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I’ve been writing this blog now, for about 3 and a half years–my god, that’s a lot of time to spend talking about yourself and petty grievances, but it shows no sign of stopping.  Typically, when I’m writing a blog, it’s because something funny/tragic/irksome has happened to me, then I reflect on it.  It’s a system that has served me well over the years, and has paid me no money whatsoever.

Now, I’ve found someone willing to pay for me words of wisdom, namely a smallish publication in New England.  This is delightful because I basically get to be myself, and hate on things.  I’ve never been particularly successful in the realm of journalism because I haven’t actually pursued it, and because I have trouble sticking with the “just the facts” approach. Now I don’t have to.

It’s also good because I’m someone who responds very well to outside pressure.  I try to force myself to blog more (and Culture Friend tries to force me as well), but sometimes, it just doesn’t come.  As inane as my ramblings usually are, I have scads of drafts that never quite panned out–pretty crappy stuff that even I don’t want to read, and I usually crack myself up regularly.

Considering that my magazine column is pretty similar to my blog (albeit with a bit more focus), it’s amazing how much keeping the two up is playing with my head.  When writing for magazines in the past, I typically took on topics that were, for lack of a better word, timeless.  I interviewed soccer players (I know nothing about soccer), and spoke to real estate developers (I know very little about real estate development, though I bet more than most), I took on covering stuff that had already happened, or that was not affected by the goings on in the world.  Now my column is dictated by major month events i.e. holidays, which is no problem, but I write these columns two months in advance.

This means that in September I’m thinking about Thanksgiving, October–Christmas, November–New Years, etc.  It’s making me a bit addled, and making it hard to remember what day it is (though I kind of always had that problem).  It’s also making me wonder about people who do this kind of writing full time.  Do you just get used to it?  Do they feel like life is passing them by?  Maybe after a while it just becomes automatic, or maybe I’m way overthinking things, and that’s why I’d never make it as a real journalist.

It’s more challenging than I though it would be to get into the mindset of the christmas season when the rest of the country has Halloween on the brain.  I feel like I’m operating on a slightly different rotation.  If this were a Venn Diagram, I would be only slightly overlapping the rest of the country in my holiday thinking.  Plus, I never really thought about holidays at all before.

All I know is, it’s January 4th, and I can’t quit thinking about St. Patrick’s Day.

I am not a super-healthy person.  Anyone who has seen the collection of boxed pasta and ramen noodles in my cupboard would concur, but I do think about what I eat, and try to do my best.  It was challenging last year with three jobs, full-time school, and the occasional internship, but now I’ve got no excuse for not trying.  Plus, now that I’m taking running more seriously, I’m realizing just how sluggish these “bad for me” convenience foods make me, so I’m pushing those out of my diet in favor of stuff that spoils faster, and makes me faster.

I used to have a really hard time finding food to eat when I was out of the house because of my vegetarianism.  I spent many a night at a restaurant eating just french fries or mozzarella sticks because there was nothing else on the menu that didn’t have meat in it, and because I used to be afraid of vegetables.  I rarely complained, just dealt with the fact that I made the choice to not eat meat, and these are the consequences.  Prior to that, I was a picky eater living in a town with two restaurants–I’m used to limited selection.  Now it seems like there are a lot more options for people like me, but a whole new set of problems.

Jewish Friend always talks about the “clean plate club” of which she is not a member.  Her parents are enthusiastic eaters, and she has always been more dainty.  They would encourage her to join them in the clean plate club, but she had no interest.  “You’re a member of the clean plate club,” she told me recently, “I bet your parents never got on your case about not finishing your food.”

The problem, in my case, is that I was not a member of the clean plate club growing up–there was no such club in my family, we all fed ourselves.  I typically finished my whole can of SpaghettiO’s, or half bag of Lipton Rice and Sauce, but not because someone told me to, just because that was enough to fill me up.  I ate until I was full, then stopped.  It wasn’t until I started earning my own money, and paying for my own food while out at a restaurant that I joined the clean plate club.  I want to get my money’s worth, and though I often do take home leftovers, I also nibble and nibble until there’s not much left.  This was fine when portion sizes were smaller, but now when a typical entree lasts me three days–it’s become a problem and a nuisance.

