Tuesday, October 31, 2006

That is some old skool stuff

October 31

Who did I hear from the other day but Jeff Ackerman? Can you imagine?
Jeff and I were in a Jewish youth group in Denver together, a fraternal organization called AZA (Judge Saul Pinchick AZA 6, to those for whom that means something). We actually both were in college together in Boston, but he was at Boston College and I was at Tufts and we never saw each other, even though I became friends with one of his roommates, John Griffin, when we spent our junior years in China together.
Anyway, I hadn’t seen Jeff since 1990, when we bumped into each other at the Tabor Center in Denver shortly after graduating from college and had like a four-minute conversation, and out of the blue he e-mails me.
It turns out he’s Qdoba’s franchisee for Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. It seems he wanted to bring some Denver cuisine to his adopted home, where he’s married with three kids.
So we chat on the phone and reminisce about a variety of people, which inspires him to do a web search for Peter Yanowitz, who was on the same trip to Israel as we were.
Now the interesting thing is that Peter also happened to go to Tufts with me, where he was transformed from the preppy pretty boy from Salt Lake City I knew in Israel, to a long-haired, bongo drumming Crafts House resident.
The new lifestyle seemed to work for him, because as Google told us, Peter, who now is Pedro Yanowitz, went on to become drummer for the Wallflowers, and then for Natalie Merchant, and now he’s the bassist for Morningwood.
So I e-mailed Morningwood and after a couple of back-and-forths managed to remind Pedro of how we know each other.
that is some old skool stuff,” he said. And I learned that he’s going to be on Letterman tonight.
I guess I should set my DVR.


October 31

I just spent a long weekend attending the Bermuda Gourmet Getaway with my friend Birdman. I’d won the trip at a press event and knew nothing about the Getaway. What promotional materials I had told me little other than that Bobby Flay would be there — indeed, he was being marketed as the main draw.
Bobby Flay is based in New York so I don't need to go to Bermuda to see him, but I didn’t mind. I took my prize and planned for a casual, relaxing weekend on a warm, sunny island.
Shortly before the trip one of the publicists who promote Bermuda in the United States invited me to have dinner with the other journalists who were being taken to the Getaway. Dress was to be "smart casual," so I brought along a button-down, long-sleeved shirt and an off-white sport coat that seemed appropriate for island activities. Jeans count as smart casual, so I brought a pair of them, and a pair of shoes other than sneakers.
I didn't realize how British Bermuda still is, or how rich. The annual per capita income is something like $52,000, and they dress appropriately, except for the men's truly bizarre habit of wearing (Bermuda) shorts with knee-length black socks, dress shoes, dress shirts, ties and sport coats.
So I was ready for one dinner, but not for the smart-casual "Grill & Chill" event the following night, which I attended wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers (Birdman had shorts, tivas and a short-sleeved button-down tropical t-shirt with some sort of giant white bird on it; maybe a Pelican). No one seemed to mind, but I didn't like it.
Then I found out that the next night, as Birdman returned to New York, that I was to attend a gala.
Where I come from, "gala" means formal and indeed a few tuxedos and ball gowns were in evidence. So were some kilts, since Bermuda still is a British colony.
Everyone but me seemed to have gotten the memo to dress up. Had I gotten such a memo, I would have had finery in tow. I'd have brought my mother-of-pearl-and-onyx tuxedo studs and matching cufflinks. I'd have tied my own bow tie. But as it was, I had jeans, a black t-shirt and my off-white sport-coat. That's a perfectly fine look for most occasions, but I felt naked at the gala, and the boss of the publicist who took me to dinner glanced down at least twice at my jeans while chitchatting with me.
She didn’t have me thrown out, though.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dinner at the Beard House, again

