Tag Archives: Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…

On the evening of February 11, 2013, while participating in CCVI Food Fight 4 at The Guild in Kansas City, I finally became a Foodie.  If you know me, I have never viewed that as good thing.  In fact, my mockery of foodies has fueled many a chortle on this very blog.  I’ve met many self-proclaimed foodies whom I don’t think actually like food, they just like to collect food moments….so they use this ambiguous label that has no actual definition as a way to carve out a self-promoting niche based on what makes their particular brand of chewing and swallowing unique and a potential object of great envy.  For the most part, “foodies” aren’t the people I want to eat with. I want to eat with some crazy motherfuckers who talk some crazy shit about some very unhealthy obsessions and always order way too much fucking food and tip well.  A “foodie” would waste time trying to think of a more palatable way of saying crazy motherfuckers before they wrote something like this and guilted everyone they knew into reading it.  I don’t have time for such things.  I’d rather entertain five crazy motherfuckers than five thousand boring motherfuckers.  

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT….I’m working on a classy piece here because dammit if it wasn’t the best time ever.  And I say that as someone who has attended some extremely hoity toity and professionally run galas and fundraisers, as well as helped organize far less hoity toity affairs. Food Fight was a hell of an event, top notch across the board.  A lightbulb had gone off in my head a few days prior, and as we were prepping onstage I told Howard Hanna “so tonight I’m officially a foodie”, to which he gave me his heartfelt congratulations.   I was like “Yeah, I have somehow managed to reap the benefits owed to people who break their backs in this industry on a daily basis by weaseling in at the last second and getting some of the limelight without doing any real work.  So that’s it. I’m a foodie now.”  So I can’t make fun anymore.  The foodies have won.

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I’m flippant about foodie culture, but in all sincerity it was a huge deal to be asked to participate in such an amazing event.  I’ve got some pretty crazy life experiences that just kind of appeared, so while I can chalk this one up to my usual dumb luck, other than Dave Crum’s massive crush on me and Dolly Wood being cool as hell I have no idea how this materialized.  I have a weirdly high level of insecurity when it comes to my place in the world, so I figured this was a matter of “let’s throw the poor Make-A-Wish kid a bone”.   That’s just how my mind works. And the awesome byproduct of that gaping hole in my psyche is always being “ON”….completely balls-out or zero….no game but my A-Game.  When I commit, I fucking commit.  When Dave asked if I’d be Alex Pope’s sous chef, there was almost zero hesitation.  A friend whom I respect asked me if I’d do something super cool that could have a positive impact, so not much thought needed.  The only hesitation I had was that, as a FOODIE, my livelihood is in no way tied to the food community…I’m just along for the tasty ride.  Even though they were looking for “civilian” sous chefs, several friends came to mind that may have been able to benefit from having CCVI Food Fight on their list of accomplishments.  To be honest, I didn’t go beg their case, I was too floored to have been asked in the first place and immediately flew into balls-out mode to prepare.  But in general, that’s how I try to approach this whole thing and why “foodie” has creeped me out….as someone skilled in the arts of bullshit and yapping away, it’s important to me to be authentic in my relationships.  I’m not saying that anyone who simply beams under that moniker is immediately inauthentic, but self-proclaimed titles have a way of allowing someone to bypass the consistent behavior that would normally be the path to high regard and respect. I live my life according to a program that breaks it all down for me.  I am lucky to count so many great people as friends.  That point was driven home to me when I read the list of all of the chefs and restaurants involved in Food Fight…no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I would get to look stupid in front of my friends.


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Looking stupid was actually task #2. Task #1 was to drive my chef crazy with my shocking lack of skill.  Oh, I’m a great home cook.  Give me enough time to prepare and a cookbook and I can make almost anything. And if it’s something I end up sucking at, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right.  No such luck with Food Fight. I emailed Alex and basically said “I have nice knives and no knife skills, but I take direction well”.  But he’s a pro, a crazy busy chef who took the time to put my mind at ease.  The plan was…think of things we can cook quickly.  In an hour there’s only so much you can do, and my initial thought was that if I could stay out of the way, expedite simple tasks and handle some dessert prep, I could add value. In addition to getting my knives sharpened and practicing basic cuts on mirepoix and potatoes, I thought that a couple of doughs that don’t require yeast could be handy for sweet or savory preparations.  Alex mentioned he was bringing a deep fryer, so I tried finding a recipe for funnel cake/fritter batter.  I tried one that was a huge failure, but I also practiced on some pate a choux to make gougeres or profiteroles without realizing the shit fries up like a champ.  So going into Food Fight my entire plan was to bring sharp knives, parchment paper, a Japanese mandoline, my own apron and cutting board, piping bags with tips already attached, rubber gloves, various tools like peelers and thermometers, and to practice choux dough enough times for it to basically become a reflex action.  Oh, and to be an ambassador for Pointer Brand jeans and clothing….100% American made products that are a fitting rebuttal to Baldwin Denim for the poor and/or fat crowd.  Pointer Brand. Quality and Affordability, Made in the U.S.A.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

A bit of knowledge for future CCVI Food Fighters…cooking in a space that isn’t normally a kitchen is different from cooking at home.  Biggest differences?  No running water, a lack of large gas burners and ovens, and you don’t have all of the same kitchenware and serveware that you do at home.  If you have giant, blinding spotlights pointing at you at home already, then boom….you’re one up on the competition immediately.  I am missing those at home, so it took some getting used to.  Another advantage is if you already have four or five top local chefs milling about your kitchen.  A constant reminder that you do not know what you are doing provides a backdrop of nagging doubt that builds character.  I am a master at smiling and nodding when food talk goes over my head, but there’s no such thing as being TOO good at that.  Even if I know what something is, when I have a lot of terminology coming at me from different sources, it takes a few seconds for me to gauge how deeply I should commit to a conversation about saucisson or vadouvan.  Usually, if you just shut up you can piece it together from what’s being said.  But if you seriously have no clue whatsoever, the earlier you can admit that and ask a clarifying question the better off you will be in the long run.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Another thing I learned was to be honest and to the point when Alex would ask me “you got that?” or “you get what I’m saying?”  There isn’t a lot of time to discuss technique or basic philosophy when you forget basic things like…adding water.  Chopped sweet potatoes and piloncillo cooking down too thick too quickly?  Add a little water.  Those same sweet potatoes bunching up at the top in the blender and not mixing?  You may want to consider adding a little bit of water.  I could theorize that a liquid may facilitate the process, but what kind?  Some sort of broth?  A simple infused syrup?  What would they use at Joe Beef? When I’m forced to think on my feet and act quickly, I forget things like water exist to help you, and which side of a peeler is the sharp side. But my pre-tipped piping bag, and identical backup piping bag (redundant systems), looked fabulous over by the blender that was top-heavy with large sweet potato chunks.  Chef Pope is a real pro, these guys could do something like this in their sleep, so when I did not wreck anything beyond the power found in adding more water, I felt very successful.  My main concern was whether or not I’d be any help to my chef, because being in front of a crowd, speaking in public or being onstage have zero effect on me.  And speaking of crowds, the place was packed, so it was actually a relief to have a comparatively vast expanse of space to work with on the stage.

