It was more than a little depressing to tackle my taxes and realize I spent exactly $0 on travel last year — my last big trip was Tuscany/Arles/Languedoc two summers ago. So maybe I was more mellow than usual on flying off to Buffalo for a fast weekend for my in-law equivalent’s 80th, because I thought we ate quite well despite a first stop at Panera (Where the Large Ones Go) Bread. For fast food, it was not awful; chipotle mayonnaise redeemed the few slices of smoked turkey with lettuce and red onion between asiago bread on my half-sandwich, which came with a cup of decent broccoli-Cheddar soup. And the mood was certainly much mellower than at Wegman’s, where we headed not long afterward to pick up punch and paper products for I-LE’s party — there was cart gridlock right inside the door, with all these frantic people on their cells, and I soon realized why. My consort went one way, I another, and I actually had to call him to find him again. As Kurt Andersen detailed in Time the other week, we have been wallowing in way, way too much in this country. Then again, Bob ordered a cake for 12 to 15 at Sweet Beginnings and got a two-layer beauty with chocolate mousse and chocolate buttercream for all of $17. (What’s that, the price of two cupcakes here?)
It took some effort, but we extricated the birthday girl for dinner at Shango, described as “seriously underrated” by Mike Andrzejewski, probably Buffalo’s best chef, who owned Tsunami until he had a horrific accident and lost a leg. He now runs two SeaBars, but their sushi-worshiping menu looked way too rigid for octogenarians. Shango turned out to be a Manhattan-worthy restaurant not far from the old Tsunami, with very flattering lighting and commodious booths. I was quite happy with my Creole meatloaf, which had a log of andouille embedded in the center of the pork-beef-veal blend, with okay garlicky mashed potatoes and decent “Cajun corn” (with peppers). Bob’s mom ate more than I would have anticipated of the sirloin that came with a portobello stuffed with spinach and blue cheese plus Parmesan/rosemary-crusted fries. And he might have done best with tuna-avocado spring rolls over cilantro-cashew pesto etc., a shrimp cake on Cajun remoulade with corn salad and a good Caesar loaded down with fried oysters. A basket of bread (corn, regular) was accompanied by a sort of muffuletta olive salad and a little bowl of flavored olive oil. Not surprisingly, we had no room for dessert but did keep our glasses refilled with gruner for me and a red from Austria for him.
High point of the flying trip was the Broadway Market, not least because it was the liveliest I’ve ever seen it, with special booths opened to take advantage of the throngs shopping for butter lambs and hams and chocolate for Easter. The horseradish roots for sale at one stand looked better than I’ve ever seen in Manhattan, and they were being ground right there and ladled into jars, as was a nasal-blasting mustard. And we scored two types of kielbasa, from producers whose names both ended in ski. If you smell smoke, it’s probably the clothes those links traveled home with.
After meandering around sadly deserted downtown in search of somewhere, anywhere for lunch, we wound up on Elmwood Avenue looking for old reliable Le Metro, only to find it had become Mode, recently reviewed. Inside looked the same, but the menu was more imaginative. My consort had the “sea biscuit,” a big one topped with shrimp, scallops and andouille sausage in a light sauce; his mom ate pretty much all of her stuffed french toast with strawberries and mascarpone, and I got a special that sounded like home cooking — cheese grits, bacon and scrambled eggs — but was actually brilliant: the three elements were stacked, so that each bite was a cascade of flavor and texture. Or maybe that was just the huge glass of Domaine Lalande sauvignon blanc talking.
On the way back to pick up our bags and speed to the airport, we passed the new Burchfield Penney art museum, just across from the always amazing Albright-Knox. For what the I-LE insisted is America’s third-poorest city, Buffalo has rather a wealth of attractions. All it needs is a high-speed rail link and Brooklyn would empty out.
Sweet Beginnings, 3759 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore, 716 875 1431.
Shango, 3260 Main Street, Buffalo, 716 837 2326.
Broadway Market, 999 Broadway, Buffalo, 716 893 0705.
Mode, 520 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, 716 885 1500.