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kottke.org posts about 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.

Restaurant ticketing systems are a hot ticket

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2014

Alinea stats

For three years, Nick Kokonas’s trio of eating/drinking establishments in Chicago (Next, Alinea, and Aviary) has been using a ticketed reservation system. In this epic piece, Kokonas details why they started using tickets and what the effect has been (emphasis mine):

Our ticket implementation strategy at Alinea was to create a “higher-touch” system than we had previously used at Next. Every customer buying a ticket at Alinea must include a cell phone number where we can reach them. About a week before they dine with us we call every customer to thank them for buying a ticket to Alinea, ask if they have any dietary restrictions or special needs, and generally get a feel for their expectations and whether it is a special occasion. We can, in fact, spend more time (not less) with every single one of our customers because we are only speaking with the customers we know are coming to dine with us. Previously, we answered thousands of calls from people we had to say ‘no’ to. Now we can take far more time to say ‘yes’.

The results on Alinea’s business are staggering. Bottom line EBITDA profits are up 38% from previous average years. No shows of full tables are almost non-existent and while partial no-shows still occur they are only a handful of people per week at most. That allows us to run at a far greater capacity with less food waste and more revenue.

Will be interesting to see if more restaurants adopt this model…I bet a bunch of restaurateurs’ eyes lit up at the 38% increase in profit. But not every restaurant is Alinea and not every restaurateur is a clever former derivatives trader.

Chipotle Cup Stories: Beyonce and Solange

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2014

Beyonce is mad at Solange for not sticking to the plan. What plan? I don’t want to say too much, but it involves Chipotle.

“You just stood there. I was defending you.”

“Do I need defending?”

“That’s not the point. He is a monster.”

“He is my husband.”

Beyoncé looked away, out the window at the people and the buildings, as they sped across 59th St. “I know who I married. That was my decision and I’ll live with it.”

“Of course you take his side.”

“Excuse me?” Beyoncé turned to face her sister. “Beyoncé is on Beyoncé’s side. Always. Trust that.”

(via @ftrain)

Leadership from within

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2014

In recent years, Chipotle has worked to promote their managers from within the company. And the tactic seems to be working.

The common element among the best-performing stores was a manager who had risen up from crew. So Moran started to outline a program that would retain and train the best managers, and reward them to the point where they would be thrilled to stay on.

After Flores expressed his frustration, Moran showed him his early notes for the restaurateur program, which is unique among fast food restaurants in that it ties pay and promotion to how well you mentor people, rather than store sales.

“It was a great meeting but I didn’t know what was going to happen. At most companies you meet the top execs and then you never hear from them again,” Flores says.

A few weeks after the October meeting, while vacationing in Houston, Flores got a call on his cell from Ells and Moran letting him know that he had been promoted to restaurateur and was getting a $3,000 bonus. Rather than waiting until he returned to Milwaukee to get him the check, it was delivered to him in Houston the following day. At the time his salary was around $38,000, and the bonus was meaningful.

“That’s when I knew the company was special,” Flores said.

Interesting bits of business wisdom throughout this piece.

Taco Bell’s new spokesman: Ronald McDonald

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2014

Errol Morris has directed a new series of Taco Bell commercials where a bunch of ordinary men named Ronald McDonald review Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu. Here’s one of the spots:

Death & Co cocktail book

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2014

Looking forward to this one: a cocktail recipe book from Death & Co, an East Village cocktail joint.

Featuring hundreds of recipes for signature Death & Co creations as well as classic drink formulas,Death & Co is not only a comprehensive collection of the bar’s best, but also a complete cocktail education. With chapters on the theory and philosophy of drink-making; a complete guide to the spirits, tools, and other ingredients needed to make a great bar; and specs for nearly 500 iconic drinks, Death & Co is destined to become the go-to reference on craft cocktails.

The story behind the artisanal toast trend

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2014

This is undoubtably the best story you’ll ever read about the Bay Area’s latest food craze: $4 artisanal toast.

Trouble’s owner, and the apparent originator of San Francisco’s toast craze, is a slight, blue-eyed, 34-year-old woman with freckles tattooed on her cheeks named Giulietta Carrelli. She has a good toast story: She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Cleveland in the ’80s and ’90s in a big immigrant family, her father a tailor from Italy, her mother an ex-nun. The family didn’t eat much standard American food. But cinnamon toast, made in a pinch, was the exception. “We never had pie,” Carrelli says. “Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast.”

