Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 07, 2002
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
The Death of Park Place, Rare Meat, and Ravens
Ah, the misery of it. Park Place is closed, and my life is the poorer for it.
No more of the best spring rolls I've ever had! No more of that marvelous
tomato salad! No more of their unforgettable jambalaya. And as for their sweet
hummus appetizer, if it weren't for the fact that Southern Lights finally put
their hummus back on the menu, I'd be utterly without hope.
It's your fault, you know. I was out of town all summer, and so I couldn't
single-handedly keep it open by eating there every day. It was your job, O
Greensboro diners, to keep that little jewel alive till I could get back!
Well, no, I guess that's not fair. The truth is, the place was always too
small -- not enough tables to cover the overhead at the prices they were
charging -- and I think they were counting on its becoming a trendy bar.
Trendy bars, of course, don't have to have good food.
I hope the same team opens another restaurant soon, with a large
enough space. I hope it's close to my house. I hope it has the exact same
spring rolls on the menu.
You know, when a pretty good chain restaurant like Macaroni Grill
opens, it's natural to go try it out. But you have to remember to go back --
often -- to the local originals so that when you finally get tired of the chains
you have somewhere else to go.
Greensboro has been an excellent restaurant town these past few years.
But if we lose the most original and excellent of our restaurants, where will we
Just like you have to tip street musicians if you want to have streets with
live music, so also you have to go to wonderful small restaurants as often as
you can if you want to live in a town that has unique eating places.
So I expect to see you all at Leblon, and Mark's on Westover, and
Southern Lights, and Café Pasta, and Revival Grill, and not just standing in
line outside Macaroni Grill and The Outback.
Speaking of restaurants, I'm simply fed up with waiters and chefs who
insist that meat is ruined when it's cooked well done.
That is simply false. They can say "but it loses all its flavor," but the
truth is that it loses the flavor of rare meat -- and gains the excellent flavor of
As for the myth that "it will dry out if it's well done," the answer is, good
chefs know how to cook meat well done without it drying out, so when a chef
insists that well-done meat from his kitchen will be dry, he is confessing
something unfortunate about himself.
I happen to like rare tuna even sashimi, when prepared by excellent
chefs; but I also like fully cooked tuna. I am sickened by the sight of bloody
beef on my plate (I don't care what's on yours) while I love a cooked-all-day
osso buco or the well-done outside of a fine oven roast.
As for rare pork, or chicken, they are not only unspeakably inedible, they
are downright dangerous.
If you disagree with me, fine. But when a waiter or chef gets snooty
about how "we only serve this dish rare," I take my custom elsewhere. Because
not only are they snobs, but they have also admitted they don't know how to
So I stop by Borders and there's a display of a new novel -- When the
Ravens Die, by Cameron Kent.
You know, Cameron Kent, the news anchor from WXII, the NBC station
When somebody tries to do something outside the field where he earned
his fame, you can't help but expect it to be awful.
If Kent had produced a book about some local news event, a la Jerry
Bledsoe, no one would have been surprised. But ... fiction?
So, in the spirit of people who have to slow down and gawk when driving
by an auto wreck, I picked it up and started reading.
And to my surprise, found myself becoming quite interested in the story.
Now, there are some definite markers that this novel is early in his
writing career, and there are some techniques he has not mastered -- but the
same can be said of my first published novel, and yet there are still people who
come up to me at signings and tell me that it's the best thing I ever wrote.
The fact is: If the story is good enough, readers will forgive any number of
flaws in the manner of the storytelling. (On the other hand, if the story is
utterly boring, it doesn't help much of the prose is exquisitely crafted and all
the techniques are exactly right.)
A synopsis makes the book sound like a cross between a Tom Clancy and
a Robert Ludlum. Lone American in England gets caught up in a struggle for
power in the royal family that involves him personally.
Oddly enough, however, Ravens is not a contemporary thriller at all.
Rather it's a more old-fashioned kind of story -- a graustark novel.
There was once quite a fad for novels like this, beginning with George Barr
McCutcheon's novel Graustark in 1901. Graustarks are novels set in
imaginary -- but contemporary --European kingdoms, where royal families are
riven by dissension, lost heirs struggle to regain their rightful place from
usurpers, and tourists find that they are exact doubles of royal personages.
Ravens may seem to be set in contemporary Britain, but it's an
imaginary kingdom all the same, in which a royal family we don't recognize
actually has some real power in the government.
Once you realize what tradition Kent is working in, then this is a pretty
good example of the genre -- and rather a bold move. He uses the
usurper/twin/royal intrigue tropes quite well, and I can promise you an
The only real irritation, for me, was the way his hero kept insisting that
people call him "Dr." instead of "Mr." I always think that shows a deep-seated
neediness and makes the person who does it so very unattractive. But if you
hold your nose and ignore that, the hero is otherwise quite likeable.
I stayed away from A Knight's Tale when it came out last year because
(a) I love Chaucer and (b) I detest anachronistic historicals in which the
characters dress in period costumes but think and act like modern people.
But I can watch almost anything on cable, and when A Knight's Tale
popped up I didn't switch away.
All the anachronistic stupidity I feared is there, of course -- marriageable
young ladies without chaperones hopping into bed with knights they take a
fancy to, without fear of pregnancy; Chaucer, a royal clerk from a well-to-do
merchant family traveling around with a poor would-be knight.
But the story turned out to be romantic and fun despite the silliness.
Oddly enough, however, the performances I enjoyed the most were not the
leads, who seemed to be the standard wooden puppets of fashionable beauty.
It was the actors portraying Prince Edward and the young woman blacksmith
whom I want to see in more films.
Worth renting after all, even for history snobs like me.