Call it a busman's holiday if you wish. That's the term my American Heritage Dictionary somewhat boringly tells me describes "a vacation during which one engages in activity that is similar to one's usual work."
On the other hand, maybe we should just call it a "Pigout Delight," because it wasn't boring at all. I'm speaking of my recent restaurant reviewing stint with Kate Walsh, who does the job for the Longboat Observer, a weekly newspaper in Longboat Key, Fla.
Frankly, it's really kind of nice to sit back and swallow while watching someone else do the work. Kate, my favorite Companion, and Sarasota residents Sydney and Jerome Goldstein -- who arranged the whole thing -- seated ourselves in Euphemia Hay, a popular upscale spot on Gulf of Mexico Drive on a barrier island jammed with pre-Easter traffic.
Some of the things Walsh did were familiar to me. She does not make reservations in her own name, so we had to climb the stairs from the main dining room to the cutely named "Hayeloft" and got the last table there, too. As I said, it was just before Easter and families were a-gathering.
Like me, Walsh does not take notes while she eats, preferring instead to absorb what she calls the ambience of the place. She had been there obviously many times, even pointed out the chef as he strolled the dining room, but I can tell you she was not recognized.
On the other hand, I noted a few differences, too. Walsh is very young and incredibly slim. The equally slim Companion immediately got a goofy smile on his face when he saw her. As for me, I confess to feeling a pang or two.
Turns out she spends her days as a member of the Sarasota Ballet. I've met more than a few restaurant reviewers in my time and I'll tell you one thing: Walsh has to be in the best shape of any reviewer in the U.S. of A. She ate pretty heartily, too, I might add.
If we had a union, I'd vote her out of it.
Just kidding, of course (I think).
We did have a fun time. Each of us ordered from the menu with a little direction from the boss. I was steered onto an appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese ($11). The slices were coated with panko and cornmeal and served with red pepper sweet chili sauce. Topped with pecan pesto and feta cheese, too. I thought the dish was not only clever but really good.
Refreshing to find a restaurant in upscale tourist country that tries to reflect its geographical roots. May there be more of them.
I also went for the BBQ Duck entree ($29.75), crisp and covered with the a sweet spicy barbecue sauce while Jerome ordered the house specialty, Just Ducky (for a whopping $31.75). It's partially boned, filled with bread stuffing and served with fruit sauce. Really unique and really tasty. I was enchanted with the Cauliflower Mash side dish.
Yes that's what I said, Pureed Cauliflower, a low carb version of mashed potatoes but, oh, so good.
"And now you have to have dessert," said Walsh. Who would argue with that? Everyone goes up to a counter here to look at about 12 choices, each one looking better than the next. Walsh went for the Apple Walnut Crumble Pie ($5.75) and ate every darn bite, but I don't like apples in Florida.
I went for Coconut Custard Pie; it was much too sweet but I ate it anyway. When we got to the end of the meal, Walsh had the same problem most critics do -- obtaining a menu as unobtrusively as possible. "Sometimes," she told me, "I just have to ask. (Insider Tip: You need a menu to keep your memory fresh.)
Old habits die hard. I had earlier availed myself of a menu and tucked it into my very large purse. Well, there is such a thing as professional courtesy.
So in the spirit of companionship, I gave the menu to her, experiencing a feeling of relief as I did so. After all, it was Walsh who had to sit down and write the review (which will appear sometime this month). I just went home and walked on the beach.
Sometimes life is really terrific.