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Road Trip Trio

Arrrr, cap'n

Arrrr, cap’n – Fish, chips, slaw, rings, TARTAR at BBC

Finally catching up to a few decent/good out-of-town restaurants visited in the past month or so.

British Beer Company is a Massachusetts chain; we visited the Framingham location (120 Worcester Road).  Framingham is not exactly rife with quality lunch  spots, and this kind of local chain can be very very bad, especially ones like this with multiple cavernous rooms — too much territory for staff to cover — but the BBC turns out to be decent.  Nobody at the host stand – slackers! – but after that, service was excellent. They have a good selection of national and international beers on tap (even some British, surprise surprise).  Fish and chips includes a huge slab of (probably pre-fab frozen, but still not bad) fish, in crunchy batter, with solid fries, onion rings, and cole slaw plus a tureen of above-average tartar sauce to drown it all in.  All portions seem to be oversized, again not surprising at a chain.  Mrs. Me tried to order the Wensleydale Chicken Salad without the Wensleydale, which confused our server; they ended up striking a bargain with the cheese on the side, and the dressing on the side, and the salad was big and good and everyone was satisfied.  We like a win-win.  Prices not bad, atmosphere not bad, not groundbreaking cuisine but one could do a lot worse.

Lancaster, Pa.’s The Pressroom is in the “historic Steinman Hardware Building” (26-28 W. King Street), and is kind of a muddle of industrial and art deco and I felt like I should have been wearing a green visor while I was there.  But it was comfortable, and the food was generally good: interesting pizzas (mediocre crust and some of the topping combos didn’t work but otherwise decent), fine salads, tasty crab bisque.  Short but sweet draught beer list, we enjoyed the local-ish Sly Fox pale ale.  Our server was both too chatty and sometimes MIA, but overall experience was good.

The Richwood Grill (318 Richwood Avenue) is one of the best restaurants in Morgantown, WV. We appreciate their emphasis on local ingredients; we liked the extensive wine list and interesting cocktail suggestions (blue corn whiskey was a winner, while the hibiscus-infused cava turned out to be overrated).  While the food is just about best in class for West Virginia, it is only okay for the price by normal standards.  Braised rabbit doesn’t have much going on, although the gravy nearly had me licking the bowl.  Coq au vin is a huge portion, at least.  But none of it matters, because Richwood is going out of business in about a week due to a dispute with the landlord over a pending massive rent increase, something to which erstwhile Wheaton and MoCo restaurateurs can relate.  They hope to open a new bistro in a new location but probably not for a couple of years.

Coming Already Safeway Swag

New Safeway, Free Stuff

New Safeway, Free Stuff

It is Safeway Week here at GEIW, how am I supposed to resist posting about the onslaught of swag appearing on my doorstep?  I am a sucker for swag. Coupon books upon coupon books, and today a FABULOUS NEW CAR reusable grocery bag, branded with the Wheaton Safeway at The Exchange logo.

But wait, there’s more: another coupon for ANOTHER FABULOUS NEW reusable grocery bag!  That’s two bags — NOW how much Wheaton Safeway at The Exchange shopping will I do?  Dunno about “will” but I am certainly well equipped in the event.  Well played, Safeway, well played.  Although the free bag coupon asks me “Have you checked out our new Safeway yet? There’s so much to explore and discover…” No, I have not, because it is not open yet.  Or should I be reading between the lines, breaking into the building and doing a little pre-shopping shopping?  I don’t think so.  So they’re ahead of themselves.   Must…wait…Friday…

All ready with the mood lighting

All ready with the mood lighting

I now have two copies of the fat Grand Opening coupon book.  One for Mrs. Me and one for me equals double the savings!  The coupons are pretty good actually, a bunch of free items with $20 purchase, which will be no problem.  I just hope they don’t immediately sell out of the potentially free items in the first few hours.  Rain checks are a pain.

Anyway.  Looking forward to the Friday grand opening, in spirit if not in person.

Charboneau! Schlabotnik! Chill!

I have a serious case of blogging burnout.  Not giving up, but posting may be light for a while.

