Fifteen. More. Days.
Some would point out that I'm halfway there. They do have a point. But isn't self-pity sometimes so much more satisfying than optimism?
While you ponder this existential dilemma, let me tell you about a meal we had last night with our friends who were married in July. They live in Williamsburg, like Ben, and since we seem to avoid dining there like the plague (I don't know why! We like Williamsburg, we really do!) their suggestion to have dinner in, well, Greenpoint, technically, was quite welcome.
The Queen's Hideaway is a well-reviewed little restaurant on a desolate street that leaves much to be desired. The interior is warm and cozy, though, and there's good music playing, and a bookshelf full of cookbooks to read while your friends make their way to meet you, all of which go a long way to make you feel at home. The wine list is a little cutesy, but well-edited and the red Anjou we order is lovely. The menu, to fans of Prune, say, will be familiar - it's a mix of down-home cooking spruced up with good-looking vegetables and interesting flavor combinations.
I'm a little resentful once the waitress explains that the special category on the menu called "Greenpoint" is for the neighborhood folks who shouldn't feel put upon by the prices of the rest of the menu. "Greenpoint" has a few sandwiches for around $10 to $12. The main courses on the menu (for us high-rollers who don't live in Greenpoint) range between $12 and $17, so I'm not really sure why the Greenpointers get singled out for being poor and the rest of us feel bad for rolling in dough instead of the menu being divided into "dinner sandwiches", for example, and "main courses". But, you know what? This isn't my restaurant and I realize I'm being defensive. So we order and move on.
Jenny has a salad with buttermilk dressing that is cool and tangy and the most delicious restaurant salad I've had in a while.
Steven orders a Brussels sprout and sausage succotash that is smoky and sweet and complex, with a delicious broth that just begs for crusty sopping bread.
Ben orders zucchini fritters that aren't much beyond pasty and bland, despite the hot dipping sauce.
And I have stewed, bicolored cauliflower that's mixed with cranberry sauce (a strange and not necessarily inspired combination, though the cauliflower itself is delicious) and pumpkin seeds that are tough and unchewable. (I keep having to spit them out delicately in my napkin. My poor dinner companions.)
With the exception of Jenny's salad, the plates are all dusted heavily with black pepper, which catches in my throat and mutes some of the lighter flavors struggling to come through. Our main courses don't escape the tyranny of the pepper mill and I begin to wonder why the chef feels the need to cloak her cooking in this dull, gritty heat.
I order a piece of trout over soft grits and root vegetables. The fish is sweet and delicous, the grits creamy and corny, the vegetables are caramelized to within an inch of their lives. Everything would be so tasty if the pepper darkening everything weren't so prevalent. I can't finish my dish.
Ben and Jenny both order stewed chicken that comes in a thick gravy with cornbread French toast, but again, it's over-seasoned and the lighter flavors that I know must be there are completely smothered.
Steven gets the gumbo that is crammed with three kinds of meats and served over white rice. It's rich and delicious, but at this point, all I can see are the unrelenting specks of black pepper everywhere - EVERYWHERE - and I'm tired of it all.
What I really like about The Queen's Hideaway is that the plates are relatively small for restaurant standards, which means we can taste from everybody's plate and not roll out of the restaurant feeling gluttonous. What I also like is the price tag - our three-course meal (we finish with beignets and sweet potato pie), with wine, comes to forty dollars a person.
What I wish? Is that someone would take the pepper grinder away from Liza Queen, the chef, and manage to convince her that her bold, lusty cooking would taste so much better unadorned.