May 19, 2008

How Far We've Come

I had to blink my eyes a few times. I wasn't wearing my contacts, and I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. But it was true, I was swimming with real live ducks.

I'd hightailed it to the pool upon arrival at the Disney Yacht Club Resort, remembering three years ago when I'd watched the Magic Kingdom nightly fireworks from my watery repose. But this year I'd become impatient, bored with swimming in circles and letting the fake tide carry me along - until I saw the ducks.

I was surrounded by the scent of lilac and the literal quacking of two different live ducks, who sailed along with me til they got bored and beached themselves on the concrete sidewalk, flying away when curious toddlers approached. Each photo I tried to take with my camera phone turned out like those of the Loch Ness Monster or the Abominable Snowman. I doubt anyone will believe me that they were really there.

In a way, it wasn't so different from the zoological experience I'd had in Syracuse at Maria's house, which is laden with several different species of animals, all living relatively harmoniously together. But Syracuse had been 40 degrees today, so I appreciated the 80+ degree heat I was cooling off from in the pool.

I got too impatient for the fireworks, which started sporadically and so inconsistently that I gave up and got dressed for dinner. I wanted to try the Todd English restaurant BlueZoo at the resort next door, and suddenly that became more important than fireworks that could never compare to the ones I'd seen on the beach at Coney Island in September.

During my vacation weekend, I'd really experienced a taste of Syracuse, authentic home-cooking whose local flavor rivaled that of my new hometown NYC (including an amazing Grandma slice from Mr. P's Pizza, the former Mike's, the former Paladino's, the former Papa John's). After discovering my love for the "Syracuse salt potatoes" that they serve at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem (but not at the Syracuse outpost), Maria offered to make them as an accompaniment to our Sunday night cookout. I was so excited, but they seem simple enough: it's a bag of small, thin-skinned potatoes that comes with a packet of salt. But somehow when served with butter (and the requisite grilled meat), the potatoes transform into something heavenly and addictive. The most famous packagers of salt potatoes have a restaurant in North Syracuse - yet another stop I must make when I'm back home.

scallops with braised short ribsBut tonight, travelling on business in Orlando, my palate reverted to more of its metropolitan character, so I braved BlueZoo alone. Typically, the waiters and bus boys took extra care with me, but of course sitting alone, I was relegated to the job of photographer for the tourists sitting at the table next to me. Once my food came, though, no one could distract me from it. I started with a romaine heart salad that was served with elephant garlic crisps and a generous drizzle of dressing that tasted more buttermilk ranch than Caesar, paired with some tastes from the bread basket and fennel butter. Then I washed down my seared scallops with braised beef short ribs on a cauliflower puree with a surprising Chardonnay-Viognier blend from Sonoma. Still working on my food - including the lobster broccoli cheddar baked potato side dish, I finished the evening with an effervescent Austrian Gruner that prepared my palate poorly for the chocolate ganache cake I indulged in for dessert, but I didn't care.

Three years ago when I stayed at this resort for the same conference, I spent my nights at Downtown Disney / Pleasure Island, getting drunk, getting conventioneers to buy me drinks, taking part in the neon touristiness of it all. This year, I just wanted to have a nice glass of wine, sit in a dark restaurant, and be alone with my thoughts. I couldn't wait to get back to my room and write.

Look how far I've come.

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