Counter Intelligence

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 31, 2007

27649683.jpg1) Ancient Chile at Home in Modern Dishes.  San Francisco Chronicle.  Chipotle isn’t just for McDonald’s-owned burritos anymore.  It’s for cooking at home and everyone’s doing it.

2) For Pizza that Delivers In Other WaysWashington Post.  Pizza should be eaten within three minutes of baking, according to Peter Pastan of 2Amys.  Does that mean it should be served or actually eaten, I wonder?  Since pizza is my favorite food ever, I enjoyed this piece on the ingredients and methods embraced by local chefs.

3) In a Yale Dining Hall, Independent Study at the Microwave.  New York Times.  Yale students use their vinegars, pastes, and spices to make everything from marinades to masalas in their microwaves.

4) More Men Have Gusto for Cooking.  Chicago Tribune.  Chefs such as Emeril are responsible for getting guys interested in cooking and, apparently,”men are interested in big projects,” said the Food and Wine editor Dana Cowin.   Isn’t this a nationwide trend that more people are interested in food and wine?  And, last I checked, there are more celebrated male chefs. . . .  I would have liked to have read about the difference between guys who are interested in home cooking versus cuisine.

5) A Feast in a Single Bite.  Los Angeles Times.  The pleasures of haute pot pie, with several recipes to make at home.


Roast Your Own

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 30, 2007

logo.gifIt’s been awhile since I’ve spent time at a coffee shop where customers smell coffee beans roasting in-house.  When I was younger, it was at The House of Coffee.  Set in a warehouse in Red Bank, New Jersey, the shop was opened by a Peruvian named Pela, who roasted beans every afternoon. 

Though I hear that Alexandria’s Misha’s roasts beans daily, the couple times I’d been I had missed it.  I was luckier at Silver Spring’s Mayorga, where customers can call ahead to reserve their roasting times. 

And as of January, Columbia Heights will have its own Mayorga next to the theater in Tivoli Square, though likely sans coffee roaster.  For that, we still have to make a trek.

Fatback: Tonite’s an all night party

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 26, 2007

f43345e9yd5.jpgSomeone sent me a t-shirt that reads, “Home of the Fat Back Hotbar!”  And on the back: “Jomar’s family restaurant.  Lancaster, South Carolina.”

Aside from the fact that a fatback hotbar sounds like the sideshow at Hooters, what is a fatback hotbar?  And what kind of family restaurant dishes up fatback, anyway?

What’s a Half Smoke?

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on January 25, 2007

benschilibowl.jpgSausage talk, nostalgia, and city food history from City Paper’s cover story this week. .  .The irony of it?  The best half-smokes –the ones allegedly made for Ben’s Chili Bowl–are from Baltimore:

“Now that’s a half-smoke,” says Hill. It has the closest resemblance to the sausage link of his youth. When I ask if he knows which half-smoke he’ll serve at the new eatery, he nods to the Manger’s. “Maybe now,” he says.

It may break a few hearts to hear that the best half-smoke at the bar in fact comes from Charm City. Seventy-one-year-old Alvin Manger, president of Manger Packing Corp., says the family company has been making sausages at the same location in West Baltimore since the 1880s. “We’re one of the last old German butchers in the area,” he says.

Well worth the full-read. 

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 24, 2007

1169618284_0769.jpg1) Burger Crawl:  Sampling some local joints that offer fun on a bun.  Boston Globe.  Driven by New York’s burger mania, the Globe acknowledges the trend, but still keeps it real.  No focus on BLT Burgers, Brgr, and other fancy renditions.

 However it’s made, it should be juicy, beefy, cheap, and satisfying. There are many variations: flat or round, hand formed or machine pressed, grilled or griddled. Grinding makes a fatty and gristly cut of meat, usually chuck or round, as tender as filet mignon. But chuck is cheap meat, which means plenty of fat, and the flavor is in the fat. That’s why even budget burgers taste good and why stuffing a luxurious patty with expensive foie gras misses the point.

2)  Tea’s Time:Bay Area artisans offer tastes to rival the complexity of fine wine.  San Francisco Chronicle.  As is the case with coffee, the tea renaissance means terroir-talk about leaves.

The world of artisan teas in many ways parallels fine wines. The cognoscenti resemble wine connoisseurs, developing discriminating palates to appreciate the teas, and using a language that parallels wine appreciation — vintages, single estates, harvest time and method, not to mention all the descriptors for the taste of tea, such as acid, tannins, weight, fruit, earth aromas and mineral characteristics.

3)  A Scorching Future:  Global warming is altering the world wine map. Bordeaux reds and German whites may be better than ever, but what’s in store for Champagne and Napa? Los Angeles Times.  No definitive conclusions on whether regions’ grapes will change for good, but:

No question, says London-based wine critic Jancis Robinson, global warming is changing wines. “Dry German wines now are seriously delicious. English wines and Canadian wines have benefited.” On the other hand, she says, wines from warmer regions including Spain and Australia are suffering the rise in temperature.

“With wine, we can taste climate change,” says Gregory V. Jones, a climatologist at Southern Oregon University who is a leading researcher in the burgeoning field of wine-region climate studies and the son of an Oregon vintner. “You can honestly argue that Bordeaux is better off today. They can now consistently ripen their grapes.”

4) Tikka in No Time.  Washington Post.  Often viewed as too difficult to make for the average American home cook, Indian food favorites are demystified by Monica Bhide.

5) You May Kiss the Chef’s Napkin Ring.  New York Times.   Bruni explores the shift from “customer is king” to the chef. 

Once they were lucky to have us. Now we’re lucky to have them. They don’t meet us on our terms. We meet them on theirs.

