Funny post – Seven Habits of Highly Annoying Servers

I love this new post from the Citypages blogs about highly annoying servers. My biggest pet peeve is probably when the waiter takes away your dish before you’ve finished eating. And you’ve left some little morsels to scoop up with your bread:

6. The Premature Evacuation
Thank you for snatching away my nearly finished plate of food. I had been looking forward to eating those last, delicious morsels, but you’re right–I really don’t need the extra calories. I’m already full, which is why I set my fork down for a split second, which no doubt gave you the idea that I was done. And I appreciate you not asking me if I was through with my entree, or the bread rolls, or that last couple swallows of wine. That would only have tempted me to answer no. Thanks for saving me from myself. Yeah, thanks very much.

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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Food Reads


iPads in Restaurants: Hot and Trendy, and Apparently Very Effective

iPad wine lists are the hot new thing in the wine/restaurant world right now. A recent New York Times article focuses on several restaurants that allow diners to select their wines from an iPad. I recently took a couple of friends to Barbacco in San Francisco, and lo and behold, we got to select our wine from the iPads. Since none of us are iPad owners, we were particularly delighted to play with the fabulous, sleek tablets. And yes, we ordered wine.

My friends wondered if it was really cost effective for restaurants to offer wine lists on iPads. After all, tipsy people, liquid and electronics usually don’t mix. But according to this little article in Gizmodo, people are wowed by the gadgets and are more likely to order. But it’s not the fancy technology, they assert: they’re more likely to splurge because they have a chance to read reviews:

In just two weeks, Bone’s – Atlanta’s most famous steakhouse – sold 11 per cent more wine than in the three weeks previous to the iPad introduction. Like Bone’s, many restaurants around the world are having the same experience. Everyone using iPad wine lists are having big sales jumps. It’s not the novelty factor, owners and clients say. The reason is simple and logical: reviews.

I don’t always agree with wine reviewers, but when you don’t have much information about a wine, the truth is that you’re probably going to rely on something that can help you choose a wine. So you find a great Robert Parker or James Laube review, and bam, you’re sold.

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Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Restaurant Buzz, Wine


Don't pay extra for luxury liquor

Pull up to the bar on a busy Saturday night at your latest hot bar or club and you’re likely to get asked which brand of alcohol you want in your drink. Brands have gotten so good at selling us the idea that luxury brands like Ketel One, Level, etc. are more delicious that we’re happy to fork over a few more dollars for a branded experience.

But are you just wasting your money?

Yes, says Brett Arends at the Wall Street Journal, and I agree.

“I recently held a blind taste test comparing super-luxury Grey Goose (I paid $22.99 for a bottle), a brand favored by conspicuous consumers, to another French vodka I happened to see in the liquor store—little-known Pinnacle.

Pinnacle’s cost? Just $8.99 a bottle. (That day there was a money-off voucher, too.)

My handful of tasters couldn’t tell much of a difference.
If anything, they slightly preferred … the cheaper stuff.”

Vodka is a grain or potato liquor that has very little flavor. Add some fruity juices or tonic water, and the chances that you can tell the difference between one brand and the other are nil.

But there is someone who cares about what you drink: the liquor companies. According to Arends, for the behemoth company Diageo, which owns brands such as Ketel One and Smirnoff vodkas:

“Gross profit margins are a thumping 58 cents on each dollar of after-tax sales.”

So keep drinking your fancy vodka, and you’ll keep fattening Diageo’s pocket. Bottom’s up!

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Posted by on September 17, 2010 in Food Reads


FDA to Meat Producers: Get Ready for Limits on Antibiotics

It’s about time!

The FDA is expected to release strict new guidelines that would “would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians,” according to the New York Times.

Given the number of food recalls in the last few years, it is incredible that it took the FDA this long to release these new guidelines, but it is exciting nonetheless. In countries where antibiotics are strictly controlled, food-borne illnesses — particularly the antibiotic-resistant kind — have gone down dramatically.

Food producers are crying foul because the guidelines will raise the cost of food, but as one scientist put it, “Is producing the cheapest food in the world our only goal?”

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Posted by on September 15, 2010 in Meat


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Jalapeno and Habanero Vodka Infusions

After a delightful week in Portland visiting my sister and sampling the urban happy hours, I came back home ready to make some great cocktails. An exciting trend in the mixology world? Homemade infusions.

So I got to work. I got some vodka and gin bottles from Trader Joe’s and got a few hot peppers. My favorite drink in Portland was a cocktail at Peruvian restaurant Andina with habanero-infused vodka and passionfruit nectar. It was simply divine, the spicy kick hitting your throat at just the right time. It reminded me of the sweet-spicy flavor combinations you commonly find in Mexico.

Infusing is quite simple. You wash your peppers (or herbs or spices), clean out the seeds if you want to tame down the heat, and stick them into a jar of vodka. Place the jars (I used Mason jars that held about 2 cups of alcohol) in a dark place and infuse for 2-5 days. You’ll want to try your infusions once a day to see how the flavors are developing. Once your flavors are fully developed, you strain the peppers or herbs out and you can store the infusions for up to six months.

Habanero-infused vodka

3 habanero peppers, sliced in half, seeds removed

About 2 cups vodka

Place the peppers in a Mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Close the jar tightly and leave in a dark place for 2-3 days. Strain the peppers out, label your infusion, and enjoy!

