Throwed rolls May 02 2013
In Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO, they just throw your bread to you from across the restaurant.
In Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO, they just throw your bread to you from across the restaurant.
McDonald's started out as McDonald's Bar-B-Q in San Bernardino, CA in 1940. Here's a copy of the menu from that time:
The drive-in BBQ restaurant was a great success:
The restaurant had carhops serving guests and would often see 125 cars crowding the lot on weekends. They quickly saw their annual sales topping $200,000 on a regular basis.
But competitors opened similar restaurants and they were selling more hamburgers than barbequed ham so the McDonald brothers closed their place for three months to retool. They reopened as plain old McDonald's, serving cheap fare (like hamburgers) quickly. This is what an early version of the menu looked like:
The original McDonald's served potato chips and pie, which were swapped out for french fries and milkshakes after the first year; that photo must have been taken sometime after the switch. Ray Kroc got involved in 1955 and opened the first McDonald's franchise east of the Mississippi in Des Plaines, Illinois:
After reading all these menus, you're probably getting hungry. So here's how to make a hamburger that tastes like an original McDonald's hamburger from 1948 (as well as recipes for a bunch of other McDonald's menu items, from McNuggets to the McRib to the dipping sauces). Enjoy!
Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality is opening two Shake Shacks and a Blue Smoke in Delta's new Terminal 4 at JFK airport.
Some enterprising genius has registered the domain for Guy Fieri's (famously panned) restaurant in Times Square and put up a fake menu chock full of hilarious foodstuffs. For instance, the Hobo Lobo Bordello Slam Jam Appetizer:
We take 38 oz of super-saddened, Cheez-gutted wolf meat, lambast it with honey pickle wasabi and pile drive it into an Ed Hardy-designed bucket. Sprayed with Axe and finished with a demiglaze of thick & funky Mushroom Dribblins.
Also, "Add a Cinnabon and two more Cinnabons $4.95". Also, "superbanged". Also, "ranch hose".
Update: Copy for parts of the menu were crowdsourced from Twitter. Which doesn't make it any less funny...just that the person who made it is not an "enterprising genius". (via everyone)
From back in August, Atul Gawande visits a Cheesecake Factory and wonders if the combination of "quality control, cost control, and innovation" achieved by chain restaurants can offer lessons to hospitals and other health care organizations.
The company's target last year was at least 97.5-per-cent efficiency: the managers aimed at throwing away no more than 2.5 per cent of the groceries they bought, without running out. This seemed to me an absurd target. Achieving it would require knowing in advance almost exactly how many customers would be coming in and what they were going to want, then insuring that the cooks didn't spill or toss or waste anything. Yet this is precisely what the organization has learned to do. The chain-restaurant industry has produced a field of computer analytics known as "guest forecasting."
"We have forecasting models based on historical data-the trend of the past six weeks and also the trend of the previous year," Gordon told me. "The predictability of the business has become astounding." The company has even learned how to make adjustments for the weather or for scheduled events like playoff games that keep people at home.
A computer program known as Net Chef showed Luz that for this one restaurant food costs accounted for 28.73 per cent of expenses the previous week. It also showed exactly how many chicken breasts were ordered that week ($1,614 worth), the volume sold, the volume on hand, and how much of last week's order had been wasted (three dollars' worth). Chain production requires control, and they'd figured out how to achieve it on a mass scale.
As a doctor, I found such control alien-possibly from a hostile planet. We don't have patient forecasting in my office, push-button waste monitoring, or such stringent, hour-by-hour oversight of the work we do, and we don't want to. I asked Luz if he had ever thought about the contrast when he went to see a doctor. We were standing amid the bustle of the kitchen, and the look on his face shifted before he answered.
"I have," he said. His mother was seventy-eight. She had early Alzheimer's disease, and required a caretaker at home. Getting her adequate medical care was, he said, a constant battle.
This piece was on several best-of-the-year longreads lists and deservedly so. But the Factory's 3000-calorie plate of pasta will probably not help the state of American health care.
Writing for The Awl, Jeb Boniakowski shares his vision for a massive McDonald's complex in Times Square that serves food from McDonald's restaurants from around the world, offers discontinued food items (McLean Deluxe anyone?), and contains a food lab not unlike David Chang's Momofuku test kitchen.
The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginobili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap ("A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese." Wherever possible, the menu items' descriptions should reflect local English style). Maybe a bowl of Malaysian McDonald's Chicken Porridge or The McArabia Grilled Kofta, available in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. You should watch this McArabia ad for the Middle Eastern-flavored remix of the "I'm Lovin' It" song if for nothing else.
And I loved his take on fast food as molecular gastronomy:
How much difference really is there between McDonald's super-processed food and molecular gastronomy? I used to know this guy who was a great chef, like his restaurant was in the Relais & Châteaux association and everything, and he'd always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald's food that he didn't know how to make. I've often thought that a lot of what makes crazy restaurant food taste crazy is the solemn appreciation you lend to it. If you put a Cheeto on a big white plate in a formal restaurant and serve it with chopsticks and say something like "It is a cornmeal quenelle, extruded at a high speed, and so the extrusion heats the cornmeal 'polenta' and flash-cooks it, trapping air and giving it a crispy texture with a striking lightness. It is then dusted with an 'umami powder' glutamate and evaporated-dairy-solids blend." People would go just nuts for that. I mean even a Coca-Cola is a pretty crazy taste.
I love both mass-produced processed foods and the cooking of chefs like Grant Achatz & Ferran Adrià. Why is the former so maligned while the latter gets accolades when they're the same thing? (And simultaneously not the same thing at all, but you get my gist.) Cheetos are amazing. Oscar Meyer bologna is amazing. Hot Potato Cold Potato is amazing. Quarter Pounders with Cheese are amazing. Adrià's olives are amazing. Coca-Cola is amazing. (Warhol: " A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.") WD50's Everything Bagel is amazing. Cheerios are amazing. All have unique flavors that don't exist in nature -- you've got to take food apart and put it back together in a different way to find those new tastes.
Some of these fancy chefs even have an appreciation of mass produced processed foods. Eric Ripert of the 4-star Le Berdardin visited McDonald's and Burger King to research a new burger for one of his restaurants. (Ripert also uses processed Swiss cheese as a baseline flavor at Le Bernardin.) David Chang loves instant ramen and named his restaurants after its inventor. Ferran Adrià had his own flavor of Lay's potato chips in Spain. Thomas Keller loves In-N-Out burgers. Grant Achatz eats Little Caesars pizza.
This article on getting the most out of your burrito-scarfing experience at Chipotle by William Hudson at Thought Catalog was better than I thought it could be.
1/2 meat + 1/2 meat = 3/2 meat. Forgetting is natural, like Chipotle meat, so let me remind you that when you add fractions you only add the top part, when the bottom part is the same number. Therefore, when you're asked what type of meat, and you say "half chicken and half steak", it should equal one serving of meat. But it never does. Because a scoop of meat is kinda just a scoop of meat, and nobody in Chipotle management has yet introduced new "half" scoops with which to more precisely address this perfectly legal request. So use it. IMPORTANT: Unlike with the beans, you should make your position on the half meats clear from the beginning, otherwise they charge you for "extra meat."
Sukiyabashi Jiro is a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo that many say serves the best sushi in the world. The chef/owner, 86-year-old Jiro Ono, was the subject of last year's excellent Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary film.
Adam Goldberg of A Life Worth Eating ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro yesterday. The meal was 21 courses, about US$380 per person (according the web site, excluding drinks), and lasted only 19 minutes. That's more than a course a minute and, Goldberg estimates, around $20 per person per minute. And apparently totally worth it.
Three slices of tuna came next, akami, chu-toro, and oo-toro increasing from lean, to medium fatty, to extremely fatty cuts. The akami (lean toro) was the most tender slice of tuna I've ever tasted that did not contain noticeable marbelization. The tuna was marinated in soy sauce for several minutes before service, perhaps contributing to this unique texture. The medium fatty tuna had an interesting mix of crunch and fat, while the fatty tuna just completely melted in my mouth. My friend with whom I shared this meal began to tear (I kid you not).
Lest you think Goldberg's meal was an anomaly, this is a typical meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Dave Arnold wrote about his experience earlier this year:
The sushi courses came out at a rate of one per minute. 19 courses in 19 minutes. No ordering, no real talking -- just making sushi and eating sushi. After the sushi is done you are motioned to leave the sushi bar and sit at a booth where you are served your melon. We took that melon at a leisurely 10 minute pace, leaving us with a bill of over $300 per person for just under 30 minutes time. Nastassia and Mark thought the pace was absurd and unpleasant. They felt obliged to keep up with Jiro's pace. I didn't feel obliged, but kept up anyway. I didn't mind the speed. I could have easily eaten even faster, but I'm an inhuman eating machine -- or so I'm told. At the end of the meal, Jiro went outside the restaurant and stood guard at the entrance, waiting to bid us formal adieu. This made Nastassia even more nervous about rushing to get out. Not me. At over 10 dollars a minute I have no problem letting an 86 year old man stand and wait for me to finish my melon if he wants to.
Hilarious New Yorker piece by Bill Barol imagining Vice President Joe Biden as a waiter in a restaurant.
Our fish special is halibut with a mango-avocado salsa and Yukon Gold potatoes, and it's market-priced at sixteen-ninety-five. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Sounds like "Hey, Joe, that's a piece of fish and a little topping there, and some potatoes." "Bidaydas," my great-grandmother from County Louth would have called 'em. You know what I'm talking about. Just simple, basic, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table-on-a-Tuesday-night food. Nothin' fancy, right? But, folks, that's not the whole story. If you believe that, you're not... getting... the whole... story. Because lemme tell you about these Yukon Gold potatoes. These Yukon Gold potatoes are brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and hand-sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt, and then José, our prep guy. . . . Well. Lemme tell you about José. (He pauses, looks down, clears his throat.)
