Monday, June 11, 2007

SF cooks vs NY cooks -- guess who wins, hippie

Hey, hippie San Francisco cook dude, put down the ganja reefer weed for a second and try to focus on something other than your own navel!

Danny Myers apprentice Sarah Schafer has come to San Francisco from New York, and she brought some opinions with her about YOU! So wake up and sober up and detox or whatever!
"I don't want to sound like I'm putting any West Coast chefs down," said Frisson Executive Chef Sarah Schafer, 10 minutes into a discourse on the virtues of New York cooks. "I just don't think they are as disciplined as East Coast chefs."
Oh yes, she did!

She totally just did that!

That might sound rough, but Sarah has some constructive, practical advice to go with her criticism:
  • Try not to be a total flake, especially if you have an interview scheduled!
  • It's called discipline. Have you heard of it?
  • Did you know there are other cuisines other than California Cuisine!? Hard to believe, I know!
  • You are not a television star so please just stop.
  • Work in New York and, if possible, make sure your schooling and childhood were in New York
  • Try to do something other than smoke ganja weed and sleep all the time!
It turns out there are a lot of other chefs around town who favor cooks from East Coast kitchen culture, which is basically "Shut up and get yelled at and do as you are told," very military except even meaner.

And it turns out that if you want to work in certain top kitchens and have a problem with this, go eat some tofu or to yoga class or surfing or just drop some ecstasy and sleep for 16 hours on your stupid futon or whatever, you dirty hippie, and deal with it The End.

Full story in the ...

Business Times: S.F. chefs seek cooks with N.Y. state of mind / They're used to higher pressure, work load (free link)

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Beer ruined by male insecurity

Beer is so rarely served in properly-shaped glassware that places like Toronado, Magnolia Brewery and Alembic have made their names just by having the proper crystal in their cabinets, and Dean Biersch is touting proper glasses as part of his forthcoming tavern in Sonoma.

And the reason you can't get the proper glass for, say, your Trumer Pils at just any old neighborhood pub is that men are afraid of having smaller-than-average ... vessels of beer. Ya, that's it, that's what their insecure about the size of.

The owner of Magnolia and Alembic Dave McLean reveals all in a recent 7X7 blurb:
“You’d be very surprised at how sensitive some men get about being served a smaller glass than the others at their table,” he says. “Must be a masculinity thing.”

... We try it out. In a tulip glass, his exquisitely hoppy Proving Ground IPA smells powerfully like a stroll through a flowering mountain meadow. But in a pint glass, the aromas dissipate.
So even though Belgian ales and hoppy beers are best served in a tulip glass and pilsners in narrow cylinders, they usually aren't, because some whiny man might whine. 7X7:

European mean are apparently much more sophisticated about the whole thing. Typical.

7X7: Beer Genius

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sam in Photo Glam Slam!

The 7X7 headline gets it right, Sam has eclipsed Victoria as most Posh.

And former Posh, frankly, looks like she could use some nosh. A lot of nosh, actually. I know a site with great recipes Vicky! Maybe even some things David would loooorve ...

7X7: The Poshest Spice (Sam Breach!)

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Truffle inflation reaches crisis levels in Alameda

OK, seriously, NO ONE tell Daniel Patterson about this because he's going to start smashing aromatherapy bottles and taking hostages at Centerfolds or whatever.

It's not even been two weeks since the food writer/chef railed in the New York Times about the evil evil evils of so-called Truffle Oil which, hey, not only is completely unrelated to truffles but which also fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Today, from the City of Alameda, where the food has been getting more interesting as the island's military history recedes further into the past, we are presented via the Express with a new gastropub called Hobnob.

Where you can get, no really seriously, Truffle Fries, for FIVE DOLLARS.

Truffle. French fries. In a bar. For five. Dollars.

What could possibly be fishy about that?!

