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 CDT
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 CDT
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, show | Tags: ,
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Thursday, March 21st, 2013

“Home?” I asked My Darling B before I put the car in drive to pull away from the curb in front of the office last night.

“No. Alchemy. We’re eating out tonight,” she answered, naming our favorite after-work restaurant.

It was that kind of a day for her, too, then.

alchemy | 5:00 am CDT
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Friday, March 15th, 2013

It’s our custom every year to retire to a booth at The Roman Candle pizza parlor and choose the films that we want to see at the annual Wisconsin Film Festival. In years past, the festival’s schedule has been published a week before tickets went on sale but this year, along with all the other changes to the festival that I don’t like, the schedule was published on Thursday and tickets were set to go on sale the following Saturday, giving us less than 48 hours to make our selections. Just in case anybody from the WFF is reading this: That’s really bogus, guys.

We took our usual booth, ordered a 14-inch Supreme and a couple beers, and set to work. A little more than an hour later, we had our first choices.

There were surprisingly few movies that reached out and grabbed me, but then I feel I didn’t have enough time to think about my choices. B, on the other hand, came up with a long list of movies she wanted to see. Reconciling our two lists was a quick and relatively painless process.

Somehow, B ate all but one slice of her half of the pizza and regretted it almost right away. “Ate. Too. Much. Pizza,” she moaned over and over, wondering how she was going to get through the night. I stopped a slice and a half short of finishing my half and somehow escaped the indigestion that plagued her until I ate the rest for lunch the next day, when I was stricken with the Oh My God Trots almost immediately. TMI? Sorry about that.

choices | 7:06 pm CDT
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Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Becky and John joined us for our weekly night-out at Alchemy. My Darling B works with Becky at the DMV and about a month ago invited her and her husband, John, to join us for dinner at Smokey’s the last time we went there. Ever since then we’ve been trying to get together again. Our calendars finally matched up on this particular Thursday.

It also happened to be a party for the folks at Furthermore Brewing to roll out their new beer, Full Thicket, an IPA that B won’t have anything to do with because hoppy beer, she says, smells like armpits. I tried it and disagreed, but I’m not the sensitive flower she is. Lucking our way into a party for a new beer was good and bad: Good, because, hey, beer. Bad, and only in a very minor way, because the place was packed with beer-drinkers who’d come from all over the map to quaff a hearty brew and talk.

Even though we were closely seated around a very small table, we could hardly hear each other over the din of hundreds of happy people drinking beer. And that’s as it should be, but we gave up and checked out shortly after we finished our dinners, promising to meet there again on a Friday for the fish fry.

Alchemy | 8:05 am CDT
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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 CDT
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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Saturday, January 19th, 2013

I just heard a radio advertisement announcing special deals at McDonald’s, but only for their ‘a la carte’ items. When did McDonald’s become so frou-frou that they started advertising in French?

Frrronch fries! | 11:02 am CDT
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Sunday, January 13th, 2013

choicesChoices, choices.

Next weekend is the start of Restaurant Week here in Madison, Wisconsin, Our Fair City. My Darling B has been pouring over menus to try to decide which ones she wants to go to, and has whittled it down to a ‘short list’ of thirty-seven dozen restaurants, more restaurants than are actually participating in Restaurant Week. There’s a quantum theory to explain how this is possible, but I never went any further than high school science, dammit, so I don’t know how she did that.

I, on the other hand, have only glanced at the available choices and have not made any list at all, because they all look good to me. My list would be their list. I want to go to all the restaurants and eat all the food.

But we have just one week and we can only go to lunch and/or dinner, so we could eat twelve meals at the most. Then we’d have to go home and cry for all the meals we couldn’t eat. It’s a bittersweet event.

choices | 9:46 pm CDT
Category: food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

After the Mayan apocalypse brought the end of the universe some time late last night, I woke up this morning curled up around My Darling B. I always hoped that, if there was a heaven, it would be something like this.

I had to work yesterday but, when quitting time was drawing near, I shot B an e-mail that asked, “How about dinner at Alchemy? Want to meet me there?” B is not always sitting at her desk, and even when she is, she’s usually too busy to answer right away, so I didn’t expect to get an answer until she was putting away her work and shutting down her computer, which is why I honestly didn’t believe the e-mail that popped up in my inbox a minute later was from her. But it was. “OK!” was all it said.

I slid down the back of my bronto the minute the foreman yanked on the pterodactyl’s tail and was out the back door minutes later, cooling my heels at the curb as I waited for a break in traffic to cross Washington Avenue. The eastbound lanes were bumper to bumper with cars backed up from the capital to First Avenue and beyond. I couldn’t see what was holding up traffic. I had to wait about five minutes for the pokey-pants drivers in the westbound lane to let me through, picked my way through the traffic jam in the eastbound lane and I then I was on my way.

It was already getting dark and the wind was still rather brisk. I was bundled up tight and moving at a quick trot through the hard-packed snow. When my cell phone went deedle-deedle-deedle I was able to duck into a doorway for some shelter so I could take a glove off without losing any fingers to frostbite. “The roads SUCK!” My Darling B was texting me. “So do the sidewalks,” I texted back before bundling up and trotting away again.

She didn’t text again until I was sitting down at a table: “Traffic jam!” I warned her about the tailback on Washington; she tried to avoid it by crossing over at Blair and hit another jam-up. “CRAP CRAP CRAP! I just want a beer!” I checked the menu and asked, “Vanilla porter or Irish stout? I can have one waiting for you!” “VP” she texted back, so I ordered a porter and a plate of nachos with salsa to nosh on while I waited.

B had no luck getting through on Blair so she tried another route, punched through the snarl of cars on Washington and made her way to Alchemy on the back streets. It was almost five-thirty by the time she came through the front door with a big smile on her face, happy I guess to finally be out of the car and into a nice comfortable tavern where she could relax with a beer and a fish fry. The nachos bought me some extra brownie points.

heaven | 9:45 am CDT
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Friday, December 14th, 2012

I had no plan for dinner last night and no idea what I could have scrounged up from the pantry even if I’d come up with a plan at the last minute. I couldn’t even suggest a place to go eat when My Darling B posed the customary Thursday night question, “What’s for dinner?” I was totally blocked, so she picked it. We had dinner at Alchemy. (Too bad I can’t see the future or I’d have simply met her there.)

I wasn’t especially hungry, so I asked for a salad. “Small or large?” the waitress wanted to know, and since I wasn’t that hungry I asked for the small. She followed up with, “Do you want chicken on it?” Picturing a small salad with diced-up bits of chicken appealed to me, hungry or no, so I said sure, and then I relaxed and enjoyed a few pulls off the frosty-cold beer she’d brought me only minutes before.

She brought me a whole chicken — no, two whole chickens on a salad as big as a wedding cake! And that was the small.

chicken | 4:38 pm CDT
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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Your devoted drivelmeister was out way past his bed time last night, boys and girls, and he brings back reports of a rich chocolate treat that is the talk of the town. A brownie, I believe. Or it may have been a goulash. I know a rich chocolate goulash sounds a bit unconventional, so maybe I heard that wrong. I’m a devoted drivelmeister, but I don’t always get the story one hundred percent accurate. This is drivel, after all.

The evening started out at the Cardinal Bar in downtown Madison, where the local band Beat Road Blues was the featured musical entertainment. My Darling B’s coworker, Adam, plays in the band and she’s sort of a groupie, I guess you might say. When he plays in town we usually stop by to give a listen, and last night we even talked Kris and Bryan, a couple of friends into meeting us at the Cardinal for drinks and snacks.

More than a few of B’s coworkers at the DMV turned out to see the band, too, and quite a few stopped by our table to say hi to B who, being in Happy Friday mode, made introductions all around. One of the first to stop by was Michael, who shook my hand and informed me that my wife was “a treat.” I think he meant a treat to have around, or a treat to work with, something like that, but the way he said it, it sort of sounded like he thought she was a glazed pastry, or a candy wrapped in foil. I think he realized almost right away that the compliment didn’t come out exactly the way he wanted it to, because he added, “Like a rich, tasty brownie.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I did what I usually do in that case, which is laugh and wait for somebody else to say something. I’m not very gifted socially.

