Monday, October 26, 2009

And the Biggest Mouthbreather on Earth Award Goes To....

This one is credited to my friend, R (who shall go nameless because I do not want hordes of jackass Yelpers to flame her blog, although they are welcome to try here):

Reason #62 why no restaurateur should ever, ever take Yelp seriously



I am still trying to get over my shock and subsequent bewilderment after opening my Shack Lunch box and discovering taco meat, sour cream, shredded lettuce and cheese on...wait for it....A THICK FRENCH BREAD BUN. Yes, just like a taco meat sandwich. If you can even wrap your mind around that. I barely can. To be fair, after picking up the pieces of my mind, when I reviewed the website menu to see for myself that the description indicated this, it (kinda) does. See for yourself:

Shack Lunch
The Shack Torta sandwich with your choice of meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream served with rice and beans. (taco meat, beef fajita, chicken fajita, carne guisada)

So, yes, it does say "sandwich", but when you're going to a place called Taco Shack, your mind can't even begin to comprehend that one of these could come on a thick sandwich bun. The very idea of it is wrong on so many levels.

If this post blew your fucking mind as much as it did ours, feel free to start a Yelp account and let Austin's Rachel D.know that she may, in fact, be the only human being in Austin who doesn't know that a torta is a sandwich and that she should perhaps stick to huffing glue for lunch.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

People Love Themselves on Yelp, volume 4

This one was such a magnificent disaster, I had to reprint the entire review. It is not only uncomfortably creepy, but the showboaty pseudo-fiction tone is just hilarious. There are some people on Yelp who write these would-be noir sort of reviews, but I'd rather eat my own toenails off than read any work of "Fiction" these guys write when they've finally managed to stop furiously jacking off in the mirror.

  • Sauntering into Bastas on a sweltering hot afternoon, I found myself in a quaint little restaurant obviously inspired by the Italian bistros of the Napa Valley.

    I sat myself at the bar and admired the rows of Italian wines on prominent display. Associations of good times past kindled my memory as I studied vintages that I've enjoyed previously.

    Draped in an elegant black dress, the lovely bartender inquired on what refreshment was necessary to quench my parched palate.

    "Your choice", I said.

    "What do you like to drink?"


    Revealing a thin smile from the side of her slender lips, she proceeded to prepare a simple cocktail with purposeful intention.

    "This is a horse feather", she said with a hint of pride as she served it to me.

    One sip of the smooth and refreshing drink was all that it took to sooth away the harshness of the hot day.

    "You do know me", I said.

    Glancing at the happy hour menu, I took note that this was not the typical bar fare and ordered the carpaccio and roast quail.

    The carpaccio was prepared just like in I've had in California wine country, with lovely slices of Parmesan and flavorful vinaigrette complementing the thinly sliced beef.

    The roast quail was prepared with a spicy dry rub and baked. I enjoyed that tasty little bird.

    I only savored Bastas bar for one, short, happy hour, but it was an entertaining hour at that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

People Love Themselves on Yelp, volume 3

Had few complaints about diners from last night's shift, except a group of Westlake Chodes sitting in the bar who complained that the Caesar had anchovies (amazing white anchovies, see this post for how I will use them for world domination), then sent the ribeye back to be murdered to a helpless medium-well, then loudly bitched that restaurants that only serve wine and beer are "fucking cheap."

Go back to Bikinis, you tasteless chodes. Try not to date rape anyone on your way.

So onto the Yelpers whose tyranny continues to give me angina:

  • I wish I had known the Aloo Gobi was going to be spicy.
  • I'm just now getting into Indian food, so I might not be the best judge, but this place is freakin fantastic!!
  • My wife and I had num nums here on Saturday after seeing a show at the Civic. (that's a bit personal, don't you think?)
  • So at work I'm known as the Yelp girl. People come to me all the time asking for restaurant recommendations for this or that. (two guesses: 1) they're trying to get in your pants - no one thinks yelpers have the slightest clue what they're talking about or 2) you work from home)
  • "Her blood coursed through my veins sweeter than life itself..." Louis, Interview with the Vampire (Somewhere, a Hot Topic is missing its resident "Creepy guy")

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

People Love Themselves on Yelp, volume 2

Here are today's winners:

  • The only reason I didn't give this 5 stars is because it gets so darn crowded!! Which means, it's good.

  • I don't know what kind of coffee they use, but it's fine by me and served professionally. I'm not a crepe expert, but they seem fine also.
  • Well, restaurants like this are a dime a dozen in France.
Catch of the day:
  • Well , I'm French , and I don't take this kind of fake french cuisine . Never heard about "shrimps a la Bourguignone" There is no shrimp in Bourgogne (true) . Who wants to eat chicken a la Francaise .....Or a confit Duck , that's from Perigord ( I'm with you so far pal, but that's in France.)
    A Bouchon is a very tiny restaurant in the town of Lyon , the best chefs in the world are from Lyon . The food is based on boudin, grattons ,andouillette,onglet aux echalottes , mushrooms ,St Marcellin , NOTHING PASTEURIZED !!!! got he picture ? It's the best and the worst of French Cuisine .(record screeching noise)
    The wine is from Cotes du Rhone , and it was GOOD !!! That's the only thing I'll remember .The best cotes du Rhone is St Julien .... just try to find it ,,,,,,
    Also the waitress , she had a bad bang , and too much friendly , like Dude , grabbing my shoulder , ,,,,No big deal when you are in France , and alone , my girlfriend didn't like her......

