Restaurant Review: Na'Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse

At $43 per person (excluding drinks and desserts), Na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse is not the kind of restaurant we can afford to go to very often.  But after going there for the first time this weekend for a special occasion, I can say it’s easily one of my all-time favorite restaurants.  If you like meat, then you need to get yourself to Na’Brasa as soon as possible.  If you don’t like meat, what’s wrong with you?

There are two courses in a Na’Brasa meal.  The first course is the salad bar, which has a huge variety of foods, which are mostly not meat, at least not primarily.  But the real action is in the second course.  At your table, you have a small laminated card with a brown side and a yellow side.  When you’re ready for meat, you flip it over so the yellow side is facing up, which signals the waiters to come to your table.

But these aren’t just any waiters.  It’s a team of about 10 waiters, each carrying a giant skewer and a carving knife.  On each skewer is one particular kind of meat: filet mignon, picanha, pork ribs, beef short ribs, sausage, bacon-wrapped chicken, lamb chops, and many other varieties.  The waiters are constantly swarming the room, going from the kitchen past each table, looking for yellow cards.  When a waiter sees your yellow card, he stops and asks if you want the particular kind of meat that he’s carrying.  If so, he carves off a slice for you on the spot.  And each skewer typically has three or four different pieces of the same cut, so you can choose the level of doneness for your slice.

As long as you’ve got your yellow card showing, waiters will continually come by and give you more meat.  When you need a break, you flip your card over to the brown side.  Then flip back to yellow when you’re ready to feast again.

This is pretty much the greatest idea in the history of restaurants.

The meat was delicious.  The picanha, sausage, and beef short ribs in particular were simply amazing.  The picanha had a nice fat cap that was perfectly crisped.  The sausage and short ribs were ridiculously tender and richly flavored.  There was also salmon (technically part of the salad course, but it’s carried around the room and brought to your table like the rodÝzio meats) that was quite good.

And then there’s the desserts: you’re so stuffed that you can barely even think about them, but you made the mistake of checking them out online beforehand, so you have to get one.  I got the Peanut Butter Bomb and loved it.  I also had a bit of Travis’ Cheesecake Xango which was wonderful.

In addition to the food being excellent, these were some of the best waiters I’ve ever seen.  This guy was especially good:

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He’s picanha guy, and he spent a lot of time at our table.  I wish I would have taken some photos of the meat slices before devouring them, but in that photo, you can at least see the picanha on the skewer.

Na’Brasa also helpfully labels everything on their salad bar to indicate which items are gluten-free, and 14 of the 17 meats are also gluten-free.  It’s nice to see a restaurant catering to this common food sensitivity, rather than worrying about silly fads like the low-fat diet.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Restaurant Review: A Ca Mia Italian Restaurant in Walnutport, PA

A new restaurant called A Ca Mia just opened in Walnutport, owned by a well-regarded chef with decades of experience.  Between that and the fact that the only other restaurants in the area are fast food, we were anxious to check it out.

The Food

I was very happy with my meal.  There was the traditional bread with dipping oil, then a salad with vidalia onion dressing, and Meat Sauce Bolognese for my entree: "Our traditional combination of veal, beef and pork meat slowly braised and cooked in a red wine tomato sauce."  For dessert I had the cannoli, which used puff pastry instead of the usual thin shell, and it was delicious.

You choose whichever kind of pasta you’d like in the Bolognese, and I chose penne.  The portion size was gigantic: I ate about a third of it, and took the rest home, where I weighed it to find it was nearly two pounds left over.

My only complaints are minor: the salad was served in a bowl that was just barely big enough to hold it, which means that it’s virtually impossible to mix after pouring on the dressing (which they serve on the side); the "dipping oil" for the bread was actually a mountain of minced garlic covered in a small amount of oil, which was so spicy from all the garlic that it was slightly painful to eat; and they don’t offer sweet iced tea, nor raspberry iced tea, to drink -- just soda and unsweetened tea (and of course water, milk, and hot drinks).

Kim’s meal, however, was disappointing.  She called ahead to ask whether they have any gluten-free meals, and they said yes.  But when we got there, our waitress told us that they could make pretty much any regular meal gluten-free upon request.  That might sound good at first, but in reality what it means is they haven’t actually put any time or effort into making good gluten-free meals.  Technically it’s true that they can make most of their meals gluten-free by serving them without the pasta, but that doesn’t mean the resulting meals are going to be any good (e.g. lasagna without noodles would be pretty pathetic, and not at all the same as lasagna with gluten-free noodles).

The chicken and broccoli that Kim got is a prime example of this.  I’m not sure exactly what it would have looked like in the regular version, but the gluten-free version was 3 large chicken breasts surrounded by some broccoli on a plate with a very watery white sauce.  The chicken did not seem to be seasoned nor seared at all, and the sauce was not creamy, not cheesy, just watery.

The Atmosphere

A Ca Mia probably didn’t have many good options for where to site the restaurant in the Walnutport area, through no fault of its own, of course.  But the location is quite small, and the tables are packed into it pretty tightly.  It’s a single room, and I believe it’s all tables, with no booths.  It feels crowded.  There was a waitress or busboy hustling past us pretty much the whole time.

The restaurant is also noisy.  Partly this was because of a large, rowdy group seated near our table, and partly it’s because it was a Saturday night (though it was 9:30 PM, nearly closing time) -- but it’s also partly because of the single-room layout and the lack of sound-dampening design features (particularly carpet) in the space.  It feels more like a cafeteria than a restaurant.

The Verdict

I would gladly eat at A Ca Mia again, despite its flaws.  The menu is expansive, with about 60 entrees (including a large seafood section) and over a dozen appetizers.  And as I mentioned, there are few if any other decent restaurants in the area, so it’s almost the only game in town.  They had a 45-60 minute wait around 6:30 PM so they seem to be doing well.

On the other hand, Bravo is only 20 minutes down the road.  And as much as I did like the food at A Ca Mia, it is just not in the same league as Bravo.  If it were considerably cheaper, that’d be one thing, but our meal (two entrees, two sodas, and two desserts -- no appetizers and no alcohol) was $50 before tip, which is the same price or more expensive than a meal at Bravo, or Outback Steakhouse, or P.F. Chang’s, etc.

And A Ca Mia just doesn’t have much to offer people with a gluten intolerance, which is a significant portion of the population, even if many of them haven’t discovered it yet.  The restaurant could certainly stand to take 5 of those 60 entrees and replace them with a few well-designed dishes that are truly gluten-free.

Posted by Anthony on 8 replies

Gore Mountain Ski Trip

A few weeks ago, Kim and I took a little ski trip to Gore Mountain, New York.  We’d never been there before, and this was only my third time skiing, so it was a new and exciting adventure.

We set out on a Tuesday around 1 PM, and arrived around 9 PM.  The trip is nominally 6.5 hours, but we had a couple of detours for wild goose chases looking for restaurants that were listed on the iPhone maps app, but turned out to not exist (note: don’t trust any "sponsored links" in there, and always check the satellite view to make sure the "restaurant" isn’t on a back road in the middle of nowhere).

We also hit some pretty serious snow during the last hour or so of the drive, which slowed us down quite a bit.  But our timing couldn’t have been better, because overnight the Gore Mountain area got about 18 inches of snow.  In fact, it snowed the entire time we were there, including another ~10 inches the second night/day, which made the whole trip extra awesome.  Here’s the view from our room’s deck on the first night:

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Welcome to North Creek

The little town of North Creek NY is a charming and sleepy place.  It’s a nice 20-minute drive from the highway, and when you get there, you wouldn’t necessarily know that you’re right next to a big popular ski mountain.  We’ve resolved to take ski trips during the week to avoid the crowds and long lines, which makes the skiing much better, but we discovered that North Creek is kind of a ghost town during the week -- which is just fine, as far as we’re concerned.