On my recent trip to the Virgin Islands, I had to be at the airport at 7am.  I really don’t eat breakfast even though I know you’re supposed to, because I’m not hungry in the morning.  I haven’t been moving, therefore, just don’t have an appetite until around 10am.  Since I was traveling and didn’t know for sure when or what my next meal would be, I decided to see what TF Green International Airport had to offer me in the way of a small, light breakfast.

Options include Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, assorted dinner places, and the Wolfgang Puck kiosk.  I love Dunkin Donuts, but had already had two large coffees at home, and the thought of a wake-up wrap or hash browns curdled my stomach, so I decided to see what overpriced horrors Wolfgang had to sell me.  Most of the offerings were lunch/dinner stuff, but there was a cold case of salads and fruits, and a delicious-looking yogurt parfait.

Once I got closer, I realized that this yogurt parfait was in a 16oz cup.  16oz– one full pint, 1/2 a quart–that’s a whole lot of yogurt parfait.  According to MIT, the standard size for a serving of yogurt is one cup,  which is half of this giant yogurt that I was staring at.  The typical single-serving yogurt cup that I bring to work is 1/2 a cup.  Is it because it’s “healthy” that it comes in such a giant size?  Is it just because the real expense is packaging and Wolfgang, and everyone else, wants to make their money back?  Do people really want to eat this much yogurt in one sitting?

I stood there staring at it for far longer than I should have, because I was really in the throes of a quandary.  Not knowing for sure when my next meal might be (accounting for delays, possibly running to meet my connection, refusing to overpay for terrible plane food, etc.) and knowing that as soon as I reached my final destination I would immediately start drinking heavily–I needed to eat something.  I could buy it and throw half of it away (which I hate to do), I could force the whole thing into my stomach and feel sick rattling around on the plane.

I pictured myself choking down a warmish glass of yogurt, and did not feel good about it, so I turned to walk away and noticed a basket of what was sure to be overpriced bananas.  Bananas are filling and come in a reasonable package size, so I chose that instead.

“$1.17.” the clerk told me.  Then she mumbled something as I was fishing around for change.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“I said why don’t you help yourself to another one, these are pretty small.”

I pride myself on being an excellent adventurer for a number of reasons:

  1. I am a skilled, light, and efficient packer
  2. I am laid-back, have been called unflappable on more than one occasion, and am willing to try anything once
  3. I can go for long periods of time without or with very little food or drink
  4. When in adventure mode, I don’t require much sleep
  5. I have a lot of stamina
  6. I carry my passport almost everywhere because you never know when the opportunity for adventure might present itself.

On my recent trip to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, I decided to use part of my 48-hour trip to do a little adventuring and seek out Blackbeard’s Castle.  The resort we were staying at was out by the airport, about 1.5 miles from town.  The options to get there were walk (80+ degrees, humid, my leg is still gimpy), taxi (more money than I really want to spend), hotel shuttle (10-minute wait and only goes into town, will not take people back to the hotel, which seems odd), or the local bus.

In the spirit of adventure, I opted for the local bus.  Plus, I had gotten the low-down on how the bus works the night before.

  1. The bus stop was about three blocks from the hotel, past the stoplight, near the bright yellow gas station.
  2. Approach the bus, which looks a bit like a trolley, and ask the driver, “Are you the dollar bus?”
  3. Do not tell the driver where you want to go because they will tell you it costs more than a dollar, which is not true, but if they say that yes, they are the dollar bus, get in.
  4. When you arrive at your destination, push the button, get off and pay the driver $1.

Simple stuff.

I found the bus stop, with a bus next to it, and a man half in the cab, half out having a conversation with another person in Spanish.

“Are you the dollar bus?” I asked.

He had a mouth full of sandwich and mumbled something I couldn’t understand.  I waited a bit, he swallowed, and said, “Yes, but I’m not working right now.” Then he pointed at his sandwich.

Then we stared at each other for a bit before another bus pulled up and I got on that.  The only problem with taking the bus versus taking a cab or shuttle, is that I wasn’t precisely sure where I wanted to get off.  I figured once I saw my destination, I would just know.  Then after a little while, some other white people got onto the bus, so I figured that I’d just get off where they did.  After sitting on the bus for more than thirty minutes, I was pretty sure that I had missed my stop, but I was also pretty sure that I was seeing a lot more of the island than most people there for only the weekend, so I sat back and enjoyed the sights and hills.

