Sunday, March 21, 2010

the world's most boring travel blog post

I have three trips coming up in the next ten months and I'm trying to figure out the best approach to booking travel. Yeah, this is how I spend glorious early spring Sundays. Shut up.

Memorial Day weekend: DC to Boston for my college reunion. (Also: hello, Internet! Now you sort of know how old I am!)
Fourth of July weekend: DC to Ann Arbor for a wedding.
Weekend of November 13th: DC to Sonoma County, CA, for a wedding.

Details: I can take some extra vacation days around the first to see friends and family. The last might also be extended for some vacationing in California wine country. The middle one will be an up-and-back.
Resources: One round trip ticket available via miles on US Air. One 2008 Mazda 3i five-door. Lots of luggage.
Obstacles: Vile and deep-seated loathing for the process of scheduling travel.

I realize that sounds a bit vitriolic, but have you tried to book a flight these days? There is no such thing as the lowest fare, and if you manage to find an airplane leaving your desired airport at a time when normal humans are actually awake and available to travel, then more power to you.

All of my options come up as leaving at dark-thirty in the morning, or with a layover lasting the length of an elephant's gestational period, which at least is somewhat convenient in that you can just sleep in the terminal and give up on booking a nice hotel.

I'm thinking it makes the most sense to use the miles trip for the California journey, as those tickets are the most expensive (and that trip will also require a rental car). Of course, it's also the trip least likely to be available on that particular airline.

Whereas USAir flies to Boston approximately every forty-eight seconds here, so it would be super-easy to use the miles on that trip. Still, the Boston trip is the only one that could conceivably be done via car. If so, then in at least one direction it will be just me, and while I don't mind that drive, I can think of better ways to spend eight hours at a stretch. And the one-way plane fare to get my ride-share up to Boston is almost as expensive as a round-trip (awesome!) in the first place.

The easiest option is just to suck it up, book all three trips, and be done with it, but of course that feels like a cop-out. What if fares go down? What if fares go up? What if we get to keep our shoes on but have to fly naked? Honestly, if we can achieve this, why can't we dematerialize and reconstruct our atoms in a new place?

The fallout of all of this is that I just don't want to travel anymore and my brain is looking for new and creative ways to avoid it. Yes, that's right; instead of just forking over some cash to the airlines, my brain is going, "What if you tried to hitchhike/bike/run across the country for charity instead?" or "Surely you're developing viral encephalitis and won't be able to go." This is a ridiculous statement for many very obvious reasons, not least if which is that travel is one of my few major passions; there's no way I should be so willing to chuck it all and hole up in my house instead. It's just such a pain to try to get it all squared away.

I think it'd be easier to go back for that advanced degree in physics and build the damn transporter.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

it's a RISk

We went to the bar at RIS last night for happy hour and to sample the menu. Our bartender told us he was new, which unfortunately was a harbinger of the rest of the evening. While he did fine when it was just me and Gennaro at the bar, as it got busier and our other dining companions joined us, he forgot to fire orders and couldn't keep up with the pace of things; we waited far too long (at least forty-five minutes, although thanks to good company, I didn't feel pressed to check my watch) for entrees after an appetizer, and probably a good thirty minutes for the bar food, which we ordered when we were essentially the only people there, around 5:30 p.m.

Sietsema's review mentioned generous portions, but I have to wonder if there's been a readjustment based on that comment. The Pan Roasted Rockfish with grapefruit brûlé, sunchokes, spinach and citrus glaze ($25) had completely crispy skin and flaky flesh, a textbook preparation, but it was a very small portion, the accoutrements almost nonexistent. Sardines lightly breaded and pan fried with pine nuts, sweet onions, verjus and golden raisins ($13) were likewise excellent -- phenomenal flavor and just the right application of the Mediterranean pine nut-raisin topping -- but the plural "s" is something of a misnomer. One single lonely sardine ... Well, to be fair, at any other restaurant in the area, I don't think I'd find it that odd, but my expectations of a greater food-to-price ratio had been raised by the review. (I should note that we didn't order the crudos, which is the dish he calls out specifically as being a large portion relative to others in the city.)