I get... I get emotional talking about José. This is a guy who -- José gets here at ten in the morning. Every morning, rain or shine. Takes the bus here. Has to transfer twice. Literally gets off one bus and onto another. Twice. Never complains. Rain, snow, it's hailin' out there.... The guy literally does not complain. Never. Never heard it. José walks in, hangs his coat on a hook, big smile on his face, says hello to everybody -- Sal the dishwasher, Angie the sous-chef, Frank, Donna, Pat.... And then do you know what he does? Do you know what José does? I'll tell you what he does, and folks, folks, this is the point I want to make. With his own hands, he sprinkles fresh house-grown rosemary on those potatoes (raises voice to a thundering crescendo), and they are golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside and they are delicious! They are delicious! They are delicious!
When Ronald McDonald bought a run-down house that dated back to 1795 with the intention of tearing it down to put up a hamburger restaurant, the citizens of New Hyde Park successfully got the house landmarked. Instead of cutting their losses, McDonald's renovated the house into the nation's classiest fast food joint.
The Cheesecake Factory has a hundred and sixty restaurants that each feature more than three hundred menu items that are served up to cool eighty million customers a year. Whether you're a fan of the Cheesecake Factory or not, there's no denying that -- like many major chains that enjoy the benefits of scale -- their product is consistent, the prices remain under control, and their efficiency is impressive. The New Yorker's always excellent Atul Gawande wonders: What can hospitals learn about quality from the Cheesecake Factory?
Why does McDonald's food look so much better in the ads than at the restaurant? Watch as the director of marketing for McDonald's Canada buys a Quarter Pounder at McDonald's and compares that to a burger prepared by a food stylist and retouched in post by an image editor.
Short answer: the burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious. (via ★interesting)
Earlier in the year I shared a lovely short film about Prime Burger, a midtown Manhattan institution.
For many of the guys that work here, the restaurant is like a second home -- some of them have been slinging burgers, making shakes, and waiting on customers at this location for decades. Opened in 1938, the place hasn't been altered since the early '60s, and it looks all the better for it.
Sadly, as of Saturday, Prime Burger is no more, booted out by the new ownership of their building.
Prime Burger, the 74-year-old coffee shop and restaurant, run for 36 years by the DiMiceli family, is closing. And though Michael DiMiceli spoke hopefully on Friday of finding a new space in which to reinstall Prime Burger's futuristic "Jetsons"-era d'ecor, the family has scarcely had time yet to look or to strike a deal. The small building in which Prime Burger is a tenant was sold recently, and the new owners sent the restaurant packing.
Craig Claiborne was the NY Times' first dedicated restaurant critic, providing an example that was soon followed by newspapers everywhere in the US.
Some American writers had nibbled at the idea of professional restaurant criticism before this, including Claiborne, who had written one-off reviews of major new restaurants for The Times. But his first "Directory to Dining," 50 years ago this month, marks the day when the country pulled up a chair and began to chow down. Within a few years, nearly every major newspaper had to have a Craig Claiborne of its own. Reading the critics, eating what they had recommended, and then bragging or complaining about it would become a national pastime.
As the current caretaker of the house that Claiborne built, I lack objectivity on this subject. Still, I believe that without professional critics like him and others to point out what was new and delicious, chefs would not be smiling at us from magazine covers, subway ads and billboards. They would not be invited to the White House, except perhaps for job interviews. Claiborne and his successors told Americans that restaurants mattered. That was an eccentric opinion a half-century ago. It's not anymore.
A few years ago, I wrote about the first restaurant review to appear in the Times in 1859...it's still one of my favorite posts.
Dozens of books have been written on this topic but for the less obsessive visitor to NYC, Serious Eats' Carey Jones has written an excellent guide to where to eat when you come to NYC. The guide is arranged along a number of different vectors like "on the cheap", "I'll go anywhere", and "five-star chefs, three-star prices". Here's the "with kids" section:
It's sad but true that plenty of New York restaurants will raise an eyebrow if you bring in the kids. But plenty won't! Consider spacious, friendly Coppelia downtown (Latin fare) or Kefi uptown (Greek) for great food that's inexpensive for a sit-down spot and has enough simpler options that there will be something for picky eaters. The next morning, take the kids to Doughnut Plant (if you're willing to sacrifice the notion of a balanced breakfast) for all sorts of flavors they'll stare at wide-eyed. PB-loving kids will love Peanut Butter and Company for lunch, where they can get their favorite sandwich in a dozen ways. Other good options include Shake Shack for burgers or Bark for hot dogs, if you're out in Park Slope.
If you need a snack uptown, the gigantic chocolate chip cookies at Levain should do the trick (take note: these are big enough to share). Kefi's a logical choice nearby for dinner, but if you find yourself downtown, consider Mario Batali's Otto, where parents will appreciate the sophistication and kids will love the huge plates of pasta. (Try to make a reservation as waits can be long, which might not be good with tired kids.)
If there was a "Jason shortlist" category, I would include Ssam Bar, Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, Marea, Per Se, Mendy's (chix salad sandwich), Katz's, Ma Peche, Spotted Pig, Fedora, Joseph Leonard, Parm, Despana, Xi'an Famous Foods, Colicchio and Sons, Tia Pol, The Modern Bar Room, Pastis, Patsy's, Morandi, Murray's Cheese Shop, Hill Country Chix, Grey Dog, Nice Green Bo, Peter Luger, Keen's, Artisinal, Bouchon Bakery, Burger Joint, and The Beagle. Ok, not such a short list and I'm sure I forgot some of my favorites. (via @anildash)
The Shake Shack gets a lukewarm one-star review from Pete Wells at the NY Times...the main problem was consistency.
How the burger could change lives I never divined, but on occasion it was magnificent, as beefy and flavorful as the outer quarter-inch of a Peter Luger porterhouse.
More often, though, the meat was cooked to the color of wet newsprint, inside and out, and salted so meekly that eating it was as satisfying as hearing a friend talk about a burger his cousin ate.
Even when the burgers were great, they could be great in one of two distinct ways. In the classic Shake Shack patty, a tower of ground beef is flattened against a searing griddle with a metal press and made to stay there, spitting and hissing, until one surface turns all brown and crunchy. A patty handled this way takes command of a Shackburger, standing up to its tangy sauce, its crisp lettuce, its wheels of plum tomato.
Sometimes, though, the grill cook hadn't had the energy needed for smashing and searing. Instead the patty was tall, soft and melting, so pink inside that its juices began to soak the bun at the first bite. Good as this version was, it was anomalous.
The Shack Burger is still my favorite hamburger and sitting in Madison Square Park eating one on a warm night with friends -- hell, even waiting in line for 45 minutes catching up -- is one of my favorite NYC activities.
From the This Must Be the Place series, a lovely short film about the Prime Burger Restaurant in midtown Manhattan. The restaurant opened in 1938 and one of the servers, Artie, has been there since 1952.
For many of the guys that work here, the restaurant is like a second home -- some of them have been slinging burgers, making shakes, and waiting on customers at this location for decades. Opened in 1938, the place hasn't been altered since the early '60s, and it looks all the better for it. Here the waiters and workers of Prime Burger discuss their views on their chosen profession, and the unique nature of the place itself.
Update: Over at Serious Eats, Ed Levine gives some advice on how to order properly at Prime Burger.
So why the need to order right? Because to keep up with the fast food chains, the DiMicelis started par-broiling their burgers. Par-broiling produces a less juicy burger. So when you order at Prime Burger specify you want your burger ($5.25 for a hamburger, $5.95 for a cheeseburger) made from scratch, and that you're willing to wait the extra few minutes.
Famed pizzeria Grimaldi's is being forced out of their space under the Brooklyn Bridge and is moving up the block...without their coveted coal oven. But now comes word that Patsy Grimaldi, former owner of Grimaldi's, is moving into the old space with a new restaurant called Juliana's. If I recall correctly, about half of the Grimaldi's menu is devoted to a telling of the Patsy's/Grimaldi's feud...looks like they're gonna need another page or two.
Now that the folks at Next Restaurant are done with their initial menu (Paris, 1906), they're giving it all away in a cookbook available exclusively for iBooks. And they're going to do the same thing for each of their menus.
Next is a restaurant like no other. Every season the menu and service explore an entirely different cuisine. Buying a ticket is the only way to get in... and the entire season sold out in a few hours. The inaugural menu took diners back to Paris: 1906, Escoffier at the Ritz for a multi-course pre fixe dinner that was described by the New York Times as "Belle Epoque dishes largely unseen on American tables for generations."
Ok, someone needs to do this: 1. Open a restaurant (in New York, say) that features old menus from Next every three months using the Next cookbooks to plan menus. 2. Call it Previous. 3. Profit!
How do you know a natural disaster is really bad? The Waffle House is closed.
When a hurricane makes landfall, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on a couple of metrics to assess its destructive power.
First, there is the well-known Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Then there is what he calls the "Waffle House Index."
Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.
"If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said. "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."
I haven't seen this before, but it seems like such an obvious idea. Charles Isherwood, a theater critic for the NY Times, recently reviewed the experience of eating at the chef's table of a restaurant as if it were theater. The restaurant's open kitchen allowed Isherwood to critique the experience of watching a kitchen work. The review of George Mendes' Aldea features only one sentence about the food.
The idea that drama resides only in conflict is a superficial truth. The fascinating magic of watching a high-level kitchen function lies partly in the accretion of detail, as you see the dishes being constructed in layers and with the kind of expertise that, as in a good theater production, makes the most difficult feats look easy.
Hopeful reservation makers for Chef RJ Cooper's new Rogue 24 in Washington, DC are asked to sign a 2 page contract which defines the cancellation policy (half charge for cancellation 3 days out, full charge for cancellation day of), bans cell phones and cameras, and asks the diners to choose one of 2 tasting menus (with or without wine pairing). The contract is here. I don't know why they use a paper contract and not a webform.
RJ Cooper on changes to the reservation contract at Rogue 24. In their defense, I don't think having a cancellation policy is a problem, especially if it's stated, but not always enforced, as this one was.
I get the sense that you had no idea this contract would be a point of controversy.
No, I didn't. But it's not any different than going to Minibar or Alinea. The difference is that Alinea has six reservationists that can handle that; we have one. Minibar has six seats; we have 52. Komi has a no camera and phone policy in their restaurant. What's the difference? Is it going to make experience better to have a phone? ... I'd rather just sit and really enjoy the experience of a place like this. Are we doing this out of arrogance? No. Are we doing it out of being hyped? No. We're doing it to make sure you as a diner have a valued experience.
