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Ask the Profussor – I’m Glad You Asked

June 22, 2010

It’s been three weeks since the last Ask the Profussor.  I can hardly believe today is the 18th installment of this feature.  You know, the one where I answer reader questions that really should have been answered soon after they were asked.

If this ever becomes a full-time profitable gig, perhaps I’ll be able to stay on top of answering questions.  But maybe not.

As it stands you all have been so prolific with your comments and questions that I really need to make sure that AskTP happens at least twice a month.  That is wonderful.  Seriously, I couldn’t be more thrilled.  Please keep them coming.

But I really should move on.  There is a lot to cover today.

Elyse wanted to know:
can you tell me why Edys/Dreyers have different names on different coasts? There are a few other examples (helman’s/best food for one) and I just don’t get it.

From a marketing perspective it was infuriating.  But I won’t bore you with that.  Instead I’ll bore you with the answer you seek (or at least my gross simplification of it).

Once upon a time there were two growing regional ice cream manufactures: Dreyer’s on the West Coast and Breyers on the East Coast.  As Dreyer’s grew and expanded into eastern markets it was concerned with its brand name and its similarity to that of the entrenched competitor, so the company created an identical brand with a different name: Edy’s.  Shrewdly, when Breyers expanded westward, it did no such thing.

Fin.

Maltnsmoke, despite inspiring a dedicated post, still had some unanswered questions:
Is it time to examine your ingestion technique/method? Is this stickiness conundrum an eating from a cone issue? Frankly, I would be inclined to refrain from the cone when eating a proper ice cream. I imagine some ice creams are intended to be consumed from a cone and in fact may be formulated such that the cone and ice cream are complementary. But seriously, shouldn’t an adult be eating proper ice cream from a dish? If you are eating from a dish, then I am at a loss, in the absence of direct observational evidence.

Is it only ice cream stickiness that vexes the FLB? I would expect that a self acknowledged BBQ aficionado would have overcome any stickiphobia (sic, but not for the lack of searching for a medically correct term) by now.

Sticky can come from anywhere.  Ice cream is sneaky stuff.  It can melt even over the edge of a cup, which incidentally is my preferred ice cream delivery device.  Adults, Miss Manners will attest, should actually be eating ice cream with a fork.  Seriously.

And it is not just ice cream stickiness that I find upsetting.  Syrup is a big offender.  As are too-sticky barbecue sauces.  There is a reason I prefer the Carolina-style pulled pork, the Memphis-style ribs and the Texas-style brisket.  Okay, two reasons.  The first is taste, but their lack of stickiness cannot be ignored.

Now you know, and can discount my opinions accordingly.

Elyse also had a simple question:
Do the sell Banh Mi at Vans?

I cannot say definitively.  They should.   But I haven’t gone in there and demanded they make me one.  It might be worth a try even though they aren’t on the menu.

Erin Lenseth thought it might be helpful to brainstorm healthier snacks for Young Master Fussy:
Is there any favorite food you could him that would be better, but still easy, that is a fruit/vegetable?

He likes his vegetables cooked, as do I.  And I am happy to support that decision and feel no need to push raw vegetables.  But he does have some favorite fruits.  He could eat prunes all day long.  Regrettably, that would come with a separate set of problems.

AddiesDad suggested:
Perhaps time to fire up our own “Best of” list via Survey Monkey? Maybe do it by city in the District?

It’s a very interesting idea.  But I really want to work within the current system.  Despite the flaws in the current newspaper poll, the results have a certain weight because they come from the major daily newspaper in the region.

I REALLY hope that you all remember how you felt when the results were released this year and help push the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 for Best of 2011.

This poll can really serve as a barometer of local tastes.  Yes, it’s terrible that Subway was once again voted the Best Sandwich in the region.  It’s beyond terrible.  It’s unconscionable.  But to me that will make it all the sweeter when Subway finally falls and the people of Albany rise up and declare their love of good food.

Slily wanted some clarification:
Aren’t winemakers and winegrowers distinctly different from one another? I mean, don’t winemakers blend juice and winegrowers grow grapes?

