Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Cycle of Food Hype

If you observe food writing in this town for long enough, you begin to notice certain patterns that make for an almost predictable cycle. For instance, assume that someone opens a new concept restaurant, say a high-end French-German fusion restaurant specializing in a frogs leg schnitzel. Here's what you can expect from the beginning of the 24 hour food-news cycle:

Day 1: EaterLA does a "Plywood" posting, reporting the concept and idea for this coming restaurant, gets location wrong and misspells name of proprietor.

Day 5: First Yelp review goes up of "soft opening," which turns out to be owner handing out some samples on the street.

Day 15: Restaurant opens.

Day 16: Yelp reviews start to rave about the place.

Day 22: J. Gold does a fly-by review for the LA Weekly praising the "delivery of a peasant food with an intensity usually reserved for Weimar-era German cinema."

Days 23-25: Three hundred LA food bloggers post about the restaurant.

Day 26: Reservations are now only available at 4:00 and 11:30.

Day 45: Backlash begins, the first Yelp posts go up calling the place overrated and overhyped. Others agree that they are "so over" this place.

Day 55: Grub Street reports on planned expansion with new location in Hollywood and roving food truck.

Day 172: Irene Virbala reviews in LAT and gives one and one-half stars.

Day 225: Restaurant closes.

Day 335: Squid Ink reports on concept and idea for a coming restaurant by same proprietor for casual schnitzel-on-a-stick stand in same location as former restaurant.

Repeat ad nauseum....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Most Craft Whiskeys Suck!

I'm sorry, but someone had to say it. This particular emperor has been wearing new clothes for too long.

The Phenomenon

Like every whiskey writer/blogger in the universe, I've written a fair amount about American microdistilleries; I even put together one of the first complete lists of American whiskey microdistilleries on the web (which I continue to keep up to date). It's a fascinating and exciting phenomenon. Suddenly, after years of having only a dozen whiskey distilleries, the nation is awash in microdistilleries cropping up in every unlikely nook and cranny. The proprietors of these micros are, almost to a person, lovely folks. They are the type of creative artisans who bring a real love to their craft and have invested countless hours of sweat-equity. They pursue innovative new recipes and techniques; they epitomize the "little guy." Who could not like them? The only problem is that many of their products suck.

I'm sorry, but I am tired of hearing raves about this great new, innovative distillery in Idaho with their first whiskey on sale for $85 plus shipping, only to find out that it's been aged for 18 days and tastes like turpentine. I have had this experience multiple times. Despite their lovable heritage, craft whiskeys are mostly too young, too expensive and too crappy.

Don't believe me? Last May, the American Distilling Institute (ADI), an association for craft distillers, had a craft whiskey tasting competition. A panel of experts blind tasted 65 craft whiskeys. The winner of the best in show award (Best Craft American Whiskey) was High West's Bourye. But the whiskey in Bourye was not made by a craft distillery. It was made by a macrodistillery and purchased by High West, which blended it for Bourye. It turns out that the best craft whiskey in American isn't a craft whiskey at all. (You can read more about this controversy on Chuck Cowdery's blog).

The Press

It's time to admit that many of us in the blogging/journalistic community, out of a desire to encourage and nurture this young industry, have given these craft whiskeys a pass. If you read reviews of craft whiskeys you will continually see words like "interesting," "innovative" and "experimental." Reviewers seem afraid to come down too hard on these lovely folks, so we get a lot of euphemisms. Meanwhile, we continually see romantic puff pieces about one man's brave quest to make quinoa whiskey in a remote Nebraska town. The big exception to this trend has been the aforementioned Chuck Cowdery who has not held back about craft distilleries, particularly those that aren't really distilling.

These Ain't Microbrews

There are constant comparisons between the microdistillery movement and the microbrewery movement, but while there are certain similarities, the two are really apples and oranges. Back in the '80s, before the first big wave of microbrews, the vast majority of Americans were drinking crap beer. It was Bud, Miller, Coors, Schlitz - looks like piss, tastes like water. There was barely any alternative. The microbrewery revolution wasn't just about smaller producers, it was about bringing flavor back to beer. Suddenly, you could get beer that tasted like something. The microbreweries continue to lead the way on flavor and the big guys, for the most part, continue to put out crap.

The story with whiskey is nearly the opposite. The big macrodistilleries put out some amazing quality whiskeys. I'm talking Parker's Heritage, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Four Roses Single Barrel and Wild Turkey Rare Breed. They also put out innovative new whiskeys like the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection and the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection. Sure there is bottom shelf stuff out there, but the macrodistilleries give the whiskey lover plenty to choose from. In contrast, the micros are giving us less flavor and less age, and in the end, that means less care is going into the product. Unlike microbrews, they aren't filling an important gap because there is no gap to fill.

