Friday, December 21, 2012

Weekly Musings–The Holiday Edition

I know, I’m a day late today, but I’m on the road so there’s that.  It was really a whirlwind of a week with parties, dinners and events.  Let’s not waste to much time with the chitchat. 


Food/Drink Musings:

  • I finally had a chance to get my ass to Rich Table to have dinner.  Met Evan while doing a Meatpaper MOMA event and the occasional market run-in, he was nice enough to remember my stupid face and chat – which I always feel is unnecessary knowing how busy the kitchen can be during service.  I made mental note about how good he was about going around to welcome or say hi to some other guests and maybe some regulars(?) as well.  That’s pretty much above and beyond the calling type of stuff – diners always appreciate the accessibility to the chef and the personalization – it’s a sense of comfort and warmth.  All while putting out the quality of the food they put out.  This is not a review or an endorsement, but you should really try to get there for dinner.  My list for places that I get excited to dine out for (besides the low key ethnic comfort joints, aka the fun stuff) is pretty short – I can count them probably on 1 hand. 
  • There has been a steady trend emerging from a few new successful restaurants in some different cities that I’ve started to kind of notice.  While having an open kitchen is neither new or special, I’ve seen a lot of partially open or off-center accessible kitchens.  In many cases, the kitchens are in more of a clear view and displaced in an area that is close and open enough to the dining room to allow for some sort of interaction with the diners.  Open kitchens typically hover over a bar of some kind or they are far from the view of the dining area (and only open by a small window/barrier box), but some of the smaller places are really putting the kitchens in closer quarters – and, while the cooking is not completely on open display, the cooks/chefs seem (and generally are) a lot more accessible.  Is it form, function, or random coincidence of style?  Not sure, it might just be a side effect of the layout of the space or the chef owner’s conscious desire to get into the dining area quicker, but it is certainly something worth noting, because I think examining not just the decision about an open kitchen is necessary, but rather how an open kitchen should be designed is worth noting.  And if you really want to be visualize with this, think open kitchens for Boulevard vs. Statebird Provisions vs. good sushi chef bar/counter – all have levels of personalization, but all are different in approach and result. 
  • I’ve not really tried to pair too much seafood with fried green tomatoes and I’ve never had actually had seafood with fried green tomatoes until having them in Little Rock.  Crab and fried green tomatoes are my new favorite couple.  For example, Dungeness crab, fried green tomatoes in a nage based vadouvan curry sauce.  I’d eat that all day.


  • Just when I finally found a few restaurants really special and worth going to down in Little Rock, my project ends.  There is definitely better Cajun/creole here than bbq.  Dinner last night had multiple highlights including some unbelievable Louisiana crab cakes and soft shell crab – almost enough to make me ignore the stupid parsley garnish on the side of my plates… almost.
  • For the first time ever, I missed a reservation and was called by the restaurant.  It wasn’t my fault – it was my stupid Opentable app that didn’t process the cancellation properly.  I wholeheartedly apologize to Plaj.  Really not acceptable – but we’ll get to etiquette later…
  • I am flying to Chicago today and getting ridiculously excited for my time there.  Special shoutout to Piccolo Sogno who sought me out on twitter to say “hi” and “come join us.”  I love twitter because it connects people on a personal level and sometimes surprises you with how warm, detailed, and amazing the people of this industry can be.  For a restaurant like Piccolo Sogno (prominent and beloved Italian restaurant in Chicago) to do that, I want to wholeheartedly give you a Wayne’s World, “we’re not worthy.”  Sappy, huh?  Holiday edition, people, holiday edition. 
  • Lesson here: for all the darkness and cookie cutter bullshit named Applebee’s, TGIF and Olive Garden out there, there are so many more successful, modest or aspiring small business restaurants that serve as indisputable proof that what really matters is the love for the food and the people who cherish it.
  • It’s windy in the Midwest.  I have a flight that lands in Chicago at 5:30 and a 8:30 reservation at Grace Restaurant.  Please don’t fuck me, O’Hare.
  • By the way, Grace randomly fell into my radar on some random comment from twitter.  And then, I started reading and following up… let’s say I’m a little more than mildly excited… check it out.  Oh yeah, there was just a little coverage.
  • The two spots I am most excited about boozing it up in Chicago is The Aviary and Scofflaw.  If you don’t know the Aviary, then you’ve been slacking on your cocktail game, playa.  I’ve heard good gin mumblings about Scofflaw and I love the Logan Square/Buckhead/Wicker Park neighborhood area.  The excitement and anticipation can be likened to a sorority girl getting ready for her first Malibu Bay Breeze.


