Sunday, August 21, 2005

Berkeley, CA: Jimmy Bean's

Tortilla Eggs - 3 stars
August 20, 2005

I had ambivalent feelings about Utah and Nevada. On the one hand, we were in the desert, it was blazingly hot every time we stopped, and good food was hard to find. (Although Starbucks, always out to trap travelers, set up shop in the Red Lion Inn and Casino in Elko, Nevada.) On the other hand, we were somewhere between Elko and Winnemucca, I looked over at Sylvia in the passenger seat and Dauber in her lap, as the sun-baked desert flashed by through the window and the distant mountains barely moved, and I felt happy. It was partly due to not thinking about work for a week and a half, and mainly due to being with my family. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

After the flat deserts and bare mountains of Nevada, the forested slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains were a welcome sight. What a beautiful place California is.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

We arrived in Berkeley around 11 am on Saturday and drove straight to Jimmy Bean's, our favorite breakfast place the last time we lived in the Bay Area. The tortilla eggs don't actually have any chicken in them, but this is my blog, and they are my favorite breakfast in the whole world (well, on this continent, anyway): delightfully soft scrambled eggs folded with home-fried potatoes lightly baked in a tortilla, flavored with three sauces in the side: salsa, cilantro pesto, and some kind of flavored sour cream (I don't like that one). Sitting at Jimmy Bean's, eating the eggs with a side of sourdough toast (from Acme, I believe), I felt like I had finally arrived.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

After 3,480 miles, the final chicken sandwich lineup (some individually reviewed, some not) looks like this:
  1. Tuscan Chicken Sandwich, Panera (Topeka, KS)
  2. Chicken Fajita Burrito, Chipotle Mexican Grill (Sharonville, OH)
  3. Chicken Milano Sandwich, Quizno's (Colby, KS)
  4. Chicken Zuma Sandwich, Albertson's (Aubrun, CA)
  5. Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich, Subway (outside St. Louis, MO)
  6. Asiago Chicken Salad Sandwich, Borders (Champaign, IL)
  7. Roast Chicken Sandwich, Albertson's (Laramie, WY)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Topeka, KN and Colby, KN

Panera (Topeka)
Tuscan Chicken Sandwich - 2 stars
$6.50 for 1/2 sandwich with soup or 1/2 salad
August 16, 2005

Quizno's (Colby)
Chicken Milano - 1 star
$8.19 (large)
August 17, 2005

The Starbucks Tax. Starbucks has discovered a clever way to tax people driving through the state of Kansas. From Salinas to the Colorado border - a distance of 250 miles - there is nothing. A few cornfields, a few cows, a few abandoned farmhouses, and nothing. However, at 100-mile intervals, there are two Starbucks stores. Basically, everyone from either coast will stop at one of them and spend three or four dollars on his or her preferred drug. It's as reliable as a toll booth.

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Originally uploaded by pygmygoat.

The exit 53 Starbucks sits alongside a Baskin Robbins and a Quizno's in something called The Oasis, which makes you wonder what native Kansans think of the name. The Chicken Milano sandwich begins with chopped pieces of mediocre chicken, toasted on an overly cheesy bun with sun-dried tomato pesto, cheese, and tomatos and topped with lettuce and jalapeno peppers. It's really pretty good, especially when you're in Western Kansas, despite the strange touches - lettuce on a toasted sandwich? jalapeno peppers on an Italian-style sandwich? and what's Milanese about it, anyway?

The Panera in Topeka was our fourth in three days (twice for drinks only). It's our home away from home: soup and salad combinations (it's critical to get two vegetables per meal to have any shot at seven fruits and vegetables a day), outdoor seating so we can eat with Dauber, free wi-fi to make hotel reservations and get directions to the next Panera, etc. It could be the McDonald's of the latte-drinking, Volvo-drinking, freak show set.

The Tuscan Sandwich has slices of lightly peppered natural chicken that are actually good in themselves, fresh mixed greens, and that staple of the new millenium, pesto aioli. The only flaw is the spongy "focaccia" it comes on, but it still gets the coveted second star.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sharonville, OH and Champaign, IL

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Sharonville
Chicken Fajita Burrito - 1 star
August 14, 2005

Borders Books and Music, Champaign
Asiago Chicken Salad Sandwich - 0 stars
about $5
August 15, 2005

If you look hard, you can see the differences in the many places you see as you drive across the United States. But mostly you just see how everything is more and more the same. And while I could go on for chapters on the topic, it definitely has its advantages.

