It’s Tuesday night, and you know what that means: Classic Cocktail Night. We pondered long and hard to decide which of the classic cocktails – martini, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, whiskey sour, zombie with a hangover – we would have tonight, and after careful consideration we decided upon the Classic Cocktail. No kidding, there’s a drink called Classic Cocktail. It’s brandy, Maraschino liqueur, something else, and something else too. It’s lip-smacking good. Comes in a classic cocktail glass with a little sugar on the rim. And it’s the perfect drink to sip while you’re watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
9:30 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
“I don’t get art,” My Darling B confessed, as we wandered from room to room at the former Madison Public Library on Saturday night.
All the books and most of the shelves had been removed to a temporary location while they build the new library, and to collect a little extra dough they opened up the empty library building to any and all comers for a party they were calling “Bookless.”
To make it a little more interesting, whoever was in charge of the party invited someone, maybe artists, maybe not, to come in advance of the party, showed them the piles of microfilm, book ends, paper, shelves, ceiling tiles and whatever else was left over, and invited them to get as creative as they knew how. The result could have been art, but wasn’t. Hence My Darling B’s confusion.
Someone tore all the ceiling tiles down and stacked them in a straight column.
Someone taped boxes of microfilm together into cubes.
Someone knocked a hole in the wall, cut out a picture of a building they found in a magazine, and stood the picture up in the hole.
Someone painted a room and the desk in it pink.
Someone piled plush toys in a room.
Someone collected hundreds of metal bookends and stacked them in waves on a window sill. I have to admit I liked that one.
But most of it was not art. “You get art just fine,” I answered B. “This is junk.”
9:07 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, yet another rant
| Tags: What is art?
My Darling B and I think we may have found the restaurant that will be our Friday the Thirteenth place.
The Blue Marlin is a cozy little place just off capitol square. It’s one of the buildings squeezed into a wedge of a lot, just like Peppino’s was, but where Peppino’s was on the ground floor of the three-story Jackman Building, which takes up a full third of the triangle block it sits on, The Blue Marlin appears to be tucked into the tiniest of part of a two-story brick building that used to be M.J. Hoven’s Meat Market, a butcher shop built way back in the 1890s.
It’s bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside, but not by much. There’s just about enough room to seat maybe forty or fifty people, and fifty would be crowded, I think. I counted forty-four chairs when we were there last night. I’m not one of those compulsive counters, I was just curious how they got so many people in there. By the time we left around seven o’clock the place was chock full and abuzz with conversation (a notable difference from Peppino’s, which somehow always seemed to be very hush-hush).
As tight as they were on space inside, they set aside room at the front of the restaurant for a closed-off front entrance (we used to call that a breezeway in my neck of the woods) that kept The Merry Little Breezes from blowing up my skirt every time someone walked in, not an insignificant consideration in the dead of winter around here. And there was a coat rack in the breezeway! The Blue Marlin earned two gold stars before we were even in the dining room.
The host seated us at a table for two in the front of the room. There was a small bar at the back of the room, but not for sitting at, just for serving. There was nothing else in the dining room except the tables, which were just big enough that we weren’t crowded, but small enough that we weren’t sitting so far from one another it would make it awkward for us to share our food. The room was just a little chilly when we came in, but we had early reservations and there was almost no one in there when we sat down. Almost every table was filled within the hour and, with so many people in such close quarters, it warmed up soon enough.
My Darling B ordered a lemon drop from the bar to see what the cocktails were like. After a sip or two, she pronounced it was good. This is important. On our first visit to Peppino’s she ordered a cocktail they called a Honey Bee and fell so in love with it that she ordered a cocktail before dinner every time we visited. Sadly, they stopped making Honey Bees after that first visit and she’s never found anyone anywhere who makes them like the one she had that night, or even knows what she’s asking for, sometimes, and she hasn’t even been able to duplicate it at home. But she keeps looking.
