Drop #168: Crumbs

cappuccinoJohn is having lunch with Sandra. ‘You have some crumbs on your shoulder,’ she says, pointing, then staring at them till he brushes them off.

Two minutes later she stops mid sentence to tell him he has something in his teeth. ‘What is that, basil? Here, I have a toothpick.’ He accepts it, removes the culprit, then returns his attention to her so she can finish her story.

A few minutes later she interrupts him to ask what that stuff is in his hair. ‘Those pesky crumbs again. How did you manage that?’ She leans in and picks them out, one by one. ‘There. All better.’

Sandra goes to the bathroom to pee. When she comes out of the stall, a woman putting on makeup looks up at her reflection.

‘Woah!’ the woman says. ‘Bull’s-eye.’

‘What?’ Sandra says, then checks the mirror. She immediately sees it: a massive bird poop above her right ear at the hairline, blobbed thick and wide in white and greenish brown, seeping a full inch down her face in three gooey strands. ‘Oh my God!’ she says, grabbing at the paper towel.

Back in the dining room the cappuccinos have come, each served with two biscotti. John eats his and quickly helps himself to Sandra’s before she gets back. He gobbles them up, spilling crumbs down his face and onto his lap. His first sip leaves a foam mustache on his lip, and the cutest smudge of powdered chocolate on the tip of his nose.

By EM Vireo

Drop #160: Love

burrata and heirloom tomatoJen had a dinner meeting so Hal decided to treat himself to his favorite meal at Tony’s. He was the first customer and the staff greeted him warmly. ‘No missus today? It’s OK. We feed you good.’

Though eating alone, he ordered a full meal, starting with the burrata over heirloom tomatoes, and following with the wild boar ragu pappardelle. It was what they always ordered. He drank two glasses of Chianti as he finished every last morsel with gusto, sopping up all the sauce with bread, and even had space for panna cotta. Most satisfied, he asked for the check just as his phone rang.

‘Hi, honey,’ Jen said. ‘Good news: my meeting was cancelled so I’m all yours tonight.’

‘Great!’

‘Listen, I’m starving and I can’t think of anything better in this life than meeting you at Tony’s for wild boar pappardelle right now.’

‘Oh yeah? Right now?’

‘Yeah. I’m so in the mood. Let’s get a bottle of that delicious Chianti and have a really nice big meal together. I already left. Think you can be there in twenty?’

‘Pretty sure I can.’

‘You didn’t eat yet, did you?’

‘What? No. No.’

‘Great, I’m excited. Can’t wait to see you. You make me so happy.’

‘Well, that makes me happy too.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #152: Brunch

sesame balls‘Oh my goodness,’ he said, scratching his beard, ‘it was incredible! They had all different kinds of potatoes, even blue ones, done all different kinds of ways! Roasted, mashed, fried with truffle salt, and even turned into pancakes with sour cream, salmon and caviar on top—caviar! Why thank you comrade! Then there was two wooden boards big as a submarines with cheeses from all over the world—I’m talking French, Dutch, English. There was one, I forget the name, from some special region in the Italian Alps, and another that was kept in a cave for more than a year like some prisoner of war. There was goat and sheep cheese, blue and flavored cheese, and some kind of cheese that oozed out onto the board like demon semen—I’m telling ya! And they had must have been twenty kinds of breads and rolls and loaves. And international! Let me tell you: there was an Italian station where you could choose your noodles and sauce to be cooked right in front of you any way you wanted, a Chinese one with endless dim sums in bamboo steamers and served on fancy porcelain spoons, a Japanese station with sushis and whatnot, and an Indian station with who knows how many kinds of curries, and flatbreads cooked in clay ovens. There was a full carvery with ham and brisket and beef–and oh my lord, you should have seen the seafood—what they called the raw bar. I’m talking crab claws the size of human arms, and ruby red prawns, and rainbow colored crawfish staring up at you, and all different shapes and sizes of shrimp and mussels and clams and oysters, all on ice and ripe for the plucking! They even had lobster already cooked and cracked open so alls you had to do was scoop out the sweet as syrup flesh and guzzle it up! Just phenomenal, and with all the French Champagne you could drink too, mind you, and thank you very much! And oh my word, I haven’t even mentioned the best thing! They had a fountain made of—get this!–chocolate! Liquid chocolate, just like Wally Wonka himself had in his factory. Almost stripped to my boxers and took a dip myself is what I almost did.’

