Food Republic Where Food, Drink & Culture Unite Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:19:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How (And Why) To Make The Perfect Highball Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:00:37 +0000 Ingredients are thoughtfully added to the highball in Japan. (Photo: Naren Young.)
Ingredients are thoughtfully added to the highball in Japan. (Photo: Naren Young.)

Like many of Japan’s great bars, Bar Ikkei is located inside an anonymous office building; it’s two floors up from the main thoroughfare in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. The bar is so dark that as I push through an unassuming door, I almost grope a poor lady, unknowingly of course, as I try to find a seat. Any seat. The bar’s namesake, owner Ikkei Honma, directs me to one of only 12 or so seats that make up this shoebox of a room. This is the Japan I love.

Under the soft hum of that ubiquitous speakeasy soundtrack — generic jazz — Ikkei San is aided by several younger apprentices, though it is quite obvious, as the name of his bar would suggest, that he is the star of the show. He prepares each drink with exacting precision, a style that has been lauded in the West for almost a decade now. It can be utterly mesmerizing to watch, though the mostly fruit-based drinks are a little too, um, fruity for mine.

The highball, however — well, that’s another story. This has become my absolute go-to drink in a land where the weird and wacky reign and yet where they take great pride in perfecting the simple things. The highball is a case in point. Everywhere else in the world, this modest concoction would simply be known as a whiskey and soda. It doesn’t sound too exciting despite its global popularity. When prepared in Japan by the sure hands of someone like Ikkei San, it has an intrinsic beauty to it that belies its simple roster of ingredients.

And this is why the highball is such a special and important drink. Each ingredient is thoughtfully added, in a very specific order, and each plays a vital role in making the whole more than the sum of its parts. Nothing is superfluous. Every action is considered. Start with a tall, slender highball. If it’s frozen, then all the better.

The highball has lost prestige in the States. It is time for its return. (Photos: Naren Young.)
The highball has lost prestige in the States. It is time for its return. (Photos: Naren Young.)

Japan has been the catalyst for the current global infatuation with hand-carved, crystal-clear ice, and the Japanese certainly inspired the practice at Angel’s Share when it came on the scene in 1994, wowing New Yorkers as each gnarly piece slowly chilled their Manhattan, old-Fashioned or whiskey highball. Hidden amongst the neon lights of Ginza, though, you’ll find several dexterous barkeeps shaping their chiseled ice into diamonds and other impossibly perfect shapes.

And yet this practice is not only reserved for the high-end cocktail temples of Ginza and beyond. Using crystal-clear, high-quality ice came more out of necessity than because it was de rigueur. Very few bars in Japan’s congested cities have space for a commercial ice machine, so they often buy or freeze their own blocks of ice, which they carve down into various shapes to fit into specific glasses. All of a sudden the highball (known in Japan as a haiboru) looked much more sophisticated than perhaps it needed to be.

This has become my absolute go-to drink in a land where the weird and wacky reign and yet where they take great pride in perfecting the simple things.

Most often, a few mismatched chunks of ice are added to the glass and stirred with the concentration of an eye surgeon. Once the glass is well chilled, the mineral-free water that has accumulated at the bottom of the glass is strained off, avoiding any unwanted extra dilution. I request the Nikka Coffey Grain whisky, a delightful dram that is made at the tranquil Miyagikyo distillery in Sendai and, as it turns out, the perfect highball whisky with its subtle notes of spicy cinnamon and tropical fruits. Ikkei San nods with an approving smile at my dram of choice. This makes me happy.

Exactly 30 milliliters of whisky goes in. He carefully pours the whisky so it hits the exact highest point of the ice, which has been stored at -23 degrees Celsius for two days. A brand-new bottle of the most perfectly carbonated sparkling water, called Cho-Tansan, is opened and is slowly trickled down the sides of the glass, this time trying not to touch any ice. I’m later told that this particular brand is referred to as “super soda.” Yes, indeed it is.

The highball, despite my own reverence for the drink, is not something I would typically order on American shores. It is served with such nonchalance here — dismissed as a mundane mixed drink of whiskey and soda — that it doesn’t nearly resemble the work of art that one will find throughout Japan.

And yet in a move away from the modern ethos of complicated mixology, several bartenders are going back to the basics. In the process, these bartenders are understanding that there’s no shame in serving simple, perfectly made highballs, such as a Tom Collins, an Americano, a gin and tonic or a Cuba libre. Or what about the Horse’s Neck, which started out as a rather dainty nonalcoholic beverage, favored by ladies who lunch and consisting of ginger ale poured over ice? It was garnished, superfluously some might suggest, with the long peel of an entire lemon curled inside the glass.

Well into the 1950s, the Horse’s Neck remained a tame if somewhat sophisticated mocktail. Shortly thereafter, however, hard liquor would find its way into the glass, and although whiskey was the most common base, gin, rum and brandy (and almost anything else) were never frowned upon. It’s rarely ordered nowadays, and I doubt whether any bartender could recite its laughably simple list of ingredients should some nostalgic cocktail aficionado order one.

That said, it’s worth noting that the highball’s resurgence is not limited to Japan.

Joerg Meyer, one of Germany’s most celebrated bartenders, owns Le Lion in Hamburg, and in late 2012 he opened the Boilerman Bar, a venue focused solely on the service of highballs. The name, Meyer tells me, refers to that hardened individual who would load coal into the fire of those early steam engines taking Americans and immigrants alike across our newly expanding continent. A highball at the end of that shift would have been a welcome reward.

At the new Blackrock whisky bar in London, owner Tristan Stephenson has dedicated an entire section on his menu to the highball. Of the five options, you’ll see unlikely ingredients such as mirin, fennel pollen, coconut and lemon salt, adding an exotic touch to this simple drink. He even lists a Mizuwari, which is essentially just whisky and water, though he does use a special mineral water from Islay to pair with the smoky Talisker expression.

“When we were developing the list at Blackrock, we wanted a clear division between longer [highball] mixed drinks and shorter cocktails,” Stephenson told me recently. “This was partly so that guests know how strong the drink was likely to be, but also to elevate the forgotten art of the highball back to the forefront of mixology. As bartenders, we tend to fall back on short, strong drinks where dark spirits are concerned. It’s a nice challenge to find new ways of expressing whisky styles in long drinks.”

A little closer to home, the new Cuban-inspired bar called Blacktail, from the duo behind the Dead Rabbit in lower Manhattan, has an entire section on its gorgeous menu dedicated to the highball. Bar manager Jesse Vida was kind enough to join me as I tasted a few of them, which are served in preposterously large glasses over large hand-cut ice (of course).

“We chose the highball section as a focus for the menu because we felt that what a highball once was has been lost in the fray,” Vida says. “In researching for the menu at Blacktail, we took inspiration from cocktail books from the 1910s to the 1950s. We have eight cocktails in the highball section, and a couple of my personal favorites are the Rum & Cola [angostura, cola cane syrup, fernet, white rum and champagne], and the Gin & Sarsaparilla [sarsaparilla, citric acid solution, lemon sherbet, amontillado sherry, ramazotti amaro, Dolin blanc, gin and vanilla soda]. This is a category back on the rise. Though it still seems to be an afterthought in many cocktail programs.”


The most popular story surrounding the etymology of the word “highball” centers on the railroads. As a sign that the track ahead was clear and the train could therefore safely increase its speed, a ball would be located at the highest point on the signal. Cocktail historian Greg Boehm has another theory: that before the drink became prominent, there was a type of poker being played called highball, andt the drink’s name might have developed from this.

The first time mention a highball drink appeared in print was in a New York Times article in 1899; the first time an actual recipe appeared in print was in Harry Johnson’s wonderful New & Improved Bartenders’ Manual (1900), in which the author suggests using a “medium size fizz glass,” suggesting perhaps that the receptacle was not yet known as a highball. He calls for “crystal clear ice, Scotch and ice cold syphon Vichy.” That even sounds exotic by today’s standards.

“Modern cocktail books always say that a highball is something like a long drink in a Collins glass, but that is wrong,” says the ever-opinionated Meyer. “It was typically a small drink, which was the main idea for the Boilerman Bar: to offer small drinks of very high quality and serve them very quickly and at a cheap price. That way, people can also try several of them in one sitting.”

Neyah White, the brand ambassador for White & Mackay whiskies, has been a huge proponent of the highball for years.

“First of all, the highball is an authentic drink with a long history. Even more interestingly, New York barman Patrick Gavin Duffy, who was widely attributed to popularizing the highball in the late 1800s, claimed that this was the first scotch cocktail to get any traction and was responsible for the first cases of scotch to be imported into New York. This is probably accurate as it coincides with the introduction of blended whisky after phylloxera and the perfection of the column still.”

