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NYT Articles on Food, Drink, Cooking, and Culinary Culture (2002–2005)


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I realize I don't care much about eating in "concept" restaurants like Martini House, even though I'm sure it's excellent. Almost like going to farmers market to get produce from the someone closer the growing process, I prefer to eat in places where I'm closer to the chef. At Pilar you get a sense of the thought process that produced your meal.

I should say I have never eaten at Martini House (although I've been to the bar three or two times!) and I have no idea how much control the chef has over the menu.

The Martini House is the only Kuleto restaurant I'm interested in eating at. Farallon isn't bad, but the Martini House is actually very good. Pilar is good, it's just not amazing, and a restaurant here to be worth visiting again and again it needs to be amazing. Pilar does make better rice pudding than I've had anywhere else.

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You weren't the only one -- but I did assume you were in New York as you referenced the article. Slightly true that to us, if you are on the East Coast, it is simply "the other side of the US," but not necessarily all New Yorkers...  :biggrin:

"Us" wouldn't include anyone from the West Coast I know...

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Was glad to see it...

Think these new machines make cringingly bad expensive coffee...

Barista's rejoice - be one or find one - and get yerself a good cuppa...

~waves

"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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It's hardly impossible to make good espresso at home as this article seems to imply, it just takes a little effort and some decent equipment. The fully automatic machines don't work as well as the more manual machines at the same price point, assuming of course that the person operating the machine has the required skill to produce a decent shot.

espresso.jpg

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I think the article missed the point on a few levels:

1. The fact is that there are very few places in America one can go for a decent cup of espresso. For most, it's make it at home or nothing.

2. It is also a fact that is is extremely difficult, bordering on impossible, to consistently make a really good cup of espresso on a machine below the "Rancilio Silvia" level.

3. The fact is, of course, that most people in America don't really want espresso anyway -- they want milk-based drinks.

4. The deal with making milk-based drinks is that, while the quality of the espresso doesn't need to be very good, machines that really steam well for people who want to be able to make 3-4 capuccini in a row are even more expensive than the Rancilio Silvia.

5. Most of the lower-priced machines seem like a bargain, and it may even be possible to get okay results on them. But it's usually so inconsistent/unsatisfactory, or it's such a pain in the ass to get good results that most of them end up in a closet.

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4. The deal with making milk-based drinks is that, while the quality of the espresso doesn't need to be very good, machines that really steam well for people who want to be able to make 3-4 capuccini in a row are even more expensive than the Rancilio Silvia.

A few days ago I made exactly the same comment to MsMelkor in the morning. Later that day we were out for a bike ride and stopped at a coffee shop where they proceeded to make the worst latte possibly ever. For some reason the barista decided that a double latte was a shot of espresso plus a 2nd shot pulled through the same puck, plus scalded milk, mixed and presented to one very surprised customer. I now believe its possible for the espresso to screw up a latte.

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Hah! Well, I said "doesn't need to be very good" not "can be complete swill." :laugh:

Of course, a real latte macchiato hardly has any coffee in it at all. I'm curious as to the difference between an American-style "double latte" and a "really big cappuccino."

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The difference is in the amount of foam. An American double latte is 2oz of espresso, 2oz of foamed milk, and the remainder being steamed milk. A really big cappuccino would be 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam. The texture of the foam should be finer for a latte. All of this is of course somewhat meaningless, since what passes for a drink by each name differs from cafe to cafe and from house to house.

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I have an Illy Caffe "Francis Francis" No. 5 and it makes amazing espresso with very little effort. I highly recommend it.

The FF X5's with Illy pods do turn out decent espresso, I'm less thrilled with their steaming ability. I'd recommend the X5 if you are short on space (pods need no grinder) and you are willing to trade ease of use for the difference between good and outstanding espresso. The X5 setup can produce better shots than you'll find at starbucks for less $ - how can that be a bad thing?

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Well, I use Peet's coffee in Miss Silvia. Last time I was forced to check, Peet's coffee tastes better than Folger's. Any coffee loses something once it's ground, so comparing what a machine creates using pre-ground Folger's in pods seems to be an unfair comparison to a coffee shop w/ high volume.

And I agree w/ Ms. Melkor- with rare exceptions at sidewalk cafes with a view, it DOES taste better at home.

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Surprisingly well written article. The author really "gets it" regarding the nature of crema and a properly pulled espresso shot. Interesting that the pod machines got consistently poor reviews - Consumer Reports just did reviews of coffeemakers and coffees - pod machines were uniformly panned. They also ranked Starbucks beans very low in terms of quality and gave high marks to Eight O'clock coffee for its price/value ratio - both good calls. Then they proceeded to rate a number of different "Kona" coffees, apparently oblivious to the fact that not only are all Kona coffees not created equal.... but the "Kona blends" they reviewed can legally have less than 5% Kona and still use the name Kona on the bag.

