Monday, September 10, 2007

Dazed and Confused

Before I begin today's rant, a small offering of yarny goodness. See? I told you that my yarn buying was slowing down.

The skein on the left is by See Jayne Knit in "The Leaves Dream of Autumn". The skein on the right is by WooleyGlassStudio in "A Flower Bed Surprise".

Now for what the title of today's missive is all about.

I'm not as young as I used to be.

Yesterday was the birthday lunch for my daughter. I had suggested a bunch of places to go eat, most of them in San Francisco. She had chosen a long-time institution in Berkeley, a restaurant named Spenger's.

Kidlet rode BART (sort of like Disneyland's Monorail, except without the commentary and not as safe) to the station nearest our house, so Hubster went and picked her up. So far, so good. I was running late as usual, so they came to the house, picked me up, and off we went.

When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time roaming around Berkeley and San Francisco (aka The City). However, I had my grandpa with me, who was a retired cop and could name and find every street in the Bay Area. I blithely would go with him, not paying attention to where we were going. Therein was one of the problems that we experienced. But I get ahead of myself.

We arrived at Spenger's right on time - in fact, I even had time to have a smoke outside before our reservation time. Now, Spenger's used to be a first-class restaurant - huge portions, delicious food, a place where everyone from bums to the mayors of every city in the Bay Area and all the members of the professional sports teams would come for lunch or dinner. Some years ago, this venerable old lady was sold to a corporation, who decided to keep the original name and change the menu a bit. They didn't change much of the decor, either - although the enormous canary diamond that was kept in a bulletproof glass-enclosed diving helmet in front of the reservation desk was gone. It felt very much like the Spenger's of old, the place where I had frequently gone for lunch with grandpa. But it wasn't.

So we checked in, the lady seating us grabbed menus and steered us to our booth (the place was almost empty - not a good sign), and we settled in for what we thought would be a good lunch. The menus were different, though - they were just long sheets of paper instead of the hardbound tomes you usually got. Then I saw it. They had put "Happy Birthday Amber!" on the top of the sheets along with the date. A really cool thing, we thought. So we decided to keep one menu for us and give the other two to kidlet. A good start.

Then we started reading said menu. It was greatly condensed - maybe it was the Sunday brunch menu, we thought. No matter. There was still enough food to sink the proverbial ship. So I decided on crab and shrimp Tater Tots (I had no idea what they would be), Hubster ordered clam chowder, and kidlet ordered coconut encrusted shrimp with a horseradish sauce for dipping. The waiter brought our appetizers (mine looked like like little deep-fried turds with tartar sauce), and we began our culinary adventure.

The main menu had some good-looking stuff on it, so I decided on a Seafood Newburg (shrimp and scallops in a puff pastry with Newburg sauce), Hubster got the rex sole (fresh from the Bay), and kidlet got some salmon pasta thing. No problem. Except we were halfway through our appetizers when the main courses arrived.

If there's one thing I hate when I eat out, it's poor timing by the kitchen. I hate having my appetizer still partially uneaten when my meal arrives. So we pushed our appetizers to the edge of the table for removal and started on our main courses.

Mine looked like someone had upchucked some strange sauce all over it. The puff pastry was clearly from a Peppridge Farms box (and squished at that - I used to have to make hundreds of sheets of puff pastry when I was in culinary school, so I know the real deal), with big sea scallops (I like the small bay scallops) lying on the plate along with prawns (there were three of each - good thing I had some Tater Turds first). There were a few mushrooms scattered on the plate, and this entire concoction was put on top of mashed potatoes. Interesting. I'd never seen a brown Newburg sauce before, but I figured it was the chef's take on it. So I cut into a scallop, scooped up a piece of puff pastry and a mushroom, got some sauce on it, and stuck the fork in my mouth.


The scallop wasn't cooked all the way through. If there's another thing I hate, it's undercooked seafood. So the scallops got pushed to the side, and I attacked my three prawns. Then I noticed it. The chef had left the legs on. So I pulled off the tail along with the legs and popped a much smaller prawn (now a shrimp) into my mouth with some puff pastry, the other mushroom, and a little of the sauce.

The prawn was overcooked - tough, chewy, and tasteless. Sigh. I looked at Hubster's plate to see how he was doing.

