Six Things From Chef That Would Never Happen in Real Life

Chef is a movie about restaurants and food trucks written and directed by Jon Favreau, who also plays the protagonist chef Carl Casper. He worked to accurately portray chefs’ lives via little details: His character has multiple forearm tattoos, wears a bandana, and lives in a messy apartment with a ridiculously nice kitchen. You can thank Roy Choi for the minutiae; he was a co-producer and consultant on the movie. But there are still plenty of things that happen in Chef that would never happen in real life, aside from the fact that it’s extremely unlikely Favreau would be able to attract Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as love interests just by making some kick ass carne asada. Here are the top six things the movie got wrong.

6. The restaurant serves the same exact meal to a critic twice, and the team knew he was coming in both times.

Having Oliver Platt, brother of actual New York restaurant critic Adam Platt, star as Los Angeles’ most popular food blogger, Ramsey Michel, was a stroke of genius by the casting department. Perhaps Favreau should have consulted Adam, though, before writing the scene in which the kitchen serves the food blogger the same exact meal that he viciously berated in a review only a few days before. It’s hard to believe that a restaurant would invite a critic back in for a second chance only to drop the ball; it’s even harder to believe that the critic would actually agree to re-taste the dish.

5. The food truck has a permit ready to go in a matter of days.

Once Favreau’s life blows up over his Twitter jabs and dining room meltdown over the critic’s bad review, he gives up fine dining and picks up a food truck, which is magically ready to operate everywhere in the country almost instantaneously. We’ll give Favreau his artistic license here: In the real world, the amount of time it takes to file for and receive a permit to operate a food truck in multiple states would pretty much kill the rhythm of the film entirely.

You can't work a food truck if you're 10, even if you're just bonding with your father.
You can’t work a food truck if you’re 10, even if you’re just bonding with your father.

4. There’s a 10 year old working the line.

Fun fact from the U.S. Department of Labor: “Children under 14 years of age may not be employed in non-agricultural occupations covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including food service establishments.” That 10-year-old worked the (incredibly hot and probably extremely dangerous) line like a champ, though, and he refused to back down, even after burning his finger on a hot press.

El Jefe totally jacked that spot from a schwarma stand, which would get it a ticket in the real world.
El Jefe totally jacked that spot from a schwarma stand, which would get it a ticket in the real world.

3. The food truck pulls up wherever it wants, and there’s never any other competition.

El Jefe, Favreau’s truck, takes viewers on a cross-country road trip with stops in Miami, New Orleans, and Austin on its way to L.A. Thanks to its impressive child social media guru, it attracts a megacrowd, too, which flock to the truck when it parks wherever the crew feels like parking. Like right on South Beach. Or Frenchman Street. Or right outside an impromptu Gary Clark Jr. concert in Austin. Try that in real life, and you’ll soon be bleeding dollars to the local parking police.

2. The food truck is super profitable.

Turning a food truck or small restaurant into an empire is a real path to success — just ask Roy Choi, or Luke Holden, or any number of restaurateurs who started with a rolling kitchen and have continuously seen their influence grow. But the idea that Favreau turns one truck into a full-out restaurant in six months is…a bit ambitious, even if you ignore the lease and build-out time warp. Food trucks are expensive operations — and even with a legion of fans, making a chunk of change substantial enough to fund a brick-and-mortar takes a lot longer than a few month stretch.

1. The chef winds up becoming business partners…with the food critic that crushed him.

It’s not completely unheard of for a food writer to trade in the pen for a POS system, but the idea that Oliver Platt sold his food blog for tons of cash and purchased his own restaurant is laughable, beyond the fact that most bloggers (like me!) are broke. I’ve had some seriously transcendent plates of platanos, but none that’d make me give up my life’s work to go into business with a guy I’d previously crushed in a review.


Six Things We Hate About Restaurant Week…and Six Places Worth Going To

Restaurant week began on Monday. So at participating restaurants, you can sit down for a three-course lunch for $25 or a three-course dinner for $38, now through March 7.

Most of the suckers that buy into this ludicrous semi-annual marketing mega-scheme think it’s a great opportunity to visit fancy places like Le Cirque and Cafe Boulud on the cheap, and yes, you get to visit these places, and it is comparatively cheap, given what you would usually pay for a meal in such a place. But we see the event as more of a miserly menagerie than anything else.


Since when is lunch three courses?
We can’t remember the last time we sat down for a multi-course meal before 6 p.m., and for good reason: Not only is it time-consuming, a full-on feast requires as many drinks to wash it down and a digestive nap to follow.

Or maybe not. Because another thing that sucks about restaurant week is those first courses, which are usually a few bites, consisting mostly of…

Ho-hum soups and subpar salads.
Most often, your first course WILL be a small portion of either silky-smooth pureed soup (it’s winter, so that’ll be squash or root veg) or simple consomme (maybe with a dumpling or two, or a float of truffle oil), or some salad invariably involving too much frisee, maybe with bacon and/or egg and/or radish. And while we’re the first to enjoy a light, bright, brothy soup on a cold winter’s day, we’d rather pay $3 for a quart involving wontons.