Maybe one day, the highball will afforded more respect by the bartenders of America. If anything, a simple highball proves that simplicity works. These are not drinks meant to require too much contemplation, if any. Or are they? They suit a purpose; they have their place. And if that purpose is to make you feel refreshed, then I’ll certainly drink to that.

How to Make the Perfect Highball

  1. Pull a highball glass from the freezer. Yes, the freezer.
  2. Add one long Collins ice “spear” (purchase rubber molds from
  3. Pour in a good slug of your preferred spirit (about 2 ounces). I like a good blended scotch, pot still Irish or something Japanese, especially the Nikka Coffey Grain.
  4. Fill with bottled soda. It must be a fresh bottle, and cold.
  5. Stir with one of those fancy metal straws (also available from Cocktail Kingdom) if you’re feeling dandy.
  6. Twist a lemon peel over the surface and drop it into the drink.
  7. Smile. Repeat.
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22 Restaurant Chandeliers Worth Looking Up To Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:00:31 +0000 Food Republic has partnered with premier hospitality technology platform Reserve to bring its readers new content from the restaurant world. Love to eat? Check out Reserve’s blog, where this post first appeared, for the latest food trends and U.S. restaurant tips.

From modern hand-blown bulbs to classic shimmering crystals, restaurants these days are lighting up their spaces with eye-catching chandeliers. Slip into one of these beautifully lit spots for a great meal, or model your dream home after one of these fine dining rooms. Here are 22 restaurants from across the country with the bright idea to add beautiful lighting to their dining rooms:

1. Empellón Taqueria (New York City)

Mexican eatery Empellón Taqueria serves up innovative cuisine and tasty margaritas in an artful dining room illuminated by iron light fixtures.

Photo courtesy of Fork

2. Fork (Philadelphia)

Nature-inspired murals cover the walls of sophisticated New American restaurant Fork, in a warm ambience filled with the light from lamp-like, burnt orange chandeliers.

Photo courtesy of Red O

3. Red O (Los Angeles)

Bold, authentic Mexican cuisine and classic steakhouse fare come together in the stunning atmosphere of Red O, embellished with unique, conical chandeliers.

Photo courtesy of Estadio

4. Estadio (Washington, D.C.)

The Moorish-style decor utilizes elaborate tile and iron work — reflected in the centerpiece chandelier — as well as dark wood and stone to transport diners back to old Spain.

Photo courtesy of Smith & Wollensky

5. Smith & Wollensky (New York City)

Smith & Wollensky features an elegant bar — characteristic of old New York — made vibrant by colorful chandeliers.

Photo courtesy of Tavern

6. Tavern (Los Angeles)

Anchored in the glass atrium by a nautical rope, Tavern’s understated chandelier adds just the right amount of light to the relaxed, elegant atmosphere.

Bar Primi - New York, NY
Photo courtesy of Bar Primi

7. Bar Primi (New York City)

A retro-meets-modern light fixture — an arrangement of bulbs framed by a conical shade — brightens the dining room of Italian hot spot Bar Primi.

UrbanDaddy, Wilde Wine Bar
Photo courtesy of Wilde Wine Bar

8. Wilde Wine Bar (Los Angeles)

Inspired by European-style brasseries, Wilde Wine Bar boldly showcases a breathtaking, shimmering chandelier in the center of its retro-chic bar.

Photo courtesy of Fiola

9. Fiola (Washington, D.C.)

Fiola’s geometric chandeliers, bright art and dark leather seats create an Art Deco atmosphere, complemented by lots of global wines and creative cocktails.

Photo courtesy of ABC Cocina

10. ABC Cocina (New York)

The brick-walled, rustic-chic dining room — adorned with an eclectic mix of hand-blown glass bulbs and twinkling lights — creates a glamorous ambience at ABC Cocina.

Photo courtesy of RM Champagne Salon

11. RM Champagne Salon (Chicago)

Complete with a marble fireplace and crystal-beaded chandeliers, RM Champagne Salon is the ideal place to celebrate with a glass of bubbly in a sophisticated setting.

Photo courtesy of Vetri

12. Vetri (Philadelphia)

Exposed wood beams keep the intimate town house setting rustic and reminiscent of Italy, while elegant chandeliers elevate the atmosphere to match Vetri’s impressive menu.

Photo courtesy of Sadelle’s

13. Sadelle’s (New York City)

Sadelle’s puts a modern spin on the traditional Jewish deli with its massive pinwheel chandeliers, soaring brick walls, leather booths and vintage details.

Kapnos by Mike Isabella
Photo: Greg Powers

14. Kapnos (Washington, D.C.)

Plush cushions and drapes create the stylish, exotic atmosphere at Kapnos, while a cluster of crystal-clear chandeliers add a touch of luxurious flair.

Photo courtesy of Maloney & Porcelli

15. Maloney & Porcelli (New York City)

Maloney & Porcelli — with its playful takes on classic decor including globe-shaped light fixtures — embodies the charm and grandeur of New York in the 1950s.

Photo courtesy of Mourad

16. Mourad (San Francisco)

Located inside a newly renovated Art Deco tower, Mourad features starburst chandeliers and lofty ceilings, as well as private dining rooms and a lounge.

Photo courtesy of RN 74

17. RN74 (San Francisco)

The grand, train station–themed space of RN74 features industrial accents, a dynamic timetable list spotlighting the wines on offer and sleek rows of rectangular, yellow-orange lights.

Photo courtesy of Rustic Canyon

18. Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen (Los Angeles)

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen is a casual yet stylish Santa Monica spot that remains down-to-earth, with a minimally decorated dining room, wood accents and two bright chandeliers setting the tone.

Photo courtesy of Red Bird

19. Red Bird (Boston)

The Red Bird’s brick and tile walls, dark wood floors and modern, rounded chandeliers give the intimate space an industrial feel.

Photo courtesy of Crossroads Kitchen

20. Crossroads Kitchen (Los Angeles)

Tiered chandeliers with dangling lightbulbs line inventive vegan eatery Crossroads Kitchen, setting the mood of the warm, rustic scene.

Photo courtesy of Forbidden Root

21. Forbidden Root (Chicago)

Forbidden Root, a “botanical brewery,” uses wood, brick, plants and cast-iron chandeliers to create an outdoors-meets-industrial feel.

Photo: Michael Piazza

22. Island Creek Oyster Bar (Oyster)

A striking, industrial-style display of light fixtures hangs from the ceiling in a cage-like structure above the raw bar and dining room at Island Creek Oyster bar.

Reserve is the country’s premier hospitality technology platform, helping restaurants and guests connect. Reserve helps guests discover restaurants, make reservations, get personalized service and seamlessly pay the bill.


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World Premiere: POP ETC’s New Video, A Tribute To Cooking Wed, 28 Sep 2016 14:30:15 +0000 POP ETC frontman Chris Chu is no stranger to the wild and wonderful world of food obsession. He’s penned culinary travel diaries for Food Republic and schooled us on how diligent a traveling band can be when it comes to Instagramming at mealtimes. No gas station junk food stock-ups for these hungry rockers.

For their song “Vice,” “we wanted to make a video that wasn’t about an obvious vice — drugs, alcohol, etc. — but still centering around some kind of addictive/obsessive behavior,” says Chu. “Food was the first thing that came to mind, as we’re all obsessed with food, and the amount of time we spend looking for and going to restaurants, as well as researching food-related stuff is definitely borderline unhealthy. In the video we wanted to capture that kind of nightmarish, weird, scary quality that any kind of obsessive behavior can lead to.”

The band’s brand-spankin’-new music video for “Vice” premieres right here on Food Republic, right now. It’s a tribute to cooking shows, exotic seafood, the mighty egg yolk and much more. So grab your fruit cleaver and taco costume and prepare to never stop pouring.

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Where To Find Vegetarian Food in Nicaragua Wed, 28 Sep 2016 13:00:41 +0000

Like much of Central America, Nicaragua isn’t really known for its food. Bordered by Costa Rica and Honduras and set between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, this country is celebrated more for its dramatic volcanic landscape than its culinary prowess. There’s a reason for this.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Historically, recipes were chosen for their nutritional value rather than their taste, and the price of meat means many meals center around beans, plantains, yuca and corn. Because of this, Nicaragua can definitely be considered veggie-friendly, but I’ll be honest: Nicaraguan food just didn’t speak to me the way Guatemalan food did.

Still, there is far more for the discerning vegetarian palate here than appears at first glance.


My first stop was Leon’s “original vegetarian restaurant,” Cocinarte (which nevertheless serves meat), situated in a colonial house said to be the oldest in the city. On the menu was a vegetarian Indio Viejo, a famous Nicaraguan dish with its own origin story.

Back in the colonial days, the Spanish explorers used to take advantage of the hospitality of locals, whose culture demanded they provide food to all who ask for it. One day the Spanish showed up wanting to be fed again. Noticing an aromatic stew cooking away, they asked what was in it. Realizing there wouldn’t be enough food left for the locals, the chef replied, “It’s an old Indian [Indio Viejo] who recently died.” The explorers quickly lost their appetite and left.