After getting off at the Red Hook stop, where the other white people got off, I realized that they were going to the ferry, and I was not.  There was nothing in Red Hook except the ferry, a very well-promoted ATM, two restaurants, and a lot of sailboats.  So I got back on the dollar bus, and asked one of the locals which stop was the downtown that I wanted, specifically, where was Blackbeard’s castle.

“Oh, you’ll be able to see it.  I’m getting off a little before then, but once you see the water and all the pretty boats, get off and you should see it up the hill.  I’d take a cab though because you have to go through a rough neighborhood, and with the economy down, and you being alone, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”

Then she got off the bus and went to church.  Wonderful human being.

Except she didn’t count on how cheap I am and how little I worry about my personal safety.  After wandering the length of the downtown area, and quickly discovering that had I not taken the extended bus ride and actually seen the island, I might have mistaken St. Thomas for nothing but jewelry, cigar, and perfume stores, I tried to find the castle.

I could not see it at all.  Finally, I just started climbing the hill in the hopes that once I got a little higher, it would present itself.

No castle.

I stopped at a hotel conveniently (for me) located halfway up the hill, inconveniently (for them) located in the bad neighborhood my bus friend had mentioned, and asked if I was on the right track.  The nice woman at the desk assured me that I was, and once at the top of the hill, I’d just need to cut over to my right. So I climbed, and climbed the steepest hill in the world and once I reached a crossroad, looked around, and still did not see the castle.  I asked two passersby where it was, and they directed me into the parking lot of a hotel.  Finally, I started  walking along the horizontal road, only to find that it gradually sloped downhill and brought me right back to the place I’d started climbing up.

It was then that I glanced up the hill, and actually saw the castle for the first time.

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It was also then, that I decided that I did not want to climb the hill again as I was drenched with sweat, extremely thirsty, and my gimpy leg was killing me.  Damn you, Blackbeard.

I went back to the beach.

I complain a lot about my neighborhood, I’m aware of that.  The funny thing is, that when I was complaining at work a while ago, everyone kept suggesting that I move.  “There’s a nice place in such and such area, why don’t you move there?”  I was shocked, certainly I get peeved with the minor annoyances– mail theft, people hanging out in my backyard, people driving by with the bass in the car turned up so loud that it makes my ears hurt even when inside my house with all the windows shut, people mowing down my fence, urban youths chasing turkeys, and the Laos Pride gang– but I would never consider moving because of them.

My neighborhood is low-income, to be sure.  I too am low-income, it’s just that I’m white and no one else in my neighborhood besides me and my landlady can really say that.  I’ve found, as well, that at least half a dozen people who haven’t heard me talk about my neighborhood just assume that I live on the East Side.  The East Side is the fancy side, near Brown and RISD, and it is where white people live.  I didn’t know about construction on I-195, and one of my co-workers was just baffled, “Don’t you go that way?  You live on the East Side, don’t you?”

What I love about my neighborhood is it’s energetic, and full of character.  I love driving home and having to negotiate around kids playing in the street while their parents sit on the steps, watch them, and socialize.  It very much has the feeling of a neighborhood, and everyone on my street is very friendly.

Anthony Bourdain, who I really like and would love to be friends with, did a show a couple years back where he was in Belfast.  There was a gourmet chef there who had taken traditional Irish food that most of the world deems disgusting– blood pudding, for example– and made it something people sought out.  I watched him stuff a sheep’s bladder full of ground up bits of meat garbage, add some blood, pan fry it, serve it on a bed of mesculen greens, and then two foodies devoured it making smacking noises and gushing.

Then Anthony Bourdain said something that sums up how I feel about my neighborhood (I’m paraphrasing) “When you have very little and have to make the best of it, that’s when you wind up with the most delicious food, or best anything.  It forces you to be creative.”

The kids in my neighborhood play in the street because they don’t have yards, or their yards are small.  They play outside because it’s too hot in the house in the summer.  They play with balls, and frisbees and sticks, they chase small animals, they play like kids should play, and they seem to have a kick-ass time of it.  There’s a sense of comradery that comes from getting outside of your house and looking at people besides your family and the people on T.V.

A while ago, my next-door neighbors threw their frisbee over my fence and forgot it was there, or didn’t know it was there.  I happened to be outside and heard then playing, “Is this your frisbee?” I asked, and held it up.  This little boy who was probably about six yelled, “yeah!”

