Stuart Blog 2: February 2006

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dine and Dish - Small plates

Thanks for joining me in a new episode of Dine and Dish. I'm looking forward to reading about your many fabulous meals. I hope my account will be an inspiration for your own new dining adventures.

Episode Six of Dine and Dish has taken the theme of small plates. To satisfy this theme I chose to eat at the Flying Fig. I'd also heard that they had recently added small plates to their menu and that had already put them back on my to-eat list. It's a long list so it wasn't until Dine and Dish that I finally got around to it. (Yes, there's actually a list.)

Welcome to the Flying Fig:
Despite the amatuer photography, it's a charming and attractive restaurant in a fabulous food neighborhood. It's just across from Cleveland's amazing West Side Market. It's in the Ohio City neighborhood which is home to great Lebanese, Puerto Rican, Greek and soon Vietnamese restaurants in addition to Cleveland's local champion of sustainable agriculture, Parker's. Flying Fig is right at home here. It's a good, local restaurant that emphasizes fresh, simple cooking.

Gnocci and scallop:

Tapas, as you are no doubt now aware, are a centuries old Spanish tradition. Their origin lies in a law designed to control the drunken behavior of carriage drivers. Tapas were required so that they wouldn't drink on a full stomach. Bar keepers served light snacks on small plates that their patrons would carry around on top of their drinks. Hence tapas from the Spanish for top(1). Or they were used to keep flies out of your wine(2). I guess no one really knows. In any case, their original purpose may be long forgotten but in their modern incarnation they're a carefully evolved solution to the problem of what hat your wine needs to wear.

Fast forward several hundred years and tapas are one of the latest answers to the never-satisfied modern search for What's Next? Instead of a carefully evolved repetoire of items whose tastes are well suited to small portions you have chefs serving their own ideas just like before - only smaller. (Wikipedia:"They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chillis or paprika, and sometimes swimming in olive oil." Sounds like something well suited to being enjoyed in small portions, no?) Instead of a munching on a snack while socializing with friends and throwing back some booze, diners are stacking up plates to make room and racing from dish to dish before they get cold.

Tapas, like mezze, izakaya snacks and dim sum are all delicious but each one has evolved inside of its own traditional service and when they're served some other way they're not likely to be enjoyed as much. Of course, Flying Fig has a bar so it's my fault for sitting in the dining room and eating six small plates while nursing a coke with my nonagenarian grandmother and her lonely big plate of cod. It's my fault but I don't think I'm the only one and I imagine there may be people wondering exactly why they aren't having fun like the lithe Andalucian model shown on the cover of Gourmet magazine holding a plate of olives perched on a wine glass. I've left Lolita on several occasions with a similar feeling but it's only after this recent meal that I think I've identified the problem. Restaurants, many at least, are struggling to adapt snack cuisines to the dining room and unfamiliar diners are confused.

I've only had small plates type meals a couple times and there are only a few restaurants that offer it in Cleveland so I'm speculating wildly. I welcome your correction or corroboration in the comments. Tapas and izakaya are certainly drinking snacks; however, what are the traditions that surround mezze?

Beef Carpacio and Braised lamb:

None of these dishes share any connection to any nation's traditional small plate cuisine that I'm aware. This isn't to say that they weren't very good. The short rib, for instance, was delicious.

Braised short rib and Fried tofu:

Next time I go, or when I try the small plates at Firefly, I'll get a couple small plates instead of an appetizer and then I'll order a regular entree. The short ribs are a regular entree at Flying Fig and I highly recommend that you go there and try them.

Molten chocolate cake:

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blogging event at Ingenuity Festival? Hello?

Honestly, if I were a blogger from anywhere else I wouldn't spend a second thinking about coming to the Ingenuity Festival. We're talking about getting other people to come to CIF but we aren't talking about CIF itself. If we can't be bothered to blog about it then why should we expect someone to miss work, buy plane tickets, reserve a hotel room and disrupt their life for it.

Reviewing the notes from blogger meeting at Great Lakes Brewing Co. only reinforced my concern. Most of the ideas seem like we're trying too hard to be cool. Too hard to be interesting. A collaborative novel? Why? A big video screen with a stream of blog postings? Why? Not because we think it's compelling art but because, well, we're tagging along with an arts and technology festival so quick let's think of some techy art thing. These both feel awfully familiar, by the way. Are any of the people suggesting these ideas artists for the 355 non-Ingenuity days of the year? In either case, I think they should ask themselves if they're stretching for ideas to fill a percieved need for art or whether they actually feel a need to communicate something with art.

It's not clear to me that this blogging meeting ins't the only reason that any NEO bloggers are interested in CIF at all. They certainly don't seem intersted enough to talk about it.

Having just complained that all we're talking about is atracting people to something that we ourselves don't appear to be interested in, I guess I have to admit that this discussion seems to have disappeared, too. I follow BFD faithfully and I just scanned Gloria Ferris' blog. What's happening?

I have one more painful question.

Unless I'm mistaken, if this project is successful the highlight of the event won't be a technological wonder. It will be a discussion. What issues about blogging would you like to talk about? There are lots of people talking about blogging. This discussion is naturally being conducted in blogs but also in articles and books and in conferences. So, which blogs (or blogging scholars) do we read when we're looking for insightful discussion about blogging? If we aren't typing over one another suggesting answers to this question then I wonder if we're really the right group to be organizing a blogger conference in the first place.

Anyway, I've got a couple ideas. That is in addition to the obvious one of selecting a panel of experts. I'll put them in a subsequent post. Is anyone interested?