I Once Flew to Paris Just to Have Lunch

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I once flew to Paris just to have lunch

To Paris I went without care, without crunch

I once flew to Paris just ’cause I could

On a plane, on a whim, on the hopes of meals good

To Paris I flew, alone as it were

Leaving the wife to her toils, don’t think me a cur

A fantasy it had been throughout my manhood

To fly just for lunch, thinking I should…

Learn French, eat France, explore all things Gaulois!

My fate I once thought, it wistfully was

Today on this day, I thought of such things

And the swings of good fortune which enabled such flings

To meet Mariani, a gastronome friend

Paris did beckon us fellow curmudgeons

On landing that morn, I rubbed out the sleep

Where I’d dreamed to myself of lambs, ducks and geese

Image(Duck confit with summer vegetables)

To the Ritz as it were, did we travel that day

Where a meal was awaiting the French call déjeuner

The difference you see, is one of degree

For in France you can feast, and here we just feed

A pity it seems, so to France I did fly

To eat like a king and kiss troubles goodbye

How much do you ask, would be this repast?

Expensive it is, too much for mere mortals

But walking is free among these luxe portals

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This is insane, I thought on the Seine

To travel for food so many disdain

But undaunted I was, so to lunch I did go

For dining so fine it sets me aglow

The Ritz is The Ritz, as ritz as they come

As were our courses, one after one

So beautiful they were, elegant, precise

Both John and I could’ve eaten them thrice

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And the bread, oh the bread, for which French are so famous

Rising and baking Français are not aimless

Crusty, yeasty, with softness yet crunch

One travels an ocean to have it for lunch

Image(Pan-fried Dorade with mussel tortellini and artichoke purée)

And while we’re at it, did we mention the fish?

Nowhere on earth, is it found this delish

The French have a way with all things that swim

While America flounders with fins the most grim

Image(Raisin Einset en compotée et sorbet, crème montée et meringue croustillante)

Image(aka grapes in vanilla cream sorbet in meringue crust)

And it goes without saying that desserts reign supreme

Anywhere the French are whipping some cream

The Ritz, as you imagine, is kingly of sorts

When it comes to sorbets, meringues, tarts and tortes.

An art form lunch is, in France like no other

With wine, with cheese, with friends or a lover

I once flew to France just for a feast

On food so sublime all troubles did cease.

Image(Crab “Napoleon” with lobster sauce)

Image(Tomate stracciatella, crémeaux basilic poundré à l’olive noire – but you knew that)

 

 

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

Image(The Curbside Curmudgeon is not amused)

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:

Image(The new awkwardness)

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:

https://static.wixstatic.com/media/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg/v1/fill/w_939,h_939,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg?fbclid=IwAR2ON0oE1WW0Kvu4IVW2ttDyhlTYbAy2lp5fdnG5wc8mgxMliRuvbcMdlHs

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.

Image(Coming up – one lonely cappuccino)

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.

 

Pouring Over Downtown’s Coffee Scene

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Downtown is awash in great coffee these days. So, as a public service, we at #BeingJohnCurtas thought we’d scope them out for you.

Before we begin, some admissions are in order:

One, yours truly is no coffee connoisseur. In fact, coffee is something yours truly swore off of for the longest time. Having been married to two caffeine fiends in a row (the type who need a hot, steaming cup in their hands the minute their eyes pop open in the morning), we pretty much gave it up for a decade or so in the late 20th century.

Admission number two: #BeingJohnCurtas doesn’t give a puck about pour-overs, cold brews and nitro this or flat white that. John Curtas is a coffee classicist first and foremost.

Image(Cappuccino at Writer’s Block)

Italy is where JC regained his caffeine mojo fifteen years ago, and Italians are the coffee standard by which all others are measured. A bad cup of caffè is harder to find in Italy than a Southern Baptist, and when it comes to brews — from ristrettos to correttos — they get it right, whether you’re in an airport, a trattoria, or a convenience store.

Coffee is wonderfully subjective, both the flavors and one’s relationship to it. One man’s macchiato might not cut the cortado for another. Some use it simply to get up in the morning; for others it’s a social thing. Some people like to drink coffee all day long; others can’t stomach it after lunch. One of our exes could pound a doppio espresso at 10:00 pm and sleep like a baby.

