Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vino, Here is my Veritas...

En Vino Veritas…it’s a nice little Latin expression meaning “In wine there is truth.” Now whether that truth is you telling your boss how his wife and the VP seem to be getting along swimmingly in the coat check room after your fifth glass of Merlot. Or while at your friend’s annual Christmas party asking your wife if the 25 yr old blonde in the mini-skirt might make a suitable replacement for her over several glasses of Pinot Gris… “I mean, Heaven forbid something should happen to you my little cupcake.” Some bad things can come out of wine driven truth, but at least it's truthful. Not sure how you’ll feel about my thoughts on wine, but here they are anyway…

It was Christmas of 1971 or 1972, and I was three or four years old.  Santa had just rocked mine and my brother’s world with yet another bumper crop of toys that over the next twelve months would be tested to their precious end. These were toys that manufacturers didn’t mind putting steel into, and sharp edges on. Ask any adult who is perhaps forty years of age or older which will dent first, a Tonka Truck or a head and I’m sure we’d reach a consensus. As far as choking hazards were concerned anything that didn’t kill you made you stronger, or at least scared the shit out of you until you were old enough to chew them properly.

These were different times people and children were thought to be tougher than they are generally considered to be today. This is why there were never any little plastic covers on each outlet or little plastic thingy’s to make sure drawers and kitchen cabinets were to remain closed. How else is a child supposed to figure out raw wire shouldn’t be stuffed into an electrical socket, or no matter how lemony Pledge might actually smell, its taste differs significantly.

The same values held true for alcohol consumption. I remember sitting at the table that Christmas and everything seemed right for a holiday table, over cooked turkey, Bells stuffing inside the turkey, canned cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potato, peas, so on and so forth…. But then there was something I hadn’t remembered seeing on the table in the form of a square bottle. I couldn’t read at the time so I’m not sure even what it was but then my father did something odd. He took a teaspoon and added a few drops of the dark red liquid to mine and my brother’s water until it was barely changed in color…he then said a few words to all at the table and everybody clinked glasses and drank.

Quite honestly I don’t remember much about the taste that day but in subsequent years a few drops would become a few teaspoons and finally I got my own little cordial glass with some wine in the bottom about the time I was seven or so. Well now might be a good time to clarify what I mean by wine. The wine of my formative years was Manischewitz Concord Grape. This will have my wine snob friends cringing and other’s shrugging and looking confused. For you in the confused camp I also don’t know how a Roman Catholic family ended up drinking Orthodox Jewish wine on Christmas. Suffice it to say I remember liking the sweetness of it but after a few years, we moved on to greener pastures.

About the same time “ Judgment  of Paris” was happening my family entered the Cold Duck era. If you don’t feel like clicking on the link let me break Judgment of Paris down for you real quick. There was a tasting of French and American wines, where the American wines won, and the French were pissed….the end. Now Cold Duck comes from the illustrious wine region of.... Detroit, Michigan…um…yeah. It was first created by a German man Harold Borgman. By combining one part of what I’m sure was high end California “red” with two parts of New York’s finest Sparkling to end up with something that was supposed to be called Kaltes Ende which is German for Cold End, but was switched I’m assuming as a joke to” Kalte Ente” German for Cold Duck.

I remembered Cold Duck as being fun, bubbly and sweet, much different than Manischewitz in what can only be described as “a good way”. Keep in mind this is the seventies wine era when probably 90% of Americans couldn’t give a full 100% shit about wine anyway. So there was no shame in drinking Cold Duck or any stigma attached to anything but the lowliest of wines such as MD 20/20 and Wild Irish Rose. Cold Duck was the taste of the toasts at holiday meals until I was perhaps thirteen or so and then my parents went positively high end and switched to Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante.

I have seen reviews and tasting notes that have described Asti Spumante as “…tangerine peel, honeysuckle, vanilla, creamery butter and honeyed notes…” I’m not sure about that, but in my mid teens until I left home it tasted like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Those were the only times my parents would have alcohol in the house, well then or whenever my Uncle Jack was going to come for a visit. Trust me when I tell you Uncle Jack was not an Asti Spumante man, but rather Pabst Blue Ribbon (before PBR was cool) and Miller were his libations of choice.

So with my youth setting a not so high bar for wine, I set out to discover what the world had to offer in the ways of the grape.

I was twenty-seven and on a date at a restaurant that I knew would cost me north of a hundred dollars. This was the first time in my life I was going to spend that kind of cabbage on dinner and I knew the drink of choice had to be wine. I’d seen all the movies and knew that no woman was going to be impressed enough to drop her….uh, sensibilities at the end of the night because of a nice  Chateaubriand and a can of Schlitz.

I knew this was going to take a little something more in the beverage department. I asked the sommelier to recommend a wine to accompany the meal we had chosen and she came up with a pinot noir of some sort. I did all the right things and stared at the bottle when presented, swirled the glass, sniffed, swished, gargled, pulled in air and chewed. I did all this despite I had no idea what the hell I was doing it for.  I bought that same wine on every occasion I could after that, convinced it was the answer to the successful outcome of the evening meal and made it so much more enjoyable.

On occasion I would go to friends’ houses and like most people in their 30’s, they all seemed to turn into classical music/ wine aficionado’s. We drank everything from Boones Farm Strawberry listening to Wagner to some very pricey French and Italian wines to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” with only one criterion to consider. Does this taste like gorilla ass? If the answer was no, yes of course I’ll have another glass. If the answer was yes then, yes of course I’ll have another glass. After all this was free alcohol that friends were providing, who was I to turn a cold shoulder to an education in fine wine and classical music. Yes please, crank the Tchaikovsky and keep pouring that fine white Zin!