I'm currently sitting in the passenger seat, typing this while sipping from a Starbucks decaf coffee and half-listening to an episode of This American Life downloaded from iTunes. So while the Iowa cornfields speed by out the window, I can enjoy my nice coastal lifestyle.

7 years ago making this trip I think the common denominator of America was McDonald's. On this trip, we've been to Panera three times in two days (would have been four, except the one in Sharonville was closed) and Starbucks twice. We seek out large, new strip malls because, along with Wal-Mart and Lowe's, they also bring the new wave of high-end coffee shops and fast casual restaurants. (We just passed a highway sign for Starbucks - Sylvia said it was "comforting.")

The chicken fajita burrito was just what you would expect from a chain that was probably a New York banker's concept, targeted squarely at middle-American tastes. The oxymoronic name was a dead giveaway - fajita burrito? - as was the gleaming white rice. But actually, it tasted pretty good, partly because it was drenched in their hottest salsa. Sylvia and I summed up the place as a Californian burrito place with less selection, higher prices, and much nicer d├ęcor.

We resorted to eating at Borders because, even if the food isn't good, the place is familiar and the coffee is decent. My sandwich, unfortunately, spent too much time in a refrigerator, and the cold chicken salad was swallowed up in a huge and characterless white bun.

I'm not sure where we'll go for lunch today, but we already have the address of a Whole Foods for dinner in Overland Park, Kansas.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Amherst, MA: Bertucci’s

Chicken Marinara Sandwich – 1 star
about $8 with pasta salad
July 31, 2005

In addition to all the usual excuses for not posting to my blog, there are two others: first, I have been traveling less over the past two months and, thanks to my move to California, I am now on my last trip back to the office for a year; and second, due to my newfound obsession with eating at least seven fruits and vegetables a day, my sandwich consumption has declined precipitously.

But in the course of saying our farewells to our favorite places in Western Massachusetts, Sylvia and I stopped by Bertucci’s today for lunch, even though the South Beach Diet (hers, not mine) put our favorite margarita pizza (really, the closest I’ve found in this country to the original pizza of Naples) beyond reach a long time ago. At its center, the Chicken Marinara Sandwich features a tender, flattened, lightly breaded chicken breast, topped with Bertucci’s (how do you make a possessive of that?) fruity, fresh-tasting tomato sauce. All of that was good, but it was delivered in a somewhat spongy mock-focaccia roll with caramelized onions that absorbed more flavor than it provided. The side pasta salad had a nice lemony dressing, but underneath was a distinct core of blandness.

While preparing for the move, I also repeated the periodic ritual of going through my old boxes of various souvenirs I hadn’t opened since the last move and tossing out everything that seemed less important now than it did four years ago: notebooks from previous jobs, magazines recording French football games that no longer seemed that important, readings from courses that I will never teach again – and all of my notes and research files from my dissertation. Although the possibility had not occurred to me in years, now it really will be impossible for me to convert my dissertation into a book.

By sheer coincidence, I recently read Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy, by Peter Gordon, my closest friend and colleague among my graduate school classmates. Peter and I started together, shared the same advisor and field, did research together in Paris, etc., and now he is a tenured professor at Harvard (and he got tenure early, no less). Reading his book was intensely disconcerting, first because it exists in a completely different intellectual universe than the one I currently inhabit – and second, because I used to live in that universe. So at the same time that I was only partially understanding what I was reading, I could remember the younger version of myself who did understand Weimar-era German philosophy. Reading about Heidegger is a kind of experience that I first encountered when reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology in college: you make a leap into another conceptual framework, and then everything makes sense, but otherwise it is just words on a page. So here I was, sitting on a plane back from the wedding of the person I lived with in graduate school (someone completely different), thinking that I could understand this book if I really wanted to, but not sure it was worth the effort. But I read it for Peter, and I understand it’s an excellent book, so if you do care about Weimar-era philosophy, let me know and I’ll lend you my copy.

Dauber update

Apart from a little unexplained vomiting, Dauber continues to be in fine health – so much so, in fact, that my doctor friends at the wedding (I lived with medical students for a few years in grad school) said that it was highly unlikely that he actually has pancreatic cancer at this point, two months after the diagnosis. So in all likelihood, he will be making the trip with us to California, although it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll make the trip back in a year.

