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In Defense of Anonymous

July 18, 2010

First, thank you all for your support.  I’m very touched to read the kind words that many of you have written in defense of this blog.

But please, be gentle.

Personally, I feel much better that this commenter chose to comment anonymously rather than to not have commented at all.  Clearly not everything I’ve been transmitting has been getting through to this person, but I’m glad to have a chance to set the record straight, and possibly get someone on the inside of the restaurant business to open up their mind to a new way of thinking.

Over the past fifteen months (although apparently to some it has felt like a lot longer) a great community of largely likeminded people has gathered here to discuss some of the finer points of better food.  Figuring out how to get new people to participate in the conversation who may be of a different mind is really one of the next big challenges.

So for being brave, and taking a first tentative step, I commend Commenter X.  And seriously, if he or she  would like to meet for a drink after work sometime, I welcome the opportunity.

That said, there are a few things I would like to respond to today.

First Let me explain something to you. I am not Dan. I’m Daniel. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, The Profussor, or Fussy, or El Profussorino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Actually there are a select few people who I don’t mind calling me Dan, but I can count them on my fingers, and they know who they are.

Now before jumping into answering some of the questions posed by Commenter X, I thought it would be helpful to have a positive example of a restaurant that I think is doing it right in New York State.

Granted, I haven’t been to this restaurant, but I am dying to go.  And I guarantee that it will be a central part of my itinerary for any trip to the Finger Lakes.  In fact, we had a reservation that had to be cancelled when we changed out plans to go south and meet Cheryl Lins instead.

It is called Hazelnut Kitchen, and they have an unheard of 5-star Yelp rating based on eleven reviews.  They change their menu monthly, although some items can change on a daily basis.  There is nothing over $25 on their dinner menu and most items are $20 and under.  In July they are offering six appetizers, seven entrees and seven desserts.  And many of the local ingredients they use are explicitly listed on the menu.

As to Commenter X’s first question, the answer is no.  I don’t know anything about the prohibitive costs of operating a business in New York State.

To me, printing a new menu every day does not seem to be an unreasonable cost.  If the menu is focused we are talking about no more than three sheets of paper: one for appetizers, one for entrées and one for desserts.  I have seen these handsomely inserted into heavy folders, so that a regular paper stock would do the job.  But I have also seen stand alone daily menus on a heavier card stock.

I would guess that shifting a fifty-plus item menu to one with twenty or fewer dishes would more than cover the added cost of a daily menu.

What’s wrong with asking the server where the produce is from?
There is nothing wrong with asking the server where the produce is from.  Except that they might not know.  Or they might give you the wrong answer, just to give you an answer.  Maybe you are curious, but don’t want to look like a jerk in front of your boss, so you decide not to ask.  Or perhaps you are just uncomfortable with putting a busy person on the spot.

Plus, asking the server already implies that someone is sitting down at the table.  Part of putting these specialty items on the menu is to lure people into a restaurant.  In Albany this would certainly be a major point of differentiation that would get butts in seats.

Must every added value be met with an idiotic request?
Certainly not, and I reject the notion that my request was idiotic.  Mrs. Fussy called me to task on this.  She said, “This is kind of a good point, though…every time you mention something good, you tend to say, ‘but I would love to see them do this.’”  Her point is valid as I do believe there is little that cannot be improved upon.  But still, it’s not idiocy.

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.
I believe that better ingredients result in a better product. I believe that many of these better ingredients are available locally, on their own seasonal timelines, and they cannot be counted on for a three-month seasonal menu.  Not to mention that produce at the height of its season is generally less expensive than the same produce at other times of the year.  Sourcing these ingredients and building menus around them would seem to be time well spent.

Your contribution to restaurants that go through the trouble of providing locally sourced food is to heap on another cost for them?
In terms of putting these ingredients on the menu, I think that it is critically important for the restaurant to get the credit it deserves by going the extra step.  I think the restaurant should be proud of its selected farmers to prominently feature them on the menu.  And I think patrons should be exposed to the notion that good ingredients are not just a commodity.  I do not see printing the local ingredients on the menu as an extra cost, rather I see it as part of the proper execution of using local ingredients in the first place.

After all, using local ingredients is not just about supporting local farms and farmers.  I see this as a beneficial side effect to changing the way people think about food, and ultimately how they eat.