You get what you pay for.
If you’ve been dying to lunch at Ai Fiori, but the sticker price ($42 for two courses, plus $18 per additional course) kept you away, don’t go in thinking you’re getting a deal at $25 for three courses. In three courses, the restaurant week menu offers the following primary ingredients: greens, butternut squash and brown butter, pate and frisee, tagliatelle, spinach and cheese, skate and fennel, chicken and parsnip. All perfectly fine ingredients, but about what you’d expect from a cozy, affordable neighborhood joint in Brooklyn. Consider now, the offerings on the regular menu: fluke crudo and caviar, lobster and black truffle, foie gras and endive, striped bass, braised veal, dry-aged strip steak…Does $25 for three courses seem like such a deal now?

Another thing: Look closely and you’ll notice that many restaurants offer the the exact same menu for lunch and dinner, which means you’re paying an extra $13 solely to be there after sunset.

The waitstaff hates you and can’t wait for you to leave.
Restaurant week menus are more work for less pay for everyone working the floor. Most normal lunches are one course, maybe two, plus a drink or two, and it’ll probably cost each guest $25 to $40 to dine. During restaurant week, everyone’s eating their three crappy courses and paying only $25 per person, and since the whole premise of restaurant week is that it’s a DEAL, people get pretty pinchy with their pennies when it comes to drinks. They’ll take the included coffee/tea/soda, ask for fifty refills, and not tip a dime more than the $5 that is 20 percent of their $25 meal, if they’re of a more generous garden variety diner.

The chef hates restaurant week and can’t wait for it to be over.
Going back to the whole ingredients thing: While some chefs may embrace the challenge of making a decent menu for under $9 (theoretically, food cost should be 30 to 35 percent of sale price for a restaurant to profit on food…so for a $25 meal, cost should be less than $8.75), most chefs aren’t super excited to be dealing with turnips, grains, and cheap meats when they’re used to working with foie gras and caviar. Also, most of these chefs are still cranking out their usual lunch alongside the restaurant week menu, which means they’re serving two menus instead of one — two menus they have to prep and plate and train their line to create.

So many of them keep it simple and phone it in. Which means…

You’re going to get generic desserts.
We looked at ten restaurant week menus and came out with five flourless cakes, two chocolate pot de cremes, and an assortment of other gluten-free chocolate options. Other usual suspects include the single-scoop ice-cream sundae, the panna cotta, and the tiramisu.

But there are a few deals to be had…Six decent picks on the next page.

Baked Alaska at Delmonico's
Baked Alaska at Delmonico’s

Sant Ambroeus, 259 West 4th Street, 212-604-9254
Menu (lunch & dinner): Vitello tonnato, tagliatelle with veal bolognese, chocolate mousse cake with custard center.

DBGB, 299 Bowery, 212-933-5300
Menu (lunch & dinner): Roasted beets, burger with confit pork belly, sundae.

Delmonico’s, 56 Beaver Street, 212-509-1144
Menu (lunch & dinner): Iceberg wedge, boneless short rib, baked Alaska ($5 extra). This place wins for offering lots and lots of choices and $30 bottles of wine.

Monkey Bar, 60 East 54th Street, 212-308-2950
Menu (lunch & dinner): Roasted sweetbreads, hanger steak, crispy toffee pudding.

The Lambs Club, 132 West 44th Street, 212-997-5262
Menu (lunch & dinner): Hamachi tartare, Crispy duck rillette, panna cotta. Or flourless chocolate cake, duh.

La Cenita, 409 West 14th Street, 646-289-3930
Menu (dinner): Grilled fish tacos, marinated skirt steak, churros.
Bonus course: chips and salsa!



Five Features of a Great Break-Up Restaurant

I dropped my list of the 10 best restaurants for break-ups in NYC earlier this week, and on Tuesday, I dished out a few tips for finding a break-up restaurant on The Ride Home with Pat Kiernan.

Breaking up is never easy, and finding the right venue for the occasion is important. Here’s what I considered when I formed my list.

1. The restaurant should be crowded

Though you may have an inclination to find a quiet hole-in-the-wall where only the waiter can hear your conversation, don’t give in to the impulse. A busy restaurant means there’s a lot going on, lots of background noise to fill the air, and a strong chance your server will be checking up on you less frequently. Plus, public blow-ups are embarrassing for everyone, so with more people around, the more likely it is the person getting dumped will swallow the rage-filled shouting match. And martinis only get thrown in people’s faces in movies, right?

2. The restaurant should require a flashlight or candle to read the menu

Sometimes there’s just no stopping the floodgates from opening, sending forth a river of salty tears. Seek shelter in a place where no one can see you, and look for a dim spot that’s not depressing.

3. The restaurant should have no emotional importance to you

Choosing a place that you visit frequently to drop the phrase “I don’t love you anymore” is a bad call. In fact, any restaurant you’ve ever been to with your partner should probably be crossed off the list immediately — too much potential for wistful nostalgia.

You already hate Times Square -- which makes it a good spot for a break-up
You already hate Times Square — which makes it a good spot for a break-up

4. The restaurant should not be close to where either of you live

On a similar note, don’t get stuck at the diner beneath your apartment — do you really want to be saddled with remorse every time you come downstairs? If you’re hesitant, let us save you from yourself. Pick a neighborhood neither of you visits regularly and do the deed in a joint that’s not going to make your regular rotation. Times Square and its myriad nondescript chains are great for this, especially because of your access to many train lines once the deed is done.

5. The restaurant should have plenty of shareable plates

You’re about to cover what went wrong in your love affair, and unless you think your soon-to-be ex is a total psychopath that you’d rather not see ever again, you likely want this conversation to end amicably. So plant the seeds of future friendship with some shared foods. And if neither of you has an appetite once it becomes clear that this really is the end, this is a practical move to ensure you’re not taking home a doggy bag full of broken promises.



