Monday, December 30, 2013

BeJouled

This is a restaurant story, but before I begin I should note that I am no stranger to spices and heat. Long ago, the Lovely Bride was writing the recipe section for the Dragonlance book Leaves of the Inn of the Last Home. For this project I both contributor (gnome chicken, a descendant of my mother's 'city chicken' - breaded pork cubes on a skewer) and a playtester - or rather, play-taster (I have had more courses of Otik's Spiced Potatoes than any man not working at the Inn of the Last Home should have had to endure).

But I was regular play-taster for another recipe in that book - Fizban's Fireball Chili. This was a meat marinade perfected by former roommate Frank, who was, in mad scientist fashion, looking for the perfect chili marinade - one where the burn would "start at the tip of the tongue and continue all the way through the entire digestive system". So I am no stranger to culinary heat. At least, not in my younger days.

[And as an aside, Frank's "killer" chili resurfaced when he visited us in Lake Geneva one year, and served it for our friends. Zeb Cook and Tracy Hickman got into an ironman contest as far as who could tolerate the heat of the chili the longest. Picture two men sitting across the table, sweat pouring down their faces, a small tub of sour cream between them. The first one to reach for the sour cream lost. But I digress.]

So, returning to the present, the Lovely Bride and I got a case of the culinary adventures. Seattle is a foodies' town, yet we have our preferences, the places we go back to, and I am always encouraging her to expand her horizons. So when a copy of Bon Appetit magazine showed up bragging about the Best Restaurants and tagging two of them in Seattle, she was intrigued. Moreso because both of the them, neighbors in the same space with different head chefs, served tartar. The Whale Wins has a lamb tartar, and Joule was shown with its beef tartar. The Lovely Bride loves tartar, and, given a choice between the two, Joule took reservations while The Whale Wins did not, so we opted for Joule. Both restaurants, side by side, were located in Wallingford, and after a few sundry adventures in driving and parking, the kids from the hinterlands of Kent arrived.

The space was large and open, and I recommended to the Lovely Bride that she dress for warmth. I knew that Joule did a Korean barbecue fusion, but had little more than that to go on (remember - Culinary Adventure!) The restaurant is bent around the chef's stations, with a counter overlooking (we like to watch our food these days, but that is another blog entry), the floor concrete but the noise level minor. The staff was polite and prompt, and, apparently learning from previous experiences, prompt on keeping the water glasses filled.

I ordered a gin and tonic with darjeeling, tamarind, and lime, called an R. Kipling, which was a good start. The LB ordered a persimmon drink that she found too bitter. We cross-examined the waitron about allergies and what such things as what honshimeji and parpadelle were, marking us fully as Kenterlanders. We settled on two beef tartars (hers without the aioli, mine with), splitting a noodle dish of spicy rice cake with chorizo and pickled mustard green. The LB, having moved through these culinary wilds successfully, chose a ribeye (with celeriac fries - and yes, I believe that after hours the chefs all get together and make up names like this). I was going to go for the short rib steak, then reversed myself and opted for the octopus, bok choi, and bacon vinaigrette. Kate went for a darker red with dinner and I went with an alberino, a white with sort of a pineapple twang to it.

In any event, the tartar, the cause for our travels arrived, and it was hot. Not thermally - that was at the perfect temperature, neither mushy warm or just-from-the-fridge cold. It was spicy. The salmon aioli moreso. Delicious and not overly spiced, but the spices used were hot. Not tastebud-destroying (I've had enough of that over the years), but definitely a challenge to the unprepared. The two of us exchanged worried glances that our adventurism may had led us into a dangerous part of culinary town.

The spicy rice cake (and note, it says spicy right there, in the title, so its not like we can blame anyone), was moreso. Tasty, crispy around the perimeters, but with more heat that I expected. I was starting to sweat, both literary and figuratively, as the main courses arrived, with the fear that we had ordered an entire meal from the flaming-hot side of the menu.