Then again, saying the restaurant has a "heavy hand" with the plating isn't necessarily wrong (whether it's good or bad remains to be seen). We asked the kitchen to do a half-portion of the Mushroom Pappardelle with butternut squash, roasted chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and Parmesean (sic) ($18), and if that was truly a half-portion, then I recommend getting the full plate only if you are famished or running a marathon the next day. The components were individually lovely, and the elements of nuttiness in the mushroom noodles and the chestnuts played off the squash well, but it didn't entirely tie together -- although in this case I'm inclined to think that's because, due to the timing issues, it came out a bit cold; at the right temperature, I think this had the potential to be a very good dish.

My favorite dish was probably the Bar Tart of caramelized endive, walnuts, blue cheese, and grapes ($6.30), topped with lightly dressed greens, all on a flaky round of puff pastry. I know I've seen peoplerail against this combination before, but in this presentation (instead of as a plated salad) it was really fantastic, the cheese just melted enough to unify the sweet-salty-creamy-peppery elements. In the future, I would go back and get this and a glass of wine during the "Rush Hour" happy hour -- the place is less than three blocks from my office -- and leave happy after that.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

that took ... guts

My last night in Atlanta for annual meeting, I had a phenomenal time, and an outrageously good meal, with my friend Betty and her husband the other night at Linton Hopkins' gastropub, Holeman & Finch. Perhaps my favorite memory of the evening would be the great discussion over the veal fries, which has to be shared:
Husband: "What are veal fries?"
Me: "Well, given that it's the only 'part' on the "parts" section of the menu that doesn't have an anatomical name, um ..."
(Betty and I lock eyes; I'm pretty sure we're thinking the same thing) Betty: "I'm sure you can ask; the waitress will know."
(waitress appears)
Waitress: "Do you have any questions about the menu?"
Husband: "Yes; what are the veal fries?"
(very brief awkward pause)
Waitress: "They are ... testicles."
Me: "Yeah, it kind of had to be, right?"
Betty: "It's basically the only body part you wouldn't list verbatim on the menu."
Husband: " ... "
Waitress: "They're really good, in fact."
Me: "It's not that unusual; think Rocky Mountain Oysters."
Husband: " ... "
Betty: "Cojones, you know."
Me: "Ooh! Why can't they just put that on the menu? That would be great!"
(another brief awkward pause)
Husband: "I'm gonna try 'em."
Betty: " ... "
Me: " ... "
Waitress (cheerily): "All right then!"
(she leaves; Betty and I look at each other again)
Betty: "Well, that was unexpected.
Me: "I think I need more wine."

In any case, they turned out pretty well -- texturally akin to sweetbreads, and topped with a jalapeno/shallot/orange salad that was far more interesting flavor-wise than the parts themselves.

This morning, Betty told me that she was talking to her sister yesterday, and they had a conversation along the following lines:

Sister: "Blah blah blah wedding planning blah blah blah."
Betty: "So, we ate testicles last night."
Sister: "Wow, no segue there."
Betty: "There's no good segue for veal balls."
Sister: "Quote of the day!"

All in all, though, the meal was pretty fantastic. I had the steak tartare, a luscious and herby version topped with potato straws that epitomized the crunchy, salty, ur-potato, and mussels in a bacon-rye whiskey sauce that just begged to be sopped up with excellent pain au levain. The deviled eggs (particularly the sunchoke one), fried pickles (crunchy and spicy), beet-and-blue arugula salad (sweet and peppery), and chocolate toffee pudding (....yum) all hit exactly the right notes in each bite, and no serving was too overwhelming to deal with. It was a great finale to a great time in Atlanta (filled with much excellent food and company, to be sure) ... I definitely had a ball.