“Okay, I’ll shut up now,” he said.

When Jim, another one of B’s friends from work stopped by to say hi, we asked him what food B reminded him of. “Seriously?” he asked. And of course at that point we weren’t serious at all, but we wanted an answer anyway. “Okay, I think she like a goulash,” he said, “because it has so much variety.” That’s My Darling B: She’s a tasty chocolate treat! She’s a goulash!

She’s a dancing fool! Jim took B out on the dance floor for the band’s final number, “Mustang Sally,” and they cut a rug, maybe even two rugs. Watching from the sidelines, I can say with confidence that all those dance lessons we took paid off for her that night.

When the band began to pack up we left the Cardinal to head up the street half a block to Plaka Taverna to get a bite to eat. None of us had eaten anything besides the chips they were serving at the Cardinal so we were feeling a little hungry, and Plaka serves the most delicious Greek food: kababs and pitas with hummus and rice wrapped in grape leaves, and you can get combo platters that are perfect for satisfying a growling tummy. The place was crazy busy but we got the last available table and even though the waitress was running her legs off, she was game enough to play along when Kris asked her what food she thought of when she looked at B. “A chewy chocolate-chip cookie?” she guessed. Good answer, because who wouldn’t want to be compared to a chocolate chip cookie?

We weren’t quite ready to go home after we finished noshing at Plaka’s, so we walked back down the block to the Come Back Inn to order a final round and swap a few more stories and bad jokes. Our waitress talked me into ordering a foamy mug of O’Shae’s Irish Stout, and I mention that only to give you a very important heads-up about O’Shae’s Irish Stout: Whatever you do with it, don’t put it in your mouth! If that stuff is real Irish stout from Ireland, then the Irish are pawning their cheapest stuff off on the American market. I’d rather drink Budweiser, and I think you know how I feel about that bilge water.

We had a pretty good time at Come Back Inn, especially the girls. I don’t know what was in their beer but it sure made them giggly. (Okay, I guess the usual stuff in beer would make them do that.) Spoken conversation became impossible after the band started playing in the next room so they started spelling out words in the air with their fingers, and that turned into a game of chrarades, and THEN the giggling got really intense! When their back-and-forth became nothing at all but giggling Bryan and I cut them off and took them home to tuck them in bed.

Up All Night | 9:49 am CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Friday, November 9th, 2012

One Barrel Brewing Co

Oh thank goodness there is no place like One Barrel Brewing on the street where I live, I mean, I would really like there to be a place like this. I would even like to pick this place up all in once piece and drop it right around the corner from where I live but, if I did, I’m pretty sure I would go home only to shower and change clothes. So thank goodness.

oatmeal | 7:18 pm CDT
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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

image of County Clare Inn in Milwaukee WIJust a bit more drivel about Milwaukee and then I’m done for a while, I promise.

Almost as good as being in the audience for one of our favorite radio shows was having the great good luck to find a place to stay for the night as comfy and warm as the County Clare Inn. I could say good things about this place from now until the cows come home and, if I didn’t stop for breath and maybe a bite to eat, I might get them all said, but it would be close.

First off, the location is great: It’s right in the middle of old Milwaukee, a short walk from the river, a short taxi ride from the UW-Milwaukee campus. We might even be able to hoof it all the way to the Modern Art Museum from there if the weather was good and we were feeling our oats. If all we were looking for was a place to stay the night and maybe take a walk in the morning, though, the tree-lined streets around the inn are quiet and some of the houses and buildings are really very eye-catching.

Then, there’s the pub downstairs: Irish-themed, obviously. I don’t usually go for themed bars chock full ‘o kitschy knick-knacks, but they managed to keep the kitsch under control. It isn’t spilling out of every nook and cranny. We could hold a conversation without shouting at one another; the background music stayed in the background. That should always get high marks. There was just one television screen, it was off to the side and the sound was muted. More high marks.

And the service is wonderful. We came back from the taping a little after eleven o’clock and, because we hadn’t eaten since two, My Darling B was feeling a little peckish. I could’ve used a snack myself, but we figured the kitchen wasn’t serving any longer so I asked the bartender where we could get a bite to eat. He helpfully pointed out there was a place down the block, then added, “You could always order off our bar menu, too,” and handed me a copy. Smooth.

B got the hummus plate, figuring it would be a pita sliced into eighths with a dab of hummus and maybe a little couscous on the side. Wrong. It was enough pita and hummus to feed us both. Not knowing that, I ordered a plate of tater tots myself, figuring that would make up enough of a bedtime snack to hold us both over. Well, we both went to bed sufficiently serensified that night, I can assure you.

Saving the best for last, there’s the room. We’ve been to a few places in all corners of the world; fallen into fleabag flophouses and lucked into sumptuous suites with luxury amenities that were probably all but wasted on us. We weren’t expecting so very much from an inn smack in the middle of town that charged just a hundred fifty bucks a night, but I’m pleased to say the accommodations exceeded our expectations in every way. The room was much larger than it had any right to be. The bedroom and the bath were all together in the same room, but separated by a permanent screen with the toilet and sink off to one side, the shower and whirlpool bath off to the other. B cherished every minute of her Sunday-morning soak in that tub.

Finally, we got two tickets to breakfast with the price of our room, a nice little perk. They had an eye-popping spread laid out when we came down in the morning. Two short-order cooks were making omelets to order on a row of portable gas stoves. We put in our order with them, then grabbed a complimentary newspaper off the stack in the dining room as we went in to pick out a table by the window and whiled away the better part of two hours eating, sipping coffee and flipping through the news.

When the staff began to pack away the buffet and bus the tables, we thought we might have overstayed our welcome, but just then a guy came by with a pot of coffee and offered to warm up our cups. B asked how long the dining room was open.

“It’s the weekend,” he said. “Stay as long as you like.” Then he went off to see if anyone else wanted coffee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day – Part 3 | 12:54 pm CDT
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Sunday, October 21st, 2012

image of My Darling B drinking beer from a boot in a Milwaukee tavernWe’re back from Milwaukee! We went there to watch a taping of one of our favorite radio shows, Says You!, and ended up doing a sightseeing tour of a small slice of Milwaukee while stopping off at a couple of our favorite places.

Even as the number of things we wanted to do mounted up, it seemed like a good idea each time. Tickets to the show cost just $17.00 each, but the taping was scheduled to end sometime after 10:30 pm. I didn’t want to drive back to Madison that late at night, so we reserved a room at the County Clare Inn. That tacked a hundred fifty bucks on to the cost of our trip right away, but seemed like not only a good idea but a good deal: We’d be smack dab in the middle of Milwaukee. That’s how we decided to do some sightseeing while we were there. We had the time. We were in a good location. Why not?

We left Madison as early as we could Saturday morning, by which I mean ten o’clock. We were going to shoot for a much earlier departure time until we realized it’s not like there was a great big hurry to get there. I made a pot of coffee and we slowly drained it while we passed a couple hours Googling for information about interesting places to go and fun things to do while in Milwaukee. Don’t laugh. There really are some. The last time we were in Milwaukee, for instance, we stopped at a place called the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. Guess what they sell there? And not only can you snack on a selection of great Wisconsin cheese, you can take your plate of cheese to the tap room where you can ask them for one of the two-dozen great Wisconsin beers they have on tap. Tell me that’s not a place you’d want to visit.

And it was within walking distance of the inn, along with other sights we’d never seen before just because we hadn’t taken the time. So we pulled into town shortly after noon and, with more than a few hours before the show was scheduled to begin, started wandering the streets in the warm sunshine of an gorgeous autumn day in Milwaukee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day | 8:02 pm CDT
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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 CDT
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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

image of My Darling B in Brooklyn with PROOF!If you’re ever out this way and you’ve always wanted to do a little sight-seeing in Brooklyn, a good way to do it would be to book a tour with A Slice of Brooklyn. Not only do they make sure you have a lot of fun, they feed you some pretty good pizza, too.