And scene.

Monday, October 5, 2009

People Love themselves on Yelp, volume 1

In the sort of turn of events that makes gods and Russians laugh, I, who am famous in my small world for despising Yelpers and belittling them at every possible opportunity, now must routinely peruse their banal dribble as part of my non-serving job. To try and leech some of the cancer-causing bile my blood is accumulating over having to read screechingly moronic and wrong information, advice, and opining, here is a new series I've named after a t-shirt I desperately wanted to make (we've all been there):
People Love themselves on Yelp

Today's batch needs little in the way of my own commentary. It's sheer poetry
(rampant and psychotic misuse of English language kept as is):

  • There is nothing worse than a server saying "let me go check with the kitchen." That is absurd their job is to know what they are serving...
  • I am a complete foodie
  • There was an Indian couple sitting next to me (or close enough, right? -emc)
  • As a French onion soup connoisseur I found sadly that Serrato's soup was so salty it just plain sucked.
  • I'm from LA so I know good sushi from OK sushi.
  • I think my real problem is that coming from Hawaii I'd eaten so much amazing sushi that it's hard to be impressed.
  • Being from L.A. and having visited Japan, my standards are pretty high, but this place, is pretty much disappointing.
  • We've been to many of the best sushi restaurants in New York City, including Nobu, so...
  • Num-yummy!

That's all the time I have today. Join us next time for more b.s.-spewing on People Love themselves on Yelp, volume 2.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week in Wankers

Dear William Preston,

I got your name from your American Express Platinum card - the one you used to pay the bill for dinner for yourself and your friends the other night at our restaurant. I'd like to thank you all for coming, for being only slightly threatening when I told you we were dangerously low on heirloom tomatoes, and for making self-effacing jokes about how you would be my "nightmare table," which you followed up with a laugh that suggested you weren't totally joking.

In fact, you were all perfectly lovely. I enjoyed how easily and swiftly you chose your wines without asking for my help (someone's been reading their Wine Spectator!) and I loved hearing the sound of your laughter for the hour and a half after you paid out. It was the carefree, melodious laughter of the upper middle class, content in the knowledge that your Lexus SUV was right out the window where you could see it, that your gated community home was safe from harm, and that vigilant forces like Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly were at work against our evil Socialist (might we even suggest Nazi?) administration and their attempts to make us Sweden.

I particularly enjoyed the fist bump you gave me on your way out the door that said, Hey, we totally appreciated your awesome service to the point where it kind of feels like we're friends now! I half-expected to open the check presenter left on the table to find a "Great service" tacked on, as I often do whenever a guest leaves one of my tables so fulfilled that he's moved to physical contact.

But instead of such a comment, there was written: "Col. 3:23" on the credit card slip, just above the amount (over $400) and the tip ($50). Now, I admit, it is easier for me to figure out percentages in my head (12.5%) than it is for me to recall the latter half of the New Testament, so after consulting the internet, I learned that your message to me - at this point, now serving as an explanation for such an incredibly low tip - was this:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Thank you, William Preston, for those words of inspiration and guidance. Words that no doubt inspire you to wake up every morning and make your own money, which you then spend on nice (but not too nice) dinners with friends, which you then pay for, write off as a business expense, and then complain about our government taxing you to death.

I took a cue from you and wrote this Bible verse on the memo line of my rent check, but wouldn't you know it, that heathen landlady of mine just wouldn't accept less money, even though this month was pretty lean. I also tried it when paying for my dog's expensive medications, but the vet explained she doesn't work for men OR the Lord, she works for Terriers.

In trying to make sense of the generosity of your spirituality, Mr. Preston, but not of your wallet, I prayed. I prayed good and hard. I dug deep and silenced any anger I might have felt at your hypocrisy, any distress at the loss of what would have been $30-40 more (had you been anyone else), and any sadness I felt at how undermined the serving profession is in America - even at finer dining establishments like mine where the employees study wine and food passionately and make the every whim and desire of perfect strangers their priority 32-40 hours a week.

I set all these negative feelings aside and asked God to help me understand where you were coming from. Were you implying that instead of serving what I thought was a man, I was really serving the Lord? I admit I would never have guessed, given the table's obsession with discussing bisexuals and Catholics.

Or were you implying that service is its own reward? I thought, does this mean that I ought to be happy with the $2.13 per hour that I make and not be so greedy as to expect tips in excess of 15, 18, even 20 (!) percent? Are you, William Preston, with the American Express Platinum card content with the money you make?
The answer, I think, is simpler than all that.

You are just a giant turd.


Your Server

Monday, June 8, 2009

Week in Wankers

Everyone was pretty well-behaved this last Friday night. I think it's because my new engagement ring is shaped like brass knuckles and could totally cut a bitch.

Oh, but there was this:

Guest: So this rosé is made with what again?

Me: Pinot Noir.

