Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Weird Food Adventures in Oxford (With Bonus Risotto Interlude)

See? Lots of people drink them!

Item One: A Beverage Tragedy

I just spilled my nearly-full dirty chai all over platform three at the Swansea train station. I'm cranky, caffeine-deprived, and underfed. Now that I'm on the train, I just want to sleep. But I don't really want to sleep, I want to do stuff like read and blog and play Scrabble on my phone.

So, navigating the aisles of the train, I walk/stumble/almost-fall to the cafe car and order an espresso. The coffee guy advises me that the espresso measures all of 1/8 an inch. So he makes me an Americano. I add a little sugar for fun and down it.


I slept.

(Note: A dirty chai is a chai latte with one or more shots of added espresso. This is apparently a shock for the baristas in Swansea, who looked at me as if I had ordered a double espresso with a dollop of chamomile tea sprinkled with paprika.)

I think you get it

Item Two: In Our Oxford AirB&B Apartment...

...there is no coffee, nor is there any device that makes coffee. (Also, there is no soap in the bathroom. I repeat: there is no soap. Or a trash can.)

Update: That Evening

There is no hair dryer. I cover my wet, flat hair with my Red Sox cap. All day.

Update: The Next Day

The combination washer/dryer (1 1/16th stars!) washes but does not dry. After 3 hours and forty-five minutes of drying, I give up and lay all of my clothes across the chairs, futon couch, and desk thing with the display cabinets that has no displays.

Item Three: Duck and Wine and Duck and Happiness

Jill and I happen upon a wine bar near Oxford Castle called 1855.
I have an wonderful French blanc-du-blanc champagne and Jill enjoys a Hungarian sauvignon blanc that is complex, dry, and delicious. Add some duck confit salad and duck roulette with caramelized onion and we're happy as clams not being fried and eaten.

With cheerful tummies, we set out to walk the city. Jill shows me the grounds of Trinity College and the dorm where she lived four years ago, and we generally enjoy our trek until we grow tired and decide to get a real dinner.

Any excuse for a picture of The Shat

Item Four: Crap-Ass Wine and a Mal-Meal at Malmaison

Like any true international travelers, we plan our daily sightseeing around food and wine. We head back to the castle and decide on a classy-looking bar-slash-restaurant in the Malmaison hotel. Skilled, polite bartenders! A server who takes our jackets! No disapproving looks at our jeans and walking shoes even though it's Saturday night!

We order two glasses of a Spanish sauvignon blanc at the bar. The Hungarian one earlier was so good, why wouldn't a Spanish one also be delicious?

Wrong. One-note, fruitless, and blech-bodied. We sip anyway, having already paid for it at the bar, and plan for another glass of something else with dinner. We comfort ourselves with the prospect of delectable food. So we order, but must keep re-deciding as we discover they've run out of everything we want: lobster for the lobster risotto. All the tuna for anything with tuna. A few starters. A fish entree.

Well, hey, as I mentioned before, we're flexible. I ordered the alternative risotto: pea with goat cheese, a drizzle of basil pesto, and edible flowers. Sounds great! Right? Besides, Boston has the best lobster risotto you could possible desire.

After inquiring about the catch of the day (bream), Jill decides on the Normandy chicken. No one runs out of chicken. Right?

Item Five: The Actual, Um, "Meal"

After ordering, we sip our "wine." For forty-five minutes. Right about the time my psyche is about to implode from impatience and low blood sugar, the meals arrive. Oh, how triumphantly the server delivers out pretty plates!

Placed in front of me is my pea risotto looking very... green. Green rice, green peas, green pesto, green plant-like things with tiny purple flowers. And two plops of goatish cheese-ish curd.

And Jill got her... oh wait, it's the bream! A lovely plate of the grilled bream which she definitely did not order.

Jill: "This is not what I ordered."

Lady: "What's that, madame?"

Jill: "I ordered the chicken. The Normandy half chicken."

Lady: "Oh, so sorry madame!" (Removes plate. Looks abashed.) "I think it is my fault. I will come back right away."

Jill: "Thanks."

Lady: (Looks at me.) "Would you like me to take your plate in the back so we can serve the meals together?"

