Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 15 Best Dishes in NYC

Sam Sifton, the N.Y. Times' food critic, lists the 15 best dishes he tasted in the city during the year 2010. That previous hyperlink has a photo montage of the 15 dishes, and here's the article that accompanies the photo list. Based on his choices, I'd say he has a passion for Italian and Spanish foods.

One of those dishes is called Devil's Chicken, and it looks like an entree worth trying the next time I happen to be in NYC.

One of the dishes is called "Guacamole de Frutas." Although I love guacamole, I'm skeptical of whether this version improves on the traditional recipe. Diced apple, pear and cranberries are in this dish, as well as (sigh) the annoyingly trendy pomegranate seeds. This dish is prepared at a Mexican restaurant in mid-town called Toloache, whose interior is pictured above.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Buffet of Bugs

The photo you just glanced at (above) happens to be a grasshopper taco. Some people are urging societies to promote the eating of insects as a way to ensure mass sustainability during future periods of famine, war or other types of upheaval. And there's at least one cookbook out there that provides recipes for cooking and eating insects.

Angelina Jolie can actually tell you what insects taste like. As this book confirms, the actress has eaten a Cambodian cockroach and bee larvae.

However, one doesn't have to travel to the Third World to sample insects. There has been at least one restaurant in New York City (operating for a few years now) that serves a grasshopper taco. So what does grasshopper taste like? Mike Peed, a food critic for The New Yorker, reviewed the restaurant Toloache in 2008, and the final sentences of his review offer his blunt assessment:
Inquire about a grasshopper taco and hear (the chef say), "I was born in Oaxaca. We used to catch them in our backyard by the handfuls. They are delicious!" Curious, lifelike, not delicious.

Friday, December 17, 2010

She Has Issues . . . Food Issues

Gilbert Sewall wonders if food allergies, tastes and quirks are enough to discourage anyone from hosting a dinner party. On a San Francisco Chronicle blog, Sewall writes that in California . . .
. . . everyone has a Food Issue. It's becoming a signature there, like a car, a statement of who and what one is.

. . . I knew something was up over lunch when I brought out the spaghetti. A guest I had never met before let out a strange little gasp. I can't eat wheat, she said. A dear friend then announced he had a big problem with refined sugar. And, he said firmly, anything that might include it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Epicurious Joins the "Apps" World

More foodie websites are capitalizing on the high interest in new "apps" for smartphones. The latest site is Epicurious, which is one of my favorite websites.

Epicurious just contacted its list of registered visitors to alert them to its app for the iPad and iPhone, which allows users to "sync your personal recipe box to your mobile device!"

It's interesting timing because NPR's "Morning Edition" aired the final part of a series today that essentially said that cookbooks (the actual physical beasts that take up bookshelf space) are likely to survive the digital area. The view is that people will look online for specific recipes for special occasions, but that they enjoy browsing through cookbooks when they have no particular culinary agenda.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adams Morgan, Culinary Wasteland

I have lived in or adjacent to this neighborhood of D.C. for 20 years, and I have heard a whole lot of people talk through the years about Adams Morgan's "renaissance." But a stroll down 18th Street reminded me of what a restaurant wasteland this area is.

With the exception of Perry's, La Fourchette and Napoleon Bistro, there really isn't any place I can think of worth eating at in Adams Morgan. And that's probably why the latter two eateries are often full up (so prepare for a wait).

There was a time in the mid-1990s when Cashion's Eat Place was actually a destination restaurant. Stunned to learn that? It's true. But the competition from other neighborhoods and downtown has definitely improved . . . and, well, Cashion's has not. I ate brunch there the other day, and that was a big mistake.

Stale rolls were brought to our table. I waited 10 minutes after ordering for my (lukewarm) latte to arrive. The cornmeal waffles were bland, and what accompanied them was an apple mush.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Vanishing Restaurant Owner-Host

I've always found something incredibly charming about a restaurant owner who doubles as the host, welcoming you as you enter and/or stopping by your table to check on how your meal is going. As the N.Y. Times notes, this owner-host situation is increasingly rare.

Noting the death of one such person (restaurateur Elaine Kaufman), the Times explores the rapidly disappearing joint role of owner-host in this article. By the way, Woody Allen was one of the regulars who dined at her restaurant, Elaine's. In its article, the Times writes:
... the notion of the host as the most important person in a given restaurant’s success is wavering.

Chefs are the draw in this modern age, and the more famous and customer-accessible, the better. Former line cooks now walk dining rooms like kings, celebrities from television, whose every utterance is recorded on blogs.

The business of restaurants is no longer so dependent on the presence of an owner in the dining room to dispense favors or act as gatekeeper to a private club. (Let us not forget: For every person who recalls Ms. Kaufman’s kindness at Elaine’s, there are others who remember her rudely barring the door or telling someone to get out.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Powdered Sugar? No Thanks

What is this strange love affair that so many restaurant chefs have with powdered sugar? You can't go to brunch and order pancakes, French toast or waffles without seeing your plate arrive with a thorough dusting of powdered sugar. Yuck.

