Month: March 2015

Restaurant Review – Catelli Duo in Voorhees, NJ

For the first time in months I sampled “fine dining” fare not seasoned by my tears. While feeling adventurous this past weekend I took a trip to Voorhees and dined at Catelli Duo. Their website reads that they “do Italian differently.” I feasted on a quality meal in an elegant setting. When compared to my other dining experiences over the last few months that alone made it “different”.

Upon entering the building a sophisticated interior greeted me. Wine racks adorned the dining area. Lights located underneath the bar top added to the elegance. The bar also featured cushioned seats that maximized patrons’ comfort. An opening to the kitchen allowed diners to watch the chefs working. That feature always impresses me. It shows that the people preparing food don’t have anything to hide. The restroom featured hands-free faucets that emptied into large transparent bowls. Of course, all this luxury came at a price.

I began my meal with a Lobster Bisque soup. The menu described it as including “jumbo lump crabmeat.” At first I thought it a bit watery, but after stirring, the broth thickened and became rather tasty. I thought the price a bit high at $6.00, but for the portion and the quality of the meal, it didn’t bother me.

As I enjoy both seafood and Italian, one choice really caught my attention. Catelli Duo billed the Seafood Ravioli as “house-made seafood ravioli stuffed with shrimp, crab, lobster cream”. When I read that, I knew exactly what to have for lunch. The chef prepared the dish in a creamy white wine sauce.  Once again I had to stir it to get the flavor right. After doing so the meal mesmerized me. I’d call the quality of the seafood superlative. The sauce tasted rather sweet. I’m not a big wine drinker, but the libation they used gave the meal the perfect seasoning. While a bit pricey at $16.00, the quality justified it.

Catelli Duo’s website claims, “We’re not just doing Italian differently—we’re reinventing it.” That’s a bold assertion, but the superiority of the food verified it. My trip to Catelli doesn’t need a “do-over”, but I plan on dining there again.

Music Review – Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes: Live at the Greek

Listening to Chris Robinson attempt to croon “In My Time of Dying” made me wish it was my time of dying. His effort to sing the “Woke Up This Morning” made me wish I hadn’t woke up this morning. This album was but should never have been. As one can guess, I won’t share a “Whole Lotta Love” in this review.

The concept struck me as ill-advised. I’ve never heard of a lead guitarist touring with a separate band and 99% of the set list being songs from his previous band. When this album came out in 1999, the Black Crowes had a pretty extensive musical catalog. While talented, they were no Led Zeppelin. Why then play primarily Zeppelin tunes? I don’t get this one.

And what was going on with Jimmy Page? In the late 1960’s, he took over the Yardbirds after joining. Thirty years later he felt the need to take over yet another band. In addition, he got the top billing. I’m sorry. If Eric Clapton felt comfortable with The Delaney and Bonnie on Tour with Eric Clapton title just two years after leaving Cream, Jimmy should’ve had the same sentiment 19 years after Zeppelin’s split.

At times I think Chris Robinson deserved credit for taking on Robert Plant’s songs. Then I listen to the result of his doing so. These cuts seem totally unsuited for his vocal style. He sounded like he strained to hit the high notes on every song. Even on the more tenor-based Yardbirds track “Shapes of Things to Come” he struggled to maintain the melody. Keith Relf sang the original on that one. To put it as politely as I can, Relf was no Robert Plant.

Some of the arrangements were painful to listen to. “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?” and “You’re Time is Gonna Come” are acoustic classics. Why plug in and crank them up? At least they did keep a mandolin in the former. The later just sounded silly. How silly? Think Metallica pounding out “Can’t Find My Way Home” or Megadeth breaking into “Dust in the Wind”. Still, they played them better than “The Lemon Song”.

I did like the band’s rendition of Peter Green’s “Oh, Well”. It reminded me of the rave-up style of early Yardbirds tracks, such as “Smokestack Lightning”. I’ve never heard the original version of that song, though. Judging from the rest of this review that could be the reason I enjoyed it.

I’d suggest Led Zeppelin fans pass on this one. Go back and listen to the originals of these songs. For Black Crowes fans, delete this one from your catalog. Even Jimmy Page’s presence can’t improve a bad concept. What a “Heartbreaker”.

Political Commentary – March 21: Unhappy Anniversary

This March 21st marks the saddest anniversary in the history of the American experience. On this date in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the protections guaranteed all Americans in the Constitution don’t apply to us. The Court handed down its infamous opinion in the National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab case. This ruling served as the catalyst for mandatory drug testing.

I’ve always been intrigued by this decision. We Americans pride ourselves on our “exceptionalism.” As President Ronald Reagan, the pioneer of governmental work place drug testing, once opined: America stood as a “shining city on a hill.” When I hear stories about people being forced to urinate on demand in front of others, doctors and HR professionals serving as unlicensed agents of law enforcement, and Americans being forced to prove their innocence without the aid of an attorney I have my doubts. In the latter case, it’s especially egregious that people are threatened with loss of their livelihoods if they attempt to assert their Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” WITHOUT EVEN BEING ACCUSED OF A CRIME.

