Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"I Had a Bad Experience..."

I don't normally write restaurant reviews, but this one has to be written.

I am rarely critical of restaurants and the service provided. My thinking ranges from "everyone can have an off-night" to "I just won't ever come back here."

And truth is, last night's experience was more comical than critical.

But I probably won't be going back there any time soon.

The First Mate and I went out for a nice dinner last night before the Symphony performance. We try to dress appropriately for the Symphony - unlike you, man in the black bib overalls! - which means we also want to eat somewhere where our dress will be appropriate. That usually means dropping some big bucks on the First Mate, but hey, she's worth it! 

We chose di Fratelli's.

It happened to be the eve of St. Patrick's Day, but since the Feast of St. Patrick fell on Sunday, restaurants were celebrating early. 

Our waiter, for example, was wearing a bright green t-shirt instead of the restaurant's usual formal uniform. Strike #1.

Our waiter was rather casual in his approach - a bit too hip for my taste. And when he asked for our drink order, it went like this:
     Him: Can I get you something to drink?
     Me: Southern Comfort on the Rocks. (I ALWAYS order Southern Comfort on the Rocks when I go out.)
     Him: I'm sorry. We don't have Southern Comfort.
     Me: You used to.
     Him: I know. But no one ever ordered it...
     Me: ...except me!
     Him: Yes, but we can't stock it just for one person.

Strike #2. I had a similar dilemma at another local restaurant, and after a polite discussion with the manager, he promised to have it for me the next time I came in.

Note to self: We need to go back to Cynthia's... soon!

So I explored other options, intentionally avoiding the special "St. Patty's Day" drink list. Turns out they also had a pretty unimaginative selection of Rum. I suppose if they don't stock what the locals don't drink, then all one might expect them to have would be Bacardi and Captain Morgan.

Frankly, all things considered, I'm surprised they didn't just stock Jack Daniel's!

I thought about getting up and walking across the street to Shandy's - where I know they stock SoCo - but instead I made a mental note to not come back here.

Captain's Note: In all fairness, it has been about six months since we last ate at di Fratelli's. The last time I tried to get a reservation there, I got a recorded message. By the time they called back, I had found another place to eat.

The waiter was casual throughout dinner - not overly attentive at all. We had to ask to see a wine list - a good selection, although a bit ambitious to think someone around here would buy a $260 bottle of Opus One from a waiter in a bright green t-shirt) - and he spit out the daily special and dessert menu (they don't print a dessert menu!) so fast we had to ask him to repeat it... several times! 

But I have to confess, despite the service, my food was excellent! I ordered a swordfish steak that was grilled to perfection! I would not have smothered it in the spicy marinara sauce, but that was tasty too. The sides - garden rice and grilled green beans - were just the right compliment for the swordfish.

Will I eat at di Fratelli's again? Maybe - the food was that good - but since I now know they don't stock Southern Comfort, it will be lower on my list of choices.

And hopefully the waiter will have a better attitude next time!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I have become caught up in a television show on Spike TV that I hate to watch, but I watch it faithfully nonetheless.  Called “Bar Rescue”, the premise is that each week John Taffer, self-proclaimed bar expert, comes into a failing bar, does a complete makeover in less than a week, and makes the bar profitable.

I love the show because I could very easily see myself opening a bar of my own in retirement, so I’m taking notes. It’s harder than you think!

I hate the show because John Taffer is a loud, arrogant a**hole. He begins screaming at people from the minute he walks through the door, making me wonder why anyone would invite him in!

Many of the problems he points out are obvious to the viewers – dirty kitchens, roaches, ugly / out-dated décor. One bar even had a heavy-metal band performing, in which the lead “screamer” cut a fictitious baby out of a “pregnant” woman.

Nothing says “Let’s eat!” like a violent c-section!

Somehow, I missed the opening episode of season 2, in which Taffer does a makeover on Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland. When I started looking for it online, the Spike TV website said I couldn’t watch it on my iPad; I would have to go to a computer. But on my computer, all I got was a blank screen.

So I searched. At least three sites (Hulu, etc.) offered the episode for free, but after giving up my email address, for some reason they also needed my credit card number! I finally downloaded it through iTunes for $2.99.

The things I do for you, dear readers!

According to the story line, Piratz Tavern started when Tracey Rebelo threw a pirate-themed Halloween party. The party was so much fun she wanted to keep it going. So she opened the bar. Her husband, Juciano, became the cook. Many of the employees were friends and customers who just wanted to live the pirate life.

Tracey described it as “the ultimate Peter Pan fantasy”.

According to the show, within five years, Tracey had lost her house (she was reportedly living with her parents at the time of the taping) and was $900,000 in debt. But the bar was still Tracey’s dream.

These are qualified statements because there is an alternate back story offered here.

Enter John Taffer. Now, despite what they want you to think, Tracey didn’t invite “Bar Rescue” to come to her rescue. The production staff identified the failing bar as an easy target and made Tracey an offer she couldn’t refuse.

But she should have.

Taffer shows Tracey the potential of the bar’s location. He claims there are more than 15,000 employees in surrounding corporate high-rise office buildings. By his estimate, the bar could bring in a half million dollars at lunch time, and $300K during Happy Hour.

But the pirate theme would have to go.

The money is enticing, but Tracey still wants to hold on to her dream. She says she doesn’t want to lose the soul of the bar – to which Taffer screams at her, “Businesses don’t have souls! Businesses are profit centers!”

“Why is the rum always gone?”

She finally gives in to his bullying, and Taffer and crew start to work. First, he tells the staff the pirate theme has to go. Archer, one of the servers, opts to leave.

I respect that.

