Sunday, October 18, 2015

This Way to Love and Happiness

Ah, the pleasures of a space transformed.

The first was the new Quirk Hotel, and while I'd walked by countless time since it opened (hello, bike race), I'd yet to go inside, which meant I hadn't anticipated the two doormen in their flowered pink ties greeting me. Beards seemed to be everywhere.

Going inside the pink, gray and glass room required the minutest mental shift - oh, right, we're in a hotel now - before heading back to place ourselves in the capable hands of the host of Maple & Pine.  We landed at a center table, Pru and Beau at one of the curved banquettes and me facing them with a splendid view of the Jefferson Street hill.

Our server was generous sharing his time with us so I used the opportunity to get his story, unexpectedly tickled to learn that he grew up in Cumberland County, where his grandmother still lives and knows everyone and every scrap of history. When I told him my grandmother had been born and raised there as well, he assured me they had to have known each other's families, because that's just how small Cumberland County was. And is, apparently.

When Beau complimented his bow-tie, the former country boy explained that the staff has a choice of bow-tie or regular tie, with some people choosing the latter so they don't have to bother learning how to tie a bow-tie (clip-ons are forbidden).

I'd have thought think quirky types would appreciate a good challenge.

We began with a Bordeaux blend because Fall. Color me cold at this drastic turn in the weather because I was not ready for 40-degree temperatures yet, much less the mid-30s expected tonight. If one more person chirps about how much they love Fall, I may personally tighten their trendy scarf for them.

The beauty of it being the first time for all three of us at M & P was that it made it easy to order. Basically, we asked for everything on the small plates menu except for the ramen. When our server said the scallop plate was small, we said fine, bring two then.

If tonight's meal was any indication, there are some exquisite bites to be had mere blocks from my house.

Chestnut soup with bacon and croutons almost lost out because I was put off by croutons being misspelled as crouton's. Let us all witness the failure of the American school system in the first line of this menu. Call me petty, call me a word geek, but it's not that hard to have someone proofread your menu to save you from inappropriate apostrophes and other menu abominations.

That the soup was a symphony of complementary Fall flavors only mildly assuaged my longing for summer, but you'd never know it for how quickly it was devoured.

Marinated vegetables with sourdough and brown butter was the first item to catch my eye and it took exactly one bite to prove my instinct correct. The preserved orange mousse under duck breast prosciutto was glorious, seriously tempting me to lick the plate (I settled for the fork).

Glossy slices of diver scallop (thank you Jean-Louis Palladin) crudo took on heat from curry, but neither Pru nor Beau are as big a fan of uncooked seafood as I am, so neither liked the dish as much as me. As Holmes' Dad used to say about blueberry pie, "Don't like it? Fine, more for me."

What we were in complete agreement over was smoked pork pate with BBQ Dijonnaise and tiny fried pickles (we're talking a delicate tempura batter, not those buried-in-breading versions that obliterate all sense of a brined vegetable inside), which took a French staple and introduced it to the American south, the smokiness of the pig perfectly attuned to the hints of barbecue sauce

Let's put it this way: before we'd finished the first plate of pate, we ordered it a second time.

We were struck by the number of dogs who led their owners through the lobby and restaurant during our meal, amused by the signs pointing downstairs to "Love, Happiness, Conference Rooms, Restrooms" and charmed enough by the room's vibe and the succession of first-rate food to know we'd be back soon.

But before we left, there was dessert to be had and for my companions, Blanchard's coffee served in brilliantly-conceived coffee cups that were fitted into deep-holed saucers to eliminate spillage. I'd like to shake the hand of the genius who conceived of this long-overdue concept and I don't even drink the stuff.

Hearkening back to my childhood was warm pineapple upside down cake (thankfully sans the unnaturally bright maraschino cherries of my youth), although never so elevated as this version, served with bourbon ice cream. For the requisite chocolate course, we had chocolate espresso mousse with roasted hazelnuts on top, good, but not as dark a chocolate as this chocoholic would have wished.

Of the more ridiculous topics covered was what name I should use for myself in this blog. While Karen has worked rather well for the past six years, Beau sought an alias comparable to his and Pru's.

"How about Candy?" Pru interjected nonsensically. Not in this lifetime, but the suggestion did made me laugh.

Happily replete and with a curtain to catch, we soon left for the nearby Basement and Quill Theater's production of David Mamet's "American Buffalo."

Here again, we were walking into a transformed space.

The lettering on the door read "Don's Resale Shop" and practically every inch of the Basement was crammed with what could diplomatically be called antiques and less kindly referred to as junk.

Culled from Caravatti's, Diversity Thrift and Paul's Place, it was a treasure trove for would-be hoarders with a baby carriage filled with "elephant toothpicks," a pipe stand with pipes, a crate of albums (the classic "Buckingham and Nicks" at the front), snow shoes, pennants and a signed, framed photo of RFK.

Hanging from the ceiling in the front were lampshades and in the back, tennis rackets. Hubcaps adorned one wall. I opened an old Encyclopedia Britannica - the P volume - to Painting to find color plates of significant art works. And get this: any item with a price tag was for sale...with the stipulation that you couldn't take it with you until after the run of the play ended.

It was a total transformation of the space. Without a doubt, it was the most immersive set I'd experienced.

And it took us directly into Mamet's world, a place populated by unpleasant men, much swearing and the relentless push and pull of capitalism and altruism, friendship and business. No one's ever light and happy the way Mamet sees it.

Because the roles were written so strongly, the trio of actors - Alan Sader, Jesse Mattes and Jeffrey Schmidt - disappear into their macho '70s-era roles, inhabiting them so completely that at times it was impossible for the audience not to look at the actions or comments of a character and lose sight of the fact that it wasn't reality.

Pity, revulsion and disgust were all elicited as these three would-be big men prove that they aren't capable of much beyond infighting and false bravado. It's heartbreaking on so many levels and also wildly compelling. Mamet World may not be pretty, but it sucks you in even as you know deep down that the playwright is never going to provide any real answers.

"We all live like cavemen." This is just life for below average Joes and it's tragic to see when so well acted.

Have I bragged lately about how my neighborhood is way cooler than yours? Because unless you can walk out your door, have a memorable dinner at a jewel of a new restaurant in an offbeat boutique hotel followed by a brilliant Mamet play at an underground space a few blocks east, my neighborhood still wins.

Don't doubt it. Candy says so.

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