The fact the Supreme Court expressed this sudden abnegation of the concept of privacy befuddles me. In 1973 it ruled that a woman had a solemn right to privacy if she desired an abortion. Sixteen years later it issued another decision stating people lack a right to privacy if they would like a job. I don’t understand the reasoning here, but, then again, I’m not an attorney.

This decision allowed for a new series of disturbing tactics America’s so-called “war on drugs”. I recall reading Primo Levy’s account how guards would force concentration camp inmates to urinate in front of them. In German society at the time, doctors worked as agents of the State to eliminate undesirables. While Americans love our “Happy Hours” we hold a special distain for drug addicts; at least the ones not working in the entertainment industry or playing professional sports. I’m not placing drug testing on par with the Holocaust, but the eerie parallels are difficult to discount.

It’s even harder to ignore Americans’ cavalier attitude towards this erosion of Constitutional protection. Many people argue that drug testing makes society “safer.” I reply that the two most horrible expressions in the English language are “consumer protection” and “public safety”. They can be used to justify anything. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “He who would sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither.”

I always cite Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion as one of the best commentaries on civil rights. It belongs in the same category of great American orations such as “The Gettysburg Address”.

There is irony in the Government’s citation, in support of its position, of Justice Brandeis’ statement in Olmstead v. United States,277 U. S. 438, 277 U. S. 485 (1928) that “[f]or good or for ill, [our Government] teaches the whole people by its example.” Brief for Respondent 36. Brandeis was there dissenting from the Court’s admission of evidence obtained through an unlawful Government wiretap. He was not praising the Government’s example of vigor and enthusiasm in combatting crime, but condemning its example that “the end justifies the means,” 277 U.S. at 277 U. S. 485. An even more apt quotation from that famous Brandeis dissent would have been the following:

“[I]t is . . . immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement. Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding.”

Id. at 277 U. S. 479. Those who lose because of the lack of understanding that begot the present exercise in symbolism are not just the Customs Service employees, whose dignity is thus offended, but all of us — who suffer a coarsening of our national manners that ultimately give the Fourth Amendment its content, and who become subject to the administration of federal officials whose respect for our privacy can hardly be greater than the small respect they have been taught to have for their own.

(Retrieved from 3/21/15.)

In his “Farewell Address” George Washington warned that America “should not go abroad in search of monsters to fight.” Recently we engaged in an effort at nation building for a society that hadn’t had “freedom”, “liberty” or “democracy” in over 6,000 years. Instead of trying to turn the Middle East into the paragon of Jeffersonian Democracy, we should focus on assuring our own liberty here at home.

Restaurant Review – The Farm and Fisherman Tavern, Cherry Hill, NJ

The Farm and Fisherman Tavern advertises several seafood dishes on its menu. I ordered the Reuben. I knew an unforgettable evening awaited me. With entrees to choose from I opted for a lunch sandwich. Not that this establishment had an extensive variety of options. Based on all my server’s tattoos, I read more ink on her than on the menu. That’s not good.

Speaking of the service, I observed opportunities for improvement. For one I didn’t receive what I ordered. I requested the Minestrone Soup for an appetizer. As I’m writing this a day later I’m still waiting for it. It made me wonder: do I look fat? Granted, I have put on a few pounds over the winter months. That’s no excuse not to serve a paying customer what he requested.

One of my fans recently asked me to “go easy” with my review of this establishment. Regrettably, this is the kind version of my observations. Since I promised to be more positive, I shall honor my commitment. Let me say that the Farm and Fisherman Tavern saved me $7.00 on soup.

On the subject of appetizers, the ones at this establishment were anything but. I sampled the Calamari. For those who’d like to save themselves a trip to Cherry Hill I’ll describe it. It reminded me of drinking Tequilla. I felt like I chugged a mouthful of vinegar and then chased it with a few pieces of shrimp.

And then I split an order of the Caramelized Cauliflower with someone. To be fair, I eat cauliflower from time to time. Prior to trying this appetizer I knew their flavor doesn’t explode in one’s mouth. They’re the leafy equivalent of mushrooms. I get that. I figured that the special sauce would enhance and add more zest. It didn’t. Why not? Upon reviewing the menu more closely, they described the sauce as a “curried mushroom cream.” What a great idea. Take something that has no flavor and douse it in a sauce made from something else that has no flavor.

I’ve brought up the ridiculously high price of vegetables in previous columns. To spare readers another harangue I’ll limit my observations to this. The $8.00s the management gouges customers for this is almost as tasteless as the appetizer.

In spite of these set-backs I decided to stick it out and stay for “dinner”. When they served my meal ($12.00), one gentleman in my group observed, “That’s an interesting looking Reuben.” That’s about the only word in the English language that adequately described it. Imagine throwing a salad in the middle of a garden. That’s how my plate appeared. I would’ve taken a picture, but people may have thought I staged it. I saw it in real time and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it. I had the option of French fries or salad as a side dish. I never would’ve thought they’d bury the sandwich in the salad.

