Thursday, 5 March 2015: Let the meetings begin!
Written 7 March 2015
Not so much to report today, because the meetings themselves got underway bright and early, so David was too occupied for tourism. In addition to the session he was chairing, the paper he was presenting, and the papers by others that he wanted to hear (scattered among the four simultaneous sessions), he was asked, as a senior investigator, to judge a number of papers (also scattered among sessions) by those in competition for the "best student paper" award.
So I didn't even see him at breakfast. I went back to the basket of pastries, this time with hot black tea, served in this chubby little stainless-steel pot.
Through the window, I could see the ferries, shown at the left, doing their do-si-do back and forth across the river to Lévi, the town on the other side, one always coming while the other is going.
The hotel's restaurants use dishes featuring this semiabstract design, which the waitress told me is supposed to represent the St. Laurence as it passes the city. I wasn't sure whether she was joking, but the more I look at it, the more I think she wasn't.
As usual at meetings like this where I'm not actually a registered participants, I cadged a spare blank nametag from the registration desk, wrote in my own name, and settled in the conference center lobby to read and answer my e-mail, research restaurants in the area, and work on this blog.
The meeting lobby was graced by this magnificent quilt, commemorating the Benthic Meetings of 1972 through 2012. Twenty-nine of the squares are cut from the meeting t-shirts of their respective years, and the thirtieth square (top left) lists the locations of the other thirteen. Third from the left in the fourth row is the t-shirt from the 2002 meetings that I helped David and Don Levitan organize and host.
The standard of quality and originality of the catering for this meeting has been very high. For example, the morning coffee break featured these beautiful little miniature lattice-top fruit turnovers. All the breaks have included big metal bowls of fresh whole fruit, which has been very popular.
For lunch, we simply repaired to the hotel's wine-and-cheese bar and ordered the "planche mixte," i.e., the cheese and cold-cut board. Its three coldcuts and two cheese were excellent, but the presentation was even better. Here, at the left, is mine. From the foreground toward the rear, it included a Physalis peruviana berry on a smear of apricot purée; a wedge of a yellowish semihard washed-rind cheese; little piles of pistachios and dried cranberries; two quarters of a fresh fig; a wedge of a whitish cheese (also semihard washed rind); a small bunch of grapes; a little pile of dried currants; some raw pecans; several slices of raw ham; two kinds of green olives; a generous spoonful of outstanding onion marmalade; a splodge of mild mustard sauce; several slices of salami; several bread-and-butter pickles; several slices of chorizo; and a bowl of crisp toasts. Not much was left after I'd grazed my way across it, and none of the debris was remotely edible!
The afternoon break munchies consisted of cookies and veggie chips with two dips. All the breaks included the usual coffee, tea, and accoutrements, of course. I'm always interested in the organizers' choices and in photographing the food, but I don't get to eat it, because I didn't pay the registration fee. The only flaw I've seen in the catering service is that the waiters don't keep the water pitchers in the lobby full. Sitting in my little alcove, I witness a steady stream of participants coming to the water table and going away disappointed. Even when I've pointed the problem out to the waiters, nothing happens. So I've taken to making myself useful by carrying the empty pitchers up the ballroom, where the posters are on display and the water station is so well hidden behind a bulletin board that no one drinks the water and swapping them out for the full ones there—just doing my part to support proper hydration of the scientific community.
We ate dinner in the hotel's restaurant also. The amuse-bouche, shown at the right here, was another version of thinly sliced seared venison, with a bright-yellow squash puré, a bright-green herb oil, and a sweet compote of currants and pine nuts. It looked so good I ate some of it before taking the photo.First course, David: smoked salmon rolled around a mousse of goat cheese.
First course, me: Clam chowder. It was chowder, and it did, in fact, contain clams, but it also contained shrimp, scallops, and (of all things) diced red bell pepper. I had no objection to the extra seafood, but it could have presented a serious problem for, e.g., colleague Janie Wulff, who loves clams but is violently allergic to crustaceans, or close friend Rachel Sinnett, if it contains unannounced fin-fish stock.
Main course, David: Chicken breast cooked sous vide, then seared, served with carrots and peas in a creamy sauce and topped with arugula.
Main course, me: grilled lobster claws. Disks of sautéed polenta were placed on top of sautéed spinach and a creamy parsnip sauce scattered with lobster roe, then topped with very large sautéed oyster mushrooms, in turn topped with "butterflied" grilled boneless lobster claws (two of them, plus a stray half lobster tail that made its way onto the plate). , the whole thing was topped with thin, crispy, and delicious fried parsnip strips. Excellent.
Dessert, David: Speculoos-flavored nougat glacé, coated with dark chocolate and topped with a ripple of crisp meringue, which he pronounced very good.
Dessert, me: Caramel panna cotta topped with banana ice cream and accompanied by three little pools of chocolate sauce. I realize that those ubiquitous cookie crumbs are supposed to insulate the ice cream from warmer surfaces and to absorb any liquid that does melt off it, but I think they spoil the texture of creamy desserts and wish that chefs would leave them out. A nice disk of crisp meringue would be a better choice.
Last but not least, here's a photo of a strange object that sat on our table throughout the meal; note that its wooden portion looks just like the wooden handle of my chubby breakfast teapot. It took me a while to figure out that it's a pepper mill. To use it, you pick it up, turn it over, and twist the silver "base." Pepper comes out what is the top when it's at rest. It displays a permanent list because the silver part is rounded rather than flat on the bottom, and it won't stand silver-side-up. Odd.
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