Me: "No thank you." (Lady, if you effin' touch my plate of green mush I will punch you square in the lady parts.)

Lady departs for five minutes, returns.

Lady: (To Jill): Madame, I am sorry, but..."

Jill: "You're out of chicken."

Lady: "...we are out of the chicken. This is why I put in the bream order for you."

Jill: "But I don't want the bream."

Lady: "Oh. I understand. Please, here is a menu, you can order something else and I will get it for you."

Jill: (With surprising grace despite all the blood having drained from her face.) "Just bring me the steak frites. Medium rare."

Lady: "Of course madame. The price is a little more than the chicken, but it is good."

Me: (My pea-green eyes wide:) "ARE YOU GOING TO CHARGE HER FOR HER MEAL?!?"

Lady: (Looks at me, embarassed, shakes her head no.) "But I must check with management, you know."

Lady leaves.

----Begin Risotto Interlude----

I eat some risotto. It is unquestionably the worst risotto I've ever had. If I were to make this at home, here's how I'd do it.

A Recipe for Disaster

1/2 cup old peas boiled for about an hour and drained
Arborio rice boiled for about four hours
Cheap olive oil mixed with old dried basil (call it "pesto")
Two dollops of, oh, say, plain greek yogurt that's been in the fridge for two weeks (call it "goat curd")
Two tiny flowers I picked in the back yard
Six drops of green food coloring

Mix. Scoop into bowl. Voila! Serve to anyone with whom you'd like to sever your relationship. Forever.

----End Risotto Interlude----

The steak frites arrives, served by a young man who must be the manager. He places the plate in front of where Jill would be if she hadn't trudged to the bar searching for a better glass of wine. A large glass.

I join her with a glass of the same--a mediocre cab that is nonetheless a relief after the shitty whitish liquid. I eat a little of her steak, overcooked well past medium rare. I munch a few of the greasy fries. Jill eats enough to sate her hunger, then plops her utensils on the plate in disgust. We both push our plates as far to the edge of the table as possible.

Lady has the audacity to ask if we want dessert or coffee. No? We don't? Surely just some coffee? No? Would you... oh just the check? Of course."

We are charged only for the risotto. I briefly consider demanding it be comped for sheer terribleness. We pay anyway, defeated. The entire walk home we talk about the "food" and "wine" experience of the last TWO AND A HALF HOURS that it took to complete our mal-meal.

The beautiful Ashmolean

Item Six: A Shocking Sunday Beverage at the Ashmolean Museum

At the museum cafe, Jill orders a cappuccino. The barista asks if she'd like chocolate powder on top. Jill says yes. He makes the coffee and hands it to her.

I order a double macchiato. I ask for chocolate powder on top. The barista does a double take.

"You want chocolate... like a piece of chocolate?"

"No, just some chocolate powder sprinkled on top please."

"Oh. Yes madam."

As I'm paying, a woman is making my coffee. She turns to me.

"You want the chocolate powder... on your macchiato?"
Oh, it's just so disgusting!

"Yes please."

The cashier literally opens her eyes in shock, turns to the other lady to give her an are-you-kdding-me-with-this-weird-chick look, then shakes her head as she takes my money.

Really people? Really? Could you at least be polite enough to do that behind my back?

Item Seven: An Anjou Wine, Lots of Cheese, Jamon Iberico, and a Beverage Near-Tragedy

It's post-museum time, that time of the sightseeing day when you feel like you did a thing and now it certainly must be cocktail hour. We are back at the wine bar, sitting in the rare Oxford sunshine, sharing a bottle of French sauvignon blanc and a gorgeous plate of cheeses and meat. We are in fucking heaven.

I'm so happy, I gesture wildly as I make some brilliant philosophical point about the transience of experience vis a vis the uncontrollable synchronicity of life events. I knock my wine glass over and spill French sauvignon blanc all over Jill's jeans and sneakers. I help her mop herself up with several red napkins. I apologize. She is super-cool about it.

I am just not good at beverages.


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Weird Food Adventures in Oxford (With Bonus Risotto Interlude)

See? Lots of people drink them! Item One: A Beverage Tragedy I just spilled my nearly-full dirty chai all over platform three at the ...