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The format is part Iron Chef part Chopped.  Upon arrival you’re welcome to investigate the pantry as well as a cooler full of mandatory ingredients like cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, salami and cheese.  Then right before the cooking begins they let the cutest child alive unveil the secret ingredient…sweet potato.   So there was a decent amount of time to get some sort of game plan together and hope that the secret ingredient didn’t destroy it completely.  As Alex was going over what he thought would work, the aforementioned smiling and nodding came in handy.  When a scaleable multi-course plan is required on demand, you leave it to the professionals.  A tartare first, followed by sautéed cod, and then funnel cakes.  I was on the hook for dough and working the secret ingredient into some whipped cream cheese.  Normally that wouldn’t be a scary plan to me, but everything leading up to this sentence should let you know how that became a scary plan to me. With the addition of sweet potatoes, chips were added to the tartare, sautéed potatoes and onion to the main, and a puree to the dessert.  Normally I’d have an annoying breakdown of each preparation along with exhaustive tasting notes, but shit went fast and in the end I think I had one bite of a funnel cake and I shared a Jacobson meatball with Howard. In the end, Doug Frost broke out of his Moscow on the Hudson impersonation long enough to praise the cod dish, and Debbie Gold was all about some funnel cakes.  Everything up to that point was a blast, so to have Alex win was an insane bonus to the evening.  A special thanks to Reames Photography for capturing proof that my emotional range is larger than pissed off and/or sarcastic….

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

If I had to offer praise to foodies, I would say that they generally take more chances than I do.  They’ll take a chance and investigate whether or not a place like Mestizo is about as shitty as one would imagine with that concept in that location. I will not take that chance. At least not until I hear first hand from someone I trust that it’s worth investigation.  Because I keep my circle very tight and build outward very, very slowly.  Not because I’m special, or because I’m cool, but because I value things like loyalty, trust and friendship in a way that makes me someone with lifelong relationships that are very rarely disturbed by needless drama.  I take that with me into the world of dining and procuring goods, and again, have managed to build what I hope are lifelong friendships that also remain undisturbed by dramas or agendas.  If I’m cool, or fun, or funny, it’s because I’m able to be comfortable as myself and not a caricature that shifts with the trends and current places to-be-seen.  The amicable bullshitter persona is part of the package, for better or worse.  I don’t practice that or consciously think about it, it just exists.  But with all of the solemn omerta-ish duty to authenticity comes the tendency to be a total fucking control freak who simply expands his comfort zone rather than ever just get out of it.  An event like Food Fight helps me to remember a saying I have lived by less often than I should in the past four or five years….always have something in your life that makes you wonder what in the hell you are doing.  Foodies are probably better at that than me because they lack the insane vetting process I have and just go with the flow, taking the hits and the misses.  I still rule though, I mean, come on.

The bottom line is, the list of things that I love has to become larger.  The place in my life meant for others has to become larger.  The asshole with a heart of gold schtick, and years of ministry, allow me to skate by without putting in real work.  I’ve had a few years to get my shit together, and things are going better than I ever dreamed.  Marriage and fatherhood are the life for me.  I’m always going to help drunks, and I’m always going to be helped by drunks.  That is as natural as breathing at this point.  But it’s not the end game, it’s just part of the expanded comfort zone.  A friend contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I was asked to take part in Food Fight, and they asked me “as the restaurant guy, if I knew people who would want to get involved with a charity”.  I’ve been asked that question before, and should have done more before now, but this time it struck me differently.  The path that my life has taken, and the resulting laundry list of miraculous moments and fantastic people, is equal to the debt that I owe.  Now, I don’t have a bug up my ass to go and die from not being able to shit like Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”…..I’m not about to launch into reckless self discovery here…I’m just a lucky guy who should do more.  I’m good with people and I know a lot of people.  Something like helping with CCVI Food Fight in whatever capacity they need me (I won’t be a valet, not because it’s beneath me, I’m just not running back and forth) from now on is a no-brainer.  The organization my friend works for is another path to investigate.  Unexpected moments that are out of your control can be great practice at working towards a meaningful impact.  Broth is great, but sometimes water will do just fine.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Best Food of 2012…

A few things…

#1- My “best of’s” always come after the first of the year.  This is due in part to the fact that I procrastinate, but also because I’m superstitious about discovering a place or a dish during the last week of the year that will torture me for twelve months before I can put it on the next “best of”.

#2- It’s harder than I thought to wrangle food folks for interviews over the holidays when they are busy as hell, but I continue to compile Squander Log talking points that don’t read like a goddamn Susie-the-foodie-got-herself-a-blog blog.

And #3- I’ve been preoccupied as shit for a very good reason.  The luxuries of not doing something for money or popularity include the ability to achieve greatness in writing very sporadically, and to be unfettered with worries such as….“If I include a Best Place to Get a Handy category, will it hurt my chances of becoming a “name” Kansas City Blogger?!?!?!?!?!”  (It’s Manifesto…I mean, I’m not speaking from experience and I’m not trying to be a disrespectful asshole here, it’s a fantastic place, but come on. It’s dark. You can’t tell me nobody has gotten pregnant in there.) I like doing something that my friends can enjoy that is just fucked up enough to eliminate any potential awkwardness that comes with the ubiquitous “I mentioned you on my blog. Can you please promote my blog?  It can help drive traffic to my blog. I have a blog. And I said you were good there. Can you please promote my blog?” horseshit.    If I say something good about you, it’s for your entertainment as well as my own.  The Handjobs-At-Manifesto thing is up at the top to protect you from sharing this all over the place. And I’m not saying my writing is any good, but there sure is a lot of it.  Respect the bulk of my best of list you sonsofbitches.

AND HERE ARE YOUR WINNERS!

Greatest Name in the Entire History of Any Type of Business”- Little Freshie   

They also win the award for “Wish it Was Closer to Home”, because I want to roll in there in my pajamas and somehow having to cross the river to get there makes it prohibitive.  I love Little Freshie, everything about it is good.  Seventy five years from now when the neighborhood has flip-flopped between gentrified/ghetto/gentrified/ghetto a few more times, I want it to be the local business with inexplicable staying power….similar to Italian Delight in KCK.

Fiercest Local Rivalry That Only I Am Aware Of”- Local Pig vs. Paradise Locker  

I’ll keep this limited to the topic of sausages in order to keep it brief.   Which is better?  The over the top flavor and texture of Local Pig’s goat chorizo, or the sustained deliciousness and flexibility of Paradise Locker’s smoked hot kielbasa?  I could reframe that question with various products that I love from both vendors, but it would all be the same scenario….which is better- foie gras or a Wagyu ribeye?  Uni or Razor Clams?  It all depends on the moment and the meal….all I can say is I shop at both places and they both serve a great purpose.  Paradise Locker is like home for me, if a steak is being grilled or a pork shoulder is being smoked at my home, there is a 99% chance it’s from Trimble.  When I’m in an experimental mood or hankering for a dash of depravity, Local Pig is a sure bet.  Meat eaters in Kansas City have many delicious conundrums through which they can fly on wings of caulfat.

 “Best Special Dinner That Needs to Happen in 2013”- Pasta Thunderdome with Howard Hanna and Michael Beard

I’m fucking serious.  I would give up my dream of an Offal Dinner in The Rieger’s PDR….twice….to make this happen.

