Saturday, February 06, 2010

Two nights of good eating

I told you a while back that I wanted to write about food but was too tired. Well, here goes.

Two of the big bosses whirled into town and took our crowd of consultants to dinner Tuesday night at Scalo Northern Italian Grill on Nob Hill in Albuquerque. On Scalo's website you may read:
In 2007, Wine Spectator bestowed upon Scalo the Award of Excellence for its outstanding wine selection. Scalo started bringing original and traditional Italian food to Albuquerque in December of 1986. Since its opening, Scalo has brought premium pasta, steaks, fish and other fine cuisine to Nob Hill, in the center of Albuquerque.
Let's just say that I enjoyed the food so much that I took my BFF there for dinner on Thursday night. So the informal (independent and unpaid) review is based on two evenings and the comments of others plus my own experience.

I am going to chide Scalo about one thing upfront. For a very classy restaurant, they really should be more careful in proofreading their menus. "Aniolotti" for "agnolotti," is really grating: the sort of thing one expects in sloppy or illiterate menus. Just saying it stands out when they have obviously spent a lot of money on nice menus.

OK, on to the food.

The first evening we were regaled with several rounds of appetizers. We enjoyed bruschetta with three different toppings.
I am being pedantic tonight but it's my blog so I can. Listen up, everybody. Italian is not German. That should be obvious. "SCH" in Italian sounds like "SK" in English, not "SH." So bruschetta sounds like "brusketta." I'd appreciate the hell out of it if everyone could get on board with this one. I've been in restaurants, not Scalo, where the wait staff said "brushetta" and I've wanted to scream (or slap them). Thanks. Back to our regularly scheduled program.
One topping on the bruschetta involved red peppers and I heard the praises thereof sung. I tasted the sausage and potato one (nice) and the one with sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and pesto (also nice). The flavors were good though I fear that feeding our large crowd led to the appetizers sitting for a while. The olive oil in the pesto had softened the toasted, crusty bread a bit and thus we did not get as much crunch as one expects.

Speaking of bread, the rustic country bread served in the bread baskets is perfection. A crust that crunches and a chewy interior give plenty of texture and the flavor is wonderful, with or without dipping it in olive oil.

A second appetizer was strips of rare flank steak, with a nicely seared exterior, served on leaves of endive with a sprinkling of grated hard cheese. I loved the flavor of charred beef where the meat had hit the grill and would not have minded if that tray came around more times than it did.

Shrimp wrapped in prosciutto was the third appetizer. The shrimp was fine. The prosciutto was fine. I found the combination lacking, however, and would not be interested in trying it again. Prosciutto does better with melon than with shrimp, but if you are going to violate kosher, this is certainly a twofer.

Finally, there were goat cheese "croutons," slices of chèvre breaded and fried, served on a bed of spinach with a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with raisins and pignoli. (Better known in New Mexico as piñones or pine nuts.) The crispness of the crust and the creaminess of the interior on the goat cheese makes for a very nice combination. I found the spinach salad to be heaven, and enjoyed the bursts of sweetness from the raisins along with the tang of the vinaigrette. I could have made a minor course of this alone.

A bit of a good thing can go a long way. On the second visit I had the insalata di capri: baby lettuce, warm goat cheese crouton, pine nuts, balsamic vinaigrette. Essentially the same only mixed greens instead of spinach. The salad was too heavily dressed, however, powerfully overwhelming the greens, and thus turning something I anticipated eagerly into a course I was eager to see over.

There is good news on the zuppe (soup) front, so do not despair. My friend had the soup of the day on Thursday. It was an acorn squash soup that we give the highest marks possible. It may be the most "something to write home about" dish of both nights. The flavors were complex and perfectly balanced, yielding a deep sense of satisfaction with only one spoonful. We could definitely taste honey in it, and suspect tartness was added by lime. It was truly outstanding and if you ever have the chance to enjoy this dish, do it!