It's also telling that an experienced espresso technician had to pull dozens of shots toget the "foolproof" superauto dialed in to the point where marginally acceptable shots were being produced and then advised that with "another day" he could likely improve the results. The average person who does a minimal amount of advance research can fire up any number of machines like a Rancilio Silvia (and many other heading north of that in price) and get very, very good shots with a bit less trouble than that.

Support your local barista (but $4 for an espresso shot? Even in NYC that's a bit steep!)

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I've been pretty happy with a Saeco Vienna Deluxe model for the last couple of years. Might change it out when/if we remodel the kitchen, would really love to have a warming rack, but with the current kitchen design there isn't room between the counter and upper cabinets.

Experimented over a course of a week to get the grind and amount settings where I want them and haven't touched them since. If I don't brew coffee in the morning, I normally will have two or three shots in the afternoon, if I don't brew in the morning I'll have between four and six shots to start the day.

Use a couple of different espresso blends, generally try to let the espresso beans rest for at least 24 hours but no more than 72 after roasting and before using.

Crema is good and consistently better than I can find in 95% of the coffee shops and restaurants in the US. I'll attribute much of that to using fresh coffee.

The ease of use factor is the clincher for me in using an automatic, working out of my home office in the afternoon I can wander upstairs and be back down with a fresh espresso in under a minute. It's a wonderful thing. They didn't have Ritalin when I was growing up :cool: , so I've been drinking black coffee since I was a kid.

Cheers,

Jeff

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  • 2 months later...

Very interesting article in today's NY Times, in which a panel tasted and compared 21 different vodkas. There is also a nice interactive feature on the web where you can hear the various panelists talk about their experiences and impressions in the tasting.

The most interesting result, to me, was that the "new breed" of expensive super-premium vodkas did not fare particularly well. The most expensive vodka to make the cut was Belvedere at thirty-four dollars a liter. More interesting yet was the hands down winner: Smirnoff at thirteen dollars a bottle. Noted brands that did not make the cut include such top-sellers as Grey Goose and Ketel One.

The panelists did observe perceptible differences between brands, but these differences were described by one panelist as "microscopic." Another panelist observed that, while there are some distincs differences between brands, they are also clearly not the reasons why people buy one brand over another (those reasons largely having to do with brand image and marketing).

I found this bit of information especially striking:

Unlike most other spirits and certainly unlike beer and wine, vodka does not necessarily benefit from artisanal manufacturing. The bearded bumpkin who minds the barrels in the ad campaigns for bourbon has no place in the production of vodka. In fact most so-called vodka producers do not even distill their own spirits.

In the United States almost all vodka producers buy neutral spirits that have already been distilled from grain by one of several big Midwestern companies like Archer Daniels Midland. The neutral spirits, which are 95 percent alcohol or more, are trucked to the producers, where they are filtered, diluted and bottled.

Interesting stuff. They apparently sampled the vodkas at room temperature, but do note that cocktails are "overwhelmingly the vehicle for consuming vodka." One wonders how a tasting would come out in the context of a chilled cocktail.

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Very interesting article, Mr. Kinsey. Thanks for sharing that.

I may have to set aside my Ketel One and try Smirnoff for my evening vodka martini.

Sacred cows make the best hamburger.

- Mark Twain, 1835 - 1910

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A friend in the beverage industry was once given a tour of the Smirnoff distillery. The same company, of course, bottles Popov, which sells for a lower price. "I've seen where you make the Smirnoff," my friend said at the end of tour, "but where do you make the Popov?" His guide merely chuckled.

"Last week Uncle Vinnie came over from Sicily and we took him to the Olive Garden. The next day the family car exploded."

--Nick DePaolo

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What the text I quoted above suggests to me is that the Smirnnoff "distillery" doesn't actually do any distilling. It would seem that they get the raw neutral spirit from Archer Daniels Midland (or similar), then treat that spirit in different ways to make the different brands. In other words, perhaps they send the spirit through a charcoal or quartz filter for Smirnoff but not for Popov. Increased "improvement" of the raw spirit may explain the difference in price -- although, as noted by the panelists, sometimes a product is priced higher simply because this increases the perceived quality of the product. For sure, they aren't using one grain and one still for Popov and a better grain and better still for Smirnoff.