As a wine appreciator and a long-suffering Mariners fan, this USS Mariner post made me laugh, especially since I vividly remember the heady 1980s days of Joe Charboneau hype.  Remember when Topps made special edition cards that were disseminated with Squirt, a Mountain Dew competitor?  (Probably you do not! But it did happen) Despite my mom surely not purchasing a Squirt six-pack, I somehow acquired the Topps/Squirt version of Joe Charboneau.  Why do I remember?  Hype!  I guess.  He may as well have been Joe Schlabotnik.

While I’m here, ‘splaining things, this article made me feel better about my iced coffee habit.  I’ve always suspected I was totally getting fleeced by Starbucks (although more often I make my own at home, using imported Peet’s), but evidently the profit margin on iced coffee is tougher than I realized.

Also, when I typed “‘splaining things” above, autocorrect wanted me to change it to “spraining things” which is probably not untrue, but still irritating.  I hate autocorrect.  Get off my lawn, autocorrect!

Grammar Police Academy 2: A Palate-full of Pain

I said I didn’t expect to do this kind of thing very often, but like James Bond, I never said never again. Besides, it’s like they’re daring me. When we last read a Gazette restaurant review, we lost our mind (if not a small piece of our soul).  Once again, this week, I can’t stop myself.  This time the subject is Babes Sports Bar of Silver Spring, and we’re off to a dicey start: there is no apostrophe in Babes; evidently a person named Babe does not (necessarily) own the Sports Bar, but rather it is a Sports Bar replete with Babes, at least that is the obvious inference one might draw — the Gazette review doesn’t go there.  The print version of the story gets it right, but the online version sneaks in a few “Babe’s” — I suppose I should be glad they don’t discuss “onion ring’s” or “calamari’s”…and we’re off.

All these features assure Babe’s attraction as a bar, especially for the fans of crowded frenetic spaces on weekend evenings, even though parking can be a chore and accessibility favors the more ambulatory.

There’s one offending apostrophe right there.  Does “more ambulatory” simply mean no wheelchair ramp?  Stairs? Sharp objects? Is admittance contingent on passing an agility test?  If you are the least ambulatory in your group, do you have to wait outside? What if you are only mostly ambulatory?

Wings are well done in a variety of mild to spicy finishes. Mozzarella sticks, although low tech, are competently made crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside.

“Well done” as in “a job well done” and presumably not “overcooked”? — and I can’t decide if I like “finishes” here, as though the wings get a nice buff and wax before delivery.  Are mozzarella sticks ever “high tech”? Like, can you use a high-tech mozza stick as a USB drive? I don’t know what “low tech” means here.  If he means you cannot access any apps on your mozzarella stick, then I guess he is right.  Either that or Babes makes one heck of a mozzarella stick.  I will now stop writing “mozzarella stick”…

Onion rings are by the book and good in a guilty way, more about a salty, slightly greasy batter than they are about the sweet caramelized band of onion they encase.

He had me at salty and greasy, but I doubt the onion is caramelized, which requires long low and slow cooking — usually onion rings are raw (or at least not fully cooked) until you fry ’em, and do not involve caramelization.

Calamari is the least impressive of the batter-fried dishes, bearing the most grease and the least flavor, of either calamari or seasoning. All come with a fairly ordinary marinara sauce and are salted in a way that exacerbates one’s thirst.

Why not just say, to paraphrase Kramer, these squid are making me thirsty? Strunk and White continue their rolling over.  Before that, I seriously doubt that the calamari bears the least calamari flavor of all the batter-fried dishes, which is what that sentence literally claims.  Mediocre though they may be, I bet they have more calamari flavor than any menu item that is not actually calamari. Maybe those onion rings are actually caramelized calamari?

Criminy, we’re only through the appetizers.

A few shreds of lettuce seemed like an accidental garnish on the platter of wings, until it became a pattern on each of the fried plates. The pinch of iceberg lettuce became an oddly recurring signature. A single sprig of crisp parsley would be more appealing to the eye, if not the pallet, than a few shreds of lettuce. Even the wings came with only two small pieces of celery.

