I love making reservations online via OpenTable but the other end, however, is where the service has real benefit. "The reservations that pop up on the restaurants’ computer screens, especially those made by regulars, are accompanied by an important tidbit or two." Like a note regarding the regular who brings a woman who's not his wife: "make sure the man’s wife has not booked a separate table for the same day." I've loved OpenTable since it first launched, I'm happy to hear it's really succeeding now.

Vietnamese coffee brewing cupIt's hot outside, which means it's time to start drinking Vietnamese Iced Coffee, or ca phe sua da. If you've never had it before, you're in for a treat. It tastes like drinking melted coffee ice cream! I've got the little coffee brewing cup that I purchased in Saigon, so I need to get to the store today for coffee beans and condensed milk. How had I forgotten about this treat until now?!

Replate: To place unwanted leftovers, typically in a doggie bag, on top of the nearest trash can so they don't go to waste. A website to raise awareness of the concept and the term.

How did ethics become a staple of contemporary food writing? An examination of the many recent food books, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, from the Columbia Journalism Review. "Are, then, these debates about the ethics and politics of food largely a pastime of a tiny elite–grist for editors’ dinner parties but of tiny relevance to most consumers, who rush to the nearest market and grab what they need?" Or do they indicate a profound change underway in America around what we grow and consume? [thanks Kathleen!]

Ratatouille isn't the first movie Thomas Keller's been involved with. He advised on Adam Sandler's Spanglish and created this special BLT Fried Egg-and-Cheese Sandwich for the film. It sounds delicious, and apparently is one of Keller's favorite snacks.

Some of the tastiest ingredients are born of tech-minded innovators. Dan Barber in the July Food & Wine examines how farmers are using technology to improve crops through the use of tools like ultrasound, limited genetic modification, and refractometers. Winemakers use refractometers to measure Brix, the sugar content of a fruit or vegetable. Now farmers are checking the Brix of carrots to ensure maximum sweetness before harvest. Sounds like a great blending of the best of modernity with quality-control: no frankenfruit, but also no insistence that the old way is the best way.

There's an interview with Alinea's Grant Achatz in July's Chicago Magazine in which we learn his favorite movie hero is "Mr. Incredible," he drinks several cans of Diet Coke a day, he doesn't sleep much, and most importantly his favorite blogs are:, and!!! Can you believe it? I'm flattered and honored, and now I feel like I really should be doing a better job of posting!

Deborah Coleman/Pixar
Although the story line has its charms, the precisely rendered detail of a professional kitchen will appeal to the food-obsessed. A fascinating look behind the creation of Pixar's upcoming Ratatouille. "The Pixar crew took cooking classes, ate at notable restaurants in Paris and worked alongside Mr. Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif." Thomas Keller and other chefs also advised on the dishes prepared in the movie, and many of the scenes are based on famous Paris restaurants. I can't wait to see this!

The New York Times has more information on the nonorganic/organic issue with Nonorganic Exceptions Ruffle Enthusiasts of Organic Food. Here's an interesting bit: "John Foraker, chief executive of Annie’s Homegrown, argued that nonorganic annatto was a crucial ingredient in the company’s macaroni and cheese. 'Making orange colored macaroni and cheese is an important element of our offering. Without annatto, our macaroni-and-cheese products would be white.'” So? So your organic mac-n-cheese is white. And your non-organic mac-n-cheese can be day-glo orange like your competitors. I don't buy any of the excuses the industry is trotting out. Not enough organic hops? Grow more organic hops, don't change the rules to allow organic beer to be brewed with nonorganic hops.

Enjoying the Tavern Room

Jason and I wandered over to Gramercy Tavern last night for an early dinner. Though we used to eat in the tavern room (the front room where entrees are less expensive and they don't take reservations) every few months, for some reason we hadn't been over there since last fall. Encouraged by Frank Bruni's recent three star re-review, The Constant Comfort of an Old Friend, I was looking forward to our meal. And I wasn't disappointed. I had an excellent appetizer: a soft shell crab accompanied by yellow and green beans, pickled rhubarb, and micro greens. For my main course I had bacon-wrapped trout with lentils. Both were super yummy, especially the crab. Jason had asparagus soup to start and a giant meatball that was filled with oozy cheese. Also super good.

But it wasn't just the food, or the service, or the vibe (which always strikes me as the perfect balance between casual and upscale), it's also the quality for the price. My crab app was $12. I can't think of anyplace else where you can get an appetizer that good, of that quality, prepared with such attention to detail and served in such a setting, for that price. I'm glad we went because it reminded me how much I like eating there. We'll have to return again soon.

Students from a business-statistics class at Seattle University conclude farmers’ markets are a better deal than supermarkets. I have a feeling that's not true in my part of Manhattan, but maybe I should try out a little experiment and see. There are four supermarkets within walking distance of the Union Square Greenmarket. It wouldn't be hard to do some sleuthing.

