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kottke.org posts about restaurants

The McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese is a lie. A delicious lie.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2017

McDonalds 1974

Some facts about the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese:

1. As you can see in the photo above, purportedly taken in 1974, there was originally a Quarter Pounder without cheese, which was scrubbed from the menu at some undetermined point (even though you can still order one sans cheese at the counter).

2. The patty on the Quarter Pounder with Cheese does not weigh a quarter of a pound. It weighs 4.25 oz after it was subtly micro-supersized in 2015.

3. The 4.25 oz is actually the pre-cooked weight anyway. The on-bun weight is more like 3 oz.

4. When I’m traveling a significant distance by car, on a trip that requires stopping for food, my go-to meal is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a Coke. Don’t judge.

5. The Quarter Pounder has been discontinued in Japan. No one knows why.

6. In the US, the Quarter Pounder comes with pickles, raw onion, ketchup, and mustard. But in NYC, they omit the mustard. That sound you heard was me slapping my forehead after learning this just now after years of not being able to figure out why my Quarter Pounders sometimes had mustard and sometimes didn’t. (I prefer them without.)

A man turned his backyard shed into the top-rated restaurant in London

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

Having previously written fake reviews for restaurants on TripAdvisor for £10 a pop, Oobah Butler decided to go one step further. He listed his backyard shed on TripAdvisor, set up a dummy website (complete with appetizing food photos constructed from bleach tablets and shaving cream), and wrote a bunch of phony reviews.

The Shed at Dulwich

As the shed began climbing in the London restaurant ranking, Butler began to get more and more requests for reservations from actual people.

Emails? I check my computer: tens of “appointment” requests await. A boyfriend tries to use his girlfriend’s job at a children’s hospital for leverage. TV executives use their work emails.

Seemingly overnight, we’re now at #1,456. The Shed at Dulwich has suddenly become appealing. How?

I realise what it is: the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed’s phone rings incessantly.

And then, after it reaches #1, Butler actually opens The Shed at Dulwich for one night.

Update: When I initially posted this, I almost closed the post with something like “the best part of all this is that we don’t really know if any of this happened the way Butler says it did”. And indeed, Jonathan Power noticed that the URL for the restaurant’s website wasn’t registered until Oct 27, not in April as the article implies. Hmmm. The Facebook page for the restaurant has posts going back to June 30 (can you backdate FB posts?) & reviews back to April 5th. The listing appears to have been on TripAdvisor as of Dec 4 (Google cache) and was mentioned and screenshotted on Twitter in mid-November. Maybe Butler fudged the timeline slightly for the article…he used the Facebook page as the restaurant’s website until doing it up properly with its own URL in October? So, I dunno…is the joke on us, on Vice, on TripAdvisor, or…?

My recent media diet, special French edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I recently took a trip to France to visit friends and log some time in one of my favorite places on Earth, so this particular media diet is heavy on Parisian museums and food. If you take nothing else away from this post, avoid The Louvre and watch The Handmaid’s Tale at the earliest opportunity.

Dial M for Murder. This Hitchcock film, with its relatively low stakes and filmed mostly in one room, is more suspenseful and thrilling than any of the “the world/galaxy/universe is in peril” movies out today. (A-)

Musée des Arts et Métiers. Before ~1950, you could look at a machine and pretty much know what it did and how it worked. After the invention of the digital computer, everything is an inscrutable black box. (A)

Manon des Sources. This movie feels much older than it is. (B+)

Marconi. The chef from my favorite NYC restaurant recently opened this place in Montreal. Best meal I had during my trip (Paris included). (A)

The Big Sick. It may have been a little predictable, but I really liked this movie. Lots of heart. (B+)

Le Chateaubriand. The skate tartar and a dessert with a smoked cream were the highlights, but the whole experience was top-notch and chill. (A-)

Candelaria. You will never feel cooler in Paris than having an excellent cocktail in a bar behind a hidden door in the back of a taqueria. (A-)

Musée Picasso. Not much else to say about Picasso at this point, is there? That creep can roll, man. (A-)

