The Covid Diaries – Vol. 5 – Eat Here Now

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Did you know almost 8,000 people die every day in America. That’s almost 3 million deaths a year.

Today is the 12th anniversary of this website and these are the things Mr. Curtas finds himself looking up these days.

Day 13, Thursday, March 26 – Thai On The Go/Japanese Boffo Bento:

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Restaurants like DE Thai Kitchen already do a robust take-out business, so dropping in on them seems a natural thing to do. With his own table and chairs (above), Curtas braves the chill and tucks into pad Thai, pork BBQ, and a spicy papaya salad. Nothing is as good as it is when the place is going full tilt, but it feels almost normal to eat outside his favorite 12-seat tiny Thai.

Later that evening, they head to Kaiseki Yuzu for one of Chef Kaoru Azeuchi’s impeccable bento boxes. After filming a Burly Boyz video outside, they all sneak into a side room for a glass of sake with the chef. The whole time they are inside, everyone keeps looking out the window to see if anyone is going to spot them.

The paranoia is real. You would think that seeing a few people standing together having a quick drink would be no big deal to anyone, but it took America less than a week to go from zero to bat-shit-turn-your-neighbor-in crazy over this virus, and the narcs are out there only too ready to punish some under the guise of “protecting” the rest of us. (“You’re breaking the rules! How dare you?  You’re killing people!”) 

Thankfully, the only people outside the restaurant are a couple of cars waiting dutifully for their meals. Amidst all the craziness, good taste never dies.

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Yuzu’s bento boxes cost $30 and are things of beauty. Besides being criminally under-priced, they are packed with enough proteins, vegetables and starches to feed two people for two days. From the sushi quality rice to the pickled vegetables to the panoply of sweet, sour, bitter, and savory flavors, they are like an education in Japanese food in a single, one-foot square box. From the tempura to the kaarage to the macaroni, there’s not a single bite that won’t get your attention.

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There will be things you won’t recognize (Fish dumplings? Sweet black slippery kelp ribbons?), but every bite is singular; every flavor next-level intense. There are other bentos around town, but these are a different beast. One can only hope Kaoru-san and his wife Miyumi-san can hang in there and sell enough of them to justify keeping their doors open. FYI: There are two smaller versions — the cheapest one is only $13 and is a fine katsu chicken box for one —  but the big boy is the one to get.

Day 14, Friday, March 27 – Support Your Local Purveyors:

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Friday is shopping day. First a trip to the Intuitive Forager Farmers Market — held every Friday morning in downtown Las Vegas — to visit with Kerry Clasby and sniff out her superb produce. They end up buying too much….as they always do. But there’s no better way to support your local food community than by buying too many fruits and vegetables, even if you can’t eat them all. (Side note: Breads by Ned are worth the trip, too. And now Chef’s Choice is offering meats and other goodies here as long as this shutdown nonsense prevails.)

From there it’s off to Henderson (again) to visit Solenne Peyronnin at the newly revived Valley Cheese and Wine. As everyone knows, Curtas has been a huge fan of VCAW for years. Until Saga Pastry + Sandwich opened, it was the only thing that could get him to Hendertucky/Green Valley. (Side note: There is nothing remotely green about Green Valley. The whole godforsaken place is one giant shade of beige. With terrible traffic.)

Anyhooo….the reason you go to Valley Cheese is for….wait for it….the cheese! And the wine. And to visit with Solenne.

Anyone who thinks the French aren’t a friendly bunch need only spend a few minutes chatting her up to change their opinion.

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Curtas buys a $107 piece of Beaufort cheese from Solenne (above). The Food Gal® doesn’t quite approve of this, but she doesn’t exactly disapprove either. Like him, she believes in spending — even overspending — to help out local businesses in these trying times.

