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Robert Brown

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Posts posted by Robert Brown

  1. I never care if people in a restaurant in Japan don't speak English. In fact, it appears I endear myself in such circumstances when I try getting the names. Chefs or staff members usually know the English words for various products. Key words that go a long way are "Matsui Hideki", "Suzuki Icharo" and, especially now, "Tanaka Masahiro".

  2. Matsukawa sounds like the place I went to behind the Okura and across the road from my embassy. Speaking of Kanazawa, there is an 86 year old sushi chef you should check out. This was two years ago, so perhaps he retired or went to the big knife in the sky.


    Here's the question. Could I do as well going to a restaurant in, say, Saga instead of Ryokan Akune? Are you suggesting using it as a restaurant only? It reminds me of da Maria in Fano--an eldery woman giving you a seminar in the local fish. In any case, I don't like sleeping on the floor these days.


    Thank you very much, Orik. Any recollections you have of Fukuoka I would appreciate hearing about.

  3. While I'm at it, a Japanese friend of mine from Tokyo who works with the Michel Bras line of knives tells me that Mibu is "far overrated", but if he could get me a reservation, I would go there.

  4. Orik, did you visit there? How far from Fukuoka did you wander? What did you like wherever? I would go to wherever is interesting by train or bus, but not real far.

  5. I've read the entire thread today. It's great for Tokyo, but I'm a provincial fellow at heart who loves bopping around Japan. I'm getting ready to go to Fukuoka and other places on Kyushu Island. Food information is hard to come by. I like being in le Japon profond, but has anyone noticed the ryokan food is qualitatively like Relais & Chateaux food?

  6. Dear Margaret,


    All I can tell you is that when I visit a restaurant on short notice, I'll ask there which dishes are "cooked" sous-vide. So far I usually get an honest answer. But for me not to write ahead and ask wouldn't be prudent, besides which I like to see how forthcoming the restaurant is. If a restaurant doesn't answer or gives a vague or evasive answer, I will think twice about going there. Other times I have to grin and bear it such as when a friend wants to try a certain restaurant that may or may not be a sous-vide place and turns out to be one. Where you really have to careful, if you care about what I do, are the little restaurants with one person in the kitchen. To be honest, I don't want to contend that anything cooked sous-vide is automatically bad, and that without doubt I have eaten perfectly acceptable dishes without knowing or thinking about it. However, I believe I have gotten better at recognizing them and identifying the various code words for applicable restaurant dishes. My obsession is not limited to dishes themselves, but also what the growing use of sous-vide portends for the future of restaurant cuisine.


    All the best,



  7. Holy smokes. Did I write "sided" instead of "sighted"? And are you SF Margaret?


    I don't pretend to know how Ferran Adria, Massimo Buttura, Grant Achatz, etc. use sous-vide in avant-garde cooking or the tricks that the practitioners of avant-garde, Modernist, whatever you want to call it. I would say that about half the meals at the hands of such chefs I greatly enjoyed. But that's neither here nor there. It's when restaurants use sous-vide to make dishes that they could make better by time-tested means that raise my hackles. (You can see a Per Se menu from 2006 by going on-line to the New York Public Library's collection of old menu and which has in large capital letters "CUIT SOUS-VIDE" in some of the descriptions of the dishes. I'm assuming Keller did it to coincide with the publication of his sous-vide cookbook at the time. But now when I recently wrote the restaurant to ask which dishes they were cooking sous-vide, the woman with the Mexican-sounding name resolutely refused to tell me even when I said to point out such dishes on the current on-line menu.) When a restaurant won't come out and simply tell you either in an e-mail reply or on its menu, what are they hiding and why? What we have instead is a growing vocabulary of furtive terms such as "slowly-cooked" "cooked x hours", "twice-cooked" "cooked at low-temperature" that cooks often invoke to cover up sous-vide "cooking".

  8. Thanks Daniel and Orik. I can say this about the both of you: That you give thought to the long-term implications of this short-cut and maybe even what it does to stifle creativity, the use of the best products available, and the forthrightness of chef-restaurateurs. For the rest of you short-sided folks, ask yourself how long it will take before you see glorified airline food served on the ground because that's the way we're headed. Complaining or holding people's feet to the fire is a form of public service for people yet unknown, and if more people did it, it would lay waste to the dictum "restaurants only get worse". The only matter I question is that I should be helping the unfortunate instead of being a consumer advocate for the rich.