While in culinary school we had a week of wine classes learning about varietals with where and how they’re grown to produce different products. We learned how to do pairings and which wines went with which foods to produce the optimum meal experience. How to taste and how to write notes on it and which characteristics were desirable and which were not. Now after all that education and years later having had really good wines paired with really good food all I have to say is this…WHY ALL THE FUSS?

You people with your chill to this temp, and don’t serve this with that, and oh my god let me tell you my thoughts on screw top versus synthetic cork versus real cork versus box. This wine will suck if it doesn’t breathe, this wine should really be hyperdecanted and whatever you do don’t drink this wine from this year and stay away from this vineyard as their wines are particularly precocious and naughty.

Look, to all my wine drinking friends, I love you dearly but you really are putting far too much thought and grief into something that shouldn’t be so tough. I mean after all Romans had lead decanters designed to hold wine and release the flavors of the lead which they called “sugar of lead” that they would then drink and enjoy to the point of getting lead poisoning….I mean these people literally went F’CKING NUTS for wine and didn’t make distinctions between which year was better 5BC or 6 AD. I’m also fairly certain you would have gotten some coliseum game time with your Lion friends had you asked for your bottle to be hyperdecanted.

So please do us all a favor and enjoy your wine. Share your favorites with others and extoll its virtues to anybody you come across. But don’t be a snob. Don’t tell us which years should be avoided at all costs. Don’t be the person who passes out when a friend starts drinking before the glass has had “enough” time to breathe. Don’t have a solid gold cow if someone likes to keep their red in the fridge or throws a chunk of ice in their chardonnay. The only question needed to be answered with regards to wine…Is it good or bad? Or in my case…Does it taste like gorilla ass? If your answer is no, smile and take a sip…. If the answer is yes… maybe only pour half a glass. It’ll make you appreciate the glass you have when you get home a lot more.      

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I ate at a sandwich shop in Parsippany, NJ that I liked so much I decided to write about it. I was asking the owner a few questions and afterwards told him I would be writing a piece about his establishment. He said, “hey that’s great… you mean on yelp?!” I asked if he liked yelp, and he said it sometimes brings additional business so it’s pretty good. Here’s what I think…

If Yelp was water, I wouldn't throw it on a burning puppy! I'm not wading through a bunch of whiny asses with smart phones trying to figure out what medications were missed the day Buffy69 gave 2 stars to the Hot Fried Chicken Joint I was thinking of going to in Nashville, TN. Come to find out at the end of her tirade she wasn’t given enough wet naps, and thus the rating! Buffy, take a valium wrap it in a wet nap and stick it up your….oh never mind. The dining public is by and large… a sheepish bunch of nitwits at best when it comes to food. A passive aggressive lot of sniveling touch holes who I wouldn't trust with a pack of matches much less a Yelp account and two thumbs!  

Once these hapless diners get a Yelp account, all hell breaks loose! Yelp is a collection of self-important self-obsessed ego maniacal pinheads….with few exceptions. I once had the Yelp app thinking it would be handy to have and use when I went to new and different cities. I would try it here and there but noticed recurring themes…“I’ve decided to upgrade them from 2 to 3 stars as they fixed the ice machine this week.” Or “The salsa seemed a bit less chunky than usual and as a result I’m going to give 3 instead of 4 stars.”  Um, Yelpers…shut your Yaps!

When you think about it, Yelp is flawed from the very beginning .They take a group of people who watch a show like Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef for three or four episodes a year and call themselves “Foodies.” They do this despite the fact they think a Five Guy’s Burger is gourmet (I like Five Guy’s…but what it isn’t is gourmet…whatever the hell gourmet means) and Arby’s makes a damn fine deli sandwich. They think adding Oscar Mayer bacon to Kraft Mac-n-Cheese puts them on the cutting edge of haute cuisine and fine dining. They take overused critiques from such people as Gail Simmons or Padma (can’t stand either and find myself using hand sanitizer after seeing them) and try to make parallels between a taco plate and whatever over tortured dish was presented to the judges on Top Chef…Square peg, round hole.

I would have to imagine a full eighty-five to ninety-five percent of these people don’t have any formal culinary education and only a handful of them have eaten two or three times at one, two and three Michelin star restaurants…Voila an Arrogant Foodie A-Hole is born. (Although adding arrogant and A-Hole to foodie is I suppose… redundant) Eating and understanding good food from bad food takes practice, just like cooking and plating good food takes practice. *BLANK STARES* Oh sweet Jesus on a skateboard people ...follow along here…

I know you know what tastes good…but so do the people at Burger King, it’s how they make billions of dollars a year…. But what is good food? Here I’ll give you an example and you tell me which is better:

First up a burger joint called Al’s that grinds an 80/20 mix of beef chuck, hand forms the patty and seasons with salt and pepper just before grilling. It’s served on a toasted fresh brioche bun with a slice of American Cheese lettuce tomato and thinly sliced onions add condiments yourself and served with hand cut fries that were well rinsed blanched in 260 degree peanut oil then drained and cooked a second time in 370 degree peanut oil until golden.

Meal number two is at “Forty on Main” where you will be eating vanilla infused sous vide foie gras that was then poached in a bottle of 1954 chateau lafite. This is served alongside Scallops that were seared to the perfect internal temperature of 185 degrees and topped with an Asian pear and lemon grass foam. For your side you will have Mashed Potatoes that were made with double cream, Normandy butter, grey sea salt from France and a nice healthy drizzle of white truffle oil…

Now, which plate of food is better? At this point if my Chef friends haven’t vomited they are most definitely cringing. And I’m sure a good deal of you have already figured out which is the better plate of food. But you can see where someone with little food knowledge and even less training would be completely enamored with plate number two. It has all the correct buzz words of foie gras, scallops, chateau lafite, France, etc… unfortunately if the taste and technique aren’t there you might as well be eating a shit sandwich on white bread. Give that shit sandwich to a Yelper and they’re likely to bitch because it should have been served on toasted "multigrain" bread!

