Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fat Tuesday

Last night was my inaugural trip to L'Espalier. Ever since I got into the whole fine dining thing, it's been my understanding -- by way of various reviews and rankings -- that L'Espalier was one of the best, if not the best, of the gourmet establishments in all of New England. L'Espalier's philosophy puts forth an unabashed embrace of everything that is opulence, punctuated by their recent relocation, nestling into the third floor of the brand new Mandarin Oriental Hotel Boston, adjoining the Prudential Center on Boylston Street in the heart of the Back Bay.

Their menu, which features a rotating seasonal menu as well as a constantly-changing tasting pre-fixe, aims to combine local ingredients with contemporary French cuisine, accented by an infusion of traditional New England cooking styles.

As Hanah and I were attending an event as opposed to a regular reservation, the menu was completely pre-fixed, which was fine, as I found all of the courses more than agreeable by the provided menu. Each dish was paired with a wine by L'Espalier's resident wine expert, or "cork dork," Erich Schliebe. Dork he was, but that's never really a pejorative, and though I generally prefer quietude and isolation for fine dining, it was nice to have a little more light shed on some wines I would ordinarily never try (translation: reds).

The first pairing was Tasmanian salmon and shrimp roulade with lemon-apple vinaigrette and arugula with apple strips cut similarly to the strings of carrot one finds in a bland salad. In this case, however, the apple strips paired nicely to give a sweet, tart juxtaposition to the bitterness of the arugula. The vinaigrette was sparse, which is probably for the best as the roulade was plenty moist by itself. The salmon portion of the roulade, which was a good two-thirds of the portion, was surprisingly pate-like in texture; I usually expect cooked salmon to be at least somewhat flakier. The shrimp portion, nested within the more generous salmon, was the best part of the dish.

It was enjoyable, but not necessarily masterful. In my opinion, the best dishes are defined by the way each element combines to make a singular taste sensation when combined in a single bite. In the case of the roulade, the arugula and apple strips seemed fairly auxiliary. This is, perhaps a testament to the strength of the actual seafood portion, but moreso it seemed like the flora was tossed on for the sake of color and texture variation, perhaps unnecessary for this particular dish. Enjoyable, not doubt... but not quite masterful.

The wine pairing -- appropriately white -- was a 2006 Domaine Richou, "Chauvigne," Anjou, Loire. Schliebe announced that it would have a distinct "wet wool" or "barn" aroma. Though these are two "flavors" I cannot say I'd posit as enticing, and though I found the description applicable upon first inhale, I nonetheless found the taste of the wine to be enjoyable. It was gentle and a bit steely, a fine accompaniment for the dish with which it was served.

The second course was a dark meat chicken lasagne with smoked bacon, tomato, olive and red wine. The red wine, in this case, was the same wine for this dish's pairing, 2005 Chateau Dubraud, Premieres Cotes de Blaye, Bordeaux, only it was an ingredient to the abundant sauce topping the lasagne portion. A small toss of baby pea greens was resting atop the dish, and like with the appetizer, I could not really understand its presence outside of a desire to introduce color and texture diversity to a dish which stands up fine without.

I ate the pea greens as quickly as I could to get them out of the way and then focused on the lasagne and my accidentally generous pour of Bordeaux. Both were very satisfying; though I have to be coaxed into white meat chicken these days, I needed no persuasion to indulge in its fattier, darker counterpart. The lasagne was hardy and perfectly portioned for the second course of four, and the Bordeaux -- in the sauce or in the glass -- was equally full.

When Schliebe was announcing the third wine of the evening, he invited interaction from his audience by asking what kind of nose this wine had. Across the room, the frumpier female component of the only couple that might've been close to the age of Hanah and me was busy taking a deep whiff. She then lowered her glass and confidently declared, "Grapes!"