I have nothing against sugar, but there are so many better ways to enjoy the sweet stuff. Granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and molasses all provide better, richer tastes and more interesting textures than powdered sugar. Besides, given that diners who order pancakes or French toast are already planning to pour syrup over them, powdered sugar is superfluous.

In my view, the only reason to buy powdered sugar is to make cake frosting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Safety Bill Coming to a Vote

In Sunday's New York Times, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser co-wrote this op-ed urging the Senate to approve the proposed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Here are some excerpts from their column:
The bill would, for the first time, give the F.D.A., which oversees 80 percent of the nation's food, the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens and to recall contaminated food. The agency would finally have the resources and authority to prevent food safety problems, rather than respond only after people have become ill.

The bill would also require more frequent inspections of large-scale, high-risk food production plants.
And if you believe food safety worries are a thing of the past, consider this egg scare, this nut scare and this beef scare -- all within the last 18 months.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Right Pies to Make

I am on "pie duty" for Thanksgiving, so I need to figure out which pies I will make.

Someone else is planning to bring an apple pie, so that base is covered. My plans for the moment are:
  • cherry pie
  • pumpkin pie (it is Thanksgiving after all)
  • lemon chess pie
But I have never made lemon chess pie before. Sure, I understand that it's pretty easy to make one, but I'm finding different recipes that call for varying amounts of corn meal or lemon juice. There is this recipe from, and then there is this one from the Food Network. Even the amounts of sugar are different.

Decisions . . . decisions.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turkey Tips

In this New York Times article, Bobby Flay and other celebrity chefs offer some tips for Thanksgiving Day cooking. One of Flay's tips is incredibly simple:
Have an abundance of chicken stock on hand, bubbling warm on the stove all day. "You slice the turkey and put it on a platter to serve it," he said, "and then right before you go out to the table, you ladle some stock over the top to warm it and give it a little moisture, too. You do the same for the stuffing. You make the gravy with it. You go through a lot."
Sounds like a smart approach to me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who Does Paula Enjoy Cooking for the Most?

This is from a column that Paula Deen wrote for Esquire magazine in September 2009:

Men use food to try to outdo one another. It's okay for a man to say, "I ate that whole damn pie." Now, a woman isn't gonna want to say that, but for a man it's a badge of honor: Look how tough I am. It's almost like an attack thing, the way they eat.

I'll tell you what it comes down to for me: I would rather cook for a man than for a woman on any day. It's those noises [men] make.

... men dive in without guilt and enjoy their food like there's no tomorrow. And that feels good when you're the one who cooked it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Triple Berry Muffins Don't Taste the Same

Both Au Bon Pain and Caribou are coffee chains that sell something called the Triple Berry Muffin. Both advertise that their muffins are low-fat.

But does either one of these muffins taste good? In my experience, the answer is "yes." Au Bon Pain's Triple Berry Muffin is quite tasty. But the version of this muffin sold at Caribou is terrible. Last week, I tasted Caribou's version for the first time, and it was pretty inedible.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Better Cranberry Condiment

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, and it's time to think about the cranberry options we cooks and diners have. I agree with this writer at Serious Eats who much prefers cranberries served as a thick or chutney-type consistency, instead of the gelatinous "cranberry sauce" that comes out of a can. SE's Kerry Saretsky admits that the latter is "iconic Americana" but the former is tastier.

His observations are followed by this recipe for cranberry chutney with crystallized ginger.

This recipe is another one of my favorites -- cranberry sauce with dried tart cherries. (You can use canned tart cherries if you can't find the dried variety.) The cloves in the recipe add a nice twist.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eats in D.C.'s Atlas District

Last weekend, I visited Washington, D.C.'s H Street corridor -- a neighborhood in the N.E. quad known as the Atlas District. The area is definitely gentrifying, and the city has committed to run an electric streetcar down H Street. But my reason for visiting the area was to check out a few new eateries that I'd heard about.

First, we had brunch at the Liberty Tree, on the north side of H Street between 10th and 11th Streets. It was cozy, and they had an awesome selection of beers on tap. If wine is your thing, they've got it, but the choices are fewer. They serve a brunch on Saturday and Sunday that runs until 3 p.m. That's a nice option to have: sleep in and eat whenever you want.

The food at Liberty Tree was good -- nothing fancy or refined, but good. I had the lobster benedict, and it was quite tasty. My friend had pizza, and he gave it a grade of B-.

For a sweet conclusion to our brunch, we walked a few blocks east and then across the street to Dangerously Delicious Pies, located at 1339 H Street, N.E. This place sells entree-style pies as well as dessert pies. The dessert pies include multiple kinds of chess pie (chocolate and coconut, for example) and the other standards: apple-crumb and pecan, for example. They also sell quiches. You can buy any of these by the slice or by the entire pie.

