At Least the Mustard Was Good

28 April 2009

The mustard was very good – that statement fairly summarizes the one positive culinary take away from the experience Lemmonex and I shared at Bar Dupont recently.

There are few universal truths about restaurants, among them is that it is often unwise and frequently unfair to asses a restaurant based on one visit.   The problems at Bar Dupont, however, were so glaring, so pervasively systemic, and on some levels categorically unfathomable, that the only question about the accuracy of our assessment was if it would be sufficiently harsh? 

I passed through the place first, not so much looking for my companion (I was early) as looking for a place where conversation could be had without yelling across the café sized tables.  Amidst the soft lighting and intimate tables, there was precious little to muffle sound.  At 60% capacity on a Thursday night the volume of din was arresting to my ears.  So I settled for a place on the patio though it was not quite warm enough for that to be anything more than temporarily accommodating.

I watched the server walk by twice over the next several minutes without her taking notice of me.  Eventually a suit – to his credit – sees that I have been sitting for too long without drink and comes my way to help.  To his serious discredit, he gives me misinformation when I ask about the beers on tap (of the eight he knows four and pretends that those are all that exist.)  Unmoved by the malted and hopped options presented, I ask for a beverage list. 

Lemmonex has joined by the time drinks have been ordered – painfully ordered as the server was well meaning but unprepared for her job.  Since it is too cold for the patio, we ask for the check and indicate that we would like to move indoors.  The check/payment/change process was as excessively long as the get noticed/order/get a drink process.

Upon moving inside, it took all of 45 seconds to realize one of the reasons everything our server did seemed to take double digit minutes – she had an impossibly large section which included the entire patio and at least a dozen tables inside.  This was more apparent because of the plethora of suits about the joint but the overall lack of service (in case my snarkasm is unclear, managers = good, suits = waste of salaries and space.)

The worst suit of all of the suits was the one manning the bar.  I watched this guy pinch four fingers into the INSIDE of clean glasses to move them from the dish rack to the staging area one, two, three times.  Despite our quibbles Lemmonex and I remained optimistic about the food.  After looking over Bar Dupont’s menu which suffers from the physical affectation of opening vertically rather than horizontally, we decided to split the burger and the “Turf Flat.”

What’s a “Turf Flat?” you ask – yeah, we had to ask too.  “A Flat is a collection of the Chef’s favorite tastes on one plate” the lightly attentive bartender announces in a very scripted delivery.  They offer a Surf (seafood) flat, a Turf (various meats) flat, and a Veggie flat.  The Turf Flat offered the most promise – Lamb Carpaccio, Chicken Sandwich, Duck Terrine, Sliced Sirloin, Braised Short Ribs.  We ordered a bottle of Argentine Syrah from the poorly organized wine list – the two page and 30ish bottle list would be difficult for navigate for just about anyone save those will lots of experience.  to wash it all down.

Wine took a while.  Wine took so long that both the Bar Suit (he of dubious finger placement) and the bartender felt the need to explain that the wine cellar is “a couple floors away, and we don’t have a key – it’ll be here in a minute.”  The stupidity of storing your wine so far away from the dining area was the latest indicator of malfeasance from management but the most egregious was our food sitting in the bar service area while the suit and the bartender continued to make drinks for the service bar.  Our dishes sat there for a bit while they moved back and forth around it seemingly unconcerned. 

Still looking for positivity we chimed “I think that’s our food over there.”  Let me explain: perhaps the number one rule of service is that there are no detours once a plate leaves the kitchen – ever.  Nothing is more important.  Watching these two start and complete other tasks while our food languished there was particularly painful. 

The medium rare burger arrived just a shade under well done but it was well packed and reasonably flavorful.  The bun disintegrated under the slightest pressure and was never up to the task.  The burger has some sort of red pepper paste that was a mistake of conception, yet somehow lacked onions.  The accompanying cone of French fries was filled with obviously machine cut frozen potatoes and served with ramekins of ketchup, mayo (they called it aioli but seriously this was mayo and fresh from the Sysco truck no less) and a very good Dijon mustard with a light kick of wasabi. 

