Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fobloog Gripe List (2008 so far)


So at this exact moment you're probably saying to yourself, it's just barely 2008 Marly, how can you present a Gripe list so soon into 2008?

I admit, these items are not really "of" 2008. They are definitely from before that, and so their time has come. You'll notice the list below has only 4 items on it, 6 fewer than the 2007 list, yet these items have more explanation. The list is in order from least important to most important in my foodie-opinioned head. Here goes...

4. Sparkling, still or tap?

Everyone knows about this one, so why list it at all? Because it annoys restaurant patrons, though admittedly the smarter restaurants have learned not to be as obnoxious about it these days.

This gripe is about when the restaurant server asks, "What kind of water would you like? Sparkling, still or tap?" (Sure sometimes the word “tap” is left off that short list of options and we're left to struggle with having the nerve to say "TAP is FINE.") As a matter of fact, this trend exists solely as a way to up the check average for your table. More profits for the restaurant, bigger tip for the server. If you actually prefer the bottled water, so be it! But be aware that after your bottle runs out, some shiesters will keep opening bottles until you’re finished with the meal. One price-gouged check later, you’re disgruntled and feel like a sap. So watch for that, and don’t buy into this sort of peer water pressure unless you sincerely don’t like tap.

3. New restaurants that are irrelevant
I'm talking about places that open and are a new place and a new space but don’t offer anything unique to the scene or the city. When people open a new restaurant, there needs to be a reason behind it. Not just to fulfill a dream to open a restaurant and then do what everyone else does, especially on the ubiquitous dessert front!

I once worked on a "let's open a fake restaurant" school group project at the French Culinary Institute. One student in my group was a flag-waving resident of Long Island who we'll call Dave. It was Dave's dream to open a seafood restaurant in the seafood-restaurant-laden town of Port Jefferson, Long Island. In truth, he was using the class to help him actually open the restaurant, he'd been to a realtor and everything. Well when it was time to plan the "fake" menu, two of us from the group built a really unique seafood menu that stood out from the crowd. But when Dave saw this, he said "Where's the shrimp cocktail?" I said "Every restaurant in Port Jeff serves shrimp cocktail. I thought the group decided we wanted our 'restaurant' to be different." Dave went on and on, not budging on the shrimp cocktail, asking why isn't cheesecake on the menu, where's the clam chowder, where's the Caesar salad and the fried shrimp plate and the skate with brown butter (apparently the only way skate wing is served on the east coast)... You get my meaning? There's no point to that restaurant existing, because it already exists in that location twenty-times over.

2. Tortilla chips in big bags
Have you ever noticed that tortilla chips aren’t sold in small, snack-size bags? You know, if you go to a convenience store and want a 99¢ bag of Tostitos, all you see is Fritos and Doritos? I called Frito-Lay once with this question...Why can’t I buy Tostitos, my favorite chip, in a snack-size bag? About a week later a very nice lady from Texas left a 5-minute voicemail explaining that in the eyes of Frito-Lay, Tostitos are a party food. They’re not thought of as a snack that any one person would want to eat on their own without salsa. It's something that is eaten in the company of others. (I responded to myself, "Not in New York! Our homes are too small for company!" :) She also mentioned that some states do sell snack-size bags of Tostitos in vending machines, but this is only in the Midwest, and alas, I lived on the east coast, dang it.

1. French is for toast, not fries
I will spare you the very long story about why I care whether or not the world understands that “french fries” is an all-lowercase phrase. I will, however, tell you that most publications that write about food are incorrect when they spell it “French fries.” This includes the paper of record, The New York Times (and no they never printed my complaint letter on the subject). Many restaurant menus are incorrect as well. And I laugh at them all, ha! and not in French.

So now you know, the phrase “french” in the case of french fries is a verb, “to french,” and here is the definition according to the THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst:

> french fries
Potatoes that have been cut into thick to thin strips, soaked in cold water, blotted dry, then DEEP-FRIED until crisp and golden brown. They are called pommes frites in France and chips in Britain. The name does not come from the fact that their origin is French, but because the potatoes are "frenched" — cut into lengthwise strips. Other versions of french-fried potatoes are shoestring potatoes (matchstick-wide) and steak fries (very thick strips).

