Monday, March 31, 2008

Those Vitamin-Rich Bottled Waters

Apparently, they aren't so vitamin-rich after all, and several of them contain almost as many calories as a can of soda. From the health page of, here is one of the Top 10 Food Mistakes for people who want to eat healthier:

It's a measure of how health conscious we've become that water is now fortified with nutrients and even medicinal herbs. But when asked for the l'eau down on so-called enhanced water, Prevention advisor Elizabeth Somer, RD, counseled: "Save your money."

Many are bloated with unnecessary calories. The label of one leading brand, for example, reports that it supplies half the daily requirement for some nutrients. But to get that amount, you have to drink the whole bottle, which contains 125 calories.

And for that you get just 6 of the 40-plus essential nutrients provided by most supplements. An entire bottle, notes Somer, supplies no more vitamin C than you'd get from eating two strawberries.

Amusing Snippet, But It Isn't True

I hate it when news media circulate a hyped-up, inaccurate story (probably for the sheer shake of reader amusement). A case in point is this web page that I discovered on CBBC, the children's web portal of BBC News.

This story reports that dog meat is less popular than it used to be in China. The story adds:
China isn't the only country that serves up animals we might think of as a strange snack. In France horse is often on the menu, and in Japan they serve up whale burgers as an expensive treat.
That snippet about France simply isn't true. Since the 1980s, I have traveled through almost every region of France, and I have probably opened the menus at more than 50 French bistros, brasseries or restaurants. I have seen horse on a menu only once or twice. I don't think that qualifies as "often."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bitten . . . by Garlic, But Not Parsley

I just recently discovered Bitten, an interesting food blog at the NY Times website. It's written by Mark Bittman, a cookbook author.

The most recent post is written by guest blogger David Latt, who writes rapturously about French smoked garlic. I adore garlic, but I've never eaten smoked garlic (at least not that I know of) so this intrigued me.

But Latt also introduces a recipe that uses 1/2 cup of parsley, which I recently identified as the "most overrated herb" that can be found in a kitchen. Half a cup? What a waste of time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Tastier Turnpike

Driving the New Jersey Turnpike is a major "blah" when it comes to food options.

For that reason, I was pleased to see this article in today's NY Times offering some tastier choices for those who are willing to roam a few miles beyond those dreary Turnpike service stops.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

All This Fuss Over Macaroons?

I'm not a huge fan of macaroons. If cookies are the subject, I'd be more likely to get dreamy-eyed over homemade chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal-raisin cookies or butterscotch ice box cookies.

But this New York City club relied on the same bakery for 60 years to supply its macaroons and when the bakery closed its doors for good, the Century Association embarked on an unusual search. This NY Times article provides the details.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Say What?

I am used to reading descriptions of entrees on a restaurant menu that use the term "pan seared." But I was recently surprised to read a restaurant menu that described one of its meat dishes as "pan roasted."

How do you roast something in a stovetop pan? It's an oxymoron.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Does Your Meal Contain "Umami"?

According to today's Chicago Tribune:

Chefs, nutritionists, cookbook authors and food processors are salivating over the merits of umami, the "fifth taste" that is neither salty, sweet, bitter nor sour.

. . . for food processors, boosting umami levels in their products could mean less reliance on salt, or more-palatable low-sodium products.

. . . Umami — pronounced "oo-MA-mee"—comes from a Japanese word meaning "deliciousness." This somewhat elusive flavor shows up in a wide variety of protein-rich foods.

. . . This savory taste was isolated 100 years ago by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who wanted to figure out what gave dashi, a Japanese seaweed soup, its distinct flavor. He concluded that the umami flavor came from glutamate, an amino acid and protein building block.

That means protein-rich foods like meat and dairy products tend to be high in umami, especially when the cooking or processing of the foods gives the proteins time to break down into glutamates. Curing, aging, browning and slow-cooking enhance the umami taste of those foods.

Although the concept has been around for a century, the fifth taste has been slow to catch on in America and other Western countries. For starters, there's the name, a strange-sounding foreign word.

