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I’m revisiting old haunts to try to get back into my Chicago equilibrium. Today, I ended up at Nazareth Sweets to pick up baklava for a party tonight. An assortment of 40-50 sets you back, wait for it……..$14! The pricing is the opposite of Pasticceria Natalina.
I am worried abut the calorific content but luckily it’s far enough from Evanston that I do not end up there too often. I love the walnut baklava and the bamya. The knaffeh is repulsive in my opinion. At the risk of causing an uproar, I somewhat concur with an earlier post of Jeff’s on Asian desserts as far as his point extends to knaffeh from the Middle East. Anyway, it is always good to buy some knaffeh – have some after one piece of walnut baklava so it grosses you out and you don’t eat any more dessert.
I put 3/4-inch thick slices of watermelon on a charcoal grill for about 1 minute, then cut them into these circles using a stainless steel measuring cup (I don’t have cookie cutters.) This kind of salad you want to break out the fleur de sel. Drizzle with olive oil, the good stuff, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Basil from the garden. Fantastic. It’s going into my regular summer repetoire.
Oh, and this is the 1000th Cheap Talk post.
Usually you order a bottle of wine in a restaurant and the waiter/wine guy opens it and pours a little for you to taste. Conventionally, you are not supposed to be deciding whether you made a good choice, just whether or not the wine is corked, i.e. spoiled due to a bottling mishap or bad handling. In practice this itself requires a well-trained nose.
But in some restaurants, the sommelier moves first: he tastes the wine and then tells you whether or not it is good.
Suspicions are not the only reason some people object to this practice. Others feel they are the best judges of whether a wine is flawed or not, and do not appreciate sommeliers appropriating their role.
We should notice though that it goes two ways. There are two instances where the change of timing will matter. First there is the case where the diner thinks the wine is bad but the sommelier does not. Here the change of timing will lead to more people drinking wine that they would have rejected. But that doesn’t mean they are worse off. In fact, diners who are sufficiently convinced will still reject the wine and a sommelier whose primary goal is to keep the clientele happy will oblige. But more often in these cases just knowing that an expert judges the wine to be drinkable will make it drinkable. On top of this psychological effect, the diner is better off because when he is uncertain he is spared the burden of sticking his neck out and suggesting that the wine may be spoiled.
But the reverse instance is by all accounts the more typical: diners drinking corked bottles because they don’t feel confident enough to call in the wine guy. I have heard from a master sommelier that about 10% of all bottles are corked! Here the sommelier-moves-first regime is unambiguoulsy better for the customer because a faithful wine guy will reject the bottle for him.
Unless the incentive problem gets in the way. Because if the sommelier is believed to be an expert acting in good faith, then he never lets you drink a corked bottle. You rationally infer that any bottle he pours for you is not spoiled, and you accept it even if you don’t think it tastes so good. But this leads to the Shady Sommelier Syndrome: As long as he has the tiniest regard for the bottom line, he will shade his strategy at least a little bit, giving you bottles that he judges to be possibly, or maybe certainly just a little bit, corked. You of course know this and now you are back to the old regime where, even after he moves first, you are still a little suspicious of the wine and now its your move. And your bottle is already one sommelier-sip lighter.
With many neighbors willing to help with childcare, my wife and I managed to escape for a quick meal on our own. We went to Anteprima, within easy striking distance of Evanston. At a dinner at Rialto in Boston, I’d guessed that we’d eat better and cheaper at Anteprima and our experience proved me right. The chef has the market-driven sensibility that is all the rage. I was in luck because someone must have brought squash blossoms to the market that week. So, I had lovely fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta-herb mix. My wife had the Tuscan crostini and enjoyed it as well. We both settled for the spaghetti with tomato, chilis and crispy breadcrumbs – easily made at home unlike the stuffed squash blossoms! We didn’t regret it as it was executed perfectly.