Art of the Menu is a new collection of well-designed menus by the folks who bring you Brand New. Two of the most interesting menus I've run across are Shopsins' (the design of which I wrote about several years ago) and Alinea's (the menu is an infographic).
A documentary about El Bulli offers "a rare inside look at some of the world's most innovative and exciting cooking".
Chef Dave is really inspired by a children's book right now, and our next menu can be entirely built on that. Or we can be an exact replica of another time and place. One menu might be from my memory: My first day at The French Laundry. It comes down to trying to be expressive. You can be expressive with a plate of food, or with the whole concept of a restaurant.
Another menu we're planning is El Bulli. One course from each year from 1983 to 2003. I'd work with Ferran [Adria] to choose the dishes that he feels are his most significant; I'd need to get him on board with that.
That El Bulli menu? Fucking crazytown. And this is the third or fourth time I've heard about the "first day at The French Laundry" menu and every single time my mouth starts watering and my hand reaches for my wallet. (via @kathrynyu)
In a somewhat flawed test -- e.g. part of the In-N-Out burger package was confiscated by airport security -- the Shake Shack beat Five Guys and In-N-Out in a Serious Eats taste test.
Clearly the In-N-Out burgers making their trans-continental trip by plane would be at a disadvantage to the made-fresh-in-the-same-city burgers from Five Guys and Shake Shack, so in order to compensate for this, we made the decision to handicap all three burgers by the same amount. After a careful synchronization of watches, burgers were ordered from their respective establishments at precisely 1 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time (that's 9 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. Pacific) and not tasted until the following morning.
I used to be a big In-N-Out fan (their burger is still a great fast food burger), but the slightly more upscale Shack Burger is my favorite burger in the whole wide world...it is indeed, as the article states, "a marvel of beefy engineering".
A.A. Gill has a hilarious and epic review of L'Ami Louis in Paris, which he dubs "the worst restaurant in the world".
What you actually find when you arrive at L'Ami Louis is singularly unprepossessing. It's a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It's painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.
Kenji from Serious Eats went to In-N-Out, found a willing employee accomplice ("Awesome! I've been waiting for this day ever since I started working here!"), and proceeded to order one of everything off of the menu, the well-known secret menu, and the not-so-well-known super secret menu.
That should make you feel better about yourself when you tuck into the meat and cheese fest known as the Flying Dutchman -- the ultimate Atkins-friendly menu item. Two slices of cheese melted between two burger patties. No rabbit food, no wimpy buns, just pure protein and fat. Want to kick up the manliness by yet another factor? Ask for a Flying Dutchman Animal Style and they'll add a scoop of diced onions to the cheese. Pickles and spread will come on the side, so you'll have to add them yourself. "I wish we could add the spread and pickles for you, but it's just too messy for the cooks," explained an apologetic Thomas. The result definitely wins the award for messiest menu item of all time.
At MoMA on Friday and Saturday: screenings of a German documentary on Ferran Adrià's El Bulli.
For six months of the year, heralded chef Ferran Adrià and his team of experts concoct new dishes for the 30 course menu of the world famous El Bulli Restaurant. Here we watch their behind-the-scenes process, an artistic laboratory of tasting, smelling, designing and carefully recording each new idea, then selecting their top choices.
The NY Times has a preview of Grant Achatz's and Nick Kokonas's next restaurant Next. [Insert elaborate Who's On First routine with a nice mise en place pun here.]
The two of them -- the spare, driven artist and the comfortable, fluid patron -- evoke a modern Michelangelo and Medici, bonded by mutual trust and now locked into a very public artistic endeavor. With Next, Mr. Achatz is operating at a level of creative and financial freedom enjoyed by very few artists and only a handful of chefs in history.
And this line got me more excited than I should admit:
A menu might be designed around a single day -- say, the Napa Valley on Oct. 28, 1996, the day Mr. Achatz started work at the French Laundry, where he remained until 2001.
The slideshow has some photos of the food.
I tweeted earlier this evening about the Buffalo wings blue cheese dip I made for tomorrow's football festivities and a couple people were wondering about the recipe, so here you go. Legend has it this is the original recipe from the Anchor Bar (aka the birthplace for Buffalo wings), clipped out of a Buffalo newspaper by Meg's mother in the 70s and copied out longhand in Meg's recipe notebook.
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
Combine. Chill. Me? I did the onion and garlic first and then added the lemon juice and vinegar and let that sit while I measured out the mayo and sour cream. Salt and peppers after everything else is mixed. Tastes great! Go Buffalo!
Instead of getting his own TV show, David Chang is making a series of iPad apps and printed journals (published by McSweeney's no less).
Mr. Chang said that he had talked to television networks about doing a program, but that this offered more freedom and more possibilities, as well as providing research and development for his restaurants. "We were able to go a little deeper than we could have on TV, without being constrained by the networks," he said. "They wanted yelling. They wanted everything but education."
Your move, Kokonas.
Chef John Fraser's new NYC restaurant will be designed to be open for only nine months...until the building it's in is demolished. Some other unusual things about the restaurant: diners set their own tables, chairs are from eBay, and it's funded in part via Kickstarter.
With little more than two weeks before the planned opening, he was still formulating the initial menu and pricing. For one appetizer he envisioned a Gruyere, leek and potato veloute; for another, Arctic char in aspic. For entrees he was mulling a pork cheek, a veal shank, Dover sole for two. These would probably be served as part of a three-course prix fixe for $58, he said.
Nothing too unconventional there. But beyond the plate, he said, anything goes. Although he'll take reservations, he's bypassing the Web service Open Table (too cumbersome). And he's curious about having a marching band stomp through some night. Obligatory resourcefulness has given way to revolutionary thoughts.
It's called Finesse and it's available at any of Thomas Keller's restaurants.
The theme of the 64-page first issue is history, so Keller and co. have collected stories -- and the expected gorgeous photography -- all about the Laundry and every aspect of the restaurant: longtime staffers, former cooks, journalists.
Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman pen articles. Chefs of all kinds make cameos. But it's more than that -- the magazine also highlights lesser known, yet essential parts of the French Laundry machine, like the wine producer who partners with the restaurant to create the Cuvee French Laundry.
McDonald's in the Czech Republic has introduced a line of NYC-themed hamburgers, including the Wall Street Beef and SoHo Grande:
Grilled beef, spicy salami pepperoni, cheese, crisp, with cheese sauce and salsa mexico-tion in the bun, cheese.
Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley has a fascinating interview with Alan Stillman, the founder of TGI Friday's and Smith & Wollensky. Stillman started Friday's because, essentially, he was interested in meeting girls.
I wanted T.G.I. Friday's to feel like a neighbourhood, corner bar, where you could get a good hamburger, good french fries, and feel comfortable. At the time, it was a sophisticated hamburger and french fry place -- apparently, I invented the idea of serving burgers on a toasted English muffin -- but the principle involved was to make people feel that they were going to someone's apartment for a cocktail party.
The food eventually played a larger role than I imagined it would, because a lot of the girls didn't have enough money to stretch from one paycheque to the other, so I became the purveyor of free hamburgers at the end of the month.
I don't think there was anything else like it at the time. Before T.G.I. Friday's, four single twenty-five year-old girls were not going out on Friday nights, in public and with each other, to have a good time. They went to people's apartments for cocktail parties or they might go to a real restaurant for a date or for somebody's birthday, but they weren't going out with each other to a bar for a casual dinner and drinks because there was no such place for them to go.
Eater has an interview with Gabe Stulman and Jim McDuffee, proprietors of Joseph Leonard, on how the first year of their West Village restaurant went. Watching the chefs make such good food out of such a small kitchen an impressive spectacle.
The limitations that we have are, I think, severe. We don't have a freezer, anywhere. We don't have ice cream or sorbet, we don't have anything that needs to be frozen, it's all fresh, fresh, fresh. We've got refrigerators touching each other over there. We've got ten burners, two ovens, a fryer and a salamander. That's what most people have as a prep kitchen. It's really impressive when I look at how we've got five seafood entrees, five meat entrees, thirteen appetizers, all done with these varying, beautiful techniques and preparations. I tip my hat to everything that Jim and the team in the kitchen have been able to pull off.
It took awhile for my wife and I to warm up to it, but Joe Leo is our go-to neighborhood restaurant now. On our one child-free night out a week, we generally end up there.
One of the drinks that the Alinea crew is tinkering with for Aviary (a cocktail bar with food pairings) is like bubble tea crossed with gin and tonic.
The new menu at Alinea is 21 courses long and takes about 2.5 hours for a meal according to a Tweet by Alinea chef Grant Achatz. In June, Alinea announced they would only be offering one menu, down from two, though that menu was discussed as 15-16 courses.
Today in the excellent Food Lab series, Kenji Lopez-Alt reverse engineers the In-N-Out burger.
According to the In-N-Out nutrition guideline, replacing the Spread with ketchup results in a decrease of 80 calories per sandwich. I know that ketchup has about 15 calories per tablespoon, so If we estimate that an average sandwich has about 2 tablespoons of sauce on it (that's the amount that's inside a single packet), then we can calculate that the Spread has got about 55 calories per tablespoon (110 calories in two tablespoons of Spread minus 30 calories in 2 tablespoons of ketchup = 80 calories difference in the sandwich). With me so far?
It just so happens that relish has about the same caloric density as ketchup (15 calories per tablespoon), and that mayonnaise has a caloric density of 80 calories per tablespoon. Using all of this information and a bit of 7th grade algebra, I was able to quickly calculate that the composition of the Spread is roughly 62 percent mayo, and 38 percent ketchup/relish blend.
From a collection of old menus from Colorado, the 1892 menu from a Denver restaurant called The Boston Bakery and Lunch Room (For Ladies and Gents).
Porterhouse steak with mushrooms: 70 cents. This particular menu also contains a sort of customer bill of rights: an explanation of how waiters should treat customers and how the restaurant will catch you if you try to skip out on your check.
