Comparative studies frequently show us that different languages develop numerous highly specialized words for objects that are of particular importance to the language's speakers. There is the well-known example of Inuit natives who possess 60 separate words for types and qualities of snow. Kazakh, the most widely spoken Turkic language in Central Asia, is reported to have 120 words for various forms of one animal, the Bactrian camel.
Languages also differ in that some tongues have words that have no direct equivalent in another language. Thus, the American English word "fun" has no real counterpart in Russian. English, in turn, is helpless to provide counterparts to some wonderfully useful foreign words. To give the example that set in motion this entire train of thought, there is the German word schadenfreude. The second half of this agglutinative gem is recognizable as the German word for joy, freude. But hitched to the first two syllables, the word becomes the psychologically astute, squirmingly candid term for the malicious mental pleasure occasioned by witnessing someone else's misfortune. It can have its genesis in something so childishly simple as watching Moe give Curly a good hard eye poke. Or it can be as complex as the pleasure of reading about the manipulative aristocratic protagonists in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Schadenfreude is part of the ethos of any good alternative weekly, and it's an outright requirement for anyone who writes a column titled Dish. Two weeks ago this column pondered the location at 2207 Richmond Avenue, which had rapidly sucked the life out of two restaurants in quick succession before wrangling a third tenant, Pot Pie Pizzeria.
On a recent evening, after parking our car in the Menil Collection lot, we turned and beheld the old house at 1512 West Alabama. This house, with its adjoining parking lot, has seen more furnishings and fixtures move through the doors than a United Van Lines driver. Think back to the Museum Restaurant and Bar. That failed, and the house morphed into, we seem to recall, Jenny's Hideaway. That was replaced by the once popular Cortés Mexican Restaurant, which, in short order, hightailed it to 404 North Shepherd, where it apparently died of neglect. Two young brothers, who opened the Rio de Janeiro South American Grill in March 1997 and shuttered it a year later, bought out the Cortés lease. The restaurant for 1999 was the vaguely obscene-sounding Podmore's Thatch.
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Now we behold a new tenant, Michaeline's on West Alabama [(713)527-8554]. Rubbing a figurative dry, bony finger on our figurative grizzled chin stubble, we began to produce a figurative chortle that grew to a deep Mephistophelian belly laugh, the laugh of one in the throes of anticipatory schadenfreude.
To be fair, this attempt to farm this hardscrabble piece of ground is being undertaken by executive chef John A. Salazar, who most recently worked in the kitchen of perennial Houston favorite Brennan's [3300 Smith, (713)522-9711]. Salazar and company appear to be hedging their bets by operating not just a restaurant, but also a bakery and catering business. Certainly the neighborhood has changed in the two or three decades since the location went from being a residence to a business; many new Montrose dwellers reside several rungs up the economic ladder from the bohos, immigrants and transients who have populated the neighborhood since the 1960s.
Consistent with that demographic shift, the menu -- with numerous items suggesting roots in Brennan's Creole cuisine, including turtle soup ($6), Gulf fried oysters ($6.50 as an appetizer) and a grilled veal chop with a Tchoupitoulas sauce ($30) -- declares an interest in developing a clientele comfortable with the rituals, and prices, of fine dining.
It may finally fly. Maybe the bad juju has been exorcised by a voodoo priestess from old N'awlins secretly brought in for the job.