Food, Fun and Jonah

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Best Burger in NYC Challenge: Umami Burger

Okay, so I was supposed to post once a month about a burger I had in New York. In fact, over a month ago, I said I’d review two burgers in September. Six weeks and no burger reviews later, some of you might be wondering, what happened (others of you might be wondering “wait, does he still have a blog?”, still, others of you might wonder “How can we fix Social Security?” or “How can we ever claim war is justified if Christ makes it clear that violence is unacceptable?”). I probably won’t answer the majority of those questions in this post, but I might be able to answer the first.

I said that I was going to try a new burger a month. In September and October, I actually tried three new burgers, but I failed to review any of them. It’s worth mentioning that I never said I’d post a review each month, just that I’d try a new burger a month…I didn’t lie…I just delayed the realization of the truth (that last line made me feel like I was channeling Bill Clinton, so if I start talking about creating a bridge to the 21st century, that’s why).

I have a history of not following through with plans on my blog, so I apologize, but I am now thoroughly determined to give you my next burger review. After all, there’s nothing so wrong with my blog that can’t be fixed with what’s right with my blog (some of you ‘90s people may have gotten that). Quite fortunately, my College Writing Professor gave me an assignment to review a restaurant. That assignment took me straight to Greenwich Village’s Umami Burger.

Umami Burger is a small restaurant group originally based in Southern California. Quite ironically, I never went to Umami during my 16 years living in California. Umami get’s it’s strange name from the fifth dimension of flavor. For generations, most chefs believed there to be four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. However, in 1908, in a culinary revolution, a fifth taste was discovered, the taste of Umami. I mean, that’s really a big deal. Think: People have been eating for thousands or millions of years! (the number fluctuates depending on what group of people I’m talking to. You know, cause like, if I tell scientists that people have been eating for thousands of years, they’ll put their hands on their hips of their labcoats and say “So what? Cave men persons just starved?” whereas if I’m at church, and I say that people have been eating for millions of years, someone would probably say “And by people you just mean one person, God, eating by himself, in heaven, in his heavenly pre-world bachelor pad, because earth hadn’t been created yet.”)

God, right before he's going to make dinner, long before the creation of the concept of "a table for two"

God, right before he’s going to make dinner, long before the creation of the concept of “a table for two”

The point is that people have been eating for a reaaaaaaaaaaaally long time, and for the longest time, we thought there were only four tastes. And then, all of a sudden, just 105 years ago, an entire new taste is discovered! That’s huge! That’s like, discovering another continent-not even, cause Europeans only discovered some continents a few hundred years ago (cause, you know, continents don’t count as existing until it’s spotted, claimed and desecrated by a European dude). This is like, discovering that, all this time we had a third arm that we never noticed or that we never used. That’d be reaaaaaaaally creepy. Still, I bet a few of you looked behind your back to see if you had another arm back there or something.

One of life's rules is that a continent isn't discovered until a European sees it. Other similar rules include "A tyrant isn't a threat to freedom unless he fights America" and "the book of Leviticus should never be taken literally unless it helps me win an argument".

One of life’s rules is that a continent isn’t discovered until a European sees it. Other similar rules include “A tyrant isn’t a threat to freedom unless he fights America” and “the book of Leviticus should never be taken literally unless it helps you win an argument”.

Umami has just opened up its first location in NYC and has received rave reviews, with some New Yorkers calling it “The Best Burger in the city”. So, will the California based burger become the best Burger in New York?

From the moment I walked into Umami, it became clear to me that Umami intends to provide many unique additions to the world of Burgers (more unique than even their adding of a word to the dictionary that can rhyme with salami, a contribution that no doubt has just made some jingle writer’s day).

 

Yep, he came back to the article once I mentioned salami. That's cause of the company called Columbus makes salami, not because of some racist Italian stereotype. I mean, I'm Italian myself and, yeah, they thought of the name, not me.

Yep, he came back to the article once I mentioned salami. That’s cause of the company called Columbus makes salami, not because of some racist Italian stereotype. I mean, I’m Italian myself and, yeah, they thought of the name, not me.

Umami has a full service bar (which, if the burger turned out to be a disaster, would have been very much appreciated), is decorated with modern art, and features an extremely limited menu. As I was dining alone, I brought a pen and paper with me (as I often do when going out). This, inevitably, prompted questions from both diners and staff alike: “What do you write for?” “How long have you been a food critic?” “How can you be older than 21?” and “Did anyone ever tell you that looking into your eyes is like looking into a beautiful dream?” (Only 1 of those quotations was made up).

I ordered the ambitiously dubbed “Manly Burger”. The burger just doesn’t sound like something I’d order. I’m not a fan of gender stereotypes (especially on food-food isn’t supposed to divide us, it’s supposed to bring us together!), and I feel like anyone who feels so compelled to call an item on his menu “manly” just isn’t secure in his own gender. Which is fine, you know, I get that, I don’t judge. Just don’t try to mislead us: embrace who you are and call it the “I’m in a loveless marriage and I think the guy working the deep fryer is kinda cute” burger. On that awkward note, let’s get back to the actual burger.

I'd like to think that they helped design the "Manly Burger".

On the other hand, I’d like to think that they helped design the “Manly Burger”.

The hamburger itself, made exclusively from premium Wagyu Beef, was freshly ground right after I ordered it. I was so grateful that the kitchen just assumed I wanted my burger cooked medium rare, because when it came out, it was dripping onto the plate. The burger was nestled on a toasted brioche bun that had the letter U emblazoned on the top.

A stunning picture...which was not taken by me.

A stunning picture…which was not taken by me.

Unlike my typical favorite burger joints, Umami didn’t have a wide repertoire of toppings, and it banned all substitutions. The server explained the restaurant’s philosophy by using one of the most detestable phrases in the English language, the anthem of mediocrity itself: “Less is more”.

However, in the case of Umami Burger, the limited approach kind of worked. Melted Beer Cheddar Cheese cascaded down the sides of the burger, and fried onions and bacon ends provided a salty crunch that kept the flavors balanced. While the flavors complimented each other, the sauce (whatever it was in the first place) was quickly lost in the shuffle.

This Pig from Babe has absolutely nothing to do with this post. Well, nothing except that he has this adorably persuasive look that reminds me of me.

This Pig from Babe has absolutely nothing to do with this post. Well, nothing except that he has this adorably persuasive look that reminds me of me.

The French fries were topped with truffle cheese and truffle salt. The flavor was rich, and the cheese was so melty that it almost created a virtual dip for the fries. The fries had four different sauces, all served in ceramic spoons. Some sauces worked better than others: The house made ketchup and jalapeno ranch were too liquidy, but the garlic aioli had a terrific texture and the Diablo sauce (sort of like a really spicy chipotle mayo) provided the memorable heat that I just wasn’t getting from my burger, my fries or from the conversation between the couple next to me that I was listening to. Seriously, the guy was looking at his phone, like, the whole time. And then he stole her French fries without even looking up. Just another typical Casanova that you find in New York…

There was some pretty fierce competition for the "Casanova of New York" title...

There was some pretty fierce competition for the “Casanova of New York” title…

I think a testament to the greatness of Umami Burger is the fact that there were a lot of reasons I shouldn’t have enjoyed my meal. The burger are sparsely topped, the menu is limited, substitutions are banned (limited resources and no choice! It’s like a Central Asian Soviet Bloc country…), I dined alone (and yes, while it’s cool to pretend you’re a food critic, it gets old after a while, just like all my other fake personas; political speech writer, therapist, playwright, astronaut insurance agent) and, above all, there was no fountain Diet Coke. Despite all of this, I absolutely loved my burger. The quality of the meat alone made it worth the entire trip, and the toppings on the burger, while limited, were chosen exceptionally. Umami probably won’t end up being the greatest burger in New York (technically on my list, it is right now), but it was certainly a great stop on the journey.

