Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.–Sir Walter Raleigh

4/4/2013 – 4/7/2013 Miles MPG Average Speed  
Raleigh-Durham, NC 1416 44 56  

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Driving listening:


4/4/2013 – 4/7/2013

Priceline Retail $ Savings % Savings
Radisson Hotel Research Triangle Park (3.5 star) $51.96 (inc. tax & fees)
Bid: $41 + $10 bonus cash
$108.11 (inc. tax) $56.15 52%


Thursday

It was raining at 4:00 AM when I rolled out of bed.  Raining at 5:00 AM when I got in the car for the drive to Raleigh.  And raining nine hours and six hundred miles later when I pulled into the hotel.  A nasty, drizzly rain that came with a temperature drop to the low forties in North Carolina.

Yes, a disgustingly early start, but I had a ticket to the hockey game at 7:00 that night and didn’t want to be late.

I checked into the hotel and settled into the room for a brief rest before the game.  I don’t usually say much about the hotels unless there’s a problem, so consider this foreshadowing. 

The hotel’s older and used to be The Governor’s Inn, hence the suite next to my room.

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I actually doubt that he stayed there, considering the rather nice house he has about twenty minutes away.

In the room I found the typical flyers and handouts waiting for me, along with a rather stern pamphlet warning me not to steal the towels and giving the price of virtually everything in the room should it turn up missing after checkout.  Now, a lot of hotels have such a price list, but they typically phrase it as “if you wish to purchase”, not “housekeeping counts everything”.

So right from the start this left a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s the hotel equivalent of showing your receipt on the way out of some retailers: “Thank you for shopping with us.  Please prove you’re not a thieving bastard.  Have a nice day!”

Backyard Barbeque Pit on Urbanspoon

Anyway, I used the Urbanspoon app to find a random BBQ place and headed for Backyard Barbeque Pit.  It was close and had really good reviews on Urbanspoon.

Now … here’s where I have to admit some culpability for my experience at the

restaurant: I was in North Carolina.  I knew I was in North Carolina.  I am not a stranger to BBQ in North Carolina.  And … I ordered brisket in North Carolina.

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I know, I know.  North Carolina BBQ is about the pig, only about the pig, and all about the pig.  But I ordered brisket.

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So on a future trip, I feel that I owe Backyard Barbeque Pit a second visit, but for this visit I had the brisket.  It came covered in gravy, which greatly confused me.  Brisket shouldn’t come with gravy … brisket with gravy is … pot roast?

But, brisket or pot roast, it still wasn’t very good.  Fatty and some pieces so veined with fat that hadn’t cooked out that it was chewy.  The gravy, or sauce, was good neither as gravy nor sauce, but did manage to cover the meat and preclude me from getting any of the other sauces to stick.  So not good.

The sweet potatoes were very good, though, and clearly homemade.  I’m not sure if the beans were entirely homemade, but they didn’t taste of a can and were good as well.  The hushpuppies, which were more what I’d call corn fritters, not as grainy and sweeter than what I’d call a hushpuppy, were very good.

It was still raining when I finished dinner and headed for the game at PNC Arena.

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Carolina was playing Tampa and I am not a Tampa fan, so I was hoping to see the Lightning get trounced.  Unfortunately, other than a first period goal disallowed for the Hurricane player kicking it (which I didn’t see a kick), it was all Tampa Bay.

 

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It was raining when I left the game.


Friday

No rain or clouds in the morning, just a beautiful spring day.

After sleeping in a bit I headed for the North Carolina Museum of Art for the afternoon.  Quite a few of the exhibits don’t allow photographs, so none of those.

The museum’s made up of two buildings.  One (West) for their permanent collection and the other (East) for special exhibits.  Most of the museum is free admission, but there’s a charge for some special exhibits – I sprang the $10 for the two that were currently there and started in the East Building.

