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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Restaurants

NEWS: Americans Making Better-For-You Food Choices At Restaurants

We met our brother for lunch this weekend at California Pizza Kitchen.

As we both ordered from what we considered to be the “better-for-you” salad menu, Brother, an attorney, looked at the small print.

“Yikes,” he said, “My Cobb Salad has 941 calories. I thought salads were supposed to be low-calorie!”

Well, er, not when topped with blue cheese, bacon, avocado and 1/4 cup of dressing (which is 400 calories in and of itself).

But we are still perplexed as to how our Thai Crunch Salad added up to 1089 calories. It had lots of Napa and red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers and scallions, with perhaps two ounces of grilled chicken and modest accents of edamame, wontons, rice sticks and peanuts. The lime-cilantro dressing was minimal.

It seems that if we wanted to count calories, we should have gotten half portions. But we left full of fiber and protein, and grateful that we hadn’t ordered the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

This morning, we read a Food Channel Trendwire email which announced:

 

At 550 calories, a better-for-you entrée.
Photo courtesy Applebee’s.

 

Restaurant Diners Actually Starting to Make Healthier Choices

The article led with the bad news: A report issued earlier this month by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the national obesity epidemic continues to worsen. Only one state showed an obesity rate below 20% (and just barely): Colorado at 19.8%. Twelve states have obesity rates over 30%. Mississippi was number one at 34.4%. Seven states have seen their rates double in the past 20 years.

But there is some good news: This year, a number of leading restaurant chains are finding significant growth in the better-for-you menu options.

  • Applebee’s. For the first time in the restaurant’s history, the top selling entrée on the menu came from the under-550 calorie menu: Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Sauce. Applebee’s president, Mike Archer, remarked, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re seeing a sea change in consumer behavior.”
  • IHOP. The pancake powerhouse reports that its Simple & Fit menu, offering a range of under-600 calorie choices, now accounts for 8% of entrées sold. At 330 calories, the Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Omelet is now a best seller.
  • Friendly’s. Four of its under-550 calorie limited time offers have sold so well that they’ve been moved to the permanent menu this summer.
  •  
    Of course, the reports don’t count any beverages, bread, appetizers and desserts, but America is finally off to a good start.

      

    Comments

    VALENTINE’S DAY: Most Romantic Restaurants

    auberge-du-soleil

    A romantic table at Auberge du Soleil in
    Napa Valley.

     

    Going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day? OpenTable.com has compiled a list of the nation’s most romantic restaurants as judged by users of the online reservations service.

    OpenTable analyzed more than 4 million reviews from last year to build the list of 50 restaurants from coast to coast. Restaurants receiving high marks in the romance department range from steakhouses to fondue restaurants.

    We’ve only been to two restaurants on this list, and give them high grades for atmosphere. One had great food, the other was just above-average for food (but we’re very picky). So, if you want both the romance and the best cuisine, ask friends.

    And if you’ve dined at any of these restaurants, please give us your opinion.

    OpenTable’s Most Romantic Restaurants In America

    * Alize at the Top of the Palms Casino Resort—Las Vegas
    * Ambrosia Restaurant—Santa Ana, Calif.
    * Andrea: The Resort at Pelican Hill—Newport Beach, Calif.
    * Auberge du Soleil—Napa, Calif.
    * Bistro Romano—Philadelphia
    * Cafe Renaissance—Vienna, Va.
    * Canlis—Seattle
    * The Cellar—Fullerton, Calif.
    * Chez Shea—Seattle
    * Different Pointe of View —Scottsdale, Ariz.
    * Eagle’s Nest: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis—Indianapolis
    * Eiffel Tower—Las Vegas
    * Erminia Ristorante—New York
    * The French Room —Dallas
    * Geja’s Cafe— Chicago
    * Gibraltar—Miami
    * Il Bistro— Seattle
    * Il Cielo—Beverly Hills, Calif.
    * La Caille Restaurant—Salt Lake City
    * La Fondue—Saratoga, Calif.
    * LA Prime at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel—Los Angeles
    * Latitudes Beach Cafe—Key West, Fla.
    * The Little Door— Los Angeles
    * Log Haven—Salt Lake City
    * Madrona Manor—Healdsburg, Calif.
    * Michel’s at the Colony Surf—Honolulu
    * The Melting Pot—various locations
    * Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant—Colorado Springs, Colo.
    * One if by Land, Two if by Sea—New York
    * Ortolan—West Hollywood, Calif.
    * Pamplemousse—Las Vegas
    * Peter Shields Inn—Cape May, N.J.
    * Rey’s—Raleigh, N.C.
    * Shadowbrook Restaurant Capitola—Capitola, Calif.
    * Simply Fondue—Glendale, Calif.
    * The Sky Room—Long Beach, Calif.
    * Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch—Santa Barbara, Calif.
    * Tredici Steak—New York
    * Yamashiro—Los Angeles
    * Zenkichi—Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Comments

    RESTAURANTS: Best Restaurant Meals Of 2009

    Where did some of the nation’s top chefs and restaurateurs have their best meals of 2009?