. . . Chefs are increasingly incorporating umami flavors into their recipes. New York's Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes a custard with Gruyere, goat and Parmesan cheeses, topped with shaved black truffle. He calls it "an umami bomb."

That "Other White Meat" & Easter Dinner

I really like pork when, that is, it comes out of the oven moist and flavorful. But I still find pork loins and chops a bit of a challenge. Last night's Easter dinner pork loin was slightly on the dry side. Still enjoyable, but not what I had hoped for.

I suspect that it needed to brine for at least another half-hour. We kind of rushed the brining process just a little.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Starbucks' New Direction

According to the Grub Street page on New York magazine's website:

Look for price drops and better smells at Starbucks after today's annual meeting. The stuttering chain is losing sales to McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, and former CEO Howard Schultz has returned to lead Starbucks to ubiquitous glory once again.

The meeting's not until this afternoon, but the company has already made a few announcements and Wall Street analysts (have) their own predictions.

Expect a customer-loyalty program offering price breaks or free drinks, cheaper drip coffee (which now represents only 12 percent of sales), freshly ground beans, dropping hot foods that mask the coffee smell, and fewer stores to open across the street from each other.
Perhaps Starbucks could improve its profit picture by increasing revenue from non-coffee purchases. I virtually never buy any of the food items sold at Starbucks, and I rarely see anyone else buying 'em. It's no wonder -- the food choices there are bland and unappetizing. They all just look so pathetic.

Most of the muffins and other baked goods inside their glass case look like artifacts from an archaeological dig. Who knows where the hell they were actually baked? I'll bet they could really hurt you if they were thrown hard in your direction.

Last year, Starbucks introduced blueberry and raspberry scones, and the best I can say for these scones is that they are edible. Barely.

Rural Southern Food Is All the Rage

At least it seems so. Details, that snarky, urban-centric men's style and fashion magazine, even includes a recipe for redeye gravy on page 118 of its March issue. I almost did a double-take when I saw it.

The recipe printed in the magazine is the one used by the chef at New York City's hip Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

This website provides a history of country ham and redeye gravy, although I wonder if the story of how redeye gravy was named is myth or fact. Either way, it's an amusing story.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

So Much for Expectations

Another little factoid from a recent Harper's Index:

Average amount of meat, in pounds, consumed by a wealthy U.S. child each week: 1.7

Average consumed by a poor U.S. child: 2.1

A Frosty Mug of Suds?

Not exactly.

Although I had a long day at work yesterday, I still managed to pay appropriate tribute to St. Patrick's Day. But my beverage was a glass of red wine, not a mug of beer.

I figured the Veritas wine bar on Florida Avenue, N.W. would be a lot less crowded than a pub or bar. I chose a Tempranillo, and it was a nice detour on my way home.

Monday, March 17, 2008

McDonald's Chases Urban Myths

There are certain questions that no company should ever answer, even if company officials think their answer is satisfactory or reassuring. Merely responding to the question presents consumers with an image that is utterly revolting and helps keep this image alive. In the end, this renders consumers less likely to patronize your business.

Here is a case in point — it's from a recent issue of Harper's magazine. Harper's published excerpts of a question-and-answer section from a website launched in the United Kingdom by McDonald's in order to dispel rumors and myths about its restaurant items:

Q: Are your burgers made from cows' eye sockets?

A: No. All McDonald's hamburgers are made from whole cuts of forequarter and flank (similar to the mince you'd buy in the supermarket).

Q: I heard that your burger meat is taken from the vaginas of cows. Can you confirm that this is not true?

A: McDonald's uses only whole cuts of forequarter and flank.
The preceding two questions were bad enough, but the following question especially leaves me wondering who the hell is running the public relations office of McDonald's in Britain:

Q: I have read in papers that [McDonald's] staff take a poo in the food, watch people eat it, then go and laugh in their faces. Is this true?

A: This is completely unfounded. McDonald's is unsure which papers have been reporting this and would like to see the source if you still have a copy . . . .


Soy Milk's Diverse (And Strange) Critics

Silk is running a major TV ad campaign promoting its soy milk products. I have never drunk soy milk. I almost did so once, but I couldn't get past the awful smell of the stuff.