What’s Up With the Timing at Jewel Bako and Benkei?

I don’t know if I’ve been craving raw fish recently or if all of your joyless January juice cleanses are serving as a massive guilt trip, but I’ve found myself steadily plowing my way through sushi restaurants, stuffing my gullet with sea creatures and rice and washing it down with green tea. This is possibly at the expense of my job, because sushi restaurants are boring to write about.

But as a result of this attempt to exercise a modicum of restraint when it comes to picking my dinner venue, I’ve had the chance to compare a number of omakase offerings in a relatively short span of time. I don’t want to talk much about them right now — they range from delicious but only mildly interesting to phoning-it-in — but I would like to rap for a hot second on the fact that the sushi omakase at Jewel Bako (239 East Fifth Street, 212-979-1012) is bewildering.

Jewel Bako is a beautiful spot in the East Village (unless, of course, you get vertigo from dining in a tunnel made of bamboo fronds). It turns out nice fish. It’s been lauded by many, including the good people of Michelin. And it runs very smoothly and efficiently. Too efficiently, actually.

I stopped by with a date on a weekend night for a 7:45 reservation. Our order — two omakases — was in by 7:50, our amuse came out about two minutes later, and our miso soup about two minutes after that. We were granted a reprieve for about four minutes once we set down our bowls, and then we were each presented with trays of nigiri lined with eight or so pieces of fish plus a few rolls (how did they even slice that fast?!). And that was the entirety of our omakase experience. I’d signed the credit card slip by 8:15, and our check came to nearly $200 — including tax, tip, and a couple of bottles of sparkling water, but no alcohol.

This was, without a doubt, the fastest $200 I’ve dropped on a dining experience, and it had the unfortunate effect of making me contemplate the other ways I could have spent $200 in 30 minutes. I could have gotten an extremely expensive massage, for instance, or taken a flight to Washington D.C. or sabered a bottle of high-end Champagne. All of those things sound more satisfying to me than eating a tasting menu on a date that was on-par, time-wise, with a lunch special.

I made this observation many times as I told this story to friends, explaining that my meal had cost about $6 per minute. And that is likely why karma repaid me with a meal that cost about 10 cents per minute — but was equally as baffling for its timing. That meal was at Benkei Ramen (136 West Houston Street).

Benkei is Ushiwakamaru’s late-night alter ego; it slings bowls of miso, tonkotsu, and shoyu ramen from 12:30 to 4 a.m. most nights of the week (it opens at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday). If you believe its crowd-sourced reviews, the inevitable wait you’ll encounter when you take a table is worth it — the ramen, these people say, is top-notch. I think they are caught up in feeling superior for knowing about a secret restaurant.

Tired but hungry one night, a couple of friends and I grabbed seats and put in an order for two bowls of ramen and gyoza. Forty-five minutes later, when our meal — including our gyoza — was MIA, we pondered leaving. Forty-five minutes after that, we still hadn’t seen our soup, and one friend, I feared, was on the verge of a fullblown adult meltdown; he was dangerously close to that line you sometimes see toddlers toeing before they become inconsolable terrorists. Other tables were asking the waiter what was taking so long. “I just started working,” he explained, panic creeping into his voice. My own party took that to mean that by “just started” he meant he’d walked in the door at 12:25 a.m. with no idea of the miserable fate that awaited him.

Some time after that, we began loudly warning new parties of their plight, even as two gents at the bar swore up, down, and sideways that the ramen was worth the wait. False. Our noodles showed up two hours after we’d put in the order, quite a feat considering that’s not actually long enough to make the broth from scratch, but way, way, way too long to have prepped all the other ingredients by hand to-order.

To be fair, the ramen was good, made with a heady, garlic-imbued miso broth. But it was not worth the wait. Nothing is worth that wait, especially not at 2 a.m. when your night is wrapping up and you’re thinking about how instead of doing this you could have just gone to bed. This is not appropriate restaurant behavior whether the restaurant is secret or not. The emperor is not wearing any clothes.

And all I could think about as I rode the train home to my 3:30 a.m. bedtime was how much I’d have rather had a 30-minute omakase.




An Open Letter to a Boring Downtown Restaurant

Dear Pagani (289 Bleecker Street, 212-488-5800),

I was really excited to visit you the other day.

And I was still excited after my night started off on the wrong foot: I didn’t realize that your Bleecker Street location was actually on the corner of Seventh Avenue — I thought you were the restaurant that took the place of a DIFFERENT superfluous guitar shop, the one down the street closer to MacDougal.

That mishap is on me. But the rest is on you. Or, perhaps, it’s on downtown and the people who live there and what they must be begging you to do. Because it’s not just you — it’s many of the restaurants I’ve been to in the West Village lately.

I get it. The thousands of square feet of space on your corner cannot be cheap. And at a $75/person price point, all-in, you’ve got to turn a lot of tables to make love stay, if we’re going to make a Tom Robbins metaphor of it, which feels apt enough.

But you’ve made a few ugly faux pas here, and one was evident with a cursory glance at the menu. Call me a snob, but I’ll be damned if it’s December and I’m going to suffer through grape tomato anything (unless it’s from a can, I suppose, and then it best be a great can). If you’re striving for “authenticity” here, you’d better keep the veggies closer to home. And furthermore, you’re not in the business of red sauce, now are you? Because I didn’t see a speck of it. Not at our table or at the ones beside us, of which I enjoyed a fine view since they were six inches away. But again, the high price of West Village real estate demands you pack ’em in — I get it.

