Archive for the 'Food and Drink' Category

Some basic math for waiters

October 8th, 2007

When a group of several people eat together at a restaurant (or bar, coffee shop, etc…) there are common ways to split the bill:

  • One person pays everything.
  • Split evenly.
  • Each pays for their own portion.

The exact values are of course a bit fluid on the last two options, since the numbers may be rounded. Currency is discrete rather than continuous, after all. Not only that, but it’s often simpler to divide up to the main coin and not the sub-coins[1].

The payment can be done by cash. In that case the people would usually just collect enough, pay with it, and divide the change between themselves when the change comes back. The work on properly dividing the charge is on the customers in these cases.

Sometimes, though, people pay with credit cards. Which means that many times the waiters will just receive a bunch[2] of cards, with simple instructions on how to divide the charge between them.

The common one is of course “Split it evenly”. And these are the cases where money is often rounded to higher coins, since apparently most waiters have a problem with fractions. I can recall maybe 1-2 cases, ever, where the individual charges weren’t rounded with one person paying the extra.

When things are not split evenly, well, that’s when the fun begins. And by “fun” I mean an all too common tragic comedy of errors.

The simple case is when the customers still calculate the amounts in advance. In this case the waiter receives exact instructions in the style of “Put 100 on this card, and 150 on that card”. Simple. Easy.

And they still sometimes manage to get it wrong:

  1. The bill comes back split evenly.
  2. The amounts are charged correctly, but on the wrong cards. In this example, the first card is charged 150, and the second 100.
  3. All of the cards are charged the same amount, which is one of the sub-amounts. So, for example, for this 250 bill either both cards will be charged 100, or both will be charged 150.
  4. Some of the cards may be charged correctly, and some will be charged an unrelated amount. This is because the complexity of the task got the waiter confused and he/she charged an amount due for another customer entirely.

I had all of these happen to me, as a customer in restaurants.

One time I had two of them happen in a series. The waitress made a mistake (#3 above), I alerted her, and she came back with a “correction” that included another type of mistake (#4 above). When there’s a charge, and a cancellation, as a customer you’re requested to sign on both. If you simply don’t sign on the charge, it creates all sorts of complications. So I ended up having to sign five times for my bill that day. What did I tell you? Fun!

It also happens, though, that the job of dividing the charge is placed on the waiter. Sometimes the customers know the difference between what they’re supposed to be billed for, but not the final amount.

In which cases someone has to do the calculation. It’s a simple enough calculation, you know the total, and you know the differences.

And the natural tendency would be to let the waiter do it. People just had a meal, are finishing up, and they need to pay the bill. Why would they want to do the work, as easy as it is, when there’s a waiter that will have to process the charges anyway and is being paid for it?

Makes sense.

Except it doesn’t. Because many waiters seem a bit deficient in the math department.

The latest time this happened to me was a couple of weeks ago. I was finishing a meal with a friend. We basically shared the dishes, so almost everything was supposed to be split evenly. The only difference was that I had an extra glass of some medium-pricey alcohol.

The waitress arrived, and saw the two credit cards on the tray with the bill. The dialog between me and the waitress went something like that:

Waitress: Should I split this up?
Me: Yes, but it’s 70 more on this card.
Waitress: Right. 70 on this card, and the rest on the other card.
Me: No. Split it between the cards, so that this card is charged by 70 more than the other card.
Waitress: Eh…
Waitress: Hmm….
Waiterss: I’m…. err… not….
Me: It’s simple. Just split evenly, add 35 to this card, and reduce the other 35 from the other card.
Waitress: Ah. Yes. OK, sure.

And this is the math lesson for today. If you want to divide a sum X between N people so that everyone pays the same except for one who pays an extra Y, this is what you do:

  1. Divide X by N. Let’s call that A for average. You already know how to do that. This A would be what you’d charge each card if you had to split evenly.
  2. Divide Y by N. Let’s call that B. This value is like the average of the differences. Mathematically it’s the exact same process as the previous step, so if you knew how to do it, you know how to do that.
  3. Everyone, except the person who has to pay more, pays A-B. You know how to do subtraction already. It’s the same thing you’d do if someone paid part by cash and part by credit card, and you’d have had to reduce the cash amount from the total to get the credit card charge.
  4. The person who has to pay more pays A + [(N-1)*B]. Basically all the B’s you reduced from the bills of the other people, you add to this one’s bill. You already know how to do addition too. It’s just like what you’d do if someone asked you to charge the tip on the card as well, telling you how much is the charge and how much is the tip. You already know how to do multiplication as well, it’s what you’d do if you got everyone else’s cards and they all told you they have to pay B.

That’s it. Easy. Simple steps. And these are all things that waiters are supposed to know how to do already.

Except sometimes they don’t.

In this case, for example, I was indeed charged 35 more. The other card? Charged exactly the amount of an even split.

Wait, wait, I know what you’re thinking. In this case it would mean that the total would come to 35 more than the real total, right? So the waitress, or at least the cash register computer, should notice something is off, right?

Right.

But they had a simple solution for that. You see, the final bill came back printed with three items:

  • Credit card charge : A
  • Credit card charge : A+35
  • Refund : -35

So the total was absolutely correct, making the waitress feel perfectly happy about it. No problem if it all adds up, after all.

Except that, of course, we didn’t get that refund. The bill did not come back with 35 cash, nor did one of the credit cards get a refund (which would have kind of defeated the whole purpose, but at least would have meant the amount of money passed from us to the restaurant would have been correct).

Our poor waitress didn’t quite see the problem. It all adds up after all, and the total is right. Luckily another waitress/supervisor did see the light immediately after a very brief explanation.

Waiters should learn a little basic math. Me, I should learn not to trust waiters to do even the most basic math. I think I learned my lesson. Now it’s their turn.

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  1. OK, Poor terminology here. I mean that, for example, to split 25$ between to people you’d sometimes, often, see one charged 13$ and one 12$, rather than 12.5$ each.[back]
  2. 2 is also valid for “bunch”[back]

Espresso overdose

August 30th, 2007

People suffering the side effects of drug-overdose, that’s something that becomes all too common. Both for medicine, and for “recreational” drugs.

But overdosing on espresso, now that’s something that you don’t hear about every day.

Jasmine Willis, 17, developed a fever and began hyperventilating after drinking seven double espressos while working at her family’s sandwich shop.

That’s a lot of espresso. And the effects seem quite severe:

She developed a fever and began struggling to breathe after being sent home by her father.

“My nerves were all over the place. I was drenched. I was burning up and hyperventilating. I was having palpitations, my heart was beating so fast and I thought I was going into shock”

The teenager, who was allowed home after a few hours of observation, suffered side effects for days afterwards and now says she cannot stand the sight of coffee.

