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Rules for a successful food tour.

I awoke this morning to a pounding headache and a feeling of nausea that started from deep within the depths of my body.  I was weak.  My eyes couldn’t focus.  I was congested.  I was exhausted.

No, I did not awake to a cold or a flu.  I woke up in a black hole after a night of raging out on the town.  Not just any kind of raging, but a food/bar crawl, sampling wares from many places in New York’s East Village.

We scoured the neighborhood like animals, looking for food and drink possibilities.  Our goal was to somehow have every continent represented in our consumption (it was achieved with the exception of antarctica… maybe we should have gotten some ice).

We stopped in at numerous locations, such as…

  • B-Bar
  • Decibel
  • Baoguette Café
  • Crif Dog
  • Blue and Gold Tavern
  • Drop Off Service
  • Zaragoza Mexican Deli
  • Led Zeppole

Yes, that list reads like a direct-response TV advertisement.  In my hungover stupor, I thought about how a group of four people could possibly go to so many places.  Sometimes Burgergal and I have trouble making a decision on ONE place, and that’s half the number of opinions.  The more I thought about it, the more a clear set of guidelines emerged from last night’s revelry.

I therefore present to you, my devoted readers, a basic set of rules so that you, too, can enjoy a night out on the town and experience the joys of a food and drink hangover.

Continue reading ‘Rules for a successful food tour.’

Arterial clogging, part one.

So it was burgergal’s birthday this past weekend, and of course this required eating out.

A few times.  And last week, too.

It kicked off with Wednesday night at Locanda Verde, for a double celebration with burgergal’s dad, (burgerman?) who also celebrated being another year older.  I didn’t take any shots of that meal, since, as you  may recall, Locanda is so dark that none of the pics come out.

But I can certainly write a lot about the meal.  In the absence of pics, I’ll keep it brief.

The meal rocked.

I had been to LV twice but had never experienced the pleasure of eating anything off of their regular menu.  BG had and thought it was great, so I was pumped.  I was finally going to experience something from LV that was not fried or coated in truffles.

On second thought, that doesn’t sound like a good thing, after all.

We started out with some crostini to enjoy with a few glasses of wine.  Some fresh ricotta with roasted garlic bread, another with sausage and pickled ramps (hello!), and a chicken liver mousse.  The chicken liver was the only one that was just “ok”– the liver was too smooth for my liking.  The sausage was exceptional, and everyone loves fresh ricotta.

For actual food, we decided to get a few things and share.  We started out with the lamb sliders, which I had seen recently in a photo and thought they looked eerily similar to the Little Owl sliders.  The taste, however, was compeltely different.  The delicate lamb had only a hint of gaminess, which I love about lamb, and the addition of a thin slice of cucumber and caprino cheese (a soft goat’s milk cheese) brings the slider to a whole new level.

We then had a couple of pastas: the gigante with Sunday ragu, and a ravioli with meat filling (veal, pork, and beef, I believe).  Both pastas were hearty and satisfying, the perfect interlude before the main event: the garlic roasted chicken.  It was garlicky and succulent, roasted to perfection, with some parsnips and other veg on the side.  It was a pretty perfect roast chicken.

Since it was a double birthday celebration, we had to indulge in a few desserts as well.  The maple budino was excellent, topped with roasted walnuts; the toffee date cake was fine, but nothing to write home about, nor was the “chocolate fantasy,” which was billed as something magical but was really just a brownie with two or three gelati on top.  All in, however, it was a great meal.

Part two of the BG birthday extravaganza was Friday night’s dinner at Big Nick’s.  This place was more on my turf than on burgergal’s, but after spending a bit more cheddar on her christmas present than originally planned, it was all that was in the cards for her bday (except for the present and brunch at A Voce– more to come on that in the next post).  Feisty Foodie had done a writeup about the Bistro Burger (I know, don’t get excited for a throwback to the old days in the West Village), and I knew that it was going to be mine.

And it was.

It was an enjoyable burger.  Although not the best one I have ever had, it was a solid representation of Big Nick’s, and I was glad to share it with my main squeeze in celebration of her day of birth.  But, if we keep eating like that, it might be a shorter list of future birthdays.

So what did we do?  We kept eating like that.  Fast-forward to Saturday night.  11.45pm.  Momofuku Noodle is the place.  Fried chicken in my face.

I had high hopes for the fried chicken at Momofuku.  Every blogger in the city knows about the $100 fried chicken dinner, with two types (one Southern style with Old Bay and one triple-fried Korean style with bibim sauce), so I won’t belabor that point.  The point I will belabor is that it really wasn’t anything special.

