Music in Music City

It’s been a crazy last few weeks, and this blog has been neglected as a result.   We hosted a fantastic conference this past weekend, which saw one of my personal heroes, Father Thomas Rosica, return to us (he spoke at our conference five years ago, too – you can read  my musings then here).  He regaled us with stories of Francis’ pontificate and the papal transition.  Ralph Martin, new-evangelization-expert-extraordinare also joined us, as did a number of local celebrities.  The snowy weather on the east coast meant that one of our speakers never made it to us, but luckily one of our professors stepped in at the last minute.  All in all, a busy weekend but a beautiful one.  I think I’m finally getting the hang of juggling these large events and enjoying them at the same time.

I left Monday morning for meetings in Washington, D.C., and I managed a quick visit with two of my friends before the meetings started.  We hit up a fantastic restaurant called Founding Farmers for a late lunch, then drank coffee (oh, Caribou, how I’ve missed you) and ate free chocolate chip cookies in the lobby of my hotel.

Now I’m taking the afternoon off from work to try to catch up with my life and do laundry.  I’m not sure what that says about my life – I’m taking advantage of time off to do laundry.  But that’s the way it’s been lately.

I looked back in my draft folder to see what I’ve missed on the blog these days, and I realized I never blogged about my musical weekend about a month ago.  Our new campus minister, Father Kevin, loves live music.  It took us the first half of this school year to realize that we need to start scheduling outings rather than just talking about them.  So back in January we scheduled a musical weekend.  The Bluebird on Thursday, the Opry on Friday, finishing up with Catholic Underground on Saturday.

Sadly, that weekend Father got sick.  But he made one out of three.

Before the weekend even began, I enjoyed a uniquely-Nashville experience – a real, live recording studio.  One of my friends, Tori Harris, is working on her second CD, and she asked a group of us to come record background vocals.  [She kept calling them gang vocals, but there was no screaming. ; )]  It was a fun experience, and I was honored Tori invited me.   Check out Tori Harris (you can get a taste of her work here and here), and be assured that when her CD comes out, you’ll hear about it here.  Even though we only heard bits and pieces of Tori’s new songs, I’m pretty excited about what she’s putting together.

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This is a not-so-great picture of RCA Studio B, which was right next door to the studio where Tori was recording.  Studio B  was built by Chet Atkins and has seen the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, and more.  If you come visit me, we can go take a tour.

The Bluebird Cafe

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived here almost six years and had never experienced the Bluebird.  It’s a Nashville legend, and has recently seen even more popularity with ABC featuring it prominently in the show “Nashville.”  The Bluebird is famous for its intimate, no-frills setting that puts you close to the performers, who are often singer-songwriters.  In 1985, the Bluebird began doing some shows “in the round,” which meant several singer-songwriters would sit together and take turns singing and playing and telling stories.  Now many shows in Nashville are “in the round,” but the Bluebird remains the most famous.  On any given night you may hear from the songwriter who wrote the latest country hit  or you may hear from someone who will be discovered tomorrow.

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To get a table at the Bluebird, you have to get them a week before, at 8am sharp.  They sell out quickly, although you can stand outside the day of the show and hope you are early enough to snag a seat in one of the pews off to the side.  My friends and I filled half a table, and then a few friends of the artists performing filled the others (including a co-writer, which was pretty cool).

It definitely gives you an appreciation of the art of songwriting.  I’ll be going back.

The Opry at the Ryman

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I was pretty sad Father had to miss the Bluebird, although it gives me an excuse to go back.  He rallied a bit to come with us to the Opry at the Ryman, which is an entirely different Nashville experience.  Where the Bluebird really highlights the art of songwriting, the Opry is a celebration of country music  in a different way.  You don’t go to the Opry to see a particular artist, because they’re only going to sing one or two songs.  It really is a live radio show, and it features a variety of artists– so in the two hours you’re there, you see a different artist every ten minutes or so.  The nice thing about that is there are some artists you don’t want to hear more than one or two songs from…

The Opry radio show moved in 1974 out to a much larger space north of town, but during the winter they bring it back “home” to the Ryman. Since the Ryman is the best music venue in the world, Father wanted to go the Opry while it was there.  I’m glad we did, because you go the Opry for the experience of it all, and the Ryman just makes it complete.

