Don’t Be That Guy: The Finance Department

As a writer, I work in the communications division of my organization. We’re very spread out, mostly along the second floor of our building. Although, our poor copy editor is on the fifth floor, which makes for very interesting walkabouts during the editing process.

Anyway, by some weird twist of assigned seating fate, I sit near the Finance Department. Let me tell you, every pre-conceived stereotype of what a Finance Department employee is like (well, not EVERY stereotype) but most of them have been shattered by my observations of this species of particular worker.

For one thing, they are really, really loud. I was shocked at how boisterous they are in greeting each other. They act like it’s been months instead of mere hours since they last rested their wondrous gaze upon one another.

I had always assumed people who dealt in accounting were by nature very serious, but oh no, they are quite, quite jolly. Their peals of laughter reverberate off the cubicle walls.

True story: I told two of my communications coworkers the other day that it’s like a Finance Department Rave every morning. My coworkers, in turn, suggested that I put on some techno music and join in the early morning festivities. Fast forward to this morning — I heard someone playing techno music out of their phone as they were walking towards my office. Thinking it was one of my coworkers, I said (outloud) “Aaaaaawwwww yeah! Let’s do this” and started dancing at my desk with pens held aloft like glow sticks. A few seconds later, a Finance person walks past my door with his music blaring and sees my own little personal rave. I. DIE.

Other observations: They do not discuss the latest accounting scandals or software, but rather, they love to talk about their various health ailments, of which there are quite a few, including, of course, the expected carpal tunnel syndrome. No doubt acquired while raving hard — Finance style.

But it doesn’t stop at just work-related injuries. There are apparently buttloads of weekend shenanigans that put our delicate little Finance crew directly in harm’s way. It’s not at all unusual to see a group of them congregating around one of their own who has come in with a fresh new cane or arm brace. They gather in the kitchen (they love themselves some free Flavia flavored-coffees. The syrupy and sweeter, the better) and cluck over this latest injury, hanging on for all the details while the company’s bills wait patiently.

“So there I was, vaulting over my fat cat to replenish my cheese platter when I rolled my ankle and that’s why I’m using crutches today.”

They also love to talk about food. They are quite the foodie bunch and often weigh the merits of different cheeses in different recipes. I heard quite the discussion yesterday about white cheddar and gouda. It was a regular Top Chef over here.

What they do not like to do, however, is clean out the kitchen refrigerator. Or, my personal pet peeve, place smaller items (like sodas, or containers of cottage cheese – no, I don’t know their thoughts on that particular cheese, but I’m sure I’ll learn about it soon enough) on shorter shelves, thereby leaving the taller shelves for someone with a tall item, say, a lunch bag (ahem, me).

Also, I would have expected the Finance Department, which deals with the very delicate issue of money and bills, to display a bit of circumspection and respect for privacy. But no. I have heard about the most egregious abuses of company-issued cell phones, in part, because the Finance person in charge of resolving phone bill disputes often gets into very loud and heated phone conversations about it. It’s been, to say the least, illuminating.

So, to sum up, if you live for danger, like to party, walk on the wild side, enjoy fine food and Flavia coffee, you might want to consider a future in accounting. They are a really, really fun bunch.

Book Clubbing (and Who Do You Think You Are, Anthropologie?)

Can we be uber-lame (besides just using the term “uber”) and start a blog book club?

You might think that such an idea was inspired by the Great Poe (not me, the other great Poe, that Edgar dude) or by the fact that I am, technically, a writer (as in: somebody actually pays me a wage based on writing. I know. Crazy!). And therefore, you might think that the first book of this new book club would be somehow Poe-related. But no. You would be wrong on all counts.

THIS is what has inspired my desire for a book club:

I’m not intrigued by the title, per se. Although, it is quite tantalizing. I need to lose a few myself, but I’m already familiar with how drinking can lead to weight loss and I’m really not interested in hugging toilet bowls, thanks.

No, I’m intrigued by the fact that Lady Gaga’s ex has a book out.

My first thought was, “Oh, it must be a pamphlet or a coloring book. Just look at his lovely outfit. That will definitely teach kids how to color within the lines.” But again, no. It’s apparently, 272 pages long!

AND, it’s about losing weight by running! In marathons!

Wait a minute. He’s a runner? I’m a runner! Mind? Blown.

The book came out on March 13 and he already has 41 reviews on Amazon, mostly full of praise. Here’s one of my favorite, less-favorable ones:

I’ve read the book and I know the author personally. I used to drink at the bar he worked at. He had a beer gut. He was maybe 20 pounds overweight. He wanted to look like his emaciated skinny-jeans-wearing clientele. So he cut way back on his drinking, and started exercising and eating better. Is that really book worthy? I mean it’s not like he’s Jared Fogle (the subway guy) and he lost 245 LBS. It’s not even really a “drunk diet.” About halfway through the book he concedes that he cut way back on his drinking. The only reason this was even published is that he used to date Lady Gaga.

