Saturday, April 14th, 2012

We celebrated Friday the 13th with not just the usual one, but TWO special events, and they were so conveniently close to one another we walked across the street to get from the first to the second. Sweet.

The first event was, as My Darling B so eloquently describes it, Two Rubes Dine Fancy Night. We returned to The Blue Marlin, our new favorite since our very enjoyable visit during Restaurant Week last winter. It’s such a cozy little place – the dining room is just big enough for about a dozen tables, and although it gets a little crowded and a little noisy in there once the dinner crowds show up, the food and the service more than make up for those little inconveniences.

We started with a couple drinks to wind down a bit after a long week pressing our noses to the grindstone. B sipped on a Bumblebee while I went with a whiskey Old Fashioned. Then we ordered some crab cakes, our traditional appetizer when we celebrated FT13th at Peppino’s. They came with a pepper sauce that My Darling B and I sopped up with the crusty bread, because we are Two Rubes, after all. Gotta keep up appearances.

For her main course, My Darling B ordered soft-shelled crab. There were actually two. Two whole crabs on a bed of Arugula and beans. The trick here was, B didn’t know how to eat soft-shelled crabs. They came breaded in corn meal and fried, so it seemed to be implied that she was supposed to eat the whole thing, shell and all, which she did. There wasn’t much meat in them, she said, and the arms were mostly just corn meal, but she enjoys trying new things and she enjoyed the crab just fine. She isn’t in any big hurry to try them again, though.

I ordered bouillabaisse, because the description on the menu was irresistible: “Mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, crab meat, fish, baby octopus, roasted fennel-saffron-tomato broth.” Zow! I had to see that! And I wasn’t disappointed at all. It really was the cornucopia the menu made it out to be – mussels and clams in their shells, a great, big, fat scallop, generously large chunks of white fish, and a whole baby octopus smack-dab in the middle. And the broth was so tasty I could have sopped it up with my bread, if I had had any left over.

For dessert, B oooh’d and ahhhh’d over the creme broulee while I gobbled up a delicious wedge of key lime pie. Then we relaxed while we finished our coffee and slapped our bellies, burping heartily. I could’ve used a toothpick just then, but the waiter didn’t offer me one. I’ll have to bring my own next time.

After dinner, we crossed the street to Adult Swim at the Madison Children’s Museum, where I felt even more like a hayseed in my Dockers and pullover rugby shirt. The theme for last night’s Adult Swim was red-carpet night at the Oscars, or something like that – nearly everyone was dressed to the nines. First thing we wandered into was a darkened back room where they were showing Star Wars Uncut, which I really can’t describe any better than the blurb that accompanies the video on YouTube:

In 2009, Casey Pugh asked thousands of Internet users to remake “Star Wars: A New Hope” into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from Star Wars however they wanted. Within just a few months SWU grew into a wild success. The creativity that poured into the project was unimaginable.

Most of the scenes were painstakingly re-created, line by line, right down to the facial expressions, but most of them took place in people’s back yards, garages, living rooms, wherever, with costumes and props cobbled together from card paper, discarded appliances and lots of duct tape. Every scene change brought laughs from the audience as they realized the crazy amounts of imagination that went into it. I figured we would stay for a few scenes, then wander around a bit, but we ended up watching the movie to the end.

Then it was back into the crowd of well-dressed people to feel even more out of place. Taking the elevator up to the roof to see what was going on up there reminded me just how much I miss the piano party we found going on in there at our first adult swim. B said hi to the chickens and even got to hold a chick that peeped and peeped until she turned it on its back and stroked its neck. The rooftop garden was nice and green and it’s always fun to stand on the corner of the roof and pretend we’re flying, but it was breezy and just a little too cold to stay out there very long, so we went back down after just ten minutes or so, and after playing with the ball gizmos in the lobby we decided to call it a night.

13th | 10:34 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, January 28th, 2012

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.

blue | 2:07 pm CDT
Category: festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, May 14th, 2011

We went to Bunky’s Cafe for dinner on Friday the 13th because we couldn’t come up with another place we wanted to visit that wasn’t already booked solid. We didn’t used to have any trouble booking reservations at Peppino’s, but that was largely because they didn’t take reservations more than a day in advance and I worked right across the street, so I’d walk over there right after work and be one of the first reservations on the book.

But Peppino’s is gone now, sadly, and Nostrano, the restaurant that took its place, doesn’t have the same reservation policy. When we called on Wednesday they were booked until after eight o’clock and we didn’t want to eat that late, so I suggested Lombardino’s. We’d eaten there last summer and liked it quite a lot, but when B phoned them it turned out they were booked until doomsday, too!

And we found out why: This is graduation weekend. Everybody and his mother – literally! – is in town to send the grads off in style with dinner at a local restaurant. We were lucky to get a table in Bunky’s at such short notice. Not that we were settling; we like Bunky’s quite a lot, but for our Friday the 13th celebration we like to have frou-frou cocktails before the meal and Bunky’s didn’t serve any, so Bunky’s is out for our next Friday the 13th.

On the up side, we didn’t spend half as much as we usually dropped at Peppino’s. The tradition that kept us going back there cost us at least a hundred bucks each time, but the menu and the frou-frou drinks made it worthwhile. Oh, and the company, of course. Can’t spend too much on My Darling B.

TGIF13th | 8:25 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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