Tag: restaurants

My Spy Notebook?

We headed to the beach this past weekend for a mini-vacation. Late on Sunday afternoon we wandered into a Hawaiian-style restaurant, Nalu, for an early dinner. I did my usual thing: after scanning the menu to decide what I wanted, I jotted it down in my Field Notes notebook. I do this for two reasons: (1) so that I don’t forget what I want to order; and (2) so that I have a record of it if I ever return. I also usually jot down the name of our server when they arrive at the table. I’m far less likely to forget their name if I jot it down.

When our server wandered over to take our order, I pulled out my notebook and jotted down his name, and then told him what I wanted. He looked at me and looked at my notebook and was visibly uncomfortable. I ordered a beer with my food and that seemed to put him at ease. Later, when he came by to bring me another beer, I had my notebook out again, this time because Grace was teaching us a game she’d learned in school, Pico Fermi Nada1, and I was attempting to play. Setting my beer on the table, our server referred to me as the C.I.A. guy. “You’re always jotting stuff down in your little notebook,” he said. By “always” I assume he meant the time I jotted down my order.

In seven years of carrying around these notebooks, this was the first time–the very first time–that it make someone other than me uncomfortable. I say “other than me” because for the first few years, I felt awkward about pulling out my notebook to jot down the name of the person I just met, or to take notes when on a tour of some kind. No one else ever seemed to notice, let alone mind. But it seemed to really unsettle this fellow. Maybe he mistook the numbers I’d scribble in order to figure out the 3-digit code in Pico Fermi Nada as some kind of secret code.

The pages in question from our evening at the restaurant

Friends have gotten used to me pulling out my notebook to jot something down. More often than not, I hear them say, “That’s a great idea, I should do that.” Occasionally someone mentions that they take notes on their phone and how great that is. I usually just smile and nod at this. There’s no need to go into all of the note-taking and to-do apps that I have tried over the years that haven’t worked as well as my Field Notes notebook and a pen. People occasionally ask about the notebook. This happens more frequently if it is a particularly interesting edition of the Field Notes notebooks.

Field Notes makes a Clandestine edition that comes complete with a decoder ring. I wonder what our server might have thought if I happened to be using that notebook instead of the United States of Letterpress edition I had on me.

Front and back covers of my Clandestine edition notebook.

Looking at these pages now, it occurs to me that I didn’t write down our server’s name this time. I think maybe I was distracted by his thinking that I was a C.I.A. guy.

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  1. Apparently a variant of Pico Fermi Bagel.

Mad Fox Brewing Company

Yesterday was Kelly’s birthday and she selected, for her birthday dinner, to go to a local restaurant we’d never been to before called Mad Fox Brewing Company. The restaurant is located in the City of Falls Church, a short drive from where we live. After work, we put the kids in the car and headed over. It turned out to be a really good dinner.

Max Fox is a brewery and they brew all of their own beer in house. You can’t get the beer outside the restaurant. They had a good selection of beers, two of which I tried. I started with the “Two Continents” IPA, which was moderately strong at 7% ABV, but tasted good. Later on, I had their special “Punkin” brew, which I didn’t like as much as the IPA. It was a lighter beer, designed to bring out the spices but I thought that is sacrificed too much of the beer flavor.

They had a number of specials for dinner that sounded excellent, but I had to go with their meatloaf mignon. I hadn’t had meatloaf in decades, but the way it was described on the menu made it sound virtually irresistible:

Bacon-wrapped, chorizo-tillamook cheddar stuffed meatloaf with roasted garlic potato puree, pancetta-corn relish.

Even the presentation was amazing. Here is what it looked like when it was served to me:


The meatloaf was held together around the circumference by bacon. The sauce was delicious, as was the meatloaf itself. Even the pancetta corn relish was to die for.

Kelly had the salmon fillet, described as,

Grilled salmon over sweet corn puree, fava bean succotash, piquillo pepper coulis

The kids ordered off the kids menu, and the restaurant was very kid-friendly. The service was excellent, the food was terrific. We all really enjoyed it. It’s a place we’d definitely come back to. Indeed, we identified it as a restaurant that would be good to take my sister and brother-in-law, as well as my in-laws.

If you are looking for good food in a family-friendly environment, be sure to check out the Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church.

Don’t read this if you are hungry

Last week while I was in L.A., I mentioned how I’d gone out with long-time friends to a celebrity-chef restaurant called Street. At the time, I raved about just how great all of the food was, but I was also far too tired and unskilled to describe it all. Fortunately, my friend Eric, proprietor of the Mouse House Kitchen blog was there with us (in fact, we were there at his suggestion) and he is an expert at this kind of thing. And today (finally!) he’s written up a post based on our experience. Go forth and read it! But I warn you: if you’re hungry, you may want to wait. This point will only make things worse.

Forget the fact that I was hanging out with lifelong friends who I don’t get to see very often, reading through Eric’s post brought back fond memories of that food. Yum!

