Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hot Suppa, Tulsi, and Cracker Barrel

I find it funny how every year, during the Holiday season, at the exact same time that everyone else is getting ramped up to eat and drink at a furious pace, I’m always going on the wagon and laying low. I’m not sure what it is, Maybe I’m just so beat up by the time I get to late November that being drunk and full just isn’t that exciting anymore. Usually a month-long break brings back the enthusiasm, plus it’s good to do a yearly “oil change,” if you will. The last few days of a recent bender finds me at three very different restaurants…

Thursday Night - Hot Suppa

One of my favorite spots for breakfast and lunch, Hot Suppa, has started doing dinner service Tuesday through Saturday. Normally I give a new concept at least a couple of months before I try it, but I didn’t think that they would have any problem transitioning at all, and I was right.

Originally it was supposed to be my friend Beth and I, but quickly the party grew to include my friends Joel, Nick, and Katie (who can fill a room with noise just as easily as I can). Figuring this could be a little tough to accommodate in such a small space, I contact the restaurant to make sure it would be ok. The seating works out fine once I'm able to stuff my fat ass into the booth, the only drawback being that it slightly limits my ability to flail my arms around wildly while emphasizing points.

I had just spent five hours getting tattooed that afternoon, so a drink is first on my list of priorities. I opt for the Abita “Turbo Dog” from Louisiana, a darker beer with slight chocolate and toffee notes. Hot Suppa also features a full bar now, as well as a small wine list, adding it to the few places where you can get a great breakfast with a cocktail.

The dinner menu is made up of mostly southern fare, with an emphasis on Cajun. We start out with the boudin balls, fried pork-and-rice sausage served with Creole mustard and pickled okra. What makes these different and better than other versions I’ve had is how light and airy they are without sacrificing flavor. The fried oysters served over baby spinach with bleu cheese vinaigrette are equally successful, with a crispy and delicate batter. It is also nice to eat a few greens, as it makes you feel better about yourself later.

Anyone who’s been to Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal has probably had their mammoth portion of foie gras poutine, and the version they are serving as a special at Hot Suppa comes pretty damn close. Two huge slabs of foie with Pineland Farm cheese curds and a dense gravy atop a mountain of fries is a pretty good deal for $21. You can also get “poutine light,” without the foie gras, if you’re comfortable with being a pussy.

Now that I’m already kind of full we take down a few oysters on the half shell and prepare for entrees by getting another round of drinks. I order the fried chicken and waffles, because I like fried chicken and I like waffles. Nick follows me down this path and soon everyone is staring at our chicken and waffle feast with envy. Another standout at the table is Joel’s New Orleans style BBQ shrimp over creamy stone-ground grits, complimented with a delicious butter sauce.

I become aware that my stomach is having more and more trouble fitting into the booth. Beth suggests that we go to some dance party at Space Gallery, which seems to interest Nick, while the rest of us agree that hanging out in Joel’s kitchen while drinking six bottles of wine is a much more sound idea. We head out to Whole Foods where I purchase, among many other things, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot because it’s the only Champagne that is kept in the cooler. I personally think Veuve is a bunch of mass-produced bullshit, but I had something to celebrate, so it did the trick nicely. Beth agrees, even though she still insists on going to previously discussed dance party...

Sunday Night -Tulsi

Probably my new favorite restaurant in Maine, Tulsi has blown me away on two consecutive visits with some of the best Indian cuisine I’ve ever had. Plus they’re open on Sundays, which is an important detail for those of us who work in the restaurant business. My first visit was on Halloween night, and they were in a mild state of disarray due to being one man short in an already small kitchen staff. This was fine, we weren’t in any kind of hurry, but the drawback being that the missing person was, as our server put it, “the bread guy.” This meant no naan, but I figured it was just another excuse to come back again very soon.

After having such a great experience, my first inclination is always to expect disappointment on the second visit, because it’s just the way I am. The whole drive down I continue to remind my friends Kelly and Jess that it was amazing the last time, so hopefully it would hold up this time. Luckily I have one veteran of the last trip, Melinda, in the car to verify that I wasn’t crazy just in case it wasn’t as amazing as I claimed it would be.

