Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Epic Listening: The 2014 Christmas Music List

Holiday music.  I love it, and I find that unlike any other time of the year, the Christmas/Holiday period provides a varied and rich soundtrack.  Realizing the busy schedules of Epics this time of year, I have taken to publishing a list of some of my favorite albums of the season.  That said, please pour a glass of my favorite store-bought egg nog...

...add an extra toddy if you like, and try out one of my current favorites.  Happy Holidays!

1. Pentatonix: That's Christmas to Me.

I don't think that I have ever before bought an album of music while watching a parade.  Until Thanksgiving 2014 when I was fooling around in the kitchen, drinking some wine and making some side-dish or other.  The Macy's parade was on the television as usual when I cook on Thanksgiving, and I heard perfect a capella harmony singing the best version of Santa Clause Is Comin' to Town I have ever heard.  On a float was the group Pentatonix.  I had never heard of them before.  Through the miracle of modern electronics I owned this album about twenty seconds later and I have been playing it over and over since then.  These young people have serious musical chops and their arrangements of the classics are just stunning.  There is no possible way [egg nog or no] that you can be in a low mood after you listen to this album.  This group is like a gin and tonic with double tonic.  My favorite of the season.

2. Will Downing: Christmas, Love and You.

Man, do I love Will Downing's albums.  I don't recall how I first became acquainted with this man's music but he is just superb.  Think Lou Rawls with a snifter really good Cognac on the side.  Mr. Downing has a great voice just made for sitting before the fireplace with that special someone.  The title track added to other well produced versions of classic tunes such as The Christmas Song and The Little Drummer Boy all provide a fresh and soulful take on the season.  If this one doesn't get you in the mood to give and to receive I don't know what will...

3. Gunnar Idenstam.  Folkjul.

Sooner or later, I know, I have to play the Scandinavian card.  It is my heritage after all.  This is a rather amazing collection of songs, some of which you will have heard before [probably not in Swedish] and some of which will be new to you.  The titles alone [like "Varldeus Fralsare"] should lure you in but if you love peaceful, inspiring Holiday music that is unlike anything you will hear at someone else's house, you will love this album.

4. Christmas at Downton Abbey.

It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of the PBS series Downton Abbey.  Call me an Edwardian at heart, I can take it.  In any event, this marvelous album has everything you could want on it for your classic and classical Holiday sound track.  Not only do they work a couple of tracks of the television show's lovely theme song into the forty-five tracks on this album, but you get cracking versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Come Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" [two of my all time favorites], but to hear Jim Carter read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" is worth the entire price of this absurdly cheap album.  This is the sort of album you want to just put on a loop and play and play and play.  So break out a good bottle of Port, a slab of Stilton cheese and your smoking jacket and settle in...

5. James Taylor: at Christmas.

Ten years after his only other Christmas effort, the fabulous "A Christmas Album", James Taylor brings us another musical keepsake, this time with more collaborators such as Chris Botti, Natalie Cole and Yo Yo Ma to spice up the fun.  How there are people that do not like Taylor's voice is beyond me, but I have always loved his work.  Everything on this album is great, but tops are the aching "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Auld Lang Syne" along with "The Christmas Song" in which Toots Thielemans comes along for the ride as well.  Taylor at his absolute Holiday best.  What more do you need?

6. The Four Freshmen: Snowfall.

I may have mentioned this great album of perfect harmonies in the past but I've had four egg nogs by now and I don't remember!! In any event, this is a swingin' album that makes you want to put on your best red cardigan [the one with the shawl collar--you know you want to break that out again this year] and swizzle a Blue Blazer cocktail [no, on the other hand better not...too much fire involved] or a Hot Buttered Rum [MUCH more like it] while you watch the flakes tumble down slowly outside the windows.  The title track is wonderful but my favorite is probably "Let It Snow".  

I know you will enjoy these albums as much as I do.  For your holiday cocktail party I would recommend The Four Freshmen and Pentatonix, then for dinner Downton Abbey and Folkjul. For after dinner drinks and chit-chat James Taylor and then.....finally....when its late at night, cold outside, and its just the two of you, the fire logs crackling in the grate, Will Downing.  Thank me later.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all Epics everywhere!  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Frank's Day

Happy Birthday Frank.  It's still your world and we just live in it.

"I'm gonna live...Till I die"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Epic Bookshelf: Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton (1957)

Years ago, in a hotel room far away, I pulled open the bedside table drawer and found one of the most interesting books I have ever read.  Conrad Hilton's autobiography, Be My Guest.  It used to be in every Hilton Hotel room, everywhere.  The book has disappeared from Hilton hotels but I highly recommend it to any Epic.  To me, the best part of the book is Hilton's struggle during the Great Depression to keep his young hotel empire alive.  When your housekeeping and maintenance employees walk up to you and hand you their life savings to try and help you out in a financial crisis that tells me that you have been the right sort of business mogul.  And an amazing sort of leader.  This was a man of tremendous style and accomplishment who tells his story with rare objectivity especially in regard to his personal failings. 

