Friday, August 29, 2008

Those AOC Wine Bureaucrats

Are bureaucratic rules wrecking French wine? Mike Steinberger thinks so. Here's what he wrote at

In recent years, (winemaking) stars like Jean Thevenet, Didier Dagueneau, Eloi Dürrbach, Marcel Lapierre, Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat, Marcel Richaud, Georges Descombes, and Philippe Jambon have all had wines turned down (for appellation status) for being insufficiently representative of their respective appellations.

So they were: They were excellent wines produced in districts that mostly churn out swill.

This curious trend comes at a time when much of the French wine industry is in crisis, and the economic gap between good producers and not-so-good ones is becoming a chasm.

. . . This much is clear: The system for classifying and administering French wines is broken and in dire need of reform.

The entire article is here.

"Our Water Kicks Your Water's Ass"

Gone are the day's when a state fair was only about choosing the biggest watermelon or the best-looking pig (a la "Zuckerman's famous pig"). Nope, times have truly changed. As the N.Y. Times reports with a tone of deep-seated pride:
Beating more than 150 other municipal water systems, New York City came in first — for the first time — in the New York State Water Taste Test at the State Fair in Syracuse this week.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wasted no time issuing a statement on Wednesday bragging about the distinction and calling the tap-water system “the lifeblood of our city.” But who came in second?

The second-place winner, announced on Tuesday, was the village of Pulaski, population 2,398, in Oswego County, near the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. By car, the upstate village (locals pronounce it pull-ask-EYE) is nearly five hours from New York City.

So far, Pulaski is taking the news well. “We were very proud to have come in second place,” Gary M. Stevens, superintendent of public works for the village since 1992, said in a phone interview. “First place would have been better, but things happen.”

. . . The annual water taste test — this was its 22nd year — is a “nonscientific competition” sponsored by the State Department of Health and the New York section of the American Water Works Association. About 250 people attending the fair judged the blind taste test.

Mr. Stevens, of Pulaski, has never been to New York City. Mr. Wheeler, who has been the mayor for two years, said he last visited three years ago. He did not remember the city’s water too well. “It tasted O.K., but ours is better,” he said. “Whatever.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Restaurant Review: New Orleans

I ate last night at Arnaud's, the grand dame of New Orleans restaurants. It opened in the 1940s on Bienville Street in the French Quarter. It may be only steps from the hubub of Bourbon Street, but once inside the restaurant's main dining room, the smoked glass windows and rich wood paneling put you in a gracious state of mind.

This is an expensive restaurant, even by N.Y. City standards -- with most entrees priced in the mid- to upper $30s. If there is any consolation, the wine list is more reasonable.

Judging from the entree prices, I'd have expected a high-quality bottle like Ridge's Three Valleys Red Zinfandel to be priced in the upper 60s or low 70s; it was $55. Not a steal, but not too bad in relative terms. There were no half-bottle options at Arnaud's, which is inexcusable for a restaurant of its reputation.

The food was very good, but not quite up to the prices. If I had to grade the duck breast au jus and blueberry sauce, I'd give it a B+ or A-. Likewise, the gumbo was very good, but not dazzling.

I had heard good things about MiLa so I went there earlier this week. But the restaurant's layout and ambience was soooo L.A. that it felt plain silly in there. (I thought if I looked under my table I might find O.J.'s isotoner gloves.) The menu also struck me as too fussy and self-important -- "horseradish jus"? And what, may I ask, is a "date reduction"? A date isn't a liquid -- so how does one reduce it?
I knew I'd have too many questions to ask about each entree, and I wasn't in the mood for a lengthy back-and-forth with a server. So I decided to leave and go to my favorite restaurant in the city. Maybe I should have stayed and given it a chance, but the vibe just seemed wrong.
The food at MiLa may be excellent, and maybe I'll give it a chance to dazzle me. But, for now at least, I believe that Cochon is the best damn restaurant in this city. I had rabbit and dumplings a few nights ago, and it was a subime dish. If Cochon improved the quality of its desserts, it would be a slam-dunk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shells? No Thank-You

Once again, my work has taken me to New Orleans, a city I absolutely love to eat in. But as good as the seafood gumbo was last night, it could have been improved by one simple omission: the crab shell.