Rather than laugh, the entire rest of the patronage exchanged knowing stares of mutual understanding. It was not so much that we all hated her, or that her knowledge of wine was lacking. It was just that, should some catastrophic event have trapped us in the restaurant for an indeterminate amount of time, and should the food supplies have been exhausted, chosing the first person to cannibalize was no longer going to be as difficult as it might've otherwise been, had she said, say, bacon.

Yes, bacon, the cork dork announced, was the aroma of the wine. A modest inhale did nothing to validate his claim, and Hanah agreed. I figured maybe I was missing something. That, or the bitch in the frock across the room wasn't so far off with "Grapes!" But a deeper breath revealed the bacony secrets of the 2007 Domaine Les Grand Bois, "Cuvee Les Trois Sceurs," Cotes du Rhone. A taste introduced something I don't often encounter; a red wine I'd actually purchase on my own.

The rich, meaty red was completely in step with the third course of grilled flank steak over rosemary polenta with sweet vegetables. This dish was exceptional; each element combined to a distinct harmonious sensation, and separate, each flavor was still its own treat. The only improvement would've been for the dish to have been hotter upon arrival, thus maintaining the freshly-cooked texture of the polenta through the full period of consumption. Or perhaps I should just talk less and eat more when the steak is served. Either way, here, at last, was what I'd not just been hoping for, but rather, expecting from L'Espalier.

The fourth and final course was the grand cheese tasting of "Soft Comforts."

The plate featured an array of six soft cheeses, served with small slices of very lightly buttered crisp baguette. The first one tried was a "Green Hills," from Sweet Grass Dairy based out of Thomasville, Georgia. It ended up being my second favorite of the assortment, even though it had no singular distinguishing quality.

The second cheese was "Grayson" by Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, Virginia. Hanah pegged this one early on; it was very close to the more common Muenster. The firmest of the six, texture-wise, I did not bother to spread it on the baguette chips, simply parsing bits by knife or fork and delivering them directly to the pie hole.

Third up was "Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert" from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in New York. Very soft, this was light and airy, and spread more like melted butter than anything else. Fine, but nothing exceptional.

Fourth was an "Organic Triple Cream" from the Champlain Valley Creamery in Vergennes, Vermont. This cheese was a strange and fickle mistress. It was distinctly bitter when it was in my mouth, and yet the moment I had finished each bite, it left an aftertaste that made me wish to taste it again. That description probably applies to a few people, too.

Fifth was the only import cheese, a "Brie de Nangis" from Normandy, France. It wasn't true brie, we learned from Louis Risoli -- cheese expert of L'Espalier -- because true brie is made from unpasteurized milk and aged only for thirty days. The United States will not allow unpasteurized dairy aged less than sixty days into the country. Apparently I'll have to go to fucking France for real brie. This "brie" was humble, though it may have been difficult for anything of subtle flavor to follow the Vermont camembert.

I was lucky enough to save what would be my favorite cheese for sixth and last, the "Colorouge" from Muoco Dairy in Fort Collins, Colorado. It spread perfectly, carried a graceful balance of salt, bitterness and even a bit of tartness. Delicious.

Really, though, it didn't matter in what order I ate the cheeses, because the wine pairing was the highlight of the evening. I am partial to Alsatian wines to begin with, and the 2005 Schoenheitz "Holder" Gewurztraminer was spicy, tangy bliss. I've got to hunt down a full bottle for myself.

The event was topped off with a small plate of sweets. A mint-filled dark chocolate, a small cube of merengue, and a nougat cube with crushed pistachio for each of us was delivered with the check, keeping me from impulsively requesting a glass of the 2007 Banfi "Rosa Regale" Brachetto d'Acqui from the Piedmont region of Italy that I'd been eyeing since discovering the limited listing of dessert beverages.

As if the unexpected sweet plate was not enough, we were given strawberry Parisian macarons at the coat check.

