Sunday, January 17, 2010

Best of 2009 Part III: The Best Brains Awards for the Worst and Most Average of 2009

I have to admit, people: As sucky as last year was, I really didn't have a lot of bad dining experiences in '09. I don't know why exactly. Maybe I've just become more discerning. Or maybe it's because I just don't eat out that much anymore. Even as far as recipes go, I didn't have too many that turned out, well, bleeeeh. So, ironically, the worse the year, the better the food seems to be!

That said, '09 did not pass by with only fabulous dining experiences. Overall, the bad was more of the "below-average" variety. Mostly.

Again, to avoid talk of copyright infringement: the "Best Brains Awards" are named for those masters of silliness, Joel, Mike and the Bots, etcetera, kings and queens of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax. Play us in, Gypsy...

*** Videos are linked to these titles. They elaborate on the theme of the award. Click on them. They're funny.

The Best Brains "Mayo-NAAAAAAISE!***" Award for a second-guessed dining experience

The Ambassador Dining Room (Indian - Roland Park). I almost feel bad mentioning them. Almost. Don't get me wrong: the food was spectacular, and the view was amazing. It was everything else that sucked. And by everything else, I mean the service. A handful of waiters just bizarrely standing around watching me for a good five to ten minutes after I finish one course of a Baltimore Restaurant Week prix fixe lunch. And that was about as good as the service got. A wee nitpicky, but in a posh place like the Ambassador you especially do not expect that to happen. That and my Diet Coke tasted like dish water. I mean, more so than Diet Coke usually tastes. Oh, and did I mention the waiter plunked down my check less than halfway through my dessert? I mean, they weren't filled to capacity that afternoon or anything. Honestly.

Thank you for coming to the Ambassador Dining Room. Now get out.

The Best Brains "I need some hot stuff, baby, this ev'nin'!***" Award for an exceptionally overrated dining experience - They're not all that, chips or no chips...

South of the Border (fast food, Mexican - Dillon, SC) - I know that their thing is a fun and kitschy, "tiki bar meets East Coast taquería" style sort of shopping and sleeping experience. And I know people don't go there for the food. But for God's sake, if you actually want to eat something, stop somewhere else in Dillon. Hell, even the Shoney's. Or stop in North Carolina (if heading south) for food. The shriveled up hot dog and over-salted, dried out "Mexi-fries" I got at SotB don't do Palmetto State food justice.

Less "Lowcountry" and more just plain "Low"

Millions of Milkshakes (shakes) in West Hollywood, CA, merits a dishonorable mention in this category for an allegedly standard chocolate shake that tasted like somebody dumped a gallon of gritty pound cake crumbs into it. The flavor was average at best. Should I really have tried the other 999,999 milkshakes, or instead headed to In-N-Out, who actually know how to do milkshakes?

The Best Brains "Seventh time around...***" Award for places that you just have to wonder why they're still open after all these decades

I normally might want to put the Grill Art (Hampden) here, but my friends swear that they've improved by leaps and bounds in the last year or so. As such, I am stumped for an entry here. I don't have an idea for a place that should've shut down a while ago. Ironic, considering that so many places - good, bad and mediocre - have shut down over the past year in the tsunami that was the Great Recession. Particularly surprising is the demise of the Brass Elephant, a business I didn't think would get taken down in this recession. Look in the window now and it's exactly the same as it was the day after it closed. It's almost like the "1 Day After People" sequence in the History Channel's Life After People series.

The Best Brains "NoDoz" Award for an exceptionally average dining experience - Did I eat yet?

Hello Sushi (Japanese - Redlands, CA) - If you ever have the good fortune to venture to Southern California before the state completely falls apart, there are lots of great sushi experiences to be found. Hello Sushi is not among them. They used to be good - so good they wound up in my Best Of section of 2008. But now the food is mostly tasteless, the service is lackluster, and the prices are about the same as they used to be. It's sad, because the food used to be so much better than this. Head about 20 minutes east into Yucaipa for Tokyo Restaurant's tastier, more innovative rolls, sushi and sashimi.