We were about a half-hour early getting to the corner near Union Square where we were supposed to meet the bus on Monday morning, but the storefront across the street had big picture windows filled with crates and bottles of wine, so we wandered over there and looked over the labels, a very agreeable way to pass the time. When it got close to ten-thirty we drifted back across the street where a small crowd was gathering at the corner around a dark-haired young woman who introduced herself later as Paula, our guide.

Paula, it turned out, had a story for everything we saw, a patter that never let up and a delivery that was never boring. After we got on the bus and she did the head count, she explained as we headed toward Brooklyn that we would be crossing the Manhattan Bridge, and if it seemed somehow wrong that we weren’t crossing on the Brooklyn Bridge it was actually very right, because this way we’d get a really great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. She could’ve stopped there and let us think they were doing it all for us, but it turns out there’s a weight restriction on the Brooklyn Bridge, and she got the driver in trouble once for having him cross it. It was a story she couldn’t pass up telling.

Our first stop was the neighborhood under the Manhattan Bridge, called Dumbo by the people who live there – Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Paula said it used to be old warehouses where artists found cheap loft space and, to keep the hoighty-toity types away, they gave their neighborhood what they thought was a stupid-sounding name. It backfired on them, because apartments there go for millions now that it’s been gentrified. But, there’s a great little park poking out into the East River where you can get an unmissable view of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Next stop, Grimaldi’s Pizza. We made two stops for pizza on the tour and this was the better of the two; thin-crust margherita pizza and a bottle of root beer to go with it. Paula said it was considered the best place to get coal-fired pizza in all of New York City and that people were often lined up around the block to get in. She had a pretty good story about the original owner selling out to somebody else, then opening a rival pizzeria next door, but I can’t remember it. If you want the details, you’ll have to sign up for the tour and make sure you’re on the bus with Paula.

Then we took a spin through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. One of the fun things about the tour was the way they played scenes from well-known films like Goodfellas, Saturday Night Fever and Last Exit to Brooklyn as we drove through the city, matching scenes in the movies to landmarks that we were passing at the time. Most were, oddly, movies I’d only ever seen snippets of, never watched from start to finish. It turns out I could make a long To Be Watched list of movies set in Brooklyn.

Coney Island was the final stop before heading back to Manhattan. We didn’t stay long, only ten minutes or so, the only time I was disappointed with the tour.

A Slice of Brooklyn | 6:21 pm CDT
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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

image of B in front of a New York City ramen shopRAMEN! WE FOUND A RAMEN SHOP! JUST LIKE THE ONE IN MISAWA!

Well, except that the guys in the kitchen didn’t all yell “Irasshaimase!” when we walked in the door. Oh, and they didn’t have ebi ramen on the menu. But still! Except for that, it could’ve almost been exactly the same place!

Stepping through the front door of Menkui Tei was deja vu weird. A big, red curtain with “RAMEN” printed in white kana characters hung over the door, and when we opened it and walked in we were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh veggies, pork fat and boiling noodles. *bliss!*

The shop was built long and narrow, more like a wide hallway than a store. The kitchen was built up along the right-hand wall, tables and chairs ran down the left-hand wall, and a counter with low stools was set up between them. We decided not to sit at the counter and went for a table near the back. It was made out of Formica back when every table was made out of Formica, and was worn down to the white where people had been leaning on it.

B ordered her favorite, miso ramen, and I tried the tonkatsu ramen. We also ordered a plate of fried gyoza for old time’s sake, but they were rather disappointingly delivered after the ramen. And the ramen was good, but I have to admit that I’ve been spoiled by the tonkatsu ramen at Umami back in Madison, made with fresh noodles from RP Pasta right down the street, fresh pork from a farmer right outside town, and always served with a soy-infused egg, which I realized too late I’d have to order as an extra at Menkui Tei.

It was very cool finding a ramen shop that did everything but physically take us back to Japan. If we’d ducked in from a snowstorm, and if they’d had ebi ramen on the menu, I don’t think I could find it anywhere in my heart to say it was anything but the most wonderful ramen shop ever. Dammit, Umami, you’ve spoiled me! You’ve spoiled me forever!

ramen in NYC | 6:43 am CDT
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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 CDT
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Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We both worked late last night, so we both liked the idea of quick and easy dinner, which lead us to Roman Candle for pizza. That’s it. Ate out again. Roman Candle. Pizza. That’s all I got. Not much else to tell. Oh, I was working late so I could move a bunch of files to a different office, and B was working late because she’s got a project she’s trying to finish before a looming deadline. We were both pretty damned glad to get out of our respective office buildings and into Roman Candle, quaff a cold, delicious beer and wolf down a couple slices of their amazing Supreme pizza pie (half with mushrooms) (my half). Would’ve been nicer if the waiter had remembered to bring an order of garlic bread like we asked, instead of leaving it on the warming table all night, but at least he didn’t charge us for it.

cheese farts | 5:43 am CDT
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Saturday, September 8th, 2012

A list of things I should get done this weekend:

  • mow the back lawn
  • pick up all the crap laying around in the back yard (should probably do that before I mow)
  • clean up all the crap that’s accumulated on the deck
  • mulch the branches I’ve pruned off bushes over the summer and piled in the back yard
  • mow the front lawn
  • prune the ivy that’s overwhelmed the front porch
  • clean the crap out of the garage (there’s a lotta crap around here)

What I’m going to do this weekend:

  • ask My Darling B to go to breakfast with me
  • ride my bike
  • ask My Darling B to ride bike with me
  • play with trains in the basement (I’m going to stay up all night, if I have to, to make sure I get to this one)
  • mow the front lawn, if I can work it into my busy schedule

Laziness: It can be quantified.

measurable laziness | 7:33 am CDT
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Saturday, September 1st, 2012

image of One Barrel BrewingFriday night after work: We’re at the far end of the bar, enjoying a frosty cold one at One Barrel Brewing Company.

“Wait, you’re at the end of the bar? Then who’s taking the photo?”

I’ve got a new camera. It’s got legs and even makes me coffee in the morning.

Okay, I’m taking the photo. I got up to use the men’s room and snapped this shot as I was headed back to sit with My Darling B, who’s sitting under the Chinese bicycle. Someday I’m going to find out why there’s a Chinese bicycle hanging from the wall.

image of One Barrel BrewingThis is how I knew I was going to like One Barrel the first time I visited: Any tavern owner that will hang a jackalope on the wall is worth his weight in beer. The fact that the owner serves beer he brewed his own self on the premises is just gravy.

Oddly, we didn’t drink any of his beer last night. B’s current favorite is a spicy beer called Cocoa Mole, made at the New Belgium Brewery, if memory serves. I went with an ESB from local brewer Page Buchanan at the House of Brews, just dark enough to be interesting, but not a heavy beer. And we were happy with that.

After our beers, I said the word “ramen” out loud, which cast its magical spell over My Darling B so that, just minutes later, we found ourselves seated at the bar at Umami, the only place they could find two stools for us to wolf down two big bowls of our favorite food.

There was a plan to go out and listen to some music after that, but with our bellies full of beer and ramen, we made a slight change to our plans and opted for a nap instead. Seemed like the best thing to do.

image of bottles behind the bar at Umami

decompression | 7:31 am CDT
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Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Rode my bike to work yesterday. The weather was flawless and perfect in every way, so I had to ride my bike. I would’ve hated myself all day if I hadn’t.

Rode it to work again today. The weather tricked me this time. It was nice this morning, but on the way home I was sweating so hard it looked like cartoon sweating where those golf ball-sized drops go shooting off in all directions.

About halfway home I got a text from My Darling B: “Where are you? Want to meet me at Stalzy’s Deli?” I’d gotten as far as Olbrich Gardens, about five blocks down from Stalzy’s, but a sandwich and a cold beer sounded so good just then that I doubled back right after I texted a great big “YES!” at her.

I can’t recommend the Brooklyn Breakfast enough. (Stalzy’s serves breakfast all day.) And, if you’re a beer-drinker, it goes well with Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious.

Brooklyn Breakfast | 9:45 pm CDT
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Friday, August 24th, 2012

“Would you like to meet me at Glass Nickel after work?” I asked My Darling B by text message late yesterday afternoon. She answered “OK!” about a half-hour later, just as I was packing up my saddle bags in preparation for leaving the office. I changed into shorts and a summery shirt, headed out the door and jumped on my bike.