By the time we finished the burger and had nibbled a few of the “flats,” the wine finally arrived – laughable.  Fortunately for us, the vintage differed from that which was printed on the wine list so I had an excuse to send it back as I didn’t want to give these buffoons any more of our money.

We both heart short ribs so this unrecognizable dollop of meat atop an untoasted cube of bread was particularly disappointing.  The meat had been run through a food processor and spooned on to bread that was overly buttered and had the same consistency when chewed.  This was a bad idea that should never have been produced by anyone paid to cook food.  That condemnation didn’t distinguish the Short Ribs from the other of the “Chef’s Favorite Tastes.”  The Lamb Carpaccio wasn’t in fact Carpaccio but was cured somehow and reminiscent of the meat that comes with lunchables.  The Duck Terrine was barely palatable and had the consistency of strained carrots crossed with jello.  The chicken sandwich was un-marinated breast meat roasted long enough to kill it again and served on stale bread.  The sliced sirloin was cooked properly but under-seasoned and served a top a mixed green salad that was too slick with oil. 

Bar Dupont, despite its very attractive décor and perfectly accessible location in the heart of one of DC’s most vibrant neighborhoods, fails because they have made cripplingly bad management decisions in the front and back of the house.  They fail because they either don’t care about those mistakes or don’t know about them and it doesn’t matter which is worse.

 

 

Go read Lemmie’s account of the meal.


Kryptonite, Thy Name is AB

23 April 2009

It was a chance meeting – she entering the metro and I exiting.  My bus was alighting just yards away and I still stopped her to say hello even though she hadn’t seen me.  That is among the foolish things that kryptonite will make a man do.  Our pleasantries were brief – a couple of “Hi, how are you’s” and a “where are you headed.”  My plan was for the evening was only semi-fluid but still I responded with a tacit invitation for Kryptonite to join me for a drink.

Fortunately for me, Ms. K. was headed to a different bar uptown to meet friends and watch the hockey game.  She invited me to join but reason overcame my brain and I declined.

My fluid plan changed to solid form and I had a couple of drinks, some appetizers and a magnificent steak at Capitol Grille’s bar.  Yet as my companion and I left Kryptonite crept back into my head. 

I cannot explain, to myself or friends, my attraction for her at least not to my satisfaction.  On the plus side, she is very smart, reasonably attractive, and we mostly have good conversations.  The negatives are more pronounced – she is needlessly argumentative, combative, has unresolved private traumas that manifest themselves in interpersonally harmful ways, and is a bit of a drunk.  By any reasonable measure (and I consider my mind a reasonable measure) she is a bad element for me to have in my life.  Still she has this power over me.

Why?

I know that I would never be able to love her and that my feelings are not lustful; but I do not understand my desire.  I know that there is no future –for the love of bacon, she drinks bad wine – but seeing her makes me want her… badly.

As I related this to my companion for evening, it finally hit me.  Though I do want her when I see her, more than that, I want her to want me.  Thus is the nature of Kryptonite.     


Gasping for Polite

22 April 2009

This most recent Sunday I had a day ahead of me – a roving bachelorette party with four bars on the agenda, multiple sports games to be watched.  However, before Sunday Funday could begin I had work that demanded my attention.  As such, I sat dutifully at my coffee shop and clicked keys on my laptop until I satisfied my inner workaholic. 

When the appointed hour arrived, I hopped on the metro for my trip to the insanely gentrified part of the inner city.  The train was Sunday afternoon crowded, so I had a two seat bench to myself for most of my ride; and then I got to the Chinatown station.

With only two stops to go, the train was filled sufficiently that most people sat two abreast.  My perch was an exception until a very large man eyed the position next to mine.  In an attempt to appear unaffected, I kept my eyes on my newspaper.  He waddled closer, reversed his position and shoe horned himself next to me.

Still attempting to show no affect, I made myself as small as I could; but his weight against me was oppressive.  My breathing became difficult, shallow breaths were all his girth would allow. 

I could have stood for the remaining two stops but in my overly polite mind that would have been rude.  It would have sent a subtle message that I objected to his size and by extension, him too.  It was really hard to breath. 