It’s a little slower and more controlled than last time, and our server definitely seems more at ease when we roll in. The restaurant itself is actually a converted post office, which becomes evident when you access the bathrooms through the back hall and it has that look, feel, and smell. It’s a very cozy room, so I would highly recommend making reservations just to be on the safe side. We start out with a bottle of 2009 Domaine Sainte Eugenie Corbieres Rose, with the intention of taking down at least two more. When I picked Kelly up earlier, she had complained about not eating all day because she was saving room, which is great except for the fact that it made her a little on the impatient side. We attempted to deal with this by getting her some fries from McDonald’s before we left Portland, which would have worked if everyone hadn’t started eating them. I urge her to drink up fast while her stomach is empty, and then relax and enjoy the food. An order of papadum arrives at the table, with two dipping sauces – spicy mint and tamarind. Kelly starts right in on these but quickly finds out that trying to satisfy intense hunger with airy and delicate crisps is a little bit of a lost cause.

For appetizers we decide on two orders of the shrimp balchow, sautéed in a tangy, spicy Goan sauce and served with crispy naan, because it was so good on the last visit that one just wasn’t enough. These have a decent amount of heat to them, causing the first bottle of wine to vanish quickly and need to be replaced. We also have the malai kabob—chicken marinated in sour cream and mild spices and then grilled in the tandoor oven. I’m not usually a fan of chicken breasts, much preferring the dark meat, but these are melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Thankfully, the “bread guy” was in the house so we ordered three different kinds of naanaloo with spiced potatoes, keema with minced lamb, and Peshawari with nuts, coconut, and dried fruits. I can only describe the bread as fucking amazing, perfectly crispy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside, all served with a yogurt condiment, raita, on the side.

For entrees we order the chicken korma, simmered in a yogurt and cashew cream sauce, lamb nilgree, cooked in a spicy north Indian mint sauce and served over lemon rice, and palak paneer, spinach sauteed in spices finished with cream and homemade cheese. All are accompanied by large bowls of fragrant basmati rice. Though everything is outstanding, the lamb with the combination of lemon rice and a small salad with pomegranate seeds truly stands out. The food here is all intensely flavorful, yet has a delicate nature that sets it very far apart from other Indian food I’ve enjoyed through the years. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but you really see why with the first bite you take. This food requires time and skill to prepare, and to fully appreciate it we feel we need a third bottle of wine.

At this point the chef, Raj, comes out into the dining room to chat. I am starting to get a little drunk, but not quite drunk enough to tell him that he is my personal hero at that moment. Instead I rattle off something stupid and then clumsily introduce my dining companions, to which he smiles and shakes hands before thanking us and heading back into the kitchen.

Despite being painfully full, we have to share a mango lassi, a yogurt based shake, because it was so goddamn good on the last visit. We ask for four straws (I know, it’s so fucking precious), three of which end up in my mouth after a hilarious mix-up. Jess makes everyone proud by taking all four at once, I guess it helps that she was lubricated by the wine.

On the ride back to Portland we decide that calling it a night would be silly, and we head to a bar where I run into my pal Spencer and proceed to drink two more bottles of wine and seven shots of tequila. This utterly reckless behavior is brought on due to my frustration with a week–long cold, thinking “well, I’ll just show my body who’s boss around here!” Of course, this doesn’t work and when I awake in a strange room, dazed and late for work the next morning, I notice I am much sicker.

Tuesday Afternoon - Cracker Barrel

Sometimes I feel the need to go to restaurants solely based on how ridiculous they are, so when I heard that there was a Cracker Barrel opening out by the Maine Mall, I started to get a little excited.

“Sure, I’m a fan of a good Christian time enjoyed amongst other fine Christian folk,” I think to myself. This prompts me to set up a lunch date with one of my favorite companions for absurd adventures, Gemma, informing her that “they’ve got a great gift shop where you can start your Christmas shopping early!”