L'Espalier is not my new favorite restaurant, but it was a very fine place to spend Fat Tuesday, and though it seems as though rough times may lie ahead for the gourmand -- in the wake of Excelsior's closing, Pigalle is suddenly offering three courses plus drinks for twenty bucks every Tuesday, whereas the Top of the Hub is participating in the dinner set of Restaurant Week for the first time in memory -- my faith in proper indulgence has been somewhat restored. I look forward both to my upcoming Restaurant Week reservations as well as an eventual return to L'Espalier for a crack at their regular menu.

In the meantime, however, I've got to get on finding that Gewurztraminer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Some People Got It

I completely on board with Veruca Salt until she says "I want to lock it all up in my pocket; it's my bar of chocolate," because, if you think about it, that's a recipe for disaster.

When I was a little kid, I took child roles in local theater for companies that put on productions in Red Bank, New Jersey. By age eight, I had performed at both The Strand and Count Basie theaters, and landed the title role in "Oliver!" I think it's disastrously hilarious that it's not even the only Dickens novel that was churned into a musical.

On a more personal disastrously hilarious note, "Oliver!" was one of several productions I had the pleasure of putting on with an individual named Jared Gertner. I recently stumbled onto him -- completely at random -- in YouTube videos. It turns out he ended up making it to Broadway with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" in the lead role, and the man can still sing.

I, on the other hand, was only barely ever able to carry a tune to begin with -- landing roles on sheer cuteness and the uncanny ability to memorize the lines for entire plays in a matter of days -- and when the long-awaited man-gifts of puberty finally arrived, the ability to sort-of sing was one of the first things to go.

Regardless, I think I got the better end of the trade.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Delicious Future

If you're ever down on your luck, or down on your finances, I highly recommend purchasing a box of these bitches right here. I realize the photo is backwards; for this I apologize. I have zero graphics editing capability, but I'm willing to imagine that you get the fucking idea.

Unlike risking it by ordering from your local Chinese takeout or delivery establishment, a box of La Choy guarantees satisfaction. I'm here to tell you that they are efficient. They battle hunger and bad moods at the same time, as the cookie part is, well, a fucking cookie, and the fortunes are overwhelmingly optimistic.

I still trust them, however, because they swirl largely around the original three tenets of fortune-telling from ancient China: wealth, travel, and wealth-fueled travel. Because fortune-telling is a delicate art, it's important to eat the entire box, like I just did, in order to get the clearest picture of your future.

Here's what I learned:

"You income will increase."

This is great news, assuming they meant "Your income will increase." If they really meant it the way they spelled it, well, then I just don't know what to make of it.

"You will lead a rich and successful life."

Boosh! Clarification. Clearly, my financial standings are on the upswing. Let's do this.

"Grant yourself a wish this year, only you can do it."

I'm pretty sure that needed a semicolon, but that's nitpicking. The cookie is right; only I can grant myself a wish. Maybe this is the year I finally visit Europe. Or fuck Grady Sizemore. Thank you for lighting the way, La Choy!

"You will find good luck when you go home."

See what I'm talking about? Does my future rock, or what? Eh? And this one's right, too. I'm already home, and I've got kickass fortune cookies. Also, vodka is here.

"No need to worry! You will always have everything that you need."

I wish I knew how to quit you.

"Be on the lookout for coming events. They cast their shadows beforehand!"

Translation: if I look for what happens in the future, I will be able to know what happens in the future. Side note: if, in the future, mankind discovers time travel, I'm coming back to rape myself at this exact moment. Okay, future-me didn't appear. I hereby predict that we never figure that out. Or that my memory is just awful.

"Soon life will become more interesting."

Considering that "May you live in interesting times" is technically an archaic Chinese curse, I am hereby worried about my relationship with La Choy.

"Opportunity is knocking at your front door."

And we're back. La Choy knows my bedroom preferences; I trust La Choy again. But what is this strange opportunity?!

"A friend will bring you a big surprise soon."

I am glad I am not a woman, especially at this moment, as this could surely have been a reference to the pregnancy-related interruption of one's menstrual cycle. But the most recent dong-check came back positive; I can probably just take this prediction straight-up. But which friend will it be?!