Women in Physics. My daughter is pretty interested in science and scientists (she’s a particular fan of Marie Curie), so books that highlight women scientists can always be found around our house. (B)

Café de Flore. You will never feel cooler in Paris than sitting outside at Café de Flore at night, reading a book, and drinking a Negroni as Hemingway might have done in the 20s. (Tho Hemingway probably didn’t have a Kindle.) (A-)

Stacked. I recently rediscovered this hour-long mix by Royal Sapien. The two-ish minutes starting at 32:00 are sublime IMO. (A-)

The Devil in the White City. A gripping tale of architecture and serial killing. Chicago 1893 is definitely one of my hypothetical time travel destinations. (A)

Sainte-Chapelle. My favorite church in Paris. Literally jaw-dropping, worth the €10 entry fee. (A)

Rough Night. I will watch anything with Kate McKinnon in it. But… (B-)

Balanchine / Teshigawara / Bausch. An amazing building. (I got to go backstage!) The third act of this ballet was flat-out amazing. (B+)

The Louvre. The best-known works are underwhelming and the rest of this massive museum is overwhelming. The massive crowds, constant photo-taking, and selfies make it difficult to actually look at the art. Should have skipped it. (C)

100 Pounds of Popcorn. Forgettable kids book. (C-)

Kubo and the Two Strings. A fun thing to do is tell someone halfway through that it’s stop motion animated. (A-)

Musée d’Orsay. The building and the art it contains elevate each other. Probably the best big museum in Paris. (A-)

The Handmaid’s Tale. This is both a not-implausible future of the United States and a metaphor for how many women and LGBT+ folks feel about how our society treats them. Excellent, a must-watch. (A)

Musée de l’Orangerie. Two rooms of huge Monet Waterlilies? Yes, please. (A-)

Brasserie Lipp. The steak frites was so-so, but the people watching from my table near the entrance was fascinating. You’ll never feel cooler…etc. etc. (B+)

Monograph by Chris Ware. This thing is *huge* (like it weighs almost 9 pounds) and beautiful. (A-)

D3 Traveller. I bought this on sale, but even so it was an epic splurge for me. Now that I’ve been on 4-5 trips with it, I can say I love love love this bag. Will likely last a lifetime. (A)

Blade Runner 2049. Rewatch, this time on a smaller screen. Despite its flaws, I definitely like this more than the original. (A-)

Shake Shack releases an official cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

Anatomy of a ShackBurger

Big news around these parts: the Shake Shack is coming out with their first cookbook next week. Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories details how the Shake Shack came about and spills the beans with recipes for almost all of the food, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries included. According to Eater, the recipes have been tweaked for the home cook:

Rosati shares almost all of the company’s recipes, though unfortunately he isn’t giving away any real secrets here. The processes have been adapted for the home cook, and Garutti told Eater that only “six people” in the world know the real recipe for Shake Shack’s signature sauce.

The recipe in the book for Shack sauce is a mixture of Hellman’s, Dijon, Heinz, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. “We make our own from scratch,” Garutti says, but when he and Rosati first started testing recipes for the book they came to the conclusion that these weren’t recipes “most people would want to make at home,” because they were labor-intensive, “messy,” and time-consuming.

Immediate pre-order. See also Kenji’s Fake Shack burger recipe.

Update: Here’s the recipe for the ShackBurger and sauce from the book. The ShackSauce recipe includes “¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine”, which is also the secret ingredient in my homemade tuna salad.

“For the Colonel, It Was Finger-Lickin’ Bad”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2016

KFC Finger Lickin Bad

Here’s a gem from the archive of the NY Times. One day in September 1976, NY Times food critic Mimi Sheraton and Colonel Harland Sanders stopped into a Manhattan Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Colonel, then estranged from the company he founded, strolled into the kitchen after glad-handing some patrons and proceeded to tear into the quality of the food:

Once in the kitchen, the colonel walked over to a vat full of frying chicken pieces and announced, ‘That’s much too black. It should be golden brown. You’re frying for 12 minutes — that’s six minutes too long. What’s more, your frying fat should have been changed a week ago. That’s the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen. Let me see your mashed potatoes with gravy, and how do you make them?”