So Pav….Who are we supposed to ask where to find good food? Well first of all you need to be specific. What is it you want to eat? Don’t just say…something inexpensive. Or, I’m not sure…this will lead to the aforementioned shit sandwich or worse…McDonald’s. Me, I pretty much know what I want to eat in my own area and think about the next meal I want before eating the meal I’m preparing or went out for. That goes something like this…Can’t wait until the tacos get here, which reminds me of that tapas place I haven’t been to in a while…maybe for dinner?

But then again food is pretty important to me. My boss is the polar opposite and food never occurs to him until he is driving by a Taco Bell and realizes it’s 2:30 and he hasn’t eaten. This drives me batshit crazy. Don't be "That Guy/Gal". I can at the very least narrow it down to salad/sandwich, something more substantial or full on dinner and maybe even a cuisine (Thai, Mexican, American Regional etc…). This shouldn’t be hard as you’ve been going to the fridge and peering in making these decisions your whole life and you haven’t starved to death yet.

Ok so now you know what you want to eat who do you ask?! Well I’ll tell you I’ve struggled with this one for a while, but I think I’ve got it figured out. I was talking to an excellent Chef and friend Joshua Galliano in St Louis the other day while thinking this through and I asked him. If I asked you and four other local chefs to give me your top five sandwich shops in town…do you think the lists would be similar?!

“Well, I ‘m sure they wouldn’t be in the same order because Griffiths and Nashan's tastes are different.” (Two other excellent Chefs in St. Louis) I said to him well sure and they might all have a different shop or two on them, but there would be two or three consistent shops showing up on the lists correct?! “Well yeah, I guess that’s fair to say.” If I gave a specific cuisine you think it’d be the same? “Yeah…probably…but it’s not really fair, because St. Louis isn’t a very big town.”

You know what people…neither are ninety percent of the places you’re going to visit or go through. Greater St. Louis has a population of nearly three million people and is the 18th largest metro areas in the country so unless you’re going to NY, LA, Chicago, Dallas or DC… it’s safe to think most places you go to will be the same size or smaller.  So if you have as little as a day or two notice you have more than enough time to research where or what you want to eat.

First…get yourself a Twitter account. “But I've got Facebook Pav!” Yeah well, good for you…Go friend somebody who cares. Twitter is best for restaurant recommendations and nearly everything else for that matter. With about five minutes of research you can come up with the names of at least a dozen cooks who are doing interesting food.  I do this by checking out the local Food magazine for the city I’m going to (you can google that and they all have twitter accounts). Chances are they are "following" the best cooks/Restaurants in town. Out of those dozen cooks you’re bound to get a response from at least a handful if you ask them what it is you want to eat.

Ask a cook…No I didn’t say chef I said cook. “What does Pav have against Chef’s?!” Nothing…Chefs are first and foremost …Cooks. Not all cooks are chefs but every chef is a cook. Chef is a title of respect when introducing them or something you say “yes” in front of when you’re getting your ass reamed for letting your station get dirty or letting the meat overcook. Ask the people who are making food every day where they like to eat and if they are worth a damn, they will tell you.

But unless you want to hear “My place” as a response, ask them about food they’re not doing …ask a cook doing Mexican food… Where can I get good Thai? or “besides your place, who does the best corn nuts in East Buddha, KS? The caveat to this is asking the right cooks, experienced cooks, cooks who have earned their chops and made their bones. DO NOT ask the 17 year old snot nosed kid working fry station at Western Sizzlin. If you ask him what he likes to eat you may find yourself eating nachos and a Slurpee from the local seven-eleven.  The other downside to this is you’ll probably be eating it in the parking lot alongside a bunch of Yelpers declaring the nacho sauce from the can… “A Big Success… 4 Stars”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Death of the Restaurant Critic

Restaurant critics are finished. Yes, finished. Oh sure there will be the odd few that can hang on and keep their sixty to seventy thousand dollar a year expense accounts and six figure salaries going. This is only because there are people with more money than brains, and love to hear about multiple course tasting menus of overly tortured food that nobody but them can easily afford. And by them I mean the restaurant critics themselves.

For the most part I find restaurant critics amusing, but as a whole superfluous. Sure it’s fun on occasion to hear how someone is stuffing a whole chicken with foie gras butter. The chicken had to be bought special with nearly everything intact so the skin wasn’t ripped. After having the dish presented to the customer once, and then taken away so the legs could be cooked properly and a bouquet of herbs and whatnot shoved up its ass only to have them disappear in the final presentation…sounds like quite a long ways to go for “perfect” chicken.

Quite frankly I hate waiting for a roast chicken at home, but at least I have my trusty bottle of Jameson there to keep me company and if I’d like to do so in flip flops and a pink tutu…I can let my freak flag fly! Besides that, presenting a dish to me and then trying to take it away would be a fool’s errand. I poured a carton of milk over Michael Carter’s head in 7th grade for touching my tater tots...only because it was served on prison issued trays and with forks made of something more delicate than aluminum foil. Imagine if someone touched my perfectly cooked chicken what I could do with fine cutlery and sizzle platters close at hand!

