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.