Although most of the buzz about Dangerously Delicious Pies has been positive, one of the knocks against the place is the prices. It's true that $6.50 per slice of dessert pie is on the high side. But the pecan pie I tried was excellent. The savory pies (entrees) are $7.50 per slice, which is the same or less than what you'd spend to get lunch at a Cosi or Au Bon Pain.

And here's a piece of good news: Dangerously Delicious Pies is open 7 days a week for those of us who need to regularly get our pie fix. If there is one gripe I have about DDP, it's that they should have at least 1 or 2 more fruit pies to choose from. From what I've seen and heard, pies such as blueberry or peach don't seem to be on the menu. Maybe it's a seasonal thing or maybe I've been looking at the wrong times.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Pizza Penalty

Joseph Jacobbi, who operates a restaurant called Casa-di-Pizza, gave a judge an opportunity to deliver a one-of-a-kind verdict.

In the wake of Jacobbi's conviction on sales tax fraud, a state supreme court judge ordered the Buffalo, N.Y. pizzeria owner to provide 12 free pizzas once a week to a homeless shelter in the city. And to keep providing the gratis pizzas for one year.

"I will leave the choice of toppings to you," the judge told Jacobbi.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

No, I'm not talking about a glass of orange juice.

Scrambled eggs are the dish that I'm dishing about. I've enjoyed them for dinner a number of times, and I never felt like I was slummin' when I devoured them. As this article reveals, the New York Times' Martha Rose Shulman also thinks scrambled eggs make for a tasty supper.

I'm particular about how mine are cooked -- "exactly 30 seconds beyond salmonella," my spouse sarcastically declares. That's an exaggeration, but I do want my scrambled eggs to be moist, not as dry as the Sahara desert. I hate it when I get served eggs that are dry.

Fresh chive and tarragon are marvelous herbs to add. But pick only one of them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chefs Don't Earn Impressive Salaries

With fewer Americans eating out at fine-dining establishments these days, it's not easy for people to find jobs as restaurant chefs. And even those who already have those jobs may not be doing all that well financially.

The website Chow produced this bar graph listing the average salaries of three workers -- a school bus driver, a trash collector and a chef de cuisine. The chef's estimated salary ($56,868) looks pretty decent. Until, that is, you divide that salary by the total number of hours that a chef de cuisine works.

Yikes! This has me feeling more sympathy for the executive kitchen staff at such restaurants.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Bistro Cacao

This week, I finally got around to trying Bistro Cacao, located on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood. On the whole, I was pleased.

The menu offers many of the entree choices you'd expect in a French bistro. The menu isn't large, but my fellow diner and I enjoyed everything we tried. I ordered the onglet (hanger steak) with a shallot and wine sauce. The beef was of a high quality and properly cooked, and it was superbly complimented by the sauce. The wine list is large enough without overwhelming a diner. Bottles are priced fairly; some are expensive, but most are within reason.

The ambience of Bistro Cacao has a Victorian style without being too frilly. It's especially nice for people who are taking someone out on a date. Couples can dine seated on nice wing chairs from tables flanked by classy red curtains. One complaint I have is that the restaurant's menu is choices are not accessible via its website.

The bistro has plans to open a wine bar soon, although it's not clear to me where within its current premises, the wine bar would be situated -- so stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One Less Choice for Pulled Pork BBQ

What? Can it be so? I just heard the news that Lindsey's, my favorite barbecue place in Arkansas (my former state of residence), was forced to close after a fire.

Ugh. I will be traveling there in the coming months, and I had been looking forward to paying a culinary pilgrimage there.

I guess the best remaining choices are Sim's, Whole Hog, and a place called Mr. Mason's (which I have never tried, but hear is excellent).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pumpkin Pancakes

As we move into autumn, one's thoughts turn to pumpkins. And for that reason, this recipe caught my eye: Shopshin's Pumpkin Pancakes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Almond Joy

I like almonds and enjoy eating them as a snack every now and then, but it came as news to me that almonds are classified as "stone fruits." (Frankly, I remain skeptical about that.)

In any case, I still took this 5-question quiz at the website MonkeyDish.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tasting the Pouilly-Fuisse Wines

Benedict Vincent leads a tour of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuisse

During my recent trip with family to the French region of Burgundy, we tasted wines in Gevrey-Chambertin (see my previous post) and in the small appellation of Pouilly-Fuisse.

As in the rest of Burgundy, the white grapes in Pouilly-Fuisse are chardonnay. I don't drink much chardonnay from California because I find the heavy oak virtually smothers the fruit. This grape is handled better in Burgundy, where they take lighter touch with oak.