Mystery of the Missing Lamb

After my talk on science fiction, the group split up into two camps to go out. I went with the camp bent on getting some food, since I was starving. We went to Lebanese Taverna. Usually, the food and service there was great, but this time, it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

Granted, we got there 10 minutes before the kitchen closed, so we had to rush to order.

I ordered a Mythos and lamb chops. I remembered the lamb chops from the last time I’d been there (a different location, but same chain) and we all sat around chatting while we waited for the food to come.

When the food was finally delivered, I wasn’t paying much attention, engrossed in the conversation as I was, and so I dug right into my lamb chops–only to find that they tasted exactly like well-done steak. That’s when I noticed that they also looked like well-done steak, and not at all like lamb chops. The fact that it was steak and not lamb didn’t bother me so much, as I was hungry and perfectly willing to eat steak, but I figured I’d at least mention it to our waiter.

“I ordered lamb, but what you brought was steak,” I said.

He gave me a curious look and said it was lamb.

“No,” I said, “definitely steak.”

He went off to get the manager who came by and asked what was wrong. I explained about the steak.

“We cook our lamb differently,” she said, “and we cut it differently, too. We use different seasonings because some people don’t like the taste of lamb.”

I said, “Well that works out well for them, I suppose, since this tastes like steak.”

At that point several people in the group snickered.

There was no offer to recook them (of course not, since the kitchen was now closed), and like I said, it didn’t really matter since I like steak, too, and I was hungry, but an admission of a mistake on their part would have been nice. I can assure you that people who don’t like lamb would have had no problem with what they served me since they’d prepared it in such a way as to remove all lamb and replace it quietly with steak. People who don’t like steak would have been out of luck.

As we were finishing up, the waiter came by again and asked if we needed anything else, and I’m rather ashamed to say that I muttered under my breath, “Yeah, lamb.” But really, it wasn’t the waiter’s fault.

Tipping table captains

Last year, at the Rainbow Room, I had my first experience with Table Captains. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but there was a line on the bill to leave them a tip, along with the waiters. I had to guess at what to leave him.

Since I will be at the Rainbow Room Grill again this Saturday (for my 2nd Annual Birthday Bash), I looked up tipping guidelines for table captains. Would you believe it was pretty hard to find. I did some searching online and didn’t come up with much. So I turned to my trusty 16th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette. Turns out it’s right there on page 533:

Like the waiter, but unlike the maitre d’, the captain depends on tips for a living. Leaving him 5 percent in addition to what you leave the waiting staff is adequate.

That’s good to know. I way overtipped the last time. It still leaves me wondering what a table captain does exactly. After I found the item in Emily Post, I also found this which give much the same information.

Big shot

When last I was in New York, I walked one evening down 2nd Avenue with Jen, Jason and Jenn on our way back to Jen and Jason’s apartment. While walking, we passed by Elaine’s and I, said “Hey, isn’t that Elaine’s from the Billy Joel song?” But I couldn’t remember which song it was (I thought it might have been “Uptown Girl”).

Well, listening to my iPod on shuffle mode, Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” just came on, and shortly into the second verse of the song is the line

And they were all impressed with your Holsten dress, and the people that you knew at Elaine’s…

I feel much better knowing which song it was mentioned in.

When you’re here, you’re family?

I decided to try the new Olive Garden they put in next to the Outback Steakhouse. I headed out for an early dinner, just me and my enormous book. When I got there, around 3:30 PM, it was already packed and I was told the wait was 30-45 minutes. “No problem,” I said. I sat down at the bar and cracked open the book and before I knew it, 30 minutes had gone by and I was being seated at a table. Things went downhill from there:

  • At 4:02, the waiter took my order, which consisted exactly of the bruchetta appetizer, chicken parmesan with salad and bread sticks, and a 22 oz. Bud Light on tap. He then disappeared for more than 20 minutes before I saw him again. When I finally did see him again, he brought bread sticks and promised that the beer was on it’s way.
  • Two minutes later, as if on queue, another waiter arrived with the beer–in a bottle. The other waiter disappeared so quickly that I had to wait several more minutes for my waiter to show up again to get this corrected.
  • Several minutes later, my appetizer and main course showed up at the same time. I hate when this happens, and usually I have them hold the main course, but everyone seemed so overwhelmed that I just accepted what they brought. I reminded the waiter that he still owed me a beer and a salad. Eventually, those arrived as well.
  • When the check finally came, I noticed I was charged for both the bottle of beer and the draft beer. It took another 15 minutes for that to be corrected.

Normally, I leave at least a 20% tip, but this time, on a $23 check I left exactly $3. I was just looking to get out and have a nice dinner and I spent the entire meal wondering what would go wrong next. (I was not the only one either. The people at the table next to me seemed to be having even more trouble than I was.)

But I gave it a shot. I now know to avoid the local Olive Garden. I probably could have figured that out without actually buying a meal.

Strangely enough, I managed to get a terrible stomach ache halfway through the meal. This happened to me yesterday as well, when I went to TGI Friday’s for lunch. It is the first time that I can remember being attacked by a stomach ache at two consecutive restaurant visits and I must say that it was equally annoying each time it happened.