Monday, September 30, 2013

A weekend through a straw: Atlantic City

We have a group of friends we see every week. Literally; with very few exceptions, we've met up every Thursday night for almost 20 years. They all went through MIT with The Boy, so he's known them longer, and I've come to consider them my surrogate brothers (seriously, you guys. Sorry if I'm displaying feels here).

Even though we have the regular Thursday thing, it had been years since we'd done a group activity of more than a couple of hours. So this weekend, we took a road trip to Atlantic City. Because why not?

Of course, my main concern (apart from What am I going to wear?? was food. We rarely eat out any more, largely because the whole "please take your delicious dish and make me a slurry" thing gets tedious. And I hate causing a fuss. So I volunteered to scope out restaurants that would be able to accommodate my stupid trismus but also show the rest of the gang a good time.

This turned out to be easier than I expected.

Our first night's dinner was at Mia at Caesar's Palace. It looked high-endy, spendy, potentially unfriendly. But my email got a quick response, and a promise that the chef had been told about my situation and was cool with it.

Of course, I still didn't know what that meant. But I didn't have to worry.

First we were greeted by Jason, who had replied to my email and also happened to be our waiter. And then chef de cuisine Paul Hanley (adorable and inked) came out and we had a thorough discussion about what I could and couldn't manage.

"Just throw some stuff in a blender and give me a straw," I said.

"Don't worry," said Chef Paul. "We'll look after you."

First course: lobster orecchiette with cappuccino foam.

Dinner at Mia in Atlantic City

Next, the zuppe di pesce I'd originally ordered, creatively split into three: shrimp and scallops in one glass, veggies in the next, and flounder in the third.

Three-martini fish soup

It was like a fabulous three-martini fish stew.

And then, even though I hadn't ordered dessert, a lovely surprise ending: a salted-caramel-chocolate shake.

salted-caramel-chocolate shake

Sadly this was more than I could suck down, and I had to leave some behind.

But the whole experience gave me a huge confidence boost. I could go out for dinner like a normal!

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The boys were also well cared-for, the star dish being spaghetti cooked in a red wine reduction until the whole thing was rich and flavorful. Genius idea.

Day Two began with a beautiful sunrise:

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And a trip to see Lucy, the largest elephant you can walk around inside:

Lucy the elephant, Margate, NJ

Lucy the elephant's butt, Margate, NJ

Then there was mini-golf; my first in-a-casino game of blackjack (in which I learned I'd rather keep the cash to spend on other stuff); and a cocktail overlooking the Atlantic before heading to dinner at Cuba Libre in the Tropicana.

Again, I'd emailed the restaurant in advance, and had an almost-immediate response, reassuring me there'd be no problems. I ordered a black bean soup and asked if they could throw in a little extra avocado, and that's what I got, served up in a milkshake glass with a straw. It had a generous dose of cumin and was fragrant and wonderful.

Sadly I have no photos of this dinner; I blame either the fact that it was too dark to get good shots or the pitcher of margaritas that appeared on the table.

Again, the staff at Cuba Libre was friendly, helpful, and more than willing to make suggestions and see that we all had a good time. Huge props to them.

On Saturday, I faced two potential challenges: breakfast at Teplitzky's at the Chelsea Hotel and lunch at a sad casino diner. Both times, I had to explain my situation to servers who were somewhat harried and distracted. Both times, I got exactly what I asked for: a smoothie-oatmeal combo at breakfast and a clam chowder smoothie at lunch.

Maybe this wasn't so hard after all.

The absolute highlight of Saturday was getting to ride in a helicopter, something I've wanted to do since I was a kid.

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Dinner was back at Caesar's, this time at the Atlantic Grill, a classy New York seafood kinda joint (also the place where we heard "Volare" for the third time that weekend).

I was a little worried about this one, as I'd booked through the Open Table iPhone app and it wasn't clear whether my special request info had gone through.

But again, when we turned up they were more than happy to accommodate me, and gave me salmon, puréed potato and asparagus, divided into two glasses and finished with a grilled lemon garnish.

Dinner at Atlantic Grill

And then we went to see a brownish area with points. She sang for about an hour, which was apparently longer than much of her elderly audience could manage, judging by the slow, careful stream of people heading for the egress. But hey, she did "Cabaret" and "Maybe This Time" and "New York, New York" and this haunting song. Another one to check off the list.

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We left Atlantic City somewhat reluctantly on Sunday morning. It had been great to get out of town and spend time with friends. For me, it was especially good to realize my fears about being able to eat out were unjustified.

Maybe this means I'll be writing about restaurants more often?

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