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78 Degrees and rising

December 20th, 2007 No comments

I was told that 78 degrees is a common temperature to keep buildings in New York. That’s incredibly warm. I don’t believe it.

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Just the facts

January 13th, 2007 No comments

Thank you, Susan Lampert-Smith, for your oh so nostalgic, yet entirely factless column.

First, I didn’t know that the McDonald’s on Lake Street had closed. Did you? No, I don’t really miss it nor care overall that it closed, I just find it odd that it did. It was always full of college students and bums (both have similar budgets), so it seems odd that they would up and close.

When I heard about this, the first thing I asked was “Why?” That’s where this article comes into play. One sees it and thinks “Ah, good, this will answer all my questions.” It doesn’t. Some key things are missing from it that any good journalist would have answered. For instance:

  • Who owns that paritcular McDonald’s?
  • Why are they closing?

The second question only got a tiny bit of attention, with one line explaining it “Now the store is closing because remodeling the restaurant didn’t make financial sense. It is likely to be replaced with a post office.” Were they being forced to remodel by McDonald’s corporate office? Were things falling apart and spending money on fixing it wold break the bank? Where did one get the fact that it’s going to be replaced with a post office? Did she read that on some USPS blog?

Blah. I don’t really care so much about the McDonald’s closing. I don’t really care so much about the post office opening either. I do care enough to realize that when people walk past it they’re going to say “I didn’t know that closed. What happened?” With that article, I really don’t have a clue.

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Conceptually divergent

December 11th, 2006 No comments

After writing my last post about Peppermill Grill, I went back and perused the press release announcing the restaurant concept. Finding it utterly humorous, I’m going to pick it apart here. Here’s the link, in case you need it.

…the Peppermill Grill menu is designed around the flavor profile alluded to in the new concept’s name. Whether on a burger, steak, or pasta, an array of peppercorns and other flavors will be featured in many of the menu items.

I can remember a few dishes having peppercorns mentioned, but I don’t believe I ever thought “Wow, look at all these amazing ideas they came up with for using peppercorns!” I think my burger might have had peppercorns somewhere in it (it was blackened, so maybe in the rub?), but R’s pasta seemed to be lacking them and so was the appetizer. I mean, of all things, they could have thrown some peppercorns into the bland dipping sauces.

Servers are Flavor Ambassadors who bring peppermills with various spices right to the table.

Can you demean a person anymore than referring to them as flavor ambassadors? Probably not. Peppermill Grill is not the United Nations of taste buds, I can assure you. A restaurant should never imply that diplomacy is needed between the kitchen and the diners. And bringing the spices and peppermills right to the table? That never happened. Nor did I see it happen at other tables.

Choosing and adding flavor will be a part of the dining experience at the Peppermill Grill. Peppercorn selections will offer diverse flavor profiles that can be mixed together for new combinations.

R’s volcano chicken pasta thing could have used some pepper, and I probably would have allowed them to crush some over my burger if they wanted. I think this concept was something they thought would be amazing when it was first created, but they found that focus groups didn’t like lots of pepper (assuming they even thought to use a focus group), oops. Seriously, where were all these unique flavor combinations?

To give them some credit, at least there were real peppermills at the tables. But, to give discredit where discredit is due, said peppermills were filled with ONLY black peppercorns. No unique flavor combinations there. The least they could have done was offer a blend or even three different mills, each filled with a different kind of peppercorn just like barbecue joints do with their sauces.

An eclectic collection of artwork will create the feeling of a spice marketplace.

You guessed it, entirely missing was any decor indicating you were inside a spice marketplace. In fact, the decor was more 1950’s supper club with a modern twist. This was certainly a bold new concept gone awry.

The press release was from October, 2005 and there clearly was a diversion from original concept to the restaurant that was built. With the Madison location being their proving grounds, I’m thinking the only thing they’ve proven is that this concept won’t last long.

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Sayin a prayer for…

October 23rd, 2006 No comments

I had dinner tonight at the Blue Moon Bistro in Dayton. The online menu looked OK – not your average bistro fare. The wine list looked equally interesting. It had been hyped by a coworker, so I had high expectations. Perhaps too high for Dayton.

It was just two of us eating, and getting a table proved to be an adventure. The hostess started to say “We have smoking and non-smoking…” to which I answered “non is fine, thanks.” She snipped at me for cutting her off. What she had intended to say was that the non-smoking area was really loud and the smoking area was quieter and didn’t have anyone smoking. We took the latter.

They had a specials menu of sorts and the hostess also let us know that it was half price night for bottles of wine – can’t go wrong with that. We ordered a bottle of “Towering Tuscan” or something, which turned out to be a Mondavi wine. It was OK, but probably not worth it had we paid full price (or at all for that matter).

