Thursday, January 25, 2007

Picks from the Road

Let me bring you up to date. Today is Friday, Jan. 25, 2007. A week ago, Mrs. Yi took me out for my birthday to the best restaurant in Baltimore: Charleston, at 1000 Lancaster St., Inner Harbor East. The press that Charleston has consistently earned over years only gets better and better, most deservedly so.

One thing I love about Charleston is its concept of "improvisational dining." You put together your meal by choosing from a well-balanced selection of haute items that arrive in small enough portions to please. I chose a plate that featured fried oysters, another of sweetbreads to die for, and a third that had to be nothing less than the Holy Grail of lamb carpaccio. I would have liked to photograph everything. However, when Mrs. Yi caught me pulling out the Verizon Samsung 3.2 megapixel cell phone camera to sneak a shot, she protested. The setting, she proclaimed, just wasn't conducive to such mischief, and I suppose she was right.

Next day, my four week road trip began. First stop was Asheville in time to grab a seat at the bar in Limone's to revisit the blood orange margaritas and ceviche that so wowed me last April. On this Saturday night, the ceviche featured sea bass and scallops. I'm not quite certain where such a preparation would fit with respect to the ceviche emporiums of Miami, San Francisco and before too much longer probably just about everywhere. Even so, I consider myself a ceviche connoisseur, and would have no problem with describing every aspect of Limone's version as perfect. I wanted to take a picture, but Mrs. Yi's words haunted me.

Next stop worthy of mention: Hot Springs, Arkansas, to stay at the Arlington, which is one of my favorite hotels in the United States. Like the whole town, the Arlington was practically empty now in the off-season, especially on a Monday night. Still, I love the town. For me its biggest draw are the quartz crystal mines not too far away where for $20 anyone can crawl around the mud atop the trailings and after several hours leave with a huge sack of beautiful crystals. Last visit to Hot Springs, I'd dined at a tapas place called Garbanzo's, which was closed now. About the only spot that had any kind of crowd was Porterhouse at 707 Central Avenue. For a place like Hot Springs, Porterhouse is upscale and also dark enough that it was easy for me to sneak out the cell phone camera and shoot the tuna carpaccio appetizer, which preceded my---you guessed it---Porterhouse steak. Before ordering, I'd inquired as to how fresh the tuna was. Who wouldn't on a Monday night in Hot Springs? Amazingly, the rolls of tuna that are pictured tasted as if they'd been sliced from a fish that was still alive and brought immediately to my table.

And now about that latest possible hiatus: This road trip relates to a business venture about as far removed from food, cooking, recipes, and restaurants as it's possible to get, and the schedule is frantic. Except for five days in Tucson, Arizona, it entails approximately 500 miles of driving a day and has me in a different town just about every night. Contributing to already serious time constraints are regional vagaries of internet technology that compete for attention with such essentials as meals and exercise.

Any posts between now and the end of February will be as time and technology permit, which may not be as often as I'd like.