Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Molto Mario - Vegas Style!

Vegetarians, I apologize in advance for this post. This one is for the carnivores out there...

So, I hit the big 4-0 this year, and Suzy, being the wonderul wife that she is, hooked us up with a killer trip to Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend. Having seen Vegas on the Travel Channel and many of the restaurants on Food Network, we set about studying the list of places we'd like to eat, if we could. The famous chefs have multiple venues here, and on our short list were one of the big steakhouses. Emeril had Delmonico, Wolfgang had Cut, but Mario, hugely excessive Molto Mario had his newest - Carnevino. Just the name did it for us - I mean how much better could a restaurant named "meat and wine" be for us? After looking over the menus posted outside the various restaurants, we liked what we saw at Carnevino the best, so we made reservations for 2 for 6:30pm Saturday night.

We had decided early on that the bone in ribeye for 2 was the protein of choice for us, and as this comes a la carte (if you can believe that), we inqured about sides and chose the special for the night - hollowed out pattypan squash stuffed with cheese and tomato confit and baked off in the oven, and potato and cheese zepoles - basically a fried mixture of potato and cheeses formed into little hushpuppy shaped dough and deep fried. The extensive wine list overwhelmed our modest knowledge, so with recommendations from our server, Chad, we picked an Italian wine that was just ok, in my opinion. Once we ordered, they brought us out the usual basket of bread, but since we were in Mario's house, there was a twist.

On the butter plate, there were two containers. A small crock of butter, and a small crock of lardo. Yes, lardo - pig fat, salt and pepper, served at room temperature, that was so decadent, I felt sorry for the butter sitting there practically untouched. Then the star of the evening, the ribeye appeared. They wheeled it out on a cart with a cutting board and Chad carved it up expertly, using a sharp carving knife and a spoon. Yes, a spoon. He pressed down gently on the surface of the steak with the back of the spoon so as not to pierce the steak while carving it. He portioned off all the major areas of the steak, from the tip, then on to the filet portion, then the flavorful tail that surrounds the filet. He plated it up, giving each of us bits of all the different regions, then sprinkled sea salt and drizzled just a hint of olive oil on the meat. No garnish, no salad, nothing else on the plate, except perfectly cooked and presented steak. The acidity from the tomato confit from the squash was a perfect complement to the richness of the beef, but the zepoles were just average.

Our service and dining experience were every thing we had hoped it would be. It was a wonderful Birthday splurge - the only regret was not being able to pick up the bone and gnaw on it or at least have it shipped home to Chloe!

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Vacation - Revisited

As I posted earlier this summer, we had some biking in mind for our vacation to North Georgia this summer. We had big plans of riding our own modified 3 Gap ride, which I posted details about here on the blog. We also had plans to meet up with Vonnie & Tiffanie to do some riding. Vonnie kept trying to coax me into assaulting Brasstown Bald with him. I knew Vonnie's prediliction towards suffering, as I saw him ascend Brasstown last year, and heard about his own personal journey through the pain cave. I have a healthy respect for Brasstown, as I have hiked up it's face several times to watch the mountaintop finish of the Tour de Georgia. I knew the effort required just to hike it was large, and was not relishing the attempt, but Vonnie is both persuasive and relentless. He wore me down with his enthusiasm, so I reluctantly said ,"OK.".

Brasstown is not terribly long, it is just steep and fairly relentless in the climb. Vonnie & I started out from their campsite at Trackrock and rode up the back side of Jack's Gap to the base of Brasstown. Suzy, Tiffanie, Cadie Bug & LuLu were our sag support, meeting us at the entrance to Brasstown in Vonnie's truck. The ride over started out innocently enough, but I should have read the omens when we saw a hawk swoop down and snatch a squirrel up and fly off with it in its talons.

I was admiring the beauty of the scenery, and not minding the rolling terrain until we hit the base of Jack's Gap and started the climb in earnest. All the idle chit chat subsided and we started concentrating on the climb - going into that place in our minds and settling in for the effort required. I thought I was familiar with Jack's Gap, having ridden the other side of the Gap last year with what I thought to be relatively moderate effort. The back face is a totally different animal, though. The pavement is much rougher, and the climbs are more steep. Once we reached the entrance to Brasstown where our crew was waiting, I was starting to seriously doubt my ability to tackle the big hill on this outing. Vonnie wisely left me to my own devices, allowing me to recover and regain my composure and let my heart rate return to some semblance of normal. After about 10 minutes or so, I had resolved myself to at least attempting the climb. Vonnie was already set and after a round of good lucks and knuckle taps, he was off, with me not far behind. I had no illusions of attempting to keep pace with him, rather I set about trying to set a tempo that was sustainable for me.

Not far up the first ascent, there were road crews mowing the shoulders with weed wackers and a tractor with a mower attached to an articulated arm, followed by a large dump truck. This was the first obstacle to get around. I had to stop periodically to regain my composure and allow my heart rate to subside. My legs never really felt like they couldn't handle the grade, but my heart rate would get elevated and I'd have to stop to let it calm down. After about half of the climb, I started tacking across the grade rather than attempting to ride straight up hill, and this helped somewhat, allowing me to go further between rest breaks.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the Team Vehicle and they told me that I was almost done, I just had to make it to the second power pole, then it was around the corner, and another more gentle ascent to the finishing area - the parking lot at the base of the final ascent, which we could not ride due to park regulations. Vonnie had already finished his ascent, recovered, and ridden back down to check on me and he regrouped with me for the final climb back to the parking lot. I was glad to have him helping me set a tempo and just having another person present somehow made me dig in and finish the last section without stopping. I even found enough energy to zip up my jersey before Suzy took my finishing shot, arm raised in the air in triumph.

