Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Take on Restaurant Week 2010: Lots of Eating and Pictures

It's Restaurant Week once again here in Madison, WI! I've never participated in any of the Restaurant Weeks in the years I've lived here, and I have to say, I'm sorry I've missed it for this long. I think the idea of making a whole week-long event out of eating is just fantastic. Yes, yes, I know this also happens every time I go visit my family in Chicago, specifically the week of Thanksgiving, the week of Christmas, the weekend of July 4th, Superbowl Sunday, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, Fridays, Saturdays, weekends in conclusion, we eat a lot. But I think when you live in one city for a long time, you keep going to your old favorites and forget about trying new things. And then it's Restaurant Week, and you have a reason to try new places! The restaurants offer a $25 3-course meal, and some offer a cheaper lunch option. Most of these are places I wouldn't regularly go to because of the high prices, so there you go! Everybody wins!

I hit up one lunch place and two dinner places this week. And dudes, I am full. Maybe permanently. Or at least until a beautifully layered sandwich comes my way. Check out the delicious food! Disclaimer: these are not reviews of the restaurants. Similarly to my non-review of Carmen, this is just my experience. And some hot ass pictures of food.

I started with lunch at the Ocean Grill. As many of you know, I hate seafood. I think it actually even made it on to my shit list! But, I have started liking some fish. Mostly the lighter, non-fishy fare. So, although the Ocean Grill would not be somewhere I'd usually go, it was a successful outing! Pictured below are the meals of myself and companions:

Roasted tomato and shrimp bisque

House salad of mixed greens, chèvre, brazil nuts, vidalia onions, blueberry vinaigrette

Grilled Ahi Tacos - rare ahi tuna, pineapple-mango salsa

Almond crusted tilapia with green beans, citrus brown butter

Sorbet with fresh fruit

And, one special feature about the restaurant itself: even the cutlery is fish themed!

My first of two dinners was at La Brioche, one of my favorite breakfast places in town. I actually wasn't even aware that they served dinner until one of my co-workers told me he played piano there on Friday and Saturday nights. I'd recommend going, especially on a date! How romantic - tasty, lovely food in a warm, homey atmosphere, accompanied by beautiful piano music in the background? Perfect!

I had three companions with me for this outing, and we did a pretty amazing job of covering the entire Restaurant Week menu. In fact, we got every item possible except for one. Good job, everybody!

Spicy chickpea cake served with organic arugula salad with orange cumin vinaigrette

Organic local winter spinach salad from Richland Center with roasted beets, pepperchini, fried leeks & Maytag blue cheese

Mushroom ragoût layered with assorted vegetables served with housemade celery root chips

Free range smoked chicken from Pecatonica Farms, served with root vegetable gratin, homemade applesauce with dried cherries & a maple infused braise reduction

Grilled organic pork chop from Lange Farms with sweet potatoes, spiced apples & a golden raisin broth

Apple and cranberry cobbler served with housemade toasted walnut cinnamon gelato

Brioche bread pudding served with roasted chestnuts, molasses cream & a sweet rum glaze

Chocolate intensity cake with rich fudge frosting, served with fresh whipped cream

And my favorite feature of this restaurant - the best wallpaper in town!

My second dinner was a sort of funny one. My friend and I had picked The Mariner's Inn on sort of a whim; I'd never been, my companion loves seafood, and the website looked hilarious. Yes, we did have to wait quite awhile although we'd made a reservation, but whatever, the company was awesome. And, I gotta say, the food was worth it. And the atmosphere was way, way, way more than worth it. And, it was a zillion times worth it when I ordered a dirty martini, which I'd sort of forgotten about. Oh my god, I love dirty martinis so much!

Now, I bet you're probably wondering about this place. And I can answer all of your potential questions in the following sentence: Yes. This is the place from which the Betty Lou Cruises (Madison's Premier Cruise Line!) take off. Awesome. Just awesome. Anyhow, on to the food...

The famous clam chowder

Mixed greens with glazed pecans, dried cherries & bleu cheese dressed with maple balsamic

Classic Surf and Turf combo: an 8 oz. center cut top sirloin paired with a succulent 6 oz. lobster tail

Macadamia encrusted chicken: a tender breast of chicken set atop a pool of raspberry chambord sauce & topped with mango salsa

Chocolate decadence cake

Betty's cheesecake with Door County cherry sauce

Now I'm sure you're wondering to yourself, "where in the world is the Mariner's Inn?" Good thing I took a picture of the map! It's right there, where the big arrow is pointing. Those grease spots are to scale.

I bet you're also wondering where my "favorite feature of the restaurant" is. Well, my friends, I have to be honest. The decor of this place was so great that I couldn't pick just one favorite. How would one even begin to narrow down from the following brilliant selection of items?

Like the porthole through which you could view a very realistic ship...

