Waiter’s Choice

Sometimes, after a long day of work on the road, I’ll get to a restaurant, review its lengthy menu, and just not feel like making tough decisions about what to order. In such circumstances, it’s nice to have a waiter who will make knowledgeable recommendations about the options, without mouthing platitudes about whatever happens to be the daily special.

So it was last night at Fork Restaurant in Boise, Idaho, an excellent bistro that advertises itself as being “loyal to local.” Our waiter was experienced and glad to offer candid suggestions after asking a few basic questions like whether I wanted red or white wine or meat, fish, or vegetable. I accepted his recommendations across the board and ended up with a very fine Syrah from the northwest and succulent, melt in your mouth beef short ribs — which you can’t really see in the photo above because they are covered in crunchy Idaho “potato hay.”

His recommendations were so good that when we were considering dessert we decided to blindly rely on his choice. He came through like a champ, bringing us a ridiculously moist butter cake topped with local ice cream and a coulis made from an assortment of berries. It was a sensational end to a very fine meal.

Being a waiter is not easy, especially if you want to do it right. Our experience at the Fork Restaurant last night showed how a really good waiter can complement a really fine meal.

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Cookie Culprits

The kitchen at our firm is legendary for its cookies.  Some of our lawyers intentionally schedule their meetings in the afternoon so they can get a plate of cookies to munch on while the discussion is proceeding.

But when the scheduled meeting is ended, and before the conference room table is cleared by the staff, the office cookie culprits go on the prowl.  They might just be innocently passing by when the sight of an available plate of cookies in an empty conference room tempts them into action, or they might intentionally take a foraging swing past all of the conference rooms to see whether there are any cookie remains that could provide them with a sugar boost during the mid-afternoon lull.  Whatever the reason, the abandoned cookie plates don’t hold on to their cookies for long.

When I left the meeting in this particular conference room yesterday, the cookie plate was virtually full, but when I passed by a short time later, the cookie culprits had been at it in force, leaving only orphaned oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies — and another sugar cookie from which somebody had taken two huge bites.  Hey, and what’s with putting a half-eaten cookie back on the cookie plate?  I thought the cookie culprits were more genteel than that.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XX)

The Ringside Bar & Grill is one of the oldest establishments in Columbus, dating back to 1897.  Also known to those of us of a certain age as Clem’s — the name of the gruff, cigar-chomping boxing fan sitting at the bar who ran the place for years — it’s a modest brick structure in Pearl Alley, tucked in behind the Rhodes Tower and the other buildings fronting Broad Street.

These days the Ringside is also one of the unlucky businesses shrouded by the massive scaffolding apparatus surrounding the Rhodes Tower, where lots of exterior work is being done.  The Ringside has exercised a little self help, decorating the concrete abutments for the scaffolding to direct patrons to the front door and hanging signs on the scaffolding itself to remind people that the Ringside, and the other restaurants in the alley, remain open for business.

Yesterday a group of us decided to hit the Ringside on a rainy day.  Inside, the place is a snug joint that has the warmth and pleasant feel of an Irish pub, with the kitchen on one side, the polished wooden bar on another, a row of wooden booths against the wall, and some tables in the middle.  I always feel right at home at the Ringside.

And the place always serves a very fine burger, too.  Yesterday I went for the patty melt, and I got a piping hot, juicy burger on crunchy toast, dripping with melted cheese and sauteed onions, served with kettle chips.  It was excellent, and left me well nourished for the afternoon’s work.  I hope patrons don’t let the scaffolding deter them — the Ringside is right there where it always has been, ready to dish out one of the very best burgers in downtown Columbus.

Key Lime Pie

If you go to a steakhouse, there really are only three viable dessert options. Number 1 is the New York-style cheesecake, of course. And tied for second are a fruit cobbler and key lime pie — which must be made with a graham cracker crumb crust.

Tonight, at a very good steakhouse in Boise called Chandlers, I polished off an exceptional “cowboy cut” ribeye and some creamed spinach. I decided to top off my very traditional steakhouse meal with key lime pie. Sure, it was served in a round dish, and the graham cracker crust was chocolate, and there was no ultra-thin slice of lime, twisted and carefully placed on the whipped cream, but I was willing to overlook these departures from slavish adherence to the norm. And it tasted great, by the way.

Hold The Mayo, Already

The Gleeful Retiree has many good qualities, but — knowing I find mayonnaise appalling — he enjoys tormenting me with breaking news about mayo-related culinary developments.

p-1-should-we-give-the-new-mayonnaise-ice-cream-a-chanceSo, on any given day, I might check my email and find a story about how great it is to serve mayonnaise with french fries (or “Belgian frites,” according to Martha Stewart), which sounds pretty disgusting.  But the topper came when he sent a link about mayonnaise ice cream, which undoubtedly could replace Ipecac as an effective vomit-inducing agent.  Just thinking about it makes me cringe — and I’ve got to believe that that reaction is shared by 99.9% of the food consumers of the world.

What’s going on here?  Is there some mad scientist somewhere who is hell-bent on trying to develop a mayonnaise-based variation on every beloved food item?   What’s next?  Mayo-flavored Cheetos?  Mayo Snickers bars?  Mayo brownies?  The mind reels — and my stomach sours — at the possibilities.

Skyline Day

I’m all in favor of eating regional food. In Maine, it’s seafood all the way. In the Midwest — well, how about some Skyline Chili, which is totally unknown in New England?

Russell thought some Skyline would be a good way to celebrate Labor Day and our return to the heartland, and it was an inspired choice. I went in, as always, for a three-way and a cheese coney with everything, some extra crackers, and a large water with lemon.

At The Blue Hill Fair

Yesterday we ventured over to the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine.  It’s a big deal locally, and we paid a visit to get our taste of small town America.  The Blue Hill Fair has everything you’d expect to see in a local fair, from livestock and quilting and produce contests — like the impressive array of bright green vegetables shown above — as well as the kind of vomit-inducing rides that you remember from the fairs you went to in your childhood.  Who doesn’t recall their first ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl?  (And for that matter, isn’t it hard to believe that Tilt-A-Whirls are still out there, motoring away and causing people to go careening from one side of the ride to the other?)  The Scrambler was there, too, but no sign of the notorious Rotor.

We also watched a fine performance by the Red Trouser Show, put on by two long-time friends who now make their living traveling the circuit and performing at fairs and functions across the globe.  These guys were great, both in terms of their juggling, tumbling, and acrobatic efforts and in their witty banter and ability to get the crowd into the show.  It was a great reminder of America’s vaudeville past and how a simple performance by two people equipped with flaming torches and a ladder can create a memorable experience.

In addition to the elements of your basic small town fair, however, the Blue Hill Fair has something extra.  Because author E.B. White spent a lot of time in this part of Maine, the local lore is that the fair that is a key part of the story of Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web is based on the Blue Hill Fair.  As a result, near the livestock exhibitions you can find a little pen with a dozing pig — two of them, in fact — sporting a blue ribbon because they are “some pig.”  No sign of Charlotte or her web, however.

And those of you who remember the story in Charlotte’s Web will recall that the wily Charlotte enticed Templeton, the rat, to accompany Charlotte and Wilbur to the fair by promising him gluttony beyond compare due to the food available along the midway.  If Templeton had been at this year’s Blue Hill Fair, he would have been a happy camper — you could find every imaginable kind of fair food there, from fried dough to funnel cakes to cotton candy, caramel apples, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

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