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I’m With Stupid – September 13, 2013

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallEvery so often, in penning this column, I get to write words that I never thought I would see together in a sentence — words so incongruous that there exists virtually no possibility of their being associated. To me, those occasions constitute one of the great joys of the writing profession, and I like to recognize them when they occur.

Thus, it is with great fanfare that I get to write the following: Todd Hartley stayed at the Ritz-Carlton last weekend.

Ahoy polloi.

That’s right, ladies and gents: Yours truly and family and both dogs were all guests of the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, over in Beaver Creek on Saturday night. Who’s a failure now, Rhonda?

I guess, technically speaking, you could argue that I wasn’t a guest. My wife was the one who’d been invited there on assignment, and I was just being allowed to tag along to help shepherd child and dogs. But that’s not the point. The point is that I stayed at the Ritz. Don’t worry about how I got there.

And when I say we were guests, I mean we were guests. We paid $65 for breakfast, but that was it. Our one-room suite and dinner were both on the house, for which I would like to thank all the good people in Bachelor Gulch.

Oh, yeah, about that dinner — here’s something else I never thought I’d write: Todd Hartley ate a meal at Spago last weekend. Sure, it wasn’t the famous Spago in Beverly Hills, and it’s not like Wolfgang Puck or any celebrities were there, but Puck did create the menu and is said to be a semiannual visitor.

My wife, son and I got all gussied up in our collared shirts, rode the elevator down to the lobby and walked into Spago to the strains of Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” I thought it an interesting choice for a fine-dining establishment in a posh resort, and I remarked on it to the waiter.

“Well, Wolfgang likes his music,” the waiter said. “He’s very particular about what we play here.”

“And he chose Judas Priest?” I asked.

“He loves Priest,” the waiter said, and we both nodded approvingly.

Minutes later, as Ted Nugent serenaded us with “Cat Scratch Fever,” I perused the menu and saw this: “Double Cut Berkshire Pork Chop, Pork Belly, Potato Bacon Terrine.” There was something about vegetables, as well, but I’d read enough at that point. The menu had just mentioned pig three times in a row; what else was I going to order?

I already knew I liked Puck’s taste in music. Now I stand in absolute awe of his cooking. What he did with that pig flesh is nothing short of genius.

First of all, there was a big ol’ pork chop that was perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned. Then there were some scalloped potatoes, only he’d layered bacon in with the potato slices and somehow wrapped the potatoes and bacon in more bacon.

The piece de resistance, however, was the pork belly. I don’t know if you’re familiar with pork belly, but it’s a very hot food thing right now, featured on the menus of top restaurants everywhere. Pork belly is essentially bacon that nobody bothered to slice, leaving mad geniuses like Puck to hack off whatever size chunks they want to fry.

The pork-belly portion gracing my plate was a white cube about an inch tall. It looked like a 3-D version of the weird squares you find floating in your baked beans. It was delectable, of course, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable yet with the idea of blatantly eating a hunk of fat in a fancy restaurant. I tried to be a little more discreet than that: I spread the pork belly like a topping on my chop.

We finished up by sharing a German pancake for dessert, prompting me to tell the waiter that, given his ethnicity, I might have expected Wolfgang’s playlist to be a little heavier on Scorpions and Falco. The waiter was engaged in the elaborate ritual of cutting the pancake and spooning fruit over the portions at the time and apparently didn’t get the joke.

Anyway, it was a very memorable meal, and I’m now a huge fan of Puck’s.

The next morning, at Spago for breakfast, I ordered eggs Benedict. It was like every other eggs Benedict, except the Canadian bacon had been replaced by pork belly.

Rock on, Wolfgang. Rock on.

Todd Hartley lives after midnight, rocks to the dawn, loves till the morning, then he’s gone, he’s gone.

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