The book also contains Mr. Hilton's rules for success in life:

1. Find your talent.
2. Be big; think big; act big; DREAM big.
3. Be honest.
4. Live with enthusiasm.
5. Don't let your possessions own you.
6. Don't worry about problems.
7. Don't cling to the past.
8. Look down on nobody and look up when you can.
9. Pray constantly.

In that Hilton hotel, many years ago, I picked up this book and I really didn't put it down until I had finished reading it. When I came to the rules for success I wrote them down on a small piece of notepad paper that I still carry with me everywhere I go.  I also put the list on my phone. I look at it all the time to see how I am doing. To see how I am measuring up to this extraordinary man.

I looked at my copy of Be My Guest this morning and as I skimmed through it for the hundredth time I felt the way I always do. That I wanted to be more like Connie Hilton.  The person and the businessman. If you go to Amazon you can pick up a copy of Be My Guest for one cent. Trust me, it will be the best penny you have ever invested in yourself.  And when the time comes, you can invite me to the grand opening of your hotel... 

P.S. I wrote about Conrad Hilton and Be My Guest earlier in The Epic archives. Looking at the book again today, I felt it was worth while to revisit the topic.  Especially the nine rules of success.  I needed the refresher course, even if you might not.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Lovely Tiffany Holiday

I don't know how many of you have seen this commercial for Tiffany & Co. but it is just lovely. How romantic! The long version is even more beautiful on the Tiffany & Co. website. Alas, the song is not available for purchase. Yet.  I am starting a movement to allow fans to buy the song with all proceeds going to charity. I hope that Tiffany will go along with it. Email them through the Tiffany & Co. website if you would like to see this happen. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

100 Years Ago

It was their wedding anniversary.  This photo was taken on June 28, 1914, five minutes before the world would begin to unravel.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, are seen leaving a state visit at the town hall in Sarajevo.  They would be dead within the hour at the hand of an assassin.  Various diplomatic threats and maneuvers were triggered by the killings but a month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and the largest bloodletting the world had ever seen began. 

They were an odd and touching love story.  Despite being a Czech countess, she was considered "common" in Austria-Hungary.  Franz Ferdinand married her against the wishes of his father Emporer Franz Joesph who only agreed to the union under the stipulation that no child of the marriage could ascend to the throne.  Emporers were nothing to trifle with in 1914.  She wasn't even allowed to sit next to him at state dinners. The only exception was when he was in military status, in uniform.  When his father ordered him to go to Sarajevo and review troops, it was the perfect occasion for an unimpeded excursion with his beloved Sophie.  His last words implored her to live for the sake of their three children.

In the event, one could consider Franz Ferdinand and Sophie the first two of the 16,000,000 casualties and 21,000,000 wounded of the "great" war.  My favorite posts about Armistice Day [November 11] are here and here.

In England, they have created the most wonderful memorial of the start of World War I.  888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British soldier that died, placed at the Tower of London...

The young nation The United States of America entered the war in 1917 after clinging futilely to neutrality for several years.  President Wilson gave his commander, General John Pershing, only two directives. The first was to under no circumstances place American troops under the command of British or French generals.  The second was to win the war and get home.  "Black Jack" Pershing accomplished both tasks.  The first major American engagement was to relieve allied infantry who had been fighting established enemy positions in Bellau Wood.  It was a serious task...

And many of our Marines remain there to this day...

In America, we started off honoring Armistice Day on November 11 but in 1954 we changed the day to Veterans Day.  And with good reason.  There have been so many more that served and died than anyone  thought could possibly be needed after 11:11 a.m. on 11/11/18 when World War I ended.  People in 1918 never thought that such an effort, such a sacrifice, could ever be required again in a civilized world.  They were right. For twenty years.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Epic Bookshelf: The Horrors Of Love by Jean Dutourd (1963)

When you learn of an author through his wife, a lot depends on your impression of her.  My impression of Madame Dutourd, gained from a chapter in a wonderful travel book about Paris, was very good.  In the event, Madame was seen leaving her elegant Parisian home when a man sitting on the sidewalk asked her for charity.  She pressed a handful of money into his palm along with the direction that it all be spent on wine.  This caught my attention immediately. The person relating the story mentioned that Madame's husband was none other than the novelist Jean Dutourd, a member of the French Academy. This information peaked my curiosity even more and I began looking for translated copies of his books.  My favorite is the Horrors of Love.

The setting for this novel is Paris in the early 1960's. Dutourd and an old friend catch up on events during a walk around town during a single lovely day.  During the day, the two gentlemen frequent various places for a bite to eat, a glass of Rum or two, and finally an exquisite dinner at an elegant restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne.  The entire conversation between the two men consists of a discussion of a mutual friend named Roberti who is a respectable fifty-two year old family man and a member of the French legislature.  He has also been recently sent to prison for murder.  Throughout the day, the conversation paints a profound picture of not just the self-destruction of Roberti, but of the similar although usually less dramatic decline of many middle aged men.  In this fashion, Dutourd accomplishes the most engaging inspection of a "mid-life crisis" that I have read.