I Said "Most"

Now bear in mind that I say "most" craft whiskeys suck, and by most I do mean the vast majority. However, Anchor's Old Potrero and Charbay's hopped whiskeys are excellent. I consider those two distilleries to be the only two I have tried that compete with the majors on quality. Everyone else is batting for the minor leagues at best.

I do love High West's Rendezvous Rye, but as with their Bourye, it is not craft distilled. It's a macrodistillery whiskey that High West has done a great job sourcing and blending. Sourcing and blending are real skills and High West deserves credit for blending and bottling a great whiskey, but it doesn't count as something made by a microdistillery.

And I have nothing against craft distilling generally. I've written multiple posts on the fabulous craft distilled brandies from Germain-Robin and also enjoyed St. George Absinthe. I'm sure there are other good craft distilled spirits out there, but the whiskey sucks.

Now, I'm perfectly aware that mine isn't the only opinion on the block, so I'd love to hear from anyone who thinks that these whiskeys really do measure up. Let me know which ones you love.

What Do You Think?

To the whiskey writing community I have to ask, are we doing any favors by coddling distillers who are putting out substandard products at inflated prices? Are we being honest with our readers about the line between "interesting" and "worth your hard earned cash"? Is our emotional investment in the innovation and enthusiasm of craft whiskeys clouding our collective judgment? Isn't it time someone said it: Most Craft Whiskeys Suck! Maybe someday it won't be the case, but today it is.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Counter Intelligence: Meat vs. Toppings

Burger and hot dog lovers generally divide into two camps: the meat lovers and the topping lovers. Meat lovers are purists who judge their burger or dog on the standard of the meat. Is the burger juicy, rare and made from high quality chuck? Is the dog well spiced and does it snap when you bite into it? You'll find these folks at Cassell's, Skooby's and Carney's. The topping lovers, while they appreciate good meat, are most interested in innovative and high quality toppings. They want garden fresh veggies, a wide choice of cheeses, house made sauces and all kinds of add-ons. They hang out at 25 Degrees and Slaw Dog. I tend to be a meat lover, but I'm not averse to occasionally jumping into the toppings fray. The Counter is definitely a place for the toppings lovers.

Since its founding a mere seven years ago in Santa Monica, The Counter has enjoyed massive, bacteria-scale growth such that it now boasts 25 locations across 9 states and three countries. I had never been to any of The Counter's locations when I recently stopped by the Studio City branch on Ventura Boulevard.

The Counter's concept is the customized burger. You choose the burger meat (beef, veggie, chicken or turkey), cheese, toppings, sauce and bun. There is a vast array of toppings to choose from though none of them are what I would describe as out of the ordinary such as, say, the artisanal cheeses offered by 25 Degrees.

I went with a beef burger with bacon, blue cheese, roasted peppers, pickles, grilled onions and Caesar dressing. It was good and the whole thing came together well. The burger itself is good but not the kind of meat lover's delight that the meat camp would flock too. As I said, this is a toppings place, and they do the toppings well.

The Counter's fried sides were also very good. The thin french fries and sweet potato fries were both good, though I preferred them plain to the aioli that was served with them. Deep fried pickle slices were also good, though again, I could have done without the sauce, a sweet, gloppy concoction.

I would definitely go back to The Counter for their solid, have-it-your-way style burgers. Who knows, maybe next time I'm in Dundrum, Ireland, I'll stop by.

The Counter
Various Locations

Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Film Review: Salt

It was with great excitement that I learned Hollywood had signed on to make a silver screen version of Mark Kulansky's moving history of the world's most common seasoning: Salt, and with Angelina Jolie in the starring role no less.

Kurlansky is one of the nation's foremost food historians, and Salt was his masterpiece. The work traces the history of salt from ancient times to the present and touches on not only its culinary importance but also its central role in economics, commerce, politics and culture.

I was interested to see how Hollywood would interpret a masterwork of such breadth, and I have to say, while the film is creative, it may leave those of us who are familiar with the original work a bit disappointed as it is not exactly faithful to the book. Since salt was the lead character of Kurlansky's work, it is only fitting that mega-starlet Jolie should play the role in the film. (She is certainly saltier than Tom Cruise!). The metaphor gets stretched at times, but the point director Phillip Noyce and writers Kurt Wimmer and Brian Helgeland seem to be making is that salt was not only crucial to commerce and culture, as so thoroughly documented by Kurlansky, but also played an important role in international intrigue.