A view of the entire meal...wait...there's a plate across from me...so did I eat alone or not?? Yeah, I did. This is just from some photographer on Yelp.

A view of the entire meal…wait…there’s a plate across from me…so did I eat alone or not?? Yeah, I did. This is just from some photographer on Yelp.

Here’s the breakdown:

Meat-9.5/10 The meat was the driving force behind this burger. I’ve only had a handful of burgers (not sure how you could possibly have a handful of burgers, unless they were sliders, but let’s hope not because those are disgusting) that had better quality meat than Umami.

Bun-8.5/10 The bun held together, was toasted and had terrific sweet Briocjhe flavor. Oh, yeah, and having the letter U branded on it was kind of neat. Sort seemed insensitive to the dead cow underneath it, but, you know, whatever.

Toppings-8/10-The lack of variety of toppings was a little disheartening, and the sauce got completely lost in the burger, but the beer cheddar cheese was so good that it helped make up for it.

Specialty Toppings-4/5 I enjoyed the crispy onions and the bacon end pieces, but the toppings are hardly the star of the burger.

Engineering-4.5/5-The flavors all worked together as a perfect team (you know, because flavors are always better when they choose to stand together than when they choose to stand alone…and yeah, I don’t know why I’m quoting some nebulous piece of rhetoric I like to use). The lack of foresight with their sauce is the only thing keeping that ranking down.

Sides-4/5-Great fries, two terrific sauces, and yeah, then two others that missed the mark.

Result-38.5/45 or

8.5 out of 10.

Throughout my meal, I found myself staring at a photograph of an old man. He was bald, wore wide glasses and looked like a cross between Gandhi and the guy on the cover of monopoly. His name was Kikunae Ikeda, discoverer of the taste of umami. The picture couldn’t be more appropriate (as in fitting for the restaurant, not morally appropriate. I mean, it was completely tame in that regard too, now that I think about it). Just as Ikeda discovered a new flavor, a new approach to making the quintessential American meal has been discovered, in a city full of predictable burgers, at Umami Burger.

Yeah, not so much like Ghandi now that I look at him again. Or the Monopoly guy. Maybe the Japanese Geraldo.

Yeah, not so much like Ghandi now that I look at him again. Or the Monopoly guy. Maybe the Japanese Geraldo.

Best Burger in New York Challenge: New York Burger Company

With a name like “The New York Burger Company”, you certainly set up the expectation of being your namesake’s true ambassador. The precursory the” has a sort of definitive quality about it. But, just like how “The Old Spaghetti Factory” should hardly be viewed as the” definitive standard for spaghetti (the only thing honest and definitive in its title is the fact that the establishment is rather old), similarly, the” New York Burger Company is not quite the definitive New York Hamburger, though it makes a good showing.

The first Burger in my New York Burger Challenge.

The first Burger in my New York Burger Challenge.

This Burger makes the category of my “August” Burger. As I started this challenge on August 30th, it occurred to me that I had one Burger to review before the end of the month. So yes, while this is technically September, this really counts as August’s Burger, so expect me to find an excuse to eat another Burger this month, or even two (Since, you know, September is National Burger Month, and September is my birthday month, those two facts hardly being idle coincidences, just like how March is host to both Rick Perry’s birthday and self-injury awareness month).

Last Friday, I went out in search of my first Hamburger to review in New York. The closest Burger was from the New York Burger Company, just around the corner from my apartment. The New York Burger company typically does not make any “Must-try” lists, but I figured if I found the perfect Burger the first night out, that this entire challenge would be pointless. View this like a TV drama that lasted four (or eight) seasons too many, where we start recycling old plots, stretch out everyday occurrences for the sake of extending contracts, and where we basically create a more challenging world for the sake of making something that should only take an hour into an epic, yearlong event. I may or may not be talking about a show where a government agent runs around with a gun, making death threats in a husky voice (as most government agents do).

Moving on from poorly veiled criticisms that alienate my friends, let’s talk about the Burger: The Burgers come pre-designed with a few specialty toppings, leaving you the liberty to customize the rest. I ordered the “Tri-Beca Burger”, served with bleu cheese, avocado, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and jalapeno, along with an order of fries and a Diet Coke. After briefly listening in on three parallel conversations while waiting, my order was called.

The meat, cooked medium rare, was quite flavorful, and it was certainly the driving force behind the Burger. The Brioche Bun (like all good Brioche Buns) preformed its job; providing support and even a slight measure of sweetness when you least expect it. You know, kind of like that nice architect guy from “Titanic” (You remember, he was the guy from the cast who went to acting school before the movie).

Maybe if he concentrated on his book long enough, he could ignore James Cameron's bad script.

Maybe if he concentrated on his book long enough, he could ignore James Cameron’s bad script.

The toppings were fresh-the lettuce and onion were crunchy, and from a textural standpoint were sound. However, they ultimately were a little bland, and they got lost in the shuffle. For instance, raw Jalapenos should add a great deal of spice to a burger; the burger I ate had the spice of a 25 year old marriage. Additionally, the Bleu Cheese was waaaaaaay too watery, and throwing a Brioche sponge at the problem wasn’t going to help (which was surprising, given Brioche’s natural tendency to be ranked alongside Challah as “bread most likely to be found in a box of cleaning supplies”). The bacon was crispy, but was limited in quantity. Altogether, the toppings, while top quality, missed the mark in terms of flavor.

From an engineering standpoint, the hamburger held together magnificently (thanks in part to the beautiful Brioche Bun…that’s what happens when you eat a bun that reminds you of an architect…you know, cause that means the burger will stay together because architects design things, not because architects are especially beautiful). From a flavor engineering perspective, the burger was not quite as good as I would have hoped.

Yeah...definitely not because architects are beautiful. Frank Lloyd was many a thing, but suave he was not.

Yeah…definitely not because architects are beautiful. Frank Lloyd was many a thing, but fantabulous he was not.

The flavors were muddled (it wasn’t until this paragraph that I even remembered that avocado was somewhere in the mix!) and, while they should be able to compliment eachother on paper, the ingredients never worked together as a flavor team. (Flavor Team is a term I just coined…right now…just keep watching, this will be the new culinary term all chefs use, and it will then turn into a reality cooking show called “The Flavor Team”, and eventually will serve as a faint inspiration for a direct to video film with talking dogs called “Flavorbuddies”, where the dogs must learn to work together to stop an evil chef from taking over their owner’s beloved but financially struggling restaurant).

And, of course, he would be the one with the catchprase your five-year old would quote for the next year.

And, of course, he would be the one with the catchprase your five-year old would quote for the next year.

By now, you might be wondering, if the toppings and engineering had this many problems, is it even worth it to go to New York Burger Company? I’d wager it is. Beyond the meat and bun finesse, NY Burger Company has some of the best fries in the city. Made per order, the potatoes are fresh and the fries are crispy. Better than the fries, however, are the dipping sauces. Most gourmet burger or Belgian fry eateries will charge you per sauce. NY Burger Company has a free gourmet sauce bar: Horseradish Aioli, Jalapeño Ketchup, Maple Mustard, Basil Aioli and eight other sauces provide an amazing variety of flavor. Even if you just want a snack, stop in at New York Burger Company; get some fries or buttermilk onion rings. They’re definitely worth it.

