Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quote of the Day

Those who forget the pasta are doomed to reheat it.

(Note: This is a quote that I found while doing a web-search. I thought it was cute, although, to be more candid, if someone forgets the pasta and it cooks too long, there's not much point in reheating what has already turned to mush.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Good, No-Nonsense Bistro Francais

I had a pleasant lunch yesterday at Bistro Francais in Georgetown. It was nothing to shout about and there is no "cutting edge" cuisine here, but it's a nice place if you're looking for simply good, no-nonsense bistro food at reasonable prices.

I had the cold poached salmon with a sorrel sauce. I started with the gazpacho, which was good as well.

BF is a restaurant worth remembering because it is one of the few in Washington, D.C. that stay open late. To be more specific, BF is open seven days a week, and it serves until 3 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, and until 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

BF is known as the restaurant that chefs at other eateries retire to after a long evening in their respective kitchens.

I am mystified as to why The Washington Post refers to BF in its review as "somewhat noisy." I get annoyed with noisy restaurants, but trust me — BF is not high on the scale of noisy eateries.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Berry That Tricks the Tongue

From an article in the International Herald Tribune:

Carrie Dashow dropped a large dollop of lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness, stirred, drank and proclaimed that it tasted like a "chocolate shake."

Nearby, Yuka Yoneda tilted her head back as her boyfriend, Albert Yuen, drizzled Tabasco sauce onto her tongue. She swallowed and considered the flavor: "Doughnut glaze, hot doughnut glaze!"

They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.

The host was Franz Aliquo, 32, a lawyer who styles himself Supreme Commander (Supreme for short) when he's presiding over what he calls "flavor tripping parties." Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket.

"You pop it in your mouth and scrape the pulp off the seed, swirl it around and hold it in your mouth for about a minute," he said. "Then you're ready to go." He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf Patrón.

The miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa and has been known to Westerners since the 18th century. The cause of the reaction is a protein called miraculin, which binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids . . .

Apparently, decades ago some researchers studied this berry to determine whether it had potential for use as a sugar substitute.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Haven-Style Pizza . . . Yum

In our household, both of us are pizza lovers. And pizza snobs. Once you have tasted good pizza, it's almost impossible to eat Domino's, Pizza Hut and other mass-produced, cardboard-crust tasting pizzas.

I bring all of this up because we have heard raves about Pete's Apizza, a recently opened New Haven-style pizzeria in Washington, D.C.'s Columbia Heights area. The words "New Haven" stand out for anyone who has ever eaten pizza in that Connecticut city.

Wikipedia even has an entry for Apizza, the term that some New Haven pizzerias use. If you're wondering what distinguishes apizza from standard pizza, click here. I have listened to people who spent time in New Haven vigorously debate which pizzeria is the true temple of apizza in New Haven — Frank Pepe's or Sally's Apizza. Frank Sinatra reportedly would send his driver from New York City to make the 2-hour drive to pick up freshly baked pizza from Sally's. Frank Pepe won't even ship pizza to its fans outside of New Haven because, as it explains on its website:
We don't think a shipped pizza would be anything like the original.
Washington, D.C. used to be a disappointing city for pizza lovers. Then along came Pizzeria Paradiso, with locations in Dupont Circle and Georgetown. Paradiso was immediately a huge hit with locals. Unfortunately, the Dupont location is smaller than many Starbucks so prepare yourself for a wait at peak times.

Recent years have brought 2 Amys (Upper N.W.) and Matchbox (Chinatown area). Both are good, and (unfortunately) both have interminably long waits for most of the evening — even for parties of two.

So, needless to say, my spouse and I are looking forward to trying Pete's Apizza soon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Change in Marketing Practices

An article in today's Washington Post reports:

Motivated by the triple threat of bad publicity, tougher regulation and costly lawsuits, some of the country's biggest food companies have curtailed child-targeted advertising of certain high-calorie products.

No longer does Kraft play its classic jingle that a "kid'll eat the middle of an Oreo first," at least not during programs for children. Hershey's and Mars have pulled candy pitches to the under-12 crowd.

Other companies are emphasizing baked versions of old fried favorites. Or reformulating the foodstuffs, reducing sodium in some varieties of Lunchables and lowering sugar and fat in cereals such as Spider-Man 3.