    Participants in a survey conducted by Opinionated About included Dan Barber (Blue Hill, New York), “No Reservations” host Anthony Bourdain, Sean Brock (McCrady’s Charleston, SC), Michael Carlson (Schwa, Chicago), David Chang (Momofuku, New York), Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, New York), Gale Gand (Tru, Chicago), Krista Kern Darjelais (Bresca, Portland, ME), Paul Liebrandt (Corton, New York), Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Napa Valley), Danny Meyer (Union Square Hospitality Group, New York), Daniel Patterson (Coi, San Francisco), Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin, New York), Anna Sortun (Oleana, Cambridge, MA) and Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Baltimore, MD).

    Responses range from casual to fine dining establishments around the world. Restaurants named most frequently include:

  • Aldea, New York City, Chef George Mendes
  • Corton, New York City, Chef Paul Liebrandt
  • Ferraro Bociarent, Spain, Chef Paco Morales
  • Marea/Alto New York City, Chef Michael White
  • McCrady’s Charleston, South Carolina, Chef Sean Brock
  • Mugaritz Errenteria, Spain, Chef Adoni Aduriz
  • Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark, Chef Rene Redzepi
  • Ubuntu Napa, California, Chef Jeremy Fox
  •  

    clams-pasta-aldea-rest-230

    A new take on linguine and clam sauce.
    Photo courtesy of Chef George Mendes,
    Aldea restaurant, New York City.

    The full list of respondents and restaurants can be downloaded at OpinionatedAboutDining.com.

    Comments

    NEWS: Emeril Joins The Gourmet Burger Lineup



    Emeril Lagasse is about to debut a gourmet burger restaurant named Burgers And More, or … BAM! The restaurant, set to open November 22nd in the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will specialize in burgers made from a blend of prime and grass-fed beef. Burgers And More will also have an ample nonbeef burger menu, including crab, mushroom, salmon and turkey, along with hand-cut French fries, condiments made from scratch, malts and shakes and local draft beers. (We’re ready for a crab burger with a craft brew right now!)

    Asked if he planned to replicate the burger concept elsewhere, Lagasse said he didn’t yet know: “We’ll have to see how it goes.” As the burger generally ranks on surveys as America’s favorite food, it should go well.

    Chef Lagasse joins other celebrity chefs who find that the margins are higher (and more fans are to be made) in selling burgers over foie gras…although Daniel Boulud has done both with his pioneering gourmet burger stuffed with shorts ribs and foie gras, available at NYC’s Bistro Moderne.

     

    piggie-230

    “The Piggie,” at DBGB Kitchen & Bar in New
    York City, features a beef burger on Boston
    lettuce topped by pulled pork, with jalapeño mayonnaise. Photo by T. Schauer © DBGB.

    Burger Gourmania

    Other chefs with burger restaurant concepts include Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller and Laurent Tourondel. “Top Chef” contender Richard Blais’s menu at Atlanta’s Flip Burger Boutique includes 30 rotating burgers, with a daily choice of 8-10 beef burgers, three vegetarian burgers, three pork burgers, and three “alternative meats,” lamb, duck and venison. Numerous others, like Chef Boulud, have added gourmet burgers to their casual restaurant menus. Boulud’s recently-opened DBGB Kitchen & Bar in New York (a favorite of the NIBBLE staff) offers three kinds of gourmet burgers, one of which is pictured above, a happy marriage of burger, pulled pork and jalapeño on a Cheddar cornbread bun.

  • Make better burgers at home with these burger-making tips.
  • If cheeseburgers are your thing, check out these gourmet cheeseburger recipes.

  • Comments

    DISCOUNT: Cheesecake Factory’s Cheesecake Half Price On 7/30



    The Cheesecake Factory invites you to celebrate National Cheesecake Day, July 30th. Dine in at any Cheesecake Factory and enjoy a slice of your favorite flavor of cheesecake for half price. There are 30 flavors to choose from, including low-carb options.

    July 30th is also the debut of the newest cheesecake flavor, Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake: two layers of red velvet cake and two layers of creamy cheesecake (what a country!).

