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Monday, January 16, 2006

Back from the Weekend!

Ahhhhh, that was a relaxing weekend -- a good time was had by, well, all. The Daughter had a grand time with her grandparents, and The Wife and I enjoyed some much-needed relaxation and down time.

Dinner at Salvatore's was nice. The restaurant is as freakishly gaudy inside as it is outside, for those who have only driven by it, although the dining room to which we were escorted was by far the least gaudy of the ones we saw -- just tasteful oak paneling and burgundy-stripe wallpaper. I sort of felt like I was in one of the dining rooms on the HMS Titanic, to be honest. In truth, the restaurant seems to get less gaudy the farther in you go, from the foyer where it looks like the Gods of Little Twinkling Lights fought their last war for world dominance, to our dining room which was nowhere near as bad. I wasn't bothered by the gaudy stuff, though; I like gaudy.

The food was pretty good, although frankly there is no way I'd pay full price for what I had. The prime rib was cooked perfectly, so far as I could tell. Prime rib isn't really my favorite thing where beef is concerned -- give me a NY strip steak any day -- but this was very nicely done. The cooked carrots were actually cooked so that they were warm but still had texture, which was nice. I would have preferred to have a choice of potato, since I don't like mashed potatoes, but I ate about a third of them anyway by salting the bejesus out of them. The presentation (they were piped onto the plate and garnished with a sprig of rosemary) was too nice to just not touch them, you know? The sheer size of Salvatore's pretty much makes their kitchen an assembly line, but the food was worth what we paid for it. (We had a gift certificate for the rest.)

Service was excellent, although I was a bit distracted from conversation a number of times by the hyper-zealous waterboys. These were two kids, probably both sixteen, whose job it was to simply stand there and watch for people who need refills on water (and, occasionally, prebus a dish or wipe the tablecloth). It felt strange at first being in a place where we're escorted to our table by a very short Italian guy in a white tux, but we got used to it fairly quickly.

But there were no free refills on the soft drinks, which always bugs me in any restaurant. If you're operating a gigantic restaurant like this, and you're going to sell lots of wine and liquor at high markups, you can afford to not charge me for my second Coke and The Wife's second iced tea, especially when both are served in glasses that hold no more than nine ounces.

Here's something about Salvatore's that bothered the hell out of me, though: the music. Seriously. This place is, worthy or no, a Buffalo institution, and it plays its themes of class and "Italian gardens" to the hilt. That being the case, what the HELL is up with the soft-rock hits of the 80s and 90s being piped in over the loudspeakers??? It's a little hard trying to inject one's dining life with a little class when the strains of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly", Bryan Adams's "Everything I Do I Do For You", and the title song from "Somewhere Out There". Go with some quality classical, or some jazz, or even the great vocalists of the past performing the old standards -- Sinatra, Martin, Darin, Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, et cetera. This place screams out for something classier than what you hear on the Muzak at Pizza Hut.

But the cheesecake and post-dinner Cappuccino were both very nice.

(Oh, by the way, folks, here's a bit of restaurant etiquette you may not be aware of: If you are paying for your dinner at least in part with a gift certificate, tip your server based on the amount you would have spent had you not been using that gift certificate. Doing otherwise only penalizes the server unfairly, especially in January when restaurants rely on holiday gift certificate redemption to keep their revenues from falling completely through the floor.)

We stayed in the Garden Place hotel, which is just down the street from Salvatore's (and with which it is affiliated). The room was excellent, and the jacuzzi was really excellent. The only downside at the hotel came the next morning at the Continental breakfast. They put out a pretty decent spread (no stale eclairs with Orange-flavored Tang), but the coffee machine ran out of coffee before we got any. We figured we'd wait for the attendant to come out and brew some more, but she didn't: she came out with a large bottle of what appeared to be some kind of "coffee concentrate" stuff, which she then plopped into the machine. Near as I can figure, when you pull the little lever to dispense the coffee into your cup, the machine actually dispenses a blend of hot water and the stuff in that bottle, as opposed to actually dispensing freshly-brewed coffee. This struck me about as oddly as did the soft-rock music at Salvatore's. I refuse to believe that a fairly nice hotel, situated immediately off the Thruway at one of Buffalo's busiest Thruway interchanges, can't afford so simple a thing as fresh-brewed coffee at its Continental breakfast. We ended up having no coffee there, opting for fresh-ground and fresh-brewed coffee in our own kitchen when we got home.

In other stuff, we went to Borders and Barnes&Noble and JoAnn Fabrics and Michael's and we watched The Terminal in the hotel room and drank a bottle of New York Sparkling Wine and basically enjoyed ourselves as adults, something we have had precious little opportunity to do in a very long time. Was it enough? No. But was it what we needed? Oh, yes.

Except for that coffee concentrate stuff.

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