Friday, July 08, 2005

San Jose, CA: California Pizza Kitchen

Caesar Chicken Sandwich - 1 star


The best thing about this sandwich was that I actually got to eat it. Like many Fridays, I was busy well past the time when I should have gone to the airport, in this case walking out at 10.15 to catch an 11.31 flight at SJC (about a thirty-minute drive, plus time to get gas, plus 10-15 minutes for the brontosauran rental car shuttle to pick you up and take you to the terminal). On top of that, I had to check luggage, and I was flying on American, where I can’t use the short line. But in four years at this company, flying almost every week, I’ve never missed a flight (except for connections missed due to the airline, or return flights I had to rebook because meetings went way over time), so I’ve developed a reverse-fatalistic approach to airline travel: I assume that things will work out and I’ll make my flight. (The best confirmation of this was the day I had to fly home early because my dog was in the hospital, and I arrived at the terminal eight minutes before departure – only to find the flight was delayed by an hour.)

Speeding south on 101, I had already decided to break one of the streaks that I was proud of: I had never returned a rental car without filling the gas tank. (And no, John, I’m not going to expense the fill-up charge.) Then, on top of that, I was pulled over for the first speeding ticket or other moving violation of my life. Now, a few minutes before getting pulled over, I had actually been driving at around 88 mph (and I did slow down once I saw that), so when the cop asked if I knew how fast I had been driving, I said, “75 to 80.” But he had only recorded me driving 75. Now, how can you possibly get a speeding ticket driving 75 on 101 (where the speed limit is 65), IN THE MIDDLE LANE? But anyway, I digress… Finally, when I got to the rental car center, the handheld machine they use to give you a receipt had run out of paper, so I had to go into the building to get a receipt, which I fortunately decided not to do.

But one thing did work out: there was a short line at curbside check-in, and their cut-off is 30 minutes before departure, so I made it. And I got to buy my sandwich before getting on board. In picking the sandwich, I was sacrificing any hope I had of getting to seven servings of fruits and vegetables today (my current obsession). But when choosing between a boxed sandwich and a boxed salad to eat on a plane, I just couldn’t go with the salad. (In a nutshell, this is why my blog is about chicken sandwiches, not salads.) I did buy a sorry-looking banana, though.

As a marketing person, I am amazed at the way the word “Caesar” has become attached to a wide range of food products that bear increasingly less resemblance to the original Caesar salad. I mean, who decided that what a perfectly nice salad of Romaine lettuce, croutons, anchovies, parmesan cheese, and (sometimes) hard-boiled eggs needed was – slabs of chicken? And who decided to take the chicken, turn it into chicken salad, and put it on a soft bun with red onions baked into the top, combined with lettuce and tomato and thin shavings of a too-dry, too-salty imitation parmesan cheese? But someone knew that you could charge more for a Caesar chicken sandwich than for a chicken salad sandwich. And there you go.

Dauber update

Dauber was in very good health and spirits for the second half of June. However, he vomited three times on July 1 and once on July 4, so we are worried that his cancer may be reappearing. (Presumably it’s been there for a while, but hadn’t been causing symptoms.) He still is moderately energetic, has a healthy appetite, and likes going for walks, so we are just trying to spend as much time with him as possible while he is still happy and active.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Coventry, RI: Denny's

Italian Chicken Melt - 0 stars
about $7 with fries
June 7, 2005

In some ways, it was a prototypical sales call. I was working on a demo in the hotel, trapped in a huge but strangely desolate strip mall complex: a Hampton Inn, a Wendy's, a Denny's, a gas station, a Home Depot, and vast expanses of nothing more typical of Arizona than of Rhode Island - no forests, no farmland, no towns, just nothing. The first day's 7-hour demo had gone very well, but instead of feeling happy I just felt exhausted at the prospect of preparing for the next day's 7-hour demo.

I actually have a soft spot for Denny's, although I'm not sure why. I think it's because of the menus - they were one of the first chains to realize that it doesn't matter how bad the food is, as long as you have big juicy photos of the food in your menus. Anyway, the Italian Chicken Melt seemed safe enough - essentially a chicken parm sandwich, as we call it back home in Massachusetts. The chicken was fine, the tomato sauce was acceptable in a kind of canned and fruity way, and I was smart enough to order it without lettuce (lettuce on a breaded chicken breast covered with tomato sauce and cheese?), but the cheese was just ... weird. It was thinly sliced in perfect triangles, except it had a flavor I could not place, as if someone were trying to make mozzarella cheese who had never eaten mozzarella cheese, based on a verbal description by someone who didn't really like mozzarella cheese. It was one of those things where I would try to isolate the cheese so that I could figure out what that flavor was, but all I could determine was that I didn't like it.