For the first course, I ordered steamed mussels. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had mussels before and wanted to try them. B says she thinks she’s made them for dinner, but I’m pretty sure I would have remembered eating something that looks as salacious as mussels look. I don’t remember tasting anything quite like mussels before, either. My palate isn’t as sensitive as B’s, but mussels don’t taste like any other kind of shellfish to me. “Well, do they taste like fish, then?” B asked. She thought the one I gave her tasted fishy. “Nope,” I told her, trying to pin down the flavor before I had to give up and say, “They taste like mussels.” Best I could do.
B ordered curried crab soup as her first course. I was too busy trying to figure out what the mussels tasted like and forgot to ask her for a spoonful. She said it was “very curry-ish” in a good way.
Her second course was the rainbow trout that tempted me until I saw the baked salmon just below it on the menu. I remembered to ask for a flake or two of hers, though, and loved how they served it with a dusting of crushed almonds that brought out the sweetness of the meat. Made me almost wish I’d ordered it instead of the salmon, but only almost.
The salmon was, in a word, so close to perfect as to make no difference. I’ve eaten a lot of salmon, some good, some bad, and some really, really bad. The worst I’ve ever eaten was at the West Side Club, where they baked it until it was a spongy puck that I sent back without apology. It ought to be a crime to do that to salmon, especially as it’s not hard to cook at all. Take it out of the oven just before it’s done and it’ll be flaky, still moist and ever so tender by the time it gets to the table and everyone sits down. All you’ve got to do is pay attention.
Well, the chef at The Blue Marlin must have a prodigious amount of attention to give to the food he’s preparing, because he did mine just right. My first bite melted in my mouth. I love it when salmon does that. It was served on a bed of couscous with mushrooms that went so well with the meat that I had a little with each forkful. On the side, they included a spoon full of cauliflower with caramelized onions. I’ve been anti-cauliflower since the first day I set eyes on them, but together with the candied onions they were so moorish I ate every last bit of them.
Each of my courses was paired with a red wine. They paired the salmon with a malbec from Argentina that was so smooth and smoky it broke my heart, because I have the feeling I’m never going to find it at any liquor store anywhere in town no matter how long I look or who I ask.
Our waiter, not incidentally, earned two more gold stars for The Blue Marlin. No, wait, not two – four. He didn’t snatch our plates away before we were done with them. That actually happened to me earlier this week. He asked if we were “still enjoying our dinners” instead of “still workin’ on that?” Maybe it seems as if we’re a little too fixated on that, but being asked whether or not you’re enjoying your meal, instead of implying that you’re slaving over it, really does make a huge difference. I do enough work at the office. I don’t want to go out to a nice restaurant with My Darling B and have to work there, too.
He earned a third gold star when he asked if we’d like any coffee with our dessert. I had a chocolate brownie. My Darling B had key lime pie. And then he let us linger over our dessert and coffee for as long as we wanted.
It’s a very special place, The Blue Marlin. Even if it doesn’t become our Friday the Thirteenth place, we know we’ll go back.
2:07 pm CDT
Category: festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
| Tags: Friday the thirteenth, Madison restaurant week, sea food, The Blue Marlin
How could I have lived so long without knowing what good sake tasked like? For years, every glass of sake I’d brought to my lips smelled like turpentine and tasted worse. I really, really didn’t like sake until I was stationed in Japan for four years and was lucky enough to meet people who not only knew where to buy the best sake, they were very generous about sharing it. When I came back to the States it was with a heavy heart, thinking I would never drink good sake again. But now I’ve visited two restaurants where they serve sake that’s not only not turpentine, it’s good enough to remind me of nights at the karaoke bar, making my Japanese friends wish they hadn’t given me the microphone.