Best Brunch”- Bo Ling’s   

There are 3 things about Brunch that suck. #1- No longer having hangovers that make breakfast food an option I actually give a shit about around noon on a weekend. #2- Choosing from a limited menu at a restaurant with a much larger menu any other time, because you always want something that’s not available and only a HUGE asshole asks for favors when dealing with a staff that probably got about 90 minutes of sleep between dinner service and brunch. #3- And this doesn’t really fit, but I want to complain about it anyway…people who try a favorite restaurant you’ve been recommending forever, but they go for brunch and then come bitch to you about “I’m not sure why you think that place is so special…..blah blah blah, all they had was eggs and you said they were very creative, blah blah blah, I deserve to be cuckolded, blah blah blah”.  ANYWAY- dim sum is the ultimate choice for brunch.  Bo Ling’s now opens at 10am on the weekends, and over the past few years my wife and I have whittled down a must-have selection of the best dishes.  So you can go choose from five goddamn dishes somewhere else or join us for the magical caravan at some point.

Best Beverage”-  Goya Ginger Beer  

Even if Chris Conatser hadn’t moved to goddamn Oregon and I could go have my onion shrub at Justus on a whim, I think I’d still pick this “Jamaican Style” Ginger Beer as the finest drink in all the land.  It’s like a delicious pepper spray in that you cannot breath through your nose and mouth at the same time as you bring it to your face or it will choke you the fuck out.  It burns and it gets the blood moving…an aperitif, digestif and palate cleanser all in one.  To compare it to any other soft drink would be like comparing the finest Van Winkle bourbon to a stale pool of simian urine evaporating in the Congo mud.

Best New Pork Dish”- Pig Tails at Port Fonda   

They also win the category “Some of the Best Reading on Yelp!”.  I’ve been loving some Port Fonda since the first lengua tacos were passed to me from the airstream window, so I’m a bit biased.  Their food is consistently great, and I am not scared of the hipster hordes,  Joco folks gone a-slummin’, the unimpressed moneyed people from the coasts, or foodies who bitch about how much cheaper the food would be at some magical taco truck tucked in the colon of a sketchy underpass.  The pig tails are everything that is good about a hot wing…but made of pork.  The food, the space and service are good enough to draw me from my anti-social hole to fucking Westport, so that says a LOT. And I personally like the music loud because I am happy to sacrifice some conversational abilities at my table if it means I can’t hear conversations at other tables, because that’s just how I am.  So, a third impromptu award for Port Fonda….”Best Inadvertent Enforcement of Personal Space”.

Best Appetizer”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s   

This is on the list every year, and will remain. The Italian Nachos are fantastic, some of the best food in the world.  They have no equal.

Best Burger”- The Jacobson Burger at The Jacobson  

Needlessly rich, huge and awesome.  Before you write off the “boutique burger” as a concept and turn into one of those Town Topic Nazis, go try this burger.  If you don’t like it, then you’ve got much bigger problems than an obsession with burger theory.  Rumor has it that Chef Smith held the record as biggest baby born in Chicago for an extended period of time….and THAT is the type of man you can trust to serve a great hamburger.

Meat of the Year”- Rabbit!

I give 2012 to rabbit in the hopes that 2013 will be goat. We’re starting to see some great goat-y foodstuffs, but between the bbq bunny at The Rieger (and the grilled rabbit hearts, and the poached kidneys in the steak and rabbit kidney pie, rabbit livers in the pasta….), the rabbit ravioli at 715 and a number of stuffed rabbit leg/loin dishes at Justus….this was the year of the goddamn rabbit.  Oh, and just FYI…while it may never end up as a staple on local menus, within the next 2 years I’d like to see horse on special.  Those of you who would cook it know who you are.  Let’s get on it.  If not horse, then at least get some spleen in the offal rotation.

Best Offal Discovery”- Rabbit! 

See parenthetical comments above.

Best Value”- it is a tie between the lunch deals at 715 and the $39 four course tasting menu at Room 39 (do a blind tasting).

Show of Respect to a Local Icon”- Farm to Market Bread   

As we were eating a loaf of sourdough along with some homemade KC Steak Soup the other night, it struck me….damn if we don’t eat a lot of Farm to Market Bread.   With the exception of various on-sale sandwich breads, FTM has sneakily become more of a workhorse in our kitchen.  I am crazy about bread and would never limit myself to FTM…Fervere, Le Monde, Bloom and New Traditionalist are other great examples that come to mind, but the bread we buy “as a staple” is most often Farm to Market (and sometimes I get the vibe from people that they are now “too big to still be cool”..which is bullshit).  Grains Galore is practically a meat substitute for me.  I’m trying to think of some smartassery to throw in here, but I’ve got nothing. Good bread is beautiful.

Greatest Food Related Words Uttered in 2012”- “What if Stroud’s served GOOD chicken?” (Anonymous)

 “The Thing I Managed to Fit Into Every Conversation This Year”-  Bossa from Green Dirt Farm   

I’d eaten Bossa before the Bourdain KC episode aired, but I had not insanely over-indulged in it.  And insane over-indulgence is how Bossa needs to be enjoyed.  Sitting and eating an entire, ripe and runny, funked out to the point of being questionable Bossa, or plunging it into the middle of a par-cooked frittata cooked over an open fire (as seen at Green Dirt Farm) is the only way to go.  Get the one that just reeks like hell and tear it up.  Pop the top and discover why it wins a second award- “Best Aroma to Make a Pregnant Woman Gag and Heave”.

Best Membership”- Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch  

I know that my constant food-driven monologue mostly centers around my own interests and consumption, but anyone who really knows me knows that I’m pretty serious about supporting and promoting local businesses and producers whenever possible.  A huge part of the enjoyment of a meal comes from not only knowing the people who prepare your food, but the people who grow your food…and meeting other likeminded individuals who share your enthusiasm and learning from them as well.  Howard’s is a great example of what makes me love the food community in Kansas City…we are all about collaboration in this town.  I get pretty tunnel-visioned with my favorite local producers and suppliers, so it’s nice to learn there are far more of them out there than I even knew about, and Howard’s is a “hub” of sorts that provides great alternative sources in a very convenient manner.   This is a place that I constantly wish wild success because its success will be good for all of us.

 “Best Place Where I Try to Find Something Wrong In Order to Bust Some Good-Natured Balls But Never Can”- Bluestem  

They just kill it at Bluestem.  I only splurge on a dining room meal there once or twice a year, and when I do I like to go into sub-atomic breakdown coastal-foodie mode just to sharpen my chops.  I’ve been eating there since they opened, and with all of the great new restaurants that have arrived since then I’ll do the whole “is Bluestem still staying on top of it?” inner dialogue on the way there.  Then they deliver. Every time.  Composition, technique and flavor co-existing in perfect harmony. They make incredibly fucking good food.

The Finest and Most Exclusive Invitation-Only Dining Event of the Year”- White Trash Picnic at The Rieger   

Oh my word, what a time!  I’m not sure how we’ll handle invitations this year, but it’s safe to say that if you received a golden ticket last year, you’re grandfathered in this year.  And it will definitely be happening again this summer.  Some items like the crockpot meatballs and scalloped potatoes will probably have to remain on the menu to avoid rioting, but we’ll come up with some new stuff as well.  I’ve already discussed a unique idea for a Jello mold with Howard that will impress and delight.  No better place and no better staff to pull this off every year than our friends at The Rieger.  We will hit a new level of trashy.