We arrive on a dreary and overcast afternoon, the perfect kind of day to load up on southern style country fare. The restaurant is located right next to the Wyndham Hotel, or “the twin trash cans” as we so lovingly refer to them. We enter through the gift shop, which immediately puts me on overload, with obnoxious Christmas smells, snowmen, teddy bears, and bad sweaters everywhere. My first reaction is “I don’t belong here, something bad is going to happen to me,” and I realize that I must get to the host stand quickly to reach the safety of our table.

As we are seated I am disappointed to learn that they don’t serve any alcohol, as that would make it less of a “family friendly” environment. We decide to make do, and I order a Stewarts Orange & Cream soda, while Gemma opts for apple cider. The dining room is filled with the usual kitsch, and I observe what was clearly a five hundred pound man at a neighboring table consuming enough food for about ten adults.

I feel that most chain restaurants, no matter how shitty, can at least serve food that tastes good by using enough ingredients that are bad for you. I came here with the intention of getting country-fried steak, figuring that it’s impossible to fuck up. The menu is extensive and has many categories, taking a break between each to try to sell you additional things, such as frying pans, peg games, etc. My country fried steak entrée ($9.29) is under the “Fancy Fixin’s” category and comes with “made from scratch” buttermilk biscuits or corn muffins, “real” butter, and my choice of any three “country vegetables.” Vegetable choices include, among other things, macaroni & cheese, cottage cheese, steak fries, fried apples, and pinto beans. I go for the mashed potatoes and whole kernel corn, along with fried okra.

Gemma initially is leaning towards country fried shrimp, but is then seduced by the prominently displayed “chicken n’ dumplins platter ($8.29),” which promises the “best of the breast” paired up with rolled by hand, made from scratch dumplins. Her country vegetable selections are hash brown casserole, fried apples, and turnip greens.

Just as I’m about to ask where the bathrooms are so I can go look myself in the mirror to affirm that I hate myself for doing this, a random customer pipes up and yells “through the gift shop, buddy!” I thank the friendly Christian as I slink back into gift nightmare Hell, and when I arrive back two minutes later I find our table is already littered with a shitload of food.

My chicken fried steak tastes fine, though the consistency of the gravy is like mashed potatoes. This turns out to be ok, because my mashed potatoes were barely “mashed” at all, filled with big lumps. To remedy this I mix my corn into them, hoping to disguise the potato lumps by telling myself that it is a corn kernel I just bit into, nothing more. My fried okra could best be described as “deep-fried Mushy Ca-Ca,” and after eating two I push them very far away from me. Biscuits and corn bread are wildly disappointing, being dry and not even salvageable with the small pat of “real” butter provided.

If you think this sounds bad, things are going even worse for Gemma over on the other side of the table. Her “Chicken and Dumplins” looks more like wontons that someone had blown their nose all over. The “Best of the Breast” blended seamlessly into this monochromatic mess, with the hash brown casserole being the only edible item on the plate. It is a very unfortunate situation, as we were very hungry to begin with, but ate just enough awful food to not be able to justify going somewhere else to eat again. I will say that the service was excellent, and at least we don’t have to wait long for our check to get the fuck out of there.

If you’re still interested in checking out Cracker Barrel, you’ll be delighted to find out that certain days are better than others to dine there, such as:

Friday Fish Fry, with a choice of Haddock or Catfish.
Saturday Chicken N’ Rice, featuring made from scratch Chicken N’ Rice.
Sunday Home-style Chicken, with boneless chicken breasts fried to a golden brown in our kitchen, as opposed to right next to your table.

On the way out we explore the gift shop a little more, and find a few hidden treasures:

As we leave I vow never to return, which is sad because I spend a fair amount of time at mall-side restaurants due to them being my safe-zone for any kind of family gathering. I respect certain chains because they are always consistent, which is comforting to me. My go-to list remains the same:

1. Longhorn Steakhouse (definitely the best quality, owned by Capital Grill)
2. Chili's (very bad for you but tasty – also good margaritas)
3. Famous Dave’s ( I like the ribs)
4. Imperial China (not a chain, but near the mall. tasty Chinese-American, loaded with MSG)
5. Wild Willy’s (I like the burgers here, and they’ve got very tall beers and a crazy drunk robotic piano cowboy)
6. Texas Roadhouse (just don’t bring kids with peanut allergies, unless you wish to harm them)