    Don’t look at this as self-indulgence: It’s charity work. For every slice of Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake sold over the next 12 months, The Cheesecake Factory will donate 25 cents to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief charity.

    Are you ready to help the cause?

  • Find your nearest Cheesecake Factory.
  • Make your own with our favorite cheesecake recipes.
  •  

    red-velvet-cheesecake-230

    Red Velvet Cheesecake debuts at The Cheesecake Factory on July 30th, National Cheesecake Day.

    Comments

    NEWS: McDonald’s Rolls Out Premium Burger



    McDonald’s has rolled out the Angus Third Pounder as its contender in the premium burger war. The new line of three burgers have been in test market in several cities for two years (reported way back when by THE NIBBLE) and are meant to compete with the Original Six Dollar Burger offered by Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains and Burger King’s Steakhouse XT Burger—as well as the larger burgers available at In-N-Out Burger, Fatburger, Smashburger, The Counter and Five Guys.

    The Angus burgers are available in three variations: the Deluxe, with American cheese, lettuce and tomatoes; Bacon & Cheddar; and Mushroom & Swiss. In addition to the premium beef, McDonald’s is using other high-end ingredients, including the Swiss cheese and an artisan-style roll. The tab will be about $3.99, depending on location. They will not be a core menu item, but “will continue to have a role on the menu,” according to a McDonald’s spokesperson.

     

    McDonalds_Angus_230

    McDonald’s Angus Third Pounder Burgers. Do they look this good in person?


    Despite the recession, McDonald’s franchisees report that the Angus burgers are a big hit. The premium burger biz has attracted several fine-dining chefs, who hope to use their star power to attract diners interested in higher-end burgers. Big names like Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller, Danny Meyer, Marcus Samuelsson and Laurent Tourondel have opened, or are planning, their own burger chains.

    America loves its burgers; they rank as our favorite food (pizza is second). This is unfortunate, given how un-green the raising of beef cattle is (animal waste contributes more greenhouse gas than automobile exhaust, and beef cattle contribute much more than other animal crops). And certainly, doctors and nutritionists will tell you that you should cut down on your beef consumption—all that cholesterol isn’t good for you, no matter how young you are. So, tempting as these burger offerings are, treat them as you would a hot fudge sundae—a treat to be enjoyed once in a while rather than a daily diet staple. Save the planet, save yourself. We know our words don’t hold much weight, but we just had to say them.

    Comments

    RESTAURANTS: Philadelphia’s City Tavern, Choice Of The Founding Fathers



    What did our Founding Fathers eat to celebrate July 4, 1776?

    Philadelphia’s City Tavern was “the” place where the signers of the Declaration of Independence would gather to dine. The tavern was constructed in 1773 and became the unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress, beginning in late summer 1774; they also celebrated the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1777, there.

    Unfortunately, neither that bill of fare nor any bills of fare from 1776 were preserved in Tavern’s records. Didn’t the owner realize there was history in the making?

     

    CityTavern-Philly

    Philadelphia’s City Tavern: You can dine where the Founding Fathers ate.

    The good news is that the tavern is still in business, looking as it looked back in 1776 (plus modern amenities such as electricity and plumbing). You’ll dine on reproduction china, flatware, pewter and glassware, starting with cornmeal-fried oysters, smoked salmon and trout, and salmagundi (an 18th century classic that preceded our “chef’s salad”—fresh garden greens, ham, smoked turkey, smoked chicken, salami, Cheddar cheese, hard-boiled egg, olives and dressing). Entrées include beef, chicken or lobster pot pie, braised rabbit, roast duckling, pork schnitzel, crab cakes, bratwurst, port chops and venison medallions. Even the bread basket delivers the culinary experience of the 18th century: Sally Lunn bread, Anadama loaves and sweet potato and pecan biscuits (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite). Enjoy the cuisine with period-style ales. Find out more at www.citytavern.com.

  • Hungry for some delicious bread or biscuits? See our Bread Glossary. Happy Independence Day!
  • Comments

    NEWS: Restaurants Go Green

    As Gordon Gekko said, “Green is good.” He just didn’t understand which green was going to become the big focus. In a National Restaurant Association survey of trends for 2009, environmentally friendly equipment and sustainable practices topped chefs’ lists of hot trends and top cost-savers. Green practices, organic, sustainable and local foods are  also on consumers’ list of wants. So the Environmental Defense Fund and Restaurant Associates have developed Green Dining Best Practices that enable restaurants, corporate cafeterias and museum eateries across the country to spare the environment as they lower their foodservice costs. Overarching goals include reducing the greenhouse gas footprint and re-engineering the menu to provide more local and organic vegetables, sustainable meat and seafood.