Guest: (Blank stare at glass full of salmon-colored rosé) So is it red?

Me: Pinot Noir is just the grape - it can be used in red, rosé, and Champagne. Champagnes are frequently made with it. The juice inside is white; it's the skins that are red.

Guest: Okay. So what do you call this?

Me: Rosé. Made from Pinot Noir. (It was actually Sinskey's very fine vin gris, but if I went into this, the poor guy's head would have rocketed off into space)

We've a long ways to go. I want to start by getting everyone to stop talking about varietals until they have a better grasp of wine.
It's gotten so bad that whenever someone sits down and says "I want a Pinot," I say, "No, you don't."

If you don't believe me, I give them a hot-climate Grenache/Syrah blend instead, and they love it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Write Reviews Like a Complete Wanker: COMMANDMENT THREE

When reviewing Chinese restaurants, if you cite your experience with any of the following, you are wasting everyone's time:
General Tso's anything
Sesame anything
Walnut and Honey Shrimp
Kung Pao

These dishes are about as Chinese as Howdy Doody. What's more, they're dead giveaways that your palate is probably so mucked up with sugar, salt, and corn starch, that I wouldn't trust you to tell me if I was about to bite into a steaming dog turd. I'll take my chances, thanks.

Ask for the Szechuan dishes, the Mandarin, the Cantonese...the real ones. The ones they aren't giving you on the white-folks menu. Ask for extra spicy. Ask for Lion's Head, oyster hot pots, ma po tofu. Soup dumplings! Demand soup dumplings! If more Americans raved about soup dumplings the way they do about General Tso's Heinous Ass Buffet, we wouldn't have to go to effing New York City to find one.

Tripe. Sea cucumber intestine. Scallop poop - whatever sounds weird, get it.
Seriously, people. There's a reason whole nations eat these things.

If Weight Watchers makes a frozen dinner of it, don't ever ever ever waste the world's time reviewing it for a restaurant.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How to Write Reviews Like a Complete Wanker: COMMANDMENT TWO

Thou shalt not use the term "yummy." Are you fucking five???

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eat like a man

My friend and editor, Robin Goldstein, went to Spain to engage in the debate about molecular gastronomy swallowing the Top Restaurants lists (of course, these lists come from places like the UK and the US, where began the phenomenon of "Famous for Being Famous").

Molecular gastronomy is like David Foster Wallace; I'm a big fan, and I appreciate the interesting, and sometimes even emotional, effects his often-experimental literature yields, but I would kill myself if every good author were doing it. It’s writing ahead of the reader. It's writing for other writers. I never get lost in one of his excellent stories.

I’d like to eat at El Bullí just to see if it makes me as horny as garlic-bomb southern Italian food does. Something tells me it won’t.

When a certain praised-and-praiseworthy restaurant I worked for not too long ago announced they were going to start using xantham gum in certain sauces and desserts, we all felt our dignity was going down the tubes. All the servers associated this substance with Hostess, Little Debbie, Taco Bell. Little did we know or understand that other celebrated kitchens were doing it, and that's—THAT'S–what our guys saw. Not that this totally harmless binding agent was an ingredient often made fun of in mass produced, processed foods, but that it was a permission to use a shortcut—a permission granted by the molecular gastronomy wizards by virtue of all the incredible attention they were receiving. Not only were we ALLOWED to use xantham gum and still be credible, we HAD to if we wanted to stay cutting edge.

It's true, the use of xantham never came up with guests ("What is that delicious flavor I'm tasting!" Hardly.), and I don't even know what it allowed our talented chefs to do that they couldn't before...

Or this: I've seen virtually everything you can imagine turned into a gelatinous ball, thanks to a simple agar solution. Carrots, basil, lychee...I bet you could turn the Brooklyn Bridge into pearls by boiling it down and dropping it in agar.
I bet it would taste pretty awful. But hey, you're eating it: Twitter the world!

Remember when you went to Universal Studios and got the DOTS ice cream, the ICE CREAM OF THE FUTURE? You thought, Wooo, they're dots of cream that melt in your mouth. Crazy! But at the end of the day, you wanted to lick dripping cold ice cream of your fucking hands and then gobble down the cone. And why? Because it engages everything to do so: frustration, panic, joy, sensuality, crunch, slurp, sweet, the salt of your own skin. And at the end you had celebrated a distinctly human tradition.

I never see DOTS anywhere but amusement parks; it is always the empty, lone booth that we walk past and snigger, jerking our thumbs and saying "Remember when we tried that?"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Write Reviews Like a Complete Wanker: COMMANDMENT ONE

Since taking on a full time job as an editor of restaurant reviews, the focus of my seething ire has shifted from the dining crowd to the writing crowd; namely, the food writing crowd.
Everyone's a fucking food writer now! Thanks, Yelp!

Hear that noise? I just cracked a tooth snarling so hard. Now I whistle all my esses.

Following are some things I, as an editor, have come to despise - nay! - DETEST WITH A PASSION NORMALLY RESERVED FOR TEXAS REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS - in amateur food writing.

Bloggers! Take this to heart and your dreams of finally being noticed by a respectable publication will come to fruition, because right now (and trust me on this), no one can stand you. I want to help. Please, GOD, let me help...

