Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CST
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Monday, June 15th, 2015

In a scene from an episode of True Detective that we were watching the other night, the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey passed a pint bottle of Jim Beam between them, each taking a generous swig at the end of each line of dialogue before passing it back.

This was not the first television show or movie where we’d seen people knock back the hard stuff like it was water. And no, I’m not stupid, I know it was water, like I know it’s a television show. But I have to wonder, are there people who really drink like this? Or even close to like this? If I drank like that, I would be unable to speak by the time we got to the fourth swig. I like a drinking buzz as much as most people, but one beer and I’m already there. There is no way on earth I can drink a half-pint of whiskey and keep on talking so it makes any kind of sense. I have my doubts that anybody can. Not only that, but in the show we watched the other night, Matthew McConaughey’s guy kept not only drinking but snorting coke and remained lucid. I’m pretty sure nobody can do that. But what the hell, it’s television.

booze | 6:46 pm CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, play, television
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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
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Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Note to self: Merchant does not open at nine o’clock Saturday morning for brunch, as I thought because that’s what they advertised on their web site. We found a somewhat cryptic explanation for this on their front door where, etched in the glass under the Saturday hours, it says they open for brunch at nine on “farmer’s market Saturdays.” We had to guess that they were talking about when the farmer’s market is on the square because, as it just so happened, one of the reasons we went downtown this morning was to visit the farmer’s market at the Monona Terrace, where they meet during the fall months. In the winter, the market shifts to the senior center down the street from the Overture Center. There’s a farmer’s market every Saturday year-round. So Merchant shoulda been open. So there.

But they weren’t, and we had our hearts set on brunch and besides, we were hungry. My Darling B suggested we could visit either Marigold Kitchen or Graze; I plumped for Graze because I love their bloody Marys (do you drop the y and add ies for more than one bloody Mary? There’s a Will Safire column out there somewhere that covers this, but I’m not going to stop right now to look) and off we went.

Except that Graze didn’t open until nine-thirty. Figures.

Options: Wait outside Graze’s front door until they opened. Pros: Tasty bloody Mary; delicious food; one of our favorite places to eat. Cons: Waiting sucks. And there was the weather to consider. Specifically, it was twenty-five degrees outside and we’re both great big wimps. We bugged out in the direction of The Old Fashioned. Sorry, Tory. Maybe another time.

As we crossed East Washington Avenue, we passed a woman who was perhaps in her 80s and dressed rather flamboyantly in a lime-green dress, red jacket and a wide-brimmed red hat. When she was just two or three steps away from us she shouted at the tops of her lungs, “I’M RED HAT MAMA!” My Darling B, to her credit, didn’t react at all, just kept on walking. Turned out that Red Hat Mama wasn’t shouting at us; it was just something she shouted at irregular intervals. She shouted the same thing again when she was about twenty feet past us, and kept on shouting as she walked down the street.

The Old Fashioned was virtually empty when we got there. If you’ve ever been to The Old Fashioned, you know that this is very weird because the place is usually packed to the rafters. The Old Fashioned is everybody’s favorite place to eat and drink on capital square. The host seated us at a table in the front by the window and there were just two other people seated there, but that didn’t last long. In the hour that we were there, the place went from nearly deserted to standing room only.

Apparently there was a Badger game later today, which I cleverly deduced from all the people dressed in red and wearing Bucky Badger hats. I’m pretty sharp that way. It’s also my guess that it must be something of a tradition to eat brunch at The Old Fashioned before the game, because groups of five to ten people dressed in red were walking in the front door more or less continuously the whole time we were there.

The bloodies at The Old Fashioned were quite different from the bloodies we’ve had just about anywhere else. They weren’t as boozy, for one thing. Our favorite bloodies are the ones they make at Stalzy’s Deli. They’re very tasty, but they give me just enough of a buzz that sometimes I wonder how much vodka they dump in those things. The Old Fashioned makes a nicely spicy bloody topped with a pickled egg, a skewer of cheese curds and a dill spear. There’s also a thick slab of beef jerky jammed down one side of the glass that’s maybe a little more than casual drinkers like us can handle. Not saying it was bad, just that maybe it’s enough to say we saved the jerky for our doggie bags with the rest of the leftovers. Maybe I’ll get around to gnawing on it later tonight for a bedtime snack.

It’s worth noting that our meals were eye-poppingly huge. Seriously, our eyes popped out of our heads and wagged back and forth on stalks. Everybody was pointing at us, but we couldn’t help ourselves. I generally think of brunch as a light meal. I ordered ham & eggs. The ham slice was three-quarters of an inch thick and about six inches across. Who eats that much meat at a single sitting? I ate about a third of it; I’ll be eating another third tomorrow for lunch and the final third on Monday for lunch. B ordered chicken fried steak; she took home enough to feed Coxey’s army, too.

The walk back to the car was long enough that our lips were numb and we opted to skip the farmer’s market this weekend and just pick up what we needed at the grocer’s. Told you we were wimps.

adventures in brunch | 3:38 pm CST
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Friday, September 26th, 2014

We thought we were making pretty good time to the airport, but it turned out we weren’t: We arrived shortly after 4:30 am and got through security by 4:45 am – not enough time, unfortunately, before the announced 5:00 am boarding time for us to kick off our annual vacation to the farthest reaches of the known world (aka the Continental United States) in our most traditional manner, breakfast sammies chased by a couple of bloody Marys at the Great Dane brewpub.

And even if we’d had enough time, the Great Dane was experiencing a few technical glitches that would have prevented them from obliging us. They were serving complimentary coffee only because the people at the cafe across the hall let them borrow a couple big insulated pump-carafes, or whatever they’re really called. We grabbed two cups to go and tried to sip them as we hurried to the other end of the terminal, but that didn’t work out too well, and to avoid having to fly all the way to Portland soaked in coffee we’d managed to splash all over ourselves, we nonchalantly dropped our cups in the garbage and speed-walked through the airport.

With high hopes, we boarded our plane. Frontier Airlines promised us when we bought our tickets – promised us! that there would be free drinks on the plane, but if we’d read the small print we would have learned that they ended their free drinks policy the week before we started our trip. Bummer, again.

Grabbed a banana and some OJ while waiting at Denver International Airport. Just wasn’t the same. Heavy sigh.

The only available seats on the flight from Denver to Portland were singles, but the nice lady at the boarding gate changed seats around so we could sit together, so there’s one other good thing that happened to us in an airport today. Still no free drinks on the plane, though. Gripe, gripe, gripe.

As the plane was getting ready to depart Denver, we overheard a couple of the flight attendants saying that a fire at a Chicago air traffic control building had forced airports all across the Midwest to shut down. Suddenly the no-drinks policy didn’t seem like such a big deal. We got out of Dodge just in the nick of time!

The taxi ride from the Portland airport to the B&B was pretty dull. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just that we’re used to a much more, shall we say, thrilling experience. Other cabbies seem to have trouble dividing their attention between driving and talking, for instance, and end up wandering from lane to lane, or narrowly missing a collision. Cabbies in Portland, by contrast, are deliberate, careful and not very chatty at all. Thanks, Portland cabbies!

The driver who picked us up at the airport had some kind of Slavic accent and at first didn’t seem to understand our directions, but when we offered to repeat them he waved us off, saying, “Okay, okay, okay!” Swell, I thought. Here we go on a scenic tour of the city, and fired up Google maps on my smart phone to see where he was taking us so I’d be able to call for help. Damned if he didn’t drive a beeline across town straight to the street our B&B was on. Okay! Okay! Okay!