In New York City, people might expect this kind of meal from their local Italian joint. After Boston, it seemed extraordinary to us.
For dessert, we ended up getting overpriced gelato at Pasticceria Natalina. The owner makes quite exceptional pastries but the pricing is crazy. No-one else was there and I wonder if this unique place is going to last too much longer. Someone should tell them about the trade-off between margin and volume and perhaps also how to calculate margin correctly in the first place – don’t incorporate fixed and sunk costs into your pricing decision! It makes you think that elementary economics is actually useful for business owners.
- Tomato and Watermelon Soup (Cold)
- Marinated Anchovy “Lasagna”
- Tomatoes Stuffed With Squid Over Rice With its Ink and Carranza Cheese
- Grilled Hake With Potatoes and Iodized Mussel Juice
- Pan Roasted Cod With Olive Oil and Olive Oil Cream
- Carmelized French Toast With Ice Cream of Fresh Cheese
- Slightly Spicy Peach Gnocchi With Coconut Ice Cream and Vanilla Juice
Tomato and watermelon, it turns out, were made for each other. The fish was amazingly prepared. Course number 3 on its own would have been the best dinner I had in years. We drank with it a white, slightly sparkling Basque-country wine called Txomin Extaniz (2009), which itself was a revelation: the apple accent was so distinctive I almost mistook it at first for cider. The total price for two: about $2500.
But when you net out the sunk costs of the round trip airfare to Madrid, train from Madrid to Barcelona, flight and bus from Barcelona to Donostia (San Sebastian) and hotels along the way, what’s left is the paltry 100 euros we paid for the Menu al Degustacion at Bodegón Alejandro in the old city. San Sebastian is a pescatarian’s paradise and this was the third of three outstanding experiences we had here.
We were steered away from a Basque pinxto bar in Barcelona because we were told that we would be getting the real thing in San Sebastian. My advice: have your pinxtos in Barcelona or elsewhere and put SS to it’s best use. It may have an absolute advantage but it’s comparative advantage is the restaurant scene. I hereby rank this the best foodie playground in all of Europe for the astonishing density of incredibly high-quality, moderately priced menus.
It is truly unbelievable how easy it is to walk into any generic restaurant here, without reservations, sit down and have a phenomenal meal. And if you get bored of that it has more than its fair share of Michelin 3-stars too.
A primer in the New York Times.
Kit is a freegan. He maintains that our society wastes far too much. Freeganism is a bubbling stew of various ideologies, drawing on elements of communism, radical environmentalism, a zealous do-it-yourself work ethic and an old-fashioned frugality of the sock-darning sort. Freegans are not revolutionaries. Rather, they aim to challenge the status quo by their lifestyle choices. Above all, freegans are dedicated to salvaging what others waste and — when possible — living without the use of currency. “I really dislike spending money,” Kit told me. “It doesn’t feel natural.”
Its kinda like composting as a lifestyle, only with someone else’s waste and instead of making fertilizer you either eat it or live in it. An entertaining read from start to finish with cameos by roadkill, frozen toilets and even property rights.
Heather Christle tweeted:
Pacifico beer tastes like it’s mad at me.
On the other hand, Elk Cove 2007 Wilamette Valley Pinot Noir tastes like it’s embarrassed by me. Almost as if we met once before on chatroullette and sensed immediately that we were bound by some primitive psychic traction and for the briefest instant we realized how all of history had in fact led us to this seemingly random moment, face to digitized face; only to be stopped, not more than an instant later by the simultaneous fear that our common epiphany could not be real but instead just a projection of our own deep sense of unfulfillment which now was out in the open plainly readable on our faces, the shame of which brought an end, by synchronized Nexting, to our only chance at untying life’s eternal knot, and as if now we have bumped into each other again at a party, introduced by mutual friends, and Elk Cove 2007 Wilamette Valley Pinot Noir glanced at its watch and escaped, avoiding eye contact and stammering about late hours and lost sleep.
