Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Smart Phone, Dumb Idea

The Event:I went to a newish West Side watering hole and restaurant Saturday night. Since we didn’t have reservations there was a 20 minute wait for a table. We told the hostess we’d get a drink at the bar — which wasn’t particularly crowded — while we waited. The hostess, who looked around 12, asked for a cell phone number.
Excuse me, I replied.
She repeated the request.
I asked her why she wanted it.
So I can text you when your table’s ready.

I was dumbfounded. Our party of three was going to be perched on stools, 20 feet away and within sight of her station. I refused and suggested she like, you know, come get us. How hard could it be to walk over? Apparently quite a challenge because this girl actually complained that it's tough to remember and identify patrons. My failure to cooperate meant she’d have to look up, look at me, and commit the impression to memory. Not trusting she was up to this formidable task, and sighing to indicate that I was really putting her out, our hostess wrote down that I was wearing large red earrings. By the time she made her way over, successfully picking us out from the dozen or so others, we’d decided to eat elsewhere.

The Analysis:
I didn’t particularly like the idea of sharing my number with a stranger. I found the presumption that everyone texts, and has an unlimited plan, annoying. Then there are those of us who like disconnect when we go out and sans phone focus on the folks in front of us (a dying breed I know). But what really bothered me was the lack of personal, attentive, service oriented treatment. This is called the hospitality industry after all. The policy and the attitude fell short of what I'd call a warm welcome.

I suppose there’s a case that can be made for texting patrons that their table is available in certain situations, just as there’s a justification for those irritating blinking beeping disks that are sometimes handed out at huge, mobbed chain venues. But that didn’t apply here.

So tell me, what’s your opinion? Am I being unreasonable? Hopelessly out of step with the times? Or is my complaint legit? I’d like to hear from others.

One thing I know — if this is the wave of the future for restaurants than I’m going to be wanting some numbers too. Because when my server's nowhere in sight I'll be texting Hope 2 C U Soon and complaining to the manager U Take 2 Long or wuz ^ w/ my soup when orders are slow to arrive.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday Hottness

Many of you have started to become bombarded with holiday party invitations and are not quite sure what to wear to these grand events. Invitations are pouring in from a variety of places such as work, friends, social organizations, and New Year's Eve parties. The holidays are the perfect time to add a little sparkle to your ordinary style so go ahead and dazzle your office crew and make your friends envious of your holiday spirit and style sense. Ladies; tops and dresses embellished with fur, leather, and sequins will definitely make an impression. Black opaque tights worn with heeled ankle booties, knee boots, or over-the-knee boots will complete the look. Guys will turn heads by rocking a wool or rich velvet sport coat in black, navy, or charcoal gray, paired with dark slacks or denim. Add a pop of color to your look with a striped or plaid dress shirt paired with a complementing neck tie and pocket square. These looks will surely get you through the holidays without a hitch. Happy Holidays and most importantly, happy shopping!

Fashionably yours,

The Curse of Christmas Ale

In what could be called a cry for people to calm down about Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Brewing Co. posted an open letter about the availability of its legendary seasonal beverage on its website yesterday.

The brewery explained that a large capital investment at its Ohio City facility delayed production of this year's batch until September — about a month later than the usual start. This, in turn, has meant less six-packs on store shelves during the hype-heavy early weeks of the annual brew's release. And that has apparently made some of the natives grumpy.

Never fear, the brewery is cranking like mad and said in the letter, "We are now shipping more Christmas Ale each week than we normally ship of our popular Dortmunder Gold Lager in a month and a half."

You can read Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s politely worded statement about the matter here. But, if you ask us, they were being too nice. Here are some rules to live by in the face of our temporary Christmas Ale shortage.

1. There's no need to panic; you'll get some.
How Great Lakes worded that: "... due to the late start, we are releasing the beer in greater increments throughout the season instead of up front. If your distributor ran out of Christmas Ale before Thanksgiving last year, please know that the supply of this beer will continue into December."

2. Don't trash talk GLBC online.
How Great Lakes worded that: "We review and appreciate the many comments made throughout our social media outlets, including those from customers who own or manage retail outlets."

3. No, there is no conspiracy against you.
How Great Lakes worded that: "Our distributors work diligently to allocate this exclusive brew. With a limited supply, they understandably first sell to accounts — chains and independents alike — that feature our entire family of beers throughout the year."

4. Don't embarrass yourself.
How Great Lakes worded that: "Thank you again for your support of Great Lakes Brewing Company and our Christmas Ale, which we encourage all to enjoy responsibly."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mixing It Up

Professional chefs have a lot of secrets. And I’m not referring to what they do after hours. What I’m talking about are the techniques and tools that help them make magic in the kitchen. Most of this knowledge takes time and effort to acquire and the specialized equipment is out of reach for the majority of home cooks. But Saturday, November 20 is a gamer changer.

It’s the Vitamix one day only annual factory sale. Chefs swear by these high powered, high performance, heavy duty machines. At the flick of a switch it can mix, blend, shred, chop, juice, knead, churn (no kidding), and pretty much pulverize whatever fruit, vegetable and grain you throw in. According the manufacturer’s specs, a Vitamix does the work of ten different appliances and performs fifty tasks without a single specialized attachment. Prices are the best you’ll find and this year for the first time ever, the chef- inspired Vitamix Professional model will be available for direct purchase by consumers.

The event runs from 9-AM-5 PM. Some local chefs will be on hand to put the product through its paces. Jonathon Sawyer (Greenhouse Tavern), Steve Schimoler (Crop Bistro & Bar), Andy Dombrowski (Chinato), and Chris DiLisi (of the soon to open Flour Restaurant in Moreland Hills) will be doing demos throughout the day.
The Cleveland company is located at 8615 Usher Road. Free parking is available.