“There’s a ball over here too, that I think might be yours.” I told him.  so he snuck around the fence and found the ball along with something else that they had lost (seriously, these kids could hang onto their toys better), but the thing that just killed me was how excited he was to get his own toys back.  These were not new, or exciting objects, just some stuff he’d lost, but he acted as if my backyard was full of Christmas magic and I was Santa.

I love that these kids don’t need much to be happy, because kids really never need much to be happy.  When I was little, I played in the woods behind my house, or on my swingset, or in my grandparent’s barn– and I was completely content.  Sometimes I’m a little jealous I can’t play in the street too.

Yesterday, I had tentative plans to hang out with Theatre Milf, and an invitation to a fancy potluck with Jewish Friend. Instead, I opted for an Andria Night.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of an Andria Night, one typically includes: A brick of delicious Brie, a baguette, some kind of alcohol (usually red wine, but not exclusively), a foreign film, and solitude. This is something that I don’t do too often, perhaps quarterly or once every two months, but it is wildly satisfying in its execution because Brie and baguette is one of my favorite things to eat, foreign films make one feel smart (even if they’re terrible–Brotherhood of the Wolf)– I feel like hearing another language must be good for me , and solitude when you need it most is magical.

So, on my way home after work, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up the necessary supplies. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I inevitably wind up buying much more than I planned, so I brought in two shopping bags and told myself that I could buy no more than what they held.

Naturally, Pasta-Roni was on sale 10/$10, so I bought ten. My other non-perishable staple Lipton Noodles and Sauce was also on sale– that one I bypassed (proud of myself), because it had been on sale last time I went to the grocery store, and I knew I had enough.

However, when I got home, I found that I actually had, what I finally decided is, too much of everything and no place to put it all. What I’ve been doing is hoarding non-perishable foods items, and then eating out instead of eating all the food I buy. I live alone and have tons of cupboard space, but it is now all full, even the top shelves which I can barely reach.

So, I’m stopping. From now on, I will only buy the grocery items that I need, and I will make a point to try to eat some of this stuff that I have– starting with the Tuna Helper that I shipped out from ND and then promptly lost interest in. I must say though, this does seem like a crazy thing to have done (many have said so), but in the darkest days before Obama can fix the economy and he keeps calling upon us to sacrifice– I’ll be set; and in the dark days when I finish school and find that I cannot get a job because all of the old lady librarians that everyone has been saying will retire soon are just not willing to let go and I’ll instead have to wait for them to die– I won’t be forced to eat acorns harvested from the backyard and berries that may or may not be poisonous– I will be eating delicious Pasta-Roni, if I can afford milk.

The Quest

This is going to be the most boring review ever, because I have nothing bad to say. Gone are my snarky comments, and shrewd, cutthroat observations; and in their place is only the Hallmarky sentiment: I love Thee Red Fez. sigh.

Here is what I love about Thee Red Fez (with additional comments by Jewish Friend):

1. The upstairs room is painted all red so sitting in it is like sitting inside a red fez— genius.

Jewish Friend: I especially like that some, not all of the string lights adorning the room are red. Certain swank bars (cough: Avery) are simply too dark and loud for conversation. Not so at Thee Fez. You can see your dining companions, and also your friendly nearby hat-wearing animals.

2. The walls in the upstairs room are decorated with animal heads– which normally skeeves me out a bit, especially while eating, and because of some incidents in my past, but these animal heads get to wear little red fezzes, which I find charming in an anthropomorphic kind of way. It takes away the gruesomeness and the hunterly bragging of showing off “the kill” and allows me instead to believe that these animals feel good about their accessories and are watching down on me with all good wishes.

Jewish Friend: Certain vegan friends of mine have trouble eating at fez because of what they [snobbily] describe as ‘the death that surrounds them’ there, but, like Andria, I find the decor to be whimsical.

3. The downstairs room is cozy without feeling cramped, mostly booths, and there’s a jackalope skull on the wall.

Jewish Friend: Downstairs feels a bit less fancy and more dinerish to me, but sometimes that atmosphere is what I am looking for. Both levels have a bar, and the downstairs also has fun old movie posters. The bathroom downstairs is spacious, and you can read on the walls about a movie where an older man adopted a Karate master. It is wonderful.