"A gathering of friends brings you lots of luck this evening."

Unless I don't have to be present for this one to pan out, I'd better go hang out with the roommates tonight, because really, who am I to defy the fates?

"Soon you will be sitting on top of the world."

Well, looks like success of all kinds is imminent if not unavoidable.

I feel closer to buying my own island. But in the much more immediate future, clearly there should be some grocery shopping.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

With This Snooze, I Be Wed

I have never been a graceful riser. I am a snooze-button junkie, and always have been. My mother used to wake me up through my high school years, because I literally failed at using an alarm clock effectively.

My subconscious would have full conversations with her in the early morning, bargaining for extended slumber and specific breakfast items. When I actually woke up, I would not remember speaking with her, but I was very glad I had apparently requested oatmeal and tea.

She dreaded my move to college as she was convinced that I would sleep through my alarms -- as in, from two different sources -- and miss all my classes.

Lucky for me, missing all my classes did nothing to prevent me from graduating.

In my time as a "working man," I have made incredible strides; my initial alarm goes off at 6:35 A.M., and I usually manage to physically leave the bed by 7:10 A.M.

Nonetheless, every now and then, ancient demons arise.

This morning, as the series of alarms began, I must've been in very deep sleep, as my dreams simply incorporated the alarm right in. The only thing I recall distinctly is that when I looked at my ringing cell phone -- which has become my alarm clock -- the area I would typically touch to hit "snooze" or "turn off alarm" were absent.

Instead, the only option by which to silence the phone read "Get married."

And, feeling the lingering affection of the pint glass-sized nightcap I poured myself last night, this seemed like a bargain, so I hit it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Epic Cure for the Epicure

The mourning of Excelsior will officially cease on February 24th, with my inaugural visit to L'Espalier in its new location at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Boylston Street.

In the same cholesterol-impacted vein, I've finally gotten around to making the appropriate preparations for the winter edition of Boston's Restaurant Week. Thankfully, the title itself is false advertising, as the event is actually two weeks long, with several restaurants -- such as OM Restaurant & Lounge in Cambridge -- extending the pre-fixe offer through the entire month of March.

Though the idea is to try new places in the search for a "new favorite" restaurant, I couldn't help but mix in a few returns when I was slotting the seven reservations I've made for the late March event.

The lineup:

Friday, March 20: Clink at the Liberty Hotel - This is a place I haven't been to before, but the pre-fixe they've posted is engaging to say the very least.

Saturday, March 21: Oishii - This will be a lunch outing, as Oishii decided to break from the majority and continue to offer the lunch pre-fixe on that particular Saturday.

Monday, March 23: Tremont 647 - I haven't been here before, but even just from their limited Restaurant Week menu, I have very high hopes for this place.

Tuesday, March 24: The Palm Boston - I've been here twice, which makes the return feel like cheating. But I've only ever had their 16 oz. filet mignon extra rare with asparagus; that's not offered for the event, so it's an opportunity to branch out.

Wednesday, March 25: Gaslight - Okay, so I've been to every place that's left on the list at least once. Gaslight offers traditional French cuisine, and since they've included braised veal cheeks, cassoulet, and champagne sorbet for this one, I can't really resist.

Thursday, March 26: Le Petit Robert Bistro (Kenmore) - I've been to the Columbus Ave. ("South End") installment, and loved it. French food, again -- this time with a little more creative flair on the menu -- this location is a little closer to home, where I'm hoping for a slightly less crowded atmosphere. It looks like they're offering their full, standard menu for the event; a major plus.

Friday, March 27: Top of the Hub - I've only ever been here for drinks and a split dessert, and it was enjoyable, but at the same time, a total tease. So I've landed -- unexpectedly -- Friday night reservations sixty stories up in the Prudential Tower. Who knows; maybe they'll even honor my request for a window table facing downtown.