So much to unpack here. It’s like a horror movie: the pinch of lettuce won’t go away — and it’s wearing a hockey mask!  Last time I had a conniption about the use of the term “palette” when the reviewer really meant “palate” and hey look this time he didn’t make the same mistake, this time he wrote…oh bejeebus did he really write “pallet” OH NO HE DIDN’T — yes…yes he did, as though a forklift parked outside Babes was hungrily eyeing the shreds of lettuce through the window. PALATE I am now shouting and jumping up and down at home, Mrs. Me is going to make me go on hiatus again if they keep getting this wrong. This review is providing a pallet-full of conniption-inducing material.  I think they’re just baiting me this time. What are the chances they did it on purpose just to mess with me?  Low, but non-zero.

Back to the paragraph: for some reason this one is in past tense; most of the rest of the review is in present tense.  Is the garnish really worth a paragraph in any tense?  Is a sprig of parsley really “crisp”?  I don’t think so — unless you fry it!  Caramelized fried parsley sprigs, anyone? Wait, I’m getting ideas.

Chicken tenders are on a kids menu as well as the regular bar menu, but these are not made with great attention to detail, rather they are tired and dry and tough to cut and chew. French fries are of munchable quality — not stunning, but hard to resist while sipping a beer. Pita pizza may sound pedestrian, but it was among the more satisfying plates we ate, a wide disk of pita-like bread topped with decent cheeses and tomato sauce.

That review is something else that was not made with great attention to detail. What chicken tenders are made with attention to detail?  Dollars to donuts tenders these are the same mass-produced chicken tenders sold in most bars across America. No real detail at which to direct one’s attention.  “Munchable quality” describes virtually anything “while sipping a beer.”  If it was a pita pizza, was it not in fact made with pita bread?  Why don’t they call it a flatbread pizza?  In the likely event it really is pita bread, why describe it as “pita-like”?  My head is spinning like the (not pita) pizza dough they toss in the old country.

A house specialty is Babe’s selection of stuffed hamburgers — various cheeses and chilies wrapped in what the grill proclaims to be “premium” ground beef. The beef we had was most definitely not USDA premium or even choice. It tasted bland and mealy despite plenty of seasoning, cheese and chilies.

I am not surprised that Babes’ ground beef is not “USDA premium” — because “premium” is not a real USDA grade. Premium is just a marketing term. USDA grades include prime, choice, select, standard/commercial, and utility/cutter/canner. Despite what the reviewer says, it may well have been “choice” but simply overcooked.  Then again, who knows. Also: I believe the burger tasted bland, but I doubt it tasted mealy, since the latter term describes the texture, not the taste.

Pork ribs are tender at the bone if mildly-seasoned.

Tender only at the bone? Nowhere else?  Lots of people probably prefer them mildly seasoned — the “if” implies the mildness is a negative, but it isn’t necessarily.

Dishes were delivered with fingerprints left by the same hands that were gathering used glasses from other tables by the rims.

This sentence is relatively unobjectionable, but gross.

There is an aesthetic to pub food — a coarse, yet genuine simplicity of food and service that is not designed to outshine the beverages or the bar, but at least match both for quality and enjoyment. Babe’s needs to put as much quality and attention to detail into the salads and burgers as they do into the games, the fryer and the pitcher.

The first sentence is pretentious, and the second sentence ends oddly: what pitcher?  That’s the only time the term “pitcher” appears in the article.  Baseball pitcher?  Pitcher of beer?  Does he mean “picture” instead?  I would assume maybe the editor cut out a previous reference to a pitcher, but clearly there are no editors involved.

I really don’t intend to keep doing this, and unless there is yet another homophone for “palate” I think I should be safe for a while.  It’s enough to make a person go eat raw conch salad.  Well, maybe it isn’t quite that bad.

I Can’t Take It Anymore

I don’t usually do this, but I’m losing control.  A few notes on this week’s Gazette review of Bethesda’s newish Newton’s Table:

…at Newton’s Table, gougeres are described as cheese puffs. Gougere means something more than a mere cheese puff…gougeres are often served complimentary to stimulate the appetite…at Newton’s Table, the gougeres are more like baked cheese biscuits.

Gougere means, in fact, cheese puff (or as Cartman might say, cheesy poof).  Gougeres may be cheese puffs with an accent, they may be rude, they may go on strike if you don’t eat them fast enough, but when they inevitably surrender to your stomach, they are, ultimately, nothing more than cheese puffs.* Also, I do not think “complimentary” is an adverb.  Complimentarily, perhaps. Today’s episode of Grammar Police is provided complimentarily, but the next one may not be complimentary (actually it will be — see below).

