Mona's Meals | Sunday, 08 March 2009

Heroin for the Techno Masses

My four favourite words in four undergraduate years (one per year, see?) were Manolo, Blahnik, Luddite and Early-Adapter. Is that five? Who knows? Who, really, cares? On the first two I did a semiotics analysis with the wondrous Dr Brenda Murphy, who, unlike many other fuddy-duddy lecturers had an equal amount of excitement for both the shoes and the analysis.
A luddite is someone who is very resistant to technological change to the point of being scared of it; an early adapter is the person who will buy a new iPod just because it comes in a different colour. Don’t say I’m not a fount of useless information.
Ever the early adapter, when I first discovered Facebook, I joined a group called ‘Facebook Addicts’. What prescience. I clicked the link and never thought twice about it - at the time I would join whatever people sent me an invite for. In non-Facebook terms, I was the kind of person who would go to the opening of an envelope, the launch of a pebble.
So many long months later, ‘addiction’ does not even begin to describe it. I have tracked hundreds of long-lost friends. I update my status as frequently as I go to the bathroom, although unlike some people, I do stop short of actually writing about it. They put the term ‘too much information’ in a whole new universe. I think of FB on the same terms as if it were a well-loved pet needing to be nurtured every five minutes. It’s my tamagotchi. My drug.
The Writer and I went off for a couple of days of supposed rest. He lugged along hundreds of magazines and books (work, not play); I took my MacBook and delivered a pre-check-in breathless phone call to the hotel asking them if they had Wi-Fi in the rooms. When they came back with a yes, it was as if somebody had said ‘Yes, we’ll throw in the towels and a bar of soap. And for free too’; I was relieved, and happy. ‘Life’ could go on.
If FB were not enough, there is also Twitter, with which I do not seem to have enough energy to get to grips. From what I can gather - and I haven’t put too much effort into this one - its only reason for living is status updates. In the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the first media leaks came through a victim ‘tweeting’. American rap stars tweet the birth of their children, step by step. Now the Maltese are getting in on it too, so at any point, I get updates telling me that Jowi or Cetta are ‘following’ me. Ah, nice; and I hadn’t even noticed.
The Writer hates Facebook with a vengeance. To him, it signifies work and nothing else. He thinks that my browsing through other people’s photos is an almighty waste of time until he realises that one of my ‘friends’ has, by mistake, left their naked or simply embarrassing pics available to all and forgot to apply the privacy settings.
Until a few months ago, the only way you could get away from a signal was if you were on a plane or in one of our underground dungeons. Well, Ryanair and Emirates are about to put paid to the former and somehow, at Grotto Tavern, a whole floor below road level, TW could still cruise through the Gazzetta dello Sport website on my iPhone and check his footie results every two minutes.
I reviewed the Grotto once, long, long years ago. I hated it. The ‘French’ food was an imitation, the Reblochon was a cheap, locally available alternative cheese, Didier’s wife was way too intrusive and Didier was just that little bit too much. And that’s just from what I remember, off the cuff.
Apparently, they dragged my name through the mud to anyone who would listen after the review was published. Hah! What a surprise. Then, much later I suppose, they figured out that the balances had to shift because it was in their interest to do it, to be better.
So now they have what is basically the closest you will get to a French bistrot on this island. The menu includes a lovely selection of traditional French food and the ambiance hasn’t changed a bit, which is a good thing since it was cosy and comfortable to begin with. You get subdued lighting and on tables for two, a flickering candle on which I burnt some of my hair and TW sizzled part of the menu.
You can also get Belgian beer. Now I sort of lived in that country for a while and I developed a beer and chocolate fixation, as one does. The list at Grotto, with a good selection of Trappiste versions, is fabulous. TW, who has lived in Malta all his life, has developed a liking for the stuff after I started hauling heavy glass bottles back from my travels. He had a bottle of Affligem; I had a bottle of lovely 2004 French Pinot Noir which the Grotto owners bring over themselves from Didi’s mother country.
Sandra has mellowed down: she is still as enthusiastic as ever, but her bout of Karmenu-itis seems to be over. She will explain but not intrude on your choices and she and Didier still flirt with each other. I don’t know if it’s an act but I love happy couples and god knows we need a few more of those in our ailing restaurants.
TW is a soup master so he ordered the French onion soup to test the kitchen’s mettle. ‘Hmmm; nice and inviting but the onions are chopped a little too roughly and there isn’t enough alcohol in it’ (we are, as you can note, turning into a couple of winos). He had eschewed the cheese and croutons on top so I’m afraid I cannot report on that. What I can report on is the yummy ‘sandwich’ of puff pastry and escargots. I prefer my snails still in their shells, and rather a few more of them than I had, but well, this saved me some hassle and embarrassment and they had a deep, mellow flavour to them.
The food comes out very quickly, so prepare to end your fag breaks abruptly as Didier does things like holler ‘Ciao! Italiano! Vieni!’ (yes, to us, with our bog standard Maltese surnames). He laps attention, that Didier.
I loved the lapin a la moutarde. For some confounding reason I can never get mine to fall off the bone when I make it at home, so Didier can please feel free to send me his recipe, replete with grainy mustard and a dose in cream, for publication on The accompanying chips, which were real, rough and home peeled, were superb.
TW’s blanquette de veau was wonderful because it was made with a quality veal, or else with a very normal kind of veal which had been simmering for hours. One way or the other, it gave way easily under the tangs of the fork. The French argue about whether one should use vinegary button onions or chopped purple ones. Here they opt for the former and the acidity cuts through the cream very pleasantly.
Sadly, they had no crème brulee. Pah! What a disappointment. We had no option but to forgive when the coconut and apple tarts turned up: they were simple, again very homely, and a very lush end to what had been an exceptionally pleasant evening.

Then TW’s team won. He found out from my iPhone. A good meal and a happy husband: a girl couldn’t ask for more, n’est pas?


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