I have no issues moving to a different seat or even a different car when some asshat has his/her iPod cranked to profane volumes.  I have no problem relocating when there are rowdy teenagers whose jocularity I have no interest in hearing.   For some reason, at that moment pinned against the window struggling for air, I couldn’t summon the will to move, though there wasn’t an open seat elsewhere.

Finally, the longest two stops of my life were traversed and I stood as soon as it wouldn’t have been obvious.  I inhaled deep and often.  The first opportunity for oxygen to hit my lungs felt great. 

I harbor no ill will towards overweight people; hell , I generally refrain from using the term “fat” (with one glaring racist exception of which friends are aware and about whom I generally use words like fire hydrant, basketball with arms, and rhino.)  This, however, was different.

I am indifferent about the prospect of large people paying for two seats on flights.  The metro is different, I don’t give a flying fuck about how crowded it may be, nor do I concern myself with your difficulty in standing.  You know if you occupy two seats and need to be more respectful of others.  If you are going to restrict my ability to take in air, you, you fat fuck, need to stand because I need not choose between air and polite.


No Vibrations

21 April 2009

Maggie and I had a rough start to our acquaintanceship mostly because she was tweaked by my notion that Ansel Adams’ photography is the embodiment of overrated.  I might have used the words dilettante, hack, and effete in describing Mr. Adams and or his work.  Over time we have moved past those indelicacies and her general uptightness to become occasional if accidental drinking partners as we were Sunday with a large group on the roof of the Reef.

At least three conversations were taking place – one of them about sharing a toothbrush with a partner.  Two camps emerged: the “Seriously, This Is Not a Big Deal Camp” and the “Are You Fucking Nuts Camp.”  Surprisingly Maggie was firmly in No Big Deal camp. 

I was in the No Fucking Way camp but I was never too entrenched in the position.  Honestly, I should admit that I was probably taking the No Way position because it was funnier.  After a couple minutes of conversational volleys, I finally was ready to issue the trump-line that has been in my head since the discussion started.

“Maggie, if you’d share a toothbrush, Christ on a cracker would you share a vibrator too?”

A satisfying amount of laughter ensued before Maggie stopped laughing and responded.

“That is not the same thing; it’s not like I put a Crest Pro Heath up my hoo-haw.  Besides, I don’t have a vibrator.”

“You don’t have a vibrator?  Are you serious?”

“No, I don’t.”

I was stunned.  A modern though uptight, and cartoonishly gorgeous 30 something woman without a vibrator was not nearly as surprising as the fact that I kept my “that explains so much thought” to myself.

 

Dear Dozen Loyal Readers,

Have I watched too many episodes of television, or is it truly abnormal for a woman not to have a “personal flotation device?” And where do you stand on the toothbrush debate?


Why Is There Still Debate

19 April 2009

which-is-hte-gay-one

The best argument is always the most simple argument. 


My Weekend Interpreted as Three Rounds of Jeopardy

13 April 2009

Category: Friday Night

Value Answer Question
$200 Prodigious, Epic, Prolific, Stupid What are adjectives used to describe the amount of drinking I did on Friday night?
$400 A self imposed run of at least four miles or until vomiting begins the morning after a night of drinking What is a punishment run?
$600 The act of attempting to sleep with an old flame in whom you are no longer interested solely for the purpose of establishing that his/her attraction remains What is Ego-Fluffing, Alex?
$800 Refusing the romantic overtures of an old flame despite a critical intersection of intoxication and horniness What is one of my brief moments of sanity, Alex?
$1000 Leaving a tip which is overly generous even by the standards of industry courtesy What is intoxitipation?

Category: Saturday Night

Value Answer Question
$200 Anything that you keep, whether stolen or given to you, from someone’s house after you’ve slept with them; synonym: screwvenier What is a Fuckmento, Alex – as in I had drinks with a former paramour / current friend who signed our tab with an antique pen that has been missing from my house for years.
$400 Also the name of a song this phrase refers to something that is accidentally flirtatious said in a loud bar What is a Careless Whisper?
$600 If you can’t identify the mark at the poker table within the first two hands it’s probably you What is Darwin’s Law of Poker?
$800 Losing a hand of Hold ‘em to running deuces on the river when you had trip Kings and your opponent was sitting on a pair of deuces after the flop What is a beat that sucks more than a Tijuana Hooker, Alex?
$1000 Playing in a poker game that starts at 2am after another night on the town What is the personification of Stupid, Alex?