“But Pav, don’t you want to know what it’s like to eat at places like Gramercy Tavern, The Monkey Bar or the like?! First of all let me just say this…I grew up eating at some of the finest eating establishments Keene and Swanzey, NH had to offer such as Tower Pizza (Now defunct awful pizza joint), Papa Ginos (Greasy awful pizza and Italian food…errr…ok spaghetti and meatballs a la chef boyardee….barely), The Black Lantern (Continental Crap), Valley Green Restaurant (Continental Crap if the continent were an island of garbage floating in an ocean of water ready to go to a wastewater treatment plant) and The Creamy Cone (Soft Serve/Hot Dogs/Hamburgers of dubious origin)

I’ve eaten the finest chow the U.S. Marine Corps offers all their men in the field while visiting my buddy Mikko at Camp Lejeune…with such tempting delicacies as spaghetti with meat sauce, ham slab with potatoes au gratin or the pièce de résistance  …ham and chicken loaf, think Spam but less identifiable!  Then there were sides and you hoped you didn’t get peanut butter…which I did. Mikko told me to trade some candy I had for the “Chocolate Graham Cookie”….he said “spread the peanut butter on the cookie and you got yourself a white trash Twix bar” It was always better to get the baby Tabasco bottle (which used to only come in some MRE’s) so you could trade for something useful…Like toilet paper or Imodium!

So I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that the Oysters on the half shell, Cobb salad and dry aged Sirloin with grilled asparagus for $114 dollars at The Monkey Bar  is most probably... not going to suck! What will suck… is the final tally after I’ve spent double that because I want to impress someone, paid for drinks and a bottle of wine, dessert, tips and tax…That’s easily three hundred dollars I just spent and unless the asshole critic can guarantee I’m going to get laid, he or she wasn’t worth shit in that three hundred dollar scenario.

“But Pav what about the ambience, Isn’t that important to you?!” “And what about the service or cleanliness these are all things the restaurant critics look at just for you?!” Excellent point’s kind and thoughtful people… lets address both of those. Short of cannon fire or screaming babies throwing up on my table, after eating MRE’s in ninety-five degree heat listening to a gaggle of staff sergeant’s screaming “eat faster clay heads” to the late teen and early twenty something’s going through Marine Combat Training…the atmosphere of anything short of hell will be groovy. As for cleanliness, if something is dirty I will bring it to their attention…If it’s absolutely disgusting, I’m either not eating there or something’s coming off my bill. I’m not what some would call a “fragile flower” when it comes to speaking my mind.

What the critic does do is more of a dis-service to the restaurant industry than a service. First off if you’re a critic who has done more than say 10 reviews, chances are… people at the restaurants know who you are. Chances are your face has been emailed to and pinned up at every hostess station in whatever little shithole jerkwater town you’re reporting in. Then you’re getting preferred and therefore…different treatment. So what could you possibly be critiquing that would hold true for the people you’re supposed to be reviewing for?!

Also in the same vein of preferential treatment is the ability and motivation to be a corrupt critic. I know, I know, your word is your bond and all that other bullshit. But I’m guessing in exchange for a good review the restaurant stands to make one hell of a lot of money. From all the tourists and shithead foodies who will be traipsing through with their fancy DSLR and snapping photos of the chair where Joey Buttafuoco sat, to the truckload of bloggers taking pictures and describing the food that everybody else has described and taken pictures of.

 Lastly and probably worst of all, the four flushers and shitheels from Yelp telling the world their woes one star at a time, not knowing the difference between shit or shinola but angry nonetheless because the waitstaff forgot to drape the napkin on the back of the chair when they went to the shitter!  I know bribery probably isn’t the norm, but I’m sure it happens somewhere…and the bigger the city, the bigger the fortunes are at stake.

Lastly there is the problem with reservations. Because (insert high profile restaurant name here) got a great and rave review means you’re never going to be able to eat there…ever… and even if you can it will not be in the most ideal circumstances for a meal they can justify overcharging for. Forget the level of service you read about if you do get in…that was for the critic, not for you. You’re one of the masses. You’re going to be gouged, ignored and having the privilege of sitting if not in...At the very least… near the bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still gonna get some good chow and decent service, but not at the level the hard-on who wrote the review did.

I for one am glad it’s coming to a close, it’s like a show that has gone on too long and instead of jumping the shark…they’ve served it sous vide with fruit compote and some kind of sea urchin foam. How many ways can you describe the four star restaurant you described three times before?! You might do yourself a favor Mr/Mrs Critic and go to some place others haven’t had the chance to go. Like Al’s Pizza, or that new BBQ Joint across from the car wash. But I’m guessing you’d probably find that beneath you and poisonous besides. You’d probably have to gargle with bleach and go through a 5 gallon pail of white tea and truffle sorbet to cleanse your palate after getting ahold of a decent slice, or pub style bangers and mash.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, maybe they don’t all have to go…Take Marilyn Hagerty, I’m sure you all remember her but I’ll throw it out there again in case you’ve been doing too much reading on where to find good bottarga in your area…seems my neighborhood Super Wal-Mart is fresh out. Marilyn is the 85 yr. old who did a review of an Olive Garden, and people at first made fun of her and jumped her shit. Then in the end is a media darling, a crowd favorite and has people falling all over her vying for their five minutes of glory. The problem was you shitbricks didn’t understand that she was doing what critics should be doing…her job…eating where the readership ate…and reporting on it in an honest manner.  