It was not a prototypical sales call because I almost broke down crying during lunch (grilled cheese and tomato, if you must know) while talking to my wife because my dog had vomited again that morning after vomiting the night before. But he made it through that week, and the week after that, and now he seems to be largely recovered from his pancreatitis. He is ravenously hungry, and he wakes us up early in the morning asking to be fed (no doubt a by-product of our feeding him every two hours during the night while he was sick), and he barks angrily at strangers, and he goes for walks, though not quite as long as before. According to the official diagnosis he still has pancreatic cancer, which means he has only a few months left to live, but it seems like at least a few of them will be happy.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Windsor Locks, CT: Fresh City

Chicken Fajita Wrap - 1 star

Yes, it's been a while since I've written about a chicken sandwich. I actually eat fewer than one might think. You see, I don't particularly like chicken sandwiches - they're my fallback when I'm on the road in places that don't have very good food (that would be most places). But recently I've been spending most of my time at home or in California, where there are plenty of better things to eat. I ate the chicken fajita wrap my last time flying out of Bradley, on the way to the ACORD/LOMA conference in Orlando on May 22. It was better than my previous Fresh City experience, so it got a star. There's your review.

My dog, however, may never have chicken again. He is very sick.

Obviously, this is very sad and difficult to deal with, particularly for someone whose life has really had a minimum of hardship, emotional or otherwise. Strangely enough, knowing that he is likely to die soon is not the hardest part of it.

I think the saddest thing is thinking of all the things he will never do again. You see, Dauber really loves chicken. If you hold a piece of chicken in front of him, he will stare at it like a hawk focused on its prey, and he will begin to quiver with excitement. And right now, we just try to feed him a tablespoon of softened baked potato at a time, and we're happy if he doesn't throw it up. Then there are salmon, beef, duck, eggs, and all the other things he loves. Especially cantaloupe. If you had a bowl of cantaloupe, ate it, and took away the bowl, he would still sniff the air frantically looking for the cantaloupe.

And running. Dauber may never run again. He can walk, and occasionally he will trot for a few yards. But he may never thunder across the ground with that bounding gallop I remember, chasing after squirrels, his mortal enemy. When we came home in the evening, if he hadn't walked enough during the day, he would sprint back and forth between us at top speed, simply happy to be running.

But he may eat chicken and run and chase squirrels again. You see, we just don't know. And that makes it hard, too. Last week, when it seemed like he might not even stand again, he had an acute case of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Thanks to great medical care, the inflammation has come down considerably, and he has improved greatly; but now that the inflammation is down, it's clear that he has a tumor in his pancreas. So he may return to his old self for a few weeks or months before the tumor grows out of control; or this may be as good as it will ever get, and he may never eat anything better than watery baked potato. And it's hard to plan a trip, even for two days, when you know you may be losing two days of your dog's last week of life.

I also think about all the things he will never get to do. He'll never see the farm that we had planned, with three chickens, two pygmy goats, and perhaps a couple of llamas. He'll never get to ride in the car we talked about buying for him, so he would have a better view outside. He'll never see our children (and we can throw out the CD we got to prepare him for the sounds of a baby in the house).

When you start a company, no matter how hard you try not to think of it, people ask you what you will do if the company is successful and you make a lot of money. I always said I would stay home and play with Dauber. I hoped I could make up for all the days and weeks I spent away from home.

Well, I ran out of time.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

London, England: Upper Crust

Chicken Tikka Sandwich - 1 star
About 3 pounds

On the way from Manchester to London (actually, to Tim's place in Speen, where I slept in a 17th-century house for the first time in my life) in Tim's Boxster, I saw one of the most disturbing things in my life. We were at a cafe in a rest stop, and behind a sign saying "scones," they had these large, rectangular, brownish, hard-looking things that looked uncannnily like what they call scones in the United States. My favorite element of English cuisine is the traditional scone - smaller, round, off-white, and crumbly in a buttery sort of way, eaten with butter or clotted cream (which deserves a paragraph of its own). Now, apparently, in addition to exporting our fast food and our movies, we are even exporting our mediocre baked goods. What's next? American apple pie in Paris?

