Thursday, June 30, 2011
Some of my readers have a mild (or severe) obsession with who the Chew could possibly be; some people may even have a decided persona who they believe is the one and only Chew. So here it is, a vague, yet telling, expose on the million dollar question "Who's the Chew?"
First a few terms that may be of interest:
1. Peter Parker - this is my real life self, who works hard and maintains a fairly regular existence; trying to spend time with family and friends without the pressures of being The Chew influencing my everyday life.
2. Spiderman - my alter ego self, The Chew, who fights valiantly for better service, better food and better customer behaviour in local restaurants and beyond! My identity must remain hidden due to the adverse effects that could be wrought upon my 'Mary Jane' counterpart.
3. Integrity - something that would be hard to maintain if exposed while working in one of our local restaurants without gaining bias or getting fired.
- I have milked a cow with my bare hands
- I have never actually been to the Sunday market, though hopefully that will change
- I think the bread from the Local Market Co-op is one of the most delicious I've ever had
- I don't drink milk by itself
- I've known how to drive a stick-shift since I was 16
- I love heirloom tomatoes
- I have appeared in Snap Perth
Now, first of all, it should be apparent that I work in the restaurant business currently, and I would like to suggest to those who are seeking my identity with a vigor that far exceeds what they put into their daily jobs - what do you expect me to say? Perhaps you've even asked one of the contributors, but c'mon really? Should they respond in the affirmative, "how right you are sir/madam I am the Chew, you've guessed it! Now the blog can go public instead of being anonymous risking my lively-hood if I happen to write a poor review of my employer!"
Spiderman is an entity and a necessary one, he is separate from Peter Parker because he has to be! The Chew is not anyone, it is an idea, from the thoughts and actions of many, edited by one. If I were to reveal myself, the objectivity of the writing would be destroyed and ultimately, I would have to stop blogging. To be honest, I quite like my readers and I like the blog so I'd rather not face that reality.
A few of you have been brought into 'the know' and I trust that you will appreciate the confidence I've placed in you and refrain from exposing your new-found information to others! The Chew will be revealed in time, be patient!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
An interesting dilemma brought up by another of my lovely readers!
Now, in the ideal situation, the proper etiquette is for the server to wait until everyone at the table finishes eating before clearing plates; therefore not rushing the last person through their last few bites.
However, there can be a number of problems when it comes to this etiquette point: 1. a lot of guests are boorish and don't understand this concept therefore they shove their plates off to the side of the table or throw their cloth napkins on top of the plate (another topic for another day!) and 2. the majority of service staff in our fair city lack any formal service training and are set free to run willy-nilly with little or no direction from management/owners.
Even as a server of some formidable talent (pardon the ego) I sometimes struggle with the question of whether to clear or not. In the appropriate setting (finer dining) I always impose this etiquette on tables who don't understand, but you can face wrath from people who want "this dirty plate out of my sight!". In more casual restaurants eg. diners and pubs as a guest you must realize that it is more common to have the plates cleared as they are finished and this is acceptable at this level of dining.
Servers who lack training/direction seem to automatically lean toward appeasing the snarly guests (who are often the ones who don't understand the proper etiquette) rather than the polite ones (who would prefer to wait for the other guests before having their plates cleared). This becomes a cyclical problem as these servers become floor managers and teach those new servers the same bad habits they have come to know as the right way to do things.
So I guess the answer is both:
- to the guest: please stop stacking your plates off to the side while your friends are still eating, but don't get upset when your chicken wing plate is cleared ahead of the others
- to the server: please learn the appropriate style for the appropriate venue (read your tables, this is what makes you good at your job)
As in all things, balance is key!
Friday, June 24, 2011
An aroma wafts on the air, caressing my senses; spices, grilling beef, a rich tomato sauce simmering towards perfection - all of these mingle together to create that wonderful scent that is part of the dining experience. I order a bottle of something delicious but as I lean in to smell the wine my nose is virtually assaulted by something terrible...
Why is it that people feel it is necessary to douse themselves in perfume before heading out for a night on the town?