The USDA is considering a list of 38 nonorganic ingredients that will be permitted in organic foods. "The list includes 19 food colorings, two starches, casings for sausages and hot dogs, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin and a host of obscure ingredients (one, for instance, is a 'bulking agent' and sweetener with the tongue-twisting name of fructooligosaccharides)." I don't understand how this is even an issue. You either grow it by the rules, or it's not organic. Or is this some Orwellian thing, Organic is Nonorganic?

Showcase the surprisingly versatile strawberry in a pasta dish. This is a recipe for Sfoglia’s Spaghetti with Strawberries, a savory meal made with the berry. It sounds good, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around any savory strawberry concoction.

Whenever I take a pig, lamb, or cow to butcher or sale at the sale barn I am supposed to pay a tax that goes to fund one of the industry “check-off” programs. The author is referring to the National Pork Board and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the folks that tell you pork is the other white meat and beef is what's for dinner. "I don’t believe that farmers like myself should be compelled by the government to pay for advertising an industry that goes against our principles and basic beliefs about farming. I don’t want every sale of an animal from my farm to go toward promoting the very factory farming system that I am trying to be an alternative to." [via The Ethicurian]

Illustration by Nick Dewar for the New York Times
Sushi began as a way of preserving old fish. "Rice farmers in Southeast Asia would pack fish in jars with cooked rice to preserve it." It didn't used to be about eating raw fish. Good information on the history of sushi in Jay McInerney’s book review of the two new sushi books on the market.

At Per Se, the importance of staff meal takes on an almost religious intensity. "The fascination was simply in seeing how ingredients were alchemized, how that same English cucumber, vacuumed, compressed and barely recognizable in a Sunday-night salad, became the dice in a fine, simple yogurt sauce Monday afternoon for a North African family meal of lamb and falafel." I loved staff meal when I worked in a restaurant. We were always trying to one-up each other with what we could come up with based on left-overs and what we could use. Stuff like fish was off-limits because of its cost, so it forced everyone to be creative, but also experimental.

Coffee troubles

It's getting hot out, and you know what that means? Time to order iced coffee drinks from the local barista. Sadly though, the state of coffee ordering has gotten so complex for me that the addition of "iced" seems to throw my whole order into doubt. I switched to decaf ages ago. I used to order soy milk, now I usually get cow's milk, but never skim. And I mostly order small drinks, though sometimes medium. And I never know in what order to place all the different variables. Today I tried for "small decaf iced latte" and when the women said something about milk, I assumed she asked if I wanted whole milk, so I said yes. Two seconds later, I was served an iced coffee.

"Oh, sorry. I wanted a latte," I said, "An decaf latte."

It seemed to be corrected and one women went to make it while the other began to ring me up.

"Iced medium latte," she said.

Apparently at this coffee shop, latte = coffee and decaf = medium. Or maybe I was just mumbly? I'm not anymore, now I'm all ZIPPY! From what seems to be a medium NOT DECAF iced latte!!

Dinner party anxiety

People don’t want to be associated with the wrong kind of olive oil, points out the New York Times, in one of those articles that makes New Yorkers seem like crazy people. Ah, the stress of throwing a dinner party when you're a lunatic foodie! I avoid this problem by throwing low-key dinner parties and not freaking out, amazingly enough. What I do is plan a menu that can more or less entirely be prepared in advance, say a roast or a tart for a main course. When my guests arrive, we enjoy hors d'oeuvres and appertifs in the living room. They always looks a little anxious when I hang out with them, instead of dashing around the kitchen. Then after a while I say, "Is everyone ready to eat?" and I usually dress the salad (vinaigrette and salad already made in advance too), pull whatever's in the oven out of the oven, and voila! Dinner is served.

Sometimes at this point I have a dessert that's made and that goes into the oven to bake while we eat. Sometimes it's already prepared or doesn't need anything more than a simple assembly. It's amazing how nicely this whole approach to dinner parties can be. I still of course obsess over the menu, and buy high quality ingredients. But for me the fun is having people over, and enjoying their company. I don't care if I'm associated with the wrong kind of olive oil. I care that my friends head home happy and contented after a nice evening.

My extensive experience in making Paneer compelled me to try something different, that is, making Paneer out of my own breast milk. Woman attempts to make "human cheese" with her supply of frozen breast milk. Passed its "three months drinkability period" but not yet expired, she thought it would be fun to try. Alas, it doesn't work because human breast milk doesn't contain enough protein to curdle. Even if it had worked, who'd eat the cheese? [via BoingBoing]

per_se_steak_salad.jpgPer Se’s summery Wagyu-steak salad keeps appearing on the frequently-changing menu. It's made with Japanese Wagyu, "graded A5, one of the very highest grades," watercress, vinaigrette made with rendered Wagyu fat, carrots, chive blossoms, radishes, and spiced peanuts. Mmmm, looks and sounds fantastic. I could go for that for dinner tonight!

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