The whole town is basically one short main street with 10 or so local restaurants mixed amongst houses and small hotels.  When we arrived around 9 PM, all but one of the restaurants was closed, and that one -- barVino -- looked nice but was more of a wine bar than a proper restaurant, and since it was empty and closing soon, we ended up just snacking in our room.

I don’t think there is a single 24-hour establishment in North Creek, which is kind of strange when you’re used to there being several 24-hour grocery stores and convenience stores within a 5-10 minute drive at all times.  On the one hand it’s nice, but around 9 PM on the second night, I developed a runny nose that just wouldn’t stop, which made it very difficult to sleep; I would have paid a lot of money for some Nyquil.  There’s also no cell phone signal in the town, but fortunately there was free wifi at our hotel.  The ski area was a few miles away and it did have cell coverage.

The Adirondack Alpine Lodge

We stayed at The Alpine Lodge, and I was extremely impressed with it.  It seems brand new and was very clean and nice.  The small hotel is well-designed, with large overhangs that keep the walkways -- and each room’s private deck -- free of snow.  The decor is very rustic, and all the furniture is beautiful and hand-made from mostly raw wood (i.e. tree branches).  The shower, though a little small, had great pressure, and the tile floor in the bathroom seemed to be heated.  The room had a flat-screen TV with built-in DVD player, which as Netflix lovers we really appreciated; it seems that hardly any hotels have DVD players so we were pleasantly surprised.  The private deck was quite nice and since it was covered, it was really convenient for us to just leave our cooler outside; we didn’t have to refill the ice at all.

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The lodge also has a neat policy for check-in and check-out: the doors have keypads instead of keys or cards, so they give you a code when you make your reservation, which means you can just show up and go right into your room without really checking in at all.  In fact there is no front desk nor lobby nor anything like that, though there is a common area (also key-coded).  Check-out is the same: you just leave.  This is super appealing to us, but it did reveal what turned out to be the one big downside: it was impossible for us to get ahold of anyone from the hotel.  There’s a room phone with the standard "dial 0 for front desk" kind of label on it, but doing that only ever got us voice-mail, and they never returned any of our calls.

We didn’t really need much from them: some extra towels would have been nice, and when we had made our reservation over the phone, they mentioned that we could get a discount on lift tickets from them, which we were hoping to do on Wednesday morning.  We didn’t pay for them in advance (with the reservation), fortunately, and we ended up just getting tickets at the mountain.  And we did put out a "No room service / Do not disturb" sign on the door, because at hotels we generally don’t want people coming in every day, messing with whatever our schedule is, and potentially rooting through our stuff; so perhaps the towels would have been replaced if we hadn’t put the sign out, though it seems unlikely.

The other problem with the hotel was that the doors leading into the common area (and/or to the second-floor rooms) slam closed very loudly whenever anyone goes through them.  Our room was right near these doors, and you could even feel the room shake a bit every time they closed -- which happened annoyingly often especially considering that there appeared to only be 2 or 3 other guests at the hotel during our stay.

In the room there was a "how was your stay" comments sheet, so I filled it out on the day we left, giving them high marks for everything except the service, and writing a note about the slamming doors and how it was impossible to get ahold of anyone.  They later called us and said that our review hurt their feelings (no, seriously), and said that we should have called their cell phone number (which was apparently the one we got from the ad/website to make the reservation) instead of dialing 0 on the room phone.  That is of course absurd; you don’t put phones in each room with a "dial 0" message and then a) not answer and b) never return the voice-mails -- and you definitely don’t call the guests after the fact to say that their review hurt your feelings, when the review contained praise and also valuable constructive criticism that if heeded would improve the business.

Despite those issues, I loved The Alpine Lodge and would definitely go back.  Kim wasn’t as crazy about it though, so we’ll see.

On the Mountain

We didn’t spend quite as much time actually skiing as we would have liked, due to a combination of factors: our (my) weird sleep schedule, us both having varying degrees of colds, and the fact that the Gore Mountain lifts close at 3:45 PM.  (Their slogan is "More Gore!" but with the lifts closing so early, "Less Gore!" seems more appropriate.)  Our skiing days were Wednesday and Thursday, and we skied about 3 hours each day.

The conditions were pretty amazing, due to all the snow that fell during our stay.  In fact on our very first run we got onto an ungroomed trail that had about two feet of sink-into-it snow and no tracks.  For me this was a real challenge, because I ski less than once per year, and had only done it twice in my life before; so I had a hard time in this deep powder and kept falling, which frustrated the heck out of me.  The deep snow also made it really hard to clip your boots back into your skis after falling, adding to my aggravation.  But Kim was very patient with me, and we managed to get down and then back up the mountain and onto some groomed trails.

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Another thing that frustrated me -- or that made my frustration worse -- was that I was really overheated.  Partly this was because at first I was hardly moving, but it was also because I had 3 layers of clothes on: ski pants/shirt (basically thermal underwear), then sweatpants and long-sleeve shirt, and finally snow pants and jacket.  I guess that’s because my first ski trip involved 10-degree temperatures, but this time it was right around 30 degrees, so the middle layer was definitely too much.  Removing that helped a lot.

The mountain itself was pretty nice, comparable in size to Jay Peak, though of course nothing like Steamboat Springs.  But to me (with relatively little experience) the trails seemed long and numerous enough, and there were no lift lines since we went during the week.  There were quite a few trails and lifts closed though, so your options for runs were somewhat limited.  But as with our Jay Peak trip, there were some runs where we had the whole trail to ourselves, and none that were crowded by any means.

To Ski or Not to Ski

Part of the reason our first day of skiing wasn’t longer was that I had to rent skis and boots and poles before we could get out there.  Renting makes sense the first time you ski, and probably the second time, but by now, the time and hassle and expense of renting are starting to irritate me.  It doesn’t help that all the guys in the rental shop are obviously way cooler than me, and I look like a total noob getting my little rentals.  (As an aside, the stereo in the rental shop was blasting out music, and I noted several Tool tracks followed immediately by Billy Joel -- ??)

Another reason I rent, though, is that I haven’t yet decided whether to be a skier or a snowboarder.  I haven’t yet tried snowboarding, having only been on 3 short ski trips in my life.  So until I get a chance to snowboard and make up my mind, I’m going to be stuck with rentals.

But this trip, especially that first trail where I just kept falling, reminded me of what I hate about skiing: the boots and the leg pain.  Ski boots are just so freakin’ heavy and uncomfortable.  The leg pain is just because I’m not a super athlete like Kim (I mean, she really is), especially during the winter.  I’m in pretty good shape, but skiing is just so hard on your legs; it takes tons of strength and control to be able to keep the skis together and to make the turns.  You have to move your legs independently, and it’s become clear to me that one of my legs is much stronger (or at least easier to control on turns) than the other.  We did get a sweet exercise bike a couple weeks ago, so in the future this will be less of an issue since I’ll be able to bike in the winter.

However I also realized that this is one huge advantage of snowboarding over skiing: since your feet are locked in place on a snowboard, you don’t have to be constantly fighting (and straining) your legs to keep them in position relative to each other.  I’m sure that you still need some leg strength to be decent at snowboarding, but you’re doing different things with your legs than a skier does, and it seems to me that in this respect I’ll like snowboarding a lot better.

So whether I will actually end up liking snowboarding better, I don’t know yet, but I’ve decided that I’m snowboarding on our next winter trip.

North Creek Restaurants

There aren’t a ton of restaurant choices in and around North Creek, at least not during the week, because several of them are closed Monday through Wednesday, or Tuesday through Thursday, etc.  But considering the size of the main street area of the town, the restaurant selection is not bad.  And it’s nice that the handful of restaurants are all within short walking distance of the lodge.

On Wednesday morning we ate breakfast at Marsha’s Family Restaurant.  At around 10 AM, we were one of only two groups there.  This is a typical diner-type place, which we don’t really like, but it wasn’t bad.

For dinner we went to Trapper’s Tavern, which is inside the Copperfield Inn.  It’s beautiful inside, with lots of exposed log architecture.  And with 4 or 5 other groups there, it was the busiest place we saw.  We weren’t blown away by our meals, but they were pretty good and we’d probably go back.

