Sunday, December 21, 2008

conspicuous charity

I have been thinking a lot lately about philanthropy and charity. Even though I'm not a Christian I am very influenced by the Christian faith and by the traditional Christian holiday season. Despite my disdain for most people who call themselves Christians I do believe in many of the ideals the Christian faith puts forth. One of those tenets is that philanthropy is a duty, and giving selflessly is a virtue.

It seems like everything these days is about greed and ego. You take what you can and leave nothing behind. It’s not enough to do the right thing. You have to make sure everyone else to sees you doing it. When did everyone turn into attention seeking whores with a personal brand? So what if I Google my name and someone else turns up in the top of the list?

It isn’t the same, though, when you very visibly pull a community together to achieve an idealistic goal, then turn around and just as visibly hold your hand out for your reward. Doing something philanthropic then shouting it from the rooftops spits in the face of philanthropy. As someone else asked, "is it strictly charitable giving if you know up front you'll get an award for it?" In this age of self-aggrandizement there needs to be more doing and less quid pro quo, sine qua non. Loosely translated that means "something for something, without which there is nothing."

The recent election and economic meltdown seems to have brought out the absolute worst in many people. Nobody is feeling the least bit ashamed about demanding what they feel entitled to for the good deeds they do. Gays are up in arms because the preacher doing the invocation at Obama’s inauguration supported California’s Proposition 8.
“Let me get right to the point," Joe Solomnese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a harsh letter to the president-elect, "Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."

Some members of the Hispanic community were complaining because not enough of their people were in the higher offices in Obama’s cabinet, so he appeased them.
"We're glad he listened to our voices and listened to the Hispanic community that came out and delivered for him on election day."

[I am not saying that the Hispanics chosen were not qualified. I'm merely saying that some members of the Hispanic community feels this was repayment for them helping Obama win the Presidency.]

The HRC, which I have donated to in the past, doesn’t speak for me (which is why I don't donate to them). And excuse me; isn’t the idea supposed to be that we are all just Americans and nobody should get special treatment? Why the racial divisiveness?

I really don't get it. It's beginning to look like I'm a dreamer, and I am the only one.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

McCrady's: Sparkling Wines & Exquisite Dines

From McCrady's website:
Chefs John B. Shields and Karen Urie of Town House in Chilhowie, VA will join Chef Sean Brock in preparing a special dinner. Town House Sommelier Charlie Berg will join McCrady’s Sommelier Clint Sloan in pairing a variety of exclusive sparkling wines for each course.
I was asked by my friend Ann (the same person who helped us with Dining With Friends) to join her at this special event. Her husband doesn't drink and is allergic to shellfish so he wouldn't have enjoyed it much. A recent experience at McCrady’s dimmed my enthusiasm for the restaurant, but I was willing to give it another shot with some guest chefs. Both guests have impressive backgrounds. John worked at Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s, and Karen worked at Tru before spending five years as the lead pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s. Those are all highly rated restaurants so I went into this with very high expectations.

Dinner was to start at 7:00, with a chef meet and greet at 6:30. Ann’s husband, Dennis, volunteered to be our designated driver since we were anticipating a Bacchanalian event. We arrived at McCrady’s at about 6:15 and sat at the bar and had a pre-dinner drink. McCrady’s makes the best Manhattan on Earth and Ann had her first Pimm’s Cup, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

At about 6:40 we were told we could go upstairs. As far as we can tell the chef meeting never happened, but the tables were about half full so I don't know for certain. It was open seating, so we approached a table with two couples already seated and they invited us to join them. One couple was Curt and Marti, the other was Eric and Debra, and they were all absolutely delightful. There was a bit of awkwardness as Anne and I explained that we were just friends, how we knew each other, and why we were there together.

While we were waiting for the dinner to start someone came around and asked if there were any food allergies or other issues the kitchen needed to know about. This led to a discussion at our table about foods we didn’t like. Eric and Curt had traveled together in South Korea, and agreed that neither liked kim chee. Their wives agreed, but both Ann and I said we liked it. Ann, being the delicate person she is, asked Curt if he had served in the Korean Conflict. Everyone laughed and I don’t think he was offended, and it kept coming up throughout the night.

I won’t do a blow-by-blow of every course since there were eight of them and this post would be even more obnoxiously long. Five courses were prepared by Chefs John and Karen, the remainder by Sean Brock. The overall consensus from our table was we preferred the flavors of Sean’s dishes. The others were interesting and very intellectual, but they failed the first rule of food: it has to taste good.

From the raw scallop with banana mousse to the sour milk with crispy milk bubbles, it was a challenging menu, to say the least. The highlights were Sean Brock’s chicken liver and hazelnuts, his blackened short ribs, and his truffle. The wine pairings were similarly difficult. I don’t have a list of the wines that were served and don’t remember them off the top of my head, but from what I recall the standout was a sparkling shiraz that we all thought was very good with the blackened short ribs.

We were all disappointed that this was supposed to be a celebration of sparkling wines but three courses were served with something else. One course was served with a white sherry that had the wonderful heady bouquet of sherry but the finish of retsina (which smells like turpentine). I don’t think any of us enjoyed that one. another course was served with Sapporo. Yes, Japanese beer. I could kinda buy that it was sparkling, but it didn’t pair well with the dish. And the final drink debacle was a concoction made of Meyers’s dark rum infused with sarsaparilla and vanilla, then topped with Mug root beer. It was served warm, which only enhanced the sweetness and cloying flavor. I saw another table ask for a second round, but only two at our table finished it.

Overall it was a delightful evening because of the company and I truly hope to spend more time with my table mates. When I’m paying $100 for dinner I expect to be wowed, and I simply wasn’t. I enjoyed every dish Sean Brock prepared and the service was stellar. The drink pairings were a rollercoaster, as was the food from the guest chefs. I won't be making a pilgrimage to Town House any time soon, and I'm not so sure I want to bother with Alinea, Tru or Charlie Trotter's, either.

But it did rekindle my hope that perhaps McCrady's can return to its former glory in my eyes.