I’m not sure how to describe the Opry, but it’s a rather lovable mix of music, kitsch, and history.  The commercial breaks are hilarious (Cracker Barrel, Humana, Dollar General) and Eddie Stubbs (the radio announcer) had us in tears with his dead-pan segues into the commercials.

Each half hour has a host and then features a handful of artists.  One of our hosts was Ricky Skaggs.

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Since I don’t really know country music, I don’t really know who Ricky Skaggs is.  But I at least recognized his name.

Some highlights (besides the tears of laughter while Eddie Stubbs talked about Kleenex) included hearing Bobby Osborne and his band sing Rocky Top and Vince Gill surprising everyone by being the host of the last segment.

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I wouldn’t go to the Opry every weekend – in fact, I’ve been twice and that might be good enough for this life – but it’s definitely something to experience at least once.

I’m slowly becoming at home here.

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Suffering and Hope

Tonight I came into contact with greatness.

Every second Monday of the month we have Theology on Tap at a local bar, and tonight it seemed like we were facing more difficulties than usual.  I was standing in the back of the room, in the doorway that led to the rest of the bar, and for a variety of reasons, I was feeling less than thrilled about the whole evening.

As our speaker was finishing, three women walked in the back door from the parking lot and made their way through our group to get to the other room, where they were presumably going to eat dinner.  Instead of continuing to a table, though, they stopped just behind me and turned to listen. I could tell they were surprised to hear our speaker talking about Jesus in a bar.

I had overheard some loud, critical conversations from other bar patrons earlier in the evening, so I was kind of bracing myself to hear the women laugh or complain.  But they were quiet.  When Emily closed us in prayer, I turned to them to explain who we were.  Instead, they had something far more interesting to tell me– who they were.

Last Thursday morning, a fire broke out in a Kentucky home.  The father, Chad Watson, tried to save his family, going back into the house three times, but only he and his 11 year-old daughter survived.  Chad’s wife Nikki and eight of their children died that morning, from their 15 year-old daughter down to their 4 year-old twin sons.  (Read more here and here and here.)

The women standing in front of me were Chad’s two sisters and Nikki’s sister.  They were staying at the hospital with Chad and Kylie and had come to the bar for dinner.  They mentioned they initially didn’t want to come to a bar, but came in – and heard our speaker talking about our world’s crisis of hope, redemptive suffering, and faith in Jesus.

What a gift.

But they were truly a gift to me.  Emily and I talked to the women for quite some time, listening to their story and marveling at their strength.  Chad is doing better than any of the doctors expected, since four days ago they were cautioned that he was more likely to die than to live.  But what was most inspiring was their joy and courage in the face of this horror.  They couldn’t stop talking about the outpouring of love and generosity they had received — funeral costs paid for, headstones purchased by a well-known country band, food, letters pouring in from all over the world.

They talked about how much the Watsons loved life – desiring a big family, then remaining close-knit even through daily struggles to make ends meet.

There were tears shed, as they remembered the little kids playing in the front yard and the house full of life and love.  But there was strength in that suffering, there was courage in that pain, there was understanding in that adversity.

Chad’s sister told me how a playground was going to be built and dedicated to the Watson kids.  And that, I knew, was a sign of hope.  Life would come from this, I told her.  And she agreed, telling me that she had always called Chad “Job” … and now Job was showing his faith.  When he was told that a company had volunteered to build him a brand new house, he asked for a big house — a house with five bedrooms.  Because God was going to bless him abundantly with life after this tragedy.

Chad has announced that he is preaching back home on March 23, and I know it will be the sermon of a lifetime.

In this dark world, there is light.  In this vale of suffering, there is hope.

These women could have shaken their fists at God.  They could have cursed and turned away from Him.  But there we were, sitting in a bar, talking about how good God is, how hopeful the future was, and what a gift life is.

In my city, it’s not uncommon to come into contact with fame when you’re running errands or out to eat.  Tonight I came in contact with greatness.  It wasn’t in fame or fortune.  It was in the hope of three women who were willing to share their story, share their hope, and remind me that life is a gift.

Pray for the Watsons, for their extended family, for their community.