The Express' John Birdsall, a heavily armed food media don, is an impatient man with no time for surface narratives, and he obviously has no problem with this. To wit:
Look no further than the truffle fries — a dish that successfully balances fancy with the familiar profile of good old bar food — as proof of Amy Voisenat's ability to read Alameda. Forget some decadent fantasy of pommes frites sprinkled with shavings of black truffle. Voisenat's vision is a pile of skinny fries with a firm grasp of the ordinary, even lacking, as far as I could tell, the tossing with Parmesan and herbs the menu described. [WTF? They couldn't even deliver on herbs and powdered cheese?? For TRUFFLE FRIES? --ed.] They did, however, come with a ramekin of truffle aioli — really good truffle aioli: pale and soft and with bright acidity, a playful bite of garlic, and the delicious, dog-bed funk of truffle oil.

It was a dish that didn't seem like much on first dunk, but revealed a subtle and unpretentious sense of refinement the more you ate. And if all that truffle stuff seemed weird, I imagine you could ask for ketchup and just go on yakking. [We need to have a long conversation some time about word choice, John. Soon. -ed]
Truffle Oil has been a seductress to some of the nation's top chefs, like the chef de cuisine at Per Se.

And know she's going to instigate a bar fight between Daniel Patterson and John Birdsall, in Alameda, with broken bottles and EVERYTHING, and it's going to be awesome.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Larry Biggie writes in to defend what remains of his honor

A couple of weeks ago I noted that a couple of Oakland entrepreneurs were trying to follow the path blazed by Cafe Gratitude of San Francisco and get customers to finance their cafe bar by pre-paying for gift cards ("The future of restaurant finance is here: Oakland man pre-pays for $1000 of beer").

According to the Oakland Tribune article at the time, the aspiring cafe owners had sold only about $14,000 of the $125,000 they needed in pre-sales, almost entirely to friends and family.

But then there was Larry Biggie, of Adams Point, who pre-paid for $1000 in gift cards.

I wrote, "That's a lot of organic beer, Larry." Heh. I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, Larry, who is apparently a banker and also apparently a real, actual person with the best ever name "Larry Biggie," has emailed to say he had coffee more in mind than beer.

He was a good sport about the whole thing and apparently got a good laugh out of my post, which is awesome, because people with that much caffeine in their system usually take every little thing wayyyy too seriously.

Come to think of it, Larry, are you sure you aren't a beer kind of a guy?

I also heard from one of the Awaken Cafe people, Cortt Dunlap, also a nice guy. And yes, Cortt, you're right, I am both a journalist and self-styled programmer, which makes me pretty much the perfect demographic for a place that sells alcoholic beverages and coffee, respectively. Given the scale of my habit I'll need about $6k per year, which I'm not sure I can swing, but on the other hand I did just meet this overcaffeinated banker ...

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Bijou for sale

Joie de Vivre and its partners have put the 65-room Bijou on Union Square on the market for close to $10 milion, I reported in Friday's Business Times.

Kimpton still has Palomar on the market, and the Crowne Plaza future flag or owner is still up in the air.

Subscriber-only link until July: Bijou the latest to ride the wave of hotel sales

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Nirvana at the Communist Table?

You've probably already read the Chronicle's Food section cover story on communal tables; if not, go read it, it's a fresh look at a long-developing trend.

What I wonder, from a business standpoint, is whether this is a rare, perfect overlap of the interests of patron and proprietor. The patron gets a fun seat, available at the last minute, where she can meet friends and maybe suitors.

The proprietor gets highly efficient use of his space, plenty of cocktail sales to grease the socializing and, apparently, at Pres a Vi, the sale of a whole bottle of Veuve to some dude trying to impress some chick, successfully it turns out.

So what's the catch here? Is service a headache, keeping track of all those individual orders and who is paying for who? Do people linger too long after they are done eating?

And if people want to be so social, what's with the explosion in private dining rooms? The Hilton's planned "urban tavern" is supposed to have four separate private dining areas AND a communal table.

