From the Vault: Gelatinous Pasta and Bad Mussels

We made a family vacation out of Shore Leave 30 (remember when conventions were an actual thing?), flying in early so we could do some general tourist stuff, since only the kid and I are sci-fi geeks.

On our first night in downtown Baltimore at the Inner Harbor Holiday Inn, we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. Granted, it was just a Holiday Inn, not like we were expecting Michelin stars, but still. We discovered a gulf, comparable to the African Great Rift Valley, between the skills of the writer of the menu and those of the actual cook. He or she shall not be given the title of “chef.” Unless, instead of appearing on Iron Chef, perhaps the cook should be on the less popular version of the show, Queasy Chef.

The chicken and prosciutto cavatappi with smoked marinara Sandra and I shared was lovingly described on the menu. What we got was pasta that had apparently been simmering on the stovetop since about the time the Chinese invented noodles. One could have easily sucked the cavatappi through a straw. The chicken, on the other hand, was al dente, willing to put up a fight against being chewed. The “prosciutto” was, to all appearances, simply liberated from a prepackaged gas station ham sandwich. The smoked marinara was on a par with the orange chemical sauce one gets in a can of SpaghettiOs.

Under the circumstances, one could either get angry or be amused, and I kept tasting more of the stuff while giggling. That may have been helped by the couple of nice big glasses of Coppola Claret I had with the meal, the high point of the evening; it’s one of my favorites, and finding it on the wine list was a welcome surprise.

Ella didn’t like the cheese pizza she ordered. Come on, how bad does a cheese pizza have to be to be inedible to a ten-year-old? We got her some mac and cheese instead, and that was fine for her. The “crème anglaise” in her triple berry dessert, although she loved it, was Cool Whip, I’d bet my autographed picture of Malcolm McDowell on it.

We didn’t order a replacement for the cavatappi, because it seemed the odds were rather thin of getting anything remotely edible from the cook who had produced this culinary disaster, and at least we’d had a decent salad beforehand. The whole thing reminded me of the Laurel and Hardy short where they had to make a meal for a killer, but had no real food, so they substituted look-alike ingredients: sponges for meatballs, string for spaghetti, and so on. Luckily, our lovely waitress, Olga from Russia (really, we asked) was very nice, and her catch phrase, a heavily accented “This is for you” whenever she brought something to the table, was endearing. We tipped her well and never went back.

Following that laughably mediocre food experience, the next night we wandered around Little Italy until we found Amiccis, where I had some great cheese tortellini with peas and ham, along with a glass of Cline Zinfandel, another personal fave. It’s rare for me to find wines I know and love on a restaurant menu, so two nights in a row was quite exciting, and paired with such delicious food after the prior misadventure, it was a fabulous evening.

But here’s the amusing foodie twist: at the table next to us a woman ordered the mussels. When the server came by after she’d finished the plate, she complained that there was something wrong with them. The server was understandably confused, since the woman had eaten the whole plate. Eventually a manager came out, and the woman continued to complain that the mussels were bad. Did I already mention she ate the whole freakin’ pile of the allegedly bad mussels? Finally she pulled the “I’ve been coming here for twenty years, and I can tell you the mussels have never been like that.” The manager finally oiled the squeaky wheel, offering her another entree on the house, and she demanded—wait for it—ANOTHER PLATE OF MUSSELS.

As Jim Morrison said, people are strange.

*Photo caption: Ella with the actual Star Trek canon aboard the U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

[Original versions posted on my defunct Live Journal, July 15 and 16, 2008.]

If you enjoyed this post, please consider dropping something in my tip jar on Ko-fi!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s