We tasted seven wines at Vincent & Fils, where we were warmly greeted by Benedict Vincent, the daughter of the chateau's winemaker. She led us on a tour of the domaine's vineyards and its cellars. One of the wines we tasted was Vincent's Marie Antoinette cuvee, which New York Times writer Eric Asimov cited as "our No. 1 wine and best value" in a tasting of Pouilly-Fuisse held in 2008.
Most of the wines were delightful -- good fruit and nice acidity. This region tends to draw fewer tourists than regions to the north. Yet it has rolling hills and pleasant villages that charm those who venture into this southern edge of Burgundy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Touring Vineyards in Burgundy

During my recent trip with family members to the Burgundian wine region of France, we had some pleasant tastings at a couple of renowned wineries -- one in the Cote de Nuit region of the northern Burgundy and the second in the southern appellation of Macon-Lugny.

In this blog post, I'll discuss the first of two vintners we visited. His name is Philippe LeClerc, and he has a reputation for being a superb, yet iconoclastic winemaker in the Cote de Nuit. Wine writer Cynthia Hurley calls him a "perfectionist." We visited his office and cellar in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, and we tasted five reds (100% pinot noir).

LeClerc doesn't filter any of his wines, so as one reaches the bottom of a bottle, there is very likely to be some deposit of sediment. Neither does he use the typical machine-presses to extract the juice from his grapes.

Yet the judgment that most significantly distinguishes LeClerc from his Gevrey-Chambertin and Cote de Nuit peers is that year in, year out, LeClerc tends to be one of the last winemakers to harvest the grapes from his vineyards.

We enjoyed his wines, although nearly all of them were being drunk at least a few years before they'll fully mature. The wine that was truly "ready" to drink was good, but far from stellar.

I enjoyed this degustation. The staff were welcoming and pleasant, not snooty.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Olive Oil From the Land of . . . . Georgia?

This was news to me. There are actually farmers in southern Georgia (some 20 miles east of I-75) who are hoping to find a market for olive oil produced from olives grown on their farmland.

As it turns out, olive groves used to exist in this area of Georgia, but a hurricane more than a century ago destroyed what had been left of dwindling olive trees. In this article, the Washington Post explained what prompted one of the farmers to start growing olives:
Generations of Shaw family farmers in Lanier County have grown cotton, peanuts and corn. But in 1996, Lakeland (Georgia) native Jason Shaw returned from a trip to Verona, Italy, where he had been struck by the sight of prolific orchards, and said, "We ought to grow olives in Georgia."

... Now 12 farmers and a small army of extension service agents and horticulturalists are tending 95 acres, spread over seven Georgia counties south of Atlanta that fall in the South's "olive belt," a zone with a climate conducive to growing the cold-resistant types.
I look forward to tasting Georgia olive oil. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Leisurely Lunches in France

Times are changing everywhere, but not at the same speed. I just returned from a week in the French countryside, and I can tell you that the traditional practice of shopkeepers closing for two hours at mid-day for lunch continues.

Most clothing stores, patisseries, bakeries and other shops close their doors at 12 noon and don't reopen until 2:00 or even 2:30 pm. These closures give proprietors and their staff ample time to enjoy lunch with a friend or spouse, and even run an errand or two.

Sure, it is true that France is one of McDonalds' most successful non-U.S. markets. And in Paris, many workers are opting for fairly quick lunches of sandwiches. But in the small towns and villages outside the capital city, one still sees plenty of French eating lunch at a leisurely pace at restaurants or cafes. The cheque dejeuner system encourages this.

That photo above was my lunch one day as we stopped in the Burgundian village of Gevrey-Chambertin, amid the region's hallowed vineyards. I ordered the foie gras, which was served with wonderfully toasted slices of brioche, caramelized onions, some greens and a fig-balsamic glaze.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Italians See Red After Seeing Blue Mozzarella

This is an amusing story that reveals the depth of affection that Italians feel for mozzarella cheese. Italian police recently seized 70,000 balls of mozzarella cheese that were reportedly produced in Germany. The reason? The cheese apparently started turning blue -- probably due to a bacteria -- soon after packages of the mozzarella were opened by Italian consumers.

The case matters so much to the country that Italian prosecutors are now involved. Italians eat a lot of mozzarella, and they understandably get rather concerned when it looks differently than the photo above.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thinking of Creamed Corn

Sorry for the 12-day silence. I just returned from spending 10 days in France, three of them in Paris. I will write a few blog posts about those wine and culinary adventures, but first . . .

Creamed corn is one of those side dishes that makes me think of fall. My mother never made creamed corn, but I fell in love with it from the first time I tasted it -- at a friend's house. The New York Times' Melissa Clark has written this article offering a fresh twist on creamed corn. This reminds me of something else to add to my "to do" list for this autumn -- find a good recipe for creamed corn.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cashion's Set to Reopen

I noticed that Cashion's Eat Place will reopen this week after some interior renovations. I haven't eaten there in almost two years, and until I saw this article, I had almost forgotten about Cashion's. I used to have excellent meals there, but my last several visits to the restaurant were disappointing.