I've lusted after these for years. And did I mention there’s a model that comes in a delicious shade of red? To anyone thinking of giving me a gift- it would be quite the piece of eye candy on my counter.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ex-Brown dares to question the Man-Genius

Nate Jackson. Sound familiar?

Probably not, because the Browns cut him during the 2009 preseason. Apparently his one week with the team told him enough about coach Eric Mangini that he now feels compelled, in Slate.com's "Sports Nut" roundtable, to rip Mangini's coaching methods to shreds.

Jackson argues the man at the Browns' helm demeans players by forcing them to 1) actually learn something about their opponents and 2) the team they play for, and 3) memorize quotes intended to encourage discipline and hard work. What a monster!

Far be it for me to suggest that maybe a team that has perpetually dwelled in the AFC North's cellar could use a little discipline. But it couldn't hurt.

After the first 11 games of the 2009 season, when the team's mood seemed dark and defeated, it might have been tempting to say Jackson had a point. But whatever Mangini has done with these players since August 2009 now has them beating some of the best teams in the NFL. Jackson figures Mangini must have adjusted his methods and gone easier on the team. Or, maybe not. Something is going right for the Browns that wasn't before Mangini came to town.

(Photo, of Mangini at 2010 training camp with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, from clevelandbrowns.com.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Perfect Pours for the Holiday

Wondering what wine to put on the table for the Thanksgiving meal? If your criteria goes beyond what’s cheapest at the grocery store, then you might want to consider signing up for the crash course at Table 45, November 11th or 12th. Your wine pairing teacher will be sommelier Todd Thompson. But this lesson requires a fork, knife, and glass- eight of them to be precise- and note taking is optional. The restaurant’s chef Tom Schrenk is preparing tasting portions of holiday favorites, with a twist of course, to partner with Thompson’s selections. Dinner- I mean class- begins at 6:30. Space is limited and reservations are required, 216-707-4045. The cost is $40 per person plus tax and gratuity and valet parking is complementary. Table 45 is located inside the Intercontinental Hotel on Carnegie Avenue on the Cleveland Clinic campus.

If you and your guests are more inclined to sip suds than rely on Randy Mosher to steer you in the right direction. He’s a nationally recognized craft brew expert based in Chicago and author of a newish book called Tasting Beer. I’ve interviewed Mosher and the depth and breadth of his knowledge is impressive. So I was excited to get word that he’s put together an online list of beers that pair well with turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, providing detailed descriptions of what’s in each bottle. Instead of choosing just one or two, Mosher suggests setting up a little brew buffet so people can do some beverage grazing. The guy has a sense of humor, and though I have a high regard for his advice, the best bit of wisdom he offers in my opinion is this: “With the right beer, Cousin Eddy won't care that he's still sitting at the kids' table even though he's on his third wife.”

If you want to belly up to a hoppy smorgasbord a day early, then head to Touche, the lounge at Chez Francois in Vermillion, on Wednesday November 24. They’re hosting a sampling of holiday ales from around the country, Belgium and England called The 12 Beers of Christmas. $35 gets you 2 ounce pours of everything plus appetizers. Reservations required 440.967.0630

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Now I'm Fabulous and You Can Be Too

If you pay even the slightest bit of attention to local media in any form- traditional, online and social- then you know that the Fabulous Food Show is happening November 12-14 at the IX Center. As always the annual culinary extravaganza will include cooking demos, food and wine tastings, and an eclectic selection of products to browse and buy.

Sure, you can see celebrities like Jason Roberts, Alton Brown, Guy Fieri, and Giada De Laurentis and line up to get their autographs along with their cookbooks. And yes, Michael Symon will be there, whooping it up on stage for the hometown audience while he MC’s the cook off competition between three local chefs: Dante Boccuzzi, Jonathon Sawyer and Steve Schimoler. But this year also has something brand new and fabulous in a whole different kind of way.

I’ve organized a writing class for anyone who’s ever dreamed of well- being me. That is, a person who writes about food. Lots of people ask about it- they want to know the nuts and bolts of how you get into it and how you get good at it. They envy me the lifestyle (certainly not the income). Someone once told me she couldn’t decide if it would be better to come back for a second life as her pampered Siamese cat or Laura Taxel, food writer. So I’ve decided its time to share.

To help me, I enlisted my friend and colleague Dianne Jacob. She’s a former magazine editor, an acclaimed writing coach from California, and the author of the definitive book on the subject: Will Write For Food. I’m even quoted in the chapter on freelancing. Her workshops, which she’s done all over the country, in Canada, and even Mexico, draw crowds and get rave reviews.

We’re doing two morning seminars at the Fabulous Food Show. The interactive 2-hour sessions will offer tips on how to spice up your food writing skills; demystify the process of writing and selling a cookbook or an article; and explore the pros, cons, and steps for launching and maintaining a blog. We’re going to provide practical advice and real world guidance on getting started, doing it well, and what’s required to get published and get readers. The Friday workshop is strictly for chefs, other food and hospitality industry professionals, and media veterans. The focus is on building a business, a brand, and a career. The Saturday version is for the general public- amateurs, enthusiasts, and aspiring beginners with an idea or a passion. Tickets for each class are $50 per person, include same day admission to the Show, and must be purchased in advance. Buy yours and read more about Dianne and I and what we’ll be covering in each group here.

We’ve got big plans and I think these seminars are going to be very informative. But there is one thing that remains unresolved. Dianne’s excited about coming to Cleveland and checking out the local culinary talent. But I’m in a tough spot- we only have three nights. So the question is- where should we go for dinner?