 “Best Roadtrip-Worthy Dining Destination”- Lincoln Café in Mt. Vernon, Iowa  

I kid you not, take the five hour drive and check this place out.  Perfect concept, perfect execution.  This is the restaurant that needs to exist on every little Main Street in America.  For specifics you can always look at my lengthy writeup- https://unsavedlovedones.com/2012/04/23/lincoln-cafe-mt-vernon-iowa/

 “Best New Home Away From Home That Isn’t The Rieger”- Remedy   

Favorite restaurant in KC- The Rieger.  Favorite people in KC- The Rieger.  BUT we are always looking for places where the food is good enough, interesting enough, and shows a potential for evolution that will make us anticipate each new menu.  When the mood is laid back, the staff loves the food, and the restaurant can serve the dual purpose of a weeknight meal on a whim and a budget AND a full-blown Saturday date night meal…we have a winner.  We love Remedy.  It is the newest member of our rotation and will get our repeat business.  Eggplant fries, Sweet Potato Banh Mi, Pork Belly….three things they currently serve that are perfect examples of food everyone should eat often.

Favorite Way to Be Cool Without Growing Ironic Facial Hair or Listening to Shit Music That All Sounds Like that Mumford Pussy With a Violinist Who is NO GODDAMN WARREN ELLIS While Crafting Repurposed Goods With Old World Tools And Being Smug About It. And Wearing Clothing with Hooks Instead of Buttons Until I Realize It’s a Pain in the Ass.”-  Crossroads Social Club    

I’m not a cool guy, my main talent in the food scene is my ability to hold down a seat and run my yap, so I’m treating this like Fight Club.   I will say that I appreciate the spirit of the club as well as the people, and how it serves as a great equalizer that strips away the bullshit and lets us all get straight into the enjoyment of good food and loud interaction.  My only other comment is that if a motherfucker no-shows, that motherfucker should pay in blood.  But I guess that is a general belief that I hold close.  And I say it here because someone who actually has to deal with customers but can’t openly shame that particular brand of idiot in front of his woman can live vicariously if only for a moment.

Best Place for Group Dining”- 715

And by group dining, I’m not talking about someplace that has been beaten into submission by large families fresh from church who monopolize the entirety of time and space and then tip like crap.  I’m talking about some next level Seal Team Six shit.  People. Who. Know. How. To. Get. It. Done.  Anywhere between six and twenty quality individuals, and someone probably already thought ahead and gifted the kitchen with a bottle of whiskey.  Whether it’s six OR twenty people, you pretty much order the whole menu and the act of dining is a fun-filled collaboration between you, the servers and the cooks.  It’s a guaranteed good time. And if you’re NOT having a good time you’re at least smart enough to stay the hell out of everyone else’s way.  And the method of settling the check is “whatever is easiest”.  I don’t drink. I don’t buy alcohol. BUT I am giddy as shit to pay my share of the booze portion of the tab if it serves the purpose “whatever is easiest”.  And I don’t have to worry about people taking advantage because they are vetted dining professionals!  There is no on the job training. You need to bring these skills with you. Start by approaching twenty strangers in a restaurant and eating from their utensils. When that no longer bothers you, you’re on your way. The best place in the entire area for this meal to happen?  It’s 715.  It’s magical. Ask for extra Calabrian chile oil. And the entire menu.

So cheers to you 2012, blah blah blah…..gratuitous wishes for 2013, blah blah blah.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Best Of, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene

Three Years Goes By Fast…

About a month or so ago I was at a dinner at The Rieger, hosted by our CSA farmers.  Local, seasonal fare in familiar surroundings with great people.  When dessert was about to be served, they carted in a gigantic dish that must have held about 900 pounds of peach trifle and began putting it onto plates.  There was a lady sitting right next to me all night, and she was a huge foodie.  You knew she was a huge foodie with plenty of expendable income, because during her loud conversations throughout the meal she would not stop dropping the names of restaurants and their proximity to her McMansion in a Northland neighborhood. Oh, and she had her own catchphrase…..everything she enjoyed was “TO DIE FOR!”   Hey, I realize I’m just another fucking foodie, but I try to keep that shit a little closer to my chest when I’m shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  These alpha-foodies are everywhere, so you just kind of get used to the weird sense of entitlement they give off.  In a nutshell, they always want something just a little different than everyone else, and when they get it they chalk it up to their foodie credibility rather than recognize it as an example of great customer service.

So ANYWAY, dessert was being served.  I’m thankful to have a wife who is basically the canary in the mineshaft when it comes to food and drink that may or may not have booze in it.  More often than not, trifles contain some kind of straight/uncooked liquor, so as I had done five hundred times before I asked her to taste it when it came around so I’d know whether or not to eat any.  If I can’t eat something, either she can have it or someone around us can.  I’m not one of those PUSSIES who sits there factoring in the cost of the course they missed out on, especially when it’s a set menu.  It generally evens out, because for every bite of food I’ve missed due to my zero alcohol policy, I’ve gotten about twenty complimentary bites of food for just going with the flow.  For EXAMPLE, here is where the magic of The Rieger kicks in….right before dessert was being set in front of us, I got a heads up from one of our servers that “Howard has a different dessert for you”.  Different story for a different day, I’ll just say that my friends have my best interest in mind and for that I am deeply grateful. It turns out, 400 of the 900 pounds of trifle was pure bourbon.

But back to Mrs. To Die For…she was on about her third or fourth glass of wine she had to order special because whatever they continued pouring as part of the meal didn’t cut it for her.  Desserts came out…trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, GIANT GODDAMN PEACH AND ICE CREAM DESSERT IN A CRAZY POST-MODERNIST BOWL, trifle, trifle trifle……and that little gem did not fly under her radar.  She didn’t SAY anything, but I swear to God she’d stare at my dessert, then stare at me, then at her dessert….back to me, then my dessert….she really mixed it up there for a couple of minutes. And I won’t lie, that shit is PRICELESS to me.  You could just see the squirrels racing around that brain as she tried to piece together some possible explanation as to why she was not aware of a second dessert option.  I guess in Magnificent Ambersonville the proper etiquette would have been for me to answer her weird stares with some explanation, as my lower social status dictates.  I did not do that.  I wanted to though. Because when you get the chance to look an annoying person in the eyes and totally deadpan “I’m an alcoholic”, it is glorious.  I let the moment pass, but I wished she had said something.  I wished she said something because I wanted to get all serious and tell her, “You don’t want any part of this dessert.  I had to earn this dessert.  This dessert has a dark past that you do not want to hear about.  The price of this dessert is cheating death.  It is LITERALLY to die for.  How’s that trifle?  Tell me where you girls like to go all Carrie Bradshaw these days.” 

My 3rd sobriety birthday was actually July 12, so the lateness of this post is either a sign of progress because I’m busy with life, or I’m just lazy and unoriginal as shit.  And now that I’m writing so much food related content, my yearly retrospective will seem a little clunky.  These long rambles are one way for me to preserve some major moments, and in the off-chance someone in recovery gets a laugh or someone who needs to be in recovery relates to something, it’s really for them.

For the benefit of newer friends, or those who have never been bored enough to peruse the archives, my openness about stopping drinking doesn’t come from a place where I’m evangelizing, or wishing to god I could have a drink, or trying to get attention for learning the basic life skills the majority of mankind already possesses.  I just don’t ever want someone to feel weird about it, because I sure as hell don’t.  It’s kind of like discovering you have a severe peanut allergy…except instead of peanuts it’s bourbon….and instead of getting a shot to keep your throat from closing up, it’s several days of medical detox to make the hallucinations go away followed by a basic maintenance regimen.  I can’t express how grateful I am for all of the kindness and consideration I’ve received at god knows how many dinners, but I don’t want anyone to ever feel like my proximity to their drink or the abundance of wine and beer on the table has an inherent risk of me deciding to fly off the wagon.  If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be there.  It took me a while to get to that point, and I still don’t have a cavalier attitude about it…..there’s the old saying “hang around a barbershop long enough you’re going to get a haircut”.  That’s why you’ll see me at a million different “foodie” events, but I generally don’t meet up at the bar before or after.  I don’t do wine/beer/liquor sponsored or themed events, and even though I know Amigoni’s space is THE SHIT, I don’t have a valid reason to be there on a random Saturday. I’m just thankful to be where I’m at, so I stick with what makes me happy.