While we were in Portland, we stayed at a B&B that was different from all the other B&B’s we’ve ever stayed at in that it hadn’t been all dolled up; it was just a great big house with lots of rooms upstairs. No themes, no showcases or shelves heaped with nick-knacks, just a big house with clean rooms at a decent price. I would recommend it if I didn’t think people would be disappointed that there wasn’t at least a collection of old tintype toys in the parlor.

After dropping our bags off at the B&B, we found the bus stop and rode into town, our destination being the Deschutes brewpub in the Pearl District of downtown Portland. We were starving for some grub and, well, it just so happened that they also brewed beer there, so we figured we’d try some of their beer too. If we had to. But when we got there, we found it wouldn’t be open for almost twenty minutes, so with time to kill we doubled back one block to Powell’s Bookstore.

All we were going to do was take a quick look around to see if it was as fabulous as we thought it would be, and OH. MY. GOD. It was more fabulous! I wandered further and further away from the lobby, getting flashbacks to the days and weeks we used to spend wandering the aisles of The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. When I realized how far away I’d gone, I doubled back to find My Darling B, but she had apparently wandered away, too, so I walked up to one of the many desks where the staff sat waiting to help people like me and asked, “If I were a used hardcover copy of The Caine Mutiny, where would I be?” The young lady behind the counter punched the name into her computer and asked, “Is that the one by Herman … Wouwulk?” (She couldn’t figure out how to pronounce “Wouk.”) (To tell the truth, I’ve never been able to, either.) Long story short, I walked out with a copy of The Caine Mutiny that very night, and not just any copy but a hardcover of the first printing with the original dust jacket, wrapped in cellophane. Squeee! That was literally THE book I most wanted to find at Powell’s.

B&O at Deschutes Brewery Portland ORWhen I finally caught up with B again we both really badly needed something to eat and drink, and it was past time for Deschutes to open, so out the door we went. The brewpub was just a block from Powell’s, so we didn’t have to walk far to satisfy any of our cravings. Before we even glanced at the menus, we ordered tasters from the tap list, a pretty slick move on our part, I gotta say. They served a half-dozen on a time, served on a wooden paddle with numbers seared into the little cutouts that held the glasses, each number matching a number on the drinks list so you could tell what you were sampling. This is why drinking beer is so much fun.

The food, it has to be said, was delicious, too, or maybe it was just that we were so hungry and the beer was making us happily relaxed. No. It was good food. It was bar food, sure, but good bar food. B had an elk burger, because what else are you going to have when there’s elk burger on the menu, and I had the special, something marinated pork something, and ate every bit of it. Gad, that was good.

We took a stroll around the neighborhood after lunch, partly to get the lay of the land and partly to walk off the food and beer. Or maybe it was the other way around. Whatever. We ended up walking along one of the main thoroughfares in this part of town, West Burnside Street, and I figured out (by Googling “portland sign”) that the big “Portland Oregon” sign we saw on the way into town was on top of a building next to the Burnside bridge, so we kept on going.

Well. The stretch of Burnside leading up to the bridge is in quite a colorful part of town, let me tell you. Leaving out the dozens of people laying on the sidewalk, almost all of whom want to know how much money you’ve got in your pockets (is it just me, or is that creepy as hell?), there are a number of establishments offering to satisfy your desire to stare openmouthed at women who have the skill set to work in a place called “Pussycats Live Nude Review.” And standing just outside these places are men talking about the show. Not barkers trying to talk you into going inside, just guys – they were all guys – talking about the show in no uncertain terms. We hurried past.

A little further up, closer to the bridge and on the north side of the street, is the entrance to Chinatown, flanked by stone dragons guarding either side of a tori gate that has seen better times. Lots more people were camping out on the pavement in front of the boarded-up shop fronts. We got the feeling that Portland’s Chinatown has seen better times.

B&O at the white stag sign Portland ORTo go the final hundred yards up the ramp to the bridge we had to step over a dozen or two more campers before we were finally, finally far enough up the road to snap a couple selfies with the sign in the background.

Just to fill space here, I’ll tell you that the sign has only recently been changed (in 2010, according to Wikipedia) to read “Portland Oregon,” and that it seems to be known most widely as the White Stag sign, after the sportsware maker that used to occupy the building under the sign. Not that we knew that when we took the photo. We just wanted something to remember Portland by, and the sign looked too cool as we rode the taxi into town.

It was getting on in the afternoon by this time and we needed a pick-me-up. B did a little Googling – we love our smartypants phones – and discovered there was a cafe run by Stumptown Coffee Roasters not far from the bridge. All she had to say was that it was one of the places in Portland that we had to check off our list and I was in it!

Our route to Stumptown took us past a Voodoo Doughnut shop. This was also one of those places that visitors to Portland feel they absolutely must check off their list. We saw more tourists with pink Voodoo Doughnut boxes than we saw homeless people; that’s a lot! But we were still full from Deschutes, and I didn’t feel like standing in a line for doughnuts, even if they were infused with more testosterone than a teenaged boy. Honestly, a hot espresso sounded much more enticing right then.

Stumptown didn’t disappoint. I’m no espresso connoisseur, but I liked what they were serving. B was happy with the chai latte, too, although they didn’t do much with the foam art at this particular place, I have to say. I don’t know from beans, but I know they’re supposed to draw a leaf or something on top.

Our pick-me-up gave us the steam to get back to Powell’s, this time for an extended visit. We both wandered the stacks until about five o’clock, picking out a few choice books for souvenirs. B bought a cookbook so big, there are killer asteroids that can only dream of having the mass of this book so they can smash planets to rubble. I found a set of Time-Life books about the moon landings that were almost as big and heavy. Powell’s shipped them all back home for about twenty-two cents. I don’t know how they do that, but wow.

We wanted to stop for a beer before we went back to the B&B and the guy behind the cash register at Powell’s recommended Bailey’s Taproom, which looked pretty cool but was jammed full of people when we got there. Right across the street, though, we found several tables open at Tugboat Brewing Co., a microbrew serving some yummy brown ales and stouts. The place doesn’t get a lot of love on Yelp but we thought it was just the place to rest our weary bones for a half-hour or so after walking all over downtown Portland.

We at dinner on the back porch of Caro Amico, a little neighborhood restaurant not far from the B&B. Cozy place, good food, and they’ll let you take the rest of the wine home if you don’t finish the bottle. A+++ would definitely slurp up a bowl of spaghetti there again.

pacnw day 1 | 9:36 pm CST
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Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

It’s been kind of a long week, so it wasn’t surprising that last night after we got home, we kicked off our shoes, found a couple of cocktails and settled in to the most comfortable furniture in our Little Red House to watch Rio Bravo.

I’m sure something’s wrong with the commas in that sentence, but I can’t figure it out right now and anyway, My Darling B will drop me a note with all the necessary corrections after she reads this.

The work last week wasn’t particularly grueling, but there was a lot of it, so knowing that we wouldn’t have to go back for a couple days was a special kind of relief, and we celebrated it with something like cosmopolitan. I have no idea what a cosmopolitan is other than a cocktail that was apparently made famous by its association with the television series Sex And The City, or maybe it was Sex In The City. That particularly crucial cultural touchstone didn’t get touched by me, so all I know about it is that it has something to do with sex and cities and maybe cocktails.