Glass Nickel is a pizzeria about halfway between Our Humble O’Bode and the office building where I work. We don’t go there often, but we do order their pizza all the time and it’s pretty good. I picked it partly for that, but mostly because it’s halfway home. Usually when we stop for pizza we go to Roman Candle, but that’s actually further from home and further from the office and I didn’t want to get all full of pizza and beer when I still would have to bike all that way.

I got to Glass Nickel just after five o’clock, ordered a beer and took a seat in a booth near the door so I could catch B’s attention when she came in. Sucked down damn nearly half my beer before she showed up. Guess which pizzeria she went to?

whoopsie | 5:36 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

We went looking for the Banzo food cart yesterday after work because My Darling B really really wanted falafel. The Banzo cart sells the best falafel we know of on the east side of town. Really the only falafel that we know of on the east side of town, but there you go.

The Banzo cart is usually parked somewhere downtown, but on Tuesday nights we can sometimes find it in the parking lot of the East Side Club, which is where we found it last night, but when we got there it was all closed up and stayed that way even though we hung around for five or ten minutes. B still wanted falafel, though, so we couldn’t just go home. That’s why we went looking for Banzo’s take-out store front on Sherman Avenue.

I went looking for the Banzo take-out store once before and couldn’t find it so I didn’t have much hope that we could do it this time around, but I didn’t want to go home without trying. Sherman Ave is practically all the way back to the part of town where I work, but just north of there along the train tracks. As we pulled onto the road I told B I’d look out one side of the car if she looked out the other.

“Is this Sherman Avenue?”

“Yeah, sure, of course it is.”

We went about a block before she said, “This is Fordem.” And you know what? It was.

I hung a left on the next cross street, because I knew that Sherman was on the west side of the tracks. Not only was Sherman the next street over, but I’d turned on the cross street that put us right on the corner where the Banzo take-away store was!

B ordered the Banzo platter and I ordered the F-Bomb, a spicier version of the platter B got, and with chicken, my favorite dish from Banzo. The F-bomb is two balls of falafel, rice with lentils, diced spicy chicken, a couple wedges of pita with a very generous dollop of hummus, and a salad. The Banzo platter is almost the same, but B got three or maybe even four balls of falafel, I forget. And we got an order of fries to eat in the car on the way home because we were literally starving!

One pleasant surprise: The platters from the take-away store are enormous! Compared to the take-away we’ve had from the cart before, I’m pretty sure there’s more hummus, rice and salad. Still just two falafel balls, but still the best falafel we can find.

falafel | 5:57 am CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

nightmare image of unicorn head on a naked woman's bodyMy Darling B and I took Sean on a day trip to see The House On The Rock yesterday. “It’s something everyone has to do when they go to Wisconsin, and we haven’t done it yet,” she explained. So, in spite of a tiny bit of reluctance I may have detected from Sean, we jumped in the car early yesterday morning to hit the road. Okay, it was actually nine o’clock or so. Early for us.

Before heading to Spring Green where the house is at, we stopped at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner for a big, delicious breakfast. We anticipated being away most of the day because we were going to get tickets for The Ultimate Experience of the house, and didn’t want to run out of steam halfway through the tour of what is billed as the “marvels upon marvels of the grand vision of Alex Jordan,” the guy who built The House On The Rock. The Ultimate Experience is the ticket that lets you wander through all three sections of the fantasmagorical collection that has been amassed at the house over the years. B decided that, if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do the whole thing so we’d really have something to talk about.

We got there some time between ten and eleven o’clock on a day when the temperature hit 101 degrees. That’s sort of important, because the actual house part of The House On The Rock was built in the 1960s by a guy who might have been a genius when it came to building houses on rocks, but could have used a little more training in the subject of how to incorporate adequate central air conditioning into a vacation home. (Just kidding. I don’t think he gave it a moment’s thought until well after the house itself was finished.)

The house is actually two houses: There’s a gate house at the base of the rock where a fully-appointed kitchen and a low-slung dining room gave the residents a few modern amenities. Then there’s the main house perched high on a stack of sandstone overlooking a valley lush with oak trees. It must have been a truly beautiful vacation spot at one time, before it was surrounded by a parking lot, warehouses filled with bric-a-brac and an endless chain of covered walkways you can’t really see anything from.

image of House On The Rock, Spring Green, WIThe one quality of The House On The Rock that amazed me most was that I couldn’t see it very well. While we were outside, I couldn’t see it at all. The covered walkways all around the base of the rock zigzag every which way, but never at an angle that gave me a view of the house. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems to me that there ought to be at least one clear view of the main attraction. Even the Mighty Google could find just one image of it, a picture post card dating from who knows when, and it’s been recycled endlessly on tourist web sites and blog posts just like this one because, I would guess, people start to write about it and realize that they don’t have a clear photo of the outside.

Once I was inside the house I could take a pretty good look around, if I had the time and patience to wait for a break in the teeming mass of people that is constantly streaming through the cattle-chute cordon laid out to guide tourists through the house. I don’t know how big the house is – I imagine it’s pretty roomy for a couple on vacation, and probably still roomy with a couple of house guests along for fun. When there are a hundred people jammed into it, though, it’s as crowded as an elevator car. All I could see most of the time was the heads and shoulders of the people in front of and behind me as we shuffled through the narrow passageways and spread out whenever there was a little breathing space.

The house might be described as a warren of low-ceilinged rooms tucked here and there in the spaces where the rock parted wide enough for the builder to lay out a conversation pit or hang a row of windows. The rooms were connected by cliffhanging galleries or narrow passageways through clefts in the stone. At one time it must have been a wonderful place to explore, wandering from room to room, losing your way only to find yourself back in a familiar place again, but the rails laid out to guide people through the house have pretty much ruined the wandering charm the house once had.

image of The Infinity Room at the House on the RockThe highlight of the tour through the house is supposed to be The Infinity Room, which looks and feels like a tacked-on addition meant to satisfy tourists who bought just the ticket to tour the house and nothing else, to keep them from feeling ripped off. It’s more of a hallway than a room that sticks out 150 feet from the rock, with a window in the floor at the far end so you can see that you’re high above the oak trees in the valley below. While we were there, there was a gaggle of people at the end waiting their turn to get their pictures taken, so I guess the room turned out to be the money shot of the house tour after all.

If I had paid $28.50 for just this, the first leg of the tour, I would have left feeling ripped off – but no! There is so much more!

stoned | 6:07 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, Seanster | Tags: ,
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Friday, July 6th, 2012

The bus pulled into the Dutch Mills parking lot right on time at 9:45, and Sean was the first one off. It was still so hot that we sat in the car to wait for him, getting out only to welcome him with a big hug before scampering back into the car.

His first natural impulse when we got home was to feed. His mom told him he could eat anything in the fridge except the stuff in the paper boxes, our leftovers from dinner that we were saving for lunch the next day. Almost as soon as he set on his food, I was getting ready for bed. It was well past the usual time I hit the hay. I’m pretty sure B turned in shortly after me, but I don’t remember it.

Sean treated me to Big Head Burrito for lunch today (real name: LaBamba’s, not nearly as catchy; our name comes from their motto, “Burritos As Big As Your Head!” They’re not far off), and then he got on his mom’s bike and headed into town to hang with his friends. I considered riding into town with him for the fun of racing with him, but after spending just five minutes in the hundred-degree heat outside adjusting his mother’s bike I put that thought right out of my head and satisfied myself instead with relaxing in the air-conditioned comfort of Our Humble O’Bode.

seanster | 2:06 pm CDT
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Thursday, July 5th, 2012

image of One Barrel BrewingI took My Darling B to dinner at Alchemy because it’s Thursday, which means it’s Guy Night and I’m responsible for serving dinner, but it’s way too hot to cook on the grill, the only way I can cook an edible dinner, so I took her to Alchemy, same as I always do. They were serving a delicious 1/3 lb bison burger that they served to perfection, grilled to a very tasty medium-well and dished up with a side of very crispy fries. *bliss!* My Darling B went with the old dependable walleye fish fry and wasn’t disappointed, then ordered a cream puff just to make the night perfect.