The issue that captivates Dutourd is why a man who has been married for years, very successful, and very stable in his path of life would emotionally unspool over a young mistress named Solange.  The American reader's immediate conclusion is that Roberti is fifty-two and has a young mistress and that he collapses under the weight of emotional and sexual excess.  This is true in part, but we must remember that the author, his three male characters and his immediate audience are French. As a result the conversation between the two flaneurs [who appear to be about the same age as Roberti] poses an engaging mystery to us and to themselves in light of the higher tolerance of mistresses in the marriages of the mid twentieth-century French upper class. Roberti has had many mistresses before Solange so the issue narrows to what was it about this particular affair that caused him to apparently lose his mind?  As with any great novel (particularly a French one) the plot presents a Rorschach test in which each reader sees a different picture and each reader sees, essentially, himself.

I first read this book when I had just turned fifty-two.  I had found the previous two decades unexpectedly challenging and taxing.  This is no doubt true for the majority of men who are lucky enough to enter their fifties.  Roberti, however, is one of those apparently charmed men who seem to hit the rails of their lives seamlessly, gliding along without incident or tremendous effort toward a glowing conclusion somewhere in the clouds. Dutourd's notion, however, is that what most exposed Roberti to calamity was not his success, nor his age, nor the (heavily Puritan-American) idea of a middle-aged epiphany of his onrushing mortality but rather the fact that Roberti had never been in love before. At one point, Dutourd's friend says:

Roberti never even saw what would have been obvious to the most shortsighted: that around fifty is a critical age--an age when one runs a severe risk of falling in love, especially if one has never been in love before, and when a pretty girl is a mortal danger.

Epic living requires us to be in love.  With our lovers, with our food and drink, with the arts, with our new cashmere socks, with the way the dog runs around the yard or the way the wind blows from the north on a crystal clear Autumn morning.  Had Roberti been an Epicurean, he would have been fully used to being in love by the age of fifty.  And he would have been able to manage his feelings for a beautiful woman half his age with the maturity that his age, commitments and situation in life required.  But alas for Roberti, he was coming into contact with what for him was a unique feeling that he was wholly unequipped to handle in an adult way.  So, he reacted like a teenager. The result was sadly predictable and provides the reader (particularly the male reader) with an essential cautionary tale. Cultivate your loves in life from an early age. Age and savor them like a great bottle of wine.  And drink them in with the appreciation that they, and you, deserve.  Failing to do so makes you defenseless to first love which, if it hits you at the wrong moment in life, can lead to your undoing. In this regard, The Horrors of Love is an Epic tale for the ages.  I suppose that is why I love the book so much.

Another passage addressing the wisdom gained through the experience of love throughout life is:

With regard to Roberti, you know, I'm more reminded of La Rouchefoucauld's maxim: "He who lives without folly is not as wise as he thinks". He lacked that grain of folly which is like a grain of pepper, bringing out the savor of wisdom, making plain cooking delicious.

Certainly young love, usually gained in one's teens, is mostly crafted from folly.  So, how does one procure the level of wisdom required to inoculate oneself from folly that springs forth in middle age? Through appreciation of the arts.  Dutourd notes that the duration of a human life is insufficient to allow one to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to act properly at crisis points in life...

Forty years' experience is wholly inadequate.  One needs two thousand. The two thousand years' experience to be had from the works of good authors. As a guide to life one must have some idea of the major novels, epics and tragedies written since Homer.

Only in this fashion can a person accrete to himself the collective experience of humankind, thrashing about blindly over generations trying to deal with the ubiquitous issues that occur in every life. Such as falling in love for the first time at the age of fifty-two.  

Also, the name that Dutourd chooses for the woman who forms the catalyst for Roberti's ruin provides us a clue to the cause of his demise.  Solange is usually translated as "dignified" but one cannot avoid looking to the alternative meaning which is roughly "sun angel".  Perhaps like Icarus, once Roberti crossed paths with his sun angel [behind the receptionist's desk at his attorney's office] he was unable to avoid flying too closely to her light.  With results well documented since the time of Ovid. 

The relationship between Solange and Roberti also provides a fascinating platform for Dutourd to examine two people at different crossroads in their lives and to describe the different facets of love, marriage, adultery, and insanity from the opposite surfaces of their two sided mirror.  Describing Solange, Dutourd states:

In short she was entering that sober period of life when things begin to leave their mark.  When one ceases to be marble and becomes flesh...Let us pause for a moment with Solange at the crossroads of youth and maturity. These are the important events of our lives. They mean far more than wars, migrations, the partitioning of provinces. They are the great adventure through which every one of us must pass.

Consequently, the reader realizes that both Solange and Roberti are experiencing crises caused by their transition from one life phase to another.  From youth to maturity in Solange's case and from maturity to youth in the case of Roberti. When these two transitions intersect the result is tragic, however instructive.

As a result, although this book may seem inherently "male" in focus, it is a very insightful look at the trials of growing up.  No matter what our age or gender may be.  I cannot recommend The Horrors of Love highly enough.  It is one of the few books that I have underlined extensively as I read it.  I think you will be similarly impressed. Hopefully you will find, as I did, instruction and insight as you see the signs of your next crossroad looming in the mist ahead of you.