October 24

Elizabeth Blau knows how to throw a party. Of course, she should: She’s largely credited with turning Las Vegas into a restaurant city. And she managed to do it without becoming full of herself.
She called me personally (and others at NRN, including my colleague Paul Frumkin) to invite me to the Beard House to sample the food of The Setai and The Heritage House. Apparently she also called Florence Fabricant from the New York Times (and Nation's Restaurant News), Adam Rapoport from GQ, Jim Poris from Food Arts, and Salma Abdelnour (isn't that a great name? Salma Abdelnour) from Food & Wine. Paul couldn't make it, but everyone else was there — quite an august body. The last time I saw Florence at the Beard House was when Morgan Freeman was there to promote his own restaurant, Madidi. And I've never seen Adam Rapoport there.
Salma and Adam sat together, which makes sense, since they know each other from their Time Out New York days.
Elizabeth Blau said Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appétit RSVPed in the affirmative too, but his chair was empty. I hope he’s okay.
I sat between Salma and one of the Beard Foundation's staff members, Sal Rizzo.
Sal and I have crossed paths for years, but we'd never really had a good conversation before, so it was great to get to know him. He's fun.
Salma and I talked about the potential pros and cons of foie gras and I went on a brief tirade about the inferiority of my local greenmarket — the one at Grand Army Plaza — where I'm convinced that the farmers have figured out that the neighborhood has so drunk the Kool-Aid of sustainable food in general and the Food Co-Op in particular that they can throw any garbage they want to at us and we'll buy it.
Shysters there sell apples all year long.
My greenmarket does have great grape merchants, but that season, alas, is over.

What I ate and drank:

Salt pressed Tasmanian ocean trout with kalamansi and daikon sprouts
Claudia Springs Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley 2005

Warm salad of California’s autumn vegetables served with pumpkin jus and truffle shavings
Fisher vineyards Mountain Estate Chardonnay, Spring Mountain, Sonoma 2004

Pan-seared Pacific day boat scallop, foie gras and Petaluma Farm braised oxtail
Pierre Morey Corton Grand Cru Hospice de Beaune, Burgundy 2001

Roasted duck breast flavored with five spice, maitake gow gee (a type of ravioli), caramelized honey and ginger reduction
Rudd Estate Red, Oakville, Napa

Seasonal Californian artisan cheese tasting, Hectors honey (in comb), Anderson Valley figs, miniature sugar pear chips and oatmeal biscuits
Schramsberg J. Schram, California 1989

Floral Jasmine Chocolate Inspiration
Royal Tokaji Trué Essencia, Hungary 1989 (it was supposed to be served on crystal spoons, but they didn’t arrive)

Assorted mignardises
Domaine de la Romanée Conti fine de Bourgogne (Brandy), Burgundy 1979

Setai executive chef Shaun Hergatt
Heritage House executive chef Nancy Kinchela

Nice Québecois, annoying wine guy

October 19

As if last night weren’t enough, I was back at the Beard House again this evening. I had been invited by Québec's New York delegation, whose chef-in-residence, Benoit Poliquin, was cooking.
I like the Québecois. I like their food, I like their surprisingly European look — dazzlingly chic if they’re from Montréal, charmingly peasantlike if they’re from the countryside — I like their distinctive culture. I like how many of them really don’t speak English. This evening I particularly liked their grain-fed veal.
I didn’t especially like sitting at the same table as the wine supplier.
Some wine writers get on my nerves. They can be overly intense and humorless, unlike most food writers who, unless they get on a high horse about sustainable cuisine or endangered sealife, generally are pretty mellow.
Most sommeliers and wine distributors are cool, but this evening I was cursed with a snob, who was disinclined to answer my questions about the wine of Graves (pronounced "grav").
I’ve learned a lot about wine at the Beard House, such as which grapes are from Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and some others) and which are from Burgundy (basically Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). But I’m no wine expert, have no particular interest in becoming one, and certainly don’t pretend that I am. So when the second of two Graves we were drinking (Graves is a section of Bordeaux), had a spiciness I usually acquainted with certain New World Pinot Noirs, I asked about it. Maybe the guy was hard of hearing — he was a native English speaker so language wasn’t an issue — but all he said was, "certainly it’s a better wine” than the first Graves we drank.
The whole notion that one wine is objectively better than another annoys me. More expensive, maybe, of more prestigious pedigree, perhaps, but the best wine is the one you like.
Over the course of two hours I did manage to coax out of the guy information that the gravelly soil of Graves (hence the name) does give it a characteristically spicy quality. I also learned that the only non-gravelly part of Bordeaux is Pomerol, where the soil is mostly clay.
Isn’t that interesting? Not interesting enough for a whole evening, but at least it was something.
I also learned that the Québecois delegation in New York has something like 34 members, which sounds like a lot (and in fact, it is a lot; Ontario has a delegation of 1), but New York is one of Québec’s largest trading partners, with annual sales in agriculture foodstuffs alone at around $10 billion.
And of course, there was plenty to eat. To wit:

Roasted sea scallops with warm artichoke and asparagus salad, barigoule vinaigrette, and Champagne-truffle tabayon
Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personnelle 2000

Québec fresh foie gras torchon with Calvados and apple trilogy: Golden Delicious and pecan candy, Macintosh and rosemary jam, and Empire and pomegranate coulis
Québec Apple Icewine

Ground cherry granité with Amour en Cage liqueur

Québec grain-fed veal two ways — butter-roasted filet and four hour–braised shank with butternut squash and bitter chocolate ravioli, sautéed shiitakes, sage and veal consommé
Château Bahans Haut-Brion 2001
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2006

Almond and herb–crusted Fromagerie Chaput Vacherin with creamy organic leeks and port caramel
Château Trotanoy 1998

Tournevent goat cheese and blueberry cheesecake with blueberry five-spice chutney and blueberry sorbet
Trimbach Vendange Tardive Pinot Gris 2000


Lunch with a Brennan

October 19

Alex Brennan-Martin, head of the Houston branch of the first family of New Orleans fine dining, was the host for lunch today at Picholine. He was showcasing the work of Randy Evans, executive chef of Brennan's of Houston, whose book, The Kitchen Table, was just published.
I think there’s something in Brennan DNA that makes them fun to hang out with, so that was a good start, and then I sat at a really good table with, among others, Megan Steintrager of Epicurious, and freelancer David Leite, whom several people have been trying to introduce me to for a couple of years now. Nice guy.
Conversation meandered to JJ Goode, whom we all agree we like. Megan and David in particular praised an article he wrote about being a food writer with just one working arm. I'll have to look it up.

What was for lunch:

Smoked catfish mousse
Brennan's of Houston Brunch Hussard
Pecan crusted cabrito lollipops

Oysters Rockefeller soup

Wild boar terrine, cider-poached foie gras torchon, lamb and rosemary sausage, mayhaw jelly, bread-n-butter pickles

Wild Texas shrimp with “biscuits and gravy” (in quotes because it was actually a sort of savory bread pudding made with biscuits)

Vanilla bean pound cake with praline ice cream

We also got pralines and cookies in a goody bag to take with us

Pam Wischkaemper's swan song

October 18

Freshly back from MUFSO, this evening I had my first dinner at the newly redecorated James Beard House. This was to be the last dinner of soon-to-be-retired San Diego-based publicist Pamela Wischkaemper, who takes her clients' Beard House appearances very seriously.
Several years ago she corralled three San Diego chefs into preparing a Beard House meal A YEAR IN ADVANCE. They practiced the dinner, served it to local press in San Diego and then flew those journalists to New York and brought them to the dinner. That was smart: It's nice to get written up in Bon Appétit or Gourmet, but it's probably better for your bottom line to get attention from local media that's going to be read by your customers.
This evening's chefs, Tony DiSalvo and Marco Ferraro, were from Jack's in La Jolla Calif. Pam didn't bring any local press, but she did manage to attract journalists from Forbes, Food Arts, and Nation's Restaurant News (that's me), as well as, to my delight, Travel + Leisure in the person of my friend Clark Mitchell, whom I hadn't seen since, well, the last time he appeared in this blog, which I guess wasn't too long ago. But it was nice to see him anyway. One seat was empty, because Andrew Knowlton from Bon Appétit said he'd be there, but he didn't show.
Although Pam didn't bring local media, she did splash out when it came to printing the menu. The theme of the dinner was Art of the Chef, and she had the menus printed on canvas and stretched on a frame.

