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January 2010: On Restaurants 2.0

March 3, 2016

Happy New Year! In January of 2010, the FLB wasn’t quite a year old. But that doesn’t change the fact that in each new year, there’s new perspective. Perhaps some of that has to do with my annual end of year trip to rural Pennsylvania, and coming back to New York refreshed and recharged.

For those who may be confused, let me explain why I’m living in the past. Today is Thursday. That means we’re doing Throwback Thursday, FLB-style. In January I hatched this questionable idea that each week in 2016, I’d look back to a month of posts from the past. The goal is to see where the blog has been, how it got here, and what we missed. In doing so, I’m hoping to reveal what has changed, which ideas are still relevant today, and find a bit of inspiration for posts that still need to be written.

There’s even a color coded key to help make sense of it all, and so that the wine posts are easy to skip over.

In January of 2010 I articulated some big thoughts on restaurants. Part of that was generated from a discussion of an idea from one of my posts on the big-daddy food blog of the Capital Region, Table Hopping. Today, I think we have at least a couple of restaurants that fit my definition of nice, good, and reasonable by way of Peck’s Arcade and Ala Shanghai. But in 2010 the landscape was much more barren.

So how did it break down day by day? I’m glad you asked.

Bold: Fundamental Beliefs. Core Ideas. Still hold true today.
Gray: Outdated ideas, naive assertions, blog maintenance, and other non-essential posts.
Red: Fundamentally sound, but could be updated to reflect current thoughts.
Purple: Wine posts. Apparently none of them are a good fit for this blog.
Green: Hyper local posts about the Capital Region or some place else.

January 3: A Little Nutty
What do nuts taste like? And can you describe their flavor without using the word nutty? I put myself through this exercise and I came to the following conclusions:
1) Tasting your food can lead to a greater appreciation of it.
2) People rarely take the time to really taste their food.

January 4: Pink Slime. You Know, For Kids.
Prisons were rejecting the ammoniated meat goo that was being served to school kids around the U.S. And for a while this “pink slime” could be in your ground beef and not have to be identified. Even though it most certainly is not ground. More on the process can be found in the original post.

January 5: Kissing Frogs
More rules when eating out when traveling that led me to a marvelous breakfast of scrapple and basted eggs at a diner in Altoona, PA.
1) As a stranger, one must try to respect the local customs.
2) Try not to call undue attention to your strangeness.
3) Use your wits to figure out what is good.

January 6: Crashing the Party
Sometimes at ethnic restaurants, white people are treated like second class citizens. Here’s my take on that, “Sit me in the back of the restaurant. Call me names that you think I don’t understand. Glower at me all you like. If your food is delicious, I can take it. I feel lucky to have found a bastion of authenticity in an inauthentic world. Thank you for serving me. Maybe in time I will gain your trust and respect. But until then I will be on my best behavior.”

January 7: Coffee Confession Number One
Starbucks. I don’t hate it. That’s my confession. Here’s why, “At the very least the coffee at Starbucks is freshly brewed, full bodied, stays hot without being scalded, and actually tastes like coffee. Did I mention that it is cheaper than Dunkin’ Donuts too?” Even though Starbucks may over roast its beans, Dunkin’s coffee is just awful. Still, I feel guilty for such thoughts.

January 8: Whisky, Eh?
“One would think that with the popularity of Prohibition-era cocktails, Canadian whisky would be seeing a great resurgence. While our distilleries were closing up shop, the Canadians were going strong. And it was their production that fueled our speakeasies. So where’s the love for Canada?”

January 10: Where are John & Dottie?
John & Dottie wrote about wine at the Wall Street Journal for twelve years. They’ve been gone from the paper for over six years. This duo wrote about wine in such a smart and accessible way, that their absence left a gaping hole in wine journalism that has never been filled. Here I lamented their departure.

January 11: Tearing Down a Brand
I noticed a small but meaningful change in Breyer’s ice cream. Little did I know how far the brand would sink in the years to come. By that measure, this small complaint seems downright quaint.