For an appetizer we got an artichoke beggar’s purse. It came out luke warm and unflavorful. It was accompanied by a tapenade and roasted garlic. I’m not sure they had anything in common with the artichoke, but they tasted OK separately.

On a whim I got a bowl of soup as well. It was a lobster squash bisque. It also came out luke warm. Are you sensing a trend? The flavor was mild, and the squash did not stand out in any way. The texture was thing and the pieces of lobster were small and shredded. While I didn’t expect large bites of lobster, a couple healthy spoonfuls of it would have been nice.

I orderd duck as my entree. It came out with some bok choy, shittake mushroom and gouda cheese. Bok choy is asian-ish, mushrooms are more American, and Gouda is continental. I’m not sure where the chef thought they crossed over enough to warrant being on one plate.

I think it was the cheese that got to me. The plate came out luke warm, again. The cheese was in that congealed state somewhere between solid cheese and melted cheese. It also looked like it came straight from the dairy case at whatever supermarket people frequent here. The sauce was good, as it had some kind of wine in it. The duck was cooked appropriately, coming to the table still pink in the middle (yet cold).

I crossed my fingers that dessert would be the saving grace. It actually was. If not for dessert, I would have been more disappointed. The waittress brought a tray of 6 desserts to the table and I picked an apple galette. It came to the table still warm, with large sugar crystals adhering to its outer edges. The apples inside were sliced thing and accompanied by caramel and figs.

I think I’d still have other people try this place if they asked about it, but I don’t think it deserves any sort of urgency to get there. It is in Dayton…

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Smoke detectors

October 22nd, 2006 No comments

Something you never thought you’d hear me say: Omaha, I admire you.

Will those who turn in smokers be called smoke detectors?

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Snipe hunting

October 19th, 2006 No comments

Thank you very much CNN for the amazing realization that snipers are killing soldiers in Iraq. And here I thought IED’s were the only threats.

This featured story is clearly just for the purpose of exploiting sniper video they obtained and to push their Pipeline service. Is there any substance to the story? Nah. Is there anything new or not overly obvious that the story reveals? Of course not.

Aren’t there better things to exploit today?

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Fish, fried

October 13th, 2006 No comments

I was paging through food magazines at Borders a few weeks ago and came across an issue of Saveur with fried fish on the cover. I opened to the corresponding article and saw that it was about the traditional Milwaukee fish fry.

Turns out, it was even more specific than that. They had photos, recipes and interviews from Wegner’s St. Martin’s Inn in Franklin. I had always thought that the fish there was exceptional, but it was interesting to see a national magazine reinforcing that.

The article included a recipe for their potato pancakes, which I made a few days later, as well as an old fashioned cocktail recipe. The pancakes were good and I didn’t ever try the old fashioned, but I’m sure it’s decent as the recipe doesn’t include some nasty mix.

In any case, I’ve always liked the fish there and the coleslaw is the best you can find anywhere. I’ve been going there for years, I recommend you try it too.

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Studio 60

October 13th, 2006 No comments

I’m not entirely sold on Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip yet. The whole idea of a drama about the goings-on of a sketch comedy show is intriguing, but seems like the story department could run dry quickly.

The cast is decent (hey, Bradley Whitford handed me my BBA) and the behind the scenes of television perspective draws you in, but the sketch comedy part doesn’t have me sold. It seems like group A at NBC decided that SNL was such an awesome show (and it was) that it deserved to have spinoffs. And then group B decided Aaron Sorkin was such an awesome writer that he deserved to have another show after West Wing. Then group A and B got together and decided that AB is better than A or B by themselves. (They also ended up with a group Z which were those cast off of SNL and not cool enough to get a slot in the SNL spinoff so they created a sibling spinoff: 30 Rock).

The distanced similarity of Studio 60 and SNL also has me bothered. They air on Friday night, the network is NBS and they’re in LA. How much more of a one-off could they possibly be? I thnk that by making such an effort to not be NBC/SNL they made it even more tempting to compare the two. Why not just call it SNL: Behind the Scenes and call it a day?

What’s going to be really sad is the day when Studio 60 becomes more humorous than SNL – and I don’t think that’s too far away.

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Most ridiculous car name ever

October 5th, 2006 No comments

Toyota’s Yaris.

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Atlanta comments

October 3rd, 2006 No comments

I’m in Atlanta right now, here are some things I’ve noticed:

  • Gas is only $2.08/gal
  • Fogo De Chao serves you a lot of meat and is not cheap. Lots of meat can make you feel a bit queasy the morning after eating it.
  • Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is one crazy-busy airport
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I’m sorry sir, I’m not a scuzzball

September 25th, 2006 No comments

I was driving back home from downtown yesterday and was at the corner of Bedford and West Washington. Just as I was about to complete the right turn I feel a nudge from behind. No, it wasn’t someone in the back seat, it was a car.

