Food, Games, Photos, and stuff that isn't any of those things

Retrospective: Supper Club #1

Place Setting

The place setting for Supper Club #1

Off the bat, I want to thank the 6 brave souls that came out to join us for Supper Club #1! I had a blast cooking for you all, getting to watch the meal unfold, and hear your conversation. This was a really fun project for me at a time I needed something fun, and I really appreciate you all helping make it happen!

Second, if you just want some photos from the day jump to the bottom of the page.

We’re now a bit more than a month removed from the event, and I wanted to take a look back at the whole thing, think about what went well, what could have gone better, and what I want to try to do next time. And I thought maybe you’d like to hear about it too. Please forgive any rambling, I’m doing this “live” as it were.

1. Cost

This is the easiest place to start, and maybe one of the hardest things to get right. I asked for $25/person, and had six people join Kendall and I for dinner, landing me at $150. Total cost of the food and beverages I prepared for the evening: $359.79. The goal was to recoup the food and drink costs….Whoops! I was over $200 short for the night. And that doesn’t even take into account the multiple tests I ran on most of the recipes leading up to the day. Oh well! We live, we learn, we figure out costing.

As someone that has no formal culinary education and hasn’t worked in a restaurant, I definitely went into this bit blind. There are several areas I can work on improving here.

  • Have the full, tested menu nailed down before sending out invites and slapping a price tag on the evening. Several of the recipes I hadn’t nailed down before I posted the invitations, so costs changed. Build in a few extra dollars per person to pay for the recipe testing.
  • Get better with figuring out amounts needed. For example, I didn’t have time to test my corned beef ribs recipe (it took a full week!), so I wasn’t sure how much it would yield or exactly how much I would need. I could have saved about $50 on meat, and maybe $10 on other ingredients if I’d known the portioning for this. I still have several pounds of corned beef in the freezer waiting for a brunch ūüôā
  • Remember how much $$$ alcohol is! We didn’t splurge on pricey wine, and the cocktails I served used sake instead of the hard stuff, but just the booze (not any of the mixers and garnishes) was nearly $60. That’s over 2 peoples worth of food cost sunk on the booze when I’m only collecting from 6. Next time I’ll have to think more about exactly how much each person is expected to drink and build in more /person to compensate.

I think I can do better here next time around. I also think it’s good to be transparent with my guests about how much something like this ends up costing. In this case for the 8 people, it would have been just under $45/person for the 4 course meal, sake cocktails, and wine with dinner. That’s actually not too bad! Especially when you consider I’m paying retail for everything.

2. Time

Since I wasn’t aiming to MAKE any money here, I didn’t build in extra to the cost for my time. Time sunk was significant. Not just day of, but for most of the week leading up I was spending hours a day prepping or shopping. I don’t mind, it was fun to do, but if I’d been working at the time it would have been difficult. Nothing much to be done about this except to keep it in mind going forward.

The other part of this was day of timing. I didn’t do a great job communicating up front with everyone how much time I expected this to take. I expected to serve a course every 30 minutes starting just before 5pm. Things started a hair late, right around 5pm, and I got the second course out just about on time at 5:30. The third course took longer than expected, and didn’t go out until sometime after 6pm, though honestly I don’t know how late it was. Dessert was ice cream, so only really required scooping, and went out a few minutes after people were done with course 3. In my head I’d budgeted about 90 minutes from the first course being served to dessert being served. It was likely closer to 2 hours – again I’m a bit fuzzy on the timing for the 3rd/4th courses because I was stressing about some stuff that wasn’t going quite right in the kitchen.

Contributing factors, as I saw them day of, to the extra time:

  • Small kitchen meant I had to take time to clean up or relocate things after each course. To be expected, it just took more time than I thought it would.
  • Plating for 7 (I didn’t plate my own food) took longer than I’d hoped for a few courses.
  • I had a mishap with one of my components for the ramen dish, the gnocchi. I couldn’t cook as much at a time as I’d thought, and the first 2 batches fell apart. I fortunately had made more than I needed and I was able to adjust a bit and salvaged enough of them to serve everyone, but it cost me 10-15 minutes.

OK, so key takeaways for time management:

  • Make sure I’ve got plenty of time in the week(s) leading up to an event for shopping, prep, and testing.
  • Set expectations in the invitation/on the website/wherever an event is posted for how long the meal will last.
  • When I’m practicing dishes, note how much time plating takes as well as how much time the actual cooking takes.
  • Build in extra time for things to go wrong. If it doesn’t get used, fantastic! But something will go wrong. It always does.

3. The rest

  • Overall I think the food was really good and well received! I was able to pull off everything I set out to – minus the hot sauce caviar I tested, which worked great but didn’t last overnight and was too time intensive to do day of by myself.
  • Our home/kitchen maxes out at 8 of us. I couldn’t possibly have plated for the 12 I originally aimed for. If I want to do larger groups, I need a bigger kitchen and dining space.
  • I need to advertise the date much earlier. It was tough getting people to sign up on short notice, which I should have seen coming! That also means I need to have a menu set and tested earlier. I think 3 weeks is probably the sweet spot.
  • For a group larger than 10 or 12 I really would benefit from some help in the kitchen. I didn’t feel too stressed doing this for 8 solo, but if I don’t want things to take too long to get out of the kitchen I’d need help with a larger group.
  • It was key that I was able to prep so much in advance. I’d have never got it done if everything had to be cooked day of. I’ll need to remember that it’s important that most of the cooking is done in advance, with finishing touches being done just before serving.
  • I need to test everything under the conditions I’ll be using it day of. The gnocchi I made in advance and froze uncooked, based on recommendations I saw online. When I made the same recipe and didn’t freeze them I had no problem with them falling apart. That definitely wasn’t the case when I cooked them from frozen, and it cost me time and several batches that I had to toss. If I’d tested from frozen before hand I would have known how to adjust the cooking method. I’m really lucky the corned beef turned out on the first try!
  • I made cheat sheets for every course that detailed the ingredients I needed, the cookware that would get used, the plates I’d use for plating, all the steps for prep/cooking, and a sketch of what I wanted plates to look like. Turns out this was clutch! I’ll definitely do this again.
  • In the run up to the day, I had a notebook I kept with notes from all of my recipe testing – what worked, what didn’t, tweaks I’d like to try, etc. This was really helpful, especially since I’m usually bad at making notes on recipes that I try, particularly when I divert from the recipe. Must keep doing this, not just for Supper Club.
  • For this round, I just worked with the dishes we already own. At least two of the courses I wish I’d been able to use something different. I should look into rentals and build that into future costs for this, especially if we are doing it somewhere other than our house.
  • Kendall did a great job with the table! This was something I kind of left until the last minute, and she stepped up and made it awesome. I should spend more time on this for future gatherings.
  • This was fun! Really fun! I’m excited to do it again with a new menu.

Well I think that’s all. Thanks for reading, and here’s the reward of some photos from the day. Credit to Kendall and our friend Stephanie who took all the photos – I was planning on taking some myself but ended up not having time. I guess that’s something I should do next time during testing!

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Thanksgiving Recipes – Turkey, Cranberries, and Mashed Potato Waffles

Dry Brined, Sous Vide, Deep Fried Turkey Recipe

Dry Brined, Sous Vide, Deep Fried Turkey

Dry Brined, Sous Vide, Deep Fried Turkey

Adapted from recipes by Alton Brown and Michael Voltaggio.

Recipe for a ~14 pound turkey. Scale as necessary if adding additional turkeys or turkey parts.

Dry Brine ingredients (via Alton Brown):

  • 3 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/ 1/2 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice berries


  • ~14 pound turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups duck fat
  • 6 large slices of orange peel, from 1 – 2 oranges
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6 sprigs fresh sage leaves
  • Oil for deep frying (~6 gallons)


  • Spice Grinder or mortar and pestle
  • Sous vide setup – immersion circulator and bath or other home made solution
  • Vacuum sealer and bags or large ziploc bags
  • Turkey Fryer or other deep fryer

4 to 5 days before serving

Combine all dry brine ingredients in a spice grinder or mortar and grind into a coarse powder. Set aside.

