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Daily Archives: August 27, 2009

Top Chef Episode 2

craps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well class, what have we learned?

The “hot” ice queen chef will disrobe just for you.

Crap…I mean craps, it’s what’s for dinner.

Bravo missed an opportunity by choosing a real bachelor/bachelorette party instead of doing a bachelor/bachelor or bachelorette/bachelorette celebration, although it did give the chance to pummel the viewer with the outrage that gays feel in being excluded from the sanctity of marriage (an outrage that I share, BTW).

Both gays and straights had philosophical problems for different reasons with the elimination challenge. Not surprisingly, it was on the female side. Dudes just don’t care, even the gay ones.

What is it with scallops this season? Isn’t this the most accomplished group of food savants this side of Paris? First of all, scallops is what I would consider a “safe” dish, perhaps too safe to make a real impression on the judges, although I’ll have to say that judges always seem to go ga ga when a scallop is “perfectly cooked”. Damn, how hard is it to pan sear a scallop? Unless you’re distracted by shiny objects, it’s a breeze. Maybe all of the stainless steel is distracting our cheftestants.

The gay guy gets care of the orchids. He admits that gays grow better flowers than straights, but half-heartedly grumbles that he’s getting the fuzzy end of the stereotype lollipop. I’m straight and I’ve grown orchids pretty well in the past, so there! Besides – phalaenopsis – Easiest. Orchid. Ever. 

Brother on brother action. But not the type that you’d expect from Bravo.

Shame that nobody threw snake eyes. It would have been fun to see how someone would have dealt with that. Me? I’d probably do some sort of scallop dish. One pan-seared scallop as a base. Then I’d attempt to cut a scallop into a julienne and deep fry it until crunchy and brown. If it didn’t work from a flavor and texture standpoint, I’d discard, but if it did work, I’d nest a little bit of it on top of the scallop. Then I’d poach another scallop in fish sauce and water and slice it on the plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper. I’d either prop up the slices against the seared scallop tee-pee style or lay them flat like playing cards fanned out next to the scallop. It would either fail miserably in terms of flavor but I’d get kudos for the effort or it would have worked perfectly.

Hmmmm, watermelon carpaccio.  It would have been more interesting if she had chosen watermelon seed carpaccio. Imagine shaving a few of those little buggers.

May I introduce to you Tom Collichio, Mafia hit man.

Gail Simmons is wearing my shower curtain for some reason.

Andy Cohen must have some salacious photos of Todd English to pry him away from QVC once a season.

When you marinate raw meat of any kind with any kind of acid, you’re actually chemically cooking it. As Tom points out, fresh tuna shouldn’t be marinated for more than about an hour. If you are marinating a big slab of beef, you’re free to marinate overnight, but not fresh fish that’s intended to be served rare. That’s why you can get away with it with ceviche because the seafood in ceviche is supposed to be “cooked”. Oh, by the way Jennifer, if you don’t stop pronouncing it “ceveech”, I think I’m going to throw a squid at the TV.

Leave the lettuce cups for P. F. Chang’s please.

A chips and guacamole “macaroon”? Inspired. HOWEVER – I’m surprised that Tom didn’t pull the same sort of linguistic “quibble” that he pulled on Casey a couple of seasons back when he blasted her for calling her dish coq au vin. That was no “macaroon”. While a macaroon certainly starts with something similar to a meringue (beaten egg whites), it adds coconut and/or almond paste to make a dense, chewy cookie, which is the exact opposite of his cookie. What it really was was a meringue cookie, which is exactly what he produced – something that was crisp on the outside with a melt-in-your-mouth middle.

If you aren’t an accomplished “pastry or dessert chef”, do dessert only as a last resort. Please. At least don’t admit to it at judge’s table. Your judgment will be questioned.

Eve and her knives are gone. See ya,

Eve

Steakhouses work the bar angle to attract guests

Premium steakhouses are using expanded bar offerings, in both the food and drink realm, to bring guests back to their dining rooms and bars. They are offering smaller and less expensive variations on their normal fare, almost in a tapas style. They are also rolling out signature drinks in order to capture a younger demographic.

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Morton’s has their “Power Hour” in selected locations. They have some value-priced $5 glasses of wine, $7 “Mortini’s” (selected Martinis, Cosmopolitans and Mojitos) and they are offering $6 “bar bites”, including miniature crab cakes, trios of little burgers, four tiny filet mignon “sandwiches” and “iceberg wedge bites”.

Palm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palm Steakhouse has upped the ante with their “Prime Times Bites” bar menu. They also have trios of “sliders”, theirs being Kobe beef. They have a smaller version of their massive fried calamari bowl, plus they have mini crab cakes, a trio of steak “capri” sliders (steak, basil and mozzarella) and little Philly steak bites. Prices range from $7 to $12  but from 5-7pm and after 9pm, they sell for the unheard of price of $3.50 (three Kobe beef sliders for only about 50 cents more than Krystal or White Castle burgers?!!??) They have also done an upscale makeover of the look of their bar tables . This is rolling out nationwide as I write this, having been tested in certain locations.

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Fleming’s Steakhouse has their “5 for $6 ’til 7” promotion in their bar. For $6, they have 5 premium cocktails, 5 value priced wines and 5 appetizers such as “tenderloin carpaccio”, seared ahi tuna and “wicked cajun barbecue shrimp”. This is served from 5pm to 7pm.