  • DO NOT start your review with "Nestled in a...." Every time a description of a restaurant begins with the passive and clichéd "Nestled in a...." I tear the wings off a butterfly. Do you want to be the reason why all these beautiful creatures suffer so? Of course not. Knock it off.
Suggested alternatives: Get laid, have a drink, watch something funny and read some Anthony Bourdain, MFK Fisher, Frank Bruni even!! You are beginning this way because you are too rigid and locked in to a formula. Free associate instead. Think about what the restaurant means to you as a whole, and the conceit of its appearance. Think about the bigger picture. Riff on stuff around it, the crowd. If all else fails, just use. A different. Goddamned. WORD. It's not a fucking doe. It's a sushi bar. It doesn't "nestle."


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Week in Wankers

Last Week in Wankers post was a bold-faced lie. It was actually a Week in Wankers from several months ago, but I never posted it because I was recovering from the grave wound I incurred when I shot myself in the face in frustration. Then I got the new job and, well you know, bitching about the dining scene took a backseat to professionally bitching about the dining scene.

I enjoyed my first shift back at the restaurant in two weeks, and enjoyed it even more because it would be another week before I have to do it again. In all fairness, I love the restaurant, love its heart, love my coworkers, and that love sort of disgustingly carries over like sewer run-off in a big storm to my guests, who eat and drink whatever I tell them is good, and so satisfy my egomaniacal need for validation. However, there are, as always, Wankers. And this was their week:

1. Another server (who seems to be chronically blessed with encountering the highest number of douchebags of any of us) had someone return a steak they ordered "rare." The complaint? TOO rare. Too rare. TOO rare. TOO RARE. I would like to take this moment to assure all skeptics out there that we did not, in fact, slap a raw ribeye on a plate and holler "Eat up!" Our grill cooks are from Texas, for the love of GOD, TEXAS! This means they can be executed for not knowing how to grill a steak to temperature. This is the subject for another post, to be called A Note About Temperature, or Why Americans Insist on Throwing $45 Down the Toilet.

2. Most people are TERRIFIED of wine. So much that the wine list trembles in their hands, and they spit words at me with panicky desperation, words they read someplace but don't understad like, "RED! SMOKY! UH, UH...DRY!!" So eager are they to relinquish the decision to me--and yet still look like they are the ones making a choice--that they agree to whatever the first thing out of my mouth is. I could say "Well, this wine isn't smoky, but it DOES have that shitty smell you associate with cleaning out a moldy fish tank" and they'll go "Yeah, that one!!"

This explains the astronomical success of Wine Speculator and Robert Parker's "scoring". DESPERATION! It's. Just. Wine. In Spain, they bathe in it. In France, they drink it from gasoline cans. Americans are like horny, insecure teenagers at a school dance when it comes to wine.

3. When you order our Caesar salad without its three housemade croutons, and without its 2 fillets of white anchovies, you are paying $10 for a side salad of Romaine hearts tossed in Caesar dressing, and are an idiot. Oh, and I eat your delicious white anchovy fillets in the back and fill up on brain-enriching Omega-3 fatty acids so that I and my offspring will take over the world and put you and your dumb offspring in cages hung from the ceiling, and poke you with bones.

4. Someone ordered a bacon risotto, which comes with a giant SLAB of house-made bacon OH MY GOD YUM on top of it. When it arrived, he picked the bacon up with his fingers, plopped it on a plate and announced to the server, "You can take that. I'm not a big bacon guy."
Said the not-a-big-bacon-guy. Said the not-a-big-bacon-guy who ordered the bacon risotto.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Week in Wankers

  1. "This wine list is expensive. I just want a good merlot for under $20."

Bobo. Come on. Think back to a time when you found a merlot for under $20. It was an something like an aisle, wasn't it? With other products for sale around you? Yeah, we call that a store.

Restaurants buy wine at a wholesale price, just like stores do. Both places, in order to make any profit, have to sell that wine to the public at a higher cost. Since restaurants (theoretically) move less of the product than a retail store will (add to that the greater cost of running a restaurant versus a retail shop: paying the servers who open it, serving it in glassware we bought and have to pay dishwashers and a water bill to wash), and you end up with pricing that looks like this:
$15 wholesale cost of a bottle --> $22-25 retail (at a steal)
$32-36 on a restaurant wine list

That means, in order to find a $20 merlot at a restaurant, that piece of shit has to run about $8 wholesale. If you would pick up said piece of shit in a store, it would be about $13.

Your friends hate you for bringing cheap, shitty wine to their dinner parties, by the way.

2. Then there's the loudmouthed frat boy fresh out of his MBA program who interrupts me as I'm describing the food and wine on the menus to make embarrassingly erroneous claims such as:
  • hanger steak is right here, where the flank is (pats my side - no seriously, the douchebag touches me. If this were a strip club, the little bastard would have two fingers broken before being tossed onto the street.)
  • we didn't like this Cote du Rhone-Villages. Do you have any just Cote du Rhone? That's like saying "Fuck this Cadillac, do you have a GM?" Moron.
  • (after I describe another Rhone as being kind of stinky, barnyardy goodness and his friends ask what that means exactly) Oh, lots of wine people describe wines as being stinky, it's like cow poop, you know? (Jesus, I hope you're not an MBA now that I hear you try to sales pitch your tablemates)
3. Another server had some name-dropping nitwit going "blah blah Sea Smoke blah blah Kistler...I never buy anything less than $50 retail."
His girlfriend looks at the rest of the table and says "Can you believe he's only known about wine for three months?"