When Mr. Singleton explained that he first mixed boiling water into the instant powdered potatoes, the colonel interrupted. “And then you have wallpaper paste,” he said. “Next suppose you add some of this brown gravy stuff and then you have sludge.” “There’s no way anyone can get me to swallow those potatoes,” he said after tasting some. “And this cole slaw. This cole slaw! They just won’t listen to me. It should he chopped, not shredded, and it should be made with Miracle Whip. Anything else turns gray. And there should be nothing in it but cabbage. No carrots!”

Sanders sold his company to an investment group in 1964, which took the company public two years later and eventually sold to a company called Heublein. After selling, Sanders officially still worked for the company as an advisor but grew more and more dissatisfied with it, as evidenced by the story above. When the company HQ moved to Tennessee, the Colonel was quoted as saying:

This ain’t no goddam Tennessee Fried Chicken, no matter what some slick, silk-suited son-of-a-bitch says.

And he got sued by a KFC franchisee after he commented:

My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste. And I know wallpaper paste, by God, because I’ve seen my mother make it.

To the “wallpaper paste” they add some sludge and sell it for 65 or 75 cents a pint. There’s no nutrition in it and the ought not to be allowed to sell it.

And another thing. That new crispy chicken is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken.

Colonel Sanders: serving up chicken and sick burns with equal spiciness. (via @mccanner)

Floor maps of iconic NYC fast food joints

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2016

When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly — Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya — and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.

Grays Papaya Floor

Katz Floor

ML: I think at fast food joints we’re conscious that we’re in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don’t realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?

AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don’t feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn’t just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz’s) that do try to serve people quickly but I don’t think qualify as “fast food joints.” In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the “regular.”

Speaking as a customer, places like Katz’s and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz’s in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.

That Gray’s Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the “back” door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.

Danny Meyer tells the Shake Shack origin story

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2016

On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.

Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that’s still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.

In Situ, SFMOMA’s aggregated restaurant

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2016

In Situ is Corey Lee’s new restaurant in the recently refurbished SFMOMA. Like the museum does with art, In Situ brings culinary masterpieces from chefs around the world and presents them to guests. The current menu, which provides the name of the chef and the date the dish was first made in the style of the info cards next to artworks, includes Shrimp Grits from the now-closed WD-50 (Wylie Dufresne, 2013), Spicy Pork Sausage Rice Cakes from Ssam Bar (David Chang, 2007), Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Sherbet from Chez Panisse (Alice Waters, 1980), and Wood Sorrel & Sheep Milk’s Yogurt from Noma (René Redzepi, 2005).

This sort of thing is not exactly without precedent. From the very beginning of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’ Next, one of the ideas was to present the menu from the French Laundry from Achatz’s first day on the job there in October 1996 (which is happening this fall) and the Chicago restaurant has already featured menus with dishes from El Bulli and Trio (Achatz’s first restaurant as head chef). Ssam Bar used to have cocktails from other places (Milk and Honey, Death & Co., etc.) on their beverage menu, properly credited. But as Pete Wells explains in his positive NY Times review, In Situ takes the concept further:

Would any chef have dreamed of building a restaurant like this 25 years ago? Would anyone have gone there? In Situ probably requires a steady supply of customers who care about restaurants in Lima and Copenhagen enough to have seen some of these dishes in cookbooks or at least in the Instagram accounts of the chefs in question. Mr. Lee depends on, and caters to, a class of eaters who pay attention to the global restaurant scene the way certain art hounds follow the goings on in Basel, Miami Beach and Venice.

One thing In Situ proves, just by existing, is that certain chefs are now cultural figures in a sense that once applied only to practitioners of what used to be called high culture: literature, concert music, avant-garde painting. A Redzepi dish can be visited in an art museum in 2016, and nobody finds this very strange.

