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david coonce

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Everything posted by david coonce

  1. I guess I just don't go to Alinea with wine aficionados who are willing to spend ungodly amounts of money on upgrading their wine pairings. My friends and I go there and spend $300 per person, with rather moderate wine. I just assume that we're more typical of Alinea customers than people who go there looking to spend an obscene amount of money on wine. Of course, you can spend a whole lot more money than is typical, if you crank up your alcohol quantity and quality. I can assure you that it's easy to go there and spend $250-350 per person, either with the smaller menu and generous wines, or the larger menu and moderate wines. Heck, you can get the smaller menu and not drink a lot and get out under $200, if you want. What's most common? I don't know. But I've never, and everyone I know who has been there has never, spent anywhere near $500+ per person. ←
  2. Ronnie, I bring up Masque simply because it was one of the first jobs I had in Chicago (the city location) and my god, what a glorious mess. Well-funded and completely incompetent management. But there was some sort of weird buzz around it - we were packed for a while, although the food we put out was embarrassing (I was just a stagiere, so don't blame me if you ate there!) When I lived in Chicago, my favorite go-to place was a place in my neighborhood called A Tavola. I've not seen it mentioned here - it's very small and on a barren stretch of Chicago Ave, but the food is always spot-on and the menu, while not creative, is superb (albeit very small - like, 9 items, 3 specials and a few desserts). It's not really a cheap neighborhood place, but it's really good. I bring it up, I guess, because although this is a thread for Arun's and this is not especially germane to that discussion, you do bring up a point about discovering new, great places that hardly get a mention against the Trotter's and Topolobampos of the Chicago food scene. It is interesting how far a restaurant can go on buzz alone. It's something that seemed to fuel Arun's, until people wised up to the fact that the food wasn't exceptional. Certainly most people would agree that Blackbird, Vie or North Pond are better restaurants, currently, than Charlie Trotter's, but the buzz around Trotter's is going to be there forever. It's a different discussion, for sure, but it's one that I think those of us who really care about food should be having: that is, how do we identify and support really great restaurants, new and old, that have never gotten their proper due?
  3. True, Ronnie. I have had a couple very fine meals at Green Zebra, and decent ones at WTT and a couple others. But what I was getting at is that nobody talks about these restaurants the way they talk about, say Alinea or Schwa. Or even Charlie Trotter's, which still gets tons of press despite the fact that most think its best, most innovative days are behind it. But the last time I ate at GZ I got in without a Res (Thursday night), while Trotter's still requires at least a week and Alinea several months. And GZ has only been open a year longer than Alinea. Indeed, just look at the threads here on egullet for a pretty good example of what those in the know think about restaurants. How many pages of threads are there for WTT or Green Zebra or, hell, even Charlie Trotter's? Or North Pond? While the length of a message-board thread isn't the best way to judge a restaurant's popularity, it is some kind of barometer, right? And perhaps because I'm not "in" Chicago anymore I perceive the buzz differently, but, certainly, Alinea and even Schwa have managed to maintain pretty serious accolades throughout lots of changes, and even here in Indiana Blackbird and Avec are still as buzz-worthy as they've ever been. Nsxtasy, Butter was as hyped, for a moment, as any restaurant I was around in Chicago. True, its star burned briefly, but it was a huge buzz at the time, especially around the restaurant community. But I will admit that sometimes restaurants come onto the scene in a blaze of glory and fade fast, and the blaze of glory is what some people mistake for quality. Perhaps this is what happened to Arun's? Anybody remember Masque?
  4. I read the 600$ figure on the Alinea thread here on egullet. It's what someone spent. I figure you only go to places like Alinea once a year or less, so why not make the most of it, right? As much as I hate spending good money on bad food, I really dislike going to an amazing place and feeling like I have to watch the prices carefully. It takes the fun out of a great meal/experience. As for Arun's, I don't think we're going to go. I was pretty skeptical anyway, but reading more online reviews of the place I'm pretty set against it now. Not just because most of the reviews weren't that good - reader reviews of a restaurant are notoriously fickle and sniping - but mostly because nobody seems to have eaten there or reviewed the place for several years, which is probably a real bad sign. I think I am mostly interested in how restaurants in cities like Chicago acquire "buzz" - and then squander it so quickly. Butter, Scylla and Green Zebra are other places that come immediately to mind when i think of this phenomenon, as well as places like West Town Tavern, Thyme and North Pond. It's certainly a commentary on the fickleness of tastes, but also on how important it is to stay a step ahead of the game, especially in a progressive culinary city like Chicago.
  5. Thanks for all the help. I've actually read that Alinea, with upgraded wine pairings and the full tour, is closer to 600 dollars/person. That's a big difference. When I lived in Chicago my favorite Thai place was the unfortunately-named "Mr. Thai" on Ashland. (It has a different name now, pretty much the same menu except they added sushi.) The food was awesome and cheap. If arun's isn't several light-years ahead of that, (and it sounds like it's not) , then I'll go elsewhere. thanks for the help, again, and if anybody's eaten there recently please pipe up and lemme know.