It’s not you, it’s me

Or “Why I’m taking a hiatus from mommy blogs”

I coined a phrase once, when overhearing a conversation between a friend of mine and her husband.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I think she was in a bit of a mood, and when her husband complimented her on the way she looked, she started ranting about something… whether it was her desire to lose weight or her hair or her clothes — I forget what.  Being an impartial listener, I commented, “Marriage is wasted on the married.”

There have been other occasions to use it in the last few years, when I hear wives rag on their husbands for something he was doing with good intentions, or when a wife complains about something without thinking, and she really should be thankful for whatever it was.  If a man was standing in my kitchen and complimented me on how I looked, especially if we had matching rings on our left hands, I’d like to think I would thank him and kiss him smack on the lips.

I probably would fall into the same human errors as everyone else, of course.  But from the outside, it’s easy to see when people take things for granted.

I know I take things for granted about my state in life all the time.  My friends and I have tried to be more conscious of it lately — whether we’re out on a “school night,” and enjoying ourselves without having to find a babysitter, or whether we’re spending more money than we would be if we had another person to think about, we try to remind each other vocally of our situation, so that we’ll be more thankful for what we have rather than pining for what we don’t.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Or the other side of the blog world.

I’ve decided I need to take a hiatus from mommy blogs.  Not so much the blogs of people I know, but the blogs of people I only know through the interwebs.

The most popular Catholic blogs of my gender and age are mommy blogs.  And rightly so – the majority of girls my age are wives and mothers, and it’s human nature to want to read about lives so similar to your own.  I conjectured to a friend that my blog, for example, will never become popular among the mommy set.  Some moms write about laundry, cleaning, giving birth – you know, their daily lives– and other moms eat it up.   But my daily life?  While my friends might like to see what I’m up to, not many moms want to know that a single girl spent her Thursday evening at a Bourbon Party, her Friday at a CD release party, and her Saturday at a neighborhood pizza and wine bar.

(So… basically I’m addressing this post to no one, since only my friends read my blog. But I digress.)

Not surprisingly, since I am not in the same state of life, I have found reading mommy blogs can make me dissatisfied with life.  It hit me when I saw the gathering in Austin for moms.  Do they deserve a getaway?  Sure.  Does it look like a fantastic event?  Absolutely.  But one of my first thoughts was, “I want a break from my state in life, too.”  And I can’t have it.  Have at it, Moms.  Go live a weekend of single-life bliss.  Drink cocktails and talk to other women without children screaming.  You deserve it.  And I mean that with all my heart.

But it hurt the same heart to realize the tables can’t be turned.  No one can give me a weekend with a husband who loves me and kids who, despite their screams, are bone-of-my-bone and flesh-of-my-flesh.  So remember that, too, Moms.  When your single-girl weekend is over, be thankful for the people who love you.

So I’m going to step back.  Don’t worry moms, it’s not you, it’s me.  I just need a little hiatus from reading about diapers and husbands and what you wore on Sunday.

I’ll probably be back before too long.

An extraordinary ordinary life

I am grateful that my sister has already posted about the legendary Mr. Butz on her blog, because much of what I wanted to say has now already been said.  If you haven’t read her post (and by the way it traveled around Facebook, anyone from the city of Lafayette probably has), I highly recommend it as a way to catch a little glimpse of the man who left us the other night.  My brother also posted about him at the occasion of his retirement, and I recommend that post, too.

A group of us at Aquinas have a custom at three o’clock to gather in our little chapel and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet.  The day after Mr. Butz died, I offered as one of my intentions the repose of his soul, daring to express out loud that he was a “family friend.”  If only the whole world had been blessed enough to call that man a friend — because everyone who knew him was changed.

As I prayed, I thought about what a life he had lived as a the true Renaissance man.   Nothing anyone could tell me about him would cause surprise.  I think the only thing that would put doubt into my mind would be if someone said Mr. Butz didn’t do something.  He had a sculpture in the Louvre, for heaven’s sake.   And yet he taught me religion as a sophomore in high school.

I had to laugh when Jill posted, “Mr. Butz was so legendary that I don’t know where the truth blurs into myth.”  I had the same thought, thinking over his life.  He taught a friend of mine how to lay brick, and he built the Grotto behind our school with his own hands.  Every set in our high school musicals had his touch, and he could do amazing things with Syrafoam.  So when I heard “Did you know he built the stone wall in his yard out of Styrofoam?!” of course I believed it.

