Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Best Thing To Come Out Of Illinois Since Barack Obama

That's right, it's time for Top Chef: Chicago!

Published reports say the Bravo favorite will light the burners for their fourth season on March 12th at 10pm ET. Tom, Ted, Gail and, oh yes, the extra yummy Padma will all be back with a cavalcade of celebrity guest stars (Sadly, we have not, as yet, been advised of a cameo from Bill Swerski's Super Fans, or Wayne and Garth.) as we embark upon another culinary odyssey.

If you want to check out the early favorites for the $100K, Food and Wine spread, awesome vacation and Glad Ware, click on over to YumSugar, who have a slideshow of the new season's contestants.

Now, please pack your knives and go.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bistro Bis? More Like Bistro F.

I decided, at the behest of my good friend and former campaign roommate Julie, to drop a little honest coin and indulge in Washington's annual Restaurant Week. Ever ambitious, Julie made several reservations in the DC metro area, but we decided on Bistro Bis, which I had heard about through the grapevine as being pretty decent fare. Also, I'm a sucker for solid bistro French food at all times. So we gave it a shot.

First of all, as I was rushed to our table upon entrance, I noticed various empty tables throughout the fairly small restaurant. This probably should have been more ominous, since it's Restaurant Week and you cannot get a reservation anywhere in the District, but I sloughed it off, chalking it up to Wednesday night. As it turns out, the absentees knew more than I did.

I quickly ordered a glass of the special South African Cabernet from Wellington, which was actually quite decent. It also turned out to be the high point.

35 minutes later, our waitress finally appeared ready to take our order. In the intervening time Julie and I got catch up and I got to have a drink. Oh, this might be a good time to mention the other absentees: the waitstaff. It took twenty minutes to get water (bread would take ANOTHER 20) and finally - mercifully - we got to put in orders.

Julie ordered the moules grenobloises, trout special and chocolate toffee bread pudding. I chose a more traditional bistro route with onion soup les halles, cote de porc and chocolate roulade. The appetizers were passable though often forgettable. My soup was overpowered by brandy in the broth and it was, inexcusably, served lukewarm. (It's French Onion Soup, for Christ's sake.) Julie's mussels were nice, but oversized for an appetizer. The main course was where the meal totally lost its luster. Julie's trout looked decent enough - I admit I didn't try it - but my pork chop was completely lifeless. And to make it worse, it was covered in some kind of ridiculous, flavor-retardant barbecue sauce without any starch on the plate.

You know what guys? i know it's restaurant week, but stop treating us like cheap rubes. I mean, Jesus, this is not New York, it's Washington. Getting people in the door for haute cuisine is enough of a struggle, don't make those of us trying to enjoy an experience like this on short money feel stupid for having chose you. Have the common decency to do the little things, despite the drop in price. It's bistro food. I demand potatoes. Not a lot, just a taste, something interesting maybe. But at least something. Not a half empty plate. If you're working in DC, and you're not Michel Richard or Jose Andres, get over yourself and fill plates. And if you're pushing half empty plates at a bistro, that's borderline insane.

And in any case, don't lose a perfectly good medium rare pork chop in barbecue sauce.

Dessert was hit and miss. Julie's chocolate toffee was a good effort, and tasty, if non-inventive. My roulade was flat and nearly bereft of chocolate, though the berries left a pleasant brightness on the palate. All in all, I've soured on the restaurant week experience. If DC restaurants are all like Bistro Bis, people will continue to forcefeed themselves overpriced steaks at Sam and Harry's and the Palm and the food scene here will die.

Restuarant Week or not, however, skip Bistro Bis.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

You're Not Wrong, Walter, You're Just Illiterate

Quite the barnburner last night in the Granite State.

Hillary Clinton went from being clinically dead (at least according to known feminist Chris Matthews) at 6pm to the "frontrunner for the Democratic nomination" by Midnight.

That actually happened. And while I believe all of those far-off prognostications about as far I can throw Hillary Clinton, we have been taught in American politics these days to expect the expected, that pollsters have gotten so good at what they do that they could never be wrong and that whatever they feed the mainstream media must be correct, because they got it right once or twice before. And the media, largely lacking the ability to use critical thinking and decipher what polls actually mean, report polling numbers as facts and then get pissed off when that's not the whole story, and legions of them look foolish on national television.

But the problem with both of those memes is that even a casual observer of the American political process would have known by 8:15 last night that something wasn't right. Actually, scratch that, anyone with an eighth grade education (or your typical New Hampshire primary voter) who can use a calculator would tell you that 40+30+15=85. By the best estimates, 15% of voters were undecided when they walked into the polls last night, and that's if you only look at the numbers. (And don't bother telling me "Oh you forgot about Kucinich." I didn't forget about Kucinich, we just all wish he forgot about us. Lunatic. Honest to God, he already talks about aliens, if he starts talking nude conspiracies, he and Lyndon Larouche are going to run on the Looney Tune ticket.)

This situation also reminds us why tracking polls are crack for the weak. When there are only about 100 hours from the results being announced in Iowa until people started voting in New Hampshire, no pollster worth his weight whatever they were feeding the media all day yesterday would tell you that all bets were off. And then, when you factor in at least two huge events happening in an 18-hour span (the debate and Hillary's odd, salty discharge moment [non-sexual division]) history will take over.

See, people in New Hampshire are regarded as "private" people. They may actually just be "ridiculous" people but any way you slice it, they openly lie to pollsters in a vain attempt to try and get them off their backs. We go through this every four years: New Hampshireites (New Hampshirians?) are oversaturated with campaign materiel, candidates, pollsters, pundits and toast and egg breakfasts at diners, and they get hostile, wanting everyone to leave town, and thinking they never will. So they lie. They lie to staffers. They lie to pollsters. They lie to whoever will listen to their insane rants about their "problems" (Word to the wise, the only problems you have in New Hampshire are not enough NASCAR and too much snow and it was 65 degrees yesterday and the race is probably coming up, so shove it). They claim, despondently, that they just want to be left in peace. Then they vote and we all figure out that they were lying all along and we leave and talk about them for about 24 more hours and then we move on to the other 48 states and the real issues facing the nation.

And then, two years from now, New Hampshire will demand to know where we all have gone and invite all the politicians and pundits and pollsters and gentrified media types back for toast and eggs and demand that we fawn over these hardworking Americans facing down their withering past in a new American century. And for some reason, we oblige them.

And we are left with one simple, incontrovertible fact: That as the sun rises through the snowdrifts of Dover and Portsmouth on primary day and sets over the desolate hellscape of Keene on the evening of primary day, two-thirds of New Hampshire voters, whether they tell you or not, whether they know better or not, whether they care or not, will go to the polls (after eating their toast and eggs, of course) and stand in a booth, furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand and THAT IS WHEN THEY MAKE A DECISION.

These are people that make swing voters look like decisive party boosters. These are people who sling coffee and eat toast and eggs and yearn for simpler time when their lack of understanding and cultural diversity seemed to fit in Wonder Bread America.

These people are New Hampshire, for better or worse. And someday, people in politics will understand them. And run far, far away.



And yes, thank you, it is good to be back.

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