After talking to a friend who had just completed a marathon, I saw a similarity to reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. At times I wondered if I would ever finish. Occasionally I was completely engrossed and enjoyed the scenery, so to speak. Ultimately, I kept returning to the question of completion, could I do it? The answer is yes. However, unlike my runner friend who was euphoric after crossing the finish line, I was simply relieved: just glad to be done.
I know Tartt has received numerous accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) for her 771-page novel about Theo Decker and the rare painting that, at the request of a dying man in a museum explosion, he takes and has overshadowing his adolescence and young adulthood. Yet, I had an extremely hard time allowing for my suspension of disbelief to fully be in the driver’s seat.
Theo’s mother is killed in that explosion and Theo, who is 13 years old at the time, walks out of the museum practically unnoticed, certainly not unscathed emotionally, but unnoticed. Don’t bother trying to forget that he had an irreplaceable piece of art in his backpack. Through a series of temporary living situations – some better than others, drug abuse and unrealized potential, Theo doesn’t undergo too much transformation through the years. Tartt offers an interesting premise, with Theo narrating, but the story gets bogged down with too many inattentive adults and too many far-fetched situations.
Mostly, I was tired after putting the book down for good.
Little, Brown Co., 2013
McCabes wasn’t the top choice for our first meal in Baltimore, but I’m glad that’s where we landed. The gray brick exterior looks like a fortress and the interior is dark. This is a case where looks are deceiving. We never expected the quality meal in what is essentially a tavern. The single server was well-versed on the menu and friendly.
Before arriving in Baltimore I knew I wanted a crab cake. It’s a signature dish in this historic city on the harbor. McCabes makes a mean cake: packed with lump crab, herbs, plenty of seasoning; I detected no trace of bread crumbs. Roumulade, a blend that includes mostly mayo, brown seed mustard and garlic, augmented the crab cake. It’s served with a choice of two sides from the eclectic list of eight. There’s an option for a two-crab-cake plate; one was plenty.
Our server said McCabes is known for crab cakes and burgers. My son ordered the burger with cheese and bacon. Cooked to perfection it’s served on a hefty brioche bun which held up well under the weight of the juicy patty. House-made fries were crispy on the outside and creamy inside.
When the made-in-house desserts were described, we couldn’t resist. I noticed this also was the case at other tables. We had pound cake with strawberries macerated in balsamic served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It was a refreshing finish to the meal.
McCabes is high on my list for my return visit to Charm City.
3845 Falls Rd.
The first thing to keep in mind at Gates Bar-B-Q is that the women taking the orders are not angry, even if they are intimidating. Before we had much time to look at the menu, let alone determine that we fully understood it, we were yelled at. It wasn’t may I please take your order, or even what may I get you? Instead, it was Are you ready to order – with an implicit YET?
I needed time before reaching the counter. Gates had a very different menu than I was familiar with. I’d heard of burnt ends, but not long ends or short ones. I finally figured out they referred to ribs. The sliced meats were easy, thank goodness.
Kansas City BBQ is known for the variety of meats ( beef, pork, mutton, turkey, etc.) and sooty flavors thanks to the slow, low method of smoking. Sauces are added by individual diners, not the cooks in the kitchen. I ordered the burnt ends which were served piled high on a hoagie bun, which I barely touched. These are tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of shredded brisket and occasional bits of beef that came closest to the heat becoming slightly charred in the process. Not burnt as the name suggests, but like a crisped layer of skin. The Combo Plus 2 featured a choice of two meats served on slices of white bread. We opted for beef and pork which were piled far too high for the bread to contain.Again, the meats were tender and juicy even before the addition of any sauces, all with a ketchup, molasses and vinegar base.
Once we had our trays loaded with food, the women were all smiles and spoke in pleasant voices. That is until they hollered for the next order.
Four (Messy) Plates
Various locations throughout the Kansas City, MO., area
A few weeks before my birthday one of my sons asked what I’d like as a gift. I gave him a very specific idea, which he pointedly ignored. Instead he gave me How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language. Written by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman, a vet and president of the San Diego Humane Society, this fun, informative manual actually helps me to better understand my dog.
I spend a lot of time with my dog, Jackson, so I have always felt in tune with his actions. After reading this guide, I realize I was off-base on some points, but on the mark for others. For example, tail wagging. I erroneously thought all wagging tails were signs of dogs’ playfulness and excitement. This isn’t necessarily true, according to the authors. Occasionally it indicates fear. The way to tell is if only the end of an otherwise high stiff tail wags. The happy wag, on the other hand, is rapid and usually a large sweeping arc-like motion.
History of dogs, attributes of a variety of breeds, different types of barks, movement of ears, yawning and other forms of nonverbal communication are all addressed. Photos, illustrations, scenarios and resources help round out the content. This is a fun, easy-to-read book that most dog owners should find useful.
This probably is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but this time I appreciate that my son decided to ignore me – please notice that caveat: this time.
How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language
National Geographic, 2013
The Factory Kitchen blends so well into the industrial area near downtown Los Angeles that skepticism, and perhaps a little fear, become part of your mental landscape the closer you get to the restaurant. Fortunately, the valet station provides some reassurance; and once you enter the sparsely decorated, but entirely functional space of this upscale eatery, you’re transported to, well not quite Italy, but, at least philosophically, some distance from where your car is parked.
However, the menu does get you closer to Italia than you might imagine even though courses aren’t antipasto, el primo, or el secondo. Instead, they’re more aptly named: “to begin…,” “to continue or share…,” and “by itself.” I began with the pomodori, a colorful plate of heirloom tomatoes with red onion, shallots, basil and doused with a vinaigrette. This was summer on a plate.
The mandilli di seta, previously unfamiliar to me, is a signature dish. Almond basil pesto and fiore sardo are spread on sheets of fresh pasta and folded handkerchief-style on the plate. What it lacked in visual allure is compensated for with silky texture and combined elements of the ingredients.
From the “by itself….”we ordered the prosciutto, featuring a mound of the freshly sliced meat, on a crown of puffed sage-dough. Awkward to eat, it was like a billowy, elegant pizza. The tonnetto, pan-seared albacore with green cauliflower and other grilled vegetables was creative and enticing.
The Factory Kitchen fits into its neighborhood, until the food arrives. Then it stands out.
The Factory Kitchen
1300 Factory Place
Los Angeles, CA
I could find no explanation for A.O.C.‘s name either on its menu or website. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I’m curious, but not obsessed. Instead, my attention is on the food: Awesome Outstanding Cuisine.
The vine-covered exterior has extraordinary curb appeal; the dining room is surprisingly cozy, but the real jewel is the patio. Although we were seated inside, we had a great view of the courtyard and the impressive, well-stocked bar from our vantage point. Brunch, served weekends, features twists on familiar breakfast items while adding several enticing options, so it truly was a hybrid of morning and noon dining.
We started with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Grilled Blueberry Bread. With plenty of plump blueberries, the bread would have been impressive without the grill marks even though some of the pieces had a little too much char. Still, the smokiness from the wood-fueled grill was enhanced by the subtle lemon butter.
If ordering Spanish Fried Chicken & Cornmeal Waffle, be prepared for the zip of cumin and chile powder on the crispy chicken. The waffle was like dimpled cornbread. I just wish the syrup had been on the side Since it was poured in the kitchen the waffle became soggy before its time. The sweet/savory flavors were mellowed by Serrano ham.
The House-made Corned Beef Hash featured wild mushrooms and chunks of creamy potatoes. It had an earthy taste thanks to the addition of sage.
A.O.C. may just mean Always On Course.
1700 W. Third St.
Los Angeles, Calif.