The upstairs was mostly contemporary art, mostly an exhibit of pieces by two artists, a photographer and a painter.  They each did normal, household still-lifes, but were exhibited alternating: a photograph and a painting next to each other. 

What would have made this exhibit really interesting would be if they’d each done the same scenes and been displayed together.  A photograph and a painting of the same thing would have been intriguing.  But that wasn’t the case.  Mostly I preferred the painter’s work.

There was an interesting video exhibit.  I don’t normally care for video as art, but this was intriguing.  It was five actors reacting emotionally – different emotions for each one – and it was sixty seconds of video slowed down to fifteen minutes.  Bill Viola, Quintet of Remembrance.  Most interesting if you see it from the beginning, not coming in halfway through. 

From the beginning, the actors aren’t very expressive, so there’s a sense of discovery as they begin reacting and you realize that they’re each doing something  very different.  Pretty cool, all in all.

Last upstairs was a gallery of high school work.  Framed and displayed with as much care as everything else.  The assignment had been to create artwork based on a word or phrase, and some of the pieces were very well done – others were clearly high school, but some I would have been happy to see there on their own merits.

Quite unlike the first of the special exhibits, 0 to 60: The experience of time through contemporary art.

This is one I paid for.  Schmuck.

So first is a piece where someone took several clocks, cut them into pieces and glued them back together. Meh, but not painful.

Next were two clocks, side-by-side, but showing different times.  Okay, I said to myself, there could be something here, but I’m not sure what it is.

So I read the card and found that the clocks had been installed set to the same time, but went out of synch as the batteries wound down.  It’s entitled Perfect Lovers.  Ooookaaaayy … could have been something there … but … I shouldn’t have to read the damn thing to understand what the artist is getting at.

Now, next, was a board. 

Wait, wait … it’s an unfinished 1”x4”, just like you get from Home Depot and, wait for it … the artist has cut out one of the knots and attached it to a clockwork motor so that the knot rotates like clock hands.

We’ll pause while you catch your breath from that one.

Next: Clock motor with a rotten banana peel attached.

No comment.

There was a hundred foot roll of paper with a line made out of hair down the middle.

An air compressor attached to about thirty feet of hose that inflated and deflated a paper bag attached to the end of the hose.

An artist who saved all of his receipts for a year and then duplicated them on to a roll of paper, by hand, with colored pencils.  This was interesting … especially the checks he duplicated complete with MICR routing and account numbers … and signatures.

An exhibit that consisted of a letter from the artist stating that he intended to do a performance art piece consisting of punching a time clock in his studio every day and taking a picture of himself.  And a letter from someone stating that he would sign the artists timecards to ensure there was no “cheating”.  Along with the timecards and a timelapse video of the artist standing next to the time clock for a year.

Punching a time clock every day for a year is not art.  It’s called a job.  Get one.

My favorite, though, was the pile of candy.  Big pile of cellophane wrapped candy in the corner.  The “art” is interactive, in that the viewer decides whether or not to take a piece and staff refreshes the pile from the 175-pounds supplied by the artist.

Apparently there’s “art” at the cash register of every diner in America.

From there I went to the other special exhibit, Object of Devotion, which was a collection of 13th-14th century British alabaster.  All religious works, so not thrilling to me, but I guaran-damn-tee that nothing in the other exhibit will be touring museums 800 years from now … so there. Smile with tongue out

Then over to the other building for the museum’s permanent collection, which spans virtually everything from African folk art to Egyptian to Classical Roman statutes (sans penii, thanks to time and chisel-wielding Popes) – all the way through 19th century painters.  Something for everyone, really.

But mostly I was there to see the Rodins – one of the largest collections of Rodins in the country.

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The Rodins took up the rest of the time I had for the museum.  I left there and headed for the Duke University campus, stopping for dinner at another random BBQ place on the way.

Bullock's BBQ on Urbanspoon Bullock’s does not take credit cards, but there’s an ATM in their lobby.  The lobby walls are decorated with celebrity photos, all of whom seemed to have been happy with the food.