She did have some excuse for drinking so much espresso… She thought the cups she drank were regular (i.e. short) espressos, not double. An interesting point, but it suffers from a couple of problems:

  1. Seven cups of espresso are a heck of a lot, even if they’re short espressos. So she thought she was fine because she was only drinking an extreme amount of coffee, and not a massively extreme amount? Even seven short espressos would finish up most people.
  2. She was working there. The family’s shop. So it’s natural to assume she was making these espressos herself, on the machine in the shop. Very very hard to miss the fact that you’re getting doubles when you make them[1] yourself.

At least she finished this alive and well. Hopefully she’ll go easy on the espressos from here on.

Seven double espressos… Yikes!

Some quick background-info on espresso

For those not familiar with basic espresso terminology:

  • Short – the “basic” espresso. Single amounts of coffee and water.
  • Long – Single amount of coffee (as in Short), double amount of water[2].
  • Double – Twice the amount of coffee, twice the amount of water. Like pouring two short espressos together. Yes, that’s exactly what the word double would imply.

The amount of water in a short espresso, and this is important, is supposed to be very very small. It’s amazing how many times you can ask for an espresso in a restaurant, and get a whole cup[3] of coffee…

The espresso should also be served straight away, while it’s still hot, and you can still see the thin layer of foam on the top.

Basically: too cold – too bitter, too much water – too bitter. Simple, really.

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  1. well, press the selection buttons, at the very least. I don’t know what machine they’re using, and how automatic it is.[back]
  2. You’d think it would dilute the coffee taste, but in practice it just makes the espresso taste more bitter[back]
  3. The fault of two things, mainly. The cluelessness on the side of the people calibrating the machines, and serving the coffee. And the misguided idea that customers are happier when you give them more, so maybe they’d prefer a large full cup rather than a small and nearly empty one[back]

Tip for amateur bartenders and waiters

August 5th, 2007

Beer foam is not whipped cream.

Specifically, while a small head of foam is fine while inside the glass, there should not be an overflowing dome of foam rising above the rim of the glass.

More specifically, if you did pour a little bit too much beer, or too quickly, and you have foam rising and forming over the rim of the glass, scrape it off.

Yes, before serving it.

Failure to do so can, and will, result in much lower monetary tip/service.

How poisonous are peach seeds?

July 28th, 2006

This post was triggered by someone reaching here with the search “What is inside peach seeds that’s poison”. I almost decided to laugh about it like on all other silly search phrases leading here, but then figured I should at least check if maybe it’s not silly.

And it turns out that peach seeds actually contain Cyanide, in the form of Amygdalin.

Is that a problem? Well, theoretically yes, but not really.

The amounts aren’t very big, with “One hundred grams of moist peach seed contains 88 mg of cyanide,
while an equivalent amount of apricot seed holds 217 mg.”

A single peach fruit of course doesn’t have nearly as much as a hundred grams of seed. But how dangerous is that amount, as a high level reference?

If they’re not talking about pure cyanide, but about the Amygdalin, not at all. The thing is used in anti-cancer medications (doesn’t work, BTW) in higher amounts, and studies found no side-effects in taking 500mg three times a day. Which would be about 1.7Kg of just the peach’s seeds per day. Not realistic.

If they’re talking about the pure cyanide extracted from it, that’s more dangerous. But still not that big a deal. Research shows 10.8mg per Kg of body weight per day is NOAEL (i.e. known to be safe). So for a petite person weighing 50Kg this would be about 610g of peach seeds, per day. And that’s before any adverse effects of long-time usage appear, and still very far from chocking and instant death.

People rarely eat a peach seed by mistake, usually the pit/stone is too tough to open and expose the seeds. And it’s too large to be swallowed whole by a person. So a seed will only be eaten when the stone is cracked, and one accidentally slips out, and accidentally swallowed.

Compared with the massive amount of seeds a person will have to eat to get to the critical level, I’d say it’s not that big a concern. Heck, eating 600g of whole peaches a day would be a hard task. So that amount of just the seeds? The boredom and frustration, not to mention the horrible taste, will kill a person first.

Or am I missing something?

Opening beer bottles without a can opener

July 2nd, 2006

There’s this site, 1000 Arten ein Bier zu öffnen (I believe a rough translation would be “1,000 ways to open beer” or something of the sort), that depicts lots of ways in which one can open a beer bottle.

So far the list merely goes to 984, but there’s noticeable progress.

It’s in German, but that doesn’t matter because they have pictures. Three for each method: before, during, and after.

Many are boring, just using various surfaces. But some are quite bizarre, and plenty are truly hilarious.

Bierodrome (in Kensington St.), London

May 9th, 2006

Bierodrome, Kensington St. London
My first evening meal in London this trip was on Bierodrome (Horrible website, BTW. Flash, hard to navigate, and impossible to link to the specific place I’ve been to inside the general site) in Kensington St. next to the Holborn Underground station.

The reason for selecting it was quite simple. Location. It was late at night, on the street I had to take from the musical I just saw to the Underground station, and I was after a sleepless night because of the flight. So since it looked alright from the outside I decided getting in would be preferable to starting to wander around the area looking for another place.

I entered, stood by the door, and looked around. There was a large bar in the middle and to the left of the room, a few tables (some occupied) on the two walls nearer the door, and an area with smaller tables across the room. The important thing is that there were tables, and there were a few waiters walking around.

So two options, either I needed to sit down and wait for a waiter to arrive, or I needed to wait for a host to bring me to a table. But there wasn’t any potential host or hostess standing near the door, or was there a sign asking people to wait to be seated. After a few more seconds during which none of the waiters looked to my direction, I decided I should probably sit.

So I did. Not the right decision, though. It took a little while, but I figured out that nobody is coming with a menu.

I stood up, and started walking across the room to the other side, where a waitress just passed. And was surprised to see that in the corner of the area on the other side of the bar, the one across the room from the entrance, and which is hard to see well from the entrance given the muted lights, there’s a hostess stand. And the expected sign of waiting to be seated. The smaller tables were the restaurant’s, and the larger ones were for the bar, and probably intended for patrons to come and get their own drinks.

Fine arrangement for returning customers who know the place, very silly way to organize a room where new clients may stray in from the street.

Menu outside Bierodome in Kensington St. LondonOnce there the waitress/host approached me, and I asked for a table. I sat down, and received a menu. Or maybe there was a menu at a container on the side of the table. I think both, she probably gave me the food menu, but alcohol menu was there. I don’t exactly remember, and it doesn’t really matter.

For the food I took their Sausage Platter. It’s been a while since I ate sausages, and the raw materials seemed interesting. Pork and leek sausages, Wild boar in Chimay Beer (whatever that is) sausages, and Chicken with sun-dried tomato sausages.

A platter of three types of sausages meant one sample from each kind. More would have been better, but I can’t say I was surprised. The sausages themselves were good, though. All three. Though there were differences in quality, with one just being nice, and one being really good. Not sure which was which, since the spicing blurred the flavours of the listed main ingredients, but if I had to guess I’d say the best one was the Wild Boar and Chimay Beer sausage.

The “Belgian Mash” on which it was served was dull and unimpressive. The “Forest Fruits Juice” seemed to be mostly cranberries cooked until they started to become soft and slightly saucy, but it was good, and add flavour to the mash.