Now, we want your trade, and we do not care whether your check is 5¢ or $5; you will be rightly treated and correctly waited upon, or we will know the reason why, if you will only report any neglect to the head waiter or to us before leaving your seat.
The waiters are instructed to be civil and polite to every one, whether they are so to them or not, for even should the customer use bad manners, the waiter must not.
Have no conversation with the customer, except what is strictly necessary.
Give everyone a napkin who asks for it.p>Give each one a glass of water as soon as seated.
Be as quick and quiet as possible.
Place the orders down quietly; don't slam them down.
Give each customer a check as son as you serve the order and see that it is kept in sight. Very few beats come in here, but experience has taught us that there are some. We will give any waiter $2.00 who will give us information that will enable us or the head waiter to detect any one in the act of Check Beating.
We want to call the customer's attention to the fact that when we are looking at your checks and orders, it is as much to see that you are rightly served and not over-checked as that your not under-checked. Most would understand this but some might not.
See also the NYPL menu collection. (thx, micah)
Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, and his team are opening a restaurant called Next:
No reservations...you have to buy tickets, like for a play or a ballgame.
Your tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including service. Ticket price will depend on which seating you buy -- Saturday at 8 PM will be more expensive than Wednesday at 9:30 PM. This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price. We will also offer an annual subscription to all four menus at a discount with preferred seating.
The menu changes four times a year and each menu will be influenced by a particular place and time (Paris 1912, Hong Kong 2036). A Mad Men-era NYC menu please?
Great interview with Five Guys Burgers and Fries founder Jerry Murrell. Their entire focus is on the product.
The magic to our hamburgers is quality control. We toast our buns on a grill -- a bun toaster is faster, cheaper, and toasts more evenly, but it doesn't give you that caramelized taste. Our beef is 80 percent lean, never frozen, and our plants are so clean, you could eat off the floor. The burgers are made to order -- you can choose from 17 toppings. That's why we can't do drive-throughs -- it takes too long. We had a sign: "If you're in a hurry, there are a lot of really good hamburger places within a short distance from here." People thought I was nuts. But the customers appreciated it.
Good name too. My son frequently asks if we're "going to go visit the five guys" to get "hangleburgers and peanuts".
North Korea operates several restaurants outside of the country (in Cambodia, China, and elsewhere in Asia) in order to procure necessary foreign currency and as a front for money laundering operations.
Visitors to the restaurant are ushered into an air-conditioned, flood-lit hall filled with dozens of glass-topped tables. Unlike North Korea proper, which is wracked by economic sanctions and constant famines, the food here is fresh and abundant. The menu features specialties such as Pyongyang "cold noodle" (served encrusted with ice), barbecued cuttlefish, stringy dangogi (dog meat) soup, and countless variations on the kimchi theme, all served with glutinous white rice.
This list of secret restaurant menus is informative, hilarious, and possibly innaccurate in places. Fatburger will serve you something called the Hypocrite (veggie burger topped with bacon) and at the classy Long John Silvers you can get a Side of Crumbs, a free box of the fried batter parts that have fallen off of the fried seafood items. Mmmmmm!!! (via cyn-c)
Update: Several of my British moles have informed me that it is common practice at some fish and chips shops to ask for a "bag of scraps", which is where LJS got the idea for their Side of Crumbs. More info here.
Alinea chef Grant Achatz describes what he witnessed the first time he ate and cooked at El Bulli in 2000.
Chef Keller looked down at the magazine and spoke softly: Read this tonight when you go home. His food really sounds interesting, and right up your alley. I think you should go stage there this summer....I will arrange it for you.
I don't read Spanish and the translation is a little rough in spots, but the gist of this article from the Spanish newspaper El País is that Ferran Adrià says that El Bulli will not be closing permanently and calls what was published on Friday by the NY Times "a misunderstanding".
In 2014 we will serve meals, but we will consider the format used and the booking system. But still two years of operation of El Bulli and four years to open the doors again.
Or perhaps the restaurant is moving to Austria? Or will become a McDonald's franchise? Who knows what El Bulli news tomorrow holds! Stay tuned. (thx, susan)
Update: Here's some clarification from The Guardian. The restaurant will cease to be a commercial enterprise and will instead be a non-profit foundation "similar to those that run museums and art centres".
Adrià has given himself two years to think about what the new foundation will do. "We are open to suggestions," he said. But he is absolutely sure it will involve cooking and serving food on El Bulli's hallowed premises.
Update: The NY Times clarifies (is that even a word we can apply to this mess at this point?) Adrià's earlier statements about closing the restaurant permanently...it sounds as though he doesn't exactly know what he's doing with it:
"There is nothing defined except that when El Bulli opens in 2014 it will be as a foundation," he said. "We have not decided what the structure of that foundation will be,'' he continued, noting that many culinary foundations "serve food to the public.''
Contrary to earlier reports, Ferran Adria now says that he will close El Bulli permanently, in part because it was losing 500,000 euros a year.
elBulli, the Spanish restaurant routinely named the number one restaurant in the world, will close for two years beginning in 2012.
Adrià and his team will still be working at elBulli, developing ideas and trying to figure out what comes next. But he says the restaurant's current format is finished. "When we come back in 2014, it's not going to be the same," Adrià says.
Call it overrated if you'd like, but Ssam Bar is still the only place in NYC (or perhaps the world) where you can eat, using chopsticks, German-inspired cuisine served to you by a native Spanish speaker while drinking a glass of sparkling red wine and listening to 90s hip-hop in a restaurant conceived by an American junior golf champion from Virginia whose parents were from Korea.
If I had to choose my all-time favorite restaurant dishes, the smoked haddock chowder from The Spotted Pig would definitely be on there, possibly in the top five. Years after I asked Ed Levine of Serious Eats if he could get the recipe, he finally posts the recipe for me.
When infusing the haddock, think of making a cup of tea. You want to pull all the smoky flavors out into the cream. This will result in a deeply rich soup. Once you make this you will never go back to another chowder.
Thank you Ed and April! (I'm really holding back on the exclamation points here; I'm almost irrationally excited to cook this for dinner tomorrow night...if I can find smoked haddock somewhere in NYC...)
The Shake Shack is turning into Danny Meyer's accidental fast food empire.
"A hamburger stand is a very democratizing amenity," he said. "We hope that each new Shake Shack can become both a citizen of, and mirror of, their communities."
There is much about the restaurant that is inefficient, as MBAs are quick to note: Adrià should lower his staff numbers, use cheaper ingredients, improve his supply chain, and increase the restaurant's hours of operation. But "fixing" elBulli turns it into just another restaurant, says Norton: "The things that make it inefficient are part of what makes it so valuable to people."
For the first time ever, a Michelin Guide reviewer knowingly sits down to a meal with a journalist, New Yorker writer John Colapinto. The resulting article is pretty interesting; here's my favorite bit:
Le Bernardin was one of only four restaurants in New York (along with Jean Georges, Thomas Keller's Per Se, and the now defunct Alain Ducasse at the Essex House) that earned three stars in the debut issue of the Michelin guide, and it has held on to its three stars ever since. Ripert estimates that revenues increased by eighteen per cent when the first guide came out, but the pressure to hold on to his stars has also escalated.
An 18% increase? Assuming that Le Bernardin was already booked solid before the guide came out and expenses remained constant, that means that the same number of diners generated that increase...presumably Michelin Guide readers spend more on dining than even Le Bernardin regulars do. Margins on Manhattan restaurants, even the fancy ones, generally aren't that large...an 18% increase is insane.
Update: A slight clarification. I fudged the 18% revenue increase into an 18% increase in profits...which isn't the case. But since I'm assuming that the revenue increased was generated by the about same number of customers and that most of the expenses (rent, staff, etc.) stayed the same, the profit margin had to increase by some significant amount (for a Manhattan restaurant). And if those new customers ordered more tasting menus or more expensive bottles of wine, I would assume that the profit margin on those items are higher than average as well. So, my guess is that if you asked Eric Ripert if Le Bernardin's profit margin increased after the Michelin Guide came out, he would answer in the affirmative...but it wouldn't be an 18% increase.
With a bit of research and social engineering, an enterprising burger enthusiast has figured out the recipe for the infamous Shake Shack burger.
Exclamation point interlude: !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Upon tasting it, my immediate thoughts are mayo, ketchup, a little yellow mustard, a hint of garlic and paprika, perhaps a touch of cayenne pepper, and an elusive sour quality that I can't quite pinpoint. It's definitely not just vinegar or lemon juice, nor is does it have the cloying sweetness of relish. Pickle juice? Cornichon? Some other type of vinegar? I can't figure it out. This was going to take a little more effort.
Totally doing this for dinner one of these nights. We'll probably cheat on the ground beef...we've got some Pat LaFrieda patties stockpiled in the freezer.
Challenged to enjoy the food at The Cheesecake Factory, Michael Ruhlman finds some good dishes and a not so good overall impression.
The fact that any of the 146 [Cheesecake Factory restaurants] around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency.
Keller showcases dishes that can be made every day (and not just for special occasions). Invaluable lessons, secrets, tips and tricks -- as well as charming personal anecdotes -- accompany recipes for such classics as the best fried chicken, beef Stroganoff, roasted spring leg of lamb, hamburger, the crispiest fried fish, chicken soup with dumplings, potato hash with bacon and melted onions, and superlative grilled cheese sandwiches, apple fritters, buttermilk biscuits, relishes and pickles, cherry pie -- 200 recipes in all.
It's due November 1. Ruhlman, did you have a hand in this one?
Update: Ruhlman says "yes".
Get yer clickity fingers ready: you can pre-order the Momofuku cookbook on Amazon. Publication date is October 27, 2009. It is likely to include the several recipes that David Chang shared with Gourmet magazine in Oct 2007 like the brussels sprouts and the still-amazing pork buns. (via serious eats)
Update: NY Times food critic Frank Bruni also has a book coming out soon: Born Round (weird title).
You can't open up a Vermont pancake shop without Vermont maple syrup.
This story offers up a microcosm of the contemporary American experience.
