Saturday, March 20, 2010

Arnold's Meatball Sandwhich in Downtown Cincinnati - Bring an Extra Napkin

Arnold's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

How about a meatball sandwich in a 149-year-old bar in Cincinnati? Oh yea, and a beer to go with it and some very German potato salad. This place does exist, it is Arnold’s and all we are going to talk about is the meatball sandwich. Sure they have other dishes, but if you are reading this and you have not been there before then you can save them for your second visit because (did I mention?) you are having the meatball sandwich.

Spicy red sauce, which I suspect is good on the spaghetti and meatballs enjoyed by my friend, provolone, tender meatballs and lettuce. What? How dare you say lettuce on a meatball sandwich, but I do and the crispiness and crunch complete the sandwich and balance the salty tang of the meat and sauce. Before eating it, I would have said I need a toasted bun but Arnold’s does theirs soft and I am not going to argue. I really like when separate ingredients come together to create something greater than themselves, no one overpowering in taste or spice, and this sandwich did it for me.

Now, the potato salad. From this picture, you can see it is a simple side dish, which looks as though it was served from a vat with an ice-cream scoop of some sort. For the cooks in the back I am guessing it is a chore that some new guy has to make so they have enough for everyone. But this is a solid German-style potato salad that has to be a recipe from someone’s mom or grandma from the old country. Again simple ingredients of skin-on red potatoes, some mayo, some crunch (celery & onion?) salt and pepper. Melts in your mouth, the kind of dish you may almost forget about because it is satisfying without being brash or showy, kind of like that German grandma I suspect.

My other dining companion had the Greek Spaghetti (the house specialty), a take on Pasta Puttanesca, the whore’s pasta. I am guessing it is the house dish because Arnold’s use to be / be near a brothel as with many a “big city” watering hole in those days. I say a “take” but really, by definition, Puttanesca is comprised of whatever you have around which for many Italians was extra olives, capers, some peppers or tomatoes, olive oil and some salty cheese. This one is good and worth ordering if you like the dish.

Arnolds is nothing fancy to look at, on a side street near the ubiquitous P&G headquarters which dominates downtown Cincinnati. First thing you notice about Arnold’s walking through the swinging door is that this is a bar where you might feel comfortable whiling away a day (or two) just sitting. This skinny room with big bar gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like in the late 19th century with a few horses parked outside. (Do you park a horse?)

Walk around the side of the bar and the space opens up into a huge courtyard covered from the cold and heated on my visit in February. There is a stage for live music and when this place is full I am sure it is a very good time. I promise to visit in the summer and update this posting with some photos and stories about Cincinnati’s music scene.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bay Guardian Bruce Brugman - Monopoly Crusher (or Builder?)

Nefarious characters throughout the history of this great nation, wait...just throughout history, have always sought to do ill under the guise of nobility. It is through delusion or narcissism of great magnitude which they convince themselves their actions are justified, even a footnote to history.

The Bay Guardian's Bruce Brugman seems to be one of these characters ( ). There is an old joke that goes "I looked (blank) up in the dictionary and saw a picture of you!" which comes to mind here...

Anyway, let's see if I can sum this up correctly (a step-by-step list to empire building!):

1. Accuse competitor (the only competitor) of being a Monopoly through obscure law
2. Disguise own faults / behaviors / same practices
3. Run competitor out of town, thus being the only man left standing
4. Use status to advantage by determining future of ad rates in said area
5. Look up "monopoly" in dictionary and summarily ignore what you have now become

Sound about right? It does to me after everything I have read about a very public feud with SF Weekly, whom Brugman sued and is now running out of town. He claims they were creating a "monopolistic" environment - what is the logical reaction? Why, create a monopoly of your own, of course.

I am a true capitalist (If you get a chance please read The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider) and believe competition does create a better marketplace. In the absence of competition I suspect the Guardian will become stale and irrelevant in an era where newspapers struggle for just this thing everyday. In this case I say "be careful what you ask for" as you just might get it.