Jean Dutourd.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Best Cocktail Shaker EVER

It should surprise no one that I collect cocktail shakers.  Not a big collection, maybe half a dozen or so.  But this penguin is the greatest shaker I have ever seen.  The tip of his nose screws off to allow for pouring.  I found him at an antique market in Atlanta a couple of months ago.  He was tarnished, dirty and forlorn on a shelf behind a bunch of stuff.  But with a good soapy bath and a rub down with silver polishing wipes he is now returned to his former glory.  Swanky.  The next time I have guests over for martinis.....he is back in the game.  Cheers! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Chef's Moment

Years ago, leaving school, I had the chance to go to a famous kitchen.  In Chicago. Instead, I went to this little town because my parents lived in the area. And I've been cooking around here ever since. A long way from that kitchen in Chicago, in many ways.  After a few fried seafood places, family diners and catering gigs, I put in for a job at the second country club in town.  The first club was founded in the late 1800s.  My new employer was founded in the 1920s.  I walked into the kitchen the first time thirty years ago.  Before a couple of market crashes. And thirty years of birthdays for most of the club members.

Back then, we would have a couple of hundred members and guests dining on a Friday night. Champagne, our famous big martinis, nice French wines nothing extravagant but nice.  People would order classics.  Smoked salmon.  Lobster thermador.  Steak au poivre.  Coquilles St. Jacques. A nice thick Porterhouse steak for two. Maybe a Crepe Suzette or Cherries Jubilee for dessert. A little cognac.

But that era came to an end.  Frankly, I was surprised. Then the membership started dwindling.  Many of the diners stopped coming.  The golfers too.  They kept me though.  For tradition.  For the food.  I took a couple of pay cuts so my kitchen team could keep their jobs. And we had to keep limiting our food orders.  All very sad.

Last month, the club manager came to me and asked if we could do a "surf and turf" night.  We hadn't tried to do one in years.  A fixed menu, four courses, at a reasonable price.  Maybe we could bring in some of the old Friday night crowd.  Frankly, I was skeptical but the manager was a new kid, barely out of school, and he really wanted to give it a shot.  So I put my pencil to paper and sketched out a menu.  And he approved it and we sent out some emails and mail invites.

We didn't get a hundred customers.  But we got fifty.  More than enough to make money on the effort in light of my careful menu and ordering.  Not all were older members either.  Some young couples.  Some fellows in shirts and ties.  One couple, maybe in their fifties, came in dressed old school.  He was in a navy blazer gray flannels and tie, she was wearing a nice dress and a fancy scarf.  People ordered martinis and we sold a couple of bottles of wine. Not the old days, but not bad.  My first course was artichoke/chicken soup with a crispy brie wafer and leeks.  Then a fresh salad with balsamic dressing and duck spring rolls.  After that, salmon with a maple/mustard crust and beef tenderloin with a roasted tomato coulis atop mushroom risotto. Dessert was a creme brulee with blueberries and raspberries. I have to admit the creme brulee was a little dry.  I hadn't done one in a while.  But it was acceptable with a good vanilla flavor and a great crunchy sugar crust on top.

As the evening wound to a close, I peeked out and saw six tables of customers.  They looked really happy.  In school, I dreamed of creating towering cuisine and being adored by crowds of the rich and famous. That didn't happen but I really didn't mind.  I got to cook and people liked my food.  When the customers became few, I scaled back and tried to make the best things I could.  The best club sandwich.  The best Cobb Salad.  We stayed in business. We kept our jobs.

The bartender, twenty five if she was a day, came into the kitchen. 

"Chef, do you know how to make a Brandy Alexander?  That older fellow just ordered one and I don't know how to make it--and he would like to speak to you if you have a minute."

I wrote down the recipe and explained it to her and, relieved, she returned to her bar to mix it.  When I saw her bringing it to a man who was clearly the oldest man in the dining room, I checked the grills and sauces and slipped out of the kitchen to say hello.

He looked up from his seat with a gleam in his eye.  We shook hands and he said how much he had enjoyed the meal and how it took him back to his "glory days" twenty years ago.  Great food in a great dining room.  I thanked him.  Then the strangest thing happened.  He started clapping.  Then the rest of the people at his table began to clap.  Then all the rest of the people in the room applauded too.  I looked around.  And then, my eyes started getting wet. 

After all these years, it was my moment.     

P.S. This is my observation of what happened at my club last Friday night.  The club that "nobody" belongs to these days.  The Irish Redhead and I were the "fifties" couple in the blazer and scarf.  It was a valiant effort by the chef and a damned fine meal.  I can't wait to go back for the next special Saturday night dinner. Come join us.  We will get a big table and drink Brandy Alexanders for dessert.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Epic Cellar: Groundwork Grenache

Another really super, affordable, Grenache.  This one from the house of Sans Liege.  One person described it as having...

...aromas of mulberry, plum and pomegranate. On the palate it is rich and densely flavored with notes of dark red berry fruit, spice, earth and cracked pepper. It has high acidity, firm tannins, and a persistent finish.