Category: Sunday

Value Answer Question
$200 A common toast amongst restaurant industry employees that is indicative of the special meaning the Sabbath holds for them What is Happy Sunday?
$400 The number of drinks in front of a person at Sunday brunch is almost always directly proportionate to the amount of drinks consumed the night before. What is the Bacchus Hierarchy of Needs?
$600 Commonly referred to as URAPs, these people clog email inboxes and blackberries the world over with annoying messages What are Unnecessary Reply All People
$800 The last seat of the horseshoe bar on the roof deck of The Reef where you get to lean back against the pole whilst drinking and have a commanding view of all activities before you What is Pole Position, Alex?
$1000 The excessive wearing of absurdly oversized sunglasses by 20something women What is I Wish I was Holly Golightis

A Phone Call from My Father

6 April 2009

Phone calls when I am catering a dinner are normally ignored, but when the caller ID said Refugee, Sr. I decided to answer.

“Hey, I was just watching the Final Four and thought about you.  We still have to go one of these years.”  My father’s deep even for a bass voice is unmistakable, even as he offers another hallow promise.

During my vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers fourth Super Bowl Refugee Sr. promised my 8 year old self that he and I would one day watch the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and the World Series together.  Since I had not yet discovered my father to be a fallible man I believed with the unbreakable veracity of a son trusting his father’s promise.

“It’s good to talk to you, Pop” I replied.  It took me years to say that statement truthfully.  The dagger of timing was sharpened because it was basketball we discussed.

My father was a three sport star in High School but only had the time to teach me two of them before he and my mother split.  I waited for him to teach me basketball.  I waited for the weekends when he would come home and take me to the basketball court – weekends which never came.  It was an early harbinger or future behavior.

“Pop, I can’t really talk at the moment – I’m doing a dinner for twenty people by myself.  I just answered in case it was an emergency or you needed something important.”

By the shift in his tone, I knew that he got the slightly passive-aggressive note I used and for which I was only mildly sorry. 

“No, Refugee, I don’t need anything.  I was just watching basketball and thinking about my son, so I thought I would call.  Is that all right with you?”

As I grew, so too did the promises (implied and explicit) and the accompanying disappointments.  As my mind matured, I began to question the logic of fatherly wisdom.  I no longer got excited about a new business venture.  I no longer cared to meet a new friend.

“Of course, Pop. It’s just that I have a million things on the stove – this was a last minute client and I am working solo.  Can I ring you later or is there something else on your mind?”

“Well… I did want to talk to you about my chess set.  I have to get rid of a few things for my new place, and wanted to know if you want my chess set?”

I love my father.  I love all of the things that he taught me, most of which I learned in those first eight years.  Among the more important lessons: Always give more weight to people’s actions over their words.  I learned that lesson too well and our relationship has suffered as a result.  His greatest lesson is still in progress and unintentionally taught – don’t become him.

“I’d love the chess set, Pop.  I’ll come up for a couple of days soon.  l love  you, but I gotta go.  Bye, Pop.” 


Champagne & Eggs

1 April 2009

“I want champagne and eggs, how about you?” 

It was a simple text message but from Sydney’s reaction you would have thought that I wrote “I have the winning Powerball numbers for next week, you want them?”

“I’d blow Quasimoto for Champagne and eggs right now, Mick Jagger too, if I don’t have to leave my house to get them.”

Sydney and I have always had that kind of relationship – irreverent, a little profane, but mostly platonic.  As I was feeling generous, and knew that Syd was hung-over, I grabbed a bag and made the relatively short trip to her place by way of the market.

All Sunday morning shopping list should be simple:

  • WaPo, New York Times
  • Eggs
  • Pork in some form
  • Champagne (juice optional)
  • Biscuits
  • Cheese

One hour and seven minutes after the first text Sydney opens her door.  She has managed to splash water on her face, tie a robe around her nearly six foot frame, and start coffee.  Sydney never has food in her kitchen, but coffee, is a given. 