He was staring at his dark brown fish. Dark brown? Did the chef pan-fry it in browned butter? Nooooo. It was the color of this particular fish. Hubster is used to eating Petrale sole, which is a nice off-white color. At the most, it turns a little brown around the edges if it's cooked a little too long. It's a delicate fish with a delicate flavor. And it always comes in fillets. This was a whole fish with a whole skeleton. Poor Hubster didn't quite know how to eat it. So I showed him how to grab the skeleton at the backbone, rotate it towards him, and drag all the bones out while they were still attached to the backbone, thereby rendering two perfect fillets for him to eat. He did his best and only lost a little of the fish. When he tasted it, I think he wished he had lost a whole lot more of the fish. It was terrible. Not at all what he was used to.

During this fun and games session, kidlet was munching away on her pasta. I was impressed - she usually orders fried prawns and nothing else, so for her to order a more sophisticated dish (especially one with salmon) was a sight to behold. She ate most of hers, I ate what I could of mine, and Hubster ate his (because Hubster always eats his unless it's so horrible that even he, the human garbage can, can't stomach it). Then the waiter came back and asked if we would like dessert.

I normally don't have dessert, but I figured they would sing Happy Birthday to the kidlet, so I ordered a flourless torte. It was the least of the evils on the dessert tray - I just don't do sweets. Being a retired pastry chef didn't increase my liking of them, either. Hubster got some horrible-looking apple pie with walnuts and caramel sauce (it came with cinnamon ice cream), and kidlet got a volcano cake.

They brought the desserts, I braced myself for the gathering of waiters, and.... nothing. The menu, although cool, had been the big birthday thing. Argh. So I tasted my dessert. It was like eating a bittersweet candy bar and was so heavy that I could barely chew it. Hubster plowed through his pie (he loves all things sweet), and kidlet liked her volcano cake. We paid the bill and left, terribly disappointed with the whole thing.

So then we decided to go see if any of the shops in Berkeley were open. Even though it was late afternoon on Sunday, school was back in session, so I figured maybe we'd find some interesting things to look at. We took off down the road, intending to turn on Ashby Avenue (a major thoroughfare) and scope out the area. That's not exactly what happened.

Hubster took a wrong turn (I don't know why that man listens to me when I give him directions), and we wound up on some strange street which was clearly residential. I told him to turn left, figuring that if we headed towards the university, we'd find something. We never did find anything of note. The university loomed in front of us and we had to turn left again (there was a junky street festival of some kind going on), and all of a sudden, we found ourselves going up. And I do mean UP. The little road we were on was headed almost vertically straight up into the Berkeley hills. Traffic was backed up in the other direction (this was one of those roads where you have to pull over to let cars go past - it was narrow), I was blathering on about the cool houses, and kidlet was serenely sitting in the back, looking at the Bay shimmering in the not too distant distance. Some woman had tried to parallel park and wound up with the side of her car completely jammed against a pickup truck that was parked - she was trying to figure out how to get her car out of the truck - and we kept climbing. We drive an Expedition, and that truck was never meant to negotiate narrow, windy roads in the hills. It would have been okay if the traffic in the other direction wasn't backed up and scattered all over the place. Hubster was getting nervous and was trying desperately to get off the hill. I finally told him to turn left yet again and get on another narrow street that looked like it would take us down the hill. He did, and it did. Finally - back to large streets. We still didn't know where the hell we were until I saw a sign that said, "Welcome to Albany". We had left Berkeley behind, crossed into another county, and wound up in another town.

We finally spotted a freeway sign and headed in that direction, getting on the freeway and heading for home. Kidlet didn't want to go home (she never wants to be there), but I was very tired and it was time to go. We dropped her off at the BART station ((B)ay (A)rea (R)apid (T)ransit, because I know you're all dying to know what it means), and headed home.

I don't remember much of the rest of the evening. I was supposed to call a friend, but it was too late. I fell asleep in the Monster and didn't pick up my needles until 4 a.m. It wasn't a sound sleep, either - I kept waking up. I did some knitting, fell asleep several times with it in my hands, spilled coffee all over my new Vogue Sock book (ARGH ARGH ARGH) and just narrowly missing my knitting, spilled coffee again all over the Monster (I don't know why I even try to drink stuff when I'm that tired), and wound up awakening at 9:00 a.m. to the sound of Hubster's alarm. Today is his day at the office, so I have the house to myself.

So that was my exciting day yesterday. Today, I'm getting as much sleep as I can, and then I'll knit tonight. I'm turning the heel, which is always an exciting time for me - it means I'm on the home stretch. With any luck, I'll stay awake long enough to finish that.

And not spill any coffee on it.

1 comment:

Wool Girl said...

You are a bad, bad influence! I love that See Jayne Knits colorway! OMG!