4. My Jewish Friend knows that the best Riesling is not on the menu, and even though the menus are just printed sheets of paper, and they could easily afford to update them (in fact, they change the menu frequently)– the best Riesling remains “not on the menu.” This is clearly my snobbery shining through, and did I not have a friend who knows this little backdoor trick, I would most likely be outraged. As it is, I feel special and cool.

Jewish Friend: Andria is not special and cool, I am special and cool. Andria lives vicariously through me. But really the reisling is delicious.

5. The service is always prompt without being imposing and you can easily flag someone down if you need something else.

Jewish Friend: I was beginning to think that no one found my adorable witty comments cute anymore. Luckily, the waitress at Fez found me just as adorable as I had hoped to be. She was attentive, and gave us great insight on the menu and the specials. She also gave me a good tip about how long the delicious looking peanut noodle tempeh dish would be there for future trips when I don’t want mac and cheese.

6. The Mac & Cheese is exquisite, plentiful, and affordable. It has a slightly smoky flavor from the Gouda, and really, all I need to be happy in life is smoked Gouda. There’s always enough in a serving to take some home, it only costs $11, and it’s good the next day. Seriously, I took Friend from Cowboy/Ski-pole country there, and we both got the mac & cheese; she had to go back home without eating her leftovers, and I feasted on that stuff for three days– never got tired of it.

Jewish Friend: I especially like the crunchy crumblies on top. Too often mac and cheese crumblies aren’t crunchy enough for my liking.

Most recent visit:

Jewish Friend and I sat downstairs and the air conditioner was blowing right on us. Jewish Friend tends to get cold easily, and the cardigan that she brought with her was not warding off the chill. We asked our server if she could adjust it a little and instead of grumbling, or saying “no, I can’t” she immediately replied “It is a little cold, isn’t it? I’ll take care of that right away.” And Jewish Friend was warm and comfortable the rest of the meal.

Jewish Friend: This was to everyone’s benefit really. I get whiny when I am cold.

The dirty martini was perfect– best either of us have had to date. The olives they use are stuffed with pimientos like usual, but taste like they’ve been soaked in something spicy, which is very fun–$8.

Considering the rather lousy, okay, just plain bad service that Jewish Friend and I have had in our dining experiences of late i.e. Bravo, Medditerraneo (in that case the other diners sitting next to us were asking why we hadn’t gotten our food yet, and getting banned (yes, banned, told to never come back) from Louis simply because we waited 40 minutes for soggy eggs and had the audacity to say that we were unhappy about it– it was simply wonderful to have a server who acted like we were there to be served, and not like we were ruining her life just by walking through the doors.

She made recommendations: “Oh the Bay Fries really are the best– would you like those out first because the mac & cheese can take quite a while.”

Said cute things like: “careful, the mac & cheese just came out of the oven, so it’s, like, lawsuit hot.”

And drew a picture of a little fez on the bill.

The negatives:

1. They are not open Sundays. Why the hell are not restaurants in Providence open Sundays?!? That’s how I ended up at both Temple and Cheesecake Factory.

2. My favorite booth is right next to a pinball machine– but that’s not even that bad.

Decor/atmosphere: 9, it’s a little cold in the winter, upstairs anyway

Service: 9.5, really no complaints, but I feel like I can’t quite give it a 10– so obvious

Food: 9, I’ve only tried the mac & cheese, salad, and fries, but all were excellent. They get a 9 because there’s celery salt on the fries, and I really hate celery, and because Jewish Friend does not care for the aioli dipping sauce.

Total: 27.5

My parents and brother are visiting me for a few days, and I’m reminded again how much my parents baffle me.  They’ve already been to Tim Horton’s more than once– standard, they’ve complained about walking to and from sights, then gone for walks just for leisure, and immediately upon arriving at my apartment, my dad poured himself a glass of milk and ate a handful of dry-roasted peanuts– just like I predicted he would.

The odd thing this time, is that they drove out here.  They had a detailed itinerary for the trip out– Lincoln museum in Springfield; visiting friends in Ohio; Gettysburg; Chocolate in Hershey, PA; Baseball Hall of Fame, Ben & Jerry’s factory– and then when they got here– nothing.  No real plans were made except I guess we’re going to Maine on Sunday. I don’t know what we will do once we get there, but I suspect the real reason for the trip is because my father has never been, and this will be his 48th state.  What I said before about him having no interest in Alaska or Hawaii seems to have been right on, but maybe he’ll start planning a trip once Maine is officially checked off.

