Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bell Street Burritos - In Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward - The delicate balance of the exemplary and the routine wrapped in deliciousness!

With Prince Michael and Lady Elizabeth now taking up residence in the  Candler Park neighborhood just east of Atlanta, Watson and I took the opportunity to stop up and continue our gourmet galavanting and discover the exciting food establishments this fine city has to offer. 

Bell Street Burritos on UrbanspoonAnd with visits already made this particular weekend to exemplary yet altogether visceral ventures including Leon's Full Service, The Iberian Pig, The Highland Bakery, and Sweetwater Brewery (reviews for which to follow post haste!) we elected to not further flutter the dovecoats and chose to go a bit lowbrow. So with the Crown Prince and his newly betrothed Lady Elizabeth in tow, we sought out an easy first entry: Bell Street Burritos.

This new Bell Street Burritos, which my investigation turned up as not being ON Bell St. but on IRWIN St. in the Irwin Street Market near the East Beltline, came VERY highly recommended and even found it's way onto the Dec. 2012 USA Today list of Best Burrito's in America. 

Not the easiest place to find, the location and the size of this hot-spot are curious as they do not immediately give a patron much in the way of a very warm welcome nor does it instill one with a sense of impending comfort other than the inviting white facade and large lettered sign. The structure speaks 'Auto Yard' rather than 'Taqueria'. Parking is difficult and building remedies were in their obvious midst but the wisened overlook all this for upon arrival the line of eager and hungry patrons awaiting their turn at the counter to place their order was already 12 deep......and this at 4:30 PM on a Saturday..........comfort apparently be damned!

More Chips with Cheese.......fairly ho-hum yet welcome....
It's a simple enough menu, although written in a less than immediately grasped font-something that might be causing some of the lines' length I would say, with Burritos, Quesadilla's, Tacos, and Salads all offered in four Vegetarian and four Non-Vegetarian sorts: Bean, Green Chile, Potato, and Broccoli for the green team and Chicken, Pork, Steak, and Shrimp for the red team....with an additional assortment of accessories for each: Salsa Fresca, Onions, Jack Cheese, Pinto Beans, Spinach, Jalapeno's, Rice, Guacamole, and on, and on, and....this makes for an a la carte bonanza for the insightful but somewhat of a nightmare for the uninformed, especially with hungry mouths on line breathing down one's neck. The addition of 'The Burrito Specials', tho difficult to 'pick up visually' on the menu at first, adds an easy A,B,C to the well as the added bonus of a drink and a chips/salsa partner.

And despite the lack of beverages both fermented or brewed (Ah, my kingdom for a good Modelo, Pacifico, or Tecate my good man!) they did have at the ready Mexican Coke, made with sugar cane vs. corn syrup....which is quite the feat here in the land of Coca-Cola, and the Mexican Nehi - 'Jaritos', in flavors like Pineapple, Mandarin, Tamarind, Guava, Mango, etc..... Both additions an excellent albeit nuanced touch to the menu.

With orders placed the focus is then upon securing proper seating and the busier the time of day the more intriguing the search becomes. It is a very small venue, make no mistake, and without a proper food ordering/table searching plan (preferably discussed with one's party before entering) even the most cavalier attendees will be disappointed. It is always intriguing to me as to the calculus used to balance the available seating in an establishment, the outdoor parking given, and the menu pricing chosen for each is a leg to a stool that can either topple over with the use of a feather or withstand the weight of a great elephant if balanced properly. And on this early Saturday afternoon, with a jammed enclave and diners reluctantly leaving rather than wait on line to order AND then for a table once their order materializes from the back kitchen, I must immediately question the calculus in this case. I'd also posit that a fair number of re-visitors were already well-versed in this event and were seen picking up take-out or pre-ordered meals rather than deal with the cacophony that awaited them inside.

Double Wrapped Green Chile and Broccoli Tacos, with Pinto Beans, Cilantro, and Onions
Only upon securing a table and securing one's beverage do you realize that almost before you are sitting down you hear a bellowing "#17"and are given your order faster than foxes drool in a henhouse, easily surprising even this most hardened visitor. It was only then that I surmised the brilliance of the enterprise: Fast in and Fast OUT! No alcohol to gather ditherers and the resulting quick turn will create a success to pine for! Elementary in it's simplicity for there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact!

Additionally, and as a wet-burrito man I am predisposed towards such encumbrances, the further easy and gratis availability of the fine salsas and sauces, Red-Mild, Green-Hotter, Chipotle-Hotter still......and the Salsa Fresca which is more along the lines of a chunky gazpacho, was both commending and delicious. 