We all have our favorite memories of him, and almost all of mine relate to Etymology class my sophomore year in high school.  It was an elective and Mr. Butz offered it before school started, at 7:15am.  Sixteen year olds coming to school in the dark to learn about words?  You would think there would be about five or six nerds dotting the classroom that early.  But no, the room was packed.  Everyone wanted to learn from the man.  (It helped that our verbal SAT scores showed evidence of the early morning rising, too.)

Mr. Butz usually just sat at the desk in the front of the classroom and taught us the roots of words.  It was fascinating, because he made it fascinating.  He had us in the palm of his hand, especially when he would tell us stories.  We were all in wonder of the fact that his mom was still alive, since high schoolers think anyone over the age of 60 is old.  I remember during one story he mentioned something like, “my grandmother said to me yesterday-” and we all gasped and almost fell out of our chairs. His grandmother?  She must be 120!  He burst out laughing, that deep laugh of his, and we knew we had been too gullible.  At times he would get up and scribble on the board, his handwriting legible but clearly male.  As my brother mentions in his post, Mr. Butz would do anything to help you remember the words, even breaking into song.

I don’t remember the word (that’s certainly not his fault), but there was a ballet term in our list of words — likely plié or arabesque — and none of us in the class will forget Mr. Butz, in his 78 year glory, demonstrating the ballet move in front of the whole class.  Any other teacher may have received a snicker or two, but we were in awe.  We knew we were sitting in the presence of greatness – that’s why we were at school when it was still dark out.

As I thought about his life and legacy, however, one thing stood out clearly as the individual memories faded.  He wouldn’t have considered his life extraordinary.  He wouldn’t have thought his stories were a thing of legend.  Anyone who knew him believes his life is the material for a biography, but he wouldn’t have thought so.

Why?  Because deep down, his life was ordinary.  Yes, he had a sculpture in the Louvre.  And yes, he made an impact on generations of students who have gone on to do a variety of things.  (One of his students will be celebrating his funeral Mass.)  But in the end, he lived an ordinary life. He taught. He worked with his hands. He prayed. He studied.

But he used the talents God gave him for others – and that made it extraordinary.

Aren’t we all called to do the same?

Every year Mr. Butz went to Lourdes to volunteer in the baths, helping the sick in and out of the healing waters.  Every year we thought it would be his last trip, as he grew older, had his knees replaced, etc.  But he continued to go.  And that’s one of the best images for his life.  In the eyes of the world, perhaps it was an ordinary life.  But it was really anything but.  He used his time, his talents, and his life as a channel of God’s goodness and grace, and that has made all the difference.

Bacon and Bourbon

When did eating become a hobby?  Not just something you do for fun with family and friends, but an art to be honed?  It seems everyone has a chance to pretend to be a foodie these days.

Tonight my awesome friend Loretta invited me to a bacon and bourbon festival (do you remember all the love this blog has given Lori?  This is her mom, and since Lori has left us and gone and gotten married, Loretta and I console ourselves with things like this).  Our friend Mary Agnes had managed to get tickets (they’re pretty limited, so it sells out every time) but something came up and she needed to get rid of them.

It was at the Loveless Barn, a venue just behind the famous Loveless Cafe.  I’ve wanted to check out the venue for awhile, just in case I needed to plan a wedding or some fantastic party, so I eagerly accepted Loretta’s invitation (once her husband decided he couldn’t go… Thanks, Geoff!).  The promise of bacon and bourbon didn’t hurt, either.

We received a little card when we got there that had 8 spots to be marked off for our bourbon samples.  Throughout the barn and an adjoining tent, there were about six different distilleries offering a variety of samples.  Scattered in between the distilleries were booths from 15 to 20 local restaurants, all offering dishes that involved bacon.

I won’t even try to describe everything we ate.  We ate a lot.  From bacon wrapped shrimp to sausage stuffed figs with smoked pancetta to bacon burger bites to bacon tacos to turkey wrapped in bacon… it was all there.  There were some lighter things, like plantain soup with bacon bits, and then there were things like maple glazed donuts with bacon.  No joke.

From the Donut Den:

IMG_6992You see the eclairs over on the far side?  Yeah, those are strips of bacon on top of those babies.

Would you like a closer look?  Of course you would.

IMG_6996I went for the chocolate and bacon doughnut myself.