What In Situ is doing also underscores how context and the renown of an artist can affect our perception of what is creative appropriation versus theft or plagiarism. That In Situ is helmed by one of the best chefs in the US and affiliated with a world-class museum matters. The similar work of an unknown chef might not get the same treatment, as Robin Wickens found out in 2006, when he presented dishes from WD-50 and Alinea on the menu at his Australian restaurant:

That’s what happened three months ago on the eGullet.com Web site. Sam Mason, a pastry chef at WD-50 in New York, set off an international dust-up when he posted a link to the Web site of Interlude, a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, and asked: “Is it me or are some of these dishes strikingly similar to a few American restaurants?” Interlude’s site showed photos of such unusual fare as noodles made of shrimp and a glass tube full of eucalyptus jelly and yogurt, dishes pioneered at WD-50 and Chicago’s Alinea, respectively. Interlude’s chef, Robin Wickens, had worked for a week at Alinea as a stagiere, or unpaid intern, and had dined at WD-50 while visiting the U.S.

EGullet’s administrators then juxtaposed Interlude’s images to nearly identical ones from WD-50 and Alinea. Within a few days, restaurateurs and chefs from around the country and dozens of eGullet members added to the thread, many branding Mr. Wickens a plagiarist.

Mortified, Mr. Wickens says he removed the dishes from his menu and his site, and sent letters to the chefs whose work he’d copied explaining that he only wanted to utilize what he’d learned on his travels. “I never tried to claim them as my own,” says Mr. Wickens, who says he told many patrons that the dishes had originated at the American restaurants.

I wish I had San Francisco travel plans…In Situ is the first new restaurant I’ve been excited about visiting in ages (for obvious reasons). Soon, hopefully.

David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2016

Chef and Momofuku founder David Chang spends a lot of time thinking about food and he’s arrived at what he calls the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.

My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It’s the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.

I’m not sure his observations are exactly unified, but they are interesting and also why I enjoy eating at his restaurants so much. A meal I had at Ssam Bar shortly after they switched away from the initial Korean burritos menu is in my top 5 meals of all time and a pair of dishes at Ko (both somehow simultaneously familiar and new) are among the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.

Recipe for making McDonald’s Egg McMuffins at home

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Homemade Egg Mcmuffin

At Serious Eats, the Food Lab’s Kenji Lopez-Alt reverse engineers (and improves) the Egg McMuffin for the home cook. Clever use of a Mason jar lid for cooking the egg.

How to make perfect soft-scrambled eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

I love watching Gordon Ramsay make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.

P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled…Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.

P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?

P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.

That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).

Noma: My Perfect Storm

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2015

Noma: My Perfect Storm is a feature-length documentary about chef René Redzepi and his Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which is currently ranked #3 in the world.

How did Redzepi manage to revolutionize the entire world of gastronomy, inventing the alphabet and vocabulary that would infuse newfound pedigree to Nordic cuisine and establish a new edible world while radically changing the image of the modern chef? His story has the feel of a classic fairy tale: the ugly duckling transformed into a majestic swan, who now reigns over the realm of modern gourmet cuisine.

The film is out Dec 18 in theaters, on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

How do you pick the 50 best restaurants in the world?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2015

From the New Yorker Food Issue,1Lauren Collins examines how the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list comes together. I haven’t eaten at any of these sorts of restaurants in years (for a lot of reasons), and this bit gets to part of the reason why:

The restaurants in the upper reaches of the list tend to fall into a certain mode. They are all the same place, Giles Coren once conjectured in the London Times, “only the face changes, like Doctor Who.” Just as there is Oscar bait, there is 50 Best bait. “It’s opening up in Beijing,” David Chang said, imagining the archetypal 50 Best restaurant. “It’s a Chinese restaurant by a guy who worked for Adrià, Redzepi, and Keller. He cooks over fire. Everything is a story of his terroir. He has his own farm and hand-dives for his own sea urchins.” Hearing about 50 Best winners, and having eaten at a few of them, I started to think of them as icebreaker restaurants — places that create moments, that give you prompts. This can be exhilarating, or it can be infantilizing. It is the dining experience as Cards Against Humanity.

