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Restaurant Love, April 5, 2006  I admit that I have been in a quandary about what to do next with this blog. Tastingmenu was started almost four years ago as a way to document where my friends and I went out to eat and what we thought of the food at each restaurant. The seeds for the site were laid many years before when I kept thinking about starting a restaurant review site. Finally when I first saw blogs, the cost of entry was so low, that the site created itself organically over time. I've posted hundreds of write-ups of restaurant experiences, thousands of photos of food I ate (with thousands more not posted because the food wasn't that good), hosted two international blog virtual food awards, gotten to write about eating across the world, taking a class at the Culinary Institute of America, and with my talented friends and the talent of two great chefs put out two pretty kickass cookbooks. The big question that has been on my mind is... what's next?

I'm not lacking for new ideas. But I wonder what the center of gravity should be for  this site? I've asked myself this question: even if I post words and photos that describe a thousand more great meals what will the site have actually accomplished? I'm not going to stop describing great meals, we have more cookbook and even guidebook ideas, but I'd like to spend the bulk of the next few months coming at the problem from a different perspective. What problem am I talking about? The fact that for the most part, eating out in the United States sucks.

There is simply no debating the fact that despite many bright spots, the average quality of food in the United States is below many other countries - Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Thailand, to name a few. I'm sure there are countries that are even with the U.S. or even below it in terms of average quality of food experience, but that's no excuse. The U.S. is a young country but needs to grow up when it comes to food. I'll know that we have matured as a country when I eat somewhere randomly and the odds are better than 50% that the food will be great. Today I'd say the odds are 1% or less.

I apologize in advance for focusing on the United States. I try to make the site as global as possible, but I do spend the bulk of my time in the U.S. so it's what I write about the most, and what I'm the most eager to improve.

There are many culprits responsible for this mess. Chief among them are the bulk of Americans themselves (and I do mean bulk) that value quantity over quality, convenience over flavor, and price over freshness. The food press is not much better. With few exceptions, their opinions are shallow and  uninteresting, and they themselves appear to be more interested in a free meal than in improving the state of eating out in their respective areas. But hopefully in some small way this website has already been preaching to these two audiences for several years now - the first with recommendations, and the second with leading by example.

But the one audience that may be able to have the most impact on raising the state of food in the United States is the group of chefs and restaurateurs that are responsible for literally... putting the food on the table.

I know it's pretty cocky to think that I have any business telling anybody what to think or do. The recommendations are just my dopey opinions, this blog is tiny as opposed to the many professional media endeavors that offer advice in these areas, and I've never cooked for a living. In other words, as I've said many times before, I have no official, professional, or even quasi-professional qualifications or credentials which give me any actual authority on any or even one of these topics. And yet, for some reason, I persist. If you decide to continue reading, at least it's with full disclosure. :)

 

 

So with that long-winded introduction, I'm proud to introduce the next series of posts here on tastingmenu, titled - "Restaurant Love". The specifics of the series will become clear over time. In the meantime consider two simple things:

  1. I am on a mission to upgrade the average quality of eating out in the United States. I don't mean a modest upgrade. I mean that Americans are eating food with the aesthetics and simplicity of Japanese food, the depth and flavor of Italian food, and the amount of flavor you find in Indian and Thai food.
  2. This is a purely selfish effort. I want more good food. And I want it more often. While I'm happy for others to benefit, ultimately I'm primarily worried about my own culinary options. :)

While it's doubtful that the country will change overnight, having a big dream is important. And if this small website can make a tiny dent in upleveling the quality of food available in this country, then it's worth it. People who make food for a living (and actually have the ability to affect its quality - a smaller group than you'd think) stay tuned, I'll be boring you specifically with my random opinions starting with the next post.

 

 

P.S. There will still be write-ups and photos posted about restaurants and great meals interspersed here and there, along with a few other neat surprises we have in store down the road.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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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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