  9. For those of you who didn’t believe me when I expressed my belief that restaurant chefs were defensive about their use of sous-vide “cooking”, this one’s for you.


    As a couple of my new neighbors asked me if I had visited a certain up-scale restaurant, I decided, since I hadn’t, to write the restaurant and ask why their dish descriptions on its on-line menu didn’t state how the kitchen cooked each dish and if they used immersion circulators in their preparations. Because the chef was kind enough to answer me in short-order and at length (though as we will see, not forthrightly) I won’t state the name of the restaurant in question, only to say that it is not far from New York City; is what I call a factory-outlet restaurant with the “chief designer” being in New York City; and that the local person who owns the restaurant in question is well-known, but not for being in the gastronomic world.


    The chef-de-cuisine started by saying that not disclosing the cooking techniques isn’t meant to be deceptive or to hide them, but rather comes from the practice of all facets, and that the dishes “go through several different processes throughout the day from various prepping techniques to execution during service. (Whether he was referring to each dish or the dishes collectively isn’t clear).


    He then admits that “when immersion circulators are used, we use them for preparatory work where the benefits of accurate and consistent temperature controls provide the best product. These are instances such as poaching sausages, mousselines, or other force-meats that allow the protein to set without breaking the emulsification or creating air products.” He goes on to say that even though they use immersion circulators, they are not a kitchen simply built on “boil in the bag” techniques, and, that they do not use immersion circulators during lunch or dinner service except for poaching eggs during brunch, whatever that’s suppose to mean. He closes by stating that eventually they will “consider” providing such disclosures of philosophy and practices.


    I then wrote him the following, for which I never received a reply:



    “I greatly appreciate your taking the time to address my inquiry at such length. It is really kind of you."

    "As I understand it, the primary use of sous-vide doesn't occur during the meal service, as it is then that the dishes that have been elaborated or sealed in the off-hours, and sometimes far in advance, are simply quickly finished by conventional means. For now as I live near by, what matters to me is this: First, can I get a steak cooked rare in your restaurant; second, is the texture of the fish you serve going to be what I am used to in, say, restaurants along the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts of Italy instead of the unpleasantly-soft texture that one increasingly encounters; and last, are the warm dishes that we would order going to start out raw at the time you receive my table's orders in your kitchen? Your reason for not stating on the menu how you cook a dish, which contravenes a centuries-old practice, seems to me like a tacit admission that sous-vide is one of the cooking methods you allude to. The coterie of inquisitive diners shouldn't have to ask if a chicken dish, for example, is grilled, roasted, broiled or made sous-vide.”






  10. Maybe the town should just blow up their former town hall. First Freddy Girardet got cancer (not fatal, but he retired early.) Then Philippe Rochat, Giirardet's second, lost his wife in an avalanche and he died on his bicycle in July. Now this. For me it is sad because I spent many of my best eating hours there.

  11. The restaurant phenomenon I’m about to describe is nothing new, even if my way of categorizing it is. The comparison I’m about to make was the result of a disastrous Christmas night dinner I had at the Inn at Pound Ridge, a restaurant whose kitchen Jean-Georges Vongrichten took over last year. The meal fell into the disaster category by dint of the service staff letting us sit for 45 minutes without even a bread crumb to put in our mouths; bringing the preliminary assuaging-hunger “for the table” dish after the appetizers; running out of the dish my wife and I wanted the most; waiting an inordinate amount of time for the main courses with the predictable result that they all arrived at room temperature; and charging me at least double for a main-course-size portion of an appetizer that I ordered because the kitchen had exhausted three dishes; because every piece of fish was farmed; and because ordering a pasta dish or a pizza seemed inappropriate to a restaurant with pretenses. ( I tasted the tagliatelle dish our daughter ordered, and it was truly mundane).