Really. That long?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alice Feiring

This has nothing to do with waitressing and a whole lot to do with wine writers. Specifically, self-serving, self-obsessed, self-congratulatory wine writers named Alice Feiring.

It's funny, this love/hate thing I have with Alice. We see totally eye-to-eye in our almost psychotic hatred and fear of the New World, in our edict that small and rustic is never small and rustic enough, and in our overwhelming preference to drink something really weird and not necessarily tasty, over something that is ordinary but goes down easily.

In other words, if I were going to share a bottle of the spiky, peppered-bramble juice that is Pineau d'Aunis, it would be with her.

But between her outrageously self-important book, How I Saved the World From Parkerization (she didn't), and this month's article in Saveur (specifically where she implicates herself in Il Buco's decision to place teeny Sagrantino producer Ruggeri on its wine list), I am very, very scared for Alice.

This woman is going to float off into the stratosphere with that enormous head of hers!

She's the egomaniacal Hindenburg, perhaps having passed even Donald Trump and half the Real Housewives of the OC on her ascent to sociopathy. Someone needs to load her down with more weight, say a reality check.

I propose that Alice shadow me on a Saturday night at my restaurant, enduring plaintive moans about there being no California on the list, or smart-ass retorts to my speech about our localvore menu such as "Well, then where's the Texas wine?" (Oh, please Jesus, let that just be a smart-ass retort and not an actual request.) I bet after a night of explaining that Cahors is where Malbec originated, not Argentina, and that it won't be anything like the tarry, oaky fruitbomb they know from the grocery store Mendozas, Alice will tear her own hair out and throw her hands up. There's a long long way to go, sister. You didn't save the world from anyone yet. You're a little less FDR and a little more Obama-first-90-days. Sure you want the job?

I appreciate that she keeps trying. And if there's a clown on our side vying for a drop in the dunk tank, so much the better. After all, we can't always hate on Robert Parker alone. That's shooting fish in a barrel.

So, thanks, Alice, for offering yourself up to some entertaining obloquy with your unparalleled claims to being the übergeek that will deliver us all from the tyranny of Wine Speculator and the populace's love of mass-produced, boring, hyper-regulated juice. You're kind of like the Bill Maher of wine. I appreciate you both, but you kind of embarrass the team sometimes.

Love the wine in yourself; not yourself in the wine.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Clocking Out ... A Little Bit

I have reached that critical juncture in every waitress's life where she must take a look at her non-committal job (and all the leisure time it buys her to gaze at birds, indulge her blog with entry after entry about hating Yelpers, and occasionally submit a short story to a contest she knows she won't win) and decide to step back onto the dance floor.
Yes, friends, I now have what is called in restaurant parlance A real job.

Fear not, I begged to keep one shift a week, so I can stay in touch with the insane battlefield between diners and themselves, diners and servers, servers and themselves, and back of house versus front of house. Plus, it's cash in hand, which rules. Think babysitting, but with more French words.

In the meantime, my full-time job has me editing and writing a shit ton (thank you, Jesus) more so I will either become better disciplined at blogging or (more likely, since this has happened before) say, "Eff it. It's happy hour."

Oh my gosh, I actually work from home. It's my dream come true! I can stock the bar and have cocktail hour with my man when he gets home, or with friends who have real jobs, too! I can go to yoga!

How long do you give me before this wears off and I'm bitching about how much I miss waitressing full time?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reviewers who suck

I'm doing a ton of research on Washington DC restaurants so I can more effectively edit some reviews for a forthcoming guide (I don't live there, so I rely heavily on the community of diners eager to blab - luckily, there's plenty). In the process, I have learned the following:

1. Washington restaurant critic Tom Sietsema likes everything (especially being recognized and then mentioning it in his reviews). He's less critical about food and wine than the bum in the park across from my house is about the government.

2. Yelpers are drooling idiots who boringly blab on about service in a way that makes them obviously not into the dining experience so much as having their collective dicks sucked by a waiter. No dick suckage? Bad review! Oh, was there food? We didn't notice.

3. For this reason, Yelp is notorious for having reviews so mixed that the site is completely obsolete. I find I prefer eGullet, much to my surprise (I wasn't expecting to like any of them). These people take the whole thing into consideration, and actually seem to have eaten outside of their homes once or twice. Rarely do you hear anyone say something retarded like "$20 seems very expensive for an entree, but whatever." Have you been in a bomb shelter since 1962?? Jesus, I hate Yelpers.

4. Chowhounders do nothing but ask other Chowhounders if they've been someplace yet. Seriously. Google a restaurant right now and see if that isn't the first 3 results that come up: "Has anyone been to _____ yet?" Useless.