Disassemble the turkey into individual parts. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, a good video can be found here. Reserve wings and back for making turkey stock or gravy.

Arrange the breasts, thighs, and legs on two parchment paper lined sheet pans, leaving some space between each piece, and thoroughly dust each piece on both sides with the dry brine mixture. Store in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 4 days.

Day before or day of serving

Setup your sous vide rig to cook at 150F/65.5C.

Remove the dry brined turkey parts from the refrigerator. Place each turkey piece in a vacuum seal bag, along with 1/4cup of duck fat, 1 strip of orange peel, 1 sprig of thyme, and 1 sprig of sage leaves. Seal with a vacuum sealer. Place the breasts and legs back in the refrigerator.

  • If using ziploc bags instead of vacuum seal bags, use the water displacement method to remove air from the bags before cooking. To do this, seal the bag most of the way, then push the bag underwater until all but the seal is submerged. This will force out almost all of the air. Completely seal the bag.

When your water bath has come up to temperature, place the bagged thighs in the water and set a timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, retrieve the breasts and legs from the fridge and place them in the bath. Cook submerged for an additional 2 hours Р2 1/2 hours total for the thighs, 2 hours for the breasts and legs.

  • If you are doing this step the day before serving, remove the bags from the sous vide bath and place in a bowl of iced water to chill for 10-20 minutes, then move the still bagged pieces to the fridge. 2 hours before serving, reheat the water bath to 150F/65.5C and reheat for 60 minutes.

About 70 minutes before serving, preheat the fryer oil in your fryer to 375F. This takes around 30 minutes. WARNING: deep fryers can be dangerous. Never leave one alone while it is heating or cooking. Recruit someone to watch your fryer while you finish prepping the turkey. Please consult your fryers manual for instructions on how to safely use it.

While the fryer is coming to temp, remove the turkey pieces from their bags and place on a paper towel lined sheet pan. Pat dry and remove any aromatics that are stuck to the meat.

When the fryer is at 375F, working in two batches, fry the turkey pieces for 4-7 minutes until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Evacuate the fried pieces to a clean sheet pan to rest for 20 – 30 minutes. After the first batch, let the oil return to 375F before frying the second batch.

  • I like to use the basket insert for my turkey fryer for this step. I put half of the turkey pieces in the basket, and SLOWLY lower it into the oil using the supplied hook. I start checking for doneness after about 3 minutes. When done, I remove the basket with the hook, let it drain for a few seconds back into the fryer, then move it to another sheet pan setup to catch any drips while I removes the turkey pieces. Reload the basket with the rest of the turkey, and repeat.

After the turkey has rested, carve as desired and serve.


Sous Vide Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Orange


  • 1 package (~12oz) fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 medium fresh ginger root
  • Zest of 1 medium orange


  • Sous vide setup – immersion circulator and bath or other home made solution
  • Vacuum sealer and bags or large ziploc bags

Setup sous vide rig to cook at 185F/85C.

Peel ginger root using a spoon. Slice half of the ginger root until 1/4 inch rounds, and grate the other half using a microplane or other fine grater.

Place the cranberries, sliced and grated ginger, orange zest, and sugar in a vacuum seal bag and seal.

When the water bath reaches 185F/85C, put the cranberries in the water and place a dinner plate or other water safe weight on top of the bag to keep it submerged. Cook for 1 hour.

  • This can be done a few days in advance. If done in advance, take the cooked cranberries and dunk in an ice bath for 5-10 minutes to chill, then place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

15 minutes before serving, pour the cranberries and their liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently stir every few minutes until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. Pour into a bowl and serve.


Leftover Mashed Potato Waffles


Mashed Potato Waffle with Cranberry Sauce

Mashed Potato Waffle with Cranberry Sauce

  • 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (I like sharp cheddar, but anything that melts decently and you have on hand will work)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • Optional:
    • chopped turkey, bacon, crumbled sausage, or any other meat you’d like to experiment with
    • leftover stuffing (replace 1:1 for some of the potatoes)
    • Cranberry Sauce, gravy, syrup (for topping)


  • Waffle Iron
  • Non-stick Spray

Mix all ingredients (except toppings) in a medium bowl until well combined and the mixture is the consistency of a thick cupcake or muffin batter.

Set your waffle iron to a medium setting. When it is preheated, give both sides a quick shot of non-stick spray, and place on a scoop of the potato mixture. Close the lid and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until your waffle maker signals it has finished. Waffle should be golden brown and crispy.

Serve with cranberry sauce, gravy, or maple syrup.

Thanksgiving, Part the Second

Before we get back to the turkey, which lets face it is probably why most of you are here, I need to give a big Thank You! to Nick and Jess for spending their first Thanksgiving with my family. (And by “need to”, I mean that they gave me a bunch of harassment for not mentioning them in the last post, so I’m getting it out of the way up top so they can’t miss it and I don’t forget. Love you guys!) Also, I realize that as a “recipe” this whole thing is a bit difficult to follow. I’ll write up an actual recipe and post that as well.

OK, let’s talk turkey, shall we! Last we left the beautiful bird, it was spending 4 days in the fridge in a dry brine.

The Turkey, Phase B (I like mixing my numbering schemes, don’t ask why. I have no clue.)

I started Phase B on Wednesday morning. The way I cook this bird, I do most of the actual cooking the day before Thanksgiving, meaning that day of I have less to worry about. Well, I say “worry about”, but really this is so simple that there isn’t much TO worry about. Regardless, I give the turkey a cook on Wednesday, reheat it and then finish on Thursday.

Step 1:¬†Prep your sous vide setup. Don’t have an immersion circulator? No vessel large enough for an entire turkey? Fear not! There are plenty of guides online for doing sous vide on a budget. All you really need is a thermometer, a cooler, and a ready supply of hot water. Once again, others explain all this much better than I can, so go give it a look if you’re interested. But on to the setup!

I setup one large and one small cambro full of water and set an immersion circulator in each to 150F. While I can get all the turkey in just the large cambro, it just makes me a bit nervous. There’s not much room for water to circulate, it takes a while for the water to get back up to temp with that much mass in there, and I have a second setup so why not use it?

Dry Brined Turkey

Look at the color on that turkey! Beautiful!

Step 2: Time to take the turkey out of the fridge and prep it to cook. After 4 days, it will have taken on a beautiful, dark pink color. The skin should be nice and dry.

Sealed Turkey

Mmmm……duck fat……

Take each individual piece and put it in a vacuum seal bag of appropriate size. I use a Foodsaver that works really well for home applications. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, just use large ziploc bags! In each bag along with the turkey, put in 1/4 cup of duck fat, a couple pieces of orange peel, several sage leaves, and some fresh thyme. I do the thighs first, because they cook for about 30 minutes longer than the rest of the bird. After turkey and deliciousness are in each bag, vacuum seal (or if using a ziploc bag, push the bag under water up to the zipper, forcing all of the air out of the bag, then seal tight).

Step 3:¬†Time for the cook! Put the thighs in the water bath first, and let them cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, put in the legs and breasts. I put the breasts in the large cambro, and the thighs/legs in the small one. This leaves plenty of space for circulation, and doesn’t cause the temp to drop too severely. Let them go for another 2 hours.

Step 4:¬†After the thighs have been in for 2.5 hours, and the rest in for 2, take all of the sealed bags and put them in ice water to chill. If you don’t have ANOTHER vessel big enough for all that turkey, you can do what I did. I set the temp on each circulator down as low as it will go – they don’t have the ability to cool, but this turns off the heating element entirely – then drained out a significant amount of the water in each cambro. After that, dump in as much ice to each as you have available, and fill the rest with cold water from the tap. This brings the temp down pretty quickly. As the circulators registered rising temperatures, I’d drain out a bit more of the warm water and replace with cool. After about 10 minutes, the meat had cooled down enough to throw it in the fridge.