  1. Not to be confused with the NY Times’ Food Issue, which was out this past weekend.

Danny Meyer: no more tipping at my restaurants

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2015

Eater has the scoop: Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group is eliminating tipping at all of their full-service restaurants.

Big news out of Manhattan: Dining out is about to get turned on its head. Union Square Hospitality Group, the force behind some of New York’s most important restaurants, will announce today that starting in November, it will roll out an across-the-board elimination of tips at every one of its thirteen full-service venues, hand in hand with an across-the-board increase in prices.

Why are they doing this? In part because cooks get the shaft at restaurants:

Under the current gratuity system, not everyone at a restaurant is getting a fair shake. Waiters at full-service New York restaurants can expect a full 20 percent tip on most checks, for a yearly income of $40,000 or more on average — some of the city’s top servers easily clear $100,000 annually. But the problem isn’t what waiters make, it’s what cooks make. A mid-level line cook, even in a high-end kitchen, doesn’t have generous patrons padding her paycheck, and as such is, on average, unlikely to make much more than $35,000 a year.

I hope this catches on.

Restaurant menu definitions

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

All the terminology on fancy restaurant menus can be overwhelming. From Judy Wu at Gaper’s Block, a glossary of common menu items and terms.

Gluten-Free: This dish contains a small trace of gluten, but a full dollop of bullshit.

Duck Fat: Duck fat fries, rillette, popcorn, confit, Brussels sprouts — never skip this menu item.

Amish: This chicken was raised without electricity and fear.

An appreciation of the ShackBurger

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2015

Shack Burger

From The Message is Medium Rare, an appreciation of the ShackBurger, “a straightforward, honest-to-goodness burger”. It includes a review of the typography used by the restaurant:

These three typefaces artfully express the ethos of both the burger and the brand. Neutraface is the bun: sturdy, reliable and architectural. Futura is the patty: basic but bold. Galaxie is the lettuce: wavy, quirky and fresh. To the layperson this comparison may seem like a stretch, but designers know they are purposefully expressive.

The Waffle House Index

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2015

The Waffle House Index is an informal metric used by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate to evaluate how bad a storm is. Basically, whether the Waffle House in town is open or serving a limited menu can tell you something about how bad the storm was and how much recovery assistance is necessary.

If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.

See also The Economist’s Big Mac Index and other odd economic indicators. (via @naveen)

David Chang’s burger manifesto

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2015

David Chang has an opinion — several opinions really — about the proper burger.

My ideal burger is bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles — yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only. American cheese was invented for the hamburger. People talk about it being processed and artificial and not real cheese — you know what makes it real? When you put it on a hamburger.

But much of his burger manifesto is about what a burger shouldn’t be.

Grass-fed beef does not make burgers, in my opinion. It’s too lean and the fat content is not evenly distributed, so it can get a little mealy. But the dumbest burger in the world is the wagyu bullshit. It’s like 70 percent fat content — it’s disgusting. Would you eat a ground bacon burger? That’s what you’re doing with a wagyu burger. Or the idiots that have “kobe beef wagyu sliders with like a trio of ketchup” on their menu — that drives me insane. The inventor of the kobe beef slider is right next to the inventor of aluminum siding in the Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Seen Hall of Fame. And you know what’s even more stupid? The fucking customer that buys it because he’s like, Oooohh, kobe, and it’s like $21. God have mercy on their souls.

I love that Chang loves White Castle; I do too1 and make a trip to the one in Hell’s Kitchen about once a month without ever telling another living soul I do so. I agree with most of the rest of his list, 1 but would add one thing: no super-thick burgers, aka most burgers at fancy restaurants. They are too difficult to eat and the massive patty throws everything out of proportion and you end up with a mouthful of burger with very little of anything else. Blech. Balance, people!

  1. I used to go to White Castle all the time with my dad and my sister when I was a kid, back when those sliders were 25¢ apiece. This was the early/mid 80s…there was no chicken sandwich or anything on the menu. I don’t even remember cheese being an option.