5. The people that leave comments under Tom Sietsema's Washington Post reviews usually sound like they're writing from prison. Is it possible to be this zealous and stupid without stabbing yourself in the throat every time you brush your teeth? One exclamation point will do, thank you!!!!!

6. Frommer's: since when do people get paid to merely list what the menu offers? A critical opinion wouldn't kill you, you know.

7. On any menu, syrupy martinis with cutesy names are the bellwether to a terrible wine list. It's like how seagulls precede a storm. Or a school of dolphin. Which is it? Who cares, so long as it's not fucking Bogle.

8. Yelp reviews sound they're written by Baby Jane if she were let out of the asylum for a nice meal. I'm only this angry because a half dozen of the damned things pop up whenever I Google a restaurant. Can I change my preferences or put an obscene-content lock on that site or something?

9. This goes for everyone, on every site, blog, forum, etc: If I see one more person use "yummy" as a descriptor, I'm going to pay my hacker friends to send a virus to the site that plays a video of blue-footed boobies doing their silly mating dance, over and over again. I imagine some person with severe emotional retardation, petting their My Little Pony at the table, lovingly "feeding" it whatever they are eating. "See, Snowflake? Isn't this pork belly yummy? Let's go online and tell everyone!"

The Culinary Wasteland That Is The Texas Coast

I'm still here, fear not. I just took a few days to go camp out at the Gulf to see these guys. They're called Roseate Spoonbills and they are so marvelously ugly it's beautiful. There's a French word for that, I think.

We ate crawfish tails (I finally sucked out the brains - creamy and sweet! Now I know why Zombies are so mad for 'em), thick-shelled oysters that tasted not unpleasantly like harbor (cocktail sauce fine on Gulf oysters; ask me for some with your Duxburys and I will throw you out of the restaurant myself), and fried snapper (note to Fulton Beach, TX: Panko is a specific type of bread crumb, air-dried in the walls and of a certain delicate crispness - it's not a method of cooking, so you can't call it "panko-fried" if you rolled it in those Italian seasoned bread crumbs from the can... and I know you did.)
But our most charming meal was in the overweight-elderly capitol of the world: Port Aransas. It's a little Italian restaurant called Venetian Hotplate that, while serving Americanized conceits like tortelloni with ham and peas in a Parmesan cream sauce, does so with balance and tasty fresh herbs - and with menu items listed in Italian (usually a trustworthy cue). The glass list is, as expected, a teeny parking lot full of SUVs like La Crema, but the bottle selection has a few small-production pearls on it from the Boot.

Most of VH's success owes to its disarming preciousness - pots of flowers and garden tcotchkes out front, seashell-folded linen napkins on plates, a vaguely double-wide feeling to the structure. You simply don't feel critical here - it's like dining in someone's darkened living room - and this makes everything taste better, allows for some pleasure in the minutaie. And there's this sort of hilarious Renn Faire-Girl music quietly playing, like Enigma and Lorena McKennitt.

Anyway, here it is. If you're down that way, you're probably dying for some decent food.
Anything the Texas coast offers, Mexico and Louisiana are doing better. Please, tell me if I'm wrong, because we plan to go back in summer to see the spoonbills mate. Apparently, they offer each other straw and twigs with their enormous flat beaks. I can think of nothing in the world I want to see more.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tuscan Parable

Once upon a time in Tuscany, a winemaker learned that a large number of his wines were being sold in a peculiar, much overlooked part of the United States. The middle of Texas, of all places! Intrigued by this far away land and its people - who so obviously enjoyed his wines - he set off for a visit.
With two compatriots, he visited the restaurant in Texas that was responsible for the bulk of his sales. They sat in a quiet booth in the back and sampled some other bottles on the wine list from reputable Tuscan producers. They feasted, and racked up a bill over $400.

The winemaker paid. He left $40 as a tip for his server.

Just under 10%. For excellent service.

The winemaker didn't seem to realize that the reason his wine was selling so well was not because of the importer who brought it to the States, nor the distributor who picked it up, nor the sales rep who brought it to the restaurant's wine buyer, nor the wine buyer for putting it on the list.

The wine sold as well as it did because the servers liked it, thought it was a great deal for such a well-made wine, and emphasized it to their guests. The people largely responsible for his success were the very people he had slighted. The servers, thereafter, boycotted his wine and the winemaker saw a dramatic dip in his sales. Had he never left Italy to investigate, this might never have happened.

The moral of the story is: Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Oh, no wait.... it's LEARN TO TIP, PAISAN!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sulfites: The New Carbs

Every so often, a "medical fact" rides in on a wave of paranoia and shoddy research. It reaches a screaming crescendo that one can measure by how many bestsellers are trotted out on the subject, and then, after a few years of no real change in anyone's quality of life, the wave rolls back out to the sea of misinformation where it will swell again with a new generation that doesn't realize we've all been there, done that and it failed miserably.

Atkins comes to mind. So does invading a foreign country.

Now this! The rampant self-diagnosed "allergy to sulfites". Correction: not self-diagnosed. Someone on the internet told you their mother has it, too, so it's a communal diagnosis.

I'm not saying there aren't many people out there who have bizarre (and varying) reactions to different alcoholic beverages.