By the end, I hope to have a new love. But I'm sure to have a larger ass.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rancors Away

I experience mild discomfort when it becomes apparent that my AIM-using mother has viewed one of my more sexually-charged or vulgar status messages, leaving a loving "Hi bebe, hope you are having a relaxing weekend" to an auto-reply of "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hung like me?!"

In The Clear

I think I have a pretty lovely solution to the debacle swirling around the list of one hundred-plus names of players who failed the random testing for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Two names have been released, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. I understand the argument that this is not fair to the two. However, one could easily turn around and question why it is necessary to handle these two fairly when they didn't seem much concerned about fairness before they were caught breaking the rules.

More than anything, though, I want baseball to save face, and I think I actually even have a solution.

Why not leak the names of people who passed in 2003? Players who are, you know, actually clean? I'm sure that somewhere in the list of people who passed are at least a few big names. We only ever hear about people who tested positive for steroids. Isn't it time we heard about someone testing negative? How about lots of people testing negative?

By doing this, Major League Baseball does not necessarily have to turn around and name the other hundred-plus who failed. They also do not do so by default because not everyone was tested, so if a player is not named as "clean," it may simply mean that he wasn't tested in the 2003 random testing. I see no reason, however, why they not clear some people's names and clear the organization's image in the process?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Brilliant Excuse To Give To Charity

And by give to charity, I mean buy something.

Some charity called War Child -- which, from what I gather, helps children in war-stricken areas -- has gotten together an album wherein legends of rock have chosen up-and-coming artists to cover a song of their choice.

Among the track listing are such choice pairings as:

Beck (Bob Dylan - “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”)
Lily Allen feat. Mick Jones (The Clash – “Straight To Hell”)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs (The Ramones – “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”)
Franz Ferdinand (Blondie – “Call Me”)
Duffy (Paul McCartney – “Live And Let Die”)
Estelle (Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”)
Rufus Wainwright (Brian Wilson –“ Wonderful & Song For Children”)
Scissor Sisters (Roxy Music – “Do The Strand”)
Peaches (Iggy Pop – “Search And Destroy”)
TV On The Radio (David Bowie – “Heroes”)
I'm quite excited, especially considering that I've been jonesing for something new from the Scissor Sisters, and only recently discovered TV On The Radio.

You can hear the Lily Allen track by following the link above.

Oh, and, you know, it's for a good cause (here: my personal enjoyment).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dealing With V D

Valentine's Day. A day to send text messages to select individuals containing the curious greeting "Enjoy your V D!"

The scene is Downtown Crossing T Station. Our hero is being eyefucked by a Mormon teenager, all dressed up with a name tag, while in the background, an elderly woman singing Johnny Cash covers has completed her personal rendition of "Ring of Fire," and has moved on to a hauntingly inapplicable version of "Boy Named Sue."

The afternoon was spent smoking hookah and sipping Maker's Mark on the rocks with Colin, watching a special on the Alamo hosted by David Carradine. It is now clear that Carradine received absolutely no direction in his role as Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, confirming a new level of David Carradine's coolness. He is the man.

As for the evening, I met up with an alarming number of familiar faces at The Roxy in the hopes of getting my dance on. I don't think I've ever been part of so many grind-chains. They just kept happening. One minute someone's backin' it up on me, the next minute I am sandwiched with at least two people undulating somewhat-rhythmically on either side of me. This is fine if the goal is to work up a semi, but I had come to bust moves to repetitive beats, and would not be denied.

And so the mission was a complete success, the only casualty being about five to ten percent of my ability to hear. When I was younger, I recall expressing fervent distaste for the deluge of decibels that is club music. I become completely deaf on the dancefloor; surely the loudness was keeping me from enjoying meaningful drunken conversation.

These days, I see the deafness as an absolute defense against enjoying meaningful drunken conversation. Several individuals tried to say things to me, but I just issued some makeshift sign language to indicate my sudden disability and kept on grooving into the night.

I cannot hear you, because I am awesome.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

O Captain!