The cocktail My Darling B mixed wasn’t quite a cosmopolitan because she was missing one or more of the ingredients, so she improvised and christened it a Mononapolitan. It was tart and it had a lot of vodka in it. I had just one. One was enough. Two or more of those and I probably would’ve ended up sleeping on the bathroom floor. I’m too old for that shit.

But I did pop open a beer just before we started watching Rio Bravo, because we rustled up some grub from the chuck wagon just before we hit the trail. If that sounded really corny, it’s probably because it’s a really corny movie. Wikipedia says Rio Bravo is considered Howard Hawks’ best film. I haven’t seen a lot of the films Howard Hawks made, but I would guess there weren’t any cornier than this one, so I’d change “best” to “corniest.” And I mean that in a good way.

It’s also the longest western I think I’ve ever seen. No, wait, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was way longer, by about forty-two hours. That’s got to be the longest movie ever made. But Rio Bravo is plenty long for a cheeseball western. They could have easily shortened it to two hours if they’d cut the musical numbers – Dean Martin sings a duet with Ricky Nelson, then Ricky sings a duet with Walter Brennan; I told you it was corny – but then you would’ve had a movie starring Dean Martin without a Dean Martin song, and what sense would that make? Or they could’ve cut the many scenes where Angie Dickinson sashays around the room in her underwear, but same thing about not making sense.

Altogether after the long week, the Mononapolitan, the long, cheesy western and the beer, I was ready to hit the hay. And I’m here now to tell you that hay was well and truly hit.

cheeseball | 7:58 am CST
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Thursday, May 9th, 2013

smiling daveI think we spent more on taxis last night than we did on beer! We grabbed a cab into town for our nightly visit to Madison Craft Beer Week because we planned on taking advantage of the shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between cap square and the near-east side of town (thanks, guys!). We wanted to stop at four different places, and it would have been rude to stop and not sample the beers at each place, so we incurred a little added expense getting there and getting home again, but it was definitely worth it.

We started at The Old Fashioned, where Central Waters was pouring many of their tastiest beers. They have so many tasty beers, it must have been a tough job picking the ones they wanted to feature. Wonder how I can get that gig? I tried a very hoppy session beer that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten the name of. I can enjoy hoppy beers but My Darling B, delicate flower that she is, can hardly sit across the table from a glass of hopped-up beer. “Smells like armpits,” is her comment, every time. I kinda like the smell of my armpits. Guess that explains that.

Then we ambled down the street to The Cooper’s Tavern to see what Left Hand Brewing was offering, and got the most pleasant surprise of the evening: Good Juju ginger ale. Just delicious! I would have sworn there were orange peels in there but the brewer said nope, just ginger. Very nicely done! (Their Milk Stout Nitro wasn’t too shabby, either!)

Feeling mighty peckish after that, we crossed the square to Natt Spil for a bite to eat. Note to self: The chips & salsa platter is a LOT bigger than you think it will be. Plan the rest of your menu accordingly. (We were satisfied with just ordering a hummus platter to round out the meal. I think we got our recommended daily allowance of carbs. Maybe even weekly allowance.) Oh, and the beer: we sampled several draughts from Widmer Brothers Brewing. Marionberry and Raspberry Imperial Stout, to name just two, but unfortunately none of them were strong enough to dominate the chips & salsa so I can’t say anything about them, really. Bad move on our part.

Then we jumped on the shuttle bus to ride down to Schenk’s Corners where B wanted to try the bourbon barrel-aged stout offered by One Barrel Brewing. I’m not discerning enough to notice much difference between beers aged in bourbon barrels – they mostly give me the impression of sticking my head in a bourbon barrel, not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing. Well, if it were full it might be a bad thing. Never mind. B liked it but thought it would be a lot better if it aged a year or so.

We called Union Cab to pick us up from One Barrel, then stepped out to the curb just as a cab was pulling up! “Did you just call a cab?” the driver asked us after rolling down the window. B told him that she had. “He’ll be along any second,” he explained, then drove away. Odd. But then another cab appeared just minutes later, so the first guy was right. Still pretty weird.

left hand | 6:23 am CST
Category: booze, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play
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Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

brucesIt was the kind of day that a thoughtful man such as myself could only ponder over two martinis. One martini just would not provide enough pondering time.

Which reminds me of a song:


Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable
Heidigger, Heidigger was a boozing beggar who could think you under the table
David Hume could out-consumer Shopenhauer and Hegel
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as shloshed as Schlagle

There’s nothing Nietche couldn’t teach you ’bout the raising of the wrist
Socrates himself was permanently pissed

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, on a half-pint of shandy was particularly ill
Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whiskey every day
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle, Hobbes was fond of his dram
And Rene Descart was a drunken fart, “I drink, therefore I am!”

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed!

philosophical repose | 9:09 pm CST
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Monday, April 1st, 2013

I don’t know if it was the lamb tartar or the rabbit sausage, but something I ate last night gave me the stinkiest farts EVAR!

I’ve never had anything tartar before, so if I had to guess, I’d say it was that. The rabbit sausage was so rich, though, that I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the culprit instead. But they were both so good that I would have to admit it was worth an attack of stinky farts. Still trying to work out if it was worth the sleeplessness brought on by the rumbly tummy that came with the farts.

The tartar and the rabbit were part of a prix fixe Easter dinner produced by our friendly neighborhood REAP Food Group and hosted by Merchant, a Mad Town establishment that specializes in craft cocktails and artisanal foods. We like to stop in there every so often for a cocktail before or after a show, and we’re members of REAP, so we sorta had to go to this event. Also, I couldn’t say no to dining on rabbit for Easter. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get to bite the ears off, though.

They brought out the cutest little cheese-covered popover for the appetizer and it was so good I just couldn’t stop myself from gobbling it up, even though one of the owners of Merchant came out with a microphone just then to tell us about the dinner and REAP Food Group and all sorts of good things. The popover came with a complimentary glass of cava that was delish, too.

My first course was a salad with croutons that tasted like bacon and a fried egg on the side. Wow, that was good. I’ve never been so eager to eat a plate of rabbit food in my life.

My second course was the lamb tartar served with a thick chunk of foccacia. I would never have ordered lamb tartar on my own; that’s why I go to fancy dinners like these. They put something like raw meat in front of me at one of these things and I think, Well, gotta try new things! And I loved it.

The rabbit sausage was the third course, and came with rabbit confit ravioli. I’ve had rabbit before, but it was baked like a game hen. First time I’ve had one converted into sausage and pasta. Very rich, but very tasty.

Here comes Peter Cottontail | 5:46 am CST
Category: booze, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

If I remember rightly, and I’m not saying I do, I think The Fountain used to be a seafood place in a previous life. I’m not sure because I’ve been away from downtown Madison for quite a while now. While I worked on cap square I took a walk down State Street about once a week and knew just about every restaurant, shop and tavern, but it’s been a long time since then and a lot of things have changed. Somebody with a big red crane tore down about half of the 100 Block, for instance. That’s a change that would scramble anybody’s memory.

The Fountain seemed familiar, though. I have a dim memory of eating a sit-down dinner or two in the room where we saw the big band. It’s not a big room. It’s certainly not a room I’d expect to be able to squeeze into if there was a full-sized big band already present, although I’d have to qualify that by saying I’ve been in the presence of a real live big band just once in my whole life. I’m entirely willing to admit that I think they’re big mostly because they got ‘big’ in the name.