Over the past year or two, I have noticed more and more critics of soy milk. These critics range from the more reasoned (at least, from my initial observation) to those who belong on the front page of The Onion.

A few years ago, Mothering magazine published this article raising concerns about the health effects of soy products, including allergies and even certain types of cancer. WorldNetDaily, a religious conservative website, posted this 2006 column by James Rutz actually claiming that soy consumption has a "feminizing" effect that will turn children gay.

There are three problems with Rutz's wild assertion.

First, weren't these the same people who warned us that the TV character Tinky Winky was gay? Second, columnist Rutz doesn't seem to have any scientific expertise in the area of nutrition or public health, and I'm not inclined to get my health-medical information from the chairman of Megashift Ministries. Third, various studies show that gay and heterosexual men have similar testosterone levels — a fact that seems to undercut Rutz's argument that testosterone is "suppressed" by the natural estrogens in soy milk.

I doubt I will ever be a soy milk drinker, but, if you like the taste, go right ahead. There may be some sound public health reasons for limiting your level of soy consumption, but I don't consider the ridiculous soy-turns-you-gay argument to be one of them.

Given my own sexual orientation, perhaps I should inform others what drinking cow's milk can do to a lad.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chefs Who Wear All the Hats

You think it's tough enough for a chef to grill a Porterhouse steak to perfection? Or to deglaze a pan and reduce a sauce to just the right consistency?

Well, imagine doing those kinds of things in the kitchen and also having to act as the waiter, the maitre d', and the coat-check dude. In this NY Times article, Julia Moskin writes about restaurant chefs who wear all of those hats.

A Better Béarnaise

I have prepared some Béarnaise sauces that have gotten rave reviews in recent years, but the last time I tried making one, it was a flop. The sauce had passed that point-of-no-return when the egg yolk starts to curdle — instead of having a smooth, slightly thick consistency, the sauce starts to resemble scrambled eggs.

The trick is to keep the water in the bottom of the double-boiler from boiling or reaching too high a temperature. Egg yolks start to curdle at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, but it's not easy to tell when the water is so hot that the temperature of the sauce mixture hits 150.

I stumbled on this recipe for Béarnaise sauce, which suggests doing the following:
The second that the yolk mixture begins to thicken slightly, remove the top of the double boiler from above the hot water and continue whisking. Turn off the heat. Add four ice cubes to the bottom of the double boiler to cool the hot water a little.
I've never seen a Béarnaise recipe before that suggested the ice cube idea. I may try that next time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Strange Twist on Popsicles

In today's Wash Post, Bonny Wolf writes:

I should not have been surprised. I've spent countless hours at the Minnesota State Fair, and I lived in Texas for seven years. So I'm familiar with deep-fried pickles on a stick and with the independent thinking of the residents of the Lone Star State.

Still, the Pickle Sickle caught me off guard. An ice pop made of frozen pickle juice doesn't sound like something people would be clamoring for.

. . . Sure enough, Pickle Sickles are selling at the rate of about 20,000 a month, mostly through the Internet. Who knew?

. . . The Web site for the Pickle Sickle plays up the product's "bizarre" and "crazy" aspects, but the idea actually isn't so strange. People in that part of the state -- Seguin is about 35 miles from San Antonio -- have always drunk pickle juice.

"There are a lot of closet pickle drinkers in South Texas," Howard says. "We're trying to get everyone out of the closet."

3 More on Frank Bruni's List

The N.Y. Times continues to publish (in sets of threes) the top 10 restaurant meals that its food critic, Frank Bruni, has enjoyed over the past year. They are being published in reverse order -- today's article has No. 5, 4 and 3.