Jalapeno-infused vodka

Follow instructions above, but use about 1 1/2 peppers per infusion. Use in fruity drinks that include tropical juices, such as mango or passionfruit.

Cilantro-infused gin

1 bunch of cilantro

About 2 cups gin

Wash cilantro and place in the Mason jar. Cover completely with gin. Close jar, leave in a dark space for 3-5 days. Uncover, remove cilantro, and cover. Keeps for 6 months. Use in cucumber- and lime-based drinks.

Ginger-infused gin

Ginger root

About 2 cups gin

Peel a two-inch piece of ginger and chop into 1/2 slices. Place in a Mason jar and pour the gin over the ginger. Leave in a dark place for 2-5 days. Remove ginger and cover. Use in tropical drinks, cucumber- and sake-based drinks.

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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Cocktails


Exploring Spices: Star Anise

This week I’m starting a new series called “Exploring Spices” in order to learn more about unusual condiments and try out new recipes. I’m starting out with star anise, a beautiful star-shaped spice popular in China (where it is an essential part of the 5-spice powder), India and Vietnam (a key part of pho).

Star anise has a host of historical medicinal uses, but for Western society, the most likely way you’ll encounter it is in Tamiflu. Star anise is a surprising ingredient in this drug, used to fight the influenza virus.

But let’s get cooking. Many Asian cuisines use star anise in broths and soups in order to a beautiful complexity from this spicy, pungent condiment. In this first recipe, we’ll add star anise to beef broth for a lovely, fragrant, brothy soup reminiscent of Vietnamese pho.

Where can you get star anise? You can probably find it in your local supermarket, but check out Penzey’s for great quality.

Fragrant Star Anise-Spiced Broth with Tofu and Vegetables


8 oz fresh wheat or rice noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed in cold water

1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, cut in half

3 whole cloves

1 star anise

6 cups beef broth

2 cups water

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp fish sauce

1 pack firm tofu, chopped into 3/4″ cubes

4 cups baby or regular bok choy, washed and chopped

1 cup snow peas

1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves


1. Place onion, star anise, cloves, garlic, ginger in a large stockpot and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the beef broth and water and bring to a boil.

3. Strain the broth mixture with a fine strainer and put it back in the stockpot. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar and bring to a boil again.

4. Add the bok choy and snow peas and cook for about 4 minutes.

5. While the vegetables are cooking, arrange 1/4 of the noodles into four large bowls. Divide the tofu into 4 servings and sprinkle the tofu cubes over the bowls.

6. Pour 2 cups of broth into each bowl with noodles and garnish with the mint and basil. Serve hot.

Serves 4

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Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Soups, spices


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Ninth Circuit Court sides with wine wholesalers; consumers lose

The Ninth Circuit court decided yesterday that an Arizona law allowing only wineries that make fewer than 20,000 cases to ship directly to consumers and retailers was not unconstitutional. The result is that wineries who make 20,001 or more cases must go through the infamous three-tier system, adding layers of middlemen and making it more difficult for consumers to get their hands on wines that distributors don’t want to represent.

Why is this so bad? After all, distributors often help wineries sell their product around a state and do the bear’s share of the sales and marketing work for the winery, according to most distributors you talk to.

Or do they? when I worked for a small winery, I cannot tell you how difficult it was to get the attention of the large distributors. We would schedule a market trip to let’s say, Palm Beach, and I would go around with three or four separate sales reps selling the wine at different restaurants and retailers. In Florida, we were working with Southern Wine & Spirits, the behemoth of distributors. While some sales reps were great, I worked with some people who basically had me doing all the work. Oh, and they were getting an extra commission if I sold the wine. The moment I left, the distributor’s sales reps forgot all about our winery. We couldn’t give them the attention (read: incentives) that giant companies like Diageo and Constellation could give them.

Would our tiny winery have been better off selling to consumers and retailers directly? Definitely. We could have courted small specialty shops and focused on shipping directly to them, without having to go through the giant distributor, who didn’t really care about us because we were small.

Even better, consumers who came out to Sonoma to visit us could have signed up for our wine club and had wine shipped directly to their home. But under certain state laws, wineries cannot ship directly to consumers.

And in this economy, distributors simply do not want to take on new brands, big or small. So it makes it tough for someone launching a new wine brand to get representation, no matter how many cases you produce.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesales of America applauded the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision. Of course they were thrilled. Check out this statement put out by the WSWA:

“It is important that courts understand that the three-tier system was specifically designed to address critical state concerns regarding the distribution of alcohol to consumers. The adoption of the 21st Amendment reflected recognition by both Congress and the states that the difficult problem of regulating alcohol, a socially sensitive product that can be misused and thereby can give rise to numerous problems for local communities, justified delegating to the states maximum authority to develop solutions tailored to each state’s citizenry.”

Oh please. The three-tier system has one main goal: to make sure that distributors stay in control and in business. They don’t care about “regulating alcohol” because they care about your health or that of your kids. In fact, the large distributors are the ones who represent the major liquor brands.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is truly disappointing. It is still unbelievable to me that we are in 2010 and that a consumer in Pennsylvania or Arizona can’t just go online and buy wine from a merchant in California or New York. The WSWA pours money into the hands of lawmakers to make sure that they continue to receive protection under the law — are the courts tainted, too?

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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Wine


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