Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Americain Awakening

    I'd been saving a generous gift certificate to Bobby Flay's Bar Americain to use when Dana next visited from Pittsburgh, and last weekend she, Jon and I had an extravagant brunch there. Just a few weeks ago, Jon and I enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at Bar Americain with his family, and we were more than happy to go back again so soon. To my wide-eyed dismay, Dana had never heard of Bobby Flay, but she was equally satisfied with our dining experience.

    Bar Americain is located in the space of the former Judson Grill, where Jon and I'd also eaten with his family. The ceilings are high, the restaurant is spacious, the banquettes cozy, and the restaurant's din is no worse than most and far better than many. There's a long raw bar on display at the back, and a calming, jovial air about the place, which is billed as the Iron Chef's ode to American cooking.

    To console ourselves about it being Sunday already, we ordered a round of drinks: Jon randomly recently switched from ordering red wine to white (I waffle depending on the weather and who might be talking to my purple-stained mouth while I drink); I had the Pimm's Cup, with Pimm's, fresh lemonade and a slice of cucumber, which was a little too bitter at that hour of the day for me; Dana's Kentucky 95 with Maker’s Mark, champagne, fresh lemon juice, and fresh orange juice was more what I like waking up with.

    For starters we ordered a half dozen oysters on the half shell, the lobster avocado cocktail, half a chilled lobster, and the housemade potato chips with blue cheese sauce (like I said, extravagant!).

    I'm a mess when it comes to eating crab or lobster in the shell. In Charleston, Dana and I had a tradition of going to a restaurant called A.W. Shucks and ordering the all-you-can-eat crab legs, which she then had to crack, pick, and feed me. Sometimes I can look at a leg and figure out the best way to go in for the kill, but usually I end up with broken shell in my hands and a pittance of meat in my mouth. If I manage to score a large chunk of crab, I exclaim, "I've got the mother-load!"

    My grilled shrimp salad, Nicoise style, was exactly what I wanted: poached eggs, olives, and baked tomatoes with medium-sized blackened shrimp, over a bed of frisee. I don't mind frisee, but if I had my druthers I'd never be served it again. Everyone has a hard time eating it, it gets stuck in everyone's throats and teeth, everyone complains about it, and yet...

    Dana's Open-Face Omelette with Fire Roasted Peppers, Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese and Parsley was served in a small cast iron skillet and looked tasty. If I was in an eggy mood (not so often), I would've tried the Blue Corn Fried Eggs with Red & Green Chile and Black Beans.

    Jon went all out with Miss Stephanie's (she being the actress Stephanie March and Bobby's wife) Biscuits & Cream Gravy, Artisanal Ham, Sausage & Scrambled Eggs. I noticed that a much heftier man than Jon sitting at a nearby table couldn't finish his plate, but Jon did it justice. At Thanksgiving we ordered an Artisanal Ham Tasting appetizer, which was mouthwateringly succulent and salty, as was the ham on Jon's plate. I love it when my New Jersey boy orders Southern.

    Neither of them wanted dessert, but there was a strategy in my ordering the salad: I wanted the Bananas Foster Crepes with Walnuts and Creme Fraiche, which is on the brunch entree, not dessert, menu. The caramel and creme fraiche sugar overload worked me into a tizzy, until the bill came and reality set back in. Hallelujah for the gift card! Thank you sweet crepes, thank you.

    *** *** ***
    There have been people (Jon!), clothes, apartments, and many other things that I didn't like right away but ended up loving soon after. The new musical Spring Awakening is one of those things. It's being billed as the next Rent, the first rock show on Broadway to get it right, and "a vital leap forward for the new American musical" (The Sun). If you go, try to get the cheap seats on the stage so you can be in the midst of it all.

    The show, based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, centers on a group of 19th-century German teenagers who are first realizing the longings and violence of the human body. When I left the show, I said aloud that not one of the songs, co-written by Duncan Sheik (of "I Am Barely Breathing" fame), had stuck with me. Of course, a few days later "Mama Who Bore Me" popped into my head and began to haunt me, along with "Totally F****d." So much so that I bought the cast recording on iTunes yesterday. I especially like John Gallagher Jr.'s voice, which is clear and expressive, ironic and knowing ("The Bitch of Living," "And Then There Were None").

    As a whole, before I picked it apart and found its deeper beauty while listening to the soundtrack, the show didn't gel for me -- if you want me to believe I'm watching 19th-century German teens, give me a little more to go on so that my mind doesn't automatically switch the plot to 20th-century American teens. If you want to tell me a story, have the songs do a little more storytelling instead of reiterating the scene that just took place. (Yeah yeah, I know the songs are supposed to be internal monologues and "blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah," so if that's how you aim to entertain me, how about cut the show by 20 or 30 minutes.) Nonetheless, if you want me to have a kickass, almost indie-rock time, keep on with the rock n' roll on Broadway hootchie-koo magic. There will be no schadenfreude from this here blogger if the show doesn't win multiple Tonys. Hmmm, did I use schadenfreude right?

    *** *** ***
    For the month of January, I'll be blogging almost daily for AOL's health channel. Follow my progress at as I resolve once and for all to shrink my thighs and strengthen my core.

    Bring it on, 2007!

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