    A comprehensive set of science-based recommendations for environmentally friendly foodservice, the practices have been tested for 90 days by two Restaurant Associates clients, Random House and Hearst Corporation, which have large corporate cafeterias in New York City. Early results show annual benefits of more than $85,000 in cost savings, a reduction of 275 tons of carbon pollution and a reduction of landfill waste by 60 tons, among other environmental benefits. You can get them free of charge at www.edf.org/greendining.

    organic_cabbage-230
    Organic cabbage. Photo by Herman Hooyschuur | SXC.


    The pilot program revealed some interesting answers:

  • Eat seasonal, local foods. Eating seasonal produce from local farmers can have a lower environmental impact than buying organic. Local foods reduce greenhouse gas by transporting the foods short distances. Organic foods save the environment from pesticides, but require more fuel to transport food greater distances.
  • Use traditional dishes. Some disposable plates and flatware labeled “recyclable” and “compostable” are so only in theory; many are not made in the U.S., and U.S. municipalities do not have the equipment to recycle or compost them. Plus, when these products go into landfills, they give off greenhouse gas. Using soap, water, traditional, dishes and flatware has a lower environmental impact.
  • Turn off appliances not in use. In commercial facilities, coffee urns are a huge energy drain; they tend to be left on all day. They should be turned off or put on timers to save energy. (At home or in a small office, pull the plug out after you’ve finished brewing. Coffee in a glass carafe on the warmer plate gets scorched after 15 minutes. Get a coffee maker that brews into a thermal carafe.)
  • Half of the waste in a restaurant is food waste. An anerobic “digester” breaks the waste into liquid form, which saves an enormous amount of money and fuel over carting away traditional garbage. (Tours were available to see it in action.)
  • Lunch served from Random House’s new green kitchen was so delicious. We ate two plates of everything and only regret we didn’t bring Tupperware to take more home. We share it with you for recipe ideas—which just happen to be largely vegan:

  • Salad of organic farro, organic spring onion, roasted organic fennel and organic preserved lemon.
  • Field-grown mâche (in season—not greenhouse-grown which uses energy), shaved organic watermelon radish, and diced plum, with watermelon vinaigrette.
  • Organic tricolor cauliflower salad (white, orange and purple cauliflower)—so beautiful, even kids will eat cauliflower without question. Orange cauliflower, a mutant, contains 25 times the level of vitamin A of white varieties. You can also find green cauliflower.
  • Salad of marinated and roasted organic wild mushrooms: trumpet, nameko and maitake mushrooms, on a bed of baby arugula (see our Mushroom Glossary).
  • Salad of shredded organic escarole, organic white beans, sheep’s milk Pecorino and roasted organic sweet peppers.
  • Salad of organic quinoa, sugar snap peas, organic spring peas and organic grilled spring onion, with an organic green garlic dressing.
  • Cheeses: (1) Fresh goat tomme from Vermont Butter & Cheese, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. One tomme was coated in fresh-snipped dill, one in a finely-ground black and pink peppercorn and fresh parsley mix, set on a plate atop extra virgin olive oil. (2) Another NIBBLE favorite, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s sheep’s milk Camembert and sheep’s milk Roquefort-style cheese. All cheeses were slices of heaven. Accompaniments included organic apricots, figs, dates, almonds and honeycomb, plus beautiful artisan breads and crackers, including a raisin walnut loaf and long, soft breadsticks we’ve got to track down!
  • Incredibly buttery, melt-in-your-mouth brownies and excellent organic coffee from Seattle’s Best Coffee, organic tea and iced tea from Harney & Sons. Plus, lots of infused water: with thin-sliced cucumbers (our favorite), blueberries, supremed and sliced oranges, and thin-sliced lemon. Just add the fruit to a pitcher of water—about a cup of fruit per pitcher.
  • With gorgeous food like this, it’s easy to be a vegetarian. But the two executive chefs involved with the pilot had more in store for us.

  • Chef Nick Cavaretta of Random House presented seared Arctic char with an arugula pesto, topped with organic red amaranth microgreens. This is an easy (and healthy) dish to make at home. You can buy excellent pesto (including arugula pesto); if you can’t find red amaranth microgreens, substitute what you can find, or the prettiest sprouts.
  • Chef Jayson Brown of Cafe57 at Hearst smoked Eberly Farm organic chicken over hickory chips. He served it on top of a snap pea purée and a side of diced fingerling potatoes and pea sprouts.
  • We were thrilled to have enjoyed this sustainable lunch—and more thrilled that within two years, the 110 foodservice facilities managed by Restaurant Associates will be green (and audited by the Green Restaurant Association!). Now, everyone else: Get into the act! If your company has a cafeteria, if you know people who own restaurants, download and forward the Green Dining Best Practices from www.edf.org/greendining.

