Monday, March 26, 2012

The Scent of a Salmon

For several years when eating out in a non-coastal city, St. Pauli Girl would order salmon, and then I would gently swat her on the forehead with my menu and admonish her, “No!” That’s because whether it’s a $4.99 special at a diner or a $37 entrée at Haute de Rigeur FancyPants Restaurant, ninety-five percent of the time, the salmon will taste and smell like the putrid seawater it once swam in.

This system has worked fairly well for us until the other night when I let my guard down.

“But this is one of the top ten restaurants in the city, surely they know what they’re doing,” St. Pauli Girl said.

“I don’t know. We’re a good five-hundred miles from the nearest port. That’s at least a day’s drive for that fish.”

The waiter then talked her into it. Sure enough, the salmon had to be sent back and St. Pauli Girl wondered if she should get the other fish entrée.

“No,” I said. “Don’t push your luck. Stick with the pasta.”

The waiter then talked her into the sea bass. A few minutes later, I could actually smell the sea bass as it passed by me on its way to the table. This fish was also inedible.

The manager came out, apologized, didn’t charge us for the entrée and offered us a free dessert. This was all well and good until he suggested that maybe we just weren’t used to such a flavorful fish and perhaps this entrée was a little too artistic for our palates.

I then imagined how the staff is trained on its fish dishes:

Chef: Have you ever been to the beach or a lake and stumbled across a washed up fish that’s been rotting in the sun for three days? Do you remember that pungent smell? There are no words to describe it, just that it’s fishy. And that is the essence of fish. When you think about it, it’s actually been baking in the sun for three days. And that’s the kind of taste and aroma we strive for here, just like that fresh sun-baked fish on the beach.

Server: But what if it’s winter so the fish hasn’t really baked that much?

Chef: Then it’s sushi. Let’s be honest, the ideal cut of fish is fish sticks. When you think back to the golden age of fish sticks, somewhere in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70s, they all looked, smelled and tasted the same. You smothered them in ketchup or tartar sauce until that was all you could taste. What I’m trying to achieve here is fish sticks without the sauce. We need to educate our customers because some of these high falutin’ so-called “foodies” think fish should be odorless or maybe taste more like a fine steak. If cows could swim, I’d be happy to serve that. But we serve fish here and there’s a reason the term “fishy” exists.

Manager: So how can we educate our customers?

Chef: First, always point out that the fish is flown in fresh daily. Doesn’t matter if it was on a boat for two weeks, then in a warehouse for a day, then dropped on the ground and run over by a forklift. It flies here first class.

Server: So it doesn’t matter that it takes us three or four days to exhaust our fish inventory?

Chef: Exactly! It’s flown in daily. Now if someone is complaining, suggest that maybe my sauce is too clever for their palate. Then dump a bottle of ketchup on the plate while smirking in disdain. Alright, we all know how my entrées taste. I brought in a few selections from that new sushi place down the street for comparison. Let’s examine the yellowfin tuna sashimi. Breathe in the aroma.

Manager: I don’t get anything. There’s no aroma.

Chef: Right! Serve that to a blind man and he’ll think he’s eating groundhog or prairie chicken or something else unfamiliar. But he will definitely recognize my fish. Now let’s taste it.

Server: Mmmm, very rich.

Chef: But there’s no fish flavor right?

Server: Reminds me of filet mignon.

Chef: Exactly! That’s not fish! That’s a swimming cow! Those sushi chefs must be rank amateurs. They should at least douse some saltwater on the fish or throw some stale seaweed on it.

Server: Um, yeah. So you don’t mind if I finish the leftovers?

Chef: Sure, but you’ll probably need this. (passes the server a bottle of ketchup)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Black Swan or Not?

(I realize this is a year late and probably not helpful if you are looking to me for movie reviews. I tend to view movies at least 1 to 10 years after they are released.)

Count me in as someone that believes “Black Swan” should have won the Oscar for best picture. Why? Because it very cleverly used ballet to demonstrate why so many people hate ballet.

The film is advertised as a psychological thriller which usually translates to blood, violence, and nudity. It does contain blood and violence except when it doesn’t. That’s because we can’t tell what is really happening versus nightmares, wet dreams, and hallucinations. So just like the real ballet, we have no idea what is going on.

I can imagine the initial pitch meeting from the screenwriter to a Hollywood producer who looks a lot like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin:

Screenwriter: I’ve got this psychological thriller revolving around the ballet. It will give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the ballet and showcase some marvelous dancing. We can bill it as “Footloose for snobby rich people.”

Producer: Um, yeah. [Slides a finger across his desk toward a “security” button.]

Screenwriter: But wait! Did I mention there’s violence? You know, calloused dancers’ feet and broken toenails. Sprained ankles!