The room that they call the upstairs bar has three or four booths against one wall, room for maybe a dozen tables in the middle of the floor, and they’ve managed to park some really teeny two-person tables against the wall between the windows or, in our case, up against one window, a fact I mention only because the windows aren’t insulated, giving me a terrible case of goosebumps the night we were there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have some cheese with my whine.

The band was scheduled to start playing at five, but five came and went and there were still guys lugging big, black instrument cases through the door. They didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, either. Five clearly meant five-ish.

We passed the time with a couple of beers and, for appetizers, we ordered onion straws. Why do we do this? We know from experience that we shouldn’t. Our bodies aren’t young enough to eat that much deed-fried snack food, but we order it anyway because wow that’s good snack food, especially with dipping sauce. And when you wash it down with beer – *bliss!* Paid for it later, though.

(If you’re really hungry, I recommend the reuben sandwich. I have never before seen corned beef slices so thick on a reuben anywhere. I ate just half of it and was well and truly serensified, even unto the next day.)

The band started playing around five-thirty and just BLEW MY SOCKS OFF! Literally. And then I couldn’t find them, not even wadded up in the toes of my shoes. That shouldn’t even be physically possible, but when a half-dozen saxophones backed up by a half-dozen trombones and an indeterminate number (couldn’t indulge my urge to count; a pillar was in my way) of trumpets start channeling the spirit of Count Basie, socks are gonna fly. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I had to go home sockless.

The first set lasted about an hour and comprised four or five toe-tapping numbers, then the band took a break to grab some beers and reload. “Do you want to stay for the second half?” My Darling B asked. “Hell, yes!” I answered without having to think about it. So we did. When they came back and started playing the second set, they blew my shoes off. Found those under a nearby table, though, so I didn’t have to walk barefoot through the snow to get home.

The Fountain Big Band meets on the last Sunday of every month at The Fountain, 122 State Street. I know that’s where we’ll be four weeks from now.

The Fountain | 6:15 am CST
Category: booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013

We got all kindsa kulcha today.

About a month ago, My Darling B asked me if I wanted to go to the opera. It’s not something she asks me very often – like, never – so I said yes. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. She caught me unprepared.

But that turned out to be a good thing. The show she got tickets for was The Real Divas of Dane County, a reality show/opera mash-up. I’m only passingly familiar with the “Real Housewives” television show, and the only opera I know is what I heard watching Bugs Bunny, but I think they did a fair job.

We got there way too early, though. The last time we went into town for a show at the Overture Center there were huge crowds milling around in the lobby for three different shows and we had one hell of a time grabbing our tickets from the will-call window in time to get to our show. We didn’t want to cut it as fine this time so we left an hour before show time, only to get there and find no other shows going on and virtually nobody in the lobby. After picking up our tickets, we had forty minutes to kill before the show.

So we headed up State Street to see if we could find an open bar where we could sit and sip a cocktail before the show, and it turned out we could: The Fountain had plenty of empty bar stools and a bartender who was more than willing to mix a couple drinks for us. He had an interesting way of mixing a martini: After he chilled the glass with ice water, he poured just a bit of vermouth into the glass, swirled it around enough to coat the insides, dumped the excess down the drain, then filled it up with gin. My dad would’ve loved that, both for the theater of it and the resulting delicious martini.

When we told him we were in town to see a show, he let us know that there would be a big band playing in the upstairs bar later and invited us to stop by if we were staying in town. We hadn’t planned on it, but figured what the hell, we can do things spontaneously once in a while, and came back.

Good thing we did, because The Fountain Big Band is fantastic! If I counted right, there were five sax players, five trombone players, three trumpet players, a piano player, a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player, all jammed into a back corner of a very intimate venue. They all seemed to be professional musicians or professors of music from all over the state, and a few from out of state. They get together at the Fountain on the last Sunday of each month and, without any kind of rehearsal, belt out some of the foot-tappingest big-band music I’ve heard. We enjoyed it so much that we stayed for both the first and last set. And to think we wouldn’t have even heard of it if we hadn’t been too early for the opera.

kulcha | 9:56 pm CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, show | Tags: ,
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Saturday, February 16th, 2013

I took a little trip this weekend to visit with Mom. As she lives in Arkansas, I had to choose between driving or flying. I’d rather be the subject of almost any kind of invasive strip search than be cooped up in a car for twelve hours, so I chose to fly.

And regretted it almost right off the bat, as I lined up behind a guy in the TSA strip-search-a-thon who decided to make a federal case right then and there about his rights. Buddy, I wanted to say, unless and until you get to the end of this line, you have no rights, and I’m stuck behind you, so can we please move this along?

But no, he wanted to argue his case. I never thought I’d be grateful to see someone pulled out of a line for special treatment by the TSA, but I was.

The flight was uneventful, which is about as good as commercial flying gets, although it almost got better when the steward announced there were complementary cocktails for military personnel. I had my military ID out and was ready to flash it when she finally rolled the cart up to my aisle, but it turned out the offer was only good for uniformed personnel. Even though I happened to be wearing my fatigue jacket, I didn’t argue the point, and just ponied up the six bucks for my tiny little bottle of Tanquerey and a can of tonic.

We landed after dark, so I didn’t get a chance to look much at the area as we descended. I found Mom waiting for me near the entrance of the terminal and, after making our hellos, we were on our way.

visiting | 7:27 am CST
Category: booze, daily drivel, food & drink, Mom, O'Folks, play, travel, vacation
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Saturday, January 26th, 2013

This was how my Friday began:

I drove My Darling B to work yesterday because we were going to meet some friends of hers at Smoky’s Club on the west side. If I had the car and went back to pick her up after work, it would eliminate a lot of driving back and forth.

Her office is on the west side of town and, at that hour, the beltline is the quickest, easiest way to get there. On Friday morning, though, there was a dusting of new snow all across Madison and, when I came down the on-ramp and merged with traffic, I had the luck to fall in behind a county truck and, just as I pulled up behind him, he dropped his spade and wing plow to clear snow from the on-ramp and he started spreading salt. Of course.

I tried to get out from behind him but couldn’t. He slowed down quite a lot to plow and salt the road, and the oncoming traffic in the other lanes was moving too fast to safely merge with it. Also, I was having a lot of trouble seeing: The spray thrown up behind the truck mixed up with the salt he was laying down, which quickly coated the windshield of the O-Mobile in an opaque, white glaze. I tried the windshield washer but nothing squirted out. Tried it again; still nothing.

It’s the kind of car where the wipers come on when you try to squirt the wiper fluid. Sweeping back and forth across the windshield, they smeared the road spray and salt all over the glass, leaving about three inches at the very bottom for me to peek through. I had to drive the rest of the beltline hunched down in my seat. My head was lower than the top of the steering wheel.

After dropping B off at work I pulled into the first gas station I could find on University Ave, a small Mobil station. There was a rack of one-gallon bottles of wiper fluid right next to the door; I grabbed a gallon on the way in, set it on the counter and dug my wallet out of my pocket. And waited. There was no one at the counter. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the service bay, either. I shuffled around a bit, making noise, but nobody came out of the bathroom or whatever hidey hole they were in. I could have shoplifted the cash register.

I was standing there about five minutes when an older guy came out of a back room behind the service bay. “Can I help you?” Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks.

