Monday, March 26, 2012

The Record Binge, No. 1

Whether you're being liquified under the godless Coachella sun, running the internet jukebox at your favorite dive or just knocking 'em back with your bros on the porch, iPod on shuffle, music and beer share a pretty mutualistic relationship. (If you didn't take or pass Bio 5A, go here for a strained metaphor). And so in this spirit records (at times older, mostly newer) and bottles of quality brew shall be paired and reviewed together, as they should be.

This time: Dr. Dog's Be the Void and Abita Brewing Co.'s 25th Anniversary Vanilla Doubledog

The Record:

I’ve always kind of been a sucker for Dr. Dog. At face value they seem like they’d be a pretty easy band to hate: they have a stupid name, they really wish they were from Liverpool in the 60s, they’re from Philadelphia (the list could go on-and-on). They wear sunglasses when they play the late night show circuit (see?). Yet, even though everything about this band ostensibly exists solely to pay glaring homage to the gilded age of pop music, I still find myself drawn to their particular brand of pastiche. And that’s because to me, a Dr. Dog record always sounds a lot like a bunch of blue-collar dad-dudes passing around a bottle of Jameson and jamming nostalgic in the garage far past their bedtime. Fuck the neighbors. Fuck the boss and the mortgage. Especially fuck the critics if they think we sound like the Beatles. It’s pretty hard to hate on that.

That comparison seems exceptionally apt this time around. Be the Void more or less plays out like your pops’ band’s get-togethers. That is to say it’s pretty terribly front-loaded with quality material. “Lonesome” leads off as a mid-paced warm-up stomp, lightly distorted with gang vocals and background shouts. It’s quintessential Dr. Dog and painfully likeable. Lead single “That Old Black Hole” is a tight bass- and accordion-led ramble that kicks into gear about halfway through before letting loose to free-for-all, feel-good hand-clapping and ending abruptly. Exploiting the momentum, the band fly straight into “These Days” (most surely the best song they’ve written in the last two years) and really hit their stride; it’s the collision of a perfect groove, a perfect guitar line and a perfect buzz. It continues like this for a couple more jams.

But at some point (we’ll call this point “Side B” for, you know, convenience), the returns start to diminish appreciably. Blame it on overreach, blame it on the booze or the direct correlation of the two, whatever… but at some point the itch to play the drummer’s song or extend a solo an extra 10 bars becomes too great not to scratch. The cops get called and the glory days put on hold. In truth this kind of ill-advised excess is as much a part of any Dr. Dog album as are the relentlessly optimistic harmonies. (Or as in the case of Fate, this can end up being like ten-elevenths of the album). Here, though, the transition is decidedly abrupt and made worse by the fact that the first 5 or 6 tracks are so solid. Were it not for “Over Here, Over There” and album-closer “Turning the Century” the back half of Be the Void would be entirely dismissible.

If you’re new to Dr. Dog, I’d maintain that the only place to start is We All Belong, where the extent of their melodic capabilities are most thoroughly explored and their wilder inclinations are kept in check throughout. But if you've already been there / done that, you'll certainly find a couple of their finer cuts on Be the Void.

 The Brew:

For a brief period of time when I was in college, I volunteered in a research lab. I fucking hated it. Amongst a long list of things I like that are not conducive to a laboratory setting are sunlight and spending large portions of my day not conducting 8-hour experiments that I had unknowingly botched sometime during the first hour. It takes a special kind of person to laugh that sort of experience off and try again (“That’s what it’s called ‘RE-search!’” ß lololol FUCK THAT).  I likely would have quit after my first day had it not been for a couple overriding coincidences of interest: 1) I like hot women and, apparently, the professor that ran the lab liked hiring them; 2) I like good beer and said hot women inexplicably liked it the same.

