Showing posts with label random thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label random thoughts. Show all posts

Saturday, June 3, 2017

South Florida Syrian Supper Club Lunch

As much as discussions of immigration policy have dominated the news lately, I'll confess I didn't know until I read this Miami Herald story a few weeks ago that there were several dozen families of Syrian refugees who had been resettled in South Florida over the past couple years. Many have been relocated in areas where there is a bit of a community support network, like Miami Gardens, but others are in isolated areas like Homestead, making a difficult transition, after escaping from the horrors experienced in their homeland, all the more challenging.

Some local women have found a unique way to help. Shortly after President Trump signed an executive order implementing his Muslim ban, Kate Cruz was moved to action. Although she was already active in a non-profit (an organization called Project Motherpath that supports childbirth and parenting programs), her work until then had nothing to do with the Syrian refugee crisis. Still, she cold-called a local mosque in Miami Gardens and asked if there was anything she could do. They connected her with the Muslim Women's Organization of South Florida, and together they organized a "South Florida Syrian Supper Club."

It's a wonderful idea: a rotating group of Syrian women refugees prepare meals of traditional dishes in people's houses, typically for $50 per person, with the proceeds going to support the women and their families. In addition to sharing their food, they also share their stories – of what brought them here and what they've faced since arriving.

One of my work colleagues recently hosted a lunch at our office for thirty people, and it was a moving experience. Faten, Raja and Mona – with their children in tow – brought enough food to feed about three times as many people, Krista (herself a Syrian refugee) helped translate for them, Kate, along with Yasemin Saib and Sahar Shaikh of MWO, shared some more stories of what they're faced with and other ways people can help, and everyone ate incredibly well.

(You can see all the pictures in this Syrian Supper @ KTT flickr set)

This would have been worthwhile even if the food was lousy, but it was a pretty incredible feast. Some of it was familiar – kibbe balls with ground meat encased in a crisp bulgur wheat shell, smoky, creamy baba ganoush, tender grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbaceous tabbouli salad and fattoush salad garnished with toasted pita shards. Other dishes were new to me – chicken legs roasted with warm spices, served over rice studded with whole almonds toasted to a golden brown, an assortment of puffy pies filled with meat, or cheese, or generously dusted with za'atar spice. And still others had familiar names but were still different in their ways: falafel shaped like little doughnuts, chicken shawarma wrapped in thin, almost crepe-like bread, spiked with a tart green pickle and dolloped with a creamy, garlicky sauce.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

a message from the future

A couple weeks ago Eater Miami asked me, "What do you think the future of dining looks like?" Some of my comments ran yesterday along with responses from several other locals as part of a series of "Future Week" stories across the Eater network. It may not surprise you that I actually had a bit more to say on the subject. Here's an expanded version of my thoughts on the future of dining, particularly in South Florida.

1. Tipping may become a thing of the past.

There is already movement in this direction, and the political push for minimum wage increases plus the shortage of line cooks will create increasing pressure to even out front-of-house and back-of-house compensation. (Sooner or later the light bulb will go off that there's a connection between the low wages for kitchen employees and their scarcity). Putting service staff on salary without a tip credit will be a big shift, but possibly a necessary one.

On my last visits to the Bay Area, several places were either adding a "service charge" or doing "service included" bills (Comal and Ippuku in Berkeley, Camino in Oakland). There have been some interesting success stories, including a couple places that give long-term employees a small share of ownership. Just this week, Tom Colicchio announced he is going to a no-tip, price-inclusive-of-service program during lunch service at Craft. There have also been places that tried, and ultimately balked, at using all-inclusive, no-tip pricing (Aster in San Francisco comes to mind).

In Miami, anyway, we're already accustomed to seeing "gratuity added" (or not seeing it clearly marked on the bill, but still having it done!). It would make little difference to the diner if instead, it was "service included" that gets shared with BOH and FOH, but it would require a change in how the restaurants operate.