The worst would be:

1. Cracker Barrel (see above)
2. Applebees (bland, shitty food)
3. Ruby Tuesdays (wildly inconsistent)
4. Pizza Hut Italian Bistro (the name alone should piss you off)
5. Olive Garden (the only experience I’ve ever enjoyed here was in high school when I took acid with a friend and skipped school. We ended up here, ordering all you can eat breadsticks & salad while giggling uncontrollably for about an hour. I don’t recommend going here unless you’re tripping your face off)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Epcot Center Food Coma - Yes, You Heard Right...

I'm not quite sure how this happened...

About a year ago I found myself either drunk or in a really good mood, or quite possibly both, and I agreed to journey to a place that would probably be right above Antarctica on my list of places to visit. Envision a land where children roam free, the tank top is in vogue, and a giant mouse rules with an iron fist. That’s right – Orlando, Florida.

Because no friend of mine would ever propose this idea to me, you may have figured out that it was my family, using as justification the fact that our last “family trip” was seventeen years ago. I had tried to forget about the disastrous “Ricchio European Vacation,” where we had successfully set Americans back in the view of the German people by fifty years. The highlights for me were forcing my family to visit Dachau, the fact that in Munich they serve beer to fifteen year olds, and realizing that eating at McDonald’s avoids lots of unnecessary confusion and embarrassment because my parents can recognize most of the menu options. It was supposed to be a two week adventure in the heart of the Fatherland, but that was mercifully cut down to a week when we all realized it was a complete failure. Interesting side note though, on the way there I discovered that it is, in fact, fun to do acid on a plane.

This time I believed my parents would be in their element, or at least in a place where English was the primary language spoken, so I agreed to fly down for a couple of days to join them at Epcot center. I kept telling myself that “it’s not Disney World, and it may provide for some interesting stories,” but as the day grew closer I came to the realization that, much like last summer when I was talked into going camping, this was going to be brutal.

I hate to fly, and I especially hate it when I’m not even going somewhere I’m excited about. I picture my embarrassment when people talk about “when Joe Ricchio died in a tragic plane crash on his way to Orlando.” My friends would laugh and play songs from the Little Mermaid soundtrack at my funeral, proceeding to decorate my grave as if it were the it’s a small world ride. My family had already been in Orlando for about a week, Thus I'm travelling solo and to make myself feel better I upgrade to first class, where all of the drinks are free. I park my car in the garage and slug two nips of Rumple Minz on my walk towards the ticketing booth, which starts to loosen me up. Once through security I choke down two large Old Thumpers and a shot of Jameson, while trying to eat a small bowl of disgusting and gluey mac n’ cheese, at the Shipyard Bar before my flight starts boarding. Though only travelling for about five hours, I purchase ten magazines to keep my mind occupied. Once we’re in the air, I take down three Budweisers while talking to a guy named Dave, who had been a pilot in the Air Force since 1987. When I asked him if he’d ever like to retire and fly commercial airliners he replied that would be like “trading your Ferrari in for a Saturn.”

We land in Baltimore and I decide that I need one more beer and a double shot of Bushmills before catching my connecting flight. The bar is conveniently located right next to my gate, so I can monitor the boarding process. As it neared departure time I was noticing very little activity. I got up to go to the bathroom I heard my name being announced over the intercom, basically informing me that I was about to be spending the night in Baltimore if I didn’t board immediately. While observing my acknowledgement of this message from across the way, they continued to instruct me, over the loudspeaker, to “hurry up and finish my beer.”
After three more Buds and a nip of Canadian Club on the second flight I finally arrive in Orlando. I take a cab to the Marriot, where my parents had basically rented a large apartment. The accommodations are actually quite comfortable, so I decide to crack open one of the bottles of wine I’ve brought, a Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone, and prepare to unwind after a day of traveling. It doesn't take long to for me to fall asleep in front of the TV, and several hours later I awake from a bad dream realizing that Mr. Deeds, starring Adam Sandler, is on the screen. I watch, half awake, for about five minutes before I conclude that my nightmare was probably a direct result of what a piece of shit this movie is. I turn the power off and fade back into an Adam Sandler-free slumber…

