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Jonathan Day

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Everything posted by Jonathan Day

  1. In the past, at least, Chez B have been very flexible about accomodating preferences. I have taken guests there who "forgot" to mention that they were strict vegetarians until we arrived. The restaurant handled this without missing a beat; I think they prepared a vegetarian risotto of some sort. That stuffed macaroni gratin with the coq au vin sounded a bit odd to me too. If it's still on the menu on my next visit I will ask about it.
  2. Apparently service staff have suffered from the switch to the Euro. The old 10 franc piece was often used as "pourboire" e.g. when retrieving a car from the car park or rewarding some small service. The piece that corresponds to it in size, 1 Euro, was only 6.55957 francs. I have heard a number of complaints from delivery people, car park attendants and the like that they are being cheated. As related in an earlier post, I had a car park attendant at Tétou contemptuously hand back a 1 Euro piece I had given him.
  3. Steve, the Martin article is not long and doesn't address all of these questions directly. On what happens to the McDonald's type of marketing, he says that the trend predicts trouble. Mass marketing and branding depends on "manufactured" status rather than the positional status that customers get by purchasing scarce goods: "To the extent that manufactured status enhancements are lsing their power to satisfy consumers, modern branding techniques may be running out of road. This will throw suppliers back on more traditional product and service enhancements and may help to explain some of the r
  4. The Financial Times economist Peter Martin wrote an important article on 4th July, called "A homely challenge to branding." Under the new FT subscription system you cannot link to this piece, even though it is online. So here is a brief summary: - House prices are indeed rising: in the past year Spain is up by 18%, Ireland 8%, Britain in the year to May almost 18%. Smaller but significant increases in the US. - Martin thinks that "house purchases are part of a broader trend in which people are increasingly purchasing 'experiences' rather than goods per se." - Many of the experiences they seek
  5. At the last minute we called Chez Bruce and arranged a table for 9.15 pm. "Could we have a non-smoking table?" I asked. "No, we've been booked for two weeks, you only got this table because of a cancellation. It's in smoking." Too bad, because the small upstairs room is not only non-smoking, it is more peaceful and friendly than the more frenetic downstairs. And at this time of year, the late evening light coming through the window is very pleasant. The upstairs headwaiter is knowledgeable and helpful. A few months ago, after hearing a friend burbling over Chateau Musar, the Lebanese wine, I
  6. What follows is anecdote rather than systematic research. But George Stigler said that "the plural of anecdote is data", so it may be worthwhile. My impression is that the prices of ordinary goods and services in France increased sharply as a result of the conversion to the Euro: bread, fruit and veg, meat, dry cleaning, newspapers and the like. I was there over the introduction of Euro notes and coins, at the start of 2002. For awhile, prices were simply translations of Francs into Euros, and something that had sold for FF 100 was now EUR 15.24. The autoroute toll from Nice to Cannes had been
  7. Yes, and if an Italian cook, as opposed to a French one, prepared some meat you'd given him in specie it would be thenceforth be worth less, since Italian cookery, indeed all non-French cookery, is by definition Not As Good As French. Hence countries other than France are the cause of global price inflation. QED.
  8. Elegance and formality can add a lot to a dining experience. The waiter at Chez Panisse, those many years ago, was perfectly dressed (black tie) and exquisitely polite. That made the evening even more special. Some of the best dinners I have enjoyed have been black or white tie events in small groups. And I far prefer being called "sir" or "monsieur" by a waiter than being put on a first-name basis by someone I don't know. For me the goal is to have setting (including the guests) and cuisine complement one another, rather than elegance (or a bad imitation of it) layered on top of bad cuisine.
  9. Please believe me when I say that I have nothing against profits! The issue is how to get them. And here the answer is usually to focus people on other goals than profit. If a chef spent all her time telling the brigade to worry about food costs, or discussing the P&L, or thinking about how to cut one more waiter, or pushing waiters to "sell" expensive dishes, the quality of the total experience (as discussed elsewhere in this thread) would suffer. Eventually the margins would go away. I, at least, would not feel good if a waiter came up to my table and said, "Hello, I'm Nigel, your waiter
  10. A challenging question, Nina. Examples of stuffiness: a table so crowded with wine glasses (no matter what wines the customer chooses) that there's no room to manoeuvre. A waiter who icily deigns to approve (or not) the customer's choices. Menus written in type fonts that's so swirly they are illegible. Enormous, heavy, leather-bound menus and wine lists. Pretension: frilly paper handles on legs of overcooked lamb chops. Waiters who swoop around tables brandishing enormous pepper grinders. Elaborate garnishes that add nothing to the taste of a dish. Foul-tasting sorbets served in swans carved
  11. There are elements of the "old dining" that I don't miss at all: stuffiness, pretentious waiters and menus, uncomfortable rooms, high prices. John and Karen Hess's The Taste of America pillories some of the faux-French high priced joints that you found in American cities in the 1950s and 1960s; Elizabeth David and Richard Olney had similarly scathing words about London restaurants going up to the early 1980s. Some of this "bad old dining" survives, often with poor quality food and high prices. Without dissenting at all from Robert's and Steve Klc's ideas, I have had desserts from dessert carts
  12. There is a lot to reflect on in these posts. I will mention two themes that come to mind. The first is what some economists call the principle of obliquity: that pursuit of profit as a primary (or even a highly visible) goal is often detrimental to the long-run performance of a business -- i.e. that the best way to sustainable long-term performance (including profitability) is to focus on other goals: customer satisfaction, or quality, or a continued flow of innovative products. Hence Johnson and Johnson, the pharma company, in its "Credo" puts profit below its responsibility to doctors, pati
  13. I don't think I've used the terms "objective" or "subjective", which in my view don't do a lot to move the conversation forward. I did cite my criteria for a good fish soup: "robust, clear, strong, with plenty of garlic and just a bit of acidity". The soup at Tétou didn't meet them, and it had a scorched taste. On these criteria, the soup at Loulou was better. The one at Tétou was disappointing...given my criteria and expectations for a good fish soup. A tourist who had never visited France and was expecting a certain style of service (and who had never tasted bouillabaisse) might have had a
  14. I am not arguing for relativism ("what's good is whatever you like") but for agreed criteria and rules of engagement. Otherwise we end up with "what's good is what I say is good and if you disagree you are stupid." For the person sitting in Iowa who can't get on a plane to Nice, that bottled fish soup may be better than Loulou's product. I struggle to imagine how anyone could acquire sufficient experience, historical knowledge, etc., to make one-dimensional relative judgements between world cuisines, any more than I would want to engage in a debate about whether a Vermeer Van Delft was "better
  15. The mullet (mugine) bottarga I have bought from esperya.com is of superb quality...the taste is clearer and less bitter than mullet bottarga I have bought in Borough Market or persuaded my local Italian shop (which for awhile referred to me as "signor Bottarga" because of my repeated requests for this product) to stock. Bottarga is turning up on chichi restaurant menus, but there are a few Sardinian restaurants that have offered it for years. In London, Olivo on Eccleston street made a mean spaghetti alla bottarga...but it's been a couple of years since my last visit.