Chief among my complaints were bottles of red wine being stored near a heat source that made them unpleasant to drink. If Cashion's wants to be considered a top-flight restaurant, that's the kind of thing that shouldn't happen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Disgusting Dish of the Month

I chose my first "Disgusting Dish of the Month" in June, but my life got pretty hectic in July so I never got around to picking a DDM for that month. So, here in August, I will revive this declaration.

August's choice is the Catfish Sloppy Joe, which has been featured by Esquire magazine's "Eat Like a Man" blog. I don't know what's worse, the recipe itself or the knowledge that this is actually the handiwork of the chef at Mandalay Bay. Having said that, I must admit that it's not nearly as disgusting at June's selection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NY Eateries Opening Here in DC

A variety of New York-based restaurateurs are seeking satellite locations in Washington, D.C. This development puts a smile on my face. As the Washington Post reports:
Since the economic downturn began, no fewer than 10 Empire State restaurateurs have made designs on the District (of Columbia).

... Food Network star Bobby Flay is in negotiations to open his first local Burger Palace, a New York and New Jersey staple, and Shake Shack owner Danny Meyer recent announced plans for a spot in Dupont Circle.

"Guys from New York are coming down here because they can pay half the rent and do 75 percent of the business," said broker Thomas N. Papadopoulus, who has represented several Big Apple restaurants.
And near my office . . .
Over in Penn Quarter, construction is under way on the smoked barbeque joint Hill Country, which will rise across the street from another newly opened New York eatery, the Italian restaurant Carmine's.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brasserie Beck: Still Too Noisy, Still Marvelous Food

I don't go to Brasserie Beck that often, mostly because of the noise. You enter knowing that you're going to have to shout to your dining companions if you're sitting anywhere within the front third of the restaurant space.

We had a reservation last night for 9 p.m., and the hostess wanted to seat us close to the bar area, which is very loud -- the tile, wood and other surfaces guarantee a high volume of clatter. We asked for a table far in the back (only one room seems to be carpeted). To her credit (and to Brasserie Beck's credit) the hostess accommodated our wishes by moving us to a table where the ambient noise was simply loud, but not thunderously so.

Once we settled in, we placed our order and then the courses started to arrive. First, the crusty bread with superb butter. Next, our starters were delivered. I ordered the melon soup (a special on the menu), and it was sublime. Light, yet very flavorful. My pork shank was also excellent.

Everything we tasted was marvelous, which always seems to be the case at Brasserie Beck. My only wish (sigh) is that they could do something more to reduce the noise. I'm not one of those chronic noise-in-restaurants complainers, but I doubt I'm the only one who would eat more often at Brasserie Beck if it weren't so damn loud. At the end of a busy work day, I refuse to shout to be heard by someone who is two feet away.

It's a tough trade-off.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Directions in the Fruit World

Do you remember as a kid being quite impressed when your parents brought home a watermelon from the store that stretched 2 feet or even longer? Well, according to the New York Times' Kim Severson, it's getting harder and harder to find those traditional, oversized melons.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The idea of making upside-down cake sounds appealing, but I've never been a huge fan of pineapple. So this twist on the traditional dessert caught my eye. The L.A. Times offers alternative recipes for upside-down cake using apricots, spiced cherries and peaches, among other fruits.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wonderful Clafoutis, But So Many Versions

Over at the food portal Serious Eats, Robin Bellinger writes that she took her second stab at making clafoutis, a custardy French dessert that is usually made with cherries. She wasn't sure at first how this version would turn out, but

. . . in the evening my husband pronounced it irresistible. I was truly sold the next day when I had a sliver of clafoutis straight out of the refrigerator; the flavor and texture of the clafoutis were best when it was cold.

She even pitted her own cherries. Impressive. I have a clafoutis recipe, and I'm pretty happy with it. But what I find curious is that no two clafoutis recipes are identical. There seems to be some distinction from one to the next. I noticed that this recipe contains more than a cup of milk, while this recipe calls for exactly 1 cup of milk, and this one contains only 3/4 cup.

One thing that probably trips up amateur cooks who try their hand at clafoutis is the fact that the batter is so runny. I'm willing to bet that many people try to "fix" that runniness, and what results is a custardy texture that is denser than it should be.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Second Helpings in France

If you're a guest for dinner at someone's home in the U.S., it's not unusual to be asked if you would like "a second helping." If you do, you simply ask for "more pot roast" or "more asparagus" or more of something else.

Interestingly, this blogger informs us that in la belle France, the custom is quite different. She's married to a Frenchman and has lived in France, so she should know a thing or two about the country's customs. In any case, she writes:
If you ever attend a (French) dinner party and plan to take seconds, you must take seconds of all the dishes. For example, if the meal consists of a meat, potatoes and a vegetable, you cannot just take a second serving of the potatoes; you must take a second helping of all three, otherwise you will insult the host.