Indio Viejo at Cocinarte

Whether this tale is true or not, Indio Viejo remains one of Nicaragua’s most popular dishes. A hearty stew made with red peppers, onions, tomatoes, sour oranges, corn flour and spices, the Cocinarte version uses textured soy to replace the meat. It had a pleasant earthy taste with subtle citrus undertones, but the overall flavor lacked depth. I found myself adding more and more salt and wishing I had some chilies.

Still, Cocinarte offers the best variety of vegetarian food in Leon. The house speciality is excellent: fajitas with sautéed peppers, celery, squash, onion, green beans, broccoli and pineapple, brought to the table on a sizzling hot plate. Served with a liquefied bean sauce, corn tortillas, rice and salad, the vegetables are smoky yet still crisp, and the spices ensure a taste much more memorable than the Indio Viejo.

Sauteed vegetables at Cocinarte

Also in Leon is El Desayunazo, a breakfast café only open in the mornings. They have a large selection of American and European breakfasts (and bottomless coffee), but the most popular dish is the traditional Nicaraguan breakfast. Exact ingredients and methods of cooking vary region to region, but a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast always consists of three staples: rice and beans (gallo pinto), eggs and tortillas.

A traditional Nicaraguan breakfast at El Desayunazo in Leon

In Nicaragua, gallo pinto is made with red kidney beans rather than black, and the rice is cooked for a full day beforehand. The eggs are scrambled or fried, with cheese, fried plantains and avocado often added. But the most distinctive taste comes from the tortillas: The corn is dried and then boiled in firewood ashes for several hours until soft; then, after being washed and ground, the tortillas are cooked in clay pans on a wood-burning stove, at just the right heat so that bubbles form.

The El Desayunazo breakfast was served with pieces of cuajada, a mild cow’s milk cheese with a flaky, crumbly consistency, and a green chili, onion and tomato sauce for the eggs. The mild tastes of Nicaraguan food just didn’t appeal to me the way Mexican or Guatemalan food did, but if you’re looking for a satisfying and balanced start to the day, this breakfast does the job. The flavors may not sing, but eggs, gallo pinto, ripe plantain, tortillas and cheese will certainly fulfill the protein quota, and the dish is a steal at $2.

Avocado toast with chia seeds at the Garden Cafe, Granada.

Moving on to Granada now, the standout there is the Garden Cafe, a pretty outdoors restaurant known for its relaxed ethos and excellent brunches. Recommended for vegetarians is the avocado toast: “artisan” toast smothered in buttery, seasoned avocado and chia seeds, with fluffy scrambled eggs and salad

A traditional Nicaraguan breakfast at the Garden Cafe

The traditional breakfast here is also good — better than that at El Desayunazo (albeit more expensive), with saltier, more flavorsome cheese, and eggs that are scrambled with onions and green peppers. Instead of fried plantain there were slices of creamy avocado and a bowl of pico de gallo, too — always a tasty perk.


Just as I feared I was getting — gasp — a bit sick of gallo pinto, I arrived at the beach town of San Juan del Sur. Located on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, the variety of meat-free dishes soared here. Barrio Cafe served up perhaps the most delicious dish I had during my few weeks in Nicaragua: crisp spinach and gorgonzola empanadas. 

This was the first blue cheese I’d seen on a menu in Central America, and the salty gorgonzola perfectly complemented the spinach without being overpowering. Fried rather than baked (creating tiny bubbles on the surface) and served with a tangy tomato salsa, these crunchy-and-creamy empanadas were outstanding. 

Gorgonzola and spinach empanadas at Barrio Cafe

I’ve avoided talking about pasta here, because a basic vegetarian spaghetti is usually the baseline when it comes to meat-free offerings wherever you are in the world. But sometimes a pasta dish is worth its salt, and Barrio serves an excellent penne pasta in a white wine cream sauce with succulent sun-dried tomatoes. It’s not cheap here, but if you’re on a budget it’s worth going in for a drink and the empanadas alone.

Staying on the pasta theme for a moment, the tiny Dale Pues House of Sandwiches has the best penne dish in town, which came as a big surprise. Their tequila chipotle cream pasta with sautéed onions, fresh lime, cilantro and a savory crunch of green peppers was exceptional — better than Barrio’s and much cheaper, too. But the best Italian in San Juan del Sur is Restaurante y Pizzeria La Terraza, where the tender gnocchi in zingy basil pesto is as good as any I’ve tried in Italy.

The modest Dale Pues House of Sandwiches surprised with its delicious pasta.

The one restaurant in San Juan del Sur that all vegetarians must surely poke their head into is Buddha’s Garden, a hidden gem attached to a yoga studio that serves up raw vegan food. Buddha’s Garden is known for its wide range of healthy juices and smoothies: It’s hard to pick one, so if in doubt go for the Buddha Beauty (pineapple, watermelon, celery, kale and cucumber).

Crisp vegetable gyoza dumplings and refreshing Thai noodle rolls at Buddha’s Garden

Torn between so many food choices, I decided on a selection of appetizers: juicy yet crisp vegetable gyoza dumplings, and fat, refreshing Thai noodle rolls stuffed with carrot, jalapeño, cilantro and red cabbage, with sesame soy ginger dipping sauce. The best dish, however, was the lemon roasted Lebanese cauliflower. After sizzling away until they’re a warm, deep brown (you can hear and smell this from kitchen), the roasted florets are tossed in cumin and sumac, bringing out that magnificent mild and nutty flavor.

With so many meals revolving around vegetables, rice and beans, Nicaragua is definitely veggie-friendly. Yet, while the prevalence of gallo pinto means not having to worry about protein, sometimes there’s only so much rice and beans you can eat. Nicaragua is a country of towering volcanoes and staggeringly beautiful beachside vistas, a country where the people are warm and animated and the energy is vibrant. It pains me to say it, but the food, in comparison, just felt a little bland.

In countries like Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, the vegetarian choices may have been more limited, but the flavors were always there, be it in the rich, tangy sauce of huevos rancheros or in the spicy broth of a vegetable stew. This doesn’t mean excellent vegetarian food can’t be found in Nicaragua. It can. You just might have to look a little harder for it.

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Are Peas A Starch? Tue, 27 Sep 2016 18:00:00 +0000 You’ve heard it a million times in real life as well as the long-perpetuated cliché: Eat your peas. You’d think the Holy Grail were filled with peas. And now that you’re all grown up and can make your own vegetable decisions (ALL RIGHT?), you may be told to steer clear. Why? For those who adhere to low-carb or paleo diets, peas are verboten and grouped into the starchy vegetable family.

While they’re not as energy-dense as potatoes or corn, peas fall into the same glycemic index category (a measure of how certain foods affect blood sugar) as squash, carrots, beets, eggplant, apples, bananas and chickpeas — all higher-starch produce.

Looking for the kind of satisfaction only peas can offer? Is your blue plate special incomplete without the ritual chasing of peas with your fork? Try substituting lower-sugar, higher-fiber veggies like green beans, edamame or Brussels sprouts. And remember: Even if you’re not on a diet, peas won’t be much of a vegetable component to a balanced meal if you cook them à la Paula Deen.

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Here’s Why In-N-Out Probably Won’t Add Veggie Options Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:00:23 +0000 A petition on has thousands calling for famed California burger chain In-N-Out to add vegetarian options to its menu. Started by the Good Food Institute, which focuses on improving the country’s food systems and accessibility, the petition asks In-N-Out to compare the vegetarian fare of its competitors to its sole option of “a cheese-slathered bun” and consider adding a veggie burger.

There are a few problems with this request. First, a virtually identical petition was launched on four years ago and, despite thousands of signatures, didn’t result in animal-style veggie burgers. Second, invoking White Castle’s veggie sliders is not an effective way to make a point of any kind, unless the point is diarrhea. Third, the bun isn’t slathered with cheese — that would imply that the cheese was physically spread on the bun. It’s melted, like any good (or great) grilled cheese. But let’s not chalk up the unlikelihood of this petition’s success to semantics. Rather, here are a few more legitimate reasons In-N-Out probably won’t be heeding the calls of these potential fans.

1. Delicious veggie burgers that keep their shape and do plant eaters justice are difficult to make, can be tricky to prepare, need their own dedicated space on the griddle to avoid cross-contamination and would be something In-N-Out would have to develop on its own as a large-scale operation. Plant-based meat-like burgers are expensive and haven’t quite hit the mainstream market, require separate space to store and prepare, and require a specialized method to cook (we know — we tried them at the office). One of many reasons In-N-Out has enjoyed so much success and a cult following is that they’re fast, clean, streamlined and consistent — a well-oiled machine. How else could they handle the volume of cars backed up to the freeway and the line out the door every day?