I found this recipe on a now-defunct foodie blog a few years ago. It’s a pretty good replica of the grilled corn you find at Taipei Night Markets. Sweet, spicy and savory, it’s the definition of summer at our house.
The preparation is very simple, provided you have an immersion blender. You can make it by hand but its a fair bit of work.
To make about 6 ears of corn, dissolve 2t of sugar in 2T of soy sauce in the plastic vessel that goes with your immersion blender. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 minced shallot and 2T vegetable oil. (If you don’t have the blender, you will have to first pulvarize the garlic and shallot until they form a paste.) Blend until you have a thick sauce. Add cayenne pepper to taste.
Peel the corn fully and baste with the sauce. Place on a medium-hot grill. Continually turn and baste until they look like this (pictured alongside grilled lobster tails and a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Quincy.)
Nicola Marzovilla runs a business, so when a client at his Gramercy Park restaurant, I Trulli, asks for a children’s menu, he does not say what he really thinks. What he says is, “I’m sure we can find something on the menu your child will like.” What he thinks is, “Children’s menus are the death of civilization.”
I would guess that many parents would appreciate the removal of the child’s menus even if they aren’t worried about its implications for the fate of civilization. At home the kids know what’s in the pantry and if one of the parents is not prepared to make the children starve, they quickly learn to gag and choke on the fava beans to get to the mac-n-cheese (organic!)
If the restaurant has no children’s menu then this strategy is cut from the feasible set. The parents are effectively committed to make the child starve if she tries it. With that commitment in place, the child’s best response is to find something on the menu she will like and eat it.
Lebanon strikes the latest blow in an escalating hummus war with Israel.
Earlier this year, Israelis, who are also passionate about the smooth chick-pea spread, produced the 4,090-kilogram portion of hummus made by 50 chefs and put in a six-meter satellite dish.
Lebanon fought back, as 300 chefs in white coats of the al-Kataaf cooking school mashed up 10-tons of a special recipe for the occasion.
They mean business.
Sous-chef Alain Abou says it is not just about quantity, it is important for the hummus to taste good as well, even better, of course, than the Israelis’ creation.
“All the recipes, we prepare it before, we make it, we check it, so it is very good recipes,” said Abou. “We will beat it not in the army, but in the hummus.”
The owners get peak-load pricing and volume discounts:
Like Disney, however, Mr. Achatz and Mr. Kokonas will sell tickets to their Magic Kingdom. Yes, tickets. (That’s a direct quote from the trailer.)
While the ticket sales portion of the web site hasn’t been worked out yet, anyone wishing to eat at Next will pay for the time slot in advance. Prices will be lower for off-peak hours and will also vary depending on the menu, but will run from $45 to $75 for a five- or six-course meal. (Wine and beverage pairings will begin at $25.) Annual subscriptions — seasons tickets — will also be sold.
They also get cost control:
“We now pay three or four reservationists all day long to basically tell people they can’t come to the restaurant,” Mr. Achatz said. “People call and say, ‘I want a reservation for four for next Saturday,’ and we’re like, ‘No, I’m sorry, it’s been booked for three months.’ Most people don’t realize how much of the cost of a meal is the cost of running a restaurant.” He said Next will strip away this and other hidden costs of dining out: “It allows us to give an experience that is actually great value. The guest will actually benefit. That’s the theory.”
Is solving a coordination problem part of libertarian paternalism?
In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.
Here is the link. I guess this is the theory: if all foods have less salt then our taste buds adjust. (This seems true anecdotally. Is it really?) So there is at least some small coordinated reduction in salt that would make everyone better off. But this only works if you prevent unraveling at the individual level. I.e. ban salt shakers.
Trilby trill: Doktor Frank.