  • According to what I have been reading and looking through, I’m not sure what city has had a bigger year than Chicago this year.  I’ve never seen a big city with so many spots get elevated so to such a frenetic level within a year of opening.  Though some people are talking a lot about Seattle…
  • Congrats to Ryan Farr, friend and mentor for opening his new 4505 Meats Butcher Shop in Mission and 15th.  San Francisco needs more places for people to go out and buy good meat.  Stop eating that Safeway shit, it’ll cost you more in the long run.



Travel Musings: A Summation of My Year of Travel and Eating:

I like the idea of summing up each individual’s big years in terms of eating – though I’m not sure any city deserves an overrated category.  Some of the writers have been very astute to define the wonderful year some cities have had with new restaurants and a burgeoning scene of some kind, but I’ve really began to wonder why or how someone can think a metropolis city is overrated simply because they have had a few unmemorable meals.  Note to food writers, maybe it’s “overrated” because you haven’t spent enough time finding the right places/scene yet. 

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  • The most embarrassing claim is calling out NYC as a overrated destination.  Having spent an entire summer between there, I can argue that there are neighborhoods in Brooklyn that had more dynamic new restaurants than entire regions of this country.  And that includes a list of places that no one writes about.
  • Philadelphia is probably the best food city that no one talks about – they are doing some really awesome things there.  They have a Portland circa 2000’s feel to them, like they are ready for someone to take notice…
  • I’m done with people shortchanging Chicago when it comes to this NY vs. SF supremacy thing.  I’ll offer some sort of recap next week, but based on what I read here and there, it might only cement it as the most dynamic, diverse and fun city to eat – seemingly endless stream of great natural and beautifully conceived restaurants.  
  • I’m sure Jonathan Gold can tell you, but the Vietnamese, gastropub, contemporary modern (and even sushi) restaurants are legit in the OC. 
  • What do I need to do to find a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue in the Bay Area?         
  • Ohshima in Orange, CA – not sure how and why it got there, but if you ever need proof that great things and legitimately great sushi can come from places you least expect it. 
  • Speaking of sushi, had the sushi meal of my life from one of the best places in the quietest Tokyo neighborhood called Asagaya-minami in a gorgeous sushi restaurant located in a basement named Namba Sushi.  No, I haven’t been to Jiro, but Namba is listed in the top 10 amongst locals in Tokyo – which makes it the .000001% of sushi places in the world.  And when I say that, I’m not comparing a decent sushi place to slightly more decent sushi places, I’m actually comparing Namba to all the other unbelievable sushi places I’ve been in throughout 4 major Japanese cities -  all of which would easily outperform the sushi anywhere outside of Japan, and, all of which do not come close to comparison to Namba.  I used to sit and skeptically wonder how much better it can actually be.  To say it surpassed expectations would be to undersell it.  If that isn’t a compelling argument for you to go have the sushi meal of your life in Tokyo, then nothing will convince you.  Spend the money – you will have a lifetime’s worth of rich experience to justify the cost.  Jiro, Namba, Saito –whatever you decide in your research – will likely change your life.
  • Smith Street/Cobble Hill/Park Slope area of Brooklyn in NY has become my favorite neighborhood to walk and eat.  I can pitch the equivalent of a perfect game in terms of my dream food day there: coffee, baguette and croissants at Bien Cuit for breakfast, stroll and shop at Los Paesanos for aged meat, head to Prime Meats for brunch and wine, get some soda floats at Farmacy, spend an afternoon at Brooklyn Bridge Park with Sixpoint beers and hot dogs at Bark, and then finish with dinner Pok Pok.  Justin Verlander, eat your heart out.