The Taco's and Burrito's that thus arrived: Pork and Green Chiles, Pinto Beans, Cheese, and Cilantro for Prince Michael and Lady Elizabeth, the Vegetarian Green Chile and Broccoli with Pinto Beans, Onions,  and Cilantro for Watson, and a Chicken and Green Chiles Burrito for myself, were so warmly welcomed that a further case has since been created for the loss of these foodstuffs into thin air had everyone baffled at it's rapidity and chagrined at their subsequent inherent fullness.

And SO full were the members of the party quickly made that we did NOT participate in such post meal festivities such as the Sopapillas, Hand-Dipped Milkshakes, or the Hand Dipped Floats. 

What is still unknown is whether these were actually Bell Street creations or manifestations of Jake's Ice Cream which shares a common floor and entryway.

Assuredly something I noted to investigate further upon our NEXT visit! 

And was it further beguiling still that upon our exit, the whole episode lasting no more than 30 minutes, that the steady flow of diners was still at an even flow...... a balance had obviously been reached and that calculus was no longer in question!

Tortilla Chips and Guacamole - A Fairly Routine Enterprise Overall chip-wise!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Trattoria Stella

Trattoria Stella on Urbanspoon

Watson had informed me of a visit made in the recent past to Trattoria Stella on Colfax Ave. in the Queen City of Denver where all members of his party left satiated and joyous, as well as with heft still in their wallets.

I was immediately suspect!
Thus we coordinated a clandestine rendezvous at the Colfax location on our next visit with the Duchess of Downing and her paramour Lord William of York, both visitors on the previous occasion with Dr. Watson and whose presence thereby allowed them to act as the 'equalizers' on this visit.

Also acting as arbiters of good taste with us on this journey as well was Lady Kimberly of Columbus and Dame Lynn of the West Virginia Mountains, whose special attendance was both welcome and long overdue!

Trattoria Stella can easily be considered a neighborhood gem, situated on the northeast corner of Steele St. and Colfax Ave. (sometimes known in bebop circles as D'Fax Ave.) and just 2 blocks south of City Park. 

It COULD be considered such if the neighborhood surrounding this little bistro welcomed it and it's patrons as well for parking in and around Stella's is darn well impossible. Neighborhood parking permits appear to be needed in the area making patronage of Stella's somewhat beguiling......but do not let this small issue stop you from visiting this trattoria.

With reservations for 6 at 6:30, The Duchess and Lord William arrived early and partook in an excellent Happy Hour occasion at the R Bar, which shares an address, restrooms, as well as a pass-thru door with Trattoria Stella and is appointed in the same somewhat eclectic artwork that gives both a classic hipness.

The group started with an interesting non-toasted Bruschetta on thick Italian Bread, something with a visual splendor if not a delicious texture despite it's customary lack of 'bite'; the crusty bread giving each portion it's needed rigidity.

After a quick Lucifer Golden Ale from Belgium, the unexpected foaminess of which proved expansive on the first, second, and third pours, we settled in on a series of corporeal entrees that proved delightfully rich and light simultaneously.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Lady Kimberly stayed close to her fairly demure and conservative nature with the Spaghetti Bolognese ($13.95) with it's beef and pork sausage simmered in a ragu of plum tomatoes, carrots, celery, and onions served over an egg spaghetti. She ate slowly and succeeded in keeping any from her outer clothing, as is her way. 

Dame Lynn, proving a bit more adventurous in her manner, chose the Skipza, seasonal vegetables sauteed in Aglio Olio Sauce with spinach spaghetti and tasted almonds which might not sound like a stepping out but the presentation did make it so.

Creamy Sausage Rigate
A Creamy Sausage Rigate ($13.95) was chosen by Lord William whose predisposition towards room temperature foods was severely tested with this steamingly hot but intriguing enrapturing as any of our choices. Made with Stella's signature Herb Seasoned Pork Sausage and tossed with a Beef Rigate in a rich tomato cream sauce.

Truffled Asparagus Pasta
Following suit in a more vegetarian bend, Watson remained true to form with the Truffled Asparagus Pasta ($13.95) with asparagus, wilted arugula, toasted pine nuts, portabello and crimini mushrooms with an egg fettucine and white truffle oil... delicious and perfect.

The Duchess and I both ventured towards the 32nd St. Pasta of 
black tiger shrimp, toasted pecans, sun dried cranberries sauteed in a spicy lemon olive oil with spinach spaghetti and goat cheese.

32nd St. Pasta
As a second visit this was the Duchess' choice that first time as well and while she thoroughly enjoyed it the first time she seemed less enamored with it this visit. My thorough inspection of this dish was completed in nearly 4 minutes and was attributed to the aromatic delights, the colorful and succulent nature of the ingredients, as well as the lack of daily sustenance this day had already brought me.

