Waxingandwayneing’s Weblog

July 25, 2011

Put a Cork In It!

Filed under: Food,Luxury — waxingandwayneing @ 2:48 pm
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“Would you like to order wine with dinner?”  YIKES!!!!  Most restaurants are confusing enough  to me to have to complicate my decision-making with which wine to select.  Even after passing the introductory sommelier certification at the Culinary Institute of America, I still find all those pages in a wine list to be overwhelming.  And at some of those fancy places, the wine list isn’t a list…it’s a freakin’ 3-ring binder.  Excuse me, but why didn’t someone warn me there would be an assignment to complete before I could get my drink on?  Just give me a Grey Goose on the rocks and let’s move on to the appetizer round:  Wayne-1, Restaurant-0!!

But when you do want to have wine with dinner (hey, the vodka was just a warm-up round!), why can’t you just bring in your own bottle to drink?  Grab one out of your cellar/fridge/glove box or pick up a bottle on your way at your local wine shop/grocery store.  Not only do you save a few bucks (or a whole pile of them!), you get to drink a bottle you know, not some wine the restaurant put on their list that you probably can’t pronounce (do the French have any clue how many letters they waste in almost every word they have ever invented?).

The one drawback in bringing in your own wine is corkage, a word invented by the food industry, loosely translated by a restaurant as, “a fee we charge the asshole who refuses to pay our exorbitant mark-up on the wines we sell.”  After all, why should the patron be allowed to bring in a bottle of wine that sells down the street for $75, when the restaurant can sell it for $300?  Now, I am certainly not denying the restaurant a chance to earn a profit.  Making it in the restaurant business is tough.  But they brought this problem on themselves.  The day they decided to extract a pound of flesh out of us on wine mark-ups (of up to 4 times retail) was the day we decided BYOB was the way to go.  And so, the battle began.  Unable to resist the demand by patrons to bring along their own vino, the restaurant industry invented the concept of corkage as a way to recoup a bit of the lost profits.

The current issue of Wine Spectator (http://www.winespectator.com/)  focuses on restaurant lists.  This issue is appropriately named, “The List”.  Boy, those editors are working overtime at Wine Spectator, aren’t they?  The issue provides a comprehensive listing of the most well-endowed wine collections in the world, including Don Alfonso 1890, located in Macao, only one of 74 restaurants worldwide in 2011 to receive the pinnacle Grand Award from Wine Spectator.  (By the way, they charge a $50 corkage fee.)

Not surprising to any of us, New York restaurants charge some of the highest corkage of any restaurants, further cementing their premise that, regardless of what you order (or don’t order), it’s going to be very, very expensive.  In scanning the recent Wine Spectator issue, Per Se (http://www.perseny.com/) grabs the prize for “What the hell did you say?” with a $90 corkage.  However, I understand Jean Georges (http://www.jean-georges.com/) charges $150 (I couldn’t verify that because they don’t seem to answer their phone.)  So, whether it’s $90 or $150 for corkage, you had better bring in a nice bottle of wine to offset that cost.  In defense of some New York City restaurants, several other “Award of Excellence” restaurants in Manhattan charge just $15-25 for corkage, with Michael’s New York (http://www.michaelsnewyork.com/) charging NO CORKAGE.  They should be shut down for such gauche behavior!

Now, while the amount of corkage a restaurant charges could discourage brown bagging your beverage into a restaurant, I simply do not understand the policy of a restaurant in not allowing you to ever bring your own wine into the establishment.  What is the restaurant saying: “You will never know as much as we do about wine, so just back off” or maybe “Charging you a corkage to open your wine isn’t enough for us to recoup lost profits, so just put down your bottle and no one will get hurt”.

We recently had this experience at a hidden gem of a restaurant last Saturday night in, of all places, Stanton, California.  For those of you not familiar with Southern California, Stanton is to Beverly Hills as Cabramatta is to Sydney.  Not exactly, but you get my drift.  The restaurant, Park Avenue Restaurant (http://www.parkavedining.com) is truly an oasis on a boulevard of spa stores and massage parlors (two activities that seem to go hand-in-hand!).  I urge you to never visit the restaurant, as they already have more business that they can handle.  The food is fresh and tasty, and will undoubtedly change your opinion of Stanton and force you to relocate to Cypress or Midway City.  Depression will soon set in.  But….back to the wine.