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  • Fuel City Tacos in Dallas is my kind of taco spot.  Why is it only the South that knows how to pair food with gas stations?
  • If you travel to a Southern city and have bbq, here’s a tip: they eat it religiously/daily here so sometimes places do not try to keep fat and char (aka “bark”) on because a lot of restaurants generally try to keep it leaner for the regulars.  Fuck that noise, ask for the fat and the bark.  There is no excuse for some of the bad Southern bbq travesties that I have had to endure this year.  Dear South, you got problems when Fette Sau in hipsterville Billysburg, NY is putting out the good shit that you should be putting out.  No excuses.
  • I have dreams about the Whiskey Bread from Gwynnett Street in Williamsburg.  Oh, I would eat it all day long.
  • Tatte in Cambridge, MA gives me hope that there are actually croissants in my hometown worth eating.
  • On this year’s travel wishlist: New Orleans, Savannah, Morocco, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, New Zealand, Sydney, Kauai and if I could fit Bali/Singapore in there, I would.

Random Life Musings:

  • A long time ago, I used to think that sushi chefs in Japan generally had a lot of odd quirky rules and mannerisms because they were maybe naturally more surly, strict and sticklers for etiquette.  I used to think that it was more forgivable that certain sushi chefs were off putting, sometimes rude and curt because that was the nature/byproduct of the occupation.  Then, I went to Japan and ate everywhere – high end, mid range, low end sushi – it didn’t matter.  I never dealt with bullshit, attitude or poor service from any of the sushi chefs there.  They, like all service industry people I met in Japan, were courteous, respectful and generally concerned about the quality the food in relation to my dinner experience.  So I’ve just about had it the bullshit that some Japanese sushi restaurant chefs try to put on you here.  Enough is enough.
  • I had another discussion with a colleague of mine about poor service yesterday – that marks the second time this week that I have had a conversation about poor service and tipping.  My friend in SF dealt with a very poor dinner experience in terms of service and ended up tipping close to as much as he normally does – though he slightly regretted doing so.  My colleague had a very poor service experience when he brought a 3 year old daughter to a teppanyaki place (really just for kids it seems) and had to be persuaded by his girlfriend to not tip. 
  • I believe in a very clear idea.  If you receive what you think is poor and inexcusable service that has become a detriment to your night, you should not leave a tip.  It is within your right as a customer.  It is part of your dining contract.   
  • I am very very forgiving when it comes to service because I believe how hard and grueling the work can be.  Good servers have to put up with crazy asshole guests and ridiculous people on a daily basis and manage it with smiles.  That is mentally draining.  That being said, I overcompensate in being forgiving when service slips due to a very busy night or when a restaurant ends up clearly shorthanded.  A good server apologizes and explains the situation – typically trying to rectify or ease the concern of the diner.  A good diner would typically understand the situation – like a contract. 
  • I get angry when the following inexcusable things occur in bunches: the server is rude, impatient or condescending; mistakes are made ordering or firing and are not acknowledged or acknowledged in a rude way; poor service in barely full restaurant; waiting without acknowledgement or waiting without a clearly explained reason; nonchalance. 
  • The holidays are here and I love Christmas music, I just don’t like Christmas music sung by most people.


  • I unabashedly love Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You.  During December, I hum it all the time.  Yes.  I am a cheesepuff.
  • I keep hearing about goose for xmas, but its tough to find in stores typically… 
  • I am on protein this Xmas, and I do not disappoint on protein.
  • I am a bit sad that I won’t be around Boston or New York on Xmas because my parents are not going to be vacationing in Asia, but I’ll try to console myself with my 3 day vacation in Chicago.