Monday, February 23, 2009

Japanese steakhouse shenanigans

Had my first meal at a Japanese steakhouse this weekend, Taste of Japan, with family and friends, and I'm glad there were a lot of us there because I had no idea that it was intended as a "group" experience. The seven of us were seated around a rectangular table with a huge grill in the middle. One young handsomish waiter took our orders, but a different man was our chef. He made a show out of flipping utensils in the air and tossing eggs into his pockets, but he seemed to miss as often as he made it. He cooked our meals in front of us, grilling meat, poultry, fish, and veggies all on the large table grill. My favorite "trick" of his was the onion volcano (pictured), in which he placed onion slices in a pile, poured some oil down the middle, and lit it so it gave off flame and smoke like, yes, a volcano!

I had a "blue" martini; I have no idea what was in it, but it was advertised as blue and it was blue, so I was happy. The salad had a very good sweetish dressing, and the veggies were yummy. I had the Kobe Special, which was chicken and filet mignon (medium well), and it was quite good. I liked the way the chef delivered the food: he'd get the chunk of food on his spatula, say, "Filet medium well!," see who reacted, and toss the food at me (well, at the plate in my hands). One of our party shared a bottle of plum wine with us; good but thickly sweet. The place is so loud, it's difficult to engage in casual conversation, but I quite enjoyed my food and would go back again, with a group. (Don & I aren't the kind of couple that does well with enforced small talk with strangers, especially when you're stuck with them at a restaurant table.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

A good cat

I'm sure I've stolen this blog post title from one of my friends and fellow bloggers who went through the death of a pet in the past year or two, but it seems fitting. We had to have Dodger, our cat of almost 14 years, euthanized last night. He, like his daddies, was very much a creature of routine, so the hardest thing about the next few days will be breaking those routines: not having to step gingerly when I get up in the middle of the night for fear of stepping on the cat who would always be curled up right outside the bedroom door; not coming home every afternoon to a cat who would greet me with a quick rub against the leg, then direct me firmly over to the kitchen to get his daily treats; not worrying about whether the unthinking twitching of my feet while watching TV would signal "game time" to him and have him pounce on me, claws out, to draw blood right through my socks.

I think cat people and dog people generally want different things from their pets. Everyone knows a good dog does things like play catch and fetch slippers and slobber their affection all over you, though I've never had a dog so I don't know for sure. But a good cat is different from a good dog, and probably different from person to person. Dodger did not show affection promiscuously, but that made it all the more special when he did. He was not typically a lap cat, but if the conditions were right (a chilly fall evening, Don had his jeans on, the moon was in the seventh house), he loved curling up on Don's lap or leg for a long snooze.

He liked being around us, so most evenings, he was in the living room watching TV with us, and upon retiring, he would start the night curled up in bed at my feet, but he was also independent--he never stayed in bed much past midnight, as though he had more fun things to do downstairs, and he'd go through spells when he spent more time upstairs in a closet or in the basement on a pile of towels than with us.

When I was teaching and would be home in the afternoon, he would frequenly curl up at my feet on the couch while I was napping. I will always treasure the handful of times when I'd be lying on my back reading and he would jump up on the couch, and stretch out full length on my chest and stomach, facing me with his "purring face" on, the closest thing to a real cat smile I've ever seen (except for two weeks when he was a kitten, Dodger never purred, but he frequently had a contented "purring" face). I'd have to put the book down, of course, to accomodate my little visitor, but then we'd both have a nice long nap together.

He became a pest at dinnertime, begging at the table for anything creamy or saucy (of course, that was our fault for letting that habit develop), and he was a regular visitor up at the computer desk in the study. During his last 3 years when his health was in decline (diabetes and asthma), I could tell how good he was feeling if he could make the leap up to the desk to visit. With the onset of his diabetes, he quit making the jump for a couple of months, but he soon felt well enough to once again be a pest at the computer, right up until just this last weekend. I can't imagine not having a cat in my life, and I'm sure we'll adopt another one eventually, but not right away. Dodger was indeed a good cat and will be missed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Me and Chuck D.

This weekend, in honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, I read "On Natural Selection," a small book excerpted from The Origin of Species. "Read" is too strong a word, as, the further I got into the book, the less I understood. I got the basics, I guess, but 2 things struck me as interesting:

1) Darwin often talks about "Nature" as a personalized, almost godlike entity, as a "she" who seems to have a consciousness and intention. I realize this is probably just a literary convention, but in light of the idea that Darwin somehow was instrumental in killing off God, I found it interesting. Maybe God's not a man with a beard but a woman with a billion children. Or a carny hiding behind a curtain.

2) As a gay man, I feel practically invisible in Darwin's world, since everything comes down to propagating the species. I realize that even people who don't reproduce can help in building our society, which is a way of keeping the species going, but still, I wonder, since homosexuality hasn't died out as most of Darwin's "injurious" features have, maybe Mother Nature thinks we're helpful in some way. Maybe she harbors a love of musical theater?

And a shout-out to the other Chuck D. from Public Enemy, whom I will always remember fondly for his deathless lines, "Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me/Ya see, straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain/Motherf**k him and John Wayne."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Curse you, Pet Shop Boys!