Thursday after work we headed into town to dine at Restaurant Muramoto, our third stop on the lineup we had planned for Madison Magazine’s restaurant week. My Darling B and I love Japanese food and have been to several sushi bars (Takara, Red) and fusion restaurants (Haze) downtown, but for some reason we hadn’t stopped by Restaurant Muramoto before this. Our visit was long overdue.
They earned a gold star as soon as I walked in the front door just for the coat rack. Restaurants that don’t have coat racks really aren’t restaurants at all. No matter how good the food is, if you have to sit on your coat while you eat, you might as well be on a plastic twirly seat at McDonald’s. I’m not even kidding much. I’ve been to so many restaurants that take pains to make sure the food is presented just so, in a dining room where somebody’s long coat is dragging off the back of practically every chair. So thank you, Restaurant Muramoto, for realizing that the good people of Wisconsin don’t want to have to divide their attention between eating your scrumptious food and worrying about who’s walking on their good winter coats.
My Darling B ordered a saketini before dinner and I was going to order a short bottle of sake but couldn’t decide which one to go for. Luckily for me, our very helpful waitress pointed out that they offered a flight of three different sakes. The first was called kira honjozo from Fukushima. The waitress said it would be the driest of the three but it was also the smoothest and, to my palate, the very best. Really good sake slides across your tongue like smoke. Weirdly, I’ve never smoked, but that’s the only way I can describe it. The second was called taiku and seemed to taste a little spicy. The third, an unfiltered sake, was milky white and a little sweet. I sipped and savored them all through dinner.
For the first course, we both ordered king crab spring rolls. It came with a lemon basil bearnaise sauce, like mayonnaise only a trillion times better. The spring rolls aren’t one of their usual menu items so it was a really special treat, and a very generous one, too. I expected a tiny little appetizer, but each of us got two full-size spring rolls and, though we resolved to eat only one and save the other for later, they were so scrummy we ended up wolfing both of them down. With lots of bernaise. And soy sauce. I loves me some soy sauce.
For the second course, we both ordered the roll combo. B ordered first so I looked like the copycat, but really I was thinking of the roll combo all day, so it was my idea. I’m taking credit for that no matter what. I liked the vegetable tempura rolls the best. I’d vote the kampyo rolls second, but B would’ve chosen the cucumber rolls for second and the kampyo for third place. I liked the cucumber rolls just fine but thought the kampyo went with wasabi better.
We split on the dessert. B ordered apple empanadas with cinnamon toast and ice cream, drizzled in caramel. How did I pass that up? I still don’t know. The soba crepe sounded better somehow. I should’ve gone for the hat trick and ordered what she was having on all three courses, though. Those little toasty things were delish. The soba crepe was delish, too, but I found out too late I wasn’t in the mood for a tart dessert. Oh, well.
That wasn’t enough of a hiccup to spoil a wonderful night out. Restaurant Muramoto scored another gold star when the waitress brought the coffee to our table in individual coffee presses, and B was tickled with delight when the waitress offered to clear our plates by asking “Shall I take that, or are you still enjoying the last few bites?” instead of making us feel like factory laborers with the usual, “Are ya still workin’ on that?” She let us linger over our coffee a good long while before we headed for the door, wishing there was a karaoke bar in town that served hot sake.
Bonus video: Best karaoke scene in a movie ever: The Deer Hunter
10:34 pm CDT
Category: booze, daily drivel, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
| Tags: Asian food, Japan, Madison restaurant week, Restaurant Muramoto, Takara, video treat
I have this idea that dreams are a premonition of what it’s going to be like when you get old and start to disconnect from reality. A warning, really. You go walking around in public without any pants on, you do things that don’t make any sense but you pretend that it’s perfectly normal and you’ve done it that way all your life, you think you can fly. See what I mean?
I don’t remember much of the dream I was having just before I woke up this morning, just that, as I was having a conversation with My Darling B at the dinner table, I was pulling the teeth out of my head one by one with my fingers. I briefly examined the bloody roots of each one before dropping it on my plate, then reaching for the next one, and so on.