Besides, it was creepy fun watching couple after couple cycle through the tables around us — he in a pastel checked button-down, 27 years old, and three weeks overdue for a haircut, and she in a blouse and Coach bag, her hair blown out into a perfect curl, and her cheeks blushed with Sephora and red wine. Three turns and they were all exactly the same — young, white, blending in. They’re all over your #PaganiNYC photo gallery too, smiling and happy in selfie after selfie.

You are the mid-range date place for 20-somethings who don’t know any better. It’s written all over your wine list, which is value-priced and fine enough. I’d be OK with that — we had a decent enough bottle of Pinot Noir (wait, have you seen Sideways?! OMG, so funny!) — but, silly me, I came for the food.

Of all we ate, your linguine-white-clam ($19) was about what you’d hope for — salty with brine, simple, adequately al dente (it couldn’t be house made — and if it is, all the worse!), with a clatter of Manila clams — mostly shells, though, as my lawyer friend noted, judiciously picking through them and finding far fewer bodies than she did casings. Also, your little clammies had to be barely legal (not unlike the diners around us) — teensy-weensy little things that fit in a teaspoon, their bodies the size of a dime.

And your polenta-fries ($6), stacked tic-tac-toe like Lincoln Logs beside a petit pot of spicy aioli — these were fried a deep yellow, crisp out and creamy in. They were tasty — if unremarkable — when hot, but they turned to starchy boards once their heat escaped them.

A poached farm egg ($10), resting on a bed of sauteed spinach (again, woefully out of season, unless coaxed from a greenhouse, which I doubt) was decent but bland, while a core of unnamed winter squash was creative in its presentation, but encircling a lackluster tangle of frisee that was neither properly bitter nor seared to its sweet potential, and seared sea-scallops that were somehow not salty or browned enough to satisfy — how is that possible?! Photos of the dish look beautiful and on the menu it sounds delicious, so I can’t understand how it all came together so lackluster.

In a word, unmemorable, but for its unmemorableness. And that’s the shame in it all. It all sounds tasty and fun, and it’s not that the food is BAD, it’s just blah, which to me, at least, feels even worse than if it was just terrible.

But again, it’s not just you — this is what you get from the Village these days.

Oh, there were bright spots. I’m friends with your cocktail consultant, and he is talented and hard-working, and his drinks were just as pleasurable as ever. Your owner Mauro Lusardi — who opened UES standby Uva in 2005 — is just so kind and charming and soulful. He walks the floor, delivering checks, bussing tables, leaning in with palpable kindness — the embodiment of Old-World hospitality, truly. Lusardi seemed pleased to be surrounded by youthful energy, his restaurant full on a Friday and running smoothly.

But Lusardi aside, your service is fine but not committed — the short waiter (actor, isn’t he?) who served us was happy to help but not terribly knowledgeable, and he was clearly counting the minutes until the shift was over and he could head to Christopher Street for some drinks.

I know a lot of waiters like that — but the difference here is the ones I know care about food, and they’re still learning. They know the name of the squash and the clams and they tell you these things and have real opinions on what they’re serving — when you ask for a recommendation, they won’t just advise you to order the most expensive thing.

But they don’t work in the West Village — not anymore, at least. And who can blame them? They didn’t come to New York to be on the forefront of mediocrity.


Where to Go on Your Online First Date (By Site!)

Online first dates are stressful enough — will everyone know we’ve never met? What if his/her photos lied? — but in this city you’ve got the added challenge of picking a perfect spot for a rendezvous from thousands of potential locations. So we present you with our handy guide, for which we’ve zoned in on the best options for that important first meeting, all based on which site you used to facilitate this (hopefully) excellent pairing. With these evening plans in your back pocket, it’s only a matter of time before the lonely selfies, ironic but self-congratulatory profiles, and monthly member fees all go out the window.

Where to go to spark a Match.
Where to go to spark a Match.

Match: Art Bar
Off-beat, intimate, and cozy settings are the ideal for who want to wink and flirt in person. And there is no better spot in the city to share your life story, order a Stella, and discover your mutual match percentage than Art Bar. Lit like a gallery no one wants you to see, the Greenwich Village bar is chock full of first-, second-, and possibly third-daters cuddled into plush couches. Order a brew, and if the night is going well enough (you’ve discovered your date was in the PeaceCorps, they make their own bread, and love Wilco), move on to guac and brie later in the evening. If things flounder, you’re close to subway lines or Eighth Avenue, full of cabbies to take you back to your friend’s apartment to cry over one more failed date. Take solace: another email of 15 more matches is just a day away.

OkCupid: The Shanty
The OkCupid dater who actually goes on dates is an elusive breed, but there are a few willing to run the hug-or-handshake gauntlet and settle in for a drink or five. No place to head but Williamsburg, where you should start at The Shanty for some stiff gin cocktails. Impress your date with your distillery knowledge and your knowledge of all those bands you both put in your profiles, and soon, you might be off to The Commodore for some fried chicken and Six Point Sweet Action. If your date is still passing all the tests, move on to Union Pool for some late-night dancing. Where you go from there is entirely up to you, we just hope it’s better than OK. And, by the way, if you’re worried about how much this will cost, just think of all the money you saved by avoiding’s monthly membership — and by asking all those other OkCupid-ers out on dates only to have them suddenly disappear.