I know tons of people, like my wife, who can drink normally.  I know tons of people who can drink ABnormally and not let it derail their lives.  To all of them I say- fucking drink up!  It’s just something completely different for me, my mind doesn’t work in a way that allows for moderation.  It’s like iced tea…I love some tea. Depending on how thirsty I am, I can drink several glasses.  But when I’m done, I’m done. I don’t feel compelled to drain every glass and I don’t rationalize having ten more before running back to my stash at home.  To think that there are people who view liquor in that way is something I literally cannot wrap my mind around.  There are still people who look at it like dick measuring…..they sometimes will pose the question “Well, how much did you drink?”, like if I didn’t drink as much as them or someone they knew there’s no way I could really have a problem.  Whether it’s random folks or newbies down at the hall, my stock answer is always “I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore”.  And that’s a true statement.  I could drink enough to pass out or black out, but at some point I crossed that fucked up line where there’s no stopping because you’d get really, really sick.  That’s why I literally crack up when some random free drink from a well-meaning server or bartender will land in front of me, and someone I’m with is just shocked or appalled by it.  I’ve got about five places to buy booze two minutes from my house, so there’s no fucking way I’m going to be one of those preachy drunks and go “Pardon ME Arturo!  I cannot HAVE this free taste of your mother’s boozy egg nog recipe!”…..I’m just like “who wants to drink this?”  Unless every person is sitting at the table with two massive steins filled to the brim with a quality beverage that only comes from Kentucky in front of them…..I really don’t rattle. At the top of my gratitude list is the fact that I just honestly have no desire for a drink.

So long story short, life isn’t just about not drinking for me.  If you’ve been sober for three years and it’s still only about not drinking for you, then you’re just a dry drunk.  I don’t know how else to put it.  You either don’t have a program or the one you have isn’t working for you, and you need to fix that shit. Now, when I’m talking to new folks down at the hall or when I visit my alma mater to speak to the fresh crop of recruits, I will say “always keep your bottom close to you”.  I keep mine very close, but I don’t dwell on it.  It’s like muscle memory, lying in wait on the off-chance I get fidgety or my mind starts to wander into euphoric recall mode.  I guess it would work something like this…..if a shrink was showing me flashcards of various items to have me name them, it would be a lemon and I’d say “lemon”, it would be a castle and I’d say “castle”, the moon and I’d say “moon, a bottle of Knob Creek and I’d say “these spasms are ripping out my spine, and I can’t see whoever it is that won’t stop saying my name”.  Am I merely programmed?  Did I just use some Pavlovian conditioning or the Ludovico Treatment as a crutch?  Don’t know, don’t really care.  I just know that a little over three years ago I could not function without drinking, and now I have a great life with a wonderful family and all sorts of new friends I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get sober.  I go to meetings, have a sponsor, and I help other people who want to stop drinking.  My program takes work, it takes time, my sobriety has been hard fought and hard won, but fuck all of that….what a small price to pay for living the dream.

Now, I’m not saying I made it out unscathed.  It kind of fucked up music for me for god knows how long.  I still listen to the radio, have my favorite bands and whatnot, but I have what can only be described as serious PTSD symptoms if I hear specific songs or let myself get into a music-driven emotional state.  They’re really random, nothing anyone I know has probably ever owned or is ever played in public spaces, but it all stems from a pretty dark period when they held prominence.  And honestly, if you could figure one out and spring it on me, I’d be pretty impressed.  Visibly shaken, but impressed.  I think even my wife only knows one of them.  And I will take them to the grave unless my sponsor goes “You need to get that shit out….that crap does not make you unique or special. Get over yourself.”

In my rambling I probably make all of this sound like more than it really is.  But after you remove the booze and get used to living life, it’s really only about learning the things you should have learned in kindergarten.  Drugs and alcohol have a way of limiting your ability to recognize and deal with things like your fear, need for control, selfishness and ego.  So you yank booze away from a sociopathic egomaniac, you are still left with the sociopathic egomaniac. There is zero magic in the cessation of the substance. And learning to deal with people and life events fucking blows. I just always try to be learning something, and as I draw closer to a new sobriety birthday I start reflecting on what the year has taught me.  Biggest lesson this past year? It will blow your mind with its INTENSITY….it’s “count to ten”.  Think before you speak. Take some time before you react.  NOT reacting takes a hell of a lot of strength, but nearly 100% of the time you benefit from not having to clean up a huge mess.

I’ve got a long way to go. It’s an election year and I love to reel in some fish. Some big, fat, evangelical fish.  And that’s fun and everything, but it’s merely a symptom of a much larger issue.  When angered, threatened or disrespected, I always only knew the nuclear option.  I only wanted to break something in a way that could not be repaired, and I have several assorted years of my life that I’m not proud of and are generally only spoken of in detail in a one-on-one setting when some good can come from sharing.  I’ve never been to prison, never even been arrested, haven’t killed anyone, but I’m jaded in ways that sobriety has forced me to come to terms with.  You meet people with some genuinely fucked up history, in sobriety, and that history becomes their identity.  The problem is, it becomes a caricature because that’s as deep as they go.  And if that’s as deep as you go, you’re going to relapse.  Period.  Full stop.  Around the tables I have heard some of the most soul crushing stories you can possibly imagine, and I have heard them come from the mouths of people you would never expect to hear them from. People who would not let it define them, who took the promises offered by the program at face value and carved out a new life. So that’s part of what I learned. I want to be like THAT person…anyone can be the douche with the checkered past and street-cred chip on their shoulder…they can be entertaining but they lack depth and substance and have very little to teach others. 

Sometimes “count to ten” can take months.  And in my quest for that goal I was tested pretty well last year.  A major, prolonged situation involved family who embody everything about evangelical hypocrisy that I loathe….an arrogant sense of entitlement, poisonous self-righteousness, a way of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that defend their predetermined answers, and a gift for showing one face to the people in church and an entirely different one to the family.  In short, the situation was…a gesture of kindness from family members morphed into drama where everyone being in the same room has to be pre-planned and micro-managed.  There is a twisted, faux-Christian sense of entitlement that tells the worst part of someone’s nature “Yes, you did irreparable damage to your family, you took advantage and held them hostage with your love, used your faith as a weapon to cast blame and hurt, but hey, you told God you were sorry, so if they can’t rise to your standards and get over it then it’s their problem to deal with.” No amends, no making things right, just rationalize screwing people over and use your exit strategy from one fake and eg0-based ministry to another as a sign that you’re doing what God intended. 

