Archive for the ‘American’ Category

Dine High Club

It occurred to me, writing this as I hurtle across the Atlantic in a huge steel tube at some ridiculously fast speed, that I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of airline food. Well, not in the same breath as a review of a restaurant anyway. OK, this isn’t quite Gordon Ramsay despite the best efforts of most airlines to tout an “Executive Chef” (and possibly also a Sommelier), neither of whom you’ve heard of. Maybe Qantas and Neil Perry may be a slight exception to that, but you get my point. And so I find myself on that culinary barge, also known as an American airline. I’ve flown on many nation’s fleets over the years but it has to be the American ones that have more than their fair share of ubiquities when it comes to reflecting a nation that, frankly, only thinks the word “constraint’ relates to child seats.

Clearly, even before food is served, there is the catalogue (sorry, should be catalog for this piece) of guests / diners / passengers who struggle to get the tray table to line up in front of them. I suspect i may have seen a John Candy movie along these lines at some point. Maybe they should design tables such that, if you can’t actually get it in front of you, it loses stability to actually prevent food from being placed on it. Now that’s a constraint I think many would welcome.

The food itself tends to have the usual lexicon that most non-Amercians have tuned (not pronounced ‘tooed’ BTW – see below) into by now but still cause foodies to squirm before the soup arrives. American-only substitutions is one (arugula, cilantro), the unfathomable nod towards a vague sense of being healthy with the “salad course” (not sure the French would even know when to eat that one) and then there’s the eternal I-pronounce-it-differently-than-you-except-I-can-fully-understand-how-you-pronounce-it-and-what-you-mean-so-why-can’t-you-understand-me problem (tomato, water, tuna).

Anyway, on the plus side I have to admit that in the case of Delta, whose company I share today, their food is remarkably good. Onion soup that is hot, not tepid, and actually has onions in it; fillet steak that is properly medium rare and has some flavour and a cheese board that, trust me, was actually rather good. The other upside to flying on a US airline is that everything turns up while you’re still working out what movie to watch or why your seat massager came on during take-off and is now attracting glares from the old couple who think you’ve hidden a bomb in your pocket. I mean, the Yanks KNOW how do do service. Compared with BA that I flew with only a few weeks ago, it is the difference between Harvester (BA) and a reasonable, albeit low-end bistro (Slug and Lettuce but not in anywhere dodgy).

I am also, in case you hadn’t guessed, on my way to the US for the umpteenth time so I expect to have more to report back on of a culinary nature. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience of Barbie’s mum serving you Claret (pronounced “cla-ray’).


New York, without the anvil

I’m just about to head out to New York for a few days. New York is an amazing city for food, make no mistake, and some of the best meals I’ve eaten in my life have come from chefs in New York. It does have a few advantages after all:

  • It is on the coast, and can therefore benefit from some amazingly fresh seafood and fish.
  • It is a vibrant mix of cultures from all over the world
  • Americans love to eat
  • Americans REALLY love to eat

In fact, some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life has been prepared by chefs in New York. If you’ve never been, I heartily recommend it. Speaking of heartily brings me to the one thing that I really struggle with in my numerous trips to the city that never sleeps. I come back feeling like I’ve swallowed an anvil. I’m amazed that they don’t charge me extra when checking in at JFK. There’s just something about the way in which the food is so plentiful that you almost feel obliged to eat what’s on the plate. Not helped, of course, by the fact that I was brought up to actually finish everything on my plate. And, before you say it, I don’t want my leftovers bagged thanks. I ate cold leftovers as a student and, now that I can afford to eat in Michelin star restaurants, I’d rather not have a half-eaten steak festering in my fridge thanks.