‘Swell,’ she said, getting up. ‘Be right back. I just have to get something from the kitchen.’

Gary was sitting at the kitchen table. ‘Hey there, Jane,’ he said, smiling the way he does: all squint, no lip.

‘Hey. So, last night with visitors, right?’

‘Yup. They’re off in the morning.’

‘Good brunch?’

‘Eh. Nothing too special. Same as any decent hotel on any Sunday anywhere in the city.’

‘I hear you.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 145: Have a Nice Day

wonton noodle soupSam called the Chinese take out place.

‘Yeah, two #7s, one #12, a 16, a 19 a 22, and a 24. Oh and two Cokes. How long? Cool. Extra chili sauce please. Thanks.’

He hung the menu back on the fridge and went to wake his roommate, Jack.

‘What did you order?’ Jack asked sleepily, as he plopped onto the couch in dirty sweats a few minutes later. ‘I’m friggin starved.’

‘Two scallion pancakes–’

‘Aw, yeah. Those are the truth.’

‘Hot and sour soup, barbecued pork, soy sauce noodles with duck, shrimp fried rice, and morning glory with salted fish.’

‘You know what you’re doing, son. All my favorites.’

‘Mine too. We’re about to feast. Should be here any minute.’

The guy arrived with a big paper-in-plastic bag. Sam tipped him well, then carefully unpacked each little container onto the table before starting to open them up.

‘What’s that one then?’ Jack asked squinting at the first.

‘What the hell?’ Sam said, when half of them were bared; then he opened the rest. ‘I can’t believe this.’

He called back: ‘Listen, our order is totally wrong. Not one item is correct. You gave us two orders of chicken feet, some kind of fish head curry full of bones, an intestine stew of some sort, a tofu dish that smells just awful, a cold purple pudding with weird floating beans, and I don’t even know what the last dish is. The gray wobbly thingy. What we ordered was scallion pancakes, hot and—’

‘You order number 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24, right?’ the man said.

‘Yes, but–’

‘I give you 7, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24.’

‘But we didn’t order any of these dishes.’

‘Yes, you order them. We change menu. New numbers. Different item.’

‘Yeah, but–’

‘You know next time. You try other dish. Stinky tofu. Very tasty. Jelly fish salad. Very fresh. Pig stomach in brown sauce. Good for blood. You enjoy.’

‘But.’

‘You enjoy. Thank you for business. Have a nice day.’

By EM Vireo

Drop 140: Cough

I’m sitting in a café, warm croissant in hand, when the woman at the table beside mine coughs. Two wet barks seem to get the job done but a few seconds later a wheezing buildup ushers in several more. She tries to gather her breath, hand on chest, but another coughing spell overwhelms her. This one is even more violent, lurching her torso back and forth as it delivers its blows. She fidgets with her handbag to pull out a tissue, to cover her nose and mouth with while she carries on sputtering. It puts up little resistance. Teary-eyed, she grabs another while she hacks up phlegm, then spits into it twice. A green strand arches from her face as she replaces it, suffering through another agonizing round of deep lung spasms. It’s one of the worst bouts I’ve ever witnessed. She looks like she’s dying as it just keeps coming.

Everyone in the place cringes through another long spurt, and is relieved when she finally stops, a full two minutes after she began. She blows her nose one final time, scrunching up the tissue and adding it to the pile that litters the table in front of her.

‘Wow,’ she says, looking at her friend and smiling. ‘My cough is so much better today.’

By EM Vireo

Drop 132: Choices

burrata and heirloom tomato‘What do you think?’

They are standing outside the restaurant reading its menu, which is on a little stand.

‘Looks amazing!’

