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A Restaurant Owner’s Nightmare

July 15, 2010

In case you were wondering, I am that nightmare.  Boo.

Just yesterday I got my first really hateful comment in a long time.  Which probably means that I’m getting soft.  Actually I can feel my standards slipping on a daily basis.  I had thought that the trip to D.C. would really shake me up and put me right back on track, but it didn’t quite do the trick.

It was wonderful to be in deep ethnic enclaves like the Vietnamese Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia.  And of course it was a great treat to get some good Ethiopian food.

But there was one thing in particular that stood out as being better in Albany.  When ADS and La took me down to the Maine Avenue Fish Market to get some seafood, I couldn’t help but dismiss the fried clams as not holding a candle to Bob & Ron’s.

I say this in part to show that I don’t hate Albany.  I don’t hate all of the restaurants here.  But still I understand that I can be a nightmare for restaurant owners.  After all, for the most part, I think ours should both be better and less expensive.

And this is really where I took most of the heat.

This person accused me of being cheap.  Actually that was CHEAP.  And they may have a point.  Naturally I wouldn’t put it in exactly those terms.  I see myself more as value conscious.  I will spend on quality, because spending more money on something amazing can still be a good value.

Most everyone has finite resources and makes choices about how to allocate them.  In our house we are never without Parmigiano-Reggiano, there is always a special bottle of extra virgin olive oil reserved just for drizzling, and I wouldn’t dream of giving the kids anything less than Callebaut chocolate chips.

The commenter noted without citation, “I once saw a comment of yours complaining that more than six dollars for a chicken dish was too much to pay at a local restaurant.”  It is difficult for me to say without being able to review the specifics.  Six dollars isn’t a lot of money, so it must have either been one terrible chicken dish or perhaps the pricing was out of line from other similar restaurants.

I make no claims that raising, cooking and serving good food is easy.  I have some limited experience working in restaurants, and I understand they are a grueling business.  Honestly, what I am doing here is trying to help.

Passionate chefs who love food, regardless of whether they have been through culinary school or not, know the difference between better ingredients and ingredients that are good enough.  I have to imagine that they would prefer to cook with better ingredients.  But if their customers aren’t demanding the good stuff, why should they step up their game?

Hopefully my incessant beating on the drum of higher-quality ingredients might cause a few people to start talking more about the subject.  And perhaps over time, people will begin to require more from fine dining in Albany.

But it’s not just about fine dining, and I fear that is what this commenter missed.

Eating better food, whether it be organic, local, or biodynamic, or even just fresh wholesome food prepared from scratch, should be available to everyone, and not as some kind of socialist hippie entitlement program.  CSAs are one good way to go, since my share comes to about $20 for a week’s worth of super special vegetables that feed my family of four.  The Honest Weight Food Coop has some reasonably inexpensive items in its bulk section.  Trader Joe’s is good for staples too.  Even faster food is catching up.

Nor is this call for quality ingredients a universal demand.  In an ideal world would I prefer the hot dogs at Gus’s and Famous Lunch to come from pigs that weren’t given routine antibiotics in their feed?  Certainly.  But these joints make some tasty regional delights, and dammit, I’m going to enjoy those fatty meaty morsels.  Same goes for places like Capital Q.

I get much more particular when restaurants start charging more money for their food.  Really, I just want to see the value in it.  And that value can come from a variety of sources.  Quality ingredients are important for me, but despite that incessant drum banging, I’m not a one-note Johnny.

B and Raf have it right.  I do need to start talking more with restaurants directly.  So I’ll try to work on that.  Maybe they will be able to provide some more insight and give me the piece of the picture I am missing.  At the very least if I have an open a line of communication with them, I can promote the things they are doing that line up with my values.

And if you still want to tell me off, go right ahead.  I’d rather you get it out than keeping it all bottled up inside.  Maybe we can even talk about it, and find some common ground.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Phairhead permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:29 am

    I love how hate mail always is signed by “Anonymous”

  2. Sarah M. permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:55 am

    I really don’t understand it when commenters/readers demand that you do things like get every local chef’s take on your opinions or criticisms before posting them. You’re not a reporter. You’re a food blogger. This is your passion, not your career. It’s been anecdotally supported over and over and over by your readers that some Albany-area restaurants overcharge for relatively shitty food, and many outwardly conscientious chefs serve ingredients of unknown provenance but ask us to take it on faith that they support local and independent producers.