Sadly, my experience at New York Burger Company ended on a somewhat sad note. After noticing they served shakes made with Haagen Dazs Ice cream, I promptly ordered one to go for dessert. This proved to be a mistake: While the ice cream was top quality (like all great Haagen Dazs ice cream, it was made by a New York Jewish company masquerading as Germans…I know…it’s weird), the milkshake was simply, well, too milky. I typically prefer shakes to lean on the side of liquid than solid (A shake is the dominion of straws, not spoons, unless you’re stealing somebody’s whipped cream), but this was just too much.

Here’s the breakdown:

(out of 10 possible points)

Meat Quality-8

Bun Quality-8.5

Usual Suspects (Standard Toppings)-7.5

(The rest are out of 5 possible points)

Specialty Toppings-3.5

Engineering-3.5

Sides-4.5

Shakes-2.5

Overall (Out of 10)-7.6

At best, New York Burger Company serves a very good burger that falls short of being great. The fries make the trip entirely worth it, and it’s a terrific spot for a quick lunch.

new york burger

The search for the perfect Burger will continue.

I feel like I need a “Next week on…” segment, but I have no idea where my culinary adventure will take me!

The Best Burger in New York City

best burger

 

If all nations came together to form one, massive culinary empire, it could easily be argued that New York City would be their culinary capital (and obviously kangaroos or sea otters would become this empire’s national animal…but that’s another story). New York’s restaurants are more diverse than those of Paris, more numerous than the eateries of San Francisco and have fewer “eat the whole thing and you get a free t-shirt” plaques on their walls than Texas. To attempt to try all of New York’s best food in one lifetime is improbable; to pay for all of New York’s best food without the backing of a philanthropist or a government subsidy would be an impossibility.

 

For the next four years, I’ll be living in New York. During my time in the city, I want to tackle a challenge of sorts, in a bid for greatness (something far more fulfilling than the challenge of say, graduating college). In light of this, I’m officially announcing my Burger challenge. My mission is to find the best Burger in New York City (yes, Burger, much like Diet Coke and Meerkats, deserves to be capitalized). While New York may be more famous for its pizza, hot dogs and steaks, Burgers have always held a special place close to my heart (insert joke about arteries being clogged).

 

Burgers taste good, and they bring people together; Republicans and Democrats, women and men (See how I switched the usual “men and women” thing people say? I loooooove the 21st Century), Christians and non-Christians, squirrels and manatees, all have been able to put aside their differences to sit down and eat a Burger (well, the Squirrels invited the manatees, but yeah, the water-land barrier prevented any summit, leaving them in a technical state of war to this day, just like the Koreas). Do you know what President Obama ate with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev? A Burger! The Camp David Summit’s menu? Another Burger! Lunch break at Appomattox Court House? Hamburgers again. The Last Supper? Burgers made by the hand of God. The whole unleavened bread thing was just an unfortunate translation error.

 

Apparently, President Obama stole Joe's fries.

Apparently, President Obama stole Joe’s fries.

I have spent the majority of my life trying to find the best Burger in the world; now I set out to find the best Burger in one of the world’s greatest cities. It may be a daunting challenge, it may be close to impossible, but in the words of Nelson Mandela, “It doesn’t quite seem so impossible once it is done.”

 

On an unrelated note, Judas ordered his Burger well done and Simon Peter ordered bacon on his burger, which totally ruined the whole Passover thing and set a bunch of things into motion.

On an unrelated note, Judas ordered his Burger well done and Simon Peter ordered bacon on his burger, which totally ruined the whole Passover thing and set a bunch of things into motion.

The plan (plans, while pretty cool, aren’t quite cool enough to be capitalized): As I’m a college student with the economic security of a Greek bonds salesperson, I’m only going to embark on a Burger quest once a month. I’ll eat at said Burger joint, and then upload my review, reviewing the Burger based off of the following seven criteria:

 

  1. Meat Quality (10 possible points) I will generally order my Burger medium rare or medium, depending on the location. I’ll only order beef; this isn’t because I’m attempting to launch a cow genocide or because this is my way of further angering chick-fil-a (after my whole ‘go to chick-fil-a as a Muslim’ thing, I don’t think I can make them more angry at me than they already are anyhow). Rather, this is simply because beef has more fat, more flavor and yeah, it’s a hamburger, who wants to eat turkey or chicken?
  2. Bun Quality (10 possible points) I won’t do lettuce wraps. And I will refuse to cut my Burger. I’ll probably expound on my reasons why at a later date.
  3. Usual Suspects (10 possible points) The “Usual Suspects” refers to (well, for starters, an amazing movie line) the standard toppings. This includes lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and cheese.
  4.  Specialty Toppings (5 possible points) Think things like bacon, egg, avocado, sauces, ditto, ditto, etc, etc.
  5. Engineering (5 possible points) This refers to both the practical engineering, or how the burger holds together, and the flavor engineering, or how the flavors compliment eachother. Engineering is crucial when rating hamburgers, because well intentioned ingredients can fall apart if improperly managed (much like corporations, governments or chicken bobsled expeditions).
  6. Delightful Companions (5 possible points) This refers to fries, onion rings or any side dishes, not to the quality of my friends who dine with me…though that’s certainly an idea…or maybe not.
  7. The Unknown (5 possible points) This category will change depending on the location. If While it’ll typically deal with milkshakes, it’s subject to change if the restaurant fails to serve any.

These seven criteria will determine my ranking. Some, may wonder, why I’m reviewing fries and shakes instead of just the Burger. It’s my belief that we are shaped by those around us. So just as much as you are influenced by your friends, family, heroes, environment and entertainment, the Burger experience is influenced by what you drink and by what you eat with it on the side.

This endeavor will have its challenges; there will be long lines, bad Burgers, restaurants without Diet Coke, toppings that cost $2 each, French fry thieves and a lot of reaaaaaaaaaaaaally sad cow families, but the endeavor is worth the cost when you remember that perfection lies at the end of the journey. For it is Burgers, not baseball, film, religious hypocrisy or political hyperbolic demagoguery, that is the true American pastime.

In the words of John F. Kennedy, “And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”

 

Let the search begin.

127 ways to tell that your meal at a restaurant is going to be abysmal.

Exactly one week ago, I posted a status mentioning “The 127th way to tell if your restaurant is going to be abysmal”, prompting my friends to ask “What are the other 126 reasons?” So, suffice to say, challenge accepted. After a week where I balanced debate, life, cookies and college applications, I have 127 ways to tell if your meal at a restaurant is going to be abysmal.

