Sunday, December 19, 2004

Porterhouse Steak for Two: Cooked as the Chef Likes It

I had dinner last night with good friends at one of the hippest new restaurants in town. My host decided to order and share the house specialty: a three-pound Porterhouse steak for two people, cooked inside a thick crust of kosher salt mixed with herbs. He asked for it to be cooked "between medium-rare and medium, and more on the medium side."

A few minutes later, our waitress returned. "The chef says he won't cook that steak more than medium-rare." My host gave in.

When the steak arrived, it was closer to rare than medium-rare: nice and red in the center. Thanks to the salt crust and to the prime beef the restaurant used, it tasted sensational: rich, meaty, tender, and perfectly seasoned throughout.

But I could tell that my host would have preferred it cooked closer to medium--even if that had meant that the meat was less juicy, tender, and flavorful. It's just the way my friend likes it.

So, why did he have to eat it the way the chef thought it should be. On matters like steak, isn't the customer always right?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fine Wine By the Crappy Glass

Last night, at an upscale restaurant where the check for two came to $109, I ordered a glass of excellent Pinot Grigio for a not-unreasonable $11.

Why, then, did it arrive in a piece of thick, clunky stemware that you could probably buy for a buck at Cost Plus? And why, apparently for the sake of generosity, was it filled to within a quarter of an inch of the rim? If I'd tried to appreciate its bouquet at all, I'd have risked drowning!

Wine glassware is not something on which good restaurants should cut corners.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Annoying Waiters: No, Everything Isn't All Right!

How many times has this happened to you?

You've just taken a mouthful of food or wine in a restaurant when a waiter or waitress (or, generically, member of the "waitstaff") comes up and asks, "Is everything all right?" or "Is everything to your satisfaction?"

Why doesn't restaurant management train its staff to watch their tables more closely, so they don't put diners in the rude position of having to answer such inane questions with their mouths full?

Worse still, they'll ask such a question while guests are in mid-conversation, often interrupting mid-sentence someone who is obviously talking.

Better still, why don't they train them not to ask such idiotic questions in the first place? A well-trained waitperson should scan his or her tables for telltale signs of unhappiness, then swiftly step up to solve problems before they become problems. If water or wine glasses or bread baskets need refilling, they should do so quietly, unobtrusively.

Other than that, they should keep their mouths shut and leave their guests alone!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Trouble at the James Beard Foundation

Rumblings in the press from the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, home of the late so-called "Dean of American Cuisine" and headquarters for the James Beard Foundation, which has done much admittedly good work to raise the profile of fine cuisine in America.

Seems the recently departed head of the Foundation left under a cloud of suspicions regarding misappropriated funds.

Having participated in events run by various national and international organizations dedicated to celebrating good food and fine wine, I've always been left wondering how smartly run they can be when they're filled with so many people who seem first and foremost concerned with parading their refined sensibilities and stuffing their bellies.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

White Truffles, Caviar and Champagne, Barbecue Ribs, and Virginia Peanuts

I'm a glutton for pretentious, over-the-top food journalism. So I always keep an eye out for anything new from David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times, an award-winning journalist who never misses a chance to parade what he considers his keenly discerning sensibilities.

Check out his article today, which I found online at http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-matters15dec15,0,7575847.column?coll=la-home-food.

Before you do, savor a few quotes:

* "Every time I go to a sports event, I take my own peanuts, purchased by mail from a company in Virginia."

* "When I come back from anywhere abroad, my first meal is almost always barbecue ribs from Phillips in Leimert Park, often purchased on the way home from the airport and eaten in the car."

* "Come New Year's Eve,... we begin our evening standing in our kitchen, toasting each other with Champagne and nibbling on a small amount of caviar."

* "I consider it a testament to the love and respect I have for my late parents that after eating all that horrid Passover food when I was forced to attend seders as a child, I didn't convert to Christianity — or Buddhism — as an adult."

* "...at this time of year, I often find myself singing, 'I'm dreaming of a white … truffle.'"

* "I find that I need a critical mass of white truffles for that uniquely pungent, quasi-sexual aroma to have its full and proper impact."

Ah! It's a holiday goody bag of gourmet smugness!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MC-Donald is in da house!

Is anyone else annoyed by McDonald's new ad campaigns?

For a while now, they've been pandering to hip-hop urban culture with their "I'm lovin' it" campaign. Strikes me as a cynical attempt to recast themselves as cool and hip in an effort to attract a younger, more urban and multiethnic audience. It also looks like the company is trying to up its revenues from inner-city families who would be better off buying groceries and putting healthy home-cooked meals on their family tables.

Now there's a new campaign that refers to McDonald's just as "Mc." (Not only that: The ads carry a registered trademark symbol after the "Mc," which could wreak havoc with any people of Scottish origin whose names begin with those two letters....)

Mc. Oh, yeah--like the burger chain fronted for so many years by the clown Ronald McDonald is now a hip rapper character. MC-Donald is in da house! One ad I saw even included a phrase on the order of, "I'm cool with Mc, and Mc is cool with me."

Yeah, right. Now McDonald's suddenly has street cred!

Why such a cynical attempt to change the burger company's demographics? Does McDonald's really think anyone Black, Hispanic, urban, teen, or 20-something is going to be won over by this campaign? Hell, no! They'll see right through it!

What's next? Ronald McDonald wearing a backwards baseball cap, shades, lots of bling-bling jewelry, and gangsta tattoos?

Monday, December 13, 2004

What Are Appropriate White House Christmas Decorations?

Depressing to see on HGTV last night the ostentatious White House Christmas displays. It seems every available surface in the presidential mansion is covered in over-the-top holiday scenes, swags, wreaths, boughs, and other amazingly kitschy paraphernalia.

Included was a significant quantity of foodstuffs, including crab apples, cranberries, and a large gingerbread White House.

When times are tight and troubled for so many Americans, why don't the Bushes mount displays that are more reserved and tasteful?

Why isn't the desire for ostentation, and the dollars lavished upon it (whether from government funds or private donations), directed instead towards feeding the homeless and hungry? I'd much rather see President and Mrs. Bush doing that on TV than be led on a decorations tour by the First Lady.
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