  2. Especially the “I do not like a burger with a bunch of shit on it”, although one of my current favorite burgers, the Fedora burger at Bar Sardine, breaks that rule with sauce, cucumbers, and shoestring fries. Love that smashed bun. (P.S. My all-time fave burger, besides the ones I make at home, is the ShackBurger.)

Restaurant traffic meters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2015

For lunch today, I was hungry for some noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods, one of my favorite places to eat in all of NYC. While preparing to trek to the East Village or up to Bryant Park, a friend told me about a relatively new location on 34th Street, just down the street from the Empire State Building and only 10 blocks from my office. When I looked it up on the website, I noticed something else: a real-time traffic meter that shows how busy each restaurant is.

Xi'an Traffic Meter

What a great idea. The Shake Shack cam is one thing, but I want a meter like this (w/ a forecast option as well) on every restaurant listing in Foursquare. Like Google Maps real-time traffic, except for restaurants.

We’ll Find Something

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2015

If you and a friend are walking around Manhattan trying to find dinner, this is how the conversation will go:

It’s funny because it’s true. That’s a clip from We’ll Find Something, a short film by Casey Gooden starring Upstream Color’s Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz.

Update: The full film has been released online and it is excruciating to watch if you’ve ever had bad relationship moments while traveling.

On sitting at the bar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2015

David Chang is exactly right: when dining at a restaurant, often the best option is to sit at the bar.

When everyone’s so close, it changes the dining experience. Out on the floor, you’re a dickhead if you overhear a conversation and chime in. Not at the bar. You connect, trade stories, then trade bites. I’ve never shared as much food with strangers as I have at the bar. You meet great people that way — you’re part of this band of outsiders within the restaurant. And for me, that’s the best possible dining experience of all.

I almost always eat at the bar at my regular place.

The fast-flip method of cooking steak

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2015

Being an avid eater and cooker of steak,1 a passage at the end of Tom Junod’s profile of Wylie Dufresne / obit of WD-50 caught my eye:

“That’s why I’m really proud of what we did here,” he said over his cup of sake. “I’m proud of the big things, but I’m also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked.”

“The advantage of sous vide,” someone said.

“But it wasn’t sous vide!” Dufresne said. “That’s the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds … And so that question you asked me before, about food and music — that’s my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ but it’s definitely ‘Achilles Last Stand.’”

I couldn’t recall hearing about this fast flipping technique from the many pieces Kenji Lopez-Alt has published about how to and how not to cook steak, so I pinged him on Twitter. He responded with Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times For Better Results.

Let’s start with the premise. Anybody who’s ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there’s one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it’s to not play with your meat once it’s placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.

The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking — as often as every 30 seconds or so — will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!

It works for burgers too. Thanks, Kenji!

  1. Although honestly, I eat and cook steak a lot less than I used to. Burgers too. A belly full of steak just doesn’t feel that good anymore, gastronomically, gastrointestinally, or environmentally. I’m trying to eat more vegetables and especially seafood. Actually, I’m not really trying…it’s just been working out that way. I still really like steak, but it’s almost become a special occasion food for me, which is probably the way it should from a sustainability standpoint.

Matchbook Diaries of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2015

Matchbook Diaries is an Instagram account collecting photos of NYC restaurant matchbooks. Some notables:

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

NYC Matchbooks

On the importance of diners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2015

At Serious Eats, Ed Levine writes about Why Diners Are More Important Than Ever. From his ten-point list of what defines a diner:

8. All-occasion places: Diners must rise to many occasions, from first dates to pre- or post-game celebrations by fans or teammates, to wallowing in solitary self-pity. Diners are the best restaurants for planning murders, stick-ups, or other nefarious enterprises.

Being an all-occasion place is not the only egalitarian thing about diners:

People talk about Starbucks reintroducing the notion of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the “third place” in American life: spaces where we gather besides home and work to form real, not virtual, communities. Starbucks and more high-minded cafes that followed in its wake have surely succeeded on this point, but long before 1971, when the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle, diners were already serving that invaluable function for us, along with the corner tavern.