I buy these bags of hardwood charcoal from Whole Foods. They are sewn closed at the top and a little thread hangs out at one end. Every so often I grab the thread, offer a prayer to the grilling gods and pull; and the most beautiful thing happens: the thread unravels end to end and the bag is open. And if this has ever happened to you, the sound of it, the feel of it, and the pure joy of being admitted entrance, at a subconscious level all remind you of your other favorite thing to unzip.
But like that other thing it almost never works out that way and it seems to be determined by nothing more than pure randomness. When it fails you can try yanking in either direction or unraveling it by hand for a bit to get it started but to no avail. Eventually you have to get the scissors.
So I am asking you, dear readers. Does anybody know what is the trick to get these threaded seams to unravel? (I already tried plying it with tequila.)
A new paper by Bollinger, Leslie, and Sorenson studies Starbuck’s sales data to assess the effects of New York City’s mandatory calorie posting law. Here is the abstract:
We study the impact of mandatory calorie posting on consumers’ purchase decisions, using detailed
data from Starbucks. We ﬁnd that average calories per transaction falls by 6%. The effect is almost
entirely related to changes in consumers’ food choices—there is almost no change in purchases of beverage calories. There is no impact on Starbucks proﬁt on average, and for the subset of stores located close to their competitor Dunkin Donuts, the effect of calorie posting is actually to increase Starbucks revenue. Survey evidence and analysis of commuters suggest the mechanism for the effect is a combination of learning and salience.
And this bit caught my eye:
The competitive effect of calorie posting highlights the distinction between mandatory vs. voluntary posting. It is important to note that our analysis concerns a policy in which all chain restaurants, not just Starbucks, are required to post calorie information on their menus. Voluntary posting by a single chain would result in substantively different outcomes, especially with respect to competitive effects.
A natural response to these laws is that if it were in the interests of consumers, vendors would voluntarily post calorie counts. But if consumers are truly underestimating calories, then unilateral posting by a single competitor would backfire. Consumers would be shocked at the high calorie counts at Starbucks and go somewhere else where they assume the counts are lower.
The phamily kind. Let’s say you are hiding something from your husband. For example, let’s say that you are trying to teach your husband a lesson about putting things “in their right place” and you hide his newly-arrived tomato seeds. Its time to germinate them indoors to be ready for a mid-May transplanting and he comes to you and says
H: I found the seeds.
Y: You did?
H: Yep. Were they there all the time? I am sure I looked there.
Y: I thought you would have. That’s where you always put stuff. You never put stuff in the right place.
H: I always put stuff there? Like what?
Y: Like remember you put X and Y and Z there and I couldn’t find them?
H: Ahh yes, X, Y and Z, I remember them well. Thanks for telling me where my tomato seeds are.
If I have a jug of milk that is close to its expiration date and another, newer and unopened, jug of milk I will use up the old milk before opening the new one.
But if I have a batch of coffee that was roasted 2 weeks ago and a new, fresher batch comes in, I will open the new batch and save the old batch to be used up after the newer one is done.
The difference derives from shape of their expiration curves. Milk stays relatively fresh for a while and then rapidly deteriorates. It’s freshness curve is concave. Coffee quality deteriorates quickly after roasting and then stays relatively constant after that. 2 month old coffee is just as agreeable as 5 days old but both are much worse than 1 day old. Coffee’s freshness curve is convex.
The shape of the expiration curve determines whether you like or dislike mean-preserving spreads in the age profile of your stash. Convexity means you would choose 1/2-new 1/2-old over all-medium. Concavity means you have the opposite preference.
What are the expiration curves of other things?
Convex: eggs, bananas, significant others (except mine of course, she gets fresher with age.)
Concave: vegetables, bread, co-authors, this blog post
Ten Tables JP may be my number one restaurant choice for Boston. I love Sportello and Oleana. The food is equally good at all three places. But the ambience at Ten Tables is the best. It actually only has ten tables so you have to book well ahead. (They cheat a bit by having a bar but it looks a lot less cosy than the restaurant.) There’s an open kitchen so you can see the chefs at work.
