Friday, March 30, 2012

Mesh on Mass

It’s possible that all of the great reviews got me a little more excited to eat at this hip new(-ish) spot at the northeast end of Mass Ave than was perhaps warranted; it’s also possible that I wanted to believe that whatever took the place of Scholar’s Inn would be worthy of occupying the space; but whatever the reason, this place and Greg Hardesty’s Recess—located in the even hipper SoBro—have been at the top of my list of restaurants to try the next time an “occasion” afforded us the opportunity to go out to dinner as grown-ups. Since our wedding anniversary was coming up, such an occasion was at hand. Part two was to see if Grandma was free to babysit, which she was—and Amy even thought to mention Mesh on Mass a day or two beforehand, so it was on my mind.

(Despite the fact that I love to try new restaurants, I often find, or try to find, excuses not to go to the fancy places when we have the chance to go out to dinner. I never learned how to eat dinner at a fancy restaurant like a fancy person, and I also know damn good and well that people employed in the restaurant/hospitality industry expect their customers to know their shit. I’m totally okay with that. I expect to be walking into semi-hostile territory when we pick a fancy place for dinner. I have no shame in admitting that I’m a little intimidated when I go into places like that, because I don’t do it often enough to know my shit all that well. I also don’t like to dress up. Nor do I need my meal to be plated so elaborately. Probably some people like that, but really—very little of the food that occurs in nature is vertical. I don’t really see why it needs to be vertical on the plate. But anyway, the point is—let the food speak for itself.)

By now, of course, you’re locked in and ready for me to write that Mesh on Mass was disappointing and that I did not like it nearly as much as I had hoped I would. Both of those things are true, so if you don’t want to read any further, you’re off the hook. I had the Grilled Tofu ($14), Amy had the Applewood Chicken salad ($13), and we split a small Cheese Board ($12), with Traders Point Herb Fromage, Griddled Taleggio, and Goat Cheese Fritter. Amy also had a glass of wine, and we got out of there for $60. So long!

Mesh on Mass was one of those places where we kept getting the look from our server every time we declined something that she wanted to try to sell us—even though we did go for an appetizer and Amy had a glass of wine. We both ordered relatively inexpensive entrées, declined soup (and in my case, salad) to go with them, and declined dessert. Amy declined a second glass of wine, and I declined to have a beer when the best they could do for Sun King was Sunlight on tap and Osiris in the can. There’s a liquor store not far from my house where I can get a four-pack of Osiris in cans. I know these folks are trying to make a living, but when I’m dropping that much money on dinner, you need to offer me something that I can’t get at home. I can’t get Sunlight on tap at home, but that same liquor store also carries Sunlight in cans. I’m sure it would have been better in draft form, but I was hoping that Mesh would have at least one of the other kinds of Sun King, something that they only put into kegs and that you can only get when you go out.

Having said all of that, however, the food was actually pretty good. The Cheese Board was advertised as being served with cornichon, pear chutney, local honey, and grilled baguette. I must have missed the honey part, but the pear chutney was kind of amazing, very sweet, but heavily spiced with a mild curry that delivered a great combination of sweet and savory flavors. The cornichon (which I had to Google), were tiny little sour pickles, and were also quite good. Of the three cheeses we tried, the Goat Cheese Fritter was clearly the best. The Traders Point Herb Fromage was a spread that might have been a little heavy on the herb part. The Griddled Taleggio was a brie-like soft cheese with a mild, earthy flavor. (To see the Cheese Board choices on the website, you have to click the link for the menu at the top of the page. For reasons passing understanding, they have two versions of their dinner menu posted on their website. The one about halfway down on the left side is not current.)

Amy enjoyed her Applewood Chicken salad, though she also remarked that it was probably something she could make for herself at home with little trouble. It featured spring greens, bacon, bleu cheese, spiced pecans, and cranberry poppyseed dressing. If she felt like she could make it at home without much trouble, I don’t imagine that many of the things in the salad tasted all that special in and of themselves. I do not imagine that I could re-create my Grilled Tofu at home. There were three slabs of soft (but not silken) tofu, adorned with a wild mushroom strudel (served vertically), asparagus and (heavily) buttered greens, grilled portabella, onion straws, tomato buerre blanc, and balsamic reduction—all of which were so good that just writing out the list of them makes me want to tuck into the plate a second time. The strudel and the grilled portabella were especially good, and will probably steer me toward other dishes with mushrooms if we should ever make a return visit.

That’s usually one of Amy’s first questions after we have tried a new place—would you go back? For me, Mesh on Mass is a definite maybe. The food was good enough to make up for the pretension, but only just. The menu is long on dishes with mushrooms, which were quite good in my dish this time; and for a fancy place, the prices are not at all unreasonable (we dropped about $100 when we ate the location’s previous incarnation, the Scholar’s Inn); but the air of pretension about the place, much more suited to Meridian Street than Mass Ave, might be the dealbreaker. Mesh on Mass is neither good enough to recommend wholeheartedly, nor bad enough to dismiss entirely.