Amongst the Primi, I did taste the gnocchi con crema: house made gnocchi, Gorgonzola cream sauce, shrimp, pine nuts, chives. The shrimp and sauce were wonderful (rich, naturally, but lovely). I found the gnocchi lacking in tooth and therefore texturally uninteresting.

On to the Secondi.

Folks all around me on Tuesday were enjoying their main courses, no matter which item had been chosen. I heard no complaints. On view were a healthy portion of beef filet, grilled sea bass, and duck confit.

I decided to go for animal cruelty and political incorrectitude and had the vitello scallopini (veal): pan fried scallopini, shallots, butter, veal jus, and sautéed forest mushrooms. The menu does not mention that this comes on a bed of very nice mashed potatoes.

Every bite was delicious. If I wanted to quibble I might say that the veal was not as tender as veal might be, but 'twas guud, as my friend The Cunning Runt might say. I enjoyed every mouthful from beginning to end. There was a richness to the flavor, the kind that comes from caramelization and reduction and blending of flavors. I think this would fall easily into the category of my dad's preferred food: meat and potatoes, but this moves into another plane. It was awesome and I was prepared to order it again if my friend did not get some. He did, and I had some of his just to revisit it.

On Thursday I had the costolette di agnello: grilled rack of lamb, butter glazed carrots, green beans, soft polenta. This is not the usual rack of lamb, roasted then cut into lamb chops but chops cut from the beginning and grilled over not too high a heat, yielding incredibly tender, juicy meat. Really, really good stuff. I love corn meal in its many guises, not least as polenta. The carrots were not overcooked; I daresay, given that they were large chunks of carrot, they were undercooked, and I do not mean that in an approving way. But they were good for me and the taste was fine. This dish had a sauce that included maple syrup, something I did not expect, rather like the surprising honey in the squash soup. It works and the lamb was truly wonderful. Were I cooking, I would go a bit lighter on the maple as it does not need to be quite as sweet as it was. Still, a lovely entrée and some memorable lamb.

We cannot stop here. There are Dolci: the desserts.

Tuesday I had what is a new dessert for Scalo, the polenta pound cake served with fresh strawberries, a dash of orange liqueur, and whipped cream. As I wrote above, I love corn meal. The grittiness and the flavor both appeal to me. I have had polenta pound cake before in the Bay Area, so it is not a new dish to me. The cake was fine, though not stunning, and I am not sure I can put my finger on why. There was nothing pointedly wrong with it. The strawberries looked a bit drained of color. Was it the lighting or had they been cooked a bit? I would definitely keep them fresh. I love calories yet felt there was more whipped cream than optimal. Good grief, why am I picking nits here? I think I would like to take a good dessert into the realm of a stunning dessert. Instead of, or in addition to, orange liqueur, I would probably have infused the pound cake itself with orange zest (but I adore orange zest). For all that, it was good.

Next to me I saw chocolate gelato (favorably reviewed) and the "chocolate pâté." This latter is actually a triple chocolate mousse: dark, milk, and white. It was also deemed a good dessert, though we all felt that pâté is an unfortunate word to combine with chocolate as it suggests chocolate and liver somehow. *shudder* Very unfortunate term. Nonetheless, that is how it is listed on the dessert menu. I would change that at the next possible reprinting.

Thursday I had the bread pudding, which came with vanilla gelato and caramel sauce. I liked it very much (more than the ones I had in New Orleans, though EVERY eatery in New Orleans serves it as a signature dish). My friend thought it too dense and not pudding-y enough but I liked it. He had the tiramisù. I do not like the flavor of coffee in anything, so I never order tiramisù, but I had a bite of his and it was really fabulous. Light as a cloud, delicate in flavor. I highly recommend it.

Oh, I failed to mention wines after beginning with that theme in the restaurant's own blurb. They have an extensive wine list, but there might be no bottles in the bin you order. We had to try again. The wines were very nice on both evenings.