Here's what was on the menu:
Japanese snapper sashimi, rose, celery, fresh wasabi
Kumamoto oyster warmed in Calvados, green apple
Prime beef tartare, cornichons, osetra caviar
Veuve Cliquot, Yellow label, NV

Study of Squash and Prawns
Santa Barbara Prawns, kabocha squash ravioli, sage beurre noisette, Alba white truffles
Qupe Viognier, 2005, Santa Barbara

Homage to Manny Farber
Sonoma foie gras, Union Square market fruit, ice wine vinegar
Dr. Loosen Riesling Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruhr, Germany, 2005

Hockney Codified
Chatham cod, sweet & spicy peperonata, clams, chorizo, parsley
Schramsberg sparkling brut rosé, Napa, NV

Pollock's First Stroke
Millbrook venison, Valencia orange and juniper topping, Tuscan kale, spiced cocoa jus
Garibaldi Barolo, Piedmont, 2000

Vanilla and Brachetto roasted black mission figs, spiced nougatine, honey-yogurt ice cream
Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui, NV

I mean, come on

October 26

A publicist recently asked me why I don’t ever write anything about good publicists in my blog. So, for the record, some publicists do a good job.
But yesterday I tried to call a restaurant using a phone number from a press release. The release had transposed two digits.
I just interviewed a chef whose name ends in an s, and the publicist put an apostrophe before the s for no reason.
And here's a gem:
"Long Branch, NY (October 2006)- [Name deleted] is a contemporary French restaurant located along the breathtaking beaches of Long Branch, NJ."
If Long Branch is in New Jersey, why is the dateline in New York?
Proof reading is not brain surgery. It's really not.
I just got invited to an event claiming to usher in the debut of shochu to New York, which is weird since that spirit has been available in Japanese and Korean restaurants here for years.
And I swear that if I get another press release this autumn with the headline "How do you like them apples?" someone is going to get hurt.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eat with Coke and smile

October 19

Last Monday, during MUFSO, Coca-Cola's publicist invited us to have dinner at restaurant Stephan Pyles with some PR flacks from Brinker International and some executives from Coca-Cola.
I think she thought the Brinker people were a draw for us, because we like to spend time with restaurant operators, but for me at least it was all about getting closer to Coke.
I'm not sure why, exactly. I mean, Coke is a great big company like many others, with lots of executives who buy and sell things for it and manage other people who buy and sell things for it. But it's also an American icon, and although I enjoyed hearing Coke trade communications manager Ben Middleton tell me about his daughters Claudia (9) and Harriet (4) (at her elementary school in Dunwoody, Ga., Claudia is studying German, something school administrators think will help children learn their English grammar better), I was thrilled to learn the Five Steps to Quality for fountain drinks.
They are
1) Syrup age (no more than 120 days for syrups containing sugar, 90 days for those with no-calorie sweeteners)
2) Temperature (it should be cold)
3) Proper amount of ice
4) Correct level of carbonation
5) Water-to-syrup ratio (generally 4.75 to 1)

Someone from NRN asked Carlton Curtis, vice president of industry affairs for Coca-Cola North America Foodservice and Hospitality Division, what the most successful marketing campaign for Coke was.
He said it was "It's the real thing."