Step 5:¬†Let the turkey chill out overnight. That’s all there is to this step. Really.

The Turkey, Phase 3

Step 6:¬†It’s THANKSGIVING! Happy Thanksgiving! You have a fully cooked turkey. Fully cooked, but not ready to eat yet. That skin is super rubbery, and the turkey is all cold! A couple hours before serving time, get your sous vide setup going again. The goal here is to get the turkey warmed through, not necessarily all the way back up to 150F. We will, after all, be finishing everything in hot fat, so we don’t want anything to overcook. The turkey should spend 45mins-1hr warming, but¬†if it goes longer it’s not a big deal.

Step 7: 70 minutes or so before serving time, get your turkey fryer all setup. I use one I got at Home Depot a few years ago with peanut oil. You can use whatever fry oil you like. We want the oil to hit 375F. Depending on the day and how powerful the burner on your fryer is, this can take a while. While the oil is heating, you can go and do final prep on your turkey. Just remember to ALWAYS leave someone watching your fryer! This is a giant pot of oil over open flame after all! This is dangerous!

While the oil is heating, take each piece of turkey from the water bath, cut open the bag, and put the pieces on a paper towel lined sheet pan. I also try to remove any herbs or orange peel stuck to the turkey, we don’t need that hitting the deep fryer as well. Pat everything dry.

Fryer Basket

Got the fryer basket loaded up with half of the turkey

Step 8:¬†It’s about 40¬†minutes before you want to eat, your oil should be about at 375F by now, and we are ready to fry! Your fryer probably came with a nice fryer basket to use in just this type of situation (see pic above for reference). Load it up with about half the turkey – I did 2 breasts, 1 thigh, and 1 leg per batch. Take the thermometer out of the oil to make room for the basket, and SLOWLY….VERY SLOWLY!!!! lower the basket into the hot oil using the provided hook and the handle on the basket. Since we’ve dried off the turkey already, there shouldn’t be any splattering, but there will be plenty of bubbling. If you lower things in too fast, you might get a boil over, in which case your Thanksgiving turns into this. You don’t want that. Nobody wants that!

Turkey Fryer

The fryer bubbling away

You want to let the turkey cook for about 5 minutes per batch. All we are looking for here is a nice, crispy skin. We don’t need to worry about cooking the turkey at all, that’s already taken care of! After about 3.5 minutes I start lifting the basket out a few inches to take a look at the skin. It probably won’t be done yet, that’s ok. Just lower it back in (CAREFULLY!!!!) and let it keep going another minute or so, then check again. Again, since we aren’t looking for a specific internal temp,¬†about 5 minutes is the best I can give you. It’s a guideline. I think one batch took about 4, another about 5.5. It’s just going to depend.

Step 9: Once the desired skin crispiness is achieved, CAREFULLY remove the basket, let it drain above the pot for a minute, then move to a clean, oil safe surface so you can get your turkey out of there. I use a pair of tongs and some other device (large fork, spatula, another pair of tongs, whatever is convenient) to take each piece out one at a time and drop them on another sheet pan. Then load up the basket with the rest of the turkey, wait for the oil to get back to 375F, and do it again!

Step 10:¬†Let the finished meat rest. This is a rule of cooking any meat. We’ve worked hard at keeping this turkey moist and juicy, and we don’t want to ruin that by carving right away. We started the frying about 40 minutes early, it took 10 minutes or so. We’ve got 30 minutes until people will start rioting. Give this 15 minutes or so before starting in on it, OK?

Step 11:¬†Time to carve! Now I’ll admit, I’m not the best at this part. I only practice it once a year after all. But generally, I like to cut thick slices of the breast meat instead of those thin ones people traditionally do. For the thighs, take out the bone first, then slice nice wide pieces. The legs are up to you – leave them whole if people in your group like that, or just slice off the meat from the bone. I go back and forth on that one personally. I only carved 2 of the 4 breasts, and all of the dark meat. We at almost all of that with 17 of us. The rest of the breast meat we cut up for leftovers. Such good leftovers!

Step 12:¬†Eat it! This is the best turkey you’ve ever had, so enjoy! The meat is moist and flavorful, the skin is crispy, slightly salty, with lots of flavor from the duck fat and herbs. I’m making my mouth water just thinking about it.

And that’s it, the best turkey you’ll ever have. Or at least the best I’ve ever had. It may have taken 5 days and 3 different cooks, but it was worth it! In the next couple of days I’ll put up another post with this whole thing as a real recipe. And as a bonus, I’ll throw in my super simple sous vide cranberries, which are also killer! If you have any questions let me know in the comments. The comments are moderated (had some spam issues early on), but I’ll approve any real questions and answer as best I can!

With that, I hope you all had amazing Thanksgiving’s of your own, and that next year you’ll consider giving my turkey a try. Or hey, Christmas is coming up! I know some people do turkey for that as well ūüôā

Thanksgiving, Part 1

Thanksgiving may be the thing that really, truly got me into cooking. I’ve tried to nail down when I fell in love with the act of making food, and the one defining moment I come back to over and over is Thanksgiving. It was my senior year of college, and a family friend had been diagnosed with cancer.¬† We didn’t know if she’d make it to another Thanksgiving, so I decided we should blow it out that year, really go for it. I planned something like a 7 course plated dinner with my mom, for about 18 people. It was an absurd idea, but somehow we pulled it off. I only remember a few of the things we actually cooked that year – Alton Brown’s salt roasted shrimp and his deep fried turkey were both featured – but I do remember it as being thing that made me decide I loved cooking for other people.

This wasn’t the first time I’d cooked. The first time I really remember cooking, other than a grilled cheese sandwich or Top Ramen, was in high school when my parents would be out for the evening. Left to my own devices, I’d pull out some raw chicken, chop it into strips, and then saut√© it with whatever spices I pulled from the cabinets that smelled good at the time. I always convinced myself they tasted good. Now I’d say they were more tolerable than actually good. But I digress. I’m good at digressing.

The Thanksgiving turkey has become the one food that I MUST cook every year. Without fail. It is some sort of primal need. My wife and I jump back and forth between her parents and mine each year, and I cook the turkey no matter where we are. If there is a way to roast, fry, barbecue, or sous vide a turkey, I’ve probably tried it. There are years where two different preparations happen just because I can’t make up my mind (or my mom requests a “normal roasted turkey” because she doesn’t really like the barbecued ones, too smokey for her tastes.) But three years ago, that all changed. I hit the jackpot. I found the last turkey I’ll ever need. It was, quite simply, perfect. Or at least very nearly. There is still a place for a beautifully smoked bird in this world, just not at my Thanksgiving table.

OK, so let’s get to the good part, shall we? Over the next few posts, I’ll go into detail of how I make my turkey – and maybe a few other things. Cranberries I think are also on my to-do list this year. If you’re looking for a good gravy recipe, or stuffing, well you’re at the wrong place. My mom makes the worlds best stuffing (well, dressing, since I don’t stuff my birds), so I don’t even bother. And my grandma’s gravy, by way of my dad, is sublime. I’ve never even tried to make gravy because why would I, her’s is incredible!

The Turkey, Phase 1

Remember when I said my turkey was ALMOST perfect? Well, I say almost because I’m trying something very slightly different this year. Usually, I brine my bird. There’s a lot of back and forth on that particular subject, and I feel like I’ve had good luck with it in the past. But my second favorite turkey ever was one that I dry brined. So I’m giving that a go this year as a small adjustment to the recipe I’ve done the past two years.

The Bird (and a half)

The Bird (and a half)

Step 1: Go out and get yourself a turkey! This year I got a 14.2 pound whole, fresh turkey, and a 7 pound turkey breast. Why the extra breast meat? A lot of the people I have Thanksgiving with prefer white meat (they CRAZY, but hey, who am I to judge.) Also, I wanted around 20 pounds before I started hacking everything apart. Plus I find birds bigger than around 15 pounds or so get very difficult to disassemble, which you will see shortly is important.

