Thursday, May 31, 2012

Restaurant Review: Bistro L'Hôpital

The Old Man dropped into Morton Plant last week to get his gall bladder prodded and his bile duct bored out and re-lined.  That gave me a chance to check out the renowned MP Bistro L'Hôpital.  As a true connoisseur of fine hospital cuisine, I was supremely anxious to sample the lunch menu, which is daringly similar - the very same, in fact - as the breakfast, brunch, and dinner menus.  I was duly impressed by the chef's approach, deftly spurning the creativity and originality that mars the work of so many poseurs in the field of contemporary hospital dining.

The MP Bistro is simply but elegantly appointed, with great splashes of organic color on the walls: liver mauve, muted mucous beige and, no doubt in the Old Man's honor, bile.  Furniture was understated Formica in necrotic tan, with chiropractic seating done up in a surgical instrument motif - a humanizing touch of medical kitsch.  The open kitchen featured acres of gleaming stainless steam tables, and an attentive chef regaled in artfully splotched whites, festooned with dabs of multicolored sauces and exotic cooking oils.  A very "together" look indeed.

I sampled first the Jello-mold appetizer with freshly drained irradiated grapes and just a hint of pineapple and - was that mango, by any chance?  The promised mold itself was barely in evidence, a disappointing bit of overstatement, I thought.

Choosing an entree was a daunting challenge, as racks and racks of gorgeously foil-wrapped goodies lounged under infrared lamps, aged to perfection and emitting marvelously unidentifiable aromas and wisps of steam.  I chose a freshly reheated hamburger, billed ostentatiously as the "Burger Chez Nous." It lived up to its billing, presenting on a crunchy white bun no doubt out of the oven only in the past few days. The array of options was staggering: cheese?  no cheese?  pickle wedge?  Embarrassed by my own gluttony, I went with the full boat.  Damn the calories, I thought, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

I peeled the burger from its mylar cocoon and devoured it like a man desperate for sustenance.  Nothing could stop me from stuffing myself with delectable bits of charred beef and oozy-oleaginous cheese-like substance.  I had swaddled the burger in freshly opened packets of yellow mustard, preternaturally green sweet relish, and just a hint of Morton Plant's famous catsup du jour.  Perhaps this was gilding the lily, but the flood of condiments went far to embellish the je ne sais quoi rush of tantalizingly vague meat flavor, reminiscent of long-dead cow, with haunting notes of dry-aged armadillo.

Sated to the groaning point, I reluctantly passed up the dessert tray heavily mounded with whoopie-pies and Cool Whip parfaits sweet enough to send Paula Deen into paroxysms of diabetic shock.  Small wonder that the entire Pinellas County medical establishment calls this noisome bistro its home away from home and the wellspring of its livelihood.  Before I waddled toward the swinging doors, empty tray in hand, I took enough notes to recreate for you the recipe for Morton Plant Hospital's prodigious entry into the anals of hamburger fame.
                 Cheeseburger Chez Nous  

Remove from the freezer a generous 3-ounce slab of the finest USDA Commercial Quality ground beef, preferably prepared with pink slime and added water.  (Ask your butcher.)  Without allowing the frozen meat-product to thaw, drop the burger onto a hot grill - it should make a satisfying "clank" - and go find something else to do for a half-hour.

When the burger is burnished almost black on both sides, quickly quench in a cauldron of tepid water to halt the cooking at just the perfect shade of drab, which the Morton Plant chefs refer to as au pointe.  Allow to marinate up to forever, adding burgers periodically as swarming patrons locust down the first-cooked specimens.  (Oops - I suppose "specimens" is a poor choice of word.)

To finish, pluck the meat puck from the marinade, allow to drain briefly, and flip adroitly back onto the hot grill.  Cook tenderly until last vestiges of color dissipate.  Turn and cook 20 minutes more to drive off any lingering flavor-causing elements.  For the final 5 minutes, drape the burger lovingly in slices of cheese-like substance and allow to congeal slightly.

While your burger finishes charring, drop a bun cut-side down on the greasiest part of the grill to soak up residual cooking essence from previous burgers.  Allow to toast gently until soaked and delectable.