Tapas galore.
Tapas galore.

Grouper: Alta
Going on a date with a group of six in this city is just awkward. Forget getting along or getting caught in the crosshairs of your friend’s love interest; finding the space and an affordable meal is challenge enough. Being shoved in some cramped corner is not very romantic, so if you are a Grouper dater, head to a tapas joint where groups are encouraged to share everything: Alta. Order The Whole Shebang, a meal of every single small plate on the menu (it’s a lot of tapas); your evaluations of each plate will be an immediate conversation starter in case you need something to talk about besides the fact that you’re too afraid to go on a blind date by yourself. A close second to this plan that requires less chatting: Get your bowl on at Brooklyn Bowl.

Pulling out all the stops.
Pulling out all the stops.

EHarmony: Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto
If you’re on EHarmony, you aren’t joking around: You’ve dropped serious dough on fees and wasted invested hours and hours of your life into answering personality questions. You are looking for Love with a capital L, so the first date spot needs to be romantic, simple, and conducive to an intimate chat so you can determine whether your financial and children-related expectations align as well as the website told you. Head to Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. Guys, this will impress the gals. Gals, guys will be happy you’ve chosen a place with plenty of cured meat. And whether you go to the west side or east side location, you’ll be close enough to Central Park for a post-meal evening stroll. If you’ve really found your prince or princess, perhaps a horse and buggy ride with hot cocoa from La Maison du Chocolat is in order, the perfect conclusion to a fairy tale first date.

A place to meet men, see a show, and dance the night away.
A place to meet men, see a show, and dance the night away.

Grindr: Therapy
Grindr date? What? OK, if you really want an actual date, there are a few things you’re likely looking for when choosing a location: good cell reception, strong cocktails, and dark corners. So head to Therapy, where you’ll get stiff drinks, free shots, great music, and a friendly crowd of potential mates, and you’ll likely have a great time whether the “date” achieves your ultimate intention or not. A plus? Happy hour and themed shows throughout the week.

An American gastropub serving the highest quality pub fare.
An American gastropub serving the highest quality pub fare.

Tinder: Spitzer’s Corner
Like Grindr, it doesn’t matter how you meet, just where you end up. So choose a spot that will ease the transition from “approximately 1,200 feet from you” to the place that really matters–yours or theirs. Meet your Tinder spark somewhere special: A place to either get drunk and indulge … or load others within range in case this face-based pairing isn’t all you dreamed it would be. A safe bet is Spitzer’s Corner on the Lower East Side. Sip a wide variety of beers on tap and feast on truffle mac and cheese before you hit the inevitable make-out phase of this union and move things to more private digs. If things go awry, you’re also in the center of other exciting bars, galleries, and clubs where fellow Tinder users may be within “like” and “pass” range so your confidence-busting pursuits can continue.

Celebrating everything pig.
Celebrating everything pig.

Yenta: Traif
If you’re using Yenta, you’re a boundary-pushing Jew, and you’ll want your date to be too. Celebrate your quasi-rebellion and hit up Traif, where you can talk about the first time you had pork, all the foods you missed out on as a child, your obligatory trip to Israel, and the soldier you hooked up with while away (on second thought, maybe leave that last detail out). Feast on bacon donuts, BBQ rib sliders, and tuna tartar on fried eggplant, great first date foods even if mom wouldn’t totally approve.

German beer at pretzels at the Beer Garden.
German beer at pretzels at the Beer Garden.

How About We: The Highline and The Standard Hotel Beer Garden
Screw the classic drinks and a movie, How About We do something romantic-sounding, only to find our activity is overrun with tourists? Yes, we’re talking about the Highline-Standard Beer Garden combo, a favorite of this crew. You’ve already hooked in your potential mate with that dreamy line, so now really impress them: Time your trip to the Highline so you can participate in the Stargazing program with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York and its high-powered telescopes. You’ll still drop an unnecessary amount of cash on pretzels and beer at The Standard, but you’ll have the chance to start an intense game of ping-pong. Whoever wins has to pay for the next date: Serendipity frozen hot chocolates and a stroll in Central Park.

Check out the Taproom or Parlor for an upscale date.
Check out the Taproom or Parlor for an upscale date.

Sparkology: The Dead Rabbit
When your career requires you to be at work at 6 a.m. and in bed by 9 p.m., who has time to meet people? This site is for straight-to-the-point, forget-the-foreplay-and-get-me-drunk professionals. Take your business-savvy self out with your handsomely suited date for some cocktails at The Dead Rabbit. Talk about how successful you are, where you vacation, and the best stress-relieving massage therapist in town over absinthe and hot toddies. Once you realize you both named your horses Scout and love to sail, plan the next date at Daniel. The wine list is to die for.

Find out whether your date is a real mench.
Find out whether your date is a real mench.

JDate: Shalom Bombay
Stop the kvetching and take your bashert to a location that’ll impress Conservatives and Reform Jews alike. Skip the mishegas and go to Shalom Bombay, the Glatt Kosher Indian Kitchen. Nosh and shmooze over chicken tikka masala and complimentary (score!) papri chaat. If your date is a real mensch, head to Kutsher’s Tribeca the next time round for more traditional fair, where you’ll kvell over the pastrami sandwich with duck schmaltz fries and matzoh ball soup.