For a drink, given that I was in a pub, and they had a wide selection of draft beers I wasn’t familiar with, I decided to try the beers. An experiment that went on throughout my short stretch in England, ordering a different kind of beer with (almost) each meal.

The most interesting one on the menu was a St-Feuillien Blonde draft beer, so I ordered a pint. It was the most expensive beer they had on the menu, but also sounded like the one I have the least chance of trying elsewhere.

And it was really really good. The taste was more sweet and delicate than the beers I usually drink (Though usually may be too strong a word given that I don’t really get to drink beer much), but very tasty and easy to drink. And, I think, better than the other kinds I got to try later on.

Overall the place seems really nice, the interior design is comfortable and gives it a good atmosphere, and the food has potential. They just need to work a bit on the service, both to actually pay attention to people coming through the door, and on the general attitude (While my waitress did everything she should have had, she didn’t even bother faking being interested or caring much).

And they gave me one of those loyalty cards, which provides 50% off the food bill after four visits. Not a bad deal as such offers go, but in my case I don’t expect to be visiting London enough to actually manage to use it much. Though who knows, they didn’t write a year of expiry on it…

Hamburger Union, London

May 9th, 2006

Hamburger Union in London
My first lunch in London was in a Hamburger Union. One of the two branches they have in the West End, but I don’t quite remember which one.

As it was the first day, I was still in a state of being appalled by the extremely high prices of nearly everything in London, food included. The prices are significantly above those I’d pay around here for similar things.

Actually, it’s pretty well known that the prices are above what most people anywhere on the world will pay, but there’s a difference between knowing somewhere is expensive, and actually forcing yourself to pay money for something you’re used to value for less.

It takes quite a while to get used to the fact, and to really feel comfortable with the notions that these are the prices and nobody is trying to rip you off on purpose.

Though, given the fact that the Soho, and most of the West End, are big tourist attractions, I suppose it’s also possible that to some extent everyone actually was trying to rip everyone else off.

The area has an incredible amount of restaurants, pubs, and their ilk. But as I was walking around I had the problem of looking at menu after menu, and saying to myself that there’s no way I’m paying the exorbitant prices they want. There were places with lower prices, but they didn’t look like places I’d really want to go into, or will really agree to be forced into…

And then I saw this Hamburger Union, which while definitely screamed Fast Food at least looked nice and respectable. And their prices, at least the burger prices, were high but not as insane as most everything else around.

So in I went.

The first room is small, and basically just has a copy of the menu, and the counter for ordering. After placing the order I got a numbered card, and was directed to the next, and bigger, room with the tables.

I picked a table, and placed the card in the holder. Which was a bit more complicated than it sounds. I mean, the system is simple enough, there’s a small stand and two edge grippers you can put the card in.

But the shape would be perfectly suited to holding just a single bigger card. And so far most places where I encountered such a system had a card per table, since two strangers usually didn’t share a single table. And so I wasted some time trying to figure out how to use the entire holder for my card, before it dawned on me that I only needed to use one side of it.

My order, a burger with cheese and bacon, arrived after about a minute or two. They do have dishes beyond burgers, but given the name of the place, and the price issue, ordering a burger seemed like the thing to do.

The burger itself was a bit on the small side, but very good compared to my expectations from a fast food burger. The cheese and bacon were also nice, and blended in well.

The bun was obviously not mass-produced. Which had the disadvantage of it having a really weird shape (someone spilled some dough when putting it into the oven), but the advantage of it not being the tasteless mushy thing that was also a part of my expectations. So that’s a clear win.

Since, as I said, I was still in price shock, I didn’t try any side orders.

One thing on the menu surprised me, though. They have “Protein Style” burgers, which are the same burger except that it comes without a bun, and wrapped in lettuce instead. More like no-carb style than protein style, since no extra protein was added. But they’re priced the same as the regular burgers.

Vegetables too were more expansive in England, but I’m sure a lettuce leaf costs a lot less than a bun.I don’t know, for a Brit it may make sense, paying the same for the burger since he only eats the burger, and not wasting a bun. But from the perspective of an Israeli this is extremely rude, as people are asked to pay the same for getting less. Never mind that the target audience for this won’t use the extra, they still pay for it. Many would explicitly opt to take the regular one and leave the bun uneaten.

Overall, not exactly gourmet food, but it was quite nice.

And here I thought bars were the one place it was alright to be drunk in

March 26th, 2006

Having laws against being drunk while driving is pretty common, happens in a lot of countries, and is something I see as perfectly fine and correct.

But in Texas they take further, too much further, I think. Now it seems they’re arresting people for being drunk while drinking inside bars.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t plan on getting out of the pub until much later when they’re sober. Or if they intend to go out and walk, not drive. Or if they really won’t do anything bad while drunk.

No, being drunk is the offence. Not doing anything problematical because of being drunk.

Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.

The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car.

This is Marvellous. Most people who get drunk do not hurt each other. Someone getting overly drunk and hurting someone, while getting much more publicity than someone being drunk and going to sleep (not exactly a news event, is it?) is rare. And the most common way this does happen is by people driving drunk. Something which people are mostly aware of, and can choose not to do, even while intoxicated.

So if someone wants to go to a bar to drink, either to try and drown some big sorrow (doesn’t work, but people still try), celebrate something, or just have a fun evening which includes drinks, this is now dangerous to do in Texas. Anyone getting drunk, without doing anything wrong, without harming anyone, without even thinking about driving, can get arrested.

This is not going to be good for the bars, I bet. Most bar patrons don’t plan in advance to get totally drunk, just to have a drink or a few, but I guess most aren’t entirely and completely sure they won’t drink a little more than planned. And now it’s dangerous. They drink to much, they can get arrested for it. Getting into a bat to have a couple of drinks now carries risks. Bye bye bars, hello coffee shops and restaurants.

And I can’t help but wonder about the next step. They’re arresting drunk people because they may do things. Things which they’re not doing, didn’t do, and don’t plan on doing. But because they’re theoretically capable of them, they get arrested. How is arresting drunk people, because they may drive, different from arresting angry people because they may decide to hit someone? Or arresting people who carry firearms because they may decide to shoot someone?

If you want to go and arrest people before the do something dangerous, well, you might as well just hit the streets and arrest every single person you see. Some of them are going to do dangerous stuff. Why take the risk, when it’s obvious they’re capable of it?

Anyone not bed-ridden should be arrested, and the sooner the better. Everyone will be much safer that way.

I never gotten really drunk in my life, but right now I’m very happy that I don’t live anywhere near Texas…

Food festival – Nahalat Binyamin 3

November 17th, 2005

In the last week there has been a mini food festival (Sorry, both links in Hebrew only), involving 7 restaurants in the Nahalat Binyamin St. in Tel-Aviv. This is the third such event (And the first I attended, or was aware of), which they have been doing at half-year intervals.