So that’s the short version.  I wrote about four thousand words JUST about that situation at one point, so please appreciate my mercy in scaling it down to a couple of sentences.  I mainly bring it up to emphasize what I’m trying to learn about life.  If it were three years ago, the story which I allude to would have had a very quick, extremely excessive and unprecedented conclusion with zero consideration for collateral damage.  But that’s the problem with the nuclear option…collateral damage.  The thought of having to ever apologize for something keeps me out of a lot of trouble.  So I let that one pass, and I protected myself by being bound to a promise to someone that I would not let anyone get hurt. But hey, it’s STILL ME….so during the months when I was talking myself down from the overly dramatic, I went with the gentler option of compiling a massive amount of extremely telling and highly un-Christian information unbeknownst to these idiots that, given the proper audience and delivery, would unburden them from having to worry about working in ministry ever again.  I’ve made huge impacts on very large, very popular and corrupt ministries just for fun, so…when I’m highly motivated?  “Hypothetically”…their words against them courtesy of plenty of vicious text and audio, as well as publically available information and data (possibly involving monetary troubles at one point from porn addiction), lists of hundreds of current and former acquaintances and dozens of churches with emails, websites, and social media all processed through approximately twenty hilariously customized domain names that mirror an awesome website for the entertainment of all of the interwebs. 

So basically, a “hypothetical” Doomsday Device.  And hopefully someday I’ll reach a stage of enlightenment that allows me to deconstruct it or at least change it to where it would take longer than ten minutes to disperse some shock and awe.  I just don’t trust stupid…some people get some distance between them and their mess and get cocky, or they get some weird self-righteous vision where they think you MIGHT be bluffing and want to challenge you or talk some shit as a way of communicating their toxic definition of love.  I just want to keep learning as I go and have my “don’t start no trouble, won’t be no trouble” policy as a cautionary statement.  Because honestly, as you talk yourself down from one ledge to another, the secondary option is really no less nuclear than the first.   Knee-capping someone is bad, but constructing and using an involved technological answer to the same problem is bad too…AND creepy.  The moral of the story is that time passed….I made it from one to ten. Progress, not perfection, was achieved.  Thanks in no small part to my aforementioned dedication to a program, as well as learning from other drunks with longer sobriety that animosity is just baggage, and the momentary relief you get from decimating someone is quickly replaced by even more baggage caused by the fallout.  Taking pride in being “the guy who can destroy but doesn’t” is the same cheesy copout as being the douche with the checkered past.  

All things….that could have been learned…..in kindergarten.  It can be tedious….has to be a little bit like relearning basic skills after coming out of a coma.  Acknowledging other people exist, being happy for others, always letting someone merge into traffic, learning that humility isn’t the same as humiliation, doing something for someone without a hidden agenda, and processing emotions without freaking out ain’t exactly rocket science, but the journey is dotted with confirmation that I’m on the right track.  I never have to wake up in a panic about what I may have said or done the night before.  I can recognize boredom as an opportunity just to enjoy a moment.  I am available for my family and my friends in a way I never was before.  A million things…the best of which is being on the brink of a completely new family reality and knowing that everything is going to work out just fine.  Of course it’s always just one day at a time, and the cost is factored into all of this with a mandatory regimen of going to meetings, keeping it simple, and working with others.  Early in my sobriety, three years sounded like an eternity.  Now I sit at three years plus some change and the benefits I can recognize from all of the work along the way is what will keep me moving through the next three.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen…

I don’t know about anyone else who has a camera, but when I was shopping for my Nikon D5100, I knew once I got my hands on it that time would stand still like I was Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway in “We Were Soldiers”.  Head on a swivel, in slow motion, click-click-click, prominent cheek bones, misty background, my own somber theme music….with a PURPOSE; newly energized and reborn with laser focus in capturing timeless photographic truths.  Yeah, I guess, kind of a DICK when you think about it….I mean, Mel Gibson was pretty cavalier about that one napalm canister frying half his guys, but Barry Pepper could have put down his camera for a couple of seconds to help that one Asian dude.  But that’s the thing- good photography has a body count if you’re doing it correctly. That’s just the way it goes. If you have a good camera, you get to be like Barry Pepper.

But you DON’T get to be like Barry Pepper.  You get to be like the dozens of 70 year old women with the exact same camera pushing past you to cockblock the picture you’re trying to take in Thorncrown Chapel. And THAT…is the beginning and the end of the glory.  The added bonus is when you realize how long it’s going to take to process the gigantic fucking files you created after hearing people say “oh, you have to shoot in RAW”.  The inferiority complex that is created by having a rig with limitless settings yet choosing to shoot everything in Auto-mode (without flash) is only compounded by your lack of Photoshop software knowledge and the growing fear that you are colorblind in various ranges of pigment.  By the time your little preciouses are posted on Facebook or distributed via various electronic methods, you are totally sick of them and convinced they look like the work of a beshitted, cataract-heavy chimp.

 YAY! A closeup of my sandwich with the cool fuzzy background look to it!  All you really do to yourself is realize how much better everyone else’s pictures look.  One of those idiots who holds their iPad out like it’s a board their kung fu nerd buddy is about to roundhouse kick as they snap photos ends up with better pictures than your dumb ass.

 The one small comfort I have found as I beat my head against the wall is the strange sense of legitimacy that comes with owning a “real” camera.  Other than the old battleaxes who order their family members in and out of shots between you and your subject, people generally get out of the way when you are taking a photo….in a sea of cameraphones, whip out the Nikon and boom- people must think you really mean business.  Plus, you get to look like slightly less of an asshole taking pictures at the dinner table…real camera = real pictures = you are part of some level of media that requires your photographic prowess.

 While I’m working on lining up the next installment of The Squander Logs (which has given me a new respect for people who acquire, execute and document interviews BTW), as well as a yearly check-in with “3 Years Sober, and a Church at My Grandma’s House”, I thought some decent filler would be my photographic holocaust over the last couple of months.  I’ve got some “artsy” shots from our recent anniversary trip to the Ozarks, and food-nerd glory courtesy of The Rieger.

 

 This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken thus far, because it’s just creepy.  It’s a decrepit Kewpie Doll in a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks.  I used a 10x macro filter and put it right up against the display glass.  Lesson learned here- $10 filters only exist to show you their limitations and make you want a dedicated lens.

Nothing special here other than the fact it was early enough to get the photo without the five billion cars and people that would be arriving in downtown Eureka Springs within the next couple of hours.

Sometimes I just fuck around with foreground/background focus (I have zero comprehension of actual photography terms, so fuck off) and the picture usually sucks until you put it in black and white, and then all you’re missing is the guy to advertise for London Fog.

When processing your pictures in Lightroom, it gets boring fast. But you can always depend upon your friendly saturation settings to make any picture say “Welcome to Jamaica!”.

 One of my favorite photos, and I call it “Go Fuck Yourself Instagram”.  I got up early as hell and waited to make sure the sun was coming up and there were zero cars or people. This is one of the rare moments where I actually thought of the picture the night before and went out to acquire it…..but none of that shit matters, because essentially all I did was reproduce one of the gajillion Instagram settings.

 

 It was at Green Dirt Farms, at the Rieger dinner, that I discovered my nice zoom lens wasn’t just for shooting things that are far off…like zebras and shit.  I bought a good fixed focal length lens in addition to the zoom, and it takes great photos like the creepy Kewpie, but with the zoom I find you can be both lazy and sneaky….and very artsy.  Just look at these bottles for instance. I was a good ten feet away with people on all sides, but I got one of those close-ups that allow you to delude yourself into thinking….hey, I am acceptable at this.

 

 

When visiting Green Dirt Farms with more than just your cameraphone, you are pretty much a dick if you don’t get a shot of the knives.  That’s just how it works.   And these are ACTUAL Laguiole knives…not those knockoffs that SOME restaurants use….you know who you fucking are.  Quality cutlery on a farm provides a dichotomous context in which you can think of all sorts of crazy shit to feel fancy about.