My wife’s garlic soup was spectacular. My citrus panna cotta was too heavy and creamy but the radicchio salad that came with it was lovely. My ricotta pasta with maitake mushrooms was delicious and my two companions really enjoyed their chicken and steak dishes. We split a chocolate mousse and pistachio semifreddo for dessert. The wines are decently priced and I had a great barbera in my Italian wine flight.
Looking forward to going back. By the way, there is a second Ten Tables in Cambridge. The food is equally good but the service is rude and the dinner crowd is less cool. Make sure you go to the right branch.
Presh Talwalker reports:
After a late night out, I found myself at the only eatery still open in the suburbs, the late night haven that is Denny’s. When paying for the meal, I noticed a curious offer on the receipt that read something like:
If your receipt does not list a food or drink you ordered, let us know and you will get the item free plus a $5 gift certificate.
Which, as Presh deduced, is a counter-bribe from Denny’s management so you will rat out your server if he or she bribes you with free food in return for a tip.
From a wince-inducing article in Salon:
The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding “session.” Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second “applications” of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.
The article details the use of saline solution to reduce the possibility of death from dangerously low sodium levels, a specially designed gurney for tilting the head at the optimum angle and quickly uprighting the victim in case he stopped breathing, and doctors assisting by monitoring blood pressure to allow interrogators to bring the victim close to the line of death. And more.
Budenovka bow: The Morning News.
You are preparing two dishes. For the first you will put 1 tsp. cornstarch in a medium sized bowl and for the second you will put 1/2 tsp. cornstarch in a small bowl. By mistake you put the 1 tsp. cornstarch in the small bowl. You have a full set of of measuring spoons, any number of spare bowls, and a box of cornstarch. What is the most efficient way to get back on track? Answer after the jump.
From Robin Goldstein:
I’ve previously discussed the thorny issue of the overzealous advocacy of a traditional recipe to the exclusion of all others. In response to Florence Fabricant’s claim, for instance, that “for any pasta all’amatriciana to be authentic, it must be made with guanciale (pork jowl),” not bacon or pancetta, I responded that “too many food writers construct a counterfactual Italy of culinary dogmatism, a population of finger-wagging guanciale zealots, a nation…harrumphing around about how the world is going to shit now that people are making amatriciana with pancetta…People and recipes aren’t anthropological tokens. They’re living things, the products of neural assemblies and proteins and chemicals bouncing across the ages. Narrow your gaze and squint your eyes too tightly in the search for authenticity, and you might miss that whole, beautiful landscape.”
Perhaps I should revise this statement: clearly, there are some finger-wagging guanciale zealots in Italy. They tend to gravitate, it seems, toward the Ministry of Agriculture. The question of whether “zero tolerance,” when it comes to food, is fascist, patronizing, noble—or all three—is certainly one for further contemplation.
Wine produced around Montalcino can be called Brunello di Montalcino only if it is 100% Sangiovese. If imposters put Cabernet into their Brunello, and people like it, should the rules of the appelation be vigorously enforced? You are inclined to say no because people should have what they like. But if it were that simple there would be no reason for the appelation at all.
It could be that people want to know for sure which wine is 100% Sangiovese (and meets other benchmarks) and which is/does not. The appelation system allows them to know that without preventing them from having their SuperTuscan Cab/Sanjo blends if they prefer that.
I’m attending a conference in Madrid so I will either describe either papers in words or a tourist guide in equations.
Actually, I can’t translate either papers or anything else into equations so I will stick to words. As the conference just started but we arrived a few days ago, I will start with the tourism. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we decided to try to stay awake and adjust to the new time zone. So we sleepily rolled into a taxi and made our way to Plaza Santa Ana. The kids were vivacious before we climbed into the taxi and the older one was sleepy ten minutes later when we emerged. We went into the closest open place, Cerveceria Santa Ana. Plaza Santa Ana has many bars, one of which was frequented by Hemingway but it wasn’t the one we wandered into. The bar is modest, it has part where you stand and enjoy lower prices and one where you can sit. Modest or not, the tapas were great. And it was quiet enough that a child can sleep.