When a former president comes to your conference

October 19

All of the press materials for MUFSO said that our keynote speaker was going to be CNN's Anderson Cooper. Then when people showed up, they learned that he was being replaced by the 41st president of the United States of America.
The rumors about the switcharoo were hilarious.
Conference attendees were speculating that for security reasons we couldn't announce that George Herbert Walker Bush was speaking more than two days in advance, and that we paid Anderson Cooper off so that we could use his name and picture as a ruse.
That makes us sound so smart and sneaky that I wish it were true. But in fact, three weeks before MUFSO Cooper backed out. Working journalists like him generally have a clause in the contracts for their speaking engagements that allow them to annul the contract if there's breaking news. I'm not sure what news was breaking a month ago — it was before North Korea's detonation of a nuclear device and after the war in Lebanon — but at any rate, he backed out.
Our brilliant Monique Monaco always has a Plan B, and it just so happened that Bush père was going to be in Dallas anyway; he just needed to come in a day early to talk to the Multi-unit Foodservice Operators conference.
"That just rolls off the tongue," he said of MUFSO's full name.
He was being ironic.
The night before he spoke rumors were rife about the security checks we'd have to endure to get in. Although he was set to speak at 8 a.m., word had it that if you weren't there by 7:30, they wouldn't let you in.
Actually, as long as you were wearing an attendee badge security pretty much left you alone. They just asked that everyone remain seated until President Bush left the area.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

fun with corporate chefs

October 18

Culinary R&D apparently was a big hit (we won’t really know until we hear from our sponsors, who are usually too polite to gripe too loudly during the conference itself unless they're really mad).
My job, apart from writing about it, schmoozing and generally being polite to everybody, was to present some background on Mexican food in chain restaurants, put together by Nancy Kruse, and then run a panel discussion about it.
All the panelists were great, but the star was Margarita Carillo Arronte de Salinas, whom no one at NRN had ever met before.
I thought that if we were going to talk about Mexican food it would make sense to have, you know, a Mexican, there, so I e-mailed Allison Moore from the Produce Association of the Americas, which, you may recall, is made of a group of Mexican produce exporters who want to expand their presence north of the Rio Grande.
I asked her if she knew of an articulate, English-speaking American chefs, and she tracked down Margarita for us.
Well, she was charming, but was not about to put up with chain restaurants calling their food Mexican. I was standing at the podium, screening questions that were being sent up from the audience on note cards, reading with part of my brain and listening with another, so I'm not sure what Margarita's expression was when Stephen Kalil — director of culinary innovation and executive chef at Chili's, and a great guy — read data indicating that the three most popular "Mexican" cheeses at U.S. restaurants were Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack and, oh, I forget, some other Jack. But I can imagine what it was.
When Oona Settembre, one of my favorite corporate chefs and currently the culinary R&D director for On the Border, said that some types of chorizo weren't available in the U.S., Margarita told her she could make her own. She promoted Mexican wines, told the chefs to find Mexican-food experts to help them (Stephen Kalil asked her for her card), and told them to come to Mexico (which Oona has done, by the way; she had been talking about putting tortas on the menu even when she was at Dave & Busters).
John Koch, vice president of R&D and culinary operations for Avado Brands, which operates Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen and Hops Grill Brewery; and El Pollo Loco's manager of culinary development, Jonathan Rogan, also were on the panel.
Oh, it was fun.
Afterwards, Margarita showed the attendees how to make a Mayan pumpkin seed-tomato paste called Ha-sikil-p'ak.
Here are some other things I learned at Culinary R&D:
Shakey's, which now is mentioning the brands of some of its ingredients on its menus, has an organic sauce at its buffet; it's on the margherita pizza.
Rib Crib has a new menu
Chili's is extending its rib line with a bunch of new barbecue sauces
Shakey's target market is 6-11 year-olds.