Back at the car, I popped the hood and filled up the wiper fluid reservoir, started the engine and yanked on the wiper stem. The wipers swept back and forth, but nothing squirted out. I yanked again, because, you know, that fixes it, right? Only it didn’t fix it, and I didn’t have time to figure out what the problem might be. I was already late for work, so I just poured wiper fluid straight from the bottle onto the windshield, then reached inside the car and yanked the on the wiper stem. The wipers swept across the windshield, squeegeeing the wiper fluid off the glass and slopping almost all of it onto my pants. Of course.

This was how my Friday ended:

We’ve driven past Smoky’s Club I don’t know how many times, and every time we drove past, one of us said, “You know, we really have to visit there some time.”

Well, we finally stopped in at Smoky’s yesterday. They were taking part in Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, so for the last night we decided to finish off with a steak dinner at Smoky’s. And just to make it as much fun as possible, we met a couple that B knows from work and passed several happy hours swapping stories while we enjoyed dinner and some drinks. So, as bad as the day started, it ended about as well as it could have.

my friday | 7:56 am CST
Category: booze, commuting, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants, work
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Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

“Guess what tomorrow is,” My Darling B asked me as I was cleaning up after dinner.

I thought I knew what she was getting at, but I didn’t want to just blurt it out, so I said, somewhat obtusely, “Tomorrow’s the fifteenth.”

“And that means?”

“Duh. Fifteen percent off wine at the liquor store.”

“Right,” she laughed. “What else does it mean?”

I was silent for an embarrassingly long time as I tried to guess what else she could possibly mean. “You’ll get it, eventually,” she encouraged me.

“Oh,” I finally said, after the nickel dropped. “It’s our son’s birthday.” D’oh!

“Right,” she said. “What belated gift should we get him?”

I didn’t even have to think about it much. “Discount wine?”

Happy Birthday, Sean.

belatedly | 9:21 pm CST
Category: booze, daily drivel, food & drink, O'Folks, play, Seanster
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Sunday, October 14th, 2012

image of McSorely'sOne afternoon in New York City on our way back from a tour, My Darling B suggested we stop at McSorely’s, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern in America. From the moment we set foot on the sawdust-strewn floor of the place, I didn’t doubt it. The bar ran down one side of the narrow bar room and a scattered collection of wooden tables and hard chairs ran down the other. The walls were dark wood, but the wood was mostly covered with framed newspaper clippings of historic events, or photographs of well-known people. Teddy Roosevelt was featured prominently and repeatedly. I have to admit, I like the place immediately for that.

We took a seat at a table beside a pot-bellied stove, which took up a considerable amount of space in the middle of the room. There were four fire fighters from the Bronx at the next table over who started chatting us up even before we sat down. Their table was crowded with beer mugs, most of them empty, a half-dozen or so still full, two or three half-drunk. “Where you from?” they asked, and when we said Wisconsin the next dozen words out of their mouths included “cheese curds” and “Bret Favre.” Why didn’t Bret Favre stop while he was ahead? they wanted to know. What he did to himself and his career was just a tragedy. And so on.

Leaving B to keep up the conversation with the firemen, I sidled up to the bar and asked the bartender, after he was done welcoming a small crowd of regulars, what he had on tap. “We serve only McSorely’s ale here, light and dark,” he informed me. I asked for one each and he drew them off into small glass beer mugs. The beer had a rich, foamy head and a sweet, creamy taste, and went down very easily as we listened to the firemen bewail the fate of Bret Favre. I even went back to the bar and ordered another round after polishing off the first, the only time we did that at any bar we visited in New York City.

After McSorely’s we went to Pete’s Tavern, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern and restaurant in New York City, which is clearly not the case if McSorely’s is in fact the oldest continuously-operated bar in America. Is there a rivalry going on here? If so, McSorely’s has the edge in product, because they serve a better beer. The beer at Pete’s was okay, but not all that great. We ran into this a lot in New York City, where the bars tended to serve mainstream brands like Bud and Miller, and we saw very few locally-produced brews like Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

image of My Darling BThe only other place that was nearly as interesting as McSorely’s was The Tippler, a bar carved out of the spaces beneath the Chelsea Market, a retail mall in the reconditioned buildings of the old National Biscuit Company’s original manufactory. This was the birthplace of the Oreo!

My Darling B wanted awfully badly to visit, so we stopped in on Saturday, our first day in NYC, for an evening cocktail. If memory serves (and if it doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll find a way to let me know), B had a Booty Collins, a drink of vodka infused with tea and mixed with passion fruit, cayenne, lemon and yohimbe. I’ve never even heard of yohimbe, so it sounds like her kind of drink, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my Gin and Chronic, a take on the classic gin and tonic with a little hops flavor thrown in.

We stayed for just one drink as it was getting late and we wanted to have enough time to visit the Empire State Building that night. Considering how that turned out, we probably should’ve stayed for another drink or two.

image of The Tippler in NYC

drinking in nyc | 5:56 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, travel, vacation | Tags:
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Thursday, September 20th, 2012

It’s guy night! Otherwise known as We’re going out to eat, honey!

My Darling B usually has the car and picks me up from work, but tonight I had the car and picked B up, putting us both on the west side of town at exactly the time that both our tummies started growling in unison.

“What are we doing for dinner tonight?” she asked, as we pulled out of the parking lot. I suggested that we could either stop at the grocery store on the way home, where I’d pick up a salmon fillet, take it home and broil it for dinner, OR we could drive just three minutes down the road to our favorite Italian restaurant, Lombardino’s, where we could both enjoy a refreshing cocktail and a big plate of spaghetti.

“Which would you rather do?” My Darling B asked me.

Wow. Talk about a no-brainer.

It just so happened that we showed up at that certain time of the evening on that certain night of the week that they were offering a special on three different kinds of wine by the glass, according to the lovely young lady who brought us samples to taste. My only regret of the evening is that I should have splurged and ordered a glass of the delicious third glass that I’ve already forgotten the name of because I thought, Hell, I’ll never forget a name as distinctive as that and didn’t write it down.

Instead of a glass of wine I ordered a pomegranate martini, partly because B ordered one, too, and I thought it’d be cute if we both had the same drink, and partly because the name of the drink had “martini” in it, despite the fact that there wasn’t a drop of gin or vermouth within a hundred feet of it. I should’ve known it would only disappoint me.

That huge plate of spaghetti sure didn’t disappoint me, though, and neither did the plate of calamari we ordered for an appetizer. I thought maybe we’d munch a couple of those as we sipped our cocktails but we ended up wolfing down the whole serving, yummy as they were. The marinara sauce, garnished with horseradish, really did the trick there. Couldn’t finish the entree, though. Didn’t even try.

Lombardino’s | 9:05 pm CST
Category: booze, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, September 16th, 2012

image of trunk full of goodwill donationsWe paid a visit to the Monroe Cheese Fest yesterday, which, if they were honest, they would call the Monroe Standing In Lines Fest. Ten thousand people crowded the city square of Monroe, so there were lines for everything. There were even lines to get in lines. I’m not kidding. To buy cheese curds, or cheesecake on a stick, or a beer – anything – we had to stand in a line to buy tickets for it first. I didn’t find a vendor anywhere that would take my money in exchange for something deep-fried, or cool and refreshing. I should’ve pulled the race card on them. “Oh, I get it: No tickee, no beer, eh? What kind of racist organization is this, anyway?”