Banh Mi Saigon Bakery, one of my favorite places to get my lunch on, gets a shout-out in the NY Times. The bread is really fantastic. I'm intrigued by the sandwich at Silent H called the Greenpoint:
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, where authenticity is not as strictly enforced, Vinh Nguyen has created a succulent banh mi at Silent H called the Greenpoint: a tribute to the area's many traditional Polish butcher shops. Instead of cha lua, smooth pork terrine, he lays on Krakowska kielbasa, a smoked sausage. "That smokiness and pepperiness makes perfect sense on a banh mi," he said. "I would be a fool to ignore these great traditional products being made in my neighborhood."
Yes, more sandwiches!
A fifteen-year old foodie used some of the money from his summer job to go dine solo at Per Se. In an attempt to secure the hard-to-get reservation, he asked to be excused from his classroom and dialed the reservations line while hiding in the bathroom.
It was September 29th; exactly two months from the Saturday of Thanksgiving break and one of the few times I would be able to make the trek up to New York to dine at Per Se. I would have to call to make the reservation at Per Se at exactly 10 A.M today if I had any hope of getting that Saturday reservation. The only problem? I had school.
I sat patiently in my 9:30 - 10:25 science class as the clock neared 10. Very strategically, at exactly 9:57, I innocently asked to use the bathroom. I walked, no sprinted to the bathroom down the hall. I scrolled down my contact list until I reached Per Se, then dialed, and waited...
Eat me daily rounds up a recent AIGA event about food. The most interesting tidbit came from Matteo Bologna's speech. Bologna designs restaurants, most notably for Keith McNally (Pastis, Balthazar, Morandi, Schillers, etc.).
Really fascinating was what he and McNally did for Pastis -- it doesn't actually have a visual brand. McNally wanted the restaurant to look like it had been in the neighborhood for years, so Bologna constructed this narrative of a family that had maintained the restaurant for a century, and each generation some element gets updated or redesigned, but without going for consistency or even style. The result is completely different-looking signage, awnings, menus, wine lists, checks... everything uses a different palette, type set, but its essential Frenchiness ties everything together. It's an anti-brand.
The name of the restaurant is thus a play on pastiche in addition to being named after the French aperitif. (via eater)
More on the Saigon Grill saga: the owners were arrested yesterday on over 400 counts of "violating minimum-wage laws, falsifying business records and defrauding the state's unemployment insurance system".
"Like so many restaurants across New York City, Saigon Grill was run on the backs of its workers," Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. "These workers allowed the business to thrive, and in exchange they were allegedly cheated out of wages, fined for ridiculous reasons" and, he said, "pulled into a painstaking ploy to cover it all up."
This NY Times article about Shopsin's is full of wisdom and bullshit (sometimes both at the same time) from owner Kenny Shopsin.
"I dedicate myself to consuming all sorts of ideas," says Shopsin, an avid reader and Internet crawler. "Eventually something inside me, probably skewed by my erotic feelings about breasts and things like that, assembles a product and just shoots it up." For example, a recent item on the food blog Serious Eats about foods on a stick led to the State Fair combo plate: corn-dog sausage, s'mores pancakes and chicken-fried eggs. New dishes are printed on the menu the same day: "I spent almost $3,000 on toner in the last three months," Shopsin says.
One of the most popular events of the annual New Yorker Festival is Calvin Trillin's food-oriented walking tour of SoHo, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, and Little Italy. According to the New York Times, one of the tour's favorite destinations is Banh Mi Saigon Bakery, also one of my top lunch destinations.
Standing outside, dipping his roll into peanut sauce, he said he liked to eat standing up. "If I couldn't eat in a four-star restaurant again, it would mean nothing to me," he said. "But if someone said I couldn't eat any more cilantro, I would be very upset."
Remember the fun we had reading about this root beer tasting a few months back? The #1 root beer from that tasting, Sprecher (from Wisconsin), is now available on the root beer section of the menu at Ssam Bar. My Moscato d'Asti-addled brain forgot to get a bottle to go when I was there last, but I'll be back for you soon, Sprecher.
The Washington Post takes a stroll through Manhattan, circa the Mad Men era.
Sterling Cooper, as every fan with a pause button knows, is at 405 Madison Ave., an address that...does not exist. If it did exist, it would be where a bank of Chase ATMs is now, not the ideal spot to spend the morning, but don't worry, soon it will be 11:30 and time for your first cocktail.
As part of their monster 40th anniversary celebration, New York magazine has some notes from the past four decades of food and dining in NYC. Gael Greene remembers her favorite meal as a restaurant critic and also lists the 14 most important NYC restaurants over the past 40 years. No Union Square Cafe? Meyer deserves some credit for taking the stuffiness out of NYC dining.
Legendary chef André Soltner and David Chang share a conversation about the state of food in the city. When Soltner was asked if he did interviews, he replied:
If they came to Lutèce, if they came to my kitchen, yes. I would not go out. If they asked me to go to Chicago to do a fund-raising dinner, it was, "No." If they asked me to come to give me a prize or whatever, I said, "Only on Sundays, when I'm not in the kitchen." I was sort of a slave to my restaurant. And my wife too. I don't say it was right. Today, I maybe say it was wrong. Years ago, in Paris, we had no money. But when we were more comfortable, maybe twenty years later, I said, "Simone, you know, you've paid your dues and everything, I buy you whatever you wish." I was thinking to buy her a ring or a necklace or something like that. "Whatever you wish, tell me." She looked at me and said, "Take me to a movie." For twenty years, I hadn't taken her to a movie. I woke up. I said, "Oh my God, what did I do to my wife?"
And finally but wonderfully, a timeline of food in NYC. The first McDonald's opened here in 1972 and Starbucks in 1994. Hanger steak was big in 1990.
Update: Depending on what you consider a war, the theory has been proven incorrect before. (thx, lots of folks who sent this in)
Michael Ruhlman has some photos of the Alinea book in the wild. Though possibly biased, he says it's a beaut.
Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas, along with designer Martin Kastner and his wife, photographer Lara Kastner, wanted to do it on their own and so they have. Kastner, I believe a sculptor by trade, had never designed a book. His wife had never photographed a book, food or otherwise. Grant and Nick had never done a book either. And they were told by numerous publishers (in a nasally dismissive tone, Kokonas suggested) that they just didn't have the skill or experience to do what they wanted to ("Gray pages?! You can't do gray pages!" "You can't sell a book like this at that price.")
As mentioned in the post, the Alinea book is only $31.50 if you order through Amazon.
Joel Spolsky, popular tech writer and founder of Fog Creek Software, has an article in the September 2008 issue of Inc. called How Hard Could It Be: How I Learned to Love Middle Managers. In it, Spolsky details how he came to the idea of building a small company where middle management was unnecessary. He took particular inspiration from an article he read about a GE plant.
It was about a General Electric plant in Durham, North Carolina, that made jet engines, and it offered a portrait of the perfect work environment: a factory that had more than 170 employees but just one boss. All the engine technicians reported directly to the plant manager, who did not have the time or the inclination to micromanage. There was no time clock, and people set their own schedules. Pay was egalitarian (there were only three pay grades), and workers who assembled the engines could switch tasks each day so their jobs were not monotonous. The result? In terms of quality, the plant was nearly perfect. Three-quarters of the engines it produced were flawless, and the remaining 25 percent typically had only a slight cosmetic defect.
The no-management rule worked at Fog Creek for a time but as the employee count crept up, cracks appeared in the system. Employees became disgrunted, in part because of a perceived lack of availability of the only two members of management, the CEO (Spolsky) and the president. To fix the problem, Fog Creek established a small layer of middle management.
First, we eliminated the need to get both me and Michael in the room. You have a question? I'm the CEO. Talk to me. If I want to consult with Michael, that's my problem, not yours. Second, we appointed leaders for two of the programming teams -- in effect, creating that layer of hierarchy that I had tried to avoid.
And frankly, people here seem to be happier with a little bit of middle management. Not middle management that's going to overrule the decisions they make on their own. Not symbolic middle management that only makes people feel important. But middle management that creates useful channels of communication. If my job is getting obstacles out of the way so my employees can get their work done, these managers exist so that, when an employee has a local problem, there's someone there, in the office next door, whom they can talk to.
Given his inital progressive approach to building a company, I'm surprised that Spolsky didn't try something a bit different. For instance, Adaptive Path is structured using an advocate system. AP co-founder Peter Merholz explained the system to me via email.
It's a way of avoiding typical management structures, where you have people reporting up a hierarchy. Our current structure has two levels... Executive management, and everyone else. That "everyone else" doesn't report to the executive management. Instead, the report to one another through the advocate system. Each employee has an advocate. An advocate is like a manager, except they don't tell you what to do. They are there to help you achieve what you want, professionally. Employees choose their own advocates. They simply ask someone if they would be their advocate.
Merholz allows that what the advocacy system doesn't help with is communication across the organization -- the very problem that was plaguing Fog Creek -- and would likely work best alongside a light layer of middle management. But with the right guidelines and some slight changes, I believe it could work well in a company of 20-30 employees.
The Grey Dog's Coffee restaurants -- there are two locations in Manhattan -- use a slightly different system of rotating management. Co-owner David Ethan explains.
From a historic perspective, I like to think that it's one of the few truly bohemian places left in New York City, just based on the way we run it, like a commune. The management system here is that everybody manages. In order to work here you have two tries to show you can manage the place and if you can't, you're fired. Everybody manages about one shift a week and everybody's equal. People work hard for each other. I don't want to let you down because tomorrow it will be me. And I think they enjoy the responsibility of running a New York City restaurant. They get to pick the music, set the vibe, the lighting, everything. And they're all pretty laid back, so it's got a bohemian nature.
Running a restaurant each day and operating a software development company are quite different (for one thing, having a new boss every week wouldn't work at a company like Fog Creek), but rotating managers on a project-by-project basis might work well. (BTW, I think Adaptive Path at one point rotated the presidency of the company through each of the founders in one-year chunks.)
Pentagram's organizational structure provides a third possible way of avoiding a traditional system of middle management...although probably less germane to the Fog Creek situation than the previous two examples. The company is composed of several loosely connected teams that operate more or less autonomously while sharing some necessary services. Pentagram partner Paula Scher explained the system in her book, Make It Bigger.