I turn around and see two heads in the car behind me. I signalled to pull over into the parking lot next door and they did. After getting out and inspecting the damage, I wander over to the offender’s car to get some info. Inside that car were two dingbat sorority-type girls. The driver seemed to be a sophomore or junior at UW, I couldn’t really even see the passenger.

I asked to get her info and she asked for a pen/paper. When I got back with those they had already found a pen and paper of their own. As she wrote name/address/phone number down I asked to see her insurance card as well. “Um, I don’t have that with me. I think it’s at home.” Not good. I told her that you’re pretty much required to have that on you when you drive. She looked confused. I then asked if she at least knew the name of the insurance company. “Actually, no, my parents pay that for me.” Big surprise. Then I asked if she at least had her ID to match with the name she was giving me. Nope, that was at home too as she was going to the store just a block away. “Sir, I’m not a scuzzball, I do have all that stuff, just not with me,” she said.

There really wasn’t any damage to the back of my car. Maybe a tiny scratch where paint rubbed off. I told her it didn’t look bad but I’d call her if I needed anything. She said OK and halfheartedly apologized and sped off.

How irresponsible could one be? She didn’t have an insurance card, know the insurer’s name nor have her ID. I feel like I should take my car in for repairs just so she does have something to pay for. Maybe then she’d learn to have that stuff with her.

I just Facebook’d the driver and found out she goes to MATC Madison. I should have known.

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A bit of (cheese) culture in Monroe

September 17th, 2006 No comments

This past Saturday’s afternoon entertainment was Monroe’s Cheesefest. Yep, Cheesefest. It’s an annual even that takes place on Monroe’s town square. Thousands of people from all over attend, with the central themes being cheese and all things Swiss.

One of the first things we saw was a decently long line extending out of an establishment on the outer ring of the square. As we got closer we realized it was Baumgartner’s, which neither of us had heard of, but apparently everyone else had. They serve beer (Berghoff mostly – as it’s from Monroe) and cheese. Could it be any more stereotypical Wisconsin?

We waited in line for a couple minutes and then went inside. Polka music filled the air and a line had formed at the cheese counter. Past the cheese counter was a bar and a stage for the polka band. We ended up getting a beer each and a couple cheese sandwiches. Yep, cheese sandwiches. Sounds like something you’d eat for lunch if your income was below the poverty level. They were actually pretty good, possibly because I was starving. The sandwiches were simple thick slices of cheese (swiss and cheddar in this case) squeezed between some rye bread. The sweetish bread and salty cheese went well together, although I don’t think I’d make a habit of eating that.
In true Wisconsin form, an old gal was there with poufy hair, smoker’s cracks on her face and a lot of makeup. I didn’t catch her with a cigarette in her hand, but I’m sure one wasn’t far away. When I think of barflies, she’s what comes to mind.

The main draw of the event is obviously the cheese, which Monroe is well known for. A single tent had been setup to exhibit the cheese. A couple dozen cheese producers were there sampling their wares. A large sign outside the tent explained that the cheese was inside and to “Form No Lines.” Which I took as an indication that you weren’t supposed to start at one end of the tent and end up at the other, stopping at each table along the way. I think that was their intent.

It definitely didn’t happen that way. It was quite the opposite, in fact. People formed an ad-hoc line and stopped at every table along the way, but, even worse, lingered at each table as long as possible. When they finally stopped lingering and were ready to move on, the people in line in front of them hadn’t stopped lingering and everyone else was held up behind them. It was a fiasco.

Despite all that, I did get to sample a dozen or so cheeses. They were all very good, but nothing stood out enough for me to purchase it. I’ll let Brennan’s do that for me.

On the opposite side of the square, a cow milking contest was held. A couple hundred people gathered around the post office area and watched the proceedings. 4 cows were lined up, along with handlers and one girl assigned to shovel duty, and teams huddled around each cow. A classy gal with a microphone marched around talking to the milkers and entertaining the audience while the contestants tugged away. It was another uniquely Wisconsin experience.
While my comments above could largely be described as cynical, the festival was actually quite charming. The locals seem to love it and non-locals come from all around to see it. It’s free to attend, the food is great (cream puffs, cheese sandwiches, homemade ice cream bars, chocolate covered cheesecake), and the weather happened to be perfect. As we were getting ready to leave, we passed the old couple pictured on the left. Yes, that’s an inverted ice cream cone on her head, but they embodied the festival’s atmosphere. Good natured people, proud of their heritage, having fun like they do every year at this time.

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