I'm sure you don't smell that bad without it (but if you do perhaps a visit to your doctor is in order?). Again, unfortunately, women make up the majority of over-the-top smelling individuals, though I have encountered quite a few men who think perhaps they will entice themselves a mate by smelling like an entire Sears cologne counter!
Thank you Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Paris Hilton for convincing everyone that your manufactured scents will make us more appealing to our dinner companions!
Let us not forget Grandma; few people smell quite as pungent as a woman over 75! The strange thing is, they often smell like soap. It is truly a mystery of science how any one individual can heighten the smell of Dove or Lever 2000 to such levels that everyone's noses in a six block radius can detect nothing else!
I beg you, before slathering on the 'eau'de STANK, please consider those of us who actually want to smell what we are eating! If you want to smell like a french brothel, perhaps that is where you belong.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
There is an important element of service that seems to be overlooked in this town at a number of restaurants. From a casual pub or diner to some of the nicer restaurants in the city, the problem seems universal for some reason.
The 'pre-bus' (or 'table maintenance') seems to be over and above the talents of the average server.
Allow me to define the term:
'Bussing' a table usually happens after the guests leave it. All of the items are removed so that the table can be wiped and re-set for the next people to use. 'Pre-bussing' happens while the guests remain. It involves removing unneeded and erroneous objects from the table as they become unnecessary (ie. clearing the empty glass when you bring a fresh pint). This is not a difficult thing for a server to do, in fact it helps you keep track of what stage a table is at in their dining experience and keeps things neat and tidy so that the guest doesn't have to "enjoy" their meal surrounded by dirty, used dishes/glasses etc. If the restaurant is nice enough this can even mean removing the salt & pepper shakers/grinders as the table heads toward dessert.
There is no reason that I should receive a cheque with a dirty plate still in front of me, particularly when my server is not incredibly busy. It's laziness/carelessness on the part of the wait staff. I challenge any server who reads this blog to evaluate yourself on how well you do this. It's a small thing that makes a big difference in the quality of service you give! To those who do this well, bravo! To those who don't, stop making the rest of us look bad!
Monday, June 20, 2011
Women make up a large majority of difficult customers; drama queens in particular are almost all female!
The drama queen is someone who is un-please-able from the get go. You're not fast enough/you're hovering. The wine is too cold/not cold enough. The pasta is too spicy/too bland. And the soup is always cold.
These women like to draw attention to themselves, they speak to you, the server, with an air of condescension - not really looking you in the eye and always speaking over you and ignoring you, unless something goes wrong. Whether real or imagined, when disaster strikes the drama queen will let you know exactly what YOU have done wrong!
You can spot a drama queen from a mile away too, those dining with her seem exasperated, they apologize quietly to their server, rolling their eyes at her incessant requests. "Can we have that table? I don't want that table! Oh no, there's a draft. This seat is too hard. Can you turn the air conditioning up? Down? I don't want to look at the wall! Dressing on the side. No butter, no oil, no salt, steamed vegetables! There is nothing on this menu I can eat! I need to speak to the manager!"
There's a bug on your table madame? Perhaps that is due to the fact that YOU ARE ON A PATIO!?!?
Friday, June 17, 2011
The Gazette recently put out a list of bests in the city and Downie St. Burgers won for 'best burger'. Now, not that I am debating their win, but, I have to ask...who votes on this stuff? The Chew certainly didn't and neither did my Peter Parkeresque alter ego.
So I have sacrificed money and colon to embark on a red-meat endeavour, the likes of which this city has never seen!
The results, I must say, have been interesting. I thought for sure I would find a burger leader, someone way out in front with a patty so flavourful and delicious, a bun so soft and luscious, and toppings that I could literally 'write home to mom about!'. But I ran into a complex issue, a question if you will, that must first be answered before crowning the king of burgers.
What makes the perfect burger?
This question begs many more:
Am I on a quest for 'the classic' burger topped with merely ketchup/mustard/relish/lettuce/tomato/onion/pickle?
Is the addition of added bacon and cheese cheating?
Does the burger have to be beef?
Do the fries count for added points or deductions?
Does the bun/patty have to be made in-house? (even if there's a great pre-fab burger out there?)
Are gourmet toppings allowed? Guacamole? Caremelised onions? Arugula? Olive tapenade?