The Dry Brine

The Dry Brine

Step 2: Make your dry brine. For this, I use Alton Brown’s recipe from his Butterflied, Dry Brined Roasted Turkey recipe. His recipe is for a 14 pound turkey, so I did 1.5x everything.

  • 5.25 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2.75 tsp rubbed sage
  • 2.75 tsp dried thyme
  • 1.875 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 0.75 tsp whole allspice berries

Take it all, and put it in a spice grinder. Grind into a coarse powder. Or be like me and get overzealous and grind it into an ultra fine powder. It’ll still do its job just fine!

Step 3: Disassemble your bird. This is the hardest part, and for a lot of people probably intimidating. Having done it a few times now, I can say it isn’t so bad! But it does take some practice to get good at. I’m far from an expert, so if you’re looking for a guide or step by step, I’d recommend checking out this video of chef Michael Voltaggio cutting up a turkey. Bonus, he’s where I got the base of this recipe from! So you get a sneak peek at what’s still to come.

Disassembled and ready to rest

Disassembled and ready to rest

Step 4: Now that your turkey is in pieces, line a sheet pan (or two) with parchment paper, spread out the pieces, and dust them on all sides with your dry brine. These now go into the fridge, uncovered, for the next 4 days. Yes, you really do want to do this days in advance. This gives the brine time to do its work, and beautiful work it is!

That’s all for the next few days until Wednesday, when we do the first cook. Yes, the first cook. I told you I take my turkey seriously!

Infinite Jest (The First 16%)

I’m not a big book reader anymore. It’s a matter of focus. At home there are a million different things vying for my attention: TV, movies, games, the internet, my wife, family, friends. Whenever I think about maybe sitting down to read, one of the myriad other things I could be doing grabs my eye and off I go.

Vacations, however, are a different story. Especially when they involve beaches and not many plans other than eating. And, what a coincidence, I just happened to have one of those no-plans-lots-of-beach-and-pool-time vacations! A couple of months ago, I polled Twitter about Infinite Jest, having seen it come up a few times on sites that I frequent. The overwhelming response was something like “It’s great, but dense, and I never actually finished it.” (Well, one co-worker had, but he was literally the only one).

I decided I would give it a shot, because what the hell? It’s only just over 1000 pages, after all.¬† I actually started reading Infinite Jest 3 days into the vacation, stalled slightly by finishing up the last half or so of Neil Gaiman’s most excellent American Gods (which, by the way, I recommend reading if you haven’t).

Here are a few notes and observations from my reading thus far (my Kindle tells me I’m about 16% of the way through).

  • David Foster Wallace has a way with language. I love how he uses (and sometimes creates) words. They paint vivid pictures of the characters he is portraying. The way he changes his use of language between characters creates a window into the minds of these characters. I’m also a fan of how he stretches my vocabulary (a bit more on this later).
  • Similarly, the way he stretches sentences to their absolute limits gives you a very clear picture of how each of the characters thinks. You will at times find yourself reading a sentence that stretches multiple pages (an English teachers worst nightmare!) These are not always easy to read, but they are extremely effective at conveying a state of mind.
  • The end notes are not always as helpful as you would like, but I suspect that is not merely oversight. Everything about this book so far seems extremely calculated. You are given as much information as the author wants you to have at any given time, and no more. Any insight you think you glean on your own is almost certainly planned. Think you’ve figured out a plot point or some secret that is being hidden? It seems more often than not it is spelled out for you shortly after. It makes me think DFW is having a good time making people feel like they are smart, only to remind them that maybe they aren’t as clever as they think.
  • The comedy in the book ranges from the subtle to the absurd. Things like “The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” and the Wheelchair Assassins are contrasted sharply with very subtle plays on words, or obscure jokes about tennis that 99% of the non-tennis playing population will surely miss, or an I-have-no-idea-how-long end note listing the entire filmography of one of the main characters, in which descriptions range from full cast/crew lists and plot descriptions, to “Untitled – conceptual – unfilmable”. I am not finding myself laughing out loud yet, but I’m very often smiling.
  • Reading this book on a Kindle is, I think, maybe the best way to read it, especially if it is a model with touch. End-notes are accessible by tapping on their number, and another tap sends you right back to where you left off. Looking up definitions of words (which you will absolutely need to, and frequently) can be done by tapping and holding on the word. None of the free dictionaries you have installed know the word? Two more clicks and you’re looking at the Wikipedia text. Instead of a 1000+ page book, an O.E.D., and a medical dictionary, you have one small e-reader. Fantastic!!!
  • This makes me miss playing tennis in high school. Badly. I need to do something about that….

I’m going to make a concerted effort to continue to read before my next beach vacation, and I do have a couple of 9+ hour flights to/from England coming up. I’ll try to write more about the book later. There’s a specific chapter that I think is maybe some of the best writing I’ve ever read (J.O.I.’s father talking to him in the 1960s, if you’ve read or at least tried to read the book). I’d like to dive into that I think. The bit about Brando is….I don’t have words.

The Restaurant at Meadowood

I’m going to get this out of the way up front. If you’re here because you want to know if you should eat at The Restaurant at Meadowood, the answer is yes. You can stop reading, make a reservation, and go. Nothing I write will be able to adequately convey the food and the experience. My barely adequate grasp of the English language will fail me. And even if I had something approaching talent in this area, nothing short of sitting in that dining room, eating the food, and letting the experience wash over you will truly be sufficient. It is, simply, spectacular.

Alright, now that I’ve hyped this experience up to an unreasonable level, let us begin.

Unlike The French Laundry, The Restaurant at Meadowood was a bit of an unknown quantity to me. We had 3 reservations for our trip to San Francisco & Napa Valley, and this one I had made last. I’d seen the name when I’d looked through the Michelin Guide for San Francisco – one of two 3 star restaurants in the area – but didn’t look into it any further. We had reservations for Saturday and Sunday, but not yet for Monday, Kendall’s actual birthday. I combed through the James Beard nominations, dozens of food blogs focused on the San Francisco area, anywhere I might find ideas. I couldn’t make up my mind. Then Kendall talked to her friend Anne Marie Canlis, and it came up in the course of the conversation that we’d be staying in Yountville, going to The French Laundry, we’d be there several days. She recommended Meadowood. She would be there not long after us, she was excited to go. A recommendation from the Canlis family is not one you ignore! I decided that was where we’d dine that Monday, knowing nothing other than it came with the Canlis stamp of approval.

I was a bit worried, however, that we might not be able to get in. After all, I’d already been through the ordeal getting a reservation at The French Laundry not long before. This was, after all, another 3 Michelin starred restaurant. Their reservations opened up 2 months in advance.¬† We were less than 6 weeks from our trip. Surely they’d be booked up by now. One very easy phone call later, we had our table! No muss, no fuss, even options on the time! WHAT?

Six weeks later, I turn the car off of the highway onto a small two lane road, lined with old growth vines. The vines give way to trees, two lanes become one. The sunlight fades as we roll into the forest that is home to Meadowood. Several hundred yards further down the road we come to a stop by the guardhouse that marks the beginning of the resort. I roll down the window and am greeted by an employee asking why we’ve joined them this evening. Oh, dining at the restaurant? I’ll call ahead and let them know you’re coming. Just follow the signs!

We slowly wind deeper into the forest. It reminds me of the location they used for Camp David in The West Wing, only with less wooden cabins. We pass tennis courts, short stone walls, and follow sign at a fork that points to The Restaurant. I stop the car in front of a single valet, who greets us and asks if we are the Gamble party. Right up the stairs, enjoy your meal!

We walk up short flight of stairs and enter through the huge, heavy wood doors into a large, round room that looks almost like the lobby of a hotel. Comfortable leather arm chairs, a big fireplace, books lining the shelves built into the walls, two doorways at the far end of the room, and two hostesses . They quickly approach and meet us in the middle of the room. Are you the Gambles? Excellent! No, you’re not too early. May I take your coat Mrs. Gamble? Please, follow me. We trail after her through the right hand opening which leads to the small bar. A few people are sitting at the bar itself, another few at the handful of tables in the corner of the room. They look like they are hotel guests, not people here for dinner. We walk past them, through a curtained doorway and into the dining room.

