The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXVII

Yesterday the Soprano Litigator and I went across the street to Due Amici for lunch.  Due is one of the cornerstone restaurants in the food corridor that makes Gay Street the coolest street in downtown Columbus.  It’s a more high-end lunch spot than some of its Gay Street brethren and, come cocktail hour and dinner time, is a place to see and be seen.

I normally don’t have pizza for lunch, but yesterday pizza sounded like just what the doctor ordered.  I opted for the sausage and onion pizza, whereas the Soprano Litigator went with the veal meatball and pasta — which also looked very tasty, indeed.  When my pizza came, it was great, with a flavorful sauce, big chunks of sausage that had a snap when you bit into them, and a golden brown, crunchy crust.  I attacked it with gusto (and with knife and fork, incidentally, so as to avoid unsightly spotting on my suit, white shirt, and tie).

But here’s the thing:  the pizza is just too big for lunch.  Even for someone who is hungry, as I was, a pie with eight pieces is a lot.  Long after the SL had finished her meal I was still carving away at the remaining pieces until my plate was empty.  I suppose I could have asked for a to-go box, but I don’t like lugging them around.  In my view, when you order lunch you should receive a meal that is reasonably consumable by one reasonably hungry person over the noon hour.  In short, careful portion control is key.  Due’s pizza stretches the outer boundaries and is geared more to someone with the appetite of a truck driver rather than one of a nearby office worker.  Perhaps the name Due Amici — “two friends” in Italian — means the portions are intended to be shared.

Due isn’t alone in this.  How often have you gone to a restaurant and received a plate that is groaning with two much food — typically, an oversized mound of french fries to accompany an already sizable cheeseburger?  Even those of us who proudly boast of being charter members of the Clean Plate Club can’t possibly down so much food.  We leave some on the plate and then feel guilty about it, knowing the food will be wasted.  It’s an area where I think the great restaurants in Columbus could become even better.

Post-Apocalyptic Brewskis

Back in the 1950s, when American scientists and military advisors were regularly test-detonating new nuclear devices to see whether they should be added to America’s nuclear arsenal, scientists decided it made sense to conduct a special experiment — and “Operation Teapot” was born.  Its purpose was to determine the “civil effects” of an atomic blast on commercially packaged food items, including bottled and canned beer.

small20boy20test201962The Operation Teapot researchers reasoned that, if the United States and the Soviet Union started hurling nuclear bombs at each other, the American water supply would quickly become contaminated by fallout, and determining an alternative source for fluids therefore was important.  The report on Operation Teapot explained:  “Consideration of the problems of food supply show the needs of humans for water, especially under disaster conditions, could be immediate and urgent.”  The report added:  “At various times some consideration has been given to special packaging of potable water, but since packaged beverages, both beer and soft drinks, are so ubiquitous and already uniformly available in urban areas, it is obvious that they could serve as important sources of fluids.”  In short, since American households already had ample supplies of beer and Coke, why not see if the U.S. could rely on those to supply post-bomb blast refreshment?

So, in 1955, researchers at the Nevada Proving Grounds put bottled and canned beer and soda at three locations, ranging from 0.2 to 2 miles from ground zero, and then set off a bomb.  Some of the bottles and cans at the location closest to the blast were obliterated, but others survived and, after testing, were found to be largely unaffected in the taste department and “within the permissible limits for emergency use” from a radiation standpoint.  The canned and bottled beers that were positioned farther away from the blast site showed no signs of change whatsoever and even retained their carbonation and airtight seal.

Some of the two-fisted scientists working on Operation Teapot, no doubt thirsty after witnessing the blast, apparently cracked open some of the beers and soft drinks and downed a few swigs to conduct an “immediate taste test.”  The report on Operation Teapot noted:  “Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavour change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.”  The remaining bottles and cans were sent to several commercial laboratories for further taste testing, and the consensus was that the beer could unquestionably be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.

So there you have it!  After following “duck and cover” techniques to weather the initial atomic blast, Americans of the ’50s would be able to crack open a cold bottle of suds and quaff a few without concern about their beer supply going flat or having a skunky taste.  It would make the post-apocalyptic landscape and the clumps of hair falling out of your scalp a little bit easier to take.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXVI

In downtown Columbus, East Town Street is a bit of a no man’s land.  It’s a zone of generic three-story buildings filled with trade association offices and what may be America’s last functioning Holiday Inn.  But The Woodbury, a restaurant that opened recently in the Town Street food desert, is a sign that the direction of Town Street may be changing for the better.  Earlier this week The Red Sox Fan and I made the walk over to Town to check it out.

The Woodbury offers a pretty interesting menu that left the RSF and me thinking very carefully about our choices.  It serves breakfast all day, which is always welcome, because sometimes during the noon hour breakfast feels like the right option.  However, The Woodbury’s breakfast menu isn’t exactly traditional — that is, unless your idea of a traditional breakfast includes options like deep-fried PB&J or French toast casserole.  Its lunch menu is also delightfully quirky, offering choices like Ohio ravioli lasagna, Bulgogi, ratatouille — which is fun to say, even if you never order it — and a kimchi meatloaf sandwich.