I'm not saying you haven't figured out what makes you feel worse and what makes you feel better, and therefore created a rational list of Things to Avoid.

I'm saying lots and lots of people are still grasping at straws. And I want to help you narrow it down.

Next time you ask me if any of our wines don't have sulfites cause you're allergic to them, I would ask you if you've eaten any dried fruit lately. Or deli meat. Or nuts. Or anything that has been packaged. Sulfites are a preservative found in EVERYTHING. You wouldn't want to drink a wine without sulfites. It would be a bunch of rotted, moldy grape juice.

To diagnose your unique problem, don't ask anyone on the internet if they have similar symptoms. The internet is a wasteland of screaming ignorance. (Irony alert!)

But here's a recap of the Scientific Method we all learned in high school:

1. Observation through experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Look for previous explanations (i.e. are you throwing up and headachy? you might have drunk too much, or have a problem metabolizing alcohol. If you are having symptoms you've had before with things you are allergic to, you are, naturally, allergic to this as well.).
If this is a new problem to you, then move to step 2.
2. Form a Hypothesis: Try to state an explanation ("When I drink red wine I feel rotten in ways I haven't felt otherwise or before; therefore I must have some weird reaction to something in red wine.").

3. Conclude Something: If you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow? ("Red wine contains sulfites, therefore I might be reacting to sulfites")

4. Test Conclusion: Look for the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2. (Drink white wine, sparkling wine, beer; eat fruits with sulfites in them - if you still feel rotten, 3 may be correct; if not, forget the sulfites thing and think about what else goes into red wine that white wine doesn't share. Contact with grape skins. Skins contain tannins. So revise 3 as "I might be reacting to tannins." Now test by drinking tea, coffee, grape juice. And so on.)
Many of mankind's troubles stem from trying to PROVE our theories rather than disprove them. Religion, paranoia, conspiracy theory - anything that eschews science, the devotion to truth via the process of elimination - relies on proving what you already believe to be true. It is about as far from truth, then, as one can get.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where WERE You?

I envisioned a night of pouring champagne all over myself and my guests and serving up a billion Hope sandwiches, but the only people who came to dine tonight were a few poopy pantses who didn't mention President Oh-hell-yes once!


I had two tables.

The terrorists won tonight.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Missed Connections

Dear Blow-Hard at 61, Saturday night:

Your guests would certainly rather order a drink from me than listen to you recount endless tales of your investment property woes, but since you won't shut up every time I'm near the table, even if I linger uncomfortably for several seconds, they can't. Bet this is why you "never see them anymore." Can't wait to see who you bring in next time to bore to a sober death!

Dear Guy at Large Party, All of Whom Ordered Coffee:

Half caf, half decaf?
.... Really?

Dear Dumb Girl With Her Rich Parents,

When I opened your white wine and did that little banter about it being too cold right now but with a little warming up, it would be beautiful and have all these crazy aromas, and then you immediately asked for ice as if you hadn't heard a word I'd said, it made me realize why your first three husbands will leave you. Miss yer guts!

Dear "Food Writer" for Free Local Magazine Your Daddy Gave You Money to Start,

Every time you begin a paragraph with subject-verb disagreement, it makes me smile. Good thing it's every single fucking time! I also really enjoy your 2nd grade command of words, such as ...pastas paired with expertise sauces. Whee! Journalism is fun! Maybe next you can be president.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When I Love This Job

I do love my job, by the way. It may be hard to tell, the way I go on, but it's like being a Red Cross worker: they may want to rend the skin from their cheeks sometimes because of what they see, but they are ultimately fulfilled.

For those of you keeping score, I just compared myself - a waitress - with a Red Cross worker. Does the tyranny of hyperbole ever end?

Okay, ask any high school teacher: it's the small victories. Last night, I waited on a couple, about my age, dressed nicely. Dressed in the attitude of respect for dining out. He in a dinner jacket, she in a gauzy shawl. No desperate cleavage, no gaudy fashion statements (though I'm a fan of both, for entertainment's sake).

They looked at me when I introduced myself. Do you know how rare that is?
As I went over the menu with them, they ooh'd and aah'd in the right places. They excitedly accepted my offer for an aperitif.

America! Drink your aperitifs! It loosens you up - which, believe me, you need.

Then the guy said something that will forever endear him to me. He said, "My experience is with California wines; I know little about the ones on your list. Can you help me?"

Such a simple thing, humility.

I'd love to, I said, and asked him what California wines they like, then I found him old world wines that would be a different experience, but up their alley.
I gave them a taste of a Corbieres we have by the glass - a stinky heavyweight boxer with a one-two jab of blackberry jam and horse sweat. They liked it but weren't quite sold, so I told them we had a Bandol that would make the night memorable. The Corbieres, I told them, is Hugh Grant - a decent actor, nice to look at, and entertaining enough; the Bandol is Sir John Gielgud.
They ordered the Bandol, bottle and all, without asking for a taste first (which would have been impossible anyway).

