Monday, January 25, 2010

Le Petit Triangle

1881 Fulton Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 281-1881
www.lepetittrianglecafe.com

by Beau Cadiyo

Imagine, first, that you are a member of an organization that many conspiracy theorists believe secretly controls the world. Imagine further that you’re part of a splinter faction which is in open rebellion against the entrenched establishment, and that you’ve been invited to participate in special meetings to discuss the future of the organization. Imagine further still that you’re meeting some of the other rebels at Le Petit Triangle. Now you know how it feels to be me.

Everything inside Le Petit Triangle is beautiful in an olde-worlde way. The restaurant is uncommonly small and narrow, the chairs are old and worn without being shabby and the tables are covered in tablecloths and white butcher paper with arrangements of leaves sticking out of vases. The kitchen in the middle of the room is surrounded by a bar, and four stools stand at attention next to it; however, the bar top is entirely covered with kitchen supplies, including a recently emptied wooden cask of wine, preventing anyone attempting to make use of the stools to enjoy a drink or a meal at the bar. They are thus totally useless, but in a very picturesque, French manner. The giant mirrors on the walls are very Versailles, and the wide windows opening out onto the street makes the restaurant feel distinctly open. The drafty door allowed cold winter air in while we were eating, but nobody seemed to mind. Also irredeemably French was the bathroom, which is down a wide flight of precipitously narrow steps. A giant coq awaits vacating diners at the bottom, and the bathroom itself is tiny, barely large enough for the small sink and a toilet. Sorry – “petit.”

The restaurant is stereotypically French in its treatment of customers. First, it took 40 minutes for the waitress to take our order. She kept stopping by the table to say, “I’ll be right back to take your order,” or, “Give me one minute and I’ll get your order.” When she was actually there to take our order, she said, “Are you guys ready to order?” as if we very well might ask for more time. In Denny’s it would have been rude; here, however, we thanked her for the opportunity. Perhaps it was also that she was, in the French manner, sexy without being conventionally attractive. She was in her late thirties, or perhaps forties; her face was hard and she had on a loose-fitting tan blouse with high-rise jeans, yet something about her was undeniably sensual.

But we were there to talk, and so we talked. This group that conspiracy theorists love to hate – I’ll call them “Them,” and the splinter faction “Us”– is rapidly declining in power and influence as Their members age and die out. My path to Them, and then to Us, is convoluted: I first joined Them in San Diego, but left when They started sending out anti-Mexican missives. I reconnected with Them in Cleveland, but left after I put forward my friend Frank Jones as a prospective member. Frank grew up in Akron and rose out of relative poverty to get a BA, then a Masters, then a JD (with various honors), and started work at one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. He is also black. They told me I would should not bring him back, and that I should think about leaving myself. I took them up on that.

Then I found Us. We have black members, are relatively young, and seem to be going in the right direction. We are trying to create an alternative to Them by changing some of the core aspects of Their practices for Our own use. I’m getting into Our leadership because I had experience with Us in Europe, when I lived over there. Well, that’s what Our leaders tell me. I’m not quite sure why people put trust or confidence in me, or if they actually do – if I’m a pawn, a bishop or a king. Sometimes I feel like I’m being set up. Maybe, at 30, I’m in a weird middle ground where I know enough to realize my own limitations, but not enough to compensate for them.

I had the Croque Norvegien with an egg, which made it a Madame and added a dollar to the price. Nobody at the table expected the egg to be on top; we thought it would be inside. While generally this could have been easily corrected when it arrived at the table, the sandwich also came with a dollop of thick grey-brown gravy under the egg but on top of the bread, making it a knife-and-fork-only affair. There were some Lyonnaise potatoes on the side that were either fried (which I doubt) or baked; the last one I ate was caked on the bottom with spices, but the others only tasted of oil and earth.

Inside the sandwich was delicate, flaky smoked salmon and what appeared to be some sort of dill sauce which, together, were delicious. The yolk of the egg was fried a little bit too hard for it to be runny so, unfortunately, it didn’t spew out all over the sandwich. The bread was thick and spongy, so cutting it was difficult; piercing all four layers (egg, bread, salmon, bread) with the fork and then cutting into the whole seemed likely to rip the salmon fibers apart and squish the bread unpleasantly. When it came off of the fork, though, the bread sprung back to form in my mouth and made chewing awkward. It took four or five mis-judged pieces to figure out the optimal size. It would have been much easier to have picked it up, sheared off bites with my incisors surely your canines don’t do the shearing and eaten it like a proper, original, English sandwich (link to sandwich describing its origins).