On Thursday morning we went to Common Roots for breakfast.  It was again sort of typical diner fare.  Suspiciously, the "home fries" were exactly the same as the ones from Marsha’s.  As always, I requested them to be extra crispy at both places; both waitresses said OK; neither place actually did it.

Lorenzo’s in North Creek

Thursday night’s dinner was the food highlight of our trip.  We ate at Lorenzo’s, which is the other restaurant inside the Copperfield Inn.  We were the only people in the whole place, but we did get there at 5 PM right as they were opening.  It looks extremely fancy, and you’d think there’d be a dress code, but there isn’t; their menu even has a statement to the effect of "we will strive to provide a high-class dining experience without any pretension."

The waiter perfectly embodied this philosophy: he was dressed in formal attire and was extremely professional, yet also very friendly and helpful.  He seated us right in front of the brick oven, which is the centerpiece of the open kitchen area.  We could also see the freshly-made pasta drying on racks by the oven.  And when I placed my order, part of which was the Baked Roman Style Semolina Gnocchi, the waiter recommended the Gnocchi in Parmesan Fondue instead, because it’s apparently a customer favorite.

Everything on the menu sounded wonderful, and I decided to get three smaller dishes so I could try more things: the aforementioned Gnocchi in Parmesan Fondue, the Crispy Calamari with Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, and the Roasted Radicchio di Treviso ("A hearty lettuce lightly marinated and roasted").  The gnocchi dish was one of the most creamy and delicious things I’ve ever eaten.  The calamari were perfect: crispy, tender, and delicious.  They’re served with the vinaigrette on the bottom, underneath the heaping pile of calamari, so as not to allow the strong sauce to overpower the flavor and crispiness of the calamari.  And indeed, once I got down to the sauce, every bite was a difficult decision, because the crispy calamari alone were amazing, but they were also great dipped in the sauce.

The radicchio was the only thing I didn’t like; I think it just had a particular spice in it that I didn’t care for.  Or maybe we just hate vegetables, because Kim got the Grilled Broccolini, and we were both lukewarm on that as well.  But her main dish was one of their brick oven pizzas, and she absolutely loved it -- which is especially high praise because Kim, like me, is a picky pizza eater.

In addition to being extremely pleased with the food itself, Kim and I were both amazed at the speed with which the chef prepared all 5 dishes.  The chef’s name was Denver, and since we were seated right next to the open kitchen, and we were the only guests there, we could see her preparing everything.  Just like the waiter, Denver was very friendly, and we had a nice chat with her after our food was served.

The restaurant has a great atmosphere as well, partly because of the many huge windows which give a nice view of the snowy pine trees outside.  We ate right around dusk, and there was lots of snow falling, which combined with the light and warmth of the brick oven to create a really cozy setting.

Our meal at Lorenzo’s was certainly among the best dining experiences we’ve ever had.

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We drove home on Friday, and hit some snow on parts of this drive too.  Driving through upstate New York, you pass through long stretches with nothing but trees surrounding the highway, and because of all the snow that had fallen, many of these huge trees were leaning way over, some actually onto the road.  It was pretty crazy.  And we tried to stop at a couple of restaurants, but they were stuck under a couple feet of snow and still being dug out around noon.  Finally we found an Applebee’s that was open.

It was a pretty great trip overall.  The North Creek area is really nice, and the brochures in the area advertised fun summery water activities too, since it’s right on the Hudson, so we might even go back for a hiking/rafting/kayaking trip during the summer months.

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Posted by Anthony on reply

Chicken Madeira at The Cheesecake Factory

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The Cheesecake Factory’s Chicken Madeira is probably my favorite meal.  I’ve had it about 5 times, and I think it’s the only dish I’ve ever ordered at The Cheesecake Factory.

This isn’t the most visually-appealing rendition of the dish that I’ve had, but it was delicious as always.  The chicken is absurdly tender, lightly coated in some kind of egg-based batter, fried so it’s a little crispy on the outside, then covered in mozzarella, mushrooms, and the amazing, slightly sweet Madeira wine sauce.

The couple of asparagus spears are a nice touch, and the mashed potatoes are really good too, but don’t kid yourself: you’re here for the chicken.

Posted by Anthony on reply

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do

Interesting list in the "You’re the Boss Blog" on the New York Times.  It’s clearly meant for a more fancy restaurant than the kinds we usually visit, but I can’t help wishing all restaurants took these kinds of things seriously.  In fact many of the items are just obvious, common-sense, good-manners issues, so it’s sad how many restaurants and servers are deficient in these areas.

Quoting Bruce Buschel:

12. Do not touch the rim of a water glass. Or any other glass.

13. Handle wine glasses by their stems and silverware by the handles.

25. Make sure the glasses are clean. Inspect them before placing them on the table.

33. Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by.

34. Do not have a personal conversation with another server within earshot of customers.

35. Do not eat or drink in plain view of guests.

36. Never reek from perfume or cigarettes. People want to smell the food and beverage.

45. Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests.

47. Do not gossip about co-workers or guests within earshot of guests.

56. Do not ignore a table because it is not your table.  Stop, look, listen, lend a hand. (Whether tips are pooled or not.)

62(a). Do not let a glass sit empty for too long.

66. Do not return to the guest anything that falls on the floor -- be it napkin, spoon, menu or soy sauce.

68. Do not reach across one guest to serve another.

71. Do not race around the dining room as if there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency. (Unless there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency.)

77. Do not disappear.

78. Do not ask, "Are you still working on that?"  Dining is not work -- until questions like this are asked.

I also loved this one:

11. Do not hustle the lobsters.  That is, do not say, "We only have two lobsters left."  Even if there are only two lobsters left.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Cape Cod: Great Beaches, Bad Restaurants

Last week, we took a fun little vacation to Cape Cod.  We left Sunday and returned Thursday, but because the drive takes a whole day -- it’s nominally ~7 hours, but longer if you include a few bathroom breaks and a meal stop -- we really only spent 3 days there.

Our plan was to camp, because we like that and we’re used to camping at the Jersey shore.  But the campground doesn’t let you check in after 9 PM, so we had to stay in a hotel the first night.  The brand-name hotels were all around $200 per night, so I tried to find something cheaper, and found Cape Point Hotel for $135.  It turned out to be pretty terrible: the hallway to our room and our room itself had a strange gross smell; the air conditioner continually turned itself off and on despite being set to stay on; the handle on the toilet fell off when you touched it; and, as we checked out, the woman at the desk didn’t even ask how our stay was.  I assume she already knew.

On Cape Cod you have the bay on the north shore, the sound on the south shore, the ocean on the east shore, and then you have lots of huge inland ponds.  On the first day we checked into the campground around 1 PM, set up camp, and then walked the ~1 mile to the bay.  But it was low tide when we arrived there at around 3 PM, and low tide on Cape Cod Bay means you need to walk about three-quarters of a mile to get to water that’s more than ankle-deep.  It was neat to see, especially the dozen or so boats that were anchored and sitting on dry land due to the low tide, and the water was quite warm, probably 75F or slightly warmer.  And it was nice and uncrowded, with perhaps 100 people spread across the one square mile or so of beach and bay.

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But I really wanted to get into some real ocean water that was cool and deep enough to swim in.  On the second day, we mapped a bike ride across the peninsula to Nantucket Sound.  Starting at our campground in Brewster, it was a short 1.5 mile ride on route 137 to Underpass Road, where we picked up a bike path that goes almost right across most of the peninsula.  We got off the path at Lothrop Ave and took that to Earle Road, which led us right to Earle Road Beach.  It’s a small beach, probably not even a football field long, but we arrived around 10 AM and there were only 3 or 4 other groups there.  It had decent waves despite technically being the sound and not the ocean, and the water temperature was perfect, probably about 73-75F.  As a longtime Jersey shore beachgoer, I loved how soft and shell-free the sand was, and how clean the water was.  After an hour or so, we biked back across the cape to our campsite.  The ride was 8.5 miles each way, which took us about 50 minutes, so it was a good ride -- and it was neat to pass several of the huge ponds along the way.  We’ll definitely have to swim in some of those next time.