The next day I’m shaky and a little out of it, but I think that’s prime condition for a trip to Epcot Center. The discussion about where to eat lunch begins, and I dodge a few ridiculous suggestions from my parents, such as Pizzeria Uno. Frustration begins to mount, as I’m getting hungry and irritated, and eventually everyone, meaning me, decides that we just need to drive to Epcot, and see what’s on the way. As it turns out, nothing was on the way, and as we arrive at Epcot my father immediately begins groaning about the cost of parking. We pull up to the collection booth, and he asks the attendant “when did you start charging for parking?” As if this poor woman would have any fucking clue. Luckily, not speaking very good English, she misinterprets his question, thinking he has asked her “when do you stop charging for parking?”

“Two hours before the park closes,” she replies.

My father is forced to pay and continue on towards the main lot, where there are attendants dressed in obnoxious yellow and white striped outfits, riding Segways, directing traffic. “For eighteen bucks I should be able to park wherever the hell I please!” my father grumbles as he follows the parking instructions to a tee.

After parking, the Disney adventure begins. We get to walk a quarter mile through the parking lot to find a tram waiting to transport us into the park. Once seated a man’s voice comes over the speakers at ear-bleeding volume, barking in unrecognizably distorted words for the duration of the seven minute and twenty-two second journey to the park entrance.

At this point I’m starving and nauseous from a mild hangover, and starting to get very, very irritable. When we get through the gate my mother and sister decide that before lunch they’d like to go on the “Spaceship Earth” ride. I now realize that my only hope of salvaging any chance of having fun in a Disney-run theme park is to go it alone. As my family starts shuffling towards the rides, I stride off in the opposite direction, hollering vaguely in their direction, “I’ll call you in a little bit!”

As most people know, Epcot Center is largely made up of several faux "countries” that have been built and populated in an effort to replicate the real thing. I decide that I will spend the next six hours eating and drinking my way through this mini-world, documenting it along the way, before reuniting with my family in faux Italy at 8:00 for dinner reservations. The first thing I do upon going solo is make a beeline for faux China to eat lunch, as I believe this to be a good gauge of just how “authentic” the food at Epcot can be. Each faux country has at least 2-3 places to eat, and I select what looks to be faux China’s flagship restaurant, Nine Dragons, to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The most interesting part of the faux countries is that everyone who works there has been imported from the non-faux country bearing the same name. It’s actually pretty cool to transition through each one and observe the change in spoken language, architecture, and food smells over the space of a three-minute walk. The menu at Nine Dragons is definitely heavily influenced by Americans, but I roll with it and order hot & sour soup and Kung Pao chicken. I generally don’t trust glass pours in restaurants so I get a split (187ml) bottle of Mumm Napa, a non-offensive sparkling wine from California, for an easy transition back into yet another day of non-stop drinking.

My waiter, a Chinese man in his fifties, is very friendly but having an extremely difficult time getting my bottle of sparkling open. I desperately want to help him, so I can have my fucking drink, but I feel like it will hurt his feelings. After what felt like a week, but in reality only about a minute and a half, he pops the cork and pours into a large Champagne flute, which is slightly dusty from prolonged storage. Two minutes later my hot and sour soup arrives, which isn’t anything special but given how hungry I am, tastes damn near perfect.

I start to look around the restaurant and observe the other patrons, who all look like pure, unadulterated brutality. If I ever give up on life, kind of like the movie Leaving Las Vegas, I will come to Disney and wait tables while drinking myself to death. These people make my parents, by comparison, look like experienced and savvy world travelers.

My Kung Pao chicken is actually quite good, with a perfect balance of sweet and spicy complimented by crunchy peanuts. I order another bottle of sparkling about five minutes before I finish my current one, to accommodate for the time required by my waiter's inevitable struggle. Though I have my camera with me, I need to have a few drinks before I'll feel comfortable taking a lot of pictures. I come to the realization that no matter what I do, there was no way I could possibly be any more irritating than the people they deal with on a regular basis. Once I'm at ease with this fact, I am able to start having a mildly enjoyable time. I even consider "practicing my Chinese characters" on the menu provided, but sadly I'd left my Calligraphy set at home.