But like a lot of beautifully simple things, coffee has also jumped the the shark in multiple ways. The whole barista thing is pathetically ridiculous. As is obsessing over your beans’ origins and attending coffee “cuppings.” Whatever you might think about comparative tastings (and sure, they can be fun no matter what the beverage), giving “awards” to people for pouring a cup of joe is as dumb as competing for who is the best lasagna layer.

In other words: we care not a whit about fancy-dancy ornamentation or exotic concoctions. They are the quintessential Millennial pursuit: creating a cult of obsession  over something that should be elementally satisfying on its own terms, without parsing the details to death.

Image(Dueling espressos at PublicUs)

When it comes to all things Arabica, it is about the warm, brownish glow of these beans and the soul-soothing broth they bring forth. To us, it’s about the ritual, the taste and the deeply-satisfying buzz you get from a good cup.

If you’re expecting a dissertation on free-trade fermentation, you’ve come to the wrong place.

But know this: there isn’t a coffee house in Las Vegas who can make a proper espresso to save their life. None of them gets the viscous, syrupy mouthfeel right, and the primary flavor component is always sour, as opposed to the sweet-bitter release of a great Italian cup.

So bad are local espressos, we’ve given up entirely. If you want a good one, go to Cipriani at the Wynn. It’s the only one we’ve had recently that truly tastes of Italy.

But I’ve sampled the wares at all of our newest coffee hound hangouts, and here are my conclusions. For ease of reference, we’ve broken each coffee shop into five components: Coffee, Comfort, Comestibles, Crew and Crowd.

PUBLICUS

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PublicUs kickstarted downtown’s coffee renaissance  five years ago in a big way. It’s always busy, despite being on a forlorn corner of east Fremont Street. Until Vesta came along a couple of years later, it had the upscale coffee market all to itself.

Coffee – the espressos here range from unforgivably sour to lightly bitter and acidic, depending on the beans they are made with. The cappuccino is wonderful, as are the pour-overs (what, back in the day we called good old Chemex drip). The cappuccino is the closest you’ll get to Rome in the High Mojave Desert.

Comfort – everything from two-tops to communal tables, in a modern, naturally-lit room that screams “urban hipster hangout.” Nice bathrooms. In fact bathrooms so nice they make you want to go to the bathroom.

Comestibles – all made in-house. Excellent pastries; good savories, avocado toast, waffles, and even a killer corned beef hash on polenta. If you’re hungry for a big breakfast or lunch with a nice range of menu choices, this is where you want to come.

Crew – young, attractive, lots of crazy haircuts, tatts and such. Invariably friendly and fast. The baristas know their beans.

Crowd – an odd assortment of hipsters, youngsters, ‘grammers and tourists….with tables of actual grownups thrown in the mix occasionally. (Amazingly, a lot of cops love it here too.) Probably the artsiest crowd of the coffee bars downtown. This is where you’re also most likely to see some poseur walk in with one of their filthy dogs.

VESTA COFFEE ROASTERS

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Mr. Curtas has a confession to make: he is secretly in love with all of the female baristas here. (Please do not tell Mrs. Curtas.) Because of this, he cannot be fully objective about Vesta Coffee Roasters, although he will try.

Coffee – strong. Really strong. The most lethal of any coffees downtown. All roasting is done on premises and you can taste the freshness. You can also taste a cappuccino that, compared to other brews, hits you like 151 rum after a light beer. The Food Gal® (aka the Mrs. Curtas referred to above) also swears by something called “Golden Milk” here, which isn’t coffee per se, but which she claims has health-giving properties. In the summer, we’re also partial to their “Espresso Tonic” which is just what it sounds like: cold espresso mixed with tonic and lemon. Remarkably refreshing. The cold brew here is also our favorite, but the espresso was given up on long ago. That doesn’t keep us for ordering it occasionally (for the caffeine kick), but it always tastes of acerbic blueberries, rather than the elusive, dense, haunting pungent holy grail of which we seek.

Comfort – seating can be problematic at peak times, simply because all of the tables are always taken with by Millennials furiously pecking away, pretending to be doing something important. Wait a few minutes though, and something always opens up.

Image(Egg-cellence at Vesta)

Comestibles – very limited, especially compared to PublicUs. No great pastries, a few lunch items (sandwiches and such), good soups made in-house, but that’s about it. Wonderful egg sandwich though (above).

Crew as we said above, not something we can be completely objective about. Let’s just say they’re mostly female and work their tails off at peak times. There may be some dudes who also work here, and we believe the owner is also a person of the male persuasion, but to be honest, we’ve never really noticed.