I have about 15 Pet Shop Boys songs among the 2700 songs on my iPod. But because a disproportionate chunk of those songs begin with "I," I've been hearing a lot of them lately on alphabetical play: "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," "I'm With Stupid," "Indefinite Leave to Remain," "Integral," and "It's a Sin." Last night, I had a bout of insomnia and only got about 4 hours of sleep. The biggest factor was probably the grande Starbucks I was still sipping at 8:30 (usually, my evening coffee is done by 7:30), but because every time I started to nod off, a thumping Pet Shop Boys song would start rushing by in my head, I blame them. Picture me as Stephen Colbert, profile to the camera, fist shaking in the air, yelling, "Petttt Shoppppp Boyyyysssss!!!"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A great sensory experience

An article in New York magazine surveys a handful of chefs and restaurant workers about their opinion on Gov. Paterson's proposed 18% sales tax on non-diet soft drinks. Yes, this would probably be the first "sin tax" that would directly affect me (if I lived in New York), so of course I'm against it, but mostly I loved this quote from restaurant owner Gabrielle Hamilton:

"A well-timed ice-cold Coca-Cola is one of life’s greatest taste and sensory experiences: the way it makes your eyes sting and tear up, and the back of your throat gets that chalky moment as good or better even than some of the highest tannins in a big red wine, and then the full sugar and caffeine rush that completely cures what ails you. I’m not saying every day and I’m not saying three a day. I mean one perfectly placed Coke in your week."

But one a week?? Jesus, I'm no Superman (or depending on your religion, "Superman, I'm no Jesus!); there's no way I could limit myself to one a week. I have cut back from my glory days of 3 or 4 a day, to maybe 1 a day (and I sometimes try to leave some of the can to pour down the drain), but 1 a week? I might as well just wear sackcloth and go barefoot. (Let me also recommend a nice 3 or 4 shots of vanilla syrup with the fizzy elixir!)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Indian dish

I'm not a gourmet cook by any means, but I do like to cook, mostly single-skillet or casserole meals. Tonight I made one of my favorites (and one of Don's as well), chicken tikka masala with cardamom basmati rice. It's the only Indian dish I make, and the recipe I use is pretty easy (as long as I remember to marinate the chicken for at least an hour before I start to cook). It's from a cookbook by the hunky Dave Lieberman--can you think of any better reason to buy a cookbook than that the author is hot? I took a picture of the dish but it looked like chunky mud on a plate; that makes me appreciate how hard it is for food photographers to get dishes to look appetizing--no wonder they use food that's been sprayed down with plastic. So I guess I'll put a pic of Dave with my post instead.

You marinate cut-up chicken in a yogurt/honey/mixture with spices and garlic, then you put onions in the skillet, cook with curry powder and tomato paste, throw the chicken in, and let cook for 15 minutes. I cook the basmati rice in an electric steamer with caradmom & butter. My only complaint is that the smell of curry powder stays in the house for days. But there are never leftovers. Of course, Don & I rarely leave leftovers of anything. We had a mediocre Gew├╝rztraminer with dinner; it's hard to find a really good one these days.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mexican food in Central Ohio

There are 2 kinds of Mexican food restaurants here in Central Ohio:

1. "Authentic" like El Vaquero, with a huge menu filled with endless combinations of a handful of foods (2 tacos and 1 tamale; or 1 chalupa and 2 flautas, etc.), a mostly Hispanic staff of men in their 30s and 40s, and TVs playing Univision telenovelas.

2. "Americanized," usually part of a chain, with a smaller, more expensive menu, a mostly Anglo staff of young pretty people, and a cluttered, decrepit "cantina" look. (Actually, some of the "authentic" ones are also chains, like the aformentioned El Vaquero.)

Sometimes I'm in the mood for one, sometimes the other--when it comes to margaritas, the Americanized ones win hands down. My favorite Americanized Mexican restaurant was Don Pablo's, but that chain seems to have bitten the dust, so we went to the new chain that's replaced the old Pablo buildings, Baja Sol Cantina. It looks the part, though I have to say it's a bit junkier than the old Don Pablo's, and the staff isn't as pretty (so important for a good dining experience). I started with a Blue Margarita which was pretty darn good (I don't know why I'm always so happy drinking something blue...); the salsa bar, with at least 7 different salsas and sides (like a nice cilantro/onion mix) was good; the main course was this:

Inside Out Chicken Tinga Tamale
Grilled corn cake served over Salsa Verde and topped with chicken tinga, sour cream, pico de gallo and green onions. Served with Baja rice and your choice of black or pinto beans.

It was OK, though because I had ordered the corn cake for an appetizer, I was a bit corned out. I'd go back and try the fajitas, but for now I'm still in mourning for Don Pablo's,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

First brunch of the New Depression

We went to brunch today at a Nice Restaurant which seems to have fallen on hard-ish times. Though the food was good (I especially liked my Mimosa and my veggies, a mix of wax beans, other beans, and corn), the waitress was somewhat less attentive than usual. The place was less crowded than I remember it being in the past. And a strange man was sitting (or swaying with his ass bumping back and forth across the seat of a stool) at the head of the brunch line. His face was indistinct, like in one of those stupid movies that used rotoscope animation over live action (A Scanner Darkly), but I think his hair was dirty and his eyes were crazy. Someone in our party thought he was a "hobo of the New Depression," but he kept asking people if they were getting enough to eat, telling unfinished jokes, and suggesting that customers get omlettes from the Omlette Man. I think he worked there.