No less than fast-food giant McDonald's now offers sliced apples and 1 percent milk as options in its Happy Meals. And Disney, which is putting iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse on milk, fruits and vegetables, has gone still further at its California and Florida theme parks. There, meals for children come with a health drink and fruit or veggie side unless diners ask to substitute soda and fries.

. . . "Compared to where we were just two years ago, the progress has been epochal, huge," said Stephen Gardner, who heads litigation at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The fact that companies are agreeing to stop marketing their junkiest foods to the youngest people is incredible."

Another Great Meal at BDT

I had another superb dinner at Blue Duck Tavern the other night. The wine list is a bit on the high side, but they allow wines to be brought in for a corkage fee, and that's just what I did.

The St. Emilion Grand Cru that I carried in with me went nicely with our entrees.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Visual Pollution on Websites

If I had one piece of advice to give restaurants, it would be this — please de-Flash your websites.

It seems these days that every upscale restaurant in Washington and other major cities uses Flash, the software created by Adobe to create animation and other sophisticated graphics. Speaking for myself, I could do without all of this visual popcorn, coming and going across the computer screen.

For example, it takes the websites at BLT Steak and Ardeo at least 10 seconds to fully load. Brasserie Beck's website also takes too long to fully load.

Among Washington, D.C. restaurants, based on my review so far, the worst offender of visual pollution and Flash-related delay is probably Kinkead ’s, which is a seafood restaurant in the West End. The site is slow to upload, and it’s not clear where one clicks to get to the links that really matter (menus, hours and directions).

I’m sure someone put a lot of effort into the silhouettes of fish that appear (and then disappear) on Kinkead’s home page, but I don’t visit restaurant websites to be entertained by someone who knows how to use Flash.

Other restaurants could take a lesson from Gerard’s Place, a French restaurant located downtown on 15th Street. Gerard’s website uploads quickly and all the essential links are right there. So does the site for Ristorante i Ricchi.

Agraria, a beef-focused restaurant in Georgetown, has a website that’s even more diner-friendly. Agraria’s website is attractive, yet it loads instantly and it provides a visitor with an easy-to-find link to menus. And the restaurant’s hours and phone number are right there. (Having said that, Agraria’s tiny 8-point type for its hours will make anyone squint.)

I’m a busy person. Like many people, I’m usually trying to make dining plans while I’m at the office — in between phone calls or meetings. I don’t have time to watch stylized type dance across my computer screen.

Leave the bells and whistles for the restaurant décor. Don’t give me a show. Give me information by making your websites quick and easy to use.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shopping for Good, Cheap Wine

The poor exchange rate hasn't made it any easier to shop for good, economical wines. Slate's Mike Steinberger went to one of those Total beverage mega-stores (this one was located in Delaware), and he looked for excellent wines that were selling below $15 a bottle.

Steinberger found that at this price point, you're better off shopping for wines from Australia or the Americas. He writes:

The French are not being beaten on price. They are being beaten on taste, and I now understand more than ever why that's the case. The Total store was filled with exuberantly fruity cabernets, Syrahs, and sauvignon blancs from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and other countries. Many of them are not to my liking — I prefer leaner, drier, more mineral-driven wines — but it's easy to see why they are so appealing, particularly relative to what was on offer from France.

There was no shortage of $15-and-under French wines, but the choices were uninspired. I liked the warm, spicy 2005 S.C.V. Castelmaure Corbières Col des Vents ($9.99), a red from a cooperative in the Languedoc, but the other French wines I tasted were decidedly limp.

There was nothing interesting from the Loire, and the Beaujolais section appeared to be composed almost entirely of Georges Duboeuf bottlings.

It is not that France doesn't produce good cheap wines; the Loire is a QPR nirvana. Ditto Beaujolais, the Languedoc, Mâcon, and the Rhône Valley. But the better ones are generally made in small quantities, and while they are readily available in New York and other big cities, they were not on the shelves in Wilmington.

E. Guigal makes some excellent wines (red and white Cote du Rhone) that sell for below $13 a bottle.

Yet Steinberger is right when he points to the availability issue. Only so much French wine makes it to the U.S. I once assumed that Rieslings and Gewurztraminers were a syrupy, one-dimensional Koolaid-of-a-wine until I drank some of these varietals in Alsace.