Now, if my status just said “The 22nd way to tell if your restaurant is going to be abysmal”, my job would have been a lot easier. “But the future isn’t for the faint of heart”, to quote Ronald Reagan, so with that said, I present to you my 127 reasons (Almost all based off of real experiences from my life or the lives of my friends and family):

1. If the word “Buffet” is even near the restaurant’s logo.
2. If the bacon on your salad can be ethically consumed by a Rabbi.
3. If Diet Pepsi is on the menu.
4. I repeat, if Diet Pepsi is on the menu.
5. If your food moves on your plate by itself.
6. If instead of reading a menu, you merely point to pictures of what you want to eat.
7. If when you ask your server “What would they recommend”, they fail to give you an answer.
8. If there’s more smoke coming from the kitchen than from the “Smoking section” of a Las Vegas eatery.
9. If you have to see golden arches before ordering your meal.
10. If a clown with a bad commercial writer designs your entrée.
11. If you see a partially erased “D” or “F” on their FDA report.
12. If your tie is cut upon entering the restaurant.
13. If Baked Potato Toppings bars are involved.
14. If you pick out your steak on a meat trolley.
15. If your blue cheese dressing is in fact…deep cobalt blue (I may be looking at Wyoming right now).
16. If your Subway deli worker says that they can’t put lettuce on your sandwich because the lettuce truck isn’t due for another week.
17. If your Subway Deli Worker puts lettuce on your sandwich while the lettuce truck isn’t due for another week.
18. If they serve you a soda other than root beer or coke that your grandparents remember drinking as kids.
19. If your glass of milk looks more like chunky egg nog (Kansas…I shall never forgive you).
20. If the waitress cries after you ask for a menu (That was definitely an awkward evening, thank you very much, Hawaii).
21. If upon entering the restaurant, the entire establishment stares at you while a waitress mutters “new folk”. (Yup, Super Burger, sometimes it’s not nice to be in a place where “everybody knows your name”)
22. If, while eating a hamburger, the chef’s voice comes from a secret window behind you asking “how ‘ya like your burger?” (Super Burger…you have no end to your awkwardness).
23. If your sandwich toppings come in plastic pill containers in front of you on a counter (Super Burger…you haunt me).
24. If Burgers, chilli dogs, tacos, gyros, churros, smoothies, shakes and breakfast items are all on the same menu.
25. If you know more about the restaurant’s menu and recipes than the chefs themselves.
26. If at an Italian restaurant, upon greeting the waiter in Italian, he responds with “Hola”.
27. If your meal is named after a President who served after Polk and before Lincoln.
28. If, at any point in his life, Hitler ordered the same exact meal.
29. If you taste ice in the middle of your block of lasagna.
30. If your lasagna is served in perfect blocks.
31. If you’re even ordering lasagna at an American restaurant.
32. If the words “fried” and “opossum” ever appear together on the menu.
33. Frankly, if the word “opossum” ever appears on the menu.
34. If your waiter gives you an unwanted neck rub. (Really weird Chillis, really weird…)
35. If you wanted that unwanted neck rub.
36. If the number of peanut shells on the floor are below 100 and above 10.
37. If you’re able to go to an all you can eat buffet and get married for the same low price of 8.95…actually, for any price, really, if buffets are involved. (Only in Nevada…)
38. If the word “mystery” has any place in your entrée.
39. If you can’t tell if your hamburger patty is actually a veggie patty.
40. If you even ordered a veggie patty.
41. If your sliders live up to their name. (Atlanta…)
42. If your burrito is covered in what can best be described as …pasta sauce with a troubled past (Wahoo’s, you are a scourge to the Hispanic community).
43. If your eatery has the word “Chubby”, “Jumbo” or “Fat” in its title.
44. If their entry way has a plaque on the wall advertising that it has “The best thousand island dressing in town”.
45. If upon your ordering of a sandwich, the deli worker asks “Do I really have to?”
46. If your waiter refuses to speak to women at the table.
47. If your bread for your sandwich can substitute as a grease sponge.
48. If a combination of a poorly made chili omelet and a nauseous stomach results in the redecoration of the entryway.
49. If your nachos are fuzzy. (La Fogata…Spanish for moldy hell)
50. If your sandwich maker is astonished when you ask if your sandwich contains anything besides meat.
51. If upon asking for a substitution, your waiter replies “Fine, you can have it that way, but it won’t be any good”.
52. If the restaurant is home to dogs…whether they be on or off the menu.
53. If the most interesting part of the meal is overhearing the restaurant owner and her husband fight.
54. If the most entertaining aspect of the meal was waiting in an hour long line in the middle of Los Angeles.
55. If the meal comes with a toy.
56. If every menu item is served in a mug…including the steak.
57. If they use doughnuts for their hamburger buns (Colorado…)
58. If your restaurant could’ve been one of the hideouts for Osama Bin Laden.
59. If upon asking your waiter for a coke, he suddenly believes you found out that their restaurant is just a front.
60. If your waitress refers to their “Thousand Island” as “Three Mile Island” dressing.
61. If the food is served in a troth of any kind.
62. If they clang bells or cymbals upon the completion of your meal.
63. If upon completing your meal, you’re given a free pig mask to take home (I’ll try and block that memory…)
64. If the only sound you hear from the kitchen is the humming and chiming of microwaves.
65. If the number of animal heads on walls exceed three.
66. If an animal head on the wall mechanically talks to you during your meal (Perhaps that’s why Famous Dave is so famous…)
67. If the best part of the restaurant is the wallpaper.
68. If the waitress warns you from ordering the chef’s special because the chef is in one of his “moods”.
69. If they mistakenly turn your “Happy Face” chocolate pancakes into a frown.
70. If you don’t want to be a fly on a wall because it’s too crowded (Sebastopol…you never cease to disgust me with your eateries)
71. If the Mariachi band is secretly insulting you in Spanish. (El Torito…)
72. If your porchetta sandwich turns out to be pig head. (It was a strange day in San Francisco)
73. If upon singing a Christmas carol a few days after Christmas, the waiter yells at you saying “Christmas is over in this establishment”.
74. If crab cake is on the dessert menu.
75. If your waiter believes in the “Five second rule”.
76. If the best part of your meal is the paper crown.
77. If your waiter asks for his tip in advance.
78. If your entrée is named after an obscure Eastern European dictator.
79. If they replace every reference to France on their menu, ranging from “freedom fries” to “liberty toast” to “American baguette”.
80. If “No shirt, no shoes, no service” is a law in name only.
81. If your Italian restaurant’s way of showing its menu’s authenticity is by adding an “o” to the end of all their sentences.
82. If your taco truck is a hearse by night.
83. If Llama meat is on the menu.
84. I repeat, Llama meat must not be on the menu. I even feel like I’ve committed evil by just suggesting this lamentable (llamentable) atrocity. Same goes for sea otters. And polar bears. And kittens.
85. If you see a waiter using a spatula to swat flies.
86. If their bar serves anything remotely similar to salad.
87. If your waiter starts telling you about his recent bout with pink eye.
88. If half the menu is dedicated to dining choices for your canine companion.
89. If there’s a longer wait for the vending machine outside than there is for a table in the restaurant.
90. If your taqueria’s way of being festive is constantly playing “Feliz Navidad” for the month of December.
91. If you’re ordering seafood in any state where wagon trains and settlers once passed through.
92. If you have to walk through a metal detector in order to be seated.
93. When they serve French fries with your burrito.
94. If your waiter takes your order with a bad Marlon Brando impersonation. (Ironically, the restaurant shut down a month later)
95. If you have to tip the waiter for him not to sing.
96. If your waiter completely ruined any sense of trust you had in people by telling you that the restaurant served diet coke only for you to receive diet pepsi.
97. If the queso on your nachos is the same color of a construction vest (Nebraska, you shouldn’t even be allowed to make Mexican food, matter of fact, let’s be safe: Don’t even get near a kitchen).
98. If your prime rib can neither be considered a rib or prime.
99. If you hear the cries of dying animals coming from the kitchen.
100. If your hot fudge sundae turns into a milkshake somewhere between the kitchen and your table.
101. If the crunchy object in your rattlesnake sausage can be best described as scales.
102. If you’re going to a house of pancakes or waffles.
103. If bibs are compulsory.
104. If your eatery has ever been featured on “Restaurant makeover” or “restaurant impossible”.
105. If can openers are the most commonly used utensil in the kitchen.
106. If at a gourmet crab cook-off, the table next to you is full of middle aged men making their crab shells talk.
107. If there’s a whole section on the menu devoted to cereal.
108. If vegetables are as rare as unicorns in the inner city. (Note: In the inner city, not in a cave in North Korea)
109. If they host their town’s annual butter sculpting contest.
110. If your food passes by your plate on a conveyor belt.
111. If the little creamers are looking especially appetizing.
112. If you’re 30,000 feet off the ground.
113. If fish is served in stick form.
114. If you’re the only one in the place who didn’t park a Harley before walking in.
115. If the restaurant includes a shower for your convenience.
116. If there’s a gun rack next to the coat rack in the entry way.
117. If the steak used to be the restaurant owner’s daughter’s pet.
118. If the restaurant’s take on fusion cuisine is “Scandinavian-Polynesian”.
119. If anything can be deep fried for 50 cents extra.
120. If their meat quality turns you into a vegetarian.
121. If your burger joint has any references to monarchies in its title.
122. If your eatery is the secret meeting place for West Virginia white pride.
123. If your fortune cookie gives you an omen of doom.
124. If there are more grammatical errors on their menu than in a Scorsese script.
125. If the packet of hot sauce is the best part of the meal.
126. I repeat, if they do not have Diet Coke on the menu.
127. If you overhear a chef planning on bringing food from McDonalds for the entire kitchen staff for dinner.