The other main players on Trouble’s menu are coffee, young Thai coconuts served with a straw and a spoon for digging out the meat, and shots of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice called “Yoko.” It’s a strange lineup, but each item has specific meaning to Carrelli. Toast, she says, represents comfort. Coffee represents speed and communication. And coconuts represent survival-because it’s possible, Carrelli says, to survive on coconuts provided you also have a source of vitamin C. Hence the Yoko. (Carrelli tested this theory by living mainly on coconuts and grapefruit juice for three years, “unless someone took me out to dinner.”)

Fancy $4 toast seems like something to chuckle at or cluck your tongue about, but this story takes an unexpected left turn about halfway through and is well worth the read.

NYC diners in the 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2014

From photographer Greg Alessandrini, a collection of photos of diners in New York City taken in the 1990s. I was pleased to see a shot of Jones Diner, which I ate at several months before moving to NYC:

Jones Diner

It closed shortly before we moved and I never got to eat there again. At the time, word was some condos were being built on the site, but it took ten years for construction to start. What a waste.

BTW, the rest of Alessandrini’s site is well worth a look…hundreds and possibly thousands of photographs of NYC from the 80s and 90s. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

2004: a good food year for NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2013

2004 was a pretty good year for the NYC food scene. Among the openings were The Spotted Pig, Per Se, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Shake Shack.

If there was a movement taking shape, its key players admit they didn’t notice until after the fact. And many of them spent the year struggling. Mr. Chang was desperate for customers in the early days at Noodle Bar, and kicking himself for having failed to apply for a kitchen job at Per Se or Masa. “I remember thinking very clearly, ‘What am I doing?’ ” he said. ” ‘This is stupid. I should be working at Masa!’ “

In some cases, 2004 was an outright fight. At the Spotted Pig, Mr. Friedman and Ms. Bloomfield, who had arrived from England, envisioned the vibrant boite as “a really cool bar that happened to have food as good as any restaurant in town,” Mr. Friedman said. “Who made the rule that you can’t have a real chef instead of someone who defrosts the frozen French fries?”

The end of the Waffle House

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2013

From the Indiana Daily Student, the last days in the life of a Waffle House in Bloomington, Indiana.

Most of the students had stopped visiting years ago. The smoking ban forced out the puffers. Many of the regulars grew so old that they died or went to nursing homes.

Once Bud decided to close, it all slipped away even faster. Some of his staff had taken other jobs. The gumballs emptied out of the shiny red machine. No one bothered to mark the white board with the daily special.

They would close at precisely 3 p.m. Bud checked his watch, ignoring the broken wall clock, its hands frozen for more years than he could remember, stuck in time.

It suited the place.

Care of Google Maps, here’s the Waffle House before it got torn down. (via unlikely words)

Take-out place goes as Alinea for Halloween

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2013

Real Kitchen, a small Chicago eatery that mostly does take-out food, dressed up as Michelin 3-star Alinea for Halloween. Some genuine LOLs here, especially the table-side dessert to-go.

The usual?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2013

On the occasion of leaving New York, Rebecca Flint Marx writes about one of her favorite New York City places (Russ & Daughters) and a particular counterman there, Paul.

Being a regular is a funny thing in a big city. Outside, you’re just an anonymous schmo. But if you come inside often enough, each visit starts to feel like a family reunion of sorts; like the extended members of your biological family, the people you encounter will likely be happy enough to see you, though they probably have little idea of who you actually are as a person. But there’s a beauty in deciding how much of yourself to offer as part of the general exchange of money and goods: You can be the thoughtfully curated version of you — the one who always smiles and never has any problems. The one who is a good person simply because she says “please” and “thank you,” exchanges salty banter with the cantankerous counterman, and bakes a cake for the Yom Kippur rush, as I started doing for the staff a few years ago.

What a lovely piece. See also the joys of being a regular.

Soho’s food machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2013

Here’s how Balthazar, one of Manhattan’s busiest and most-beloved restaurants, serves 1500 meals every single day.