Officially (In practice some offered a wider selection) each of the involved restaurants offered, for the duration of the festival, a selection of three main courses, and one desert, for a fixed price of 20 ILS per serving. This is lower than the usual price at these places, but many of the dishes were also smaller, so this was more of a sampler than just a meal discount. Which is fine, given that this is the idea behind a food festival.

I have been in the nearby area in the past, but was not personally familiar with any of the involved restaurants. Some came recommended by people I know, and some were complete unknowns. Not a bad thing, given that this was a perfect opportunity to try them out.

When reaching the area, we (I went with a friend) started by walking around a bit to get a general impression of some of the places, and the crowds. We went on a regular weekday, not on the weekend, but the restaurants were still crowded. And we were amused to notice that the order by which the restaurants were listed on all the festival posters hanging on the streets, was the same order they were physically located along the street. Rather convenient, since you can plan ahead easily by simply reading the list of offered dishes, and glancing around.

One of the restaurants, L’entrecôte, was supposed to be a French meat restaurant. But it’s kosher. Now, and I cannot stress this enough, you do not want, under nearly any circumstances, to eat kosher meat. The exception being if you had the misfortune of eating only kosher meat your entire life, in which case you don’t know how much you’re suffering. But after eating meat that has not been so ruined, the thing is very hard to make edible. Kosher meat means that the meat was covered with salt, in sufficient amounts and time for all the blood to be sucked out. And then, because the left meat is salty and dry (nice for a jerky, not so nice for a steak or anything else), most distributors wash it (gets the salt out, but ruins the texture and the taste even further), and add all sorts of chemical softeners (so it’s not so hard, but it also loses whatever little meatlike consistency it had left, and gains a noticeable chemical taste). Scary stuff.

Not only that, but if the place is kosher, and serves meat, this means you won’t find any sort of dairy products around. Can’t mix meat and dairy when it’s kosher. That means no dish whatsoever, desserts included, will have stuff like cheese, butter, or cream.

So this one restaurant we skipped, and I don’t have any first-hand knowledge about the level of cooking there.

One item worth mentioning was that they put their security guard (sitting outside near the entrance) right in front of the festival poster for their place. So unless you knew they were a part of the festival, you could have easily missed the poster and assume they weren’t. And you couldn’t take a quick look at the dishes they offer without peeking behind the guard’s back.

A second item worth mentioning about them is that they seemed to have joined the festival as default, rather than out of any conscious decision. They had an unrelated page on the window with “seasonal specials” (or something like that, I don’t recall the exact phrasing they used), containing a much wider selection of dishes at the same 20 ILS price. All they had to do was to say they’re in, and randomly pick some of the already discounted dishes to be included in the festival menu.

The best place of the evening was Tahel. One of the places that also came recommended to me in advance, and generally have a very good reputation. There was a line of people waiting to be seated, but unlike the other places they also had an outside window where you could order the festival dishes in discardable plates, and walk with them (or, as we did, catch one of the outside chairless tables). This sped things up noticeably, and we didn’t have to wait at all.

They had their own menu of festival dishes there, which included more courses than those included in the official festival listing. Still, the ones we sampled were among the four on the official menu.

One of their dishes that we tried was a shrimp bisque, which was very good. The other was deep-fried risotto balls with lamb meat and pine nuts. According to the lists this should have came with a yoghurt sauce. But it came with tahini instead, which combined with the fried balls motif gave it a strong resemblance to falafel. Still, it was quite good as well. Certainly a place I plan to return to sometime.

Across the street was Chuka, a new Asian and seafood restaurant. There was a lot of clutter near the entrance, but I am not sure what exactly it was about, since once we went past the people we could enter the place easily, there was no line, and there were free seats. We were greeted by a host, and offered to seat either at a table, or near the bar. We chose the bar, which turned out to may not have been the best choice, as it took some time for the barman to address us, while waitresses were more actively running around the tables.

Here too we were presented with menus that had a wider selection that the officials. It was a bit unclear, though, whether it was something for the festival, or a general menu, since the menu mostly consisted of photos of the dishes, with labels but sans prices, and didn’t say a word about the festival. It was ambiguous enough that we asked the barman to make sure these were all the discounted dishes included in the festival, and not some regular menu of theirs.

We wanted to order a Calamari dish, but were told they’re out of Calamari (WTF?! How the heck does a restaurant dealing with seafood can be out of a major ingredient? That’s awful planning). We were told, however, that there is a new dish, of shrimps, in the festival menu instead. We opted for the replacement dish, and also ordered a second dish, a paella.

The shrimps were good, but the dish was very small. Four medium shrimps only, which makes it a little more than 1$ equivalent per shrimp. Steep price. The paella was also quite good, and we both liked it. We were a little amused by it having a shrimp inside as well, to compensate for the very few pieces of Calamari in it. I guess the last few went into the last batch of paella…

While we were eating, a couple of young women came over, and also sat at the bar. They looked at the special menu very puzzled, and when the barman approached asked him if that’s all that they serve there. The guy answered that it’s not, it’s just the festival menu. From the look of them, it was obvious that they had no idea what he was talking about, or that the festival was taking place. They asked if they can get a regular menu. The barman then looked very puzzled himself (Not used to having actual customers on regular days?), but went away and managed to come back a little later with a full menu.

Actually, the area is far from being dead, even in the middle of the week. Not only this street, but some of the nearby streets, are regular evening hangouts, with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. So I guess there were quite a few more people who came for a quiet evening out, only to discover everything is crowded, and that there’s a festival going on. But most of the people around were clearly ordering the festival dishes, whether they came for them originally or not.

Another place we decided to skip was Dinitz. It’s more of a coffee shop than a restaurant, so while the food may be good (I have no idea how is their level of cooking) there was nothing on the menu very appealing. One of the festival dishes was fish&chips, for example. Could be quite decent, but not my idea of interesting gourmet cooking. If they had any extra dishes not on the official festival menu, they didn’t put the list outside, so we had no way to find out about it.

The next one we sampled was Fabiana, an Italian restaurant. It actually took us a bit longer than intended to get there, since while all the other places are right on Nahalat Binyamin St., this one is slightly to the side into one of the side streets. So we just kept walking down the street, not seeing it. Not a long detour, it’s not such a long street, and as we went all the way back we discovered it was directly across the side street on the corner Dinitz was on, and we could have saved ourselves the time had we bothered to look around a bit instead of starting to walk.

We ordered two dishes here as well. The size of the portions was quite impressive for the reduced price, which was very nice. However the waitress was a bit confused, or not paying attention, and we got one of the dishes we asked for, and one that we didn’t. We notified the waitress, who apologized and went to replace the dish with what we actually ordered. As an interesting observation, it took them quite a few minutes between our order and the time they delivered the dishes, yet it took about half a minute to replace the one we didn’t ask for with the one we did. The jury is still out on whether they have everything ready and were delaying to make it appear like they’re making a fresh plate, or whether they exchanged our order with another one and this was simply a matter of exchanging them back once both errors were noticed.