725 Massachusetts Avenue

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jackson Races Cheetah

Jackson and his friend Robert raced a cheetah this afternoon at the zoo. Not surprisingly, they did not win. I have a lot of pictures from that trip to the zoo, but I still have to go through them and weed out the bad ones. Hope to have that done in a day or so, and the next post should be another Jackson photo update.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


We finally got around to trying this place this past Saturday, after a full day of activities and after I had spent the whole day with Jackson—which is not usually the best time to go somewhere and sit down for dinner, never mind a somewhat fancy place in a definitely-fancy part of town. Napolese, billed as “an artisanal pizzeria,” is brought to you by Martha Hoover, the local restauranteur responsible for the Patachou restaurants around town. She bills her eponymous Café Patachou as “a student union for adults.” And if you think this smacks of some good-old-fashioned Meridian-Kessler pretension, you’re absolutely right.

But the food is awfully damn good, even if it is too expensive relative to the portion size—though this is mostly to do with the fact that the menu is shot through with cage-free this and hand-made that, seasonal this and organic that. It also has a little bit to do with keeping the places looking like the current Pottery Barn catalogue. I suppose it’s a good business model for Ms. Hoover, given that she has placed most of her eateries in locations where the people who will be drawn to them are the kind of people who think it’s a good idea to keep up with Pottery Barn, the ones who read the The Help not because they want to read it, but because they heard it was an “important book.”

So yeah, after Brickworld on Saturday, we rolled up Illinois Street for awhile, until I got to 52nd Street and hadn’t found the place, and then remembered that it’s 49th and Pennsylvania, not 49th and Illinois. So I made a few right-hand turns and then managed to find a meter-less parking spot right on 49th Street. We were there about twenty minutes before their 5pm opening time, so we wandered around the neighborhood for a few minutes, stopping in at the Hubbard & Cravens across Pennsylvania Street so Amy could get some coffee. I saw a house for sale at 4822 North Washington Boulevard, and picked up the information sheet in the little box stuck in the front yard. The asking price is just a shade north of half a million dollars.

When we got back to Napolese, they were open for business, and we were able to be seated right away. Less than half an hour later, the small dining room would be full, and people would already be waiting for tables. We got the disappointed half-sneer from the server when we ordered nothing more interesting to drink than ice water, and a Sprite for Jackson. Other than that she was mostly friendly. She even apologized and gave a half-hearted explanation when the pizza Amy and I were going to split came out after the four pizzas that the party of six at the table next to us had ordered after we ordered ours.

For me, the most important part of the meal is the food—and as long as that part of the meal is excellent, I could give a frog’s fat ass about snooty service and pretentious décor. Fortunately, the food is what they do best at these Patachou joints. The house Caesar salad ($9) we ordered came out almost immediately, and was perfectly dressed. The little bits of shaved Parmesan (or perhaps Taleggio) sprinkled throughout exploded with flavor (and an unexpected but playful sweetness), and the romaine lettuce was cold and crisp, just as it should be. Jackson’s plain cheese Pizza Bambino ($8, “for those 8 and under please") came out only moments after the salad, and it looked remarkable. The cheese was perfectly melted in the middle, and the crust around the outer edge was puffed and airy, neither too thick, nor too thin, nor rolled according to some corporate instruction manual.

I’m not sure what the trick is that results in pizza crust that is crisp and crusty on the outside, but absolutely dreamy and soft and airy on the inside. Whatever that trick is, the folks making the pies (and you can sit at a little bar surrounding the open kitchen and watch them do this, if you like) at Napolese have nailed it. Jackson actually managed to eat the cheese parts of four of the six pieces of his pizza, but he rather unceremoniously chucked the crusts onto Amy’s plate, so we got a chance to become well-acquainted with the crust while we waited for our pizza to come out. It’s hard to describe just how perfect the crust was. It wasn’t really thick or thin—not the dense mess you get with chain places, and not the cardboard cracker that some mom-and-pops use to cut costs. I sort of hate to re-use their own snooty word, but the crust was something like a piece of artisanal bread—not quite a crusty French baguette, but something along those lines, something that had been prepared with care. The only negative thing about the crust was that it was salty.

Our Freestyle pizza (the Patachou version of build-your-own, starting with a $9 pie and adding ingredients that range from $2-$5) had caramelized leeks and goat cheese on it ($14), which Amy had picked out and which I was somewhat dubious about. I like goat cheese, but a little goes a really long way, and I wasn’t sure it was going to work on a pizza. The leeks sounded somewhat intriguing. As I mentioned, our pizza was an inordinately long time coming out, and it was lukewarm when it did. I’m not sure what definition of “caramelized” they were using, but that’s not how I would have described the leeks on that pizza. They were a shade of green that is easy to describe, but which doesn’t do much for the appetite. On the other hand, goat cheese on a pizza totally works—and on this pizza, especially, it helped to deflect attention away from the vegetables formerly known as leeks.