After dinner, we crossed the street to see what was going on at One Barrel Brewing, which was scheduled to host their grand opening tomorrow night but is apparently having a “soft opening” tonight and serving up anybody curious enough to press their faces to the window and peer into the depths of their shop. At least that’s what they did when I did. Besides the guest taps they were pulling three of their own brews: a session beer, a kolsch and an ale that I was especially partial to. A very helpful young lady poured us samples of all three and, after tasting them, we settled into our bar stools for an enjoyable stay.

While I was soaking up the suds I couldn’t help but notice that One Barrel Brewing bore the mark of a genuine Wisconsin tavern: the head of a jackalope was mounted on the wall. I haven’t seen one of those since my last visit to Club 161 in Waupaca County many, many moons ago. It warmed the cockles of my heart to know that some die-hard Wisconsin traditions still live on.

1bbl | 7:53 pm CDT
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Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Not sure there was anything going on today worth talking about. Work was the same as always. Biked to work, so that was good. Biked home, too. That was a little buggy. And the Banzo cart was parked in the lot at the East Side Club, so we brought home a couple orders of falafels and wolfed them down. They’re so good, that’s the only way you can eat them: wolfing them down.

ssdd | 9:22 pm CDT
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Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I drove in to work today instead of riding my bike. The weather forecast called for high winds this afternoon and evening, and I hate biking against a headwind more than I hate biking through the rain, so I gave it a miss. Still left work at four-thirty, though.

This being Thursday, it’s customary for us to stop at our favorite pub, Alchemy, for dinner, not to mention hoist a beer or two. I don’t know how they manage to fit so much talent into such a little kitchen, but their food has never disappointed either of us, and we’ve eaten out in quite a lot of places in this crazy town. The beer’s never disappointed us, either, come to that.

So on the way to work, I suggested to B that, if it wasn’t pouring down rain when she left the office, she should just plan on meeting me at Alchemy. She was very agreeable to the idea, and it wasn’t raining after work, so I quit promptly at four-thirty and hoofed it on over, Alchemy being just five or six blocks from the office where I work.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, not unusual as it was still early. Justin was at the bar and came right on over when I sat down to see what I wanted. There was an ESB on tap from Left Hand Brewing out of Longmont, CO, that sounded pretty good, and darned if it wasn’t just what I needed after a very long day of shuffling papers and answering phones.

I was almost halfway to the bottom of my glass by the time B showed up. I’d snagged our usual table by then, so she knew just where to find me. Not that it’s a very big place. Still, don’t want to make it any harder than it has to be.

The special tonight was NY strip sirloin marinated in bourbon, served on mashed potatoes and sour cream, with a side of radishes baked in butter. Doesn’t that make you drool like an idiot? Me, too. We goth ordered it, and we both loved it. To go with hers, B ordered an oatmeal stout and let me have a sip. It was so perfect with the steak that I ordered a glass myself, so we had to stay long enough for me to finish it off. Since we were staying anyway, I finished off our visit with a slice of double chocolate cake. What decadence.

decadence | 8:28 pm CDT
Category: beer, commuting, entertainment, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

We just came home from our first visit to Vasili’s Take Five restaurant on Willy Street. The good news is, the food is so good, we can’t wait to go back and try out the rest of the food on the menu. The bad news is, if the service doesn’t improve, our next visit will probably be our last, so we’d better pick something we really want to try.

When we sat down at Vasili’s, there were only six people in the dining room, counting us. One guy came out to welcome us, drop off a couple of menus, take our orders and bring our drinks. No problem.

While we were dining, though, the tables quickly filled up. In the space of about thirty minutes, that one guy had to find a way to take care of fifteen or twenty hungry diners, and frankly he was having a bit of a problem doing it. I’ll give him this: He was never idle, always hustling back and forth, his arms loaded up with plates piled with yummy food, and as far as I could tell he didn’t pop a sweat. I would’ve been wet and limp as a dishrag in that short half-hour.

I ordered the evening’s special, lamb pork served on a bed of rice pilaf with grilled vegetables. I was thinking gyro when I went in, but when the waiter told me what the special was I thought, Hell, I can have a gyro any night of the week, but that sounds fabulous! And it was! The lamb pork was just fatty enough that it very nearly had way too much flavor, but not so fatty that I wanted to trim it, and it was grilled to perfection, nice and tender. I’m not ordinarily a fan of grilled veggies, but I have to say I really liked the combination they put together for this dish. I recall tomatoes, onions, basil, and maybe peppers, all just crunchy enough to remind me that I was eating fresh veggies. The tomatoes! Oh my goodness, the tomatoes were like slurping up the best home made spaghetti sauce my Italian grandmother ever made for me, if I’d had an Italian grandmother. I would go back just for that.

I had to get up from the table about halfway through my meal, and just after I came back, the waiter stopped by to flip the check at us. I hate to tell anyone how to run their restaurant, but customarily I thought you waited until the customer was finished with his meal before you brought the check, and then only after you asked if he would like anything else. I was sort of looking forward to dessert, but I never got the chance to ask. My Darling B finished her glass of wine while waiting for her entrĂ©e and would’ve ordered another, if the waiter had asked. Speaking of which, the drinks were apparently free tonight. They weren’t on the check, anyway. B added ten bucks for my beer and her glass of very tasty tempranillo. I hope that was enough. I was going to ask, but the waiter didn’t stop moving long enough.

And I think it’s only fair to point out that it’s our policy to start knocking a percentage point or two off our usual twenty percent tip for every five minutes that a water glass stands empty on our table. We’ll let a waiter get away with a lot in the way of bad service, but any waiter worth twenty percent should be able to keep two water glasses full through an entire meal. B’s water glass was empty for almost ten minutes when we finally packed up and left.

I hate to dis what looks to be a labor of love and is so obviously a very promising operation. The food really was very delicious, I wasn’t exaggerating one tiny particle about that, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody I know who loves Mediterranean fare, but I’d caution them ahead of time about the service so they knew what they were getting into.

Vasili’s | 8:55 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’m pretty sure My Darling B would agree with me when I say that Wednesday night we had the most fun during Madison Craft Beer Week, starting with our visit to Natt Spil for dinner and a couple glasses of beer from New Belgium Brewery. From there, we went up Pinckney Street to The Old Fashioned to try the brews they were serving from Three Sheeps Brewing, the newest brewery in Wisconsin. B tried the Black Wheat, and I tried the IPA; both were very relaxed, mild beers that reminded me of home brews.

The highlight of our Wednesday night was undoubtedly the hour or so we spent at Cooper’s Tavern talking with Page Buchanan about beer. In particular, the five beers he made that were on tap at Cooper’s – and they were, if memory serves, a stout, an amber, an extra special bitter, an ale and a wheat. The ESB was my favorite. It tasted more like the bitter ales I used to drink while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. But My Darling B preferred the stout. The smokier the beer, the more she likes it.

Page seemed to be having as good a time sampling his beers as we were. He came along to our end of the bar while we were trying out a flight of all the brews and asked us what we thought of them, then stuck around for a while to talk about brewing beer. Page hopes to make House of Brews the first community-supported brewery in the region, modeled after the CSAs (community-supported agriculture) that brought farm-fresh vegetables to urban areas. I hope he can make it happen, because I want to be one of the first in line to subscribe.

When Pepper Stebbins showed up at Cooper’s, we knew it was time to jump on the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between the cap square area and the near-east side of Madison. We got off at Glass Nickel not because we had the munchies, but because the Glass Nickel on Atwood has a basement bar and we were hoping to sample a few of the brews that Founder’s Brewing was supposed to have dropped off there. It was a little too late to get the stuff we wanted – B was looking forward to a glass of Better Half, a brew that doesn’t seem to be on the brewery’s web page, so I can’t tell you about it because there wasn’t any left at Glass Nickel by the time we got there. We settled for a glass of Breakfast Stout between us and nursed it while we chatted up the bartender, who knew as much or more about beer as some of the brewers I’ve talked to.

bus route | 4:10 pm CDT
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Friday, May 11th, 2012

My Darling B and I stopped at Java Cat on the way home last night for gelato. That’s Italian for ice cream. You, as not only a regular reader but a rabid fan of my drivel will no doubt remember, I cannot ingest dairy products without dire consequences, unless I dose myself with enzymes.