January 12: When Life Gives You Onions
Onions are critically important to so many cuisines and dishes. Yet for years Mrs. Fussy hated them and would demand their absence in the foods I cooked. Slowly I got her to soften her resolve. Now I cook with onions all the time. I just need to make sure their use is restrained.

January 13: A Sliding Scale
I cannot divorce the price of a meal from my assessment of its quality. This is not to say that I am opposed to paying a lot of money for food. I’m not. I’m just opposed to paying a lot of money for merely adequate food.

January 14: Living in a Winter Guilderland
The town I live in is called Guilderland. And I was invited to be a writer on the Guilderland Blog which was hosted by the Albany Times Union. Even though I wasn’t sure if anything would ever come of it, this was an exciting opportunity.

January 15: Sweet Sweet Vermouth
I’m a big fan of sweet vermouth, but since we go through it so slowly I was always concerned about its perishability. But I took the dregs of an old bottle and compared them side-by-side with the first ounce of a new bottle. The differences were barely perceptible. That was great news for me.

January 17: A Very Good Year
“For most wine, vintage does not matter.” Remember, that says most and not all. “The thing I find most useful about vintage is using the date to help figure out the character of the wine.” I want to find bright whites from the most current vintage, but I want to make sure bigger reds are a little bit older.

January 18: Nice, Good & Reasonable: Roundup
All I wanted was “A nice restaurant with good food at reasonable prices.” So Steve Barnes put that on his blog, and it got a massive response. So I went and ran some numbers, and did a top-line analysis.

January 19: Nice, Good & Reasonable: Response
The opinions I hold are really consistent, but they are also deeply nuanced. Often they get misrepresented or misunderstood. This post tries to set the record straight. It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with the local cheap eats. But I do try to keep the bar high.

January 20: Nice, Good & Reasonable: Explained
What is good food? Take pasta carbonara for example. Here’s how you know it’s a good version:
– It was listed among a small handful of pasta dishes (menu focus)
– Specified guanciale instead of pancetta or bacon (authenticity)
– Highlighted the source of the meat and eggs (ingredients)
– Pasta is cooked through, but still offers some resistance to the teeth (execution)
– A sensible portion is served (plating)

January 21: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the GMO
GMO corn is in everything. And if we find out that the alarmists were right all along, and these crops are harmful to human health, we’re pretty much screwed.

January 22: The Manly Manhattan
It’s a great drink. Although in this recipe I allow for the use of bourbon or rye. That’s wrong. A Manhattan should always be rye.

January 24: The Best Cheap Wine Store Ever
How I miss Grocery Outlet in Berkeley. Perhaps the best deal ever was on some deeply aged chardonnay from a boutique wine maker who died. His widow just wanted to get all the wine off the property and move on with her life. So these were available for pennies on the dollar.

January 25: Tossing 1,240,000 Pounds of Meat
Food recalls can be infuriating. Especially when the culprit is the black pepper used to season the meat. I just think of all the animals who sacrificed their lives, and all of the farmers who worked hard to raise them. What a waste.

January 26: Protein, Starch and Veg
“Served with Rice and Vegetable.” That’s some lazy ass menu writing right there. And while that kind of mentality might be acceptable at a diner, any place that has its sights set higher should be weaving starches and vegetables into the main dish, and not as a ubiquitous side.

January 27: New York Distilled
Man, I remember this like it was yesterday. What a fun event. I can’t believe it was six years ago. The craft distilling movement has grown dramatically. I’m glad I can say that I was there at the beginning.

January 28: burFREEtos
Free burrito day? I provided some tips for making a great burrito, hoping that people who might have had a bad experience would give Chipotle another try. Because amazingly there are people who say they prefer Moe’s, and I think Chipotle is better.

January 29: Rye, NY
Drafting off the distillers conference, I spent some more time with my bottle of McKenzie Rye Whiskey. I really liked the stuff, and the people who made it.

January 31: Good Wine Gone Bad
Getting a corked bottle of wine is a rare opportunity to get to experience what cork taint tastes like. It helps of course to have a backup bottle of wine on hand. Preferably another bottle of the same thing that isn’t flawed. Then you can taste the two side by side.

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