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My other favorite dishes included:

-some cheesy jalapeño popper wrapped in bacon from The Row – I don’t exactly know what it was, but I’m pretty sure I made happy noises while I ate it.

-a little bite of sweet potato with a marshmallow on top and a crispy piece of bacon.  It was such a neat texture combination and a nice mix of sweet and salty.

-A mini whoopee pie with maple cream, bacon, and pecans.  Pictured below with a bacon banh mi sandwich (I think… everything is running together…)

IMG_6998-Bourbon-bacon chocolate mousse with bourbon-infused whipped cream, a bourbon caramel drizzle and candied bacon from {Pub}licity.  I only remember all of that because I took a picture of the sign so I wouldn’t forget.  A lot of the dishes were that complex and awesome.  This one was mighty tasty.

IMG_7014-Maple Bacon Milkshakes.  No joke.  Deeeelicious.

IMG_7028There were also plenty of savory dishes, but my favorites were definitely the desserts.

And then there was, of course, the bourbon.  My dad will be sad to hear there was no Pappy Van Winkle, although the bourbons were almost all from Buffalo Trace.  I’m no bourbon connoisseur, but my least favorite was Blanton’s Single Barrel, and my favorites were Col. Taylor and Weller.  And of course the Bourbon Cream.  Because I am, after all, a dessert person at heart.

Another fantastic eating and drinking experience.  Much thanks to Loretta and Mary Agnes for making it possible.

 

Pinewood Social: A Review

I have a few posts in the docket, but wanted to write about my night tonight while it was still fresh in my mind, and to give credit where credit is due.

My city is booming.  I kind of take it for granted, until I realize that it’s not usual for a city our size to have four new restaurants open in the last two weeks.  Everywhere you look, something is being built or a new business is opening.

Several months ago, a new place called Pinewood Social opened.  My friend Manda and I have been wanting to check it out, especially since the brothers behind the local speakeasy, The Patterson House (home to the best artisan cocktails in town) and one of the co-founding chefs of The Catbird Seat (rated by Esquire as one of America’s best new restaurants) were behind this venture as well.  What is it?  A bowling alley, coffeeshop, bar… I’ll let them describe it:

Pinewood Social is based on the idea of creating a social gathering place that provides customers a variety of high-quality options to enhance their experience. Taken from the ideology from Ray Oldenburg’s book, “The Great Good Place,” Pinewood Social will be a welcoming new hangout, providing an alternative spot to the local coffee shop or neighborhood restaurant where people generally congregate. The relaxed atmosphere will provide a haven for a cup of coffee and a place to work early in the day, which could then lead to a refreshing poolside lunch, which may then turn into a lively gathering of friends for cocktails and dinner after work.”

With that in mind, we decided to get a big group together to check it out.  An email went out to a bunch of our friends, and we thought we could get a group to hang out, bowl, order drinks, grab dinner, etc.  You know – be social.

I had trouble getting a hold of them to reserve a bowling alley (since it’s so new, I knew I should reserve a lane, even if only a few of us were going to bowl), but I finally reached them and reserved a lane for six.  The woman on the phone was very nice and we even had a little conversation about how busy they might or might not be on a weeknight.  I got a confirmation email and I thought we were all set.

…Until Manda and I arrived at ten ’til 6 and told the hostess we were there to bowl.  We got a confused look, then she asked my name (twice).  She was very kind, but explained that the bowling alley had been booked out to a private party.  She found my name under the dinner reservations.

Thanks to smartphones, I quickly pulled up the email confirmation, which very clearly said “bowling reservation.”

Kudos to her — she looked a little stressed, but had one of the waitresses show us to a big booth that could comfortably seat our party of six or eight or however many were going to show up (I was inwardly wishing I had been more particular about people telling me if they were coming or not) and she told us the manager would be by to talk to us.

Pinewood Social is in an old warehouse, so the layout is very open — the coffeeshop with its couches and long tables flows very naturally into the restaurant, which is a number of booths and tables that wrap around the outsides of the open space. In the center is a very large bar, with several tables close by. The bowling alley is at the far end of the room, closed off enough so that the sound doesn’t carry into the rest of the room but still open enough to feel like it’s one space.  I was impressed by the look and feel.

But I was not very happy about the bowling mix up.

