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2005
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"Love, Like, or Other?", March 2, 2005 I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about how to evaluate food. Mostly restaurants in fact. I also spend quite a bit of time lamenting why I can't find more restaurants that I really like. These are essentially the same topic in my mind. The truth is that I feel a natural affinity for people who dislike critics. After all, where's the art in criticizing others? And where's the humanity in it? These people put their hearts on the line every day. And critics come along and render their "expert" opinions, shooting arrows from a distance. From the comfort of their keyboard. For over two years I have made it clear that I love two things. I love finding wonderful food experiences, and I love sharing them with others. That's not criticism. Is it? That's just passion for food. But really that's not entirely true. This site already contains what are essentially hundreds of restaurant and food reviews. And now we're on our way down the slippery slope.

The next step is coming up with shorthand. Three stars from Michelin (now surveying New York for the first time), four from the New York Times... we have Love, Like, and Other. The definitions are here. But the truth is that they are difficult to define for us. Remember something... writing about food is completely subjective. Yes, there is a general framework for how to evaluate a food experience, but it is simply impossible to be objective. And because so much of one's own expectations color their opinions of a food experience, eating (and deciding what food you enjoy most), it's ultimately very very personal. And so this site is really a personal expression.

But that said, we still have the shorthand. What does it really mean? Well, we never talk about the shorthand as we write about a restaurant as there's always texture. But when you review a list of restaurants in a city, we put them in categories for you. Categories that give you a sense of which we think are better than the others. Every meal we eat together ends with a simple question: "love, like, or other?"

Sometimes we've even considered creating a fourth category, for the highest echelon of eating experiences. But it's not clear what the point would be given how few there are.

Ultimately here is the key: Making good food is easy (even I can do it if I really try). Making great food is hard. Making great food consistently is really really hard. Making great food consistently for a lot of people is nearly impossible. Great food can be from a street vendor, or a 20 course tasting menu at an expensive restaurant. Great food doesn't discriminate. But the physics of making great food is consistent - like gravity. Standards, focus, and lack of compromise are what make great food. And just as with figure skating at the Winter Olympics, there are degrees of difficulty. But unlike the Olympics, we don't discriminate. If you do a simple jump and it's a ten, it's a ten. If you do a triple lutz, they give you extra points. We don't. Is that the right thing? I don't know. On the one hand I think that people should get credit for trying something with a greater difficulty. On the other hand, I also feel like if you try to do something more complicated, you made your bed. And if we only gave our highest recognition to restaurants trying to make the most difficult food, then our "Loves" would look like the list of four star restaurants from the New York Times: Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin, Masa, Per Se (Ducasse lost his fourth star recently). They're all very expensive, and until Per Se and Masa were added they were all very French. (I think this list is complete, but for some unknown reason the New York Times website has eliminated the ability to search based on star rating).

It's nice to know that even the very chefs who've earned these stars know that not all good food is expensive: "Mr. Keller says he used to have a weakness for Burger King's Whopper with extra cheese and French fries, but now that he lives in California, he has switched his allegiance to the cheeseburgers at In-N-Out Burger, with French fries and a milkshake." It's also nice to know that these same chefs follow the same protocol as we do when going out to eat: "How often to eat can also be an issue. Mr. Trotter, for one, limits the number of evening meals on his travels to one, but 15 years ago, he said, he would pack away "three full dinners - I don't mean grazing - just to see what's going on." When you're young, you can do it, " Mr. Trotter, now 45, says. "I would eat for two hours at 5:30, for an hour and a half at 8 p.m., and then I'd eat again. I'd be with two or three other people, and we'd order six appetizers and eight entrees. I was like an eating machine."

So we're back to standards, focus, and lack of compromise. And art and commerce don't mix. Not compromising doesn't seem so admirable when nobody's coming to eat in your restaurant. Not compromising, and making a successful business is nearly impossible. Nearly. And so there are restaurants that stay focused. That have maniacal attention to detail. And ultimately believe that quality and consistency are one in the same. Those are the ones I'm looking for. Those are the ones we try to talk about on this site. And while you might expect that someone who spends all this time criticizing might enjoy being negative, I swear it's not true. I get the most personal enjoyment from finding something great and sharing it with others. I wish I could do it more often.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.


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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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