Maybe you can learn a lesson from her…start going to places most people can afford, understanding what it is people can and want to eat then searching these more humble places out. Mixing it up and doing a high end restaurant then a neighborhood sub shop... but my guess is you won’t. You’re gonna head back to yet another highly praised and much sought after restaurant…be lauded on and praised for your brilliance in picking yet another excellent restaurant while at the same time playing the lyre and singing for your adoring public, and at the same time the newspaper you write for... is burning…

Monday, June 18, 2012

THE KITCHEN, It's Where You Want To Be

When was the last time you went to a restaurant and wanted to go back to it every single day until you ate everything? As I sit here at “The Kitchen” in Portsmouth, NH …watching other people’s food come out I feel nothing but anger and rage…Angry because I didn’t order whatever the hell that person has, and rage because…well should it really take more than thirty seconds to get the food I just told the lady I wanted thirty seconds ago?! Let’s pick up the pace here slackers! I got a menu to eat my way through!

I had heard of The Kitchen a few times from several people over the course of several months, and just like me, I gave the obligatory nod and “oh, yeah…we should definitely go there.” Even one of my Chef friends kept pushing for us to go to lunch there and again I smiled and nodded. Keep in mind this friend has sniffed out some decent chow in the past and I should have just dropped everything at the mere mention of the restaurant, but I didn’t.

Finally I got the call from my buddy who left this message on my voice mail “Hey Cat F’cker…just had the French Dip over at The Kitchen and if you don’t go this very minute and eat something… you’re an A-hole!” This is how friends from the restaurant industry talk to each other so Cat F’cker is most definitely not an insult, but rather a term of endearment. On the other hand A-hole may have actually meant A-hole in this particular context.

So I called my friend back to get a few more details on what it was exactly he had. When I got ahold of him he was breathless explaining to me all the details of the sandwich and how it came and what it tasted like…like a schoolgirl explaining to her best friend how Bobby in English class finally asked her to the Junior High dance. Although these days I guess they call it middle school…why is that? Is it because the word “junior” was demeaning to the students’ self-esteem?! But I digress…

So I arrived at the place late for a lunch service and there was still a pretty good crowd in the place. I looked at the menu board which wasn’t particularly big, but to my surprise was a sort of greatest hits of everything I liked to eat as far as sandwiches are concerned. This was going to be like deciding which baby I was going to save, and which baby I was going to toss off a cliff.

It would be so much easier to choose if they had a tasting menu of sorts…or if I had an unlimited budget and the stomach of an Anaconda so I could unhinge my jaw and eat my own bodyweight in food. Of course there would be the issue of the staff working around me for a week while I slept the food off…”Can I help you?!” I was asked as I was the next in line…

Yeah I’ll have the Cuban sandwich…Oh, and the Porchetta sandwich…Oh, and the Spudsters…and that’s it…I think…yeah that’s it…. Oh, and a sweet tea…Now fine and wonderful people, you know I’m not the type to go into the mushy details as in… “The creaminess of the slaw played nicely off the spice of the pulled pork.” But rather…let me give you some broad strokes…because you have brains and me explaining how this played off from that or “I tasted hints of melon as it danced on my tongue” just sounds idiotic. You can take it to the bank if I say it tastes good it’s good, or if I say Bad…it’s probably like South American Poison Dart Frog bad.

The Cuban was good, really good… but be fair warned it isn’t the typical Cuban sandwich you may have had elsewhere. Now get over it, because it’s that good. If it helps you, call it a Havana Cupid cause you’re gonna fall in love with it and it’ll probably shoot straight for your heart. But don’t go getting too head over heels for this thing cause you gotta move on to the rest of the board and might I recommend your next affair be with a sassy little sandwich called the Porchetta!

The Porchetta is a lot of things but one thing it’s not…is flavorless! The one thing it is…is de-friggin-licious! What?! “Delicious how Pav…I mean Cheetos are delicious right?!” Ok good point people, words like Delicious, tasty and yummy are probably overused (and anyone who uses the word yummo should be summarily beaten with a sock full of frozen lard) so let me set the bar for this kind of delicious. The Porchetta is so good, after having one you’d happily punch a kitten or exchange sexual favors with a farm animal for the opportunity to eat another.

Oh dammit, then there’s the pickle. The pickle reminds me of a half sour, and is done in house with the end result being somewhere between the sensation of having no shame, and being a Viking warrior going off to pillage and conquer…having already been forgiven for his sins. Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch…but the pickles are pretty damned good. As for all you pickle haters out there…I don’t know if you will be allowed into Heaven or Valhalla… because I’m pretty sure that the people who stoke the fires of hell for eternity are pickle haters…just sayin.

The Slaw was tasty, simple and with each and every sandwich or burger I ate, I felt some primal urge to add the slaw to it. The same way I want to eat slaw with every hot dog I have or add bacon to everything but the toothpaste I brush with in the morning…in the evening I’d seriously consider adding bacon to it if only to give me a shiny coat and strong teeth. Anyway the slaw is good, simple and reminiscent of my aunt’s recipe that I use as my go to slaw.

The spudsters are great…I’m sorry…What is a Spudster you ask? A spudster is a pillow of mashed potato surrounded by a nice crunchy coating that is deep fried and seasoned one of several ways and served with one of several dipping sauces. Or to put it another way: A Spudster is a pillowy cushion of mind blowing sex, dusted with ecstasy and dipped in nirvana. Pretty good …right?!

Look…to sum it all up, I had a bunch of things there and I’m still trying to make my way through everything without revisiting things I’ve already had and it’s hard…really really hard! Everything has been good and I can’t say you should avoid anything except spontaneous combustion and shit made with flax seed instead of really delicious fat. To my knowledge nothing at The Kitchen will make you do the former, or has any of the latter…

The co-owners and Chefs Mike Prete and Matt Greco are doing a super job with the food there. If they were making people any happier with what they are doing, they’d have to be called prostitutes instead of chefs. I spoke with Chef Prete and he made me privy to a few ideas they have in the works and all I can say is wow, I think I have found my new adoptive daddy’s! That is, if they don’t mind adopting a forty something year old with a penchant for good food and Irish whiskey…I think I’d make an excellent son, well given a proper and generous allowance that is.