It makes them feel like you only liked the potatoes so that is all you want to have again.
Or, if they weren't so hyper-sensitive, they could conclude that you simply liked the potatoes the best. Which raises the question: what if you did only like the potatoes? So what?

I love dining in France, but this custom seems more like something that overfed, overweight Americans would have devised.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Frozen French Food

I guess one weird food-related story (see my last post) deserves another. Police in the French city of Lyon have discovered the body of renowned chef Jean-Francois Poinard -- in an apartment freezer. The body may have been in the freezer for two years.

Poinard represented the fourth generation of a cooking dynasty, and a French newspaper hailed him as one of the "great names" in gastronomy. He was 71 years old when he disappeared. A former girlfriend has been taken into custody.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When I-90 Became the Cheddar Parkway

On July 8 of this year, a crash involving a semi-trailer rig dumped more than eight tons of cheese onto Interstate 90 in South Dakota. The Utah man who was driving that vehicle was supposed to appear in court this week, but he was a no-show.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Crab Cakes in Annapolis

My brother and his wife were in the D.C. area this weekend, and we decided to take them to Annapolis, Md. There I sought crab cakes, and was quite pleased with the ones served at Carrol's Creek Cafe.

Their crab cakes are broiled, but they must use enough mayonnaise to keep them from drying out (unlike the broiled crab cakes at some other restaurants). The crab cakes at Carrol's Creek were very moist and flavorful. The cream of crab soup was good too. The restaurant is moderately expensive, and they have a large deck that looks out over the docked boats with views of the Naval Academy's chapel and other historic buildings.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Marriage for the Melon-Obsessed

I saw this item (below), which announced the approaching marriage of Emery Gullickson and Neal Richards, in the Washington Post's Express tabloid:
FIRST DATE: A few years after meeting, they reconnected at Emery's dad's birthday party. When her dad offered them some leftover watermelon, Emery suggested she and Neal boil it to see what would happen. The week after, they made a watermelon pie. "We became quite fond of each other while our distaste for watermelon flavoring grew," Emery says.

MMM, CAKE: The groom's cake is watermelon-shaped.
I've heard of a couple bonding over a food each one of them loved, but this is the first time I've heard of a couple bonding over a flavor they disliked.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Cheez Doodler Dies

The news that Morrie Yohai died last week may mean nothing to you. Morrie who? Well, if you've ever enjoyed Cheez Doodles, you should observe a moment of silence in his honor because he was the snack's creator.

In the post-World War II years, Yohai took over his father's snack-food business at a factory in the Bronx, N.Y. In a 2005 interview with a New York newspaper, Yohai explained how he stumbled on the idea for Cheez Doodles:

"We were looking for another snack item. We were fooling around and found out there was a machine that extruded cornmeal and it almost popped like popcorn."

From there, it didn't take long for someone to suggest coating the cornmeal with cheese. And the rest is (snack) history.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blame It on Red's Eats

There's that old saying -- if you "build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." I guess the same is true if you make a better lobster roll. I got a kick out of this N.Y. Times article about Red's Eats, a seafood shack in Wiscasset, Maine that is known for serving fantastic lobster rolls. The traffic leading into the town during the summer slows to a snail's pace, and many locals say the popularity of Red's is the reason why.

According to, the best time to avoid long lines when visiting Red's is 3 p.m. on a Thursday. So, now you know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Few of My Fave Food Blogs

Even if I didn't enjoy reading it, the blog 101 Cookbooks would be worth checking out if only for the photos, which are just gorgeous. Plus, I really like the fact that 101 Cookbooks allows you to search posts by ingredient -- see the left side of the screen. Now that's cool.

For any resident of the Washington, D.C. area who wants to keep on top of the ever-changing dining scene, the blog Capital Cooking is a "must read." Its author, Lauren DeSantis, provides savvy and helpful reviews of what's cookin' around the city. Lauren is a very busy woman. She has written a cookbook, and she hosts a TV show that appears regularly on public-access television. Lauren and I happen to share a love for deviled eggs.

Blue Kitchen, a blog based in Chicago, is another of my faves. This blog posts interesting -- but not overly complex -- recipes that will appeal to those who like to good, hassle-free meals. This recipe (balsamic vinegar chicken) is a good example. If you like wine, you'll appreciate the helpful "Wine and Drink" links that are positioned in a lefthand sidebar on Blue Kitchen.

The final favorite food blog that I'll cite here is Smitten Kitten. The photos are fabulous, and the recipes are (like those at Blue Kitchen) ones that can be prepared by ordinary people who keep cheesecloth in their kitchen at all times. Consider this recently posted recipe for Peach-Creme Fraiche Pie. If looking at those photos doesn't make you want to grab a pie pan and some Freestone peaches, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Peach Repertoire

I bought more than a half-dozen peaches at a farmers market last weekend, and I've been enjoying them ever since. I rarely buy peaches at the grocery store any more -- just too risky. I just noticed this web page at the N.Y. Times' food pages that lists a number of recipes featuring peaches.