That’s my problem: enzymes. I can’t make them any more, at least not the ones that prevent the disastrous aftereffects of dairy. Your body probably pumps them out by the bucket load, but I have to get them out of a bottle. I would eat your spleen like a starving hyena if it would allow me to eat ice cream again.

Can’t tell you how much I miss eating ice cream. I can stop off now and then to share in the joy of eating a small cup of it with My Darling B but, even if I make sure I take my enzymes, I know I’ll have to suffer a rude awakening the next morning, and smell like a rotten egg all through the next day. Just like the rest of life, it’s a trade-off. Do I want to experience a few minutes of pleasure, knowing I’m in for hours of what will be unpleasant not only for me but for everyone around me?

Last night, the answer was, Why, yes! Yes, I do! And so, gelato.

expansive | 8:10 pm CDT
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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I used to work on cap square so I must have walked I don’t know how many times past Natt Spil and wondered what was in there. It looked like maybe it was a restaurant, or it could have been a bar, but then again for all I could tell from the minimal signage and ornamentation out front it could have been a stationery store, or the headquarters of a ninja clan.

It took an embarrassingly long time for us to finally get around to visiting, but My Darling B and I finally stopped by last night, when Natt Spil took part in Madison Craft Beer Week, hosting a tap takeover of New Belgium brews. We wanted to take advantage of the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between downtown taverns and the bars on the east end of town, so we planned to hit the town right after work, and that plan called for a place that would not only be taking part in Craft Beer Week, but which served food as well. And so, Natt Spil.

We liked the place the moment we walked in the door. Except for the sandblasted brick wall that is apparently required by Dane county ordinance to be in every restaurant in Madison, there is wood just about everywhere: On the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling. The booths are darkly stained panels, while the tables glow in what appear to be their natural colors, glazed over with plenty of urethane sealant. And across the ceiling, Asian mandalas filled the panels above the paper lanterns.

The table we chose at the front of the shop still had its rough, undressed edges, as did many of the seat backs in the booths along the wall. We didn’t get it by accident. A couple of young ladies were finishing off their drinks and offered it to us as we looked around the room, wondering where we would be able to shoehorn ourselves into the crowd. That was nice.

There appeared to be just one guy waiting on tables, and even though he was running his legs off, he was friendly and always smiling. He was also wearing a pair of shorts that were at least six inches too big in the waist for him. Every time he came back to the bar to pick up an order, he had to hook a thumb into the waist band and drag them back up to somewhere in the vicinity of his butt. As soon as he grabbed whatever drinks or food was waiting for him, they’d fall right back down to his knees again. Somehow, he never fell flat on his face after getting his legs tangled up in them.

To quiet our growling tummies, we ordered copiously from a menu of what we thought was going to be snacks. My Darling B asked for a bowl of Duck Duck Soup, which turned out to be a very generously-laden bowl of what looked like ramen noodles topped with slices of duck meat, swimming in broth so yummy that B did her best to scoop up every last drop of it.

I ordered dim sum: spring rolls, dumplings, shrimp cakes and a salad of picked vegetables. The spring rolls were HUGE and could have been a meal in themselves. The dumplings were stuffed with shrimp, sausage and water chestnuts and drizzled with a very morish sauce that we rubbed the dumplings in to get every bit of it down our necks. The shrimp cakes were stuffed with shrimp – what’s not to like about that? And about the pickled salad I can say that even the most dedicated cook can mistake a big chunk of ginger for a potato. “I’ve never had pickled potato before!” B proclaimed, popping it into her mouth with glee. Five seconds of chewing later, her face was red and her eyes were brimming with tears. Beware.

Even though it appears to be an enormously popular place, we can’t wait to go back.

Natt Spil | 9:53 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 6th, 2012

This weekend marked the beginning of Madison Craft Beer Week, and we started it by passing on the fish fries that were going on everywhere and heading for The Malt House for Red Eye Happy Hour, where the Red Eye Breweryfrom Wausau had about a half-dozen of their beers on tap. My Darling B ordered up a glass of Cart Ride To Mexico, a malty red ale, and I ordered their saison, which I forget the name of now, and we shared them. I liked the saison best, but they were both very tasty. Then, just to round out the visit, we ordered a draw of Common Thread, a beer brewed at Capital Brewery through the collaboration of brew masters from The Great Dane, Vintage Brewing Company, Lake Louie Brewing, The Grumpy Troll, and House of Brews. It had the unusual quality of tasting like a small-batch home brewed beer.

Before heading home, we stopped off at Dexter’s Pub, where the theme of East Coast, West Coast, No Coast split the 15 taps evenly between North Coast Brewing in California, Oskar Blues in Colorado and Southern Tier Brewing in New York state. From North Coast, we sampled Brother Thelonius, a Belgian style abbey ale, and Lemerle, a saison; from Southern Tier, we tried the Mokah, a stout again, and Creme Brulee – I’m not sure what I’d call that, maybe a novelty beer? They were all delicious, although the Creme Brulee was a little too much like candy for my taste. Somehow, we overlooked ordering a draw of anything from Oskar Blues.

Saturday found us back at The Malt House again to try the hop rockets they were supposed to have hooked up to a couple of brews from Tallgrass Brewing: they were infusing a little chili zing to a stout called Grizzly Sweat, and an extra hop kick to an IPA called 8-Bit. The experiment went disastrously wrong, though, when the IPA stubbornly refused to out of the taps as anything but foam. After fiddling with the plumbing for about twenty minutes they did manage to get the stout flowing, and they even served about a dozen glasses of the IPA by filling pitchers with foam and letting it settle, but after a huge crowd had waited almost an hour for the IPA (myself included), the disappointment was crushing.

Not part of Craft Beer Week but significantly related to beer, we spent all this morning waiting in line outside Star Liquor to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. We lined up at nine o’clock the first year we bought tickets, and because we were so close to the cutoff at the end of the line to buy tickets we showed up at eight o’clock last year – and still ended up near the end of the line! So this year we showed up at seven o’clock, and ended up in almost exactly the same place that we did the previous two years. I see a disturbing trend.

As the first few pattering drops of rain fell on the crowd, the beginnings of what turned out to be an enduring thunderstorm, Page Buchanan ran down the line advising everyone with a number to come back at 11:30, saving us from almost two hours of standing vigil in the pouring rain. When the crowd regrouped later, nearly everyone was holding an umbrella or wearing rain gear of one type or another. Tickets went on sale at noon, and we slowly shuffled our way around the block, and then around the parking of Star Liquor, until a little over an hour later we finally had two tickets to the hottest brewing event in the Midwest.

And then home to nap. Weekends can be so stressful.

suds | 4:36 pm CDT
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Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Madison Craft Beer Week is going to kick off a pre-party at our favorite neighborhood tavern, Alchemy Cafe featuring some scarce beers that we rarely get in this neck of the woods. Much as we’d like to be there, the party starts at 9:30. We’ll be fast asleep by 9:30 because we’re old and our office jobs kick our asses. If we wanted to make that party, we would have to come straight home, sleep until 9:00, go have maybe one beer at the party and then only if we can get two big guys to agree to stuff us into a taxi when we slip away to la-la land. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, so we may have to miss the pre-party. So sad.

snooze | 6:33 am CDT
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Friday, April 27th, 2012

image of beerStepping out from the patio after dinner at Mickey’s Tavern last night, we spotted this amazing tandem bike with attached sidecar and had to stop to take a good, long look at it.

It appeared to be largely home made, and the side car was equipped with an electric motor to give an added assist to the pedalers, no doubt for when the side car was carrying passengers.