I feel bombarded by the questions and there are so few answers, so here I will seek to inform you about great burgers in Stratford and ultimately crown a winner! Please forgive me if my criteria is not the same as yours...
First: the suck! These are the burgers that are not worth eating, don't bother wasting time or money - have something else on the menu or in some cases, avoid the restaurant altogether.
*Big D's: though they claim elements of the burger are made in-house I deny this possibility. Patty is decent but bland and the bun certainly seems from frozen as it is more than a little soggy.
*Backstage: wanted to give the new place a go, but the menu resembles frighteningly the old Othello's menu. I fear burger has been in the freezer since then, though it doesn't taste quite that bad.
*Pour House: lots of options for different kinds of burgers but the kitchen staff don't seem to care much about their product! Only thing memorable were the shrivelled 'pickles' (if you can call them that) that were placed on top - never should have made it to the table!
*Foster's: Don't be alarmed, Foster's re-occurs in the good burgers too but I must say their pork burger is just blah and dry, not worth having when they have far better options.
The runners up: shall we say they have been discredited not because they are bad burgers, instead due to their small size/price/general averageness.
**Down The Street (a set of buns worth squeezing, even if you're not the bun squeezing type)
**Molly's Veggie Burger (if you miss meat, you can imagine this is still beef)
**Boomers (the toppings are imaginative and delicious but it's just not big enough! Add poutine!)
**Erie Drive-In (definitely from frozen, but juicy/quick/cheap nonetheless)
**Bentley's (very average burger, nothing wrong but doesn't wow me)
**Boar's Head (love the wild boar burger but it's always a little dry)
Finally, the burger options that make you tingle and bring you back time and again to shove them gloriously into your mouths! Divided somewhat into categories but in no particular order...
Classic - kind of: (all beef patty with addition toppings accepted)
*** Molly Blooms: $14.99 They would have won over all for the best burger if only they made their own. Their Bloomin' Burger is perfectly messy and topped with all the classic toppings, plus mushrooms, BBQ sauce, peameal bacon, regular bacon, two kinds of cheese and onion rings. Crave burger? 1/2 Price on Monday's!
*** Downie Street Burgers: $8.95-12.95 Certainly delicious all around and so many choices for toppings etc. Potentially their fries lost it for them as they are okay but not fantastic; and I am somewhat concerned for people with peanut allergies (they use peanut oil for frying - tasty, but oh so dangerous!).
***Foster's Inn: $10.99 As stated by two long time vegetarians..."This is the best damn veggie burger we have ever had!!! By a LOOOOONG way!" I can't stress how original and delicious this red bean/mushroom patty is topped with chutney and goat's cheese! If it was beef, it would have won!
NO-beef Patty: (not allowed to win though it was close!)
***Foster's Inn: $15.98 Lamb Burger - go ahead and add the tapenade and Indian spice, you won't be disappointed. Moist and succulent with a combination of flavours that surprises your taste-buds!
The King/#1/Big Kahuna
**** The Parlour $16.00: Not only is the burger itself fantastic and exactly what you want in a classic burger, but the fries are some of the best I've had in a long time (unfortunately hit and miss though as the second sample were just okay)! Everything is made in-house/locally sourced and it shows: the patty has delicious flavour, the bun is soft and fresh, bacon is local, cheddar is aged and it's one of the only places in town that you can get a little pink in your burger ;) For a great burger experience, it's not rocket surgery!
Disclaimer: all of the burgers presented here were eaten by the Chew within a reasonable amount of time, if your favourite was forgotten, let me know and I will re-visit!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
So to answer your question 'Anonymous' if you really want that certain item but want it without the red peppers, pause for a moment and evaluate the state of the restaurant.
1. Is it a leisurely Wednesday night, a few tables relax around the dining room, the service staff seem to be moving at a reasonable pace, a look of calm resting on their countenance?
2. Is it Saturday night at 6:30pm every single seat in the restaurant is full and the servers look frantic, running back and forth from the kitchen to the tables begging for it all to be over?
