Tag Archives: Restaurants

Texture, Substance, and Taste

We hadn’t gone out for sushi in quite a while, so when she suggested having dinner at East before the play we were seeing on Wednesday night, I agreed enthusiastically. We’ve been meeting there for pre-theatre dinner for years–since before she moved to New York, and long before we shared the Country House. It’s one of our favorites: comfortable and convenient, and the food is always skillfully prepared and elegantly presented.

We chose an array of items to share: a fresh, crisp green salad with a warm-and-tart ginger dressing; vegetable tempura with an incredibly light batter, which prompted a physics discussion about how the texture of carrot tempura is so interestingly different from any other method of cooking a carrot; potato wedges with an even lighter coating of the batter that had been infused with garlic and served with a roe aioli dipping sauce; and, of course, some sushi.  We both chose rolls: tuna belly and scallion; eel and avocado; and smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese (or “Philadelphia” roll).

The eel was rich, well-cooked, and basted with a sweet barbecue sauce.  There’s nothing slimy or raw-fishy about it. But it’s called eel, so for many it’s off-putting. Eel needs a new marketing campaign.

Tuna belly is almost flaky, a little less sweet and not as firm as the “steak” variety but not as oily or salty as the stuff you might slather with mayonnaise and spread on white bread. The creaminess of the avocado made for a very delicate pairing.

I’m a big fan of smoked salmon and cream cheese, but I prefer them on bagels.  With cucumber, rice, and nori, it seemed an odd combination to me, but she enjoyed it a great deal.

At the theatre, we each found elements we liked and didn’t, aspects we agreed about and points of collegial dispute. As with our trip to The Country House, The Last Ship is in very early previews, so it’s hard to say how much will change before they open, and unfair to judge it too harshly.  The production was beautifully designed and skillfully presented. We enjoy sorting out what works for us and what doesn’t even if we don’t think a show is perfect.  Whether it’s a matter of texture, substance, or taste, not everyone likes the same things–sort of like dinner at a Japanese restaurant.

A Side of Snobbishness

Friends of mine are working on a new musical, and the only chance I had to see it was on Wednesday night.  The theatre is a long trip, almost twice as far as it is to NYC, but it’s a pretty drive to a charming town and a lovely theatre that does bold, interesting, innovative work.  So, even though it meant that chicken I roasted was the last Dinner at the Country House since Sunday, I headed northeast.

A few years ago, this theatre produced a show I co-wrote; one night after a performance, our director took my collaborator and me to a local pub for dinner. Now, I try to leave time for dinner at this pub every time I go to that theatre. I honestly don’t remember what main I ordered on that first trip; it’s a side dish that stuck with me. Cottage Fries are round slices of potato, so named because they vaguely resemble the shingles that might tile a cottage roof. These are mandoline-sliced, ridged rather than with flat sides. They’re heavily spiced, with very crisp exteriors and a tender center; I suspect deep frying.

Most Cottage Fries recipes I’ve found call for oven-frying with a long baking time.  These are, I’m pretty sure, deep fried.  My writing partner, who found them so tasty as to be addictive, referred to them as Crack Fries.  I doubt there is any illicit substance in the seasoning blend; I taste cayenne, salt, and paprika, and they’re served with a dipping sauce that includes dill, leeks, and sour cream–but who knows what else is in there?  The Harp and Dragon isn’t telling.

I met a friend for dinner before the show–of course, at the Harp and Dragon, and, of course, I ordered the Cottage Fries to share. She’s a theatre professor at a relatively-nearby college. She told me of a particularly disheartening master class that had been given for her students by two theatre professionals.  It seems neither of the guests–the music director for a long-running Broadway show and the director who supervises touring casts of several mega-hit productions–has any real interest in new musicals. The music director could only name one currently-writing team, and the director avoids working on anything new because “I expect to get paid for my work; I’m saving for a country house.”

(Yes, that did sting a little.)

These two have the musical theatre equivalent of cushy corporate jobs. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making a living, but the suggestion that anything other than working on big-hit shows is worthwhile does not bode at all well for the future of the musical theatre. Where, after all, will their next jobs come from?