There’s no good reason to have a dream like that, except as a built-in inoculation to keep me from freaking out when I start to lose my mind. Deja vu will kick in and I’ll think, Oh, hey, I’ve been here before. It wasn’t so bad, and I’ll probably wake up soon. And by the time I realize I’m not going to wake up, my kids will have safely ensconced me in the old folks home, where I can sit by the window and quietly pull my teeth out.
6:17 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: dreams
We didn’t go anywhere for dinner tonight. We stayed in, ate salad with slices of foccacia dipped in olive oil and some nice gouda cheese on the side, and listened to the governor give the state of the state address. “Why do you want to listen to that?” I asked My Darling B. “You know it’s only going to piss you off.” She knew, but she wanted to know what she was going to be pissed off about, so we scarfed up lots of good oil-soaked bread and cheese while listening to the never-ending applause of a hundred loyal party members wildly, almost uncontrollably cheering every single freaking sentence that passed the governor’s lips. And then we watched what was probably the funniest interview I’ve ever seen on Steven Colbert’s show. Maurice Sendak is either the funniest author I’ve ever heard speak, or he’s the scariest. I’ll decide later. Probably while I’m asleep, and wake up in a head-to-toe sweat. Here’s the interview; see what you think.
10:15 pm CDT
What I know about Cajun food is that it’s spicy and it should look like the chef burned it. True or not, I don’t know, but in my experience that’s what often passes for Cajun food.
What I liked about Liliana’s, our second place to visit during Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week (Winter Edition) was that they didn’t overdo the Cajun thing. In fact, the meal I had, which they called “French Quarter,” wasn’t spicy at all, unless you count the biscuits, and I think you’d have to if you popped one in your mouth by mistake. I split mine in half and slathered each half with lots of butter, so they didn’t scorch my tongue the way I imagine they might have. They were the spiciest things I ate, though.
For starters, I got a duck confit salad. I’m going to come clean and admit that I thought confit referred to the apples and onions that came with the greens, but I was probably thinking of a compote. If Wikipedia is to be believed, and I’m pretty gullible so it’s the first thing I look at when I google words I don’t know, like “confit,” a confit is a way of preserving meat, so in this case it’s all about the duck. My salad came with two slices of duck on top of a bushel of greens that camouflaged a heap of caramelized apples and onions surrounded by big, lumpy chunks of Gorgonzola cheese. I urged My Darling B to eat as much of the Gorgonzola as she wanted. I love Gorgonzola but I can tolerate only so much, even when I’m dosed to the eyeballs with a handful of milk pills. B loves Gorgonzola, too, so she took full advantage of my offer.
My main course was boeuf bourguignon, which is French for “beef in wine sauce so rich you’ll be up all night farting your brains out.” Big chunks of deliciously stewed beef (is it sacrilegious to suggest that boeuf bourguignon is “stewed?”) were generously ladled over half a hogie bun that swam in a dish with onions, mushrooms and chunks of celery. I thought at first that I would have to take half of it home, but it turned out to be so moorish that I snapped up every morsel and sopped up the sauce with a chunk of corn bread. *bliss!*
Dessert was beignets. I may be mistaken, but I think it’s pronounced “boinks.” Don’t quote me. It’s a deep-fried, doughy bun dusted with powdered sugar. Can’t mess that up.
Each course was served with a short pour of wine: the first, with a dry white wine, the second with a red wine that was a blend of pinotage and syrah, and the third with a sweet white, this time sparkling. A very nice touch.
My Darling B ordered the Bayou meal, because she just had to try deep-fried alligator, the first course. She expected it to be like pork, but after a few bites she thought it was more like a mild seafood. I thought it tasted a little like crab. It came with a helping of collard greens braised in bacon, because everything’s better with bacon, even – can you believe it? – collard greens. Really.