Toting along a great bottle of Rose, perfect for a summer dinner outside in the garden at Park Avenue, I cheerfully opened the door into the restaurant, only to be abruptly told by the hostess that outside wine is not permitted.  “Huh??”, I replied.  “Why is that?”  Her reply was bizarre, obviously some corporate spin meant to fool most people as sounding reasonable.  She said that their insurance carrier no longer allowed them to have guests bring in their own wine.  Now, I may not be the quickest pot of water to boil, but I do know a thing or two about business (http://primemarkgroup.com/).  Perhaps what the insurance company said to the owners was something like, “Your profits are lower than they need to be.  Find ways to increase your margins.”  If that hostess said that me, I would have at least thought they were being honest.

Not surprisingly, our waitress was pushing the house wine, produced by their Executive Chef, David Slay.  Now that’s how you increase profits!!  Our dinner guests  suggested we try the Pinot Noir, which we did.  It was just OK……passable…..obviously with nice margins for the restaurant.  Not allowing me to bring my own wine in and pay a reasonable corkage was just plain silly and unnecessary.  I suggest Park Avenue take their lead from some of the big boys, like Michael’s, who not only allows outside wine, they charge no corkage.  Imagine the goodwill that engenders!  Otherwise, I just say, “Put a cork in it!!”

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July 13, 2011

Six Days In New York City

Filed under: Luxury,Travel — waxingandwayneing @ 8:02 pm
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Six days in New York City! What a great city!  If you are planning a trip to New York City—and why wouldn’t you?—here are some suggestions for a short trip.

The Ride from JFK:  A cab ride to Manhattan from JFK is a flat rate of $40 plus tolls.  Instead of riding with the masses, arrange for a car service for a lower cost.  I use Dial 7 Car & Limousine Service, Inc. (www.dial7.com).  Their prices start at $40 total.  You can find $3-$5 coupons online that will make your fare even cheaper.  I have used Dial 7 four times now and have only had great experiences.

Hotels:  New York City is an expensive city for hotels.  However, there are very nice hotels for competitive prices.  We were looking for hotels on the Upper Westside to be somewhat close to our daughter who was living off-campus near Columbia.   I would recommend checking out hotels before you settle on a time to go.  We like to stay away from the large chains and stay instead at boutique hotels.  We originally stayed at the Park79 Hotel.  Forget this place, unless heat and hot water are not important to you.  We checked out after one night and moved to the 6 Columbus Hotel (http://www.sixcolumbus.com/index.php?page=6columbus), which is owned by the Thompson Hotel chain of boutique hotels.  It is in a great location, across the street from The Shops at Columbus Circle, close to so many great spots.  I would also highly recommend The Lucerne Hotel (201 West 79th Street, New York NY 10024, 212-875-1000, www.thelucernehotel.com).  Unfortunately, they were sold out one of the days of our trip.  We like to use Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) to get opinions of those who have already stayed at hotels we are considering.  Just remember, these are just the opinions of others.

Food:  New Yorkers love to eat out.  And there is no shortage of restaurants.  Here are some of the places we ate at:

  • Fatty Crab (2170 Broadway at 77th Street, (212) 496-2722, www.fattycrab.com):  This Malaysian restaurant came highly recommended by the New York Times.  The restaurant had a great vibe and some very tasty food.  We particularly liked the vegetarian steam buns, the whole Branzino (grilled in banana leaves), and the braised duck.
  • The Eatery (798 Ninth Avenue at 53rd Street, (212) 765-7080, http://www.eaterynyc.com):  This restaurant was recommended by the concierge (usually not a good way to get quality recommendations for food since most concierges get kickbacks from restaurants they send guests to) for a quick dinner before theater.  We have learned the hard war to avoid restaurants near the Theater District.  The Eatery was actually quite nice (in spite of a Zagat food score of just 19).  The Chicken Paillard with roasted vegetables, seared and crusted rare tuna, and the macaroni and cheese were very passable.
  • Bread Bar (11 Madison Avenue at 25thStreet, (212) 889-0667, http://www.tablany.com) How can you go wrong with a Danny Meyer restaurant?  This Indian restaurant is actually two restaurants in one:  Bread Bar, serving the more casual Indian street food menu and Tabla (upstairs), serving two prix fix menus.  Tabla/and Bread Bar are merging into a single menu at the end of October.  I have eaten three times at Bread Bar, and have never been disappointed.  The staff is very knowledgeable with the menu and is very happy to help you “design” your dinner.   They offer a variety of naan and chutneys that is a meal in itself.  We ordered a bunch of dishes and shared them family style.  I would highly recommend the halibut ceviche, green tomatoes, chicken tika, and black pepper shrimp.  They have a very extensive wine list, offering many wines by the glass.
  • Kefi (505 Columbus Avenue, between West 84th and 85th Streets, (212) 873-0200, http://www.kefirestaurant.com):  I ate at Kefi in September and had to return on this trip.  The restaurant seems a bit small when you first walk in.  However, if you eat downstairs, you will see just how large this Greek restaurant really is.  Both times, I have had such friendly servers who truly made it seem like we were eating at their house….their very large house!   What to eat? Start with the soup.  Their standard soup is a fresh vegetable soup is a clear broth.  The night we ate at Kefi they also had a fish soup, made with a stock from swordfish, and included fish balls made of the swordfish and rice.  Not in the mood for a full-on dinner, we ate on the lighter side, enjoying the Greek salad, chickpea/eggplant sandwich (think of a Greek-style falafel), and grilled sardines.  If you think of sardines from the cans, these are from a higher level.  Whole, fresh sardines are butterflied, seasoned, and grilled skin-side down.  The sardines take on a smoky flavor and are moist, without the typical oily taste of sardines.  Kefi offers a very nice selection of Greek wines.  The sauvignon blanc/Semillon blend was light, pairing nicely with our food.
  • Recipe (452 Amsterdam Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets, (212) 501-7755, http://recipenyc.com).  This tiny 25-seat restaurant in the Upper Westside has a sister restaurant next door called Land, serving Thai food.  Recipe offers a fairly safe fare, but does it very well.  For such a small place, the menu was rather wide.  For starters, we had tasty mussels served bouillabaisse style, grilled calamari on white beans, and vegan butternut squash soup.  The main courses were perfectly cooked, including the steak, duck, and whole dorade.
  • Levain Bakery (167 West 74th Street at Amsterdam Avenue, (212) 874-6080, http://www.levainbakery.com):   If you are looking for a mid-day sugar fix, Levain is a must-stop.  Go there for the freshly baked cookies, particularly the walnut chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and (my favorite) dark chocolate peanut butter.

Museums:  New York has so many great museums, many of which I have yet to visit.  On this trip, we went to the Museum of Modern Art (for the Money Water Lilies and the Ron Arad show), the Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  Four museums in six days may sound a bit arduous, but we didn’t spend too much time at any museum, because art overload occurs very fast for me.  Other museums to check out are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum (where A Night at the Museum was filmed), the American Folk Art Museum, and the Frick (where you can see some frickin’ cool art—sorry!).

Getting Around:  For those of you who think “public transportation” is taking a taxi, try the subway in New York City.  OK, you have probably heard how barbaric and unsafe the subway is.  As long as you are smart about taking the subway (travel with someone else, avoid the subway after 11PM, and never go to anywhere sketchy), you will be fine.  My middle daughter gave me a primer on which trains to take (“Dad, you need the 2 Express, not the 3 Local, ok?”), and how to read the transit map.  If the weather permits, join the throng of other New Yorkers and tourists and just start walking.  New York is a great town to walk and is now even safe as the taxis have been taught that it is bad PR for the city to run over pedestrians.

Getting There:  From the Los Angeles area, there are numerous airlines that fly to any of the airports near New York City.  The most efficient airline is Jet Blue, which flies out of Long Beach to Kennedy.  Unfortunately, it is no longer the low price leader.  Recently, I have flown Virgin America, which sells one-way tickets out of Los Angeles to Kennedy for $109.