One of the restaurants is in Miami, another is in Dallas and the other is in New Orleans. No. 3 happens to be the only one of the three that I have dined at: Cochon in New Orleans. Last summer, I wrote this brief post about Cochon, which is excellent.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Red Cabbage

Last night, I wanted to cook something simple and reasonably healthy so I looked for a recipe for red cabbage. (Red cabbage is rich in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C and valuable antioxidants called anthocyanins.) I used this recipe from Epicurious:

Red Cabbage with Apricots and Balsamic Vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons of butter (3/4 stick)

  • 1 red onion (+/- 8 oz.), thinly sliced

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 red cabbage (roughly 1-1/2 lbs.), quartered, cored, and thinly sliced

  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced dried apricots

  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
. . . but I didn't have any apricots so I substituted a Cortland apple for the apricots and I substituted apple jelly for the apricot preserves. To make this a little healthier, I substituted 3 tablespoons of canola oil for half of the butter.

I also added the following:
  • 1/4 cup of red wine

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon of arrowroot (which I sprinkled on top just before it finished cooking so it would thicken the wine-vinegar mixture)
It tasted pretty good.

Pretty Soon, They'll Be Burping for Us

Yesterday, the Wash Post explained in this article how high-tech machines are tasting and grading foods with very high levels of accuracy. According to the article:

. . . a Japanese consortium recently released a Health and Food Advice Robot that can distinguish among 30 kinds of wine, as well as various cheeses and breads, and has the irritating capacity to warn its owner against poor eating habits.

. . . Recent improvements in sensors, and in computer programs able to interpret their highly complex inputs, give credence to the once-discounted idea that machines may someday become the ultimate arbiters of taste.
The article reports that just last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a program using robotic graders to assess the quality of beef at four Nebraska slaughterhouses. These are the official grades that the USDA gives to distinguish "prime" cuts of beef from beef that is merely graded "select."

The Post article explains how the robotic graders have been able to grade beef with high levels of accuracy:

. . . (the robotic graders) capture photographic images of sides of beef as they cruise by at rates of up to 400 head per hour. The graders focus on the rib-eye muscle, between the 12th and 13th ribs, and measure the redness of the meat, the degree to which it is marbled with tasty fat, and the thickness of the outer fatty layer.

Human graders are being kept on hand to confirm the machines' ratings and override the robots when necessary. But the degree of agreement is very high, officials said. And one handy thing about a hard-wired judge is that it is not susceptible to pressure from plant owners, some of whom have been known to lean on agency graders.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Could Mrs. Olsen Afford One?

I seriously doubt it. Would you pay $11,000 for a coffeemaker that brews one cup at a time and won't even brew espresso drinks? I don't think there are many of us (even coffee snobs) who would. At, Paul Adams writes about the incredible pricey Clover:

The Clover is so eyebrow-raisingly expensive because it's not mass-produced: Each device is built to order by a small Seattle company. It brews coffee like a French press, but it's more dramatic to watch and much more precise.

Unlike lesser methods of making coffee, which are no more reliable than their users and can't be counted on to produce the same cup twice, the Clover is equipped with a "PID algorithm" for regulating temperature and "programmable workflow modes" to help micromanage the brewing process.
The Clover's manufacturer arranged for Adams to try out this Cadillac of coffeemakers. Adams used the dials on the Clover to brew three different cups of coffee.

I'm becoming a Clover addict, just as I feared. It's not the tasty coffee itself that's drawing me in — although that caffeine euphoria certainly colors my mood. It's the joy of tinkering, really delving into the possibilities of a coffee bean in a way I've never considered before.

. . . I dial in the same settings that produced cup No. 2, the greatest success so far. Forty-four seconds later, there it is, the exact same delicate, floral-scented brew I remember. That's the consistency you pay for.
And consistency is getting very expensive . . . $11,000 — to be precise.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Good Wine, But a Lot of Clatter

On Friday night, I had dinner at Vinoteca, a fairly new wine bar on the edge of Washington, D.C.'s up-and-coming Logan Circle neighborhood.

Generally, the wines were good. The Australian Melange Viognier-blend that I started with lacked finesse and I'd give it a B-, however, the Spanish Tempranillo by Pago was earthy and lovely. My dining partner enjoyed the Tempranillo too. I'd give this red a grade of A-.

I had the duck confit and frisee salad, which was good. I liked the space, although they could have used some fabric on the walls, a false ceiling or something to dull the noise a little. The decibel level can be intense during dinner.

