Archive for September 2006

Frank Bruni kept a running history of his calls to procure a Per Se reservation. It is an infuriating system, but it's better than no "two month" rule. It's like no matter who you are, you have the same opportunity as anyone else of getting a reservation at the Laundry or Per Se. It's a slim chance for one and all.

By fingering any spinach as suspicious, even bunched fresh spinach, the F.D.A. isn’t educating anyone, or solving the problem. A view on the E. coli spinach outbreak from the original owner of Riverside Farms, one of the farms at the center of the controversy.

Jason's looking for cheap eating suggestions in NYC. Got some favorites? Go add them to the discussion.

Innsbruck Garlic Soup

For soup
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped
4 tablespoons heavy cream
nutmeg, freshly grated

For croutons
four slices bread
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, crushed

Parents Against Junk Food is non profit organization devoted to eliminating junk food from our public school system. It's hard for me to believe that soda and candy are even sold in schools. They certainly weren't offered in any of the public schools I attended in the 1970s and 80s.

If you haven't already heard, the 2005 Bordeaux is being touted as an incredible vintage. In an attempt to try to put it in its historical context, some Sherry-Lehmann (an NYC wine store) folks visited Chateau Palmer in Bordeaux. Now they're offering some pristine bottles of such legendary vintages as the 1945, 1961, 1966 and 1970 for sale in their store. You know, in case you've got $7,900 to drop on a single bottle of wine.

Poor service at Freemans

Today New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni published his review of Lower East Site hot spot Freemas. While he seemed to enjoy a lot of the food, it was the inconsistent service he kept returning to. Coincidentally, Freemans is the restaurant I wrote about yesterday where I had poor service while dining with some friends. His review captured the experience we had at Freemans on Monday night.

Mr. Bruni reports there was "dismissive service." A "bossy, brittle man" wouldn't let his party order the artichoke dip while they read the menu--at least our server allowed us that! He describes a hostess who "had all the cuddly charisma of Cujo." Ouch. In the end Mr. Bruni gave it no stars, simply "Satisfactory."

Yesterday, Eater ran a two-part (Part I, Part II) interview yesterday with William Tigertt, Freemans' owner. As I read it, I was struck by how much Mr. Tigertt was concerned with getting the food just right for Mr. Bruni's visit. He changed things on the menu and worried about what Bruni and his party ordered. It was as if running a restaurant were only about the food.

But in my experience, and as Mr. Bruni's review demonstrates, a great restaurant is more than just its food. It's a welcoming environment that sets you at ease. It's a place that treats each and every guest with respect, whether they're a big-time restaurant critic or a few friends stopping in for an early dinner with babies in tow. Perhaps the New York Times review will spur Freemans to improve their service. I hope so, because I enjoyed their food, and I'd like to go back there again someday.

Update: Eater has a final update from the Freemans owner. Even after reading the review, they're still concerned about the food. My hopes for a service improvement are dashed already.

My Thai cooking class experience in Bangkok. From my trip to Thailand last November, my husband and I took a great class.

Thai cooking slide show from the New York Times.

Chefs, VIPs, media, et al, are often comped or have discounted checks; the rule is to tip on the dollar value of the meal – not the lower amount of the check. In case you're comped at a restaurant, now you know how to handle the tip.

Two children from Washington State ill from E. coli in raw milk. It is legal to sell unpasteurized milk in Washington. Last December, 18 people got sick from a batch from a dairy near Vancouver, WA.

Keeping up with comments

Lately I've been turning on comments for more posts. As I've done so, I've found it hard to keep track of active conversations. To resolve that, on the right-hand side of the page (beneath the "What is Megnut?" heading), you can now find a short list of entries with comment activity. I hope this will help you stay involved with the discussions on the site.

Somehow this seems related to all of today's discussion about factory farming practices. A four-legged chicken lived for 18 months on a farm before being discovered. She was among 36,000 chickens on a farm in Pennsylvania. Seems like they might have spotted her sooner if they'd had less birds.

Foie Inanity Reaches New York

This morning Bourdain called my cell and said, "Ruhlman, I’ve got upsetting news."

He wasn’t kidding.

Apparently a New Jersey politician, freshman assemblyman Michael Panter, next week will introduce a bill to ban the SALE of foie gras in and out of state.