During my visit, Epcot happens to be holding their annual “International Food & Wine Festival,” which really translates to "Celebration of Generic & Mass-Produced Easily-Recognizable American Brand Names"(CoGaMPERABN). I didn’t bother with any of the random carts set up for this, focusing instead on the permanent collections within the faux countries. Faux Germany is my next stop, where I begin to realize that all of the girls that work here are quite pretty, inspiring me to check out the wines they are pouring at the counter of the “weinkeller.” Amidst several Rieslings that are responsible for most people thinking they don’t like Riesling, I find a Selbach-Oster Kabinett, which I actually like. While waiting for a glass, I overhear a few members of the staff laughing amongst themselves and conversing in German. Every now and they wave their hands in the air and yell, “Oh, hi!” clearly imitating an obnoxious and very gay southerner who had just left the shop.

I exit the store with my Riesling in hand and wander around for a bit, ending up in faux Japan, where there is a particularly impressive display of drumming taking place on a replica of a Shinto shrine. I spend a moment taking it all in, but am inevitably drawn to the sake counter at one of the shops. My fetish for Japanese women makes this a very distracting place to be, so I decide I might linger for a bit. Once again, although the selection of sake fairly generic, there are a few diamonds in the rough to be found if you know what you're doing. As I pretend to peruse the shelves, I eavesdrop on the saleswoman talking to the man shopping next to me. She asks him if he likes sake, to which he replies “No, not really.” Staying friendly, she asks if he’d like to taste any, and he points to a bottle of plum wine. She explains to him that the only sakes available to taste are the ones on the counter, not the shelves, which seems to offend him and he storms away.

Unfazed, she approaches me and asks the same question, to which I reply “Yes.” She seems relieved and we go to the counter, where I try a vintage sake that is actually quite good. She asks me what kind of sake I like, and I get confused as to how to answer, not wanting to seem like I'm trying to impress her with my extensive knowledge of sake, so all I can think to say is “dry ones.” She smiles and nods in agreement, and I wander off with glass in hand. That’s one of the best parts of places like Epcot, being able to walk around anywhere with drinks, and I intend to take full advantage of this. At this point I notice a man shopping around in a ridiculous kimono (pictured) that he had clearly just purchased, somehow thinking it didn’t make him look like the “Ultimate Fuck-Stick.” He also didn’t think it was strange when I took his picture, at least for the first time (I’ll elaborate later).

I begin to feel a little hungry, and head over to a restaurant called Mitsokoshi for a Nigiri snack. After what I’ve learned from Masa Miyake, I feel pretty comfortable in any Japanese dining setting, but unfortunately, because of Masa’s food, I’m also very easily disappointed. I just want basics so I decide to take a chance. The waitress, who was quite easy on the eyes, seems immediately relieved that I didn’t stare at her like a deer in the headlights when handed a warm cloth for my hands. She really opens up as I order simple items such as tuna, yellow tail, and omelette by their Japanese names, and then I'm pretty sure she wants to fuck me when I don’t ask for a fork. At least this is what I perceive, regardless of any basis in reality, as I dive into a half bottle of Junmai Ginjo sake and a Sapporo. The fish is actually pretty good, the rice and wasabi are not, but I am having a good time regardless, listening to the girl at the next table tell her parents about her “richest boyfriend ever.”

As I exit the restaurant, I’ve got a pretty decent glow-on, so I decide to watch more of the drum performance before heading over to faux France. On my way, however, I’m distracted by an accumulation of people around a large stage, with the words “Eat to the Beat” prominently displayed. Upon further investigation I learn that the pop group Hanson, yes “MMMMMMmmmMMMM Bop!!!” Hanson, was about to play a free show in 30 minutes. This seems surreal to me, and I think it best to carry on and pretend it isn't actually happening, and that maybe I'm just drunk and hallucinating.