One-Eyed Mike – yes, he only has one eye – says he can’t find a job anywhere else; the Piratz life is a natural fit for him. But he agrees to stay.

The rest also agree to try this new idea, if only for Tracey’s sake.

Taffer brings in a chef – because the menu is 18 pages long and the food is supposedly terrible. They portray Juciano as not knowing shrimp from lobster! He doesn’t even like his own cooking!

Taffer brings in a professional bartender – because the drinks are supposedly terrible. It appears that as the Piratz bartender makes the famous “grog”, it contains more than 12 oz. of rum!

Now I know why the rum is always gone!

Taffer brings in a service trainer – because the staff supposedly prefers having a good time rather than waiting on people. But the trainer is a young urban professional, and you know that’s not going to go well!

And Taffer proclaims, “We’re going to turn this bar into a money machine!”

But I didn’t hear anyone ask for “a money machine”.

As the bar begins to transform – “One-Eyed Mike” trades in his eye-patch for glasses, and even shaves his soul patch! – Taffer explains, “Bars are not about personal taste. Bars are not playgrounds. They’re business. And they have to be built to the marketplace.”

Watch the whole show if you want the drama.

In the end, Taffer transforms Piratz Tavern into “Corporate Bar and Grill”. The menu is reduced to one page of mostly tapas, the bar is stocked with Don Julio Tequila and Ketel One Vodka (product placement anyone?), and even an automatic drink dispenser (I’m talking Margaritas, not Coke) is installed to speed up the drink-making process! Self-service draft tables (pour your own beer) were also installed, but these are apparently not legal in Silver Spring, so that was just stupid!

And the décor is sanitized to appeal to the corporate yuppies of Silver Spring.

As you might guess, the makeover lasted only a few days before Tracey closed it and reopened it as the Piratz Tavern once again.

There are those who say all the drama was fiction, played up to create “good television”. [Again, you can go here to read another account of the story of Piratz Tavern.]

But I’m not writing about the reality in “reality TV”. This blog is about dreams.

You see, for better or worse, Piratz Tavern was the DREAM of Tracey Rebelo and her staff. They didn’t want to run a generic yuppie bar for the local corporate types. And they didn’t want to create a “money machine”. They wanted to create a place where they could live out their fantasy of being pirates… pirates running a bar.

Was this a good business model? Probably not. Was there room for improvement? Definitely. Could they have done better in a location like Orlando? Sure.

But why should Orlando have all the fun?

But no one has the right to trample on one person’s dream and try to replace it with his own idea of what ought to be. No one.

If John Taffer thinks Silver Spring needs a “Coporate Bar & Grill”, he can open one down the street. And I won’t tell him what a stupid idea I think that is!

But leave the Piratz alone!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Break

This is Spring Break week for many colleges, and coastal cities have geared up for an onslaught of students looking for sunshine, booze, and random and casual hook-ups. this week published a guide to the “Top 10 Trashiest Spring Break Destinations”, based on “past spring break cred factors such as Girls Gone Wild shoots; prevalence of Hooters restaurants, tattoo parlors, liquor stores and strip clubs; and laws pertaining to open containers and drinking establishment closing times.

Surprisingly, Las Vegas – not a beach town – took the top honors this year.

And who wouldn’t want to be there!

BTW, the temperature in Vegas this week is in the mid-60s.

“… but it’s a dry heat!”

As you might guess, I am not there. No one wants this ol’ captain hangin’ around poolside while they’re trying to get their groove on.

Of course, I wasn’t always an old captain. Several years ago, the First Mate and I went down to Gulf Shores – “the Redneck Riviera” – looking for the Spring Break crowd. Turned out that we missed it by a week! And the highs along the Gulf coast were in the mid-50s!

Not what we were hoping for!

On the plus side, we never had to wait long for a drink or an open pool table!

But after the miserable cold and rainy weather we’ve been having around here this winter, the heart is yearning. Today’s sunshine is a welcome relief. We’re still only in the mid-40s, but the psychological effect of the sun shining makes a huge difference.

I am fortunate to have a window in my office. In fact, my window is 11 feet wide – 55 square feet of glass – looking out onto…

…a traffic intersection.


So I keep a beach scene as my computer wallpaper and dream of warmer days of sand and sun and ocean waves lapping gently against the beach.

And that day is coming. The reservations have already been made.

But for now, we wait.

And daydream...

Monday, March 4, 2013

At Last!

I used to fret about what to write here on the "Banana Winds". And maybe I should.

According to the geeks over at Google, I get almost 1,800 hits per month! But I don't have the slightest idea who they are... or why they would read this stuff! So I'm not writing to a particular audience.

But thank you all, whoever you are! I am your humble Captain, at your service!

Since it's going public - I didn't realize just how public until I Googled myself once - I want it to be good. Should I try to be funny? Thought-provoking? Interesting? introspective? Artsy?

My hobbies include wine, women, and piracy, so I try to work a little of each into my posts.

In my line of work, I knew I couldn't write "slice of life" stuff, because most of that would involve the lives of church people who don't normally find the humor in what they do or say.

Did I just say that church people are a humorless bunch?

But what I see trending more and more in the blogosphere is simply re-directing one's readers to someone else's blog.

That's right - why do all the work when someone else has done it for you?!?

Oddly, the gods of the blogosphere concur. They say that in order to be a successful blogger, one should give an occasional "shout out" to a fellow blogger.

Wow! That takes a huge load off my back! I don't have to write this stuff anymore! I can just say, "Go read what she wrote and get back to me!"

That leaves a lot more time for wine!


So, for today's post, just go over and read this blog from Tim Atkin. I don't know who he is - doesn't really matter - but he's pretty funny!