As a design firm Pentagram's structure is unique; it is essentially a group of small businesses linked together financially through necessary services and through mutual interests. Each partner maintains a design team, usually consisting of a senior designer, a couple of junior designers, and a project coordinator. The partners share accounting services, secretarial and reception services, and maintain a shared archive. Pentagram partners are responsible for attracting and developing their own business, but they pool their billings, draw the same salary, and share profit in the form of an annual bonus. It's a cooperative...
She goes on to add:
Pentagram's unique structure enabled me to operate as if I were a principal at a powerful corporate design firm while maintaining the individuality of a small practitioner.
Working small with the resources of a bigger firm, that's the common thread here. I imagine there are many more similar approaches but these are a few I've run across in the past couple of years.
Here's a clip from the This American Life TV show about a hot dog joint in Chicago called The Wieners Circle. On weekend nights after the bars close, the staff and drunken patrons yell verbal abuse at one another like prison inmates or Jerry Springer's guests.
This, this free-for-all has doubled their business, Larry and Barry figure. They end up seeing a side of people that, honestly, changes how you feel about everybody. You really wish you never saw it.
There are several other Wieners Circle videos on YouTube, including one where a customer orders a chocolate shake, throws down $40, and one of the workers begins to take her shirt off. (via delicious ghost)
Caroline Kininmonth runs a restaurant in Australia that doesn't serve food. The place is BYOF and donations are accepted in a box next to the front door. (thx, john)
New York Times food critic Frank Bruni tries out the Urbanspoon restaurant-seeking application on the iPhone (shake the phone to find restaurant options near you) and ends up writing a pretty convincing argument for individual expertise over collective wisdom.
I locked in a price of two dollar signs and shook again. Up came the Morgan Dining Room, and off went an alarm in my head. Isn't the Morgan Dining Room a lunch place that's closed most nights? I called to make sure, and, sure enough, got a recording.
Urbanspoon is more of a beginning than an end, unable to factor in, for example, whether the restaurant it's recommending books up a month in advance (Babbo, for example) or often has long waits (Momofuku Ssam Bar). That's a troublesome shortcoming in New York, where competition for seats in the most popular places is fierce.
According to The Waiter, eighty percent of customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. The remaining twenty percent, however, are socially maladjusted psychopaths. Waiter Rant offers the server's unique point of view, replete with tales of customer stupidity, arrogant misbehavior, and unseen bits of human grace transpiring in the most unlikely places. Through outrageous stories, The Waiter reveals the secrets to getting good service, proper tipping etiquette, and how to keep him from spitting in your food. The Waiter also shares his ongoing struggle, at age thirty-eight, to figure out if he can finally leave the first job at which he's truly thrived.
At considerably more lofty establishments, though, formal family meals take place shortly before lunch or dinner service, giving staff members time to both relax and rev up before their long and arduous shifts. It's a simple concept, and as I discovered while hopping from one acclaimed New York restaurant to the next, if you're lucky to work somewhere that serves caramelized, blanched, or poached vegetables, rather than "bloomin' " ones, you're in for a real treat.
I was wondering the other day what the family meal is like at a place like Alinea, where the kitchen doesn't have a lot of traditional cooking implements. Does everyone just get a spoonful of powdered pork chops and 15 minutes at the pea soup IV drip station at some point during the evening? (via eater)
Update: Family meal at Alinea sounds downright normal:
Family meal was green salad with vinaigrette; baked potatoes with sour cream, chives, bacon, and a bacon and eggs mayo; blanched broccoli; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; and a huge tub of iced coffee. I also brought a box of assorted Chinese pastry snacks from Richwell Market in Chinatown - including pastry-wrapped thousand-year-old egg.
Washington Post writer admits to having a fantasy of correcting typos in restaurant menus with "a distinctive purple pen". But sometimes the computer's spellchecker is no help.
Despite my attempts to stop it, my Microsoft Word program would always change the word for Italy's famous cured meat into what it assumed I meant to type. The night we closed an issue, I would have nightmares that when the magazine hit the stands, one of my reviews would describe "the delicate sweet and salty balance of melon and prostitute."
A fancy Manhattan restaurant opened by famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten features on its menu a dish called "Sea Urchin Bukkake". It, er, comes with "all the condiments of bukkake". (I could go on, but that's a good place to stop.)
A really nice remembrance of Florent, a beloved meatpacking district restaurant set to close its doors next month, by the people who knew the restaurant best.
The first time I went to Florent I had been out very late at night with some friends and we were looking for somewhere to go for breakfast at about, you know, 3:30 or 4 o'clock in the morning. We went down there and it was very dark and we came onto Gansevoort Street and the restaurant was lit up and it looked - it looked almost like a mirage. It felt magical.
The article is not just a history of Florent but also of a Manhattan and New York City that is all but gone. Says Calvin Klein:
It was alive with real downtown character types who dressed every which way: from straight, creative types of all ages, young and old, to transvestites, to probably local prostitutes. It was downtown. It was real downtown. That's when they were cutting meat all night long. And that was during the Studio 54 days. We were young and we were having a lot of fun and we were out all night. And we'd end up in the meatpacking district, at the clubs. You went to Florent after the clubs.
The New Yorker profiles chef Grant Achatz this week. The piece focuses on his restaurant, Alinea, and the battle with tongue cancer that threatened his life, and worse to Achatz, his career and passion. The loss of his sense of taste had a bright side:
Because his ability to taste has come back over time, Achatz feels that he is understanding the sense in a new way -- the way you would if you could see only in black-and-white and, one by one, colors were restored to you. He says, "When I first tasted a vanilla milkshake" -- after the end of his treatment -- "it tasted very sweet to me, because there's no salt, no acid. It just tasted sweet. Now, introduce bitter, so now I'm understanding the relationship between sweet and bitter -- how they work together and how they balance. And now, as salt comes back, I understand the relationship among the three components."
In March, The New Yorker published a profile of a chef who was about to open a restaurant. The chef complained about his health, worried about the future and cursed as if he had slammed his thumb in a car door.
On Monday, the magazine will publish a profile of another chef. Last year a doctor told this chef that he had advanced oral cancer and that unless he had his tongue cut out, he would be dead within a few months. According to The New Yorker, the chef reacted as if he'd just been handed a particularly challenging logic problem.
The point of the contrast is not to marginalize Chang's problems or his reaction to them but to demonstrate what a different approach Achatz takes to kitchen work than the typical (stereotypical?) Anthony Bourdainity of the restaurant kitchen.
Nice anecdote from a former line chef at the French Laundry about Eric Ziebold, then the sous-chef there.
He was TFL's first ever sous chef and to this day I have never seen any one person work so many hours. (He, Thomas & Laura all put in 17-19 hour days, 7 days a week.) Everyone knows The French Laundry is an amazing restaurant, but few know why. It's easy to blame or praise one person, but the truth is that it takes a village.
At the same time, I don't think the cooks look at me as a real community member. I'm not that cozy paternal figure. I'm always doing different things, and it creates this atmosphere where the cooks are on the balls of their feet. They're thinking, Where's he going next, what's happening next? There's a little bit of confusion. I think that's good. It's hard to articulate, because you think of the kitchen as very organized; and, like I said, the more control you have, the better. But a little bit of chaos creates tension. And that creates energy and passion, and it tends to make you season something the right way or reach for something that would add this, that, or the other thing.
The other chefs are Alice Waters, Grant Achatz, and Wylie Dufresne. The one thing they all talked about is the importance of open sight lines, both between the dining room and kitchen and among the chefs in the kitchen.
After 10 years, kottke.org favorite New Green Bo (still the best soup dumplings in town, IMO) has changed its name to Nice Green Bo.
We're 10 years old, and we have so many nice customers, so we made it Nice Green Bo.
Update: My officemate Scott snapped a photo of the new signage during lunch.
I required redemption. When I arrived home two weeks ago after work, I was informed by my wife that I'd forgotten our anniversary. Eep. To partially make up for my cliched gaffe, I put my efforts towards getting a reservation at Momofuku Ko...the notoriously hard-to-get-into Momofuku Ko.1 We're big fans of the other two Momofukus, so I logged into their online reservation system and happened to get something for last Friday night.
But this isn't a story about their reservation system; too many of those have been written already. Bottom line: the food is wonderful and should be the focus of any Ko tale. Two dishes in particular were the equal of any I've had at other more expensive restaurants. The first was a pea soup with the most tender langoustine. The second dish, the superstar of the restaurant, was a coddled egg with caviar, onion soubise, and tiny potato chips (photo). Didn't want that one to end. And I didn't even mention the shaved foie gras (with Reisling built right in!) or the English muffins amuse or the nice wine pairings.
1. I spent all of five minutes on a Saturday morning making the reservation on the Ko web site. It can be done.
2. Chang and co. are serious about the web site being the only way to get into the restaurant. As we were leaving after our meal, a friend of Chang's and bona fide celebrity stopped in to say hi. After some chit chat, the fellow asked if he could get a reservation at Ko for the next evening. Chang laughed, apologized, and told him that he had to go through the web site. They're not kidding around, folks. ↩
Frank Bruni, the food critic for the NY Times, wrote yesterday about the difficulty of getting a reservation at David Chang's new Momofuku Ko restaurant. Ko's online reservation system is the *only* way of procuring a seat at the tiny Manhattan restaurant...no walk-ins, no friends of the chef or celebs getting preferential treatment. It works more or less like Ticketmaster's online ticketing: you select the number of guests, it shows you the available reservation times (if any), you click on a time, and if that time is still available when you click it, only then does the system hold your choice while you fill in some information.
It's a simple system; seats for dinner are released on the site a week in advance at 10am each day and the people that click on their preferred times first get the reservations. Ko takes only 32 reservations each night and the restaurant is one of the hottest in town, which means that all the reservations are gone each day in seconds...sometimes in 2 or 3 seconds. Just like Radiohead tickets on Ticketmaster.
Except that diners are not used to this sort of thing. One of Bruni's readers got irritated that he got through to the pick-a-time screen but then when he clicked on his preferred time was told that the reservation was already gone. Someone had beaten him to the punch. So he emailed the restaurant for an explanation. The exchange between the restaurant and the snubbed patron should be familiar with anyone who has done web development for clients or any kind of tech support.