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I read it this morning with a certain sense of smugness, because it confirmed what I've always thought about expensive vodkas -- just seriously not worth the money. Thirty five bucks a bottle for vodka?? And how would a more expensive vokda add to a cocktail, when it's essence is getting diluted by the other ingredients?

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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A friend in the beverage industry was once given a tour of the Smirnoff distillery. The same company, of course, bottles Popov, which sells for a lower price. "I've seen where you make the Smirnoff," my friend said at the end of tour, "but where do you make the Popov?" His guide merely chuckled.

:laugh: Nice....

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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Saw that article too. Made me ponder about trying Smirnoff again. I used to buy Cardinal Vodka (in Ithaca, NY), which was cheap and dry, but it's not available where I moved (DC). So now I'm without a house brand to buy without thinking about and trying various brands.

edit: spelling (d'oh)

Edited by benjy (log)
arsenal rule
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Smirnoff is a pretty unoffensive, characterless vodka that is ideal as a mixer. Stolichnaya and Absolut and Finlandia are similar but cost a little more,

However, if you are going to drink Vodka on its own, or in a Vodka martini, character is something that you DO want.

I happen to be partial to potato vodkas for that purpose, or ones made completely of rye -- Chopin, which is a potato vodka made by the Belvedere people, is a nice vodka. XELLENT, which was introduced into the market last year, is a Swiss vodka that is made entirely of rye grain.

Jason Perlow, Co-Founder eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

Foodies who Review South Florida (Facebook) | offthebroiler.com - Food Blog (archived) | View my food photos on Instagram

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I was pretty skeptical when I saw the headline, and after reading the article, I was just confused.

Their selection criteria seemed bizarre - only 5 of the 10 best selling brands? Several vodkas not widely available in bars, but no Chopin?

And the top ten list was heavily weighted with mixing vodkas - Smirnoff, Absolut, and (gasp!) Skyy all made the list. These are basically the three most characterless vodkas on the market. If use in mixed drinks was their criteria, I could see that, but solo? It just doesn't make any sense to me. They taste like nothing.

For my part, I'm a Ketel rocks girl, or Chopin if I'm feeling fancy.

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Their selection criteria seemed bizarre - only 5 of the 10 best selling brands? Several vodkas not widely available in bars, but no Chopin?

Everyone is going to find a reason to qvetch if their favorite vodka wasn't tested. But they reasonably couldn't taste them all. 21 vodkas is a lot.

What they said was: "Notable brands that we omitted included Chopin, Finlandia, Rain and Tanqueray Sterling. But our tasting included 5 of the 10 best-selling unflavored vodkas in the United States and the 5 best-selling imported vodkas."

5 of the top 10 best-selling and the 5 best-selling imports plus 11 others in that price range strikes me as a reasonable sampling of high end vodkas.

And the top ten list was heavily weighted with mixing vodkas - Smirnoff, Absolut, and (gasp!) Skyy all made the list. These are basically the three most characterless vodkas on the market. If use in mixed drinks was their criteria, I could see that, but solo? It just doesn't make any sense to me. They taste like nothing.

One could argue that they all pretty much taste like nothing. And indeed that seems to be part of the point the panel is making. If the top ten list is "heavily weighted with mixing vodkas" it is because the panelists found these brands better than the super premium vodkas that did not make their cut (which brands include Ketel 1 and Cîroc).

By the way, according to these guys, the world's top selling vodkas are Smirnoff, Absolut, Stolichnaya, Bols, Finlandia, Skyy, Gordon’s, Koskenkorva, Gorbatschow and Grey Goose. Presumably, the top-selling brands that were left off the list were omitted because they were not considered premium or superpremium vodkas. As they say, Smirnoff was only left on there as a sleeper they didn't expect to do very well.

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There was an article years ago in the Hartford Courant about the making of Smironoff. They were founded in Hartford and their main plant was in Hartford until fairly recently. From what I remember, they bought 190 proof industrial alchohol in tanker car loads from the midwest, based on corn, redistilled it several times, cut it with water, filtered it, and bottled it. Heublin, the owners of Smironoff at the time, had a big business making various flavored liquors under the Arrow name, and I suspect they used the the same raw alchohol in their Arrow products.

Given that vodka is not aged, is filtered through something neutral, uses something neutral as a starch source and is distilled to a high proof before being cut down, I'm not surprised that most vodka tastes similar. If people are picking up significant differences, that may be the result of bad manufacturing, not better ingredents!!!! It's also not surpreising to me that a large volume produce like Smironoff could turn out something inexpensive and good in this catagory. Vodka is exactly the sort of product that lends itself well to carefully controlled mass production. There are other products like that as well. Jack Daniels is a very mass-produced product and yet people think it is a very good example of its type.

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