And that’s why we need to cherish our local diners, whether it’s a mom and pop or a Waffle House or a Greek coffee shop. They’re some of the few cheap, all-inclusive places to eat and hang out and laugh and cry and stay viscerally connected with other folks.

And it warmed my heart to see Ed include Cup & Saucer and Eisenberg’s on his list of notable NYC diners. An unusual thing I’ve noticed about Eisenberg’s: instead of getting your check at the table, you just tell the cashier what you ordered on the way out and pay for it. Like on the honor system! Is there anywhere else in NYC that does this? I wonder what their loss rate is compared to the norm?

Cooking the Alinea cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2014

Allen Hemberger cooked his way through one of the most complex cookbooks out there, the Alinea cookbook. Aside from the chefs who work in the kitchen there, Hemberger’s probably the only person to have made every single recipe. These recipes aren’t easy; look at the last one he prepared…he even struggled to find the correct ingredients.

Should I be disturbed or thankful that I’ve never been that passionate about anything ever?

Fantastically devastating restaurant review

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2014

This is the most delightful restaurant review I’ve read in quite awhile. In it, Jay Rayner disembowels the “hilariously silly” London restaurant Beast and its presumed clientele, “men with teeny-weeny penises”. I have no idea how to pick just one of the great passages from this review so I’ll do two:

“I’m sorry sir, we don’t serve bread.” Eh? What’s all that about? I could see this as some stand for a bang-on-trend, carb-free Palaeolithic diet, were it not for the fact they serve chips. Mind you, they’re crap chips, huge fat things that could exclude drafts. Who actually likes their chips this way? They’re advertised as coming with truffle and foie-gras salt, which is like getting a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted case for your smartphone because you’ve run out of things to spend money on. It’s a spoilt person’s version of luxury; the pillowy “chips” do not taste either of goose liver or truffle.

And:

The corn-fed, dry-aged Nebraskan rib-eye, with a carbon footprint big enough to make a climate-change denier horny, is bloody marvellous: rich, deep, earthy, with that dense tang that comes with proper hanging. And at £100 a kilo it bloody well should be. At that price they should lead the damn animal into the restaurant and install it under the table so it can pleasure me while I eat.

Reminiscent of Pete Wells’ review of Guy Fieri’s place in Times Square. Some restaurants become immortal and immune to criticism but I don’t think Beast and Guy Fieri’s are quite there yet.

Tater Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2014

I went to the newish Barcade in Chelsea last night to get some dinner and play Star Wars (and Ms. Pac-Man and Tetris and Donkey Kong) and discovered their tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces:

Tetris Tater Tots

ИOM ИOM ИOM. You can get these tots from a company called US Foods; they call them Puzzle Potatoes. Their sell sheet for the product is a wonder of corporate wishful thinking masquerading as marketing.

Here’s a menu item that will encourage kids to play with their food.

Yes! This is exactly what all parents want. Huge parental issue in America right now is that kids don’t play with their food enough.

When baked, these innovative Puzzle Potatoes are a fun and healthier alternative to regular fries…

Tater tots are not a health food. That’s the whole point. Also, aren’t regular fries also healthier when baked?

Puzzle potatoes are new innovative and interactive potatoes for kids.

Imagine the meeting. “Bob, what can we do about these smartphone? Kids just aren’t spending enough time with their potatoes anymore. Instead they’re Facebooking and Flappy Birding. Wait, I know… interactive potatoes!” [Cut to Bob being paraded around the office on his coworkers’ shoulders]

Our proprietary puzzle-piece shapes…

Well, someone else’s proprietary puzzle piece shapes, but why quibble with details?