In a nutshell, the would-be patron said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "your system is unfair and broken," and the folks at Ko replied, "sorry, that's how the internet works". The comments on the post are both fascinating and disappointing, with many people attempting to debunk Ko's seemingly lame excuse of, well, that's how the internet works. Except that's pretty much the right answer...although it's clearer to say that that's how a web server communicates with a web browser (and even that is a bit imprecise). When the pick-a-time page is downloaded by a particular browser, it's based on the information the web server had when it sent the page out. The page sits unchanged on your computer -- it doesn't know anything about how many reservations the web server has left to dole out -- until the person clicks on a time. An anonymous commenter in Bruni's thread nails the choice that a web developer has to face in this instance:
This is a multi-user concurrency problem that all sites with limited inventory and a high demand (users all clicking the button all at the same time) have to deal with. It's not an easy problem to solve.
The easier method (which the Ko site has chosen) is to not "lock" a reservation slot until the very end. You submit your party size and the system looks for available slots that it knows about. It shows you the calendar page, with the available slots it knows about (if any). This doesn't update in real time because they haven't implemented it to know about the current state of inventory. This can be done, but it's more complicated.
The more complicated method is to lock a reservation slot upon beginning of the checkout process, with a time out occurring if the user takes too long to finish, or some other error occurs (in other systems this can be a blacklisted credit card number). If this happens, the system throws the reservation slot back into the pool. However, you need to give people a mechanism to keep trying for ones that get thrown back into the pool (like a "Try Again" button).
Building something like this not impossible (see Ticketmaster) but requires a much more real-time system that is aware of who has what, and what stage of the checkout process they're in - in addition to total available inventory. Building a robust system like this is not cheap.
Even then, you might get shut out. You submit your party size, everything is already gone, and you never get to the calendar page. It just moves up the "sold out" disappointment to earlier in the process.
A subsequent commenter suggests using "Web 2.0" technologies (I think he's talking specifically about Ajax) but as Anonymous suggests, that would increase the complexity of the system on the server side (unnecessarily in my mind) while moving up the "'sold out' disappointment to earlier in the process". Plus, that sort of system could put you "on hold" for several minutes while the reservations are taken by the folks in front of you until you're told, "too bad, all gone". I'm not sure that's preferable to being told sooner and may result in much more irritation on the part of potential diners.
In my opinion (as a web developer and as someone who has used Ko's reservation system from start to finish), Ko's system does it right. You're locked into a reservation by the system only when you've chosen exactly what you want. It favors the web user who's prepared & lucky and is simple for Ko to implement and maintain. That the logic used to produce this simple system takes three paragraphs to explain to an end user is irrelevent. After all, a restaurant dinner is easy to eat but explaining how it came to be that way fills entire books.
This might seem too inside baseball for most readers -- the number of people interested in new NYC restaurants *and* web development is likely quite small, even among kottke.org's readership -- but there's an interesting conflict going on here between technology and customer service. What kind of a problem is this...technological or social? Bruni's correspondent blamed the technology and much of the focus of the discussion has been on the process of procuring a reservation. But the main limiting factor is the enormous demand for seats; tens of thousands of people a week vying for a few hundred seats per week. The technology is largely irrelevent; whatever Ko does, however well the reservation system works or doesn't work, nearly all of the people interacting with the restaurant are going to be disappointed that they didn't get in.
A list of amusing restaurant names presented somewhat oddly in scholarly paper format. Pony Espresso is a coffeehouse in Wyoming, Wiener Takes All in a hot dog place in Illinois, and Wholly Mackerel is a Gulf Coast seafood place.
This week's New Yorker has a profile of David Chang, chef/owner of the Momofuku family of restaurants. The profile isn't online but Ed Levine has a nice write-up with some quotes.
Just because we're not Per Se, just because we're not Daniel, just because we're not a four-star restaurant, why can't we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable for not only our own actions but for everyone else's actions, we're gonna do some awesome shit. [...] I know we've won awards, all this stuff, but it's not because we're doing something special -- I believe it's really because we care more than the next guy.
Reading the article, it appears that Chang is using Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef as a playbook here. Caring more than the next guy is right out of the Thomas Keller section of the book...with his perfectly cut green tape and fish swimming the correct way on ice, no one cares more than Keller.
The deliverymen at Saigon Grill won their lawsuit against the restaurant's owners. The employees claimed that they were underpaid ($120 for 75 hours per week!), were fired, and then picketed the restaurant for months.
Twenty-eight of the deliverymen were fired during the next two days, in violation of a federal law prohibiting employers from "retaliating against workers for engaging in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection." As the lawsuit dragged on, diners arriving at the Saigon Grill locations were forced to cross picket lines of angry, unemployed workers.
We live near the Greenwich Village location (the enthusiastic chants of the picketing deliverymen could be heard from our living room) and didn't order from them or visit the restaurant during the strike. Assuming the workers are hired back and the restaurant reinstates delivery, we're looking forward to ordering from them again and doling out some big tips.
NYC restaurant advice from a
huge douchebag Don Juan about where to wine her, dine her, and then complete the rhyming trifecta later that evening.
I have given much thought to this question of romantic restaurants. In each case you have to study the girl and find the right restaurant for her. One If by Land, Two If by Sea. Forget it. A joke. The Terrace. Never. Never. The minute you walk in she knows what you have in mind. You might as well write her a note 'Tonight I expect to do it.' It's too obvious.
If you can handle just one more, GQ has a long article on David Chang, the chef/co-owner of NYC's Momofuku restaurants.
Three years ago, David Chang was an obscure cook with a failing Manhattan noodle bar. Now he is being hailed as the most innovative and exciting chef America has seen in decades.
Decades? Please. I'm not backing down from my effusive review of Ssam Bar (Ssam Bar is one of my favorite restaurants of all time), but this decades business is bollocks. Just let the man (and his collaborators) cook and open more yummy restaurants.
The just-released Michelin restaurant guide for Tokyo awards more stars to that city's restaurants than New York and Paris put together. And 8 get a 3-star rating, only 2 fewer than in Paris.
Tokyo has more restaurants - at least 160,000 that could be classified as proper "restaurants" - than almost any other urban centre. Paris, by comparison, has little more than 20,000 and New York about 23,000.
There's a lot of handwringing about Tokyo restaurants getting so many stars, but to look at it another way, Paris has 8 times fewer restaurants and has more 3 stars than Tokyo. Not bad.
(via marginal revolution)
A taxonomy of NYC restaurant tables, from the lowly Sucker Tables to the Closer Tables. Two examples of the Closer Table are the cheeky Table Sex at Milk & Honey and the even cheekier Table 69 at Alto.
New York has a decreasing number of Jewish delis, but the reopened Second Avenue Deli will be among them.
Federman said that his clientele has gone from "95 percent Jewish to 50-50" and that changing with the times is part of business. (He now sells three varieties of tofu "cream cheese.") "I think Second Avenue Deli, Katz's, us, we're all making our little sphere of the world a better place," he said. "Doctors and lawyers basically live off other people's misery. Part of the perk of working here is people coming in and being so happy."
The deli's general manager recalled his favorite customers at the old location:
But my favorite was when we had five nuns eating matzoh balls served by a Lebanese waiter -- in a kosher deli. That's New York.
See also a writeup of a panel on Jewish Cuisine and the Evolution of the Jewish Deli on Serious Eats.
A reader of New York's Grub Street blog recenty wrote in, saying that he was about to have surgery that might permanently impair his sense of taste and he was looking for recommendations of places to go for his potential last few meals. Hearing of his plight, Eric Ripert agreed to cook the fellow a special Doomsday Menu at his 4-star restaurant, Le Bernardin.
A few cost-cutting recommendations for restaurants, focusing on discontinuing "several practices that have been introduced to impress rather than to deliver value".
I also think that the array of amuse-bouches, breads and petits fours that an ambitious restaurant now makes an integral part of the meal has got completely out of hand.
Not sure why Mas warranted so many negative comments on this Chowhound thread about the worst nice restaurants in NYC. We were there last night for my birthday and everything was great: service, wine, and food. It was our 5th or 6th visit over the past 3 years and nothing's ever been amiss.
Teaser trailer for Alinea's cookbook, which is due out in Autumn 2008 and will contain 600 recipes. Pre-orders through the site will get signed copies and early access to a companion web site which will contain more recipes, demo videos, and behind the scenes videos. I'm really appreciating the effort these top chefs and restaurants make to open source their recipes and process...it sounds like between the book and web site, one could open a restaurant serving Alinea's menu. (Whether that restaurant would be successful or not would depend mostly on the 90% of the stuff involved with running a restaurant that doesn't rely on the ability to read a cookbook.)
Update: Jason Fried says businesses could learn a lot from chefs giving their secrets away.
While poking around in the newly opened archives of the New York Times yesterday, I stumbled upon an article called How We Dine (full text in PDF) from January 1, 1859. I'm not well versed in the history of food criticism, but I believe this is perhaps the first restaurant review to appear in the Times and that the unnamed gentleman who wrote it (the byline is "by the Strong-Minded Reporter of the Times") is the progenitor of the paper's later reviewers like Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, and Frank Bruni.
The article starts off with a directive from the editor-in-chief to "go and dine":
"Very well," replied the editor-in-chief. "Dine somewhere else to-day and somewhere else to-morrow. I wish you to dine everywhere, -- from the Astor House Restaurant to the smallest description of dining saloon in the City, in order that you may furnish an account of all these places. The cashier will pay your expenses."