Overall:  Six days is about my maximum length for a visit to New York City, although I do think it would be fun to rent an apartment for a month or two and pretend I was a New Yorker.  The pace is frenetic, but the vibe is so alive, it might be worth it.  The markets are so well-equipped to accommodate the busy residents who want to eat great tasting, prepared foods.  Most restaurants deliver.  Even the street food is somewhat tasty, I am told.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Caffe Ibis

Filed under: Food,Luxury — waxingandwayneing @ 7:53 pm
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The American love affair with coffee continues to grow, sparked by the advent of Starbucks and its many competitors.  In spite of these purveyors pushing drinks laced with enormous amounts of syrups, creams, and foams, they have been successful in sophisticating our palettes and expanding our knowledge of coffee.  Coffee is no longer a generic food; it is now defined by growing region, roasting method, and depth of flavor.  Coffee is a complex, multi-categorized item, much like wine.

I recently met the owners of Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Company, which has taken coffee to a new level of distinction: “Tripled Certified Coffee”.  The first of the three levels is organic. Sure, we have been able to buy organic coffee for some time.  That is no longer that rare.  But why is organic important?  Well, first of all, if you don’t mind consuming pesticides and other nasty chemicals, then never mind.  If, instead, you care about the environment and your health, then drinking organic coffee is a must.  Corporate farmers, who bought up land in coffee-producing countries, brought with them an arsenal of bad chemicals, including synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and nematocides, all negatively impacting the local ecosystem.   A coffee bean is not protected from the effects of these chemicals and neither are you!

Much of the poisons used in farming washes into the water system, eventually getting into our bodies.  According to the Smithsonian, “On a global scale, more than five billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used annually for agricultural purposes, forest and rangeland management, and disease control, as well as in homes, and on lawns, gardens, golf courses, and other private properties.”  Organic products don’t require these toxins.

The second level of certification is fair traded.  For the past several years, we have seen fair traded coffee (as well as tea), supporting farms that promote positive business practices, including treating their workers respectably.  One of the coffees sold by Caffe Ibis is from the Cafe Femenino Coffee Project, a cooperative of at least 464 women coffee farmers who sell their coffee as a “women only” produced product.  This effort allows these women to improve work and living conditions for female coffee workers in developing countries, who are often abused at an alarming rate. I think that is a really cool project for Caffe Ibis to support.

The third level (one I have never heard of before) is “Bird Friendly”.  Caffe Ibis seeks out coffees that have been certified as “Bird Friendly” by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/Coffee/lover.cfm).  Such certified producers must produce both organic and shade-grown coffee.  Shade grown coffee is becoming less common.  Before the days of big business in the coffee farms, all coffee was shade grown.  Then in 1972, some science nerd misfits invented hybrid varieties of coffee trees that yielded much higher production quantities.  All these profit minded idiots wanted was more beans, feeling that pumping up the yields would produce better coffee.  (I guess they never studied the work of wine growers, who learned that lower yields actually produce better wine.)  These hybrid plants produced much high quantities of smaller beans, making the harvest easier.  These new beans also didn’t need protection from the sun.  These new trees, however, are not only bad for the land, as they promote ground runoff, they are also bad for the migratory birds, which need shade to rest and live.  The proliferation of the corporate producers has made migratory bird populations suffer, negatively impacting the ecosystem.  So while you are enjoying your cup of ordinary coffee, imagine that poor songbird without a place to land.  You can be so insensitive, at times!

But, with its triple certified coffee, Caffe Ibis is able to distinguish itself as one of the most responsible coffee producers around.  And, here’s the real kicker.  They make great tasting coffee. Go figure!!  The flavors are deep and intense, with the natural oils very evident even in the smell.  Based in Logan, Utah, Caffe Ibis roasts its coffees at high altitudes and in cool climates.   This process takes longer than traditional roasting, resulting in its deeper flavor.

Where can you find Caffe Ibis?  Many Whole Foods Markets carry the brand.  You can also buy Caffe Ibis online at https://caffeibis.com/.  Taste some really delicious coffee that truly makes a positive difference in the world.

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