  6. When I moved to Chicago a couple years ago, I had read a lot about Arun's, mostly good. I was pretty excited to try it, but never got to (chef's hours, chef's wages). Since then the few things I've read about the place seem to be decidedly mixed. I no longer live in Chicago, but my wife and I get up there every few weeks or so. The next time we go to Chicago we are planning on splurging to celebrate some recent good fortune, and we've been to all the "expensive-but-not-quite-Alinea-expensive" places (Blackbird, Schwa, etc.) and are curious if anybody here recommends Arun's at all? Because if not, we're going for Alinea. But I'm curious to know how such a well-regarded restaurant has turned into an afterthought in such a relatively short time.
  7. It seems like a petty thing to complain about, honestly. Restaurants have enough accounting headaches to deal with that, for some, the credit card companies are just one too many. At one restaurant I managed, the CC company had a bug in its computers and would double- and triple-charge customers for the same transaction (like, they would get three charges for, say, 100 dollars). Guess who they called when they spotted these charges? Yeah, that's no fun. A lot of restaurants are run by chefs, who have very little accounting skill, and hate dealing with stuff like that anyway. If you've ever seen the CC invoice the CC company sends you, you'd understand. It is impossible to make sense of, and it's dozens of pages long. It's not as if carrying cash is some hard thing, or that getting it on the fly is very difficult either. Most restaurants are located in some kind of high-traffic area, with plenty of ATMs at one's disposal. If you're shelling out 100 bucks plus for a meal, then the 1.50 service charge isn't really much at all. I suppose there is a notion that a few more customers would frequent a place if it wasn't cash-only, but it seems like that would be really low on the list of things that would draw people to a restaurant. FWIW, the very popular, always packed and long-lived NYC steakhouse Peter Luger is cash-only. I'm sure there are others.
  8. I agree with others here - heavy is heavy for a reason. Light pans tend to be pretty useless - they burn easily precisely because they are so light. I would suggest, especially for a 16-year-old, something decent and inexpensive, like a calphalon non-stick or stainless pan. I wouldn't fool around with copper at all.
  9. Blackbird is right downtown and is probably perfect for what you're looking for. Great wine list, great food, reasonably priced (i.e., expensive but not insanely so.) and relatively casual.
  10. I'm assuming by "quartered" you mean it's a whole chicken, "dissembled" as it were i.e., 2 breasts, 2 thighs, no backbone/ribs) If so then you're in luck, because not only can you basically roast it as you would a whole chicken, but you can do even better than that - here's how: Rub the chicken under the skin with a mix of softened butter or olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs. Season. (To loosen the skin just shove your fingers gently under it and loosen from the meat - it's easy, and if you're squeamish about the feel of raw chicken use gloves. Or remove the skin entirely and go skinless.) Heat the oven to 375. When it's hot, put the legs/thighs in the oven in that beautiful Le Crueset pan. Let them cook for about 7-8 minutes. Lower the oven temp to 325, remove the pan and put the breasts in, along with about 1/3 cup of white wine. Put the pan back in the oven and cook until the breasts and thighs are done, probably another 12-17 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. Using a thermometer is the best way to check - 160 is ideal. This way the thighs get cooked without the breasts getting overdone. And way to go for buying free-range and local. It's the best! And also, the only dumb question is the one you don't ask.
  11. would suggest put anything in the fridge ASAP if you're not going to use it quickly. It's such a perfect dry and cool environment. Obviously, tomatoes, some fruit and avocados are exceptions. With all my vinegars, I fill a small squeeze bottle about half-way and put the rest in the frdge. And I use a fair amount of vinegar in my cooking. With Vermouth, I think it's just a matter of never, ever using it. I don't drink Martinis and don't use it much in cooking, so the fridge is just a convenient place to forget about it for months or more.
  12. Also, I mean, let's face it - the entire fast-food model of food production relies on extreme standardization of everything from cup size to heating/cooking elements, with an emphasis on actually cooking things as little as possible. I don't know about all fast-food restaurants, but people I know who have worked in McDonalds tell me there are no knives, cutting boards, cooking pots or pans, etc. I would assume that, more or less, all these are the same. The kind of pizza oven a place like Pizza hut would use is a pretty minimal investment, and like FG says the savings in rent would more than cover it. It's bad, cheap food that has been developed in a test kitchen to be prepared ably by even the least-qualified people possible. Why should it seem strange that two restaurants like that wouldn't go great together?
  13. Im sorry, but your generalization that smokers represent the bottom of the economic spectrum is a crock of shit. You can't make those kinds of crap comments without some kind of facts to back it up. -Chef Johnny ← Here's a few, just from poking around the internet. These are all really long documents but worth your while if you read them. http://www1.worldbank.org/tobacco/tcdc/041TO062.PDF www.tobaccoevidence.net/pdf/sea_activities/smoking%20and%20poverty.pdf tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/reprint/10/3/210.pdf and the big one (a study of 240,000 poor people): http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/6/1/14 Here's a quote from the last one: " CONCLUSIONS: Persons below the poverty threshold continue to be more likely than those at or above the threshold both to be current smokers and not to have quit. Poverty may be an indicator of underparticipation in the changing social norms regarding smoking behaviour in recent years. Individuals below the poverty threshold may need focused efforts to help achieve the Healthy People 2000 objectives for reducing adult smoking prevalence. " This is just stuff that is peer-reviewed and published in journals. There's another massive, thousand-page study by the CDC that's not available on the internet as far as I could find but is probably at your local library. It also confirms the link between poverty and prevalence of smoking. And hell, if you don't wanna read all this scientific, peer-reviewed, heavily researched evidence, just go to a poor neighborhood and a rich neighborhood. How many rich neighborhoods have discount tobacco stores on every corner?
