Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Table 16 - On a Mission to Save Fine Dining

Too pretty to eat? Yes, but I'll do it anyways.
So I get the call about a week ago from Dr. Scott Brewster who says he's putting together a team, "the best, of the best, of the best" he suggested. Immediately my mind races, and I zone out because maybe, just maybe,  the government requires someone like me to fly an F-22 in a zero-G maneuver, land it on an asteroid and save the world from aliens. "No", he advises me. After a moment of awkward silence, he explains that he was assembling the best minds in the fields of tweeting, blogging and marketing to take part in Greensboro's first Tastecasting. This is where Liv is says "Sorry?", but  still can't figure out what this may have to do with Ben Affleck?" Then he explains there's free food!" I'm like, "sure!" I don't know you, never met you, and you want to take me out dinner with nine of your closest friends and buy dinner. "Sign me up!" What could have been a bad excuse for pick-up line turned out to be a legit opportunity as I would later discover. Tastecasting is a phenomenon sweeping the nation, where technical minded individuals within various social media platforms visit local restaurants and help that business market themselves for free in return for a free dinner. Sort of a win-win situation so to speak. So while I might not have been saving the earth from asteroids, we got to help a local business and save Greensboro from bad food by sharing the inside details of Table 16.
Chef Graham Heaton

So the day arrived, and we pulled up to Table 16 at its Elm Street location in the fine-dining district, parked the car, and walked in through the discreet side entrance and into wine bar to wait for the rest of the team. We were a little nervous, but it quickly dissipated as we met, shook hands, hugged, and introduced ourselves. The team was a collective of various people from an ex-journalist turned blogger, a marketing director,  an entrepreneur, a graphic designers, a multimedia designer, a PR Expert, a technology expert and me the fat girl with an appetite, ahem, professional blogger. We were met by the staff of Table 16 and immediately shown our table (which I can only guess was table 16?) for our evening of food and wine.

The Table 16 Tastecasting Team
It's hard to describe my first impressions of this place. If I were judging this place on its looks or its daytime facade then you might call it contemporary kitsch. It's a nice corner location, with a hard to notice street-front fa├žade that I've driven by a thousand times and never knew it was there. The insides seem to hark from an eighties prom dress with its track lighting and ceiling fans. Don't worry though, none of this really matters. In fact most people don't notice stuff like that, I do. Even if you do, it's important to remember that all of this indirect ambiance is merely a "clean plate" for the real eye-catcher: the food. Perhaps that's what they had in mind at Table 16? Rather than detract the customer from the centrepiece, the food, they chose the real artistry to be the food they serve. There's also something quite magical that happens here once the sun sets, that makes this criticism naught. Once the candles are lit, the building becomes but a vessel, the large front windows become your entertainment to Greensboro's unique night-life, and the food is your journey.

We were treated well, an eight course meal of various meats, cheeses, fruits, and pairings of wine. The multi-ethnic cuisine ranged from modern to old world, from Pan-seared halibut, tasso ham, pernod, and truffles to tuna tartare with wasabi puree. I could go through each one, but words can't do it justice, and you're going to have to just stop reading right now, get in the car and get over to Table 16. The food is unique, pleasing, and explodes on the tongue. The dishes we were served were well thought out, and you could tell a great deal of diligence went into creating the meal and drink. Now I'm not a chef or a fine diner, I'm a foodie, and a cook when I'm not blogging, but to me it wasn't the food, nor the compilations of the dishes, nor even the presentation in my opinion that would make me want to come back to Table 16, it was the sauces. That's what made these dishes special. We could call it 'jus' or 'laise', but lets be frank here, their dishes had the most out-of-this-world,  gooey, sweet, nutty, winey, sauces dribbled over some of the finest cuts of meat, fish, and various other forms animal I've ever tasted in the world. I could literally hear the neurons in my brain fire like pop-rocks in soda as my palette came into contact with Table 16's various sweet marmalades. You might find hundreds of restaurants like Table 16, and menus with similar courses, but I highly doubt anyone would ever come close to producing such rich tasting dishes with a little drizzle of their special sauce.

