The Random Restaurant Tour (XXV)

At any given moment, there’s always a hot restaurant in town.  It’s the place that has gotten some favorable press, that has a certain distinctive buzz about it, that everyone is itching to try.  In Columbus, the restaurants don’t come any hotter than Service Bar, which has been getting great press — including a recent rave from no less than the New York Times.  Last week, Kish and I decided to check it out.

Service Bar is part of Middle West Spirits, located just off Fifth Avenue in the zone between the northern part of the Short North and the southern edge of the Ohio State campus area. It’s in a bright, fresh space, with room for a row of tables, a long common table, a private dining room, and a bar.  The wait staff is terrific — friendly, professional, and knowledgeable.  A fine wait staff is a pretty strong sign of fine dining to come.

When we were deciding on an appetizer, we looked down at the row of tables where we were sitting and every one — without exception — had ordered the “cheesy poofs.”  These are a mound of colossal pork rinds served with pimento cheese spread that you slather on.  Our waiter said they seem to be a favorite for patrons, so we gave them a try.  They were greasy and cheesy and good, but the order was just too much food for the two of us, and we wanted to save room for our entrees.

We both ordered the Mongolian glazed short rib for our entree, and here the meal really hit its stride.  The short rib was meaty and luscious, topped with an interesting assortment of mini cucumber slices and other items, and surrounded by dollops of a delectable sauce.  The challenge was to carefully assemble each forkful to feature meat, the different flavors and textures of the toppings, and a healthy dousing of the sauce, and when you successfully met the challenge the taste combination was incredible.  But to take the whole dish a step further, the meat was accompanied by three “bao knots” — moist, doughy, chewy morsels of bready delight that were a perfect complement to the meat.  I think I could probably eat a thousand bao knots and never think of the words “low carb” again.

After a main course like that, we had to get dessert, and went for the carrot cake with our after-dinner cup of decaf.  The cake was light and delectable, served with a schmeer of meringue, some crunchy items, and a delicately flavored ice cream.  It ended the meal with a bang, and was the kind of dessert where you find yourself surreptitiously scraping the plate multiple times just to get a final taste before you reluctantly allow your server to take it away.

Service Bar lived up to the hype, and then some.

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Rethinking The American Home

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on the annual effort of the National Association of Home Builders to present its vision of the “New American Home.”  Since 1984, the NAHB has built a New American Home somewhere in the United States.  The underlying concept is that, in the process, the NAHB will try out the latest building and energy technologies, consider the functionality of different floor plans, and innovate with new materials.

dji_0028-editBut what’s happened is that the New American Home has gotten a lot bigger and a lot more elaborate.  The first New American Home was 1500 square feet, but since then the standard has changed considerably.  The 2018 version, pictured at right, is close to 11,000 square feet, with eight — 8! — bathrooms and both an elevator and a car elevator in the garage.  The 2019 version will be 8,000 square feet with an “inner sanctum lounge.”  Prior versions of the New American Home have included amenities like a waterfall off the master bedroom suite.

The article wonders whether the concept of the New American Home hasn’t gone off in the wrong direction.  Rather than going for increasingly elaborate McMansions out in the suburbs, why not focus on condos, or smaller houses in urban settings?  Why build “homes” that exceed 10,000 square feet and have 8 bathrooms when American families have grown smaller, not larger?   These are all good questions in my view.

For years, home ownership has been a core part of the American dream — but that doesn’t mean the home has to be some sprawling monstrosity on an acre and a half of property in a gated community.  When immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1800s they built neighborhoods like German Village, where I now live — a neighborhood right next to downtown Columbus, where the houses are small (ours is less than 2000 square feet) and are placed cheek by jowl with commercial buildings and apartments.  It’s a great community, and just about everything we need is within walking distance.  We love the convenience and the neighborhood feel.

I like living in a smaller space.  We don’t need 10,000 square feet to rattle around in, and I wouldn’t want to pay what it costs to get that amount of personal space, either.  I think it would be interesting if the NAHB revisited the New American Home concept and tried to develop homes that are smaller, less expensive, and closer to the downtown cores, and don’t contribute to still more suburban sprawl.  Wouldn’t home designers welcome a challenge to build homes that don’t require endless space, where creativity is needed to make use of every square foot?

The Times’ Anonymous Op-Ed

In case you’ve missed it, the New York Times decided to publish an anonymous op-ed piece from a “senior official” within the Trump Administration.  Basically, the anonymous writer wants us to know that although he — and, according to him, others working in the executive branch — consider President Trump to be incredibly impulsive, erratic, unprincipled, uncivil, unwise, and prone to rants, the “senior official” and others who share his views are working behind the scenes to thwart the parts of the President’s agenda that they think are ill-advised and not in the country’s best interests.

person-place-thing-episode-31-melissa-harris-perry0The “senior official” says he’s not part of the so-called “deep state,” but is instead part of the “steady state.”  He says he and other like-minded members of the Trump Administration “will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”  I suppose the “senior official” thinks such statements are supposed to be reassuring to those of us who didn’t vote for the President and oppose his policies, but I wonder:  is it really better that unelected individuals, clad in anonymity, are making important, behind-the-scenes decisions based on their own personal views of what they think is best?  President Trump — or for that matter, President Obama, President Bush, and any other President — clearly is answerable to voters, his political opponents, and the news media for his decisions, actions, and policies; anonymous “senior officials” who are supposedly steering policy aren’t.  When you think about it, the hubris of the “senior official” is pretty breathtaking, and his anonymity and lack of accountability aren’t reassuring, they’re alarming.

