Thanks to a kind, on-the-ball ticketing agent at Reagan National Airport, I scored a seat on an earlier flight back to Texas. This was good news and bad news. Good news because if I caught the next leg of the trip, Houston to Austin, based on risky stand-by status, I'd get in two hours earlier ending three days of hotel living and working. The bad news was that this really messed up what and how I would eat that day. With memories of perhaps one of the most expected yummiest meals ever - at Zaytinya (Greek, Lebanese, Turkish small plates) - I had a feeling this would be a very different food day. So why not make the best, or worst, of it.
If I did make stand-by, there would be no time to eat. I had been subsisting on protein bars mostly while in D.C., better get something on the plane. Mary-Kate and Ashley needed to be tended to while this 10-days-old Parisian cold lingered on top of no real sleep while in D.C. (M-K & A is my code name for flawed adrenal system I've been working on improving: think back on their dark, goth, pale, about-to-fall-over-if-a-mild-breeze-came-by selves - yep, that's what the old non-operative adrenal system felt like before I found wise miracle worker Eleanor McCulley at Austin 3-D Health).
And so it was that I made a reluctant foray into those purchased "snacks" on United Airlines. I went for the Tapas Box. Seemed fairly healthy. Roasted red peppers, almonds, hummus, pita chips. With the UT Food Lab's Food, the City, and Innovation Conference from just a few days earlier fresh on my mind, I immediately silently gasped in horror at the amount of packaging that went into this item: a box, yes. But plastic wrapped around the box. Open the box: an array of items, all individually packaged.
Of special note was the interesting packaging for the hummus. Which on arrival I noted, with some concern for its ingredients, was called a "hummus dip." It is contained in that green waxy cardboard multi-sided package above, tucked to the right of the Roasted Red Pepper "Bruschetta" (which was not awful, if I ignored the slight resemblance it had to Pace picante sauce, which continues to grace America's grocery store aisles, to my complete bewilderment)). The hummus packaging was such that you could just squeeze it out onto your carb of choice: three types of crackers in there. I went for the pita chips for that, which meant the Pace picante sauce-flavored "bruschetta" (as we know, bruschetta refers to the ensemble of topping on crisped/grilled baguette slices), had to go on just a regular cracker. Weird. Sure, I ordered some wine - that mini bottle of what for me is barely even one glass of wine. The AV system was lame on this not-yet-upgraded plane: I figured I needed something to pass the time.
Once we arrived at IAH, it was first rush from Terminal E to Terminal B to see about that Stand By status. Realizing I had plenty of time though, en route I stopped in at Le Grand Comptoir, a nice-enough looking wine bar, with locations at just Newark and Houston it looks like for now. And with a French name, I could not resist. Sure, I knew, at some deep unconscious level that another glass of wine was a bad idea. With the cough increasing, the Sudafed cycling down, and the Hall's eucalyptus cough drops creating vague numbness in the back of my throat...I was more deleriously tired than full from the environmentally unsound Tapas Box. I went for the wine at the wine bar. And, why not, let's check out the Croque Monsieur.
Service was nice enough. Pleasant. And the crowd up at the bar was a nice group of folks. A little more upscale than the types I was seeing at Chili's, which as we know has that plastic mug thing for beverages that throws me into an apoplectic fit for inexplicable reasons. Okay they are explicable: The plastic. The thought of having any anything - water, iced tea - out of a plastic mug with a handle. The handle and the plastic. Therein lies the horror.
In the meantime, the European, in a good way, -looking guy next to me was ordering the Penner Ash - at a price I had noted and marvelled at on the menu - before I went for anything I could find below or at $10.00.
And then le croque monsieur arrives. Uh, excuse me. The menu made it sound like you knew what a croque monsieur was. As I Tweeted that moment in abject disappointment, ceci n'est pas un croque monsieur. What is wrong this picture:
Right. It is a ham sandwich with a little but of cheese, and a mustard-dipping sauce. I was too numb with travel fatigue to make some clever conversation about this not being a croque monsieur - which I am sure would have impressed everyone around me. I just left and checked out my standby status in Terminal B. The flight was already oversold. No go.
Back I had to go, back to Terminal C, after being at Terminal E upon landing, and then Terminal B. I passed by Le Grand Comptoir again on the way back. My cough and I just kept going, but next time -- it is the venue of choice there at IAH. Just think "Americanized" sort-of French food. And it sure beats a plastic-wrapped Tapas Box.