The dining room as seen on the Meadowood website:

The dining room as seen on the Meadowood website:

What a contrast to the night before! The French Laundry had been small and cramped, with low ceilings, tables in every nook and cranny, and a very traditional feeling decor. This dining room was almost cavernous! The room itself was a half circle, with windows lining the curved wall, and mirrors lining the flat one. It had a high, vaulted ceiling, with a pillar in the middle of the room. It felt so light, so airy, so open! Having done so little research into this place before the trip, I was floored!

We were lead to a table at the windows, and after sitting I took a long look out at the scenery. It was magnificent! We were looking out over what must have been a hole on their golf course situated at the end of a small valley. Trees lined the valley walls, wild turkeys roamed the fairway. Everything was beautifully green.¬† I looked back across the table with what I’m sure was a stupidly giddy grin on my face. This, I knew, was going to be good!

One of the few things I did know about the restaurant was that there was only one menu on any given day. When I’d made the reservation, they were careful to ask about any allergies (thankfully none!) or if anybody was a vegetarian (nope!) as you wouldn’t have the opportunity to order. What I didn’t know is that we wouldn’t even be seeing a menu until the meal was over! Our waiter greeted us and double checked on the allergies, then sent over the sommelier. You’re celebrating a birthday aren’t you? Would you like to start with a glass of champagne to mark the occasion? Why yes, in fact we would! Excellent, he’ll be back momentarily with a couple of glasses. In the meantime, I should look through the wine list and see if anything strikes my fancy.

If you haven’t noticed by now, everybody has been very, very friendly. But not the kind of friendly where you’re pretty sure they’re just putting on a happy face for the paying customer. No, everyone was genuinely warm and inviting. Each and every person we would interact with that evening wanted us to have the best possible time. Service at The French Laundry was wonderful, but here they take it to a whole new level. (Actually, this is something I believe Canlis excels at as well, and is one of the reasons I love dining there so much. But that’s another matter for another day). It is no wonder that they just won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Service 2014. These people just understand how to take care of you while you’re dining.

A few minutes pass, and our champagne arrives, followed closely by the first of our amuse: radish fermented in champagne yeast. Delightful! These were quickly followed by our second amuse, which really set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Part 2 of our amuse. Yeah, that's a book it's sitting on. And yeah, you're supposed to look through it!

Part 2 of our amuse. Yeah, that’s a book it’s sitting on. And yeah, you’re supposed to look through it!

This incredible bite (pictured on the right), was kale with flavors of chorizo. I could wax poetic about this bite (and if you want me to, come ask me about it in person), but I won’t because I’m sure there’s some poetic waxing still to be had later on in the menu. But by now, you have hopefully noticed that the kale with flavors of chorizo is in fact sitting on the pages of a book. Not very practical, you may be telling yourself. Ahh, but there you are wrong. Because once you have finished savoring your small bite, you are free to peruse the photos they have carefully clipped into the book. There were about 8 photos they had placed throughout the book, all of the Meadowood Garden. We were told when they came back to clear the book away that the pictures will be used for a book that the chef is working on. (If i had to guess, I’d imagine it will be something like the latest book from Rene Redzepi – A Work In Progress.)

The sommolier came back and helped us choose a few half bottles to accompany the rest of our meal, and I went back to looking out the window and talking with Kendall about how this meal was comparing to The French Laundry the night before. The sun dipped further below the valley walls, the wild turkeys slowly paced the fairway, I finished my champagne, and course number one arrived.

Again, it has been two months since this dinner, and my memory is less than stellar, so I will once again refrain from detailing each and every course. For one, I don’t believe you are that interested in reading “It was amazing! Super delicious! YUMMMM!!!,” and whatever other words I dig out of the thesaurus¬† to describe something as very tasty. I’ll transcribe the menu in its entirety at the end of this post. For another, as I mentioned in my French Laundry post, I’m not a food critic! If that’s what you’re looking for, sorry that you wasted the last 1600ish words. There are some great reviews of this restaurant you can find out there.

That said, I will once again take a dive into what was my favorite dish of the evening, and perhaps one of the most creative I’ve ever eaten. About the time we hit our fifth course (12 courses guys! Not including the TWO amuse’s!) a member of the kitchen staff walks up to our table holding a wood crate – the kind you might see produce in at a farmers market – covered in a piece of burlap cloth. Lifting the cloth, he reveals a large loaf of sourdough bread. “This is the chicken for your first meat course.” And he lifts the top off of the loaf of bread revealing a whole cooked chicken nestled inside!

“What we have done is make a sourdough bread dough with nigella seed. Then we put the whole, uncooked chicken inside the dough after it has proofed. Then we baked the loaf with the chicken inside. We’ll serve it with some of the bread as well.” (We unfortunately did not think to take a picture of this. Too busy ooing and ahhing over it all.) My jaw just about hit the floor after he walked off!

The sixth course came, a beautifully rich chicken broth. This is now what I will forever crave when I am sick with the flu. No chicken broth or soup will ever be the same again. It also served to make me even more excited for the upcoming chicken.

It finally arrived, along with two pieces of the sourdough on a plate in the middle of the table. “I have to share the bread???” I thought to myself after taking the first bite. It was sensational. The chicken was even better. The sourdough had imparted it with a very (I’m sorry for using this word, it’s all I can really think of to describe it) umami quality. I don’t remember much else about the dish, but I have never tasted better chicken in my life, and don’t expect that I ever will again. That’s a sad thought, now I come to think about it.

Oh, hey look! I found a video that Bon Appetit did featuring this dish! You should check it out, very impressive. I should note the presentation is different than when we had it, but you will get the idea. And now I’m craving some of that chicken. Only it’s 11:15pm and I’m in Seattle, not St. Helena.

The remaining courses were delivered, perfectly spaced apart I might add, and each was unique and delicious. The olive oil coconut borage – a frozen “bowl” of unsweetened coconut cream filled with olive oil – was particularly memorable. But as all things must, the meal eventually wound to a close. As our waiter delivered our bill, he asked if we would like to view the kitchen before we left. Uhhhhh…..YEAH WE WOULD! (Though hopefully I said it in a manner more appropriate to our setting.)

A few minutes later we were walked to the back of the dining room, and through an automatic sliding glass door into the kitchen. The entire staff looked up as the waiter announced the presence of guests in the kitchen, and we were greeted by warm cacophony of voices. “Welcome!” “How was your meal?” “I hope everything was to your liking!” I looked around the immaculate kitchen. There seemed to be more people working in here than there were dining back in the dining room. Over to my right was *gasp* a table! You could EAT in here! And several people were! I recalled seeing a “chefs table” option on the website, for a mere $500 per person. A small twinge of regret. Behind me on shelves that would have looked at home in my living room were jars full of spices and a selection of cookbooks.

After a few minutes of ogling we were lead back past the bar to the entry way. Everyone we passed wished us a good evening. Our car was waiting at the bottom of the stairs as we exited. As we drove back down the dark, narrow road surrounded by trees, I smiled, and took a deep, satisfied breath. It had been an incredible night. The people, the food, the wine, the view. Everything had been perfect. Every dish spoke volumes about those who had prepared it, about what they believe is important about food. The service had been easy, relaxed, welcoming. Not one misstep the entire night.

As I sit here now, 11:34pm on June 3rd, 2014, a little more than 2 months removed from the meal of my life, I’m having a hard time picking out specifics. I couldn’t tell you exactly what each dish tasted like. I couldn’t describe to you exactly what made that oh so beautiful chicken broth so different from any other chicken broth. But I am left with a feeling. Something about the experience has stuck with me. Only one other time has a dining experience left such a deep impression on me, and that was L‚ÄôAtelier de Jo√ęl Robuchon in Paris. What these two experiences had in common was that they changed the way I look at fine dining. These two restaurants don’t share a lot in the way of similarities- atmosphere, menu, service, even how you order are all vastly different. But what they do share are wholly unique perspectives, and total commitment to the diner.