The menu is huge – much larger than I’d

expected, including such BBQ classics as quesadillas.  That made me a little hesitant, but the place was packed at 2:00 in the afternoon, so I stayed to give it a shot.

Bullock’s does not appear to engage in any pretense that BBQ means anything but pig.  Specifically pulled pork.  The menu doesn’t even say pulled pork, it just says “BBQ”.  BBQ with other things, maybe, like BBQ with catfish, BBQ with Brunswick Stew … but, ultimately, the BBQ part all means the same thing.

There is “sliced BBQ”, if you don’t want pulled, and “ribs”, but it’s clear that the focus is on the pulled pork.  I got the BBQ with Brunswick Stew, which came with coleslaw and hushpuppies.

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There were no sauces on the table, so I asked if they had any when my food was served.  Apparently Bullock’s believes that their BBQ is perfectly sauced as-served, and I got a “look” for my heresy.  The server was still smiling and pleasant, but there was still a look … sort of like the look a Borgia Pope might give Martin Luther at a dinner party.

She did bring me a small bowl of a sweet, vinegar-based sauce, though.

The hushpuppies were very good and the Brunswick Stew was excellent, but the BBQ was possibly the best I’ve had since I started these trips.  As-is it was flavorful and spicy, tender without being fatty.  The sweet sauce was good, vinegar-based as well, and added a nice contrast, so I alternated between the two.

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I asked for a desert recommendation and wound up with the “lemon icebox”.  Homemade and delicious, it was a good end to the meal. 

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From dinner I headed onto the Duke University campus, a beautiful place, for a lacrosse game.

Lacrosse is much higher scoring than hockey and, as near as I can tell, the goalie is just there to take up space.  Shots seemed to either miss the net entirely or score.  Duke won handily, 17-6, and I froze my ass off on the aluminum stadium bench.  40-degrees in April.


Saturday

I started the morning on a sour note, because I discovered that the hotel had charged my credit card over $200.  This was a prepaid, Priceline room, so there should have been only a $50 authorization for incidentals, if that.  Instead there was a $150 authorization and one for $52.16.

I spoke to the front desk about it and apparently the hotel has a policy of charging $50 per day instead of the $50 per stay that most properties authorize.  They couldn’t explain the $52.16 and said they have no record of it.

I then spoke to the manager, because even though this isn’t a charge, it’s quite a large authorization.  I really didn’t like the justifications he tried to make.  First, that some people smoke in the room … well, fine, but I can smoke in a room on one night just as well as three, so why a per night authorization?

Then he made a comment about prepaid guests and not having any recourse against them.  Again, I can clean out everything in a room in one night just as easily as three.  And it was another example, like the “don’t steal the towels”-note, of being asked to prove I’m not a thief.  Not the experience I want from a hotel.

Around noon I arrived in downtown Raleigh.  I’d scheduled a walking, tasting tour with Taste Carolina for the afternoon.  While I was waiting for the tour meeting time, there was a Lebanese festival going on, so I watched some performances.

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20130406_125625 And some halawat el-jibim … I think. 

It was a sweet-cheese and semolina topped with pistachio.

Served cold, it was sweet, nutty, cheesy and chewy.

Also a sweet Arabian coffee – both very good, and I would have tried some other things from the food booths, but it was time to head for the Raleigh City Museum and meet the tasting tour.

The tour was several miles walking, with a little bit of history mixed in with stops at five different restaurants.
Centro on Urbanspoon The first stop was Centro, a Mexican restaurant downtown.  Like several other places on the tour, this is not a place I would have chosen for myself and, also like the other places, it’s someplace I’d now like to return to for a full dinner.

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Our tasting here was Chilaquiles Verdes … I have no idea what that is.  It was a creamy sauce that started sweet and then became a little spicy, finishing with the rich taste of the beef.  This dish was tied for my favorite of the tour and I heartily recommend it. 