‘I know, right! I think we finally found our place.’

‘The salmon looks awesome.’

‘Yeah, and it comes with fennel and garlic mash. I just love fennel.’

‘Tell me a bout it! The only thing I love more is garlic mash.’ She scans a few more items. ‘What about the burrata and heirloom tomato salad?’

‘Oh my god, looks super tasty. Great minds think alike. Any others that grab ya?’

‘Yup, one more.’

‘Me too. Bet it’s the same.’

‘You thinking bouillabaisse?’

‘Boy, am I! Bouillabaisse is driving a Harley all over my brain.’

‘Yeah, those three stand out, for sure. Choices, choices.’

‘Yup—well, whatever we choose, we’re going to feast, girl!’

‘We sure are! I’m famished.’

‘We could even get all three.’

 

‘Welcome ladies, so happy you’ve joined us,’ the waiter says, handing them menus.

‘Oh, we know what we want.’

‘Alrighty, but just to let you know, we have a special today: rack of lamb with prune compote serve on—’

‘Oh, no, we’re set. We were looking outside.’ She smiles. ‘I’ll have the—’

‘Yeah, just to also let you know,’ he says, smiling back, ‘that we are out of,’—he leans over the table and points at an item on the menu with his pinkie—‘the bouillabaisse.’

‘Oh, well that makes it easier then. So, I guess she’ll have the burrata and I’ll have—’

‘Ooh, sorry, that’s the one other item we’re currently out of.’

‘Seriously? Boy, that’s kind of lame. Well, at least you have the—’

‘Just a second, ladies.’ The waiter presses two fingers to his earpiece. ‘They just made a liar out of me,’ he says, shrugging. ‘We just lost the salmon and garlic mash too.’

By EM Vireo

Drop #107: Insane Food Weekend, Part 2

Click here for Part 1

fish dish‘He was buying?’

‘Sure. So I show up and it looks like nothing’s there. But I ring a bell and this Japanese guy lets me in and takes me through to the back, where Al is waiting in this modest, dimly lit room with one low table in the middle and cushions around it. I take off my shoes and join him on the floor. I ask him about the place and he says it’s a Japanese private kitchen. They serve a maximum of three tables a night and it’s a set menu.’

Omakase.’

‘If you say so. The chef doesn’t speak much English. Al told me he was one of the best sushi chefs in Japan when he lived there but just wanted to create something perfect without worrying about a restaurant and its problems. The place was super underground.’

‘That sounds amazing! Japanese is my favorite cuisine, especially when it’s kaiseki style, like that.’

japanese food‘Yeah. I think Al must have had someone else in mind to eat with when he set it up but now I was there. Go figure. So the food started coming and it didn’t stop for three hours. The presentation was clean and detailed, each dish more delicate than the next: sashimi, sushi, all incredibly fresh and seasonal—I swear, I’d never heard of half the fish. Then there was tartar of kobe beef with quail egg; intense fish broth with shrimp heads, cold cured eggplant cut so thin you could hardly see it; snow crab and sea urchin tempura; sea eel wrapped asparagus with fatty tuna dipping sauce; miso crusted pork chops. It just kept coming!’

‘Wow. That’s insane.’

‘I told you it was an insane food weekend! And that was only Saturday.’

‘There’s more?’

‘Sure. Sunday was the craziest of all.’

‘I’m not near done with Saturday, but tell me about Sunday?’

He asked if I wanted another beer and I said maybe later, but accepted, when he told me he was buying. He ordered, then said he’d got a call Sunday afternoon from a man called Hal Freely, who he’d met at the Italian joint Friday. He’d hardly even remembered talking to the guy, being a bit drunk on all the good wine.

‘Hal Freely!’

‘You know him?’

Of course I didn’t know him, but I knew of him. He was voted best up and coming young chef last year by Food and Wine Magazine and represented the US at the Bocuse D’or two years ago.’