The one thing I think I can throw out there is that Mike and Matt have talked about a food truck…yup… this would be amazing. The problem as I see it is that Portsmouth and a lot of smaller surrounding towns make it nearly impossible for food trucks to operate. So to the city of Portsmouth may I say this…Grab the hair on the back of your collective heads and give it several short tugs, and then one good hard yank to dislodge the head you’ve had stuck in your ass for so long regarding food trucks. I would greatly appreciate it and so would anybody who likes…oh I dunno…food! So do me a favor and bring it up for a vote tomorrow… and pass it!

Mike, Matt and the staff down at the Kitchen are doing a great job and I hope someday they are able to expand to a full on night time dinner menu. Mostly because that will cover all three meals and all I need to do if the adoption idea falls through, is put a cot in the back so I’m assured not to miss anything…When you go there, order anything…you can’t go wrong. And give my regards to Dad…uh, I mean Chefs Mike and Matt…They’ll definitely put a smile on your face.

The Kitchen

171 Islington Street Portsmouth, NH 03801

Eh YO Mikey Burger!

Spudster with creole seasoning and roasted pepper sauce

Eh YO Mikey with slaw and pickle

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Life and Cottage Cheese?!

There sat a boy on the front steps of Sour’s Market in Brattleboro, VT. The year is 1949 or thereabouts and he’s eating cottage cheese out of the tub with only a bit of salt and ground black pepper added. He looks up at me in between bites and there’s something else…a crooked smile. “Excuse me” came a voice from somewhere as I smiled back at that young boy enjoying his cottage cheese…”Sir, excuse me” said the woman reaching for sour cream… snapping me out of the daze I had fallen into.

I was standing in front of the dairy case at my local grocery store looking at the Cabot VT Style Cottage Cheese. I don’t know how long I had been standing there or even why I was standing there as I have never bought cottage cheese for myself. How is that possible? I’ve been on my own since I was eighteen and I had never once bought cottage cheese.

Yet I had eaten it nearly every week since I could remember throughout my childhood. Anytime pasta was served my father would reach for the cottage cheese, and when mom made lasagna (sorry lasagna purists) she always added cottage cheese. So much so that when I first had lasagna at a “real” Italian restaurant…I thought something had gone terribly wrong with the cottage cheese because it had somehow turned smooth?! (Ricotta) Cottage cheese was also a go to for my mom when she was dieting and would pair it with fruit on a bed of lettuce.

“OK Pav, so are we gonna have to read a whole post on cottage cheese and how many ways you’ve eaten it?!” The short answer is…No. But I will tell you kind folks where cottage cheese fits into this story and ultimately…my due time. Every father and son have their “ins and outs”. The outs or out as it were…was most definitely high school. The ins were food and sports. I won’t bore you gentle people with a lot of detail, but please understand this story is less for you and more cathartic for me.

When it came to math, my father was quite good. Being a tool and die maker he was able to covert fractions into decimals and vice versa without the use of a calculator and thought it only natural to know such things. I kept wondering why letters in math were necessary at all when there seemed to be plenty of numbers to go around. When it came to finding hypotenuse, the best I could come up with was the exchange student from Norway…or was his name Pontus? Either way I couldn’t find hypotenuse, N, X or any other combination of letters if my math teacher’s life depended on it…sorry Mr. Goodrich.

School in general wasn’t my favorite…although I did exceptionally well at note passing, lunch, socializing, clowning around, science, playing grabass, sports, history, detention, getting notes sent home to my parents, visiting with both vice principle/ principle discussing any and all matters of education and boundaries of human decency, standing against the wall for talking in study hall, and having crushes on girls who had no idea I existed.

The other parts of school for me were… how shall I say…less favorable to my self-esteem and very nearly my physical well-being. That is to say I hated it and didn’t want to be there. My father told me in the kind, nurturing and gentle way a blue collar man who works around hot iron and steel in 120 degree heat tells their son something heartfelt. “You’re gonna go to F’king school until you graduate, even if it means I gotta poke two holes in your head and carry you there!” I’m kidding… he would have never used the “F” word just once in a sentence with that much gravitas.

My father never finished High School, yet with a tenth grade education managed to be one of the keenest men I’ve ever known. He managed to trade stocks and bonds without losing his ass and built him and my mother a nice little something for retirement. He knew the value of school and possibly what he had missed out on because of his lack of education. He wouldn’t let me make that same mistake…even if it meant I got a double lobotomy in the process.

He was a giving man, and always helping someone build/plant/tear down/cook/ or organize something and more often than not for no pay…unless of course there was the promise of a home cooked or baked something or other… then he was open for a discussion on just what the job was worth! I saw that man sweat, get covered in dirt, cow shit, insulation and paint (not all on the same job) all in the name of friendship, charity or being neighborly.

Then there were sports…some of my favorite memories of my father are times when we would take road trips together for different sporting events. My parents were amazing and never missed a single game my brother and I participated in, even if it meant my mother went one way with my brother and Dad went the other with me, so one of them could be present to watch our thrills of victory or agonies of defeat. Then meet back at the house later, for play by play analysis and a crock pot meal of some sort.