I learned many other things too, but they're secret.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Preparing for Culinary R&D

October 17
Over the past few days I've taken time away from my usual habitat of New York's fine dining restaurants and related hot spots to spend time with my friends in the world of chain restaurants.
It started on Thursday with an early morning departure for Dallas, where Nation's Restaurant News' 5th annual Culinary R&D conference was taking place, to be followed by our 47th annual Multi-unit Foodservice Operators conference, better known, believe it or not, as MUFSO (that's pronounced with a short 'u', not MOOF-so). Culinary R&D is for chain restaurants' corporate chefs, MUFSO is for chain restaurant executives.
They're both quite polished affairs -- our event guru Monique Monaco sees to that. So even though Culinary R&D didn't start until Friday night, I arrived on Thursday to start rehearsing my presentation on Mexican food.
My boss, Pam Parseghian, also landed on Thursday so she could rehearse her fod science remarks and her introduction of David Burke. And contributing editor Nancy Kruse, who prepared all of the materials for us, was there to rehearse her presentation on broad menu trends.
To get in the mood, and because New York has very bad Mexican food, I had a pork tamale, beef taco and chicken enchilada with green chile at Uncle Julio's.
That night, after our first rehearsal, Pam and I tried to have barbecue at Sonny Bryan's but ended up with a singularly inept taxi driver (or so we thought) who couldn't find his way around downtown Dallas' touristy West End. However, he did manage to find Pizza Patron, whose wings we wanted to sample. The plan was to have those wings and Sonny Bryan's barbecue, but instead we had Pizza Patron's wings and pizza.
The next day, before our second rehearsal, we got an equally inept taxi driver, proving that there was nothing singular about the first one. Pam persisted, however, and we did finally make it to Sonny Bryan's.
I avoid expressing my opinion of restaurants in my blog, but I will say that I've had better barbecue in New York.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gossip about Barbra Streisand

October 11,

I had lunch today at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on 9th Avenue and 34th Street. The publicist wanted me to check out their new tuna tartare and Kobe beef tartare appetizers, so while I ate them (and a Prime beef cheeseburger with sauteed onions and fries), I asked the publicist about the restaurant's clientele. He said it was mostly expense-account types and people on their way to Madison Square Garden.
Barbra Streisand had been performing there earlier in the week, and the publicist said her people had made reservations for dinner in Uncle Jack's private dining room after the show.
So the manager kept extra staff on hand and waited for her and her entourage.
And they waited and waited, and she never showed up. She didn't call or send a kid over to say she wouldn't be coming. She just didn't honor her reservation.
That's rude, even if you are Barbra Streisand.
And of course if you're a big, famous singer, people talk about it when you're rude and then it ends up as part of the chatter people engage in about you. They might even write about it in blogs.
It's really not a good idea. Pick up the phone, for crying out loud.

Wine, chocolate and '80s pop

October 10

During a wine-and-chocolate event on the Upper West Side I got a call from Andy Battaglia, who writes about music and edits the city section of the New York edition of The Onion.
He wondered if I wanted to go to a Lindsey Buckingham concert.
He then explained that Lindsey Buckingham was one of the key people in Fleetwood Mac, a group he correctly assumed that even someone as ignorant of music as I would be familiar with.
I try never to pass up the opportunity to hear live music, so I skipped the baseball-themed Maker's Mark party to which I had been invited, stopped by the Time Warner Center for a ham and cheese sandwich at Bouchon and then to Town Hall, a music venue in Times Square, and witnessed the bizarre but not unenjoyable spectacle of a man in his 50s playing music with which I was vaguely familiar, complete with '80s-era light show.
During the concert I realized that even in the 1980s I wouldn't have paid the $16 or whatever it would have cost to witness Fleetwood Mac live, but seeing Lindsey Buckingham for free with my friend Andy was worth the opportunity cost of missing a bourbon party.
Andy and I closed out the evening with Irish whiskey on the rocks at Siberia.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mai House in the middle of two other restaurants I own

I was right. Drew Nieporent says he is, indeed, opening a restaurant with Michael Bao Huynh, chef-partner in Bao 111.
Mai House will be between Tribeca Grill and Nobu, two other restaurants operated by Drew.