Perhaps it's a sign people are weaving restaurants into new parts of their lives as good food becomes more prized and more central, with restaurants stealing ground from singles bars and private clubs. Lucratively, I might add.

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Chronicle biodynamics letters: So. Very. Best.

I'm awarding Jim Cuthbertson of El Cerrito and especially Kathy Cheer of Santa Cruz the coveted title "Honorary Covers Editor at Large" for their letters to the Chronicle today, regarding the recent story on How Biodynamic Pagan Sacrifice Can Help Guerrilla Market Your Restaurant, blogged here under the title "Chefs turn to witchcraft and sorcery in logical next step for food world."

For those that missed these letters tucked into the back of the Food section, Cuthbertson wrote that "Organic farming is real and has real benefits ... Burying stuff in a skull is just plain weird."

And Kathy Cheer, well, let's just say that not only am I going to print her letter in full, but also that I encourage her to sue me for copyright infringement just so I can meet her in person and shake her hand:
Rudolf Steiner's speeches on biodynamic farming bring to mind the following quote from Shakespeare's "Macbeth":

Saith the witches: "eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog ..."

For those who have the time, this approach to farming is whimsical. For those responsible for feeding large populations, this is tomfoolery.

Blessed be.

Well, these letters may not get you, say, a high-profile gig as a regular contributor to New York Times Magazine, but we're happy to run your stuff over at Covers!

I'm a sucker for a nice turn of phrase, I guess. Even though, like Arugula, Michael Pollan or a well-timed stint laundering narcoprofits, biodynamics is neither all bad nor all good. Right?? Tell me there's a redeeming ending here.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Mean words for Presidio Social Club

I can't help but point out a recurring theme in the reviews of Presidio Social Club: The service sort of really sucks!

And it sucks in the friendliest, nicest, most warm-spirited possible way, which goes a hell of a long way, as the consistently positive overall reviews of Presidio Social Club attest.

Listen to Josh Sens in San Francisco magazine:

Where the Social Club suffers is in its atrocious service, as bad as any I've encountered in a restaurant more ambitious than a Jack in the Box. To call the waiters AWOL would be too kind. On both occasions when I was at their mercy, they seemed to synchronize their passes by my table not to military time but to the travel patterns of rare comets. On their infrequent appearances, they were friendly but forgetful. Oh right, your cocktail. Ah yes, your sauteed spinach. Questions about the menu? The fish special, say, or the stock in the veal stew? Don't ask, because they won't tell.
That paragraph sure caught my attention, and stuck in my head even as Sens went on to give an overall "very good," two-of-four star review, apparently on the strength of the cocktails, desserts, and the staff's overall niceness.

So I decided to check around. Apparently Michael Bauer raised a similar, if more muted, critique of the service. He wrote that the staff were "seemingly inexperienced," failed to bring utensils and brought the wrong drinks.

But like Sens, Bauer was eventually won over by friendliness and desserts and cocktails, plus some fine (though uneven) entrees and apps.

Then there's KQED's food blog, where food writer Catherine Nash wrote, "Our waiter had the wink and swagger of a good ole boy, and I had to wonder if he was flirting or stealing nips from the bar since we rarely saw him." Bus boys and food runners were better than the waiter, plus desserts and cocktails were to die for -- you get the idea by now.

Not surprisingly, you can find similar critiques of the service at Presidio Social Club on the Web, if you look for them.

Funny me, but I can't imagine having worse-than-AWOL waiters on two different visits to the same restaurant, as Sens at SF magazine described, and then giving the place anything better than "good," at best. Especially if, like Sens, my review is published two and a half months after similar criticisms were aired in the Chronicle and a month after they were aired on the KQED food blog, giving the restaurant plenty of time to fix things, even taking into account long magazine lead times.

But then, I've never actually been to Presidio Social Club, which seems to have a Reality Distortion Field strong enough to impress Steve Jobs himself. As Nash put it, "the critic in me may have shrugged, but the rest of me had fallen in love."

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