Monday, October 20, 2014

The Road...

or maybe the river from Minneapolis to St. Louis is paved with good intentions.


I had hoped to post a few more about our steam boat adventure(s) before we left for current trip, but then the Oyster Festival got in the way.

...with the result your obedient Bottom Feeder failed in that attempt.  Eventually i will get back to that, and apologies to any that tuned in to the Feeder for that purpose.

We are leaving in a couple of hours for our trip to Wales.  I will TRY to get some posts out from there, but always at the whim of local networks, technical bugs, and so forth.  

I will also maybe put out some info via Facebook, for those of you who can't get enough of me by this outlet.

I think maybe when we return, we'll stash the suitcases for a while..

into the travel Bubble..and for the time being NOT

DFD

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Twin Cities



These are busy days for the Feeder.  He is juggling reportage of the American Queen adventure (herein), preparations for our next journey to Wales beginning NEXT Monday, managing the Cook off at this weekend’s Oyster Festival, and planning the food stuff for the upcoming Hospital Gala.  All of which is self inflicted of course, but it seems to be all converging in the remaining few days.

Anyway, we can enter denial if I tell you a couple of things about our Steamboat adventure.  It began in Minneapolis after our re-ticketed itinerary took us there with a stop in Milwaukee.  We had a nice tour of the twin cities before checking into our hotel.    Turns out Minneapolis is home to a famous cartoonist (and his fictional progeny)



Whose likenesses are scattered around St. Paul, (some in better shape than others).    Although I don’t think there is a statue yet, we did see the Fitzgerald Theater, home to all the folk in Lake Woebegon.  And if you extend the boundaries of twin cities, you can include a certain Bobby Zimmerman, whose apartment in St. Paul we drove by.  Quite the eclectic bunch.  They have their share of magnificent buildings like the Cathedral of St. Paul,


And…. Another one



Like all these “river towns” there are a number of grand old Victorian homes, as well as other styles, Italianate, revival, etc. built by people who made their fortunes in various ways in the mid to late 19th century.



As you might be able to discern, it was sprinkling rain, with fresh winds, and COLD.  Minneapolis has a series of walkways that people use in the winter (roughly September through May) to get around the city. 

Knowing that dining opportunities would be limited to the American Queen once we embarked I got us a reservation at “The 112 eatery” which seemed to rise to the top of most of the foodie sites.  They feature the services of Isaac Becker, winner of a (best chef Midwest) James Beard.  When I called, they said that they were booked for the evening but just got have a cancellation at 6:30 and would we like that.  Hmmm… yes of course..  From the reviews we expected a white tablecloth experience and donned our only “good outfit” to be DFD.

Being a little far to walk (easy for us now) we took a cab.  It turns out that it was much less formal than we expected, no tablecloths but more of a I guess “bistro” atmosphere.  They had a very nice bar
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And in fact most tables were occupied, and we were given a four top, maybe lending credence to the “cancellation” theory.  Soon we were approached by a young lady in a crisp white shirt.  I thought by this time I have heard all the “Hi I’m….” lines but she added a new one: “Hi, I’m  and.. I’ll be with you tonight”  Wow!  Visions of wild late night hi jinks quickly flashed through my head, and I wondered what MFO might think of that, but then reality snapped in and I realized the invitation didn’t extend beyond the front door of the restaurant. Anyway, there’s a new one for you.

She handed us menus and inquired about drinks.  I didn’t have the heart to do the drink test so asked about what gins they might have.  To my surprise and delight, Plymouth was one of the choices.  I believe this is the first restaurant outside of Chez Pascal in Providence that offered it.  I got an “up” martini with a twist.  MFO got (what turned out to be an undistinguished) Viognier.  We turned to the menu, and found it quite interesting. Although split between appetizers and entrees, there wasn’t much difference.  For instance you could get an appetizer of blue prawns w/ rooster mayo for $14, or you could get frog legs for $9 from the entrée side.  A culinary homework assignment is to go figure out what a “lamb scottadito w/ goats milk yogurt” appetizer is ($16.5), or you might choose a $32 entrée of nori encrusted sirloin w/ ponzu.  Quite the culinary gymnastics.  In fact it took another Plymouth Martini to settle on the food.