Yeah, I said it.

Everyone in this town has a hard-on for the Momofuku empire, including, to a degree, myself.  I can’t say enough good things about the bo ssam, and I’ve even given the guy second chances after a dinner at Noodle Bar ended up with me “giving back” the entire meal within 20 minutes of eating.  But the fried chicken was just not anything special.  When it comes to the southern style, I honestly prefer the colonel’s original recipe.  The old bay was not a great addition, and the chicken was so salty I’m still thirsty three days later.  Some of the meat was brutally undercooked (I’ve read about that happening on other posts about this, too), but I didn’t even care to send it back, because it was too salty to eat anyway.  Set me up with some bon chon or KFC any day.

The Korean version was a different story, and it was actually quite tasty, but again, not really worth the hype that surrounds it.  I enjoyed it.  I’ll leave it at that.  The sauce was good, the chicken was (thankfully) cooked.

That’s my plate.  Clearly I still ate my fair portion, and then some.  I gave the chicken the old college try.  I ate a lot of it.  I wanted to love it.  I really did.  But I just couldn’t.  I fell victim to the David Chang-hysteria that has swept this city.

But who am I?  Try it yourselves and let me know how it goes.

Launching a New Project

With a few compatriots who live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, we have created a new blog, recording my personal quest to eat at every restaurant within a few blocks of my New York City apartment.  The site’s name is Eating Up Whatever’s in Sight, or conveniently, eatingUWS.

Give it a read, I hope you enjoy!  And share it with your friends!

Restaurants of the future? WSJ Reports.

In an article featured in Friday’s WSJ, they discuss José Andrés’ newest restaurant in Beverly Hills, and how its key attributes may or may not be the trends of the future.  Interesting weekend read for all of y’all who are interested in the restaurant business.

It ain't easy being green… WaPo Reports

Great article from the Washington Post highlighting the challenges of sustainability in restaurants, even if the intentions are good.  The article focuses on two case restos in the DC area: Founding Fathers, a 263-seat restaurant promoting a commitment to fresh and local ingredients, and Equinox, a 90-seat (expensive) restaurant basically doing the same thing.

While the challenges are the same for both, the lesser-expensive Founding Fathers often has troubles truly sourcing its local ingredients, citing lack of clear reporting and cost.  And that makes sense; think about three turns in a night, that’s almost 800 meals, and that’s just one daypart.

Talking with restaurateurs around in NYC, this is definitely an issue.  As with most purchase decisions, cost is a/the major factor in choosing one product over another.  Unfortunately, “long term assets” do not include anything about the environment or health concerns (until Google decides that they have a computer algorithm that can model this).  When the rubber hits the road, how can a “good idea” also be a “profitable idea”?  It is clearly a major concern for any business, and the food business is no exception.  Quite simply, it is expensive to source local ingredients, and in the winter months, as any farmer’s market regular will attest, it is difficult to get ingredients that would compose an entire meal.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  A survey sourced from Zagat says that 61% of people are willing to pay more for “green” or “sustainable” food.  A key question that is left out is of course, “how much more,” but let’s hold that thought for a moment.  If this 61% is willing (and able) to shell out a few extra bucks to support farmers truly farming/raising sustainably, then this provides the much-needed money to invest in infrastructure and other needs, which then addresses some of the volume and distribution issues that are the problems in the first place.  Take, for example, the Milk Thistle Farm, a local New York dairy farm in Ghent, NY.  They recently started selling bonds to invest in a new bottle facility on-site.  This will help with their distribution footprint, and will hopefully expand their market share.  And it will bring their costs down (I hope).

This is why I continue to see immense value in partnering with the big food companies in order to effect any real change.  At the same time, those big companies need to learn to partner with the little guys instead of buying them out and changing the rules.  During a meeting in the Lehigh Valley last week, the President talked about the importance of innovation and its longer-term effects on the job market in this country.  If we think about the food industry in the same way, there is plenty of room for innovation, and its benefits go much farther than job creation.

In any case, give the article a read.  And if you’ve got an extra grand, get a Milk Thistle Farm bond.

How about a side of flu virus with that creamed spinach?

I’m not really one to comment about restaurant cleanliness and all of that.  Maybe it’s the complete desensitization from watching too much Anthony Bourdain or my generally cavalier attitude about trusting eating establishments (“if you build it and people come and they don’t come back because they either die or get sick, they won’t keep coming”).  And, for those of you who don’t know me, it is true that I will not eat off of my own stovetop, but I will eat food off of tables in restaurants.  And, yes, I realize that those two facts diametrically oppose one another.