The Great Guacamole Missile Crisis Part II

Author’s Note: This is the 2nd Part to a two part on series. For the background, read Part 1.

50 years ago, the world watched and waited anxiously as two superpowers stared each other down. Military Forces were put on alert. Diplomats haggled. Politicians anxiously eyed half morbid\half cute red telephones and Hollywood directors prepared to receive endless material for future movie clichés as the world witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis. A few weeks ago, I wrote about “The Great Guacamole Missile Crisis”, and even I, your hardly humble author, didn’t know that it was the 50th Anniversary of the crisis until after I posted. The coincidence felt…uncanny, deadly, morbid and strangely…Faustian…actually it was hardly Faustian at all, but I like utilizing a prolific vocabulary even when it doesn’t make much sense. The tension was felt all over the world during the brief, terrifying moments that soon became infamous in history as “The Cuban Missile Crisis”. However, if you can imagine the fear of that day, or if you can remember it…imagine if it were repeated once more? What if history came back to haunt us…exactly 50 years later?

The place was not Cuba or St. Petersburg, yet it did not lack the same romantic charm as Havana or the Kremlin. The place was Rubio’s Mexican grill. Debate class was over and a friend and I were planning on dining on some well earned fish tacos. I did not require much time to make my decision: Like a true meerkat, I was quick and decisive. I walked up to the counter, exchanged my warm Italian smile with the cashier and then ordered two fish tacos especial with Guacamole and chips and, of course, an ice cold Diet Coke. My friend ordered two fish tacos and a water and then we proceeded to find seats in the near empty restaurant (It was after 4 and most Northern Californians are at home watching PBS’ “Rick Steves tours Europe” by then).

I sat down, took a sip from my Diet Coke and felt absolute joy. A long day was behind me, I was half paying attention to my friend’s delightful conversation along with the other lone table’s conversation as well, and I had a drink in my hand. Life was good. I was like…John F. Kennedy enjoying a dinner without Ted coming over to visit or Khrushchev before he was barred from visiting Disneyland (which, incidentally, was the event that got the whole “Cold War” started in the first place). However, disaster soon struck: Castro was about to have the last laugh, and while there would be no ICBM landing in New York, a disaster no less terrifying was about to occur: The awkward moment when Guacamole was on the line.

The server arrived with our food. She put on a smile, hiding her malicious intent to cause a disaster. She carried two trays, placing one in front of my friend, and one in front of me. The tacos looked beautiful, garnished with cabbage, aioli, sour cream, salsa, cilantro, lemon and lime wedges and Guacamole. However, it was at that moment that I realized that she forgot the side order of Guacamole. But before I fell on the floor in tears, she returned with the long lost possession.

The day began well enough…if only I knew the tragedy about to befall me as I bit into the glorious fish taco. Tranquility and happiness are eluding.

Her words carried a fake aura of kindness, as her true Machiavellian nature was about to become apparent. As soon as she opened her lips to speak, anyone from Kennedy to Nixon would’ve sensed an imminent disaster.
“I’m sorry,” She began, “Here’s your Guacamole.” Her eyes, however, did not look at me, they looked at my friend. Worse still, she placed the Guacamole on my friend’s tray. “Thanks! I was hoping I’d have extra Guacamole for my tacos.” my friend naively replied as she scooped out the Guacamole onto her plate. The server turned and flashed an evil grin of triumph towards me, like Stalin after the Russians took Berlin. She knew her work there was done.

What exactly was at stake in this conflict.

And thus it began: The short 1 minute Great Guacamole Missile Crisis. With a mere choice of the word “Your”, a decision to look at my friend first and to pick her tray rather than mine, my entire lunch plan went off course. Was I to let my friend eat my well earned Guacamole? Was I to sit idly by as perfection eluded me? Was I to be content to let the forces of evil sow division? I think not! The problem was vexing: My friend, unknowingly, was eating my Guacamole which she thought was intended for her, thus fulfilling the server’s evil plans of depriving me my Guacamole. Whatever the problem, time (and Guacamole) was running out, and I needed to act.

I examined my options: I could leap across the table, snatch the Guacamole, steal my friend’s food and race out of the restaurant and flee towards Argentina. However, viable as that option was, I decided that resorting to a conflict was just what the server wanted. On the other hand, I could awkwardly cough and drop subtle hints, but time was short and I needed to, to quote JFK, “toss my cap over the wall”. Similarly, I could be a normal person and let my friend eat the container of Guacamole in peace. However, giving in to the wishes and the designs of the waitress would only embolden her, like Castro. Evil would only triumph if “Good men did nothing”, to quote Edmund Burke. Instead, I decided to be firm and forceful (two qualities directly against my personality). I determined to follow in Kennedy’s words and “Do things, not because they are easy, but because they’re hard” (or that’s what I decided afterwards to justify my actions). I glared at my friend as she smiled and ate, hoping she would be the first to back down. However, my bluff was called, and I knew I needed to pick up the red telephone.

“I’ll have you know that that would be MY Guacamole you’re eating.”
The restaurant was empty, but it suddenly felt crowded. My blunt remark seemed to be the only thing to cut through the thick layer of tension. The waitress glanced over, hoping her schemes would stay the course. My friend looked up, still smiling, and yet suddenly confused. Like Kennedy, I knew my actions weren’t popular, but being a great leader isn’t about being liked. I wouldn’t be loved on that day, but I would be honored in history. Why? Because I stood up to evil servers, looked them in the eye and picked up the red telephone.

However, I quickly weighed the fact that if I offended my friend I would be desperately short on people to eat lunch with, factored in the fact that I have a really awkward time inviting people to eat with me, considered past times when I stole my friend’s snickerdoodle cookies and also remembered that I might not have enough money to pay for lunch and then quickly added
“So that’s why I wanted to let you know that I’m happy to share!”

I’d like to think that JFK would be proud of my actions.