I have to admit that beyond that, this interpretation of Kurlansky is a bit confounding. While I would expect Hollywood to take some license with any original work, I was surprised at the complete lack of concentration on the culinary aspects of salt. Certainly, the widely loved mineral has a political influence, but it's mostly a food, and I'm not sure where all those fighting scenes came from. I guess as a fan of the book, I was a bit disappointed, but one positive is that even people who haven't read Kurlansky's work will be able to enjoy the film.

This film just hollers for a sequel, which I assume will be based on Kurlansky's other masterwork, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. I just hope the writers can make that film a bit more faithful to the original.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DIY: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

If you want something easy to make with incredible results, this is a can't-miss dessert. It tastes like a giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. At our place, it's a staple for my daughter's birthday. I adapted the recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (where it's known as Candace's Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie), meaning it pretty much comes from them but I make the crust chewier, the filling creamier and the topping chocolatier.


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

12 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream

4 oz good dark chocolate
1/2-1 cup of heavy cream

Make It:


Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar. Spread the mixture out on the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350. Set aside to cool.


Combine the cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar and one cup of heavy cream in a large bowl until well blended (it works better if the cream cheese has been allowed to come to room temperature). Whip one cup of heavy cream until stiff and fold it into the cream cheese-peanut butter mixture. Pour this mixture into the cool pie crust.


Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Slowly add the heavy cream to form a ganache, adding only a little at a time and stirring to make sure the cream is completely mixed and forms a ganache. Do this until the mixture has the consistency of chocolate syrup, you don't want it to get watery. Take the mixture out of the boiler and let it cool but not harden. When it is room temperature but still liquid, pour the chocolate over the pie.

Refrigerate the pie overnight and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Two New Whiskey Sites

There are two new whiskey blogs out there that fill gaps in our whiskey blogosphere, hard as it is to believe that there are any gaps in the whiskey blogosphere. Both of them are thorough and full of interesting information, and they both have very nice graphics and design (unlike some blogs). is a new blog focusing on that most neglected of whiskies. It's run by Canadian Malt Maniac Davin de Kergommeaux. He's already got a number of reviews and news items up on the site, including a piece about the newly released WhistlePig Rye. I'm glad to see a site fully dedicated to Canadian Whisky, now if only they would ship more of the good stuff south of the border. is the first non-industry blog that I know of to focus exclusively on the new American microdistillery movement. I've written a number of pieces on micros (and will have a new, purposefully inflammatory one out next week) so I'm interested in the movement and am glad to see a blog specializing in it. Run by Matthew Colglazier of Bloomington, Indiana, the site includes reviews, videos, distillery profiles and interviews.

In a time when it seems that practically everyone who has access to a computer and a bottle of Glenfiddich has a whiskey blog, it's great to see two whiskey lovers put so much effort into blogs that serve a real purpose for the whiskey community. These are both going on my favorites list. Check 'em out!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Mad (Whisky) Men

Those of us who are consumers would do well to remember that whisky is a business and that, for the most part, whisky companies think in terms of target audiences, demographics, sweet spots and all of that other business jargon.

I was painfully reminded of this while, when Googling, I came across an old communications plan for Johnnie Walker Blue.

The ten year old plan by the Vandy Meares consulting and graphic design firm is a fascinating look into how the commercial whisky machine works and includes a number of interesting insights as well as quirks.

  • JWB (or this consultant) apparently sees their clientele as exclusively male. There are a number of references to males, but not a single reference to females nor even a single photo of a woman.

  • The plan highlights exclusivity and social status as ways to market JWB but not quality; that is, the recommendation is clearly to sell the brand to make people feel a certain way about themselves, not to offer a great tasting whisky (but I guess we knew that).

  • The spellings whiskey and whisky are both used without any reasoning behind the use of one or the other.

  • JWB seems to view its competitors as Chivas, Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and strangely, Jack Daniel's and Maker's Mark, the latter two of which are repeatedly referred to as "Scotches."

It's no secret that Diageo and every other company are in the business of business, but it's interesting to peek behind the curtain and see how they talk about consumers in the board meetings.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just Ducky: Rodded Restaurant

Just beyond the big Thaitown strip on Hollywood Boulevard lies Rodded Restaurant. Hard as it must be to have a restaurant name that sounds like an "enhanced interrogation technique," Rodded has been hanging on for quite a while with good, soulful Thai cooking.