The crab shell, with one leg attached, was resting in the middle of my bowl of gumbo when it was delivered to my table. It took some care to lift it out and set it aside without splashing some of the broth on the table or myself. There were also a few smaller pieces of shell that I had to remove from the bowl.

This was a high-quality restaurant with excellent, fresh ingredients. So what's the point of adding a crab shell to the gumbo? First, the shell takes up room, which leaves less gumbo in the bowl to enjoy. Second, the shell creates an unnecessary obstacle for a diner.

(BTW, the photo above is not of my gumbo, but it's an example of what I'm talking about.)

Authenticity should show from the flavors and aromas in a dish. Placing a shell in there is superfluous and unnecessary. If it's fresh, I will know -- believe me. So will any diner. I don't need a crab shell to tell me that.

If some chefs think the shell looks cool, then they can put it on the plate on which the bowl rests, but not in the bowl.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Making a Great Ragù

Spaghetti sauce doesn't always include meat, but, even when it does, meat is only playing a supporting role. The sauce is slightly runny, and it's mostly about tomatoes and herbs.

That can be good. But I have always liked a meaty sauce, which is probably why I prefer a ragù to a typical bolognese sauce.

And I think I have finally settled on a formula for making a marvelous ragù to accompany pasta. I made a ragù a few days ago -- two days later, it was still excellent -- using equal portions of ground pork and ground veal.

A key is not to overcook the ground meat. I have had great results by cooking it most of the way in a skillet and then transferring it to a dutch oven, adding equal parts of red wine and a mixture of chicken and/or veal stock. You want just enough liquid so that the meat will stay moist.

Then I place it in the oven, covered, and cook it at a very low temperature (225 degrees) for about 60 to 90 minutes. This is what braising is all about.

I take it out once to stir it and add some herbs (usually thyme and oregano) about a tablespoon of minced garlic, and a 1/4 cup of onion or shallot (chopped very fine).

Then I finish it on the stovetop (over low heat) and I add a tablespoon or two of flour just to thicken it up and add body.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Paris Eating

The newest issue of Gourmet magazine features a series of articles headlined "Paris On a Budget." I am enjoying the magazine, but I have a few gripes. My gripes concern a short article ("Chefs and the City") for which celebrity chefs were asked to "pick a few" of their favorite Paris restaurants.

(From my perspective, 2 is a couple, 3 to 5 is a few, and 6 or more is several.) Well, the only one of the five celebrity chefs who picked at least 3 restaurants was Eric Ripert, who is chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin.

So either the other chefs didn't answer appropriately -- they must not follow instructions as well as they follow a recipe -- or the other possibility is that Gourmet (for some reason) drastically cut the article's length to fit on a single page. Given that there are far more ad pages than article pages in magazines these days, the latter explanation is certainly plausible.

But all Gourmet needed to do was to list the restaurants with short blurbs. That wouldn't have taken up much space.

Now for my second gripe. The restaurants that are mentioned are mostly big-name, high-priced restaurants, hardly in keeping with the magazine's theme of "Paris On a Budget."

Yes, Mr. Ripert, I have no doubt that I could get a fantastic meal if I go to the Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris. But a party of 2 who went there would also end up paying well over $100 per person (assuming 3 courses + wine).

The only Paris restaurant named by James Peterson was La Tour d'Argent. Anyone who's has been to Paris has heard all about La Tour d'Argent. Puh-lease.

I am not shocked that celebrity chefs like to toot their peers' horns, but it would have been much more interesting to hear these chefs name more out-of-the-way, lesser known restaurants.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's Brunswick Stew, But Brunswick Where?

I had always assumed that Brunswick, Ga., was the city in which Brunswick Stew originated. But I was listening last night to a radio program called The Splendid Table. The host stated that there is a Brunswick County in Virginia that also claims to be the birthplace for this dish.

This was news to me.

The debate is likely to continue. In the meantime, I will pass along this recipe for Brunswick stew (not my own). And, for what it's worth, here are a few tidbits about Brunswick Stew. This excerpt is from the New Georgia Encyclopedia:

Brunswick, Georgia, claims to be the place of origin for Brunswick stew. A twenty-five-gallon iron pot outside that coastal town bears a plaque declaring it to be the vessel in which this favorite southern food was first cooked in 1898.