There are lots of jokes about how training in the theatre best prepares you for a career in fast food, but I don’t usually hear the suggestion of them from people who are working in the theatre. Writing doesn’t yet pay all the bills for me or most of my peers. Many of the actors and musicians I know are primarily employed outside the theatre.  It’s a challenge to keep one’s craft alive as something other than a hobby, though even avocational art can be fulfilling. I don’t know if our waiter was an actor or a painter or a sculptor or a med student, but we tipped her well.  We would like fries with that–especially when they’re as good as the ones at Harp and Dragon.

Very Meta

We didn’t have dinner at the Country House last night, but we did have dinner near the Country House.  Or, rather, near The Country House.

I finished teaching and walked downtown; she finished at the office and walked north; we met in the middle for the fall’s first “school night” trip to the theatre.

Theatre-date dinners require some strategizing.  When a show has an 8 PM curtain, there’s time for a relaxed meal before; an intermissionless play with a 7 PM curtain means it won’t be too late for dinner after; but a full-length play starting at 7 leaves just enough time to grab something nearby.

A respectable pizza-and-sandwich shop awaited us at the corner of 47th and 8th. There were two stools at the counter by the window from which we could people-watch while eating. (After she took a photo of our dinner, she realized she hadn’t been mindful of the passers-by. “That could have been Alec Baldwin!” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.)

My pepperoni-spinach-and-onion slice was remarkably tasty, a little like getting a salad along with the pizza.  She went with the cheese-only variety; a purist.  Thin but pliable NYC-style crust, hot and quick. It wasn’t the most luxurious meal we’ve ever had, but it was just right.

photo 2

Dinner, near…

THE COUNTRY HOUSE

…THE COUNTRY HOUSE

(The Country House  is a new play about a theatrical family–actors and a playwright-to-be–and contains lots of literary references, as well as a “reading” of a new play.  Since last night was only the second preview, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss the performance in detail.  The play is very self-referential.  But then, so is writing about it in a blog about dinner.)

Road Trip #1

Absent official guidelines for this journal, it was unclear whether only meals consumed in the Country House should be recorded. So, when there’s time to write and something interesting, we’ll try to include away-games, too.

* * *

The alarm rang at 4:15 AM. “Do I even like these people?” I mumbled. And then realized that, yes, indeed, I do. So this long-awaited road trip to Massachusetts was not unreasonable, even considering the painful wake-up call.

The wedding that occasioned the trip was lovely and unconventional—exactly like the couple who were celebrating their marriage, right down to the church-supper-style reception in the church hall: simple, hearty, tasty fare: vegetarian chili and brown rice; angel-hair pasta with chicken and a variety of sauces; salad and crudités so fresh they might have been harvested that morning; a beautiful, single-layer, white-frosted chocolate cake; apple-cider donuts; seltzers and juices: a rainbow of flavors served on tables clothed in the same rainbow.

Our route passed through Hartford, where another friend has recently taken a teaching position. Since the Massachusetts festivities would be concluded by early afternoon, the perfect opportunity presented itself (and Siri provided directions) for a visit.

I’ve seen Hartford mostly on foot, having run the Half Marathon there for the past couple of years. During one of those races, I saw a restaurant that looked especially interesting, and meant to try it sometime. I didn’t recognize it by name when our friend suggested dinner there, and was delighted when we pulled into its parking lot last night to meet and I realized we were at that very spot.

Tisane is like three shops in one: a tea-and-coffeehouse, a bar, and a restaurant with a small but eclectic menu. We had a comfortable outdoor table, great conversation, and quite good food. I don’t much care for chicken wings (too much skin and bone, and not enough flesh), but like the “Buffalo” flavors: the Buffalo chicken sandwich was lightly breaded breast meat, a splash of hot sauce and a blue cheese aioli, lettuce, and tomato on a ciabatta roll; served with fries sprinkled with blue cheese. (The traditional celery and carrots were missing, but I had plenty of vegetables at lunch.) She ordered an espresso-rubbed  steak and I tried not to drop my jaw at the confirmed tea drinker ordering something that involved coffee.  And ate every bite, including the spinach, mushrooms, and garlic mashed potato sides.

When the food is great and the company even better, it is not surprising when the evening stretches a little longer than expected; we left for home at the time we anticipated arriving, but such is life.  And life is good.