Later in the day we drove up the cape, in search of sand dunes and a nice ocean-side beach, which we eventually found (thanks to Brian’s navigational help) in Wellfleet.  At this particular beach the parking area is about 75 feet above sea level, so you have to take one of two steep diagonal trails down the face of the sand dune to get to the beach.  It was late in the day when we arrived, so we didn’t swim, but I did walk into the water up to my shins, and it was cold.  The water was nice and turquois, though, as you can see in the satellite view, so I think we’ll probably make a point to swim here on our next trip.

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On our third and final day, we rented kayaks from The Chatham Kayak Company.  The fancy name contrasts with the extremely informal (in a good way) nature of the operation: you drive to the end of Barn Hill Road, make a hard left just before the parking lot, and Anne or John emerges from a shack to take your information and put you into a kayak.  They’re right on the water of Oyster Pond River, so you’re into the water and ready to go pretty quickly.  We headed towards Stage Harbor, then went out the small channel into the sound (or technically, I guess it’s Sequetucket Harbor at that location).  We went about 2 miles, not quite making it to the ocean, but we did get into some waves, and in fact I capsized my kayak on one of them.  This turned out to be a good thing, because I lost our only water bottle when I flipped, which meant that we had to head back; and we ended up with pretty decent sunburn after the ~2.5 hour trip as it was, so we’d’ve been in bad shape if we stayed out much longer.  Here’s the route we took:

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The kayak trip was the highlight of the vacation, though.  We’ve kayaked a few times before, but never on open water like that.  It was really neat to be able to just go wherever you wanted, and to stop at beaches which were inaccessible except by boat and therefore totally devoid of people.  Not having kayaked much before, I forgot that there’s actually a lot of room in the boat for stuff like water bottles, extra sunblock, etc; had I realized that, I would have brought a backpack with enough supplies to turn it into a half day’s adventure.

The Restaurants

The nice water, beaches, and bike trails on Cape Cod are unfortunately beset by countless restaurants -- bad restaurants -- which were the downside of an otherwise awesome trip.

On the first morning, we ate breakfast at Hearth ’n Kettle.  This place looks promising: nice on the outside and country-style on the inside, like a less fake version of Cracker Barrel or Bob Evans.  But once seated, we had a longish wait before our waitress noticed us and took our orders.  My omelette was made of something other than natural eggs; I’ve never knowingly eaten "egg beaters" or anything like that, but that’s what I thought of -- it was slightly rubbery, perfectly smooth on top, and just unnatural.  The "home fries" were new potatoes that were just halved and deep fried, rather than cut up and pan-fried.  But that stuff is minor compared to what happened when the waitress brought out the tray of food for the table across from us.  She accidentally knocked a piece of toast off a plate and onto the surface of the tray, then grabbed it with her bare hand, fumbled it a few times and generally just smooshed it around on the dirty tray surface, and then placed it back onto the plate.  This happened right next to us and away from the table where the food was going, so they probably didn’t see it; Kim and I just watched in horror.

Before the trip, I spent a fair bit of time researching restaurants on Fodor’s and TripAdvisor.  The #1 Cape Cod restaurant on TripAdvisor is Moby Dick’s, and after reading the reviews, it seemed like a safe bet.  When we arrived there was a long line with an hour-long wait, but it ended up being only a half an hour due to some people bailing out early.  We were seated in what appears to be the only section in the whole place, which is basically a screened-in deck with powerful overhead fans blowing right on you and your food.  (I do recall being asked whether we wanted to choose where we sit, or take the first available table; this was after our long wait to get in, so we opted for first available, but I assume that perhaps this means there actually is another section, which is hopefully more indoors and nicer.)  I had never had a lobster roll before, and since they’re all the hype on Cape Cod, and since I love lobster, I decided to try one.  It wasn’t bad, but was certainly nothing special; and I gather that they’re supposed to be cold, but I guess I just don’t care for cold lobster.  The bread/roll was just barely toasted, and it was overall pretty small, I’d guess 8-10 ounces.  The presentation certainly left something to be desired (see photo below).  So on the whole, Moby Dick’s wasn’t terrible, but was not especially good either.  I doubt we’ll go back.

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In the mornings, I made a campfire and roasted up some bratwurst and sausage; these were by far the best meals I had on Cape Cod:

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Our next meal out was at Carmine’s in Chatham.  This is a pizza shop, and I thought the pizza was decent, though nowhere near as good as Mack and Manco or Grotto.  Kim wasn’t crazy about it.  However, considering that I am apparently a pizza snob, the fact that I think Carmine’s is OK might actually be a decent compliment for them.  I wouldn’t mind getting pizza here again.  The one downside was that there’s no bathroom, which means nowhere to wash your hands; you have to walk out the back of the building, around a corner past another building, and across a parking lot to get to public restrooms (they were nice restrooms though).

Another restaurant that had good reviews was The Paddock, so we went there on our second night.  This place looks nice and fancy; it doesn’t have a dress code, but they do the full table sets with proper silverware and plate layouts, wine glasses, etc.  They served pre-meal bread with dipping oil, which I love, and this particular oil also had some kind of tomato-based herb mixture under it, and it was amazing.  My salad was also quite good, and my meal -- peppercorn-encrusted swordfish -- was really good too.  However, it was more like peppercorn-conquered swordfish -- not a bad thing in my book -- which made it really spicy, and I finished my tiny-wine-glass portion of Coke in no time.  I couldn’t continue to eat it without more beverage; and Kim was also at an impasse with her meal at this point.  But after delivering our meals, our waitress abandoned us for at least 15 minutes (Kim thinks it was even longer), during which time we watched her yakking it up with various other patrons across the room.  When she finally returned, and found us sitting there staring at our plates, she asked something like, "Oh, are you not enjoying your meals?"  I said no, we’re waiting for refills on our drinks, to which she replied "Oh, we don’t do refills here; but maybe I could bring you new ones?"  So she chose to interpret my request as a wish to have those specific glasses refilled, rather than the obvious interpretation which is we need more to drink.  She made it seem like there was something wrong with me, as if additional drink is an unusual request, and she never apologized for disappearing for most of our meal.  To top it all off, she charged us for the extra drinks, at $4.50 each -- for soda!

Our final Cape Cod restaurant stop was at JT’s Seafood Restaurant.  The sign by the road for this place is fancy, making it seem like this will be an at least somewhat fancy restaurant.  But when you get inside, it’s set up like a cafeteria.  There’s a big board on the wall with those slidey plastic letters; this is the menu.  You order and pay for your food, then go sit down and wait for them to bring it to you.  The place seemed decently clean, but the decor was just... ridiculous.  The dining room is half tables, half booths, with the booths on a raised level; the walls were white and mostly bare; the music was... I don’t remember except that it was bad.  I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with the layout and decor, but it just didn’t make sense; things didn’t go together, and it kind of seems like it was someone’s house that they just put some booths and tables into.  All of that is subjective so maybe it’s not entirely fair, but Kim and I both just got a weird vibe from the setup.  The real problem, though, was that the lobster I ordered came on a paper plate.  With a piece of corn-on-the-cob and a biscuit on top of the lobster.  And plastic silverware.  You have to take everything except the lobster off the plate to start working on the lobster, and of course lobster is a big mess with tons of water coming out of it, which quickly turned the paper plate into a disaster.  And the lobster was $20, which isn’t hugely expensive, but I had thought that lobster was supposed to be so cheap in New England.

IHOP, Save Us!