In truth, the one-pot meal is credited to a number of places with Brunswick in their names, but the honor (so far as the name is concerned) must go to Brunswick County, Virginia. There, according to an entrenched local tradition supported by a 1988 Virginia General Assembly proclamation, Jimmy Matthews, an African American hunting-camp cook, concocted a squirrel stew for his master, Creed Haskins, in 1828, the stew being named for its home county.

Stews that combine meat and grain probably originated with ancient agriculturalists, in both the Old and New Worlds.

. . . Brunswick stew belongs to a family of southern stews, its closest relative perhaps being Kentucky burgoo.

. . . Wild game like squirrel or rabbit (that once was common in Brunswick stew) is now often replaced by chicken, pork, or beef (sometimes in combination). Virtually any vegetable and seasoning can be added to the requisite meat, corn, and tomatoes, but onions, lima beans, and potatoes commonly make an appearance.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ice-Cold Coke? Not in China

According to this Wall Street Journal article, the Olympic games aren't the only intense competition taking place in China. Coke (22%) is just a step behind Pepsi (22.9%) in the fight for soft-drink market share in China.

As Coke tries to eliminate Pepsi's edge, one of the obstacles Coke faces might surprise you -- it sure surprised me. According to the WSJ article:

Ice bins filled with Cokes dotted [China's Olympic] torch route, and the company also gave away samples in shops nearby.

The torch route gave the company a chance to tackle a cultural issue with its cornerstone beverage: how to best drink the soda. Chinese consumers, including many of Coke's own bottling and distribution staffers, don't sip theirs cold.

Chinese medicine preaches that warm drinks are better for the body. But Coke executives have always maintained that a higher temperature detracts from the drinking experience, since warm colas don't deliver the same pop, or "mouthfeel," from carbonation.

Changing local tastes is tough to do.

Stopping by a free-sample station in a Dalian Wal-Mart, 30-year-old Wang Wei said he "cannot drink cold Coca-Cola; it's not good for my stomach." While Hui gulped her icy Coke at Beijing's Shuang Zone, several other people around her waited for their bottles to warm up first.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Chinese Obsession With Wine

In this article, Slate's Mike Steinberger writes of China's "newfound obsession" with wine. Here is an excerpt:

If even a tiny fragment of China's population acquires the means and desire to regularly drink the likes of Haut-Brion and Romanée-Conti, the effect on (already high) prices and (already tight) supplies will be profound.

And, in fact, the balance of wine-buying power is already shifting eastward: Chinese collectors have furiously sought out one first-growth Bordeaux, Château Lafite; and Hong Kong, which recently lifted all duties on wine, is now poised to rival London and New York as a hub of the global wine trade.

. . . China has a long viticultural heritage, and on the back of the country's economic gains, the local wine industry is booming: China is now the world's sixth-largest wine producer.

. . . it was an Internet entrepreneur from Shanghai named David Li, who ponied up $500,000 for six magnums of 1992 Screaming Eagle, California's most sought-after cult cabernet sauvignon. "I love Screaming Eagle," Li gushed to the Wine Spectator. "Napa Valley wines are the best in the world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Wild

Ever since I tasted a dessert years ago featuring fraises des bois at Paris' Carre des Feuillants, I have been tempted to try just about any dish made with wild berries.

In English, the term "fraises des bois" (pronounced frez-day-bwah) is best translated as either wild strawberries or alpine strawberries — although they don't always come from a mountainous region. These berries are delicate and sweet, and they have an amazing aromatic quality that regular berries don't have.
Fraises des bois are heavenly. I agree wholeheartedly with the blogger at Erin's Kitchen who wrote this about fraises des bois:
Whatever you do with these beauties, you want to make sure the berries are the star. I wouldn't hide them in fruit salad or drown them in syrup. I ate mine out of hand, and threw a few on a small spinach salad with a few pinenuts and a splash of balsamic.
Wild blueberries are also quite delicious. This recipe for Maine Wild Blueberry Cake was just published in the N.Y. Times. It sounds very tempting.

I just read on a French website that there is a group called L’association "Les fraises des bois" that manages a market stand somewhere in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. I am tentatively planning to be in Paris next year. I would love to find that fraises des bois vendor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Underappreciated Banana

According to this feature, bananas are one of 5 foods that get a "bad rap" from the health conscious:

It's true that bananas are low in water compared to other fruits. That means there's more carbohydrate (and therefore more calories) per bite compared to watery fruits like melon. But—that doesn't mean you should shun them — even if you're watching your weight.