Today, I am at work, and they are in Providence doing who knows what, probably going to Tim Horton’s and going for walks.  They came to Newport yesterday and I showed them around the library where I work since it’s beautiful and historically significant– they drifted off and read the paper.  I plan on taking them to Waterfire tonight cause it’s kind of pretty, and old people seem to love it, but I suspect they’ll complain about the walk.

This is all reminding me of a conversation I recently had with a co-worker at my other job.  I’ve complained, at length, about the lack of good Mexican food in this part of the country.  Thankfully, there is a Chipotle not too far away, so I can get a decent fix when I need it.  Recently, I arranged for this Chipotle to donate burritos for one of the teen events at the library.  They gave us a ton of food, and were incredibly nice and easy to work with.  Unfortunately, the teens didn’t really like the burritos because they had never had anything like them before, and found them strange and slightly scary.  I was a little bothered by this, but happy because there were lots of leftovers for the staff to take home.

I hauled ass back to the breakroom and sequestered three of them for myself immediately, planning on taking more, once fewer people were watching.  A few of my co-workers were baffled as to this bounty because they had never heard of Chipotle before (the one I got these burritos at was only 10 minutes away), and didn’t seem to understand burritos.  Who cares, more for me.

As I was leaving that night, I walked out to my car with a different co-worker, and asked her if she had gotten a burrito.

“I don’t really like burritos.” She told me. There was a slightly awkward silence, and she followed up with, “I like Del’s.”

This confused me because we had been talking about burritos, and Del’s is a soft-frozen lemonade drink which couldn’t actually be less like a burrito, but good for her.  Then there was silence until we reached our cars.

So I’m not sure what the story has to do with my parents, but I feel like it sums it up somehow.  The thing that most baffles me is that I feel like they’re doing all of this adventuring when my back is turned, then when I make myself available, they crap out.  It’s like imagining that your toys get up in the middle of the night and play without you.  I’m glad I didn’t realy take any time off work because I guess they have more fun without me trying to shepherd then around.  Thankfully, I’ve never been to Maine (and I stressed that bit of information), so I can just give them their head and follow; but I feel like I should bring a guidebook or something just in case.

The Quest.

I’m kind of ashamed of how many times I’ve eaten at The Cheesecake Factory, but obviously not so ashamed as to pretend it hasn’t happened. I never really plan to go there, it just… happens. It’s close to my house, it’s open late– it’s a problem.

One thing I do have to say is that while it’s grossly overpriced, the food is actually good. They have more than two vegetarian options on the menu, which is rare, and they have macaroni & cheese–fried.

These few positives, however, are squelched by the amazing number of negatives, which I will now list:

1. The decor, which was described by Cowboy/Ski-pole Country friend as “Latoya Jackson and the Cat Lady (Jocelyn Wildenstein) threw up.” It’s all muted, pastel tones that have a faux Egyptian vibe. It’s simply awful, and the walls are all hard plaster so there’s no sound absorption at all. Cowboy/Ski-Pole friend and I were seated at a table in a high-traffic area and it was so loud that we could not hear each other at all. It was like being at a high school basketball game with the way the sound of all the conversations bounced around. Just being in there made me feel tense and claustrophobic cause I felt like I was being yelled at and about to be stepped on at all times.

I don’t know if this is specific to the Cheesecake Factory in Providence (the loudness) because the only other one I’ve ever eaten at was in Minneapolis where we sat out on the patio with a lovely view of the parking lot and Barnes & Noble across the street. The interior decoration in that one were more like a tacky Versailles than an Egyptian oasis, but equally visually appalling.

2. The menu. As I already mentioned, I like that there are many vegetarian options, but there are just so many options of everything, that it’s overwhelming. Not only that, but the menu is full of advertisements. This is something that I find offensive and rude. They’re obviously getting money for these advertisements, yet this is one of the most expensive restaurants in Providence– clearly they’re not passing the savings on to me. Also, I have to look at the menu in order to decide what to order– I can’t ignore this advertising because it’s right in my face. It’s bad enough that I have to look at advertising as I drive down the street, go to the movies, or even use a public restroom; it should not part of a nice, relaxing meal.