2. In-N-Out can’t be made vegan. It just can’t. Now, should a vegetarian hanker for one of the best on-the-fly grilled cheese sandwiches they’ve ever had, complete with tomato, lettuce, pickles and burger spread and washed down with a thick, creamy black-and-white shake, In-N-Out has them covered to the nines. But those looking for more of a protein boost or those who eschew dairy altogether are out of luck. Here’s the thing, though: It’s California. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a place with lots of solid options.

3. It’s not like losing potential vegetarian or vegan customers will hurt franchises, because they never had them to begin with. Business is good. In-N-Out built its massive, dedicated fanbase from people who trust its beef suppliers, enjoy watching their spuds be cut on the hand-operated fry cutter (then saying, “We should get a fry cutter”) and think mustard-spiked caramelized onions on top of burger-sauced cheese fries is about as good as it gets. Sure, everyone likes to drum up a little extra business, but to tell you the truth, the lines are long enough.

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10 Of Our Favorite Fall Sandwiches Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:00:04 +0000 Sandwiches: magnificent and humble all at once. Just because it’s famous for its lunch act doesn’t mean it won’t translate seamlessly into an evening meal. With focus on fall ingredients and hearty fare, there’s a sandwich in the mix here for everyone, whether you’re an aficionado of meaty sliders, need to quell a fierce Italian sub craving or are ready to head into the open-faced world with an open face. Step away from the ham and cheese, and try our favorites crafted by sandwich-loving chefs like Craig Deihl and Dan Kluger.

Recipe: Union Fare’s Pumpkin Smash Toast With Goat Cheese

Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Union Square,  Union Fare is a New American restaurant with a heart as big as its square footage. (It’s really big.) There’s a new treat on the menu every time you go in, and fall is no exception. Swap the avocado on your toast for mashed pumpkin and add some goat cheese for a colorful, seasonal, sweet and savory lunch, vibrant first course or anytime snack.

Nothing crisps up a loaded grilled cheese sandwich like a cast-iron skillet.

Recipe: Muenster, Cabbage And Apple Sandwiches

Choose a firm, tart apple, such as Granny Smith or Jonathan, to use for the filling in these sandwiches. These varieties will hold their shape when cooked and won’t break down and create a mushy filling.

Craig Deihl is a sandwich master to be reckoned with. Try his expert take on the classic Italian sub.

Recipe: Craig Deihl’s Loaded Italian Sub

Craig Deihl’s classic Italian sub is one of our favorites. Replicate this ultra-satisfying lunch in your own kitchen and take home the title of Sandwich Master.

These spicy, meaty kebab rolls will put your deli wrap to absolute shame.

Recipe: Chicken Kebab Rolls With Date And Tamarind Chutney

In India the word “kavaab” is used not just for skewered meat but also for meatballs, burgers and small cutlets. In this recipe the meat is combined with spices and dried fruits and rolled into sheek (skewer) kebabs. They’re great with salad, tucked inside a wrap, added to a croquette mixture, or even chopped after being half-cooked, then simmered in the sauce.

Dan Kluger’s chicken salad sandwich will change this humble lunch staple forever.

Recipe: Dan Kluger’s Chicken Salad Sandwich

You’d think James Beard Award–winning NYC chef Dan Kluger would be too busy opening his brand-new restaurant to loan a recipe to California roadside–style LES eatery Genuine Superette. When it comes to sharing sandwiches, however, there’s always plenty of time. Other guest chefs who have inspired dishes at Genuine include Jamie Bissonnette, Michelle Bernstein and Paul Liebrandt. All you need to re-create this friendly-looking fully loaded lunch is some leftover chicken, a few fridge staples and ten minutes of your time.


Recipe: Joey Campanaro’s Gravy Meatball Sliders

New York City’s beloved Little Owl recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Joey Campanaro shares the recipe for the restaurant’s meatball sliders, one of NYC’s most enduring dishes, in our most recent episode of Plate Deconstruction. Campanaro cooks up a Sunday gravy that dresses the sliders, saying it smells like Sunday morning at his house.

Crunchy, spicy, sweet and sour, this chicken skin num pang sandwich has it all!

Recipe: Fig And Crispy Chicken Skin Num Pang

One of our personal favorites as well as one of the most popular num pangs is the glazed peach and bacon. It’s that combination of sweet heat, fatty crunch, smoke, and juiciness that is like total sandwich nirvana. We tap into the same pleasure zone in this combination: spicy soy–glazed juicy, ripe figs and salty, crackly fried chicken skin. Now there is no way we could ever make this sandwich to feed the thousands upon thousands of hungry New Yorkers who stream into our shops every day. But at home, it’s totally doable. Of course you can swap the chicken skin for bacon, but you’ll be missing out — the chicken skin is like crispy, porky lace compared to a more solid plank of bacon.

These monstrous sandwiches may leave you speechless.

Recipe: Brisket Patty Melt Made With Cornbread

Every once in a while we just have to pat ourselves on the back for doing something we haven’t seen in other cookbooks. We aren’t entirely sure we’re the first to make a brisket patty melt using cornbread, but we are sure this is the best version out there. A vast improvement on the close-to-perfect patty melt is enough to make us feel pretty good about this recipe. When you start seeing this on the menu of every chain restaurant in America in five years, just remember who thought of it first.

These pretty beet and ricotta sandwiches will satisfy vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Recipe: Roasted Beet Sandwiches With Chive Ricotta Cheese

When first assembled, these sandwiches are big, magenta-and-white tasty tumbles. Overnight, they set up nicely and the creamy ricotta gets a pretty pink hue from the beets. Chives are delicate and enhance the ricotta, but green onions would make a tasty, slightly more robust substitution.

Taylor pork roll (also known as Taylor ham) is a smoky, porky New Jersey specialty that’s perfect in a breakfast sandwich.

Recipe: Classic Pork Roll, Egg And Cheese Sandwich

It seems simple enough, right? Three ingredients stacked inside a hard roll — what’s so complicated? For a sandwich with slippery contents, construction is key, as is the ingredients ratio. I remember once being at a South Jersey diner that served this breakfast staple with a dozen slices of Taylor ham. It was a glorious sight — until my first bite sent slices of ham sliding out the back end to plop down onto the plate below. A sandwich should stick together — that’s what makes a sandwich a sandwich, rather than something you have to eat with a knife and fork.

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Get To Know These Lesser-Known Thai Curries Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:00:54 +0000 In our explainer Inside the Anatomy of Thai Curries, we broke down some of your favorite dishes on the takeout menu. Now, explore a world of Thai curries rarely seen outside their native land. If you encounter any of these complex, spicy preparations at a restaurant, order away!

The list of ingredients that go into each variation may sound daunting, but in fact most Thai curries have the same ingredients. By adding or subtracting an ingredient or adjusting ratios, you’ll have a completely new dish.

Kaeng kua curry paste: big dried chili, garlic, red onion, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, coriander root, shrimp paste, salt.
Kaeng kua curry paste: dried red chili, garlic, red onion, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, coriander root, shrimp paste, salt.

Kaeng Kua

This curry paste is the “mother” of three popular Thai curries you’ll find on menus in Thailand as “chu chi.” The most common is a classic red curry.

Just by adding peanuts to the paste, kaeng kua paste becomes penang paste.
Just by adding peanuts to the paste, kaeng kua paste becomes Penang paste.

Add some peanuts, and you’ll end up with Penang curry. Toss in a little aromatic fingerroot (known in Thai as krachai) and fish and you get namya, a curry that is not too spicy. It’s a Thai favorite, eaten with rice noodles and pickled vegetables.

Khao soi curry paste ingredients: big dried chili, garlic, shallots kaffir lime, turmeric, fingerroot, lemongrass, shrimp paste, salt, curry powder.
Khao soi curry paste ingredients: dried red chili, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime, turmeric, fingerroot, lemongrass, shrimp paste, salt, curry powder.

Khao Soi

Khao soi is a popular northern Thai dish of noodles in a curry broth. The base paste is similar to that of red curry but with the addition of curry powder and fingerroot. The dish is cooked with coconut milk and seasoned with soy sauce and palm sugar.

A bowl of khao soi from Chiang Mai.
A bowl of khao soi from Chiang Mai

Mung beans are added toward the end of cooking to help thicken its consistency, and the finished product is topped with crispy fried egg noodles and eaten with shallots, lime, pickled cabbage and flash-fried chilies.

Orange curry ingredients: big dried chili, shallots, shrimp paste, dried tamarind, salt
Orange curry ingredients: dried red chili, shallots, shrimp paste, dried tamarind, salt.

Orange Curry

This curry is common throughout Thailand but rarely found Stateside. Sour, salty and sweet, it’s an easy dish to slurp and eat without being worried about the heat creeping up on you. It is also a water-based curry (rather than coconut milk), which gives it a thinner consistency.