Not only would this put out of business or force the relocation of Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan--which would be a blow to the entire tri-state area and beyond and the countless restaurants that rely on D’Artagnan for foie-based products--but it would be a dangerous encroachment on the rights of New Yorkers and New York City chefs to eat what they want and cook what they want.

The whole issue of what happens to Daguin and her highly respected company, around whom the fine dining scene has grown during the past two decades she's been in business, is an important one that should be looked at separately.

But if the rumor is true, the foie brouhaha has reached New York in a serious way. And it's bad. The foie issue embodies the hypocrisy and corruption of so much of how our government operates. That our public officials continue to spend their time and our dollars on this is ludicrous. If they cared about their state and their country, they would address the catastrophe of how we're raising agri-hogs. That's truly inhumane. We're trashing our land and water, growing crappy food, contaminated chicken, feed lot beef and creating lakes of sewage polluted with e coli that gets on our spinach and kills our kids.

It’s a good rule to live by: don’t shit where you eat. But that’s exactly what we’re doing on a massive scale. So what do you do if you’re a local congressman? You outlaw a product that has little if any environmental impact, a product that few people buy, but that raises your stature and makes you look like a noble protector of all things cute and fuzzy.

Chicago's been through this. Now Jersey--living up to its cliché. Chicago been a laughingstock among people throughout the country who understand the issues. Its mayor is endorsing a REPEAL of the silly law that bans foie gras sales there. An article in today's trib describes how the pro-ban factions are struggling, in the face of widespread ridicule, not to lose ground. The city is not enforcing the ban anyway, so it's largely symbolic. But symbols are important.

And right now, foie gras banning is becoming a symbol of ignorant politicians grandstanding on issues they scarcely understand while the real horrors of our food supply go neglected, and continued silence is bought and paid for by agribusiness lobbying.

I've made myself clear on this issue before: more no-nothings in government telling me what I'm allowed to eat, corrupt government ignoring the agricultural catastrophes while taking self-promoting potshots at fundamentally humane businesspeople and farmers makes me mad. If this law happens it promises the beginnings of change in the restaurant scene in New York City for the worse--this, the most diverse and dynamic restaurant city on earth. That in itself is bad. But all that such a bill would portend is truly scary.

If this bill happens we need to use its indulgent foolishness to shine more light on the real problems with our food supply. And they don’t have anything to do with foie gras.

My post from Wednesday on babies and tipping has an interesting discussion going about attitudes towards babies in restaurants, breast-feeding in public, and whether the United States hates children. Keep up the interesting comments folks, and join in if you'd like.

We've always had this joke, those of us who have been exposed to Chez Panisse or worked there, that Alice thinks she invented food. The great article about Alice Waters and the history of Chez Panisse from October's Vanity Fair is online.

One more post about Ferran Adrià's Espesso that includes a recipe.

Alinea is number one in GourmetGourmet names Chicago's Alinea number one in their bi-decade list of the Best 50 Restaurants in America. Chef Grant Achatz "is redefining the American restaurant once again for an entirely new generation." This is great news and for one I agree completely with one of these "best" lists. I loved loved loved Alinea when I ate there in late May of this year. (See Alinea's most exciting food and the June 2006 archives for lots of Alinea-related links.)

Update: There's no link to this information because it's not online. It's in the October, 2006 Gourmet, the one with Moto chef Homaro Cantu on the cover. Mine arrived in my mailbox today.

A creamy taste of Innsbruck

Tyrolean cookbookOne of my favorite things to pick up when I travel are local cookbooks. In Austria I purchased a Tyrolian Cookbook filled with recipes for "Marinated Leg of Mountain Goat" (which I haven't tried) and "Innsbruck Garlic Soup" (which I made last night). We had some great knoblauchsuppe (garlic soup) in Innsbruck, and Jason was anxious for me to recreate it.

I've posted the recipe, with a small change and some metric conversions, here: Innsbruck Garlic Soup. We found last night's soup to be more garlicky than the one we had on our trip, so I've slightly reduced the quantity of garlic. Aside from that, it was delicious. I'm looking forward to making this throughout the winter.

In Japan McDonald’s tags food with high-tech nutrition information. "Known as a QR Code, these printed codes look somewhat like a barcode and are scannable by many photo cellphones. All sorts of information can be packed into these little codes, from the website to find the amount of calories and fat in a Big Mac to a company’s contact information on a business card."

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