  16. [HOST'S NOTE: This discussion is a continuation of the original topic Fine Dining vs. Cheap Eats] The whole point of business is to sell things for more than they are worth. A business will survive and -- if it is public -- its share price will increase over time if it creates value ("profit"): i.e. generates revenues in excess of all of its costs: materials, labour, overheads, capital employed. Value comes in many forms. Several posters have mentioned scarcity, which may be created in different ways. Cartels are effective, as with diamonds, oil, and so on. Creating a unique brand (Nike, Fr
  17. I was away from eGullet for roughly 8 hours, so this may be way out of sequence. Apologies for that. I wanted to add that we should not forget the Japanese. Their cookery is very complex, and at its height it varies in a nuanced way with the seasons, the weather, the setting in which people are dining, perhaps even the clothes they are wearing. I am not at all learned in Japanese cuisine or the artistic discipline that surrounds it, but I know that it is as least as elaborated as the French, though this complexity is less widely known. At least in the Heian period, there was a highly complex
  18. Not so. I simply don't find the geography explanation the most immediately convincing. Given suitable evidence I would change my view. There are other plausible explanations: upper-class French (and their cooks) travelling to other countries, expatriated French chefs (Boulestin, Soyer, Escoffier...). Or tourists coming to France, not because of its location but because of other attractive factors There's a specialised branch of economics that deals in location problems (e.g., why did you once find branches of Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest and Midland within 500m of one another on the typical Bri
  19. This may not be that helpful, but I have found two places to buy good grills. Both are cheap and extremely functional. Neither is near New York. What I want in a grill is (1) the flexibility to use a vertical firebox, so that a chicken or lamb roast can be spitted and turned in front of the coals, with a pan underneath to catch the drippings (2) the availability of a spit and rotisserie motor, to turn the roast. Few American grills offer these capabilities. However the French general stores (e.g Carrefour) invariably offer them. Almost ten years ago I paid FF110 for a small but workable grill,
  20. People haven't mentioned the French tendency toward classification, analysis and scholasticism as a possible reason for the deeper analytic richness of French cookery. And this tendency applies in domains well outside of the kitchen -- to words, for example (the Academie). I don't find it surprising that there exists a richer and deeper tradition of analysis of French cooking than would be the case in other areas. I still remember my first serious French cookbook, Raymond Oliver's La Cuisine. It wasn't the Guide Culinaire, not by a long shot, but this was where I first encountered dishes whose
  21. I've made the French Laundry carrot soup a number of times; this has about the most concentrated flavour you can imagine. You juice around 20 carrots, then you simmer another 20 carrots (cut up) in this juice, then you puree the whole. It's delicious, but the flavour is so pure and strong that an espresso cupful of this is plenty.
  22. I have had several good dinners at the Caprice, but it's hard to regard it as a "destination" restaurant...the menu just wasn't that interesting. The only dish I can recall was a very pleasant risotto made with butternut squash. Have eaten twice at the Ivy: like the Caprice, nothing wrong with it but nothing that thrilling. The food was very competently cooked. Several friends (some good palates among them) think that J Sheekey is a truly wonderful restaurant. My experience has been far more mixed. At times it can be fine: the fish is reasonably fresh and it isn't usually overcooked. Potted sh
  23. Unquestionably a series of dinners and lunches at a hotel in Liverpool. Gristly meat, vegetables that had been cooked to death, glue for gravy, sandwiches with the bread curling at the edges with unidentifiable paste inside. A colleague staying in the same hotel was bitten some mysterious bug; the bite became infected and swelled up to the size of a tennis ball. I don't remember the name of the place and would guess it has been closed for awhile. I trust that this degree of anonymity avoids libel exposure for eGullet...
  24. I will not be back in France until the 2nd week of August ... not the ideal time, I know, but school breaks and other commitments leave no choice. I plan to make as many enquiries as I can amongst fishmongers, locals, etc. as to places for good bouillabaisse that don't cost the moon. I cannot believe that Bacon and Maurin des Maures in Rayol-Canadel are the only places to find this dish in the Côte! The Tétou story was fascinating and I only wish the soup I had there had been better.
  25. I have found laboratory glassware very useful for measuring and pouring and mixing: graduated cylinders, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks. Light, sturdy, available in a huge range of sizes and measuring precisions. The glass will tolerate liquids up to 600 degrees...Celsius...and it's cheap.
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