To get the thought of attending a Hanson show out of my head, I work my way over to the wine shop in faux France in search of Champagne. They have Pommery Brut N/V, which is totally inoffensive, amidst many other Ca-Cah brands that would be sold at a Hypermarche, the French equivalent of a Shop N' Save. I head out into the streets with my plastic champagne flute, and make early dinner reservations for myself at “Bistro de Paris,” the “high-end” restaurant in faux France. One more lap through the countries before it gets dark seems like a reasonable idea, so I check out faux Morocco. At this point I have also started to drunk-dial friends at home, in addition to sending photo updates of each faux country, just in case anyone wants to share the Disney Magic with me.

Faux Morocco looks much like the set of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, with aromas of spices filling the air. The Disney police happen to be on the scene outside one of the restaurants, investigating an incident involving a few Americans who felt that crimes committed in faux Morocco may not follow them into neighboring faux Italy, which I’m sure was a grave mistake. As I myself cross over the faux Italian border, I notice that my Champagne is almost gone and venture towards the wine shop for a refill. Upon discovering that they’re only pouring bullshit Italian wine, such as Bolla Amarone, I head back towards Germany for more Riesling. On the way, I cross through “The Great American Adventure,” which is the United States but presented in a more historic manner. There is a large beer kiosk that is only pouring Samuel Adams, which prompts a man pushing a stroller to yell out,“You got any American Beer?! Fuck Yeah!” while giving an enthusiastic thumbs up into the air. I pause to consider whatever creature is in that stroller and what it’s life is going to turn out like, but then realize that I’m badly in need of a refill and press on towards the faux Fatherland. This is when my second sighting of “Kimono Fuck-Stick” occurs…

They have swapped out the attractive German girls from my last visit with even more attractive ones. I quickly annihilate two glasses of wine while pretending to look the wine selection over but actually staring at the girls out of the corner of my eye. Sorry, I know I’m being creepy, but I’m getting drunk, and It's not my fault that they hire girls who look like this and dress them in these “outfits.” Plus it's definitely better than the alternatives:

It’s getting close to the time of my dinner reservation in faux France, so I quickly find a restroom. Here I’m treated to some very disturbing imagery, as I walk by a stall that’s half open with a man grunting and groaning while gripping the rail next to the toilet. I was unsure if he was grunting in German, thinking maybe it was part of the act here, but I get the fuck out and head for the faux Mexican border. I take a moment to watch a Mariachi band on the street, while desperately trying to get the bathroom incident out of my head.

When I arrive and am seated at Bistro de Paris, I’m the only patron in a dining room that redefines the word “sterile.” Knowing I have yet another dinner plan in faux Italy later, I decide to order three appetizers – smoked salmon, escargots, and butternut squash soup. The wine list is filled with vastly overpriced and uninteresting bottles, so I select the 2007 Comte de Lupe Bourgogne Rouge, mainly because it isn’t over $150 and seems like it will be drinkable and perfectly fine.

My waiter, Djibril, is very friendly and a little too enthusiastic, and I eventually have to tell him that I can pour my own water and wine so that he won't visit my table every five minutes. This seems to confuse him, so I explain that I am a very fast drinker, but in actuality I just don’t want my wine stem, which seems very cheap considering the price of the wines, filled up three quarters of the way. He looks at me like I have three heads when I ask if it's normal for them not to play any kind of music in the dining room, as it's dead silent at the moment, and then proceed to snap this photo of him.

Other customers start to lumber in, all old and miserable looking, with the stench of death about them. The bread girl visits my table and she is (surprise, surprise) very pretty, and very polite. As she makes her way through the dining room I hear her being asked all kinds of awful questions by the walking dead, such as where she’s from and how does she like America, and I hope for her sake that she can’t read minds.

I’m presented with an amuse, a cheese and leek flan, which is entirely forgettable. My first actual course is black peppercorn smoked salmon, with blinis and chevre, which is definitely the strongest dish I am to encounter. I guess it’s fairly difficult to fuck up smoked salmon, which is why I ordered it in the first place.