It was this unrequited pursuit of damsel and drink that had me pretending for a couple of months to be super big on brown ales as a fictitious point of contrived commonality. (It really is a wonder how something like that could end poorly, amiright?!) However, en route to a resounding thud, I was at least fortunate enough to be introduced to Abita Brewing via their Turbodog english brown ale and not, as is regrettably the case for most women and a wide swath of Riverside’s downtown hipster elite, with that raspberry bullshit they call Purple Haze.

Generally speaking, I don’t much care for brown ales, but I do love Turbodog. It has all the warm and rich characteristics in the body that make brown ales enjoyable. It’s substantially malty and has noticeable chocolate, toffee and caramel flavors. What I like about it most, though, is that the nuttiness that I always feel overshadows so many brown ales is pared way, way back. There’s a hint, but it’s slight. Everything is cohesive, nothing is overly assertive.

Abita’s 25th Anniversary brew is essentially a Turbodog with vanilla beans added to it as it ages. It retains a lot of the maltiness, to be sure; however, it does not wield the same level of nuance and restraint. The vanilla dominates the beer at the front, and though it yields quickly to a more well-rounded profile, each approach is rather alarming to at least some extent. Ultimately, its presence feels unnecessary, rather forced and very excessive. The beer succumbs to the very debacle it originally managed to avoid with the nut flavor. As a 22-ounce excursion into novelty, it's certainly doable, but when heading back to the well, I'll most definitely opt for the original instead.

The Pairing: 

I was about halfway home from La Bodega when I realized the shared canine-centric nomenclature of the band and brew. It was honestly accidental, though upon recognition I definitely wished I had done it intentionally. Neat coincidence aside, the pairing is better on paper or pixelated screen than in reality. The unremittingly sunny harmonies found on even the weaker Dr. Dog songs make Be the Void ideal for an early afternoon summer kickback pre-game session. Put it on, play some ping-pong, switch to something else about halfway through. In contrast, the Vanilla Doubledog is something I'd probably save for a work night as a one-off after dinner beer, enjoyed whilst attempting in vain for the umpteenth time to give a damn about Mad Men so I may finally feel at least somewhat normal.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Don't Let Me Into My Zone

Waiting tables is awful. Anyone who has knows firsthand. Anyone who hasn't knows someone who has and has had to listen to them regale tales from the front line ad nauseam. The most lamentable aspect of the job, though, is the occasional encounter with someone that sees fit their desire to extend their bullshit beyond the couple hours society has deemed it acceptable to wreak havoc in a restaurant.

Two days after my last birthday, my organs still in full recoil, one such individual toted his family into my former workplace and did his absolute best to deal me what I could at the time only presume was God's true punishment for my excesses of the Friday night prior. Two days after that, he overstepped his bounds and decided to email my boss(es) on the same day I was offered a new job.

Fueled by irritation and, evidently, a good amount of Miller High Life I spent 30 seconds on Google, found my aggressor and broke him off something proper. Yesterday, almost four months later, I sent it to dude's faculty inbox. As the inaugural post on this page, I present it to you as well.

If this is the Raymond Britton that dined with his family at the Mission Inn Restaurant at the Historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California on the night of Sunday, November 13, 2011, then the following is intended for you. Please read it and take it to heart, as I mean every word of it. If this is a different Raymond Britton, please feel free to disregard everything below this, but know there is someone from your state with the same name and an uncanny likeness that is frequenting quality establishments and acting like an utter jackass.

Dear Mr. Britton,

I would first and foremost like to extend to you an apology of my own that falls in line with the one the hotel most assuredly sent to you. It was, and never has been, my intention to provide inadequate service for any guest of any restaurant I’ve ever worked in. Thus I was sorry to hear that you left the restaurant and hotel unsatisfied with the execution of the event you planned for your mother, at least initially anyway. Upon reading the email you sent to my managers (wherein you went out of your way to belittle me, criticize my professionalism and present an inaccurate retelling of events), I was alleviated of said regret.