Bananas provide no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, and they’re incredibly nutritious.
You’ve probably heard that they're high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. But they're also a good source of vitamin B6 (which helps maintain blood sugar levels and is needed to build protein in the body as well as nerves and immune cells), vitamin C (for immunity) and fiber (for cholesterol control and digestive health).

To keep calories in check, just choose "baby" bananas, the ones about the size of long fingers, which are naturally portion controlled (and neatly wrapped!). One of these little guys provides just 50-60 calories (less than a small apple) and amounts to about half a cup when sliced.

How the Cookie Crumbles

According to Reuters:

Cookie retailer Mrs. Fields Famous Brands LLC said on Friday it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to help restructure its business, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

. . . Restaurant and food companies have struggled this year as higher gasoline prices and rising ingredient costs have eroded sales and profits. S&A Restaurant Corp, owner of the Bennigan's and Steak & Ale chains, filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in July, while Buffets Holdings Inc, the operator of Old Country Buffet and Ryan's steakhouses, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, saying customers had cut back on discretionary spending.

. . . Mrs. Fields, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, was started in 1977 by Debbi Fields, a young mother who made cookies from scratch at her first location in Palo Alto, California. The company began franchising stores in 1990 . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Was Her Whisk a Transmitter?

Maybe so.

After it was disclosed this past week that Julia Child (1912 — 2004) operated briefly as a spy for the U.S., E! Online decided to run this poll asking visitors to guess "which other TV chefs might be cooking up a side dish of espionage." Cute.

The more I thought about it, I can see how chefs could make good spies. Chefs (pro or amateur) are focused on precision. They have to be mindful of precise details — the quality of ingredients, what gets added when and how, etc. Good spywork is also about precise details — specifically what someone said, who they met, what they were wearing, what time they left, etc.

Like any good spy, Julia Child certainly embraced technology. During one of her TV programs in the 1960s, she urged her viewers to "use the electric mixer and go whole hog." That's telling 'em.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tuna Puttanesca

The blogger at iDineAlone has quite a predicament -- her spouse seems to be a real wet blanket when it comes to eating and dining.

A few days ago, she posted this recipe for Tuna Puttanesca, and I must say that I have never seen a recipe as beautifully illustrated with closeup photos like this one.

Damn. You can almost taste it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Running It Profitably

With a slowing economy, the restaurant business is facing additional pressures these days. Even in good economic times, the challenge of running a restaurant in the black can be daunting. I recall reading a San Francisco Chronicle article from a few years ago, which reported:

. . . if you consider the grim realities of running a restaurant, you may run screaming for the exit. Food prices are volatile. Profit margins are razor thin. Restaurants are among the most labor-intensive of businesses.

A quarter of all new restaurants in the United States flop in the first year, according to a study by Cornell University and Michigan State. That rises to 50 percent after three years, and 70 percent after 10 years.

. . . Of every dollar a full-service restaurant brings in, it spends roughly a third on food and alcohol; another third on salaries, wages and benefits; up to 10 cents on rent; and up to 20 cents on other costs such as marketing, according to studies by restaurant associations. That leaves about 4 cents of pretax profit.
Why do restaurants mark up alcoholic beverages so much? Because, as Willie Sutton might have said, that's where the profit is. As the S.F. Chronicle article noted:

As with all restaurants, alcohol is far more profitable than food. "We pay $25 for a bottle of booze and sell it for $100," [one restauranteur] said. (Beer and wine have slightly lower markups.) "Many people who start out in the restaurant business end up owning bars or in real estate."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not the Kind of Suds You Want With Your Burger

Urban myths about what goes on at fast-food chains are rampant, which is why this is not the type of publicity that any fast-food chain wants:
Several Burger King employees in Ohio are looking for new jobs after an Internet video surfaced of one worker bathing in a restaurant sink, reported Tuesday.

The video, which was posted on by an employee calling himself “Mr. Unstable,” shows the teen taking a nude bubble bath in a large stainless steel sink as other employees and a store manager looked on, reported.
The full story is right here.

Butt Cookies?

At the blog In My Swedish Kitchen, I stumbled on this recipe for "Butt Cookies." It's not exactly the most appetizing name for a cookie recipe, but it is memorable.