The various pork and chicken balls are popular appetizers and I found them quite tasty (what's not to like about fried meatballs). My favorite appetizer, though, was the leek cake, a bun filled with leeks and greens which comes fried or steamed.

One of my favorite dishes was ham hock over rice. The hock is braised with a rich soy marinade that drips nicely into the rice underneath. The pork had great flavor and the sauce-drenched rice was irresistible.

I was less enamoured of the stewed duck over rice. While it was nicely flavored, the duck was tough and chewy and the fat was rubbery.

If there is a signature dish at Rodded, it is the duck noodle soup. You can choose from a variety of noodles to be added to the soup which is topped with thinly sliced pieces of duck, but it's really about the broth. Rodded's duck broth is a rich, dark brew, full of duck jus and nicely spiced. Slurp it up!

Rodded Restaurant
5623 Hollywood Blvd. (just east of Wilton)
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 962-8382

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Foie Gras of the Sea: Fresh Uni at the Hollywood Farmers Market

At the very south end of the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market is a stand selling whole fish, crab, lobsters and live sea urchins. The urchins are submerged in buckets of water. Given that I love uni, I had looked longingly at this Santa Barbara based stand for a while, but never worked up the nerve to order something, not knowing exactly what I'd do with a whole sea urchin.

On a recent trip though, the guys behind the counter told me that for $7 I could get an urchin, and they would crack the thing open right there for me so that I could eat the precious uni. I paid, and they cracked. The urchin they handed me was still alive, its spines moving creepily as I held it with a paper towel. They didn't offer any plasticware (a spoon would have been handy) so I just stood there, scooping uni out with my hand and feeding my face, all the while drawing a crowd of curious onlookers.

The uni in my urchin was pretty sparse (it's a bit of a crapshoot because every urchin is different), but what was there was phenomenal; it was rich and buttery...the foie gras of the ocean. Tasting uni right out of the urchin definitely will make it harder for me to enjoy anything but the very freshest the next time I'm at a sushi bar. If you're looking for a fun experience and some great uni, give it a go.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Why I (Now) Rate Whiskeys

Last week, I wrote extensively about why I've never given scores to whiskeys on the blog, but recently I have started to rate whiskeys for the LA Whisk(e)y Society. Why?

The LA Whisk(e)y Society is a small, private tasting group that has a fabulous website with all sorts of information about the local whiskey scene. It's far and away the most complete source of information about whiskey at LA bars, liquor stores and restaurants. Members of the club also rate whiskeys that they taste both in Society tastings (which are usually blind tastings) and on their own.

When I first joined, I balked at scoring, but after reviewing the scores, I found them to be quite helpful, particularly because each member rates individually and you can get a real sense of where there is consensus on a whiskey and where there is not. I also like the scoring system the Society uses, which is very practical, indicating whether you would recommend tasting it, recommend buying a bottle or simply not bother with it. The notes and scores are also pretty casual, so I don't feel the same consistency pressure that I would on the blog. It's just people's impressions of the whiskeys, nothing more. And there is one thing I never counted on; it's fun and challenging to try and convey your opinion in a single grade.

As a result, if you want to see how I would rate a whiskey, you can always flip over to the Society site and see. Anytime I review a whiskey on the blog, I will try to add a review and score on the Society site. I'm also putting up some scores from my collection which will include many whiskey which were previously reviewed here. The Society site is very high-tech and fully interactive. You can search by type of whiskey, by country of origin, by reviewer, or simply enter a search time.

Hey, if it works out, maybe I will eventually rate whiskeys here, you never know, just don't count on seeing a 100 point system.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Endless Salad: Itzik Hagadol

Itzik Hagadol is an Israeli restaurant with a branch in Tel Aviv and a branch in Encino. For convenience sake, I chose to try the Encino branch.

The centerpiece of any meal at Itzik Hagadol is the salad course, which includes more than 20 salads, plus falafel. The salads are $18 per person if that's all you are getting, but only $9 per person if you also get an entree, but trust me, you don't need an entree, just a glass of a Golan Heights red wine to wash it down.