The atmosphere at Scalo is pleasant - a blend of warm coppery tones, white tablecloths, and mirrors. The staff is professional and helpful. The noise level is medium as the crowd there, whether at the bar or in the restaurant, seems pleasantly energetic. A nice ambience.

All in all, two very nice evenings dining out. It is not inexpensive but it is very good.

Bon appetit!

--the BB

There is joy in Mudville

Well, joy at Desert Farne, anyway. I have been looking for a couple of items over the past few weeks: the outer shell of a jacket that I wore to Russia in 2004 and have been planning to wear to Turkey (layers, always layers - I did live in the SF Bay Area, after all); and the charger for my camera batteries. I bought a spare battery so I could go with two fully charged ones on this trip and thus not worry about adapters and voltage and such, but without my charger I would be sunk. In about half an hour I was going to give up and head to the camera shop. Hallelujah, I found it in the nick of time.

The jacket was not hung up (yes, I am a slob) and I had already gone through every closet in the house, doing some cleaning and rearranging in the process. The Christmas tree is in its snuggly (a bag designed just for that purpose) and is now in the back of the hall closet where not much else has lived. Better than acquiring dust in the garage and the only closet space that can accommodate it, under the stairs and out of the way until next December. The jacket was a mere six feet from my bed but under several obscuring items.

Another area of anxiety was getting a refill on my prescriptions since the current supply will run out half-way through the trip and it is a week early to refill. The pharmacy succeeded in getting an override from the insurance company and I am good to go.

Items are being laid out in the living room for packing. I should be all packed by tomorrow night. That way I won't panic all day at work on Monday.

In addition to the two sought-after items I also came across some Hershey's kisses. I shall reward the search with some right now.

--the BB

Friday, February 05, 2010

Where there is no accountability there is no rule of law

Obstruction of justice:
Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress—

Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

--U. S. Code. Title 18. Part I. Chapter 73. § 1505

Emanuel viewed many of the legal problems that Craig and Holder were immersed in as distractions. “When Guantánamo walked in the door, Rahm walked out,” the informed source said. Holder and Emanuel had been collegial since their Clinton Administration days. Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, an obstetrician, had delivered one of Emanuel’s children. But Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions. Holder authorized Durham to determine whether the agency’s abuse of detainees had itself violated laws. Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community. But Holder, who had studied law at Columbia with Telford Taylor, the chief American prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, was profoundly upset after seeing classified documents explicitly describing C.I.A. prisoner abuse. The United Nations Convention Against Torture requires the U.S. to investigate credible torture allegations. Holder felt that, as the top law-enforcement officer in the U.S., he had to do something.

Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, “Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?”

That’s what human rights are to Rahm Emanuel–mere distractions, speed bumps on his road to nine wins or–in the case of health care reform–epic failure.

--emptywheel, quoting Jane Mayer

Rahm Emanuel is just bad news for progressive governance, change one might believe in, and America in general. He is definitely bad news for the Democratic Party. He is, perhaps, Obama's biggest mistake but I fear this nation must pay for that mistake.

Yeah, I loathe the guy.

So don't say I only carp about Republicans.

--the BB

If.... - updated

If Republicans really opposed pork, they'd kick Senator Shelby into the middle of next week. Anyone want to take bets?

Or will they support this reprehensible fuckwad in holding appointments ransom for his own little pork barrel project--one that takes money from American firms and gives it to foreign firms (who do some work in Shelby's state).

Meanwhile folks cannot be appointed to get on with the government's business. (Oh, how could I forget? Republicans believe government is useless and then do all they can to prove it. Which makes them unfit to govern.)

Shelby's posture is not treason but it shares treason's flavor profile in times of domestic economic crisis.

Just saying.

You can read about it here and here and here.

Marcy summarizes it thus:
Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

--the BB

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

And Rush Limp Bone is a carbuncle on the behind of humanity

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Yes, you clever chipmunks, you did get the double allusion. Bravi tutti.

1. Peter Ustinov's character in the movie Topkapi notes that his father had said, "Arthur, you're a carbuncle on the behind of humanity," and I will be visiting the Topkapi Palace later this month.