Then, with the mains, disaster struck. The LB reached out an snared what she thought was a dried beet from the plate and popped it in her mouth, only to discover that it was not a beet but rather a dried pepper - small, pungent, and with the power to strip the paint from the walls.The staff (who apparently are on the lookout for such things) were quick with water, though water does nothing for the heat measured on the scoville scale. Would I be looking for that tub of sour cream?

And with the mains (and the LB getting over the explosion in her mouth), all things good returned. The steak was a perfect rareness (though they did not ask for doneness when they ordered, but it was done nicely nonetheless), and the octopus was incredibly tasty, cooked through but not gummy or rubbery. And bacon. Bacon with octopus. Never ignore the power of the bacon. 

We recovered both our wits and our tastebuds over the course of the meal, and had to pass on a variety of egg-based deserts. And in general, it was not what we expected, but it was something worth checking out. And when we got home, the LB said "You know, I think we should have gone for the LAMB tartar". And if we end up back there, on the other side of the building, I'll write that up as well.

More later,


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Merry Christmas


and a Happy Holiday Season from all of us at Grubb Street

More later,

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dyvers Blogging

So Charles Akins has nice little blog called Dyvers, and he has put together the Great Blog Roll Call for RPGs. And in addition to the Roll Call, he also targets the Best Reads of the Week. And this is great thing, even though that a lot of the description in the roll call has the horrible line "Dark since XXXX", meaning that they are rarely kept going and may have closed up shop entirely.

This is the fate of a lot of gaming blogs, and there are many reasons. A lot of cool stuff has already been said. People are in abeyance with diverse systems until the next D&D arrives. But most importantly, I think that is it because there are a lot more different platforms out there for communication. Long form blogging is a bit more of a challenge in a world where you can slap up an image, a link, or a stray thought at a moment's notice.

But there is a extremely comprehensive listing here, complete with additions and notes. here's what he says about Grubbstreet:
Former TSR author Jeff Grubb's blog. This bad boy mostly focuses on his life and on the world around him, though on occasion he will stray into old tributaries.Updates: Depending on what's going on in his area, between two and twenty entries a month. 
I think that's a pretty fair cop, and a warning that sometime, somewhere, I REALLY should start talking about gaming again. But if you're looking for real content, here's a great place to start.

More later,

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Play: My Dear Watson

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Based on the Original Story by Arthur Conan Doyle, Adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, Directed by Allison Narver. Through December 15

This is a Rep production, top to bottom. You know that in this space I kvetch about how it is called the Seattle Rep, and then they bring in some successful company from elsewhere or a one-person show or puppets, for god's sake, and I opine how I'm not sure that it is living up to the Repertory in the name. However, this adaptation of the classic a Sherlock Holmes novel is both original and native top to bottom. Adapters Pichette and Wright are both actors whose work I've enjoyed, and I've appreciated director Narver's work as well. And the bulk of the capable and competent cast list use the winning phrase "was last seen at the Rep in..." and then lists some of the titles we've reviewed here.

In addition, this could be a play that could easily taken on the road and play with great success back east (take THAT, other Rep companies!). In the theater calender, this would be considered the "safe" holiday play - something you could bring the out-of-town in-laws to, and it pulls out all the stops for stagecraft and presentation. And, of course, the subject is well-known to everyone, as all have encountered Holmes to some degree or another through their years.

And Holmes is hot. We have the action-hero steampunk Holmes on the big screen. We have the sociopathic modern Holmes (US and UK varieties) on the little screen. We have numerous PBS-versions of Holmes still haunting the DVDs, and various other media adaptations. And we have the original texts of course. And of the Holmes stories, the best-known is probably the Hound of the Baskervilles, with its spooky moors and man-killing, glowing yeth hound. And while watching the play I kept referring back to the Basil Rathbone movie version, and I would not be alone.