But these Alsatian whites are pretty hard to find outside of France. The reason? These varietals have a reputation for not traveling well, and they are produced in relatively small quantities.

The Lowdown on Charleston, S.C.

I spent four full days in Charleston, S.C., and I ate lunch or dinner at just about all the big names among the city's hallowed dining scene. It's a great city for foodies.

Here's my quick take on restaurants:

Best Dinner Meal: Peninsula Grill - This restaurant is located in the Planters Inn, and everything here (food, service and ambience) clicked beautifully. The blackeye pea and smoked ham soup was a plesant starter, and the trout was flaky and wonderful. My dining partner had bourbon grilled shrimp, which were cooked to perfection. The sorbet trio (apple, lemon and raspberry) was a cool and not so heavy conclusion.

Best Lunch Meal: Blossom Café - The Grilled Salmon BLT wasn't the most elegant dish I had as I ate my way through Charleston last week, but it was an absolutely marvelous lunch meal. The tomato was juicy and fresh, and the salmon was cooked to perfection.

Best Soup: Cypress Grill - The lobster bisque here was worthy of an aria. It was the kind of flavor that proves the kitchen didn't cut any corners. It reminds me that an excellent bisque doesn't require an abundance of cream.

Best Design & Space: Cypress Grill - The facade is typical Charleston Victorian, but the interior is fun, open and whimsical. The huge glass case that holds the restaurant's red wines is quite a conversation piece. The bathrooms are sleek and smart.

Best Service: Dining Room at The Woodlands Resort - This restaurant is about a 35-minute drive N.W. of Charleston in the fast-growing, but architecturally dazzling community of Summerville. Its location on a ridge with ample pines made it the spot that many wealthy Charlestonians retreated to during summer months in the 18th and 19th centuries. The service at The Woodlands was impeccable from start to finish. There were no brusque questions or clumsy arrivals from the server or staff; they seemed to know when to step forward and remove a plate or ask a question without interrupting the conversation at our table.

Best Al Fresco Dining: Blossom Café - Sitting out on the hedge-lined patio for lunch at Blossom was absolutely delightful. The tower of St. Phillip's Church loomed only a few blocks away. (After Memorial Day, the heat and humidity would probably make Blossom and any other outdoor space less desirable.)

Most Pleasing Dessert: Circa 1886 - The roasted banana souffle with chocolate ice cream was marvelous. Those eggs died for a very good cause.

Most Disappointing Dessert: Cypress Grill - The strawberry trio sounded so good, but of the three, only the strawberry creme brulee met my expectations. The strawberry preserves atop the pound cake were advertised as homemade, but they tasted as though they could just as easily have been scooped from a Smucker's jar. Worst of all was the homemade strawberry ice cream. I'm willing to bet that the ice cream wasn't removed from the freezer until just before it was scooped onto the plate. It was vritually impossible to penetrate the surface with a spoon, and there was little creaminess to it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

RIP: Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi, the man whose winery and promotional activities helped California's wine industry capture the world's attention, died on Friday. He was 94 years old. According to the NY Times:

Mr. Mondavi was a master of the grand gesture. He championed California but led his employees on grand tours of Europe to see how other fine wines were made. Guests at Mondavi lunches found themselves sampling up to two dozen of the rarest French wines, opened to show that they were no better than California’s best.
It would have been nice to have attended one of those lunches. I could hear myself saying, "Mr. Mondavi, I'm not quite sure about that comparison -- let me have another glass of the Lafite-Rothschild just to be sure."

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Holy Brunello, Batman!"

If you adore a Brunello di Montalcino as much as I do, buckle your seat belts and brace yourself. The available supply of this highly coveted red wine may start shrinking. According to Wine Spectator:
One of Italy's top wine regions, already grappling with allegations of fraud, is now in danger of losing its biggest export market. The U.S. government has asked Italian wine authorities to certify that any bottle of Brunello di Montalcino imported into the United States is made from 100 percent Sangiovese, beginning next month.

Without certification by laboratory analysis or a statement from the Italian government, the wines cannot be sold in the U.S.