Technically, yes.  But there was a time there when a few winemakers themselves were spending more time in the vineyard.  Maybe it was more marketing than substance.  The idea was that if you had good grapes, you didn’t have to blend juice.  Granted that only works for wineries of a certain size and type.  But it seemed to be an emerging trend.

StanfordSteph wanted to know:
How are you going to pick which wines you try? Are you going to go to the wineries, or buy from local stores? Some of the smaller producers don’t sell at liquor stores.

The jury is still out on this one.  Ideally, producers would send their finest bottles for me to taste and I could review them.  But I’m not going to wait for that to happen.

I really want to visit the wineries themselves and taste through the range of what they make.  But given my schedule, this too might take a while.

So in the meantime I will likely consult with a few trusted sources, look for bottles that seem interesting, and possibly try to assemble a structured tasting or two to get a better sense of New York wines.

B asked (on All Over Albany) but I’m answering here because it just feels right:
Dan, I’m just really scratching my head at your choice of eats for the kickoff of lunch week, considering you routinely try to beat into your readers the idea that Albany’s food is overpriced. This could be pegasus meat with shaved leprechaun toenails (deliciously “funky” and “earthy”, those), but it’s still $25 for a hamburger.

Anyway, I swear I asked Steve Barnes once and I can’t remember the answer: you know if the “kobe beef” there is actually Kobe Beef or American wagyu?

My major objection is that Albany’s food is overpriced relative to the quality of the food that is served.  And ultimately I do not think this hamburger is overpriced for what it is.  It is not a $25 hamburger.  It’s a $10 Wagyu patty, with a $10 piece of foie gras, $3 worth of incredible Berkshire pork bacon, $3 worth of jarred truffles, and $3 worth of crispy fries.  Subtract $4 for making me eat that terrible pickle and it’s right on the money.

As for the provenance of the beef in the burger, my money is on American Wagyu.

Chris wanted some factual information:
Isn’t Kovbe/Wagyu beef fed massive amounts of grain, and beer/alcohol to keep them calm?

Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.  Unless you are a cow, I suppose.  But it would seem that this is more marketing hype than reflective of actual widely used Wagyu husbandry practices.

Elyse cements her position as commenter of the month with this gem:
Daniel- I completely agree with you. I am a big (wine) jerk. You still like me, right?

Generally at the FLB we do not validate.  But today I’ll make an exception.  Yes, I still like you.

Ellen Whitby was surprised that I was surprised:
Really? Why are you surprised? Why, after learning about and revealing all the other things about the non-food in food, does it shock you to learn about one more thing in the food that we eat? At this point, it feels naive to believe that food manufacturers prioritize the consumer’s best interest over the bottom line. If it’s expensive to keep or get the lead out, why would they bother? After all, it’s been in there all along and most people are okay, right? I am bothered too. Disgusted even. I don’t trust the food industry, which makes food shopping much more difficult.

Um, it’s lead.  And it’s a metal.  And it’s in juice.  Organic juice.  What does it matter if you use no pesticides if you are growing on soil that has been tainted with lead?  To me this seems the likely result of the erosion of organic standards, as one of the main sources of contamination is growing on land that has previously been sprayed with lead based pesticides.  I suspect the original proponents of the organic movement would not have permitted these shenanigans.  It is a travesty.  Thank goodness there is an organization that is calling the producers to task.

Leah needs to try Chipotle as she had this to offer on the topic of burritos:
If we’re craving burritos, we generally end up at Poncho’s. I comes with the added bonus of sharing a parking lot with Kurver Kreme. Have you been?

I have not been.  Coming from California, Mexican food in Albany is rife with peril.  And the Yelp reviews have kept me away.

Speaking of Chipotle, let me take a minute to address the comment of mirdreams whose sentiment has been shared by other commenters as well:
Daniel, I really cannot believe you’re excited that Chipotle beat out Dale Miller, a place that has reasonable portion sizes (you can even choose how big a serving of their proteins you’re in the mood for), seasonal dishes, chief driven creativity and just about everything else you’ve asked for and complained doesn’t exist in the Capital District. Chipotle is a fine place to grab a lunch but I think saying it’s the best new restaurant is just as depressing as any of the other things you found to actually be depressed about.