I would merely say that this lovely Grenache brings loads of flavor layers and is a wonderful accompaniment to cheese or hearty Autumn or Winter foods.  Or the perfect accompaniment to an empty wine glass and a burning fire in the grate.  Around $20.  Get some now before I drink it all for you...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fuzzy Photos From Great Bars

501 City Grill, Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Great food [bronzed tuna blue corn tacos; chicken and Italian sausage gumbo]. Great drinks [Belvedere martini not too dry]. Pretty and friendly bar staff. Very reasonable prices. What's not to like? 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Epic Drinking: Rum Season and a Good Cheap Bottle

One year it happened. I give the credit/blame to Hunter S. Thompson of all people.  After I saw "The Rum Diary" [a fine movie by the way].  Then, entranced, I bought the book and read that too.  Then, there was only one thing to do. Declare the opening of Rum Season.  A time of excessive heat and [even for the American sub-tropics] humidity.  Seersucker.  Poplin suits. Straw hats. And rum.  Only rum.  My bartender friends roll their eyes and laugh when I declare the season open.  They seem intrigued when I declare it to be closed.  Because it opens and closes only when I say it does. And why not?  Why should there be only four seasons to the Epic year?

Along these [blurry] lines, I highly recommend Bacardi Select rum.  A dark rum with great flavor drunk neat or on a few rocks.  Or on crushed ice.  Or, I suppose, in a pinch, out of the bottle or from a flask.  HST style.  You can buy a lot more expensive rum, and some of them, such as Ron Zacapa 23 [$50.00] are superb.  But at around $14.00 for the bottle, this four year cask aged rum is a GREAT buy.  Enough to get you through whatever season you find yourself in the midst of.  Cheers!

Friday, August 22, 2014

From The Epic Cellar: Shatter Grenache

I drank this French grenache the first time at One Flew South in Atlanta.  Jay said drink it so I drank it. A simply amazing wine for a reasonable price.  Some guy said

 "Dark, deep and rich with ripe, dense blackberry, cassis and notes of chocolate; velvety, lush and balanced with fine structure."

I say just drink it.  Thank me later.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Icons: Lauren Bacall

There was really never anyone else with this sort of presence.  Who could deliver a line like that.  Who could mystify and enchant Bogart.  Bon voyage, Ms. Bacall.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My New Friend Eddie V

As the loyal reader will recall, it is my delight and privilege to dine out a lot.  I am pretty easy to please and rarely go to a place I don't like at least to some degree. Gourmands will understand this.  That being said, it is pretty rare for me to go to a new restaurant that absolutely delights me.  Yet this is what happened last week in Tampa, Florida when I finally followed a months-long pinging of my dining radar and booked a table at a new place, Eddie V's.

Eddie V's is part of a small chain of "prime steak and seafood" houses and it has been open in Tampa for just over a year.  Plenty of time to hit its stride.  And hit its stride it has.  From the complimentary valet parking to the pretty young woman in a little black dress welcoming you through the front door.  To the fantastic decor which is classic supper club and modern Scottsdale all at once.  As The Chairman would have said "all aces baby".

Whoever set up this place has superb taste and likes a restaurant with the same features I enjoy.  The dining room is moderately sized without being overly intimate or noisy.  Two tables near me with six diners each didn't create any excessive noise at all, despite obviously having a great time.  As you would be able to see in my second photo above if I were any good at photos, most people in the dining room have a view of the chefs at work in the kitchen although they are behind a glass partition, again to keep the noise level to a modicum.  The furniture is pretty and very comfortable. The dining room is separated from the bar and lounge area by a gorgeous wall of glass inside which wine bottles are stored in racks.  There is a semi-circular raw bar that will seat about ten in comfort.

I opted for [what else?] a Bombay Sapphire martini, up, with bleu cheese stuffed olives on the side.  Perfectly executed in a nice sturdy martini glass.  No dainty martini glasses with twisty stems here.  The menu is a delight because it contains some old favorites like oysters on the half shell and many other items which sound so good the diner has a real struggle choosing each course.  After a few moments consideration, my appetizer was really not that hard to pick.  Steak and lobster tartare served in ample quantity with a pile of toasts.  Oh, and did I mention the huge shavings of truffle atop the steak tartare?  This was a sumptuous and lovely appetizer that went perfectly with the martini.  The skilled and finely trained waiter complimented my choice and then silently vanished as only a great waiter can do.

The entree course was a bit more of a tough choice.  I love steak au poivre which was a centerpiece of the card, but after a pretty stout appetizer I opted for pan roasted Haddock served over a succotash with beurre blanc and some andouille tossed in to make the dish even more perfect.  The fish was perfectly fresh and perfectly prepared and pared very well with the succotash and the Piper champagne I had cracked open by then.  A side dish? Sure.  How about crab fried rice with scallion and mushrooms?  Oh yes, my epicurean friend.  The rice was so great I could have made a meal out of it alone.  Well, perhaps out of two orders of it.  All the side dishes are available in half orders so the solo or timid diner won't feel overwhelmed by the size of the dish.