This Sounds Too Gross

Okay. I love pancakes, and I have always liked peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

So I really tried to be open-minded about this recipe for PB & J Pancakes. But, after reading through the recipe, I can't imagine how I could eat these pancakes without gagging.

The photo of the recipe actually looks good, but I'm not buying it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dried Cherry Muffins

Yum! These came out very nicely when I made them for a brunch on Sunday.

The recipe I developed is a hybrid of different recipes that I found online. Most of the credit for my recipe goes to a B&B in Bristol, R.I., which created this recipe.

I liked everything about the B&B's recipe, but I added almond extract (which always seems to complement cherries) and I reduced slightly the amount of sugar, which seemed a bit high. I wanted muffins that were sweet, but not so sweet that you didn't get just a hint of tartness.

Dried, pitted cherries were once a little hard to find, but nowadays most large grocery stores have an aisle with several varieties of dried fruit.

Anyway, everyone raved about the muffins so this recipe is definitely a keeper. Here it is:

Dried Cherry Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen

  • 1 cup of dried tart pitted cherries

  • 1/2 cup of butter (slightly softened)

  • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, minus one tablespoon

  • 1 cup of buttermilk

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

  • 1-3/4 cups of sifted, all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda

  • A pinch of salt


1) Place the dried cherries in a bowl and pour the buttermilk over them. Allow the cherries to soak for at least 30 minutes.

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the muffin tin.

3) In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder together — set aside.

4) Drain the cherries, but add the buttermilk to a large bowl with the butter, sugar, and eggs. Cream the butter and other ingredients until smooth. Then stir in the cherries.

5) Incorporate the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, mixing together just until blended.

6) Fill the muffin tins to 2/3 full. Bake for about 20 minutes. Insert a skewer in the center of a muffin — when it comes out clean, the muffins are done.

7) Cool for 5 minutes before removing muffins from the tin.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Weekend Eats

This past weekend's food adventures in my hometown of Washington, D.C.:

  • I love Proof, the wine bar that is now open in the Gallery Place-Chinatown district. But there are photographic darkrooms that are better lit than Proof. My meal there on Friday night was a winner, but I almost wanted to ask my server for a flashlight.
  • Last night, I treated myself and a friend to ice cream at Dolcezza, an Argentine artisanal gelato shop in Georgetown. I ordered a flavor called orange-sage, and it was excellent. Yet I was a little surprised to find that Dolcezza had no dulce de leche among their choices. Is there a flavor anymore quintessentially Argentine than that?
  • Sunday dinner was wonderfully fresh, bicolor corn and beefsteak tomatoes (drizzled with olive oil) that I picked up at the Dupont Farmers Market. The credit goes to Spring Valley Farm & Orchard, which is based in Morgan, W.V.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sugar Makes a Comeback

A recent article from the L.A. Times:

Consumers — at the grocery store and restaurants — are increasingly demanding sodas and other products sweetened with sugar, not corn syrup.

The trend is so strong that the Corn Refiners Assn. has launched a major marketing campaign and Internet site . . . to defend the sweetener.

High fructose corn syrup has become a favorite target of the health-conscious as an alleged cause of America's obesity boom. A typical 2-liter bottle of soda contains 15 ounces of corn syrup, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Whether it's really at fault is open to debate.

The Corn Refiners Assn. contends that high fructose corn syrup is just as natural as table sugar and honey. Others say it's not natural at all, because it is manufactured through a chemical process and does not occur in nature by itself. The Center for Science in the Public Interest called the corn refiners' campaign "deceptive."

Most medical research says it is the calories, rather than the sweetener, that make a difference to a person's health. And sugar and high fructose corn syrup have identical calorie counts.

. . . The Corn Refiners Assn. is reacting to a steady slide in sales of high fructose corn sweetener . . . so many consumers have become wary of corn sweeteners that smaller drink makers such as Hansen, Jones and Thomas Kemper have reformulated their sodas to use cane sugar.

Taco Bell and other fast-food chains have added sugar-sweetened beverages as alternatives to their corn sweetener-laden soft drink menu.

Meanwhile, U.S. sales of Coca-Cola Classic made with corn sweetener fell 5.5% last year, according to the Beverage Industry 2008 Soft Drink Report. Sprite dropped 9.2%, Pepsi-Cola was down 8.9% and Mountain Dew declined 3.1%.

