Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I've gotten a bit behind on my posts about food, music, and movies. Here's a quick roundup of what I've experienced in the last few weeks...

Last weekend, I took a friend to dinner at the Best Steakhouse on Grand, down by SLU and Grand Center, and enjoyed a juicy, delicious ribeye. The place is a bit of a dive; you might want to go with a friend ("safety in numbers" and all that). But the food is terrific! Afterward, we enjoyed a concert by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stéphane Denève of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They played Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture (which I have loved since I was about 10 years old), Mozart's 18th Piano Concerto with the exciting young pianist Piotr Anderszewski, a twenty-first century piece by Guillaume Connesson -- inspired by an article in a French science journal and written for Denève and his RSNO -- titled "A Glimmer in the Age of Darkness," and Respighi's glorious tone poem The Pines of Rome. I had told my guest that Respighi's reputation as the loudest classical composer is based in part on this piece; when it was over I grinned at her over the roaring ovation and said: "Was that loud enough for you?"

The musicians created an audible mosaic of beautiful images, from the festive atmosphere and rich romanticism of the Berlioz, through the wit and delicate pathos of the Mozart, the atmospherics and surprising beauty of the Connesson, and in the Respighi a succession of moods ranging from a childlike romp to the haunting stillness of a Roman catacomb, from a nightingale's lyricism in the moments before dawn to the steady approach of a Roman army along the Appian way. The chaotic end of the first movement made me laugh aloud -- it was as close as music can get to the screeching of tires and blaring of horns -- but the last movement was one awesome crescendo to a breathtaking finish. I must note that, visually, it was interesting to see a conductor who (at least from behind) looks like Penn Jillette. The pianist looked like a kid they pulled in off the street. Yet I was in a great seat to watch him gently coaxing beautiful phrases out of the piano and, at times, almost ejecting himself off the piano bench with the force of his own emphasis.

I recently used a free movie pass to see the George Clooney opus "Up in the Air." Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, J. K. Simmons, and other more-or-less familiar faces populated this film, partly filmed in our own St. Louis, about a consultant who flies all over the country, firing people on behalf of employers who are scared to do it themselves, and delivering motivational seminars on his philosophy of living out of a carry-on bag and having nobody waiting for you at home. When his boss forces him to take the "new kid" in the firm out on the road to show her the ropes, he finds his lone-wolf ethic put to the test. It threatens to be a movie about the unemployment problem, and turns into a film about loneliness, and whether it's possible to live a good life without home or family in it. I must say it was a concept that touched pieces of my own life. It makes me sad to imagine how many people nowadays could say the same thing.

On the food front, I visited an Italian place called Favazza's, on the corner of Southwest and Marconi, just west of Kingshighway in the city. I meant to order Cavatelli Melanzani, a pasta dish with tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and slices of eggplant. As a result of a miscommunication, my waitress brought me Cavatelli Shrimp Mario, which has all the same stuff except shrimp instead of eggplant. I decided to go with the flow and enjoy the shrimp dish anyway. It was very zesty, and the portion was enough for even a big guy like me to take half of it home for a meal of leftovers. I thought it was strangely appropriate that the pasta was shell-shaped. And my goodness, the garlic toast at that place is magnificent! I made sure the whole basketful got added to my carryout box.

Somewhat farther back, I stopped on the way home from work and tried the Longhorn restaurant. It's one of those virtually interchangeable places, like Chili's and Lone Star Steakhouse, but I wanted to mention it because the night I stoped there, I enjoyed one of the juiciest, tastiest, thick hamburgers I have ever had.

Finally, I wanted to mention the Bosnia Gold restaurant, which I visited the first time I "scoped out" Laganini's (and found that it was closed). In common with another Bosnian restaurant nearby (Grbic), its appearance is designed around stone and polished wood, and its menu focuses on Central and Southeastern Europe. Perhaps because of these common themes, I couldn't help comparing Bosnia Gold to good old Grbic at every stage of the meal. The comparison was not flattering to Bosnia Gold.

I ordered a plate of goulash, which in that slice of the cultural pie is basically chunks of beef in a reddish sauce (not tomato, but broth with lots of paprika). I remembered having a better goulash at Grbic; the meat at Bosnia Gold was a little on the tough side for me, and the flavor of the broth was less interesting. I also missed Grbic's better selection of beer; Beck's was the only imported brand. But most of all, I missed Grbic's delicious, buttery spaetzle. Bosnia Gold's idea of a side of noodles was undercooked elbow spaghetti flecked with herbs. Apart from the attractive setting and the reasonably good bread, I was not highly satisfied at Bosnia Gold. Maybe Grbic has spoiled me...

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