A "Caveat Emptor" for Wine Drinkers

Maybe it's just me, but I think a restaurant owes it to its patrons to inform them when a bottle on its wine list is a "private label" — in other words, the restauranteur has worked out a deal with a domestic or foreign wine producer in which (as I understand it) the restaurant purchases a minimum number of bottles that the vintner ships to the restaurant with a customized label.

These private-label wines can be good, but, in some cases — such as last night — they are quite disappointing. I was dining with friends at Les Halles, the French steakhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street, N.W. We ordered a 2004 St. Emilion Grand Cru that was priced at $61.

If I had known this was bottled specifically for shipment to Les Halles, I may or may not have decided to order this wine. Knowing this would have at least prompted me to ask the waiter about the wine.

When it arrived, I probably should have said something, but I have always had excellent wines at Les Halles (until last night).

The meal was excellent, but both wines were lackluster. The second one (a Syrah-Mourvedre blend) tasted like it had been "baked" — not stored at the proper temp.

Friday, March 7, 2008

"Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks . . ."

I am a huge baseball fan, and I closely follow my hometown Washington Nationals. But last season the team's food was even less inspired than the team's play. Selections at RFK Stadium were utterly depressing — not much choice, the hot dogs were tasteless, the hamburgers were barely lukewarm, and the concession employees were slow and clueless.

No telling if the service at Nationals Park will be any better, but at least the food choices will be. From today's Washington Post:

There will be cherry trees on Center Field Plaza and cherry pie as well. Plus iconic chili dogs. And sushi.
Hey, if the sushi can be fresh and tasty in Charleston, W.V., then why not at the 'ole ballpark?

When Nationals Park officially opens March 30, fans are in for an entirely different baseball experience, especially once they get hungry.

. . . Among the vendors will be 11 local independent businesses, including Ben's Chili Bowl and Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy.

"Our offerings are going to be hard to rival," Nationals spokeswoman Chartese Burnett said last week . . . "I'm a vegetarian, and to be able to get sushi and veggie burgers at a ballpark? Come on . . ."

. . . Three sprawling club restaurants will encompass more than six times the square footage of the old park's Diamond Club. One will fire pizzas in a wood-burning oven. . . . At Nationals Park, some of Washington's most beloved institutions will be represented.

. . . In the Left Center Field Food Court, Boardwalk Fries, which started in Ocean City in 1980, will be next to Red Hot & Blue, which opened in Arlington in 1988.

Other vendors with a local pedigree are Gifford's, Cantina Marina, Hard Times Cafe, La Piccola Gelateria, Mayorga Coffee, Noah's Pretzels, Kosher Sports and Krazee Ice.

Sushi in the Land of Coal

I have to admit it — when Jennifer, a work colleague in Charleston, W.V., called me to suggest Thursday evening that we go out for sushi, I didn't know what to say. Was she joking? A real sushi restaurant in Charleston?

I like sushi, but I didn't know what to expect when Jennifer, her roommate Rachel and I arrived at Ichiban, a pan-Asian restaurant in the city's downtown district.

Fortunately, this story ends happily. Very happily. Ichiban was excellent, and Jennifer deserves a gold star. Even the unagi (eel) was quite good. And their lobster rolls definitely are worth trying as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is It a Meal or a Prank?

Although restaurant critic Frank Bruni has several positive things to say about WD-50 in New York City, he reminds us all of the potential peril of dining at a purveyor of "molecular" cuisine. Bruni writes:

. . . what makes WD-50 and Mr. Dufresne, its chef, so amusing, important and rewarding . . . (is that he) pushes hard against the envelope of possibility and the bounds of conformity to produce food that’s not only playful but also joyful and even exhilarating, at least when the mad science pays off.

It pays off more frequently now than in the past, when his attitude was cheekier, his judgment wobblier and too many of his creations gratuitously perverse.

. . . Avant-garde cuisine or molecular gastronomy (two of the labels attached to Mr. Dufresne’s style of cooking) sometimes . . . get[s] so wrapped up in audacious flavor combinations, the unlikely transmogrification of ingredients and other cerebral shenanigans that they neglect dinner’s highest calling: to taste great.

