking our “high-paying” jobs here at home. It’s quite another to send those same “high-paying” jobs out of the country and give ’em to people who don’t shop at your local Walmart, keeping the money here. Where’s all the political hoo-hah over that? Yeah, neither is doing much about it. And for those of you out there who may be so inclined, this is not a Tea Party rant. Both of us are too grounded in reality on that one. Well, at least I am.

No, what this is about is Larry…from Pakistan. How do I know he’s from Pakistan? I don’t, but he had an accent that certainly wasn’t from New Jersey and he was way too polite to come from the Garden State as well. Now, he may have been from another country. I’m not singling any one country out, but it seems like a lot of “customer service” is handled way outside of the country. It could be that they’ll work for a lot less than our illegals will. “High paying” has a whole different meaning to them. They are certainly more polite than most of us. All I needed to do was transfer my satellite radio account from my old car to a new one. Simple, huh? Only in the delusions of a cost-counting, corporate hack.

So, Larry, this one’s for you…wherever you may be. I have to give it you, you are one polite guy. You were patient and very understanding, I think. I say I think, because in the over one hour we shared with each other on the phone, not once did you lose it. On the other hand, you never really found it either. You called a lot of other people to help you help me. After our sweet time together embraced in cellular bliss, my problem still existed. Politeness only goes so far before competency needs to weigh in on the issue. But, I did say you were polite, right? You offered me more trial plans and options. Low rates even. But truthfully, that’s not what I wanted. I just wanted my problem fixed. I would have even foregone the politeness.

Uh-huh. That’s Larry in the background.

So, after our hour into our “customer service” courtship, our relationship remained unconsummated. You didn’t even offer me a cigarette or call me a cab. Like some inconsiderate one-night stand, you put my number on the wall and passed me off to another “customer service” guy. Believe me, I’m not waiting for you to call me in the morning.

But, at least the second “customer service” pro, let’s call him Bob (with a midwestern accent!) had the right phone numbers to call, even if meant going in to a chat room. Really! I didn’t know those even existed any more. Maybe he went on to the Customer Service FaceBook page for the answer.

So now Bob and I were in a budding relationship too. Bob was also polite and contrite. Please remember that those two words together (in behavior especially) will work wonders. That and knowing what you’re doing too helps immensely! Bob took yet another half hour plus of my time to get it fixed. And don’t forget, he was polite and contrite.

Well, almost. He got most of it fixed, but for some reason one poor channel refused to come in. Of course it was Bruce’s and my favorite channel – Cormorant Fancier Radio. As this is their pre-mating season, we need to keep up on things as they progress, but will we be able to? Not likely, unless Bob, or Larry, or whoever picks up the phone knows the right chat room to go to.

And the kicker… their closing line, “Thanks for choosing us.” Like we have a choice!