Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Message to Conan, Leno, Zucker and Mark: BOO!

Big whoops...Mark McGwire has admitted he took steroids. Gosh I'm shocked. But now he wants us to feel sorry for him. He's sorry he did it, but even more outrageous, he says they didn't enhance his performance, he took them for health reasons. Okay, I'll bite. What health reasons? Doctor's certificate, please. That's like Tiger trying to convince us he didn't have sex with those women. Let's be clear here. He's going into spring training. St. Louis wants him, but they also don't want the distraction of the press hounding the team over a more-than-decade old story. McGwire says he didn't reveal his steroid use to protect his family. Has this guy no shame?

I'm not sure what the deal was over the Tonight show, but it seems to be that Leno wanted to step down. So they gave his hosting duties over to Conan, who had to wait six long years (for which I'm sure he was given lots of extra cash to tie him up for that long). The deadline looms, and sure enough, Leno's not happy that he's stepping aside. As I recall, his wife wanted him home more, or something like that. Leon whines at the network, whose fortunes by now have plummeted from the high of Seinfeld, Friends and ER. The network is about to be placed on the market. General Electric isn't happy about the profits and other divisions are tanking. Ever the corporate hero, Jeff Zucker thinks he can save the network millions in the wake of ER's cancellation. He gives Leno an hour of prime time. It's a helluva lot cheaper than a hugely expensive scripted series like ER. So game in place, the everything is hunky dory until Leno and Conan tank in the ratings. Leno, who came out swinging when he took over for Carson, dominating Letterman at CBS and Aresenio Hall at Fox (anybody remember Arsenio?), lost his mojo at 10 pm. Tonight is not a prime time show, even with the name change. People still want a good show to send them to bed or to the news and then bed. People changed the channel in droves and NBC affiliates watched their lucrative ad revenues for their local news programs (once a major source of their income) plummet. And Conan had seven months to prove he was no Leno. Now he's whining he got screwed. Being a talk show host is lot harder than being funny. Just ask Joan Rivers, Regis Philbin, Joey Bishop, and others who have failed to find an audience after the news. Meanwhile as one friend says the Tonight show franchise, once a ratings and financial juggernaut for NBC has been tarnished.

I do love the fact that President Obama is even thinking of levying a tax on the banks which is supposed to help pay down the deficit and deter the banks from making risky mistakes in the future, but I fear that it won't pass and the banks and investment banks will live another day to screw us.

On a lighter note I had lunch with my food buddy, Ivy Manning today at a restaurant she's telling me will probably be in a run-off for a best restaurant of the year in Portland--Nedd Ludd. Located in the Northeast part of the city this rustic restaurant serves wonderful food in a very relaxed setting--a kind of hangar where you might service a small airplanes. Once the site of a pizza parlor that apparently served terrible pizza, the restaurant retained it's gorgeous brick oven where most of the cooking is done. We had an amazingly simple meal. I chose the charcuterie board of sliced cured meats such as a fennel sopprasata, speck, and prosciutto, along with a small pork of warmed pork rillettes, and a crispy rasher of bacon, some pickled pears, fresh slices of apple, and Marcona almonds, served with a sliced and toasted dark bread. This was a fascinating lunch where you could graze to your heart's content on meat! Ivy had a superb collection of roasted vegetables, including succulent wide slivers of herb-roasted yellow pepper, whole cippollini, cauliflower (my personal favorite), Brussels sprouts with rice, a Raita-like yogurt sauce. I took a bite of the Brussels sprouts which had just come from the brick oven. The smell of the roasted vegetables was intoxicating. Nursing a bad cold (which turned out to be bronchitis), Ivy sipped green tea, while I chose a Lapsang souchong black tea in sympathy (I don't drink alcohol at lunch). I met Jason French, the co-owner of the restaurant (that's the photo of the inked guy next to his brick oven). Apparently lunch is a lot less hectic than dinner, which suited me fine.

Ivy's a splendid cookbook writer, freelance food journalist and former chef, and she's taken me under her wing, showing me about the ins and outs of the Portland food world. We find we agree on most things culinary. She's married to Gregor, a wonderful guy who happens to be a superb photographer (he does all the color photography for her books). She affectionately calls him Mr. Tofu, because he is pretty much a vegetarian (he does eat fish), which is one of the reasons she wrote her last book, THE ADAPTABLE FEAST, in which she provides wonderful recipes and ideas for people in mixed-diet households (omnivores, vegetarians and vegans).

Last week I had dinner with Carol and Sarah, two old friends from my early New York days. Both outstanding musicians (Carol was the former chorus master of the Portland Opera; Sarah a fine violinist who teaches and play with local groups out here). They like a place in the NW area of the city near Carol's apartment, called Cafe Nell. The place has a bistro feel to it--cozy, neighborhoody and inviting. It was cold and Carol and I decided we wanted a warming glass of Merlot and ordered the house version, which was just fine. Service is attentive here (as it is in most restaurants in Portland). It's a relaxed and we were in no hurry. The food is up and down. I had nice lamb shank perfectly cooked and tender, but it was served on a gluey mash of potato and parsnips (a good combination) which only could have happened in a food processor--a no-no with mashed potatoes. Carol had a dish of thinly sliced beef and carrots that looked a bit wan, and it was an absurdly generous portion. Later Sarah told me she was disappointed in her seafood stew of whole shrimp, scallops in a saffron broth with rice. My bite said one thing--bland. Sarah likes to finish dinners out with a Sambucca which she ordered. The glass that arrived had a really unpleasant alcohol smell that overpowered the liqueur and is tasted that way. Real Sambucca was not in evidence--it was clearly a "house" brand. None of us were in the mood to call the restauarant out over these gaffes, but I won't return. Too bad. A front-of-house crew got done in by the kitchen and a management decision to deceive their customers about the alcohol they serve. Not a good idea of you're a neighborhood restaurant.

Got a bit nostalgic for New York as I have spoken with Maryann yesterday, and Karole and Laurele today. Poor things are locked in a city gripped by a cold snap. And it's January. Too bad. It's not bad at all here today. In fact Steve, my handyman came by to install a railing in my basement stairway and a smaller one for the steps from the dining room to the garden. Now I can get my insurance company off my back.

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