As you probably know, this year’s list of Hugo nominees was revealed over the weekend, and before we go on to talk about this week’s featured guest here on EATING AUTHORS, it’s worth posting a link for you to go back and review them at your leisure.
Well, now that that’s done, let’s talk about Charles E. Gannon. The trick with Chuck is there’s so much to cover it’s hard to know where to begin. He’s a Fulbright Fellow, a Distinguished Professor of English, a gamer, a well-established short story writer, and a member of SIGMA, the SF Think Tank. His fiction has been known to take him into other authors’ playgrounds, such as the worlds of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series, David Weber’s Honorverse, the Man-Kzin Wars, and more.
But perhaps the most exciting thing I can tell you about him is that tomorrow is the release date for his new novel, Fire with Fire, and I’m very pleased to share that news with you and encourage you to rush right out and pick up a copy.
LMS: Welcome, Chuck. You know, it’s been a year and more since I invited you to share your musings of your most memorable meal. I know you like to eat, so now you have to also explain to my readers why it took so long to get you here.
CEG: Easier said than done. Firstly, on reflection, I discovered that what had made meals wonderful for me were the social factors: who I was with, where we were, what occurred. I remember a wonderful dinner with my future wife at Montrachet in New York (where I discovered the wonders of the queen of all Beaujolais, Fleurie), which, because I surprised her with the dinner plans, wound up with her wearing jeans, amber-yellow sneakers, and a sheepish look. I remember later, honeymoon meals with her in Umbria where Montepulcianos and risotto vied with grappa and ciangale (roast wild boar) for our gustatory attention. Shortly after, we dined at one of the premier restaurants in Paris—but all I can remember about it is her eyes.
So, this is the curse of the romantic, I suppose—to remember emotions and impressions more readily than food. And the shame of this is that it has clouded my memory of some extraordinary meals, along the way. Invariably, the social particularities of the most memorable dinners eclipse the culinary details. In the summer of 1998, we found ourselves in the Pest half of Budapest, dining in Gundel, where our first child—Connor—worked his 20-month-old wiles upon the staff, charming the wandering gypsy violinist and wait-staff with his cheery smile and receptive attitude to all the dishes. When we came back two nights later, they had his place ready for him, and—I kid you not—his genuine sterling silverware awaited in glistening readiness, all the better for him to dip into the goulash and spicy fish soup that began the meal.
There are many other wonderful meals that fall into this category: excellent dinners in the south of Germany while traveling there with a dear friend from my undergrad years—sampling schlachtplattern and tafelspitzen that reminded me of my own Oma’s cooking—capped off by what are arguably the best, and least well-known, crisp, tart white wines on the Continent: the halb-trockens of Trier, which I had the pleasure of sipping in the shadow of some of the best preserved Roman provincial ruins in the world.
But I discovered, as I reviewed all these memories with great care, that I simply did not remember meals in their culinary entirety. I remembered outstanding bits and pieces—largely because those other social factors pulled my attention away from even the best gourmet fare.
So when I went out on a “date night” dinner with my wife tonight (thereby securing four precious hours away from our four wonderful children), I schooled myself to attentiveness, and realized that while it was unlikely I would be having the best meal of my life, I would certainly recall it more completely, and with greater sensory detail, than any other.
How fortunate I was that the meal was not merely a good, but an excellent, one. Traveling just a few miles south to Maryland’s capitol (Annapolis, not Baltimore), we decided to try a well-reviewed local restaurant bearing the moniker The Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge. Discovering that we had unwittingly wandered into a farm-to-table temple of fresh, local comestibles of all sorts, we were immediately (and happily) disabused of our incipient fears that we had entered one of the many, bland “green-eateries” that seem more committed to tree-huggery than wonderful food.
I won’t review the menu in toto, simply because this essay is not a restaurant review, but in fact, the recounting of a finite and specific sensual experience. However, suffice it to say that if you find yourself in Annapolis, and are looking for inventive food and drink that you just won’t find anyplace else, the Metropolitan is not merely worth a stop: it is a must-try.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. After perusing the menu for the better part of fifteen minutes, I finally elected to avoid a full entrée and go for a starter and a burger instead. But this was a starter and burger like no other. The starter was spicy charred shrimp served on frothy white swells of genuine polenta. The combination of flavors suggested the journey of Marco Polo: a smoky asian-pepper tang in the shellfish that was tempered by the smooth, comfort-food butteriness of farm-villa polenta.