Producer: Oka-a-a-y. [Finger moves faster toward the security button.]

Screenwriter: And stabbings! People hit by cars!

Producer: [Finger hesitates.]. Hmm, sounds a little more interesting. You know what, throw in a girl-on-girl sex scene and I’ll give you $30 mill!

And really, that pretty much sums up the movie. The story revolves around a ballet featuring the white swan, the kind of swan you’d take home to your mother, and her friend the black swan, a hard-partying, whiskey swilling swan that has a lot of sex (and apparently swings both ways. Unless she doesn’t . . . because we have no idea what reality is in this movie).

The swans don’t much like each other until they have coffee, then bourbon, then drugs, and finally, sex. Unless they didn’t . . . because the black swan denies it, and we later see her getting cozy with the director which of course leads to the director giving her more stage time. Naturally, this enrages the innocent white swan and turns her into a killer swan. Maybe.

Eventually the white swan kills the black swan. Unless she doesn’t, because thirty seconds after the black swan’s carcass is stashed into a bathroom, she re-appears alive and with nary a scratch on her. Finally, we find out that not only did the white swan not kill the black swan, but in a magical sleight of hand, she actually stabs herself to death. But not before she gets a standing ovation. Unless of course that didn’t actually happen either.

So it is a psychological thriller because it leaves you wondering what kind of nut would want to watch this, much less a ballet, which is equally hard to understand but costs a lot more money.

After watching the movie, St. Pauli Girl said, “Wow. I really loved the dancing. What did you think?”

“I don’t know. It had some good parts.” I paused. “So did the black swan and white swan actually have sex?”

Tune in next year when I review “The Artist,” the silent French film that won Best Picture recently.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some People's Choice

It’s the new year, time to get re-dedicated to the blog again. Okay, so it’s actually two months into the new year; it takes me a minute to get dedicated.

St. Pauli Girl likes to enter cooking contests. And she likes to win. She doesn’t always win, but I just want to point out that she takes them very seriously. To start the new year, she decided to enter a black-eyed pea contest at an establishment that shall remain nameless, but let’s just say they make fermented beverages from grape juice. For a $25 entry fee, she could potentially win a cash prize of $300.

On a bitterly cold day, we arrived at the contest, set up her serving area, then glanced around at the other twelve entrants, or “losers” as we liked to call them. With time to kill we shared a single glass of wine, complimentary with the $25 entry fee. It didn’t taste like a $25 glass of wine, but it was a decent glass of wine.

As we wandered about waiting for the judges to arrive, we noticed that everyone else seemed to know each other. No big deal; after all, this establishment was located in a small town, and of course many of the people would know each other. As long as the judging was blind as suggested by the rules on their website, we didn’t care. Ironically the official rules published on their website seemed more concerned that rogue entrants might come in and try to poison the public as noted in rule 14A:

“If the head judge demands that an entrant taste his/her own dish, the entrant must eat at least one full serving in full view of the head judge. And then the entrant must not throw up for five minutes.”

(Okay, that second line wasn’t in the rules, but I feel it was implied.)

After everyone was shoo-ed out of the “arena,” for judges’ sample-collecting (or so we thought), it came time to serve our black-eyed pea entry. We stood behind our dishes and handed out small taste to people coming down the line. At this point, we noticed that one of the employees had passed out ballots to everyone in line. St. Pauli Girl and I looked at each other, then noticed there was no judges’ table! Apparently, the contest had turned into a popularity vote while we weren’t looking. And, since we didn’t know anyone there, we also quickly realized we would not be standing on the podium at the end of the contest to receive a blue ribbon.

Whatever. We received a lot of favorable comments and had a pretty good time (probably as a result of the $50 wine tab we ran up). Finally, it came time to reveal the winners of the contest. One of the owners, a cross between Les Nessman and Buffalo Bill, took to the stage:

“In third place, why it’s defending champion and local celebrity chef Rachel Ratatouille.”

I glanced at St. Pauli Girl, “At least you beat a celebrity chef if you won.”

The owner continued, “And in second place, how about this, I can’t believe it. It’s our own warehouse employee Jimmy Dale!”

“Uh huh, I can see where this is going,” I said to St. Pauli Girl.

“In first place, holy cow! Well shut my mouth and slap me silly, it’s my own girlfriend Peggy Sue!”

Now I don’t doubt that those three people truly did receive the most winning votes based on the incestuous nature of the contest. But if you’re going to charge people $25, don’t you want to even try to appear to be on the up and up and at least pretend to follow the rules that you dangled in front of contestants in order to get their $25 entry fee?

I later pointed this out in a complaint to their website. I never heard back; I guess they were all busy spending the prize money at Rebecca Ratatouille’s restaurant.