One arguable financial upside to making this shift for restaurateurs: it will mitigate the risk of wage violation lawsuits that often arise from asserted non-compliance with tip credit requirements. Perhaps not coincidentally, Colicchio's restaurants have twice been sued for wage violations – once back in 2008 (a case that was settled), and more recently this year in connection with 'wichCraft (he pointedly denies the latest allegations). These lawsuits can be high-stakes stuff: in 2008, Jean-Georges Vongerichten  paid $1.75 million to settle wage claims; in 2009 Nobu paid $2.5 million for similar claims; in 2012, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's restaurants paid $5 million in a settlement.

2. Expensive restaurants will become even more expensive.

See 1. Increasing wages will put even more pressure on thin margins; eventually the cost of dinner will have to go up.

3. Lower end restaurants will look for ways to reduce staff.

See 1, 2. If the cost of labor is going up, and you have limited ability to raise prices, then you'll have to figure out how to get by with less employees. I expect there will be more "fast casual" type places, and that it will be increasingly difficult to successfully operate a moderately priced sit-down restaurant. Miami chef Alberto Cabrera recently made this shift, turning his Coral Gables restaurant Bread & Butter from a sit-down place into Little Bread, with counter service sandwiches and bowls, and I think it will prove to be a good move for him. Big picture, though, this bums me out, and I hope I'm wrong. Some of my favorite restaurants are the mid-range places where you can find interesting, ambitious food without it being a hundred dollar meal to pay for a million dollar build-out. I worry these will become an endangered species.

4. More independent restaurants in less trendy neighborhoods.

Everything can't be in Wynwood, South Beach or Brickell. And there are huge parts of Miami-Dade County with lots of population density, lower rents, and little restaurant competition other than chains, like Doral and Kendall. Closer to Miami's urban core, you're already seeing it happen in Edgewater (Mignonette) and the Upper East Side (Vagabond, Cena by Michy, Blue Collar, etc.), and I think the push northward up Biscayne Boulevard will continue. And maybe just a bit west too: Little Haiti?

5. 50% of the big-name chef restaurants that are opening in Miami won't be around after two years.

Some of them may be great. They all won't be. And it may prove tough to fill so many big dining rooms, even if you''re a "celebrity chef." Just ask Fabio Vivani. Or Tony Mantuano. Or Geoffrey Zakarian. Or – hot off the presses – Masaharu Morimoto, who announced just yesterday that he is closing his restaurant in the Shelborne on South Beach after exactly a year. Or ....

Monday, March 3, 2014

Japan - Impressions, Travel Tips, and a List

It is both humbling and exhilarating to be a foreigner in a foreign land. Before our two-week trip to Japan, from which we returned this weekend, I had never been to the Far East. For those who are veteran globetrotters it may sound silly, but I'll confess I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of being literally halfway across the world in a place where we not only didn't know, but couldn't even decipher the characters of, the native language. But that fear was more than outbalanced by our love of Japanese culture and food, and the desire to experience them first-hand.

We needn't have been so concerned. Literally from the moment we arrived, we were buoyed by the graciousness, thoughtfulness, and generosity of spirit of the Japanese people. As we wandered our way through the Shinbashi subway station dragging luggage behind us, a kind lady - who spoke no English whatsoever - helped us figure out where our hotel was, and then walked with us for nearly ten minutes to guide us there. It was a scene that repeated itself throughout our stay. Whenever we were lost, whenever we needed help, someone was always glad to assist.

We saw so many beautiful things. We ate so many fantastic meals. But more than anything, I was won over by the people of Japan. That lady in the subway station. The sushi chef at the restaurant with three Michelin stars who bounded down three flights of stairs so he could see us off in the taxi after our meal. The dark-suited businessmen who bought us a round of sake at dinner in Kanazawa. These were the things that made Mrs. F and I feel welcome as strangers in a strange land, and which made our celebration of our twentieth anniversary even more special.