This is something I feel so angry about that I wrote a strongly-worded letter to the company. This was what they sent back to me:

Thank you for e-mailing us regarding your dining experience at our Providence
Cheesecake Factory restaurant. I apologize that you were offended by the advertisements in our menu. For the past 20 years we have included advertisements to promote area businesses and to compliment our “book-style” menu. It was not our intention to offend you. I will certainly share your comments with our company executives.

The advertisements in the menu were not for local businesses, they were for exotic vacations, handbags, and jewelry. My other concerns about the restaurant having too many tables shoved into a space not big enough in a way that guarantees an unpleasant dining experience for many, were not addressed. It just goes to show that despite the heartfelt “Mom and Pop” story on the website– “Few people have achieved in their lifetimes what the Overtons accomplished during theirs. With a great deal of courage and determination, Oscar and Evelyn Overton realized their dream – to own a successful business.” Cheesecake Factory is very much a corporation where the only concern is turning over as many tables as they can and dulling the senses with too much, of everything.

Decor/atmosphere: 0. Awful.

Service: 4. I’ve never had a bad server at the Cheesecake Factory– clearly, they train them very well, but the flippant response to my legitimate complaint, and lying to me about the menu including local businesses pisses me off. “It was not our intention to offend you.”– of course it wasn’t, your intention was to make a few extra dollars at the expense of your patrons and hope no one would even notice. Advertising in a menu is unforgiveable.

Food: 8. The fried macaroni & cheese is delightful, as is everything I’ve eaten there, but it all has a very pre-fab taste to it– for obvious reasons.

Total: 12

The Quest.

This is a restaurant that I’ve wanted to visit ever since moving to Providence, but never managed to until recently. Situated on the corner of Washington and Empire Streets, it looks out onto both the main branch of the Providence Public Library, Trinity Repertory, and an intersection busy with both foot traffic and car traffic– it seems to be in the perfect spot for dining. Yet, I always either forget to suggest it, or my dining companion of the night doesn’t want to go. It’s like something was keeping me away, until the 4th of July rained havoc on rather typical plans and forced Jewish Friend and I to make some real choices.

Julian’s was closed.

The place where we usually have dinner when we’re hungry and need a meal guaranteed to be good, had inexplicably closed for the 1st and 2nd of July promising to open back up for the 3rd and 4th. So we racked our brains for places within walking distance that sounded good. We unconciously started walking toward Trinity Brewhouse as we brainstormed and finally settled on Broadway Bistro.

It was closed as well.

We continued to walk toward Trinity all the while discussing how we didn’t really feel like Trinity at all, but somehow trying to convince ourselves that a plate of nachos and glass of Rhody Coyote would be enjoyable. Finally, we were standing in front of Trinity and had to admit to ourselves that that was really not what we wanted.

“Let’s see,” I said, “The Local is never good.”

“Never good.” Jewish Friend agreed.

Capital Grille is too expensive, RiRa is just gross.”

“Gross,” Jewish Friend agreed. “I don’t feel like Cuban Revolution, Union Station is just trying to be Trinity so we could just as soon stay here as go there….”

This went on for a while and we eliminated most downcity Providence restaurants before I finally said, “How about that Bravo place right there?”

“Bravo?” Jewish Friend wrinkled her nose, “we could, I guess. It’s ok.”

“Let’s try it,” I pushed, “could be good, and I think they have mac & cheese.”

So we went and upon opening the door, I was really pleased with the vibe there. It’s small, but not cramped with dark wood, low lights, and a wrap-around bar. The outdoor seating is such that you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with pedestrians tripping over you. The whole place has a laid-back, European feel that I really dig.

“Would you like to sit inside or outside?” the hostess asked.

“Inside.” I said.

“Outside.” Jewish Friend said.

Then we proceeded to have an adorable tiff over where we should sit. These kinds of tiffs are usually thought to be charming or endearing by the male population, but this hostess seemed unamused. Finally, I wore down Jewish Friend and we were seated inside.

Drinks orders were taken after we had had more than enough time with the menu, and then we waited…

and waited…

and waited.

Jewish Friend gets very cranky when she is hungry, and started squirming and acting petulant.

“Where is our server/ what is going on here/ why is that bitch ignoring us?”

Finally, after 5 minutes of waiting for the drinks we had already ordered (that we could see sitting on the bar), and an additional 5-7 minutes of waiting for the drinks order to be taken, I went up to the bar where the hostess was dodging our pointed looks by studying some kind of map.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but we’ve been ready to place our orders for some time if you don’t mind.”

