A Blog Mainly About Food

If by "mainly" you mean "sometimes"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Considering Joining IFOCE

Saturday afternoon I sat at the bar at the Landry's Seafood House in St. Louis' Union Station around 2:30, starving (sidenote: the rule of no chain restaurants is suspended for office travel lunches, because of the relative paucity of quick non-chains near convention centers. I do, however, eschew chains that can be found near DC for local chains whenever possible.). My breakfast, at 8 AM, was a banana nut muffin and a couple bottles of water; after being on my feet all day, my body was screaming for sustenance. It was already kind of a rough day; Randy Johnson and the Yanks were dominating the Cardinals, I was dead tired, and I had just found a hole in my shirt. So beer was in order, beer and seafood.

The Landry's menu is long on choice but short on variety. You've got your standard choices of seafood, each prepared in eight rather normal styles with sauces of varying degrees of ingenuity. Frankly, I was stuck, exhaustion plus starvation resulting a serious mental slowdown. That's when the bartender stepped in.

"Do you like shrimp?" he said, smiling an alligator smile.

"Yeah, actually, I'm looking at this shrimp and garlic dish."

"That's $12 for 7 shrimp. We've got a special going that's $23 for 22 shrimp -- and they're the same size. Shrimp & garlic on a baguette, chilled shrimp with a spicy chili aioli on salad, and grilled tequila lime shrimp. Want it?"

I paused. Should I do this? I had a dinner meeting at 7:30, and that was a ton of food. Perhaps I could extend the drinks period pre-dinner and ensure my lunch was at least semidigested. "Yes," I said. "I'll go ahead and take that."

What came out a few minutes (and another beer) later was a stand with three plates. Three plates of massive shrimp, prepared a different way on each one. "Dude, where do I start with this?" I asked.

"Just work your way down, I guess," he said with a chuckle.

I looked at myself -- in a shirt and tie, on a Saturday. Crap, I was still wearing my conference nametag. I was a hotel customer, an ideal mark. Upsold. The jerk had upsold me, big time. Good for him. It looked like now it was just me versus the plates. And those little crustaceans were going down, one at a time.

The first plate, the tequila lime shrimp, was good -- if a little overcooked. The hardest part here was getting the buggers out of their shells without going straight for the "screw the utensils" method. Hard enough that I did, indeed, dispense with formalities and start using my fingers. I enjoyed competent shrimp, tasty enough, aided by a generous squeeze of lime.

The second plate was the highlight, shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil, similar to a scampi and served on nice crunchy bits of baguette. It was slightly too oily and too heavy on the garlic, but the shrimp was prepared well. As I was eating I noticed how the bread was absorbing the sauce and started working on the bread as well.

A digression... Is there anything more wonderful than sopping up sauce with bread? Doesn't matter if its the finest French sauce and a crusty baguette, berbere with injera, vindaloo with naan, or maple syrup with pancakes. It's a wonderful feeling.

Back to the shrimp: eating the bread (despite above reverie) was a mistake. I was stuffed and still had the shrimp with chili aioli to work on. I sighed and started in, slower this time. The sauce was.... mayo. Frickin' mayo with some red junk in it. Spicy? No. Cooling, kinda. Gloppy. I'd give this to a three year old with a slice of bologna on Wonder Bread. The shrimp themselves were fine, but the sauce was gross, especially compared to the competently prepared earlier plates. Bah. It was a bad way to end the meal -- so I had another brew. (It was Sam's Summer, and it was hot outside.)

As I finished off the shrimp slowly, I got that food drunk feeling again. Except this time it was to the previous night's food drunk what drunk on good wine was to drunk on Natty Light (that is, not as nice and probably a bad idea). 22 shrimp in one sitting was a bit indulgent. I needed a nap, but unfortunately was stuck back at the exhibit hall.

The bartender looked at me with a smile as I paid up. "So how was it?" he asked.

"Fine, I guess," I thought to myself, not wanting to be that customer and complain about the last dish. "Guess I like things a bit spicier. My belt thanks you for the recommendation."

"No problem. See you at Landry's again some time!"

I nodded and walked out. It was a chain, I'd been to one, and as most conglomerate types, the food was okay. The single bellyful of shrimp experience was enough, and I decided I wouldn't be back. My stomach agreed. 22 shrimp, in a St. Louis chain restaurant located in a mall... what was I thinking?