Fortunately, Cape Cod does have a bunch of good chain restaurants.  On our way out of town on Thursday morning, we got breakfast at IHOP, and it was wonderful.  And we had previously gotten dinner at Outback Steakhouse on the way to Cape Cod, about halfway into the trip; I got tilapia covered in mushrooms and crab meat, which was wonderful, and Kim got ribs -- Outback was great, as it consistently is.  And on the cape we did see an Olive Garden, a Pizzeria Uno, and a Friday’s, all of which we like and are usually very good.  We should have cut our losses after the first or second disappointing local restaurant, but I wanted to believe we could find something good.  But at least we know for next time: pack more campfire food, and eat out at the known-good restaurants.

While researching restaurants before the trip, I did come across an article titled "On Cape Cod, Desperately Seeking Seafood" in the Washington Post; I guess I just didn’t want to believe it:

Quoting The Washington Post:

I presumed the crowds happily standing in line to order were there for the food.

I presumed wrong.  The fried clams were indistinguishable from the onion rings, which tasted remarkably like the fried shrimp.  After a few bites I felt as if I had rubbed a bowl of grease onto my face.

"You don’t come to the Cape to eat," my husband explained, polishing off his french fries, or were they clam strips? [...]

You have to seek [good food] out, to distinguish by trial and error the few spots that are good from the many that are adequate or worse.

And that’s the problem: Cape Cod is basically wall-to-wall restaurants, and -- in that author’s experience, and ours -- few of those restaurants are good.

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Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Five Ducks With Bacon

During our trip to Jay Peak last week, I ate duck for the first time.  It was stuffed with apricot and it was pretty good.

Last night, I dreamed that Kim and I were out at a restaurant.  She ordered a mushroom salad, but in real life she hates mushrooms.  I love mushrooms, though, and I hadn’t seen that item on the menu, so when the waiter asked me for my order, I was frantically flipping through the menu trying to find it, in case I wanted to order it too.

But when I finally found the "mushroom salad," it was a sandwich, and I thought that didn’t sound very good.  On the opposing page, I saw "Five Ducks With Bacon", which the photo showed as 5 strips of bacon along with 5 strips of duck meat cut to about the same size and shape as bacon.  I ordered it, but woke up before getting the chance to try it.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

The Jersey Shore

Last weekend we went to the Jersey shore.  It was nice to camp out with our friend George again, and to do the campfire thing, and it was a pretty fun trip.  But we both agreed that it’s harder to enjoy the black ocean waters of New Jersey after having been in the turquois Bahamian seas and the crystal clear streams of Colorado.

We started out on the beach in Ocean City, but it was packed as usual, and being the long, flat, straight beach that it is, it was really windy.  So we drove route 619 (?) down the coast and eventually ended up at 67th Street in Avalon.  It was now just after 5 PM, so the annoying lifeguards were packing it in, and the beach was far less crowded & windy.

On another day we went to a beach near 2nd Street in Sea Isle City.  This day had been extremely rainy and windy, but we caught a break from the rain and hit the beach.  It was still really windy, though, and this beach was nearly deserted; and the waves were HUGE, I’d say it was probably 6 foot seas when we went in.  They were definitely the biggest waves I’d ever seen in person, and big enough that it was a struggle just to get out into the water.  A wind-surfer came past us up the coast, and he was getting amazing air -- about 30 feet at one point.  It was like he was flying.

We had dinner at The Lobster House one night, which means that I got Alaskan King Crab legs.  They’re so big that they only give you 3 of them, and you still get as much meat as when you get a dozen regular crab legs -- only it’s far easier to get at it what with only having to break open 3 shells instead of 12.  Also, we went at about 6 PM on a Sunday, and it was packed; but they told us our wait would be 60-80 minutes and it ended up being only 25, probably because there were only 2 of us.

We ate a late breakfast at Uncle Bill’s, but we went to the one in Cape May instead of the one on 21st & Asbury in Ocean City where we usually go.  You’d think they’d be the same, but the stuffed french toast came with Reddi-Wip instead of cinnamon butter.  Of course it’s the cinnamon butter that makes the meal, but when we asked the waitress about it, she said she’d never heard of it.

Of course we went to Mack and Manco’s a couple of times to get the greatest pizza ever.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

PA Smoking Ban Will Finally Become Law

Pennsylvania will soon finally join the rest of the northeast, the majority of the US, and many of the world’s nations by adopting a public smoking ban.  After a committee last week produced a bill and the House passed it, the Senate today also passed it.  It will become law 90 days from the date that Governor Ed Rendell signs it, which he has said that he plans to do quickly.

You can read the ridiculous smoking ban timeline that the PA legislature has traveled over the past year or so.

The public smoking ban will have the following exemptions:

- up to 25 percent of the rooms in hotels

- designated outdoor smoking areas at sports or recreation facilities, theaters, etc

- bars whose annual food sales are 20% or less

- cigar bars

- tobacco shops

- private clubs

- up to 50 percent of casino gaming halls

- long-term care facilities

- private homes, residences and vehicles unless they are used for child-care, rehab, or mental health services

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, with such a list of exemptions, this bill resembles swiss cheese more than a smoking ban.  And in fact, part of the bill is that Philadelphia’s existing, stronger smoking ban will still stand.  But this is still a huge step in the right direction for PA, and in my case for instance, only the hotel and arena/theater exemptions will affect me, and then only rarely.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Progress on the PA Smoking Ban

Today, the House-Senate conference committee finally approved a compromise version of a public smoking ban for Pennsylvania.  In order to become law, it must be approved by the full House and Senate -- which could happen as early as next week -- and by governor Ed Rendell, who has stated that he’ll support this version of the ban.

This is a good step forward and if it becomes law, it’ll be a huge improvement over the current situation.  However, the ban does contain a bunch of exemptions, allowing smoking in certain places, such as bars that make less than 20% of their revenue from food, and up to 25% of rooms in hotels.

This ban allows Philadelphia’s current ban to stand, but does not allow any other local bans to come into effect.  This has some people upset:

"You’re saying to the people of Allegheny County and city of Scranton, go to hell," said [Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow], who cast the lone dissenting vote.

I agree with Mellow.  However, it’s clear that this legislature has neither the brains nor the guts to enact a real ban, so for now we’ll have to take what we can get.  But this isn’t over, and I suspect that reason and health will prevail in the long run.

About half of the states in the US, as well as many countries around the world, have smoking bans now.  But in some cases, I think it’s going to take a generational turnover to purge those politicians who are in the pockets of the scumbags running the tobacco companies.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Pennsylvania Smoking Ban, Continued

Pennsylvania has been dubbed "the ashtray of the northeast" because it is the only state in the region without a public smoking ban.

There is no debate in the scientific and medical communities: secondhand smoke kills Americans by the tens of thousands every year.

And the people of Pennsylvanian overwhelmingly support a public smoking ban.

The only debate is in the Pennsylvania legislature, where our lawmakers continue to stall on the smoking ban, ignoring the scientific and medical evidence, and violating the will of the people.

Why?  Because Pennsylvania lawmakers are corrupt.  They are bending to the lobbying from the tobacco industry, and are unwilling to damage the tax revenue stream they receive from tobacco sales.  Ostensibly they are trying to protect businesses who claim they’ll be hurt by the smoking ban, but that’s a lie because all evidence shows that smoking bans do not hurt businesses.

To be fair, I should say that I have no proof of this corruption, and there is one other possible explanation: that PA lawmakers are incredibly, mind-numbingly incompetent.  But when you ignore the will of the people, ignore the scientific and medical evidence, when all the other states in your neighborhood are on board, and when the only group on your side is the tobacco industry itself, well, that sure smells like corruption.

Here is a timeline including the many delays that our lawmakers have caused so far by failing to act on the public smoking ban:

1993-2006: PA Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery County) introduces smoking ban bills in every legislative session, to no avail.

Summer of 2007: there was supposed to be a vote on the ban, but it was pushed back to September.

Fall of 2007: the two chambers produced differing bills on the ban, and failed to reach a compromise on them.

April of 2008: a joint House-Senate committee was supposed to produce a compromise bill, but postponed it for a month.

