Thursday, December 31, 2009

Prime 9: 2009

In the spirit of the MLBN's "Prime 9" countdown shows, and because it's nearly New Year's, here are my top nine events of 2009:

1. Turning 50 in the Big Apple: I had a great milestone birthday in New York in March. The company - my three sisters, sister-in-law and two nieces - was outstanding. We had thousands of laughs, some great meals, too much wine, and just an all-around good time! I also managed a few hours at the Met, and a wonderful walk through Central Park. And then there was Madame Tussaud's...

2. May Megapalooza in Boston: I spent Memorial Day weekend in the Hub, meeting up with a bunch of insane people I met via the interwebs. Not one true psycho in the bunch - and we had so much fun! The RS split the two games I went to - I sat thru a hail storm at one - and I got to see the Boston Pops perform songs from their baseball-themed cd. Oh and this:
So now I've gotten photos with Bill Lee and Dwight Evans. My "holy grail" photo is still Carlton Fisk. Maybe in 2010.

3. Two memorable stops on our tour of the major league parks. Red Sox v. Nationals: My first visit to the new Nationals Park in Washington DC. It's a terrific place to watch a game, but two things made it extry-special. We got to see AB, our dear friend who passed away later in the year - which made the meet-up even more special. Kelly also got us absolutely fantasmic seats - right behind home plate. Awesome!

Red Sox v. Braves: We followed up the VIP treatment in DC with the opportunity to watch the RS take batting practice at Turner Field - standing right on the field with them. Jason Bay could have spit sunflower seeds on us.It made up for the un-godly heat we experienced!

4. The Baseball Project concert in Atlanta: What a great little adventure. A quick drive down to Atlanta to see the four-person band called the Baseball Project. A terrific show - and I can't wait for their second album, which should be out in '10.

5. Food tours: While in NYC, we took a food tour of Greenwich Village - and it was really, really interesting and fun. It opened up a new way of seeing a city for me - and I took a similar tour of the North End when I was in Boston in July. I think I will try to add such a tour to each of my itineraries in the future - you get some great ideas for restaurants to try. And speaking of eating...

6. Embracing the good life: My resolution to try out some hometown restaurants has been so much fun. I've had some wonderful meals, and it makes me feel quite special and pampered to treat myself to a night out. And the evenings that I've combined the meal with the Chattanooga Symphony have been especially entertaining. More in '10, definitely!

7. RS v. Detroit: I loved seeing Comerica, but another highlight was getting to see some buddies from my U of M days. We had a great reunion - it took me back 25 years!

8. A renewed, more positive attitude about work: I resolved that this school year, I would have a more positive attitude, that I'd try to reconnect with my students, be less negative with them. And it's really been great. I feel like I've gotten to know them better - and vice versa. I look forward to each day - although not without SOME trepidation.

9. MLB Network: OMG! How did I ever live without this station?! It has revolutionized the way I watch baseball, tv, sports... No more wading through boring football and hockey news on ESPN - I can get the information I want! It's been fun to watch some of their classic games in the off-season, to see Bob Costas interviewing legends of the game. And now that they've added Peter Gammons - woot!

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dine Out: Rain Forest Cafe

When I go out of town, I always try to find someplace different to eat. So, while in central Connecticut, I headed out for lunch, looking for something. I ended up at the West Farms Mall, driving around the exterior first for ideas. All the usuals: Olive Garden, Red Robin, Chili's, Ruby Tuesdays... So I went inside the mall, knowing that I could always hit Cafe Nordstrom for something tasty. Perusing the mall directory, I spotted the Rainforest Cafe. I'd never been to one, and figured, what the heck.