The salad course is an all you can eat mezza tour de force which also comes with hot out of the oven sesame flat bread. There are the traditional dips hummous and baba ganouch, but the salads go way beyond that. There are two plates of roasted peppers: a plate of mild, sweet red bell peppers and a delightfully spicy plate of pickled jalapeƱos. There are at least a half dozen preparations of eggplant, the best of which contrast the umami of eggplant with various sweet and salty elements. There is the surprisingly wonderful vegetarian chopped liver, a meaty amalgam of who knows what, and very nice rendition of real chopped liver. There are beets, cabbage slaw, egg salad, sweet stewed carrots and numerous chopped salads. Inexplicably, there is tomato salsa and guacamole. The faster you eat, the faster the little boats full of salad arrive, both refills and new dishes. After only a few minutes, I completely lost count and couldn't even begin to recall every dish. It is a huge amount of food and a huge amount of fun.

The entrees are largely grilled skewers. We got veal sweetbreads, the house kebab which is a kefta like sausage, and a mixed meat kabob. The kabobs were fine, but nothing exceptional. I was excited by the prospect of sweetbread kabobs (other interesting choices include foie gras and turkey testicles), but the grilling did not sufficiently crisp the sweetbread exterior so it had a uniform pillowy consistency which, while not offensive, didn't capture the rich texture of sweetbreads. It also lacked much seasoning. The kefta and beef were good but not out of the ordinary for Middle Eastern kabobs.

Going to Itzik Hagadol is great fun and gives you a sense of the Israeli appreciation of food. I would recommend bringing a large group and skipping the entrees. The salads are what it's all about.

Itzik Hagadol Grill
17201 Ventura Blvd
Encino, CA 91316
(818) 784-4080

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gelato Bar Los Feliz - Now Open

Last year, when I embarked on the LA Gelato Tour, Gail Silverton's Gelato Bar in Studio City was one of my favorite spots. Now, they have opened a second location on Hillhurst, in the space of the old Hollywood Gelato (which didn't come out so well in the Tour).

The gelato at the new location is just as good as the original's (though the servings seem smaller). Unfortunately, the Los Feliz branch has no espresso machine, which means no affogato. This is a serious oversight, since Gelato Bar makes one of the best affogatos around. Hopefully, it will soon be corrected.

They also carry Cake Monkey and other pastries.

Gelato Bar
1936 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 668-0606

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Why I Don't Rate Whiskeys

I have often been asked why I don't rate whiskeys. After all, nearly every whiskey blogger, journalist, author or vlogger rates whiskeys. There are 100 point scales, ten point scales, star systems, letter grades, you name it. I understand why people like ratings. They are simple and straightforward, but they've never really appealed to me and here is why.

1. Ratings Are Linear While Taste is Multi-Faceted

Ratings are linear by nature. Everything is compared to everything else on one single, linear scale. This is, of course, what makes them useful to consumers. I know that a whiskey rated 96 is superior to an 88, end of story. But the single rating system fails to take into account the experiential nature of whiskey and the multitude of possible responses. For instance, I recently reviewed Buffalo Trace White Dog. I would probably never reach for this whiskey to sip in my leisure time, but I think it provides an invaluable window into the Bourbon ageing process and is a must-try for any Bourbon lover. If I merely rated it on my view of its pure quality as a spirit, it would receive a lesser grade, but that lesser grade would not reflect the important, academic interest in experiencing it, the intellectual joy that comes from the experience. Some things taste amazing, but some whiskeys are worth trying because of their unique flavor profiles, experimentation or other elements. Unfortunately, there is no room for such subtlety in the world of linear ratings.

2. Taste is Subjective

Of course taste is generally subjective, and each person has different likes and dislikes, but I don't see that as a flaw, and that is not the phenomenon I am referring to here. What I'm talking about is that each of our individual tastes is subjective and can change depending on any number of environmental factors. You can taste everything blind at the same time of day in the same temperature controlled room, but even then, there are factors that are hard to control. The other day I was at a tasting of seven single malts. Five or six of them were big on sherry and one was peated. The peated one stood out from the crowd and I likely had an inflated sense of it because of that. However, if I had tasted the peated whiskey along with some of my favorite highly-peated whiskeys, I probably would have had a lesser sense of it. You could try to control for this by tasting only one whiskey per seating, but not running comparisons has its own issues as you are tasting the whiskey out of context and don't have the helpful benchmark of other whiskeys to compare it to. Some tasters taste in a variety of settings, which is probably the best practice in this case (and I always taste a whiskey at least twice before writing it up just to confirm my notes), but the subjectivity of each person's individual tastes makes ratings extremely subjective.

3. Consistency is Hard

It's fairly easy to taste a group of single malts in one sitting and create a scale or rate them from best to worst. It's harder to do that over several sittings. Was the second best whiskey we had today better than the best we had last week? It gets even murkier if you are tasting hundreds of whiskeys per year. Was the Linkwood you rated a 92 seven years ago really two full points better than the Wild Turkey you rated a 90 last week? I'm fairly skeptical of anyone who makes that type of claim without doing side by side tastings. I pride myself on my own tasting consistency, but taste memories, like all memories, can be difficult to rely on.