Comedic Roots

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 23, 2007

img_1535_edited.jpgParsnips have a strange combination of qualities in that they’re really ugly, comically phallic, and surprisingly sweet.  When I visited Chef Amaya at Coppi’s last night, I was further surprised by how different it tasted blanched, boiled and flash-fried.  In taste and appearance, parsnips are full of contradictions.  If you find them in the wild, be sure to double check that they’re really parsnips.  Apparently, they’re easily confused with some kind of hemlock.

Parsnips are becoming my quince this year, it seems.  I hear about it everywhere. People at work ask me about it; I see in on menus in soups, roasted en papillote on a grill; and now here.  As much as I like them, I do hope that my fruit or vegetable of the year changes. Unlike a tomato,  this vegetable is certainly no looker.


Eggenberg Urbock at The Saloon

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on January 19, 2007

logo.jpgI went to The Saloon with my father last night, who stopped in D.C. on his way back from hunting in New Jersey (go figure).  He killed a seven-point buck.  Let’s hope it wasn’t in someone’s backyard.

In any event, while we were there,  I was talking to the owner, who suggested I try the Schloss Eggenberg Urbock, since he’s “friends with the family” in Austria and is allegedly “the only place in the US to carry Urbock on draft.” 

Here’s the description online:

Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23° is one of the strongest beers in the world. We keep the Urbock 23° in our Schloss cellars for 9 months until it is dark gold and strongly matured. Urbock 23° has received the highest acknowledgments and honours at international exhibitions and world evaluations. It is brewed exclusively from natural raw ingredients after the purity requirement of 1516. Schloss Eggenberg Urbock is filled in a 0.33 litre designer bottle embossed with Schloss Eggenberg and in barrels for the export (20 and 30 litre).

 In the past I had been a regular of Birreria Paradisio, since I loved Thor and the selection of malty Belgian beers on tap.  Since Thor is gone, and The Saloon is in my neighborhood, it may be my new go-to beer bar, though I’ll stick to the Belgians over the boozy Urbock.

The Saloon.  1207 U Street NW.

Five on Food:Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 17, 2007

178065549_eb39378ec8_o.jpg1) The Food Connection.  New York Times.  It’s not surprising that people who care about food search online for places to eat when they travel: for specific cravings, for road food, and for dining alone options.  No longer do they have to dork out with Zagats or do fieldwork trial and error.  

2) Success is Sweet for These Bakeries. Boston Globe.  Named for the sixth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno, Canto IV is for sugar gluttons.  Though the owners had been concerned as to whether their dessert bakery would fly, since more people are going out for dinner, drinks, and other bites more often, their business has been busting at the seams.

3) It’s a cozy booth. . . for 35!  Los Angeles Times.  More intimate than the communal table, the communal booth is the Wilshire Royal Hotel’s experiment with playing a more direct role in shaping the dynamics of customer interactions within its bar and restaurant.

4) Growers Losses Could Hit A Billion $; Governor Declares a State of Emergency.   San Francisco Chronicle.  Freezing temperatures are causing more damage to the citrus crop than the state has seen in decades.

5) Where the Belly Meets the Plate.  Washington Post.  John Martin Taylor writes about local places to get pork belly, what makes for a more flavorable pig, and why diners want specialty pork items for dinner.

Bruni Blog: Enough with the Food Porn.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on January 17, 2007

nikkormatcamera1eq.jpgIn Frank Bruni’s blog, “Ought you to be in pictures?”, Frank likens taking pictures in restaurants to adding a strobe to a restaurant’s lighting.  As food porn becomes ubiquituous, Bruni asks whether cameras are as annoying as the loud talker on his cell phone at the next table.  Is taking pictures in restaurants offensive? Is the trend becoming a nuisance?

He asks management at the Four Seasons, Spice Market, Tocqueville, and others whether it’s his perception or reality.  The conclusion:

And photography, Mr. Salazar said, does go on more than ever.

“If we have someone who is taking a multitude of pictures, we do ask them if they can be a little more discreet about it,” he said. “And we do usually ask the guests in the adjacent seating area if they mind.”

Julian Niccolini, a partner in the Four Seasons, said that the restaurant actually used to have a no-picture-taking policy.

Not anymore.

“People are constantly taking pictures,” he said. “Sometimes we ask them to refrain from it, but basically it’s impossible.”

Rockwellians had an extensive discussion about this last year, but according to Bruni, photography in dining rooms has increased since then. 

Missing from the post is whether it makes a difference when customers ask the restaurant for permission to take pictures first.  Is it rude not to ask?  Should some restaurants impose cell-phone type rules? 

Trotters– as in pig’s feet, not Charlie

Posted in General Interest, Other Places by melissamccart on January 15, 2007

2334c.jpgI went to two places in San Francisco this Saturday worth writing about– The first is Cav (read:cave).  After a Friday night at Toronado trying beers, I wanted to sample some wines. The most interesting we had read about are both a stone’s throw from Zuni: Hotel Biron and Cav.  I wasn’t in the mood for a speakeasy, so we decided on Cav, a casual and minimalist wine bar. After a day of grazing, I was looking for wine selection, olives, and charcuterie plate– nothing over the top. 


Had we not sat at the bar, I don’t think the experience would have been as phenomenal; it helps that Tadd Cortell, one of the partners, poured our first glasses and helped us navigate the menu.  He was enthusiastic for the charcuterie: foie gras torchon with honey poached quince, country boar pate with mustard and pickled vegetables, and pig trotters served with confit garlic, pickled shallots and mustard. My experience with pig’s feet is the jarred and pickled version; these were braised for nine hours and were falling-apart tender, rich, and decadent. And we’re talking about a pig part I’d thought to be more awful than offals.