One dish was Strozzapreti (aka Priest Chokers. No, seriously) pasta in spinach, Gorgonzola, and nuts. It was very nice, but the Gorgonzola was hardly noticeable. True, Gorgonzola isn’t the strongest blue cheese out there, but if it’s in a sauce the taste should be distinct and obvious, it wasn’t.

The other was one of their deserts, Ricotta ravioli in Cinzano and caramelized fruits (In this case being Mango, Kiwi, and something else that was in small quantities, and delicate taste, so I didn’t recognize. Maybe peach). The sauce was very nice, and the dish is an interesting (in a good way) idea for a desert. My only problem with it was that the ravioli filling was a little bit too dry. Had it been a little softer and smooth, and maybe a little sweeter, the dish would have been excellent.

Overall a nice place, though the waitresses seemed quite unused to the amount of people. Interestingly enough, we also saw a large number of people eating, and drinking, things that were not on the festival menu. As I mentioned before, it did happen sometime on the other locations, but here it was more apparent. This could be an indication that their regular menu is much better, and maybe those people were returning customers and so decided not to take advantage of the festival menu. If so, the place warrants a second visit.

We tried to enter another one of the restaurants, Betty Ford. Another place that has a good name. Unfortunately, they have good enough a name that there were long lines each and every time we passed nearby. Not that we were in a hurry, but waiting for 20 minutes (estimate of their own guy at the entrance. I’d expect that they usually try to underestimate the time, even, so as not to scare people away) in line just to taste their dishes strike us as a bit too much. The long lines, and the fact that the lines were maintained all through the evening, are probably an indication that the place is worth visiting as well, though.

And last, there was Brown, on which I also received some personal recommendations. Including one on a dish they had on the last such festival, though it wasn’t on the menu now. Actually, none of the main course dishes they had on the menu seemed unique or appealing this time, so we only tried their desert, a chocolate cake with ice cream. It was nice for a chocolate Soufflé, but not amazing. Especially considering that due to simple unplanned timing issue I ate over the past week a few mini-chocolate-Soufflés I made myself, which were better in both taste and texture, so they lost by comparison.

The place was very crowded, and so it took a relatively long time to get the attention of the waitress. There were also a few people at the bar who looked decidedly drunk, but still at the level where they were having good fun.

Food isn’t everything, though, and they also had festival-wide deals on drinks. A selection of wines could be had, with the first glass costing 20 ILS (like the dishes), and subsequent refills by any of the inlcuded wine types costing only 15 ILS. And yes, refills mean that you take the glass with you (Let me tell you, walking down the street holding a wine glass in the hand is a strange experience). The wine glass is included in the price of the first glass. A potentially good deal, but the selection of wines was far from impressive, including mostly some mediocre local wines. For some odd reason they also decided to be confusing, letting each restaurant name the wines by its own preference. Some gave more details, some less, some gave different partial details from each others. It was quite confusing, and while the wines were pretty much the same in all the places, it took us a while to be certain of that, instead of assuming that they managed to find an incredibly large amount of uninteresting wines.

We did have a glass each of the only one there to our linking, a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, from the La Consulta brand of Finca La Celia. Which it took us a while to realize was there, since true to the inconsistent descriptions, almost none of the restaurants we’ve been through bothered to write “Finca La Celia” on it in their menu.

They had a similar deal with beers, different prices for 1/2 litre or 1/3 litre, where the first glass costs more but includes the glass, and refills are cheaper (The prices weren’t high for beers, but I do know some nice bars, even not so distant from there, that normally serve good beer at similar prices). However the beer offer was limited to only one brand, Goldstar, which can best be described as insipid. About the only good thing I can say about this beer is that it’s not as horrible as the other two local brands (Nesher, and Maccabi). Then again, some people disagree with me on that, as was evident by the fact that we did see people drinking it. Most peculiar, but you can’t argue about taste. Especially not with people who don’t have it.

Some of the restaurants in the Nahalat Binyamin area seemed really nice, I’ll be going there again to give them a more personal examination. All in all it was a fun evening, though not as culinarily interesting as something like a really big food festival. But hey, can’t have everything, and it certainly matched up to my expectations.

You can cook a cucumber

August 29th, 2005

If you’re one of those odd people who refuse to eat things just because they’re green, this post isn’t for you, and you can skip it. If you’re not one, then let me assuage your incredulity by stating that yes, there really are people like that. I personally know a few. I even expect to get indigent yells from at least one of them, due to this paragraph.

OK, now that we got rid of people who won’t eat things like cucumbers or zucchinis anyway, and so will find the preparation method a moot point, I can go on.

I’m sometimes amazed how people can totally disregard perfectly valid way to deal with some raw ingredients. Case in point, cucumbers. A very common vegetable (at least here). Ask most people what they would put into a salad (assuming they make salads. If not, ask them what they’ll expect to find in one), and a cucumber is likely to be on the list.

Ask them whatever else cucumbers are good for, and you may get a list of other dishes. And it is extremely likely that there will be one common element to all of these. The cucumber in them would be either raw, or pickled.

Mention something like frying, broiling, or cooking a cucumber, and you’ll get really odd stares from people. The first time I tried it was as a part of a dish of mixed broiled vegetables. I added a cucumber to the mix, thin quarter slices. And it passed on wonderfully, with everyone enjoying the dish. That is, until someone mentioned that they thought we have run out of zucchinis. And, since there was nothing seemingly problematical about that, I answered that the green pieces are not zucchini, but a cucumber…

My father didn’t mind much, my mother made a face (but went on eating, since it tasted good), and my brother… Started going on and on about what a freakish idea that is, and that cooked cucumbers are too bizarre to eat. And he stopped eating it, saying the dish tasted strange.

The next few times that a dish included thinly sliced zucchini, he actually tried to avoid eating it, saying that the cucumber gave it an odd taste. An odd taste which miraculously disappeared once I told him it’s not a cucumber in there.

And my brother is not the only one with those attitudes. Sadly enough, that post isn’t just taking a jab at him. Plenty of people seem extremely surprised when I mention using cucumber in cooking and broiling. Unique and rare spices are just regarded as exotic, as are rare fruits and vegetables, whose useage is just called special and creative by people seeing them made. But a cooked cucumber, that get called bizarre, and often shunned, mostly before anyone tries to actually taste it.

And it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it, or that there are health issues, or anything whatsoever. Practically any vegetable is regarded as accepted in practically any method (as long as it keeps it edible, and without any health related concerns), but a cooked cucumber isn’t.

Which is what I find bizarre, since there’s nothing too bizarre about it. Cucumbers and zucchinis are actually much alike, both in look, texture, and in taste. Except that the cucumber loses more water in cooking, so tends to shrink more. And that a cooked cucumber obtains a sweetish flavour, and doesn’t have the mild bitter background taste of zucchinis.

Oh, right, and while I’m at it, there is another vegetable which is (wrongfully) regarded as perfectly acceptable if done in some forms, and unacceptable in others. In an interesting contrast, that vegetable would be the… zucchini. Which people have no problem eating cooked, grilled, fried or broiled, but raise a lot of objections to eating raw… Unless, that is, they just get it roughly grated inside a salad, and assume it’s a cucumber with a more distinct taste…

Tel-Aviv food festival, addendum

June 7th, 2005

Like I said in my previous post about the food festival, I forgot something which was worth mentioning.