So we have an extremely popular character in that character's well-known work. Do we call spoilers at this point? Do you have to say "The kids die" about Romeo and Juliet? Does Celine Deon's voice swell in song and you lean over and tell your seatmate "The ship sinks, you know."? But there are some differences between original and adaptation so let us call spoilers and be done with it. Some characters have evaporated, or have their roles taken up by others, and scenes occur that work in the play (they hold a dinner party for the locals to bring everyone onto the stage at once, for example), that are not necessary on the printed page. And it does change the story, but let me deal with the excellent actors, first.

Darragh Kennan is an excellent Holmes, fitting well within the various Holmesian hordes. His Holmes is smug, often haughty,but extremely competent. More than a touch OCD. He knows his tobaccos and accents but not his Shakespeare. He is often wrong. He makes mistakes. He is a much more human Holmes than the iconic version and Kennan plays up the self-satisfied, too-clever-by-half version of him well.

Andrew McGinn balances Holmes acerbic nature as the more welcoming, warmer, more human member of the partnership in Watson. Watson is a continual quandry in Holmesiana, is that he is a capable Doctor but often takes the back seat as the expository character, the one which Holmes reveals his thought process to, and thereby to us. As a result, he tends to come off as a bit of clod, while it is through Watson that we see Holmes in the first place. In Baskervilles, Holmes disappears for a good bit of the plot (part of the first act and almost the entirety of the second) and Watson soldiers on, collecting the clues and interacting with the locals on a level that a chilly Holmes never could.

Oddly, the character that steals the show (and there are several would-be thieves in the talented group), is Connor Toms (previously in Red) as the Canadian heir to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry. Recently imported from the Great White, this adaption runs with the fish-out-of-water comedy throughout, the front-facing Sir Henry trying to shake hands with everyone, tip the servants, and insisting people call him "Hank". He runs into the very proper English with its stoopshouldered serving class and repressed emotions like a hurricane making landfall in Scotland.

I mentioned others engaged in stealing the show as well, both with main roles and as part of the ensemble. Rob Burgess as the horrified butler Barrymore. Marianne Owen as both Barrymore's wife and a wondrous turn as Mrs. Hudson, both tolerant and knowing where to draw the line with her famous tenants. Basil Harris as the Doctor who brings the case to Holmes and serves as an interesting mirror to Watson. Charles Leggett as the bad neighbor with a generations-long grudge, Quinn Franzen as the of-course-he's-a-bit-spotty butterfly hunter and Hana Lass as his slightly-psychic sister. Within the confines of the play, they have a bit more suspicion cast upon each in turn as Watson (and Holmes, when he appears fully) has to examine when dealing with a phosphorescent hound on the moors.

And here's the thing that offended at least one purest in our group - in removing a couple of characters from the book they messed with some of the plot, and ended up in a different final place than the novel. It is interesting, but given the shotgun approach to modern Holmes stories, it is perfectly permissible. But it does feel odd, given that so much is so right. And what bothered me that we got a "villains speech" at the end when the mastermind explains all, which doesn't feel right for Holmes as well. Holmes is the guy that gets it right, explains it all, pulls off the sheet to reveal the entire plan, and the culprit says "Ay, that's correct. It's a fair cop." Not here, and now, a week later, I'm still not sure about it.

The stagecraft, by the way, was the Rep at its best, filled with sliding walls and projected images. They choreograph a chase through Paddington Station that is positively brilliant, capturing the feeling and flavor through other members of the ensemble, sliding pillars, pirouetting staircases, and perfect timing. This is to handle something that theater handles badly, given its limitations - showing a chase which involves more than running from one side of the stage to the other.

So, Hound runs for another week, then must close, so you should order tickets. This was the first Sunday matinee I've been to in a long time where the main floor was sold out, and a friend who knew someone at the ticket office said there would be no rush (last-minute, cheap) tickets. It is popular show, well-down and well-presented, and sums up everything that Rep company is supposed to do for its audience. A very proper, Holmesian Christmas present, indeed.

More later,