April of 2008: a month later, the committee postponed their work again, for a week.

May 7, 2008: a week later, the committee again postponed their work.

Quoting The York Daily Record:

A vote on compromise legislation that would ban smoking in most indoor places was postponed again.  A meeting of the joint House-Senate conference committee was tentatively scheduled for Monday, according to the office of Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery.  A Wednesday meeting ended shortly after Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said he needed time to revise his proposal to incorporate concerns from the governor’s office over enforcement provisions.  McIlhinney would not talk about any other aspect of his proposal.  Some of the major issues that have divided legislators for the past year are whether to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and casinos, and whether a state law should pre-empt local smoking bans, such as the one in Philadelphia, that are stricter. (Senate Bill 246)

May 12, 2008: the committee was set to vote on a bill written by Senator Chuck McIlhinney, but failed to do so after Governor Ed Rendell threatened to veto any bill that weakened Philadelphia’s existing smoking ban.  McIlhinney is trying to paint the delay as being the fault of Rendell’s veto and/or of Philadelphia itself:

Quoting Chuck McIlhinney:

"This whole issue is coming down to Philadelphia getting its own law or not," McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said.

But the truth is that McIlhinney’s "new" bill is essentially the same as the failed bill that the Senate passed last year, and the whole issue is really coming down to the fact that what lawmakers are putting forth isn’t what the people of Pennsylvania want.

McIlhinney continues:

Quoting Chuck McIlhinney:

"If Philadelphia is allowed to have its own law, then each municipality will want its own law..."

And why is that?  Because your state-level law is shaping up to be a piece of garbage, so naturally each municipality wants to have the option of implementing a real ban, as Philadelphia has already done.

May 28, 2008: the committee is scheduled to meet next week, on June 3rd and 4th.

June 3, 2008: the committee finally produced and approved a compromise version of the smoking ban, which must now be approved by the full House and Senate.

June 4, 2008: the House approves the committee’s ban, but the Senate rejects it, thanks to Senate Democrats who are upset that the ban preempts local ordinances other than Philadelphia’s.  In theory they’re right, but in reality, 90% of Pennsylvanians currently have no smoking ban, and this bill would cover the majority of them; so the Senate should get its act together and pass this ban.  They’ve got a re-vote scheduled for June 9th.

June 9, 2008: the Senate postpones their scheduled vote.

June 10, 2008: the Senate votes to approve, so the public smoking ban will become law.

June 13, 2008: Governor Ed Rendell signs the public smoking ban into law, to take effect in 90 days.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Smoke-free Restaurants in Pennsylvania

[Note: scroll to the end of this post to see the restaurant list.]

The Allentown location of Carrabba’s Italian Grill has gone completely smoke-free!  Kim and I went there for dinner the other night, and when I asked (as I always do) to be seated as far from the smoking section as possible, the hostess replied that there’s no longer a smoking section!  Tears of joy streamed down my face.  And just when I thought that the day couldn’t get any better, they had swordfish on the specials menu.  It was amazing, as swordfish tends to be.

Carrabba’s has been one of my favorite restaurants for almost 10 years, and the only bad thing about it was the cigarette smoke.  With that issue resolved, I intend to visit Carrabba’s much more often.  I called the manager the next day to express my support for the decision, and to ask what made them do it; he said that more and more people were complaining about the smoke, and the majority of their patrons are non-smokers, so it was a good business decision for them to make.

Indeed, nearly 80% of Pennsylvanians are non-smokers.  It’s always been absurd that smokers were allowed to foul the air with toxins in public places, but it’s especially absurd in light of how outnumbered they are.  That being the case, the Pennsylvania legislature had better get their act together and pass a statewide smoking ban this fall.  Not only is it obviously the correct thing to do since second-hand smoke kills people by the thousands, but it’s also what the vast majority of the population wants.

If the government fails to take responsibility in this area, then I sure hope that more restaurants will do it themselves.  Carrabba’s is currently the only real restaurant to have gone smoke-free in our area.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, all the other restaurants that we visit still allow smoking: Applebee’s, Chili’s, Grotto Pizza, the Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday’s, TGI Friday’s.  (The website has a list of smoke-free restaurants, but the vast majority of them are McDonald’s, Burger King, etc -- not real restaurants.)

Smoke-Free Restaurant List:

These are restaurants that I know are totally non-smoking from first-hand experience.  Note that "restaurants" like McDonald’s, Burger King, etc, will not be listed here.

Carrabba’s on Cedar Crest Boulevard in Allentown; smoke-free as of Sept 2007.

Bravo at the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall; smoke-free since its opening in Sept 2007.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Pennsylvania Smoking Ban

(Update: the public smoking ban went into effect on September 11th 2008.)

The PA House of Representatives and the PA Senate were both working on legislation in the past few weeks that would ban smoking in most public places, including restaurants.  But the ban ultimately stalled because the two chambers could not agree on a set of exemptions to it.  The ban is now shelved until September.

I hate breathing other people’s smoke.  That’s not only because second-hand smoke kills 50,000 Americans including 3,000 Pennsylvanians every year; it’s also because it’s freaking disgusting.  So naturally I want this ban enacted into law as soon as possible.

The main arguments I’ve seen that are against the ban -- i.e. that are pro-smoking -- are:

1. Waaaaah I want to smoke and you can’t take away my rights and next thing you’ll be making it illegal to eat thumb tacks!!

2. Restaurants (etc) should just have smoking and non-smoking sections as they do now.

3. This is a decision that’s best left to market forces to decide.

The first argument makes me angry because it’s so common and yet so moronic and/or disingenuous.  No one is trying to take away a smoker’s right to kill himself.  The issue is whether smokers should be allowed to kill other people, as they have been doing for years and years without punishment.  When you’re spewing cancerous filth in an enclosed area, others have to breathe it in, and that’s as issue of their rights, not yours.

The second argument is invalid because the "non-smoking" sections are still contaminated with smoke, as anyone who’s eaten in one knows.  Any high-schooler who’s taken a physics or chemistry class can tell you that smoke, like all other fluids, moves freely within its container and does not pay any attention to the "non-smoking section" signs.  This whole concept is exactly like having a peeing section in a public pool, except that urine is a sterile fluid, whereas tobacco smoke is a lethal fluid.  Air ventilation and filtration systems have been shown to be ineffective in solving this problem, and in any case, the workers in the smoking sections are not protected at all.

The third argument says that anyone who doesn’t like smoke can simply avoid establishments that allow smoking.  I’ve seen a bunch of news or opinion articles making this argument, stating that "many" or even "most" restaurants are already smoke-free so non-smokers should just patronize those businesses instead.  I don’t know where these people are coming from, but around here, literally none of the restaurants that we go to on a regular or semi-regular basis are smoke-free: not Chili’s, not the Olive Garden, not Carrabba’s, not TGI Friday’s, not Ruby Tuesday’s, not Red Lobster, not Outback Steakhouse, not Applebee’s.  If there were such a restaurant, we would be all over it.  Instead, when we’re being seated, I always have to say "please seat us as far from the smoking section as possible," and still about half of the time, we need to ask to be moved once we’re seated, because the "non-smoking section" is too darn smoky.

Second-Hand Smoke Statistics, 20070619:

According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers annually in the United States., 20070621:

Three-thousand Pennsylvanians die each year as a result of the health conditions caused from breathing in someone else’s tobacco smoke.

For every eight smokers that die from the effects of their own tobacco use, one nonsmoker dies from the effects of secondhand smoke.

84 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that all workers should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Waitresses are almost four times more likely to die of lung cancer compared to workers in other fields, and bartenders face a 50 percent greater risk of dying from lung cancer, other cancers, and heart disease than other workers.

Secondhand smoke is harmful and hazardous to the health of the general public, and particularly dangerous to children.  It is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome., 20070626:

In June 2006, the Surgeon General of the United States declared that there was no safe level of second hand smoke, ever. Secondhand smoke - a carcinogen classified in the same league with asbestos, formaldehyde and radon - is known to kill more than 53,000 Americans each year, including 3,000 in Pennsylvania alone.