I am really glad to have the chance to write about this in AskTP.  Since I have written so much about Chipotle, I am loath to write yet another dedicated post on the subject.  My goal is not to become the local fan blog for that chain of burrito shops.

Now first, let’s remember that I campaigned for Dale Miller in the category of Best New Restaurant.  I did that because I thought it deserved to win for all the reasons you listed.  That said, the implications of Chipotle taking the top spot for Best New Restaurant are significant on many levels.

At the top of that list is the core of the problem with Albany’s restaurants: food quality.

There are plenty of other places to get burritos in Albany.  Chipotle’s novelty isn’t about bringing a new and unfamiliar foodstuff to the region.  Their thing is “food with integrity.”  And even if there are people voting for this place who don’t give a rat’s ass about antibiotics in meat or artificial hormones in dairy, by supporting this restaurant they are changing the way food is produced in America.

Is it the best new restaurant to open in Albany?  Certainly not.
Am I excited that this place took such a high honor when thirteen months ago, if you asked people in Albany where to go for a great burrito, they would tell you Bombers?  You betcha.

Doug Grover has noticed something foul is afoot:
Now I see that ladygiblet.com has become invitation-only. How can one get invited? It’s too good a reference work not to have it available!

At this point I can only offer my speculation.  But in the past several days the FLB sent a surprising amount of traffic over to Mr. Dave’s newest venture.  Perhaps it was a little overwhelming.  Or perhaps he just put up a DND sign while he is busy tweaking the blog to be up to his exacting standards.

You may want to keep on periodically checking in at ladygiblet.com or upstaters.com (which may or may not turn out to be another Mr. Dave project).  Or you can stay tuned here, where I promise to let you know the minute I hear something definitive from the infamous Mr. Dave.

B requested a quick primer on California cuisine (and Jessica Alba’s undergarments):
“The other was my support of the overall philosophy of California cuisine, which is about using great ingredients and treating them simply to make something remarkably tasty. “

Huh? I’ve never heard nor is it my experience that “the overall philosophy of California cuisine” is anything like that. Then again, I’ve never heard nor is it my experience that Jessica Alba’s underpants are full of magical unicorns, so I admit I have a few things to learn. If anyone could educate me about this “overall philosophy of California cuisine” and/or Jessica Alba’s underpants, I’d be grateful.

I say to know something you have to go back to its roots.  I shudder at the implications that may have on the underpants question.  But as to California cuisine we need go no further than Berkeley’s Chez Panisse.  It’s the culinary home of Alice Waters, whom I find so annoying that I can barely listen to her talk.  That said, I do share some of her core beliefs, and we are back to politics and bedfellows.  So be it.

So if you can get over the smugness of this statement from the Chez Panisse website, it does a pretty good job of encapsulating the gestalt of the cuisine.

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. The quest for such ingredients has always determined the restaurant’s cuisine. Since 1971, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight out of the sea. In doing so, Chez Panisse has established a network of nearby suppliers who, like the restaurant, are striving for both environmental harmony and delicious flavor.

Or you could read this about the recent influence of the restaurant on the culinary landscape of Northern California.

Maybe we can talk more about this later.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    June 22, 2010 8:57 am

    Van’s does not make banh mi sandwiches, unfortunately.

  2. June 22, 2010 9:09 am

    Dan, ignore Yelp. The Mexican, El Salvadorian and Guatemalan cooks at the restaurant where my husband works swear by Poncho’s. It’s reasonably priced, the service is good, and Young Master will eat for free on Tuesdays. If it turns out awful, you can simply drown your sorrows in Kurver.

    I will try Chipotle and report back.