The Great Guacamole Missile Crisis ended as quickly and anticlimactically as it began, and the rest of lunch was flavorful yet uneventful. Leadership has its price, and it’s worth roughly a side order of Guacamole and chips. Sharing food will always lead to its awkward moments, that fact will always be true, yet sharing can be rewarding (Especially if you’re getting someone else’s guacamole). It seems, after all, that the willingness to talk and share resolves the conflict and the problem (like the “Détente” of the culinary world). Sharing food can be uncomfortable, it can be a challenge, but if there’s to be peace at the dinner table, it must be a challenge that, as LBJ said, “We shall overcome.” Selfishness and hoarding food leads to division, to Guacamole Missile Crises and to communism (I don’t know how exactly it leads to communism…if anything, that would promote sharing, but I’m trying to be like JFK here so whatever). In other words, mankind must end hoarding Guacamole before hoarding Guacamole ends mankind.

The Great Guacamole Missile Crisis: Part I

“There is never a delight in owning anything unshared.”
-Seneca

This quotation may only make sense because our beloved Roman lived 1500 years before the invention of guacamole. Sharing is a concept that is much beloved by cultures and different religious philosophies across the globe; Quotations from the Bible, to the Talmud, to Buddhism, Hinduism, Humanism, Communism, the Qur’an and Oprah all embrace, to some extent, the virtue of sharing with others. However, rather than highlight the virtues of sharing resources, political power, God’s blessings and other less interesting concepts (Well…fine, God’s Blessings are important, it’s just not what this blog is about…I am anticipating a lightning strike shortly), I’m going to discuss the sharing of food.

When the Aztecs invented guacamole, they certainly weren’t into sharing it: In fact, crops like avocado caused tribes to go to war with one another. Or that’s at least a better excuse than the real reasons they fought.

What do Thanksgivings, elementary school lunch tables, UN refugee sites and prison cell blocks all have in common? Sharing of food! Sharing food can be quite remarkable at times: It brings us together, it shares our happiness with others, it fills two bellies rather than one and it spreads the joy of eating among our friends and family! Few things can be more persuasive when convincing someone to try a dish than parting with it yourself. Buddha put in best when he said that “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

Few deaths have been exploited as much as Buddha’s: Some of his followers use it as an excuse to be vegetarians, other Chinese restaurants throughout New York use his engraved-golden image as a way to convince people that their frozen-American made Chinese food is authentic.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to say for being selfish: After all, what makes more happiness? One belly 100% full or two bellies 50% full? Somehow the logic adds up. Also, that “kindness” of sharing food can be fundamentally flawed: Typically, people tend to share food more when they don’t like it, in some desperate attempt to get rid of it. At one dinner party, I convinced everyone that my meal was so amazing, that everyone simply had to try it: The result was a clean plate, the undesirable food gone, room left for me to eat a pastrami and another typical Thanksgiving. While not sharing food may have its merits, its merits tend to be exaggerated by cynics. However, while I am hardly a cynical person, the cynic can raise a fair point. How did sharing food work out for our beloved authors? Seneca’s old boss, Claudius, was poisoned by a plate of wild mushrooms. This in turn, worked out for Seneca, since he was promoted by Claudius’ successor, Nero. That is, until Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide. Except he died by slowly bleeding to death in a bath. If I have to die, I’d rather spend my last moments eating a plate of mushrooms. And Buddha? Some scholars believed that he died due to some bad pork that was shared with him by a peasant. Other scholars say it was due to a truffle or a mushroom (You think they’d learn about mushrooms a bit more, right?), and some unimaginative scholars say it was old age. Either way, this atrocity led to a bunch of Buddhist Monks advocating vegetarianism, which is probably why the religion suffered from low membership for a few hundred years (Similar problems happened with the Hebrews and Kosher law, until Christ fixed everything up with the new covenant. Bacon time!)

Thanksgiving…the holiday seemingly all about food has turned into my mortal enemy…more on that later.

Generally, however, I tend to reject the aforementioned cynical views. However, on Wednesday, I discovered a definitive argument for not sharing food. It involved Debate, a standoff that put the Cuban Missile Crisis to shame and Guacamole.

What would transpire in the span of ten minutes would test family, friendship and culinary history: Leaders would rise, tensions would mount and the world would watch silently in horror as the actions of one waitress began what was soon to be called “The Great Guacamole Missile Crisis”

Exactly 50 years later, history would repeat itself with a vengeance.

Author’s Note: Oddly enough, after spending 3 weeks without posting, and spending an evening going over various post ideas, I eventually decide to talk about guacamole, and chose to make a comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only after completing my post, did I realize that this is the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yep. Mhmm. Weird. Obviously, JFK’s ghost wanted me to write this.

Chips, salsa and a bit of foreign policy

Walking into Chevy’s is a lot like meeting a famous actor or actress. The meeting begins better than it ends, the conversation feels fake, and you tend to believe that the whole situation would’ve been a lot better 10 years earlier. Chevy’s used to be a pretty decent place to get Mexican food in Northern California, and while the guacamole and margaritas are excellent, I find the entrees leave much to be desired. All that aside, their salsa is positively addicting. I mean, they constantly serve and refill freshly made chips and house made fresh salsa. The salsa is refreshing with a subtle spice. It’s hard to explain, much like the admiration of famed actors or actresses: Maybe I like the salsa because of the nostalgia, maybe I like it because it looks absolutely stunning, maybe I like it because it moves me in very profound ways, at any rate, I highly recommend it.

Record for the amount of chips and salsa refills before ordering anything-4

But when you order chips and salsa, a side of a dilemma is served with it: And no, I’m not talking about the age old question of “How many orders of free chips and salsa can I eat and get away with before I actually buy anything?” The question I refer to requires us to turn to none other than United States Military Policy. But, before I get into making comparisons between Somali Pirates and people who arrive after you but get seated first, I must present some context.

It was a typical Sunday night. Actually, it was hardly a typical Sunday night: My family was at Chevy’s, celebrating one of my friend’s birthdays with her family. It was around 7:20 PM, and after I engaged in a series of awkward conversations with the hostess and three waiters, we were sitting down to a warm basket of chips and a bowl of salsa. The restaurant was going about usual business: Waiters were talking to one another, people were yelling at TV’s in the Cantina (No doubt using yelling at their team’s poor performance as a way to lash out about their loveless marriages, bad childhoods, uncooperative hair and rebellious pets), and every ten minutes or so, a diner celebrating his or her birthday would receive a sombrero on their head, free dessert and a mariachi band song.

But, today, I wish to talk about something far more intruiging than Chevy’s soft tacos. Today, I’m going to talk about the ongoing conundrum of tortilla chips being left behind in the salsa. This is a tragedy that has befallen civilization every since some wealthy American decided that winning the war in 1846 and taking Mexico’s land wasn’t enough, that Americans need to exploit Mexico further by mass producing and Americanizing their cuisine. You see, chips, especially restaurant chips, are so delightful because they are hot and thin (Insert joke about how people are delightful for similar reasons from time to time): However, this presents a challenge: What happens when, in your zeal to get as much salsa as you can on your chip, your chip breaks? Do you leave it there? Do you hope it dissolves? Do you scoop it out with a fork? Do you leave it behind and eat the remainder? Do you get another chip to bring it out?

The whole crisis feels eerily familiar to the Clinton years and US Army Policy: In 1993, after the Somali government collapsed, warlords rose into power in the divided country. One such leader withheld UN food and humanitarian aid from his starving people, prompting (in addition to countless other reasons, like “we just beat Saddam so easily that we never got to show off what our cool rangers could do, so let’s intervene in Somalia”) US and UN forces to intervene in the country. Basically, the US planned to enter a city called Mogadishu via helicopter, seize top enemy leaders, and leave on humvees (which, for the record, always seem to get the best parking spaces). However, while the rangers were being propelled from their helicopters, the helicopter was shot down by an RPG (giving the battle the nickname “Blackhawk Down”). Basically, US army policy is to not leave wounded, or even dead American bodies in some cases, behind. So the US sent in a rescue squad, but they got cut off. Then they had to send in another helicopter, but then that one got shot down, causing them to now have to send two rescue squads, and the whole process went on for a long time until the Pakistanis from the UN saved the US troops and they were able to evacuate.