Of course, each vendor had their own tickets. We couldn’t buy a whole fistful of tickets, then redeem them anywhere we wanted. Beer tickets would not buy cheese curds, for instance. Luckily for our thirsty selves, the New Glarus beer tent had a crack staff that kept the lines moving pretty fast. I was okay with the tickets-for-beer crap so long as I had a cold cup of beer in my hand.

We were invited to the cheese fest by a couple we know, Bryan and Kris. Bryan grew up in Monroe, so he knew it like the back of his hand and could tell stories about every building in town. He knew, for instance, that we wouldn’t be able to park anywhere near the courthouse square. Taking his advice, we parked on the edge of town and rode in on one of the buses the festival organizers chartered to bring people into town. Bryan suggested we meet in front of Baumgartner’s, a tavern Bryan said anybody would be able to point us toward if we couldn’t find it. Good idea, but as it turned out, we didn’t have to ask. The bus dropped us off right behind Baumgartner’s, so we were right where we wanted to be almost as soon as we stepped off the bus.

Our timing was perfect. Bryan phoned My Darling B just minutes after we arrived and left a voice message for her, saying he was in front of Baumgartner’s waiting for us, but after scanning the twenty or so faces of the people standing outside Baumgartner’s, we were pretty sure he was pulling a Candid Camera stunt on us. “If you’re in front of Baumgartner’s, then you must be cloaked,” I texted to him. I tried calling, but the cumulative weight of ten thousand cell phone users must’ve been overwhelming the one tired cell phone tower near the center of this normally-sleepy berg, because I never connected with him no matter how many times I tried to dial his number, even while he was leaving me more voice messages.

We hooked up eventually. He and Kris were standing on the other side of the road, near the beer tent. How fortuitous. After grabbing a cold one, we set off to tour the vendors set up around the square. That’s when we found out there were an infinite number of lines waiting for tickets, food, tickets, and beer. When we were almost all the way around the square, Bryan volunteered to wait in line for tickets to buy some cheese curds if we would go on to the beer tent and have a freshly-pulled cold beer waiting for him when he caught up with us. We agreed, and on we went.

I caught only the outlines of this plan, however, because while we were working them out I overheard the familiar strains of La Vie En Rose, played by all-girl accordion band, The Squeezettes. I had never been prepared for a version of La Vie En Rose scored for four women on accordions. I’m more accustomed to versions like the one sung by Edith Piaf, although Louis Armstrong can turn out a pretty good rendition, too. Overcome by the, ah, unique rendition by the Squeezettes, I lost track of what was going on around me and almost didn’t notice when the rest of the group moved on to the beer tent.

We ended up at the corner where we started, just as my Auntie Sue and Uncle Jim arrived. There was much hugging and hellos, followed by a trip to the beer tent to make sure everyone had a cool, refreshing drink before we went on to the next thing. The Next Thing was supposed to be listening to a blues band at the stage behind the brewery, but unfortunately it turned out that they were scheduled to appear much later in the day than we thought they were, so we made our way back up to the square and, on the way, happened to meet some people we knew. There was much more hugging and hellos, more cool libations from the beer tent, and shortly afterward we found ourselves in the shade of the buildings along the side of the square, where we passed the rest of the afternoon, shooting the shit while polka bands played old pop tunes. And it was not at all bad way to pass the time, I might add.

We made one side trip to see what the tour of the distillery was like. I have to say that I was disappointed. It wasn’t much of a tour. They herded us into a room, showed us a brief Power Point slide show summarizing the history of the Minhaus Brewery, poured a few drinks, and that was it. There wasn’t even a distillery to look at. They had a mega-still installed in the room, but it looked like it wasn’t hooked up to anything and, if I heard them right, it hadn’t ever been fired up. It was a virgin still. Maybe the tour will be a bit more interesting after they’ve actually distilled something and have a few good stories to share. Couldn’t say.

We packed up and headed out of town kind of early because standing around all day in the sun sipping beer made me a little sleepy. I wanted to get back before it got dark.

Monroe Waiting In Line Festival | 8:55 pm CST
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Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Rain began to fall as we stepped out of the parking garage on North Webster to walk to Harvest, the last restaurant we had reservations for during Madison’s Restaurant Week. We were both so unfamiliar with the feeling of water falling out of the skies on our heads that we froze in confused indecision and began to babble our thoughts aloud to each other.

“Should we go get a brollie from the car?” My Darling B asked.

“It’s only a little rain,” I said, as if I knew what “a little rain” looked like any more, “from a passing cloud. We’ll be fine.”

It’s just a block and a half from the parking garage to Harvest. We had to wait in the rain for the light to change so we could cross through the traffic on North Webster, and we made it as far as the overhang in front of the Bartell Theater before I voiced the opinion that it wasn’t only a little rain after all and that maybe we should wait it out.

“We’ll be fine,” B said, so we started out again, sticking as close as possible to the buildings, where the rain wasn’t coming down quite so hard.

As we rounded the corner in front of the YWCA building I caught sight of the staff at Harvest frantically clearing linens and silverware off the tables on the sidewalk, and that’s about the same moment that I realized I was getting SOAKED and was walking rather briskly up the street to the door. Apparently my subconscious mind, which must have been operating on the same frequency as the staff at Harvest, had hijacked control over my body from my devil-may-care conscious mind because HEY DUMMY IT’S RAINING!

The staff at Harvest, apparently just as surprised by the rain as we were, recovered with a lot more poise and dignity than we did. The hostess pretended that we weren’t dripping all over her podium, for instance. Lots of brownie points to her.

This was our first visit to Harvest ever, even though we have been living in Madison for six years and have said to each other at least half a dozen times every one of those years that we really have to visit Harvest one of these days. With all those years of built-up anticipation I was completely prepared to be disappointed because, really, I was expecting a dining experience that would send my very soul to a happy place and make me long to go back. Well, guess what? It was all that. I’m even happier to report that My Darling B thought our visit was, overall, the most enjoyable of all the five restaurants we stopped at this week. Huzzah, Harvest! You’ve been given the high-five by a couple of bumpkins! That’ll teach you for letting just anybody in the door.

The hostess seated us at a table along the wall, offering the chair to My Darling B. She usually sits on the bench seat along the wall and I thought maybe I ought to wait until the hostess went away and let her switch, but then I thought, Hey, just what’s so great about the bench seat, anyway? And I sat down and settled in. You know what? It turns out that there are not one but two really great things about the bench seat: First of all, you’re sitting against the wall so you can watch everything that’s going on. I got to marvel at the skill of the bartender as he mixed many liquid libations, for instance, and I couldn’t help but check out the costumes all the other diners were wearing. We weren’t the only bumpkins who showed up in relaxed attire, but we were a pronounced contrast to the many diners who dressed to the nines. People watching is too much fun.

The second really great thing about sitting on the bench seat against the wall is, I wasn’t hanging out there in the aisle for the diners and all the staff to bump into. And there’s a lot of staff at Harvest. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many staff at a restaurant before. At least ten, maybe twelve people, constantly buzzing through the aisles taking orders, delivering drinks, passing dishes from the kitchen to the tables, refilling water glasses, whisking dirty dishes away. I can’t fault them for service, but it was a little distracting.

First, the drinks. B ordered what Harvest called their signature martini. It was made with vodka. Why are drinks made with vodka instead of gin called martinis? How is that any different from serving a dish you call Chicken Kiev that you make with pork cutlets instead of chicken? Okay, never mind, I shouldn’t have gone there, forget I asked. Besides, it was delicious. The waiter mixed our drinks up and gave me B’s not-martini and I drank a sip and liked it. Quite a lot. So much that I would have gladly drunk the whole thing, but that still doesn’t make it a martini, okay?