“You’re my hero” she says as she leans forward to kiss me on each cheek – a gesture I usually consider an annoying affectation, but she somehow makes natural. 

“Good to see you too” I reply before heading to the kitchen.  “How much time do I have to feed you before ‘Cranky Syd’ emerges from that desperately hungry and dark part of your soul?” 

“I’ll be fine for a bit once I get some coffee” she says and I believe.

I’m unpacking groceries as Sydney grabs to mugs and the sugar.  Depressing the plunger on the Frieling French Press Sydney suddenly asks with hint of animation “Do you remember this birthday?”

I have very clear memories of it.  Sydney and a gaggle of her girlfriends took over the bar at the restaurant I was running.  Three courses (served family style,) and copious amounts of wine served as prelude to Girl’s Night unleashed on an unsuspecting city.  It was the evening I knew that there would never be anything romantic between us, but I will never forget the look on her face when she unwrapped the French press I gave her.

“Was that the one you had at Anonymous Restaurant” I asked feigning uncertainty about the answer.

“Sure was.”

“You wanna open the champagne” I ask to change the subject, “I’m read for a mimosa.”

“So what are we having for breakfast?”

Fried Pork Tenderloin, Egg, and Gruyere Biscuits, and cantaloupe.”

“Oh my God, what do I have to do to get you to come over every Sunday morning?”

“You could start by changing the music; this techno stuff is giving me a headache.”

Sydney swaps the electronic whatever for an opera I don’t recognize and brunch is served on her patio.  We sit – mostly without words passing – reading newspapers and eating.  I’ve always known that our mutual recognition that every silence is not a void is among the reasons we work as friends. 

I have just popped the top on the second bottle of champagne when Sydney asks in a more contemplative tone “Seriously, Refugee, why can’t we do this every Sunday?”

I read the subtext of her question.  This is normally one of the moments when I would have deliberately and deeply inhaled before answering, but I didn’t need extra time to think.  “You’d tire of me Sydney.  I know it, and what’s worse is that you know it too but you asked the question anyway.  We have a friendship that has a lovely balance, do you really want to mess with that?”

We both went back to our newspapers and back to our silence.

 

Fried Pork Tenderloin, Egg, and Cheese Biscuits

1 pork tenderloin, cleaned and dressed

1 cup Buttermilk (half and half can be substituted)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon pepper

1 teaspoon of ground mustard*

1 teaspoon garlic powder*

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary*

3 eggs

4oz of Cheese – just about any decent (non blue) cheese will do, but I prefer Gruyere

1 package of biscuits (One of the very few things I refuse to make from scratch are biscuits – the ready to cook Pilsbury Grands are my favorite)

 

* nice to haves but do not buy them just for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (according to manufacturer’s instructions) to bake the biscuits. 

Cut the tenderloin into two four inch pieces.  The smaller half should be wrapped in saran wrap and stored for later use.  Slice the larger half into ½ inch thick discs.

To make your dredging station, use three cereal sized bowls.  In the first bowl, pour the buttermilk.  In the second bowl, crack one egg and beat until smooth.  In the final bowl, add all dry ingredients and stir until well mixed.  

In a pan suitable for frying or preferably in a deep fryer, heat oil over medium flame just prior to the point of smoking.

While the oil is heating and the biscuits are baking, prep the other two eggs.  If you have a two or three inch metal round that is best.  If not, then use a large sauté pan coated with cooking spray and over medium heat.  In a bowl, beat the eggs until smooth adding salt and pepper to taste.  Spread ¼ of the eggs onto the sauté pan.  When cooked enough to fold, fold the egg in twice and remove.  Repeat until you have four neatly folded egg segments. 

The biscuits should be just about ready to remove from the oven.  Dredge the pork discs through the milk, then eggs, then coat evenly with the flour mixture.  Drop each disc in the oil.  They will cook in 2.5 minutes. 

Remove the biscuits and make your sandwiches. 

 

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You know it is Wednesday and I took my turn as contributing editor at DC Blogs. Go on check out that which moved me more than most this past week.


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