The recipes range from fried peach pies with bourbon and cinnamon to peach puree vinaigrette. There's even a recipe for peach ice cream, which looks mighty good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Starting Your Day in Chicago?

My last post was about one of my food stops during a recent visit to Chicago. Here's another food recommendation, courtesy of radio station WBEZ. It's a list of the top 5 breakfasts in the Windy City.

Meli Cafe heads the list, a Greek diner with "organic produce, eggs, fresh-squeezed juices and homemade jams." Sounds good to me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Manny's, the Marvelous Deli in Chicago

I want to send a very warm thank-you to the owners of Manny's Cafeteria and Deli in Chicago for hosting my brother Mark and me last weekend for an event to promote our new book, What the Great Ate.

Once our interview was concluded, we both had an early lunch. I chose the pastrami sandwich. God, was that a good sandwich. I also had a cup of matzo ball soup. It had been several years since my first visit to Manny's, but it was as authentic, wonderful and unpretentious as I had remembered it. If you find yourself in Chicago, it's a worthwhile pit stop for breakfast or lunch.

Soon after he won the presidential election in 2008, president-elect Barack Obama had lunch at Manny's with Mayor Richard Daley as he planned his transition to the White House. That photo above shows Obama and the mayor enjoying their meals.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What We'll Pay for a Magnificent Meal

Wednesday night, I decided to celebrate the publication of What the Great Ate, a book I co-authored with my brother Mark, by dining at Citronelle -- one of Washington, D.C.'s culinary cathedrals. The fixed price menu was $105 so, yes, this was one decadent dinner. The very next day, at the "Talk" blog on the food portal Serious Eats, BaguettenBrie raised the question of how pricey a meal should be:
I firmly believe in giving oneself the opportunity to experience great chefs' work. But I have been starting to question a bit how much certain tasting menus are costing.

On the one hand, with a truly great restaurant, somewhere you probably won't return to often, money shouldn't be considered a limiting agent. However, on the other (hand), should I feel guilty about questioning the cost of just one meal?
"No" is my answer. By all means, question the cost of any menu. The issue is value for your dollar. A more expensive meal can sometimes often more value and, at other times, less value.

As for that three-course Citronelle dinner, it was absolutely wonderful. But would I have considered it less wonderful if it has cost $120 instead of $105? Probably. By the way, the crowning glory of that meal was the cherry vacherin that I chose for dessert. God, that was good.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Strange Recipe for Lobster Rolls

I have always drooled over lobster rolls. One of the marvelous things about visiting New England in the summer is trying a lobster roll at multiple restaurants.

I've thought about trying to make lobster rolls at home, but I assumed it would be a whole lot of work. However, I just stumbled on this recipe from Maria Rodale's website. It doesn't look all that complicated, partly because she uses frozen lobster meat and also because she doesn't make a mayonnaise-based sauce.

Both strike me as a little odd. So long as the frozen lobster meat is tasty, this could work. But I cannot begin to imagine a lobster roll without having some of that mayonnaise-based sauce with diced celery and some herbs. (Instead of the sauce, Maria recommends melted butter.)

The frozen lobster meat saves a lot of time and hassle, but I don't see eliminating the mayonnaise-based sauce as much of a time saver. Besides, the mayo, tarragon and other ingredients in lobster-roll sauce add nice flavors. So, I intend to try making lobster rolls at home using frozen lobster meat, but I will not skip the sauce. This Food Network recipe should be a good source for preparing the sauce.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Was Bugging Angelina Jolie?

Fellow bloggers and foodies: I am excited to inform you that I am the co-author of a new book that will arrive in major bookstores any day now. The book is called What the Great Ate, and it provides a variety of fascinating and funny tales of what and how the "greats" of history ate. For example, my brother Mark and I share anecdotes like these:
*Paul Newman interrupted a dinner date with Joanne Woodward during the 1950s, took his salad into the men's room, washed it clean of dressing and returned to the table determined to dress it himself with the right vinaigrette.

*Angelina Jolie ate Cambodian cockroaches and referred to them as a "high-protein snack food."

*Ronald Reagan reportedly went 70 years without eating a tomato.

*Basketball star Charles Barkley had such a prodigious appetite that he was nicknamed "The Leaning Tower of Pizza."

*At a New Jersey cafeteria, Jackie Gleason sometimes requested the pot roast -- with a scoop of ice cream.