Here’s another really wonderful thing about their martini which is not really a martini: If you ask the waiter what’s in it, as My Darling B did, the waiter will ask the bartender and the bartender will come over to the table and tell you exactly what’s in it, right down to the label. That tempted us to ask, later on, what was in the sauce they served with the main dish, to see if the chef would come out to tell us, but we managed to stifle ourselves even though the temptation was nearly overwhelming.

On to the food: We both ordered the tempura chicken for starters and the slow-cooked pork shoulder for the second course. We almost always order different dishes so that we can try each other’s food, but we know what we like and, after looking over the menu last night, we knew that we didn’t want anything else. We even ordered the same wine to go with dinner, a Cotes du Rhone that had just enough zip to it to compliment the pork shoulder. Listen to me. Like I would know what kind of wine would compliment pork. You almost bought that for just a moment, didn’t you?

I wasn’t as impressed by the chicken as B was. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it was very tender and I liked the barbecue sauce they drizzled on it, but I guess I was expecting crispy tempura. This wasn’t that. It was delicious and I ate every bite, but it wasn’t what I expected, is I guess what I’m trying to say, badly. My Darling B thought it was awesome in every way and cut the chicken into tiny little pieces, the more to sop up all the sauce.

The slow-cooked pork shoulder was served over a generous piece of savory corn bread. Wow. Just wow. That’s all I could think of to say about that. Actually, we couldn’t say much at all because we couldn’t stop putting every scrummy morsel into our mouths until it was all gone, so really what I was saying was more like, “Mmm! Mmmmm, mmmm mmm! Mmmmmm mmmmm mmm!” And then B would say to me, “Mmm! MMM!” And I would nod my head and answer, “Mmmm!”

We kept that up through dessert. We ordered the same main dish, but we split on the dessert. I had the chocolate cake because, duh, chocolate. No-brainer. It was served with a dab of bourbon mousse and vanilla ice creme anglaise drizzled all around. I’m not sure what ice creme anglaise is but it tasted really good. B had the berry parfait and, when she finished, said it was the best dessert she’d had all week. Another high five from the bumpkins, Harvest!

harvest | 8:22 am CST
Category: booze, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Capitol Chophouse is da bomb and I’ll tell you why: They mix the best martini I’ve ever drunk anywhere. The Chophouse was our second stop on this week’s tour of restaurants for Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, our semi-annual trip around some of the finer restaurants in the area or, as we like to think of it, the only time when places like the Chophouse will let bumpkins like us come sit at their tables. Although I couldn’t help noticing that there were plenty of people eating there last night who dressed in their finest cargo shorts and polo shirts, but I digress.

A helpful hint to diners everywhere: Don’t order the martini at the Chophouse when all you’ve had to eat all day is a chicken wrap for lunch and your stomach’s been growling since two o’clock, because they pour a very generous drink. Or maybe it was just our waitress who was generous: She poured my martini, then left the shaker at the table. Wow, did she get a good tip that night.

It was a perfect martini. I’ve loved that cocktail every since I learned the name. I order it just for the fun of saying it. “I’d like a perfect martini, please.” Man, does that feel good. Never mind that our waitress went and threw me off by asking what I wanted in my perfect martini. What did I want? Gin, and lots of it! “I think she means, what kind of gin, dear?” My Darling B suggested, coming to my rescue. Oh, I think I see now: Hendrickson’s, if you’ve got it. Gasoline, if you don’t. I’m a rube. I’m really not that picky, but thank you for pretending I might be.

martini | 8:38 pm CST
Category: booze, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
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Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The Thin Man When THE STORM OF THE CENTURY blew into town yesterday afternoon, I was a little worried we wouldn’t be able to get to the library before it closed and we’d have to postpone our Nick and Nora weekend until next Friday. But no! My Darling B’s winter driving skills prevailed against the snow and slush and idiot drivers and she picked me up from work at just ten past five, plenty of time for us to swing by the library and pick up the movies we had on hold.

We decided to watch the movies in order, so B reserved The Thin Man and After the Thin Man to start off our little film festival. I have to credit B with the idea for a Nick and Nora weekend. We were talking about how so many different kinds of cocktails originated during Prohibition, then we got to talking about how much people used to drink back then, and that naturally led to Nick and Nora. If you’ve seen just five minutes of any Nick and Nora movie, you know why.

It would only be natural to have a cocktail instead of popcorn during the movie, but after talking it over we opted to wait until Nick and Nora had their first drink. It happened seven minutes into the movie, when William Powell made his appearance. He was lecturing the bartenders in a ritzy hotel dining room on the finer points of how to properly mix a martini. I paused the movie while B whipped up a pair of perfect martinis (gin w/sweet and dry vermouth). Good thing she put the Hendrick’s in the fridge before dinner.

Before we even reserved the movies, we realized it would be impossible to match Nick and Nora drink for drink from beginning to end of the film, and stopped at just the one opening drink. If we’d tried to keep up, we would’ve been under the table before the end of the first scene, when they each drank six martinis. You could count on one hand the number of scenes Nick appeared in while he wasn’t drinking, even if you’d lost a finger or two. Halfway through the second act, he gets out of bed to mix himself a highball. That’s how dedicated he was to the pursuit of drinking all the gin in the world.

Besides all the drinking, The Thin Man is notable for featuring a detective who does very little detecting. None, actually. Nick spends just about all of the movie telling everybody else in it that he doesn’t know anything about the murders that take place and doesn’t want to. In the one scene where he goes creeping around in a dark warehouse, looking for clues, he doesn’t find the most important one. Asta, his dog, finds it for him. He just digs it up. Amazingly, he doesn’t take a pull off a hip flask afterwards.

thin | 9:39 am CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

“No gin tonight son … unless it’s Hendrick’s!”

On the advice of a good friend, we splurged on a bottle of Hendrick’s so we could enjoy classic cocktail night with a classic gin. The before-dinner gimlet was delicious, and the after-dinner perfect martini was, well, perfect. Best thirty dollars we ever spent.

classic | 9:52 pm CST
Category: booze, food & drink, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play
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Thursday, January 26th, 2012

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

sake | 10:34 pm CST
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Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

The Madison Food and Wine Show was a tad disappointing this year. There didn’t seem to be as much food to sample, and neither My Darling B nor I thought that any of the wines we tasted were especially remarkable. There was lots of cheese kibbled and set out to try – this is Wisconsin, after all – but in years past there has also been a plethora of booths where restaurants and vendors set out samples of meats and other noshies, and we discovered lots of local sources for good food that way. This year, not so much.

The wines seemed especially disappointing. Between us, we sampled lots of different wines, and although we found many that we liked, neither one of us had that “Oh, you’ve got to try this!” moment as we have before. Maybe we somehow managed to sample only the mediocre wines, skipping past the really knockout offerings. We bought two bottles of red wine on the way out, and that was it.

Worst thing about the Food and Wine Show: My bottom went rooty-toot-toot all night after we got back home. But that’s really my fault, not the show’s. Last year, I forgot to take my lactase pills with me, so I had to be very careful about how much cheese I ate. This year I remembered the pills and made the mistake of eating all the cheese I wanted. The pills help, but they don’t make me bulletproof. Not that I felt too bad about stinking up the house – some other people were having a little trouble with their digestion, too.