You must learn as a guest to decipher where in between these two extremes the restaurant you are in is at, at that moment, if it's not packed, request the substitution, but if it's crazy busy, perhaps choosing something else would be a good idea. Too many substitutions can grind an entire service to a halt - have you ever wondered why your food is taking so long? Every guest in a busy restaurant affects the service of the other guests dining at the same time.
Take any action that you do over and over on a daily basis that is second nature to you and have someone tell you that every 6th time you do that thing, you must change it just slightly - but in different ways each time - calling it out to you just moments before you have to make the change.
Also, be prepared to wait/pay for the changes you make to a menu item. Trading cheddar for goat's cheese should cost you money. Altering a dish takes extra time, often because it can't be made in a larger quantity with other plates of the same item.
I for one am surprisingly persnickety for my line of work, I ask for things to be omitted from dishes on many occasions - sometimes I even ask for extras or 'god forbid' the starch from a plate that is not my own. But I am not upset when there is a surcharge on my bill for these things - and neither should any guest be.
Just make sure that in restaurants where the chef lovingly creates each plate to balance harmoniously together you don't attempt to re-invent the menu, you'll be remembered, but not fondly!
Monday, June 13, 2011
The final instalment of restaurant lingo. If I have missed anything or you'd like clarification on any term let me know in the comment section and I'll do my best to respond!
M'aitre D: see 'Host/Hostess' (this is an old term that is rarely relevant anymore). Though it can refer to the head waiter in situations where it remains relevant.
Mise en Place: Originally referred to the set up of the just kitchen stations but has broadened into use in the front of house. Essentially, it means 'everything in its place'. (Kitchen - garnishes, salt & pepper, olive oil, chef towel, prep) (FOH - extra cutlery, bar garnish, service napkin, pens, float, etc).
Modifier: A change to a menu item to intimate how the customer prefers something (Eg. martini - up, olives OR steak - medrare).
Plating: Putting the food on the plate. This includes adding any sauce or garnish before handing over to the expediter or the server.
POS System: A point of sale system is a computer system that helps businesses track sales. It also tracks employee sales (who sold the most during a shift) and which dishes are sold most often. It is also lovingly referred to as a 'piece of shit' system when it crashes/locks up.
Prix Fixe: Pronounced [PREE-feeks] this literally means 'fixed price' and usually refers to a set menu with a specific number of items for a set price.
On the Fly: Get it done right now! This term pops up when something has been forgotten or added and must be cooked last minute.
Sections: Many restaurant dining rooms are divided into areas that have a certain number of tables in each one, and each 'section' goes to a particular wait staff each shift.
Sharking: Circling a table repeatedly, often because the restaurant is slow (usually while playing the theme from Jaws in your head). Also can mean luring an employee from one restaurant to another (also while playing the Jaws theme).
Sous Chef: Literally means 'under chef'. This is the person in charge of the kitchen when the head chef is not around.
Substitutions: Changes to a menu item requested by the guest. Often an irritation to the kitchen, particularly when they are 'in the weeds'!
Turnover Rate: How fast tables empty and fill during a shift. A high turnover rate means more people have eaten and gone, while a slow turnover rate means the same people have been at the table for a long time, or the table is sitting empty.
Walk in: A table of guests that arrives without reservations. This is acceptable for small parties of 4 or less but becomes difficult to accommodate when larger than 6 guests are present. This also refers to a refrigerator/freezer that is large enough to be walked into (Eg. "Can you get me some more cream? It's in the walk in"
Thursday, June 9, 2011
People who work in restaurants have their own private language, it's not our fault and we're not trying to keep you of the loop, it's just the environment we find ourselves in. I will attempt to shed a little light on the meaning behind the 'gibberish' heard in and around your favourite dining venues so that you can sound extra-savvy the next time you're out with your friends.
A la Minute: Made to order from start to finish (no pre-fabricated/par-cooked products used).
Allergy: Something that the kitchen takes very seriously and the guest does not; ie. dairy allergy to us means you can't have butter (because of the milk solids) but for some reason you can still have butter. Don't say allergy unless you mean it!
Aperitif: A drink served before the meal to cleanse/stimulate the palate. (Eg. prosecco, campari, vermouth, lillet, pimm's).
Back of House: The area of a restaurant that guests are not allowed. The kitchen, dish-washing area and wait station are areas where we talk dirty to each other and say mean things about the guests.