I remember leaving the pitch black house in the middle of winter to go to this hockey tournament or that and driving the six miles into the big city of Keene (pop. 15,000 or so at the time) where there out of the darkness in glowing neon was Mr. Donut. Dad would get his coffee and an old fashioned cake donut. I’d get chocolate milk and a maple frosted bowtie yeast donut and chomped away happily with my feet dangling off the counter stool while my father discussed politics, the weather or whatever it is men discuss in a cigarette smoke filled 70’s era donut shop before heading off to the far flung corners of the state.

Dad enjoyed bringing us to our games and watching us play even if it meant he only got an hour or two of sleep on those early Saturday mornings. He was quite the Athlete by all accounts and my brother and I even found a few ribbons and medals he had won in H.S. through Baseball and Track events. He was always up for a game of catch and would wow my brother and me with pitches that we couldn’t hit with a baseball bat, and truth be told we probably wouldn’t have been able to hit it with the door from a 54 Buick either!

But the largest thread my father and I had that kept us close was food. Dad was a big man at well over six feet tall and as broad chested as a keg of nails. I always marveled at his arms which were large and fairly well defined for a man carrying the odd thirty or so pounds of less than necessary weight. He had a warm face and a crooked smile with thinning red hair that earned him the nickname “Red.” When I was born with fire engine red hair it caused the doctor to remark “the old man can’t deny this one!”

Then there were his hands. I heard one man describe shaking hands with my father was like shaking hands with someone wearing a baseball glove. His hand could wrap entirely around mine and I’m no small fry myself. He had the hands of a giant line cook which is to say they looked as though they were made by a special effects team doing a movie about hands with abnormal amounts of burns, calluses and scars. Working around hot steel and cutting machines will make a mess of your hands…being a kid I didn’t understand these were the hands of sacrifice and hard work.

The upside to that was that dad rarely needed pot holders because his hands and skin were so callused and thick from the work he did. This was just fine with my father as he often enjoyed baking or puttering around in the kitchen when he had free time. I have no idea where my father got this baker mentality in the kitchen because when they were handing out patience…my father probably didn’t stand in line that long.

But somehow he enjoyed making cookies, pies and pastries… the end results never saw the following day with my brother and me around. He did some savory stuff as well in the way of casseroles, beans and soups but I think his limited diet when he was young (hot dogs, hamburger, steak, potato and corn)  made him somewhat of a nervous cook. So the comfort of a recipe for baking probably made him feel more at ease in the kitchen, the way standing and stirring makes me feel after a long day working or day to day stress.

Talking was not one of my father’s strengths, so when he did say something it carried with it a certain amount of weight. So with regards to everyday communication dad was more of a “look” or a “head nod” sort of guy, leaving my mother to blame for my gift of gab. The one thing that could get my father talking was food. We would watch food shows from Julia Child when I was a kid to Food Network when I got older and in the process of talking about food… we talked about life. As a result, we had a great relationship we wouldn’t have had otherwise and I’m so very thankful for that.

My earliest food memory…I’m three-ish (I suppose as nobody marked it down on any calendar celebrating my discovery) and my dad is eating some kind of meat with sautéed onions and pieces of bacon which he called poor man’s steak… I tried it and despite the fact that I recognize the taste now as overcooked liver…I loved it.

My father’s earliest food memory…being about five-ish and sitting on the steps of Sour’s Market in Brattleboro, VT eating cottage cheese out of the tub with nothing but a crooked smile and the salt and pepper that old man Sour had given to him free because he thought it was funny to see a kid like cottage cheese so much.

Thanks for the sacrifices and for sharing so very much dad. It is very much appreciated and will always be remembered. Whether I’m telling someone the difference between a 55 or 57 Chevy, understanding what it means to help others for nothing because it’s the right thing to do, or thinking of you because I saw something as silly as a tub of cottage cheese…It’s because of you…you were a great man, a great role model and the best father.

P.S. Thanks for not poking two holes in my head. Oh, and if someone there starts asking you lots of questions…try to be patient.

And to all the other Dad’s out there…Happy Father’s Day to you.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Soft Drinks..How Much Is Too Much?

When I was a kid soda came in either a twelve ounce can or a ten ounce bottle. You could get it in a quart bottle, but that was for when you were having a party or for adults to mix highballs with. I remember when the sixteen ounce bottle came out, followed by the liter, two liter and three liter. The one thing I don’t remember was anybody (short of my mother) telling me how much I should or shouldn’t drink.

I’m beginning to believe my generation is the last of the purist coffee drinkers. I believe this to be true because when I go to a coffee shop and see somebody five or ten years younger than me ordering a coffee drink, it’s basically everything but coffee going into that cup. You name it and they’re putting it in there. From caramel to cupcake batter and everything in between, there is no limit to the amount of calories you can put in one of these things.

When I have a coffee in the morning I have roughly twenty four ounces to start with, and by the time I have forgotten where I’ve put my second twelve ounce cup I’ve maybe had eighteen ounces total. In that coffee I’ve perhaps added twenty to thirty calories worth of half and half and no sugar. So my total calorie intake for two cups of coffee is maybe twenty five calories. I realize I’m probably on the low side of coffee consumption so let’s say with sugar and some flavored nondairy creamer the average person takes in fifty to sixty calories worth of extra goodies in their morning coffee regimen.

Roll out the Trenta… or at the very least roll out whoever is drinking one of these things cause damn...this person is gonna need a wheelbarrow! The Trenta is the latest size from Starbucks and at thirty one ounces and up to 560 calories per drink with nonfat milk, who the hell needs to eat breakfast! With whole milk or half and half, one of these puppies can hold one fourth of your daily caloric intake! Add a 4 ounce bagel with an ounce of light cream cheese and congratulations, you’ve just come a Tic-Tac away from getting half your average daily caloric intake…and you haven’t even punched the clock yet.