Anyway, on Thursday morning I managed to eat a traditional scone at an Upper Crust in the City, so I went back to them for dinner in Waterloo station while waiting for the Eurostar to Paris. The chicken tikka sandwich was surprisingly good. It was a little cold from sitting in a refrigerated case all day, but the chihcken was tender and flavorful, the mayonnaise-like spread was not too overpowering, and the bread was a reminder of the difference between Europe and the United States: even in a fast food-style place in a train station, you can get the kind of baguette that cannot be found between New York and California. And the egg and tomato sandwich I had wasn't bad, either.

London, England: Ponti's

Mediterranean chicken sandwich - 0 stars
About 4 pounds, with exactly 3 potato chips

I spent my first two days in England trying to find a chicken sandwich. On Monday in the hotel restaurant in Manchester I ordered the "spicy chicken," neglecting to note the absence of the word sandwich, and was treated to a rather small and not very spicy fried thigh and leg. (This was the "American" entry in the "around the world" section of the menu, by the way. Also by the way, the menu included all sorts of drinks I had never seen before, many including various proportions of vodka and Red Bull.) On Tuesday at the prospect site they brought in those lovely sandwiches on quartered white bread with various fillings, and I may have had chicken in one of them, but to be honest I couldn't tell. (One was hard-boiled egg with lettuce, I know that.) On Wednesday in London I ordered a chicken sandwich but accidentally picked up someone else's prosciutto and mozarella sandwich, which was quite good. But I digress.

The Meditteranean chicken at Ponti's was quite disappointing for the heart of London's financial district: bland and overcooked chicken with a layer of roast vegetables, which turned out to be largely eggplant, on top of surprisingly bland ciabatta-like bread. Luckily for the American visitor (me), it was one of the few things that were still affordable after the collapse of the dollar.

Which got me to thinking ... we're exporting software, right? So we should be able to undercut all of our European competitors. At least there's a silver lining to the largest trade and budget deficits in history.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Hastings, MI: Applebee's

Chicken Fajita Rollup - 1 star
$6.29 with fries, about $1 extra for onion peels instead

There is a place in downtown Hastings called Richie's Diner. Richie's occupies a proud place in the history of our company; it was there that Alex, John R., and I had breakfast before the sales call that led to our first (or second, or third, depending on how you count them) customer. Richie's is an old-style diner, where there is no non-smoking section to speak of, the food is cheap, and the diners look at you funny if you go in wearing a suit.

On this occasion, I was with the guys implementing our customer's document management system. And we did not go to Richie's. Instead, we went to Applebee's. The sad truth is that after six months in Hastings, I reluctantly concluded that Applebee's was in fact my favorite place to eat. And on this walk down memory lane, I had my old standby - the chicken fajita rollup, with lettuce, tomato, and melted cheese in a tortilla. The chicken was nicely seasoned and not too overcooked, although it could have used more spice. There was too much lettuce, and the ratio of tortilla to contents was too high. But with a dash of hot sauce, it makes a perfectly acceptable lunch, and the onion peels (what's an onion "peel," anyway?) were hot and fried-tasting as usual.

The cafeteria was serving pizza, but no one else wanted to go there.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Chicago, IL: Cosi

Tandoori Chicken Sandwich - 2 stars
$6.29 with potato chips or carrots

It turns out that, in addition to being a fine sandwich spot with now-cliched self-consciously-urban decor, Cosi is actually a great test of personal virtue. You see, after you order your sandwich, you have a choice between potato chips and carrots - two completely opposing points on the nutritional spectrum, with no happy medium (like Terra vegetable chips, for example). Well, it turns out that the virtuous members of the pre-sales team are Daniele and Mimi - Michael, Patty, and I all failed the test.

I wanted to go to Cosi not only because I had fond memories of it from my days living in Manhattan, but also because I had a suspicion I could find a good chicken sandwich there - particularly important after all the critical email I got about my undifferentiated rating scale. So I was happy to bite into the tandoori chicken sandwich, which features flavorful, reasonably tender chunks of chicken, pungent roasted red pepper strips, and a well-balanced vinaigrette, enveloped in Cosi's distinctive thin-yet-sturdy bread. Daniele liked hers, too, although Mimi's salad looked pretty unappetizing (largely made up of some undistinguished lettuce).

For dinner we went to Giordano's, which supposedly has the best Chicago-style pizza in Chicago. Because we were with Marcus, of course, this precipitated a discussion of why Chicago pizza is inferior to New York pizza, and of the best pizza places in New York (and, by extension, the world). Eventually we got to the part in the conversation where Marcus insisted that The Wire is the best TV show of all time, and I insisted that, no, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best TV show of all time, but that's a whole other topic ...