Or more specifically, I forgot to mention the stand for the restaurant Kimel (kimel is also the Hebrew term for caraway). Their festival menu hasn’t changed in years and years, but all the dishes are excellent, so it doesn’t really matter. And it sort of became a tradition (of the friends I went with, I only joined with them last year, and only embraced the tradition then) to take their crown offering, a dish of mushrooms filled with goose liver, in figs and port sauce. An excellent dish, and it immediately gave me ideas for some recipes based on the concept of using figs when cooking in red-wine.

It also always was the most expensive dish on their, or the entire festival’s, menu, at 25 ILS. Which is plenty in a festival with an effective price cap of 20 ILS.

The dish also came with a glass of lemonade included, which isn’t common there since drinks are sold separately. The lemonade alone costs 5 ILS, and this may certainly explain the price difference.

This year they decided not to add lemonade with it. Looking at the large menu sign, it was obvious that the text “+ lemonade” was painted over (They reuse the same sign, big billboards cost money, so if everything is the same, why change it?). They also painted over the digit 5 in the 25, probably thinking this is sufficient to indicate the matching reduction in price.

And left it like that. Giving the appearance that the cost is 2 ILS, and greatly amusing us in the process. At first when we noticed the amazing price reduction we were sure it’s a mistake, but the menu was printed twice, on the two sides of the billboard, and it was the same on both sides.

Sadly enough, when it came time to order, they told us the price is 20 and not 2. And we did not really want to argue over the point of false advertising, and that the law requires sellers to stand behind their advertised prices if they make mistakes…

Tel-Aviv food festival

June 6th, 2005

[Update: Told you I must have forgotten a few things. So I've written an addendum with an additional small story from the festival]

Last week I went to the annual food festival in Tel-Aviv. The festival is called Ta’am Ha’ir, which can be roughly translated as The City’s Taste. Every year a selection of restaurants from Tel-Aviv fill stands where they sell discounted dishes with samples of their foods, in addition to many more stands by other small restaurants, or other food-related businesses.

I don’t generally do restaurant review here on this blog, so I won’t take the opportunity to review the dishes we tasted there (I went with a couple of friends). As far as the food quality angle is concerned, I’ll just say that everything that we did sample this year was either good or very good. This of course does not imply that everything there was good, since we could not sample even a small fraction of the selection. Obviously we already avoided anything that looked too unimpressive to begin with, and also deliberated on which dish to order from the stands we did approach, and all that tends to clear most of the bad options.

On the good side I would say that the place that was the big mistake of last year, where we ordered a dish that was simply and totally bad and pointless, was no longer there this year. They were not one of the regulars, though, so while it’s possible it indicates they went out of business as they deserve, they may have just not come this year for other reasons.

The overall layout of the festival is pretty static over the years, with the same stand ordering, and the same groups of stands divided over the same general concepts. Plus, the main restaurants and presenters are regulars, and not only arrive each year, but stay at the exact same place each year. For these, even most of the dishes they offer are somewhat static, and remained mostly the same for a few years. Which isn’t bad as long as they are good dishes, since nobody can eat everything anyway.

Another things that remained the same for a few years is the price range. Which could have been a good thing, since the range holds dishes at costs below what they would be when ordering at the actual place (If we ignore for a moment the fact that the servings on the festival are also usually smaller, that is). But while the range remained, the distribution didn’t. So instead of having various dishes spread at a price range of 10-20 ILS, as it was even last year, pretty much everything this year just cost 20 ILS, with very few exceptions.

One small stand touted a sign saying “Heidi’s” in large letters, with a slightly smaller caption beneath it saying “Frozen Yoghurt”. That is, this is what their sign in English said. The sign in Hebrew was nearly identical, except someone decided that the best way to translate frozen yoghurt would be by saying in Hebrew something like “Quality American Ice-Cream”. No, don’t ask me how that translation works, I don’t know either.

Next to them was a very large stand of a crêpe place called Henri’s. They had a few large banners which contained the list, and prices, of the offered dishes. And also smaller signs, right where you can see them when you approach to order, with the same list. Except that, well, one of the item on the lists had a different price. They had two large banners, and two small signs. The prices on the large banners matched, and the prices on the small signs matched, but the price on the banners was higher by one ILS.

They also had, amidst the sweet crepes, something with an odd name like crêpe pesto focaccia (Or something similar, I don’t remember the exact title). This was a crêpe with pesto and cheese. Where exactly did the focaccia bead was supposed to fit in was entirely beyond me.

So I did what every overly curious person would do: approached the counter, and asked one of the workers there. For the price difference she replied that they made a mistake in printing the signs, and that the real cost is the lower one. This is an attitude I certainly approve, even though it probably cost them a little money in the short run (the higher price was more visible, so a few people may have avoided ordering the dish because of that, and those that did come were probably willing to pay the higher price). On the long run it suggests that they’re honest. As for the mysterious focaccia crêpe, the girl claimed that the name is solely due to the filling, and there is nothing there whatsoever to do with actual focaccia bread. She did however seem to think that the term focaccia indicates something involving pesto and cheese, instead of something involving dough, and her attitude was more helpful and educational than embarrassed or apologetic.

Several more of the regular stands are beer sellers. At my friend’s insistence (who was more after getting a large glass mug, I think, than the actual beer) we approached the large one, a big square compound, with several different taps on each side. The place seemed deserted, with only about 2-3 employees inside the compound. The one next to use was busy running a long conversation with some people (holding plates of what looked like plain hamburgers with fries and ketchup. You come to a food festival for that?!), and ignored us. We went around, to where the second person was standing, but he was on the inside, brushing some crates, and ignored us as well. On we moved to the third person, who was actually standing next to one of the taps. When we approached she uttered a quick “We’re not working” and went away. We looked at her puzzled, and someone else approached and yelled that they wanted a beer. They got a slightly more verbose response, this being “We’re not open today”. And that was that. Quite odd considering that this was the second day of a five day event, and they paid for a really really large area.

Tastes in foods vary, and often people don’t agree. When getting a recommendation from someone, the most important thing, in order to know how to treat it, is to know how close your tastes match. This is for example why I never bother asking waiters in restaurants which of the dishes they like, because it’s meaningless. There are people I know whose recommendations I trust, and there are people I may ask just so I’d know to do the exact opposite. I mention this because one of my friends on the evening received a very large warning from a co-worker to stay away from a certain dish. This was from a good restaurant, and the dish sounded nice (Calamari rings in yoghurt sauce, this was in a place called Orca I think. Next time I’ll write everything closer to the event before my memory will fade too much), so this looked like the perfect opportunity to evaluate the co-worker’s taste. Well, the dish wasn’t totally brilliant, but my friend will certainly go and ask that co-worker for more warnings, so we’ll know where to go and eat.