Orange curry and local flower called “dok care daeng.”
Orange curry served with a local edible flower called dok care daeng.

The southern version is much spicier, just like most of the dishes from the south of Thailand. You’ll typically find fish in this curry, as well as a piece of fried Thai omelet studded with an herbaceous local vegetable called cha-om. The tamarind used in the curry paste imparts the dish’s unique tartness. Enjoy orange curry with a hot bowl of Thai jasmine rice.

Yellow curry ingredients: birds eye chili,  big dried chili, pepper, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, shallots, garlic, turmeric, shrimp paste, salt
Yellow curry ingredients: bird’s eye chili, dried red chili, pepper, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, shallots, garlic, turmeric, shrimp paste, salt.

The Real Yellow Curry (Kaeng Som)

This yellow curry is different from the yellow curry (kaeng karee) you order at Thai restaurants in America, as mentioned in the first explainer. The two are often confused outside of Thailand, but they have completely different flavors. This yellow curry, known as kaeng som, comes from the south of Thailand, and it’s known for its intense heat.

Southern Thai yellow curry with bamboo shoots and crab meat.
Southern Thai yellow curry with bamboo shoots and crab meat

This is also a water-based curry, which really allows the blend of ingredients to shine front and center. The bird’s-eye chili provides the intense, mouth-fanning heat, while the yellow color comes from the turmeric. An adaptation to this dish is made by adding fish innards to the curry.

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Read A Chapter From The Gripping New Book Generation Chef Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:00:45 +0000 GCCover

We were intrigued about the latest behind-the-scenes account of life in the restaurant industry, Generation Chef, in part because it focuses on the story of Jonah Miller. Miller, the young chef behind Huertas in NYC’s East Village, was the first subject of our ongoing series New Chefs Rising, about ambitious young chefs in the restaurant industry (you can watch it within the excerpt below). Author Karen Stabiner followed Miller and his team during the opening months of the Basque restaurant and tells an enlightening story of young industry professionals, probably too inexperienced to run their own place, going for it in an attempt to succeed on their own terms. Chapter 5, “Slammed,” finds Miller and his partners dealing with a best/worst case scenario: In NYC’s high-octane restaurant scene, Huertas was an instant hit. How did they handle the seemingly good fortune? Read on in this excerpt, and hopefully whet your appetite for Stabiner’s excellent book, which will come off like an action-packed thriller to anyone who cares about restaurants. It’s available via the book’s publisher, Avery, at the link below, via Amazon, and at a bookstore near you.

Reprinted from Generation Chef – Risking It All for a New American Dream by arrangement with Avery Books, members of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Karen Stabiner


Slammed didn’t begin to describe Huertas’s first week of business. “Slammed” was a good word to toss around after a busy night, but not for a ninety-hour week that was a continuous loop of prep and ser­vice and cleanup, interrupted by something that barely qualified as a long nap before the cycle began again.

That single week beat Jonah’s projections for the entire first month of business—$34,800 in sales for a week, compared to anticipated first­ month sales of $32,200. He and Nate looked at the sales numbers every day, because they believed that vigilance made the difference between a successful restaurant and one that might seem healthy, only to slide off the rails too quickly to save. They had based their projections on losses at the start, possibly straight through the summer, because that was usually how it went; investors commonly had to wait as long as five years to see a first return on their money. Friends and family had broken even when it was supposed to lose $8,000, but that was a partisan crowd. Their first reaction to the week’s numbers, to real sales, was to assume that they had made a mistake.

They had anticipated a $5,000 loss over the first two months. The way things were going, they might not lose anything at all. Best of all, they were making “sick money” in the dining room, in Jonah’s giddy esti­mation. Pintxos were fun, and they got people in the door, but the menu del dia was his brand, his chance to show that he could refine and expand Spanish food without getting fussy about it—and by extension, that he could do the same with whatever cuisine he tried next, not Spanish nec­essarily, not at a Huertas sequel and so, not a partnership based on necessity. Just Jonah and Nate and Luke building their business.

The trick was to achieve great numbers without sleeping in a booth between shifts, which Jenni had jokingly mentioned as an alternative to her hour’s commute to Queens, where a sous chef could afford to live. There wasn’t a straightforward fix. Restaurant profit margins were notoriously slim, about ten cents on the dollar, and there were frustrat­ingly few ways to improve them. The rent was set. There was little lee­ way on the other two fixed costs, labor and food, because past a certain point they couldn’t trim their way to profitability. If Jonah looked for profit in even cheaper ingredients or a staff that was leaner than was practical, he ran the risk that the food wouldn’t seem special enough, and the service, cursory. The better way to reduce ninety hours a week to a tolerable sixty or seventy was to make Huertas a place where people craved two more rounds of pintxos or had to try the wine pairings. An increase of a couple of dollars per check, multiplied by checks per year, could subsidize a bigger staff without putting a dent in the profit and loss statement that Nate planned to produce every month.

Check-building was the long-term answer, but the immediate chal­lenge was to get more help, fast, because they couldn’t sustain the grueling schedule. Jonah had underestimated the number of bodies he needed, figuring that he could expedite—call the orders, monitor the timing, check each plate before it went out—while Jenni handled the roast and sauté station and the line cook took care of fried foods and pintxos. One more person at the wood-burning oven, and a part-time culinary student to pick up the slack a couple of shifts a week, and he thought he had his staff.

Even that didn’t last the week. The cook at the wood-burning oven, overwhelmed, announced after four days that she was leaving three days later, and Jonah, incensed that she quit without giving proper notice, had her come in the next morning to train the culinary student and then told her to pack up her stuff and get out. Joe, the student, was suddenly in charge of a station he’d never worked before, which meant that a new chunk of Jonah’s day was devoted to teaching and supervision.

Jonah was pitting olives when he should have been fielding interview requests, and Jenni was asleep on her feet. He quickly installed a cousin of one of the Maialino prep cooks in the basement prep kitchen, laboring over garlic and onions and carrots and shallots the way he had at Chanterelle. Jenni got her roommate, Alyssa, to agree to work on the nights Joe was in class, in addition to her job as a private chef.

Dan didn’t have many night shifts available, but Jonah’s next two temporary stand-ins would arrive starting in two weeks, and they had plenty of time on their hands, stuck in a chef ’s purgatory between projects that didn’t pan out and new jobs that might not start for months. Chad Shaner had left his job as executive sous chef at Union Square Café to pursue a project in Southern California, but it didn’t turn out to be a long-term position, so he was back trying to figure out his next move. Chris McDade, who would arrive at the end of May, had worked alongside Jonah at Maialino and, like Chad, left town for a job that didn’t pan out. He came back to be the executive sous chef at Marta, but the opening was delayed. They both needed a job between jobs—and while Jonah had to pay Chris more than he paid Jenni, he wanted to have both of them around for what he hoped was an extended packed house.

They would bail him out if it stayed this busy. If, on the other hand, the crowds subsided—and he had to be realistic, because openings were never the same as the day-to-day—his kitchen habits would keep him out of trouble. Jonah enjoyed the challenge of transforming what another chef might throw out, and showed off his latest effort at the afternoon lineup meeting, what he jokingly called his “garbage pintxo,” made up of the fat trimmed from the jamón and the two-inch-long potato cores left over when they spun out the thin strands for the hue­vos rotos. He deep-fried the potato until it was slightly crisp on the outside and had absorbed flavor from the fat, and then he wrapped it in a charred ramp. The potato already earned its keep in the rotos; the jamón, on the list of meats. The only food cost was the ramp, for a pintxo that sold for $3. He couldn’t get more economical than that.

Jonah tried to be reasonable about his expectations, to be prepared for whatever happened after the initial rush, but the problem with making money at the start was that it made losing money seem like failure. He reminded himself that losing money was the norm at this point, and if it happened it didn’t necessarily mean that he was doing anything wrong.

He was aware of niggling front-of-house problems—he had to be, much as he preferred to let Nate and Luke handle them—but he told himself that they were primarily a function of being new and inexperi­enced, nothing of any lasting concern. Nate was already getting resis­tance from the occasional guest who wanted a cocktail, which was going to be an issue only until they got their upgrade in six months. In the meantime, they had to make the wine and beer lists too tempting to reject. To that end, they had tasted dozens of Spanish wines, until Jonah’s palate went numb, and decided to make their own vermut, which required more sampling and multiple trips to a nearby Indian spice store for inspiration. They looked for beers no one else served, or beers that were great deals, and offered traditional Spanish combinations like the kalimotxo. Jonah weighed in on all of it—no one was going to consume anything he hadn’t blessed—but that would calm down with time, as they solidified the list.