. . . "This is a diplomatic problem and I am confident it will be sorted out at the diplomatic level," said Francesco Marone-Cinzano, the [Brunello Consorzio]'s president. But a block on U.S. imports would be a severe blow to Montalcino. The appellation produces 6.5 million bottles of Brunello a year, roughly 25 percent of which goes to America.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Waiter Who Amused Riordan

Eight years ago, Richard Riordan was the mayor of Los Angeles. Today he's wearing a very different hat. According to the L.A. Times:

. . . though the 78-year-old Riordan is best known as the multimillionaire former mayor of Los Angeles, he also owns two of the busiest restaurants in Southern California, the Original Pantry and Gladstone's Malibu. And in the last year he's opened three more . . .

Usually, when a really rich guy opens a new place, it's loaded with swank . . . Instead, Riordan's restaurant empire is built around a beloved, if somewhat scruffy, downtown landmark and a seaside cash machine, neither of which comes within a couple of miles of gourmet while doing spectacular business.

But this part of the article on restauranteur Riordan killed my enthusiasm for wanting to check out any of his eateries the next time I'm in L.A.:

Indeed, the Original Pantry is probably Riordan's dream restaurant -- an 84-year-old diner where nothing costs more than $20 and where a waiter once kicked him out for not eating fast enough. He liked it so much he bought it.

"When I fell in love with the Pantry, I was at breakfast, drinking coffee and I had a book I was reading," he says. "I was very relaxed and the waiter came over and said, 'If you want to read, the library's at 5th and Hope.' I fell in love with it right then."

The story's funny, but it's also telling. Riordan's restaurant appreciation runs more to businesslike efficiency than fine-dining glamour.

"The bottom line is: I'm an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist," Riordan says. "I've been investing in companies since 1962 or so, and I've invested a lot of capital, and I've done very, very well.

That story isn't funny to me. The fact that Riordan seemed to be amused by this waiter's rude behavior tells me I probably wouldn't care for the "businesslike efficiency" that underscores Riordan's approach to restaurants.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Review of NYC Eateries

I have some experiences to share from a recent weekend trip to New York City:

The E.U. — Sporting exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows, this is an electic eatery in the East Village with good meats, cheese and charcuterie. I agree with Restaurant Girl, the vibe is definitely "Rustic farmhouse meets brasserie." They have a good, upscale beer selection. Reasonable prices, although a bit of a walk from the nearest subway stop. But I gladly recommend it. It's located at 235 East 4th St., between Avenues A and B, and you can reserve it on Open Table.

Joe's Shanghai — There are too many tasty dim sum-oriented Chinese restaurants to waste your time here. I ate lunch at the location at 24 West 56th Street, and the so-called "soup dumplings" had a bland pork filling. The soupy liquid inside was equally tasteless. New York magazine writes about Joe's: "How do they get the soup inside those dumplings? Easy: They thicken it with gelatin and put it in solid." Yum. I guess that explains why I was far from dazzled.

A Voce(pictured above) Andrew Carmellini first made a name for himself in NYC as chef de cuisine at Café Boulud, but he traded French bistro cooking for Italian in 2006 when he opened the Italian restaurant called A Voce. The restaurant, located on the edge of the Flatiron District, is relatively small -- and a bit on the noisy side. But the food was lovely. The duck meatballs lived up to all of the raves I had heard or read about them.

Triomphe — I had lunch with a friend at this French restaurant, located in midtown and connected to The Iroquois Hotel on 44th Street, within a block of 5th Ave. Triomphe is definitely pricey, but everything was tasty. This is the traditional French cuisine with rich stocks and sauces that, as New York magazine put it, "would do Escoffier proud." To illustrate the point, my main course was accompanied by a lobster bearnaise (which was excellent, BTW). Nice place for a business or expense-account lunch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The "Veto" Words in a Recipe

When I see a recipe that initially looks interesting, I then carefully read the ingredients and instructions.

There are certain words I look for that I call "veto" words — cheesecloth is one example. Clarified butter is another example. The presence of these kinds of words effectively vetoes the recipe for me. In other words, I'm no longer interested in trying to make it.

It's not that I can't figure out where to buy or how to use cheesecloth; it's simply that I've learned to distinguish between recipes that have or don't have a fuss factor to them. As much as I travel and as busy as my schedule is, I just don't bother trying to prepare recipes at home that are a real task.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Does Paula Deen Wince . . .

. . . when she hears this song on the radio?

"Things are different today,
I hear ev'ry mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband's just a drag.
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak
And goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper . . ."