Before starting on his quest, the reporter differentiates eating from dining -- noting that many believe "whereas all people know how to eat, it is only the French who know how to dine" -- and defines what he means by an American dinner (as opposed to a French one). Here's his list of the types of American dinner to be found in New York, from most comfortable to least:
1. The Family dinner at home.
2. The Stetsonian dinner.
3. The Delmonican, or French dinner.
4. The Minor dinner of the Stetsonian principle.
5. The Eating-house dinner, so called.
6. The Second-class Eating-house dinner.
7. The Third-class Eating-house feed.
The remainder of the article is devoted to descriptions of what a diner might find at each of these types of establishments. Among the places he dined was Delmonico's, where dining in America is said to have originated:
Once let Delmonico have your order, and you are safe. You may repose in peace up to the very moment when you sit down with your guests. No nobleman of England -- no Marquis of the ancienne nobless -- was ever better served or waited on in greater style that you will be in a private room at Delmonico's. The lights will be brilliant, the waiters will be curled and perfumed and gloved, the dishes will be strictly en règle and the wines will come with precision of clock-work that has been duly wound up. If you "pay your money like a gentleman," you will be fed like a gentleman, and no mistake... The cookery, however, will be superb, and the attendance will be good. If you make the ordinary mistakes of a untraveled man, and call for dishes in unusual progression, the waiter will perhaps sneer almost imperceptibly, but he will go no further, if you don't try his feelings too harshly, or put your knife into your mouth.
According to a series of articles by Joe O'Connell, Delmonico's was the first restaurant in the US when it opened in 1830 and invented Eggs Benedict, Oysters Rockefeller, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, and the term "86'd", used when the popular Delmonico Steak (#86 on menu) was sold out, or so the story goes. O'Connell's history of Delmonico's provides us with some context for the How We Dine piece:
The restaurant was a novelty in New York. There were new foods, a courteous staff, and cooking that was unknown at the homes of even the wealthiest New Yorkers. The restaurant was open for lunch and dinner.
The restaurant featured a bill of fare, which was itself new. Those who dined at inns were fed on a set meal for a set price. As a result, everyone was fed the same meal and were charged the same price, whether they ate little or much. In Paris, however, restaurants offered their patrons a "bill of fare", a carte, which listed separate dishes with individual prices. Each patron could choose a combination of dishes which was different from the other patrons. Each dish was priced separately. Thus, the restaurant was able to accommodate the tastes and hunger of each individual. The various dishes and their prices were listed on a carte or (the English translation) "bill of fare". Today, we call it a menu.
And from Delmonico's developed many different types of dining establishments, which the Strong-Minded Reporter set out to document thirty years later. Contrast his visit to Delmonico's with the experience in the "sandwich-room" at Browne's Auction Hotel, an eating-house:
The habitués of the place are rarely questioned at all. The man who has eaten a sandwich every day for the past ten years at the Auction Hotel no sooner takes his seat than a sandwich is set before him. The man who has for the same period indulged daily in pie or hard boiled eggs (there are some men with amazing digestion) is similarly treated. The occasional visitor, however, is briefly questioned by the attendant before whom he takes his place. "Sandwich?" or "Pie?" If he say "Sandwich," in reply, the little man laconically inquires, "Mustard?" The customer nods, and is served. If his mission be pie, instead, a little square morsel of cheese is invariably presented to him. Why such a custom should prevail at these places, no amount of research has yet enabled me to ascertain. Nothing can be more incongruous to pie than cheese, which, according to rule and common sense, is only admissible after pie, as a digester. But the guests at the Auction Hotel invariably take them together, and with strict fairness -- a bite at the pie, and a bite at the cheese, again the pie, and again the cheese, and so on until both are finished.
The experience of being a regular has barely changed in 150 years. And finally, our intrepid reporter visits an unnamed third class eating-house:
The noise in the dining hall is terrific. A guest has no sooner seated himself than a plate is literally flung at him by an irritated and perspiring waiter, loosely habited in an unbuttoned shirt whereof the varying color is, I am given to understand, white on Sunday, and daily darkening until Saturday, when it is mixed white and black -- black predominating. The jerking of the plate is closely followed up by a similar performance with a knife and a steel fork, and immediately succeeding these harmless missiles come a fearful shout from the waiter demanding in hasty tones, "What do you want now?" Having mildly stated what you desire to be served with, the waiter echoes your words in a voice of thunder, goes through the same ceremony with the next man and the next, through an infinite series, and rushes frantically from your presence. Presently returning, he appears with a column of dishes whereof the base is in one hand and the extreme edge of the capital is artfully secured under his chin. He passes down the aisle of guests, and, as he goes, deals out the dishes as he would cards, until the last is served, when he commences again Da Capo. The disgusting manner in which the individuals who dine at this place, thrust their food into their mouths with the blades of their knives, makes you tremble with apprehensions of suicide...
The entire article is well worth the read...one of the most interesting things I've found online in awhile.
Update: According to their web site, a restaurant in New Orleans named Antoine's claims that they invented Oysters Rockefeller. Another tidbit: from what I can gather, the Delmonico's that now exists in lower Manhattan has little to do with the original Delmonico's (even though they claim otherwise), sort of like the various Ray's Pizza places sprinkled about Manhattan. (thx, everyone who sent this in)
Le Pain Quotidien uses stale bread for menu holders on their tables. Clever design.
Regarding the food plagiarism business from yesterday, Ed Levine reports that he visited both restaurants yesterday and has some further thoughts on the situation. I think he nails it with this observation: "He was her right-hand man for six years, with complete and unfettered access to her creativity, recipes, craftsmanship, and even the combination to her safe. Charles is a smart, fiercely independent, tough-minded chef and businessperson who misplaced her trust when she gave her chief lieutenant all that access. McFarland, bereft of his own ideas, decided to open what is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of Pearl."
Rebecca Charles, owner of the Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC, a seafood place modeled after hundreds of similar restaurants in New England offering similar menus, is suing a former employee (of six years) for copying too closely her restaurant and menu in opening his new place, Ed's Lobster Bar.
Many parallels here to the design/art/film world...what is mere inspiration versus outright theft? The key question in these kinds of cases for me is: does the person exercise creativity in the appropriation? Did they add something to it instead of just copying or superficially changing it? Clam shacks are everywhere in New England, but an upscale seafood establishment with a premium lobster roll is a unique creative twist on that concept brought to NYC by Charles. An upscale clam shack blocks away from a nearly identical restaurant at which the owner used to work for six years...that seems a bit lame to me, not the work of a creative restaurateur. Who knows how this stuff is going to play out legally; it's a complex issue with lots of slippery slope potential.
Meg has more thoughts on the issue and Ed Levine weighs in over at Serious Eats with information not found in the NY Times article. It was Ed who first raised the issue about Ed's Lobster Bar earlier in the month.
Update: I forgot to link to the menus above. Here's the menu for Pearl Oyster Bar and here's the menu for Ed's Lobster Bar. For comparison, here are the menus for a couple of traditional clam shacks: the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA and Woodman's in Essex, MA.
NY Times on the rise of OpenTable, which wasn't exactly an overnight success. To me, the thing that pushed OT over the edge toward acceptance wasn't so much the public-facing business (let your customers make reservations online) but the software that the restaurants were provided to keep better track of their customers and their habits. It used to be a big deal that Four Seasons Hotels tracked the preferences of all their customers but now any restaurant with the OT system can easily do the same. "Doug Washington, a co-owner of Town Hall, said the notes were not just helpful, they are occasionally indispensable. Next to the name of one regular, who has a habit of bringing in women he is not married to, is an instruction to make sure the man's wife has not booked a separate table for the same day."
For Pixar, the making of Ratatouille included some time in real kitchens and restaurants, complete with a stop at the French Laundry for some face-time with Thomas Keller.
Photos from a meal at L'Enclume in the UK, where chef Simon Rogan is practicing molecular gastronomy at a high level. "I don't think there's a more exciting meal than this anywhere in the whole world, even [at El Bulli]. This was 24 flawless brilliant courses by a chef who is not just 'at the top of his game', but somewhere out in front of his rivals." More photos and information at L'Enclume's web site.
In accordance with David Chang's wishes, I'm not really talking about this but I will briefly direct your attention to the following: Momofuku Noodle Bar is moving to a bigger location down the street and a new restaurant called Momofuku Ko, presumably with less seats, will take its place, making for a total of three Momofuku restaurants within a 2 block area.
One meal at Per Se has as many calories as 4.5 Big Macs, about a whopping 2400 calories. (via eater)
The NYC restaurant scene has peaked. I more or less agree.
The Fat Duck, one of molecular gastronomy's main outposts, recently offered a course complete with its own soundtrack served up on iPods shuffle. "Heston Blumenthal, the chef, said he wanted to experiment with using sound to enhance a dining experience. Hence the iPod, playing the soothing sound of the sea breeze and waves gently caressing the seashore."
In the high stakes game of making restaurant reservations in NYC, restaurants and their patrons are engaged in attempting to outflank one another in vying for tables at prime times. "I have a well-connected friend in the entertainment industry, and I often say I am calling from his office in order to score a weekend reservation at a crowded restaurant. If NYC restaurants are going to play the game this way, we have no choice but to play along with them."
Chicago chef Homaro Cantu talks a bit more about his plans for edible advertising. "You open up a magazine, there's a small plastic thing in there, and you rip it open. It looks like a cheeseburger, tastes like a cheeseburger, it's made from all organic ingredients." The ads will also be allergen-free and may contain a bit of fluoride to help keep your teeth clean. (via seriouseats)
Profile of British chef Gordon Ramsey during his effort to open a 4-star restaurant in NYC. Someone should tell this guy he's in the hospitality business, not an understudy for R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket.
Restaurants are beginning to experiment with smaller portions on their menus, but since portion Supersizing has meant increased profits (and expanding American waistlines) for years, it's a risky play. "Larger portions are so profitable because food is relatively cheap. On average, food accounts for about a third of the total cost of running a restaurant; such things as labor, equipment, advertising, rent and electricity make up the rest. So while it may cost a restaurant a few pennies to offer 25 percent more French fries, it can raise its prices much more than a few cents. The result is that larger portions are a reliable way to bolster the average check at restaurants."
Update: There are several comments in the above thread that indicate that the chemical sprayed on McNuggets for freshness is not butane (lighter fluid). Also, the 56% corn figure counts meat from corn-fed chickens, for which corn is not a natural food. (thx, demetrice)
The nominees for the 2007 Beard Awards were announced this morning. I'm disappointed that Alinea and Grant Achatz aren't on the list more (Achatz got a lone nomination for best chef in the Great Lakes region) but am happy to see David Chang, Ssam, Thomas Keller, and Wylie Dufresne on the list.
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