As I tried to warn you at the beginning, I fear I have not done The Restaurant at Meadowood justice. But I don’t know what else to say. If you ever have the opportunity, go. It is not a cheap meal, but I can guarantee it will be one you won’t soon forget.

Until next time.


The Menu

whipped yogurt wild plum umeboshi shiso
raw spiny tail lardo caviar succulents
kohlrabi glazed in its own juice rye porridge mustard
sea cucumber wild onions whipped bean brown butter seaweed
cod okara vegetables of the moment
chicken broth
chicken baked in bread grilled puntarelle yeast
aged beef shiitake fermented turnip
young mimolette apple habanero
olive oil coconut borage
silken chocolate panattone

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The French Laundry

As we walked down the street, nervous excitement swelled in my chest. It felt much like the first time I went to Disneyland with my family, way back in elementary school. Only this time, I was somewhat better equipped to deal with and contain my excitement. But the nerves were much more prevalent now. Unlike elementary school, it wasn’t just anticipation. I was worried: what if this wasn’t really going to happen? What if I somehow had screwed it up? This was a reservation that we had worked very hard to get, and one that you actually have to do some work to keep. I was pretty sure we’d jumped through all of the hoops, but still that voice in the back of my head questioned it. “Did you call in time? Are you sure they got the message? Is this the right time? Are we about to show up 3 hours late? Did you cancel the wrong reservation?” (The story of the reservation is one I should probably address, but not in this post.)

A photo op from earlier in the day

A photo op from earlier in the day

The fluttering in my stomach and the nervous grin on my face grew as we approached the unassuming building that houses one of the finest restaurants in the country. Scratch that, the world. The French Laundry grew closer through the darkness. The lights subtly illuminated the sign out front, showing off the restaurants name cast on a narrow strip of bronze. It was actually the 5th time that day we’d seen the sign, the first four coming on a quick drive and a longer walk through Yountville. This time, as we drew nearer, a middle-aged man and his son, probably in his early teens, walked out and wished us a good evening. The son in particular looked like he’d just done something incredible, something he couldn’t quite believe. I thought of myself at that age. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to eat at a restaurant like this.

As I opened the door for Kendall and followed her inside my nerves reached a crescendo. This was the moment of truth. Did we actually have a reservation? As the door swung closed behind us, the woman behind the front desk greeted us warmly. Three steps later I was standing right in front of her, giving her our last name, and surreptitiously glancing down at the computer screen she was looking at. Was our name there? Were we in? A wave of relief and elation washed over me as I saw her highlight “GAMBLE, JESSE” on the list of the evenings reservations, and she asked us to take a seat on the velvet upholstered sofa while she made sure our table was ready. This was it! We were here! They were going to let us stay!

A bad cell phone shot of The French Laundry's entrance

A bad cell phone shot of The French Laundry’s entrance

The minutes ticked slowly by. Kendall and I chatted about the decor, the Relais & Chateaux books sitting on the small table next to our sofa, and how things seemed similar to or different from what we had expected and the other Michelin starred restaurants we had been to. The hostess asked us if we were ready to be seated, and we jumped up, ready to go (or whatever the “we’re at a super fancy restaurant, play it cool” version of jumping up is anyway.) But it was a false start as it turned out, not quite ready for us yet. So another few minutes ticked by on the velvet sofa, with the soft sounds of the dining room wafting toward us, just out of reach for a couple of moments more.


OK, hold it a sec. I started writing this post the night we actually dined at The French Laundry. The previous paragraph is as far as I got before I needed to get some sleep. It is now a little over 2 weeks later. Why the big delay in finishing the post? Well, it is what happened the next night. We dined at The Restaurant at the Meadowood. I have had the privilege of dining at some of the finest restaurants anywhere. Places you have to call up months in advance. Places where I needed to solicit the help of a French speaker. Places they tell you you’re lucky to get a reservation at once in a lifetime. And while I will always consider my night at The French Laundry to be something very special, The Restaurant at the Meadowood was, if not the best meal of my life, at the very least second best. There is still some debate in my head over whether that honor lies with¬†L’Atelier de Jo√ęl Robuchon or Meadowood, but that’s merely academic at this point.

Why am I telling you this now? Mostly because it has drastically changed the post which I intended to write. I’m not sure I can really continue the post that you started reading, at least not in the same way. I am different now. I know that’s a bit of a strange thing to say, that a meal has changed you. But, at least when it comes to how I view the culinary world, it has. So if the tone or style takes a bit of a left turn when I continue the post you started above, you’ll know why. I’m going to try to continue telling the story as I experienced it that night, as close to the way I started telling it as possible, but we’ll see how that goes. Anyway, I suppose I should get on with it.


When we were taken to our table, for real this time, we walked through the very small, very tight dining room. It was obvious that due to the restaurant’s immense popularity that they had fit in as many tables as possible. After being seated at a small table by a window covered in dark wooden blinds, our waiter arrived with menus and a wine list.

I should probably take a moment to talk about the way The French Laundry does it’s menu. First, there is no a la carte option, but instead 2 pre-fixe menus: the vegetarian menu, and the chef’s tasting menu. I won’t mention the prices…you can go look those up yourself if you’re really curious. Each of the two menus is about 8 “official” courses, though I hear that can change from time to time just depending. For a few of the courses, you are able to make a choice between 2 different options, one of which is included at the normal price, the other for an additional, non trivial, amount.

I opened up the menu to take a brief look, but dove straight for the wine list, which happened to presented in the form of an iPad. Having done some research before hand, I knew they had a particular bottle of wine that I really wanted to get. It was a wine Kendall and I had at Jo√ęl Robuchon’s restaurant in Paris 2 years prior, and it was the wine that made me realize I actually DO like white wine! (At least when it’s good.) Within seconds I had located the bottle, made a mental note, and had gone back to looking at my menu. I was going to get the chef’s tasting menu, I was sure of that already, but what about the alternative courses? There were three courses that required a choice. I already knew I wasn’t getting the alternative for the first course. Thomas Keller prepares what he calls “Oysters and Pearls” at both The French Laundry and his New York restaurant Per Se. I very much wanted to try it. The second course, however, was a different story. As I read my options, the alternative immediately caught my eye. Macaroni and Cheese with bacon, cabbage, and shaved black truffle! Umm….YES PLEASE! And while the alternate for the meat course looked amazing (grilled Wagyu beef), I decided that the lamb option would be wonderful, and had the added benefit of not requiring me to wash dishes for a week to pay for our meal.

The waiter returned, we ordered, showed him the wine we would like, and we went back to taking in the whole thing. We were actually there! Really, truly, it was happening! I’d been thinking about this moment for two months! We listened to the soft chatter of the other diners, admired the wooden laundry pegs that had been pinned to our napkins when we sat down (and yes, we did bring those home), swooned over the amuse, and soon enough, the first course was arriving. I will spare you the details of each course – if you really want to know, you can ask me, I’m very happy to talk about the food – as I’m already 1400+ words in and we’ve only just begun to eat.¬† But I will say that from the first moment, the food was impressive. Beautifully presented, expertly prepared, each bite delicious.

The laundry peg in question, and a sneak peek at dessert!

The laundry peg in question, and a sneak peek at dessert!

I will also take a moment to talk about my mac and cheese. The best mac and cheese I have ever, and probably will ever, eat. And also the most expensive by a wide, wide, wide margin. Since we had sat down, every several minutes we would see a waiter walk into the dining room holding a large tray. On that tray rested what looked like a fairly large, red, wooden humidor. Another waiter would approach him, open the humidor, and remove from it a large, black truffle. He would then take from the tray a grater, turn to a diner, and begin vigorously grating truffle over their dish. Quite impressive! Well, my mac and cheese shows up, and out comes the humidor again. Our waiter withdraws the truffle, and starts to grate. And he grates. And he grates. And he grates some more! Now, I have seen truffles sliced or grated over dishes before, but never like this. He went at it with aplomb! I very quickly figured out why this mac and cheese demanded a premium. I had seen black truffles for sale at a market in San Francisco the day before, and it was $98 an ounce!