    The cheapness thing is a total non sequitur, and it immediately brings to mind the peanut gallery’s criticism of your willingness to pay $8 for an “expensive” burrito, not to mention the fact that you’ve been seemingly the sole proponent for higher prices for smaller portions of better quality food.

    So which is it? Is Daniel B. cheap, or is he a rich Guilderland elitist? Is Daniel B. entitled to his own opinions on his own blog, or does he need to exercise due diligence and get Ric Orlando on the phone before he puts up a blog post? It’s fucking tiresome and the whole “Daniel B. is so whiny and negative and I hate his blog!” thing jumped the shark long ago. If we had a single professional food writer in this area who actually did his/her job well instead of rushing to defend every Albany chef’s misstep (well, except poor photography), perhaps you wouldn’t be seen as some hypercritical ogre who’s trying to shut down every single Albany restaurant. Guess what, friends! This is what actual, opinionated criticism looks like!

    • Anonymous permalink
      July 15, 2010 1:23 pm

      Thanks for allowing a debate from an anonymous poster. My point Dan, is that being fussy possibly could help a chef. Except when it isn’t good enough to have a rotating seasonal menu, without the added expense and time required to print new menus every few days. What’s wrong with asking the server where the produce is from? Must every added value be met with an idiotic request? I don’t understand how you could believe that constant pressure on the costs and time of a chef would result in a better product. Your contribution to restaurants that go through the trouble of providing locally sourced food is to heap on another cost for them? You truly must be isolated from the prohibitive costs of operating a business in new york state. Don’t forget, these people taking chances to serve you food risk bankruptcy. I doubt this hangs over your head when you post on your little free blog.

      Further, the concept behind the slow cooking movement is to move towards sustainability. Ultimately a better eating experience and healthful longevity for the customer, and a living for farmers locally. Look what downward pressure on milk costs have done to that industry. New York milk producers now have to be subsidized by taxpayers, and still most of the market moved north of the border where it isn’t regulated to our standards. It’s ironic actually. The thoughtless drive of America towards getting things cheaply is why you find yourself complaining about the quality of food. Do you want better food? Stop being so cheap! You should have arrived at this conclusion long ago. Gus’s hot dogs are delicious, but they are a fast track to heart disease and possibly cancer. Be careful what you wish for. The overlying theme of this blog has been that you want cheaper food in Albany. I doubt you would argue that. The additional requirement of locally sourced food, rotated seasonally, with new menus to support them? It just seems hyporcritical coming from you. Enough to make me angry enough to post something.

      Sarah, a blog about someone’s passion isn’t professional criticism. The whole concept is to have open discussion. After reading your contriubutions on here, I also find you to be totally ignorant about the realities of running a restaurant in New York. Are you a state worker? If you’re sitting on a pension, with health care taken care of for you, well you just won’t get it. Though, I have tried to explain to you above that my post isn’t a ‘non sequitor’. Cost is directly tied to quality.

      I know posting anonymously is sort of a spineless move. Thank you for the debate.

      • Sarah M. permalink
        July 15, 2010 2:19 pm

        Anonymous, suggesting that we need ‘open discussion’ then implying that only those familiar with running a restaurant need comment is contradictory and stupid. Your assertion that Daniel has demanded inexpensive locally sourced food is also totally incorrect– read the linked posts above to see just two of the instances in which DB has said outright that he will pay more for a product of better quality.

        I won’t even get into the ridiculousness of saying that anyone serving me food is “risking bankruptcy.” If you can’t afford the cost of a blackboard or a ream of paper to print specials, you’re probably heading there anyway. And, since I’m sure inquiring minds would like to know– I am not, in fact, a state worker. Nor a resident of New York state! I’m not sure how my theoretical pension (which sadly doesn’t exist) would ensure that I don’t understand how restaurants work.

  3. Stevo permalink
    July 15, 2010 1:31 pm

    There are too many people, at least in my little world, that don’t give a damn about what goes in their mouth and wouldn’t know a good meal if it kicked them in the teeth. I come to this blog day after day because I crave insightful, sophisticated and reasoned commentary about food and booze. You dish it out in spades.

    Anonymous can shove it.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. mirdreams permalink
    July 15, 2010 3:13 pm

    The weird thing is if you asked me what Daniel wanted it wouldn’t be cheaper food, it would be higher quality food. He’s proven over and over he’s willing to pay more for quality (he buys organic, I don’t if I have a choice and the other choice is cheaper). He’s fussy, but I wouldn’t say he’s cheap.