...or the aptly named Captains Quarters, which could have been anything from an office to a private dining room to a broom closet. What's behind this door, we'll never know. Only the captain knows these kinds of secrets.

Oh wait! Remember this olde-timey diving mask? It was sitting on the bar next to a half-drunk vodka in a plastic cup, just like in the olden days. Now that's classy.

See that lady? That lady used to be on the front of the ship, I bet. And the wavy-shaped white thing on the left side of this picture is a big ole set of jaws. From some kind of vicious shark, I assume.

Wait! My favorite part has got to be the bathroom doors, on which was written "Buoys" and "Gulls." Okay, this is brilliant. Buoys and Gulls, get it? GET IT?! How could anything beat this brilliance? Also, when any Simpsons reference is found in the real world, that's really exciting. Yeah, I think this might be my favorite thing.

So, that was restaurant week! I should probably end with some kind of awesome exclamation like "Well, my wallet is empty, but my stomach is fuller than it's ever been!!! Right, gals?!"

I mean, right? RIGHT GALS?!

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Very Own Golden Girls

January 15th, 2010 2:00 pm EST

Holy eff, the air is warm. The sun in shining and it's doing more than just being bright; it's actually creating warmth.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is presently holding a lot of old people. I mean, really a lot.

A bug just landed on my chest. People walking by are staring as I fumble down inside my shirt to get it out, grinning stupidly from ear to ear.

I mean, that's how happy I am. Stupid happy. And it's only going to get stupider.

January 18th, 2010, 7:50 pm EST

You know it's amazing when you're regularly this happy, this satisfied, this joyful in your everyday life, and then you go off to Florida, and all of a sudden it gets even better. When loveliness escalates, when the barometer of beauty explodes because it's never measured anything like this before.

Because these people you were with, these are the people who you've known, who have known you for over half your life, who have changed and refreshingly stayed the same. These people who are unconditional and fiercely loving. And you need it as much now as you did when you were 14, or when you were 8. You may not have known it at the time, but they did. These are the people who know you. These are the people who make you better when you're already pretty damn good.

In a time when you finally understand how to make conscious decisions to surround yourself with positive people and goodness, you also get to witness the lucky and lovely fact that they're the one who have been here all along.

To think you don't want to go back to your everyday life when you love it as much as you do, then yeah, it must have been amazing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mark Lindsay is a Genius

Are you familiar with the website Awkward Family Photos? It's a good one, although not my favorite because I think it ripped off Sexy People, but that's another story. Anyhow, I check AFP pretty often, and saw a hilarious entry today entitled Mind of a Married Man. Check it out:

Awesome. Obviously. So, being the hilarious gal I am, I immediately posted a link on my friend Mark's facebook wall, asking why this brilliant idea wasn't included in his recent wedding photos. Well, my friends, as hilarious a gal as I may be, Mr. Mark Lindsay is just this much more hilarious. Not but 47 minutes later, I received a post from him, simply stating "Who says it wasn't??" and the following picture:

And I though I was hilarious. Well shut my mouth.

P.S. That's Mark and his wife Alexa. Get it?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 - Discretion, Reem, Discretion!

Happy Nude Year! Another year older, another year of more maturity, obviously. You see, I spent much of my New Year's Eve making fart noises with my friends in my living room. Good times!

So, for the last couple years, I've done a "Year in Review" blog entry, which pretty much ended up being a bunch of pictures and me linking to my own blog entries. Fun stuff. I thought about doing it again this year, but, I dunno. It's been a really full year, without a doubt the fullest of my entire life, and I guess I'm not sure how much of it I want to review so publicly. You see, a little over a year ago, I learned a very valuable lesson from my mother. Here's how it went:

I was making banana bread, waiting for my friend Genia to arrive at my parents' house in Illinois - she was going to visit for a couple of nights. She arrived, and I got all excited, but was still trying to make the banana bread, in a very unfocused way. As Genia and I talked a mile a minute, I forgot what I was doing and basically dumped an entire bag of walnuts into the batter without measuring or thinking about it. My mom looked over and exclaimed, "Discretion, Reem! Discretion!" And oh man, I listened. In one fell swoop, I stopped pouring walnuts and I stopped telling the whole world my business. It has paid off so much. Best advice I've received in quite a long time. Thanks, Mom!

So anyhow, I re-read my 2008 Year in Review, and decided I didn't need to do another boring survey. As I glimpsed through the survey, however, one thing did catch my mind. The last question of the whole thing was simply: Plans for 2009? Here is how I answered:

Stick with this whole less tumultuous, quieter thing I've got going on. Less drama. More of what I want. More of what I need. A big trip somewhere with Sarah to celebrate our 30th bdays. Keep eating right and cooking awesomely. Evaluate exactly what is keeping me in Madison. Buy a better Ipod. Book club! Keep writing, specifically my blog.

Well! Pretty good plans, eh? Let's review.

Better iPod: I got a new iPod (iPod Classic), and just in time too - 6 days before the end of the year! Just wait for a zillion awesome playlists, and a "shuffle" feature that will take you from Peter, Paul, and Mary to Tenacious D to Beethoven. It's sort of weird...

Keep writing: I kept writing! Yes, there was a good two month period in which I published literally nothing on this blog (sorry, babies!), but I was writing a ton - just not posting it here. It's the non-public sort of writing; not so much funny or entertaining or anybody's business, but, you know. Important. Necessary. Sanity-saving. Lovely. So, that was wonderful. And, I joined Miriam Hall's Contemplative Writing class, which helped me focus my writing and be more mindful about the actual process of writing, how I approach it, how I come out of it, and even what kinds of materials I use. As Tara and I talked about today, it is amazing and so rewarding to have structure in the approach to writing, to have even a measly two hours a week in which you do nothing but write (or meditate and write and share and listen). To dedicate a small piece of your life to writing, and having no other options or distractions during that time. That's a pretty great gift!

Book club: club did not last. Which is okay, because scheduling is hard and sometimes it feels like school, and I rebel. But I did read a lot this year. And I'm excited about reading again! I have to admit, I got seriously burnt out on reading during grad school. A postmodern theory-heavy curriculum combined with a steadily increasing level of anxiety and restlessness in my mind during that time did not make for a pleasant "outside reading" experience. I'd have to re-read paragraphs ten or more times in a row just to be able to pay attention to the words I was reading, not to mention my struggles to understand it all. Seriously, hours and hours spent on like ten pages. Barf. It probably goes without saying that I turned away from reading for fun for a long, long time. I'm so glad to be back. Favorite books read this year: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison, The Shack by WIlliam P. Young, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. They've all changed my life, a little bit or a lot. Also enjoying bits and pieces of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, but I haven't finished it yet. And...yes, I am supposed to start reading Twilight. I promised one of my coworkers I would. And I'll be able to relate to my teenage students better. And my sister...who's not a teenager, but enjoys vampires very much.

Evaluate what's keeping me in Madison: Well shoot! I can't say I really evaluated it consciously, but I definitely decided I'm happy and finally feel sure that I want to stay here. Yes, it's true. After a mere seven and a half years of living here in Madison, I'm finally ready to stay. I like it here. I'm happy here. I love my job and my friends and my home and my life. And I've stopped comparing Madison to other cities. And it has worked - I'ma stay here, folks! It's about time I decided this, eh?

Eating right and cooking awesomely. Well...I'd say this had to be one extreme or the other. For example, when I do it, I do it up real good. Or, somebody else does it up real good for me, which is always much appreciated. But...then I go on vacation and eat seventeen zillion of everything delicious. So...yeah, this one sort of happened. But whatever I did, I promise, I did it with gusto! Also, since Christopher changed my kitchen, I feel happier being in it...

A big trip somewhere with Sarah. Okay, so we didn't celebrate our 30th birthdays together. Although I had an absolutely marvelous birthday celebration this year (well, two of them), I knew Sarah and I had to get together at some other point. You know, so we wouldn't totally suck. So, we met in Michigan and had a crazy old time full of partying and wild her parents' house. And then we got to hang out again at Mark's wedding, taking a mini-road trip from Providence down to Long Island. I'd say those were big trips, and we're usually celebrating when we're together, so...done and done!

More of what I want/More of what I need: Check. Check plus. Check and mate. Check it out. I did it. It is done. And done.

Less drama: Again, check! Although, I wouldn't mind a bit more musical theater here and there. Yeah, I love musical theater. So what?

Stick with this whole less tumultuous, quieter thing I've got going on: If there is any advice even close to as good as the Mom-advised DISCRETION, it's that sentence right there. Quiet is good. Alone time is wonderful. Staying still is lovely, and I'm so happy to do it.

So, I'd say it worked out exceptionally well! I've never liked making resolutions because I think they're sort of stupid, but this whole "making plans" thing just might be for me. So, with 362 days from now in mind, here are my plans for 2010:

Keep writing: in any form, public or private, hilarious or personal, contemplative or messy.
Learn Spanish. I don't know why, but there's something telling me to.
Travel. As much as possible. Try to get out of the country at least once this year.
Do things that will result in hilarious or interesting stories (because the experience itself is inevitably awesome). I.e. The Onion Dog, being an extra in the Mustard Museum movie, winning a toilet in an internet contest, etc.
Yoga! I attended my first two classes this week, and have several more on the calender over the next few weeks. Absolutely fantastic.
Keep loving, keep my heart open.
Keep on. Keep up.

Smell you later, 2009! Smooches to all of you! xo