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My Night Downtown
Life is full of rude surprises, as a recent night on the town reminded me. At Jones Hall, the mighty Pinchas Zukerman seemed so bored during his violin recital that my cohort and I slipped out at intermission to essay that thankless downtown task, The Search for Something Decent to Eat. "Baich's!" we thought. It was close at hand in the 2016 Main apartment building, it had gotten good press, and it was reputed to be adventurously New Southwesternized. Just the thing, right?

Wrong. The valet parking stand was deserted when we arrived; eventually the valet, sitting in his car beneath the dread Pierce Elevated, bestirred himself. Inside there were no other patrons in sight. Well, we told ourselves as we settled into an awkwardly configured booth, Nancy and Tonya are skating tonight. The waitress, a genial soul, had so much trouble explaining the menu she seemed to have just arrived in town from Schulenburg. She came and went according to her own mysterious timetable. Meanwhile we sat in the eerie, mauve-colored emptiness, transfixed by the unfortunate ziggurat motif and the unfortunate planters full of mother-in-law's tongues. Soon, unnerved by our solitude, we migrated into the bar, where we had the bartender and the televised Olympians for company -- not to mention a grizzled, paunchy character in a black, fringed naugahyde jacket who kept wandering by our table and giving us the fish eye. Whistling in the dark, I pointed out Baich's framed press clippings, hanging in the hall, to my nervous friend. If only I had known that chef Ed Baich had departed in December for Pennsylvania, to absolutely no fanfare.

Our food came. Good salads aside, it was pretty grim. Baich's vaunted quesadilla was more of a thick torte, over-toasted on the outside and piled high with tepid vegetables -- including wildly unsuitable chunks of broccoli -- within. Its fat cactus-pad garnish, preciously adorned with the word "Baich's" in sour-cream script, did not improve our mood. Nor did a special of thick, pungently fishy swordfish steak heaped with an overbearing, fiercely peppered avocado-and-caper salsa. Lamb medallions in a potato crust were purely dreadful: the meat gray and slablike, the crust akin to what you'd find on a steamtable veal cutlet. Nancy skated. We poked mournfully at our food. When I looked out into the hallway again, the framed press clippings had vanished; only the hooks remained. Maybe, we speculated as we fled into the night, the authors had come and reclaimed them.

-- Alison Cook


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