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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: 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.

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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!
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    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.

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    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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    TRENDS: Top Chefs Go For Burgers


    Read our Tips For A Better Burger article to learn
    how to cook perfect burgers at home.
    Following our posting of the CBS report on the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona (or perhaps despite it), burgers are big in 2009. As reported recently in the trade magazine Restaurant Hospitality, top chefs are in the game. Bobby Flay launched Bobby’s Burger Palace, Laurent Tourondel has BLT Burger, Marcus Samuelsson started Marc Burger. Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in New York is about to have an Upper West Side sibling, Hubert Keller is expanding his kingdom of Burger Bars and Govind Armstrong turned his L.A. Eatery, Table 8, into 8 Oz. Burger Bar. And everyone is awaiting the opening of Thomas Keller’s Burgers and Half-Bottles in Yountville, California and Las Vegas.

    You can get in the game buy buying a franchise of Virginia-based Elevation Burger, which serves organic, grass-fed, free-range beef with fries cooked in hearth-healthy olive oil…in LEED-certified green buildings. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, you could own your local franchise of the Heart Attack Grill, the “Taste Worth Dying For.” We’d opt for the former.

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    RESTAURANTS: The Heart Attack Grill

    Those whose New Year’s resolutions don’t include healthy eating should high-tail to Chandler, Arizona for a feast at the Heart Attack Grill. Yes, that’s the name, and the sign on the door of this burger bar says, < Caution! This establishment is BAD for your health! > How bad?

    - The hamburger buns are coated in lard
    - There’s no lettuce on the burgers
    - There’s no salad bar, but a fries bar, with as many fries as you want, fried in lard and laden with all the cheese sauce you want
    - There’s no diet soda or light beer
    You get the picture…and you’ll get much more when you watch the video.


    Watch CBS Videos Online.

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    TRENDS: Restaurants Go Greener

    According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are almost one million restaurants in the U.S., each generating an average of 50,000 pounds of waste annually, and using an average of 300,000 gallons of water. A quarter of restaurants say they are planning to go green(er) in 2009, showing the environmentally conscious diner that they are more eco-friendly.

    Perhaps the most challenged are the nation’s 45,000+ Chinese restaurants, where the demand for, and the nature of, take-out food utilizes disposable containers, many of which include non-recyclable plastic and styrofoam. On January 5th, at the Annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA Awards Show & Conference, a “Cooking Towards a Greener Future” educational seminar will discuss why it’s important for Chinese restaurants to create a sustainable business that is good for all stakeholders—the environment, employees, diners and the neighborhood—while saving energy and improving profits.

    Next time you order Chinese take-out, forgo the
    non-recyclable styrofoam and plastic containers
    and silverware.

    We have a suggestion: Ask if the customer wants soy sauce, duck sauce and mustard, and how much. Ask if they need utensils: Why does food going to a home require plastic forks and spoons? How many millions of these items get thrown out unused each year? We ask for these items, and the complimentary fried noodles, to be left out. (Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.) We’ve asked our restaurant not to pack the salad in a styrofoam bowl, but to choose something recyclable. While waiting for your restaurateur to get greener, you can let your voice be heard! It may not have great impact, but at least you’ll have done your part. Now we can hope that Chinese Restaurant News will publish some actionable checklist for restaurateurs.

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    TRENDS: 2009 Restaurant Directions

    In a down economy, discretionary restaurant meals are one of the first things to get cut by conservative consumers. Food industry consulting and research firm Technomic sees five trends looming large in 2009, as restaurants try to coax customers to come out and spend:

    1. Experimentation and innovation—with new menu items, delivery services and price/bundling schemes.

    2. Continuation of ethnic flavors, with a highlight of regional cuisines such as regional Italian and Jalisco-style Mexican fare.

    3. “Local” food sourcing and a menu emphasis on the foods of the region.

    4. Goldilocks serving sizes: big, little and just right. More small-plate, prix-fixe and bar menus, in addition to more family-style entrées that can feed two or more.

    5. Up-scaled and expanded kids’ menus, beyond standard kids’ menu items to items that reflect the restaurant, for instance, a crab cake at a seafood restaurant—along with more specialty beverages and smoothies. (Editor’s Note: Makes good sense to help develop the foodies of tomorrow.)

    Hmmm…interesting, but we’re not certain that a kid’s crab cake or delivery service is the hot button when money is one’s chief concern. “Price/bundling schemes,” whatever they are, sound promising. What would make us spend money at restaurants when we think we should exercise restraint are financial incentives. Our suggestions include:

    1. The “new menu items” should include more affordable dishes across categories (appetizers, entrees, desserts). There should be some comparatively inexpensive choices in each group. If your goal is to fill seats, this can be done—at least on certain nights of the week.

    2. Offer more affordable wines, meaning, more reasonable markups. We’d show up to eat more often and buy wine if we could pay $20 for a $10 retail bottle instead of $35. Paying $12 or $15 for one glass of average wine is like pouring money down the drain.

    3. Allow a BYO for a corkage fee on slow nights.
    We understand that much of a restaurant’s profit has come from those $12 wines-by-the-glass and the bottle markups; but when people can buy the entire bottle for $12, they’re staying home and grilling or ordering a designer pizza in these penny-pinching times. We’d like to suggest that restaurants find other ways to improve their margins, including:

    1. Charging for the bread basket. How many people really want that bread, and how much of it gets wasted (or how many of us fill up on it before the food arrives)? No one needs those carbs (or the fat from the butter). Few of us serve a bread basket at home; at the restaurant, it’s a bad-food temptation we don’t need put in front of us. Charging for it is a way for restaurants to save (and earn) money.

    2. Serve smaller portions of dessert. Most of those who want a little something sweet at the end of the meal could do with half the calories, carbs and fat of what we’re typically served—that’s why “sharing a dessert” is a standard calorie-cutting recommendation. In addition to earning higher margins from smaller portions, there’s probably a market for a selection of mini-desserts sold to people who would normally decline dessert (similar to selling an “appetizer portion” of a main course).

    It’s food for thought!

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    RECIPES: Name Chefs Feed Your Family For $10

    Time Magazine dug into “recession dining” and had six chefs develop dinner for a family of four for $10. Some aren’t brain science, but others are inspired, like Tom Colicchio’s Fennel Pork Loin. The “menu” includes:

    * Tom Colicchio’s (Craft Restaurant, NYC) Fennel Pork Loin and Pasta Vegetarienne

    * Tyler Florence’s (The Food Network) Roast Chicken With Lemon, Garlic and Fresh Bay Leaves

    * David Myers’ (Sona, Los Angeles) Spaghetti With Pancetta and Chili Flakes

    * Eric Ripert’s (Le Bernardin, NYC) Rice & Beans, Green Salad and Banana Flambé

    * Charlie Palmer’s (Aureole, NYC) Orecchiette Pasta “Risotto” With Pancetta and Goat Cheese

    * Suzanne Goin’s (Lucques, Los Angeles) Braised Chicken With Paprika Onions, Cous Couse and Date Relish

    Dig in to the Recession Gourmet Recipes.

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