Regardless of logistical difficulties, this was one of the best pieces of smoked salmon I’ve ever had, in-sandwich or otherwise. The egg’s hard-fried white added a crunch to the top, and the gravy, which I thought tasted like it came out of a packet, added needed salt and moisture to each bite. Most remarkable, and perhaps most French, about the meal was that the portions were neither too large nor too small (link to John Palmer’s Bistro 44 discussion of portion sizes). I left neither hungry nor full, but finished the meal perfectly satisfied.

The check was supposed to be split three ways, with me paying the least, since I didn't drink wine. However, the waitress did not see the detailed note that we put on the receipt and split the check evenly. When this was brought to her attention she became frustrated, fluttered her hands and said, “I can’t deal with this right now,” and turned to the bar. This time, her reaction did border on rude; still, our table figured it out without anyone feeling truly offended. It was all part of Le Petit Triangle’s charm, and this sort of treatment apparently didn’t deter customers – when we left at 8:30 p.m., we walked past eight people standing in the cold, drafty doorway waiting for tables.

I will join them, someday soon, waiting at the door. I will return with my girlfriend on a date, or with my father, who spent his university years in Montpellier, France, or with anybody else who wants to take two hours to eat a good sandwich in an absolutely charming, frustrating little place and love every minute of it.

Le Petit Triangle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cleveland, Sandwiches and Shaq

Shaq out for a pulled pork sandwich. Shaq - you're in our prayers.

25º

412 Walnut Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
www.25degreesrestaurant.com
(714) 960-2525

by Beau Cadiyo

Part One of Three

Part Two of Three

The next day found us in Huntington Beach. The last time I visited Frank Gallaher and her boyfriend (now FIANCE!!!), they took me out to sushi at their favorite restaurant, Kappo Honda. Besides the delicious food, Japanese gangsters smoked outside and held the door open for elderly people while we waited for a table, hipsters looked sideways to scope out who else was there, and the hostess didn’t speak English. This time, Frank told me that we were going to a bar for burgers. I was a bit surprised – they went from incredible sushi to a burger joint? Then again, what with the way the economy is going, it was understandable.

But what a burger joint – they were definitely not trading down. Gorgeously textured wallpaper – more wall-cloth – covered an entire side of the room in dark red, with high ceilings and ornamental ceiling-tiles reminiscent of any number of Cleveland establishments (but an unusual sight in California, where few buildings are more than 50 years old). The bottles atop the bar were lit from underneath, which created an underwater effect as the light filtered up through the liquor. Candles fluttered on the tables as surfer-businessmen and trust-fund children sipped and dined. Customers have to grab the first open table they can find, so while there wasn’t a line when we got there, there weren’t many open spots, either. Gallaher beelined to an open four-top and we settled in.

Each burger at 25º is custom made. One gets to choose the temperature at which the meat is cooked, of course – it turns out (hyperlink to L’Albatros) that 25º is the difference between medium-rare and well-done – and choose from beef, turkey and vegetarian patties. Customers can also choose everything else that comes with the burger, except the bun type (Dear 25º: perhaps bread choice should be next?). To break up my recent beef-burger streak, I chose the turkey burger with Benedictine cheese, a fried egg and garlic aioli sauce. We got an order of fries as an appetizer, which was massive and delicious.

The burgers came out shortly thereafter, and they were works of burger art. Mine was so tender and juicy that Frank Hoxha thought it was beef. The bun was lightly dusted with flour, which made it dry at first, but everything else burst with flavor and moisture to balance it out. Frank Gallaher’s boyfriend, Frank Fader, got his beef medium-rare. It came close to being the perfect patty, trapping in both smoke and moisture. The wine and strong drinks rounded out an absolutely incredible meal.

25 Degrees on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In-N-Out

27700 Jefferson Ave.
Temecula, CA 92590
www.in-n-out.com
(800) 786-1000

by Beau Cadiyo

Part One of Three
Part Two of Three

Part Three of Three

The next day, we stopped at In-N-Out in Temecula. In contrast to some fancier, more expensive burger places (i.e., B-Spot), nothing at In-N-Out is ever frozen, everything is made fresh and can be customized, and the workers are paid higher than most, a combination that means they are consistently ranked as the best fast-food chain in America. I got a cheeseburger with Animal-style fries, meaning that they were topped with grilled onions, American cheese and special sauce. It was great to see that the management has finally wised up and created a French-fry container especially for Animal-style fries; eaten with a fork, as they must be, they were delicious and are making me hungry as I type this. However, having eaten at Island Prime and 25º in the previous two days, the cheeseburger just didn’t measure up, to either recent precedent or older memory. For the price, though – Island Prime’s burgers ran to $15 or so, and 25º were about $14 – my $6.50 meal at In-N-Out was, dollar-for-dollar, amazing value.