“Actually, I’m not your server.” she informed me.

Since she was the only person in the place who had shown the slightest interest in our table, I was a bit surprised by this, but also not surprised because her ignoring of us had been so brazen, she couldn’t have been counting on a tip.

“Do we have a server?” I asked.

“You sure do!” she replied in a faux chipper tone.

I returned to my seat and assured Jewish Friend that she would be fed soon, and that we would order some pommes frites to keep her concious until her entree came out.

Finally, after another five minutes, a young man came out with our drinks orders and a hunk of warm bread with no butter or dipping oil of any kind. He took our orders, and went away.

Jewish Friend went up to the bar and asked another man for butter in what was intended to be a cute and charming manner, but got the impression that he was making fun of her.

“I said that I’d been served bread with no butter and found it strange. I was trying to be lighthearted and cute, but I really don’t think he took it that way.”

We spent the rest of our meal trying to make it up to our server that we had been the slightest bit rude to the bitchy hostess. We gushed about the dipping sauces served with the pommes frites, “Bechemel, eh? It’s delicious”, we praised him excessively when he brought out refills, we complimented his brute strength at being able to carry my gigantic serving of mac & cheese, “You can carry that with one hand, goodness!” etc.

The reason I haven’t mentioned the mac & cheese really at all up until this point, is that is was completely unremarkable except for its size. $11 gets you about a pound and a half of what the menu called “three cheeses topped with breadcrumbs and tomatoes” but what I call “something that is only slightly better than PastaRoni”. It was bland. It was simply so unremarkable that I cannot come up with anything else to say about it.

Once we got our server, the service was adequate, but I only tipped 10%, which I still feel guilty about.

Decor/atmosphere: 9. I really like the look of the place

Service: 2. I’m really being generous here, they get a 2 because no one swore at me, but I’ll take a little swearing if it gets me prompt service.

Food: 4. The pommes frites really were good, but the mac & cheese was bullshit.

Total: 15

Temple has the vibe of a place that men take women they want to have affairs with.

Prior to beginning the Mac & Cheese quest, I had only ever visited the bar at Temple, but I’ve always felt like that description completely sums it up. The bar area is dimly lit with dark wood, and some kind of red room at the end that looks like a rapist paradise (I’ve never ventured into that space though, so it may be lovely). I went there for cocktails with Culture Friend after a night at the ballet, and got a comment from a middle-aged golf buddy about the murkiness of my martini.

“It’s a filthy martini,” I told him.

He said something along the lines of “you bad girl.”

On one of our cocktail outings Jewish Friend and I had seen on the menu that they serve truffle macaroni and cheese for a very reasonable price. We decided to try it one Sunday evening when all of the restaurants we really wanted to go to were inexplicably closed.

When we arrived, there was one other table occupied, and the hostess asked us if we wanted a table or a booth. I immediately replied “booth” and we were taken to a booth so vast that I could have comfortably lived there. Since the booth was so large, and there were only two of us, placement of our bodies and silverware became more cerebral than it should have been.

“It looks like a harem in here.” Jewish Friend said.

And it did.

I’ve never been in a harem, but aside from a lack of heaps of pillows and belly dancers– this place had a total harem vibe, and I think there are actually heaps of pillows in the red rapist room– can’t be sure. Our giant booth was covered in some kind of orange velour and it had a curtain tied back that just seemed to say to me “you can pull me shut and have sex right here.”

We did not do that, and when I asked Jewish Friend to pull it closed just to see if we had the slightly sleazy option of total privacy– she said “no, I will not be doing that.”

The truffle macaroni & cheese is listed on the appetizer menu, so it only costs $12. It’s served in a little hot-pot with a nice crust of cheese on the top and a giant spoon to heap it onto your appetizer plate. I’ve never had truffles before, or truffle oil– so I can’t speak to that aspect of the mac & cheese (which is clearly its selling point), but I can say that it was delightful. It was cheesy without being overly cheesy, messy but not in a way that leaves you with oil and flecks of dairy all over your chin, and filling without being heavy.

Perfect wintertime comfort food.

Decor/atmosphere: 5. Harem vibe, sex booth.

Service: 7. Seating and food delivery was very prompt, but we had to wait extraordinarily long for our bill.

Food: 8. Mac & cheese was excellent, fries were merely ok.

Total: 20