One stand touted a new alcoholic beverage imported from Germany. Looking among the large and flashy graphics they had all over the place, I managed to find a printed description that defined this is a drink with 50%+ alcohol content, compromised of various sorts of odd herbs (no detailed listing provided). Drinking something made from myriad unspecified herbs did not strike our fancy. Especially since they also greatly increased our trust in their professionalism by listing the two best ways of drinking it as being mixed with Cola, and being mixed with Red-bull.

There was also a stand by a new seafood place Kazanki. The actual place is very nice, good food in relatively low prices. But in the festival they did one thing which I didn’t particularly like, relating to the pricing of the dishes. Specifically, one of the dishes was one which in the actual place is a first-course, and cost there less than the price in the festival. The other dishes were cheaper (mildly cheaper, since the place itself like I said has very low prices), but this one seemed out of place. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong, I’ll need to remember to check next time I’m there as to the actual menu price.

Our biggest dairy product seller, Tnuva, also open a large stand each year. For some odd reason they open a very large stand dedicated to selling run-of-the-mill average cheeses, which can be found on any supermarket. For an even odder reason, there are always people around there. I don’t get it. I like good cheese, and if there was something more sophisticated or high quality, I would have gone to test myself, but this? Regular cheeses which are found everywhere? Odd.

In another place, a stand dedicated to similar run-of-the-mill Greek-style cheese, they dug a little hole, made it look (if you have an active imagination) like a tiny well, and put a sign about some alleged well in Greece to which people supposedly throw plates while making a wish, and if the plates break then the gods will listen to the request. And they sold plates. Since the depth was minimal, and all the plates at the bottom appeared broken, I suppose those are especially fragile plates, customer satisfaction guaranteed. The amount of broken plates on the bottom was so large it was sad, though. As if a population that touts itself as Jewish really thinks breaking a a little plate in a commercial mini-well is going to make the Greek gods take heed and grant their wishes.

One more place was run by Elite, in an attempt to promote their coffee. Which is bad. Alright, I’ll be fair, they have several different brands, of several different qualities. The worst one (being originally designed as a way to mutilate coffee so that it could survive battlefield conditions for a long duration) I wouldn’t give to my worst enemies, unless they asked real nice. The best ones are drinkable, but not much beyond that. And for just 10 ILS you could get both a glass of their coffee, and a photograph. What a great deal, eh? Somehow we passed.

At some point when we were passing next to their area we noticed that they also put a dancer there. She didn’t look particularly good, and danced very unimpressively and unprofessionally. But she had a really really short red skirt, so she got a lot of crowd.

She danced to the sounds of music that they played of course. The problem was that too many presenters decided they need to play music, and they all did it very loud so you could hear them over the others. The end result being that in some locations it was hard to hear anything. If they would have all played quieter, it would have been a much more pleasant experience for everyone. A classic tragedy of the commons case, where each of them has a reason to want to be louder, and they end up hurting everyone including themselves. This included some of the food sellers, and some of the sponsors like cellular telephony companies and radio channels.

They also brought over some real singers to make short live performances. The only one I noticed while we were there was Ninet Tive (not sure about the spelling of the surname), who was nice, but sounded less good than her usual. The audio system wasn’t too impressive, and there were the sounds from all the other places, so I guess that accounted for it. I’m not a huge fan, but what I got to hear of her in the past sounded much better than on this festival evening.

Another great attraction, which fails to attract us, is a stand where they bring various celebrities (TV actors, singers, and such, mostly), who give you a signature for every dish you order. The income goes to charity, which is nice, but the dishes never seem attractive. This time I’m proud to say that out of the 7-8 celebrities I saw there, I only recognized one, the actress Gilat Ankori. According to my friends there was another one I should have recognized, but Dany Roop (I probably misspelled the name horribly) was standing hidden behind something, so I never physically saw him. Still, me being unimpressed did not prevent the huge crowd of screaming and ecstatic teenagers that charged on to get their autographs.

The crowds are always a problem in such an event. The early hours are relatively quiet, but at some point it get very crowded and tight, with too many people wandering around. So the strategy changes to one of walking away from the stands, where it’s relatively open, and only dashing into the fray to buy a dish and return to eat it away. This works so far. But I’m really annoyed at how so many people don’t have a problem with just letting their discarded plates stay on the grass. There were many trash cans, all over the place, and easily accessible from everywhere. They were large, and they were kept empty. So nobody had any excuse to just drop things on the ground and move. Of course, the people who do that usually don’t need excuses.

Parking is another fun part, given the crowds. There are some large parking lots right next to where the festival is held, meaning that everyone wants to park there, and is willing to stand for 20-30 minutes in a traffic jam to get there. Instead of going to a nearby side street, park easily, and be there in 5-7 minutes walk at a slow speed. I’m constantly amazed at how much time and energy people are willing to spend in order to avoid spending less time and energy in walking

Near the exits, when we left, one of the soft-drinks companies offered small cans of a new lemon-flavoured cola, under the slogan “A taste of more”. Since it was late, we run a few quick lame jokes about a guy entering a bar and asking the bartender for more. Nearly everyone leaving seemed to swarm into those stands to get their tiny can, as if lemon-flavoured cola hasn’t been on the shelves for months and months.

I’m sure there are a few more interesting bits that I forgot, but this post is getting to be quite a mouthful already, so I think I’ll stop now. Overall I enjoyed the event, enjoyed the food, and certainly intend to keep going next year.

Zucchini surprise

May 27th, 2005

I’m quite partial to zucchinis (courgettes), the dark-green rinded ones. They have a nicer flavour than the regular light green squashes found around here, and their rind isn’t bitter and also usually much smoother and easy to clean. The only problem with them is that around here pretty much every vegetable store and supermarket has tons of the light green squashes, and very few of them has zucchinis on stock.

This week I saw on a store something very amusing. Zucchinis with a marketing twist. Instead of lying in a large pile like most other vegetables, they were packed in groups of three, and had an advertisement pamphlet in each pack declaring that they are an amazing and new brand of squashes that don’t require peeling. Plus some exclamation mark to emphasise how exciting it is. Technically it’s true that on many cases where squashes need peeling, zucchinis can go without, but you don’t have to always peel squashes as well. And zucchinis are far from being new on the market.

Worse, those wonders of zucchini packages only included three each because they held huge zucchinis. Some of the largest I ever saw. It looks impressive, and certainly gives the feeling that you’re getting your full money’s worth. Unless you happen to know something about them, in which case you know that the small ones are much better, with a far richer taste. But they looks small, so apparently someone decided won’t look good in this advertised campaign.

And the pamphlet also included some amazing recipes. Truly stuff that it is impossible to think about by yourself, and which supplies some amazing ideas on what can be done with them (Yes, I’m being sarcastic, thanks for noticing). Better than any fancy recipe book you could find. Like for example, one recipe consisted of telling you to put them in boiling water for ten minutes, take them out, and season to your taste. Helpful, isn’t it? Another recipe, for tomato sauce zucchini, told you to make a tomato sauce according to your taste, slice zucchinis into it, and let it boil for further five minutes. Yet another complex and detailed recipe suggested slicing them, frying the slices in a pan for a few minutes, and then add whatever sauce you like.