A dish from Huertas

Luke faced small, irksome problems that were easy to fix—they found a receptacle for wet umbrellas and would figure out what to do with coats that at the moment hung off of the bar stools onto the floor. Much of the crew was entry-level, aside from a couple of experienced servers working the dining room, because someone with a solid résumé was likelier to head for a place where the size of the tip pool and the number of shifts were more predictable. More training would help with that: One of the servers had already come in on his day off to practice busing tables, which meant that Nate and Luke had figured out how to inspire rather than demoralize the guy.

Canceled reservations were a bigger and more troubling issue, endemic to the business and less likely to resolve with time. Jonah knew, from places he’d worked and people he talked to, that no one had the perfect solution for diners who made reservations and didn’t show up. They could call everyone on the list the day before, to confirm, but some people said they were coming and still didn’t appear. As the new kid on the block, Huertas was getting more requests for reservations than they could accommodate—so if someone bailed, they lost money on a table they could have filled, a table that might have turned into regulars.

OpenTable, the online reservation service, tried to police users who racked up multiple no-shows, but people with commitment issues knew their way around the rules—they changed their e-mail registration and continued their last-minute defections under a new name. High-end restaurants like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park tried penalties—EMP charged $75 if a party failed to cancel forty-eight hours in advance and then didn’t show up—but that could backfire, especially for an unproven, far more informal place like Huertas, because it seemed punitive to diners who were used to changing their minds without consequence. During the recession, when every reservation seemed that much more precious, overbooking had become a popular answer, even though it increased the possibility of long wait times and was tougher to calibrate at a small restaurant. The easiest solution was to hold back a number of tables for walk-ins rather than take reservations for all of them, but finding the right formula was impossible, really, until Luke had a better sense of several variables—the no-show rate, the speed with which he could turn a table, and the number of tables he could seat simultaneously without putting too much pressure on the kitchen.

“I figure a table of two needs ninety minutes to an hour and forty-five, a table of four, two hours minimum,” he said. “And part of this is keeping a table in my back pocket. I need wiggle room, an emergency plan. That’s part of the system. Not every table is available on OpenTable, and usually it’s me or Nate answering the phone, or Jonah, who will ask me.”

Luke didn’t have a formula yet, but he didn’t expect to, so soon. “It’s a matter of understanding our space as we go on,” he said. “It’s a nuance I haven’t figured out yet, what I can accommodate. It’ll just come.”

Jonah was less sanguine. The nightly percentage of cancellations took its place on the roster of numbers he kept in his head, alongside the food-cost percentages, the number of pintxos sold, the media inquiries, the wine pairings, the overtime hours, and the nightly check averages, which could always be a little higher.

He tried to set all of it aside when he was in the kitchen, because he had an ambitious agenda. Jonah wanted to make as much of the menu in-house as he could, even though it was a lot of work; he took pride in the fact that the quince paste that went with the cheeses was home­ made. He wanted to change at least one dish on the menu del dia once a week, maybe more often than that—another labor-intensive exercise, because it meant that the kitchen had to master a new dish and prep a new batch of ingredients.

He figured that the best time to introduce a dish was on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, when things were marginally calmer than they were on the weekend—but he knew he was in trouble as soon as he looked at the reservation list for what should have been his second manageable Tuesday night. Luke had booked five large parties at the same time for the menu del dia, three groups of six and two of seven, using all three booths and two of the dining-room tables. It didn’t matter if the kitchen was on top of things as thirty-two people took their seats at once, and he took little solace in the fact that someday they’d be able to handle this kind of rush. Two weeks in was not someday, and this wasn’t one of Alyssa’s shifts, which meant that Jenni would be doing more cooking than plating.

Jenni was responsible for all the back-room dishes at her station, but the only way to get fourteen egg courses out simultaneously was for the line cook to help her out, which meant that she, in turn, had to stop making pintxos. The runners could keep circulating the cold pintxos that were already prepared, but the croquetas and the homemade potato chips were on hold. As the orders hit, Nate helped run plates to the dining room, while Luke stood at the host stand to greet the guests and keep an eye on the book. No matter what they did, though, service was a nightmare that they could have avoided if only they’d staggered the reservation times.

On a night with a better rhythm, Jonah might have time to encourage a hustling cook or acknowledge a server who jumped in to run plates or clear dishes at a table that wasn’t in his section. Not tonight, which made for a new problem. When the shift ended, Nate reported that some front-of-house staffers had started to complain: Jonah was difficult to approach, they weren’t getting constructive feedback, he seemed so disapproving. A couple of them came up to Jonah the following day to apologize for whatever they thought they’d done wrong, a preemptive confession of failure before he got around to criticizing them.

He came to the afternoon front-of-house lineup meeting to say that apologies weren’t necessary, he appreciated how seriously everyone took their work, and he wanted them to understand that a one-word reply wasn’t him being curt. It was him being focused in the middle of a difficult service. As Huertas got busier, there would be more one­ word replies. Everyone had to get used to it and not take it personally.

It was not yet time to pass out compliments. The worst thing they could do, he told them, would be to believe their early press.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “Hype is hype. We have to continue to get better.”

Jonah Miller of Huertas

Jonah was happier in mad-scientist mode, a paper coffee cup in one hand and a whipped cream canister in the other, huddled with Jenni in front of a microwave oven they were about to use for the first time. He wasn’t satisfied with the rice pudding dessert on the menu del dia, and he had seen a recipe for an almond cake developed by Albert Adria when he was the pastry chef at his brother Ferran’s famed El Bulli on the coast of Spain northeast of Barcelona, which had drawn pilgrims lucky enough to get a reservation until it closed in 2011. The cake was a good fit for Huertas because it was a spin on a more traditional cake, and it would work with a range of other flavors; if it came out well, he could put his own stamp on it. Jonah aimed for plates that looked appealing, not aggressively artful; he wasn’t going to serve an aerosol­ powered, microwaved almond cake unless it tasted better than a basic almond cake. Still, he liked the idea of a new technique with a weird edge. He was all for experimentation if it yielded something that was delicious, first, and fun on the plate, second.

Jenni made a batter out of sugar, egg white, ground almonds, and a little bit of flour, which Jonah spooned into the aerosol canister. He cut a slit in the bottom of the coffee cup to give any accumulated steam a vent, shook the canister, and filled the cup one-third of the way up, a cautious guess. The recipe he’d seen said halfway, but he was a little worried about how much the cake might puff up, as the batter was shot full of air. He placed the cup inside the microwave, turned the oven on, and he and Jenni leaned close to the door to watch.

“It’s working,” he said, as the batter poufed to more than twice its original size, a dome of batter rising above the top of the cup. After a couple of minutes he removed the cup and cut it away to expose a slightly gooey cone of almond cake. Next time he’d leave it in the microwave for a few more seconds, to make sure it set, but this was going to work. They had an almond cake that tasted good and resembled a loofah sponge, two or three portions per coffee cup. All that remained was to figure out what to do with it.

“Chocolate and goat cheese,” said Jenni.

“Not goat cheese,” said Jonah. “Maybe almond crumble, almond cream.” A sous chef was supposed to have opinions. “I don’t like almond extract,” said Jenni, a vote against almond cream, which required it. “Almond puree,” said Jonah, to acknowledge her opinion.

“Almond cream,” said Jenni, backtracking. She did not want to seem obstinate; it was Jonah’s menu, after all.

He was stumped. A puree might not have enough flavor or the right consistency, so he gave Jenni a new task to add to her to-do list. Between now and the start of service she had to make a puree and a cream, try them both, and figure out the answer. Almond cake in some form was going on the menu.

The more pressing task was to get someone to dash out and buy a second canister, to make sure they had enough batter ready to go.

Jonah cooked to satisfy himself, in the end, not for the six people in the first booth, not even for the critics whose arrival was the subject of constant speculation—or rather, he figured that by cooking for himself he cooked for all of them. If he cooked instead based on assumptions about what people might want, he’d pull his punches, and the food wouldn’t be his anymore.

He was hard to please and felt compelled to move on as soon as he was happy with a dish. Jonah never cooked the same dish twice at home, because that was where he got to try new things, to stretch past the constraints of Spanish food, which already felt to him like a one-off. If he could make great Spanish food, he owed it to himself to master something else next time. And he balked at food truisms, which he con­sidered a creative challenge. Nate said that they shouldn’t put chicken on the menu because people didn’t go to restaurants to eat chicken, which they made at home or bought to go. Jonah, always with an eye on the bottom line, figured he could make chicken work by pairing it with small amounts of more luxurious ingredients, like morel mushrooms. Nobody was going to tell him what he could or couldn’t cook. He was, after all, the cook who got the New York Times’s attention with cow’s stomach.