New (Unexpected) iPhone Reality - The 20/50 Phenomenon

I love my iPhone, don't get me wrong. Used correctly I can sometimes make it through an entire day without needing my computer. It rocks for everything I do. It is somewhat easier that I have always been an Apple guy and the iPhone functionality is just an extension of what they have been building for decades now.

My office is also a "Mac Office" being an ad agency with all of our "creative" talent, it just makes sense. Along with all of those Macs comes literally hundreds of iPhones and iPhone users. Because of this, at 10 until the hour and 20 after the hour, thanks to time being synched by AT&T, it is like a clock shop, ding, dong, ding, ring, (insert JayZ ringtone here).

Our office is mired in meetings, one after another until the only time you can get work done is after 5 or before 8 in the morning. I will save my comments on that for another time, but now everyone's iPhones (in the default setting) are reminding people of meetings that are coming up in 10 minutes. It is so funny that most people look to the "top of" or "bottom of the hour" as their signals for time passing, not for me, now it is 20 and 50, dare I say just like clockwork?

It's not annoying and really somewhat funny as everyone looks down at their phones in unison, sometimes even the presenter in the meeting, as though this meeting just showed up and they have no idea how it got there. I hear it outside of my office like a cascade of sound breaking the white noise machines above our cubicle farm.

By the way, everyone is still late for my meetings, just as it was pre-iPhone. My suggestion for future iPhone versions is to set the default to 1 minute after the meeting starts. I can picture it now... everyone grabbing their iPhones as the tone rings, getting their stuff and running off to the next meeting sure to be cut short by synchronous tones of technology.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Susur Lee makes Lee’s a Toronto Destination

Lee on Urbanspoon
Lee’s sets a new standard for French / Asian fusion cuisine in the City of Toronto, from its signature dish to desert, it is complete with taste, artistry and execution.
Since I started travelling to Toronto, I have set out to really try and define what the city means to me from a food perspective. My business colleagues in advertising are no strangers to good food and restaurants, sharing their time between Toronto and Manhattan. So, when they suggested Lee’s I did not hesitate for a second to go, skipping lunch in anticipation.
Susur Lee’s claim to fame in their eyes is somewhat kitschy as the “Iron Chef of Canada.” For my associates, he takes national pride into the arena with him, maybe unknowingly. Now, I happened to go during the two week of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and on the day of a Canadian win in women’s hockey, so the nationalism may have been a notch or two above normal.
The first thing I mentioned to my dining companions was how the space Lee’s occupies reminds me more of Portland than Toronto. This part of town is previously home to textile warehouses at the western end of the “entertainment district” on King Street. Exposed wood ceilings, low-slung pin lights and orange “up” lights along the wall set the scene for a great dinner. Floor to ceiling windows allow you to see the snowfall out on King Street and the tables are see-through plastic. Although tinted orange, I mention they resemble plexi-glass hockey boards, maybe a nod to oh-Canada? What the tables accomplish is taking a small space and making not feel so crowded. I think a good sartorial tip for Lee’s (and really anytime) is that shoes make the outfit. In the back, the ceiling is slung low over a horseshoe bar with deep red walls and an oriental red fabric lamp. A subtle and perfect nod to the Asian-inspired food you are about to eat.
On to the food…Kirin in hand, I hit the jackpot as this night was going to be a sampling of the chef’s favorites. Dishes are served “family style” but the portions are such that an individual can order one by themselves, kind of like large tapas. However, this format allows Mr. Lee to do some more interesting things that deserve to be shared like the duck confit wrapped in pastry and topped with goat cheese. Complemented with dried pineapple to bring some sweetness, this dish was sublime, offering different textures and a balance of flavors all meant to be together.
It all started with the signature dish, Singaporean style slaw. People at the table were all shouting in anticipation “it has 16 ingredients”, “No! it has 14”, “No. 18” and on and on. I think I may have even heard a “niner” in there. Those who know me, understand my irrational love of cole-slaw, well this takes it to a whole new level. Crunchy, sweet, spicy, soft, then a hint of sesame oil, next bite, more ingredients an entirely different sensation. Hard to describe but very easy to eat, get one to share and become a Lee insider.