The growing popularity of bottled water and other drinks is one reason for the decline of sweet carbonated drinks. But shoppers say drinks made with sugar cane just taste better.

"It has a crisper flavor, not as cloying. I think it is a better-flavored drink," said Charlie Howell, who periodically finds cane-sugar-sweetened Coca-Cola imported from Mexico at the Costco in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Meet the Fried Chicken Killer

No, this news story did not come from But I can understand why someone might suspect otherwise. From yesterday's edition of The Oregonian:

Tremayne Durham became known as the fried chicken killer because his agreement to plead guilty to aggravated murder last month hinged on him getting a KFC and Popeyes smorgasbord. At Durham's sentencing Wednesday, the family of the man Durham killed gave Durham a new name.

"Put this animal where he belongs," Michael Calbreath, the father of Adam Calbreath, told Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric Bergstrom before Bergstrom sentenced Durham to life in prison for Adam's murder. His sentence includes the possiblity of parole after 30 years.

. . . Durham, 33, a New York resident and convicted rapist, pled guilty to shooting Calbreath in the head using a pillow as a silencer. Durham wanted to sell ice cream and had ordered from an Oregon company an $18,000 truck that would play music.

Durham later changed his mind, but the company wouldn't refund the money. Infuriated, he came to Oregon. Durham killed Calbreath, a Gresham resident and former employee of the company, while looking for the company owner, Rob hambers.

As part of his plea deal, Durham asked to serve his sentence in a New York prison.

. . . Durham's defense attorney, Richard Wolf, said Durham wanted to test whether Bergstrom would really make his best effort to secure the transfer. To show his good faith, Bergstrom agreed to Durham's request for a bucket of chicken.

The bucket of chicken turned into a feast including mashed potatoes, carrot cake and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. After his sentencing today, his defense attorney confirmed, Durham gets the rest of the deal -- calzones, lasagne, pizza and ice cream. His attorneys -- not taxpayers -- are picking up the tab.
What? No foie gras? No peach cobbler? No apple-cider donuts?

I doubt we'll ever see KFC launch an ad campaign with the tagline: KFC, We Make Killer Chicken!

It's Buttery, With Hints of Flouride

In the New Testament book of John, Jesus turns water into wine. Now it appears that a restaurant in Sydney, Australia, is performing the same miracle. According to this Reuters article:

Water is the new wine at a top-notch Sydney restaurant offering health-conscious customers "bold" or "velvety" varieties which can cost as much as some vintages.

. . . Kable's restaurant at Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel offers a menu of 20 types of water from around the world with descriptions that wouldn't be out of place on a fine wine menu.

. . . Some Kable's waters are listed as having "an elegant velvet character when served at room temperature" while others are described as having a "large mouth feel and is best served as a pre-dinner drink with hors d'oeuvres."

"You should match the mouth feel of the water, with the mouth feel of the dish," said restaurant manager Philippo Radrizzani.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Smoked Turkey Risotto

I love risotto. So last night we tried making a new risotto. We had bought a smoked turkey drumstick. So we pulled the meat off the drumstick, cutting or tearing it into small slices.

At the right moment, we added the turkey to the arborio rice that was cooking in the pan. Then we added some minced shallots, a clove of garlic, some freshly ground pepper and about a teaspoon of dried rosemary.

Right before pulling the risotto off the stove burner, we added about one-third of a cup of pear, which had been diced into small pieces -- just to add a hint of sweetness.

It was wonderful, as was the Margaux red that we drank with it. It was a Cru Bourgeois from the 2000 vintage, not the super-pricey premier crus that are most revered by wine consumers. But the bottle we drank was a steal at $45.
God, that was one sublime meal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Germ-Neurotic Diners

Remember seeing Jack Nicholson in the movie "As Good As It Gets"? The character that Nicholson played in that film may have seemed unbelievably germ-neurotic, but I have learned that there really are people like that — customers who are a server's worst nightmare.

For example, on this thread at MySpace, TB writes that one of his "pet peeves" is when:

Places . . . have silverware sitting on a container on the table waiting for you. You either have to use sterile handwipes (If you have some some in your bag) to clean them or pray that the kid sitting at the table before you hasn't licked all the silverware before you got there, (or the people digging through it for their silverware before you had clean hands, etc.)