Features & Benefits… 2D or 3D

I don’t. I can’t. What does that even mean? The sell sheet for these should be super simple: a photo of the tots and this caption in all-caps 120-point type: THEY’RE TATER TOTS SHAPED LIKE TETRIS PIECES! BUY THEM, YOU FOOL! (thx, kathryn)

Make Popeye’s chicken and biscuits at home

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2014

Wylie Chix

Well, well. For a cookbook called Fried & True: More than 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides, food genius Wylie Dufresne recreated the recipes for Popeye’s chicken and biscuits.

The tenders first get an overnight soak in buttermilk and hot sauce that makes them juicy and, um, tender. To nail the perfectly seasoned crust, he eventually landed on a breading that includes a packet of onion soup and a hefty dose of McCormick’s Italian Herb Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix. (If this makes you cringe, remember who we’re talking about here, and trust.) Cornstarch, potato starch and baking soda added to the self-rising flour mixture ensure the signature craggy texture and exceptional crunch. Finally, after much experimentation to find the perfect frying temperature, he settled on a relatively low 300°, which renders the crust a deep golden-brown and keeps the lean meat moist.

Better than the original, says Serious Eats’ Maggie Mariolis. Dang.

Milton Glaser, foodie

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2014

Today I learned that iconic designer Milton Glaser co-wrote a column for New York magazine (which he co-founded) about where to find cheap-but-good food in NYC. It was called The Underground Gourmet. Here’s a typical column from the October 27, 1975 issue, reviewing a ramen joint in Midtown called Sapporo that is miraculously still around:

Underground Gourmet

Glaser and his co-authior Jerome Snyder eventually packaged the column into a series of books, some of which you can find on Amazon…I bought a copy this morning.

I found out about Glaser’s food enthusiasm from this interview in Eye magazine about The Underground Gourmet and his long collaboration with restaurateur Joe Baum of the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.

We just walked the streets … When friends of ours knew we were doing it we got recommendations.

There were parts of the city where we knew we could find good places … particularly in the ethnic parts. We knew if we went to Chinatown we would find something if we looked long enough, or Korea Town, or sections of Little Italy.

More then than now, the city was more locally ethnic before the millionaires came in and bought up every inch of space. So you could find local ethnic places all over the city. And people were dying to discover that. And it was terrific to be able to find a place where you could have lunch for four dollars.

In 2010, Josh Perilo wrote an appreciation of The Underground Gourmet in which he noted only six of the restaurants reviewed in the 1967 edition had survived:

Being obsessed with the food and history of New York (particularly Manhattan), this was like finding a culinary time capsule. I immediately dove in. What I found was shocking, both in the similarities between then and now, and in the differences.

The most obvious change was the immense amount of restaurants that no longer existed. These were not landmarked establishments, by and large. Most of them were hole-in-the wall luncheonettes, inexpensive Chinese restaurants and greasy spoons. But the sheer number of losses was stunning. Of the 101 restaurants profiled, only six survive today: Katz’s Delicatessen, Manganaro’s, Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes Bakery, The Puglia and La Taza de Oro. About half of the establishments were housed in buildings that no longer exist, especially in the Midtown area. The proliferation of “lunch counters” also illustrated the evolution of this city’s eating habits. For every kosher “dairy lunch” joint that went down, it seems as though a Jamba Juice or Pink Berry has taken its place.

Man, it’s hard not get sucked into reading about all these old places…looking forward to getting my copy of the book in a week or two.

Update: Glaser’s co-author Jerome Snyder was also a designer…and no slouch either.

Do you have a reservation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2014

Alexis Madrigal wonders: when did the idea of the dinner reservation come about?

Reserving a table is not so much an “industrial age bolt-on” as it’s a slippage from the older custom of reserving a ROOM in a restaurant. As my book explains, 18th-cy “caterers” [traiteurs] either served clients in their homes or in rooms at the traiteur’s, the first self-styled restaurateurs borrowed from cafes in having lots of small tables in one big room. Throughout the nineteenth century, many big city restaurants continued to have both a (very) large public eating room with numerous, small (private) tables AND a number of smaller rooms that could be reserved for more private meals. (Much as some restaurants have special “banquet facilities” or “special occasion” rooms today.)

See also: the first NY Times restaurant review circa 1859.