‘He’s a nice guy,’ Bill said, casually. ‘Apparently I’d convinced him I was a web design genius and he wanted to talk to me about doing some work for him, so he invites me to dinner too, with some of his business partners I’d also be working with if we struck a deal. Turns out most of them are chefs or restaurant owners.’

cocktailsI asked where they went.

‘To this place, Honeyrose.’

‘Oh, man. It’s supposed to be amazing.’

‘Yeah, but we didn’t eat downstairs in the main dining area. We went upstairs to this private room.’

‘You’re shitting me!’

He assured me he wasn’t. They’d dined in this cozy, separate room where a table was set up for six.

‘Who were the other four?’ The beers came and we both drank before he answered.

‘One was Sergio, Honeyrose’s owner.’

‘Sergio King, himself! Incredible!’

‘The other three were called Cynthia, Jacob and Marlene.’

‘Oh my God. Cynthia Carr, Jacob Lutz and Marlene Estefano.’

‘Sounds about right.’

‘Dude, there’s like five Michelin stars between those three alone. I only ate at Marlene’s restaurant, The Top Hat once and it was awesome. And you ate up there?’

‘Yup. After a few cocktails all sorts of food just started appearing.’

‘Probably all the stuff those great chefs love eating and don’t even serve regularly.’

‘Probably.’

foam custard dishAnd when I pressed for details he started listing dishes: whole goat’s head, eyeball and all; bone marrow; squid ink and sea urchin linguini, stopping to note how everyone was real chatty, talking about the food, what they liked about it and whether the wine went well with it.’

‘It’s a friggin wet dream!’

‘There was pork belly, and crayfish pancakes, and tuna cheek and baby octopus and double braised lamb shank. It was really too much food.’

‘Amazing. That’s the real deal. The behind-the-scenes, top-shelf stuff. Nobody get’s to eat like that!’

‘Well, I did, right? All we did was eat, really. We hardly even discussed the project.’

I asked if he was going to work with them and he said it didn’t look likely, after all.

‘Oh. Well, at last you got to eat a ridiculously good meal with them.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘And after everything else on Friday and Saturday too!’

He nodded.

I had fantasized about a food weekend like that many times but even in my fantasies I’d never come close to attending the opening of a place like Il Sorriso, eating the best Japanese omakase in a private kitchen for two, and certainly not sharing a meal in an exclusive upstairs room at Honeyrose with five of the countries best chefs, getting to know them, hearing their opinions, eating what they eat – being on the inside. Nothing had come close to what Bill had experienced for real.

‘It must have been your best food weekend ever,’ I said.

‘Maybe.’

‘I don’t see how anything could beat it. In fact, it must have been one of your best weekends ever, period!’

‘Nah. I mean, it was all right, but I’m not that into food, really. Eating isn’t something that excites me much.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #107: Insane Food Weekend, Part 1

tasty morselI didn’t need to give him the keys till Thursday, but I pushed to meet him tonight. He had mentioned on the phone that he’d had an insane food weekend and I wanted to hear about it. I am really into food and kind of follow what’s happening in the culinary world. I know who the main players, the superstar chefs and sommeliers are, keep up with restaurant openings and closings, and with exciting food trends. But I seldom have the time or money to pursue fine dining as a pastime. I save up sometimes to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant, and people treat me to a good meal once in a while, but even though I like it more than anything, I rarely have truly great food. So I’ve developed the habit of living vicariously through the eating exploits of others, and the stories they share.

‘You didn’t need to come all the way over here today,’ he said, half pulling out a chair at the bar as he stayed sitting. ‘I could have got the keys later in the week when we we’re both in city for work, or you could have even given them to Julie.’

‘No bother,’ I said, sitting down, then ordered a bottle of Bud.

We chatted for a while and he wouldn’t bring it up on his own, so I finally said: ‘so, you mentioned you had an insane food weekend.’

‘Um, yeah,’ he answered, with the beer glass in his mouth. ‘It was ridiculous.’

‘Tell me about it.’

‘Where to begin? Jesus.’

‘How about starting at the beginning and working your way through to the end?’

‘Dude, there were so many meals and drinks and dishes. I might bore you.’