    • Kerosena permalink
      June 23, 2010 10:43 am

      I respectfully disagree on some points about Pancho’s. Their food is tasty enough and plentiful, but it is far from authentic. I’d call it gloppy-gloppy american-style mexican food. Sort of like the chinese food they sell at the mall. Yelper Rachel B. summed up my feelings.

      http://www.yelp.com/biz/panchos-mexican-restaurant-albany#hrid:reOMtGJ56vduO8KxfnmQfg

      Bully and I used to go to Pancho’s once or twice a year, but we have not been there since Salsa Latina opened.

      Of course, I can’t talk about Pancho’s burritos. I’ve never ordered one, so maybe there is something I’m missing.

  3. June 23, 2010 9:37 am

    Okay Dan, you have one example of the type of Californian cuisine you mentioned. But remember that California is where sushi — pretty much the standard bearer of fussy little food — turned from extremely simple portions of extremely good things to eat into the monstrosity of rolls with anything you can imagine stuffed into them.

    Not that I’m saying the Californian influence on sushi has made it bad (it’s made it fun which is almost as important as good), but it’s a) probably the most important impact on world cuisine that California has had and b) absolutely not like anything you said, at all.

  4. Elyse permalink
    June 23, 2010 10:10 am

    Not that I’m saying the Californian influence on sushi has made it bad (it’s made it fun which is almost as important as good), but it’s a) probably the most important impact on world cuisine that California has had

    This is so subjective!! (and totally incorrect in my subjective opinion). Also I want proof that this originated in California.

    California also gave us the now ubiquitous (and mostly nauseating) sourdough. I joke (not really- I can’t stand sourdough)

    Really, though, I would agree that northern California in the 60s and 70s is where the seed was planted for eating regionally and seasonally- I mean- that was considered pretty out-there in this country back then (and unfortunately is still considered out-there in many areas).

  5. June 23, 2010 10:19 am

    Elyse, here you go, just a basic primer; note that the more traditional rolls mentioned above that section are fairly basic (fussy!). The californian influence gave us the style of roll packed with sometimes a dozen ingredients.

    I don’t think that either of you are wrong, of course, I just think it’s a mistake to say that simple treatment of regional ingedients is the “overall philosophy” of California, and thus is something that extends to Californian wines. Dan should have his own comic book for stretching that much. California is a big, diverse place; trying to peg an “overall philosophy” of it for anything is just myopic.

    • June 23, 2010 11:11 am

      First I would love to have my own comic book. But it is really only your characterization of my argument that is a stretch. The critical thing that is being overlooked in this discussion is that “California cuisine” is a specific thing with a guiding philosophy. It does not encapsulate all of the foodstuffs that had its origins in the state. California rolls have nothing to do with California cuisine. I couldn’t possibly imagine what might be the “overall philosophy” of California food.

      That said, the philosophy behind California cuisine has been very influential not just with area chefs, but also to food producers, winemakers and ultimately consumers. There is a strong argument to be made that the current interest in local foods is an extension of what Alice was preaching in the 70s at Chez Panisse.

      • June 23, 2010 11:26 am

        “I couldn’t possibly imagine what might be the “overall philosophy” of California food.”

        Then don’t use those words, that’s pretty simple.

        Look, what you’re saying is basically the same as saying that the overall philosophy of New York cuisine is selling hot dogs and slices of pizza from a cart. You made a sweeping generalization in order to bolster some argument you had about wine, and it really just doesn’t fly.

        “There is a strong argument to be made that the current interest in local foods is an extension of what Alice was preaching in the 70s at Chez Panisse.”

        Sure, and I read One Nation Under Arugula too. But returning to the way people ate before WWII and the creation of the Interstate system isn’t an “overall philosophy”. You can claim that California helped to spur the “locavore” movement and you’d probably be right. You can claim that this has in some ways extended itself to some Californian whine production and you’d probably be right. But you can’t just hand-wave and apply that to all Californian wine in an attempt to strengthen your debate against New York wine. Well, I guess you can, but it’s not very convincing.

  6. Elyse permalink
    June 23, 2010 10:24 am

    Oh yeah- I guess it is called a california roll. Ha ha.

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