I have therefore taken a pre-emptive step in anvil-avoidance. For the one business dinner I had the flexibility to arrange I’ve gone for something that you really would not want bagged up for tomorrow: Japanese. I will, of course, let you know whether my plan works, or whether they’ll be putting me in the hold with the oversized luggage…

I never thought I’d blog about Mcdonalds, but…

I read this week that McDonalds have now introduced free Wi-Fi into all their restaurants. This is of interest to me only insofar as it is another well-known hotspot with which I can use my various Wi-Fi enabled gadgets and not, just to be clear, because I have any intention of actually eating any of their awful food. I’m proud of the fact that neither of my children, now both of school age, have never eaten in a McDonalds. In fact, to my knowledge, they have never even asked to eat in one. Long may it continue. I, on the other hand, have eaten in a McDonalds but not for quite a long time. (The last time was actually in Sydney, Australia strangely enough.)

So, in a break from tradition, rather than discuss what culinary delights I’ve experienced under the shadow of the big, yellow “M”, and to honour the fact that they are now trying to coerce impressionable techies into their dens of detritus, I thought I’d post a few facts about Maccy-D’s for your delight and disgust.

  • You would have to walk for seven hours straight to burn off a Super Sized Coke, fry and Big Mac
  • One in every three children born in the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime
  • McDonald’s distributes more toys per year than Toys-R-Us!
  • Left unabated, obesity will surpass smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in America
  • In 1972, $3 billion a year was spent on fast food – today it’s more than $110 billion
  • McDonald’s feeds more than 46 million people a day – more than the entire population of Spain
  • Only seven items on McDonald’s entire menu contain no sugar
  • Willard Scott was the first Ronald McDonald – he was fired for being too fat
  • McDonald’s: “Any processing our foods undergo make them more dangerous than unprocessed foods”
  • The World Health Organization has declared obesity a global epidemic
  • McDonald’s calls people who eat a lot of their food “Heavy Users”
  • McDonald’s operates more than 30,000 restaurants in more then 100 countries on 6 continents
  • Before most children can speak they can recognize McDonald’s
  • Most nutritionists recommend not eating fast food more than once a month

So, anyone fancy a Big Mac ?

English-American Dictionary for the Foodie

I found myself watching the Food Network in my recent trip to New York. It’s basically Food Porn, American style. Iron Chef, Emeril Live, this stuff flies off the televisual shelves like a Delia whisk. But one thing that sticks out when I watch these shows, and actually turned from being irritating to downright antagonising is the way the Yanks have a different way of pronouncing certain ingredients that the rest of the world don’t seem to have a problem with. I was left wondering why on earth this ended up like it is. Arrogance ? Ignorance ? Either way, it must be as confusing as hell when the Yanks come to the UK (we, on the other hand, have a better interpretive understanding of such simple concepts.)

So, I thought I’d list all the ones that I came across. Hopefully this may be of use to any Brits visiting the US, or vice versa.

  • Herbs : pronounced “erbs” (drop the H), similar to “honest”
  • Parmesan : pronounced “par-ma-szharn” (long ‘a’ at the end, ‘s’ pronounced ‘sh’)
  • Basil : pronounced “bay-zil”
  • Oregano : pronounced “o-REG-a-no” (emphasis on the 2nd syllable)
  • Filet : pronounced “fill-ay” (emphasis on the 2nd syllable)
  • Apricot : pronounced “A-pricot” (hard ‘a’ as in ‘avenue’, rather than ‘ace’)
  • Shrimp : not pronounced any differently, other than you NEVER have it in plural, no matter how many you have

I could add a whole second category here for words that are substituted:

  • Cilantro / Coriander
  • Egg plant / Aubergine
  • Scallions / Spring onions
  • Zucchini / Courgette
  • etc

But then I realised that I could quite easily end up writing a whole book on that one. If you know of any others, feel free to comment.

OK, it’s getting a bit predictable now

I have to admit to feeling a bit like it’s Groundhog Day now. Once again, I find myself in a “typical” American restaurant in New York. I’m in one of the dining meccas of the world and I end up eating American. So it was that I found myself having a business lunch in Bar Americain ( on 52nd and 6th.