Bar-back: An assistant for the bartender. A bar-back usually runs glasses through the dishwasher, stocks the beer and wine bottles, changes kegs and generally is lorded over by the bartender.
Behind: "Don't back up or you'll wear the tray I'm carrying". A term used to alert those around you that you are moving behind them - helps avoid spilled trays, etc.
Board: An ever growing number of chits filled with food orders that the kitchen must remember and produce for your dining pleasure.
Bussing: Term used for clearing off and resetting tables after guests have left. In busier restaurants this is done by the busperson (also called a busser or a runner). A pre-buss is the general table maintenance while the guests are still dining (removing empty glasses, dirty plates etc.)
Campers: The dreaded guests that sit on the bill for an eternity chin wagging and drinking water. Usually, they're the last table in the restaurant.
Canape: Pronounced [can-uh-PAY] this is another word for an hors D'oeuvre when you want to sound fancy.
Charcuterie: The area of cooking devoted to prepared meats such as bacon, pate, terrine, sausage, confit, etc.
Check Average: The amount of money each individual spends in the restaurant. Higher check averages means higher tips/profits, so have another drink!
Chit: The piece of paper on which a table's order is recorded to be given to the kitchen so the food can be prepared and served. Often printed from a computer system or written in chicken scratch by the servers.
Covers: This term directly translates to 'customers' it just has one less syllable so it's easier for us to remember.
Deuce: A table of two.
Digestif: A drink served at the end of the meal to supposedly aid digestion. (Eg. brandy, port, sherry, grappa, ouzo).
Eighty-Six: This is a general term for something that is no longer available (run out of). If the kitchen runs out of a particular dish, that dish is "86'd". It can also refer to the termination of someones employment (Eg. "Did you hear? Todd got 86'd last night!").
Expediter: The staff member who coordinates plated food together by table number, so the servers can get it to the proper guests.
En Command: see 'On the fly' in the next terminology post.
Flat Seated: A terrifying term for any server, this is usually the result of poor planning by the 'front of house' and the 'hostess' seating four 'deuces' and three 'four-tops' at once, which will inevitable lead to being 'in the weeds'.
Floor: The area where dining happens and servers run amok. Usually split into sections.
Front of House: Refers both to the area of a restaurant where guests are allowed (dining room, bar) and to the staff who work there (bartender, server, floor manager). Short-form = FOH.
4-top: A table of four. This can be extended to 6-top or 8-top as well.
Host/Hostess: The person who greets the guests and shows them to their table. The host is also responsible for keeping track of reservations and waiting lines. A good host is invaluable, a bad one - disaster!
In the Weeds: A colloquial expression used when persons are near or beyond their capacity to handle a situation or cannot catch up. Struggling. Very busy. Weeded.
Line: The line is the area that divides the cooks from the wait staff. It is where the food is placed to await pickup (a place it usually waits longer than desired!).
Let me know if I have missed anything or if something begs further definition!
Thank you to those who have commented, I have updated the post!
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
It's nice now and again to head off the beaten paths of our fair city and enjoy the culinary delights offered on the side streets (or even back alleys in the case of Bijou). The Annex Room is one of these side-street delights. Located on Albert st. it offers stone-oven flame-fired pizzas among other things.
If you haven't been, I recommend strolling in if only to see the incredible oven used to bake the pizzas. It is gigantic and looks as if at any moment it could come to life, like some enchanted kitchen appliance from a fairytale and make its way onto the Festival stage.
The service is warm and friendly; I am promptly offered a cocktail and I accept, my comrades decline. The martini arrives, perfectly shaken (by owner Christine), of generous quantity and served with plump olives.
The server directs us toward the Thai Crunch Salad to start and we select some pizzas to share. The salad delivers nicely and though it isn't particularly original its elements are in perfect harmony and the peanut sauce tempts me to lick the plate.
One of our pizzas is a 'Chicken Caesar' topped with fresh romaine and drizzled with a garlicky Caesar aioli. The crust is a great balance of chewy/crunchy/soft and here the originality shines! Our second pizza has a somewhat soggy centre but all is forgiven when we reach dessert; with the first mouthful of Peanut Butter Cheesecake we are transported! Such decadence is certainly share-able.