Right, I know kind health conscious people… “But Pav, I don’t drink coffee in the morning!” So which one are you? The eighteen year old reaching for that twenty four ounce can of energy drink?! Good for you, you’re only getting three to four hundred calories. I know you’ll need that energy for doing the kinds of important things eighteen year olds do, like saving the planet by playing Call of Duty until 4am or swapping spit with any poor girl who’s willing to swap spit with you. Too bad you can’t muster enough energy to pull those pants up, or manage the strength to turn your hat so it’s facing forward.

You there with the coke in your hand, yeah that’s right I see you...I know you’re only going to drink one can in the morning right?! Of course you just need it for the caffeine, we all do. Oh I see you need a little more than the average person so you up and got yourself forty-four ounce tub from the local sip n go mini mart…good for you…That’ll be 532 calories, you want that on your ass or underneath your arms? No problem…keep the change!  

No, of course I know you’re not the kind of person to reach for an energy drink or a soda …you’re older and much too wise for that.  Besides what would the people at the gym think if you were taking up an exercise machine (to text your friend Tiffany about that awful outfit Jaimiee was wearing and could you believe that knock-off Coach bag?!) and you were holding something other than a nutritious smoothie?

Well at upwards of six hundred calories, they’re happy to know you’re gonna need that gym membership for a while. With all that sugar they are probably also thinking maybe they should keep a good supply of diabetes meds on hand and place it next to the power protein shakes they’re hawking. Look, I didn’t tell you all of that to make you feel bad. I’m saying there are lots of choices to be made in the morning. Most of us are well inside the reasonable range and the examples I gave are extreme.

I myself could probably opt for a little skim milk in my coffee, or drink it black. I could also dress up as Julius Caesar and run around trying to make people kiss my ring. Unfortunately the former will mean an additional two or three hours of wake up time before any human being could stand to be around me. The latter would probably just end with a vicious beating from a band of eighteen year olds making their way to the energy drinks or on their way to make-out with some hapless victim of their awkward charm.

Either way the choice is up to you right?! Well... maybe not. How about if I was waiting for you down at the local coffee shop? Then after you got your venti double mocha caramel frappe latte extra sprinkles with chicken wings and a waffle thrown on top, I ate the chicken wings and dumped eight ounces of that drink down the drain. Then smiled and said “it’s too much…you’re welcome!” I know… sounds like it’s time for Pav to get yet aother beat down.  

But this is exactly what the city of New York is trying to do as a service for its people. Don’t think it’ll ever happen? Remember Trans-Fat? “Yeah but Pav, trans-fat was bad!” Well of course it was people, and we had been eating them for years. Remember when margarine was so good for us?! I wonder if I could make an artificial heart from the dozens of tubs of that crap I ate growing up?! Furthermore, drinking anything I’ve mentioned is bad in the amounts they are served in.  

So what happened to trans-fat? Public outrage was so great that they’ve stopped putting it in damned near everything. That wasn’t good enough for some folks and so the city of New York decided to pass a law banning it. What was the point? Is banning something in the interest of public safety a good thing? Well why stop at trans-fat and soft drinks? Pins and needles are sharp, let’s either get some safety tips for them or ban them outright, someone could prick themselves for the love of tangerines!

Professional kitchens are awful places filled with dangerous equipment, and I should know… I've burned, cut and nearly maimed myself with everything from a simple knife to a buffalo chopper and everything in between. You see where I’m going here?! Right… let’s get all that shit out of the kitchen! It’s a damned mine field in there… let’s make it safe for kitchen workers right now.

I’m sure Mario Batali will thank me when he brings out a bunch of uncooked dirty carrots with the tops torn off and unpeeled to the delight of his adoring customer base. Think of the money he can save on kitchen staff and awful things like water (drowning hazard) or cutlery. Thank heaven there will be no meat either as uncooked meat is not only unappetizing and tough to chew… but also pretty damned dangerous. Just ask anyone who has eaten 16 ounces of chicken tartare.

I know this all seems pretty extreme, but trust me when I tell you it’s for your own good. Besides, who would know what’s best for the people than the government. Having just enough Native American blood in me to say so, but not enough to get checks from a casino I can tell you their record is at best pretty sketchy. After all, these are the same people who decided trans-fat was good for us in the first place.

I know it would be great if we all cut down on calorie intake and lost a few L B’s. But that is a decision to be made by the individual. If you want to eat bacon cheeseburgers until your fat little gravity challenged head pops off your shoulders I say…”Bon Appetite!” If you wanna chug-a-lug one hundred ounces of whipped cream as a morning snack…chug on big man.

The danger isn’t in making one law for our own supposed good… the danger is in the precedent that has been set. Something as awful as pink slime has shut down three of its four plants just due to public outcry. It didn’t need a law banning it! Of course the public is still scarfing down Mechanically Separated Poultry products (That’s the “other” pink slime) in record amounts…but that’s beside the point.

The bottom line is this…When it comes to whether something sells or doesn’t sell is based on the demand for that particular item. If the public likes a particular widget, they will buy it. If it doesn’t then they won’t. Be informed and let the market dictate what gets bought and what doesn’t. Adam Smith wrote in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” ~“Never complain of that of which it is at all times in your power to rid yourself.” Self-rule governs all, and people will always act in their own self-interest.

Caveat Emptor means “Let the buyer beware”… it doesn’t mean close your eyes and let the government decide for you. Otherwise, we’ll all be buying six hundred dollar toilet seats and driving on bridges that lead to nowhere... And if we follow the former Soviet Union’s model…we will be doing this in cars that suck.