Even so, an afternoon spent sampling wine and noshing on cheese is a fine day out.

nosh | 7:43 am CST
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Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Tuning through radio stations in search of something I could stand to listen to, I came across an oldies station that was playing the kind of dance hall music that reminds me of the ending to The Shining when the camera gets closer and closer to the wall of photographs until it finally zooms in on the one where Jack Torrance is standing in the foreground of a crowd at the Fourth of July Ball. Oh, hell, is it too late for a spoiler alert? Sorry.

I stopped to listen even though I didn’t recognize the song, although that wasn’t unusual as the orchestra was right in the middle of the bridge, which doesn’t usually sound like the rest of the melody. When the bridge was over a singer jumped in with the chorus, the first line of which sounded so much like “Whiskey will make it so” that my hand bolted out to grab the volume knob and give it a twist. The rest of the chorus was about hope and love, beautiful blue skies, yadda yadda yadda, until he finally repeated the first line: “Wishing will make it so.”

Well, dammit. I was kind of pulling for whiskey.

whiskey | 11:51 am CST
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Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Here’s a fun thing to do on a Friday evening after work: Stop by the Old Sugar Distillery for a snort. We have a few brew pubs in town where you can pull up a chair and ask them to draw a frosty glass of beer brewed right on the premises, but up until the week before last I didn’t know we had a distillery right here in Madison where you could do that.

We made our first visit three weeks ago when the owner was handing out samples at Star Liquor, our favorite place to stop on a Friday after work because that’s when they’re almost always hosting a free beer tasting. They’ll get a brewmeister from one of the local breweries, or a rep from a distributor to bring in samples of the latest seasonal ales and other goodies. If you stop in, they’ll pour you an ounce or so of each and tell you about them. It’s a great way to meet the local brewers, and not incidentally to also taste some really great beer.

The week before last they played host to a couple different distillers, and that’s when we met the guy who owns the Old Sugar Distillery. He told us a little bit about the place and the products, and when we heard it was just a couple blocks down the road we couldn’t think of a thing we’d rather do than stop by to taste what they had to offer.

Right in the middle of the old factory building where they make their magic there’s a room where heavy steel racks hold stacks of oak barrels up the walls. A great big copper still sits in the front of the room by the window, and in the middle of the room there’s a bar that appears to be made out of wood salvaged from a dairy barn. There are only a half-dozen or so stools at the bar, but there are several tables around it so there’s plenty of room for lots of people to sit and enjoy their drinks, and a good thing, too, because the place is hugely popular. Each time we visited, almost all the seats were taken.

They’ll give you a tour of the place if you ask, but we haven’t asked yet. After a long week of office work, it’s way too relaxing to just hang out on a bar stool, nursing a tasty cocktail. The first one I tried was the Cuba Libre, a rum and coke. I have no idea what makes a really good rum, I only know I like the rum they make there. Very tasty. The bartender was good enough to make me a baby one and leave me the Coke bottle so I could nurse it.

The last time we went, I tried B’s favorite cocktail, the Good and Plenty. Made with ouzo, it tastes like licorice. I drank a little less than half of it before I started to feel as though I shouldn’t finish, so I asked B to help. She was only to happy to pitch in.

snort | 6:05 pm CST
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Friday, December 31st, 2010

Today’s New Year’s Eve so we get the day off because we’re state workers. It’s one of the benefits that are showered on us like confetti at a hero’s ticker-tape parade. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to change. Watch this space.

But for now, we’re enjoying the day off: Sleeping in a bit, then sitting on the sofa for as long as we damn well want to while we drink our coffee and try to wake up. When we felt we could finally communicate in something more complex than grunts, we threw on some clothes, piled into the car and went into town for breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. My Darling B ordered something called a Chipotle Chili Omelet, which she mistakenly thought was a regular omelet with chipotle chiles, but no. It’s an egg folded over a mountainous helping of chili, more than she could eat in a day under any circumstances. She hardly made a dent in it.

I had a waffle garnished with bananas and walnuts and smothered in syrup. If there’s a better way to start the day, I can’t think of it right now.

We made a quick detour to Mad Cat before swinging back. Boo’s favorite cat toy, a wand with a little poof of feathers on the end, was pretty much worn out. All that was left of the feathers was a little furry stump and one very thin, tired-looking pin feather, so I got her a new one. There are so many feathers I thought it might scare her, but she was very excited to chase the new one even though I woke her out of a sound sleep with it, which is not something I would normally ever do if I could help it. Think of someone you know who’s “not a morning person” and then imagine waking that person up suddenly and rudely, say by throwing the contents of a well-chilled chamber pot in her face, and you’re getting an idea of the kind of “morning person” the Boo can be.

While My Darling B was gathering up the fixings for a shellfish chowder dinner and our New Year’s Eve noshies, I strolled up the street to Star Liquor to ask Adam to recommend a bottle of bubbly that would go with the chowder. He fixed me up right quick and I grabbed a six-pack of Moon Man from New Glarus to go with the popcorn and movies we were planning on watching as we passed the hours until midnight, should we somehow be able to stay up that late.

Then it was on to Batch Bakehouse. They’re closing up for almost two weeks to go on vacation, so we wanted to see what we could pick up from their showcase. Not much, as it turned out. They were being mobbed by a steady stream of people who had the same idea we had, and the showcase was almost cleaned out by the time we made our way to the front of the line. We scored some cookies, a wedge of apple cake and a small loaf of wheat bread, then tried to make our way through the crowd out the door before the ones in the back realized they weren’t going to get any goodies.

Just two more stops after that, at Bongo Video! and the Monona Public Library to pick up a selection DVDs, so many that we’ll almost certainly never get to watch them all, but at least enough that we’ll all be able to agree on something. Movies, noshies, booze and food – I think we’re ready to make it to the New Year!

New Year’s Eve | 2:14 pm CST
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Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The ides of each month are special here in the Madison area, particularly on Willy Street at the north end of the isthmus. On that glorious day, the fifteenth of each month, Star Liquor offers a fifteen percent discount on every bottle of wine in the store. Well, almost every bottle.

I was helping My Darling B search the shelves for our favorite labels when Dave, one of the employees, came by to offer her help. (That’s not a typo. I know her as Dave because one day she was wearing a t-shirt with “Dave” printed in block letters across the front. Introducing myself with the line, “Hi, Dave, I’m Dave!” was irresistible, but I couldn’t help it, even though she gave me a look like she thought I was putting her on.)

“Need help? Looking for anything in particular?” she asked us. “Did you want to see anything in the wine cellar?”

In the wine cellar? Wait, what?

Before the chance could pass us by I nodded and answered “Yes, please!” and we were off, threading our way through the knots of people searching for their favorite wines. Dave led us down the stairs to a chilled room in the basement where our eyes beheld one of the marvels of Star Liquor: Wines that we might possibly be able to afford once, like on our fiftieth wedding anniversary, say. I walked very slowly from rack to rack, being careful not to accidentally brush up against anything. One wrong move in there could max out my line of credit.

And it wasn’t just wine. Did you know you can cellar beer if it’s got the right amount of alcohol in it? I didn’t, until we tasted a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale that had been lagering in the basement since 1999. That’s something I’m going to try my darned self.

A big “Thanks!” to Dave for the special treat. We didn’t bring anything home from the cellar this month, but maybe (by the time we retire?) we’ll have saved enough from our lunch money to get a bottle of something special for our anniversary.

Star’s cellar | 3:11 pm CST
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