Saturday, January 14, 2012
Getting Schooled: Food and Fun
Blame it on Murray Horowitz.
Mr. Horowitz is one of the funnier members comprising the panel of six who play on the NPR quiz show “Says You.” This show is an erudite yet extraordinarily witty hour of playing with words—just the type of thing to appeal to people who enjoy knowing words like “erudite." (The board game Balderdash resembles one kind of round they play.) We listen to it nearly every Saturday on our local NPR news station, and Miss Chef is a most enthusiastic fan.
So sometime last fall, when the host announced that Mr. Horowitz and his witty compatriots were traveling to Charlotte for a taping of the show, our ears perked up. Although it’s hard to plan much of anything that far ahead with Miss Chef’s schedule, I think it’s fair to say she was adamant that we find a way to attend. So I bought Miss Chef a very early Christmas present of two tickets to the Sunday afternoon show.
The taping was in the Pease Auditorium on the campus of Piedmont Community College, just east of uptown Charlotte. It was a new area for me to explore, but it wasn’t until that morning that I sat down to figure out how to get there. This was about the same time Miss Chef suggested we go out for brunch before the 1:00 show. I knew that the neighborhood had some cool little independent shops and restaurants, so I put on my Google research cap to find somewhere we hadn’t tried yet.
I came up with the Customshop. Not only does the dinner menu have a separate “charcuterie” section, but they also serve locally-brewed coffee—something I knew Miss Chef would appreciate. As it turned out, she’d been interested in trying their dinner menu, so we were both happy to give them a try.
Now while Customshop is pretty upscale in food and price, the atmosphere—at least at brunch—is pretty casual. It actually reminded me of a bar we’d greatly enjoyed in Charleston, called the Gin Joint. Both are long, narrow spaces with big booths, lots of wood and a modern yet rustic design. The menu at both highlights lots of seasonal and local products; just the kind of thing we like to support. Plus, they’re both unique, independent businesses with the flavor of their towns.
I am a big brunch fan, so once I had the menu in front of me, I was torn among about four items, including a Belgian waffle and a Monte Cristo sandwich. Miss Chef chose the egg rancheros, whose corn pancakes had intrigued me. So really she’s partly to blame that I ended up ordering the herb and cheese omelet.
When it arrived, I was surprised that the “herb” was mostly arugula, but that was fine with me. I can use all the greens anyone can manage to sneak into my diet. As I began to dig in, I noticed Miss Chef staring at my plate. This didn’t bother me at first, because of course she has to taste and analyze everything we get at good restaurants. But even after taking her own forkful and assuring me that her dish was quite good too, she kept staring. I think she even reached over with her fork again and sort of poked at it.
“What’s the matter?” I had to ask her.
“How did they do that?” she asked back.
Miss Chef was mesmerized by my omelet, it seems. To me, it was just a yummy egg-wrapped concoction, but to her it was a perfectly cooked, yet perfectly moist miracle. “There’s no tough, dry spots anywhere. I can’t figure out how they did that. I wish I knew how to make an omelet like that.”
After a minute, I started hacking at it with my fork again, and we did manage to enjoy the rest of our meal without too much further obsessing. When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish the whole thing, I asked her if she wanted me to get a to-go box, so she perform some omelet CSI at home. She said no, but I think if we hadn’t had to leave it in the car for several hours during the show, she might have taken me up on it.
So with happy mouths and full bellies, we wandered off to see Says You. As we headed into the theater, I realized we must have been the first to buy tickets, since we found ourselves seated, literally, front and center. Row A, right in front of the microphones set up to capture the audience’s enthusiasm.
I was a little nervous about being right in front of the microphones, since I was still in the grips of an unpleasant cold. Sneezing, coughing and throat-clearing had all been regular activities of mine for several days, and I was a bit leery about disintegrating into a massive coughing fit at some point.
As it turned out, my sinuses behaved themselves and we had a wonderful time. Seeing the show live is even more enjoyable than listening to the smoothly-edited broadcast version. The radio audience will be missing a brief session in which the host used his iPhone to verify an answer on Wikipedia, and may wonder why the studio audience laughs when Carolyn Faye Fox repeats the clue “scientific for skin.” (If your interest is piqued, click here to see if there’s a station near you that carries it).
Miss Chef agreed that we could have sat there for hours, mesmerized by the brilliant repartee on display before us. There was a warm feeling of being part of a special group, or being at a relaxing party with funny, brilliant people. Though there are no return trips scheduled for the show, all the panelists were effusive in their praise for Charlotte. So we will be eagerly awaiting our chance to repeat the experience.
Ah, but our day was not over. For just a couple of hours after the taping, we had the annual Christmas party to attend at the restaurant. Chef Adam thanks his staff every year by inviting them to the restaurant for a free meal he prepares himself, including hors d’oeuvres, plentiful wine and his special Christmas dessert, the traditional French bûche de noël. (Long-time readers may remember the “special report” I did on Miss Chef’s making 10 of these babies a couple of years ago.) This was followed by a round of Dirty Santa—but we had to leave before the game of charades. It was getting on to 9:00 already, and Miss Chef had an early class the next day.
What a long, enjoyable day we’d had. Good food, lots of laughter and even a bit of intellectual stimulation. However, in the back of her mind, Miss Chef was troubled. As we drove home from the restaurant through the dark night, she suddenly said “I still want to know how to make an omelet like that.”
Stay tuned…she has since bought a dozen eggs and she’s determined to use them!