2. Rush's military deferment was because he had a pylonidal cyst on his ass.

What prompted this observation tonight?

His usual lying bullshit. In this instance, read here.

What an insufferable pustule. What a waste of oxycontin oxygen.

--the BB

Mitch McConell is a douchenozzle

And that's the nicest thing I have to say about him.

AG Holder issues a much-deserved smackdown.

Here is the opening:
I am writing in reply to your letter of January 26,2010, inquiring about the decision to charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with federal crimes in connection with the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 near Detroit on December 25, 2009, rather than detaining him under the law of war. An identical response is being sent to the other Senators who joined in your letter.

The decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab in federal court, and the methods used to interrogate him, are fully consistent with the long-established and publicly known policies and practices of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the United States Government as a whole, as implemented for many years by Administrations of both parties. Those policies and practices, which were not criticized when employed by previous Administrations, have been and remain extremely effective in protecting national security. They are among the many powerful weapons this country can and should use to win the war against al-Qaeda.

I am confident that, as a result of the hard work of the FBI and our career federal prosecutors, we will be able to successfully prosecute Mr. Abdulmutallab under the federal criminal law. I am equally confident that the decision to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s actions through our criminal justice system has not, and will not, compromise our ability to obtain information needed to detect and prevent future attacks.

Read it all here.

It seems that Mr. Abdulmutallab is offering information useful to the intelligence community and our national safety without the use of torture. Imagine.

The whiny ass titty babies on the right are all douchenozzles.

An additional note:
Republicans may have a hard time keeping up their talking point about how reading Miranda rights to the Christmas Day bomber represented a dangerous new direction under President Barack Obama.

It turns out that that back in December 2001, Richard Reid — the “shoe bomber” — was read or reminded of his Miranda rights four times in two days, beginning five minutes after being taken into custody.

Furthermore, the Bush administration specifically rejected the idea of a military tribunal — another step that Republicans have argued should have been taken in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day and was read his rights after 50 minutes of FBI questioning.

--Mike Allen at Politico (h/t to Kos)

Another talking point undercut by those pesky facts.

--the BB

Heart thread - 02/03/2010

News of Tad's surgery:
I was just at the hospital keeping Karen company when the surgeon called to say Tad had come through surgery just fine and the he had been able to perform both knee replacements (there had been some doubt since Tad had come down with bronchitis over the weekend). Karen seemed vastly relieved, understandably.

I am sure she and Tad would value your continued prayers for his complete recovery.
Belated thanksgiving for the 26th anniversary of JohnBear and Raven, plus continuing prayers for JohnBear's participation in a clinical trial that may bring good health news to him. He is home now.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of my uncle John who died last night. My cousins need your prayers.

This is also, IIRC, the anniversary of the death of my ex's mother, Anne. A couple of days from now is the anniversary of the death of my father, Paul Victor.

Tomorrow is the funeral of Samantha who used to work at the Forest Service. I worked with her brother for a while and their mother is still one of my coworkers. Please hold the entire family in your prayers.

May they all rest in peace and rise in glory.

Holy Blasius and Ansgarius, pray for us.

--the BB

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Details will have to follow

I am tired and, I suspect, fighting off a cold one week before the big trip, so I am going to bed early.

I hope to post a review of dinner tonight before too long. The bosses of our agency were in town and took us out to dinner. Some very delicious food and those who know me will realize I am dying to write about it. But not now.

Sweet dreams.

--the BB

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Five years later

I just finished making a photo album (that's hard-copy stuff, y'all, with photo paper) of our trip to Russia in November 2004. I selected almost 200 pictures of the 500+ I shot, tweaked a few, cropped them all, printed them, cut them with the paper trimmer, and slid them into plastic sleeves. Very satisfying.

In my best Russian cursive script I wrote Санкт–Петербург on the spine label.


Now I can gear up to take photos in Turkey in the next two weeks. Who knows, I may finish an album in spring of 2015.

--the BB