The RSF went for the Bulgogi, which is served with kimchi and steamed edamame, and raved about the beef and the kimchi as he happily squeezed the edamame beans out of their steamed pods.  I opted for the brisket and biscuits and gravy with Texas toast and eggs over easy, shown above. It really hit the spot, and it was easy to assemble delicious forkfuls that included shards of brisket, pieces of biscuit, shredded hash browns, and bits of egg, bound together with a very smooth and rich gravy.  I note that the hash browns were shredded, which is the way hash browns should always be served — a rule that, alas, is too often observed in the breach — and that brisket and biscuits and gravy is the perfect transitional dish to order when your stomach is on the cusp between breakfast and lunch.  I left the plate spotless

The Woodbury interior offers a clean, bright setting with an open kitchen area, which I like.  The RSF and I were very impressed with the setting and the food, and vowed to return to help support the welcome changes to the Town Street trade association corridor.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXV

When it comes to lunch, I tend to be a creature of habit.  I like to walk and try to go somewhere where I can get some walking in as part of the lunch hour.  I think that probably explains why, until Friday, I’ve never tried lunch at Tiger + Lily, which is just down the block from our offices on Gay Street.

Tiger + Lily is an Asian-themed bistro, from the items on its menu to the Asian version of MTV playing on its TV screens during the lunch rush.  You can choose from a variety of entrees served over rice, or opt for noodles with or without broth.  If you go for one of the entree dishes, you choose between white and brown rice, and also can add intriguingly named sauces to add some zing to your meal.  According to our waiter, YumYum sauce is the most popular option, but there’s also Tiger Salsa, Gomayo, Tso Good, and K-Town.  (I’d say the person in charge of menu item naming at Tiger + Lily has a sense of humor.)

I opted for the Korean BBQ chicken, a mildly spicy combination of chicken and onion served over white rice.  I asked them to hold the pickled vegetables and add a fried egg as topping instead, and paired the food with K-Town sauce, which I think is the spiciest sauce T+L offers.  The result was a delightful and filling lunch that had a very pleasant kick to it.  And even though I didn’t get my lunchtime steps in, I burned a calorie or two wielding chopsticks in my quest to consume every last grain of K-Town dappled rice.

Tiger + Lily has a devoted following at our firm, which is how I ended up there on Friday.  The T+L fans all seem to have a personal favorite on the menu, and now I do, too.  Who knows?  Now that I’ve broken the ice, I might even try that YumYum sauce next time.

Lunchbox Land

Kish and I met Russell for breakfast at Dell’s Fine Food in Fostoria, Ohio today. In addition to winning countless awards for its barbecue and making the best pancakes Kish says she’s ever had — which is the highest praise any pancake could possibly hope for — Dell’s also features an impressive display of old-fashioned lunchboxes, from back in the day when many kids took a lunchbox and matching thermos filled with hot soup to school every day.

I’m sure I had a Mercury astronaut lunch box, a Jetson’s lunchbox, and a Monkees lunchbox, and a few others, too. My thermoses always broke — the glass inside shattered if you dropped it — and I eventually became too self consciously cool for a lunchbox and carried a sack lunch instead, but I still have a soft spot for the lunchbox days of the ’60s.

Working Too Hard

Recently I was on the road and arrived at my hotel at about 8 p.m.  I hadn’t eaten, so after dropping off my bag in my room I visited the hotel restaurant, had a cheeseburger for dinner, and then was tempted by an apple crumble for dessert.  I asked if I could get it with ice cream, and the waiter said that would be fine.  The combination above is what arrived.

In case you’re wondering, on the plate that’s closest to the camera, that’s a kind of crumble pie, with no apple pieces, at the far left, two little green apple spheres with faux stems in the middle, and an apple slice dipped in dark chocolate in a mold made out of a cheesecake-like substance on the right, all set against the backdrop of Aztec-like lines inscribed in dark chocolate that was hardened on the plate.  The bowl at the far side of the plate contains my scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I’m sure I was supposed to admire the artistry of the presentation of the dessert, and the delicate nature of the plating. Mostly, though, I wondered how I was supposed to eat the various elements. I spooned the scoop of ice cream onto the crumble pie to let it melt, grabbed one of the little green apples by its faux stem and ate it, and then was stumped.  Was the molded cheesecake-chocolate option on one side of the plate supposed to be eaten in conjunction with the crumble pie at the other end?  If so, how?  And what was I expected to do with the chocolate markings –scrape them off and chow them down with the crumble pie, or the apples, or the cheesecake chocolate mold, or all three?  I ended up alternating between bites of the crumble pie and the molded object, ate the second little green apple at some point in between, and left the dark chocolate stripes alone.  It was fine,  I guess, but it would have been even better if I’d just gotten what I expected in the first place — a single dish that contained warm spiced apple slices, crumble, and ice cream on top that you could eat in the normal way.

I admire haute cuisine, and the efforts of chefs to bring creativity to the art of cooking and to reimagine some time-honored dishes.  But there’s a time and a place for it — and a late dinner at a hotel restaurant isn’t it.  It was clear that the kitchen had worked hard on the dish, but it really was making me work too hard in order to enjoy it.  Call me a philistine if you will, but I wasn’t ordering dessert to get a work of art.  I just wanted a traditional fruit dessert served in the traditional way.  Maybe the artistry can be reserved for the souffle.

The Coronita

Most seaside bars have popular specialty drinks. At the notorious Mucky Duck on Captiva Island, it’s the rum punch and this concoction, called a Coronita. It’s an 8-ounce bottle of Corona tipped into a margarita made with wine-strength alcohol. As you guzzle the margarita, more Corona drops out of the bottle to infuse the drink with Mexican beer.

Kish reported it was refreshing. As for me, I don’t think there’s anything more refreshing than a cold beer on a hot day, so I went for the Mucky Duck Red Ale.