You can get to Foxwoods from New London, Conn., on a public bus for $2.25. The driver told me that mostly only employees take the bus — and it’s free for them as Foxwoods pays the tab — but it’s surely the cheapest way to get to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s resort and casino.
Traffic was ghastly around Foxwoods last Saturday, though, because it was the weekend of the annual Schemitzun. That sounds like a Yiddish word to me, but in fact it’s the green corn festival.
At any rate I didn’t arrive at the hotel until 8, and I’d had reservations at Shrine at 7.
But of course one of the joys of being a food writer is that restaurants will likely hold your table for you. And I did call Shrine’s marketing manager, Shana Barry, with progress updates.
By the time I washed the train and bus grime off of me and looked presentable enough to go to dinner, it was 8:20, but a seat was available for me at the counter in front of the open kitchen. There Shana pointed out the restaurant’s three sushi chefs, and executive chef Edwyn Ferrari slid over periodically to bring me food and chat about it before sailing off to his next task. Pastry chef Martin Rainbacher was stationed in front of me for most of the evening, plating desserts and decorating birthday cakes and other pastries basically to order. He’s Austrian, and he talked a little about Arnold Schwarzenegger, who Martin says sounds as funny in German as he does in English. He also gave me a taste of Advocaaq, an Austrian egg liqueur that he made in-house. The way he described it it sounded like a strong egg-nog, but it tasted more like a cream liqueur.
I started dinner with an East Meets West — which basically was a Margarita with vodka as well as tequila (I guess that’s appropriate for the club crowd). I followed that with Harbin Lager, a fairly typical East Asian lager with odd marketing. The label said it was “Inspired by the Tradition and Culture of China’s Most Northern Province of Heilongjiang.”
Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang, but who in the West cares? The beer itself is made in Wuhan in the south-Central province of Hubei. I’ve never been to Wuhan. I hear it’s getting better, but for many years it had the reputation of being a pit — perhaps the most boring of Communist-style, soulless concrete monstrosities. But again, who in the West knows that or cares? Who decided that Harbin was a sexier name for a beer than Wuhan?
I’ve been to Harbin, and believe me, it’s no Shangri-La. It is cold and has a pretty ice-lantern festival in February, both of which could invoke good feelings about the beer if anyone in the West knew about it, but they don’t.
Ed said business was good at Shrine, both the restaurant upstairs and the club downstairs. We talked about that, and about mutual friends, like Luke Palladino, who was executive chef at Specchio and Ombra at Borgata, where Ed was a chef at Mixx. We didn’t talk much about Ed, though, more about his food.
What I ate:
Fluke sashimi with cucumber, Saratoga water, lime, cardamom oil (made by infusing grape seed oil with cardamom; I'd never had it before) and poppy seeds
Panko crusted calamari with heirloom tomatoes and Thai beurre monté (with fish sauce, ginger, galangal, roasted peanuts, soy and lime)
Local (Rhode Island) steamed black bass with baby zucchini, carrot, tomatoes, leeks and chervil (I’m telling you it’s coming back) with tomato water, dashi and fish sauce (made from crab instead of fish) topped with ginger and ginger-carrot oil
Seared East Coast cod basted in ginger-garlic butter, served with summer ratatouille, sweet miso, olive oil, black pepper and fried Thai basil
Ginger-soy chicken marinated in yogurt, ginger and soy, charred and served with local corn succotash (with peas), cilantro and scallions
Sirloin, cut against the grain for more tenderness, seared in its own fat, sliced and served on a beefsteak tomato with lemon grass sambal (with shallot and Thai bird chile) and scallion radish salad
A mashed potato stick served with tonkatsu sauce and kewpie mayonnaise.
For dessert, Martin started me off with Asian-flavored fruit salad with cantaloupe granité, which he served with strawberry-infused sake. Next came a fried banana with sweet soy and almond praline, served with vanilla ice cream.
Finally he gave me a little square of caramelized chocolate-chile mousse with rosewater cherries.
After dinner Shana took me downstairs to the club. It was around 11 p.m. and the place had just opened, but it was pulsing with young and beautiful people who’d paid $20 to get in (cocktails were about $12 each).
Shrine had had more than 1,200 covers the night before and was expecting about the same this evening. The bottle-service tables had been reserved, the line outside stretched well into the casino and was comprised mostly of men (straight-looking ones) and very few women. I thought of pointing that out to them, but decided not to bother and after making a loop through the casino I called it a night, went to my room and shaved my head.
I'd been thinking of shaving my head for awhile now. A couple of friends have been bugging me to do it.
“Shave your head!” my friend Chandler Burr says from time to time, and I suggest maybe I will on some four-day weekend, in case it looks horrible.
Chandler then sneers at my cowardice and says I should just try it.
I posited the idea on my Facebook page, and the few people who commented pointed out that it was one of those few mistakes that would quickly be undone.
I’ve been thinking about this for years, and finally I just did it.
I was hoping it would be a transforming experience, that somehow beneath the quite thin veneer of hair that ringed the outside of my scalp (the rest having abandoned me 20 years ago), would emerge a great new look, that suddenly I would resemble Vin Diesel, or at the very least Bruce Willis.
But no, it’s just me, with a shaved head.