Despite all of those things that went wrong, though, I still thought the place rocked; and I’m actively looking forward to going back and trying something a little more interesting than goat cheese and leeks. That’s the thing about these Patachou places—they do so much so right, and so very well, that they can even manage to stumble a time or two during the meal, and still win you over. I sort of have to be in the mood for a Patachou place—willing to suffer the service and the prices—and then the food always makes me wonder why we don’t go there more often.

114 East 49th Street

Jackson Photo Update

This past Saturday, we went to a Lego show called Brickworld Indy, downtown at the convention center. It was two rooms full of elaborate Lego displays of all kinds of different things, from cityscapes to castles to scenes from Star Wars. The centerpiece of the show was a Lego replica of Lucas Oil Stadium, which had previously been on display in the Super Bowl media center, which was not open to the public.

Now that I’m looking at the photos I posted, though, I’m realizing that they aren’t really photos of Jackson so much as they are mostly shots of some of the different scenes on exhibit at Brickworld. There are a few shots of Jackson noshing on a pretzel in the Artsgarden before we walked over to the convention center, and some of the shots at Brickworld are of him looking at things there; but it’s not really the “Jackson photo update” that I had envisioned.

(That said, however, I am caught up on organizing and labeling all of the photos of Jackson that I have on my laptop; and now that I am caught up, I’m hoping to post a couple of chronological sets from last year, and one or two from so far this year. Once that’s done, I should be able to stay roughly current with the pictures that I take this year. I hope. We’ll see.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Did Not Win a Case of Beer

One of the contests I found recently in Poets & Writers was the 2012 River Styx Schlafly Beer Micro-Fiction Contest, which offered a cash prize, publication, and one case of Schlafly beer to the first-prize winner. I’m totally in favor of winning free beer, so I entered the contest. (It was also one of those contests where the entry fee gets you a one-year subscription to the journal in question. I tend to prefer those kinds of contests, since you get at least a little something in return, even if you don’t win. And you never know where inspiration is going to come from—it might very well be waiting in the pages of a journal I never would have laid eyes on if it had not been for entering a particular contest.)

I got the results from the contest in the mail today, and, unfortunately, I did not win the prize money, publication, or the case of beer; and while this keeps my streak of never having won a short story contest alive and well, it was different from the normal loss in one way. The letter said that, while the judge had not selected my story as a winner or honorable mention, I was a finalist. It also said that they had received over 300 entries, from which the editors culled 18 finalists. This is the first time that I can recall when I have been informed that I was a finalist. It’s certainly not the same as winning, but it’s a little something.

I only wish I knew which story had made it to finalist status. It was what they called a micro-fiction contest, with a 500 word limit; and each entry fee entitled you to submit up to three 500-word stories. I went ahead and sent three, figuring it was best to get my money’s worth. One was about Mafia and family, one was about a librarian who internally judged a person for checking out a book of Bukowski poems, and one was a cold little thing about what might happen if a little kid promised to put out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, but then forgot. Jackson had talked about setting out cookies and milk before he went to bed last Christmas Eve, but then didn’t do it. I didn’t mention it the next day, but I did get the idea for the little story from it. I think I liked that one the best, because I had to stretch beyond my comfort zone a little bit to get it right.

Next: A Jackson photo update. Seriously. (Or a review of Napolese—but probably the photos.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Call Me Mr. Blue

Even today, at literally the eleventh hour, I find that I am unable to write a post about Peyton Manning, and his imminent release from the Colts, that says exactly what I want it to say. In his column today, Bob Kravitz (a writer I am coming to admire more and more, mostly because of how many very good and very accurate columns he has written in the last six months about both the whole Peyton Manning thing and the resurgence of the men’s basketball program at Indiana University) implores fans not to blame either Mr. Manning or Colts owner Jim Irsay for the way this has gone down. I think Mr. Kravitz is absolutely right.

It’s sad that it had to happen, but too many things went wrong all at the same time; and much will be written about this in the days and weeks to come, so there will be plenty of time for throwing out ideas and talking about what was, and what might have been. For now, though, I want to point up one thing about Mr. Kravitz’s column that I particularly liked. He makes the suggestion that it would be pretty cool if all of the people in Indianapolis who own #18 jerseys—and notes that there are a lot of people in the city who fit that description—wore those jerseys around town today. I know it’s too late for most people to be picking out what they’re going to wear today—and that many people probably read his column way earlier in the day than I did—but I’m going to second the motion, and I’m going to put on my blue #18 when Jackson and I go out for a walk a little bit later today.

And in my head and my heart, I’m going to be thanking Mr. Manning for everything he has done for Indianapolis, both on the field and off.

Peyton, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”