I could never tell you what all the dishes are we had, or what wine wine went with which, in fact it's probably important that I don't because part of the attraction of a restaurant like this is you're paying the staff for their expertise to cook for you based on your likes and your dislikes. That's what they do. In fact outside of the food, it's really the reason you want to dine here. It's the story. Each one is different, and they tell it by cooking it for you. It's like an old Hollywood movie scene where the owner of some New York restaurant goes table to table telling his old war stories from before he owned a restaurant. At Table 16 You actually have an interaction with the staff. They all smile, and are genuinely happy to be doing what they're doing. This is their dream, and like actors they want to perform for an audience. They're pleased to tell you about their story, or why the Chef Graham Heaton prepared this particular dish. They even get to know you. Show up at Table 16, and the staff greets you at the table taking your likes and dislikes, and if you allow them so, they'll size you up and make the perfect, matching dish, to go with your fairy tale evening. It may sound cliche' but your dinner, amazingly, always ends deliciously ever after.

So in the end we had a wonderful evening of wine and food, and the story ends with Table 16 saving Greensboro's fine-dining culture with their wonderful foods, and their psychic mind-reading, story telling staff who might, if you show up on Elm street, cook for you... the next time you want the food adventure of a life-time.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Anthem of Independence :Burlington's "Glorious" Fourth of July

We are a country who wants to believe in things like "The American Dream", "Freedom", "Liberty", and "Independence", but are we really any of those ideals we celebrate? This article is about how we celebrate those things, or to put it mildly, how some of us are rather bad at it.

I first have to wonder how many people even know why we celebrate on the Fourth Of July? As I broke in to dance with my daughter in my arms last night, it struck me that several people were uncomfortable by my outward expression and enthusiasm for the fireworks and their music in Burlington. If you ask me, the town has some serious issues with dancing being taboo (Footloose?). There was no beer, no dancing, and barely anyone was smiling. The comments we heard as we left, were that the fireworks and the event was a bore. The 45 minutes that people sat in lawn chairs and picnic benches was summed up in the words of the guy with the John Deere hat last night who sounded a bit like Mater on Cars,  "Shooootttt!!!! I've seen more explosions out of the back of my pick'mup truck!".

Having been to Greensboro's Fun Fourth in the past, I can attest to the fact they're better than Burlington's, but neither hold a candle to my experiences in Santa Barbara, or Monterey. I've been to the Fourth Of July in more places then I can count, some rather splendid and some rather horrible. They generally all involve a rendition of Lee Greewood's "God Bless the USA", while some rather drunk redneck (sans the drunkenness in Burlington) howls in between the chorus,  where some soldier guy takes his hat off turns to a flag and salutes, and where some mom looks on clutching their child. The fireworks explode and if you're lucky then someone will start singing along, lighter in hand, in a mass serenade by choir where no one actually knows any lyrics; "mumble, mumble... God Bless the USA!!!... Mumble, Mumble". If only in 233 years ago, the soldiers could see a YouTube video of  image of what they ultimately  were fighting for.

In contrast, I was recently able to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day in London, a comparison of compromise since Brits don't celebrate American's Independence as far as I'm aware of. In Trafalgar Square we celebrated with tons of beer, insane food, sweaty dances, and the history of the church (merely through the tradition).  Our lackluster American 4th seems to be more about fireworks than a free free country, independent of monarchical rule. Much like other holidays like Christmas where we all pretend to like one another and give each other gifts we wouldn't buy for ourselves, the whole celebration custom (of memorializing the past)  seems to have been lost in America.

Understandable, many Americans (except those in our armed-services) have never had to fight for anything, we're too scared to risk anything. We throw around phrases like "land of the free", yet can't even drink in our public parks on Independence Day. We say that this is the  "Greatest country on Earth", while we struggle with unemployment, and eat our value-menu cheeseburgers processed from animals derived in fecal squalor. Yet our conservative values often lead to the appearance of apathy because we refuse to let go of inhibition, and express true emotions of gratification. It's almost unpatriotic to me that we don't get crazy drunk, half naked, and declare (on at least one day of the year) that it's "great to be alive". That we're truly thankful to be Americans.

Our independence day shouldn't be a celebration from some country called England, it should be from ourselves, from that little voice inside that says "dancing and drinking is a sin" or "I'm an adult, I have to act like one, and that grown-ups don't dance" or "I don't want to try something new, I'm happy with the way things are". The real Independence day, the one you would actually dance for, maybe cry over,  is when you stop listening to what everyone else tells you that you should be, and live a life not influenced by corporations, religions, or politics. To be an individual, to really be free,  or for a better lack of the words, to finally be independent.