Roughly one in 10 people who enter Balthazar orders the steak frites. It is far and away the restaurant’s best-selling dish, and Balthazar can sell as many as 200 on a busy day. A plate of steak and potatoes requires a tremendous input of labor if you’re going to charge $38 for it. At a smaller restaurant, cooks are typically responsible for setting up their own mise-en-place — preparing food for their stations — before each service begins, but at Balthazar, things are necessarily more atomized. The fries, for example, go through numerous steps of prep, done by a few different people, before they wind up on a plate.

Step 1 begins at about 6:30 a.m., when Diogene Peralta and Ramon Alvino, the prep cooks in charge of potatoes, each grab a 50-pound case of GPODs, from the Idaho company that sources Russet Burbank potatoes, known for their consistency, and place a massive plastic tub on the floor behind them. This morning, Alvino is flying, his left hand’s fingers imperceptibly rotating the potato between upward strokes of the peeler, blindly flipping the naked spuds over his shoulder into the tub. I pull up my phone’s stopwatch to time him for a minute, treating each potato as a lap: his slowest is 10.7 seconds, his quickest 6.4. Alvino, a shy man from the Dominican Republic, has been doing this same job for 15 years. “Like anything else, it was difficult at first,” he says, but he caught his rhythm after a couple of months. Peralta has been at it for 14 years. Today, they will peel and chip about 600 pounds of potatoes. (Since russet supplies are short in late summer, Balthazar stockpiles thousands of cases of potatoes in a New Jersey warehouse.) Next, they will soak them in water that must be changed three times in order to leach out starch. The potatoes that are peeled today won’t be fried, actually, until tomorrow, and then refried — but that’s another guy’s job.

What an intricately designed system; even the menu is designed to drive profit.

The McDonald’s tasting menu

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2013

McDonald’s recently held an event where chefs took the ingredients used to make McDonald’s menu items and used them to make dishes that one might find at a nice restaurant. Thrillist has the report.

Fancy McDonald's

The slow-cooked beef with blueberry pomegranate sauce and Mac Fry gnocchi comes from McD’s chef Jessica Foust, and was, without a doubt, the best of the night. It’s their burger beef before it gets ground, plus blueberries and pomegranates from the smoothies, thinly ribboned carrots, and French fries magically turned into gnocchi.

See also a previous discussion of fast food and fine dining. Dammit, now I’m hungry for a Quarter Pounder… (via @jeb)

Restaurant ditches tipping, service gets better

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2013

Jay Porter recently wrote a series of posts about his experience running a restaurant that abolished tipping. Here’s part one:

This is a summary of the experiences I had in our no-tipping lab, and in my next few posts I’ll dig a little deeper into each of them. Then I’ll finish this series by talking about what I’ve learned this year from a couple new friends who are researchers from the University of Guelph, and who have brought me in contact with some deeper thoughts about the tipping issue, from the social justice side. After seeing what they and their colleagues have uncovered, I’ve become convinced that thoughtful cultures who value civil rights will make tipping not just optional but illegal; and that this could actually happen sooner rather than later, when courts assess the reality of the situation.

If you want the Cliff Notes version, Porter wrote a shorter piece for Slate.

When we switched from tipping to a service charge, our food improved, probably because our cooks were being paid more and didn’t feel taken for granted. In turn, business improved, and within a couple of months, our server team was making more money than it had under the tipped system. The quality of our service also improved. In my observation, however, that wasn’t mainly because the servers were making more money (although that helped, too). Instead, our service improved principally because eliminating tips makes it easier to provide good service.

On the Regular

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2013

Former NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni writes about the joys of being a regular at your neighborhood restaurant.

What you have with a restaurant that you visit once or twice is a transaction. What you have with a restaurant that you visit over and over is a relationship.

My wife and I eat out at least once a week and we used to travel all over the city to try all sorts of different places, just-opened hot spots and old favorites alike. It was great. But now we mostly go to a bar/restaurant1 around the corner from where we live and that’s even better. Bruni covers the experience pretty well, but I just wanted to share a couple of seemingly small aspects of being a regular:

1. Our local is popular and always crowded, especially during the dreaded 7-10pm hours and double especially Thu-Sat nights. But even when I go in by myself at a peak time, when the bar’s jam-packed, there’s always a seat for me. It might take a bit, but something opens up and they slot me in, even if I’m only stopping in for a drink and they could seat a two-top for dinner at the bar. (A regular in the hand is worth two in the rush.)