According to an article on, Jeter isn't fielding -- among other things -- questions on Alex Rodriguez until "everybody is [there]." I guess every member of the press who might feel like asking Derek Jeter about Alex Rodriguez had better get on the same page.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but I can't help myself here (this is from the article):

"I'm not addressing Alex's situation until everybody is here," Jeter said Tuesday after working out at the Yankees' minor league complex. "If you've got baseball questions, I'll do that."

My only question for Jeter, were I to be a member of the media collective he seems to think should assemble before he should speak, would be this:

"How are questions about your teammate's admitted use of performance enhancing drugs anything but baseball questions?"

Trust Falls

The cat is out of the bag; the best player in baseball for the last dozen years -- Alex Rodriguez -- used performance enhancing drugs at some point. I say "at some point," because, well, I find myself unable to trust his half-hearted confession. It's difficult to trust public statements by clientele of Scott Boras in general to begin with, but the infidelity caveat applies here: he who has cheated before may well cheat again.

That is to say, Rodriguez is now copping to the fact that he's used banned performance-enhancing substances, and this makes his previous statements of categorical denial into blatant falsehoods. Therefore, why should anyone decide to now take him at the specific details he offers -- or doesn't offer -- in the interview he gave to Peter Gammons. Was the use limited to his time with the Texas Rangers? Was he truly unaware of what substances were going into his body?

The oblivion defense is disturbing. Not because it's so unlikely, but rather, if it's actually true that so many baseball players, in their youthful naivete and ambition, were wholly unconcerned with what substances were being injected into their asses, then I could've had quite the sex life in my late teens by posing as a sports trainer and hanging around spring training to offer experimental -- but totally organic! -- suppliments. No pain, no gain, eh slugger?

More disheartening to the baseball fans and purists is that Rodriguez and Bonds are just two of over one hundred players who tested positive in the 2003 testing conducted by Major League Baseball. How many more giants of the game were tainted? Will we ever find out the full list of names? Do we even really want to know anymore?

In recently discussing the topic with an acquaintence, he poignantly quoted: "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

It is nearly impossible to wrap my mind around the magic of the 2004 Red Sox if it were to suddenly surface that Manny or Ortiz or Millar was on that list. It would cheapen what is, to me, the greatest sports comeback story in history. It would cheapen the World Series win. And yet, I think I'm willing to risk that considerable loss for the sake of the truth.

I'd rather know.

As for Rodriguez, my annoyance is endless. His talent is unquestionable, "PED's" -- as they're now apparently to be referred -- be damned, and he has an excellent shot to overtake Barry Bonds as the official career home run leader. Much as it pains a Red Sox fan to embrace a Yankee, prior to the recent news of the failed drug test, I had sort of a soft spot for Rodriguez.

Though I don't know all the details of his personal life, every one that does occasionally surface indicates that the guy is a head case with talent only matched by various layers of insecurity. Reviled by fans of his former team, reviled by New Yorkers even when he was putting up numbers that would've been awe-inspiring from anyone else, quietly disliked by teammates and recently thrown under the bus in book form by Joe Torre, Rodriguez was something of a tragic hero in my eyes.

A total asshole whose talent shined regardless of a persona that comes off as, to be kind, less than endearing. In previously believing that he was clean, and that Bonds was not, I considered Rodriguez to be a strange if not bittersweet salvation for the purity of baseball. I am a fan of baseball before I am a fan of the Red Sox, and I similarly value integrity over results. This being the case, it was easier to digest a jerk of a Yankee atop baseball's most hallowed career record list than to stomach the resillience of Bonds's farce.

The dilemma is no longer gently weighted by a hint of righteousness, it is simply the choice between a rock and a hard place at this point, demanding that we continue to tip our respective teams' caps to Hammerin' Hank. With Alex Rodriguez no longer truly eligible for the crown, the search begins for someone who actually has a shot at the heights once he's done re-setting the "record."