Your Waiter Is Judging You: This Is Why

Here’s some cold hard truth: Your waiter is judging you. And it’s not because you scanned our restaurant’s list of preachy, precious dishes made with esoteric (but local!) ingredients and then asked what celeriac or chimicurri are. Waiters don’t care about that. Answering questions like that is their job. No, it’s not about what you know, it’s about how you act, and your waiter is surveying you to determine whether you’re a badly behaved diner. How do they know? Presenting the 10 most obvious signs.

10. You ask for drinks without ice.
Unless you have an awful toothache or other predisposition against cold beverages, a waiter will take this as you being cheap, trying to get more bang for your beverage-buck by leaving the ice out. Oh, you want your cocktail without ice, or with “just a tiny bit of ice?” That’s cool, the barkeep will be happy to pour the same six-count of vodka he’d normally pour, top it off with tonic and a lime, and watch you enjoy a tepid, weak-tasting drink. Whatever you like, but gross.

9. You say you know the chef.
If you know the chef, odds are, s/he knows you’re coming, because you texted before you came and s/he told us to expect you, where to seat you, and to notify the kitchen immediately upon your arrival so s/he could come say hi. If you’re trying to be cute and make a surprise, you should know that restaurants do not do well with surprises.

8. You want your steak well done.
If the idea of eating meat makes you so uncomfortable that you can’t bear to slurp its delicious, bloody, animal juices, get something that is best eaten cooked through… Like chicken or eggplant or pasta. It’s the restaurant’s job to serve you food that you’ll enjoy, and we’re not going to tell you you can’t sear all of the animal spirit and life blood from a 30-day dry-aged, heritage beef steak. But here’s where your waiter draws the line: If you MUST have your steak well done, it’s going to take extra time to cook it all the way through, so please be patient, and don’t take your mounting hunger out on us.

Enjoy your joyless dinner, gluten-free vegans.
Enjoy your joyless dinner, gluten-free vegans.

7. You order any of the drinks that indicate, beyond a measure of doubt, that you’re an asshole.

6. You’re on your cell phone during dinner, leaving your date to ponder the salt or worse, look at their own cell phone.
Yes, we get it, sometimes you have to look at your phone during dinner. If your wife’s about to have a baby, say, or you’re waiting on a call from the president, perhaps, we can get on board. Otherwise, stow your device on silent and avoid the flash of fury in our eyes. Added bonus: Living in the moment will likely improve your overall experience of the meal.

5. You ask the kitchen to drastically change a dish or, worse, make up your own dishes using ingredients from the menu.
Basically, what a waiter hears when you do this is this: “I think I know the menu better than the chef.” Or worse: “I don’t trust the chef.” Yes, this is the service industry, and yes, the restaurant exists mainly to give pleasure to guests, but (and it’s a big but), that doesn’t mean you can rewrite the menu. Attempting to do so brands you as needy and arrogant, and you probably won’t get what you want, so spare yourself the shame and don’t ask.

4. You’re a gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian who doesn’t eat soy and is allergic to nuts.
You’re welcome to enjoy an undressed salad with oil and vinegar or perhaps some grilled vegetables that our chef will prepare just for you. Not good enough? They make special gluten-free, non-soy, vegan places for your kind, and you’re not at one of them. So don’t expect a chef to accommodate your outrageous diet, and don’t expect us not to give you the stink-eye when we have to explain your dietary restrictions to the kitchen.

This is too much mouth-to-mouth contact for a restaurant setting unless there's CPR involved
This is too much mouth-to-mouth contact for a restaurant setting unless there’s CPR involved

3. You’re sucking face at the table.
Everyone knows dinner is, in many cases, just expensive foreplay, but please, don’t be literal about it. Your waiter is happy to do her part to make your evening lovely, but keep your fondling to footsies, max–not a single person in the restaurant wants to see more.

2. Your child is screaming or running around the restaurant or playing peek-a-boo under the table, and you’re allowing it.
If your child is not sitting at the table where they belong, your waiter is writing you off as a piss-poor parent or a pushover. And if that’s not enough to deter you, the safety hazard should: What if your kid runs into a server carrying scalding tea or soup? Hire a babysitter if you can’t control junior. And if it’s after 9 p.m. and your child is under the age of eight, that kid should be in bed.

1. You fail to use basic toddler-manners in proper context, like the words “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me.”
Interrupting or cutting people off when they’re speaking to you is rude. Basic human respect and manners are expected of you, particularly at the dinner table.


5 Reasons Why Fast Food Deserves to Die

Umami Burger is the latest gussied up burger joint to take New York by storm, and it joins a long list of fast casual darlings like Shake Shack and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. And if those other spots had yet to get the point across, the arrival of the L.A.-based chain in New York cements it: Consumers expect more from quick service restaurants, including great quality food, comfortable surroundings, and lightning-fast service with a genuine smile. And that means fast food as we know it is dying a well-deserved death. Here’s why we can’t wait to usher it right out the door:

No one looks happy waiting in line at McDonalds
No one looks happy waiting in line at McDonalds

5. Fast food joints offer employees the bare minimum

If you’re headed for McDonald’s or Burger King today, take note: Fast food workers are striking across the country, and New York City’s industry members will hit the streets to protest low wages and demand the right to unionize. This is just the latest proof that fast food workers are underpaid and really pissed off about it, and we should find a way to alleviate their woes. Trying to make a living on less than $10 an hour is difficult anywhere in this country, but it’s borderline impossible here. While no one is arguing that the guy taking your burger order should be compensated like a brain surgeon, if you’ve ever been at Penn Station at 2 a.m., you know what a lot of these employees have to face. Showing the front lines a little love when it comes to a paycheck can go a long way, especially in terms of better service. There’s a difference between saying the word “welcome” and sincerely meaning it, and it’s a only a couple of bucks.