But the real treat was Matritum that evening. It does innovative takes on well-known tapas and then wacky creative ones (though not Adria level wacky!). If you’re going to do traditional tapas at all, you have to make patatas bravas and so one can rank restaurants in terms of the quality of this staple: Matritum is excellent on this scale Boiled new potatoes with mildly spicy tomato sauce and a mayonnaise with delicious mystery spices. Other things we tried: chicken and ginger samosas, deep fried pancakes with tiny shrimp, toasted bread with tomato and jamon iberico and chocolate brownie with violet ice cream and chocolate sauce. The only weak point was a potato gratin with five cheeses which was a bit generic. Oh: the wine list in excellent. Imports of Spanish wine into the Chicago area at least can be overoaked and fruity. At Matritum I had a delicate and floral Monastrell. We’re going back before we move to Barcelona
Luca Malbec 2007. It’s Argentina in a bottle. The wine is huge, almost black, and over the top in terms of fruit extraction, oak, and alcohol (14.5%). The bottle itself weighs twice as much as wimpy French wine bottles.
Its perfectly agreeable wine but it has no complexity. It smells like you just walked into a tool shed and found a blueberry pie cooling on the shelf. And it is clearly built to stand up to those fat steaks Argies are so fond of. So as a vegetarian I have almost no use for this wine except for one thing. I am usually the only wine drinker in the house, so I drink a bottle over the course of a few days. This wine is so huge that it tastes exactly the same three days later as it did when I opened the bottle.
Now I have discovered a second thing. It makes a perfect pairing with dark Belgian chocolate. The chocolate masks some of the oak and dark fruit flavors and allows the slight acidity and strawberry flavors to come out and those perfectly complement the chocolate. These aspects are typical Argentinian Malbec so I would bet this pairing would work with any you can get your hands on.
I found this out because my daughters came home from a birthday party bringing a box of Belgian dark chocolate. The birthday girl’s father is a friend of ours who is Belgian, so that explains the chocolate. Now, his wife is from Argentina, and her father is a winemaker and yes, his best wine is a Malbec. So the pairing works on many levels.
First in a continuing series.
Mayonnaise by hand is pretty easy and a big improvement over stuff in a jar. A great workout too. Recipes usually seem too cautious, guarding against disaster when the emulsion doesn’t work. Mine always came together without a hitch until recently I have had two occasions when it “broke” as they say. (I guess I was getting a little lax.)
In a recipe book called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by (whatshername who was the Chef at Greens in San Francisco) there is given a method to bring a failed mayonnaise back from the dead. Tonight (making Tuna Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise out of Fish Without a Doubt [great book!] was the occasion of my second failure and, remembering the tip, I gave it a try.
Pour 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into the goopy mess (it really looks ugly when it goes wrong) and whisk. Viola, mayonnaise reborn. Simple as that.
Kids love harissa mayonnaise.
In his first study, each year, for four years, Mr. Hodgson served actual panels of California State Fair Wine Competition judges—some 70 judges each year—about 100 wines over a two-day period. He employed the same blind tasting process as the actual competition. In Mr. Hodgson’s study, however, every wine was presented to each judge three different times, each time drawn from the same bottle.
The results astonished Mr. Hodgson. The judges’ wine ratings typically varied by ±4 points on a standard ratings scale running from 80 to 100. A wine rated 91 on one tasting would often be rated an 87 or 95 on the next. Some of the judges did much worse, and only about one in 10 regularly rated the same wine within a range of ±2 points.
The article was published in the January issue of the Journal of Wine Economics. The Wall Street Journal has a fun writeup. The same researcher showed that the distribution of medal winners in a sample of wine competitions matched what you would get if the medal was awarded by a fair lottery.