  5. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 15, 2010 4:24 pm

    Anonymous, I’ve been reading and occasionally commenting on Fussy Little Blog for 2-3 years, and I have to say that I cannot understand how you could conclude that Daniel B. mainly wants cheaper restaurant food. It’s as if you’ve only read it selectively a couple of times.
    But while we are on that topic, and given the lower overheads in Albany and Saratoga compared to Manhattan, it is indeed surprising to find the prices at some of our local restaurants to be as high as those in Manhattan (and higher than those in Brooklyn!).

    • July 16, 2010 7:41 am

      To all you Fussy-defenders:
      I can’t believe you can’t see that the overlying theme of this blog is CHEAPER FOOD FOR ALBANY. It’s writ large across the subtext of every post even the title “FUSSYlittleBLOG I know what’s good” screams “cheaper food”. The so-called blogger of this ‘free little blog’ has an agenda to wipe fine-dining off the face of the Capital District and replace it with hot-dogs and fish-fry as I can clearly show (with references).

      This is turning into the way that people through Bible verses around to prove that their version of Christianity is correct and then happily ignore the remainder on the basis that “The Bible clearly says…so this passage doesn’t really mean….”. Wow. Just wow.

      Sorry to bring religion in.

      Keep doing what you’re doing Daniel.

      P.S. Anonymous – please grow a backbone and tell us who you are and what restaurant(s) you own!

      • July 16, 2010 7:50 am

        No actually I’ll retract that last comment – especially since I am posting pseudonymously – and I rather like the discussion! However, I think the readers of this blog would be more inclined to respect a restaurant owner who came on here as a restaurant owner than one who comes on anonymously and throws mis-aimed punches at not only at the blogger, but at his commenters as well.

  6. July 16, 2010 9:19 am

    Anonymous criticism IS spineless in nature. If you have an opinion, stand up to be counted, instead of attacking from the shadows. Daniel B is a food blogger writing on his own blog. If this blog is so ‘little,’ why are you afraid of his opinions enough to attack anonymously?

    I will pay more at any local restaurant for skill and local ingredients. I resent paying gourmet prices for non-gourmet food, and will not return to a restaurant that requires I do so.

    My restaurant experience is years old, but any chef who is claiming they aren’t changing their menu or specials on a daily/weekly/seasonal basis based on what’s coming in is either talking out of their a$$ or is working in a restaurant I wouldn’t want to eat in. Which is perhaps why they feel the need to be anonymous.

  7. July 16, 2010 11:59 am

    Anonymous does make an attempt to explain their position, but it still obviously comes from a place of 1. being personally invested in something that was criticized and 2. taking the stance of “you have no right to demand better, cheaper food because you’re not a chef.”

    It reminds me a lot of the statements I heard from the folks involved with Tosca’s, which failed because it was overpriced in a downtown area that did not have the audience for it and the food quality did not match what was advertised. Yet, their argument – which their allies perpetuated through various blog comments throughout the web – was that it was the people of Troy who were to blame for the failure, and that they didn’t support the business.

    Well, partially true, they didn’t support the business. Because the venture was a fool’s errand and the business (really the businesses) and the businesses failed.

    All this pointing and public scorning of you, Dan, reminds me of something a stand-up comedian told me long ago: never ever blame the crowd for not laughing. It’s the hack who points the finger at the audience and gets hostile with them for not laughing at his jokes.

    Listen, we’re all entitled to our opinion, Anonymous, yours included. But it’s a bit too reminiscent of some of the more bulls****y and hostile comments I’ve seen taken by other bloggers and other folks towards Daniel B.

    To a casual reader and customer (who doesn’t identify as a foodie), it comes across as, at best, perplexing. At worst, it reads as suspicious.

  8. July 16, 2010 7:54 pm

    I just got back from San Francisco where I had a fabulous $3.50 bahn mi and a magnificent $6.95 garlic shrimp lunch in one of the most heavily regulated cities in the world, including paying a “living wage” (far above minimum) to all the folks working in the kitchen. I assume these places are able to stay in business because of volume: lots of people agree it’s good food at a good price and gobble it down.

    I also had one of the best shawermas of my life a few weeks ago from a street vendor in NYC near the Javits convention center for $4 including a soda. These guys aren’t outlaws, they are regulated and pay a license fee.

    That’s why I share the Profusser’s frustration that there are way too many places in the Cap District that sell the $5 glass of Lemonade: like Lucy says in Peanuts, you aren’t going to get a lot of volume but one sale is all you need.

    We have good food and good ingredients but I think we have way too many places coasting on menu prices that would not fly in big, regulated cities like NYC or SF. I want to see somebody provide great food at a good price and watch the lines around the block.

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