Marketing is what many fast food companies choose to spend their efforts on
Marketing is what many fast food companies choose to spend their efforts on

4. Marketing, not quality, was where the money went

The marketing and PR budgets for fast food corporations are significant. There’s always a new commercial telling us how putting a burger on a friggin’ pretzel roll is going to blow our minds. Remember the disaster that was the Arch Deluxe? And no matter how many commercials I see for Long John Silvers, all I see is Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Judge Reinhold throwing out catch of the day boxes in his Captain Hook outfit. (The McRib gets a pass here, since it’s annual appearance is important to those of us who think it’s too much of a pain in the ass to go to that one location in Jersey that has it on the menu at all times.) This time and money could be better spent on finding a way to create a better, healthier burger.

3. Chef Jamie Oliver convinces us that it can be better

Leave it to a naked chef to help uncover the truth about what’s used to make burgers. While Shake Shack used a Pat LaFrieda blend from day one, other chains got by on pink slime. Oliver publicly shamed McDonald’s back in 2011 for using the ingredient ammonium hydroxide, and he’s been on a tirade since, boldly lashing out at a hand that could feed him considerably well. And as a result, McDonald’s altered its recipe. Talk about payoff.

2. There’s too much competition doing things right

Quick service is still important, but people are looking for the next best thing. and that means places that are truly innovative. Chipotle offers beer and margaritas not to mention food that attracts the health-conscious customer on the go. The Meatball Shop proved meatballs served fast via full service could survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace–and it’s expanding as a result. Compare that with the big fast food franchises that are already entrenched in a brand, doomed to constantly add new menu items, specials, or slogans to survive–and novelty isn’t going to change Taco Bell from a drunken late-night decision into a daily stop.

McDonald's Happy Meal, one of the many tactics used to target families to choose fast food
McDonald’s Happy Meal, one of the many tactics used to target families to choose fast food

1. They went after the children

I can deal with a lot. Roll out substandard service, high calorie counts, and questionable ingredients if you want; adults are big boys and girls who can make decisions despite what politicians think. Children, however, should be off limits. Fast food chains are built on the memories of fond childhoods spent opening cardboard boxes and receiving cheap plastic toys. From fictional clowns and smiling kings to real life old guys telling us about the merits of a fried chicken bucket, children play a big role in the growth of these chains. But then children started getting really unhealthy, and the public finally noticed and decided to give a shit. In the wake of early onset type two diabetes, fast food chains are an easy target.

Fast food will forever have a place within America’s culinary landscape, but it’s better if that place is a museum. I’m ready to let go.


How to Hack the Heat and Feed Yourself Without Starving or Going Broke

Remember when we were all bitching about the cold spring? Yeah, me neither.

In this hot-ass weather, there are a few things you must know about feeding yourself. First, never cook. Second, you don’t need to survive on expensive takeout to avoid starving to death, nor do you have to brave restaurants that might not be air-conditioned, accidentally committing yourself to a full meal with only the wheezy ceiling fan left to contend with ventilation needs.

So do what Gwyneth Paltrow says (fun fact: she actually authored several cookbooks) and DRINK WHILE COOKING. I’d recommend a dry rosé with a fat ice cube (classy, I know, but you know what else is classy? Not sweating your face off while preparing dinner, and the ice helps) and lots of frozen fruit.

If you don’t drink alcohol (and you shouldn’t, it’s a filthy habit), make a similar drink with juice or seltzer and drink that instead. And don’t even think about turning on the stove unless you want to pass out right now.

Herewith, a few rules for beating the heat in the kitchen.

Everything you need to stay cool and healthy during a heatwave
Everything you need to stay cool and healthy during a heatwave

Rule no. 1: Your food processor (or blender) is your new best friend.

Married people, did you get that Cuisinart off your wedding registry? Bust it out. Single or otherwise un-Cuisinart-ed folk: if you can’t justify buying a Cuisinart right now (though you won’t regret it, promise), a blender will do. This is the only kitchen utensil that matters in a heat wave.

Rule no. 2: Now that you have that Cuisinart on your counter, think about the food pyramid and try to hit as many sections as often as possible in one cold, blended concoction.

For example, Exhibit A: Traditional Andalusian Gazpacho.

Here’s my recipe (a variation on something I found on Epicurious years ago):
(Yields sixish servings)

6 inches of a baguette (stale is fine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced (1 small onion works, too)
3 tablespoon red wine vinegar (any light vinegar will do)
2ish lbs ripe tomatoes, quartered (that’s about 8 vine tomatoes)
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the darker, the better)
1/2 of a large red bell pepper, sliced

Cut baguette in half and soak in water while you cut veggies. Squeeze water from bread and place half of it in food processor. Dust veggies with salt and put half of each in food processor with bread. Blend until smooth; add half the oil and blend until really smooooOooth. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, then place those in the bowl with the rest and mix thoroughly.