And that doesn’t include people who actually smoke. These are just the people who stand within breathing distance of smokers and suffer the fatal consequences.

During just a one-hour dinner in a restaurant where smoking is permitted, nonsmoking patrons "smoke" the equivalent of three cigarettes. That’s enough to cause stiffened arteries, prompt irregular heartbeats, exacerbate colds, bronchitis and pneumonia, worsen heart attacks, and trigger asthma, particularly in children.

Nonsmokers who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke pollution, either at home or at work, have almost double the risk of heart disease. And secondhand smoke causes 30 times as many lung cancer deaths as all other regulated air pollutants combined.

Posted by Anthony on 37 replies

Good Pizza

It must be extremely difficult to make good pizza.  I say that because the vast majority of pizza shops I’ve been to have sold pizza that is somewhere between horrible and "not horrible, but not worth getting again."  In fact, I can only think of 4 pizza places whose pizza is good:

Grotto Pizza in Delaware and northeast PA
Mack & Manco at the Jersey shore
Lorenzo’s in Philly
Domino’s thin crust pizza

What makes those pizzas good is that they are thin and somewhat crunchy, in addition to having sauce and cheese that is between good and great.  (Though I haven’t been to Lorenzo’s in a while -- is their crust actually crunchy?)

The thing I don’t understand is how dozens upon dozens of other pizza joints -- virtually all of them, in my experience -- get this so wrong.  The crust is almost always soft/soggy/floppy, and the sauce and cheese are between "eh" and "gross."  The only conclusion I can see is that it must be really hard to make good pizza.

But having 4 good pizza places is better than having none, right?  Yes, but the problem is that 3 of those 4 places have no locations within an hour of our house.  We do live out in the sticks, and there’s not much of anything particularly close to us, but guess what’s within 5 minutes: not one but two utterly crappy pizza shops.

Kim says that maybe other people actually like the kind of pizza that all these shops serve.  That seems unbelievable to me.  Is it just me?

Note: I also really like Papa John’s BBQ Chicken & Bacon pizza, and Pizzeria Uno’s deep-dish pizza, and the relatively thick pizza from Adrian’s Pizza in Pittsburgh; but these are all thick pizzas and to me that puts them in a totally different category than traditional/normal pizza which to me means thin pizza.
Posted by Anthony on 16 replies


I’m not much of a fish eater, because I’ve never liked the fishy taste that they have.  I’ve always liked other seafood like crab, lobster, shrimp, and scallops, and I’ve liked shark and swordfish the few times I’ve had the opportunity to try them, but the more standard fish have never appealed to me.

But it was long ago that I formed this anti-fish bias, so yesterday I decided to give fish another try.  Kim and I went out to the Blue Mountain Summit restaurant and I got salmon.  I could smell the fishy smell from a mile away though, and I didn’t really like it.  The waitress explained that salmon is probably the fishiest of the fish on the menu, which included flounder and haddock.

We watched some Emeril last night and he said that you shouldn’t really be able to detect that fishy smell as long as the fish is fresh enough.  So, was my salmon just not very fresh?  Which fish should I try if I want less of that fishy smell/taste?

Posted by Anthony on 7 replies


Kim recently had a business meeting in Utah, and despite the fact that airfare to go out west is astronomical, I went along for the trip.  Her ticket was on the company dime, of course.

The farthest west I’d ever been before this trip was Colorado, and Utah is the next state to the west, so it was a new record for me.

Utah is beautiful.  We only had 3 and a half days there, 1 and a half of which were work days, so we didn’t have too much time to explore; we saw Salt Lake City, Alta, and Antelope Island (briefly).  But even just in Salt Lake City, it’s so clean, and there are mountains everywhere; it’s a lovely city.

We took lots of photos.  Here are the ones I’ve posted so far:

Downtown Salt Lake City Sugarloaf Road Hike (Alta)

Update 2006-12-17: here are the final 2 sets:

Night Shots of Air Products in Bountiful, Utah, and Oil Refineries in Salt Lake City The Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island in Utah

Some random interesting things about Utah or the Salt Lake area in particular:

The highways are really wide.  Route 15 is 6 lanes in both directions at some points.

Every shopping center has a pawn shop and/or a payday-loan shop.  Literally every one.  There must be hundreds of them in and around Salt Lake alone.  It’s weird because those kinds of places are so tacky, and there were other tacky/gaudy shops, but then the next block would be really nice.

All restaurants in UT are non-smoking.  That alone is nearly enough reason to move there.

They have this great little restaurant called Noodles & Company.  We went there twice in 3 days if that tells you anything.  I had the mushroom stroganoff and the penne rosa, and both were amazing, for $5.  It is a chain, so I can only hope that one comes to PA soon.

And finally, not really about Utah, but about the flight out there: it was non-stop, which I always figured (you always hear) is ideal, but 2 hours into the 4.5 hour flight I started getting really claustrophobic and fidgety.  And the seat next to me was empty.  I don’t know what my problem was, but Kim also was really claustrophobic on the flight back (due to the huge guy next to her).  So from now on I think I prefer that longish flights like this have a layover.  And I would certainly always rather drive 8 hours in my own car than fly any amount of time.  Of course to go this far west, driving isn’t usually a viable option, but I’m just saying.

Also, they tricked us when we got our seats: they were like, you’re in an exit row, are you willing and able to assist others in the event of an emergency?  And we’re like of course, no problem.  What they DON’T tell you is that the exit row seats don’t recline!!  On a 4.5 hour flight, that’s something they ought to tell you.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Humanity Getting Smarter

Kim and I were in Utah last weekend, and I’ll be posting about that soon, but one of the really cool things about Utah is that smoking is prohibited in all public places including restaurants and bars.  It was so nice to go out to eat and not be bothered by the smoke that never fails to infiltrate the "non-smoking section" in Pennsylvania restaurants.

When I learned about Utah’s public smoking ban, I looked it up and found lots of other good news on the subject:

On September 25th, a public-smoking ban went into effect in Philadelphia.  And Allentown is making noises along the same lines:

On Sept. 20, Allentown City Council approved a resolution urging the state of Pennsylvania to enact a statewide ban on smoking in public places.
This is not an issue of choice.  Those directly affected by second-hand smoke did not choose to bear the negative effects of someone else’s habit.  Taxpayers do not choose to shoulder the financial burden of those who require regular, costly treatment for lung disease.  In fact, most consumers are in favor of indoor bans.  According to a national Zagat Survey of more that 110,000 restaurant patrons in the United States, 80 percent of respondents said that all restaurants should be smokefree.  In California, 70 percent of respondents said they would eat out less if smoking were permitted again in restaurants.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia became the latest major U.S. city to go smoke-free indoors.  This continues a trend at the state and municipal level that is spreading across the United States.  According to Americans for Non-smokers’ Rights, a California-based lobbying organization, 17 states and 474 municipalities have enacted smoking bans in restaurants, bars and other workplaces.  Hawaii begins a ban in this November, and Washington, D.C., is going smokeless in January.

Even those crazy Europeans are on board with this:

Four fifths of EU citizens support a ban on smoking in offices, shops and other indoor public spaces, according to a poll marking World No Tobacco Day.

However, they are less sure when asked specifically if they support a ban in bars - in this case, 61% are in favour.
The world’s first nationwide smoking ban in public places was imposed in Ireland in 2004.

Italy and Scotland have outlawed smoking in enclosed public places and the rest of the UK is following suit in 2007.
"More and more of us don’t smoke and don’t want to be anywhere near smokers either."

The poll suggests that young people are the most likely to find smoke unpleasant, for reasons such as its smell.


This is January 2005, and even Italy, where it is not unusual to see doctors smoking in hospitals and pupils lighting up in school corridors, has moved with the times by introducing a harsh new law banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants.


France is to ban smoking in all public places from next February, the prime minister has announced.

