On Slate today, Sara Dickerman does an impressive job of compiling a list of useful books for educating your inner (or, usually, outer) food snob. The article names many books that are great references, as well as many that have given me much of my food education.
But reading the article also made me a tad uncomfortable. Or perhaps the feeling is guilt. Because while I've done my share of reading food books, there are always more than I can get to. In fact, I can barely write this, as my desk is teetering on the edge of engulfment by all the food books I have yet to read. And I've come to a slightly embarrassing conclusion: I like eating food much better than I like reading about it. When I do read about it, I like the writing to be experiential, and often I don't want an entire book, just a few hundred words about how things taste and how they make you feel. All this high-minded encyclopedic food academia kind of takes the fun out of it. It's like claiming to be a sex enthusiast and then spending all your time reading up on gynecology.
Don't get me wrong -- I am all for the study of foodways. Sometimes wonkish topics, such as exactly how and when New World foods influenced Old World cuisine, can get me pretty excited. But I just feel as though there's such an overload, and it's correct that when people write about this overload they are usually talking about it in terms of food snobbery.
It was a great personal relief to me, at the beginning of this year, when I gave myself permission to go back to my original literary love, the novel. For the time being, I've given up on food books, making exceptions when something seems truly fascinating or if I feel I need to read a book for work reasons. I spend my extra time gained from giving up all this forced reading lounging around with a novel. Or, um, cooking. Or eating expensive cheese and drinking cheap wine. When it comes to food love, I am much more a sensualist than an academic.
One recommendation and one query from two readers:
From Alexis Jenee: "I recently had lunch at a new restaurant called Sabor on Walton Street across from Centennial Olympic Park. My co-worker and I were afraid at first to partake of the food here, because there were no other customers inside. However, because we knew that it was a fairly new restaurant, we decided to order. I am so glad that we did. My co-worker and I usually go to all the restaurants that are listed on the Best of Atlanta as well as a few local spots in downtown Atlanta. The food was so well presented and prepared there ( I had the teriyaki duck quesadillas) that I scheduled a birthday private dining event there for my friend the same weekend! Please review this restaurant!
Mandy Merkle is headed to Oz and needs help: "We are off to Sydney and Melbourne in December and I was wondering if you had any 'must do's' in either place. I do have a list from Food & Wine but I would love your seasoned opinion. Don't know if you've been to Oz but maybe you have some scoop anyway; I would greatly appreciate it."
If you have recommendations, please note them in the comments section. Besha? Ms. Rodell is an Aussie and should be able to help out.
Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, would be 172 years old today.
So, Twain's in Decatur is celebrating its namesake's 172nd birthday with the third annual Mark Twain Birthday Bash. The party features food and drink specials and live music from local musician William Donnie Picou, as well as a mustache contest.
I made it to MF Buckhead (3280 Peachtree Road, 404-841-1192) at the Terminus tower this week. The restaurant was opened by Alex and Chris Kinjo, who also operate MF Sushi and Nam in Midtown.
MF Buckhead has the same combination of glamour and comfort that Alex has pulled off in his design of the other two restaurants, but this is 8,000 square feet hidden speakeasy-style behind a door with no conspicuous signs.
The menu is all sushi, except for grilled items (like the eel shown above). Chris, the head chef, assisted by a mere 12 chefs behind the sushi counter, is using a Robata grill that sears fish and meat at 1000 degrees. It's the first of its kind in Atlanta.
All fish is flown in from a market in Tokyo and the quality is totally obvious, especially in the simple nigiri. There are also maki rolls, of course, and creative options like the snow crab topped with uni mousse (shown above at left).
Service is stellar, as it is in the Kinjos' other restaurants. I have one caution: Take a wheelbarrow of cash with you.
I'll have more to say in next week's paper.
Pura Vida (656 N. Highland Ave., 404-870-9797), probably the best tapas restaurant in town, is opening weekends for lunch, beginning Dec. 1. Hours are noon-5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. According to press materials:
To kick it off, on Dec. 1, Pura Vida will feature roast puerco, a traditional Puerto Rican-style pig roast, as the weekend special. Naturally grown Berkshire pork, from Gum Creek Farms, a local Georgia farm, are grown on pastures that include grasses and clovers. The pastures are not treated with insecticide or herbicide. Rotational grazing methods are used for disease management and better forage nutrition. These animals are raised without growth hormones or preventative antibiotics.
The restaurant is also offering chef Hector Santiago's hot sauces and adobo spice mixes for sale, along with a Puerto Rican coffee blend.
Remember how I remarked in a recent post about the Glenwood that there's no decent German food in our city? I've been to Germany a lot, so I've also wondered if there is any decent food in Germany itself.