Starting with ingredients

October 5

I met Aliza Green awhile back on a trip to Greece. She recently came out with a massive cookbook called "Starting with Ingredients" and she had a little press dinner at Barbounia to celebrate. It would have been rude for me not to attend.
Aliza met Barbounia's owners long ago. These days they also own Sushi Samba, which has two units in New York and one each in Miami Beach, Chicago and Tel Aviv — and they plan to open one in Dallas in March.
But they used to have a place in Philadelphia, where Aliza was the chef. Since a lot of the food in her thousand-some-odd tome is Mediterranean, Barbounia was a logical place for dinner.
I spent the first half of the evening talking to Aliza about random things, including her current work consulting for a kosher restaurant. She says the hardest part, now that trans fats are out of fashion, is to find appropriate fat for baking. Butter's out, because Jewish dietary laws ban eating dairy products in the same meal as meat products (which includes birds but excludes fish and eggs). Margarine is the popular choice at the moment, but that's likely to change. Aliza does have a cake baked with olive oil in her cookbook; I imagine she'll go that route.
Aliza wandered off to some other table, as was appropriate, and I ended up spending most of the rest of the evening talking with young Jay Rocco, Sushi Samba's marketing manager. He recently lived in Taiwan for a year, working for a publishing company that also had a television division. He ended up as the host of an English-language TV show and was semi-famous. That sort of thing can happen when you're a white guy in an Asian country.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own

October 5

Last night I had no press events to go to. I love nights like that, and decided to catch up on restaurants in my own neighborhood that I hadn’t been to yet. I picked Franny’s.
Franny’s opened on Flatbush in Brooklyn to much acclaim quite a while ago. I tend to be suspicious of wild acclaim over a pizza place, but I did, indeed, have a delicious meal of pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, sausage and hot peppers, and a Six-Point ale.
I noticed that everyone working in the dining room — servers, bartender, floor management — all were women. Peering from my table into the open kitchen, all I could see were men.
I made this observation to the woman who took away my dessert menu as I asked for the check, and it annoyed her. (I later visited their web site — I think I was talking to Franny herself).
“Well, that happens to be the case tonight,” she half-snapped.
I shrugged and said I’d never seen that before.
“You’ve never seen that before?” she asked as though I’d said I’d never seen water poured into a glass.
I shrugged again and smiled sheepishly.
“Maybe I hadn’t noticed.”

It’s true that when I was waiting tables at Azar’s Big Boy in Denver — the one at the intersection of Colorado Blvd. and I-25 that later became a Perkins and I don’t know what it is now — one night the manager said “I have six girls on the floor,” and I realized that she had counted me among the girls, so accustomed was she to servers being women. And I’m sure on many nights there all the cooks were men, but of course since on any nights I was working, at least one man would have been on the floor, I never would have witnessed what I did last night.
Anyway, the title of this blog entry stands.

The week in bad publicists

October 5

Rule #1: If a writer agrees to meet with your client, stop pitching. If he (or she) agrees to visit your restaurant, stop pitching. If he says you can send him a product, stop pitching. You've made your sale, say "thank you" and get off of my phone.

Apart from running a gauntlet of people with bad phone skills, I've gotten a shocking array of irritating press releases, and I'm just halfway through Thursday.

One came from a ridiculous company that hawks sauerkraut. In the past they've lied that kiimchi can cure SARS and that cabbage is a treatment for avian flu. Now they're telling me that the Reuben sandwich is becoming — excuse me, "rapidly becoming" — "the most consumed" sandwich in America, which of course it is not.
"Reuben mania has swept the country," it says, which, again, it hasn't.
It declared the sandwich to be a new Oktoberfest favorite based on its findings that the Reuben is considered a special occasion food, and Oktoberfest is a special occasion.
Yeah, I'm still thinking bratwurst. I might even consider having it with sauerkraut, but I'll make sure it's not made by this particular company of liars.
By the way, Oktoberfest ended earlier this week (it starts in mid-September and lasts for 16 days).

