A Mellow but Fun Christmas Eve

Since Jeff has already so eloquently detailed our shenanigans on Christmas eve, I’ll just steal his words here:

The day started early with a visit not by Santa, but a Santa looking HVAC repairman who came to investigate our noisy furnace. It turned out to be nothing more than a noisy humidifier system attached to our central forced air furnace. The issue was a burnt out fan motor ( that blows moisture into the system as the hot air is forced through the central air system ). The humidifier had been running the whole time without the water turned on apparently, which also lead to the humidifier pad drying out. When the technician turned the water on, it was so brittle that it didn’t soak any water up and the water started to leak out of the humidifier. His recommendation – replace the humidifier. Unfortunately that would require another visit and cost approx $450. Of course he also charged us today for his service ( I protested that the service was incomplete, but he said he solved the noise issue, even if his solution meant just unplugging the humidifier – I guess I paid for his better ear ) – another $140 because he came out during the holidays. Oy vey.

It was an expensive lesson in home repair issues which it always is – no one ever tells you about these things until you encounter them for the first time. The proper operation of the humidifier is to turn it on ( water and power ) in the winter, but to turn it off ( unplug and turn off water ) in the summer. For two years we never touched the water or the power ( but good thing the water was off the whole time, so we didn’t risk an accidental leak ).

Christmastime means Chinatown will be packed, and we were disappointed to be proven correct. There were more people at lunchtime on Christmas eve than on a normal weekend, and we had to drive a bit to find parking. Luckily we did not need to wait long for dim sum at Cai. Despite our best attempts we still managed to stuff ourselves even as we knew a big steak dinner awaited tonight.

We returned home to digest and amused ourselves by sending Santa prank calls courtesy of google voice. I attempted to do some work, but not much was accomplished as I succumbed to the holiday spirit.

Christmas Eve dinner was at Mastro’s Steakhouse. I read Ruth Reichl’s book about her tenure as the NY Times’ restaurant critic and I think this was the first fine restaurant I’ve dined at since reading her book and couldn’t help but think about how she would approach her meal. Inspired, for at least the beginning of the meal, I tried to make mental notes about the whole experience – the ambiance, the service, the food.

The first thing that struck me as we were lead to our seats was the aroma of the food on the tables that we walked past. You couldn’t help but be put into a certain state of mind that cried for steak. Of course we alreay knew what cut of steak we wanted because P had already recommended the Kansas City cut, but it took us a bit of time to decide on the appetizers and sides.

The service was attentive but not intrusive and overall very good. The restaurant seemed very accomodating in terms of customizing items on the menu. Eric ordered the scallops entree and was able to add an extra scallop and we were able to add additional pieces to our order of the ahi tuna tostada so that everyone could try their own piece. The food came quickly and the sides were served up flawlessly onto each of our steak plates.

Decor – the dining room was a bit too dark as several of us noticed and commented. I felt it a bit noisy too with the volume of the music a tad too high and made conversation a little harder for the people sitting on opposite sides of the table. But I liked the horsehoe booth that we occupied at the corner of the restaurant and the the interior decoration is what I’ve come to expect of a steakhouse – dark wood paneling and the like.

Now to the food – the cube sized chilean sea bass filets were soft and tender, served on skewers and gently fried in a light batter and served with ponzu. The ahi tuna tostada was simply amazing – a generous portion of rare ahi served on top of a pita cracker with scallions, avocados and a slightly spicy ponzu sauce. The steaks were big – the Kansas City strip is an 18 oz portion. I thought it was good – a bit more fat on it than I am used to, and I wished it were just a little more tender, but I am no steak connoisseur. The sides were also delicious – lobster mashed potatoes and alaskan king crab truffle gnocchi.

For wine I chose the Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah 2009 – at $60 it was only marked up 50%, a decent price, and Petit Sirah seemed like just the right choice to cut through a hefty steak. When I first tasted it, it seemed to be smoother and lighter than I expected and lacked the usual oomph, spice, and astringency that I normally associate with the varietal. But I think it paired well with the meat.

Of course a meal like this is incomplete without dessert, and for that P had us covered too. She recommended the butter cake because the one way to make something taste better is just to add more butter. The butter cake was good, but also so very rich you knew you were eating yourself into trouble. Unfortunately one our companions, Eric, might have had too much butter ( and bread ) at the meal and was unwell at the end of the meal. ( No fault of Mastro’s though ).

After dinner we marched over to the AMC theater and caught a 10pm showing of Les Miz, the movie.

The verdict – the acting was good but the signing was uneven. Eponine had the best voice, and no wonder: she’s the only one that is a part of a regular cast of the musical. Perhaps we were prejudiced by Colm Wilkinson’s fine performance as Jean Valjean in the 10th anniversary musical-in-concert, but we couldn’t help notice that Hugh Jackman’s singing just couldn’t match the depth, versatility and timber of Wilkinson’s voice. Russell Crowe had other problems – he just couldn’t hold a note and seemed to be out of breath on the long notes. There were other lyrics that were added to the movie, which I didn’t mind so much and the cinemetogaphy was great, although my one quibble was with Javert’s suicide scene. It was a bit anti-climatic; he was also supposed to sing as he fell slowly to his death but I suppose those things only happen on stage and in operas.

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