We hadn’t been seated long before the general manager, Matt Buttel, appeared at our table.  He could not have been more apologetic.  I had to resist the urge to say, “Oh, it’s okay…” (because I tend to want to avoid conflict) because really, it wasn’t okay — and props to him, he wasn’t acting like it was.  He told us that normally he would try to fit us into a lane, but since it was a private party that had booked every lane, there was nothing he could do — except make sure we had a great night.  He told us he wanted to comp appetizers for our party, and then he whipped out a gift card, loaded enough for a free hour of bowling for our group to come back.  He apologized again (and again), and assured us that we were in good hands with our waitress, Molly, and she was going to make sure we had a good night.  Then he gave me his card and told us to tell him if we needed anything and when we were coming back in to bowl.

My mood went from disappointed and skeptical of the place to very pleased.  We texted the other members of our party to warn them we wouldn’t be bowling, but everyone still wanted to come.  By the time our friends started arriving, I was beginning to believe in the place.  Matt had done exactly what he should have done — convinced us that Pinewood Social was worth forgiving, especially as they make their way through the growing pains.

And then our waitress showed up with free champagne.  Yes, Matt, you were making us believers.

The appetizers were good — we got fried cheese curds, oysters, chicken wings, and fried broccoli (which was my favorite — it was pan fried, not at all what it sounds like, and was light and almost crispy).  I wouldn’t say I was enamored with them, and I might not go back with a craving for any of them, but hey, they were free.

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Our friends kept arriving… and arriving.  But to her credit, our waitress was fantastic.  She never seemed overwhelmed that our party grew for the next hour, until there were 12 of us crowded in a little booth. The booth was much more spacious than we originally thought, and with three chairs at the  end of the table (the booth was a U shape), we fit 12 almost comfortably.  Due to the shape of the table, we were also all close enough that we could generally converse easily, which isn’t something that happens in a group of 12 very often.

The cocktails were fantastic, which is what we were expecting from the artist of the Patterson House.  I got “The Honesty of Constant Human Error,” which was a gin-based drink with yellow chartreuse, Lunazul Blanco tequila, strawberry and lemon.  Manda and Laura both got a drink called “Act of Contrition” (which tasted good but I have no idea what was in it), and  Marisa got a Pimm’s based drink, which reportedly tasted like Christmas — a neat twist, since Pimm’s always says ‘summer’ to me.  The guys got beers, and they seemed to have a fair selection for a place not known for their beer.

IMG_6968Their dinner menu was interesting — a few traditional “bar” options, like a cheeseburger, but some twists on comfort food, too, like a mushroom pot pie.  Manda chose the pork chop, and the bite I had was incredible.  I opted for the cheeseburger, which was very good and juicy (two smaller patties with cheese on top and in between).  It was better than your average cheeseburger, and I would probably order it again.  Some would balk at the price tag, and since there wasn’t anything extraordinary to knock it to the next level, especially topping-wise, maybe it was a little over-priced.  But it was good. For a side I chose their cauliflower salad, which was a twist on the old Church potluck broccoli salad — a light dressing with some nuts and white raisins.  It was very good.

A few of us opted for dessert – Manda got the cherry-bourbon pie and Marisa and I both chose the lemon-lavender pie.  The cherry pie was strange —  it was cold and very heavy on the bourbon.  I think my pie was better, although it was definitely on the tart side.  I’m glad we got desserts (since we weren’t paying for appetizers!) but I don’t think I’d get them again.

All in all, we had a wonderful evening, but I have to chalk it up to the company (we had a really fun group and conversation ranged from the Loch Ness monster to 90s music to Martin Sheen) and the service of Pinewood Social more than Pinewood Social itself.

Food: It was good, but I think it could be a little more elevated for what we were paying.

Cocktails: Fantastic.  Worth every penny.

Atmosphere: An interesting blend of elevated without being snobbish and laid-back without being sloppy.  Now that I’ve been there, I know that you can’t just tell all your closest friends to meet you there and play things by ear.  From the way they advertise themselves, you would think that would be perfectly natural — go and hang out, bowl a little, drink some coffee, wander.  But it’s actually pretty formal and restrictive — you don’t waltz up to the bar and order a drink, you don’t wander around the bowling lanes if you’re not bowling, you don’t just “hang out.”  That’s not a bad thing- once you know it. Now I know it.  But the name and the aura they’re advertising makes it seem a lot more laid-back than it actually is.