Now garnish with other food pyramid categories: I like to add crumbled feta, chopped Black Forest ham, arugula, and hard-boiled egg to mine, but other veggies and legumes–like avocado, bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, black beans, chick peas, spinach, fennel, and endive–are also great candidates. See if you can hit all five food groups in proper proportion.

Serve immediately or cool for days.

Look for more heat hacks on the next page.

Freeze stuff...or let People's Pops do it for you
Freeze stuff…or let People’s Pops do it for you

Rule no. 3: Freeze things.

Blueberries, raspberries, and stoned cherries (and chocolate and oily nuts, like cashews and macadamia nuts) are all wonderful frozen. Eat them as snacks, or add the fruit to drinks (like that rosé you were drinking while cooking). You can actually buy Popsicle molds and freeze juice into them for easy DIY popsicles. Think about freezing sparkling beverages like those amazing Pellegrino spritzer drinks, or mix seltzer with Goya juices and freeze that. If you want to be extra sweet about it, dust the Popsicle mold with sugar. If you’re feeling super wild, line it with Pop Rocks.

Rule no. 4: Eat meat raw.

Make your own ceviche or steak tartare. None of these things are particularly difficult; the key is to buy really fresh, good meat. If you’re not sure where to begin, go to a reputable butcher or fishmonger, tell them you’re making tartare or ceviche, and ask what cut they recommend.

My favorite super easy ceviche recipe:
(Yields six servings)

2 pounds fresh whitefish, cut to half-inch pieces (I like branzino or snapper but tilapia works, too)
1 pound ripe tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red onion, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 medium jalapeno, chopped
Juice of 6 limes
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon powdered coriander
1/3 teaspoon powdered cumin

Place fish, garlic and onion in a bowl with citrus; stick it in the fridge. In the meantime, cut the other veggies, and enjoy your cold drink (drinking while cooking, right?). After 20 minutes, remove fish from fridge, add veggies and spices and mix thoroughly. Dust with salt to taste. Let sit five minutes and drain any excess liquid. Serve with avocado, black beans, and arugula on flour tortillas (which are OK when cold, unlike their corn counterparts), or with the same over a salad. If you need meat, that Black Forest ham comes in handy here, too.

Rule no. 5: Eat WTF you want for dinner.

It’s hot, and you may spend much of your day angry for no reason aside from the weather: Why not have bread, cheese, and salami for dinner? Eat it outside at one of NYC’s breezy waterfront parks with a friend or loved one and watch the sunset. Pro tip: The cops are less likely to ticket you for drinking in public if you put your wine in a lidded coffee cup.

Rule no. 6: If all of the above is too much for you, order delivery that’s good even when cold, and get enough so you can eat it tomorrow.

Like pizza! There are few better breakfasts when it’s 85 degrees by 7 a.m. than cold pizza. Call me crazy, but I also like cold Chinese. Pork fried rice, for instance: It’s nice and crunchy and still good and salty when it’s cold so the flavor lasts.




The Evolution of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

When I was a kid in Minneapolis, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was a sight to be savored. My friends and I would see it only once or twice a year, in the parking lot of a shopping center in the ‘burbs, or idling in front of a department store like Dayton’s or Donaldson’s downtown. Then we’d come running.

In the early days, the Wienermobile was driven by Little Oscar, a little person.
In the early days, the Wienermobile was driven by Little Oscar, a little person.

Back then the driver was a dwarf or other small person, known as Little Oscar, and he would shake the hand of every kid that approached, and give him or her a wiener-shaped plastic whistle. In an earlier age, Little Oscar rode in a tiny seat at the top of the Weinermobile, which was basically just an automobile with a giant hot dog mounted on top. In those days, we didn’t think of the sexual connotations of frankfurters.

The Weinermobile was invented in 1936 by a nephew of the owner of Oscar Mayer, a meat-packing company based in Madison, Wisconsin, that had a particular penchant for promoting hot dogs, which were a prominent feature of the refrigerated meat case of every supermarket in the country. At one time there was as many as six Wienermobiles crisscrossing the nation to promote the company’s products.

The Wienermobile had a speaker that played a jingle, and we all knew the words:

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
That is what I’d truly like to be
‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
Everyone would be in love with me.

Kind of needy-sounding, isn’t it?

Here’s a TV ad from the ’60s with a version sung by cartoon children:

The Wienermobile changed over time, and there have apparently been seven different configurations. I’ve tried to put them in chronological order. You’ll be surprised at the most recent edition.

The original 1936 Wienermobile, Chicago. Note the reference to "German wieners."
The original 1936 Wienermobile, Chicago. Note the reference to “German wieners.”
The Wienermobile welcomes Santa to New York, late 1940s. Little Oscar sits topside.
The Wienermobile welcomes Santa to New York, late 1940s. Little Oscar sits topside.
Little Oscar receives a key to the city of Chicago, early 1950s, as a cop looks on.
Little Oscar receives a key to the city of Chicago, early 1950s, as a cop looks on.
The Wienermobile in Phoenix, circa 1960
The Wienermobile in Phoenix, circa 1960
Wienermobile postcard, 1970s
Wienermobile postcard, 1970s
An incredibly sleek and modern new Wienermobile participates in a 2007 Milwaukee parade. But where is Little Oscar?
An incredibly sleek and modern new Wienermobile participates in a 2007 Milwaukee parade. But where is Little Oscar?
The 2010 version is based on a Mini Cooper.
The 2010 version is based on a Mini Cooper.

Finally, here’s 1950s TV commercial featuring Little Oscar: