High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Virtue: The Big Easy, Day 4.2

I made a lame start to Day 4, partly because my morning on Day 4 was lame, both in the sense that my body refused to leave the bed in timely fashion and because I spent it grading. Lunch was not lame. It was, however, lewd.

So, J, M, and I took a cab to Jackson Square to meet up with AMB and KJ. I really was unprepared for the rage that bubbled up in me as we drove past a truly beautiful spot, and this truly ugly, hateful, pathetic disingenuous moment featuring a lousy excuse for a bag of cells flashed through my mind. Seriously, I'm usually quite in touch with my rage, as you may have noticed. That caught me totally off guard.


We ambled across the street from Cafe Du Monde to a place called the River's Edge Cafe. M could not resist the Taste of New Orleans sampler, AMB simply had to have a Half Muff, and I think KJ and J went for Po' Boys. (It is worth noting that only a day earlier, KJ had declared shrimp on a sandwich to be "weird," but it took him less than 48 hours to become a Po' Boy junkie.) I had the aforementioned jambalaya omelette, which sounds bizarre, but is really one of those "Where have you been all my life?" kind of things.

Service continued to be weird, but I do have to hand it to this weirdness: It was weird even for weird service. The server just kind of . . . forgot that AMB and KJ were there at all about half way through the meal.

There wasn't much time for dilly-dallying. That afternoon featured what I thought to be the only worthwhile sessions of the whole conference: some evolution, some straight population genetics, actually using hap maps for something, rather than just endlessly making them like some kind of gamma-irradiated scarf destined for Tom Baker. And, of course, Jstill had his poster presentation to do. AKS and I accompanied him for moral support and to secure provisions.

This proved challenging because . . . and I am not making this up . . . the Starbucks in the convention center RAN OUT OF COFFEE. Although I was adequately caffeinated, AKS was most definitely not. She was brave, though, and we conquered the snack table with the combined power of the tiny, useless T. rex hands of our ancestors. Ok, so there were some dodgy moments when it looked like there were going to be cheese-based casualties, but after they brought out the tongs, all was well.

We spent some time lurking with the professor by his paper, and then I wandered a bit seeing some posters and talking to a few people, some of whom had research that might dovetail with ours. Eventually, AKS and I went in search of coffee. When we learned that there was not a single open coffee shop until we hit the quarter, we were very near committing the extremely tacky crime of availing ourselves of the coffee at the unguarded guest snack lounge at the Hampton Inn. But we were good. What? Stop looking at us like that.

Post-poster, we ventured back to the room to dress for dinner at Muriel's. Our cab ride actually got us to the restaurant a bit early, so we headed back to the bar. Ever-hopeful, ever-deluded, I ordered a sidecar, and the bartender (otherwise quite talented) revealed that he hadn't made one in 10 years, but he gave it his best shot. It was ok, but it wasn't Brigtsen's. He did introduce J to Pimm's cups (not my taste, but I gather they're popular with others), so his reputation recovered before we left the bar.

And, of course, we left the bar when we realized that AMB and KJ had been waiting out front for a while. Wackiness, it follows us, I tells ya. The whole building is really beautiful. Spacewise, it was a great way to round out the trifecta, being warm, but grand to Arnaud's cool, airy space, and Brigtsen's homey, close-knit feel.

But on to the menu. I was running dangerously low on scallops, having had only scallop mousse on Sunday, and I ordered my appetizer accordingly. Both the scallops and the accompanying strudel were outstandingly good, but the appetizer portion was huge, which was the start of my troubles. M succumbed to my mind control and got the duck. There is basically no way to make anything containing the words "duck" "galette" and "port wine" bad, but I can and will not damn this duck with faint praise. Port wine sauces can so easily be overly sweet, burying the main flavor. Not so in this case, where the sauce was a round, complex finish to the duck.

I seem to recall a taste of kickass crabcake making its way to my side of the table, possibly from a KJ-ly direction? No, indeed, he had the shrimp and goat cheese crepes, which were an awesome combination. It's possible that I hallucinated crabcake. J was generous with his foie gras, but I believe he had much of it to himself (with some bakshish sent AKS-ward. It horrifies me to make such an accusation, but I think AMB had a salad. In her defense, I believe it was the roasted mushroom salad, which does have aioli.

There was more data collection on the gumbo front. There was more data loss as gumbo compartments filled and gumbo core was dumped. I cannot even recall the ingredients in the Muriel's gumbo, though I do recall a general agreement that the others at the table would cover as we each licked our bowls clean in turn. And one of us, at least, sampled the turtle soup, but it was not I.

For entrees, we were all intrigued and slightly horrified as we wondered what a puppy drum might be. This may explain why we all stayed away from it. I went for the salmon from the table d'hote menu. I believe AMB was seduced by the "duck cracklins," and so our Fowls FROM HELL theme continued. I know that there were at least two big, juicy pieces of meat on the table (ahem), so I think M had the Ribeye, and it's possible that J had the Filet. My mind is a blank on the other entrees.

This is quite possibly because my body started to rebel shortly after the appetizers arrived. I had a wonderful canker sore that had started forming earlier in the day and it was completely en fuego at dinner. I'd been battling a headache before dinner and had taken my Axert, which often produces some oddish sensations. The salmon was good (although the sauce was a bit too heavy on the herb-saint for me), but about four bites in, I just. couldn't. eat. another. bite.

Unless, of course, that other bite consisted of the peanut butter mousse dome with caramel filling, which AKS split with me to save my life.
I know that there was a big push for J to have the bananas foster cheesecake, but I can't recall if he did go through with the plan to have a high-end liquid dessert in addition to real dessert, or just had one or the other. M had the vanilla bean gelato. The rest of the desserts consumed are lost to the mists of time. That's appropriate, I think, because I have a feeling that AMB had the Pain Perdu Bread Pudding.

Oh, there was also coffee. And rejoicing in the streets, because they sold their coffee, and It Was Good. It was Even Better when we realized that the "pound" came in individual packets for making a pot at a time, so we were able to hand off much-needed provisions to those not staying with us at the Marriott. (Sadly, it was Frustratingly Not Good when KJ realized the next morning that their coffee service had self-contained packets and no filters.)

We rolled out of Muriel's almost literally and sauntered up toward Bourbon, doing some window shopping in the mean time and resolving to do real shopping on the morn. Against our better judgement, we revisited the Everythinge Shoppe on Canal to obtain nonlethal footwear (in the form of sparkly flip flops) for AKS. There was a half-hearted attempt to patronize Harrah's that was aborted when all of their table games were lame in the extreme and it seemed silly to sit at machines and not socialize.

We wandered back out on to canal in search of a bar. Thinking that the Wyndham might have such a thing, we made our way through a closed-but-under-construction-and-sure-why-don't-you-wander-unsupervised-through-to-the-Wyndham mall. We found the bar, but it was tragically rather full with Avaya people. More tragically, the bar staff were really inept and out of lots and lots of things. Having risen to the level of their own incompetence, they added insult to injury by announcing last call before midnight. If that isn't the sign that the meterological terrorists have won, I don't know what is.

We finished our mediocre drinks and toddled on hotelward.

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