Lucky for me, another recently-started search for "Number One" will be much more pleasant. Though I had embraced Excelsior as my favorite restaurant through its closing, I had, regrettably, never had the pleasure of dining at the establishment which is routinely ranked as the tops in New England, Boston's own L'Espalier.

L'Espalier, according to Babel Fish, is French for "The rib stall." Which is not actually helpful. A rib stall, according to my attempts to translate English to English, is "the name of a form of Arbre, generally fruit-bearing, obtained by a technique of size making it possible to have a tree with form punt. The technique was popular with the Moyen-âge in Europe to decorate the walls, but the creation of the technique is older and could date from the ancient Egypt. The word rib stall refers to the lattice on which the seedling is pressed at the time of its growth."

I confess, I was kind of hoping it would translate to something promisory of a grand eating experience, like "delicious explosion" or "Excelsior." But I'm glad I've at least cleared up what it means. Which is lattice. For fruit-bearing trees. Brilliant.

Anyhow, I'll be assessing their fare two weeks from today, joining Hanah for their "Cheese Tuesday" traditions. Per their website, the theme for the installation we'll be experiencing is "Soft Comforts." C'est la brie!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Great Strides

My quest to sample every champagne house took another step forward yesterday. Insisting that I try something new when I pick up a bottle is keeping me from returning to my favored few, but it's still greatly improving the quality of my mornings, afternoons, evenings, and nights. Yesterday's sampling, Joseph Perrier, is mysteriously absent from Wikipedia's listing... but the bottle said champagne, and it has PDO status, so I'm counting it. It's actually somewhat pleasing. Kind of like when you punch a previously-invisible coin block in Super Mario Bros.

I slept terribly last night, and hereby challenge the moon to a fight (which I will win).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Memoriam: Fantasy Football '08

Looking back on my fantasy football season, and seeing that Derrick Mason was my most productive WR in a PPR league, I cannot help but wonder what the Hell I was smoking on draft day. Then again, who could've foreseen that Plaxico Burress's career would implode that badly, or that Braylon Edwards would begin performing like the kid in "Little Giants" who ends up having to load his hands full of that sticky tar stuff just to catch a pass? Nonetheless, appalling.

On that note, this gem comes from friend and fantasy confidant Peter:

"I had a number of those Derrick Mason moments myself. It's that moment where you look at the roster of a playoff opponent who is absolutely stacked, then go back to trying to decide whether Dominic Rhodes, Warrick Dunn or LeRon McClain is going to be your #2 RB and, in a sudden, blinding flash of clarity, you realize that you're not going to win."
And how.

Adieu Excelsior

In the past week, I have lost two things. Two things which were incredibly dear to me, only one of which was replaceable. My debit card vanished, seemingly into thin air, during a week in which I had just sent out rent as well as another check for a substantial sum. I don't panic often; few things legitimately throw me off. But before I actually got through to a representative from my bank on the phone, I was nervous. As it turns out, my fund had not been touched, and my checks had cleared without a hitch. A new ATM card is supposedly already en route. Instant relief.

The other loss, however, is absolutely irreplaceable. And, as I am an awful human being, causes me more actual grief than when I hear about people I don't know dying. My favorite restaurant, Excelsior, closed.

Getting dressed up and going out for fine wining and fine dining is one of my favorite things. I cannot help it; I just love it. And Excelsior was always my favorite; it was just right. In recalling a recent trip there, I wrote this past August:

"Excelsior is the kind of place the pulls out all the stops. Situated in a prime location on Boylston, the ground level is limited to their bar menu, with only handful of tables and leather seats harbored in a dark room of raspberry chocolate invitation. Having given my name, the three of us were escorted to the metal-trimmed glass elevator, a sort of Wonkavator for adults. The elevator has but two options for floors, one and two, though it actually escorts you through second floor -- at which you are treated to a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of their wine keep -- before arriving at the third floor, still surrounded by wine selections on three sides, where the other door opens and the host is expecting you.