In the end, MFO took an appetizer, the sweet and sour crab salad, and I doubled up with the duck terrine and rabbit paté, followed with the sea scallops with oyster mushrooms.  The wine list was equally appealing which offered a (rather pricey) glass of Domaine Serene.  Although “what’s her name” was supposed to be “with us” our food arrived by a runner who had to ask!  Apparently WHN was being with somebody else.

The terrine and paté were quite fine



And it was served properly with cornichons and mustard and a crusty baguette.  Both main courses were also quite tasty. By this time the place was hopping and loud.  We eschewed dessert and taxied home to the hotel.

As usual you deal with expectations with restaurants, and although perhaps erroneously, I had expected more, I guess in the (stupid word) “ambiance” department.  Still I’m glad we went as indeed it was our last experience with “restaurant” food.

Next day we were to board the American Queen..  Our bags had to be ready in our room by 0730 even though boarding was after three.  More to come there..


DFD

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rollin' on the .....


Hello again… As Tom Sawyer remarked on his raft travelling the Mississippi:  “you know Huck, the internet on this river REALLY sucks”!  Well, not much has changed in nearly century and a half.. The internet on our watercraft was equally as sucky.  Hence those of you who have been wondering “Where’s the Feeder?” can chalk it up to the technology near the Big Muddy.  I was able to kind of keep some up by resorting to social media (Facebook - do you Like me??), and using the “Checking In” option occasionally.  You just can’t fat finger an nice description of a foie gras plate on the Droid..

On the other hand, the time released by not keeping up the blog enabled maybe a more enhanced experience.  So enough of whining, we’ll start with a quick overview of our adventure.

The American Queen is the largest operating Steamboat in the world, yes, world.



She is 418 feet long, 89 feet wide, with 6 decks resulting in a 110 foot tall vessel containing 222 staterooms with accommodations for about 440 passengers and a crew of somewhere around 160.  Even with all this mass. the behemoth only has a draft of 8.5 feet.  The physical dimensions are kind of dictated by the operating environment, as there are almost 30 locks on the Upper Mississippi (somewhere around 100 feet wide), and the Corps of Engineers maintains the channel at a depth of 9 feet.  Power is mainly supplied by the paddle wheel,




Which can be augmented by a couple of so-called “Z drives” in the stern and thrusters in the bow.



I did get a tour of the bridge, and sorry, there is no “Mark Twain” big steering wheel, but just a lever (left foreground over the box of knobs). 



Electronics have replaced much of the legendary stuff of riverboat lore (no tube to the engine room), but still they control it beautifully.  We did scrape bottom occasionally (acknowledged as a way to keep it clean), and maybe gently nudged a lock wall, but generally you never knew you were under way.  A good bit of travel was done at night (!!) and sometimes a lock light would illuminate your room for a few moments, but that was about it.

Our journey of over 700 miles (by river miles) started in Minneapolis on the 4th of October and ended yesterday (the 11th).  We stopped overnight along the way at Red Wing, LaCrosse, Dubuque, Davenport, Burlington, and finally Hannibal before ending our journey in Alton, Ill.  We generally spent at least a half of a day in each river town, and the company had a very nice system of “hop-on hop-off” buses that stopped at various places of interest (and shopping!) in whatever town we were in.  In LaCrosse, we had a chance to visit with MFO’s sister (who lives there).  That was some of the most pleasant weather we experienced.



Over the next few days I’ll pass along some of the more interesting highlights.

As for dining (what?, you’re going to talk about food?) there were a couple of options available.  Three meals a day were available in the Front Porch Café (fourth deck forward), which was fairly informal and ALWAYs had a buffet (which under the circumstances is understandable, regardless of a Feeder’s feeling regarding buffets), or a more formal setting was the main J. W. White Dining Room which also offered a (more extensive) buffet at the first two meals of the day.  For each meal they also had an a la carte menu if you cared to have somebody besides yourself bring you your food.  Dinner was by the menu only and was served in two seatings; one at 5:15 and another at 7:45.  I don’t exactly know how to solve it, but thought the “early” was too early, and the “late” was too late.  There were also multiple bars, which were open at more generous hours..