They loved it, keeping their noses in the glasses and lighting up with recognition at certain smells, memories. When they got their food, they were silent as they took their first few bites. Reverent. Feeling it, weighing it, knowing they were, right then, being changed just a little bit. They extended their hands across the table to each other with a bite of their own dish in each, and shared. These are people who live, you know? They don't grimace and conjecture and dissect the experience and scribble it on a $7.99 memo pad they purchased at Target when they joined Yelp. These are people who think and feel in equal proportion, you can tell.

The world has made easy choices of war, and has become comfortable with poverty and despair. Awareness, without contempt, is hard. It is rare. I envy it; every moment of my life I struggle for it. It is not what makes up the majority and it is not whose voices are heard and it is not the bright green light of televised victory when leaders choose to send missiles to schoolyards and villages - it is instead the small and silent glow of consideration. That this cynical girl can still find it - in a restaurant! - even just once every few nights, means the world to me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Week in Wankers

There was this couple griping in German about the hostess; their server happened to speak and understand German. She held her tongue until they'd ordered, received their meal and were halfway through it, then asked - in perfect German - if it was good.

Ah, sweet Demütigung!

A nice old lady asked me for a bottle of "the Tuscan Chardonnay", a roasted chestnutty little thing by Felsina, one of the most respected producers in Tuscany. Then she asked me "Is it DRYYYYY?" (See Catastrophic Post-Modernist Nightmare) I asked her what she usually likes to drink. She said, "I hate to admit it, but Yellowtail."
"Trust me. You'll love this. It's infinitely more interesting, layered and subtle than that butterball."
"Fine," she said. "And could you bring a glass of ice with it?"

Later, her trashy little granddaughter showed up, in fake tan and stiletto boots, all of 21, 22. She loudly proclaimed to her grandmother that she ought to try one of her mussels. The grandmother said, "What are they like?"
"They're just like oysters," the girl replied loudly, obviously pleased with herself. "They taste like slimy fish."
Wrong three different ways in one breath. Most impressive.

A late table came in, about five minutes before closing. She was already drunk. He was enabling. She announced, with a boredom that still managed to sound zealous, that she used to run a wine bar. Then she slurred, "I don't like sweet. Nothing sweet."
(See For the Love of GAWD, people, stop saying you hate sweet wine cause you don't and you shouldn't anyway but it doesn't matter cause you DON'T...)
I described a Salice Salentino to her as a lush and juicy blueberry with peppery wood tannins and nice acidity to balance the fruit, and she said "Hellloo? I told you I don't like 'sweet'."
It took me a second to realize she meant the reference to blueberries.
"It's not a Jolly Rancher," I said. "But it is made from fruit, so..."

Ran a wine bar, my ass. More like ran BY a wine bar.
In Borneo.

"What does brown butter ice cream taste like?"
"And the creme fraiche?"

My favorite exchange of the week, though, was courtesy of my coworker, C___, whose deadpan deliveries are the kind of genetic superpower I might have had if I weren't conceived on hallucinogens.
After scanning the very short dessert menu for some time, a lady looked up at C____ and said,
"I like chocolate ice cream, what do you suggest?"
"Amy's," he answered, referring to our local ice cream chain.

Guess you had to be there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Something stinks around here...

And it isn't the food.

It's Patchouli. Sandalwood. Estee Lauder. Dior.
It's any number of the perfumes being peddled by Britney Spears, Beyoncee, Mariah Carey. It's cheap Bath and Body Works Pear Body Spray.

Guys, when you pay $60 for a Brunello, but all you smell is your date's Red Door by Arden, doesn't it make you the slightest bit ... resentful?
Friends of these women, when a dish of pork braised for five hours in sage, tomatoes and cinnamon is completely obliterated by your elbowmate's Fantasia (and girlfriend pours it on, doesn't she?), aren't you thinking you might as well have saved $50 and gone to Taco Bell instead?

And let's not forget the three tables in a twenty-foot radius whose wine glasses are filling with the spirits of Saks Fifth Avenue! It's an olfactory epidemic!

You could certainly drop a hint in a way that won't get you into trouble - may even get you laid - and will allow you and your fellow diners to enjoy the food you got all dressed up and paid for:

"Baby, I love your natural smell. It makes me crazy! The only thing that makes me want you more than your freshly showered smell, is a nose full of Brunello and garlic. Let us go, unadorned as we are now, to dine!"

For the love of all that is holy, women, don't wear perfume to restaurants. We want to smell the food and the wine, not you. I guarantee that your man, unless an oblivous oaf, feels the same way, and he is working up a way to either tell you or cheat on you with someone who smells less like an Avon lady.

P.S. A shout out to my little sistas under 25: When you do wear perfume, spritz once into the air and step through the delicate shower lingering there. Subtle is Sexy. Where are your mothers? It's like an Aesthetic Lord of the Flies, twenty-somethings running around with identical loose dresses and 11" heels, drenching yourselves in perfume that smells 100x stronger to us than it does to you. Take the conch and spread the word!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Positive affirmation

Each shift I work is a new opportunity to practice patience with my guests; to provide stellar service that is both personal and professional; to describe food and wine in sensual and visceral ways, even to a table of drooling birdbrains; and to enjoy watching people embarrass themselves in ways I will later relay to this journal.

Happy 2009, Person Who Reads This Blog!