  14. That's actually pretty legit. Where I work the "smoke break" is definitely a big thing for those who smoke - it really is the closest to a break you get in a professional kitchen. The closest I get to it is with coffee, and I can suck that down while I'm working.
  15. Lots of cooks smoke. (Lots more drink heavily, but that's another topic). High stress environments, no time for "real"breaks, lots of poor people cook for a living. (smokers tend to dominate the bottom of the economic spectrum). I've never smoked, in my kitchen probably half the cooks smoke, although two of them quit smoking in the last year. Every state and municipality has different rules about smoking. Where I live, a very progressive and liberal city, smoking isn't allowed in any public building, and cannot be done within 25 feet of an entrance, which also rules out smoking by outdoor diners. Cooks take smoke breaks out by the dumpsters, basically. Health department regs require hand-washing after smoking. Our kitchen requires hand-washing anytime you return to the kitchen from anywhere else. I have heard that smoking numbs the palate, forcing cooks to over-season their food, but I have seen no evidence of this in any kitchen I've ever worked in.
  16. david coonce


    It's sort of like crisping pulled pork or braised short ribs; the joy of oxtails is in the tender, falling-off-the-bone-ness of them, and, as others have pointed out, this cut of meat is impossible to cook any other way than braising. Certainly you could braise it for a long time and then try to pan-fry or saute, but I don't think the results would be spectacular. It's just not that kind of meat. You have to listen to your ingredients and treat them the way they want to be treated.
  17. Yeah, if you use butter (savory cooking) you can use duck fat. For the potatoes - I would blanch them first, until they're just barely tender but not quite done, then finish them by sauteeing on the stove top with the duck fat, a little garlic, and some fresh herbs at the end (thyme/rosemary) Good luck!
  18. david coonce


    Marinating is unnecessary for something you braise like this; slow-cooking something is the best of both worlds - it marinates as it cooks. I cook it in beef stock, a little tomato paste, a handful of coarsely chopped fresh herbs from the garden, a couple smashed garlic cloves and a little red wine. About 4 hours, at 250. Then let it cool, take it off the bone, and stuff it into ravioli or as part of a ragout.
  19. nope, no health issues. Even trichinosis (the main worry with pork) is almost non-existent these days, and is killed by cooking (or freezing) and since it was soup, it probably cooked forever. Your only concern is probably the way it looked - some people find stuff like that gross. Like the eyeball tacos at Maxwell street market in Chicago. One of the few foods I won't touch.
  20. pickled green peppercorns, homemade pickles, red chilis, chipotle in adobo, Sweet baby Ray's BBQ sauce, lots and lots of vinegars and oils.
  21. What? You're going to buy two hands and an oven?
  22. I think life would be sad if you worried, all the time, about every single thing you ate and whether or not it would make you sick. I've gotten food poisoning (e.coli) one time in my life, and it was from a crappy chain restaurant that I knew I shouldn't have been eating at in the first place. I've eaten raw oysters hundreds of times, along with sushi and ceviche, and never gotten ill. Go to reputable places with lots of business (lots of turnover) and you should be fine. Of course, I'm not a pregnant woman, frail or a child - obviously those people should probably avoid raw fish. But for the rest of us - let's all live a little!
  23. The house my wife and I just bought has a decent kitchen, but with no pantry space. We put in a large vegetable garden (herbs, tomato, cauliflower, tomatillo, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers) and live about a 10-minute walk to the huge weekly farmer's market, so fresh produce is no problem. Therefore, one solution to the lack of a pantry, although unconventional, is that we use part of the refrigerator to store stuff that really doesn't need to be refrigerated. Canned goods, bulk cous cous, anything in a jar - opened or not, vinegars, etc. Since we don't shop for two weeks, or even a week, at a time, we can get away with it. If we couldn't it wopuld be tough because there is literally nowhere else we could put shelving, etc.
  24. I'll second mitsuwa maket - it's a Japanese food mall, basically. The food court there is pretty great, too. Also, honestly, in Chicago I would recommend Whole Foods. They really do take good care of their fish and are pretty knowledgeable about it. I like Isaacson's, too, but as somebody else pointed out you really do need to know how to select fresh fish there
  25. Homaru Cantu (of Moto restaurant in Chicago) posts on egullet every so often (under the user name electrolux, I believe) and he has posted about this very issue somewhere on here. Because of the tech stuff he does his staff has to sign confidentiality agreements, and he also doesn't allow stagiere anymore. But it's somewhere on egullet - if I were more computer-savvy (and less lazy on my day off!) I could probably find it.
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