With high ceilings and wall to wall linen, the signs were truly promising. Front of house was typically sycophantic but struggled to show us to our table until we insisted. No rush then – take your time. When we finally ended up at our balcony table I was immediately struck by the lack of what I’m accustomed to in New York – the over-excited server spewing out the daily specials almost like their lives depended on it. Clearly, either no specials today or we didn’t look like “specials” people. Still, the iced water remained constantly full which is something UK restaurants should take note of.

Still feeling slightly queasy from Oystergate, I chose safe and plain. On the recommendation of my host, I ordered the onion soup which I have to admit was very, very good despite the presence of a soggy crouton covered in cheese that acted as a sort of “lid”. Never seen that with soup before – must be an American thing. Still, at least it kept the soup nice and warm and turned what could have been a vaguely healthy starter into a proper, full-on fatboy lardfest. Americans don’t seem to do healthy very well. The New York strip that I ordered medium-rare for main course was more like rare-rare. In fact if it wasn’t for exceptionally sharp steak knife I think I would have had trouble slicing it. My acid test for a really good steak is that you should be able to eat it with a normal knife – this was far from it. So, despite giving it a good try, I did end up leaving a fair chunk of it. All in all, rather disappointing. Dessert menu was so disappointing that I didn’t find anything that I fancied so I had a cup of over-brewed coffee instead. Yum.

Perhaps I’m just becoming a steak snob but even average Joe would find the steak at Bar Americain rather disappointing. I should have ordered the chicken pot pie that one of our guests chose which looked far nicer. I will be having a steak embargo from this point onwards. Haven’t been in a diner on this trip yet – may try that tomorrow.

Never order steak and oysters, even at Wolfgangs

OK, so those of you who know me will know that for the past 24 hours I have not been well. As hardy as my stomach is, I simply appear to have very little tolerance (any more at least) to oysters. Raw oysters, that is. I’m sure I’d be fine with oysters Rockefeller or similar.

So, putting that to one side, I had the pleasure of visiting a veritable institution in Manhattan, Wolfgangs Steakhouse on 32nd and Park. Wolfgang Zweiner was, for many years, a waiter in one of New York’s finest restaurants so you would imagine that he would know a thing or two about good service and good food. Well, that certainly held true in our visit.

The inside of Wolfgangs is worthy of a mention in itself. Tiled in extravagant arches by the same artist who tiled Grand Central, you are immediately immersed into a feeling of at-home cosiness (well, if your home happens to have a famous tiler in the dining room). Wherever you stand or sit, you can’t help but allow your eye to be drawn to the ceiling which, I have to admit, is both fascinating and spectacularly beautiful. Clientele is, was expected, predominantly men who were feeding with consummate gusto.

Onto the steaks. Rather unsurprisingly, there were every type of steak on the planet available : filet mignon, New York strip, rib-eye, and so on. The rib-eye I ordered, still on the bone, was the size of a small city. I often buy aged rib-eye back in the UK (as you’ll read about on these pages in due course) but not only were these over twice as thick as the cut in the UK, they were a LOT bigger. That said, it was cooked to an absolutely perfect medium-rare which is no mean feat for a steak that size. Clearly plenty of practice. I have to admit to being put off sometimes by New York portion sizes. This level of uber-excess doesn’t sit well with me, since it either implies obvious wastage or obvious fatness. Somehow, I didn’t feel that with Wolfgang’s though, possibly because everyone round the table actually finished their steaks (apart from me, and even then it was bagged for someone to take home). The wine list was excellent, with a Cabernet blend from Napa going perfectly.

It’s interesting, the steak culture in New York. You can get reasonably good steak in almost any restaurant so you have to do something really special to maintain the reputation as one of New York’s finest. Sure, Wolfgangs obviously source, age and tenderise some of the best meat you can get but they serve it in an ambience that actually does make it feel extra special. With more restaurants opening all the time, I think Wolfgangs will retain its crown for a long time to come. Only next time, I’ll pass on the oysters.