Somewhere over Utah: Bennigan's/United Airlines

Turkey O'Toole - 0 stars
$10 with potato chips and chocolate chip cookie

As most of you know, airlines began selling food on board a couple years ago in a desperate effort to earn a few extra bucks. Until now, I resisted this trend on the grounds that airport food was better and cheaper. But on Tuesday, I barely had time to catch my plane (I didn't even fill up the gas in my rental car, for the first time in over three years - but don't worry, John, I won't bill the gas charges), so I didn't have time to buy anything, and it was a choice between the embarrassingly named turkey sandwich or arriving at O'Hare at 10 PM without dinner. (Lunch at Shalizaar on 25th Ave., on Shakeel's recommendation, was quite good, but since there was no way to get the chicken kabob on bread, I couldn't justify a review.)

Well, my worst fears were confirmed. The sandwich was a couple slices of obviously processed turkey breast with an unremarkable slice of Swiss cheese - and that was the high point. It was served on "our unique pretzel roll," which was more like a flattened, unpleasantly dense croissant with a greasy surface, and the promised "Honey Dijon dressing" was nowhere to be found. To add insult to injury, the promised Kettle potato chips and Eli's cheesecake were replaced by Ruffles and an oversized chocolate chip cookie so laden with preservatives and artificial flavors as to be inedible.

Luckily, I was able to cap off the night in Marcus's Chicago apartment with a glass of Southern Comfort on ice. (Speaking of which, what is Southern Comfort, anyway?)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Burlingame, CA: Chicken! Chicken!

Jerk Chicken Breast Sandwich - 1 star
$6.95 with one side

[photo coming - don't have the right software on my laptop to upload ]

The most fascinating thing about the Toyota Prius is not the gas mileage itself; it's the way it constantly reminds you of the gas mileage, by means of a visual display that shows you, at each instant, how power is flowing between the internal combustion, the engine, and the wheels. According to Jerry Brenner, who was driving Allen, John Seybold, and me to lunch, it even changes the way you drive, because you're always trying to maximize your mileage - even to the point of trying to avoid going up steep hills.

Chicken! Chicken!'s "Caribbean wood roasted" chicken probably would have cracked the two-star barrier, but apparently it was uncharacteristically dry today. The sliced chicken was rolled up in a thick, nicely chewy pita, but it needed a dash of hot sauce (which comes in three varieties) to give it kick. The Cayman Garden Salad, made with ripe, sweet tomatoes, won the contest over several otfher attractive side dishes.

Which made for an interesting discussion on the car ride back of whether to give it one or two stars. Although I am trying to hold to a reasonably strict grading system - bad = 0 stars, OK = 1 star, good = 2 stars, excellent = 3 stars - John pointed out that so far I've only given 0 or 1 stars, which doesn't make for much differentiation, and actually argued in favor of negative stars. The underlying problem is basically that I don't go to good enough restaurants, because all of our prospects are in places like Lincoln, RI and Marietta, PA. (And I'm going to Hastings in a couple weeks ...) So the bottom line is someone needs to find me a prospect in Manhattan.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lincoln, RI: Prospect's cafeteria

Crispy Chicken Sandwich - 1 star

Would you believe it - our own Patty was born and raised in Lincoln, Rhode Island? And apparently, when people from Rhode Island get together, they compete to see who can remember what various things used to be, as in "Do you remember when that restaurant was ... ?" In the course of living this cultural peculiarity, we found out that the Roast House - immortalized a few posts ago - has already lost its lease. Meaning that the next time I'm in the area, I can say, "Do you remember when that was the Roast House?"

Anyway, we were in town for business. On Monday, Michael P. installed the application on one of the prospect's servers. Predictably, it took more time to copy the files from his external hard drive onto the server than it took to actualy install and start up the application, so that was a non-event. Michael and I had dinner at "the best Italian restaurant in Providence," which turned out to be a casual family place with dirt-cheap prices and acceptable food. The next day, though, we learned that it was (and may still be) a mob hangout, and that a mob figure was killed there in a drive-by shooting a few years ago.

Anyway, after a demo to over 50 people on Tuesday morning, we settled down to the main course. The chicken was nicely crispy and not too tough, the toppings were ordinary, and the roll - a "bulkie" in Rhode Island parlance - was nicely chewy, although it could have used a bit more backbone. But the cook at the grill station didn't hear my onion rings order, so that was a letdown, and although he said the bread pudding didn't have any nuts, it did indeed.