Crowd – eclectic to say the least. A mixture of business types, tourists, lawyers, smelly hippies, tatted-up hipsters, hairdressers, chefs and crowd-following Yelpers. Also big with the alphabet soup sexuality crowd.

MOTHERSHIP COFFEE
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Mothership Coffee is an offshoot of the teeny tiny operation in Henderson that became a coffee nerd favorite a few years ago. It is as renowned for its small selection of exquisite pastries as it is for its Guatemalan Feminino.

Coffee – “Can I get a single espresso?”

“We only pour doubles.”

“Can I get it made with more water –  what the Italians call lungo?”

“We only pour doubles.”

“Okaaaaay….”

Moving on: gorgeous, nutty, beautifully balanced cappuccino. The espresso was beautiful one time, thin and acrid the second, undrinkable the third. A younger, Millennial cousin of ours (who is a major coffee hound) claims that what we call sour is actually the fruitiness of African beans coming through, as opposed to the milder, less acidic nature of South American coffee. What we call impermissibly sour, he refers to as too sweet. We love the kid, but think he has rocks in his head….or a gueule de bois (wooden mouth). Be that as it may, despite this worthwhile newcomer, a good espresso remains harder to find downtown than a hooker with teeth.

Comfort – open and airy. Kind of a pain in the neck to get to, located as it is in the back of the Ferguson’s Motel complex (at what was once the bottom of its swimming pool, see above), but very nicely appointed inside. Not a lot of seating, although you can also sit on the terraced lawn outside. Because of the location, you won’t be fighting many crowds (like Vesta and PublicUs) but you will be surrounded by self-serious Millennials furiously attached to their laptops.

Image(You’ll love getting sconed at Mothership)

Comestibles – Mothership is known for their pastries (above) and all are top notch. A limited selection of savories and sandwiches, which are invariably fresh and well-crafted. More of a place for a light snack than a full meal. If forced to bestow awards, we’d give the sweet pastries here a slight nod over PublicUs, while the latter wins the savory battle by a landslide.

Crew – Nice, but as green as an Arabica bean.

Crowd – lots of Tony Hsieh acolytes and other youngsters who keep their heads buried in their laptops for hours on end. In many ways this joint feels like a clubhouse for the Downtown Project crowd….which is probably the whole idea.

WRITER’S BLOCK COFFEE SHOP

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Rock and roll journalism was once described as people who can’t talk being interviewed by people who can’t write for people who can’t read. In this same vein, putting an erudite, interesting bookstore (Writer’s Block) in downtown Las Vegas is the clueless trying to sell the thoughtful to the thoughtless. The good news is even if the Paris Review and LBGTQWXYZ Quarterly are not your cup of tea, the coffee and pastries will capture your (short) attention span.

Coffee – they use Mothership’s beans here to create the mildest brews of the bunch. This is a compliment to the cappuccino, as it reaches peak coffee perfection with its balance of sweetness, nuttiness, bitterness and acidity. Not a lot of folderol going on with the foam, but the proportions are just right. The espresso, though, is gawdawful — weak, bland, thin, and as sour as a parson’s smile.

Comfort – nothing more than a few tables, a counter and some high-tops located in the entrance foyer. The outdoor seating on the patio is a real plus. You’re also inside a groovy bookstore, which is also a real plus. Parking is a breeze and free along Bonneville.

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Comestibles – extremely limited. Almond croissants (above), cookies, a cinnamon roll and a couple of other items provided by Sonia El-Awal at Rooster Boy Café.  The good news is they are wonderful. The bad news is they run out early.

Crew – also limited, as the place is tiny. One of our favorite barista/bartenders Michelle, moved over here from Velveteen Rabbit/Vesta, making us feel right at home. I’m secretly in love with her too (Jeebus, Curtas, what’s with you!?), so that means this place is now on our steady rotation.

Crowd – here ya go:

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As this post grinds to a halt, and comes to its bitter end, we almost afforgato to tell you something. So, let us not procaffeinate any further, and espresso some final thoughts.

Unbeanknownst to Las Vegas, a hot beverage revolution has been going on around the world for some time now. It’s a brewtiful thing to watch Vegas finally perk up and smell the…

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…. because we couldn’t au lait for it any longer. Now we’re as frappé as can be, and we’re going to cup up, plunge in, and milk this trend for all its worth. We hope you do too.

THE END