The Times explained its decision to publish the op-ed as follows:  “The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.”  The key part of that description, from my perspective, is that the senior official’s job would be jeopardized if he were identified as the anonymous op-ed writer.  No kidding!  And, if it were any other President we were talking about, wouldn’t everyone recognize that of course the President should have the ability to fire someone who confesses to being part of an organized resistance and acting to routinely undermine his decisions?

The Times introduction, quoted above, says publishing an anonymous op-ed is a “rare step.”  I’d be interested in knowing whether it has ever been done before.  Allowing people to express their opinions anonymously in the pages of the New York Times is like allowing internet commentators with screen names to take over the op-ed page itself.  As a journalistic matter, wouldn’t it be better to make the “senior official” an anonymous source and take any newsworthy information he provided and work it into a news story, as has been done for decades, rather than giving him a platform to voice his opinions because the Times thinks they “deliver an important perspective”?

I hope we are not setting a dangerous precedent here.

Useful Advice From The Gray Lady

The New York Times — known to those in the journalism world as the Gray Lady because of the traditional gray appearance of the columns of newsprint on its pages — has won Pulitzer Prizes galore for its investigative reporting and is viewed by many as the newspaper of record.  But it also routinely provides useful tips about health, food, and how people should live their lives.

chinese-red-headed-centipede-ecdb2c89-5e3f-4880-8280-44a581ebc4e-resize-750Consider this recent article, where the headline reads:  “Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes.  Don’t.”   The article is accompanied by an alarming close-up photograph of as Asian red-headed centipede, which the Times caption curiously describes as “looking delicious.”

Really?  I know that those of us here in the Midwest probably aren’t in on the latest culinary trends, but are people in New York really feeling the urge to gobble down creepy, chitinous creatures in their raw form?  In case you’re feeling so tempted, the Times urges you to restrain yourself — not because live centipedes in fact have a venomous bite, but because eating raw centipedes can cause the diner to become infected by rat lungworms that lodge in the brain.  After two residents of Guangzhou, China were infected after eating wild-caught centipedes purchased at a farmers’ market, researchers went back to the market and found that many of the centipedes for sale were teeming with lungworm larvae.  No doubt that adds to their delectable flavor.  Incidentally, the Times points out, you’re at risk of lungworms it you’re eating raw slugs or snails, too.

So, you’re going to have to limit your centipede consumption to centipedes that have been dried, reduced to powder, or soaked in alcohol.  Now that we’ve got that straight, we can go ahead with our daily lives.

Columbus (Surprisingly?) Makes The First Cut

I’ve written before about Amazon’s announcement to build a second headquarters facility somewhere in North America, and the efforts of cities like Columbus and San Antonio to attract the river of Amazon cash that would flow with the building of the giant company’s second HQ.  In all, Amazon received 238 proposals from cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico that wanted to be considered in the selection process.

downtown-columbusYesterday, Amazon announced the list of the locations that will be 20 finalists, and lo and behold, Columbus made the list.  San Antonio, alas, did not.

According to the New York Times, the selection of Columbus (as well as Nashville) to be among the 20 finalists was a “surprise.”  The Times contrasted the Columbus “surprise” with cities that were “widely expected to make the cut,” like Boston, Denver, and Dallas, “hip centers like Miami and Austin, Tex.,” and Los Angeles and New York, as “centers of the tech industry.”  Some people in Columbus were irked by the “surprise” reactions, which seem to have a lot more to do with our city’s historic “cowtown” image rather than the reality of the modern Columbus.  One Columbus publication, 614, chastised the Times for reflecting “regional snobbery” to “take a big poo on our small victory.

According to the Times article:  “The process will now shift into a new phase, with Amazon representatives communicating more directly with the finalist cities as they prepare to select a winner later this year — and perhaps with cities being even more outspoken about why they should be chosen. Emissaries from Amazon are expected to visit the finalist locations in person.”

It will be nice to have the Amazon emissaries come to Columbus to see for themselves what our fair city has to offer and hear about why it would be an excellent choice for “HQ2,” with its anticipated $5 billion in investments and 50,000 high-paying jobs.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll experience “surprise” when they stop by — or maybe they already know that Columbus is a great place, and that’s why we made the list of finalists in the first place.

Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016 (III)

This morning Kish sent me a link to the New York Times “Christmas Cookie Plate” — their listing of Christmas cookie recipes from the Times Cooking section.  It’s the kind of thoughtful gesture that makes her the best wife ever.

The Christmas Cookie Plate offers an impressive array of cookie recipes, but one in particular caught my eye.  I’m a sucker for spice cookies and have been making Dutch Spice cookies ever since I started doing holiday baking years ago.  The recipe below for Grammy’s Spice cookies, though, includes a lot of spice — plus heavy cream and Irish whiskey in the icing.  I’m guessing that Grammy’s house was pretty festive.

Grammy’s Spice Cookies

Ingredients:  2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened (some of which is used for cookies, and some for icing); 1 cup sugar; 1/4 cup molasses; 1 large egg; 2 cups all-purpose flour; 2 teaspoons baking soda; 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger; 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves; 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt; 3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk (add more as needed); 1 to 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners.  Using an electric mixer, beat 12 tablespoons butter with the sugar, molasses and egg until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Slowly beat in flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Shape dough into walnut-size balls and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake until firm, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.

To make the icing, slowy beat remaining butter (4 tablespoons) butter with confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Beat in vanilla and enough cream or milk, and whiskey if using, to make a spreadable frosting. Use on fully cooled cookies.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016 (II)

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016