An unexpected delight mid-meal was the delivery of a Milk Stout Nitro from the Left Hand Brewing Company of Longmont, CO. for Lord William and a 'Pearl de Vere' for myself, an amalgam of Stranahan's distilled artisanal whiskey, pomegranate juice, and Angnostura bitters, named for the highly successful Cripple Creek, Colorado Madame from the mid-1800's and perhaps the most famous brothel owner of her day.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bette Midler - Sue Mengers

With an early introduction to the performing arts thru frequent visits to both The West End in London and to the famed Broadway Theaters on The Great White Way beginning decades ago, I've elected to now extend my keen powers of observation and perception to this great medium, 'The Theater', beginning with this chosen analysis. And certainly, while I acknowledge that this particular performance has since recently ended it's delicious run, I felt it to still be the perfect place to start...... 

In my extensive tally of investigations, if there is one thing I've learned in viewing over 100 various Broadway performances over the years it's that the charisma and magnetism required to captivate and then HOLD the attention of a Broadway audience is quite formidable (and is especially so today what with the advent of the ever impatient instant gratification entertainment crowd). 
When one is gifted to witness a stellar play or musical performed by a smooth and polished ensemble cast, as had been the situation with the 'Wicked', it's important to note the shared responsibility of the performance and 'the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts' nature of these tightly knit performing units. Additionally, 'Wicked' is especially noteworthy in this regard for it has not only survived the departure of it's original stars (Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Norbert Leo Butz, and Joel Grey), it is still celebrating 10+ years on at the Gershwin Theater on Broadway and is thriving on the national circuit as well.

Even performances presenting prominent featured actors and actresses, such as with Mary Louise Parker in 'Proof', Bernadette Peter's in 'Annie Get Your Gun', or even Betty Buckley to a degree during her time in 'Cats', the stresses and pressures on any one performer is tempered and meted out among the entire ensemble. And yes, while some actors bear the burden more than others in such featured pieces, it's still a shared overall responsibility and thus a lessened stress level for all performers collectively.

Yet these tempered Broadway stresses pale in comparison to those that must be absorbed by the singular woman or man bearing the weight of the entire performance on their shoulders with no where to 'hide' and no one to give the lone actor or actress even a single moments breath or respite. (The exception being the astounding Nina Arianda in 'Venus in Fur' last season where a two person play was turned into an 'ensemble' unto itself with Miss Arianda running circles around her acting partner as well as all the other characters she played! THIS performance was a gift to behold!)

Bette Midler, in her recently closed limited engagement run as Hollywood Super-Agent Sue Mengers in 'I'll Eat You Last', indeed carried the required gravitas to captivate and hold her audience. Her star power was already as palpable as any and her bona fides were without question. That with such magnetism she invited in an hungry audience wishing to be enthralled in that aura was obvious; however what she then did with this shared gift once inside the Broadhurst Theater was what made this star driven performance a true 'Event'.

Performing eight shows a week for over two months in a ninety minute monologue,  without an intermission, while chain smoking throughout the entire performance, Ms. Midler had one hooked from the first brightening cigarette to the last long drawn out walk into seclusion and retirement.

Upon Miss Midler's entrance to the stage we were at once captivated by this star power. In these early parts of the show you were certain you were watching Midler playing herself rather than Miss Mengers, who was also Miss Midler's agent back in the day (the day being in the late '60's and early '70's) but thru deft writing and a finely nuanced performance, Midler took us back to the days of The Brown Derby and the Hollywood Hills....of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and in the beginning......of one very young Miss Barbra Streisand.

Having had the opportunity to watch this performance by Ms. Midler was indeed a privilege, and one that does not come along often. This was a choice morsel in a season of fine meals but one that was not recognized by Tony voters as being worthy of even a nod for a nomination. 

Ms. Sue Mengers
Perhaps it was due to the run being a 'limited engagement' that allowed the Tony Award voters to rationalize their decision, or the 'West Coast' vs. 'East Coast' theory of not being 'of Broadway' but 'of Hollywood' and thus (so goes the theory) not having earned their stripes or possessing 'the chops' for such a nomination.

'Poppycock' I say! 

Already having won several Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, nominated for an Oscar, and already having WON a Tony Award previously solidifies the pedigree of Miss Midler most certainly and calls into question that very theory.

This nomination slight was, in my most learned opinion,  completely without merit and Miss Midler's performance was as wondrous to watch as anything I've ever witnessed on a Broadway stage. And while Miss Cicely Tyson's win for 'A Trip to Bountiful' was richly deserved and fully earned, Miss Midler's role in 'I'll Eat You Last' was stirring to the very last puff (and toke). 

We should all be so fortunate to witness such an event.  

Mr. Crystal? You're next!