Over the coming weeks I will try to recap some of our best meals in Japan, several of which were among the best I've experienced anywhere. In the meantime, here are many random impressions, a few words of advice for fellow first-time travelers to Japan, a list of all the places we ate at that I can recall, and several expressions of thanks for many people whose guidance made our experience so much better.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Hey Man Nice Shot - Part 3

So all of a sudden restaurant photography - or the prohibition thereof - is a hot topic. At least the New York Times would have us believe that, according to a piece published last week: "Restaurants Turn Camera Shy." The article describes a "growing backlash" against in-restaurant food photography, citing bans imposed at places such as Momofuku Ko and Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare.

If this doesn't quite sound like breaking news to you - that's because it isn't. In fact, David Chang's ban on pictures at Ko already made the news cycle at least once before - nearly five years ago. Brooklyn Fare's no-photo policy (and no notes, and no cell-phones!) likewise has been around for at least a couple years.

People taking pictures in restaurants isn't anything new. Chefs and other diners being annoyed by people taking pictures in restaurants also isn't anything new. And while I can empathize with the sentiment, there are any number of other restaurant behaviors I find equally if not more annoying: loud cell-phone talking, sloppy drunkenness, heavy petting, lousy tipping.

So if you're going to do it, you ought to at least do it in a way that's least intrusive and offensive to your fellow diners, and also try to get the best shot possible, right? The NYT piece prompted a few good guidelines on that front: "How to Take a Picture in a Restaurant Without Looking Like a Jerk;" "Everyone: Taking Food Pictures in Restaurants is Not that Complicated;" and "Restaurant Food Photography: Is It Possible to Do It Well?" hit on most of the high points. To summarize: no flash; no tripods; no weird filters; no pictures of other people in the dining room; take your shots quickly; learn how to use your camera; don't clutter the table with equipment; and "Above all else, try not to be a dick."

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I'd been given the opportunity to try out a Sony NEX-5R camera as part of a Sony / Flavorpill campaign. I've been using it a couple weeks now, and am finding it to be a great tool to fulfill most of these commandments. Its body is actually about a centimeter shorter than an iPhone and not much wider, other than the grip on the right-hand side. Though it won't fit in your pocket with the lens attached, it is still significantly less of a space-hog than a DSLR. But it still has virtually all of the capabilities of a DSLR: full manual control, very solid picture quality, good low-light performance, the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. You'll be able to see the results soon at the Sony Store - details to follow shortly.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hey Man Nice Shot - Part 2

Nearly four years ago when I started this blog, I thought about - and wrote about - my ambivalent feelings towards food photography. At that point, I was decidedly outside the camp of the "douchebags taking pictures of their food." Not that I had any problem with other people doing it, if done discreetly - indeed, I've always thoroughly enjoyed viewing the work product of talented photographers like A Life Worth Eating and Ulterior Epicure and Chuck Eats and Doc Sconz. I just knew I wasn't in that group and wasn't sure, even if I had such skills, that I wanted to be.

Four years later, I still feel like a complete hack of a photographer, but I'm a less reluctant one. I still don't particularly love taking pictures during a meal, but I'm grateful for having done so after the fact, to have something tangible by which to memorialize and in some ways relive the experience. There is truth to the saying that "We eat first with our eyes."

But for every gorgeous picture that captures the beauty and savor of a great dish, there are a dozen blurry, overexposed, flash-saturated, Instagram-filtered abominations that are the opposite of appetizing. I don't want to be one of those. So, if for no other reason than to honor the work of the chefs whose dishes I photograph, I have tried to improve my skills. I've learned what some of the different controls on my camera do. I bought a decent point-and-shoot with a larger sensor and a brighter lens that can shoot better in low-light situations. I even started to figure out how to use a real DSLR, when Frod Jr. got one for his birthday and generously loaned it out to me from time to time.

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