He does look a bit chubby in this photo. But it could be the skeevy face pose.

I love the fact that that reviewer is (1) not at all impressed; (2) holds Jared Fogle up as a fitness guru worthy of following  (which he may be, but I still think it’s a funny criticism of Luc) AND he knows exactly how much Fogle lost; (3) thinks this guy only got published because he used to date Gaga (which was also one of my first thoughts); and (4) is offended because this isn’t really a “drunk diet.” Yes, sir, you should be ticked that he does not offer tips on how to drink your way to thinness.

So, color me intrigued, I’m ordering the book.

SIDE RANT: Anthropologie, we need to have a talk. I have a gift certificate for around $50. Anthropologie has many, many cute things, mostly for women much smaller and more Zooey Deschanel-ish than myself.  I saw someone today at work wearing a cute necklace that she said she’d gotten from Anthropologie a few years ago. “Hmmm, I thought. That’s a great idea. I should see if there are any accessories that catch my eye.”

Oh, they caught my eye alright.

What the hell, y’all? This necklace is $498 dolllars. That’s dollar bills for those of you who missed it. As in American money units.

Oh, I think to myself, why it must have super-rare precious stones with magical boy-catching powers and high-faulutin’ metals taken from the hot core of the Earth in a dangerous extraction process that kills those who even attempt it. Why, it must be one of those “blood necklaces.”

It says it’s made of brass, resin and horn.

OoooooooooooK, so it must be made by some poor indigenous ladies in Africa or Southeast Asia or something and that price tag would support her whole family for like five years AND help the village build a much-needed well and avoid malaria through clean drinking water (Disclaimer: I might not have that right. I might be confusing mosquito-borne illnesses with water-related ones).

No, it says it was made in Belgium. That $498 goes to some pomme-frites-and-mayo eating (yum) hausfrau scratching out a living in the hard-tumbling country of BELGIUM.

Seriously, Anthropologie. What’s up with that? Who do you think you are? (By the way, it’s not even a cute necklace!! )

Food Porn: Alinea

So on Friday night a big crew of us went to dinner at Alinea in Chicago. It’s a pretty swanky place. Definitely not your local Shake Shack. And it was good. In fact, the food was pretty great. Visually arresting presentations all the way, backed up by awesome flavors and textures, in a very hip, cool, and moodily lit space.

But still, the whole experience left me wanting more. Let me back up a bit.

We started with about eight or so of us wanting to go. We called at the appointed time (you have to call a month ahead) and they informed us that they only seat groups of up to six. After some quick googling, I read that the two six-top tables (rounds) were in the same room and so it’s not uncommon for groups to be put in the same room. So we went ahead and made reservations for the two six tops at 6:30 and 7 pm seatings, thinking it was more likely two large parties would be put together than one six top and a two top. We found a few more folks to join us for a final total of 11 diners.

As the date got closer and the confirmation and dress code calls came out and went in, we again tried to confirm if we would be seated in the same room, patiently explaining each time that we were a party of 11 and giving the names of both parties each time one of us placed or received a call. They, equally patiently, explained they could not state definitively where each party would be seated. We also tried to confirm that the two largest tables, the six tops, were in the same room.

Of course, you see where this is going. Already alerted to the fact that we were a large party that wanted to be seated near each other, we were, of course, placed far apart. Like, different rooms. Pretty much as far apart as they could seat us. So, I kinda already had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because they were just so unaccommodating.

Let me just say, I think the food was amazing. Definitely five-star dining all the way. The 18 courses (all pretty much a single bite) were totally innovative, inventive and playful. Chef Grant Achatz is a genius, no doubt. At 36, he’s got three Michelin stars and he knows his shit. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone, least of all me.

There were some pretty amazing and unlikely flavors (I’m looking at you hamachi with west indies spices, banana and ginger in a tempura shell skewered with a vanilla bean). I seriously, seriously loved this and would have eaten piles of it.

hamachi banana at Alinea, Chicago

You too, my little black truffle explosion—a piece of ravioli that literally bursts in your closed mouth when you press down on it. Even though we had been warned it would do that, it was still a surprise.

truffle ravioli at Alinea, Chicago

Another favorite of just about everyone was a bite made of Yuba or tofu skin, wrapped and fried into a stick with shrimp, miso and togarashi with a sauce. So cool and no utensils required.

yuba at Alinea, Chicago

There were also some familiar flavors elevated to new and unexpected heights (cold-potato-hot potato soup with black truffle and butter). This was another one of my favorites and was so, so good. One gulp was just not enough.

potato soup at Alinea, Chicago

That course was especially fun because it came out in a tiny bowl with some soup and a skewer/pin like thing with a few tiny components on it. You pulled the pin out of the bowl and the components dropped in and you drank it. See? Innovative. Fun.