It is a fantastic fromage — showing from its pale yellow color and strong aroma an affinage of at least a year. He rates it as superior to Comté and Gruyére for its nutty, creamy, and honeyed notes, with hints of hazelnuts and scrambled eggs. (Brillat-Savarin called Beaufort “The Prince of Gruyères,” and so should you.)

This cheese lives up to the billing, with all flavor components in balance, and a slightly barnyard-y finish that lasts until next Tuesday. Whether they can eat one hundred dollars of it in the next few weeks remains to be seen.

Image(Cheesus Christ…that’s a lotta fromage!)

 

 

The Covid Diaries – Vol. 4 – Eating Out While Rome Burns

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The week just past was a slog and a blur at the same time. It started (on Sunday) with abject despair. And ended with a glimmer of hope.

Day 10, Monday, March 23, Settling In:

He went to work today. He’s gone to work every day. Even with the generous leave being offered by the City (his employer) he’s going to go to work.

Work gives him something to do. It breaks the monotony of the day. Even if he does little but catch up on e-mails, it is time well spent. In the past seven work days his phone has rung exactly twice. Court appearances are now being done telephonically. Depositions are all being cancelled or pushed way back; deadlines are being extended left and right. Business has ground to a halt.

This will have far-reaching effects on the body politic, he thinks, and the fools have no idea what they’re doing to themselves.

He interacts with people at work the way he always has. They all think the shutdown is horseshit too, but no one can say it out-loud for fear of being shouted down by the (now galvanized) health mob.

He finds himself calling it the “lamestream media” as the torrent of overblown cases and melodramatic reporting washes over him every morning.

Sensible voices have been drowned out.

Sanity is always quieter than panic.

His neighbor offers some Spanish Iberico ham as a salve for boredom. He delivers it by coming in through the front door and running away after he drops it on the counter.

“C’mon in and have a drink!” (They are twenty feet away at the dining room table.)

“No way, man..social distancing,” he calls out over his shoulder as he exits at a pace slightly slower than being chased by someone with a knife.

This is a young, smart guy who’s now acting like a fool. Such is what a herd mentality does to people.

The Food Gal® helps make some incendiary salsa. They eat it with chips and slivers of nutty, intense, mahogany-colored ham. This is their dinner. Neither of them has much of an appetite.

Day 11, Tuesday March 24, The Curbside Curmudgeon:

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They want the fear to be immediate, even when everything about it seems so remote. There is so much discordant information. Just this morning a doctor tells everyone soothingly that “80% of people will recover with only mild symptoms.” Five minutes later there’s another talking head stating the virus has “overwhelmed” America. At this point it isn’t clear whether guy #2 is talking about actual infection, or the (self-imposed) destruction of the American economy.

If you watch the day-by-day national news, all they do is run a scoreboard of who has the virus and how many have died. Into this limited mix they toss in commentators talking about how the illness will soon be “sweeping the nation” — conveniently ignoring that 99.9% of Americans have been untouched by it. (The math is as follows: 133,000 cases divided by 330,000,000 million Americans equals  .04% of the American population – the number of folks documented as having had the illness. For you math retards, that’s 4 one-hundredths of 1%.)

To keep the math going, the number of dead from the virus as of this writing numbers approximately 2,400 people. Dividing that number by the total population gives you a death % of .0007% of Americans have died from the infection. (That is 7 ten-thousandth of 1% for you numbers-challenged folks.) For the last time: These are a far cry from the numbers used to start this slow-rolling horror show.

Remember 60% infected/3% dead? Conveniently for the gloom-and-doomers, no one else does either. They just want to keep the scoreboard going… as the press would rather stoke the flames than keep anything in perspective.

The whole thing reminds one of weather panic — the constant drumbeat of impending doom pounded day and night to keep you tuned in. The only difference is: when the hurricane or snow doesn’t show (or isn’t cataclysmic), everyone shrugs and moves on. The shrugging and the moving on won’t be so easy this time. As long as New York City remains our media capital, there will be no “fair and balanced” reporting of this disaster. He knows he’s beating this to death, but so is the media, so his critics can go fuck themselves.