Bowling: I wouldn’t know, would I?  It looked like fun, and the lanes are from Indiana, so how could you really go wrong?  And who wouldn’t want to bowl while having a waitress bring you nice food and cocktails?

Service: Superb.  Our waitress was never pushy and I felt like we were free to take our time.  She was knowledgeable without being pretentious and helpful and cheerful without being phony and annoying.  She rolled with our punches (“there are seven or eight of us. Just kidding, there are three more coming.  Did I say three?  I mean four. Yeah, there are 12 of us.”) and made sure we had a great time.

Final verdict: I’m going back, and I would be going back even if I didn’t have a $40 gift card sitting on table.  I was really looking forward to the Pinewood Social experience, and while I was disappointed in some things, I was intrigued enough to return.  Even if it’s only for a game of bowling and an espresso.

One more off the bucket list

Well, it’s been a month and a half since my birthday, and it’s time to get on with other blogging topics- like my musical weekend in Music City and Restaurant Week.  So tonight is the night to finish talking about that magical day and leave you all in peace.

(Just in case you’ve been spared thus far and yet desire to catch up to where we are now: Part One Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, and Part Five)

When we last left our heroes, they were trooping back out into the wind and snow, leaving the warmth of the materialist mecca we call Macy’s and heading back up Broadway for dinner.  We had seen a lot of Broadway in our adventures, and when just before reaching Times Square we realized we would rather walk another block around it than walk through it again.  And so we did.

By the time we reached 52nd Street, we were covered in snow again and chilled to the bone.  We were about forty-five minutes early for our dinner reservations, but we didn’t care – it was warm and inviting and they took our coats from us.  We were happy girls.

We found seats at the bar, and it was definitely one of those moments when you don’t take anything for granted.   I had already spent the day grateful for my friends and my parents and for snow.  But now we were thankful for heat, for barstools, for a coat room, and for nice bathrooms.

It was nice to just sit at the bar and transition into dinner.  I was nice not to rush off the street right into our meal.  We had time to enjoy each other’s company (we never run out of things to talk about) and just relax.

I realize I’m about 300 words into this post and I haven’t even mentioned where we were eating dinner that evening.

Bar Americain.

Yes, Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain.

Now, that probably isn’t exciting to New Yorkers.  From the street it looks like nothing special, and on the inside it looks nice but nothing unique.  But you all know how much I love Bobby Flay (and if you didn’t, well, now you do) and if you’ve been reading this blog for three years (God bless you), you might remember that eating at one of Bobby’s restaurants was on my sort-of-bucket-list (here).  It is a sort-of-bucket-list because it isn’t full of things to do before I die but to do while I’m young and unattached.  A few months after putting that on the list, I ate at a Bobby’s Burger Palace, but I really wanted to eat at one of his nicer restaurants.

So tonight was the night.  Young.  Unattached.  Able to do crazy things like go to New York for my birthday (well, thanks to certain people in my life who made it a little easier – you know who you are).

I need to work on that list, though, because in that post I only mention two things – seeing U2 live and eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant.  Done and done!

Okay, back to the bar.  I was initially disappointed in the cocktail selection.  Since Manda and I often get nice cocktails in our restaurant adventures, and Nashville has several great places to get artisan cocktails, I was expecting a little more creativity in their staple cocktail list.  But I settled for a whiskey smash and it was a nice comforting drink.  (I’m generally a gin drinker, but I was looking for something a little warmer.)

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Trena got a gin fizz, and it caused a nice little stir with the people sitting next to us, who seemed in awe of the bartender as she made the classic drink.

We were just finishing our drinks when the maître d’ found us at the bar and told us our table was ready.  Now it was time to conquer the menu.

Our waiter was good – partly because he reminded us of Alfredo, but mostly because he wasn’t afraid to give us his honest answer when we asked him questions. The more I eat at nice restaurants the more I like asking the waiters for opinions.  (I’m also less and less afraid to look dumb, and if I have a question about something, I’m going to ask it.  That wasn’t always the case with me, but when it comes to food these days, I don’t mess around.)  He was honest with us that the rabbit was good but not as flavorful as some of the other things on the menu.  When Marisa asked him about the shrimp and grits, he told her there were better things on the menu.  I appreciate that a lot.