Good lord. How germ-obsessed can someone be?

Trust me, we are all exposed to millions of germs each and every day. There's no need to assume that children at neighboring tables are licking the silverware at the next table over.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

High-Calorie Kids' Menus


. . . according to some health advocates, letting kids eat at some fast-food restaurants can be downright dangerous because of the calorie content of the foods they serve.

"A restaurant meal is a mine field," Mike Jacobs of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, told "Good Morning America." "It's junk everywhere and the explosions are going to be in your stomach, your heart."

According to an investigation by the CSPI, in most chain restaurants, more than 90 percent of the kid's menu meals packed way more than the recommended 430 calories per meal.

For Vegans, Is Honey Verboten?

An article from Daniel Engber at

There is no more contentious question in the world of veganism than the one posed by honey.

A fierce doctrinal debate over its status has raged for decades; it turns up on almost every community FAQ and remains so ubiquitous and unresolved that radio host Rachel Maddow proposed to ask celebrity vegan Dennis Kucinich about it during last year's CNN/YouTube presidential debate.

Does honey qualify as a forbidden animal product since it's made by bees? Or is it OK since the bees don't seem too put out by making it?

. . . The hard-liners argue that beekeeping, like dairy farming, is cruel and exploitative.

. . . So, any vegan who eats honey but avoids milk is making the tacit assumption that the pain experienced by a bee counts for something less than the pain experienced by a cow. It's exactly the sort of compromise that so appalled Watson and the early vegans.

. . . The flexitarians counter that if you follow the hard-line argument to its logical extreme, you end up with a diet so restrictive it borders on the absurd. After all, you can't worry over the ethics of honey production without worrying over the entire beekeeping industry.

Honey accounts for only a small percentage of the total honeybee economy in the United States; most comes from the use of rental hives to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops.

According to food journalist Rowan Jacobson, whose book Fruitless Fall comes out this September, commercial bees are used in the production of about 100 foods, including almonds, avocados, broccoli, canola, cherries, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, sunflowers, and tomatoes.

Even the clover and alfalfa crops we feed to dairy cows are sometimes pollinated by bees.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coffee and the Research

Over the years, there have been a lot of newspaper articles on the presumed benefits or negative consequences of coffee-drinking.

This MSN snippet suggests that the good effects outweigh any bad effects:

No need to feel guilty anymore about that double-shot Americano that gets you going in the morning. In fact, coffee is looking more and more like a health drink. Among its remarkable benefits, new research shows, coffee may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart attack, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, kidney stones, and cirrhosis.

One caveat is that black coffee may lead to thinner bones, especially in women, but the simple solution is to add milk to your coffee.

Election Entrees

I always enjoy reading about food, but I am saddened to see that the N.Y. Times' Maureen Dowd and others seem to think that food metaphors are a valid substitute for genuine issue analysis.

In Sunday's NYT, Dowd wrote:

Despite Obama’s wooing, some women aren’t warming. As Carol Marin wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Lanky One is like an Alice Waters organic chicken — “sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool” — when what many working-class women are craving is mac and cheese.

So what the hell does this actually mean? This might make for clever-sounding prose, but I'm not sure that comparing the candidates to meal entrees helps voters make sense of the issues.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Day-Boat Fish Versus Environmentalism

From a Washington Post article by Juliet Eilperin:

In this era of globalization, restaurant menus from New York to San Francisco boast fresh fish with distant origins: blackfin tuna from Tobago, mahi-mahi from Hawaii and black grouper from the Bahamas.

But a group of chefs and food service vendors (aware that such jet-setting comes at a heavy environmental cost) is promoting a radical shift in practice: Increase the amount of fish that is frozen at sea so it can be transported by ship or truck instead.

Culinary leaders who care about reducing greenhouse gases linked to global warming need "to get people to understand that frozen is fresher than raw" most of the time, according to Food Network host Alton Brown.

"What we need is more trains," he added. "There needs to be a fish train."

Although the idea of a "fish train" might sound like a fantasy, Brown is making a serious point: Bon Appetit Management, which operates 400 cafes nationwide, estimates that shipping seafood by air generates 10 times as much greenhouse gas as transferring it by container ship and five times as much as shipping by truck.
The rest of the article is here.