Saturday, May 30, 2009

Panzano Happy Hour Review

Okay, I have not been offered any money by Panzano's, but I'm beginning to believe I should be. I have told everyone I know about this happy hour. I first visited Panzano years ago for 5280 week and had an enjoyable experience and looked forward to going back. For whatever reason I stayed away. However, an article in the Wall St. Journal caught my eye, and it briefly mentioned Panzano's Happy Hour. After viewing their menu, I immediately decided I would be back for at least one hour of happy. Two weeks ago I went, and I was happy. So happy that I returned this past week, and we'll return next week (Wednesday, look for me). $3 beers, $3 appetizers, and $4 small plates. I had a beer, very tasty calamari, not too tough, a delicious small plate of steak, mashed potatoes and a spinach/arugula blend all for $10. The sad fact is that this is the cost of a Qdoba burrito and a drink. The quality levels aren't even close. This filled me up, not fat-style but European-style (meaning I didn't want to puke after I finished). I highly recommend their happy hour. The odds of you being disappointed are slim. If you are disappointed, you're probably difficult to please.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How We Roll

I had a couple of points of inspiration for this post. Most recently was an article in the Wall Street Journal. Famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer discusses the dining industry and where he sees it going as a result of the economic downturn. He mentioned how he expected fewer fine-dining establishments, which makes sense, and a different view of food. This quote, in particular, concerned me: "People are thinking about how much of their time they have to spend, how much of their stomach they are going to fill and how many of their dollars they will have to part with." My problem with this quote is that I believe people (Americans) are already doing this and have been doing this for a long time. My question is should we expect it to get worse?
This leads me to my other inspiration for this post, Wal-Mart. I know you've heard me talk about it before and maybe you think that I've killed that topic; however, it needs to be brought up again. It seems like the big issue mentioned above is money and time. In the current climate, most are short on money and everyone wants more time. The important thing to note is that both can be managed, and although you can increase the amount of money you have, time is finite.
I know I've made my case quite clear on how I think one shouldn't skimp on food, and I still strongly support my stance. Perhaps if I illustrate it in a different way, one might better understand my view. Let's examine what I'll call the Quality/Cost Analysis. Think of your basic X/Y Axis. On the X axis, you have quality, on the y axis, cost. Let's assume that as cost increases, quality also increases and vice versa. America is comfortable sitting at the corner of cost and quality. We're more than willing to sacrifice quality for a cheaper price. Guess what? This is where Wal-Mart comes in (note: I am not attacking Wal-Mart, but they are easiest to use in this illustration). Has Wal-Mart programmed us to look for the best deal regardless of the quality of the product? I know many people who will stop by Wal-Mart for a couple of things but refuse to step foot in their produce section. Why? Because Wal-Mart doesn't work as hard as other grocers in ensuring the quality of their product. On the way to providing you the cheapest price, something has to be sacrificed. Think about this the next time you choose a restaurant for your birthday or some other special occasion. Save some money and go somewhere where quality is valued.
My other target is McDonald's, fast food's founding father. In McDonald's, a culture of "not enough time" has been created. Feel free to stop by for a meal that will be ready in seconds. We can look to the Quality/Cost Analysis for a similar graph of Time/Cost Analysis. As time to prepare your food increases, so should quality. If you spend more time dedicated to something, you should produce a better product (in theory). Why don't we have enough time? Where is it we have to be? What keeps us from getting out of our cars to order food? These are valuable questions to ask. What's wrong with spending 3 hours at a restaurant with enjoyable company? Isn't this why the DVR was invented? You don't have to get back home to watch your "show."
In summary, I'm not telling you to stop shopping at Wal-Mart or to avoid the drive-thru line at McDonald's, but think about it the next time you find yourself at either place or somewhere like it. Ask yourself this, what am I sacrificing here and what am I missing elsewhere? Food may be nothing more than fuel, but humans are high-performing machines and deserve the highest quality of fuel we can find.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Favorite Cooking Gadgets (Part 2)

I promised to make this a series, and I'm afraid I have failed miserably. Not only has it been a month since my last post, it's been even longer since I professed any affinity for a cooking gadget. I knew it was time for another post, so I started glancing around the kitchen. What gadget/tool deserves my praise? Seeing the Santoku knife sitting by the sink waiting to be washed yet again, I had my answer. You see, hand washing is necessary for good knives, if you want them to retain their sharpness. They tend to dull out quickly in the dishwasher. This knife spends a lot of time sitting by the sink, not out of neglect but out of good use. I end up using this knife daily. Even though I have knives that are properly labeled utility knives, this one is my 'go-to knife.' In baseball, it might be a solid middle reliever. In football, it might be a quality tight end that can catch and block. (I have to use sports analogies to further prove my masculinity since I'm writing a love post to my knife).
So, what makes this knife so great? First off, what makes any knife great is how sharp it is. For those of you who don't care about this, you don't know what you are missing with a sharp knife. I recently cut an onion, or I should say, attempted to cut an onion with a dull knife, and it was the most frustrating thing. I put so much force into slicing through it, that I was afraid I was going to slice right through the onion into my hand. However, I realized the knife was incapable of penetrating my skin. Sharp knives make you look like an accomplished chef. The above picture shows my knife with one of the most commonly chopped items in my kitchen, the zucchini. A good knife moves through vegetables like soft butter. Unfortunately, a good knife will move through your skin without you feeling it until you see blood. The key is knowing how to use it. Another tool that won't get its own column is the knife sharpener. It is essential in maintaining the sharpness of your knives. Maybe, if you're still reading this, you're saying to yourself: "who needs a good knife? I'm not an accomplished chef. I just cook every now and then." Well, why buy something that makes work harder? Buying a cheap knife is like buying a shovel with a hole in it. Sure, you're going to pick up some dirt, but most of it will fall through the hole making your task more frustrating. My intention wasn't to rant, but I want you to purchase one quality knife and put it to work for you. My suggestion for a cheap quality knife that does excellent work on meat or used as a paring knife. This one here comes in a set. Remember, just because it comes to a point and it's shiny doesn't make it a good knife.