These are examples of fresh thinking in the steakhouse sector. They augment the usual summer special dinner deals that chains have been offering during their slower months and are intended to expand their demographic.

How things have changed since 2005 when Nation’s Restaurant News ran an article entitled “Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth”. Here’s a snippet of that optimistic report:

“Demand for high-end steakhouses seems to have continued to rise in many markets across the country. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years,’ said Dave Cattell, chief development officer for Ruth’s Chris, the 86-unit chain based in Metairie, La. ‘There are lots of opportunities, and I don’t see any end in sight.’ “.

You can access the rest of the article here:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_9_39/ai_n13251038/?tag=content;col1

It’s the little things

Managers are funny beasts.

In order to stay sane, they tend to have certain things that they focus on in order to do things like doing the closing or maintaining the operation of the restaurant because you can’t check 100% of everything in the restaurant. I know that I was a bit of a freak when I managed because I looked at some small things or insisted on certain procedures.

My rationale was that it was often the little things that mattered. It’s just impossible to check every little detail, so each manager has their little quirks about what pushes their hot button or gets them looking closer at the waiter’s work.

Closing is a good example. The next to last thing a manager wants to do is do a thorough intense inspection at the end of a hard shift.  The last thing a manager wants to do is sit through a bitch session with his or her general manager or restaurant staff the day after the restaurant has been closed sloppily. So, most managers have things that they focus on from night to night to give them a general indication of the quality of the closing sidework. However, depending on their closing waiter or what they know about certain members of the staff, they will poke around, especially if they don’t have confidence in the work of certain people. You can burn a manager or a closing waiter once or twice, but after that, they will stay on top of you until you regain their confidence. They’ll check your work with a fine-toothed comb.

As a server, there are little things that you can do to keep your manager or closing waiter from picking apart your sidework (especially if you’re the closer) as well as making your own job easier.  When I’m a closer, I use a technique that I call “shrinking the restaurant”, something I did when I was a manager as well. I try to reduce the amount of area getting used to a minimum. At a certain point, you don’t need all three server stations, or you don’t need all of the side items that you normally need when the restaurant is bustling. I try to limit what I use to a minimum. If it’s been cleaned or refilled (such as sugar caddies), I either don’t use it, or I try to keep what I use or touch to a minimum. If I have three wait stations available, and two of them have already been cleaned and I’ve checked out a server on those two stations, I make sure that nobody uses it from that point on unless absolutely necessary. As I check out the various servers, I’m able to reduce what I’m going to have to check at the very end of the night because I’ve gradually “shrunk” the restaurant over the last hour or two. At the very end, I really only have to give a cursory look.

This was my approach as a manager as well. In the last couple of hours, I’d try to be aware of anything that was “out of joint” in the early stages of slowdown and I’d sort of keep my eye on it and see if it were taken care of. Of particular importance was anything that was visible to the guest. This gave me an idea of how well the closing was going. If something didn’t get done right by my walk-through, then I started poking around, and you never want a manager poking around in dark corners at 11:30pm because they will always find things. Suddenly, dust in the corner of drawers becomes important. That little unwiped bit of stainless steel that is barely noticable to man or beast becomes something that has to be corrected NOW.  

The same goes for the closing waiter responsible for checking sidework. If the first thing they check hasn’t been done correctly, then they are more likely to check everything closely.

There is one main thing you can do to keep your manager’s or your closing waiter’s walk-thorough cursory, other than doing your job correctly, of course.

Make sure everthing lines up. In the Army, we called this “dress right dress”. For example, most restaurants have a lot of sugar caddies. If you leave gaps in their arrangement, or leave some crooked here and there, it gives the impression of a job half done. It only takes a second to line everything up. If you’re in a hurry to get to that post-shift drink, it’s easy to do a sloppy job of arranging everything. Just take a half a second and line everything up. Make sure that labels face the same way. Let’s say that you have to restock ketchup and condiment bottles. It’s easy to just stick them on the shelf, but if you take a moment and have the labels facing the same direction, it looks like you’ve done your work correctly. And managers and closing waiters kep a mental inventory of those that leave their work looking good and those who simply do the minimum to barely get things in order.

This is a convoluted and wordy way of telling you that the better the outward appearance of your work is, the easier your job will be. And it doesn’t take all that much longer and can actually save you time when you’re trying to get out for that post-shift get-together with your compatriots. One little trick I used to do (and still do) was to line up my sugar caddies so that the same color sugar packet was in front. It only took me an extra couple of seconds to do this. As a manager, I was always impressed when certain closing waiters did this themselves (yes, I can be easily impressed). I knew that they were looking at the small things and I could pretty much give them the OK without doing an intensive walkthrough. But I had some waiters who didn’t care that much about how things looked in general and I took extra time with those waiters until they got the idea that there were certain things that I might be looking for. It was a Pavlovian response, I guess. Eventually, they’d get the idea that the neater things looked, the less actual work they had to do at the end of the night. And they’d work backwards from there and start insisting that their fellow servers also showed the same sort of eye for detail.

Develop your eye for detail and you’ll find your job getting easier and easier.