Believe it or not, I don't usually order dessert.  Not because of any fear of calories.  Goodness knows I put that fear behind me long ago.  I don't usually order dessert because there is rarely a dessert that I find tempting.  But at Eddie's they had a key lime ice cream take on Baked Alaska which I have long maintained is the grandest dessert of all time.
Nothing like a flambe at the table, I always say.  This was a good effort although I would not call it a true Baked Alaska.  The most odd thing about it was the very hard disc of graham cracker crust serving as a base for the meringue covered ice cream.  Altogether, the dessert was very tasty, not too sweet, not overpowering in lime flavor, and a great conclusion [along with coffee and a very good Armagnac] to the meal.  When the manager popped by to ask if I was enjoying myself, I made him laugh by saying that I hated myself for not coming in sooner.

I strolled out of the dining room into the adjoining lounge and bar.  Again, perfectly decorated.  A big oval shaped bar with comfortable bar stools and a wide enough bar surface that you could comfortably eat dinner there [or put your head down for a quick nap] if you were so inclined.  A good jazz combo was playing on a small corner stage.  There are also good tables and some half circle booths in the lounge too so you could eat and drink with a date with great comfort while enjoying the music.  Did I mention that Eddie's has live jazz every night?  I pitched my usual after dinner curve ball at the youngish fellow behind the bar.  The Stinger cocktail.  A fine and simple drink that I have mentioned before.  Equal portions of cognac and white creme de menthe, shaken and served on the rocks.  Odd how few bartenders know how to make one in these awkward times we live in.  In the event, the barman got a bonus point from me by saying "I can't make it for you sir, we are out of white creme de menthe".  At least he knew what it was.  I settled for an Old Fashioned which was just as it should have been.  Then another.  I was in the afterglow of a really fine meal, listening to jazz, at a very comfortable bar which was also inhabited by some friendly and interesting people.  With a big smile on my face.

As I said.  I would not change a thing.

Eddie V's. 4400 West Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa, Florida 33607.  813-877-7290. eddiev.com

Monday, July 28, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tequila Day Reprise

National Tequila Day was celebrated two days ago in the U.S.  I missed it due to a rather vigorous social calendar the past week.  But I do not think that I could improve on my initial post about the day in any event. Somewhat oddly [at least to me] my post "Tequila Day" is far and away the most popular in the history of The Epic.  I hope you enjoy it now if you have not read it before.  Cheers!

Friday, July 11, 2014

CC and Water

At 30,000 feet. After almost two months off the road, I had forgotten how great it is.  Cheers!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Listening to Sirius and "I Cover The Waterfront" came on.  I had heard it before. A long time ago. When stress wasn't running out of my gills on a regular basis. And it stopped me in my tracks. As always. The smoothest of the smooth.  So I left what I was doing and started rummaging through my music collection [yes, some on vintage vinyl] because I knew I had a copy. But, to my surprise, I did not.  Maybe I never owned the album and the music was in my head all the time.  His sound is like that with men of a certain age.  So I ordered the album immediately which due to the miraculous time we live in was on my Kindle in about four seconds.  I decided to put away work things for the day and play the album while I had a martini and cooked dinner. 

Somewhere in the middle of "Stardust", my son the Future Rock Star emerged from his room, 17 now, disdainful of most music, headed for the refrigerator.  He too stopped in his tracks, milk carton in hand. 

"Say, Dad, what is that tune"?

"THAT  my boy.....is MISTER Artie Shaw"

"Wow. Cool."


Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Remember Michel

Located next to what was then a store selling fancy military uniforms, it occupied the smallest business space I had ever seen.  The area shown by three windows of the enclosed porch of the bar in the photo above.  Nobody really knew how long it had been there or when it opened for business.  It just seemed to be there one day.  It didn't have a name on the door.  Or anywhere else that I recall. It didn't have menus.  Only a small chalk board hanging on the outside with the lunch special written on it.  No hostess. No waiters. You could easily walk right by without noticing there was a business of any kind located there.  As I did, many times. Despite the fact that it was right there on the main street of my town. Until the bright Spring day I was strolling by, looking for a place to have lunch, and someone opened the door right in front of me.  And I could smell the food cooking inside.  The result was an epicurean epiphany.

Chef Michel had photos all over the walls of himself, taken with famous people for whom he had cooked in the past.  In vastly grander places.  Yachts.  Ball rooms.  Huge kitchens.  I never spoke to him much other than to ask about the dish of the day so I never found out how someone with his abilities wound up running a one-man bistro in a place where authentic French cooking was virtually unknown. I never spoke to him because he didn't have the time.  Because at Michel's it was Michel who did everything himself.  From greeting you when you walked in to seating you at one of about ten small tables to telling you of the special and perhaps one other dish offered that day, to taking your order and then plating it and bringing it to you. Oh, he also took the payments [cash only please] and cleared the tables after you were finished.  No wonder he was only open for lunch. He wasn't a young man and even his obvious energy wasn't boundless.  He stayed open for a couple of hours a day, until what he had made that morning was gone.  Then he closed the door.  Every seat was always occupied.