After an afternoon of helping various technical people and project managers play with the application (most of which went quite nicely), for dinner we went (with the prospect) to a nice Italian restaurant in North Providence. It was somewhat better than the previous night, though several times as expensive. But, presumably, we weren't taking our lives into our hands by eating without bulletproof vests.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

San Mateo: Taxi's

Avocado Jack Burger (Chicken) - 1 star
$7.50 or so

On Tuesday I had another chicken-free sales call, this one in Worcester, Massachusetts: 3 eggs over hard with home fries and toast for lunch (eggs overcooked, otherwise serviceable) and cheese pizza and Greek salad in Logan Airport for dinner. (I got in an argument with the server, who handed me a Caesar salad, and, when I said I had asked for a Greek salad, insisted that it was a Greek salad. When I pointed at the Greek salad, he said, "You want the zucchini?," presumably referring to the cucumbers.) The meeting was very early in the sales cycle, with people who asked lots of tough questions but softened up as it went along. This was a large company that is just figuring out what is on the market and is talking to all the vendors; in fact, we ran into the next sales team on the way out, and figured out who they were by reading the sign-in sheet at the front desk.

But on Thursday night Brian W. and I slipped out of the office for dinner at Taxi's, a mock-1950s greasy spoon-kind of place no doubt familiar to most of my company. I had the Avocado Jack Burger with, you guessed it, chicken, which probably would have been really good if it had been a burger. As it was, the avocado was a little overbearing, and the chicken was mildly overcooked and tasteless, but mediocrity in California still beats most places in the country.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Photo from the road

There were no chicken sandwiches on Monday - lunch was passable cheese pizza from the prospect's cafeteria - but the meetings went well and the audience was happy. We first met with them in October 2003 (yes, 2003), which did not go well, but after they saw our competitor's product they asked us to come back. This is a shot of the field across the street from the prospect's headquarters. We're not in San Francisco any more.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hartford-Springfield Airport: Fresh City

Texas BBQ Chicken Wrap - 0 stars

I really expected to give Fresh Citya star, and I wanted to, but I just couldn't bring myself to. A BBQ chicken wrap sounds simple, but it turned out to be a Frankensteinian combination of mismatched ingredients: bland white "Jasmine" rice (that was undercooked to the point of near-rawness), assorted Asian-style vegetables (broccoli, snow pea pods?), bland but not-too-overcooked chicken, and big gobs of sweet but otherwise tasteless "barbecue" sauce, all wrapped in a tomato-colored tortilla.

By the way
The real highlight of the night was on my drive from BWI up to York, Pennsylvania, when I pulled off the highway for a snack at Wendy's (see the Toronto review for the backstory). The chicken nuggets were surprisingly edible, but I must say the first Frosty of my life was a disappoinment (sorry, Daniele) - as far as I could tell, a cold, whipped, sweet approximation of ice cream with only a faint chocolate flavor.

I capped off the night by chatting with Mike K., Alex B., and Patty in the Holiday Inn bar in York ... which, let's just say, is a long way from San Francisco.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Amherst, MA: my house

Roast (free-range, organic) chicken

Because today's all-day meeting in Cambridge was cancelled (due to a snowstorm that turned out to be a dud), I had time to prepare and roast a chicken for dinner. Recipe: wash the chicken inside and out and blot dry. Salt and pepper liberally all over and inside the cavity. Stuff thyme branches under the skin covering the breast and inside the cavity. Truss and let sit for several hours. Remove from the fridge at least one hour before roasting. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes and 350 for 40 minutes, turning twice (once breast up, once with each wing up); let sit 15 minutes before carving. (Note that this works for a 3.5-lb. chicken; you may need to cook larger chickens longer.)

Dauber gave it 3 stars. But I'm not rating it because (a) I cooked it and (b) it's not a sandwich.

Other notes
Apparently the second day of the Toronto meeting went even better than the first. One highlight was when the lead technical evaluator went away with the application and the configuration guide (and no other training) and announced that he had completed all the configuration exercises himself, so we didn't have to demonstrate them for him.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Smithfield, RI: The Roast House

Chicken Fiesta Sandwich - 1 star
$7 with fries, curly fries, or onion rings and pickle

I was really looking forward to eating in Cambridge (since I travel so many places with no good restaurants), but the meeting there was cancelled, so there was no reason for us to drive there.