And the burger? Lamb. Seasoned with garam masala and topped with tzatziki. The taste suggested Indian influence without asserting it definitvely: the coriander, tumeric, and (I suspect) cardamom danced not at the center of my tastebuds, but at their peripheries, complimenting, and thereby highlighting, the extraordinary quality of the ground lamb.
Now, what could go with such a dish? I had had a mixed drink before the food arrived (a story unto itself, that cocktail), and knew that a reprise of that beverage would be the culinary equivalent of playing a lilting folksong on a tuba: a drink that overpowers the flavors of food is just not the right drink. Wines? Hmmmm….no, not with a burger. Beer? Well, that sounded right—but what kind of beer should one have with a lamb burger that recalled the flavors of Cawnpore more than Carson City? I was not so sure such a brew even existed…
And then my eyes drifted across the most unusual beer I have ever encountered (and I have encountered some very strange ones). Rather than try to bend my prose around such a peculiar beverage, I will simply cite the name and description as it appeared on Metropolitan’s menu:
Maui Coconut Porter—Sweet chocolate and roasted coffee, subtle coconut
Okay, let’s get one thing straight: I am a damned sucker for coconut (sic). No, not just a sucker: a DAMNED sucker. If you say it has cocoanut in it, the odds are good that—even if I have severe doubts about what you’ve just described—I’m going to try it. Yep: I’m that hopeless when it comes to cocoanut. (The other flavor with a similar impact upon me is maple.)
But as I thought about it, I discovered that my instincts were a lot better than my intellect (no surprise, there). I reasoned that the advertised chocolate and coffee hints in the brew assured a complex, hearty taste. And the cocoanut? Well, hadn’t I had that in more than a few Indian dishes? Kormas in particular, I think? And since it was just a hint of cocoanut…
I got the beer and consigned my tastebuds to whatever dubious fate I had fixed for them. And discovered that somehow, the summary taste of the meal and the beer together was something of a circumnavigation. From the American icon of the hearty burger-and-beer combo, the Celtic fondness for the powerful and rich flavor of lamb wrought a new flavor, garnished with a hint of Indian spice, now further enriched by a positively Hawaiian hint of cocoanut. Somehow, it all worked together—and I emerged from the first bite and swallow to discover myself back in Annapolis, wondering how such an unusual and delicate fusion of flavors had achieved such a total (global?) synergy.
I resume this blog more than a year later. Remember those four kids? Add various mishaps with childcare providers, illnesses, and a (wonderfully) busy professional schedule—and, well, here I am.
The one advantage derived from such a long interval is as unlooked for as it is profound: the meal I have recounted is still as fresh in my memory now as it was when I first penned it, mere hours after finishing the last morsel of it. And since that fine dinner, I had one other wonderful experience with the Metropolitan. Note, that I said “with”, not “at”, the Metropolitan.
Here’s why I made that distinction. I was on a panel at the Annapolis Book Fair with my friends Catherine Asaro and Michael Swanwick; we had had a great time with a very involved (and surprisingly large) audience. Afterward, a fellow approached me whose face was familiar, but whom I could not place. I thought back across the SF conventions I had visited as a panelist, academic conferences, government consultancies, and I still could not link the face to one of the customary contact points in my life.
And then he introduced himself: Jody, the owner of the Metropolitan.
You see, I left a small but important detail out of my recounting of that fabulous meal. The night that my wife and I had dinner there, Jody had drifted over to our table, asked about our meal, and struck up a conversation. In the course of telling him a bit about ourselves, I mentioned that I was an author. Jody’s eyes seemed to sparkle a bit brighter: an author? What kind of books did I write? Science fiction, mostly, I answered.
Jody’s sparkling eyes became positively incandescent. Niven, Clarke, Asimov: the names rolled out of him in an enthusiastic gush. And when we were done comparing notes, he insisted—insisted—that I keep him posted on my appearances, my books, and maybe I and my fellow regional authors might like to do a reading at the Metropolitan?
I genuinely assured him I would be happy to do all of that, and more.
And then promptly forgot that resolve.
Well, I didn’t forget it exactly. Remember those four kids and busy life? Well, as you might guess, commitments and interrupts pile up rapidly living that kind of existence, and before long, the daily demands of it accumulate and cover over such optimistic promises like layers of fallen leaves cover up a small but beautiful flower.
And yet, there was Jody, months later, in the audience and embracing both SF and a wayward patron.
That’s the kind of person he is…and that should tell you something about the kind of restaurant he runs: enthusiastically excellent, and relentless in its attention to pleasing both your taste buds and your appetite for a memorable experience.
Thanks, Chuck, that was well worth the wait. So, tell me, when’s the reading at the Metropolitan?
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors