February 23rd, 2006

Yanni’s Restaurant 02/15/06

As a Christmas gift, my team of workers gave me a gift card for Yanni’s, a new restaurant open in my office’s neighborhood. Yanni’s is primarily a place for steak, in the mold of Milwaukee classics like the Five O’Clock Club, but rather more upscale, as befits it east-of-the river location downtown. Journal-Sentinel restaurant critic Dennis Getto had reviewed the place in November, and given it an excellent review. He was particularly laudatory of the steaks, which are “dry-aged”. This process is supposed to concentrate flavor and increase tenderness. Georgie ordered a petit tenderloin, and I splurged on the “surf and turf” (hey, it was paid for). The S&T includes a 12-ounce tenderloin as well as a lobster tail. While certainly not bad, I didn’t find it anything to shout about. Certainly the steak was very tender, but was actually curiously lacking in flavor. I noticed that Getto had his “crusted” with Parmesan cheese. I’ve fancy steaks with cheese on before, and, while good, for flavor’s sake it might as well have been a cheeseburger, so I’m not sure how accurate a description of the meat taste might have been. On the other hand, there is nothing so variable as steak. One steer might be tender, and another from the same lot be tough. I wasn’t really impressed with the lobster tail either—in this case it was just a touch too cooked, and therefore a bit rubbery on top, and a bit underdone on the bottom.

We tried a couple of the other things Getto recommended, and they were as good as advertised. The crab cake appetizers were very good, and the apple pie dessert was very tasty, had a nice pastry texture, and was nicely, and unusually, spiced. And, yes, an order of apple pie is an entire 8” pie, not just a piece of pie. Needless to say, we took a lot home with us.

The place was very busy for Wednesday night, even though at six PM we were some of the first people in the dining room. By the time we had entrees, the room was full. Service seemed slow—it was 8PM before we left, and I asked for the check when our dessert came. I could understand the pacing somewhat—the portions are massive and one would need time to deal with them if you ate it all. A side order of mashed potatoes would serve four, and the surf and turf was garnished with, I kid you not, a quarter of a pineapple. However, it seemed to take a long time just for the appetizers to come, and things never caught up after that.

Be warned that this place is not cheap: Steaks alone are in the $25.00 range, other things are ala carte, and the surf and turf (“market price” lobster) came to $70.00 plus, which makes it the single most expensive entrée I’ve ever had. My opinion is that, for that money, I can get better elsewhere.

Milwaukee Ballet, “Scheherazade”

On Saturday, February 18th, we went to the Milwaukee Ballet for a revival performance of their production of “Scheherazade,” choreographed by Kathryn Posin to the music of Nicolai Rimsky-Koraskov. This was a new production for the Ballet about two years ago, and we snagged cheap seats at the last minute after taking in the buzz about the beautiful production, costumes, and dancing, and were very glad we had. That production was particularly notable for the spectacular dancing of Amy Fote in the title role. Kara Wilks, who essayed Scheherazade this time was not quite so bravura, but this was not a bad thing. Her dancing blends well with the ensemble of the rest of the cast. We also sprang for better seats this time, and were able to enjoy some of the subtleties of the performance whereas we had been dazzled by the more purely spectacular aspects last time.
The piece opens with the familiar framing device of the “Thousand Nights and a Night.” The Vizier (“Evil Vizier” is a redundancy--) reveals to the Caliph his favorite wife’s dalliance with a slave. They are taken in the act and slain, and the Caliph also kills the other women of his harem. Scheherazade becomes the Caliph’s wife in an attempt to bring his murder spree to an end. She beguiles him with her tales, “Sinbad”, “Aladdin,” and “The Flying Horse.” Each of these scenes is a story ballet within the ballet. “Sinbad is particularly effective, with dancers representing the powers of the ocean manipulating a large piece of water-colored silk in wave motions that roll over Sinbad, swirl around him, and drag him into an undertow, from whence he finally drags himself to safety. “Aladdin” has the second-best dancing role in the part of the Djinn, and the costume and set of the “Flying Horse” are just beautiful. The climactic scene, “The Massacre in the Harem,” begins when the woman-hating Vizier falsely accuses Scheherazade of infidelity, which triggers another bloodthirsty rampage on the part of the Caliph. A mad chase through the palace ensues as the guards seek to carry out his edict of death, and the characters from Scheherazade’s stories materialize and take part in the battle. At last, the harem women, guards, and characters all lie dead, and the Vizier is dragged to perdition by the spirits of the women he has betrayed, leaving only the Caliph and Scheherazade alone in the ruin. Scheherazade berates, then, reasons with the Caliph, who is overcome with remorse for his actions. Picking up the Magic Lamp where it has fallen from Aladdin’s hand, she gives it to the Caliph and directs him to summon the Djinn, who appears and grants the Caliph’s one wish—to undo all the damage he has done. Women, guards and characters all arise from death, and live happily ever after.

The program opened with a premier production of “Coronach,” a ballet by Lila York to the music “Maninyas,” by Ross Edwards. This is a second Milwaukee Ballet production for York, who created a work called “Celts” last season that was well received. If there was a Celtic connection to this piece other than the name, I could not see it. Georgie, who is more ballet-savvy than I am, was impressed with the challenging choreography and skillful dancing. While I can’t disagree with that, I was looking in vain for some thematic component tying it together. “Maninyas” is a pleasantly melodic piece made up of a number of short movements or motifs, and the dancers recombined in solos, duets, quartets, and company pieces as the music changed.

We have been very pleased with the Ballet performances we have seen lately, and are planning on getting some series tickets for next season, which includes a revival of the Ballet’s original production of “The Virgin Forest,” which we have enjoyed, and versions of “Don Quixote” and “Romeo and Juliet,” both choreographed by Michael Pink, who so pleased us with this season’s “Dracula”.