The candy stripes are a particularly nice touch.

image of beer

sidecar | 7:06 am CDT
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Thursday, April 19th, 2012

After Monsieur Lazhar, My Darling B and I stopped in at The Icon to relax between shows with a couple glasses of wine and maybe a few tapas for snacks. Okay, this has been bugging me all night: What’s the correct plural for tapas, anybody? Or is that already a plural? Wait, I’ll check the wikipediatapa means a lid or a cover and describes a slice of bread or meat placed over a glass of wine to keep the fruit flies out. Savvy bar owners put salty toppings on the bread and made sure the meat was salty so the customers would drink more wine. So it’s a scam that turned into an upscale way to eat snacks, really.

There are no fruit flies at The Icon. The food is good and they have so many wines that I chose one by scanning down the list until I found the Shiraz and picked the first one that was from Australia. You really can’t go wrong that way. They grow some delicious Shiraz in Australia. My Darling B ordered some deviled eggs, olives and a plate of little bread slices with ham, tomato and cheese slices. It was perfect for just before dinner time, when we were starting to feel hungry, but our stomachs weren’t really gnawing at us yet.

The Icon wasn’t very busy at all when we showed up, which amazed the hell out of me. I guess I expect that everyone’s as into the film fest as we are and will all have the same idea, to drop in for a drink and some noshies right after the show, but no. It didn’t fill up until fifteen or twenty minutes after we sat down. Worked out well. Service was quick and very friendly, even though the staff was obviously a little flustered by a network outage that killed all their cash registers. They were tallying up orders on plain white slips of paper and accepting only cash. That’s how we pay when we eat out, though, so it didn’t throw us for a loop.

And then we were off, racing down State Street to the Chazen to catch the next flick. If we’d known what we were in for, we probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry.

between | 12:26 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, vacation, Wisc Film Fest
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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
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Friday, April 6th, 2012

I ate the tastiest meatball sandwich for dinner last night. We swung by the Alchemy Cafe because it was Thursday, and on Thursday nights I’m in charge of coming up with the dinner, so I usually come up with the suggestion to stop at Alchemy. We have yet to be disappointed by anything we’ve eaten there, and they have a specialty beer menu that changes every week. Can’t beat that.

And although I had the tastiest meatball sandwich ever, My Darling B ordered something even more phenomenal: bacon-wrapped meatloaf in gravy. That’s right: Meatloaf, wrapped in bacon, dripping with gravy. ZOMG. And the portion was large enough that she could cut it in half, put it aside and take it to work for lunch. It just gets better and better.

BMAG | 5:57 am CDT
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Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Planting season has arrived. It’s official when dinners go from being meticulously prepared over a period of hours and eaten long after sundown, to being deli-sliced pastrami and cheese sandwiches with a bag on chips on the side – still eaten after sundown, but now so that My Darling B can spend the last hour or so of daylight in the garden, poking holes in the ground and filling them with onions and radishes and spinach. Although we cheated last night and stopped at Stalzy’s Deli for dinner, wasting a precious half-hour of daylight as we sat in a booth by the window. She still had time enough to get some onions in.

seeded | 6:01 am CDT
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Monday, March 26th, 2012

And, in the blink of an eye, the weekend was over.

For the first time in months we slept in late Saturday morning – didn’t get out of bed until almost eight o’clock! What a couple of hedonists we can be! After we’d cleared the cobwebs from our heads with a couple cups of coffee, we went to Crema Cafe, a local coffee house, for brunch and some more coffee. I’d never been before – well, years ago I had, but it had a different name then and was a lot smaller. Whoever is running the place now managed to buy up the place next door, knock out the wall and make a very cozy little cafe that serves quite a tasty fungus scramble.

After we got home, I went into brewing mode: Looked up a recipe on the web for a basic red ale, made a list, and hit the road to Brew & Grow, the local brewing supplies store. And, because it’s a natural law that all the trips I make for supplies have to come in twos, I made another trip back about a half-hour later when I was unpacking my supplies and realized I’d forgotten to buy the yeast. Can’t make beer without yeast.

I boiled up the brew on the patio with a beer in hand while B pulled weeds in her garden. Her hobby: Pulling weeds in the hot sun. My hobby: Drinking beer. That, in a nutshell, is why I don’t garden.

But I help her garden from time to time. Yesterday, we were both tearing down the chicken wire fence, digging trenches between the fence posts and tacking up fresh, new fencing, made of galvanized hardware cloth this time. We meant to buy galvanized chicken wire last time, but we must not have been paying attention on one of the trips we made to the store because about half of it rusted away, leaving gaping holes big enough for black bears to amble through. I double- and triple-checked the labels on the hardware cloth to make sure it was all galvanized, so rust shouldn’t be a problem this time.

Finally, yesterday afternoon I grilled burgers. And that was the weekend.

blink | 5:59 am CDT
Category: beer, coffee, daily drivel, food & drink, garden, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

As she was driving across town yesterday afternoon, making a mental list of all the things she would need from the store to make eggs Benedict for dinner that evening, My Darling B realized that dinner and this lovely day would be best enjoyed at the same time on a patio, and that’s how we ended up at a table on the patio at Mickey’s Tavern on Willy Street.

That reminds me of my favorite joke: What’s Irish and sits in the sun all day? Paddy O’Furniture. You might have to say it aloud to get it.

It was the perfect day for dinner on the patio: The sun was still well above the trees because the lizards (I can’t help but think of politicians as lizards since re-reading So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish last weekend) made us set our clocks back an hour and it was shining down on us at an angle that was just right, keeping the patio warm enough to sit and eat without a jacket. A breeze swept away almost all the cigarette smoke, not from the two young ladies sitting right next to us, but from just about everyone else. A couple of puppies were wandering around, making friends. Toddlers were squealing with delight as their parents teased them with french fries. And two glasses of cold beer were close enough at hand that both of us could relax and let go the cares of the day.

Thank goodness for patios. And beer.

patio | 6:15 am CDT
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Monday, February 13th, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night, filled with snow and sleet driven by a lashing wind. Why would any sane person want to spend any amount of time walking the streets of Madison tonight?

Well, because there was all-you-can-eat sushi at Restaurant Muramoto tonight.

We thought about going to Restaurant Muramoto tomorrow night, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, but getting a reservation turned out to be a problem and, besides, they didn’t have all-you-can-eat sushi tomorrow. So we celebrated Valentine’s Day one day early. We’re pretty flexible that way.

What we aren’t, though, is all-you-can-eat people. We tried our darndest and, if I may say so, acquitted ourselves well, but we didn’t even come close to making them regret the folly of their ways. We ordered three rolls (eight pieces each) and twelve pieces of nigiri, with a pile of asian slaw on the side. We were both pretty hungry, and it was scrumptiously good food but, at the very end, neither one of us could manage to work up the gumption to tuck into that last piece of sushi.

I think the rolls were better than the nigiri, which is little rice cakes topped by slices of fish. I loved the salmon nigiri, and the albacore was very tasty, but everything else was too subtle for my tongue to pick up much taste.

The rolls were wonderful, especially the Tokyo Picnic and the Rainbow rolls. I wish I could remember what was in them; I’ll take notes next time. I’ll be burping for a month, so “next time” won’t be until late March at the earliest.

sushi | 9:07 pm CDT
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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
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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 CDT
Category: booze, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , ,
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Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

What I know about Cajun food is that it’s spicy and it should look like the chef burned it. True or not, I don’t know, but in my experience that’s what often passes for Cajun food.

What I liked about Liliana’s, our second place to visit during Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week (Winter Edition) was that they didn’t overdo the Cajun thing. In fact, the meal I had, which they called “French Quarter,” wasn’t spicy at all, unless you count the biscuits, and I think you’d have to if you popped one in your mouth by mistake. I split mine in half and slathered each half with lots of butter, so they didn’t scorch my tongue the way I imagine they might have. They were the spiciest things I ate, though.

For starters, I got a duck confit salad. I’m going to come clean and admit that I thought confit referred to the apples and onions that came with the greens, but I was probably thinking of a compote. If Wikipedia is to be believed, and I’m pretty gullible so it’s the first thing I look at when I google words I don’t know, like “confit,” a confit is a way of preserving meat, so in this case it’s all about the duck. My salad came with two slices of duck on top of a bushel of greens that camouflaged a heap of caramelized apples and onions surrounded by big, lumpy chunks of Gorgonzola cheese. I urged My Darling B to eat as much of the Gorgonzola as she wanted. I love Gorgonzola but I can tolerate only so much, even when I’m dosed to the eyeballs with a handful of milk pills. B loves Gorgonzola, too, so she took full advantage of my offer.