The weather is cold and windy. Undeterred, they set out to Trés Cazuelas to show support for Angelo Reyes and his crew as they fight to stay alive.

He has a new moniker: Curbside Curmudgeon. It fits his mood. The cold breeze fights their dining al fresco scenario, but they persevere.

Reyes’ stews and salsas are next-level, and go great in small, fresh tortillas, even cold ones. Eating them outside is a race against the wind, but the chilly weather keeps the wine at the right temp, so there’s a silver lining in everything. This is also the best guacamole in Las Vegas, so the comfort food makes up for the cold:

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Day 12, Wednesday March 25, Anne Frank Would Understand:

His oldest sister posts this meme that’s going around:

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How true, but being stir-crazy isn’t the worst of this. The truly insidious thing is how any fear — stoked into a panic by government and media–  can empower people to police each other. “Police each other” meaning, in this context,  turning into the lowest, sniveling, holier-than-thou asshole — the type who gets great joy in telling the teacher on fellow students, turning someone into the HOA, or betraying a Jewish family to the Nazis.

Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Tell humans they have a right to tell others how to behave and a small-but-significant portion of them will take it upon themselves to act as judge, jury, and executioner to anyone they disagree with.

Marché Bacchus — which, you may recall, was the site of some wine buying last week — gets narc’d on by some do-gooder. “People were inside Marche Bacchus buying wine and sitting down!” she screamed to business licensing officials.  “Something must be done!”

Dutifully, the government officials appear to investigate; feathers are ruffled, but assurances given and the whole thing passes. Meanwhile, people are packing into Walmart, Costco, drug stores and supermarkets and no one says a thing. Government policy in action.

Later in the day, the City of Las Vegas, in a show of sanity,  announces liquor and wine stores can continue to sell their wares curbside.

The Gubenator’s office remains silent — apparently content with the thousands of strangers milling about supermarkets all over town.

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The day starts with a lonely cappuccino at PublicUs – sold at a take-out booth inside the front door. A young bloke takes your money turns around and makes the coffee. It is a splendid cappuccino, perhaps the best in town. There are two tiny tables left out front where it can be sipped and contemplated. These would no doubt greatly offend the Covid Gestapo.

The coffee costs, $4; he gives the kid a double sawbuck and tells him to keep it.

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On the way back from coffee, he bumps into chef Donald Lemperle at VegeNation. Like many small operators, ⁦@VegeNation is keeping its doors open by having a single chef do all the work. Vegans are a loyal bunch,”  Lemperle tells him, “and they’re keeping me busy.” This brings a smile to both their faces.

The Food Gal® picks him up and they head to the far confines of Eastern Boulevard in Henderson for lunch. There is only one restaurant (indeed only one thing) that can get him to this whole, godforsaken area of the world: Saga Pastry + Sandwich. Of course we bring our own table and chairs (see pic at top of page)….and then we chow down on superb, sweet Arctic shrimp (tasting like a combination of crab and lobster) and a smorgasbord sando to beat the band.

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They even squeeze in a little chat time with chef/owner Gert Kvalsund. This improves everyone’s mood, as does another cup of joe from Bad Owl in the same shopping center. When this is all over, he hopes people will more readily appreciate how much good sandwiches and cups of coffee can do to improve your mood.

But his biggest fear is just the opposite: that the only survivors of this self-inflicted apocalypse will be standardized food and corporate restaurants.

David Chang agrees with this dire prediction. Strange bedfellows indeed.

 

The Covid Diaries – Vol. 3 – Reality Bites

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Day 9, Sunday, March 22, Reality Bites:

Sunday is when reality sets in. After a busy Saturday (three restaurants, dozens of conversations with stressed-out restaurant owners, and multiple bottles of wine), it is a time for reflection and regeneration.

But there is nothing to regenerate; the will to re-fuel is absent when there is nowhere for the fuel to take you.