What’s gained by turning a mushroom-and-pepperoni pizza into sandy pebbles, brittle shards and a creamy swish? Nothing at all, and this dish, on the same recent tasting menu at WD-50 as the revelatory eggs Benedict, is a reason many visitors to the restaurant understandably feel that what they’ve experienced isn’t so much a meal as a prank.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

An Exquisite Dessert

I saw a re-run of "The Simpsons" on TV the other night. Principal Seymour Skinner was having an affair with Edna Krabappel, Bart's 4th grade teacher. Mrs. Kabappel had prepared dinner for Skinner, and the two were dining by candlelight at her home.

MR. SKINNER: "This dessert is exquisite. What do you call it?"

MRS. KRABAPPEL: "Applesauce."

MR. SKINNER: "I'm sorry. I don't get out to restaurants much."

Hillary Clinton's Fave Foods

Hillary Clinton is hungry for the Democratic presidential nomination, but what does she want when she's plain hungry?'s Mimi Sheraton has been digging into Hillary's culinary closet, and this is what she found.

A quick excerpt:

When, in May 2007, Associated Press reporters asked the presidential hopefuls to name the single item that most recalled their back-home origins, Hillary Clinton chose the Oliveburger served at the Pickwick, her high-school hangout in Park Ridge, Ill. This Greek coffee shop is still in business, next door to a landmark Art Deco movie house, also called Pickwick.

To find out just what an Oliveburger might be, I called the owner, George Paziotopoulos, who bought the restaurant from his cousin about eight years ago.

"It's 6 ounces of grilled ground beef sirloin on a toasted hamburger bun with a thick topping of chopped, pimento-stuffed green olives," he said, pointing out that he was not the owner during Hillary's time.

However, in May 2003, he welcomed her back with Barbara Walters and a local friend in tow, and while filming an interview, they all ate (reportedly "with great relish") what had been renamed the Hillaryburger, seasoned with Dijon mustard, a pretty fancy condiment for a Greek diner.

. . . I interviewed Walter Scheib, who worked as the White House chef for the Clintons (and, briefly, for the second Bushes). Scheib recently published a cookbook memoir, White House Chef, which offers many clues to Hillary's preferences. Had she ever asked for an Oliveburger or Hillaryburger, I asked?

"No, but I always kept Boca Burgers in the freezer," he said, referring to a brand of soy protein patties. "She liked them for snacking." When I obtained some Boca Burgers and pan-grilled them, as directed, they turned out to be miserably limp, grassy-tasting little disks that might have been produced by Rubbermaid.

And so, the question remains: How could the lover of the lusty Oliveburger ever settle for a Boca Burger?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Dishonor Roll of Bland Food

Periodically, I am going to "call out" a food that takes up space at the grocery store or farmer's market without enhancing the taste of a meal in any measurable way.

Today, I am going to add Enoki mushrooms to this Dishonor Roll. And it's not because I'm a mushroom hater. On the contrary, I love mushrooms: brown, cremini, chanterelles, porcini, and so on. They add texture and flavor to so many foods -- soups, entrees, etc. You can practically make a meal from grilled Portobello mushrooms. But I just don't get Enoki mushrooms.

While dining out a few nights ago, a strand of Enokis was atop my pork fillet when it arrived from the kitchen. Why? What's the point?

Since Enoki mushrooms are white, no chef can claim that they add pleasant "color" to a dish. They have utterly no taste. This website asserts that Enoki mushrooms have a "delicate" taste. In other words, it's so delicate, you can't discern a real taste.

A few months ago, I had this to say about the use of parsley in dishes:

. . . frankly, I have never understood all of the fuss some people make over parsley, dried or fresh.

. . . I have tried a number of dishes with fresh parsley, and I think it is the most superfluous herb that has ever wormed its way into a cookbook.

I don't care what the self-proclaimed glitterati of the culinary establishment say -- parsley is a waste of time and money. So are Enokis, and now the Dishonor Roll grows to two.