One of his first responsibilities at Maialino was making braised tripe, a mainstay of classic Roman cooking but not an easy sell. Jonah didn’t care. He made the best tripe he could, tripe that met his exacting standards, day in and day out for months, working alongside Chris to turn out two batches every week, about seventy-five pounds of it. First he had to blanch the tripe multiple times, and then simmer it in stock and cook it down in a tomato sauce. When he got lucky, he got the one oversized pot with a spigot, which he opened to release the blanching water into the floor drain. The other big pot was too heavy to carry over to the sink, and there wasn’t a strainer big enough to handle a batch, so when he got stuck with that pot he resorted to siphoning, which worked—except for the day when he sucked in on the hose for a moment too long and ended up with a mouthful of foul-tasting tripe blanching water while Chris, grateful not to be Jonah, lay on the kitchen floor and laughed.

Jonah didn’t care, or he didn’t care once he read the reference to it in the Times’s January 2010 review, which he had memorized: “Mr. Anderer’s tripe is served in a tomato sauce with pecorino and mint,” wrote then-critic Sam Sifton. “It’s light, delicate even, slightly sweet, with a backbeat. You can dance to it.”

Mr. Anderer was Nick, and the recipe was his. The execution was Jonah’s, though, at least half of the time. A backbeat you can dance to. He thought about that line, sometimes, when the talk turned to Huertas and reviews.

Nate lived in a state of constant preoccupation with how to do things better, and if exhaustion overtook him in mid-thought, late at night, he woke up wherever he’d left off. He was never not thinking about Huertas. It occupied him on his bicycle ride in from Brooklyn, on the ride back home, on his day off, when he was out with friends. He was not about to let anything about the business side get by him.

Luke, in contrast, had worked for a restaurant group that defined success in terms of decades, not weeks, which suited his less antic rhythm. He kept a notebook in which he jotted down every idea he had for how to improve service, no matter how small. He talked about getting good over time, in incremental steps.

At a Friday afternoon lineup meeting, heading into what promised to be a busy weekend if the reservations showed up, Nate introduced a new moneymaking special, the “can and conserva,” $12 for a can of beer, probably one that wasn’t on the menu, to make it seem even more spe­ cial, and a tin of seafood, which had already proved itself a popular item. The cheapest tinned seafood on the menu was $10, so Nate instructed the staff to describe this as a free beer. It was a great deal.

“It should be an easy sell,” said Nate, a note of imperative in his voice. When it was Luke’s turn, he consulted his notebook and recited a list of slang phrases he’d heard the servers use, none of which he wanted to hear in the future:

“No problem.”

“Hey, how you guys doing tonight?”

“What’s up?”

He preferred a list that included “You’re welcome” and “How are you?” without the “hey.” When he looked up from his notebook at the incredulous expressions on a couple of faces—were speech patterns really the key to Huertas’s success?—he did his best to explain.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re a formal environment,” said Luke. “We want to have a friendly environment—but not be the customer’s friend.”

The traffic hierarchy was next on his list. Right of way in the narrow restaurant went, in order of priority, to guests, hot food, and dirty dishes. It didn’t matter if a server had a set of hot plates resting on his forearm. A guest always had the right of way.

Posture mattered, too. Luke exhorted the staff to stand up straight, and on this one, Nate backed him up. If someone felt the need to stretch an aching muscle, they should slip out of the customers’ line of sight into the stairwell.

“And if someone’s headed to the bathroom,” said Luke, “get out of their way. Don’t rush, but move quickly. This is like a Broadway stage. Every movement you make gets noticed.”

Nate agreed with this, too, but he was mindful that the first tenet of USHG’s philosophy was to make sure that the staff was satisfied. If they didn’t come to work happy, they weren’t going to take good care of the customers—and this was starting to feel too much like a grown-up lecturing the kids. He wanted them to think of him and Luke as experts, but accessible ones, who not so long ago had been on the receiving end of all this information.

He decided to confess to his own set of nerves.

“Look, just think about something bad you do and work on it,” he said. “I bite my nails. That’s pretty gross. ‘Look, a partner in a restaurant biting his nails.’ That’s really gross. I’m working on it.” All he wanted was for everyone in the room to work as hard on whatever their equivalent bad behavior was.

“Verbiage, posture, table maintenance,” he said. “That’s our focus this week. We’ll add more next week.”

On his way into work on Saturday, Jonah stopped at a little secondhand store in Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he lived and couldn’t afford to work, to buy a couple of dozen butter knives. It hadn’t taken long to realize that people who ordered the menu del dia came in hungry, anticipating a four-course menu. They could get impatient waiting for the pintxo first course, but if Jonah gave them something to nibble on they might order a glass of wine or vermút in addition to the wine pairings with the meal. He’d decided on radishes served with flavored butter, which they’d tried for the first time the night before, precipitating a knife crisis. The dishwasher had to wash batches of them in the middle of service so that the servers could dry them for subsequent courses, which made everybody crazy. Jonah liked vintage dishes and cutlery, which contributed to the we’ve-been-here-forever vibe, so he bought a bunch of mismatched little knives.

He came to work feeling that he’d made progress this week. He’d survived the Thursday service, their worst yet in his estimation, and he thought he’d done a good job of addressing his supposed snappishness without backing down about standards. He had a new, seasonal pintxo with grilled asparagus and ramps, and bunches of broccoli rabe flowers and purple chive flowers to use as garnishes.The weather report wasn’t promising—threatened cloudbursts could make people skittish about going out—but there was a benefit to that, too. It’d give everyone a chance to work on the suggestions that he and Nate and Luke had made.

Chad had arrived in town and had a reservation tonight, to check out the food before he started work in the coming week. In the meantime, Alyssa had turned out to be a workhorse, efficient, precise, and fast, just what he needed until the next wave of reinforcements arrived. She had gone through the four-year program at the Culinary Institute of America’s main Hyde Park campus on nothing but loans, so she had a pressing need of a paycheck; he could count on her to show up. Between her three days, and Chad, and Chris right after that, the fourth week of Huertas’s life promised to be a relief, and possibly a pleasure.

The shift started on a forgiving note, able hands in the kitchen and a steady stream of customers rather than a flood. Jonah had the pintxo runner take over the job of adding garnishes to the pintxos, which made the runner that much prouder of what he was selling and saved the line cook some time. He moved the Spanish ham up to the wood­ burning oven station to make more space for the order tickets. The front-room staff got better at the endless loop between the kitchen and the bar, so the food never stopped flowing. The inexperienced server who thought she should stand at the service station across from the kitchen until someone beckoned her over, rather than step up to the pass whenever she saw a plate, was encouraged to find another job.

The first hiccup was an order that sounded as though someone who knew Jonah was playing a joke, making special requests designed to drive him crazy. The server leaned over the pass and explained the order ticket in a lowered voice, as if sharing a terrible secret:

No asparagus in the migas with asparagus, which reduced it to a bowl of toasted bread crumbs and egg.

No fish or shellfish in a restaurant whose menu was built on them, requiring the kitchen to substitute a dish Jonah would have to make up on the spot.

A hard-boiled egg instead of a slow-poached egg for the huevos rotos, even though the soft egg was supposed to thicken the vinaigrette into a sauce.

One diner at the table had what the server described as “issues” with octopus and would prefer something else.

Jonah had to customize an array of dishes and somehow sync them with the regular orders at the table, and he was in the middle of it when another server appeared with a plate of lamb, minus a single bite. The customer didn’t like it.

Five people studied the plate. Jonah was mystified; it looked fine to him.

“Are we telling them anything about the lamb?” he asked. “If the guy had known it was going to be this pink, he might have ordered something else.”

“I told him medium rare,” said the server. “He just wants it a little more done.” Clearly the customer’s notion of medium rare was less pink than the chef’s.


“No. Just a little more done.”

Jonah grimaced. They would have to figure out a description that better conveyed how the lamb was going to look.

“He’s making a big mistake,” he said quietly. “It’s perfect medium-rare.” He handed it off to Jenni with a request for a minute more. When the server came back to retrieve it, Jonah held the plate in his hand for a moment before he relinquished it, as though debating whether to send out something he wouldn’t eat.

It was painful to turn out what was essentially the wrong food: If the migas had been a balanced dish without asparagus, if a hard-boiled egg achieved the same texture as a softer one, if overcooked lamb were any good, he would have offered the dishes that way in the first place.There was nothing he could do about taste preferences and allergies, about an aversion to shellfish or fish or octopus, but the interpretive requests grated. He was the chef. The idea was to sit down and enjoy his best efforts, not revamp them and, in doing so, throw a dish out of whack.

And yet hospitality seemed to demand accommodation, except for the few chef-owners who made a no-substitution policy part of their brand from the start, transforming the formal absolutism of the European kitchen into a T-shirted but no less definitive stance about what people should eat. David Chang and April Bloomfield hardly wanted for customers, even though he refused to make substitutions at his Momofuku restaurants, and she insisted that it was Roquefort or no cheese at all on the hamburger at The Spotted Pig in the West Village. That wasn’t how Jonah wanted to operate. He’d rather a customer was happy with his meal—or at least he had thought so before this evening. Right now he wasn’t so sure.

