Waxingandwayneing’s Weblog

July 10, 2012

Pick a Card…..Any Card (but mine!)

Filed under: Food,The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 9:03 pm
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Maybe it’s my age.  I saw something this weekend in San Francisco I have never seen before.  We had breakfast at Plow in Potrero Hill and I was waiting to use the men’s room.  There was a four-top near the bathroom seated with two couples who were obvious friends.  They were just wrapping up their meal as the check arrived.

Each of the men pulled out their wallets and placed a credit card on the check tray.  I assumed they were just going to split the bill.  When the waitress arrived, one of the men said to her, “Take both of these cards and then close your eyes and pick one.  The card you choose pays the bill.”  What is this, Visa Roulette?”  I figured they were just joking.

A few minutes later, the waitress returns with with both cards and just one receipt.  The guy who gave the instructions to the waitress looks at the receipt, breathes a sign of relief, and says to his friend, “Thanks for breakfast!”

Have you ever seen this before?

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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!!”

July 13, 2011

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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