To serve, quickly pop the burger with its cheese-like mantle onto the glistening bun, wrap quickly in foil, and nestle into a paper plate folded into the shape of an origami coal scuttle.  Garnish with small pickle wedge and an overwhelming heap of fresh kale or any inedible green foliage.  Serve tomorrow.

Bon appetite!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Inevitability of Blivets

The following is reprinted with permission of the author, who submitted it as a comment in the delightfully irreverent Horse Pucky.  Therein, the lovely Pam had referred to the military standard "blivet," which consists of 10 lb of digestive effluent in a 5-lb bag.  But wait!  There's more!

This is for the engineers in the group.

Aerospace engineers (one of which I once was) recognize a unique commercial mutation of the military specification blivet.  As you may not want to know, airplane toilets are "serviced" via an offloading hose attached to a valve on the side of the fuselage.  Sadly, this valve inevitably gets - um - clogged.  With further inevitability, these valves leak a little.

Leakage speeds up as the altitude increases (there is a formula for this), and the leak continues apace as the airplane cruises at 30,000 feet.  It's really cold up there.  So the leakage tends to form a frozen - shall we say - globule, which adheres tightly to the side of the aircraft.  Our globule grows ever bigger as the flight continues and the back-pressure on the valve continues to increase.  Inevitably.  There comes a moment when our burgeoning "blivet" - you can see how it might have gotten that name - becomes heavy enough to lose adhesion, and it plummets from the heavens.

No, it does not burn up on re-entry (this is no meteorite).  Inevitably, the bright blue blivet - you do remember that airplane toilets flush blue, don't you? - anyway, the bright blue blivet always lands in a farmer's field, usually in Iowa, frightening the cows something terrible.

Upon discovering the source of the cows' discomfiture, the farmer inevitably phones the authorities with tales of imminent extraterrestrial invasion.  The authorities, having heard it before, call the local airport to inquire.  The resulting report inevitably appears in the weekly report that crosses a certain aerospace engineer's desk.  About once a week.

That's a blivet. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wimple, Wimple on a Bun

I fell asleep last night thinking about wimples.  This doesn't happen often.

A wimple, for those of you raised in some heathen tradition, is the starched, white linen gadget that nuns used to wear around their head and face, like a Catholic ḥijāb.  Sally Field wore one in The Flying Nun.  Yes, before there was that Academy Award thing and even before Burt Reynolds - but after Gidget, of course - there was Sister Bertrille.  Okay, okay - I watched it some.  There was a period in my young life when I was still confused about some things.  More confused than now, I mean.

Anyway, Sally Fields wore this funky wimple - "funky" was a legitimate word back then - with a couple of giant gull-wing appendages that magically imbued the hot little nun with the gift of flight.  Nobody ever really got the point of all this, but Sally was still Gidget back then, and you could get away with a lot if you were Gidget.  At least with guys you could, despite the fact that the wimple and the rest of the white habit rendered Sally effectively sexless.  Unless you had a hinky little wimple thing going.

So I watched.  Television and sex were simpler in the 70s.  Or the 60's.  But who's counting?

Enter the James Beard Society.  If James Beard was the Pope of Food, then his Society, even today, is the College of Culinary Cardinals.  They might have been the Bishopric of Bon Appetit, but given the state of contemporary priestly society, "Bishopric" carves a bit too close to the bone.

Recently, the JBS decided to name five "Classic American Restaurants."  It's what the JBS does - name things.  It canonized Shady Glen, from my hometown of Manchester, Connecticut.

Shady Glen's glory is its "classic" cheeseburger.  The Glen's original owner, long before Burt Reynolds and even before Gidget, discovered that if you drape three big pieces of cheese over a hamburger while it's grilling, the overhanging cheese crisps up like some God-blessed cheesy potato chip.  As the cheese begins to crackle, the grill man lifts and sculpts it into a soaring, swooping set of wings:  a cheeseburger wimple to make Sally Field jealous.

I have worshiped Shady Glen's cheeseburgers since long before I discovered Gidget.  Girls, after all, come and go.  (Okay, most of them come and go; my wife reads these things.)  But a wimpled Shady Glen burger was, is, and I hope always will be paradise on a bun.  The James Beard Society got it right.