‘I doubt it,’ I said. ‘So, what was first?’

‘Friday. I’d just got out of the shower, and was planning a simple night at home with a few DVDs, right, but I get a call from this girl I know who tells me she’s on the list plus one for some restaurant opening and her date stood her up, and did I want to come. She’s really cute so I told her sure.’

‘Details. I need details. What was the restaurant called?’

‘Um.’ He scrunched up his face like a chipmunk. ‘Solosi, or something. It was an Italian joint.’

‘Solosi?’

‘Wait, Il Soroso, I think it was.’

‘You went to the opening of Il Sorriso?’

‘Yeah, that’s it.’

‘It’s Italian for smile, by the way.’

‘Oh, is it?’ He held the bowl up for more nuts. They were mixed, roasted and salted. ‘Makes sense. It was an Italian joint, as I said.’

‘It’s only like one of the most anticipated restaurants openings in ages. The chef, Mauro Gavizzi, left Pane e Sale to run his own place. He’s amazing, that guy.’

‘Yeah, the food was good and there was plenty of it. They brought out trays of tasty little morsels all night and there was a full buffet.’

‘Geez!’

‘They had this special mozzarella that was all gooey inside–’

‘That would be burrata.’

‘Yeah. It was made in-house, apparently.’

‘What else?’

‘They made a big deal about this salty type of dried fish roe. It was kind of dark red and really intense. They cured it themselves, of course.’

Bottarga. Salt cured mullet roe. I love that stuff. I only ever tried it once though.’

‘They had trays of the shit.’

‘What else was in the buffet?’

‘Loads of different pastas I’ve never seen before with all sorts of sauces like rabbit ragu, sage butter, white truffle, and clam; plates of Italian cold cuts and cheeses; flat breads; some crazy snail dish; stuffed trout; these huge fat steaks that got carved up; sausages, and get this: a whole suckling pig.’

‘Wow. They must have had some innards too?’

‘They had a big old pot of tripe in a red sauce—oh yeah—and sweetbreads too.’

‘Drinks? Wine?’

‘There were bottles all over the show. Chianti, Baroli—’

‘Barolo.’

‘Pino Grigio, Barbaresco, Brunella—’

‘Brunello.’

dessert creation‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘and insane desserts, cakes, pastries, and elaborate ice cream creations. It was all pretty impressive, and that was only Friday!’

‘I want to get back to Friday, but tell me about Saturday. What happened?’

‘Two things happened Saturday, both related to this project I’m working on. I am designing a website for this guy, Al, and had a meeting scheduled with him around noon. He’s an importer of Mediterranean products, mostly French and Spanish, and he suggested we meet at his place cause some one was coming over with a bunch of samples and it would give me the chance to see what his business was about first hand, and so on. So I get there and it’s hardly a few samples: the place is full of boxes and these two ladies are opening cans and cartons and bottles. We sampled everything: foie gras, jamón ibérico, serrano, lomo, olives, cava, champagne, olive oils, pâtés, truffle and olive spreads, pickled onions, marinated sardines, breads, crackers, cheeses.’

‘Wow! And the stuff was good, I guess.’

‘Al said it was some of the best product he’d ever tasted. Anyway, it went on for hours. It was crazy. We didn’t even get to talk about the website we were so busy stuffing our faces, so the guy invites me for dinner later so we can get down to business, and gives me an address and time.’

…Conclusion coming soon

by E.M. Vireo

Drop #98: Well Done

‘Hello. Big Ranch Steakhouse.’

‘Hi. I’m just calling to confirm a reservation for this evening. Two people at 8 pm, under the name Jones.’

‘Just a second… yes, I have you right here.’

‘Ah. Good.’

‘All set then, Mr. Jones. We’ll see you at eight.’

‘Good, but can I ask you a favor.’

‘Certainly.’

‘I’d like the 22 ounce sirloin and I was wondering if  you could start on it right now?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘I like my steak well done, so could you start cooking it now?’

‘But it’s two in the afternoon!’

By E.M. Vireo