From there, we were escorted through the main restaurant space to our table by the window overlooking the Boston Public Garden, with clear view of the pond and bridge. For this alone, going to Excelsior makes me feel like a king, minorly indulging my Yertle the Turtle complex -- by which I feel like master of all I survey -- and if their menu offered peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonderbread white with the crusts cut off, it wouldn't really change a thing.

The view is beautiful. The wait staff is refined and handsome. The patrons are sharp and luxurious. Life is good at Excelsior, before one has even ordered."

You get the idea.

This morning, in making dinner plans for Sunday with Erika, I decided to see if OpenTable lists the restaurant we're planning to hit up. Alas, no luck; no points. But while I was at their site, I decided to poke around and check out the menus of the newer restaurants. And they didn't quite pique my interest. And then it occ
urred to me that Excelsior had probably put up a new menu since their New Year's Eve dinner, which I unfortunately did not attend. So I pull up the website, and notice that there are no links for menus, or directions, or... anything at all.

Just some brief "Thanks for the memories" blurb from the owner, informing roving gourmands like myself that they had closed, promising to reopen as a different restaurant providing a more casual dining experience.

But I don't want a more casual dining experience. I want Excelsior.

And really, reopening as a different restaurant sacrifices such a fantastic name. Excelsior is the kind of name you give to an estate. Or a powerful vehicle. Or a magical crystal. One comedian, I vaguely recall, suggested it replace the word "vagina," as a means of empowering women.

How had they closed without my knowing? Where were the warnings? Did I skip over the wrong part of one of the foodie newsletters I get? I did a quick search for some sort of news on when this had occurred, only to discover that it had happened yesterday. Had I known they were closing, I'd have gone just one last time. I was supposed to go in December, when they participated in OpenTable's "Restaurant Stimulus Week," which was essentially an impromptu Restaurant Week with a pre-fixe menu for participating establishments. But the now-ex-boyfriend was uninspired by the menu, and so we didn't go.

My last meal at Excelsior, it turns out, was the dinner outing for my twenty-third birthday. The details, recounted, are worth remembering:

"Roast leg of lamb with Vermont goat cheese, ratatouille, and Israeli couscous. I lucked out in my rare-as-possible order, as the lamb was practically still twitching. But I also had an end-piece that clearly had been sitting on the bottom, so even the most cooked of the three quarter-inch-thick slices was tender and juicy. The couscous were firm to the point of almost being grainy, and slightly dashed with olive oil and sage. They blended into the chevre flawlessly, and the vegetable portions from the ratatouille polished off a quartet of textures while the ratatouille juice and lamb drippings made each bite incredibly moist. Truthfully, I'm not sure what the point of Irsaeli couscous is, as they were tasty but in no way significantly stood out from any other couscous I've had. It was one of the best dishes I've had in a very long time, rivaled perhaps only by the lobster schnitzel offering that's a regular staple of their winter menu."
The lobster schnitzel mentioned was their signature dish. It was a flattened, breaded lobster tail drizzled in creamless yam lobster bisque, accompanied by a generous amount of lump claw meat stacked on a custard of cave-aged gruyere cheese resting atop gently pickled green heirloom tomato slivers. It was, as an old acquaintance of mine would have put it, "the true definition of oral sex."

They also made one of my favorite cocktails -- Bailey's and Frangelico on the rocks -- perfectly.


From what I can gather from the news bits on Excelsior's closing, the tough economic times are to blame. And so it comes to pass that, for the first time, in the strangest and most unexpected of ways, I can actually feel the sting of recession. In my mouth.

My courses of action are clear. Step one will involve mourning. Mourning will involve drinking.

Step two is to voraciously search out new love during the winter edition of Restaurant Week.

On a completely unrelated note, there ought to be a way to tell Pandora "I don't really want jazz right now. Keep the jazz in there, but when I hit next, and there's another jazz song, and then I quickly hit next again, and there's another jazz song... yeah, take a hint. I just need some time and space. From jazz. I'll call you. No, yeah, it's cool. I'll call."