I no longer work at the Mission Inn, so it should be noted that I do not represent them or speak for them directly when I say that you, Mr. Britton, are an idiot. I want you to know that I normally hesitate to use this term to describe difficult guests, partly because putting up with them is the nature of the job, but mostly because there are almost always better, more precise words that can be used instead. You, for instance, are a condescending windbag. And the woman I presumed to be your wife is an insufferable witch. But no… as evidenced by the totality of your character demonstrated during and after your visit, in this case it is most accurate to insist that you both are simply, wholly idiots.

To be honest, when I heard of your complaint at the front desk, I originally supposed that your goal was to get something for free. Your email to my boss convinced me of as much. You said outright that I was obviously new to the food service industry, and while that may be true on a comparative basis (4 years experience is less than, say, 20 years experience), I will assure you that the first thing someone learns in this position is how to spot someone that just wants something for free. Had your grievances been legitimate or handled and resolved inefficiently or insufficiently, you would have asked to speak to a manager at the restaurant. However, since I’m the man and willingly accommodated all of your hypercritical nonsense, you thanked me repeatedly and then chose to complain later when I couldn’t properly defend myself. I am surprised that while you likely complain every time you dine out, you don’t yet know that this is a much less successful way to achieve your objective. Hopefully this is something you learned when the Mission Inn did not refund any of your bill. I would also recommend that before you gripe about not being credited for a $100 deposit on your check, you make sure that you actually paid a $100 deposit for your event beforehand.

Nevertheless, I’d like to address two of your specific criticisms regarding your experience.

Your email insisted that I was ignorant as to the proper protocol for presenting wine. I object to this immensely. I very deliberately presented the bottle to you, allowed you to taste the wine, and poured proper portions for your guests while being mindful of even the oft-forgotten minutiae (keeping the label pointed toward the guest, pouring for ladies first and host last, etc.). I’m not sure what else you expected, but if you were subscribing to some delusional notion that I was going to decant a $45 bottle of Markham merlot, you were grossly overestimating the weight of your purchasing power. I probably would have obliged had you asked and/or been polite. But you were an asshole. Talk to me when you throw down on some Caymus. I also object to your assertion that anyone in your party had an empty wine, water or beverage glass. You were my only table, and I paid special attention to this.

Probably the most asinine portion of your complaint (and that which most strongly reaffirms my contention that you are an idiot) was that regarding your dissatisfaction with the food quality. I will remind you that I served your party 7 filet mignons, all of which were prepared either medium well or well done. Three of these were sent back to the kitchen because your guests had forgotten to ask me to have them butterflied, nothing else. First of all, if you order a quality steak to be cooked past medium rare, you are an idiot. When you have it cooked past medium, your right to bitch about the flavor or texture is rescinded. Here is where you could learn a quality lesson about making assumptions: just as you assumed that I would provide sub-par service solely because I was young, everyone in the restaurant assumed that you were trashy because you were eating well done filet mignon. Being that your complaint is fundamentally grounded in the belief that I was incapable of providing service befitting of the class, dignity and grace embodied by members of your family, it does not backup your case when you willingly deliver a tell of that magnitude. You might as well have asked me which fork is for your salad and which is for your entrée. In the end, sir, what brings me the most solace is that you weren’t able to eat at our fine-dining restaurant as you had originally intended. At least no one had to knowingly serve a prime steak well done.

Ultimately, Mr. Britton, I can assure you with utmost confidence that your grossly inflated sense of self-entitlement and unconscionable lack of even the most primitive forms of social etiquette dually represent what everyone working in the customer service industry hates most about the customer service industry. On a grander scale, your unbridled ignorance regarding taste and your neglect toward common decency (to say nothing of your dim-witted observations about California) are what everyone in California hates about tourists from Texas and the mid-west in general. That’s not to suggest we wish you’d never visit, but more to recommend that you get your shit together before you do so as not to inspire our resentment in the process.

Anyway, take care douchebag.


K. J. Delaney