Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Musings: It's still Monday on the East Coast edition

Did you know it's going to snow on Wednesday? I feel like snow is a metaphor for Brett Favre's career. There is a time and a place, but everyone has now decided it's gotten old, and the mere mention of it makes us sadder. Let's muse...

Yahoo! wants me to be fiscally fit. Too that end, it posts an article from one Marlys Harris, whose son has graduated from a culinary school. Apparently, he also now has the scoop on how restaurants make money. It's mostly boilerplate (menus highlight items they want to sell? ZOUNDS!) until you get to this:

5. Dollar-sign avoidance. Focus groups who've been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals.
First of all, I doubt this is what her son learned in culinary school, so her appeal to authority is debunked. Second, dollar-sign avoidance is mostly about aesthetics, which is obvious to anyone who cares about aesthetics. As it happens, such people tend to care a bit less about dollar signs when they go eat.

Many high-tone foodie establishments
What the hell is a "high-tone foodie establishment"? She actually cites the shenanigans of Olive Garden, so I will assume she means "restaurants not like Olive Garden"?

that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus
I know of no restaurants that offer groats (though I'm sure one or two offer them). Of the pure lentil offerings, I can cite Black Sea on Snelling, which offers a red lentil soup* for a whopping $3.95. Maybe I would be more likely to buy it if it were priced at 4-, but I only have so many arms. Those ruthless Turkish bastards ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Sorry for all the snark. It's not like the author is from Minnesota, and would Kn... Oh, dear...

-- like Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don't notice that I've paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla.
Congrats on the national press coverage, Spoonriver. You can count a moron among your patronage. For the record, Spoonriver's quesadilla clocks in at $9.50, which is not at all unreasonable given that Chef Brenda is packing the thing with quality ingredients.

I've had a bone or two to pick with Spoonriver, but I've never, remotely, felt ripped off. Why is Marlys Harris throwing a restaurant she likes to frequent under the bus?

Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (... .) to connect the entree with the price. You won't find them much anymore either.
Here is how the quesadilla dish reads on the page:

Quesadilla • Natural Chicken, Roasted Vegetable-Sqaush Spread, Amish Cheddar. Chili-Mango Salsa / Veg. Option9.5 / 8.5

In other words, the chicken quesadilla costs $9.50; the vegetarian $8.50

How many leader dots do you freaking need, lady? Heaven forbid a restaurant would overestimate your ability to read horizontally.

Of course, Brenda closed down her namesake restaurant in order to make Spoonriver a success. You know, because that's what business owners usually do when they are trying to cheat their own customers.


Here's a trick other restaurants use. They fill you up and cheap, sugary, fatty junk at 1,000% markups. They succeed because customers of restaurants like Spoonriver whine about being charged an arm and a leg (which again, $9.50) for real food.

Here's a little insider tip about Olive Garden. They do not care one way or the other whether you eat one bowl or three of a pasta bowl that costs them about 32 cents to produce. Just don't puke it up on premises, and they're pretty much cool.


Let's make this a foodie muse. Hit up The Flame in Aberdeen, SD. This is their resident steak house, and they certainly try. The owner's daughter was our waitress. She spent some time in the Twin Cities, but came back to SD for work (this is not an uncommon theme, btw, Mark Dayton).

At any rate, she always recommends the meat rare, and seems to know something about food. To which, The Flame should listen to the owners daughter. She'd probably tell you that there is no compelling reason why a potato must accompany a steak, and that a real soup can command a higher price point than a "home made" one.

I am convinced that The Flame could make itself into an outstanding restaurant without alienating the locals.


On the other hand, the Palm Garden Cafe gets it right. In a town where "from scratch" cooking happens in the fields outside of town, they do a pretty nice job.


You know who else does a "nice" job? Heidi's in uptown. Had dinner there on Thursday, and had the opportunity to make converts of our dinner companions. Do you want to know what great service really means? What real cooking is? What ambiance looks like? Go there.

I'll note the service. We take it for granted that our servers treat us like crap in this town. Frankly, there was a point in the evolution of Heidi's (years ago) where the service was a bit slack. Not now. The twin cities hasn't seen this level of service. It just hasn't. Every staff member is on top of the mission of that restaurant.

If all goes well, there will be much riding on those tires.


Yes, it's that good. Go.


Should also throw a shout to Obento-Ya. My first experience was unspectacular, but a second visit hit all the right spots. I think a variety of sushi, small plates, and the robata is the way to go. Consistency and competence are the name of the game there, and when it comes to Japanese cuisine, what more could you ask for?


I mean, there are things you could ask for, like better chopsticks and maybe a more robust...

But I'm done.


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