A Glaze for Cupcakes

This recipe for Lemon-Lemon Cupcakes looks pretty good, but I would be tempted to use limoncello in the glaze, instead of the lemon syrup.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Confessions of a Vegetarian

In a recent Slate column, Taylor Clark writes:

Now, when I say that vegetarians are normal people with normal food cravings, many omnivores will hoist a lamb shank in triumph and point out that you can hardly call yourself normal if the aroma of, say, sizzling bacon doesn't fill you with deepest yearning.

To which I reply: We're not insane. We know meat tastes good; it's why there's a freezer case at your supermarket full of woefully inadequate meat substitutes.

Believe me, if obtaining bacon didn't require slaughtering a pig, I'd have a BLT in each hand right now with a bacon layer cake waiting in the fridge for dessert. But, that said, I can also tell you that with some time away from the butcher's section, many meat products start to seem gross.

Ground beef in particular now strikes me as absolutely revolting; I have a vague memory that hamburgers taste good, but the idea of taking a cow's leg, mulching it into a fatty pulp, and forming it into a pancake makes me gag.

Gee, it makes me want to go turn on the grill.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Context of Wine

A recent issue of Newsweek took aim at wine snobs when it revealed that cheap wines outscored the high-priced ones in a blind tasting. For example, a $10 bottle of sparkling wine from Washington state outscored Dom Pérignon, which sells for well over $100 a bottle.

But as the NY Times' Eric Asimov explains,

. . . the results of the tastings are more nuanced than the Newsweek article let on . . . what appeals to novice wine drinkers is significantly different from what appeals to wine experts, which the book defines as those who have had some sort of training or professional experience with wine. The experts, by the way, preferred the Dom Pérignon.

. . . Yet the rating system has bred an attitude toward wine that ignores context, which is perhaps more important a consideration to the enjoyment of wine than anything else.

The proverbial little red wine, so delicious in a Tuscan village with your sweetie, never tastes the same back home in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the big California cabernet, which you enjoyed so much with your work buddies at a steakhouse, ties tucked between buttons, doesn’t have that triumphant lift with a bowl of spaghetti.

This is one problem with trying to judge wine in the sort of clinical vacuum sought by studies like the one in “The Wine Trials.” In the end, I don’t think you can ever eliminate context.

. . . Even in a blind tasting situation, wine is evaluated in the company of other wines, which is a different sort of context but a context nonetheless. Perhaps they’ve chosen the best wines to be sipped and spat out, but not the best wines for dinner.
Well stated. The entire article is worth reading.

No Secrets at This CIA

At the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the anger and tension is all out in the open. According to the N.Y. Times:
In early April, more than two-thirds of the members of the teachers’ union approved a vote of no confidence against the president, Tim Ryan. They complained of shoddy equipment at the institute’s main campus in Hyde Park, N.Y., as well as slipping academic standards. They charged that the administration was more likely to retaliate against critics than listen to them.

Next, students began to organize at Some hung “Fire Tim Ryan” signs in their dorm rooms. They added to the list of complaints, accusing the administration of becoming too close to the corporate food world, and even criticizing the food they are required to cook, which now includes more institutional fare like frozen waffle fries.
Frozen waffle fries? You have to be kidding.
Then last week the administration prevented La Papillote, the campus newspaper, from printing articles about the unrest. Although the newspaper was not designed to be an independent publication, the editor, David Deegan, resigned in protest.

“Do not stand idle as the mouth of the people is gagged,” Mr. Deegan, who recently finished an internship in banquets at a Florida resort, told the student government at a meeting last week where he announced his decision.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"I'm Melting, Melting . . . ."

In case you missed the news:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Irvine Robbins, who as co-founder of Baskin-Robbins brought Rocky Road, Pralines 'n Cream and other exotic ice cream concoctions to every corner of America, has died at age 90.

. . . While the company advertised that it offered 31 flavors, in fact it has created more than 1,000 flavors, according to its Web site. Generations of kids trooped to Baskin-Robbins stores to buy ice cream flavors like Jamoca, Daiquiri Ice, Pink Bubblegum, Nuts to You and Here Comes the Fudge.

''Frankly, I never met a flavor I didn't like,'' Robbins told The New York Times in 1973. Some were short-lived and created to mark specific events, such as Lunar Cheesecake for the moon landings and Valley Forge Fudge for the 1976 bicentennial.