Little did they know that years later, they would influence chip and salsa theory around the culinary world.

With those thoughts in mind, we can turn our attention back to more important matters, like chips and salsa: When our chips break, and we have “Tostitos down”, what do we do? Do we send in relief in the form of another chip to get it out? Do we “leave no chip behind”? Do we wait for our allies or dining companions to get it out on their own?

But, analogies can only last so long: The primary difference between “Black Hawk Down” and “Chips and Salsa” is the fact that tragedies involving chips being lost in the salsa bowl will never turn into an Oscar-winning movie*. But I suppose that could change: Maybe Hollywood would pay attention to the tragedies in cantinas as often as they pay attention to tragedies in wars, maybe candidates will try to find solutions to the problems involving “broken chips”, maybe our generals will learn from our friends south of the border, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll live to see the day where chips and salsa are required snacks in the White House Military Situation Room.

*See, I never really bought the 9\11 or Iraq War conspiracies, but Somalia conspiracies have a bit more validity: Could it be possible, that US troops didn’t intervene in Somalia because more than 500,000 civilians had been killed, 1.5 million more made homeless by the struggle and the country was turning into a breeding ground for terror, that instead they intervened because Ridley Scott was out of movie ideas and offered George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton a percentage of the gross if they intervened (plus, maybe some movie theatre popcorn)? The facts are getting harder to deny as the truth comes out…

In-N-Out and the American Dream

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”-G.K. Chesterton (With a name like that, you just know your best hope for life is to be quoted one day).

Last night, I came upon a heartbreaking travesty. I was reminded of the unspoken tragedy that befalls millions around America each day. No, I’m not talking about the 1 in 5 children that live in poverty in the US (Though that is really an important issue that needs to be addressed-Are you listening, Mitt and Barack?), I’m talking about something far more devastating: The fact that not all states have an In-N-Out Burger nearby.

You see, a friend of mine on Facebook reminded me, last night, how Californians who move to New York never get the chance to enjoy that familiar taste that seems to give life purpose (That’s why depression rates are higher on the East Coast compared to California). For us in California, In-n-Out is a lot like freedom, rainbows and kittens: Sometimes we take them for granted. We forget that there was once a time in the days of the pioneers where In-N-Outs were harder to come by. It was, in fact, only two short years ago when In-N-Out finally arrived within ten miles from my home (Northern California, you trouble me so). We grow accustom to In-N-Out, and at times we forget its greatness. One day, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime in the rest of your life (Casablanca anyone?), In-N-Out may be gone forever, and when it vanishes, we will ask ourselves “Where did all the time go?” or “What would I do for one more burger?” Even I, your hardly humble author, take In-N-Out for granted, typical Californian I am. Just three days ago, I commented “Well, we could go to In-N-Out, but I can go there anytime”. So, in light of that tragedy, and in order to right said wrongs, I decided that I needed an In-N-Out Burger.

Fun fact: Do you know that I once did an impromtpu speech on the topic In-N-Out? Watch the clip on 2012’s “Touche on Display”. Believe it or not, the speech on the burger managed to cover topics ranging from Margret Thatcher, Les Miserables and having faith in God.

On Wednesday, after debate class, a friend of mine drove me to In-N-Out in order to fulfill my duty as a Californian (Other Californian duties may include but aren’t limited to easting sashimi, not owning sweaters and saying “like” or “You know” five times a day). The burger is hardly a perfect one: The bun could have more flavor, the patty could be thicker, and they could wake up and smell the proverbial cocoa and add bacon on their menu (Bacon is the “Third Rail” of sandwiches…that was a joke about Medicare, but I have no idea what the political writers mean when they say “Third Rail”…is it like “Third wheel”?). While the burger may not be perfect, is a certainly amazing for fast food standards. I ordered my usual: Combo Number 1 with pickles, chopped chilies and mustard fried along with fries and, of course, Diet Coke. Maybe because they serve so many burgers each year that they have the science down or maybe it’s because they use quality and fresh ingredients or maybe it’s because they pick some of the brightest young minds to work their kitchens (Yeah, you think the reason why we haven’t found alternative fuels is because we aren’t working hard enough? Think again: We’re putting our best and brightest in In-N-Out kitchens), but whatever the cause may be, the result is exemplary: A perfect combination of flavors that will even make me, a burger connoisseur, fall madly in love with their fantastic creation. The subtle sweetness of the spread, the melted cheese, crisp lettuce and grilled onions, heat from the chilies and crunch from the pickles, the burger is reminiscent of Reagan’s tax policies: So simple, yet so good. Well, actually, complex supply side economic theories can complex at times, and if you don’t have social safety nets, they can unfairly target the poor and that’s not good, but you get the idea.

This poor soul lived a life in misery in Texas: She had a loveless marriage, a meaningless exsistence and well, she lived in Texas. Ultimately, her problems stemmed to the lack of In-N-Out. When In-N-Out finally opened, she burst into tears as she took her first bites. May her struggle and suffering be a reminder for us all.

So why does a burger aficionado like myself love In-N-Out? It’s not the greatest hamburger in the world, so why does it hold such a dear place in my heart? My answer is one word: America. You see, In-N-Out is more than just a mere hamburger: When Harry Snyder created In-N-Out in 1948, he held more in his hand than just a spatula, he held a vision. He made more than just a burger, he made a way of life. This issue is bigger than you, me, and even bigger than those people who order 4X4s. This is an issue of America.

When you walk by those familiar palm trees and when you enjoy the quality you can taste and cleanliness you can see, you are experiencing something far loftier and far greater than a meal. It takes more than somewhat spongy bread and slightly overcooked patties of beef to bring the smiles In-N-Out brings to any of the 275 locations near you. It takes heart, undaunted courage and a commitment to the American Dream.

In-N-Out represents everything right with America: Good food, efficiency, smiles and a strange obsession with bright colors in decorations. In-N-Out only uses American employees, American products and American courage (courage that comes in handy when facing irate customers asking for a copy of the secret menu). We need to look no further than our own brave men and women in uniform. While serving aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, three members of the US Navy were asked what their landlubber instincts longed for most: One said something boring about family, and the other said something else that was boring that I have since forgot. The third, the wisest of all the three, finally spoke: She said she missed In-N-Out.

So in similar spirit, we must follow the wise words of women and men in uniform (I actually never liked the term “in uniform”. I mean, waiters, UPS drivers and Disneyland employees wear uniforms too, are we supposed to pray for them on veteran’s day?) who are doing battle with terrorists. We must always remember and never forget In-N-Out, and we must never take it for granted. Taking up healthier options like a salad or a wrap and “saving In-N-Out for another time”? Ha! That’s just what the terrorists want! Nay, instead we must hold on to our burgers like we do our freedoms. For, to quote Ronald Reagan, “A good burger joint is only one generation away from extinction”. So I urge each and every one of you to follow your instincts, fulfill your patriotic duty, make your founders and humble author proud and, well, go to in-n-out.