Today I got a press release indicating that I was immoral and had bad taste for eating chocolate bars and truffles instead of the product the flack was representing — chocolate covered cacao nibs.
Apparently chocolate covered nibs are a "socially responsible alternative to the traditional, processed bar or truffle, appealing to consumers with a sophisticated palate, an interest in the arts and culture, a concern for the world and most of all, who are looking for a deeply satisfying chocolate hit."
So I'm being a socially irresponsible Philistine if I eat a piece of chocolate that's not from this company?
"The tasty morsels are designed to meet the lifestyle needs from the culturally hungry consumer to the avid chocolate lover..."
I guess so, although I'm not really sure given the bizarre grammatical structure of the above phrase.
Could someone please tell me what a "lifestyle need" is?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My ears hurt

October 4

I just got my head chewed off by a famous chef downtown because I asked him where I might get my hands on some sodium alginate and calcium chloride.
I wrote an article about sodium alginate in September 2005, interviewed said chef for it but didn't include him in the story.
I didn’t know he even cared until I called him a few weeks later to interview him about unconventional noodles. Boy did he let me have it.
I think what really annoyed him was that when he asked why I didn't use him I said that what he was doing wasn't as interesting as what some other chefs were doing.
Oh, he didn’t like that, especially since in the story I included a few mundane examples of chefs using sodium alginate to make little caviarlike bubbles, which, if you’re one of the half-dozen most avant-garde chefs in the country, is as boring as a cheese sandwich. But for the rest of the restaurant world, you have to explain how it’s done.
I finished the story with chefs doing more creative stuff, including one who just became his new pastry chef, but I guess this chef didn’t get that far into the article, which is fair enough; he’s a busy guy.
To be honest, it’s nice to know that he cares.
Besides, after haranguing me, he did give me the phone number of an alginate supplier.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Idle gossip

October 3

As a journalist, you must never write anything that you have not confirmed (a former colleague, Jamie Peters, quoted a journalism professor as saying “if your mother says she loves you, get confirmation.”)
So I’m not going to write that Drew Nieporent and his Myriad Restaurant Group are planning to open a Vietnamese restaurant in New York with the folks from Bao 111.
It’s just a rumor, and Drew knows better than to provide further details before the ink is dry. You’re just asking for trouble when you do that.

Monday, October 02, 2006

weekend with friends

October 2

I like to lie low on weekends to recover from the general insanity of the work week. But this weekend began with drinks with work colleagues at the Fitzpatrick hotel (truth be told, I guess it really began with Friday's long lunch at Del Posto with egg man Howard Helmer, goose man Jim Schiltz, and excellent person and Food & Wine executive food editor Tina Ujlaki; the staff at Del Posto would not let us eat Jim's smoked goose breast in celebration of Michaelmas, possibly dooming us to financial hardship in the year to come).
From the Fitzpatrick I headed to Grand Central Oyster Bar for the Oyster Frenzy, where I downed oysters and white wine with my buddy Clark Mitchell, who works at Travel + Leisure. After a couple dozen oysters Clark felt a need for carbohydrates and we repaired to Therapy for chicken nachos, non-frenzied conversation and bourbon.
Clark did his first TV interview on New York 1 a couple of weeks ago. I missed it, but he said it was kind of a fun thing to do. He should do more, he has a face for television.
Saturday night I found myself in Midtown with New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr, who presented me with a bottle of a Guerlain eau de toilette that he likes (so do I; I'm wearing it now, in fact). We took the subway to Williamsburg and then walked up Bedford to Greenpoint, where we were meeting Howard, his partner Tom, and connections-maven Arlyn Blake and her partner Sal, for Polish food at Lomzynianka.
Have I mentioned that Howard holds the record for the most omelets made in half an hour? I believe it's 472. He admits that some of them were a little runny.
Chandler and I closed off the night in Williamsburg, judging hipsters as they exited the L train.
Then on Sunday it was dim sum in Chinatown with Kenny Lao, who owns Rickshaw Dumpling Bar. We ate at Oriental Garden, on Elizabeth St., and then went for a stroll. On Canal St. we were stopped by tourists who wanted to take a picture of Kenny. They recognized him from when he was featured on the MTV show First Year.
Kenny says that happens a lot.