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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

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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FREEBIE: Morton’s The Steakhouse Cheeseburgers

If you’re doing holiday shopping this weekend in the vicinity of a Morton’s steakhouse—there are 80 worldwide—take a break from 5 to 6 p.m. for a complimentary mini-cheeseburger at the bar. You’ll be celebrating the 30th birthday of Morton’s The Steakhouse.

It’s the burger that started Morton’s. Co-founders Klaus Fritsch and Arnie Morton first worked together at the Playboy Club in Chicago. Klaus made his signature hamburger and sent it out for Arnie to taste. Morton proclaimed it the best hamburger he’d ever eaten. From that day, they started the business partnership that has become Morton’s The Steakhouse.

Check out THE NIBBLE’s burger tips.
Take our burger trivia quiz.
Not a beef person? Here’s a delicious chicken burger recipe.

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RESTAURANTS: Support Your Local Restaurant


Cut back on cocktails so you can afford to keep
your favorie restaurant in business. Or you can
just make cocktails at home instead. Seen here:
a Cranberry Martini–perfect for the holiday
season!
In tough economic times like these, we look for ways to cut back on spending. Eating at restaurants is a logical target. But according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, if everyone gives up restaurant-going, those restaurants may no longer be around when times get better. The article suggests that, for your benefit and theirs, continue your weekly foray, just do it more cost effectively. Suggestions include cutting back on pricey cocktails and ordering a modest bottle of wine; or cutting back on the bottle of wine and sticking to a single glass. Try the early bird special, or go at your regular time and select more affordable dishes. Give up dessert (that’s a win-win). Most restaurateurs understand that customers need to spend conservatively, and are doing their part to offer less-pricey items and prix-fixe menus. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be a regular.

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RECIPE: Joe’s Seafood Dover Sole Recipe

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab: Since 1913, Joe’s Stone Crab has been a legendary dining institution in Miami. In 2000, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab debuted in Chicago. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is Dover Sole, which is cooked whole and filleted at tableside. Chef Gary Baca says that leaving all elements of the fish intact while cooking—head, tail and bones—intensifies its natural richness and sweetness of this mild fish. So just by adding butter, salt and pepper, you’ll have a succulent delight. He does remove the skin before cooking, which adds a crispy texture. Here’s the simple recipe, which can be prepared at home:

Ingredients:

-1 Dover sole (skinned)
-1 sprinkle salt and pepper mix
-1 dusting of all-purpose flour
-4 ounces clarified butter
-2 butter pats
-Lemon
-1 pinch of chopped parsley
-1 pat of brown butter

Preparation:

1. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper, and then dust lightly with all-purpose flour.
2. Ladle 2 ounces of clarified butter and 1 butter pat onto a griddle. Place sole in the butter and sauté until golden.
3. Flip the fish and sauté in an additional 2 ounces of clarified butter and 1 butter pat.
4. Finish in a 450°F oven for 6 – 8 minutes and plate the fish on a warm platter. Garnish with lemon, parsley and brown butter.

Learn more about Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab at www.icon.com/joes.

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News: Diet At The Cheesecake Factory

Our favorite chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory, has added to its popular Weight Management menu category with the addition of a Weight Management Grilled Chicken, a lightly-pounded chicken breast, charbroiled and topped with a tomato and arugula salad. The plate is garnished with steamed white rice (tell them to hold the rice—too bad they didn’t make it brown rice, since white rice is largely empty calories) and asparagus. The Grilled Chicken entrée is less than 590 total calories, making it the perfect light summer fare. The piece of limited-edition 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake you can have for dessert will easily match those calories. The four-layer anniversary cheesecake combines two layers of Original Cheesecake and two layers of Chocolate Fudge Cake, filled with chocolate cream and finished with crunchy pearls of Valrhona chocolate. Share a piece with two or three friends. The first Cheesecake Factory restaurant opened in Beverly Hills, California in 1978.  
Cheesecake Factory’s limited-edition
30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake
Cheesecake.

Read more about cheesecake in THE NIBBLE‘s Gourmet Cakes & Cupcakes section.

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PRODUCT REVIEW: The Gordon Biersch Brewing Company

Dan Gordon brewed his first batch of Gordon Biersch beer nearly 20 years ago, making him one of the pioneers of American craft brewing. The company was founded in 1988, after California repealed a law to allow restaurants to brew beer on-site, thereby paving the way for the creation of the brewpub. In 1987, Gordon, fresh from earning a degree in brewing engineering from the uber-prestigious Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, sat down with restaurateur and fellow California native Dean Biersch to map out a plan to bring freshly-brewed beer and freshly-prepared food together under one roof. One year later, the pair opened the first Gordon Biersch brewpub in Palo Alto, California, featuring a menu of appetizers, entrées, salads and sandwiches created to complement Gordon’s expertly-crafted beers. Gordon even created a barbecue sauce made with his Marzen that is still served today with burgers and their barbecued chicken pizza. Gordon also invented the restaurant’s wildly popular Garlic Fries.   Gordon Biersch Pilsner.

Today, there are 27 Gordon Biersch brewpubs across 16 states and Washington, DC. In June, the company went international with the opening of a Gordon Biersch restaurant and brewery in Taiwan. All of the beers served at the restaurants are brewed on-site; beers are also brewed and bottled at a state-of-the-art brewing facility in San Jose, California. Gordon Biersch produces more than 3 million gallons of beer per year there, making it one of the largest craft breweries in California.

But when you visit one of Gordon Biersch’s numerous brewpubs, you won’t find any explosively hoppy IPAs on tap, or extra-strength imperial stouts, or any of the other so-called extreme beers that have grown in popularity in recent years. At a time when many American craft breweries seem to be engaged in a perpetual battle to out-hop each other, Gordon Biersch remains an anomaly. The company brews only German-style lagers—solid, down-to-earth beers that are as unpretentious as the man who brews them.

Read the full review on TheNibble.com.

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