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.