Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beer here!

LaSalle KitchenMy immune system is occupied with trying to fight off a cold, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to do an entry. I’ll busy my brain with this while my immune response kicks in. Do your thing, immune system! You rock!

Last night we went to the newly renovated and renamed LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern (née Club LaSalle) for a beer dinner featuring Boulevard Brewing Co. out of Kansas City, Missouri. We had been to one of these before and really enjoyed it, so when Ken get the email that another one was coming up, we thought we’d do another one! This was also our first opportunity to see the renovations at the place. I really didn’t notice much in the way of changed decor, although the sectional couch seems to have been replaced with tables. I’m guessing it’s more about revamping the menu then the decor.

It was a cold and blustery night, and the snow was really flying by the window of the third-floor restaurant, but the place is warm and inviting, and we were happy to enjoy a four-course dinner of yummy food paired with various Boulevard brews. The area rep for Boulevard was there and came around to talk about the brewery and the different beers. Really enjoyed talking to him, even though he didn’t know who the Rainmakers are. (Yes, we asked.)

We started with appetizers, paired with the 80 Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer and the Bully Porter. I’m a big fan of wheat beers, so I really liked that one. The appetizers were grilled ham/provolone/Swiss sandwiches, mashed potato balls, and macaroni and cheese. The mashed potato balls sound weird, but they were pretty tasty, with some earthy mushrooms in there, and a good flavor. The sandwiches were also good, but I stuck with one, because I didn’t want to eat too many appetizers! I made an exception for the mac and cheese, which was the standout for me. Nice and creamy, with a hint of garlic. Delicious! I would eat that for a main course.

The first course was Jerked Shrimp & Scallop with a black bean empanada and mango & papaya salsa. This was paired with Pop-Up Session IPA, a nice smooth, low alcohol IPA. The scallop was wonderful and tender, and the salsa was a fresh, sweet addition to the spiciness of the seafood. The empanada was also very tasty.

The second course was Smoked Rainbow Trout with grilled brioche, fennel & apple horseradish jam, and Bull’s Blood micros. I wasn’t sure what that latter thing was, either, but turned out it was microgreens on top of the other stuff. We had Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, which was a little heavier than the previous beer. I loved this was moist and flaky, and the horseradish jam wasn’t spicy at all. It all combined really nicely for a great flavor.

Third course was Braised Short Rib with parsnip purée, thumbelina carrots, and mustard & raisin jus. The beer served was Sixth Class Quadrupel Ale, and yes, that is the way it was originally spelled, so they kept the spelling. Of course, I had to make jokes about quadruped ale and quadriplegic ale. Inppropriate? I don’t know, but I amused myself, if not Ken. I thought this was the weakest course, but maybe I was just getting “fooded out.” The short rib was nice and tender, but I’ve never been a fan of short ribs...I find them overly fatty, and I can’t abide blobs of fat on my meat. [shudder] We both thought the parsnip purée was bland, and the carrots were nothing to speak of. The flavors just weren’t as interesting as the shrimp and scallop, or the trout, in my opinion. However, it was perfectly cooked, not dry at all. The Quadrupel was also a little heavier, but I didn’t find it as one that stood out for me.

The fourth course was dessert, and oh MAN, was it ever good!! It was a chocolate & stout flan with a coffee candy chard. I don’t know if that was a typo and it was supposed to be “shard,” because I know of chard as the leafy greens. This was a chunk of what was basically rock candy, with apparently a little coffee in it. This dessert was absolutely delicious...smooth and creamy, almost mousse-like in texture, with a nice chocolatey-coffee flavor. The beer served was a 2013 Special Limited Release Imperial Stout, and it was perfect with the dessert. Some stouts have a definite mocha flavor to them, and it went well with this. Mmm, thinking back to that flan, I wish I had some more right now!

This was a very pleasant experience for the middle of the week, and we both enjoyed it a lot. I’m sure we’ll do more in the future, when we’re in the mood for a special treat. Club LaSalle may have changed its name, but as LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern, it will remain one of our favorite places in downtown South Bend. It’s a great place to go for a drink after a show, and they usually have musicians on the weekends. I think we’ll keep it in mind for dinners before the show, too. It’s a little more reasonably priced than its downstairs sibling, LaSalle Grill, but the food is also very good. Approved!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beth’s Books: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Beth's BooksI decided to read this book because it was referenced in the previous book I read (and reviewed here), Christian Nation: A Novel. A quote from the Lewis book was used in Christian Nation, and I was intrigued enough that I thought I should read the Sinclair Lewis book.

Boy, am I glad I did.

While the premise of Christian Nation was that the Christian right dominionists take over our government and make America a theocracy, the premise of Lewis’s book is that the far right gains a toehold and fascists take over America. This book was originally published in 1935, when the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, so the timeline makes sense. What is frightening is that both results are eerily similar. In fact, it struck me that Christian Nation drew quite a bit on this book, modeling its theocracy on Lewis’s fascist dictatorship.

In this book, we get everything in fascist America that Nazi Germany had: rapid erosions of freedom, including free speech and freedom of assembly; roving bands of government-sanctioned militia thugs (they’re even called Minute Men...I’m looking at YOU, Arizona!); persecution of seditionists, “intellectuals,” Jews, and Negroes; execution of real and imagined political enemies, or anyone who dares to question the regime; concentration and labor camps; book confiscations and burnings; takeover of the press as part of the propaganda machine.

As in Christian Nation, I was very disturbed at how plausible it all seemed. Check out some of these passages from the book:
Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours… [from one of the leaders in the new regime] 
All women now employed shall, as rapidly as possible, except in such peculiarly feminine spheres of activity as nursing and beauty parlors, be assisted to return to their incomparably sacred duties as home-makers and as mothers of strong, honorable future Citizens of the Commonwealth. [from the platform of the new president, Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip] tenth of 1 per cent of the population at the top have an aggregate income equal to 42 per cent at the bottom. [from a character in the book who is a Communist] 
In the little towns, ah, there is the abiding peace that I love, and that can never be disturbed by even the noisiest Smart Alecks from these haughty megalopolises like Washington, New York, & etc. [from Buzz Windrip’s book—gee, who does that remind you of?]
Any of that sound familiar? If you’ve been paying attention to our current atmosphere in politics, it should. Remember, this was written in 1935.

It Can't Happen HereAll is not lost in this alternate reality America. There is a committed Underground group who works to smuggle people across to Canada and to get out the truth about what the fascist regime is doing to its citizens. The main character in the book, Doremus Jessup, begins the book as the editor of the local paper in a small Vermont town. After tragedies in his own family and eventual imprisonment, he wonders:
I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.
This book is very much worth reading. You might find it a little slow at the beginning, as I did, but once I got about a third of the way into it, the shit really hit the fan, and I tore through the rest of it. If you’re like me, it will make you resolved that such reactionary thinking will never be allowed to flourish in our country, at least beyond a small but vocal minority, and it will make you wonder which side you would be on. Would you go along to get along, or would you work to put an end to such obviously unconstitutional acts? Would you stand by as your colleagues are taken into “protective custody” because you fear for yourself or for your family, or would you fight such tactics in whatever way you could? Would you risk your own life to save others from death or imprisonment? What if members of your own family joined the oppressive regime?

This is a very thought-provoking and disturbing book that will make you realize that its title is a fallacy. I highly recommend it.