* Sietsema, for one, liked them just fine and had no problem with the nomenclature: “The herbed cheese puffs, as elegant as any I’ve sampled locally…”

Newton’s Table uses status ingredients..

Wha? “Status ingredients”? I know what he means, but who says that?

Nachos of duck confit starts out with phenomenally succulent morsels of duck confit, but scads of melted cheddar cheese overwhelm their delicacy.

Duck confit! Duck confit! Let’s say it again in the same sentence, duck confit!  Succulent is a strong, evocative adjective — do we really need the “phenomenally”? And do you hear the sirens?  Do you hear them, Clarice?  It’s the Grammar Police, back already: delicacy is not an adjective. I cannot speak to the actual delicateness (or, perhaps, the delicate nature?) of the duck confit duck confit duck confit morsels.  Book ’em, Grammo. Yes, I too have just realized that Clarice and Police rhyme, but I can’t deal with that right now.

Micro greens, that tiny tony salad of the first shoots of various greens, provides an extravagant décor as well as a pleasant scrub of chlorophyll and fiber on the palette.

I went to elementary school with a kid named Tony who was small for his age, and kind of annoying, and I wish I had thought to nickname him Microgreens at the time.  That would have been awesome — nonsensical, but awesome.  This sentence of the review, on the other hand, is just nonsensical.    The individual greens can be tiny, I guess, but the salad isn’t necessarily — or maybe Newton’s is?  Greens, greens! Confit, confit! “Décor”? Maybe. “Extravagant décor” thanks solely to a little pile of greens…seems a bit over the top.  And then…scrub of chlorophyll?  I need to scrub my brain after parsing this verbiage.  Chlorophyll is a pigment, I don’t think it can “provide” any kind of “scrub” much less a pleasant one.  It could in theory be part of a “palette,” but fiber could not — this is the error that first made me fall in love (or whatever) with the review.  Simply unpaletteable unpalatable.  For the love of all that is delicious and holy, are there no copy editors left in the world?

…the raviolis dish appears stunning.

Ravioli is plural, raviolo is singular, “raviolis” makes me think of Emeril Lagasse talking about all the shrimps he is cooking while I gouge out my eyes and ears on the sofa because I am sitting on the remote and can’t change the channel.

On the palette, while the filling is indeed stupendous, the pasta is just good, and the truffle-infused sauce is under-seasoned.

Again with the “palette.” Criminy. Palate! Palate! Duck confit! Kaprow! I swear this review is giving me culinary Tourette’s.

Unless…it was actually only a painting of ravioli, and not actual ravioli?  Which could explain the underseasoning. Also, wouldn’t “stupendous” filling be enough to overcome underseasoned sauce? I mean, that has to be one incredible filling, right?

I need to skip ahead or I may never finish.

With an enticing name such as pig brittle, one imagines a confection composed of equal parts succulent port and candy binder. Alas, our portion was all brittle and nuts without a trace of pig in flavor or substance.

Indeed one does — but what, specifically, does Newton promise in terms of “pig brittle”? And what, specifically, does one encounter?  I admit I am intrigued (and pork-obsessed). I recently made my own “pig brittle” and while it was too chewy (and probably still stuck to my teeth, weeks later), it was tasty and the pig was, assuredly, very much in evidence.

Prices are luxurious, there are no bargains here. Status ingredients are arranged with cunning and flair…

Are the prices luxurious?  For realz? Of course, when I met Mrs. Me for the first time, she was wearing a luxurious price around her neck, and I was instantly wooed.  And did he really write “status ingredients” again? I was going to give the first one a pass, but COME ON.  And “arranged with cunning”?  It’s like the Gazette folks lost their collective restraining bolt, and then found an old Mad Libs book and spent the week unpacking their adjectives.

All right, that’s enough. It was nice, at least, to read a rare mixed review in the Gazette, which usually largely fawns. Possibly some of these Strunk-and-Whiteian affronts will be fixed in the online version during the coming days, but I have the hard copy in my permanent acid-free archive. Now I need a nap and some pig brittle, not necessarily in that order…

Land of Maple Leaf and Other Strange Food Dreams

When I was a little boy I was a big fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I especially liked when Mister Rogers visited the Land of Make Believe, which my little ears heard as the “Land of Maple Leaf” — apparently it seemed plausible to me that Canada was populated by talking puppets and everyone took miniature public transportation.  Still seems plausible, actually.