The best thing to do, he figured, was to make inside jokes to keep the cooks’ spirits up. Another diner sealed her fate and credibility when she complained loudly that there was no decaf.

Nate conveyed this to Jonah with a sly grin, and Jonah replied just loud enough for Jenni and Alyssa to hear.

“Tell her to go back to the Upper West Side,” he said, the neighbor­hood where Jonah, Nate, and Luke had grown up, known for a great number of mediocre restaurants that might not care how bad the decaf was. “We’re below Fourteenth Street. We don’t have decaf here.” Downtown had standards and was proud of it, was the way he felt.

By nine the bar was packed and the tall front tables, full, even if several of the parties qualified as extended family—friends of Jonah and his parents, the line cook’s parents, Chad. A party of three, people Jonah didn’t know, sailed past the kitchen on their way out, and the man stopped just long enough to tell Jonah that he’d been looking for a pintxos place and clearly Huertas was it.

It took Jonah a moment to process the stranger’s compliment. “Well,” he called at the man’s departing back. “Thank you.”

It was after ten when a couple passed by the kitchen on the way to the dining room, but the reservation sheet said that the last table was at nine thirty. Jonah beckoned Luke over to the pass to find out why a nine thirty reservation was ordering at ten fifteen.

“Why did these people wait forty-five minutes for a table?”

“Table fifty wasn’t ready,” said Luke. “They sat at the bar.”

Jonah’s features flatlined: His eyebrows, his eyes, his mouth turned into grim horizontal lines, and he looked as though he was trying very hard not to say what he was thinking.

He pointed to the first booth, directly across from the pass, which had been empty for hours. “Why didn’t we put them there?”

It was a trick question. There was no good answer, because they should have used the booth, and Luke didn’t even try to respond. He’d been anxious about getting everything right, as Jonah and Nate were, but he came from a world of rules, not improvisation. At this point in Le Cirque’s long history, he’d learned far more about gracious, codified hospitality than about putting out fires. The couple had a reservation for the menu del dia, which they served only in the dining room. He simply hadn’t considered putting them anywhere but there.

“How many drinks did we buy them at the bar?” asked Jonah.

“They had hard cider,” said Luke.

Jonah hardly considered that much of an apology for a forty-five­ minute wait. Luke should have put them in the booth and comped them a glass of wine or sherry. Jonah forgot that he was in an open kitchen three feet from customers and raised his voice loud enough for anyone to hear.

“But how many fucking drinks did we buy them?” he asked. “Forty­-five minutes is amateur hour. We ought to buy their whole fucking meal.” He turned away from Luke, asked a dining-room server what the couple had ordered to drink with their delayed dinner, and said, “Good. Comp them,” without even registering what the answer was.

“They’re really happy,” she said, to try to calm him down.

“I suppose that’s all that matters.” He gave her a plate of complimentary pintxos, the special tuna quenelles on cod-skin chips, and went back to work, too angry to speak either to Luke or to Nate, who had zoomed over to quiet things down.

Luke retreated to the host station to make sure there was no more trouble brewing and came back to report that there was in fact one more reservation at ten thirty, and that another nine thirty was clearly a no-show. Jonah brushed past him without making eye contact to run dishes to someone he knew. He simmered for fifteen minutes, not talking to anyone, until a hapless new runner asked a question he should have known the answer to.

He refused to talk to the kid. “Get me a manager.”

When Nate came over, Jonah addressed him as though the runner were not standing right there, with guests as close as they’d been for the previous outburst. “This clown comes over to me,” he began, pushing on the word “clown,” but he was too upset to talk, and instead let himself be distracted by the final ticket of the night.

The runner darted back to the bar to make sure the problem had been resolved, and then meekly approached the pass again, to report that everything was okay. Jonah ignored him and pronounced sentence as soon as he walked back onto the floor.

“Either he wants to work here or he doesn’t,” Jonah told Nate, who was hovering nearby. Nate could educate the kid, fast, or fire him.

The people who’d been left at the bar for forty-five minutes were the kind of mistake that could do damage if they didn’t leave happy—on a small scale, if they decided never to come back or mention Huertas to a friend, or on a viral plane, in a Yelp review that got traction and inspired other anonymous diners to exaggerate their discontent. There was no room for blunders like that.

There was no time, either, not in a world where Huertas hit the Power Rankings before it opened and the review window was much tighter than it had been. The last generation of chefs had used the early weeks at a new restaurant to fine-tune the operation, but more media outlets meant more competition, and everything had sped up accordingly. In his first three weeks, Jonah had fed food magazine editors with voracious websites to fill, television producers who wanted to check him out for a morning-show feature, and bloggers who ranged from well-informed to self-promoting, even as they prepared to move on to the next new place.

Nate was already tracking reviews; Gato, TV chef Bobby Flay’s heralded return to the kitchen, got a review in New York magazine only six weeks after it opened, which meant that the magazine’s critic, Adam Platt, had to have eaten there during the first month of business. By that count, a critic could walk in the door at Huertas tomorrow, if he hadn’t already done so, unnoticed, two days earlier. Jonah and Nate and Luke always told the staff that they had to behave as though everyone were a potential critic. For all they knew, they had just offended the New York Times’s Pete Wells, here for an early visit to see if Huertas deserved his attention, by making him wait—or if not Wells himself, then his next-door neighbor or best friend or dentist, someone whose offhand negative comment could damage their chances of a review.

The only thing worse than an early review or a bad review—the lat­ter a notion they refused to entertain—was no review at all, and the math there was daunting. The Times ran a weekly restaurant review, and New York magazine had switched to a biweekly publication sched­ule the month before Huertas opened, effectively cutting its review out­put in half. There would be about fifty reviews a year in the Times and just over two dozen in New York magazine, not counting special issues and lists of the best this or that. According to the Zagat Guide’s annual survey, lll restaurants had opened in New York City in 2013, which meant that most of them would never get reviewed. Some got a first visit that didn’t warrant a second, some got the standard three visits, and of that second group, some got reviews that drove business and some got reviews that made them yearn for benign neglect.

There was no way to affect the process, except to be as ready as possi­ble, immediately, always. So Jonah blew up at Luke, on the chance that a ten-year-old dream had just been derailed by a couple stranded at the bar.

Nate was angry at both of them, at Luke for a silly mistake and at Jonah for a leadership gaffe, so he cornered Jonah in the basement office before they left for the night. “If you want to get angry at people,” he said, “do what you have to do. But don’t vilify Luke or me in front of the staff. Do it behind closed doors. I can handle it. But we have to get the most out of the staff—and if they see you belittle us, it doesn’t work.”

Jonah showed up at lineup again the next day, when he should have been getting ready for dinner service. He had to address what had happened without caving in—had to make the front-of-house staff feel more comfortable without yielding to some kind of feel-good compromise. He told them that several guests had complimented him on doing a good job “for only being open three weeks,” which stuck in his head and had the opposite of the intended flattering effect. To him, it meant that they’d noticed mistakes they were willing to forgive because Huertas was less than one month old.

What he wanted to hear, he told the staff, was, “Amazing—and only open a couple of weeks.” He did not apologize for demanding the kind of effort required, nor for blowing up at Luke.

“I’m very disappointed in what I saw,” he said, “but I know we can do better.”

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Ample Hills Wants You To Vote For Your Next Presidential Ice Cream Flavor Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:22:50 +0000 These flavors are going head-to-head at Brooklyn's Ample Hills Creamery. (Graphic courtesy of Ample Hills.)
These flavors are going head-to-head at Brooklyn’s Ample Hills Creamery. (Graphic courtesy of Ample Hills.)

The crazy whirlwind of name-calling and perpetual scandal that is the 2016 presidential election is in need of a sweet pick-me-up. Cue Brooklyn’s Ample Hills Creamery.

The award-winning ice cream shop debuted two new flavors inspired by the Democratic and Republican candidates, just in time for tonight’s first presidential debate.

Ample Hills owners Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith may be hinting that they’re “with her,” naming the Hillary Clinton-inspired flavor “Madam President.” It does have a pretty fantastic ring to it. The flavor combines “sugar, spice and women’s rights” with chili-infused chocolate and the former Secretary of State’s own chocolate chip cookie recipe from her First Lady days.

Donkeys and elephants come together for these sweet treats.
Donkeys and elephants come together for these sweet treats.

Her opposer’s flavor, “Make America Orange Again,” contains orange marshmallow creamsicle with chocolate brownie bricks.

You can pick up presidential scoops and pints, as well as buttons (so you won’t have to wear your support in the form of an ice cream stain) at Ample Hill’s New York locations. Get these flavors while you can — they’re available until Election Day. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative.

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