. . . Robbins opened his first ice cream store in Glendale, Calif., in December 1945, following his discharge from the Army. He used $6,000 from a cashed-in insurance policy his father had given him for his bar mitzvah.

. . . His brother-in-law, the late Burton Baskin, opened his own ice cream store in neighboring Pasadena a year later. By the end of the 1940s, they had joined forces to create Baskin-Robbins. Robbins recalled they used a flip of the coin to decide which name came first.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Welcome to Jell-O Town

Recently in the NY Times:

Le ROY, N.Y. — Jell-O is as American as, well, Jell-O, a staple at generations of potluck dinners and fodder for students in cafeteria food fights.

. . . every year, more than 10,000 devotees flock to this sleepy bedroom community near Rochester to watch the gelatin wiggle.

General Foods shut the Jell-O factory here in 1964, but Le Roy — where a carpenter who spent his winters trying to develop herbal teas invented the stuff in 1897 — remains devoted to the dessert. As with the relationships between Flint, Mich., and General Motors, or Buffalo and Bethlehem Steel, the company may have retreated, but the identity stuck.

The Jell-O Gallery dominates the old building on East Main Street that houses the local historical society.

The gallery is a must-see for fans curious about how the translucent, jiggly gelatin became a cornerstone of the modern American diet, as well as for people seeking a glimpse of New York’s industrial past. There is an exhibit displaying advertisements over the years and another that shows the evolution of Jell-O’s three-ounce package (the shape of which has not changed all that much). You can vote for your favorite flavor or watch Bill Cosby's popular Jell-O commercials.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Before You Promote Them . . . .

. . . take them out to lunch or dinner at a swank restaurant. That's the message from this executive placement agency, which suggests that execs might want to delay a promotion announcement until they watch how their junior associates chew their food and treat the wait staff.

"The way you handle yourself at a meal is a snapshot of how you handle yourself in business," observes Ellen A. Kaye, a well-known leadership image and etiquette consultant . . .

Your place setting, she explains, is the equivalent of your desk. It reflects your level of professionalism, neatness and attention to detail. By the same token, the manner in which you deal with the restaurant staff reflects the manner in which you work with your clients, prospects and colleagues.
I wholeheartedly agree that a junior-level staffer who is executive material should know that it's verboten to chew food with his or her mouth open. But the agency's list of 10 fine-dining rules strikes me as Amy Vanderbilt on speed.

The firm advises would-be execs to wipe their mouths "often" with their napkin. Shouldn't the frequency of napkin use depend on whether there's something to wipe?

And this recommendation seems kind of silly:

"When passing salt and pepper, always pass them together, as if they were a single entity, even if the person asked only for the salt."
Why? The agency offers no answer.

Even if you're the one being interviewed or explaining a business proposal, the placement agency says you should "make a concerted effort to keep up with everyone else, or plan to be 'finished' (with your meal) whenever your clients are done -- regardless of whether you are actually full."

I don't get all the fuss. Unless your host looks down at his or her watch or mentions an upcoming appointment, I don't think it's the end of the world if your host finishes eating four or five minutes before you do.

The agency also declares:

"Taste, then season. Did you realize it is an insult to your host and your chef if you salt your food before tasting it?"
I generally taste before seasoning, but if someone else wants to add salt or pepper to their food before tasting it, so what? Why the hell should it bother me? How is this "an insult" to either person?

Review: Brasserie Beck

On the edge of downtown Washington, Brasserie Beck sports an open kitchen and hails its "soaring urban space" with a super-high ceiling. Robert Wiedmaier, chef of this French-Belgian restaurant, has plenty of credentials to tout.

I ate there for the first time last week. The food was excellent — as I hoped, the frites were marvelous. I ordered the lamb shank with white beans, and it was done with precision. The lamb was tender, virtually falling off the bone. The beans were equally perfect, soft but not mushy. Both the wine and the beer list are ample, without being encyclopedic.

The restaurant's bar looks nice, but even if you're not hanging out there, you sure feel like you are because the bar clatter echoes throughout Brasserie Beck. This yet another restaurant that seems not to have given much thought to any reasonable efforts to minimize noise (fabric on walls, a few strategically placed rugs, etc.).

The food is good enough to tolerate the racket from the bar area, but ask for a table as far from the bar as you can — that is, assuming you want to be able to hear what your dining companion is saying.