B’s main course was Jambalaya of shrimp with andouille sausage on a heap of rice with lots of spicy tomato sauce. I hate to say this, but B’s cooked jambalaya and she’s made better, mostly because she has mastered the art of cooking shrimp as perfectly as can be done. The woman has trouble making an omelet even after twenty years of trying, but give her a pound of shrimp and she can whip up a dinner that will make you feel as though you’re falling in love. She shared some of the jambalaya with me, spooning out a little rice, a piece of sausage and a shrimp on a plate for me to taste, and I went straight for the shrimp, because I loves me some shrimp, but as soon as I bit into it I thought, Okay, not too bad, but chef could’ve taken that off the heat a minute sooner and it would’ve been perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it. It wasn’t overdone, which is so easy to do with shrimp. Most places serve shrimp so overcooked you might as well take them home and give them to the dog as chew toys. These were not that kind of overcooked. They were delicious. But they weren’t perfect, and when you’re serving great, big, fat, rolly-polly shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce with deliciously spicy sausage, they really ought to be perfect. Still, thumbs up.
For dessert, B had cherries Jubilee, which were advertised as “flambeed to order in our dining room.” B was really hoping that meant they were going to set it aflame right before her eyes, but no joy. Didn’t stop her from lapping up every little tiny bit of it.
10:19 pm CDT
Category: festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
| Tags: Liliana's, Madison restaurant week
The spam bots are back! After ignoring my blog for months, and frankly deflating my ego quite a bit (the spam bots wouldn’t even read my blog!), I’m back to getting half a dozen comments every day that are complete gibberish (except for the response from Lindsey Lohan – apparently, she loves my blog!) and almost always have web addresses with names like “qwertyfdsaf” or “engorgedpenis” that are based on servers in Russia or, for some odd reason, Canada.
Since the utter nonsensical content makes them easy to spot, I delete just about every single one of them without having to think about it much, but yesterday I got this keeper from a web site in Poland:
What i don’t understood is actually how you’re not really much more well-liked than you might be now. You’re very intelligent. You realize therefore considerably relating to this subject, made me personally consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t fascinated unless it is one thing to do with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. Always maintain it up!
Yeah, I don’t understand how I’m not actually more well-liked, either! Well, not in this country, anyway. In Poland, they think I’m better than Lady Gaga! Comments like this give me the motivation to always maintain it up. Keep them coming, spam bots!
6:03 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
The most unexpected thing to happen to me this weekend: I ran into a distant relative at the Isthmus beer and cheese festival. Standing in the middle of the room with My Darling B, just minutes after we got there, I looked up from the map we were using to plan our attack on the next vendor and I saw, or thought I saw, my dad’s sister’s daughter’s daughter – I don’t know if makes her my first, second or third cousin, so I’m just going to say “cousin.” There was more than a little doubt in my mind it was actually her because, as far as I knew, she wasn’t even living in town after graduating from school, but I kept spotting her in the crowd and kept getting the same eerie feeling until finally I had to walk up, tap her on the shoulder and introduce myself. And what do you know. It was her. Small world.
I guess the next most happy surprise was that the organizers of the festival brought in Ian’s Pizza and a food cart called Banzo so we didn’t have to eat the miserable crap that Aramark sells from their stalls around the convention floor when everybody got the munchies as the day went on. B and I stopped by the food cart late in the afternoon to grab a bite to eat before we went home and were very pleasantly surprised by how tasty their food was. B got a very generous helping of hummus with pita slices to spread it on. I ordered falafel and shared with B, and we both made so many yummy noises as we scarfed it down that I went back to order more. Now I can’t wait for summer so I can look for them on the street.
But the beer and cheese was what we came for. Actually, I came for the beer. B is the cheese connoisseur. I didn’t even remember to bring my milk pills. You’d think if I was going to an event named Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest, I’d be able to remember my milk pills, but no. So I stuck to the aged cheddar and only ate a little bit of that.