We are wasting a glorious Spring.

John Curtas calls his mother. She thinks this whole quarantine thing is bullshit. She has never uttered the word “bullshit” once in 95 years of life, but the word sums up her feelings well.

She has survived the Depression, WWII, Vietnam, Watergate, and 60 years with his father — this is small potatoes to her. So she will continue doing the things that give her pleasure — gardening, reading, visiting her family, talking to neighbors — the sparks keeping her body and mind ever-charged. To her, those sparks are more important than fear of the unknown, and that is how it should be.

Would that her son could feel the voltage.

The electricity which powers his life is reduced to a low, steady hum – barely sustaining one’s breathing, supplying life but not living, unable to re-charge the battery that makes a person whole.

He discovers a three pound bag of smoked pork in the freezer from six months ago. Barbecue is indestructible. This brings a small smile to his face. It will be the last one of the day.

Yesterday, a friend made the observation that she didn’t mind staying home all day with her husband, but knowing you can’t go anywhere else drains your enjoyment of things even when you’re not going anywhere else. “It’s the lack of freedom that drains you,” she said. So true.

She also made a joke about people “furiously wiping their asses” in the same conversation — which brought a laugh to a table wondering: “What the hell is up with all the toilet paper hoarding?”

Laughing seems so out of place these days.

He has too many ex-wives to make culling through old photos a pleasant task. Too many unpleasant memories to make reliving the past pleasurable.

This was supposed to be payoff time. These were the salad days for which he had been waiting 20 years. All the roller coasters — personal, emotional, financial — the failures, the false starts and the missteps, they were behind him. This was when he could smell the roses and be the best person he could be. And then this nonsense happened.

He thinks about having sex – sort of a weekend ritual around the Curtas manse — but why bother?

Now he knows how caged animals feel at the zoo. They exist, they feed, they wander about in a state of comfortable stupor, but the will to mate, to connect, isn’t there. Why bother? Sex is an affirmation of life. What is to be affirmed anymore? A society that’s afraid of its own shadow? People losing their shit over a cold/flu virus? Bankruptcies? Staggering unemployment?

Jesus fucking Christ, he thinks, modern medicine hasn’t found a cure for the common cold. 40,000 people die of the flu in America every year. And this shit is where we’ve decided to draw a line in the viral sand?

The Food Gal® is full of energy (as usual) but even she feels the ennui. Or maybe his sour mood is contagious.

Small chores are done. Clothes folded here, books straightened up there. Some reading. A glass of wine is sipped without thought or pleasure. Can’t remember the last time that happened…

Thank god for TCM. When the will to keep your eyes open requires herculean effort, at least there’s Captains Courageous, Shane, or Gone With the Fucking Wind to keep you entertained.

Here’s the kind of nonsense we’re subjected to everyday (from The Atlantic Monthly): “Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected.”

No, no, and fuck no. Not a chance in hell no.

Never in his life has he been more enraged at the press. Remember, 12 days ago they were predicting 60% of America would catch the virus? And 3% would die from it? That’s 170,000,000 million sick and 9 million dead fer chrissakes! Of a virus that’s claimed 1,000+ dead IN THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES as of this writing.

But say it out loud and the health mob jumps down your throat.

“You don’t understand exponential growth,” they say.

He does understand it. Exponential growth is how one makes a proper mille feuille.

The only thing growing exponentially in America these days is delusional hysteria, his sour mood, and unemployment.

Sunday is usually reserved for Asian. It’s when they go pan-Pacific food pursuing on Spring Mountain Road. He’s been going to Spring Mountain Road for Chinese/Asian food for 25 years.

Today there will be no going to Spring Mountain Road. His refrigerator is filled with leftovers, despair, and a 3-pound brick of pulled pork.

There will be no Chinatown on this Sunday; there will be no sex. There will only be watching the soul drain from the earth, because we are now afraid of ourselves.