The Best Brains "Semi-Homemade Angel Food 'Harvest' Cake***" Award for the worst in food on television - Still bringin' on the crazy after all these years. Butter-tini time!

Chopped (Food Network) - This show should never have happened. A poor man's knock off of Top Chef, but just with quickfires that end in eliminations. And apparently about 75% of all contestants are from New York - not just working in New York, but born and raised in New York. Because the rest of America is a culinary wasteland, as well all know, right? Oh Ted, you have better taste than this.

A special mention for a show that seemed to get much, much better after I stopped watching. As a result, I never got see half of the quickfires or elimination challenges involving either Voltaggio brother on Top Chef 6: Bryan and Michael Do Vega$. I did see the final episode, which was much more watchable than the first five or six. Yep, the best three chefs did make it through to the end (the best four if you count the first half of the finale). But the rest of the show? I'll just let the words MinxEats put in Bryan's mouth at the end of her recap sum up my attitude for me: "You know Mom's going to make you share that money." (scroll to the end of the post for the picture. Thank you, Kathy.)

The Best Brains "Close it back up, close it back up!!!" Award for the worst packaged food of the year

These uncured Chinese candied olives I bought at a 99 Ranch (a Chinese answer to H Mart, but on the West Coast) in Monterey Park, CA. Some things were not ever meant to mix and this is one of them.

A little slice o' purgatory right in your own home!

Honorable mention goes to pretty much any beer made from sorghum that you can find in Baltimore. Redbridge is about the most drinkable among them. Others have recommended New Grist, which I just did not like. I know they're trying to find gluten-free alternatives to regular beer, and I admire their efforts. But if they want to use sorghum, it isn't working.

And speaking of sorghum...

The Best Brains "Look... At... That...***" Award for my most failed attempts at cooking

My attempts to pop sorghum never quite worked out. I haven't tried it since, especially since I now know that you can actually buy a big ol' bag of already-popped sorghum at Punjab in Waverly.

Showing here

How little did it work out? Let's see. During my kitchen experiments with sorghum, I managed to scorch it in various kinds of oil in a heavy pot, lightly toast the sorghum kernels in a pan that was vigorously shaken over a fire, and - this is my favorite method of failure - dodging the kernels while they are sprayed in a trillion directions all over my kitchen from a hot air popcorn popper. That method yielded me the most popped sorghum kernels, by the way.

Recently I bought a new package of sorghum, and it's sitting in the refrigerator. Most advice I have gotten suggests that refrigerated sorghum will pop more easily.

Though I wouldn't call it a total failure, an honorable mention goes to my attempt to make American Indian fry bread. Every bit of fry bread I have ever eaten has been wonderful and crispy. Mine turned out like little discs of hard tack. I still need to take up commenter Cassie out in Flagstaff, AZ, on her generous offer to give me some tips for making fry bread that actually tastes good!

Um, fry bread isn't supposed to chip your teeth, dude.

And of course, there was this.

But what is it?

This Poorman's Meal is less appetizing than it sounds or looks. The worst part is that, at the rate things are going, I may have to be eating more of this.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for!!!

The Best Brains Second Annual "Grill Art Cafe" Award for an exceptionally horrible dining experience

I haven't had much to criticize this year. A few average dishes here and there along I-95 or around the Beltway, but nothing truly horrible per se. So take this one with a grain of salt, unless you have "intestinal issues" in which case consider yourself warned. King's Grilled Kabob (Middle Eastern - Hampden) had some okay food. Some of my friends said they had a pretty average dining experience but nothing to get too upset about. Until I woke up the next morning with a wrenching Crohn's flare up that lasted the better part of a week. Oh what fun! This rarely happens when I eat out, and when it does it's rarely my doing. If you don't have Crohn's or colitis or anything like that, feel free to go there (some people find it hard to leave). In fact, it has apparently become a favorite of Hampden's denizens. And I'll admit the falafel actually wasn't that bad. But if you do have GI issues, please high tail it somewhere else along the Avenue. Hell, from what I hear, even the Grill Art has edible food these days.

In a bit, the final recap post of the year: my favorites of everything else for the end of the Aughties. Play us out, Gypsy, old girl.