 

 

 You see this quaint corner of the barn and it makes you forget it wasn’t that long ago that sheep placenta reigned supreme in this space. 

 

 

If you take many pictures I don’t have to tell you why this one is shitty.  Is there something even flatter than one dimensional?

 

 

It’s lamb. Up close. But not so close that it blows your mind. I have those pictures too. But you couldn’t handle them.

 

 

The Bossa from Green Dirt Farms is one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in all the land.  This photo is all about the quantity of cheese.  It inspired me to start using Bossa cut like this as a bun.

 

 

 Bossa meets The Rieger….this will definitely make my “Best of 2012” list.   A mushroom frittata with half a Bossa sunk into the middle of it shortly before it’s done.  The quality of the photo doesn’t matter, this is a test to prove whether or not you have a soul……no love, no soul. You don’t have to want to eat this dish, but you need to think really hard before you open your fucking mouth with anything less than pure reverence.

 

 

 This isn’t a photo, it’s a cheesy obligation whenever the sun is setting.  No context, no depth, I can’t afford the camera it would take to make something like this a panty dropper.

 

 

 Next up- a few shots from the night of my “White Trash Picnic” Birthday Party at The Rieger.  The Rieger is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, and I have zero obligation to food journalism or the food critic gods to be measured or evenhanded in my praise.  The party was a smashing success, but the important thing here is the degradation of quality from photo to photo.  I’m never going to be Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers.  I can’t even keep my focus long enough to spend a few seconds setting up a shot or taking basic details into consideration.  Then you turn me loose in Adobe Lightroom, and I do some shit like turn the restaurant walls bright green. 

 

 

Now this looks pretty good….housemade cheese bugles and corn nuts.  Not too bad with the available light.

 

 

 It’s deviled eggs.  And that’s it.

 

 

 Hey, cool, you can keep switching lenses in the middle of dinner….at least the extreme closeup of the Pasta Primavera Salad (with housemade mortadella!) masks how boring you are.

 

 

 No, it’s not my dick in a box. It’s pimiento celery. I am NOT kidding you!

 

 

 Man. All on an angle and shit with the crockpot meatballs. Sunday Schools across the nation will be lining up to hire me.

 

 

 Sorry, I was nodding off for a minute there…..the wheels were officially off the bus at this point.  Sure, it’s a white trash picnic, but no need to disrespect wonderful food like this…especially the Shake n’ Bake pork chops.  I’m new enough to put part of the blame on available light, but I can only milk that bullshit for so long.

 

 

What’s good for a Kewpie Doll doesn’t necessarily work for onion rings. Lose the filters. How is it possible to make something round so goddamn flat?

 

 

 This had to be seen to be believed.  Creamed corn or the set from the movie Dune?  You decide.

 

 

 It’s a fruit cocktail icebox pie from Tasha Goellner.  But you would never know that because I apparently suffer from photographic Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

 

The End

 

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Photography, Food Reviews, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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Being A Good Customer…

This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.

I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of  the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.

When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.

#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-

It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.

#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-

I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).

This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-

TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.

#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-

Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.

#4- KNOW FOOD-

Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.

#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-

I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:

“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”

“Yeah, how was it?”

“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”

“Seriously? What did you guys order?”

“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”

Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.

Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.

#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-

This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.

Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.

#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-

It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites.  We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor.   We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.

Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership.  When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back.  I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter. 

#8-SPREAD THE WORD-

I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer.  There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king.  When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that.  Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months.  I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often.  BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know.  I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche.  You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.

In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal.  I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag.  And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back.  Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood.  I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked.  One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business.  If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea.  You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef.  And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.

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Calvin Trillin’s Pretty Mouth…

Okey dokey, heavy food content this time around. A couple of weeks ago I completed an 8-day food blog over on eGullet…specific to my version of Kansas City dining.  I know I love to rain piss down upon the socially inept and mind numbingly self-aggrandizing aspects of the way the site is run, but to be completely honest there are some really cool people over there who are all about food….big time.  Tons of unpretentious folks who approach the subject like I do….in that all-or-nothing completely unhealthy, OCD kind of way.  Oh, and it was how I ended up meeting my wife. So it was kind of a blast putting my energy into sharing a week’s worth of meals in painful detail, complete with pictures and tons and tons of rambling.  For anyone interested in wading through it, here you go:  http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/139733-eg-foodblog-zeemanb-2011/ 

When I write, the only time I’m used to editing myself is in work related emails. Other than that, I just go with whatever entertains me at the time.  I do my best to write in my actual voice, not in some awkwardly concocted affectation. I knowingly break many rules of grammar because of how I want it to sound. And my voice can be pretty filthy. Some very bad things.  Writing at eGullet was kind of like pissing your pants slowly enough so as not to draw attention by making too big of a bloom in your trousers too quickly. You just kind of edge around a lot of shit, make sure not to cuss, it’s not torture or anything but there are times when you just want to cut the fuck loose and write for the smallest minority of people who would find it hilarious.  And I mentioned that fact once or twice…and that is the inspiration for this post.  The following paragraph is an actual excerpt from the eGullet blog. If you are mainly familiar with my writing here, you may notice some differences.  What follows that is a longer version of the same type of thing, but written for HERE.  Enjoy. 

EGULLET:

“Recommending restaurants to co-workers…it may have already been chronicled on this site, no idea, but for me it’s a sticky predicament. I don’t ever want to come off as snobbish, because I hate those people…they don’t really enjoy food, dining out is just another way they can feel the control they crave. BUT I also don’t want to screw over one of my favorite restaurants by sending over a doofus. OR, have them come back saying the food was a rip-off because it didn’t fill them up, or it sucked because they can’t believe three scallops cost them twenty bucks. I generally try to gauge who the person is foodwise, and at the very least point them to a place that is local and dependable. It’s usually not the place they heard me raving to a friend about, which can also raise questions or hurt feelings (because people treat work too much like life, and you are their spouse or sibling…another topic entirely). I’m just protective of the places I love…I want the people I send there to be the type of folks who like to build relationships with restaurants like I do, and when you work someplace where a “normal” lunch outing is gorging at the local Chinese Buffet or the 5.99 salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden, those people are rare. Again, to each his own, General Tso’s chicken is awesome, I love Red Lobster, but the bottom line is “value” is important to everyone but it also happens to have one of the most subjective definitions on earth. I “value” bringing my lunch to work 99% of the time and having one really nice weekend dinner at one of my favorite joints a couple of times per month, vs. an array of $5-$8 lunchtime chowfests that probably end up costing about as much as my one dinner. Anyway, just throwing all of that out there. Rambling to impress myself at how I’ve written this much without letting Profanity Jerry off the chain…”

HERE:

As far as my dining habits and knowledge go, I never want to come off like a dick. I hate dinner “collectors” who look at it all like a big spreadsheet or fucking baseball card collection.  You can’t just relax and talk about food around these people.  They’re prone to bouts of heavy breathing as they pump you for information about some dish you got to try before they did….like they’re forcing you to recover a lost molestation memory or something.  I was actually happy when I heard El Bulli was closing just because I knew how badly it would tweak the nipples right off of those boors.  They had the space on the wall next to the plaster cast of Thomas Keller’s schvantz saved for some token of their visit to Catalonia…a server’s pinky finger perhaps….and now it can’t happen….the irritation of never having the option to eat there is more than worth the knowledge of their pain.