Also fun and interactive was the short rib ravioli which was totally deconstructed and you put the tiny bite together thanks to a special plate that turns into a metal stand to hold your pasta while you construct it. Flavor wise, the rib meat was great. The other components weren’t really necessary and didn’t add much. (sorry, no pic. I was too busy eating)

Another fun presentation was a glass tube of lemongrass, dragonfruit, finger lime and cucumber liquid. You sucked the end which was stoppered with the dragonfruit and the refreshing liquid spilled out. Really, really cool. Very herbaceous.

lemongrass at Alinea, Chicago

The final course was the craziest – a chocolate, blueberry, honey and peanut mess featuring all kinds of techniques and textures that you ate literally off the table. A special table cloth is rolled out, they set out all the different ingredients, a couple of chefs come out and pour everything all over the table cloth in really cool artistic shapes and designs – there’s even dry ice! – and everybody grabs a spoon and eats it. Unfortunately, it took 45 minutes for the chefs to come out and assemble it. So we sat there with all the ingredients (mise en plaice) for 45 minutes wondering what the hell was going on. It kinda ruined the whole night. One waiter came by and acknowledged that the kitchen was backed up and said he was sorry for the wait, but that was it.

Dessert collage at Alinea, Chicago
I’ve blurred out the innocent. Sorry. Gotta be respectful of unknowing participants!
dessert at Alinea, Chicago
The carnage

There were only a couple of misses for me food-wise, including the above mentioned rib dish, which is technically only a half miss. One that I could not get into was this pea dish featuring English peas served about eight or nine different ways in a multi-tiered dish. The first portion had a really good pea puree, and for my taste, it should have stopped there. The second layer had dehydrated peas and freeze dried peas with chamomile and a few other pea-treatments that tasted to most of us like Captain Crunch. Not a bad thing, but weird. Finally, a third layer held pea ice cream with a dollop of parmesan crème fraiche. No thanks. The presentation was total rock star, but it just wasn’t for me.

peas collage at Alinea

The same with the tipsy cup of yuzu, or “snow.” It was a palate cleanser, but I wasn’t feeling it.

yuzu snow at Alinea

The food was great and certainly on par with other tastings we’ve done in the past, including Le Calandre in Italy (like Alinea, a three Michelin star restaurant), Mix in Las Vegas (mmm, curried lobster), and my personal favorite, Town House in Chilhowie, which makes sense since one of the Town House chefs came from Alinea. In fact, I might give Town House the edge. That beef cheek pastoral with milk skin, grasses, hay and toasted garlic is without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, still to this day.

HOWEVER, I felt the service at Alinea was just way too fussy compared to how fun and innovative the food was. These guys take themselves very, very seriously. Don’t even try to joke or tease them. Which on a certain level, I get. Folks (us included) are spending gobs of money for a full-on dining experience. It’s definitely not the place to go if you want to have a “fun” time. Maybe it’s not even a place you go with a group of people. Maybe it’s just a two-person kinda place.

The only problem I have with that line of thinking is that I keep coming back to the fact that I thought the food was exceptionally fun, and there was a real disconnect between that playfulness on the plate and the fussiness of the service. I don’t necessarily know why. Like I said, we’ve been to equally fine dining establishments and I felt like the service in the places I mentioned above was very good but not overbearing or fussy. You didn’t notice the service at those places, you just knew that you had whatever you needed when you needed it. It was….unobtrusive.

The final other service note of irritation: on at least a couple of courses, the women at the table were not served first. It’s old fashioned and it’s not a deal breaker, but we did notice it. No biggie, but it was a surprise. Also; they got really irritated when some of us (ok, me) kept going over and checking in on the other table to get their thoughts on some of the food–a situation that could have been avoided entirely by placing us near each other.

And, as I said, a 45 minute wait betweent two courses at a three-Michelin star restaurant is just unacceptable.

Overall, it was a great experience when you weigh the pros and cons. But between the lack of accommodation for our situation and the fussiness of the service, I don’t think I’ll be going back again. There are plenty of other places to try, including a newish and intriguing project by Chef Achatz near Alinea called Next, which offers a tasting menu based on a specific time and place. Think 1906 Paris or futuristic Thailand. The menu changes four times a year and instead of calling for reservations, you buy tickets online. It all sounds a bit fussy, but maybe that’s just me.