    Soon after my dinner, I reflected on the fact that there was no one there who had a proprietary interest in the restaurant: No owner-chef or owner-restaurateur; no one in the kitchen who was going out looking at produce and coming up with sudden inspiration or trying something new in the kitchen. By invoking the Jean-Georges name, there is no doubt that the overwhelming percentage of naïve diners who go there believe they will be having a Jean-Georges meal without having to drive over an hour to One Central Park West and spending there perhaps fifty-percent more money. Since I will likely never return to the Inn at Pound Ridge, even though I now own a home eight miles away, I won’t be able to find out in what insidious ways Jean-Georges and his group of investors might run the restaurant. I imagine that the chef-de-cuisine learns and is told what he has to make; that certain dishes are started off the premises or between meals, and may even be unloaded off a refrigerated food service truck, thus starting to resemble what goes on in France at the majority of cafes and brasseries. Regardless of how much of this is true, this concept is this: We are deep into the epoch of what I call factory outlet restaurants, but instead of shops and labels with such names as Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, etc. offering cheaply-made “label” clothing, we have Jean-Georges, Daniel Bouloud, Tom Colicchio, Michael White, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, and many other chefs doing the same with their restaurant food. By no stretch of the imagination are we dining on the often-marvelous dishes that came directly from the hands and the kitchens of these chefs with the exception of the times they are in the kitchen of their flagship restaurant instead of training their surrogate chefs and looking for places to open and prepare even more absentee restaurants. If this weren’t quickly becoming the order of the day and taking place with increasing momentum, I would be more sanguine about the relative ease in finding interesting upper-echelon dining.

  12. I posted a long time ago that Keller was living off oysters and pearls and the salmon cones and the dessert coffee and donuts. Making tiny dishes and being a proponent and champion of sous-vide "cooking" perhaps has cut him down to size. A few people I know who are dining maniacs have given up on the French Laundry.

  13. Tipping extra is often aposteriori. I often do it in a place (town or city or restaurant) I will never return to. A bribe is conditioned on someone doing something in the future. I admit, though, that doing it in the neighborhood to establish on-going extras down the road could be construed as a bribe.

  14. I beg to differ about Ciau dei Tornavento. I go there almost every year in the fall. I have a cute waitress (Evelyn?) who treats me right; let's me smell a bunch of truffles and helps me choose a great bottle of wine. There are several dishes I order that are meant for truffles. Yes, the carne cruda, the egg and cheese dish "Trufalao" served in the wood box, and the gnocchi come to mind, not to mention the vanilla ice cream covered with truffles Last year we had a partridge that was not only rare to come across, but sublime. They take their cheese seriously, too, as you say. I like the Fascisti architecture, the spaciousness of the room and the distance between the tables and the view over the Barbaresco vineyards.


    I always go late in the truffle season-late November or early December. Not only do prices go down after the Alba Truffle Fair, but as it takes five weeks from germinating to collecting, the truffles are at their peak and not influenced, as was the case this year, but the dry, hot summer. I'm glad you got good-tasting truffles as the renown Allende on Chowhound got word that this year's crop so far has been unplentiful and so-so. I should go back to Il Centro. We liked it a lot in its early days. Da Bardon seems to be a go-to place according to a few Chowhounders.

  15. I went to Daniel's a couple of weeks ago with my Brooklyn pal. At dinner the other night, we tried to describe to my wife what Daniel's enterprise was like. We landed on "idiosyncratic", "highly-personal", that Daniel was likely an auto-didact, which explained the seeming lack of influences of other cooks on his creations. In a food universe where new restaurants offer food that tries to hew to a certain line (plurality being ersatz Italian), Meckelburg's is a highly-welcome restaurant in a city that otherwise lacks this restaurant's qualities. When you sit at the bar, you immediately feel like a regular--that this is your place--in an atmosphere that seemed to me like a throwback to the 1950s. There's a generosity and complete lack of pretense that make me wish I didn't live an hour's distance away by public transport or a $40. Uber ride. Although it bears little, if any, comparison to Komi in DC, I got that similar vibe that I was in an establishment with immense personality and one-of-a kind-ness since when I was in DC four years ago. Add to that the grocery store section redolent with unusual and off-beat products, and you've got double the serendipity.

  16. Sneakeater, at Untitled they are charging a la carte prices for dishes they tell you are somewhat-smaller main courses. Offered a la carte, of course. And the beat goes on. The one trick I haven't seen in the US is the French one of offering a few tasting menus, any one of which has to be for the all the convives while at the same time offering a token number of a la carte dishes at inflated prices; i.e. two appetizers and two main courses, designed to dissuade you from ordering them. There's a la carte and there's a la carte. I'm happy to pay a lot for dish that I can choose, is well-made and doesn't stint on ingredients.


    As for the evaluation reports, I didn't ask to see them. I asked the question out of compassion because I know how unfair or irrational sentiments toward a person can be used against him or her in judging job performance.