What I do know is that there are people throughout the state who are doing the things I’m talking about.  They are just not doing them much here.  And it’s not a function of being removed from New York City, because the southwestern edge of Cayuga Lake is a bit off the beaten trail.

The way I see it, the entrepreneurs who open up restaurants are adults who are running a business.  They are free to make good business decisions or bad business decisions.  It is their right.  Generally it’s their money.

I’m not trying to bring any establishments down.  I do not want to see anyone go bankrupt.  Instead, I’m trying to bring our restaurants up.  Criticism can be difficult to take. I try my best to keep it constructive.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 18, 2010 9:51 am

    Oops. I’m the one who thought you’d been at it for “two-three years.” Usually I err in the other direction!

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    July 18, 2010 12:29 pm

    It’s like an “Ask the Profusser” geared specifically to one reader. Well done, Daniel.

    And thanks for your thoughtful responses.

  3. phairhead permalink
    July 18, 2010 1:43 pm

    Bravo, El Professorino, bravo!

  4. AddiesDad permalink
    July 18, 2010 1:54 pm

    I think Anonymous’ point about time/pressure on a chef is interesting, and something I alluded to in on of my previous comments about in the region. A chef should WANT and DESIRE to fix the freshest food with the best possible ingredients at all times, because that’s where the talent (and magic) shine. When a a good (not even great) chef takes fresh from the farm ingredients the opportunity to produce something exceptional and memorable is at its highest point. Tim Meany, owner and chef at Beekman Street Bistro, is at the Saratoga Springs Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Saturday, plus his normal deliveries. He never looks stressed, even when contemplating 6 nights of 60+ covers for hims and his staff of 4-6 (Tim, sous Chef, and two to four front of house people).

    If a chef or restaurant doesn’t want to do these things, that’s fine, but don’t take Daniel B. to task for wanting restaurants to do this. Personally, any chef in a white napkin restaurant slinging $20+ entrees that doesn’t want to do what DB suggests only wants to be a cook and is charging prices the market (absurdly) seems to bear.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    July 18, 2010 3:43 pm

    Daniel has been gracious in addressing my posts. He and his fans have all given me reason to doubt my position, and anger. We don’t see eye to eye on our approach to patronizing local business. I am not a restaurant owner, but as Kevin Marshall put it, someone that comes from a place of having been criticized. My first contribution to your blog here certainly was mis-directed in many ways. At the end of the day, I guess the anger boils down to your pretense of being an authority, whose purpose is to open the minds of local restaurant owners. Or Kevin’s statement, that you have the right to ‘demand’ better dining quality locally. On these two fronts, I feel it would only be fair if you had the actual experience to back up your judgements. Blogging doesn’t compare, to the efforts of an owner, for even the most scorned restaurant mentioned on this site. Not even remotely. The merits of those that take risks far outweigh those that criticize them. You should open a restaurant of your own Daniel. I’ll be there opening night to buy you that drink, and give your place a review of my own. A fussy one.

  6. July 18, 2010 4:33 pm

    You are a brave man to spar with Anonymous.

  7. July 18, 2010 9:34 pm

    Daniel, I’d like to recommend a great place to eat in Syracuse–Empire Brewing Company. Technically, Empire is a brewpub (and the beers are, in fact, great too), covering the basics such as burgers and pub food. But they also delve into some more creative brewpub fare (there’s some creole inspired stuff, etc). Nothing revolutionary, but they do a great job with local ingredients (when possible), including locally sourced free-range beef. I love that a can get a fantastic burger at Empire (that uses quality meat) for the same price as Red Robin.

    Now, their menu itself doesn’t show the specific farms and partners, but there’s a list on the website that lists the farms and products. Empire Brewing seems to take real pride in their local food connections. Better yet, the owners actually started a small garden a few years back as an experiment. They’ve since greatly expanded the garden and use the harvest to supplement their vegetable needs–this includes lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, mint (for drinks!) and so on. I think they’re even considering growing some of their hops to use in their brews. That’s dedication!

    Oddly, I found this place, first, through a beer tasting at the Ithaca Brewfest and decided to stop into the restaurant/bar a few months later, while visiting Syracuse. I thought I’d be disappointed (since I skipped Dinosaur BBQ for this experience), but have returned numerous time without a regret.


  8. July 21, 2010 11:26 pm

    So when are we going to this magical restaurant?? I demand a road trip.

  9. Cindy permalink
    July 30, 2010 2:13 am

    Eminently reasonable responses.

    The Profussor abides.

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