Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Just Out of Curiosity...

Who keeps visiting my blog from NDSU?

I ask because The Feared Redhead attended UND, and has friends from school in Wahpeton.

Small world.


Thanks for the Memory to Two Babes and a Brain via Blackfive.

The Babes recently visited Walter Reed Army Medical to give aid and comfort to our wounded soldiers. While there, they met a wounded soldier named Joshua Sperling who showed him one lovely card that had been sent to him:

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Awwww... Now isn't that just sweet? It's so charming to know that there are people out there who are willing to express their respectful, "I-Support-The-Troops-But-Oppose-The-War" dissent. I'm sure it warmed the hearts of the soldier and his family. It certainly made my day.

Ugh. Even being sarcastic about it, that made me ill. How disgusting. Don't get me wrong, I know that not all opponents of the war are this vile. But increasingly, a certain fringe element is becoming more and more strident in their rhetoric, becoming more and more hateful. It's obvious that whomever wrote this is a truly disturbed individual, and sadly, a young souldier had to suffer futher at the hands of someone he was wounded defending. It makes me sad and angry and sick to my stomach.

But there's something we can do. We don't have to rail against the evil, we can reinforce the good. Michelle Malkin has provided an address where you can send the good soldier a PROPER card. Follow the link, jot down the address, buy a card, and mail it. Let the young man know that most of us wish him well, and appreciate his sacrifice.

The Best Crow I Ever Had

Being first year new parents, The Feared Redhead and I don't often get a chance to get away from the house to pursue grownup activites, especially not together. Before last night, the last time we were able to do so was on our anniversary back in July. Last night was a welcome change. The occasion was TFR's work Holiday (twitch) Party. We left the house about 6:55 and arrived late, but didn't get home until almost 10:00. It was wonderful.

The party was held in a new restaurant here in Eugene called Vaquero, which has the same owner as the excellent Red Agave restaurant just down the street, and Oh.My.Lord! This place is now on my top ten list of favorite restaurants.

I have several criteria by which I judge whether a restaurant is an excellent restaurant or merely a good one. They are: Proactive Service; Attention to Detail; and Exceptional Cuisine. In all three categories, Vaquero shone last night.

Proactive Service: The difference between Good Service and Exceptional Service is not only the speed and accuracy with which the service is provided, but the effort or lack of effort required by the diner to obtain it. Last night I could be very very lazy. The level of water in my glass never dropped below 1/3 before it was refilled, without my having to do a thing. In most cases, summoning the staff was as simple as making eye contact, and in the one exception it was even easier: I hadn't even made eye contact yet when they were ready to assist. The fact that our hostess was an extremely attractive blond with a voice like silk didn't hurt. The only shortcoming was the amount of time it took the main course to arrive, but given that we were a party of around 50 and the entrees were not precooked, I'm inclined to overlook that, especially since the aforementioned hostess saw fit to place her hand lightly on my back and keep me appraised of the status of my plate. Take your time, my dear, take your time.

Attention to Detail: This was evident in many areas: The decor of the restaurant was an eclectic yet oddly tasteful mix of modern and classic elements: Dark wood and dim light, with floors of highly polishes particle board -- you'd think it would look unfinished, but it gave the decor an edge I really liked. The hardware in the bathroom was hammered copper with just a hjint of patina -- gorgeous. The aforementioned service was not only proactive, but also devoted to said details. At different times TFR and I left our seats to use the facilites, in both cases, our waiter had replaced our silverware and refolded our napkins. The presentatrion of our plates was understated but precise -- no wasted effort, but nothing left undone either.

Exceptional Cuisine: Three things make the food itself exceptional in any restaurant. Those three things are: Preparation, Presentation, and Palate.

When it comes to preparation, I expect an excellent meal to be cooked precisely as it should be, nothing even a bit overdone or underdone. Such was the case last night. I ordered my Petite Filet Mignon medium rare, and it arrived at my seat, wait for it.... medium rare. It was cooked exactly as I wanted it, pink in the middle but not bloody, tender and just the right temperature. The vegetables were cooked to the point that the no longer had that raw crunch, but they didn't show a single sign of wilt.

As for Presentation, that's a subjective issue, it's like art -- either you like it or you don't. I liked it. A steak dinner should not be overly fancy in it's presentation: Perfect grill marks on the meat, a little sauce pooled next to it, a bit of overlap of the elements, perhaps a small green garnish. That's what I got. Dessert was, appropriately, another matter, a baroque swirl of flavors and sauces, a medley of pastry and ice cream, with just a tasteful hint of powdered sugar giving support.

What I expect from the Palate is twofold: I want flavors tha compliment and complement each other, and I want to be served food I normally wouldn't or couldn't cook for myself -- if I wanted more familiar foods, I'd be at a more pedestrian restaurant. I got what I wanted. Don't get me wrong -- I cook a mean steak, but this one was an effort of love, and the accompanying dishes were both new and delicious, ant they neither upstaged the steak nor were they eclipsed by it. The one dish I did not like was the potatoes, and that was simply a matter of personal preference. It was obviously well made, and everyone else loved it. The sauce on the steak was some sort of tangy/spicy/sweet sauce, perfectly done, enhancing the steak's flavor without masking it. I've never before bit into a tender, sucvculent peppercorn. And the vegetables -- again, perfect. They were a grilled mixture of red bell peppers, zucchini, and King Oyster Mushrooms. I didn't get any peppers, which is just as well, because I don't really like them. But here's the thing -- and this is where I get the title of this post -- I don't really like Zucchini either, and I *HATE* mushrooms. Or at least I did -- until last night. The squash was just right, and the mushrooms? Well, they were ALMOST better than the steak. they were not mushy at all, but rather tender with a bit of a crunch, and they tasted meaty, and had absorbed the flavors of their baste, which I believe was the same sauce as that on the steak.

The beverages were a mixed bag. Because we were a huge party, the whole menu was pretty limited, not the regular menu of the restaurant. We had a choice of three complimentary cocktails, and I chose poorly. But again, this was a matter of personal taste, and I just picked the wrong beverage. TFR's was delicious. From there we moved on and purchased a glass of wine with the meal, selecting a blended red from Northern Spain that included Tempranillo grapes and which our waiter/sommelier informed us would go excellently with the steak. He was absolutely right. It was bolder and more full-bodied than our regular Pinot Noir, but not a heavy, overbearing wine. Is was also very smooth, and laked a lot of the bite of tannin that I don't like in stronger reds. The flavor lingered longer at the back of the mouth, and was very fruity, with hints of plum and berries. Almost perfect -- it stood up to the steak without taking over.

The appetizers, salad, and desserts were excellent as well. The appetizers consisted of coconut praws with a guava dipping sauce, bacon-wrapped dates, and sweet potato fritters. All were delicious, and cooked to perfection. While the prawns were the tastiest, I most enjoyed the fritters, because they were interestingly delicious -- an intriguing blend of sweet and savory, with one dominant herb flavor I could almost but not quite identify -- the waiter suspected it was the cilantro. I normally don't like salad dressing, but the savory dressing last night was actually tasty -- sorry if that's faint praise, but coming from me that's a high compliment. The desserts consisted of a banana cake (which tasted like banana brad would taste if it were made by the angels) with banana ice cream, a lime tart, and a chocolate espresso decadence with coffee ice cream that even The (normally coffee-hating) Feared Redhead thought was delicious.

The adult company, pleasant conversation, and festive atmosphere of giving and receiving gifts, and just plain getting out for the evening, only increased the pleasure of the evening. Indeed, a good time was had by all.