It's really an entertainment venue as much as a restaurant. There are all kinds of animatronic animals: an elephant that trumpets, gorillas that dance, a thunder storm that rolls in every 30 minutes. Kind of fun - but you can clearly see that the under 12 set is their target audience. The menu itself is pretty standard for mall places: pricey entrees, sandwiches, appetizers. They do have a lunch menu from 11-3, which I took advantage of. I had a large chopped salad - which helped calm the craving I had for something green - and I had the Planet Earth Pasta (ziti and Italian sausage with marinara sauce). I had to send the pasta back as it was cold. I guess they figure that most parents will have to spend time getting their kids settled into their meals and don't need to worry that their meals are served hot. Even after it was "heated up," it still wasn't exactly hot, more lukewarm.

It would be a fun place to go if you were a kid or were trying to entertain a kid on a long mall trip. For an adult, I think I'd pick something else!

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday Dine Out: Big River Grille

When I first moved to the Scenic City, the downtown area was an embarrassment. Where once there had been elegant shops and restaurants were now empty store fronts and seedy shops. But in the early 90s, a group of forward thinking residents got together and produced a plan to renew the area. The keystone would be the Tennessee Aquarium, now the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. It was located right on the Tennessee River, and merchants and entrepreneurs began flocking to the surrounding area. The result has been tremendous, giving us a downtown of which to be proud.

One of the first tenants in the area was the Big River Grille. Three locals were ahead of the trend of microbreweries when the opened just a block from the Aquarium in an old trolley barn, and it quickly caught on as a great spot for dinner or beer. They've expanded over the years to include outlets in Disney World and Nashville, and have become part of the Gordon-Biersch group. They also have a second location in Chattanooga near Hamilton Place Mall, and that was my destination this week.

Of course, the drawing card is the beer. And it's terrific! In the past, I've often gotten the five beer sampler, allowing you to taste all their beers. But usually I gravitate toward a wheaty beer, and have enjoyed their Vienna Lager, so that's what I opted for. Yum!

The food is an interesting mix of pub food and entrees. They have great burgers and pizzas, but their meatloaf is awesome! But I was feeling adventurous, and studied the menu for quite a while before choosing the Blue Crab Stuffed Chicken Breast. It was stuffed with blue crab and artichokes, lightly breaded and fried. Wow! The server had told me it was her favorite item on the menu (side note: I read recently that servers are told to always say whatever the person orders is their favorite!), and I agree. It was a huge breast with rice on the side. I also had a salad.

It's an interesting time of the year to dine out. There were several large parties around me, people in festive holiday clothes and exchanging small gifts. Office or church groups, I guessed. Next to me were four women who I think considered themselves the local version of the Sex in the City gals - one had a lemon drop martini, the rest ordered water or iced tea! And the restaurant is definitely loud - which for the single diner means you can eat and not have to shout at someone the whole time!

It was a nice meal, a convenient location, and did I mention the good beer?

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday Dine Out: Provino's

During my first years here, I had a roommate who had grown up locally and still had family living here. About once a month, her parents would take us out to dinner - and their idea of a splurge meal was to go to Provino's. I don't think I've been back there in over 15 years, but as I was out and about earlier this week, I noticed it and thought, hey, why not. So this Wednesday evening, I ventured into it.

It hasn't changed a bit. Same kind of cheezy decor - fake ivy hanging from fake trellises, red and white checkered plastic tablecloths. They actually have crammed quite a bit of seating into their small storefront. I had scoped out the menu online (being surprised to discover they have nine other locations in Georgia), and had decided on an entree already.

Provino's offers quite a lot of value - which I think is why my roommie's folks took us there. All their entrees include a big salad, and endless bowl of garlic rolls. The salad was superior to Olive Garden - lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas and (surprise) beets. A nice light vinegar and oil dressing, too. And the rolls are just as I remember - soaked in butter with tons of garlic on top. In my pre-Weight Watcher days, I really went to town on them - and last night, well, I still had three or four!