I was laughing so hard reading those “recipes”, it was really great fun. Clearly, anyone who has no clue at all about cooking won’t be able to season things to taste or combine with their other sauces. And anyone who has even a little tiny inkling of cooking, will certainly not need these absurdly basic recipe ideas. Very amusing.

Oh, it does serve a purpose of telling someone unfamiliar with them what are the approximate cooking time that they need. This is useful for people encountering a vegetable for the first time, and who don’t want to just experiment and see for themselves. But if that’s the information they wanted to pass, they should have put a tiny section on cooking instructions, and specified that. Not provide a bunch of short and totally meaningless “recipes”.

Dark chocolate is still healthy

April 4th, 2005

There is yet another study claiming that dark chocolate is healthy,
due to high amounts of antioxidants. This is not new, since the
benefits of antioxidants are touted for quite some time, as is the fact
that chocolate is rich with flavanoids, a type of antioxidants.

The first reason I like this particular article is that it bothers
to emphasise several times that those health benefits are only in dark
chocolate, not white or milk chocolate. Since I’m very much pro dark
chocolate, and con the thing called milk chocolate, this is always nice to hear. Mind
you, this is something the article mentioned as shown in other
studies, but this particular study only compared dark and white
chocolate, no milk. Which is also a good thing, since these are the two
kinds I acknowledge as deserving to live, and no self-respecting
researcher should refer to milk chocolate as chocolate…

OK, enough silly chocolate bashing. Chocolate good. the other reasons are more fun, anyway. Read:

Investigators
from the University of L’Aquila in Italy found that after eating only
100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate every day for 15 days, 15
healthy people had lower blood pressures and were more sensitive to
insulin, an important factor in metabolizing sugar.

Yes, that’s only
100g
. Like, a full pack of chocolate. Daily. So far the word was that
a tablet or two of chocolate per day are good. But a whole packet,
that’s a whole different ballgame, methinks. Even one of the
investigators, a Dr. Ferri, admitted:

He added that each 100 grams of dark chocolate contains
roughly 500 calories.

Not to mention plain fat. At least dark chocolate is low on carbohydrates (sugar – for you uneducated lot), so that’s something.

Beyond that, we have the amazing research quality and methodology:

Ferri and colleagues asked 7 men and 8 women, all healthy,
to eat 100 grams of dark chocolate or 90 grams of white
chocolate every day for 15 days. The subjects consumed no
chocolate for the next 7 days and then switched to the other
chocolate type for 15 days.

First,
sample size. Seven men, eight women. That’s like, wow, fifteen whole
people. I doubt anyone can question that they are totally
representative of the population at large, and give great confidence to
the results.

Second, 100g of dark, compared with 90g of white? Why? Especially
since they expected the flavanoids to be the key factor, and, well,
white chocolate doesn’t really have those. But if they wanted to make
sure, taking the same amounts would make for a stronger case. And if they
didn’t want to bother checking, why do a research in the first place?
The way it currently goes, someone can legitimately claim that they didn’t prove
much…

Odd.

And now for the really fun part, chocolate manufacturers jump on the bandwagon too.

"While the University’s results are exciting — especially for chocolate
lovers — not all chocolate contains high levels of flavanols, which impart
these potential heart healthy benefits," says Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD,
Research Chemist for Mars, Incorporated, the world leader in cocoa science.
"In fact, only certain cocoas and chocolates are specially processed to retain
much of the flavanols naturally occurring in cocoa beans."

Yes, the take themselves seriously, having lots of scientists around. I like the world leader in cocoa science
title. And in case you were wondering which certain kinds of chocolate
have most flavanoids, why, they’re the ones made by this selfsame
company using its unique and special processes. I wonder why nobody
tried to publish this explanation and then give a different company the
credit for being better…

Based on 15 years of research, Mars has developed the only patented and
proprietary Cocoapro® cocoa process to preserve these important cocoa
flavanols that often are destroyed during standard processing.  This unique
process, used in the chocolate in a new Mars cocoa-based snack bar called
CocoaVia®, helps retain the natural goodness of the cocoa bean while keeping
the pleasurable taste characteristics of chocolate

Uh-huh.
I think this paragraph contains more superlatives than even dark
chocolate contain flavanoids. On the other hand, laughing myself silly
is also good for my health, so whatever works.

And they to are aware of the dangers of eating too much chocolate
(Or at least of the dangers of being sued by obese kids claiming they
only ate tons of chocolate because of this press release):

While research is promising, Mars Nutrition Communications Director
Marlene Machut cautions, "It’s not about eating more chocolate, but rather
about working flavanol-rich foods into an overall healthy, balanced diet.
First start with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and then you
may be able to fit in an 80-calorie CocoaVia® Bar."

Yes, that’s a may be able to fit in an 80-calorie chocolate bar. And do you remember, that whole 100g packet of chocolate, from the research, was about 500 calories? So was the research an overkill on the amounts, or are these itsy-bitsy bars just not good enough? Interesting…

Oh, yes, and they managed to write flavanols throughout the entire press release, including the quotes from their chemist, who should really know better. Or was that just a marketing trick? Maybe their chocolates are poor in flavanoids, and this way they can deny claiming the opposite.

Hat tip to Nonliteral .

Whatever Bar

December 14th, 2004

Too many bars are popping around lately. Must be some new fad.

Once it was easy. A bar was probably a pub, where you had a counter, and someone behind it served drinks, mostly alcoholic. Some extra tables, and additions of foods to the menu, were also expected and usually found.

Then they started with the legal issues of smoking. You could freely smoke in a bar (Some people actually want to smoke, and so far we’re out of luck and there’s no death penalty for smoking). You couldn’t smoke in a non-designated area in a restaurant or coffee shop. And since those places want customer, and some customers smoke, they came up with a bright idea. Make it a bar.

Which started the trend of "Whatever Coffee Shop & Bar". You got the same coffee shop, with a small counter at the side having a barman someone that can pour drinks out of bottles. And people could smoke.

That was alright. Nobody really minded that coffee shops added "& Bar" to their names, or that some small restaurants did.

But for some reason the term gained a stunning popularity, and is now being used everywhere, despite it not designating the presence of a bar or having any other noticeable meaning whatsoever.

The Noodle bars came first I think. And stayed at it for a while. Sushi Bars were there also, but they’re somewhat legit, serving Sushi at the counter/bar is done.

But now? Now we have Chocolate bars, we have Falafel bars, we have Hummus bars, we have Burger bars, we have Sandwich bars, and more and more highly amusing, or highly tragic, bar combinations. Really, I’ve seen all of those.

Please stop. No, don’t stop, reverse. Free the Bar name! I can’t take it anymore. I was amused at first, but it’s getting too much. Soon there won’t be a single food serving place in the country that isn’t a bar.