In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon

Island Prime

880 Harbor Island Dr
San Diego, CA 92101
www.cohnrestaurants.com
(619) 298-6802

by Beau Cadiyo

Whenever Frank Hoxha asks me about “home,” she usually means San Diego, where I spent the majority of my youth, and not Cleveland, where I intend to stay for the rest of my life. Almost everyone I grew up with moved away from San Diego, yet Clevelanders are constantly surprised that I ever left. I don’t blame them for thinking it odd to choose Ohio over California. As a tourist in San Diego, one is presented with a seeming Eden: from the first glimpse of downtown, seen over a bay filled with sailboats, to the lively Gaslamp quarter, to golfers on Christmas day, to palm trees swaying in carefully manufactured lines, to expensive clothing shops and overpriced, flash-in-the-pan organic cupcake bakeries, it’s a wonderful place to visit.

Living there, though, is a different story, despite what popular culture would have you believe. It is overcrowded and expensive; the rude and vain are a dime a dozen; and, more than anything, the mobility of Californians makes it difficult to maintain any sort of community, since most residents’ locations are as tenuous as the fault lines. Also, almost everyone is from somewhere else; a safe pick-up line is, “Where are you from?” Adopted Californians are drawn by the allure of the weather, or the beaches, or whatever else they expect Californians take for granted. They rent for a while and, if they somehow save enough, hit the lottery or marry well, buy a condo or townhouse or maybe even a pink stand-alone track house in the suburbs, with cookie-cutter floor plans and Chinese drywall and black mold in the air vents. Until that lucky day, they rarely have any anchor to a neighborhood. Then, once they do buy, they aim to realize a profit at some point, which will necessitate selling, so they don’t get too attached. Everyone is in motion, not tethered to anything, like zombies wandering between one apartment building and the next.

Frank Box grew up in Cleveland, moved to Kansas for law school, then was a superstar prosecutor in Texas before making partner at a law firm I used to work at in San Diego. She was the one who suggested we eat at Island Prime. It took time to find; I had to feel my way along the once well-known streets, past the sailboat-dotted bay, swaying palms and sunlit streets. When we arrived, her teal BMW convertible was parked out front, with a California license plate surrounded by a Cleveland Indians frame. Massive wooden doors swung open onto a restaurant packed with families and yachters. She got us a table near a huge window – a real bay window – with a view of a battleship across the waterway and comparatively miniscule sailboats tacking back and forth in the water in front of us.

Frank Hoxha had said earlier that she couldn’t imagine living in San Diego; it was too impermanent. Box reinforced that feeling. She seemed content with where she was – she is a powerful attorney at the top of her game at an incredible firm, she lives in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the world and she wisely sold her house at the top of the bubble and has been renting ever since. But she seemed distracted, and it didn’t seem to be the massive responsibility on her shoulders: her family and friends are spread out all over the world, and it didn’t seem like she was suited to being away from them. She was excited for me, living in Cleveland and starting out in practice, but didn’t seem to be excited for herself, living the life that so many people dream of.

Our food arrived quickly, considering how busy it was. My burger had a creamy garlic aioli sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and powerful smoked bacon, and I had it with bleu cheese in order to properly compare it to the travesty of B-Side. What stood out was the quality of the ingredients and the balance between them all. I can still feel the dense resistance of the bun in my mouth and the way it simultaneously stayed composed and soaked up the beef juices leaking from the patty. The bleu cheese was evenly sprinkled around the patty instead of concentrated in a single spot; the steak fries were perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Frank Box insisted we try her onion rings. The breading was crispy, and the Vidalia onions were cooked through, tender and sweet. Her pulled pork was sweet and saucy, served in a mound that would have easily satisfied two adults. Frank Hoxha said her salad was delicious, and was so large that she couldn’t finish it.

The parking lot was still packed when we left, around 2:30 p.m. Frank Hoxha and I talked about the meal, and about California, and she noted that every conversation was tinged with a bit of sadness, and was related somehow to a lack of community, or missing friends, or lack of real relationships. It was as if everyone was waiting for something, looking for something, but they just didn’t know what.

Island Prime on Urbanspoon