That concludes this early edition of the Fobloog Gripe List 2008. I know this was a short list but hopefully some gripe recognitions were sweet (ok for me, yes, it was ;) Feel free to send along your nominations for future lists any time!

Until we eat again,
:) Marly

Friday, January 4, 2008

Evolving Beyond Bacon: The Glories of Pork

Hello long lost readers,

Yes it's been awhile, please forgive! There've been travels galore and many excuses as to why I haven't updated in 2 months. Let's look forward, though. It's time to talk about pork.

When Neil and I traveled to Germany in November, the trip reminded me -- beyond the glorious Christmas markets, fun and adventure -- how one-dimensional our experiences with pork are in the U.S.

You know what I mean, in restaurants there are basically 3 ways to order pork: as a chop, as a medallion, as a side of bacon. Hey no one here is dissing the side of bacon!; all this foodie's saying is in a great dining country like this, why do most restaurants serve the same cuts of pork?

The best pork dishes we ate in Germany -- and typical of that part of the world's cuisine -- were the pork steak (with ie. pepper cream sauce) and the pork filet (with ie. mustard cream sauce). In addition, there was the bratwurst and all sorts of beautiful crackly pork sausages served with mustard, and of course don't forget the schnitzels... a pounded filet (usually veal but sometimes pork) breaded and exquisitely fried with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a dash of capers on top. Fattening though so wunderbar!

It's because pork is such a prominent protein in the German culture that we were even delighted to find the when-will-that-come-back-again McRib sandwich (formed pork in the shape of ribs doused in BBQ sauce on a soft bun with fresh onions) on every McDonald's menu in the cities we visited. We had to partake...because we could! And yes it was good.

So when back to this part of the woods, I wondered why pork isn't often served as a steak or filet on indigenous menus when it's so amazing! To me standard pork chops are ok but have a heavy taste from the fat around the bone that gets redundant. And usually pork medallions are too dry. The steak and the filet were moist and so flavorful! The pork flavor shines through and on the steak was especially excellent if served with a caramelized char. Oh yes if you can find it, try it.

Although I didn't have such luck once home, pretty much forgot about it really until last Sunday when I went about my foodie business and tried the fab BLD for brunch. I was quite excited to try their gourmet egg sandwich with Gruyère, aioli and Nueske's applewood-smoked bacon. But you know what? Suddenly this wasn't good enough. My expectations of pork had been raised and there was no going back. Bacon as my only pork outlet -- even if the famed Nueske's -- was a big fat "eh."

Thankfully while in New York City just over a week ago I had several opportunities to have pork in ways beyond bacon... First, I went to Blaue Gans with my cousins, a casual Austrian place from one of NYC's top chefs du jour. There I had the pleasure of eating one of their signatures, called the Jaeger Schnitzel. This is a style of Weiner Schnitzel made with pork, with a mushroom-bacon cream sauce (double the pork!) and some of the most succulent spätzle I've ever had. Y U M. They even served Cologne, Germany's famous Kölsch beer which one would think would be impossible to find outside of that city. Ending with Apfelstrudel, this was truly a great meal, plus it finally got me my non-chop, non-medallion pork fix on American soil.

The very next day in the city I had the pleasure of dining with Dan (see previous blog entry about our LA Korean BBQ experience, which happened to include the excellent spicy pork). For the 2nd year in a row Dan took me to that pleasure palace of soup dumplings, Joe's Shanghai. Woo hoo those dumplings (see photo above) were amazing! You cannot imagine. I'm sure they're somewhere in LA in Monterey Park, though you should know, the best are at Joe's. Fly don't walk, as Dan would say.

So my advice to you is this: try to eat some non-traditional pork cuts when you have the chance, they are really amazing. Sure being in Germany or Austria helps, and if you're in Denmark, I hear the Roast Breast of Pork with Crackling is to die for (fyi, Saveur magazine issue #67 has the recipe). The Red Lion in Silver Lake might have some good options for you too.

And if you count yourself as a person who hasn't yet had soup dumplings and would like to try making them, yes it will take a day, though for you culinary adventurers try this penultimate soup dumpling recipe
by Anita Lo, chef at Annisa in New York, which includes a little explanation of these pork-filled doughy delights.

As for me, I'm probably going to have bacon for dinner at this point (the craving is suddenly unbearable ;). Wishing you all the best in 2008 in food, wine and beyond,