*Catherine de Medici, the Italian-born wife of France's King Henri II, almost died of a gluttonous binge, and one of her favorite dishes (called "cibreo") was made from the gizzards, liver and testicles of a young

*William Faulkner turned down a White House dinner invitation and had a simple explanation for doing so: "That's a long way to go just to eat."
To buy or learn more about What the Great Ate, visit our website.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Premium Burgers Are All the Rage

When President Obama showed up at Ray's Hell Burger -- not once, but twice -- it did two things. First, it put Ray's, an eatery in Arlington, Va., on the map to a whole lot of burger lovers. Second, it helped to demonstrate a major trend in America's restaurant-dining scene.

Welcome to the age of the premium burger. As the Washington Post explained:

"Better burger" joints are among the fastest-growing parts of the restaurant industry. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay launched Bobby's Burger Palace in the Northeast. Elevation burger is expanding to Kuwait. Mooyah Burgers & Fries, Meatheads and the Shake Shack are looking to expand.

Higher-grade beef, fresher or more creative toppings, and better buns are bringing customers in the door.

. . . It's a market that has room to grow. Such chains represent only about 2 percent of the $65 billion burger market . . .
The rise of the premium burger is a good development. As for chains, I like Five Guys burgers a whole lot, but I think their fries are vastly overrated.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So That Must Be Why They Call It a Ham-Burger

Believe it or not, at least one human being has tried to make a burger out of bacon. Yesterday, in this post at Wired's "Geek Dad" blog, Matt Blum explained how he turned 19 slices of bacon into a hamburger:

. . . I decided to add one large egg to the food processor along with the 19 slices of bacon. I ground the bacon and the egg together, then, using my hands, using my hands, pulled the mixture out and used a hamburger press to make a burger.

It is possible that my hands have been greasier at some point in my life, but if so I have (fortunately) forgotten it.
I must admit that the photo of this burger doesn't look very appetizing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

She Prefers a City That Delivers

The newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court seems to enjoy her job, writes the Washington Post. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a transplanted New Yorker, has a complaint about the city where she now works:
[Sotomayor] told friends she was looking forward to returning to Manhattan as soon as the (court's) term ended, and she has not bought a place in Washington. She has expressed a common New York complaint about Washington: Not enough restaurants deliver.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Guess Who's Nuts About U.S. Nuts

Globalization has some interesting consequences in unexpected areas. If you're a foodie (like me) who enjoys eating almonds, pecans and other nuts, one of those consequences is paying higher prices at a time when most food prices have remained fairly stable.

What gives? It seems the Chinese are discovering nuts produced in the U.S. As this recent N.Y. Times article notes, Chinese purchases of American tree nuts have risen more than 700 percent, driving up prices for those nuts for U.S. consumers.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review: Arlington's Lyon Hall

Ever since I read this review at the Capital Spice blog, I wanted to arrange a dinner at Lyon Hall. It's a restaurant in Arlington, Va.'s Lyon Park neighborhood that can best be described as a Franco-German gastro-pub. Well, I dined there with friends a few days ago, and I had a mixed experience. First, here's the good news.

The wine and beer list offer a variety of choices, and the prices (especially for wine) are reasonable. My schnitzel was good -- slightly oversalted, but very tender meat and the breading was perfect. My two friends who ordered the roast chicken agreed that the white meat tasted better than the dark meat portions.

The mussels we got as an appetizer were good, and the white-wine broth was so amazing that we dipped a few slices of bread in that -- didn't want it to go to waste. Lyon Hall's cheese selection also gets a thumbs-up, both for variety and quality. On the ambience side of things, the restaurant has large windows that bring in a lot of light so there's not a cavernous feel about Lyon Hall.

The shortcomings at Lyon Hall? First and foremost, the noise. During the dinner hours, you may find yourself shouting at your fellow diner(s). We sure did. The restaurant placed hard-surfaced tiles on the ceiling, and those tiles (along with the floor and the glass) apparently cause soundwaves to bounce around everywhere. Lyon Hall should consider ways to lessen the cacophony. Frankly, the noise issue should have been on Lyon Hall's radar screen a long time before now.

Fries at a Franco-German eatery should be superb; the ones served at Lyon Hall are not. Unless something funky was happening the night we were there, Lyon Hall needs to give their fries an immediate overhaul. The basic frites they served with the mussels were droopy and lacked the crispness we'd expected. Just another 40 to 60 seconds in a fry-cooker might make the difference.

Unfortunately, the restaurant's duck-fat fries cannot be salvaged. We were excited to order these, but what arrived at our table was nothing like we'd imagined. The "fries" were essentially potato cakes -- roughly 2 inches thick and 4-5 inches long. Perhaps it was the thickness of the potato, but for whatever reason, they were not at all crisp. The inner potato had a bland taste, and the coating was also nothing to get excited about. Shouldn't everything cooked in duck fat taste incredibly good? That's what we thought, but this experience proved us wrong.

I will consider going back to Lyon Hall, but probably for a weekend lunch when the noise is likely to dip below the level we experienced the other night. I'd like to try some of their beers. If I go back, I will probably focus on appetizers, which sounded and looked like the smartest options.