None of which explains the dream I had over the weekend, in which I was meeting a large group people at a (Wheaton? surely!) restaurant.  I arrived second; Mister Rogers was already there. I was surprised to see him but took it in stride, and we began discussing the other members of our party.  When I told him several children were expected he brightened, and asked their names; at the time I was able to tell him all their names but now I remember only that the youngest child was named Colby.

Mister Rogers was worried he would not be able to remember the name Colby by the time Colby arrived at the restaurant, so I helpfully suggested that he think of Colby as “Cheese Boy” (Colby cheese, eh?) to help remember.  Mister Rogers, sounding unusually disapproving, said he wasn’t sure he would like a little boy named Cheese Boy, and then I said, “but Mister Rogers, sometimes people call me Cheese Boy, and you told me you like me just the way I am!” I was quite upset that maybe Mister Rogers might not like me after all, now that he knew of my love of cheese, but Mister Rogers started laughing, and pretty soon I started laughing, and we laughed and laughed, and Colby still hadn’t arrived, and then I woke up.

Mister Rogers was too polite to ask me why I haven’t posted on the blog in two weeks.  He is such a nice man, even in dreams.

December Off To a Roaring Start

How did December get here so fast?  How is there still so much turkey in the refrigerator? I blame wormholes for the former and Mrs. Me for the latter.

  • Who knew there were so many food blogs in Maryland? And the excellent HowChow is the best, according to the recent 2011 Mobbies.  He posts like every day, practically, with good quality photos.  Maybe his frequent posting caused time to speed up and that’s why it is already December?
  • December 2011 Washingtonian magazine is out this week. Food section is focused on Gallery Place, and no Wheaton mentions, but a rave review (not yet online) (echoing my own) of Jewel of India. Wheaton is crying out for a good Indian restaurant.  Or an Indian restaurant.  Good is probably better, though.
  • Patch recently reviewed Wheaton’s Limerick Pub, where last I visited was completely empty on a Friday at 1pm.  I still will try them again, though, to play trivia and see if the potentially excellent oyster sliders can manage to show up tasting of oyster and not just a salt-encrusted salt lick with extra salt. I like the new Wheaton Patch food reviewer, who goes into more detail and even exhibits occasional dissatisfaction. I probably shouldn’t enjoy reading about dissatisfaction as much as I do.
  • Serious Eats does a cabernet franc tasting — this one’s for you, Ed!
  • The Gazette reviews Roscoe’s Neapolitan Pizzeria in downtown Takoma Park, I’ve heard good things about Roscoe’s pies but haven’t gotten there yet. The review was mostly just the usual purple meandering but this sentence made me laugh out loud: “Sauteed swiss chard with cannellini beans and garlic is an ascetic and slightly mushy chlorophyll-rich nod to vegetarian sensibilities.” Presumably the reviewer meant acidic — surely “ascetic” wasn’t intentional? Though I wouldn’t put it past him — but I enjoyed the thought of chard and beans sitting on the plate in austerity, shunning sensual pleasure and material wealth in the interest of vegetarianism.  Ah, the worldly spiritual struggle of Swiss chard.  I suppose it even makes some sense, if you don’t think too hard. Later he rages against “deceptive culinary fabrications” like gluten-free pizza crust, tofurkey, and veggie burgers — I bet a lot of readers won’t appreciate that point of view, but I found the mini-rant totally out of character for a Gazette piece and therefore enjoyable.

And the latest sign of Western civilization’s last gasp: late-1990s boy band Hanson is now in the beer brewing business. Yes: MMMHop IPA. I only wish I had thought of it first. Hanson seems somehow even more ridiculous than the other musician-cum-alcohol-purveyors noted in the article.  Their quote in the article about the beer being part of their effort at “creating a brand” for their fans nearly made me spit-take my Anchor Steam Liberty Ale. I hate the whole concept of and modern trend toward personal brand-creation, much less by last century’s cotton candy like Hanson. Then again, they are still together and touring — all three original members! Take that, Styx and Journey. Besides, that song is pretty irresistible in a guilty pleasure way…