  17. Here's Mr. X's reply:


    Dear Robert,


    Thank you for your note! First, we aim to compensate our people competitively – by this we mean not only inside our restaurants, but inside the hospitality industry in general and other fine dining establishments in particular. We believe strongly that by taking care of our people and each other we can create better experiences for our guests.


    Hospitality Included also creates an opportunity for us to professionalize the industry we love. That means promotions, advancement, and financial rewards based on merit. We already have a strong group of managers and leaders in each of our businesses that currently provide feedback to our teams daily, Hospitality Included allows our teams to better plan their individual progression and advancement, just like in so many other industries.


    Finally, yes, we will be increasing compensation for our teams, both in an hourly wage as well as revenue sharing.


    I hope this answers your question!



    Here's my reply to that:


    ​Thanks for the reply, although you could have told me who you are and addressed my specific questions. Is your reply what you send to the multitudes?
    On Mouthfuls I raised the question of how much are you going to raise wages; i.e. what, for example, will be the increase in the hourly wage of a waiter, busboy, commis,etc? You wrote in your mass e-mail that your clients won't see a meaningful increase in their checks. As I also posed on Mouthfuls, how do you reconcile this? To me the answer is something you probably won't go near, which is that your overwhelmingly-naive customers will have their experiences degraded in "subtle" ways that carry on the practice of chipping away, which is to say tasting menus. more sous-vide, small plates, less diner autonomy, and whatever else there is that increases the profits at the expense of the diner. Not to say that any of this is new, but that your new policy portends more of the same degradation as there seems to be no limit in the ways restaurateurs can find ways to shortchange the hands belonging to the mouths that feed them.
    All the best,
    Robert Brown
  18. To get started, here's the first of my back and forth with Meyer's outfit

    Dear Friends,
    I am writing to share some important news about Union Square Hospitality Group that we want you to understand before your next visit to one of our restaurants.
    Recently, our entire company has been engaged in a robust conversation about how we can provide even more meaningful career opportunities and advancement for our 1,800 employees. It has become increasingly clear to us that a major obstacle in this endeavor is the practice of tipping.
    There are countless laws and regulations that determine which positions in a restaurant may, and may not share in gratuities. We believe hospitality is a team sport, and that it takes an entire team to provide you with the experiences you have come to expect from us. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues—our cooks, reservationists, and dishwashers to name a few—aren’t able to share in our guests’ generosity, even though their contributions are just as vital to the outcome of your experience at one of our restaurants.
    After a thoughtful, company-wide dialogue, I’m proud to let you know that Union Square Hospitality Group will eliminate tipping throughout our family of restaurants. Starting at The Modern in late November, you will no longer find a tip line on your check, and there will be no need to leave additional cash at the table, the coat check, or the bar. Our other New York
    will make this change over the course of the next year.
    Once these changes are implemented, the total cost you pay to dine with us won’t differ much from what you pay now. But for our teams, the change will be significant. We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally. And by eliminating tipping, our employees who want to grow financially and professionally will be able to earn those opportunities based on the merit of their work.
    We are making a bold decision for our team and our guests, and we don’t take this lightly. We encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback at a Town Hall Meeting we're hosting for guests on November 2nd at 7:30pm in the Martha Washington Hotel. Space is limited, so please
    . You can also email us your questions at
    We remain more committed than ever to our promise of delivering excellent dining experiences with warm hospitality—and we hope that you will both support our team and join us on this journey.
    With gratitude,


    My first of several replies. More later.



    In paragraph 5, line 3 what do you mean by "competitively"? Is that within the organization or compared to restaurants in general or that comprise your competition? Also this:


    And by eliminating tipping, our employees who want to grow financially and professionally will be able to earn those opportunities based on the merit of their work.


    Does this mean that someone will be comparing one person's work with others? Who will be doing the judging? How do we know it will be fair?

    When I tip, the amount I give is often determined by the specific actions and skills of a specific person or two. Why would you want to take this away? Because it appears that a waiter or wine server won't directly be receiving tips, are you going to raise their wages?

    Let;s see how all this flies on some of the food boards.


    • Like 1
  19. And good for him when he invariable tightens the noose even more around his customers' necks. As I implied above, he'll have either to become less of a Maiaolino about the bottom line unless he knows a way not to degrade the outcomes in going to his restaurants. On the other hand, he'a real smart cookie and maybe he can operate in ways that people like me who are outside the business can't fathom in order to prevent that. But I believe that something's gotta give in the return on dining-out investment unless he really hikes the prices, which he says he won't.

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