And there’s more. I don’t know what process they use to slaughter turkeys for human consumption. The one I had must’ve died from dehydration. I’ve never tasted anything this desiccated. Did I mention the Reuben didn’t come with Russian Dressing? The presentation on the plate confused me so much I accidentally put my salad dressing on the sandwich. You know what? It still tasted really dry.

I’d had enough at this point. I passed on desert. Not that it would’ve mattered, anyway. They billed one of the items as a “Bacon Ice Cream.” (Before people send me e-mails: I know. I’ve never seen those words arranged in that combination, either.) This establishment was just bursting with great ideas. Why not take a breakfast food and turn it into a desert? What’s next? Scrapple Sherbert, anyone?

So far 2015 is turning into a rebuilding year for fine dining. My dog, Cinnamon, shares my displeasure. Whenever my dad and stepmom return from eating out, they give her their leftovers. I’ve seen Cinnamon walk away from “fine cuisine” in favor of her chew stick. My birthday’s coming up in a few weeks. People ask me where I’d like to go out to dinner for it. With some of the places I’ve been to lately, I’ll take one of the dog’s left over chew sticks.

Drama Review – Fences by August Wilson

Without question, Troy Maxson deserves to be ranked among the most complex protagonists in literature. He’s a blue collar Willy Loman, a bit less crass than Stanley Kowalski, and a family man in the vein of Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad from Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. This character’s intricacies made my reading of August Wilson’s Fences both enriching and quite surprising. I’m shocked that I hadn’t encountered it before.

Maxon presented himself as the very epitome of responsible behavior… at least by his standards. In addition to confronting the racism of the era, he also encountered the challenges of raising a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh. Here’s a sample of an exchange he had with his son.

Troy: (Racial epithet), as long as you in my house, you put that sir on the end of it when you talk to me.

Cory: Yes…sir.

Troy: You eat every day.

Cory: Yessir!

Troy: Got a roof over your head.

Cory: Yessir!

Troy: Got clothes on your back.

Cory: Yessir.

Troy: Why do you think that is?

Cory: Cause of you.

Troy: Aw, hell I know it’s cause of me…but why do you think that is?

Cory: (Hesitant) Cause you like me.

Troy: Like you? I go out every morning…busting my butt…putting up with them crackers every day…cause I like you? You the biggest fool I ever saw. (Pause) It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family. (Pages 37 – 38)

The playwright didn’t model this 50’s dad off of Ward Cleaver. Troy’s father didn’t fit that description, either. I enjoyed the way Wilson kept tying in the ‘responsibility’ theme with family.

Troy: Sometimes I wish I hadn’t known my daddy. He ain’t cared nothing about no kids. A kid to him wasn’t nothing. All he wanted was for you to learn how to walk so he could start you to working. When it came time for eating…he ate first. If there was anything left over, that’s what you got. Man would sit down and eat two chickens and give you the wing. (Page 50)

            Did I mention that Troy directed this speech at his son Lyons? He did have a bit of a happy ending to this tale. Here’s Troy’s explanation as to why his father didn’t leave, in spite of his obvious unhappiness working as a sharecropper.

Troy: How he gonna leave with eleven kids? And here he gonna go? He ain’t knew how to do nothing but farm. No, he was trapped and I think he knew it. But I’ll say this for him…he felt a responsibility toward us. Maybe he ain’t treated us the way I felt he should have…but without that responsibility he could have walked off and left us…made his own way. (Page 51)

Troy harbored the following minatory thoughts on his dad. He delivered them after recollecting a brutal beating he suffered at his father’s hands.

Troy:…”Part of that cutting down was when I got to the place where I could feel him kicking in my blood and knew that the only thing that separated us was a matter of a few years. (Page 53)

            Wilson fully fleshed-out his protagonist’s values. He best illustrated them in the following discussion between Troy and his best-friend Bono. I really liked the way the playwright crafted this exchange. Reminiscent of the great Harold Pinter, an ostensibly trivial conversation developed into a crucial plot point.

Bono: Rose is a good woman, Troy.

Troy: Hell, (racial epithet), I know she a good woman. I been married to her for eighteen years. What you got on you mind, Bono?

Bono: I just say she a good woman. Just like I say anything. I ain’t got to have nothing on my mind.

Troy: You just gonna say she a good woman and leave it hanging out there like that? Why you telling me she a good woman?

Bono: She loves you, Troy. Rose loves you.

Troy: You saying I don’t measure up? That’s what you trying to say. I don’t measure up cause I’m seeing this other gal. I know what you trying to say. (Pages 62- 63)

The playwright did an exceptional job tying the whole story together at the end. The following dialogue occurred between Troy’s wife and their son.

Rose: You just like him. You got him in you good.

Corey: Don’t tell me that Mama.

Rose: You Troy Maxson all over again.

Corey: I don’t want to be Troy Maxson. I want to be me.

Rose: You can’t be nobody but who you are, Corey. (Page 97)

I’m hoping to see Fences performed someday. Troy Maxson is such a fascinating character. I’d enjoy the opportunity of watching a master thespian animate him. For now, I’ll have to settle for August Wilson’s poetic portray of him in words. That’s pretty good consolation.