I was pretty convinced about which appetizer I wanted before I even finished reading the menu.   The brussels sprouts.

Alton Brown made a brussels sprouts salad on the Thanksgiving Live episode that I had wanted to replicate for our own Thanksgiving but didn’t.  I had kind of been thinking about it ever since.  Brussels sprouts are one of those things that you assume are gross, but then you get into fine food and everyone assures you that they’re the best things ever, if they’re just cooked right.  Since I’m not going to make myself a brussels sprout salad at home, and Thanksgiving had come and gone, when I saw a similar dish on the Bar Americain menu, I knew we had to order it.

 Brussels Sprouts, Honey Crisp Apples, Goat Cheese,
Pomegranates, Apple Cider Vinaigrette

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I don’t think I need to tell you that it was delicious.  Everything this night was delicious.  And that dish was healthy, right?  Brussels sprouts and apples? And pomegranates?  We’re talking super food, people.

We balanced all that health out with ordering what seems to be their speciality side dish – hot potato chips with blue cheese sauce.

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I don’t like blue cheese (I’m just not a mold person), but it didn’t have an overpowering blue cheese taste.  And the chips were hot and fresh.  The cute couple next to us had told the waiter that they loved Bobby Flay, so they got chips and dip on the house.  I thought that was sweet.  They also had their adorable little son with them, so I would have given them chips and dip on the house too.  That was something I really liked about the restaurant – it was pricey, yes. But not pretentious.  There were several tables with kids and families.  And honestly, it wasn’t that pricey when you considered you were in the middle of Manhattan.

I was leaning towards the rabbit, until we asked Alfredo Linguini his opinion.  He highly recommended the pork, which was brined for some incredible amount of time. (I really should have blogged about this meal sooner.) So Trena and I went with the pork.  Meg chose the duck and Marisa chose the fried chicken.  I think we were all pretty pleased- the bite I had  of Marisa’s chicken was possibly the best fried chicken I’ve had in a restaurant.  The skin was crispy and the chicken was very moist but it wasn’t greasy at all.

The pork chop was … delicious.

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Yes, that’s a quail egg on top.  It’s all for looks – there wasn’t really much of it to do anything, but it didn’t matter. The pork chop was insanely moist. And those sweet potatoes?  They had plantains in them.  Good night.

We made sure to save room for the most important course, and we asked Alfredo for advice.  He had three recommendations. We took him up on all three.

I’m going to put them in order from good to amazing.  None of them were bad, but one was definitely superior to the others.

Bourbon Praline Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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These were good, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t have gotten them a second time.  This is Alfredo’s favorite dessert, so perhaps we put too much trust in Alfredo Linguini.  Yummy, but at the end of the day, profiteroles and ice cream.  We weren’t fighting over the last bite.

White Chocolate Banana Mousse Cake Passion Fruit Sauce

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This at least gets some props for creativity.  You needed to like banana to like this, but it wasn’t a cloying banana taste.  It almost sounds like the product of a Cutthroat Kitchen adventure, if Alton was to make someone use banana Runts in their dessert.  But it didn’t taste like that at all.  It was very smooth and more refreshing than I expected, but we agreed it needed another texture profile.  Throw some of that bourbon praline on top or something.

Pistachio Creme Brûlée with Biscotti

IMG_6677Winner.  Somehow Alfredo knew that this would be my favorite, because he put it right in front of me.  And gave me a birthday candle in a blackberry.  Does it get any better than that?

I would wrestle someone for the last bite of this dessert.  (The girls were nice and gave it to me without wrestling.  Or maybe I just was able to eat them under the table.)  This was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten, and for a girl whose favorite food is ice cream and could probably eat dessert following every meal… that’s saying something.

The picture doesn’t do it justice.  I should have taken another picture once we cracked into it, because the creme brûlée was so rich, so creamy, so naturally green… I don’t think I’ve been so in love with pistachios since my tour del gelato in Rome.

To say this dessert was delicious would be an understatement.  If it was alive, I would give it Best Performance by a Supporting Actor for my birthday.  It needed to deliver big, and it did.  It was the best finale of the best 30th birthday I’ve ever had.

Stuffed, we headed back into the snow and managed to hail a cab to Penn Station.  The day was over.