Thursday, June 30, 2005


I have done only minimal cooking this week. V. normally handles dinners when we're both home because I go to work every day and he doesn't. (Having a retired partner is quite the mixed blessing. He does all this stuff that I would otherwise have to do at least half of, but I'm totally envious of all his free time.) And I made another huge pot of lentil soup (note to self: substituting the fine cracked wheat for the coarse bulgar is something we don't want to do again) that is covering all my lunches. Plus, we ate out last night.

A member of my online knowledge base was in town for a conference for the better part of a week, and last night, she, V., another local OKBer, and I met up for dinner at Andale, a "contemporary Mexican" (those are not scare quotes; that is what the restaurant calls itself) restaurant across the street from the Washington Shakespeare Theater. (It's at 7th and D Streets, NW. I have no idea what that area is called; I am a poor excuse for a Washingtonian. It's near the convention center, though.)

I find that when I meet someone in real life that I've known for any length of time online, it's invariably a little bit weird and a great deal of fun. I suspect that for people who do it more often than I do, it stops being weird, and it's not a bad weirdness, regardless. It's just unusual to be having standard face-to-face communication with someone whom you're used to communicating with in an entirely different manner. It starts with names. Most, though not all, of us have online names that are different from the names on our birth certificates and/or the names that people who are not online call us. I, for example, go by "anapestic," though all of the members of the OKB call me "pesty," except for one especially impertinent (but otherwise charming) fellow who calls me something else, which need not concern us here.

Real people are also different from their online personae, though they are almost always nicer in real life (unless it's someone with whom you're meeting with romantic and/or sexual expectations; those can go either way) just because they are. (The difference has to do with the limitations of online communication and the inherent lack of accountability. I reckon that you have experienced it yourself if you've spent any significant amount of time online.) Using myself as an example yet again (me, me, me!), I am significantly more pedantic and strident online than I would dare or want to be in real life, where I am best described as mostly harmless.

Anyway, before I sink any deeper into the Slough of Internal Dialogue, let me say that the food at Andale is pretty good, though not spectacular. We ordered the appetizer sampler for the table. It was clearly designed for three: three flour tortillas, three taquitos, one miniature seafood chimichanga, some melted queso, and a pile of guacamole. Fortunately, we are all good at math, including division. The appetizers were all fresh and pretty good, but none of them was particularly inventive, and my guacamole is a lot better. We each had a beer; I had something that the waiter (semi-cute, attentive, not overly skilled; I attribute any shortcomings to his inability to cope with the loss of his big pepper grinder; Andale very sensibly has a pepper grinder on every table, which of course pleases me no end, but which left our poor waiter without a ready means with which to assert his manhood) referred to as "hoppy," but the name of which I could not remember to save my life. One of my tablemates also ordered it and had had it before and was able to tell me that it was indeed pretty hoppy -- even hoppier than a couple of hoppy beers that I had never tasted, but not nearly so hoppy as a couple of overly hoppy beers that I had also never tasted. It was fine. It tasted like beer.

I flirted with the idea of ordering the chicken in mole poblano, but I ended up ordering a pork chop in a red mole. It was garnished with shredded jicama, and served with mashed sweet potatoes, fried bananas, and grilled pineapple. The pork chop was cooked just right, and the sauce was very tasty, and of low-to-moderate heat, which was also just right. I am not a big fan of the sweet potato in savory dishes, and the fried bananas failed to register, but the grilled pineapple was very good. I had coffee to finish. It tasted like coffee.

Andale, apparently, used to be The Mark but changed over to its current format when its executive chef, while hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, was hit in the head by a dried ancho dropped by a passing eagle who had consumed one tequila too many. Its chef having seen the light of contemporary Mexican, the management then transformed the restaurant by putting up a couple of vaguely Aztecish wall sconces and hanging strings of Day of the Dead paper placemats from the ceiling. Seriously, it looks like they spent as much as two hundred bucks on revamping the place, leaving us to wonder whether the owners are perhaps afraid that after the chef's upcoming European vacation, they might have to hang some paper shamrocks to show that the restaurant is now an Irish pub. (That $200 includes some very expensive-looking napkin rings, which the waiter removed from our table as soon as he was able. V., in fact, had not taken his napkin out of his ring, so the waiter did that for him and then took the ring away. I'm guessing that they only have about eight of those napkin rings, so they needed them for another table. But maybe they were worried about us walking off with them; no doubt we were a shifty looking lot, and I'm almost certain that the maitre d' warned the waiter about us, though I guess there is a tiny chance that "take care of these nice people" is not code for "watch them like a hawk; we can't afford to lose any more napkin rings before the Chef goes to Europe.")

The bill came to about forty bucks a person, and I guess that's entirely reasonable for spending three hours and having a pretty good meal at a very busy restaurant. If it occurs to me that I could have had a more interesting meal for the same amount a block away at Jaleo (or just as much fun for less than half as much at a pho restaurant), then I'm probably just being petty, especially since the evening was about friends, and the food was just a backdrop. And, really, we can all afford it without stretching.

(Tangentially, at several points last night, I was tempted to play
the Parsley Game, but I never had the guts and a diversion at the same moment. My companions would only have been amused, but I can be quite the coward when given the chance. Another opportunity for improvement, as we say in the office at evaluation time.)

I will likely not be cooking again this week, even though I've had a real hankering to make some red pepper hummus and to experiment with some whole wheat flatbread. I'll be working somewhat late tonight, and V. will doubtless make dinner, and this weekend I'm off to Rehoboth, against my better judgment. In less than two weeks, V. is off to Addis Ababa for a two-week consulting gig (it was originally one week, but when some muckety muck in the Treasury department saw how much the plane ticket was going to cost, they said they couldn't justify spending that much for a week of work, so they're paying him to go for two weeks to do the same job: your tax dollars at work), so tomorrow night, we're going to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant. I think this strategy is roughly akin to preparing for a trip to Beijing by buying a bag of fortune cookies, but I'm game. After all, during one of the thundershowers last night, we had the following conversation:

OKBer: Wow, it's really coming down.
Me (to V.): Yeah. Boy, you're going to get drenched when you go get the car to pick me up.
V (to me): You're the boy toy; you go get the car.

Which I take to mean that he's paying for dinner tomorrow night. I'm sure that he only let me pay my own way last night to save me embarrassment, right?


Anonymous Snarkypants said...

I don't think I've ever had really good Mexican food in DC. Lauriol Plaza's popularity is vaguely mystifying to me, and while I ate at the Tortilla Factory in Herndon for lunch fairly frequently, it didn't blow me away. (I'm probably missing out on their best dishes by shunning the carne, but what is one to do?) The greasy spoon in my neighborhood, which I adored, was a) nobody's idea of a high-class place and b) Salvadorean.

(This comment is mostly just to give you some comment love.)

8:32 PM  

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