    Comments

    TRENDS: Doggie Bags On Park Avenue

    Toney diners who once would have frowned on taking home leftovers are now packing up the doggie bag after putting on the Ritz. The affluent still dine out, notes David Pogrebin, manager of New York City’s historic Brasserie restaurant (we’ve been dining there since childhood). But in the thick of a recession, even those at the top are tightening their belts through a growing trend of bringing home leftovers. And of course, that duck breast is not going to the dog—if it ever did—nor is the risotto and other rich “doggie bag” contents that would be questionable additions to Fido’s bowl.

    Since Elizabethan times at least, restaurants provided extra-large napkins—not only because people ate with their hands, but they used them to wrap up and take home any leftovers. Paper bags did come around in time, but in 1949, Al Meister, owner of a Chicago-based packaging company called Bagcraft Papercon, developed a coated paper bag that was grease-resistant. He is credited with inventing the “doggie bag”—and the take-out bag, for that matter. Grease-resistant soon evolved into foil-coated bags with quirky drawings of Fido, with the blaring headline, “Doggie bag.” No wonder people of good breeding didn’t want to be seen carrying them!

    Doggie Bag
    Snazzy doggie bag.
    These days, with everyone pinching pennies, who can blame Park Avenue folks if they take the last few morsels of steak frites back to their $4 million apartments. We’re big fans of Executive Chef Luc Dimnet’s cuisine, too, and we wouldn’t leave a morsel on the plate, recession or boom. And it’s not only good for the pocketbook, it’s good for the waistline.

    But the lesson here, boys and girls, is no matter how casual or fine the restaurant, no matter how large or small the amount of leftover food: You’ll be sorry you didn’t take it home. You’ve paid for it, it’s yours, and management doesn’t like to see good food thrown out. They’re flattered that you like it so much, you want to take it home.

    By the way, while New Yorkers previously could not remove wine from restaurants, the State Liquor Authority informs us as of September 9, 2004, that rule was changed, enabling you to benefit financially from a “Wine Doggie Bag” as well. We quote:

    “Legislation has been enacted which provides a procedure under which a restaurant licensee may permit a patron, following the patron’s consumption of a full course meal, to remove one partially consumed bottle of wine from the restaurant. The limitations, conditions, and procedures regarding a restaurant patron’s removal of one partially consumed bottle of wine from the restaurant are discussed in Bulletin No. 588. To view this bulletin click on the following link: SLA Bulletin No. 588

    Salient points from the pdf:

    “At the conclusion of the meal, the restaurant patron must be provided with a dated receipt which indicates both the purchase of a full course meal and the purchase of the wine. A receipt which is undated does not satisfy the requirements of the statute. A receipt which fails to indicate that the wine was purchased in connection with a full course meal is insufficient, because the statute requires that the wine be purchased in connection with a full course meal. Before a restaurant licensee may permit a partially consumed bottle of wine to leave the restaurant, the restaurant licensee or an agent of the restaurant licensee must:

    • securely reseal the bottle of wine;
    • place the resealed bottle in a one-time-use tamper-proof transparent bag, and
    • securely seal the bag.

    The one-time-use tamper-proof transparent bag must insure that the patron cannot gain access to the bottle while in transit after the bag is sealed.”

    What this means is, you can’t open the bottle to drink until you get home—no drinking and driving. The bag is transparent so that you can’t hide the goods from any law official stopping you in transit. Regulations for wine will vary according to each state’s rules.



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    NEWS: No Surprise ~ Restaurant Closings Are Up

    Starbucks The national restaurant count has slipped for first time in eight years, according to a news release from The NPD Group, a market research firm. Typically, the number of U.S. restaurants grows each year, with increases of 1.8 percent in 2007 and 0.4 percent in 2006, for example. The number of total restaurant locations in 2008 contracted from 2007 by 0.1 percent, driven by closures of independent restaurants, including such prominent names as Emeril’s in Atlanta and San Domenico in New York, and units within large chains such as Starbucks and Bennigan’s. While family-dining and fine-dining segments showed drops, casual-dining and quick-service locations showed small but positive growth in 2008, NPD data shows. The industry is battling a slowdown in consumer spending, especially for dining out, as well as escalating operating costs.

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