Silly me. I had no idea Germany has become a majorly culinary center, where chefs are going molecular, fusion and organic. Says William Grimes in the New York Times:
Sitting side by side with France, [Germany] had long suffered from MinderwertigkeitsgefÃ¼hl â an inferiority complex. Fine dining, by definition, was French, even when the chef was German, and the Michelin Guide called the shots, imposing French values wherever it went. A powerful local green movement, however, and the example of renegade chefs like [Ferran] AdriÃ , encouraged revolt. In the last decade, and more rapidly in the last five years, a new generation of German chefs has made neue Deutsche kÃ¼che, or new German cuisine, an engine of culinary progress, particularly effective when allied, as it often is, with top-quality traditional ingredients from organic farms.
âIt's kind of a small revolution, in minds and in cuisine,â says Otto Geisel, the president of Slow Food Germany and the owner of Zirbelstube at the Hotel Victoria in Bad Mergentheim, about 80 miles southeast of Frankfurt. âEveryone has seen what has happened in Spain, where chefs are using the best local products, and they have developed their own philosophy. The top chefs in Germany, until now, were a little afraid because of the Michelin Guide.â
Read the entire article here. Now, why hasn't anyone in our city made a go at updated German food?
(Photo from http://www.toytowngermany.com)
Men's Health magazine has named the worst food in America in a recent article titled "The 20 Worst Foods in America." The article looks at the unhealthiest meals available at chain restaurants, rating them by calorie count and fat content. Once you start to get to the part where it says, "Downing this 'personal' pizza is equivalent to eating 18 slices of Domino's Crunchy Thin Crust cheese pizza," you begin to see the sheer masochism of eating this crap.
Anyway, the winner is ... Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing!! According to the article, the appetizer has 2,900 calories, 182 grams of fat and 240 grams of carbs.
For the record, I would like to say that they don't really have ranch dressing in Australia. Nor do they swear about their onions. Nor do they barbecue shrimp regularly. But that's for another post ...
It takes a special kind of person to be good at sales. Maybe I'm alone on this, but it seems to me that traditional sales techniques always leave the customer feeling ripped offbecause the whole premise is selling someone something they probably do not need. In stores when I get a pushy salesperson, I always leave without buying something. I simply do not trust the hard sell or the smarmy false friendship that comes with the talented salesperson.
This type of salesmanship extends into the restaurant world in the form of waiters who take the hard-sell approach to service. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I took a group to C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar. Our waiter was all the things an old-fashioned salesman should be: personable, a little overbearing, charming and radiantly positive. Before we had even taken our seats, he swept by the table and, in the process of welcoming us, said, "I'm sending a basket of Parmesan truffle chips out to you, which should get you started off well." Not a question -- a statement. Don't you think I should feel, as a guest of this restaurant, that they wouldn't sheister me into paying $8 for a basket of potato chips I did not order? Did my polite nod to the waiter (before I even had a chance to look at the menu) indicate that I was willing to pay whatever they cost? Or should I have said something like, "Hold on a minute there, buddy, how much are these potato chips going to cost me?" I assumed they were compliments of the house, seeing as they were offered and not requested. I was wrong -- when the bill arrived, there they were, $8 potato chips. Should I have raised a fuss? Perhaps -- but that, too, is putting me in the position of having to call attention to my unwillingness to pay for something in front of my guests. If I were not reviewing, I would probably have said something, but that is beside the point. The waiter relied on the fact that we would not want to question him when he originally offered, and would not want to raise a fuss when the bill came (or would not look closely at the bill). That type of salesmanship has no place in a restaurant.
The funny thing is, I think these tactics are not the most effective, at least not on a restaurant floor. I am a terrible salesperson. I have been fired from every job I ever had that involved coercing money out of someone. But I was a fantastic waitress. If a chef had a special he wanted sold, I would sell it out in the first hour of service. Here's the secret -- to engage the customer, to listen to them, to find out what they like and to make recommendations that cater to who they are. This kind of service breeds trust, which in turn breeds sales, and also breeds return customers.
The next time I go to C&S, I'll be on guard against sneaky up-sells. I wonder if the extra $8 they made was worth it.
Legal Sea Foods, the Boston seafood phenomenon, is opening a new location in downtown Atlanta this spring. The restaurant will be located on two stories inside the Hilton Garden Inn in the Luckie-Marietta district of downtown, right across the street from the Georgia Aquarium. The first floor will feature an oyster/lobby bar and the second floor will be home to the main dining room.
Legal Sea Foods first opened in Boston more than 50 years ago and currently has 34 locations along the Eastern seaboard. This is the chain's first restaurant in Georgia.
A couple of new studies may help explain why:
In this land and season of plenty, low-income and rural Americans continue to have difficulty finding healthy foods that are affordable, a new study finds.
One study shows that low-income Americans now would have to spend up to 70 percent of their food budget on fruits and vegetables to meet new national dietary guidelines for healthy eating.
And a second study found that in rural areas, convenience stores far outnumber supermarkets and grocery stores -- even though the latter carry a much wider choice of affordable, healthy foods.
Read the whole story on Yahoo news here.
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