As the waiter withdrew, I stuck my face right into the bowl to breathe in the aroma. Black truffle smells (and tastes) like nothing else, and I absolutely love it. I just basked in the decadence for a moment before mixing the truffle into the gooey cheese sauce. This….this was heavenly. Perfectly cooked pasta in a decadently rich cheese sauce, with bits of bacon and green cabbage (which was a lovely complement to the whole dish), and perfuming the whole thing was the black truffle. Delicious! Mac and cheese will never be the same again.

Me enjoying one of the desserts

Me enjoying one of the desserts

We shortly finished off the first bottle of wine – which it turned out was only a half bottle – and the sommelier helped us pick out two more half bottles that would take us through the rest of our meal. (Hey! We walked, ok? No driving! And there are a lot of courses! This is a multi-hour meal here!) The courses continued one after another. And the room got hotter. And hotter. And hotter! By the fourth course I was sweating rather profusely. Whether it was the halogen light bulbs I was sitting under, or the lack of air flow (the AC was definitely not on yet, it was a pretty cold week when we were there), or the tight confines of the dining room, it was getting uncomfortable. Kendall was also feeling the heat, and excused herself to the ladies room to try to cool off. The man I think was the floor manager for the evening came up to me while Kendall was in the restroom and asked if I’d like to take off my jacket (a jacket is required attire). I declined, but thanked him for the thought. A few moments later, our waiter came by and told me that he had asked the kitchen to hold things up for us after the next course, and asked me if we would like to take a few minutes outside to get some air. I very gratefully accepted!

This is exactly the sort of thing that earns you 3 Michelin stars! Yes, your food must be outstanding, but it is the attention to detail that sets you apart. Without prompting, he had seen we were getting a bit uncomfortable and taken the initiative to help remedy the situation.  This, my friends, is hospitality. Too few restaurants truly understand it. The French Laundry proved to me that they most definitely do.

We took our little stroll outside, and were able to peek into the kitchen through the windows in the garden. It was immaculate as you would expect, with each member of the kitchen staff moving in well rehearsed rhythms, setting out plates, juggling pots and pans, delicately plating pieces of fish or meat. After a few minutes we had sufficiently cooled down, and headed back inside for the home stretch. The last several courses came, and lucky for me Kendall was getting a bit too full to finish, so I did what any self respecting guy does in that situation, eat both of our courses!

Dessert finally came, and in true French style, it was not just one dessert. There were the two main desserts, and then the cookies, and at last the chocolate truffles. These were brought round in another very impressive box. Six different varieties, choose as many as you’d like. Kendall, being absolutely stuffed at this point, had to decline. So of course, they brought us a to go box with one of each in it! Again with the hospitality!

As we walked to the door, we were handed a folder containing copies of the menus from the evening, two small metal tins containing shortbread cookies, a copy of Finesse magazine (produced by the restaurant quarterly), as well as a couple of books featuring Relais & Chateaux properties, of which The French Laundry is one. It was undoubtedly the most stuff I’ve ever walked out of a restaurant with. We were thanked by no less than five different people for coming, and we exited into the cool night air for our walk back to the hotel.

I was very, very happy. Yes, I had been overheating for much of the evening. Yes, I was full to bursting, having eaten my 8 courses plus a couple of Kendall’s. Yes, my wallet was significantly lighter. But for me, there is nothing quite like a fine dining experience. And this, no doubt, had been a fine dining experience.¬† I let the memories of the evening wash over me as we walked back to our hotel, very content. It was a good night.

Little did I know that the next night, something would be blowing all of this out of the water. I’ll be back soon to tell you about it ūüôā

Down the Rabbit Hole – Part 2



WARNING!¬†May contain spoilers from Metal Gear Solid 1. If you care. I mean, come on. It’s been 16 years since this game came out. Statute of limitations is up on this one.

Boy are there some things your brain smooths over as time goes by. Things like how TERRIBLE games used to look! Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, for the original PlayStation. SIXTEEN YEARS! I remember that happening! One of my classmates in 8th grade wouldn’t shut up about it! “This game is SO REALISTIC! The graphics are AMAZING!” Well, for the time sure. I mean, there were actual POLYGONS! (You can count them on every character model.) But boy, has that game not aged well. Characters move jerkily, textures are muddy, the whole game is in this fairly ugly brown/green/grey palette.

OK, so the game definitely doesn’t hold up in the looks department. It also has some pretty serious control issues. I constantly had problems aiming where I wanted to, particularly if it wasn’t at something directly up, down, left, or right. The camera control was atrocious – time and time again I’d get caught by a passing guard or auto-gun because I couldn’t see around a corner. Swapping weapons and items is a bear, especially once you have more than 3 or 4 of each. And WOW is controlling anything from the 1st person view (which a few boss fights heavily rely on) horrifically slow to respond.

“But Jesse!” you might be saying to yourself. “You JUST told us last time that you LOVED this game! What’s up with all the trash talk???” Don’t worry, we have reached the end of the bad stuff I have to say about this game! (Well, mostly).

The reason I loved this game wasn’t the gameplay itself, though that was pretty fun when you weren’t fighting the controls. And it certainly wasn’t the looks. The reason this game was so great was the crazy that is Kojima’s story! Once again, I’ll point you over this-a-way if you want to read up on the events of the game before we go on. …¬†¬† …¬†¬† …All caught up? Fantastic!

Alright, so just what is it about this admittedly crazy and over the top story that I was so drawn to? First and foremost, it’s the characters. Yes, a lot of the voice acting is over the top, but in such an awesome, 80s action movie kind of way! Every interaction you have with Liquid Snake almost like watching Alan Rickman in Die Hard. There is no subtlety in that relationship, and I love it. And don’t forget the whole Solid Snake / Liquid Snake reveal! Twin clones? Made from Big Boss’ DNA??? One totally ignorant of the others existence. The other, seeking revenge for wrongs unknowingly committed against him by the brother that doesn’t even know he exists. One designed to be the ultimate expression of the ultimate soldier. The other, given every proverbial short end of every proverbial genetic stick. But which is which??? (If you haven’t read the story summaries of the first 3 games at this point, you probably should. I mean, even if you have, all of this may not make a whole lot of sense. I know I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.)

Then there are the crazy, self referential exchanges that go on. Multiple times throughout the course of the game, characters will break the fourth wall with you: “Press the X button to regain your life! Don’t use a turbo controller or I’ll know!”; “I’ve got it! Use the controller port! Plug your controller into controller port 2! If you do he won’t be able to read your mind!”; having to contact a character for saving, who will literally ask you to “Save your data! I feel like something bad might happen.” It’s all incredibly quirky and fun. I literally laughed out loud at several of these moments.

Now, to be totally transparent, I used a walk through to beat this game. Again, I’m in it for the crazy, not the challenge. That said, even without it much of this game isn’t very difficult. My final play time was just over 8 hours, and I wasn’t exactly blitzing through it. The boss fights are, for the most part, downright simple. A few are frustrating, but for all the wrong reasons. For example, the 2nd time you fight Vulcan Raven, you are in this large room filled with big containers that break it up into a bit of a grid. He has a giant minigun that does a fair amount of damage to you, and a huge field of vision. Throughout the fight, he will, seemingly at random, patrol around this room, shoot you if he sees you, but not really attempt to follow you. The strategy for the fight is, essentially, shoot him in the back with one of your two rocket launchers repeatedly, while keeping your distance and running away from him after every shot.