There are things to talk about in the food and its service but we’ll hold that for another time.  Besides food and tours, every afternoon (we were mostly underway by one) there was a series of concerts or lectures.  In short, there was always something to do.  Or, as we often did, you can just sit and watch the river bank go by.  With maybe something in your hand from one of those bars.

I should mention that when you boarded you were given a little card which checked you on and off board, and was also swiped for one of those “something in your hand”.  Again, understandable but kind of annoying.  Sort of a “pay as you drink” plan.

Anyway, all it all it was a good trip and a new experience for us whose only experience with river travel was those 8 person barge trips in France, which was a completely different universe of course.  We were with a group from old reliable Cole Travel of about thirty some odd, which gave us an opportunity to enjoy old friends as well as meet new ones.  Among which, was a foodie whose company and conversation I very much enjoyed.  He one upped me with the French Laundry, but I had him on the Inn at Little Washington.  All in good fun of course..

Of course we were not the only craft on the river, as we were joined by up and down traffic




And those who were working for a living
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Although reflective of the season we did see some sportsmen.



So in a nutshell that’s an overview.  Tomorrow maybe we’ll crack some nuts and see what’s inside. Oh yes, although there was some variation (by the people from Texas for instance) everybody at least thought that for their culture they were



DFD

Thursday, October 2, 2014

traveling shoes

or maybe water wings..

we were leaving tomorrow morning to get on the American Queen river paddle boat in Minneapolis and then cruise (paddle? float?) down to St. Louis.

i say "were" because we just got a call from the travel agency saying all flights through Chicago were cancelled tomorrow for whatever reason.  So, with the usual cleverness of travel agents we are now booked on a flight from Nashville, and to get there, all forty odd of us are getting on a bus TONIGHT at 8 pm to drive up to DC to be ready for an o'dark departure tomorrow morning for the Music City (then to the twin cities).  Maximum flexibility..

So will let you know what transpires.  Traveling is so much fun.  At least we got a top notch travel agency working for the group (Cole Travel).

In closing, I had occasion today to go into a Hallmark Store, and the first thing that greeted me (besides the ladies) was a big, decorated, blinking....Christmas Tree!!!  My goodness.

My sort of good natured comment got a retort of "It'll be here before you know it!".   Yeah, right.  just after Halloween and Thanksgiving.  She then took pains to tell me about the big "Ornament Debut" that was coming up..  Mark that down..

 So have to go finish packing... so we can be whatever passes for 

DFD

Monday, September 29, 2014

The pinnacle



Our final day in St. Louis included meeting some friends for lunch in a little spot in St. Charles, (home of FOJTE).  Based on a recommendation from same, we met them at a little place called “Magpies” in the Historic District.  St. Charles is adjacent to the mighty Mississippi, and was a typical old river town.  So there many relics from that era and a lot of little shops, eateries, boutiques and stuff housed in some of the old buildings.  Magpies is in what was probably a house, an informal little café sort of thing with inside and outside seating.  Being a Friday, it was kind of crowded inside, most likely because the weather was a bit chilly with occasional mist and showers.  We were offered immediate seating outside and there was a table near one of those “fire walls” with flame coming out of the upper surface so we accepted.  In actuality it wasn’t too cold, especially when the wind kind guided the heat toward the table. 

Servers were informal as well, and stuck to business (i.e., no speeches).  The lunch menu was mostly taken with sandwiches, quiches and soups, all available in several mix or match schemes which gave you options of half of this or that, with a salad, soup, or whatever.   They are known for their Baked Potato Soup, creamy chunky potatoe with bacon and cheese.  Although they did have a wine list, I was the only taker and just had a glass of house chardonnay, which was, um, undistinguished.   I had a combo of the soup and a “Good Neighbor” sandwich (Turkey, Bacon, and Swiss with pepperoncini peppers and a Dijon mustard sauce, served warm).  A large part of the sandwich decision was driven by the “served warm” description.  Others had the soup and a chicken salad.   Everything was fine, but the real fun of the lunch was the chance to catch up with our friends.   Shared experiences are always best when convened around food.