The beer selection was surprisingly ordinary. Everybody seemed to be serving “safe” beers, the kind I could get at Jenifer Street Market or Star Liquor. Not bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, just … safe. Which is disappointing only because, if I’d bought it at the store, I could have saved myself a lot of money. I tasted fourteen or fifteen beers. Each vendor poured three or four ounces into my glass when I started sampling at the beginning of the evening, but toward the end of the evening they tended to fill my glass almost all the way up with maybe six ounces of beer, although I only had two or three of those. That’s about fifty-eight ounces of beer, or just two ounces short of five 12-ounce bottles. I paid forty bucks to drink less than a six-pack of beer.
The most unhappy thing to happen to me and B this weekend was right after the show, when our cab didn’t show. We made a reservation with Green Cab to pick us up, and when they didn’t and B called them to ask where the hell they were, the dispatcher told her they were really busy. Go fish, basically. So we fell back on the gold standard, Union Cab, and they didn’t disappoint. A cab was there to pick us up on less than twenty minutes, and he played a game of “Cash Cab” on the way home. I won a whiffle ball.
9:40 pm CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
| Tags: Banzo, Isthmus Beer & Cheese Festival
My Darling B and I went to lunch at Inka Heritage to kick off Madison’s Restaurant Week (winter edition). I have no idea if they’re serving authentic Peruvian cuisine, never having been to Peru myself, but I can tell you that the food I ate there tasted really, really good.
I started off with an appetizer they call causitas dos sabores. I did not attempt to pronounce that. I ordered by pointing, as I do in all restaurants where they insist on listing foods on the menu in a foreign language. I have nothing against foreign languages, and I love exotic foods, but I won’t open myself to ridicule or insult a country’s gastronomic heritage by pretending I can order in the native language, so I pointed at the appetizer of mashed potatoes pressed into little cakes and served with a tablespoon of chicken salad dabbed on top.
For the main course, I tried escabeche costeno, a lightly-fried fish fillet served in a mild pepper sauce with slivers of onion and a cake of white rice on the side. What I loved most about this dish is that it wasn’t more than I could eat in a sitting. Big thanks to Inka Heritage for not trying to make me waddle back to my car. I also loved that they didn’t overpower the whitefish with the pepper sauce. In fact, as far as the food was concerned they did everything just right: The fish wasn’t overcooked, the rice wasn’t a sticky mess, and they served dessert with a cup of chocolaty-dark coffee.
Dessert, by the way, was a slice of cheesecake, a cup of rice pudding and a caramel cookie dusted with powdered sugar. The cheesecake was wonderful, but then I’m pretty sure I would love just about any cheesecake they put in front of me. I’m very indiscriminate when it comes to cheesecake. I haven’t eaten one that I didn’t like. I don’t usually like rice pudding, but I liked this one. And the cookie, wow. I loved that little cookie. I could have eaten way too many of those.
My Darling B started off with costa, sierra y selva for an appetizer, which appeared to be a small potato drizzled in cream sauce and diced whitefish swimming in a tangy marinade, served on a scallop shell, a nice touch. For her main dish, she chose the tacu tacu mar y tierra, mostly because she loved saying “tacu tacu,” which turned out to be a very subtly-flavored bean cake, too subtle for my palate. The tacu tacu came with a very modest portion of chicken and fish.
Inka Heritage appeared to be a very popular place; it was almost empty when we got there, but filled up within a half-hour and remained busy right up until we left. The staff were friendly and our service was good. My only complaint was, there were no towels in the men’s room so I had to wave my hands dry. If you ask me, keeping the bathrooms in clean, working order is as important as busing tables. Everybody’s going to visit the bathroom at least once while they’re there, right? B didn’t appreciate having to hold on to her handbag for lack of hooks, either, but those hiccups wouldn’t keep us from going back.
4:53 pm CDT
Category: festivals, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
| Tags: Inka Heritage, Madison restaurant week