I guess it was kismet.  I had just finished reading A.J. Liebling's Between Meals for the first time and I was dreaming of Paris and of French cuisine. A city I had never visited.  A cuisine that I had never tasted. Until I went through the door into Chef Michel's tiny dining room and had Coq Au Vin for the first time.  After that, I dined there several times a week.  Coq Au Vin.  Home made pate, and if you were really lucky, a terrine de lapin.  Boeuf Bourguignon. Oh......and the grand Bouillabaisse. I have never had Bouillabaisse to equal it. All classics, classically turned out by an expert and loving hand.  I could have eaten there every day for the rest of my life. 

But.  "All good things..." and all that.  One day there was no chalk board on the door.  And the most glorious chapter in my town's dining history to date was over.  I never heard why Chef Michel moved on or what happened to him afterward. In all the great passions of life there has to be a lighting of the torch.  My Epic adventures in dining began in that tiny dining room. Every so often I will walk past where Chef Michel performed magic every day and I miss that food so badly I get a catch in my throat.

Wherever you are Chef, I wish you well and I hope and pray that you are still making those marvelous dishes for people as ready to be set off on a life journey of dining pleasure as I was all those years ago.  I have been to Paris.  And I have dined well.  Merci beaucoups et meilleurs voeux mon amie.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Villa Camillo, NYC

Some time ago, I posted an epicurean exploration of New York based upon a 1952 copy of Gourmet magazine that had come into my hands.

Not long ago, a nice gentleman sent me an email about any background information I had in mentioning Villa Camillo in that post.  He was interested because his grandfather owned the restaurant.

At the time, I could not find the article I had used and I replied that I would keep looking.  I then promptly lost his email address.  I then, of course, found the article.

If the fellow should read this and will send me an email, I can now send him a scan of the article on Villa Camillo.  Thanks!


Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Outstanding Meal...The Old Way

As the return reader will know, I have been very lucky in dining. I have had a lot of great meals in a lot of great places. So it is a rare thing when a particular meal towers above all the rest in its category.  Such as the beef category for example.

I was in Beverly Hills, California about two months ago, a venue which I particularly enjoy.  Although I am rather luke warm about L.A., Beverly Hills is my kind of place. And every time I visit, I want to have dinner at Lawry's.  But I never did until this year. I was very sorry it took me this long.

I am a dedicated carnivore.  And I love prime rib most of all. The problem is that it is very, very difficult to find good prime rib.  I am not sure why this is. I had read somewhere that Lawry's had the finest prime rib around, so I was in a state of high anticipation when I left my car with the valet and ventured through the heavy wooden doors.

This is obviously a place that has been in business at this location a long time.  The bar, for example, had the patina of years of happy use. There are huge murals on the walls of the dining room.  One doesn't see that sort of decor all that much any more. The martini I had while waiting to be called for my reservation was perfect; icy, strong and in the proper glass.  When the hostess showed me to a banquette [my favorite sort of table] she introduced me to my server.  Here, all the servers wear old fashioned uniforms with little caps.  And they are addressed as "Mrs.", "Miss" or "Mr.".  I liked all of this a LOT.

After scanning the leather bound menu and wine list, I was surprised to find that the prices are very reasonable. All of the Prime Rib entrees come with salad and Yorkshire Pudding.  And the wine prices were also very reasonable, verging on downright low for some of the selections.  In fact, the price of a bottle of my beloved Chateneuf Du Pape was so reasonable that I ordered it...

For the meal, I decided to start with a traditional shrimp cocktail...

...and as you can see, Lawry's had heavy linen table cloths and heavy silver as well...

...very luxurious.  The salad was wheeled table side on a cart in a huge bowl set into another huge bowl filled with ice. After Mrs. Frei gave the greens a toss with tongs, she set the bowl to spinning and drizzled the salad with a very fine balsamic dressing. The salad was delicious.  But the main thing at Lawry's is of course Prime Rib.  I decided to order the second-largest cut, the Diamond Jim Brady, medium rare.  A silver leviathan approached the table...

an amazing Edwardian serving cart which contained the beef and all the accompaniments. Everything hand carved at table side.  The cart opened next to me, emitting the most amazing aroma imaginable...

...the chef carved my portion and then added mashed potatoes, gravy and English peas...

...along with creamed horseradish, simply the finest meal of beef I have ever had.  Bar none.  Did I mention that this is the SECOND largest portion?  The largest portion is what they serve to the football players for the Rose Bowl.  Oh? And did I also mention that they also include Yorkshire Pudding in the feast?  This was a light and savory dish which was a delight all of itself...the Lawry's web site has a photo depicting the pudding in its un-attacked condition which is what it looked like when it was delivered to my table...

I could not contain my enthusiasm long enough to take a photo until after I had lopped out a large portion for my plate and deflated the pudding....

...as I sipped the great Rhone wine and set to this marvelous meal, I looked around the room and thought only one word.  "Baronial".  This fine repast was nothing less than that.  When I was finished, I really had no room for dessert.  The dessert menu, however, contained one of my absolute favorites.  Sticky Toffee Pudding...the perfect end to this perfect meal...