Brasstown is a monster. I am not sure I will attempt it again, but if Vonnie is around, I am sure he'll be prodding me for a repeat. It was something I had on my big "TO DO" life list, and to cross it off before I hit 40 was icing on the cake. We didn't get any other rides in on vacation, but we did have loads of fun, and it just reminded us that our decision to buy property up here was the right thing to do for us. Trout fishing in some of the many streams and creeks up here, night hikes to view the fireflies and foxfire, tubing down the 'Hooch, good food, good friends and good times... Doesn't get much better than this!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Moose Hollow

Here's a little You Tube Video of our new rental cabin - Moose Hollow. Suzy & I went up last weekend to survey the place and do a few projects and see what needed to be added to bring it up to our standards. It is a cute one bedroom cabin that was fully furnished.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vacation Planning

One of the things I THINK I want to do while on vacation is our own version of 3 Gap. Covering Hogpen Gap, Jack's Gap and Unicoi Gap, it's an out and back loop from the cabin that's roughly 50 miles long. The only issue with this route, is there are no stores or sag stops once you start the climbs. You go through downtown Helen, but it is too early to need a fueling stop, and once you commit to Hogpen, you are on your own til you descend Unicoi back into Helen. It's a pretty tough route, but we'll see if we are up to the challenge!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Karma is a Bitch...

OK, so most of you have read Suzy's blog posting about her first foray into the strange trip that is mountain bike racing. If you haven't, I encourage you to hit the left sidebar and check out her blog - no, go do it right now, we'll wait on you to get caught up...

Now that you've read her first encounter with the sport, I'll bombard your senses with my spin on it, but first a little backstory...

I first got the hankering to try mountain bike racing after spending one too many nights hanging with the guys that dominate the local road riding scene, and who have had experiences with 6(!) hour mountain bike endurance races. After a few beers, most anything sounds reasonable, so I found myself cautiously mentioning that I might be up for a go at one of the races. After not hearing any huge outbreaks of laughter or worse, the sound of beer being expelled through nostrils, I got a bit bolder in my assertations.

"I WILL race in a 6 hour race!" I clamored. Yet again, no derisive snorts, only sparse words of encouragement were forthcoming. Fast forward til March, and it was time to go to my first race. It was just South of Athens, GA during one of the worst weather weekends our state has seen in a while. Friday night, tornadoes ripped through Atlanta, just to our West. Saturday morning, rain and awful lightning bursts punctuated the morning. Yet, somehow, come race time, the clouds parted and the weather lulled us all into a false sense of security, just long enough to start the event. What we encountered was nothing short of the hardest mountain bike trails I had ever encountered - and I had the pleasure of riding the course as many times as I could withstand over the course of the next 6 hours. After finishing 11th out of 23 total in my category, I was glad to be done with the day.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself mumbling about trying a XC, or cross country mountain bike race in Columbus, GA. I figured if I had survived successfully in my 6 hour attempt, I could easily show up and turn in the effort required for a XC race (which, incidentally was only one 10.5 mile lap).

We decided to arrive early enough to get our camp set up at a nearby campground and then go pre-ride the course on Saturday. The race was on the following day. On the recon lap, Vonnie, Suzy and I set out to see what was in store for us the following day. After watching Vonnie fall very hard onto a large boulder in the first 3 miles of the course, and trying to negotiate a new section that was, to quote an unnamed source, "slick as owl shit", our spirits were flagging. Then, after having ridden the worst part of the course, and enjoying the flow of the rest, our pre-ride came to a grinding halt when my bike emitted a terribly loud "SCREEEE" noise, that was accompanied by a complete loss of pedal movement. Yes, I had broken my chain. So, 7 miles into the 10.5 mile course, I was dead in the water. Kaput. Finished. We turned around, and headed to the pavement and Vonnie managed to somehow wrap his crash damaged arm around me and propel me along back to the car. After asking around, and looking in vain for neutral support, I was having slim hopes of being able to actually start tomorrow's race due to a mechnical failure that no one seemed to have any parts to fix.

Next morning, Bill managed to scrounge me a replacement chain from one of his friendly competitors. I joyfully repaired my ride and set about preparing for my 11:30 am departure. Start time came, and I found myself on the line with 11 others in my category. Once we were released, I promptly got relegated to the back of the group, as I was close to last within the first mile of the course. As soon as the going got technical, I started regaining ground. I passed 4 people in short order, then I passed 3 more. I was steadily reeling in stragglers and was feeling really good about my chances for a high finish when all of the sudden, on a gradual climb, I lost all pedaling power. I looked down in disgust to confirm my worst fears - I had once again broken my chain, only 3 miles into my 10.5 mile distance for the day. Having no other choice, I shouldered my bike, picked up my broken chain, and walked the 1.5 miles back to the truck.

Now, with the second of our three 6 hour series looming, I look forward to the next round of adventure and adversity. The old saying goes, "what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger..."