Post Script: Given people’s patriotic moods yesterday, I was originally going to post this last night, but refrained as it might be in poor taste (ironic for a food blog). However, I sense my ties between burgers and the war on terror may have left some of you feeling like you had to keep in a somber mood in sprit of the anniversary of 9\11. Well, regardless, if you’re not laughing or eating a burger right now, then you’re just letting the terrorists win. So laugh, eat, and enjoy life.

Learning from the Japanese

“Japan’s very interesting. Some people think it copies things. I don’t think that anymore. I think what they do is reinvent things. They will get something that’s already been invented and study it until they thoroughly understand it. In some cases, they understand it better than the original inventor.”

When Steve Jobs first said these words, he was referring to Japan’s technological industry. The practice of studying someone else’s product\design and then reinventing it into your own masterpiece is a practice used in many walks of life, far beyond just electronics. Whether we’re talking about the Roman Empire in virtually any area (Seriously, have you read the Aeneid?), advertising, governments, etc, this method is quite common in the world, but it’s perhaps most common in the culinary world. In fact, “reinventing” classics has to be one of the most popular cooking methods in the 21st Century.

We can learn much from the Japanese, and I’m not just talking about their impressive interior decorating or effective gun control laws*. I am, not surprisingly, talking about their recipes. Asian-American\Southwestern fusion would be my very favorite cuisine. The contrast of spices and merging of Asian culinary finesse and flavorful American spice produces an extremely unique meal. That is why, on Saturday, I decided to take a risk in a foray into the Asian world, much like Commodore Perry and other explorers or William McKinley and other western imperialists. But, rather than desecrate, conquer, exploit, condemn and colonize, my plan was merely to make an impeccable dinner.

Designing gourmet burgers is a habit of mine (Which is not, in any way, a bad habit), but I’ve kept my designs somewhat confined to the Americas and Europe (Sort of like a self imposed “Monroe Doctrine”, except not really). In other words, this was definitely a new challenge. The burger was supposed to be Medium Rare, but as I’m afraid of fire\afraid of BBQs\really afraid of fire, I let someone else cook the burger, leaving it…well…“medium”. Then, I made a wasabi mayonnaise to add some heat to the meal. I used a lot of wasabi as I love spicy food, but ultimately you can add as much or as little as you like so long as the subtle flavor is still there. I then took some of the wasabi mayonnaise an added it to a Napa Cabbage cole slaw, which in addition to the cabbage had lemon juice, cilantro and green onions. The burger itself was served on a Kaiser roll, with a slice of tomato and thin slices of cucumber placed below the burger (The cucumbers were marinated in Italian Vinegar, which, in addition to the Kaiser Roll and Japanese Wasabi, completed the tour of the former Axis Powers). Lastly, the burger was topped with crispy beer-battered onion strings, slices of avocado and the wasabi cole slaw.

What was the result? The result was a culinary victory akin to the Japanese at the Battle of Tsushiama Straits (Read about that some day. It involves brilliant naval warfare tactics, the Nobel Peace Prize and Teddy Roosevelt. Suffice to say, it ends well). The crunch of the Napa cabbage and crispy onion strings provided the much needed textural element. However, the sweetness and slight tangy taste of the marinated cucumbers kept the balance of powers situated. Throw in the creamy component included with the avocado and then the spice of the wasabi, and the burger masterpiece was complete.

Culture Clash at it’s tastiest.

So, to use debate terminology, what’s the impact? Save from an amazing meal, what did we gain\learn from this burger? I think burgers, much like the one I designed, give us a chance to experiment. Since burgers and sandwiches are so ordinary to the public eye, they are the best vehicles to experiment, to fuse, to reinvent. Japanese cuisine and American food are hardly similar on the surface, but the vehicle of the burger can bring them together. The burger can take otherwise contrary elements, and mold them into one, perfect, solitary design. So, go out there! Cook! Reinvent the ordinary! Unify contrary flavors! Learn from the Japanese and from all cultures!

Who knows what the world would be like if we handled racial relations the way I handle hamburger designs…but, alas, that’s another story.

*And to all my 2nd Amendment loving friends, please remember that I just gave you the recipe to an amazing burger before you start coming over with your assault weapons to attack me.

Sandwich Theory

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”

Why such quotations by eccentric food writer, James Beard, do not appear as impromptu topics is beyond me. Regardless of that fact, today I wish to discuss the ever important topic of sandwiches. Sandwiches are classic lunch fare in many cultures, however, they carry with them a stigma of a lack of refinement. In my mind, that couldn’t possibly be further from the truth. For it is sandwiches that provide engineering skills and mechanical mastery into the culinary world. It’s in the art of sandwich making that we can find a way to take otherwise difficult ingredients and transport them conveniently between slices of bread. As a matter of fact, there is an entire science behind sandwich making, something I like to call “Sandwich Theory”.

Leonardo Da Vinci once commented that “Instrumental or mechanical science is the noblest and, above all others, the most useful.” While I’m not sure if I entirely agree with the quotation, I would wager that mechanical or instrumental science most certainly has it’s place in the world, and most certainly has it’s place in the sandwich world. That brings me to the topic of sandwich theory: Sandwich Theory isn’t some philosophical class you skipped in college about Western and Russian Imperialism sandwiching 3rd World countries between their hegemony. Sandwich theory is, in fact, the science of sandwich making. It applies scientific, engineering, artistic and ethical standards to the creation of sandwiches.

Sandwiches are not an easy craft to master: Sandwich Theory has a few basic standards or pillars, if you will, that lay the foundation to sound sandwich making. One misstep from these pillars and your sandwich is ruined: That’s what separates the sandwiches I design from the sandwiches your mom put in your lunch box only for you to auction it off during lunch hour like a dealer on the black market. View this as your guidebook to follow, your rules to comply with or a moral code. This is your culinary Torah or, say, like the pillars of Islam. Except not.

Let’s take a look at the components of Sandwich Theory:

1. A Bread Barrier

Bread Barriers are sandwich theory’s bread and butter. I’m not sure if that terrible pun even made sense, so whatever. Basically, if you’re making a sandwich, you can’t have your ingredients touching the bread without a spread of some kind. If you just have meat, cheese and a few standard vegetables, this will cause the sandwich to be dry and altogether unappealing, like some Presidential candidates whose names I won’t mention. On the other hand, if you put oil and vinegar or some liquid substance on the sandwich, without any barrier of fat or a spread of some kind, the results will be disastrous  Whether it’s Au Jus, Italian dressing or any liquid at all, the bread will quickly become soggy. How does one prevent either of these disasters from happening? A protective spread of some kind on the bread. This can range from mayonnaise based products to mustard. Whatever it is, it’ll protect the sandwich from being too dry or too soggy, protecting the bread from any possible harm. This is the first and perhaps most important step in sandwich theory.

This sandwich seems innocent enough, right? It’s from Quiznoes, it should be decent (well…not really…but that’s another discussion). However, in this sandwich lies something much darker and much murkier than that poor excuse for beef they served. This sandwich’s melted cheese and slices of beef may look tempting, but they are not to be trusted: Without a fat barrier, this sandwich will soon taste dry, leaving you to drown your sorrows with soda refills (and only to tragically discover that they serve Diet Pepsi). Oh, and that melted cheese that stirred your imagination? That cheese’s grease will soak into the sandwich before the cashier overcharges you, leaving you a dry sandwich with greasy bread and no diet coke to drink as your solace. Such is the importance of observing Sandwich Theory.

So, who among you have had mishaps with “Bread Barriers”? What’s your idea of a perfect sandwich? And what else do you think are among the five pillars of sandwich theory?

Check in later for the next update on the five pillars of “Sandwich Theory”!