2. This is a totally minor thing but I love it: more than once, I’ve come in early in the evening, had a drink, left without paying to go run an errand or meet someone somewhere else, and then come back later for another drink or dinner and then settle my bill. It’s like having a house account without the house account.

3. Another nice thing about being a regular at a place that values regulars is that you meet the other regulars. This summer I was often left to my own devices for dinner and a couple times a week, I ended up at my local. And almost without exception, I ended up having dinner with someone I’d previously met at the bar. Routinely turning a solo dining experience into dinner with a friend is an amazing accomplishment for a restaurant.

  1. Something I read in one of food writer Jeffrey Steingarten’s books has always stuck with me. He said there are certain restaurants he frequents that he never writes about critically. Those places are just for him and he would never recommend them to his readers. Having written for so long here on kottke.org, there are certain things I hold back, that are just for me. Having a public opinion on absolutely everything you love is no way to live.

    So, no, I’m not going to tell you what restaurant I’m talking about. It’s beside the point anyway…Bruni’s not trying to persuade you to try Barbuto or Charlie Bird, it’s about you finding your own local.

Modern Toilet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2013

When I was just out of college, my dad and I went to Beijing. One of my anxieties about the trip concerned my left-handedness, specifically going against the custom of not using your left hand (aka your bathroom hand) to eat. It turned out fine; the semi-expected reprimand never came.

Times have changed. Now, in Shanghai, you can go to a restaurant called Modern Toilet, which is actually one in a chain of Taiwanese stores that are toilet themed.

Modern Toilet

We are a group of “muckrakers” following our dreams. It all started when one of us was reading the manga, Dr. Slump on the toilet — and the rest is history. In the beginning, we mainly sold ice cream — a big pile of chocolate ice cream sold in containers shaped like a squat toilet. This humorous spin became a great success.

Susannah Breslin visited the Shanghai Modern Toilet and offers this report.

Upstairs, I took a seat at a table. My seat was a toilet. The table had a glass top. Under it, there was a bowl. In the bowl, there was a plastic swirly turd. The place mats were decorated with smiling turds.

(via @claytoncubitt)

A brief history of the kid’s menu

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2013

Pretty interesting history of how the children’s menu came to “grace” restaurant tables around the country.

Children tend to rise to the culinary bar we set for them, and children’s menus in America set the bar very low indeed. To look at the standard kids’ menu, greasy with prefab items like chicken fingers, tater tots, and mac-and-cheese, you might think that industrial food manufacturers have been responsible for setting it. But the delusion that a child even needs a special menu is a lot older than the chicken nuggets that have come to dominate it. In fact, the children’s menu dates back to Prohibition, when, remarkably, it was devised with a child’s health in mind.

I hate kid’s menus. Our kids would happily order off the main menu but as soon as the promise of hot dogs and chicken fingers arrives with crayons, it’s difficult to steer them away.

Hot IPO: a pasta restaurant

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2013

What has been the hottest IPO of the year so far? Some new-fangled technology perhaps? Or maybe a trend-setting company from one of the coasts set to take their product offering national and then global? Nope, it was a Denver-based, pasta-centric restaurant chain called Noodles & Co. The company’s IPO bucked a lot of trends (including, it seems, the war on flour). Here’s The Daily Beast on how a pasta chain punked Wall Street.

[That’s Dave Pell’s take from Nextdraft, but I have to weigh in here. I’ve eaten at Noodles & Co many times. I ate there last week, actually. The restaurants do well because the service is friendly & responsive, your order comes out quickly, and the food is remarkably good for the money you pay (like at Chipotle). No one would ever mistake the Pad Thai or Japanese Pan Noodles for the authentic thing, but they are both delicious. I like the Steak Stroganoff so much that I crave it even when surrounded by the amazing and varied food choices of NYC. No idea if Noodles & Co would do well in Manhattan, but they’d definitely have one customer. -jkottke]

Tipping should be outlawed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2013

Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn offers six reasons why tipping, particularly at restaurants, should be eliminated.

The friendships I’ve formed with restaurant employees over the years have made me think seriously about why hospitality workers are singled out among America’s professionals to endure a pass-the-hat system of compensation. Why should a server’s pay depend upon the generosity — not to mention dubious arithmetic skills — of people like me?

(via @LonestarTacoNYC, who are starting back up at New Amsterdam Market this weekend)