Escargots "cassoulet" with Porcini mushrooms and parsley butter does not fare so well, and would have been better if they had at least provided more of the buttery pastry to accommodate the large amount of snails. I love snails, but I don't want a big bowl of them, especially when the texture is off and every fifth one is filled with grit. The fact that everything is garnished with cherry tomatoes pisses me off as well, and they proceed to do it on all three dishes. Djibril looks hurt that I didn’t finish my escargot, and I politely explain that I’ve got another dinner to attend in two hours and I’m trying to save room.

Little did I know that I should have saved this excuse for my butternut squash soup with crème fraiche and chestnuts. The soup itself is ok, but I have forgotten about the chestnuts and am a little alarmed when I bite into something that has the texture of raw cauliflower, and it kind of ruins it for me. The accompanying gougere is completely devoid of flavor, a far cry from the ones I grew to love at Evangeline.

After clearing my half-eaten soup, Djibril seems to get the hint that maybe I think the food sucks, so I quickly ask for the check to avoid any uncomfortable confrontation with any kind of manager. On my way out I start beating myself up a little bit for not eating in faux Morocco instead, and probably saving myself eighty bucks in the process, but another glass of champagne puts me in a good mood again. I wander off to kill time before dinner in faux Italy and stumble upon a Beatles cover band performing in faux England. This is yet another surreal element to a day spent meandering around like a pilgrim in an unholy land, a land that keeps getting better and better with every drink I consume. The one question I’m left with after checking out the shops in faux Japan and England is, "Who the fuck actually buys these expensive swords?" They're really fucking expensive, and I can’t imagine, looking around, that any of these people are going to be doing any kind of battle anytime soon. I just don’t get it.

Wandering the streets of Epcot at night can be dangerous, as you have to be constantly aware of reckless old people on motorized carts. I walk over to a dessert kiosk to take momentary shelter, and notice they’re pouring the Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial, a demi-sec Champagne that seems perfectly suited to my state of mind at this juncture. As I take my first sip, I'm rudely interrupted by the vibration of my phone. It's my family, who have arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes early and are wondering where I am. For some reason this annoys me to no end, plus I am still a little full from my shitty French food, so I depart at an extra slow pace to meet them. Yes, I can at times behave like a five-year-old...

As I arrive at Tutto Italia, in a pissy mood, the cheesy Italian Maitre d' escorts me to my family’s table and makes a joke. “Hey, do you know this guy? He says he knows you – I can kick him out if you’d like!” I would have preferred if my family were laughing because they knew how annoyed I was, but unfortunately it's because they actually think this joke is funny. I say nothing, and immediately reach for the wine list.

They have already ordered a meat and cheese plate for the table, from which I nibble a few pieces of Mortadella, because I can’t resist it no matter how full or pissed off I am. Looking over the wine list, everything is as wildly over-priced and boring as it was in France, so I opt for the 2007 Lucente, a Super Tuscan that is made in large quantities, but is still generally delicious. I’m not sure I could have been any less interested in the back-story about our waitress, but that doesn't stop my mother from filling me in.

We place our entrée orders. I choose Lasagna Bolognese, because it's difficult to fuck up, and also because I figure no one could possibly serve a $26 order of Lasagna that sucks, right? Wrong.

I’ve had better lasagna in the cafeteria when I was in the second grade. The pasta is catastrophically mushy and the sauce tastes like it came out of a Manwich can. Everything else on the table is much better than what I ordered, and this further annoys me because I'm usually good at ordering the safe bet on the menu. Oh well, my family is having a good time and are enjoying their food, so I figure I should just shut the fuck up and eat.

The journey back to the car is arduous, as I am so full that I can barely breathe. Never have I wanted a giant glass of Fernet Branca more than I do at this moment, but I'm not about to take the time to seek one out. All in all, I feel like I’ve done enough damage for one day, and I’m not sure the average Epcot visitor generally takes it quite this far. I’m not saying that there will ever be a next time, but if there is, I’m getting one of those fucking motorized carts.

Just like I said after I was forced to go camping:

Glad I did it, but excited that it’s over.