I admit that even a trencherman such me could not finish the Sticky Pudding.  But what I had of it was delicious.  All that could have been added was a small bit of Stilton Cheese and a fine Port to round out this meal.  They have many nice Ports at Lawry's and I would bet that had I asked for Stilton they could have produced some for me.  But I was in too great a dining induced state of bliss to make any further requests.  This was the sort of meal that you remember fondly in the middle of a business day months or even years later.  I cannot wait to return to Lawry's for another round.

P.S. Lawry's only has four locations in the United States. Beverly Hills, Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


 It has by now been established without argument that the modern day is primarily one of instant gratification.  The insidious effect of this phenomenon has even pierced the sanctuary of the tavern, causing me to ruminate today on the topic of "shots".

To say that I am ambivalent on the subject of "shots" is an understatement. Classically, an imbiber's reference to a "shot" is the drink defined by Webster as "a small measure or serving (as one ounce) of undiluted liquor or other beverage" and by the The American Heritage Dictionary as "a drink of liquor, especially a jigger" which has long been a part of cocktail culture. I am even willing, on occasion, to stretch Webster's definition of a "shot" from "undiluted" to "substantially undiluted" when a drop of water or an ice cube or two is needed to release some flavor locked within a whiskey. In any event, the adult drinker's right to an honest pour of a finger or two  in either a rocks glass or in a proper shot glass is a right predating all recorded law.

Both vessels can and should be used for a reflective tipple of favorite Scotch, Bourbon or other alcoholic beverage on an appropriate occasion.  The former is also used to contain great cocktails such as the Old Fashioned which has provided the correct name for the glass.  The latter is also customary equipment for the business end of the venerable Boilermaker.  Or for drinking rot-gut whiskey in a western bar after a hard day's ride.  Or Tequila in a cinder block joint in Panama City, Florida while you are eating the best Carne Asada steak you can imagine.  Without question then the "shot" holds an ancient spot in the history of drinking.

But when the modern need for instant gratification intersects with classical boozing, an ugly back edge to the
"shot" is soon exposed consisting of the seemingly unending string of complicated alcoholic concoctions being offered to the patrons of many bars, usually in small plastic cups.  We have all seen them on drink menus by now.  A "Napoleon's Horse's Sweat".  A "Ferrari Oil Pan Droplet".  With not only names but descriptions which range from the madly complex to the downright nasty.  Especially the ones containing Red Bull.  The neo-shot is intended to be downed in one gulp, presumably to effect an immediate alcohol buzz while simultaneously preventing the consumer from actually tasting the contents of the plastic cup. The tavern equivalent of hitting yourself in the head with a rock.   

On the other hand, the modern shot is probably doing at least something to keep the art of mixology moving forward with new vitality. If some thought is given to the recipe and good ingredients are used, there is no reason why a small cocktail should be placed lower in the hierarchy than a traditional drink. The problem (other than the immediate consumption issue) is that most neo-shots seem designed with the one purpose of justifying a snarky name that the patron will get a laugh from when ordering.  As for the abominable plastic cups, they deserve no more of a raised eyebrow than the use of stemless martini glasses in so many places these days.  Both "innovations" are motivated by the scrabble for profit with fractionally low purchase price and disposability on the plastic side and low breakage and ease of cleaning on the stemless side. The Eco-conscious tippler would no doubt weigh in on the side of even stemless glassware due to its reusable nature and lack of petrochemical content.  Similarly, the trade-unionist imbiber would support a washable product in the hope of boosting employment among bar workers.  Some of us who are rather notably lacking in sub-plots merely want a martini glass that functions like a martini glass is supposed to function, with a stem that keeps the heat of your hand away from the drink.  These days, we "no subplot" folk are probably a vanishing breed.

A difficult social situation can be presented by the neo-shot.  In some situations, a fellow patron may offer to buy you one in return for some bon mot or another.  Or due to the success of a favorite sports team. In such circumstances it helps to know your bartender very well. On one such occasion, as I no doubt blanched at the notion of downing a "Ballentine Buzz Saw" or a "Purple Passion Panic" or some such thing without a team of paramedics or a stomach pump at my side, the wonderful bartender immediately intervened and said "he doesn't like shots......how would it be if you buy him another round instead?" That is a good bartender, I can tell you.

One particularly suspect sub-category of the neo-shot is the jello shot.  There is no evidence from which the fault for the jello shot can be laid at the doorstep of the Jell-O company which has occupied a respectable place in American desserts since its primary product was invented by Peter Cooper in 1845.  Does Mr. Cooper look to you like a person who would pour a lot of discount brand vodka or grain alcohol into a vat of gelatin for the purpose of making American youth drunk during spring break?

I hardly think so.  But the true depths to which North American drinking has descended is proven by the product I saw for sale in my local grocery store yesterday and which is depicted in the opening photo of this post.  Disposable, plastic, "gelatin shot cups".  In packs of forty, no less.  Despite the labeling in French and Spanish, someone please tell me that the contagion has been confined to my continent.  Please. Until I receive confirmation of this issue, I will remain at the corner of some bar in some semi-dark establishment.  Drinking a drink, not a neo-shot.  Out of a glass vessel suitable for the dignity of the occasion.  You may join me if you like.