What a great tucked-away spot to settle in with some great friends. We look forward to joining you again!
Monday, June 6, 2011
We're a few days removed from the final round of this year's Iron Chef Uptown competition that saw Langdon Hall get edged out by Bijou Restaurant in battle rhubarb.
In case you missed the details of Stratford's participation in this event I've boiled it down for you:
Bijou, of course, won twice. Beating Langdon Hall and Versus Restaurant.
Stratford Chef School defeated Conestoga College.
Simple Fish and Chips made it a very close and entertaining battle (Slap-Chop ftw!) against Bhima's Warung.
Big wins all around; A great showing by the Stratford community. Bijou showed off their Titan sized cooking skills. The Food Bank of Waterloo Region received enough donations to allow them to distribute over $25,000 worth of food to those in need. And I have something to blog about!
None of this would've happened without Uptown 21. This is an event that is being talked about from London to Toronto and beyond. It creates a great sense of community in southwestern Ontario, not just among cooks and restaurant types, but between restaurants and farmers, too. It also showcases the underrated talent in this area to those who would not otherwise be aware (I am determined now to try 3-6-9 in Woodstock!)
Those who watch the TV version of Iron Chef might feel that they're watching an impossible task - featuring an ingredient that has only just been revealed in multiple courses? All while being judged and scrutinized? How do they do it? The trouble is, it's TV, therefore there is an element of fake. Those cooks you see working miracles in kitchen stadium all know the secret ingredient well in advance. There are cuts and lapses in time. It makes for great viewing, but it is part illusion.
What happens at Nick and Nat's is like the grittier version of Iron Chef America. (Picture Clint Eastwood compared to Vin Diesel and you'll get the idea). These chefs have often just finished 10+ hour shifts in their own kitchens and come into an unfamiliar space to cook 3+ courses featuring an ingredient that's identity is actually unknown until 15 minutes before the clock starts. It seems impossible and yet the dishes we've seen over the last couple months have been outstanding.
By donating their establishment, time, equipment and (at the peril of their bottom line) their pantry, Nick and Nat have created an event that I am already looking forward to for next year (though I hear rumours of a redux at Savour Stratford in the fall!). I hope they continue and that the fan base for such a great event keeps growing. Show your support for Uptown21, make the short drive to Waterloo to eat at this great restaurant, you won't be disappointed (some of the best service to be had in our area!).
several videos of the final still up on ustream, plus a few from previous battles, including the Chef School/Conestoga battle and Simple vs. Bhima's! *Caution: a few of the videos grind my computer to a halt.*
Saturday, June 4, 2011
In 1969, at what is now the Westin Hotel in Calgary, Alberta, an ingenious restaurant manager named Walter Chell created a drink in honour of the opening of a new Italian restaurant. The story varies slightly: was tomato/clam the soup of the day? or did Walter draw from his Italian background creating his own 'clam-ato' in the style of spaghetti alle vongole? Either way the result of his efforts could arguably be called Canada's Official Cocktail!
So how does our little town do when it comes to the Caesar?
I've investigated and I have to say, though every bar in town does serve a Caesar, I'm more than a little disappointed at the distinct lack of ingenuity!
Is celery salt really so delicious that it need not be improved upon?
I think not.
Due to the fact that I refuse to pick a 'winner' from the average Caesars available, I'll skip straight to the honourable mentions...
Molly Blooms: kudos to your $3 Sunday Caesars, delicious and a steal (perhaps made tastier by the Jazz?).
The Pour House: you surprised me with a spicy bean and an inventive rim, a round of applause!
Foster's: best garnish - though I think you get it from a jar?
Bentley's: your choice of glassware is the most satisfying/appropriate, good thick glass that somehow suits the beverage.
I encourage all of our local restaurants - step up your game a little, there are some great cocktails in this city, why has the Caesar been left as a regular old clamato/vodka concoction?
Where's the tequila?
Why not Jack friggin' Daniels?
Freshly grated horseradish perhaps?
Try making your own rim?
Use a local/interesting hotsauce?
C'mon Stratford, there are millions of possibilities, we can do better!