We also got an interesting drink – “hamicha”, I think it was called – a sweet, flowery tea made from hibiscus.  I recommend that as well.

Gravy on Urbanspoon Gravy is an Italian place that served us the best gnocchi I’ve ever had. 

The individual pieces were larger than I expected and perfectly cooked.  So often gnocchi can be gummy, but these little tidbits melted under the least pressure and

melded with the sauce beautifully. 

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The sauce was cream, garlic, spring onions, and spring artichokes, with a hint of parmesan on top.  It was sweet and creamy, but the parmesan brought just the right amount of saltiness to each bite.  Tied with Centro for my favorite dish of the tasting.

Gravy paired this with a really nice white wine from Italy that I don’t remember the name of. Smile

PieBird on Urbanspoon PieBird sells pies.  I like pie.

The make both sweet and savory pies, but the tasting was all sweet. 

I sat down and looked at the slice in front of me to find lemon icebox … which I’d

I’d just had a pretty good one at Bullock’s.  But one of the other tourers suggested we cut each slice into bites and all try each kind, which went over well.

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So we each wound up getting a bite or two of: lemon icebox, peanut butter cream, honey (local honey), something that was all nuts, and one that was made completely from sugar.  All of them were good, but I think the sugar and honey ones were the best. 

Tyler's Tap Room on Urbanspoon Tyler’s Tap Room is a lot about beer.  I don’t care for beer at all … it seems like a waste of good grain.  Things were on their way to becoming a perfectly good whiskey but went horribly awry …

The tasting was in their bottle store, which sells

the regional brews they feature.

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I tried the beers they had for us to sample, including one that they infused with other flavors.   They take a featured beer and then enhance some of the flavors already present by running it through an infuser system – this week they featured one that they infused with chili, basil, lemongrass, lime, and ginger.  We tasted both the before and after versions and I could understand what they were doing.  The before-version definitely had the flavors they mentioned and the after-version was much bolder.

I still don’t like beer.

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The food tasting was pretzel nachos and pork sliders, both of which were good renditions of typical American pub fare.  My pork could have been pulled a little more, as there were a couple large chunks, but it was very tasty.  The pretzels were fresh, hot, and tender, and the nacho cheese had just the right amount of heat.

Kimbap on Urbanspoon The last stop on the tasting tour was Kimbap, a Korean restaurant almost across the street from Tyler’s. 

I liked Kimbap immediately, just because of their beverages – any place that goes out of their way to advertise soda with cane sugar instead of

corn syrup gets points from me right up front.

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Our tasting here was some sesame greens (which I ate before the photo) and a shrimp fresh roll. 

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The greens were really good, with just the right amount of oil, which is why I ate them before taking the photo.  The roll had a bit too much lettuce for me, but after I took a bit out it was quite good.  The sauce wasn’t too spicy and added a lot of flavor.

Also on the tour, we saw the Governor’s Mansion.  Nice place.

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And a pair of racing Trolley Pubs.

As near as I can understand this, your group pays to rent the trolley, brings its own booze, and then has to pedal around town … drunks are weird.

After the tour, the operators provided rickshaws back to the starting point, with a rather interesting restaurant ad on the back.

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From downtown I was back on my way to the PNC Arena for the second hockey game, this one against the Rangers.  I got there a little after 5:00, almost two hours before the game, the parking lot was half full and the grassy areas were covered with awnings and grills.

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For the Tampa game, the arena had been a sea of red and black, Carolina’s colors, but the crowd pulled out the blue for the Rangers.

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There were so many Rangers fans that they managed several “Let’s go Rangers!” chants during the game – they were drowned out by “Let’s go ‘Canes!” after the first few verses, but they didn’t give up.  The Rangers’ goals, and there were many of them, got as much applause as Carolina’s one goal did. 

After the game I hurried back to my room to catch a few hours sleep before heading home at 5:00 AM, but the manager of the hotel had left a gift for me in the room.

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