But sick restaurant workers is something that I do not stand for.  I think I saw a waiter blow his nose one time while standing at the POS station and nearly flipped my shit; since I have a really calm and cool exterior, I did it on the inside and hopefully it will stay repressed and come out as a panic attack in about 15 years (while doing something REALLY stressful, like getting my car washed).  However, a new New York City proposition might make this a fact of the past, according to an article I saw today on the NRN website.

It looks like the New York City Council is looking to make those tougher-than-thou restaurant biz give some sick days and not have employees worry about paying the bills.  Of course, since this would obviously double the hourly pay costs when someone calls in sick, the restaurant lobbyists are against it in full force.  According to Rick Sampson of the New York State Restaurant Association (NYRSA), this would place undue burden on the restaurant industry, and that it’s “totally ri-donkey-dick-ulous” (my words, not his).

I have a few issues with this.  First of all, who the hell wants to be around sick people?  Sometimes I don’t even want to be around healthy people.  Secondly, who wants these sick people to be either a) cooking their food or b) serving their food or c) anywhere near their food.  Come on Rick, give me a break– next time you walk out of your office, wait on the street corner until someone visibly ill walks by and hug him/her.  Really get up in there nice and tight.  Then lick his/her hand.

That sounds disgusting?  Tell that to the line chef who has to come in to work with 104 fever and a nose running like a faucet just to keep his family fed.  Then have him make you a tuna melt.

Rick is quoted, “I don’t know how in this economy an industry such as ours can afford something like this.”  Again, come on, man, that’s just a dumb statement.  Last time I checked  I don’t know what Rick’s credentials are, maybe he is a brilliant businessman who just says stupid things.  In this economy when people are hyper-sensitive of where they are spending their money and health care is at the center of mass debate (MASS DEBATE, MASS DEBATE!  Get it?), I don’t think you can afford to NOT do this.  I mean, think about it this way: I open a restaurant and tout the fact that I give my employees paidsick days.  I make a HUGE deal of it.  People start wondering, “why is this guy telling me his restaurant gives its employees sick days?  That’s really weird.”  Then they realize that maybe some other restaurants don’t give their employees sick days.  All of a sudden, you are a slave driver and I am a saviour.  My restaurants go gangbusters, yours are in the hole.  Sure, maybe I have slightly higher fixed costs, but I’m a good guy.  People like eating in my restaurants.  My employees are happy and people feel good about eating there.  Maybe I charge a couple extra bucks for it, too, and buy myself a nice Ferrari.

I mean, let’s think of the worst possible scenario.  Line cook Joe comes into work, really not feeling well.  He was tossing and turning all night, and then felt nauseous all morning.  He goes to work anyway since he can’t afford to miss that day of pay.  He gets the whole work staff sick, and a few customers get sick also.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Adding some actual history, let’s go back to December, 2006.  Dinosaur BBQ, Syracuse, New York.  1,000 people get sick from the norovirus after eating at Dinosaur BBQ; the source of the virus is unknown, maybe it was a staff member, maybe it was a customer.  The restaurant closes for THREE days, and all of their food is thrown out AND they have to pay employees to sanitize the restaurant.  How much money do you think was lost there, Rick?  Step into 2009, homeboy– SWINE FLU is a-comin’, and cooking that bad boy low and slow doesn’t seem to make it any tastier.  Stop being so short-sighted, thinking only about today’s profits and failing to think about the long-term.

But wait, there’s more!  Rick’s not the only one against it– Robert Bookman has also gotten a sound bite out there.  He is the legislative counsel for the NYSRA, so he’s a lawyer or something, and he must be smart (right?).  He has said, “We don’t believe the city has the authority to pass such legislation… For one thing, the city has no enforcement mechanism. There is no city department of labor. Who is going to oversee this?”

Are you kidding me?  The NYC restaurant business has over 30 percent of its work force comprised of illegal immigrants, and you’re playing the labor enforcement card?  Is this some sort of fancy lawyer trick?  Or are you going to say, “of COURSE they don’t get sick days, they don’t even get rights!”


Anyway, I will go on record that I would pay one dollar more for my food if I knew that the guy preparing it wasn’t heaving in the bathroom prior to making my quesadilla.  I’m sure 100 other people would, too.  There’s Joe’s sick day right there.  If you can’t muster up 100 diners, you’ve got bigger problems.

And I’m done.

By the way, went to Grand Sichuan on 24th street tonight for dinner– tremendous.  Any semblance I had of a cold has been sichuan peppered out of my system.