I had decided on a chicken entree called Chicken Francese. The menu's description made it sound like Chicken Piccata, a favorite of mine. However, instead of being lightly bathed in a lemon sauce, this breaded chicken breast came in a pool of sauce. I thought for a moment they had brought me soup! In retrospect, I should have asked them to pour some off - or just poured it off into my salad bowl myself. The chicken itself seemed to have the skin intact, so I didn't care for that. It was served with a small bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce - which was unexciting. I accompanied it with a glass of Chianti, which was not memorable. And in a attempt to salvage the meal, I did try the tiramisu, which was not great. It was served in a parfait glass with too much whipped cream and chocolate chips sprinkled over it; I barely could find the coffee-flavored lady fingers.

Before there were too many other dining options here in town, Provino's was considered by many to be a "traditional" Italian restaurant. Having grown up in RI with its huge number of Italians, I know this to not be the case. This is someone's Southernized version of an ethnic restaurant. The food was pedestrian, well, actually, not that good. Many of the items - like the salad and dessert - had clearly been made up well ahead of time, and merely shuttled out to the diner. The one plus is the price: for under $25, I had an entree, salad, rolls, dessert and a glass of wine, as well as a pleasant conversation with my server - a Yankee fan - about the upcoming year in the AL East. However, in this case, the bargain wasn't a particularly good one.

It will definitely be another 15 years before I go back. If I get a hankering for Italian again, I think it'll be the Olive Garden for me!

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tiger Rex

Two things about me: I love team sports, and I really don't like "dominating" players.

One of the things I love about sports is the drama. The underdog who comes back, the team that puts in that Herculean effort in the bottom of the 9th or in the fourth quarter, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I don't watch a game or a match because I know the outcome, or can predict it. It's one of the reasons I have trouble watching a recorded game after the fact - once I know the outcome, the fun is done. Part of the drama is often generated because it's a team effort; it's difficult for one player to truly dominate a baseball game, for example. Yes, you could argue that Rivera dominates when he comes into a game in the 9th to close out a victory. But the other members of the team had to get through eight innings to allow him to take the ball. Think of Harvey Haddix, who pitched 12 no-hit innings but was ultimately let down because his team couldn't score any runs.

I also like my favorite athletes to be human. I must admit, there's part of me that likes to see them fail. When a golfer hits a drive onto an adjacent fairway, I love it. Maybe because it makes me feel like I'm not that bad of a golfer - but it also allows me to "relate" to them on some level. I found little enjoyment in watching Borg or Lendl dissect an opponent; I much preferred watching Connors or McEnroe struggle and triumph. I'd rather watch Larry Bird with a bad back struggling to participate, than watch Michael Jordan kick another team's butt for four quarters.

So it's probably not a surprise that I have never been a Tiger Woods fan. To me, he's just one small step away from being a robot. When he's on the course, the outcome feels inevitable. You know he'll dominate on Friday and Saturday, making the Sunday final round a reason for an afternoon nap. Some of this may come from frustration. I've followed the PGA Tour for years - mainly because I'm a fan of Brad Faxon. Brad's from my hometown in Rhode Island, a great putter and an even greater guy. Every week, he was out on the course, often in recent years struggling with injury and struggling to make cuts. Yet the cameras rarely focused on him because of the klieg lights focused on Tiger. I have a lot of irritation with those who only watch a tournament when Tiger's in it, who only go out and walk the course at a tournament to follow Tiger. There is some fantastic golf being played away from him on every hole.

Which brings me to Tiger's "fall of grace." I've followed this story pretty closely - but not with malice or glee. It was refreshing to me to see a human side of Tiger Woods. Stripped of his PR team, his inner cadre of protectors, he suddenly looked quite vulnerable. The world suddenly had a glimpse beneath the cybornetic skin, beyond the carefully cultivated image. I'm not judging him. There's none of us who could stand up to such media scrutiny. But I'm also not sorry to see him taken down a notch or two.

The Greeks called it "hubris," and made an industry out of the tragic fall of heroes. Now it seems, TMZ has taken the place of Sophocles. The outcome, however, is the same.