The Chicken Fiesta Sandwich is a decent attempt at a fake-Mexican chicken sandwich. It included two breaded and deep-fried pieces of chicken breast, covered with cheddar and jack cheeses, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and salsa, all in a sub-shaped bun. The chicken was tasteless but not overcooked, the toppings were flavorful enough to make it interesting, and the bun had a surprising amount of texture, and also managed not to fall apart under the load. A small piece of cartilage in the chicken was the only real disappointment. The onion rings were crisp and not greasy, but were relatively flavorless, probably due to a lack of salt. I also got the onion soup, which was too salty, used some mediocre substitute for real Gruyere cheese, and was not broiled hot enough.

The sales call went swimmingly well, as Ken worked his usual magic with the crowd.

Travel notes
The Fairfield Inn in Smithfield has free, high-speed wireless Internet access. Other than that, it's kind of a dump.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Charlton, MA: McDonald's

Crispy Chicken Sandwich - 0 stars
about $4

Yes, McDo is getting expensive; you can end up spending over $6 for a value meal these days. I swore off of McDonald's since reading Fast Food Nation, but at 11 pm on the Mass Pike rest stops there isn't really any other option, and the 6 packs of Asian-style crackers I ate in the Air Canada lounge in Toronto weren't cutting it for dinner. I know I should get the Chicken McGrill instead, because it's "healthier," but I always succumb to the temptation of the deep-frying, and ...

Predictably, the chicken was overcooked by a factor of 3, and came with an uninspired tomato, some iceberg lettuce whose only fault was that it was iceberg lettuce, and an awe-inspiring scoop of mayonnaise that I scraped off. Coupled with a bun utterly devoid of either character or structure, it added up to zero stars. And I couldn't even play the arcade games because I only had Canadian coins in my wallet.

Back in Toronto, after 20 minutes spent trying to get the projector to work, and operating on two hours of sleep, Michael did a great job on the demo. By the afternoon, he and Daniele were bickering so amiably that one member of the audience said they were like an "old married couple." We told them they got the comedy for free with the software.

Random travel notes
The Air Canada lounge does put U.S. airport lounges to shame, with a full bar, Canadian beer (the good stuff) on tap, and free, high-speed wireless Internet access. It's surprising that such a fine lounge is provided by the same airline that flies an 18-seat plane to Hartford where the co-pilot seems to double as the flight attendant. There was no demonstration of the safety features of the plane, perhaps because it didn't have any.

Toronto, CA: Sizzler's

Chicken Shishkabob on Pita - 1 star
about $5 Canadian

Close to midnight, lying on the spare bed in Michael P.'s hotel room while he and Daniele figure out the scenarios for the next day's demo, I decided if I didn't eat something I would either pass out from hunger or fall asleep from fatigue. Room service was shut down, but the front desk recommended I try the Wendy's in the same building, and I set out in search of my first-ever Frosty (recommended by Daniele). Unfortunately, Wendy's closed at midnight instead of 1 that night, so I ended up at Sizzler's, a hole in the wall across the street that served burgers and Middle Eastern food to emergency repair crews and random partygoers who had lost their way and ended up there. The staff were so confused that it seemed like a scene from a movie where two guys are robbing a restaurant and then some customers appear, so they have to pretend they know how to run a restaurant, but eventually the food was ready and I paid not very much for it.

The grilled chicken chunks, lettuce, tomato, and sauce were all serviceable, but the pita was great - warm, faintly blackened on the outside, and slightly chewy - which earned Sizzler's its star. I almost took it away for the mediocre, limp, unsalted, greasy fries, but, you know, it's only Canada.

Eventually Michael and Daniele figured out what we wanted to do, so we spent until 3 am getting ready, after which Michael probably spent the rest of the night testing. And I've still never eaten a Frosty.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Columbus, OH: Elevator Brewing Co

Turkey Reuben - 1 star
about $7 with fries and a pickle (actually, a thick slice of a pickle)

Well, our choices were Elevator's, a Wendy's, and a place in between that looked like it served food from behind a bullet-proof glass window. Inside, the place was surprisingly airy and urban. The turkey reuben was encouragingly decent - perhaps an indication that Russian dressing smothers all else - although the ratio of turkey to everything else was rather high. The fries were perfectly adequate. All in all, it was a perfectly good way to kill an hour waiting for a meeting in "downtown" Columbus.

The meeting itself was pleasant enough, although the developer in the back seemed to fall asleep, and a nice way to start off a long trip.