Cafes, nightclubs and restaurants are to be given until January 2008 to adapt, said Dominique de Villepin.
Smoking kills more than 13 people a day in France, said Mr de Villepin - calling it an "unacceptable reality".
Opinion polls in France - often considered a nation of smokers - suggest 70% of the people support the ban.

And the BBC has this roundup of smoking bans around the world.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Ban Cilantro (or: a Brief Review of Boston's Sports Bar)

Tonight Kim and I ate at this new restaurant called Boston’s Sports Bar and Grill.  We were eyeing up their BBQ Chicken Pizza but it had cilantro on it, and we couldn’t figure out what that was.  I thought it was somehow like parsley, but wasn’t really sure.

I asked the waitress, and she said that it was, in fact, parsley, and she even said "you can’t really taste it."  So we got the pizza with the cilantro, and while it’s similar in appearance to parsley, that’s where the similarities end.  The taste is very strong, which sucks because its taste is the taste of soap.  After a few bites of it I realized where I’d tasted that before: in certain salsas.  In fact whenever I buy salsa I buy ChiChi’s brand because Tostitos’ salsa tastes like soap; it’s all so clear now that I know why.

So I vote that we ban cilantro.  Admittedly, it’s not quite the most offensive food known to man -- a distinction which I reserve for gorgonzola cheese -- but it’s pretty nasty.

The pizza itself was pretty good, but the crust was entirely tasteless.  It was strange; they’re all about their "gourmet" pizzas but the crust was not unlike cardboard.  The other strange thing was the french onion soup that I got as an appetizer: the cheese on it was some of the best french-onion-soup cheese I’ve ever had, but in the soup itself, in addition to there being the normal onions, there were soggy breaded onion rings.  Normally french onion soup has bread or croutons in it, and they get soggy and it’s all good.  But the soggy onion rings were just nasty.

Posted by Anthony on 9 replies

New Favorite Restaurant

OK not quite, but Bob Evans is pretty good, and tonight I had a meal there which was really amazing: pot roast hash.

This is hash browns, topped with pot roast, and then topped with eggs (cooked to order, i.e. overlight) and cheddar cheese.  As I read the description, I was thinking, "Wow, this sounds really good" until I got to the eggs.  Then I thought, "Eggs?  Hmmm..." 

Nonetheless, I pressed on with my order, eggs and all.  And it turned out to be delicious.  Of course steak & eggs is a very common breakfast dish, but I’ve never gotten that, and pot roast isn’t quite the same as steak.  So it seemed like an unlikely combination of foods at first.  But they went together delectably, and I loved every bite.

I’ll probably be getting this almost every time we go to Bob Evans from now on.

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

Tomato Conspiracy

When you go to Italian restaurants like the Olive Garden or Maggiano’s, they serve you these huge salads with literally two or three tiny tomato slices.  Not two or three tomatoes, two or three slices, for the entire salad.

How is it that Italian restaurants, establishments that owe their very existence to the power of the tomato (in sauce form), are so consistently skimpy when it comes to tomatoes in salad?

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies


Last night, Kim took me out to Bravo! for our one-year anniversary.  We had never been there before, and I really loved it.  It’s like a more fancy version of Carrabba’s or the Olive Garden, with more space (higher ceilings, and tables farther apart) and completely non-smoking.

I got the "catch of the day" which was swordfish, and it was delicious.  Swordfish is the only fish that I like (well, and shark) because it doesn’t taste fishy like most fish.

Working backwards: the salad was also fantastic.  It was a "chopped" salad, which meant that there were no huge pieces of lettuce or whole slices of tomatoes or cucumbers; everything was sliced & diced small enough that you could eat it by the forkful without getting it all over the sides of your mouth because the pieces are too big.  (OK, so maybe I’m the only one with that problem.)  Also, the italian dressing was wonderful, maybe even better than the Olive Garden’s, which I also love.

Finally, the initial bread with dipping oil.  This is one of my favorite things to eat ever, and here it was as good if not better than at Carrabba’s.  The only thing Carrabba’s has on Bravo! is that the bread wasn’t warm at Bravo!

The one negative comment I have about Bravo! is that above the sink in the bathroom, there is a sign that says:


Aside from the fact that that’s just grammatically stupid, I’m fairly bothered by the fact that the people preparing my food didn’t actually have to wash their hands, and instead can get away with some kind of finger-quotey mock rendition of hand-washing.

Posted by Anthony on 4 replies

And Also...

Guess who’s the #1 result for the Google search lorenzo’s nazi philadelphia?  That’s right.

Posted by Anthony on 10 replies

Weekly (daily?) Rant

I saw the movie Without A Paddle this weekend.  It was terrible.  It wouldn’t have been so terrible though if the MPAA wouldn’t have lied about its rating.  This movie was rated PG-13, yet it was jam-packed with crude sexual humor -- not 5 minutes went by without a sexual reference -- and it featured every profanity over and over and over except for the f-word.  If that’s your idea of "humor," fine, but there’s no way this is a PG-13 movie.

And what is it with restaurants not having hot water in the bathroom sinks?  Two that always stick out are P.F. Chang’s in Pittsburgh and the Olive Garden in Reading; the water is always ice cold no matter how long you let just the "hot" side run.  This weekend it was the Ground Round in Allentown, and there are a handful of others where I know I’ve experienced this, but didn’t make as much of a mental note of since I don’t frequent them so much.

One last thing: I just saw an advertisement for, which is an anti-smoking site.  OK, anti-smoking site = good, but it’s not a laughing matter.  A URL like would be more appropriate.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Lenten Special!

So it’s now the season of "Lent" in the Catholic church (not that that applies to me, because I’m not Catholic, I’m Christian), and everywhere you go, you can find restaurant signs that say "Lenten Special."  Because the Catholic church forbids eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and because some Catholics abstain from meat completely during Lent, the Lenten specials offered by restaurants are typically fish dishes.  You’ll even see fast food joints offering fish -- as if fast food weren’t gross enough, now you can have fast fish.

Well tonight I drove past a Taco Bell and saw this sign: "Lenten Special: 2 Bean Burritos."

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

Crapplebee's Strikes Again

I want to like Applebee’s.  I really do.  And it actually has a lot going for it: usually not smoky, usually not too long of a wait, clean bathrooms with automatic paper towels and a trash can behind the door, so you don’t have to touch the handle of the door, which 75% of men touch after using the bathroom and NOT washing their hands...

But I’ve only been to Applebee’s a handful of times in my life, and every single time there is a problem with the order.  I usually get steak when I go out, and the steak here is always overcooked; I order medium-rare and it comes out medium-well.  To be fair many places just can’t seem to get steak right, however a few places like Olive Garden and Outback consistently get it right, i.e. they cook it the way you order it.

Tonight was especially ridiculous, though.  I ordered a steak with mushrooms, and this particular steak comes with peppers and onions, which I asked them to omit.  The waitress noted all this.  But the steak came out -- overcooked but that is no surprise -- without mushrooms.  But at least they correctly omitted the peppers and onions, right?  Until I got to the bottom of my mashed potatoes and discovered that THE PEPPERS AND ONIONS WERE UNDERNEATH THE POTATOES.  You have got to be kidding me.

I also ordered a side-dish of vegetables.  These came out raw.  Not "just a little cooked."  They were not cooked.  I like my vegetables soft, but I had Kim verify because she likes hers crunchy.  She agreed these weren’t merely crunchy, they were raw.

Back to the mushroom situation.  Kim ordered a chicken dish that comes with mushrooms and cheese, but she asked to have it without the mushrooms.  Sure enough, "hidden" underneath a few slices of melted cheese, there were mounds of mushrooms.  Not only that, but literally two of them were sauteed; the other 10-15 or so were just raw mushrooms.

Every time I go to Applebee’s, I think hey, it’s been a while, they’ve probably gotten their act together by now.  I’ll give it a shot.  At some point I’m going to have to stop pretending.

Posted by Anthony on 6 replies
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