Oh, and of course the control freaks who feel like it’s their job to teach the restaurant how to perfect the craft of making them the center of the goddamn universe.  THOSE people never shut up, and reading a food review from them is like reading a coroner’s report and it’s always prefaced with the artful cocksmanship of either dropping every restaurant name possible or recounting in detail their five thousand prior visits.  They want to establish the fact that they probably know more than you do.  These are the dicks you see walking to the kitchen on a slamming-busy Saturday night so that they can grace the chef with their presence; creating an awkwardness and traffic jam of which they remain totally oblivious.  And then they march back to their table and figure the price of the meal without tax and alcohol before tallying the tip.  The next day they wake up and chronicle the rise and fall over time of some specific dish they ate the night prior, they are way more about the stick than the carrot and assume their target is appreciative of that fact, and when they complete the review it totally slips their mind to title it “Someday My Kids Will Award Me a ‘World’s Worst Bastard’ Trophy Before Filing Me Away in a Home”.

Now, I don’t mind coming off like a dick to THOSE people.  Being viewed as a mouth-breathing, shit-flinging Philistine by them is probably a good thing.  But basically-  I love food, I dine out a lot, I research the living shit out of a town foodwise before I arrive, but the bottom line for me is not only the enjoyment of the food but the act of dining itself.  Spending time with people you love and admire, great food and deepening your relationship with your local food community. With various exceptions, it is for the most part a very protected event for me. That is where the weirdo control freak in ME comes out.  And I say all of THAT to say- it scares the shit out of me if I ever recommend one of my favorite restaurants to someone I’m not 100% sure about.  That is one major burden that comes with being “the food guy” to everyone you meet…especially at work. You don’t want to come off like one of the aforementioned total bastards, but more importantly…you don’t want to put the dick to your favorite restaurant by unleashing a slew of motards on them.  Yes, I was one of those motards once upon a time, and I am keenly aware of the new experiences needed to grow beyond that. That’s why I really do put thought into recommending good, local restaurants when anyone asks, based on what I think they’d like yet still pushes them out of their comfort zone a bit. What I’m talking about HERE is keeping my personal temples of gastronomy pretty close to my chest when in mixed company. 

The greatest truth is this- the co-workers who push you the hardest to hook them up with your favorite restaurant will always be the biggest dipshits about it.

First, I do realize that it took having my stomach stapled to keep from eating myself to death.  I GET IT. And the fact that I don’t, and can’t, eat nearly as much at one sitting as a hungry eight year old is not lost on me. But STILL, the most common worrisome thing I hear from a co-worker who asks me about a restaurant after hearing me talking to SOMEONE ELSE about it, is along the lines of “Now, am I still going to have to go and eat at McDonald’s afterwards to feel full?”.  Well, yes motherfucker, you ARE going to have to eat at McDonald’s!  I’m sorry that the seared diver scallop dish at Bluestem doesn’t have an all-you-can-eat option. I guess it should. I guess you should be able to stuff your gut wherever you go until you resemble a monster from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”….eating and shitting, eating and shitting, eating and shitting, right there in your seat. For every goddamn bite you take, your body is forced to expel waste to make room.  Quality, flavor, atmosphere, fellowship…..all of THAT bullshit takes a backseat to making the whole world one big casino buffet. If it were my fucking BOSS asking me that question I’d still give them the address of an empty parking lot far, far away from any of the places I eat.  Eating to the point of almost puking for minimal cost is the gold standard of quality here in the Midwest.

The “greater the money greater the gorgefest” crowd aside, the ones who scare me the worst are the fucking cheapskates.  I’m not rich, I don’t pretend to be rich, but apparently some people hold a weird grudge against you for spending what they think is way too much money on dinner. They act like you are a mentally retarded socialite even though they make at least as much, if not more, than you.  So when they do you the great honor of harassing you for intel about your favorite place prior to going there and expecting to have their asses wiped all night long, I guess you’re supposed to feel lucky.  For those pricks, the food is NEVER, EVER going to be good enough to justify the price…so I am very specific with them- my wife and I usually spend between $100 and $130 including a generous tip when we go out for a “nice” dinner about once or twice per month. In the fine wine and dining world, that isn’t jack shit, but for that amount you can eat well almost anywhere in Kansas City if you’re not drinking wine or booze. About twice per year we’ll double that and go top-tier dining.  We make up for our spending by taking our lunch to work nearly 100% of the time and eating dinner at home at least 90% of the time.  Eat out less often so that when you do it can be spectacular…that’s how we do things.  And when we eat out, it tends to be a different experience than a lot of people will get…I don’t get fucking blowjobs and a key to the walk-in, but I’ll get some extra chat-time with the chef, or a comped dish, I always have a regular server who treats me great…and I can always count on a good table.  I’m not special, I’ve just invested time in building relationships with the places I love….and I’m super low-maintenance, pleasant, I don’t need a ton of shit on the menu explained to me, I don’t ask for substitutions, and I’m a good tipper (30% is the norm at my regular haunts, sometimes more, we enjoy spreading the love).  I’d never eat at a place where I’m treated like a king and everyone else is treated like low-lives, there are just benefits to being a serious regular…and the cheapskates can never understand that shit. Anything above Olive Garden money and the server had better be willing to act as a footrest.  

I really don’t know where the chip on the shoulder comes from, but I know that no matter how many times you explain it in detail for them and do everything but tell them “don’t go, you’re not going to like it”, they are still going to go and they are going to be an inconsolable dick the whole time. They are the aforementioned control freaks in training. When it comes time to pay the bill they’re going stand there all wide eyed and breathless and shit like Major Toht in the tavern scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  They’ll probably retrieve a coin purse to collect their exact change…and then pull out three fucking quarters, put them in the server’s open palm, take the time to shut their hand back over the quarters, pat their hand, smile at them and then creepily, Lost Arkily, whispers something like  “Yeesssss, for youuuuuuuuu..”.  Then they’ll saunter off with a little limp.  But they don’t even have a limp!  At least not when they came in! What in the FUCK? Just thinking of that shit and being involved in any way with dicking over a favorite restaurant just makes me want to end it all.  What a nightmare.

There are a ton of other possible scenarios, none of them good.  People who compare everything to their favorite chain…or the ones who will hang out for an extra hour at their table after dinner is over, whittling a big pile of oak shavings onto the floor on a packed Saturday night. Sure, I do know normal human beings who have been very happy with my recommendations in the past. I’ve just seen it go the OTHER way enough times to make me super protective of the places I love. If someone came back from a trip to Lidia’s bitching because the heritage breed rib chop didn’t hold a candle to Outback, I don’t think I could be held responsible for my actions. I know that taste is subjective, I just don’t want to be an enabler for these morons. 

So that’s it.  If you know me or have eaten a meal with me don’t go and get all self-conscious, you fucking egomaniac. This isn’t about you. It’s about the people we bitch about from work who we’d never friend on Facebook no matter how many times they send a request. I’m not good for a whole lot, but I’m a hell of a dining companion.  Go and read my eGullet blog, it’s got some good stuff despite the fact I was chained up pretty tight.

OH, some local chefs have put together some kind of invite-only after hours get together for this Monday morning- midnight to 3am.  I don’t know a whole lot about it, I’m interested to see what it’s all about….an eclectic group of people eating and chatting is what I know.  And boy am I cool. I made the cut. Maybe I’ll invite a bunch of these work pricks and try to fool everyone into believing I’m doing performance art.

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