The Dishonor Roll of Bland Food

2. Enoki mushrooms

Monday, March 3, 2008

When Eating in "Fast Food Nation"

If you are eating at a fast-food outlet, is it possible to choose foods that are reasonably nutritious? The website answers "yes." This page from the website offers suggests for what to eat and what not to eat.

London Dining Reviews

Dim sum at Ping Pong on London's Great Marlborough St.

The American peso (otherwise known as "the U.S. dollar") takes a beating in London, where restaurant prices are already hefty and the exchange rate keeps worsening. Just pretend those prices are in dollars, and the sticker shock will temporarily subside.

Here are some restaurant reviews to pass along after my four days in London:

The Ivy -- It's one of the hallmark names of the London dining scene. This was my second visit to the restaurant. The welcome was hearty, and the Tanqueray and tonic was mixed as well as any I've ever ordered at a bar. Everything was good, but simply good. I ordered the pork belly with apple puree as my entree. Menu descriptions were not always as accurate or complete as they could have been; prepare to ask questions. Having said this, I wouldn't hesitate to go back to The Ivy for a third time. It's perfectly located for a pre- or post-theater dinner in London.

Tentazioni -- I will long remember the superb duck entree I ate at this Italian restaurant. It featured a duck ravioli, which was extraordinary. The thick lentil soup was topped with a unique sausage produced in Modena, and it too was delicious. There is nothing dowdy about the interior, with its crimson walls and funky, modern art. The wine list was expensive, but we splurged on a bottle of Brunello. It was properly decanted. This restaurant is south of the Thames, but it's only a 15-minute walk from the nearest Tube station.

L'Escargot -- Located in Soho, this has been a familiar name on the London dining scene for decades. Although L'Escargot has gone through its ups and downs (and a variety of chefs de cuisine), it is hitting its stride once again. The meal I had there last Saturday night was excellent. The pork fillet was marvelous, and my starter (a gallotine of foie gras) was delightful. Wine prices, especially those Bordeaux reds that Brits refer to as "clarets," were tres cher, but we found a Chassagne-Montrachet premier cru that was a slightly better value. Service was impeccable.

Ping Pong -- This chic but casual eatery features dim sum and other Asian food. The sticky rice with beef and the duck rolls were highlights. I had a blackberry-and-lemon iced tea, which was amazing. The food is so good that one finds it hard to believe that Ping Pong is a chain of three restaurants. Whatever their formula, it seems to be hitting on all cylinders. It attracts a crowd of mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings. Prices are expensive, but not as high as most restaurants in the West End-Soho district.

Orangery -- It wasn't sunny when I had afternoon tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, but it's a beautiful space even when London is clouded over. Plus, a walk through the park is an appropriate way to walk off the calories from the clotted cream.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

An Interesting Trend

From the March issue of Harper's magazine, I saw these two snippets in Harper's Index:

Ratio in 1980 of U.S. spending in grocery stores to that in restaurants: 2:1

Ratio today: 1:1

Food Shops Near Harrods

I just returned from four days in London, where the pound sterling is roughly 2 to the dollar -- ouch. I stayed in Belgravia, just south of Knightsbridge.

Most visitors to London associate Knightsbridge with Harrods department store, but Knightsbridge is also home to another one of London's tonier department stores: Harvey Nichols. It has a floor with a wonderful food emporium, a bakery, a butcher stand, a coffee bar and a sushi bar. I generally hit the sushi bar at least once when I'm in London. Just browsing the food emporium is also a fun diversion.

Knightsbridge gets crowded with tourists and shoppers so if you're looking for less crowded shops, bakeries and cafes, consider strolling about 15 minutes S.E. of Brompton Road (where Harrod's is) along Elizabeth Street, just on the other side of Eaton Square. There's a great chocolate shop called Chocolate Society -- it has excellent truffles and canisters of high-quality drinking chocolate. Right before it, on the same side of Elizabeth St., is an excellent pastry and deli shop called Baker & Spice.

Another block or so down Elizabeth (in the direction of Victoria bus station) is the Ebury Wine Bar. I didn't eat there, but the menu looked interesting.