Tuesday, June 8, 2010

America: College Drop Out of the World?

You know that stereotypical happy jock character in popular culture? This kid, we'll call him Brad, was the king of high school. He was confident and nice and a bit incorrigible, did mediocre in class but amazingly well on the football field.

Teachers always forgave Brad his transgressions because he was just so damn charming and funny. His main goals were playing a sport, dating girls, and getting drunk with his friends. He was all about having fun and enjoying himself. Brad sounds like a pretty cool dude, right?

But then, as high school came to an end, Brad didn't really have much direction. Most of the kids who spent high school working hard and studying went off to great colleges, but Brad's grades left him no choice but a community college.

Perhaps Brad quickly realized that he should put some effort into his education, right? No, he partied too much to actually learn anything, and didn't really get why he needed to take all those "dumb liberal arts" courses. Brad ended up dropping out and getting a low-wage job, maybe as a salesman in a sporting goods store or a similar position that requires charisma but not skill.

Perhaps Brad worked really hard at this job and quickly advanced, right? No, Brad didn't really want any responsibility, and, anyway, he didn't really get how to use the computer system and didn't want to learn. He spent his free time hanging around, watching TV and amassing a pretty amazing empty beer bottle collection. But man, did he have some fun times.

All the nerds coming home from college--and eventually from their high-earning jobs--kind of felt bad for him. All the confidence he had that his charisma would get him by, that he could continue to float on the good feelings people had about him, have finally bitten him in the ass, and he didn't even know it.

Those kids, the ones who worked really hard in high school and college, went on to get jobs creating new software platforms, launching companies that change the way people do business, researching how to cure diseases, or being Steve Jobs.

But what happened to Brad?

Sometimes, I feel like America is Brad, with India and China looking at us with pity as their stringent academic standards allow their citizens to take over all the high-tech jobs. America had such potential after World War II, full of booming factories and a great education system. But in the intervening decades, the country has gone from sweet high school jock to over-confident college drop-out.

Our academic standards are slipping, with some school districts tightening their belts and meeting budgets by shortening the school week. Forget not getting new books, or cramming too many kids in a room. There are schools where kids are losing entire DAYS.

If we truly allow the education of our children to become such a low priority that days begin to fall off the calendar, that we'd rather invest in less taxes than a population that can find their country on a map, we're going to go from that over-confident yet low-paid college dropout to an illiterate migrant worker...working on Chinese and Indian farms.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fancy Pants and Dress

Dan and I got all dressed up last night for our dinner at Babbo -- he in dress pants and a black and gray striped shirt, me in a dress with heels that aren't really logical for walking (but they have ruffles on them!). First thing I have to say is that they give you a large piece of really incredible Italian bread that they continually replenish throughout your meal. This should be industry-standard as far as I'm concerned.

I did not take any pictures, but I did bring the menu home. Behold:

As you can see, there's a lot of Italian on there. Here's my translation:

(not on the menu)
Chick peas marinated in some kind of balsamic-y vinegar and oil with some herbs, sprinkled on top of tiny toasts.
Verdict: good

Sweet peas whipped into a tiny little cake-looking mold, covered in carrot vinaigrette with slices of duck meat laid next to it. I think this was one of the best examples of flavors melding together to blow your mind.
Verdict: very good

Wine: a light white wine that was very, very good. And I don't even like white wine that much. Looks like I've been buying the wrong kind.

Wide pasta noodles with tiny mushrooms in a garlic, butter, and olive oil sauce with thyme sprinkled on top.
Verdict: OH MY GOD

Wine: bolder white wine that felt like it was a touch carbonated. Good, not my fave.

Duck meat in folded pasta that looks kind of like tortellini, covered in red sauce that has been cooked with pancetta. Very bold sauce that also had a lot of oil in it.
Verdict: very, very good.

Wine: really nice red wine, my favorite of the night.

Small slices of steak covered in a sweet and sour sauce that actually tasted a bit like A1, sitting on roasted turnips and mushrooms.
Verdict: the steak was a little rarer than I usually like it, but it was all really amazing. Great sauce.

Wine: really bold red, good but not what I would normally go with.

Cheese! Goat cheese with peppercorns in it, with some fennel honey on the side. I love goat cheese, so this was perfect for me, though I am still kicking myself for not even noticing the little toasts on which to spread some cheese. I just ate it all with a fork.
Verdict: mmmmmm....

Wine: Champagne. I normally don't really like champagne, but this stuff was amazing. Dan left the table for about 3 minutes after this course and I came thiiiiiiiiiis close to finishing his off.

Dessert! A fig cooked with a wine reduction, served with marscapone cheese. The fig was good, but I was all about that cheese.

Wine: our first dessert wine, a really sweet red. Not my thing.

More dessert! Hazelnut gelato covered in very, very good chocolate with a cherry in the center. Apparently this is a very traditional dessert in Italy.
Verdict: Would move to Italy to eat this more.

Wine: white dessert wine, too sweet for me. Sweet wine makes me ill.

2 dessert: one from the tasting menu, and one a surprise from the chef.
Chestnut cake with a cherry sauce, some roasted nuts, and some kind of whipped cream on the side. The second was Saffron Panna Cotta with "Tre Agrumi" which is a panna cotta with orange sauce, pieces of grapefruit, and grapefruit sorbet.
Verdict: Both were incredible...but I'm all about the cherry stuff.

Wine: peachy and appley dessert wine. Still not my thing.

Dan got espresso while I got a decaf cappuccino and these came with biscotti and tiny cookies. The coffee was amazing, but I'm not a big fan of biscotti. I ate it all, though.

Final verdict? Great bread (I would go back just for more of that bread), good coffee, amazing food. Worth a month's wait for a reservation? Maybe. It's casual enough that you don't feel pressured to act perfectly, but it's still pretty damn fancy. I look forward to going again, but as far as becoming my "favorite" goes? Nah, I'm a casual girl, so I'd rather go to Vesta.

Sometimes, though, it's nice to get fancy.