My main course was boeuf bourguignon, which is French for “beef in wine sauce so rich you’ll be up all night farting your brains out.” Big chunks of deliciously stewed beef (is it sacrilegious to suggest that boeuf bourguignon is “stewed?”) were generously ladled over half a hogie bun that swam in a dish with onions, mushrooms and chunks of celery. I thought at first that I would have to take half of it home, but it turned out to be so moorish that I snapped up every morsel and sopped up the sauce with a chunk of corn bread. *bliss!*

Dessert was beignets. I may be mistaken, but I think it’s pronounced “boinks.” Don’t quote me. It’s a deep-fried, doughy bun dusted with powdered sugar. Can’t mess that up.

Each course was served with a short pour of wine: the first, with a dry white wine, the second with a red wine that was a blend of pinotage and syrah, and the third with a sweet white, this time sparkling. A very nice touch.

My Darling B ordered the Bayou meal, because she just had to try deep-fried alligator, the first course. She expected it to be like pork, but after a few bites she thought it was more like a mild seafood. I thought it tasted a little like crab. It came with a helping of collard greens braised in bacon, because everything’s better with bacon, even – can you believe it? – collard greens. Really.

B’s main course was Jambalaya of shrimp with andouille sausage on a heap of rice with lots of spicy tomato sauce. I hate to say this, but B’s cooked jambalaya and she’s made better, mostly because she has mastered the art of cooking shrimp as perfectly as can be done. The woman has trouble making an omelet even after twenty years of trying, but give her a pound of shrimp and she can whip up a dinner that will make you feel as though you’re falling in love. She shared some of the jambalaya with me, spooning out a little rice, a piece of sausage and a shrimp on a plate for me to taste, and I went straight for the shrimp, because I loves me some shrimp, but as soon as I bit into it I thought, Okay, not too bad, but chef could’ve taken that off the heat a minute sooner and it would’ve been perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it. It wasn’t overdone, which is so easy to do with shrimp. Most places serve shrimp so overcooked you might as well take them home and give them to the dog as chew toys. These were not that kind of overcooked. They were delicious. But they weren’t perfect, and when you’re serving great, big, fat, rolly-polly shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce with deliciously spicy sausage, they really ought to be perfect. Still, thumbs up.

For dessert, B had cherries Jubilee, which were advertised as “flambeed to order in our dining room.” B was really hoping that meant they were going to set it aflame right before her eyes, but no joy. Didn’t stop her from lapping up every little tiny bit of it.

cajun | 10:19 pm CDT
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Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The most unexpected thing to happen to me this weekend: I ran into a distant relative at the Isthmus beer and cheese festival. Standing in the middle of the room with My Darling B, just minutes after we got there, I looked up from the map we were using to plan our attack on the next vendor and I saw, or thought I saw, my dad’s sister’s daughter’s daughter – I don’t know if makes her my first, second or third cousin, so I’m just going to say “cousin.” There was more than a little doubt in my mind it was actually her because, as far as I knew, she wasn’t even living in town after graduating from school, but I kept spotting her in the crowd and kept getting the same eerie feeling until finally I had to walk up, tap her on the shoulder and introduce myself. And what do you know. It was her. Small world.

I guess the next most happy surprise was that the organizers of the festival brought in Ian’s Pizza and a food cart called Banzo so we didn’t have to eat the miserable crap that Aramark sells from their stalls around the convention floor when everybody got the munchies as the day went on. B and I stopped by the food cart late in the afternoon to grab a bite to eat before we went home and were very pleasantly surprised by how tasty their food was. B got a very generous helping of hummus with pita slices to spread it on. I ordered falafel and shared with B, and we both made so many yummy noises as we scarfed it down that I went back to order more. Now I can’t wait for summer so I can look for them on the street.

But the beer and cheese was what we came for. Actually, I came for the beer. B is the cheese connoisseur. I didn’t even remember to bring my milk pills. You’d think if I was going to an event named Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest, I’d be able to remember my milk pills, but no. So I stuck to the aged cheddar and only ate a little bit of that.

The beer selection was surprisingly ordinary. Everybody seemed to be serving “safe” beers, the kind I could get at Jenifer Street Market or Star Liquor. Not bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, just … safe. Which is disappointing only because, if I’d bought it at the store, I could have saved myself a lot of money. I tasted fourteen or fifteen beers. Each vendor poured three or four ounces into my glass when I started sampling at the beginning of the evening, but toward the end of the evening they tended to fill my glass almost all the way up with maybe six ounces of beer, although I only had two or three of those. That’s about fifty-eight ounces of beer, or just two ounces short of five 12-ounce bottles. I paid forty bucks to drink less than a six-pack of beer.

The most unhappy thing to happen to me and B this weekend was right after the show, when our cab didn’t show. We made a reservation with Green Cab to pick us up, and when they didn’t and B called them to ask where the hell they were, the dispatcher told her they were really busy. Go fish, basically. So we fell back on the gold standard, Union Cab, and they didn’t disappoint. A cab was there to pick us up on less than twenty minutes, and he played a game of “Cash Cab” on the way home. I won a whiffle ball.

beercheese | 9:40 pm CDT
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Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

My Darling B and I went to lunch at Inka Heritage to kick off Madison’s Restaurant Week (winter edition). I have no idea if they’re serving authentic Peruvian cuisine, never having been to Peru myself, but I can tell you that the food I ate there tasted really, really good.

I started off with an appetizer they call causitas dos sabores. I did not attempt to pronounce that. I ordered by pointing, as I do in all restaurants where they insist on listing foods on the menu in a foreign language. I have nothing against foreign languages, and I love exotic foods, but I won’t open myself to ridicule or insult a country’s gastronomic heritage by pretending I can order in the native language, so I pointed at the appetizer of mashed potatoes pressed into little cakes and served with a tablespoon of chicken salad dabbed on top.

For the main course, I tried escabeche costeno, a lightly-fried fish fillet served in a mild pepper sauce with slivers of onion and a cake of white rice on the side. What I loved most about this dish is that it wasn’t more than I could eat in a sitting. Big thanks to Inka Heritage for not trying to make me waddle back to my car. I also loved that they didn’t overpower the whitefish with the pepper sauce. In fact, as far as the food was concerned they did everything just right: The fish wasn’t overcooked, the rice wasn’t a sticky mess, and they served dessert with a cup of chocolaty-dark coffee.

Dessert, by the way, was a slice of cheesecake, a cup of rice pudding and a caramel cookie dusted with powdered sugar. The cheesecake was wonderful, but then I’m pretty sure I would love just about any cheesecake they put in front of me. I’m very indiscriminate when it comes to cheesecake. I haven’t eaten one that I didn’t like. I don’t usually like rice pudding, but I liked this one. And the cookie, wow. I loved that little cookie. I could have eaten way too many of those.

My Darling B started off with costa, sierra y selva for an appetizer, which appeared to be a small potato drizzled in cream sauce and diced whitefish swimming in a tangy marinade, served on a scallop shell, a nice touch. For her main dish, she chose the tacu tacu mar y tierra, mostly because she loved saying “tacu tacu,” which turned out to be a very subtly-flavored bean cake, too subtle for my palate. The tacu tacu came with a very modest portion of chicken and fish.

Inka Heritage appeared to be a very popular place; it was almost empty when we got there, but filled up within a half-hour and remained busy right up until we left. The staff were friendly and our service was good. My only complaint was, there were no towels in the men’s room so I had to wave my hands dry. If you ask me, keeping the bathrooms in clean, working order is as important as busing tables. Everybody’s going to visit the bathroom at least once while they’re there, right? B didn’t appreciate having to hold on to her handbag for lack of hooks, either, but those hiccups wouldn’t keep us from going back.

tacu | 4:53 pm CDT
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