Sorry for the terrible size and quality

Sorry for the terrible size and quality

Here’s where the games camera and controls really hurt. The fight itself isn’t very difficult, but the room is large enough that you can’t see the whole thing on your radar, so unless he’s pretty close to you, you don’t know where he is. The 3rd person camera view isn’t much better. If you look at the image to the right, you can see what I mean. Unless he’s pretty close to you, in a pretty sizable room, you’ll have a hard time locating him until he runs back at you. One of the rocket launchers is basically a fly-by-wire system. You shoot a rocket, and then take control of it. Every time you turn, it slows down and gradually re-accelerates, and it has a limited range. That’s all well and good, when you know where he is. Otherwise, you blindly fly the rocket around the area, hoping to run into him from behind (if you try and shoot him from the front he just shoots down the rocket). With either better camera controls or a larger range on the radar, the whole thing would have been far less frustrating. As it was, the fight took far longer than any other in the game for me, simply because I had such a hard time locating the boss.

One other boss fight to mention, and it’s the 2nd to last one against Metal Gear Rex, piloted by Liquid Snake. This fight I actually found to be a bit more challenging….at least if you did it the way you were supposed to. You’re essentially fighting a massive mech that is shooting at you with homing missiles, machine guns, and if you get too close, a laser. There are two phases to the fight – one where you have to target a specific spot on the mech’s shoulder with a stinger missile while the mech is running around and shooting at you. The second phase the mech is immobile, but still shooting at you with all the same weapons. The way you’re supposed to do this fight (and the way that ended up killing me several times), is to shoot the mech, dodge all his shots, use a grenade that stuns it for a few moments, shoot it again, rinse, and repeat. What turned out to work much more efficiently was to ignore the mechanics of the fight entirely, just stand in one spot, and blast away one shot after the other with the missile launcher. As long as you have a few healing items in your inventory, you can do this very safely. I was consistently able to get through phase one of the fight, but kept dying on phase 2. After 3 or 4 times having to start the fight over again during phase 2, I decided¬† just to try blasting the thing. Lo and behold, it keeled very quickly. Kind of disappointing, really. Didn’t quite expect to be able to brute force the penultimate boss quite so easily.

Perhaps my favorite thing in the entire game was the live action video that played over the end credits. If you’ve read up on the story, you know that this whole series has a very anti-nuclear bent to it. So, after you drive off into the sunset on a snow mobile with the girl (or guy, if you didn’t save the girl), they start to play all these Alaskan nature videos! You see flyovers of giant evergreen forests, panning shots of babbling brooks, a mushroom popping out of the ground, eagles soaring, fish jumping, flowers blooming! It’s almost as if Kojima is screaming at you, “SEE WHAT WE MIGHT DESTROY WITH THESE EVIL THINGS??? DO YOU SEE?????”

Actually, my second favorite part happens right after this as well. The credits are over, the screen goes black, and all of a sudden you hear two people start to talk. In what is perhaps the most blatant “we’re going to make another one of these!” moves of all time, it’s revealed that there is ANOTHER cloned brother! And…GASP! He’s the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! Dun dun DUNNNNNNNN! You also find out that Solid, who Liquid had thought was the “perfect” clone, was actually the imperfect one after all! THE TWISTS! THE TURNS! THE SHOCKING REVEALS! Oh Kojima, I love you so much! Never change, OK?

It is exactly this kind of crazy, over the top, stupidly dramatic, shove your ideals in my face, totally nonsensical, and utterly BEAUTIFUL storytelling that made me love this game. There are times it takes itself far too seriously (video of the Alaskan wilderness), times when it totally doesn’t (really bad bathroom humor), and times when I just can’t tell (all of this cloning nonsense). Taken as a whole, it’s far from perfect. But I think it’s pretty great. I can’t wait to dive into the next one! I’ll probably write about that too, because I have faith in the crazy that is Kojima!

I give MGS 4/5 stars. And now this is, apparently, a review. Of a 16 year old game. You’re welcome internet!

Down the Rabbit Hole – Part 1

What am I getting myself into???

What am I getting myself into???

WARNING! This post may contain spoilers – though really are they spoilers when we’re talking about games that are more than a decade old?

Sometime last week I decided I was going to do something a little crazy. I was going to play through the Metal Gear series for the first time! I talked to a few people about it before hand – some were enthusiastic, some laughed at me and told me I was crazy. I’ve only ever played one Metal Gear game until now – Metal Gear Solid 4. And I didn’t even play that one all the way through. My knowledge of the series going in boiled down to just a few things:

  1. Kojima is a crazy person! (For those that don’t know, Hideo Kojima created the series)
  2. The story is insane (as if written by a crazy person….)
  3. The games are not chronological after the first few (see image above)
  4. At least one of the main protagonists is a dude named Solid Snake
  5. They are stealth-action games

That’s it. That’s 100% of my knowledge going in. The time I’d spent with MGS4 did more to confuse me about the story than it taught me. I put it down after a few hours, not because it was bad, but because I was too confused by what was going on. I had no context! Characters were introduced that I was supposed to already know and didn’t. Events were referenced that I’d never heard of. Places were visited that you’d supposedly been before in previous games. It just was too much.

So what brought me back? Well, for the last couple of years I’ve been a big fan of a gaming news and review site called Giant Bomb. They do a weekly podcast that is ostensibly about gaming, but is actually just about whatever randomness the guys want to talk about that week. It’s hysterical! Because it’s only out once a week, I’ve resorted to going and listening to older episodes between the new ones. During some of their earliest podcasts, MGS4 was released, and they talked quite a bit about it. The conversation mainly focused on how crazy the story of the series was, and how insane Kojima is. On top of that, they all really enjoyed playing MGS4. OK, I’m in! Where do I sign? I really want to see this insanity unfold!

So I went out and bought a copy of Metal Gear Solid The Legacy Collection which includes TEN Metal Gear games (only missing a few handheld entries in the series, and the two games that have been released post-MGS4). After rushing home, I dug out my PS3 and got it hooked up again, then dove right in to Metal Gear.

Big. Mistake.

I’ll spare you the details – mostly because I’ve tried to enumerate the details 3 times already while I sit here writing, but each time they quickly got out of hand – but suffice it to say that the game was stupid hard for all the wrong reasons, even looking at a walk through. I didn’t have the patience, and the game just wasn’t that fun for me. Instead, I jumped over to Wikipedia to get a summary of the story. Mostly, you’re introduced to our protagonist Solid Snake, and a few of the people who will surround him and inform the story as we progress.¬† If you want to know what happens, you’re probably better off going here and reading about it, than having me regurgitate it for you. I’ll wait while you go check that out……



Back? Great! Let’s continue! This post is getting long as it is.

Naively I think to myself that surely, Metal Gear 2 has to be easier to play these days than Metal Gear was! EHHHHHHH! WRONG! While some pretty big improvements had been made (like a map that shows you enemy locations!), the game is nearly as stupid hard as the first. (I’m seeing another post in the near future about the difference between the hard games of yesteryear and the hard games of today). So I head right back over to Wikipedia for another primer in the Metal Gear lore. It’s more of the same, really. Espionage, betrayal, and a healthy dose of anti-nuclear proliferation (a theme that I’ve been assured runs rampant through the series).

Now, this post has gone much longer than I originally anticipated. This wasn’t supposed to be a novella! So, in our next episode, I’ll be recounting my time with the 3rd game in the series (and, SPOILER, one which I actually finished and quite thoroughly enjoyed) Metal Gear Solid 1. There’s more espionage! There’s more betrayal! And dagnabbit, there’s more of that anti-nuclear message! Lets see how deep that rabbit hole goes, shall we?

Heroes of the Storm!

WARNING! This is a post about video games. If that’s not your bag, turn back now.

I was very fortunate and was given access to the Heroes of the Storm alpha that’s going on right now! Not being a huge fan of MOBAs in general (I’ve played League of Legends, DotA, DotA2) I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ll have more thoughts as the Alpha progresses, but so far, it’s amazing! It takes all of the stuff I hate about MOBAs, and fixes them! This game surely won’t be for everyone. I’m sure a lot of DotA2 players will be annoyed by the absence of items, how “few” characters there are, and the different level mechanics. But this looks to me to be a gateway to that realm of gaming, much like Hearthstone is for CCGs.

More to come, but for now, if you’re interested at all in Heroes of the Storm, check out some of the streamers on Twitch and see what you think.

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