The peak

And speaking of shared experience, the culmination of our trip to Missouri was to share a dinner with both “J’s” and families (granddog Stanley was excluded) at Tony’s in St. Louis.  Tony’s has pretty much been considered the premier dining spot in St. Louis for years and years. It grew from its humble beginnings as a spaghetti house in the ‘50’s into its present status.  When we first moved to St. Louis (1965) it was still located in an historic house on Broadway, and had already achieved national notoriety (I think they were Mobil diamond or five star or something).  At one point we decided to celebrate (something) by going to Tony’s.  That was before or at least in my formative years of food appreciation that has resulted in the food obsessed Bottom Feeder before you today.  We were intimidated and slightly nervous, and didn’t want to do anything wrong.  A lot of the dining spaces were on the second floor and the black tuxedoed Maître D led you up the stairs by walking BACKWARDS, facing you.  Don’t try that at home!

Anyway I ordered either veal or lamb chops which were served double (two ribs).  I was very proper and used knife and fork and did a pretty good job with the dish.  Enter the owner, Vince Bommarito.  He stopped by our table, introduced himself, looked at my meat, and said “Didn’t you like your chops?”.  Oh yes sir, they were great.  “But you didn’t finish them”.  At which point he reached over, grabbed one of the chops and separated the two ribs with his hands!. (probably wouldn’t happen today).  There you go, he said, pick them up and enjoy!..  I did.  He stuck around a few minutes and during the course of conversation we determined he lived quite close to us in Clayton, and went on to discuss things like the better clothes cleaners in our area.  That experience has stuck with me for years (obviously). 

So (finally) back to the “opinion” comment at the top.  The latest issue of the St. Louis Magazine (which I subscribe to) named Tony’s the 2014 Restaurant of the Year, and Vince as the Restaurateur of the year.   Here is the opening paragraph describing Vince: “Bonhomie. It galvanizes the man. He weaves through the tables, grabbing an offered hand, kissing a cheek flashed his way. He offers advice: ”Wipe that bread through the mussel broth,” he counsels one diner”  40 years later.  Amazing.

While the original location was filled with ornate wood and draperies appropriate to the Italianate style of the building, the current location is classic modern (if that can be a phrase), with nice spacing of tables so you’re not privy to other diner’s conversations, and the down lights help provide little oases of privacy.

Crisp white tablecloths glowed in the light, highlighted with sparking silver and crystal.  I really didn’t count, but I think they operate very close to the classic brigade system of head waiter down through captain, front and back waiters.  I think we maybe had four or five on our table.  I’m not going to drag you through the menu or our selections, because one: I didn’t take notes (or god forsake pictures) out of respect for the place; and two: I can’t remember everything.  What I do remember is impeccable service, easy conversation with our head waiter (he was a marine!) and everything done (in my lexicon, just right).  Expectations are the highest at a place like this, and they were fulfilled (well, okay the butter was cold). Ladies were ALWAYS served first (water filling, all courses, everything) the plate turned the right way, the dish was as ordered.  Most things were finished tableside, not as a sideshow, but to make sure it was hot, and served with fresh sauce.  I had Dover sole, partially because I wanted to see the piscine surgery, and also because I like it.  It was executed (no pun) flawlessly.  No bone to be found.

Was it the best meal of my life, no, those are still reserved for three stars in France, but what made it extra special was that we could share it with our “kids”, surrounded by good food, wine and an experience worth every penny (of which there were many, but what the hell).  There are only so many chances to enjoy this kind of experience.  Don’t wait.

The next morning, we loaded up the MOMSTER and headed back to reality and home.  Oh, there was one interesting thing I saw in St. Charles



 oh, and yes, for dinner at Tony's we were

DFD