4. One Hundred Points is Too Many

The 100 point spread seems scientific, but it's a pseudo-science (and yes, a scorer who uses a ten point scale but also uses one place past the decimal is using a 100 point spread). What's the margin for error when you are comparing ratings over several years? Is there really any difference between a 76 and a 77? I prefer to hear a more general description than see some number. Was it bad, good, great or one of the best? Any distinction beyond those terms is unnecessary.

5. The Apples and the Oranges

Unlike whiskey bloggers, most food bloggers don't give out ratings. Indeed, many old-media food critics don't give out ratings either, and those who do are usually rating only a limited selection of high-end, formal dining venues. One of the reasons is that it is very hard to compare things as different as a dinner at a high end French restaurant, a pastrami sandwich, a bowl of ramen and an In-n-Out double double (animal style, of course) on one rating system. I would rate a Langer's pastrami sandwich as one of the best bites of food around, but does that mean I should rate it higher than the carte blanche tasting menu at Melisse? There are very few Canadian Whiskies I like better than my least favorite single malt, but what if I taste something that I feel is the best any Canadian Whisky can be? Does its score reflect the "best of class" showing or does it lose out because I find Canadian Whisky overly light and sweet?

As noted above, most food bloggers don't use ratings systems and I've never had anyone ask why I don't rate food using a point system, but spirits (and wine and beer) seem to fall into a different category. People just seem to want a score. Similarly, movies and music are commonly subjected to ratings scales but books seldom are. Are these differences totally arbitrary or are there more fundamental reasons why we rate some things and not others?

All of this goes to say that because of these factors, I have resisted rating whiskeys in the past, but guess what? I've now started rating whiskeys, though not for the blog. More on that next week.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Important Fourth of July Warning: Be Safe and Sane with S'mores

Attention foodies: Every summer, hundreds of foodies end up needlessly ruining s'mores by screwing up the ingredients. These poor saps are left with a disgusting excuse for a campfire treat and unhappy children. Don't let this happen to you!

S'mores are a simple treat; stop overthinking them with foodie ingredients. To help the struggling foodie, I have put together this very simple guide to s'more ingredients. The elements of your s'mores should be as follows:

1. Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar

Chocolate is the essential s'more ingredient, but it's also the main way that foodies screw up. I have seen far to many foodies, sitting around the campfire after finishing their pancetta-bison burgers with confit of caramelized onion, drag out some 78% Ecuadoran single origin bean-to-bar chocolate for the s'mores. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of high cacao chocolate and have reviewed many of them, but there is a time and a place for it. That time and place is not in your s'mores. Dark chocolate doesn't complement the pure, sticky sweetness of marshmallows and graham crackers. You want a milder flavor profile for that: the taste of old-fashioned Hershey's milk chocolate. You know, the kind you were perfectly happy with before around 1999. Plus, the richness and subtlety of high cacao bars is lost in the amalgam. Putting them on a s'more is like mixing great Bourbon with Coke; you lose the flavor. Plus, if you're s'moring with kids, artisan chocolates are (1) not kid friendly (who wants to see a kid with a sad face after eating chocolate, of all things?) and (2) filled with caffeine. Come on foodies, I know you have it in you, go to Von's or Rite Aid (you will find addresses for both on Google), walk up to that candy aisle and grab a Hershey bar.

2. Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers

This is a similar issue. Most fancy schmancy graham crackers are too thick, too sweet and too full of weird flavors to make a good s'more (lavender-maple graham crackers do not belong on s'mores). The s'more is a sandwich. You want it on thin crackers that are just slightly sweet and easy to bite through. Do they taste like cardboard on their own? You bet! But the s'more is about the gestalt; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

3. Marshmallows

Okay, marshmallows are the one thing I will give on if the foodies are raising a ruckus. The traditional big-name marshmallows are pretty offensive and full of weird chemicals. Some of the craft marshmallows (as opposed to Kraft marshmallows) out there are pretty darn good and would probably taste good on a s'more, so I give you permission to use them, but no weird flavors (pictured above are the excellent vanilla marshmallows from BonBonBar). That being said, it won't necessarily be easy. The old Jet-Puffeds are the perfect size to slap on a stick and roast over the fire. Artisan marshmallows tend to be petite and a bit fragile. While the taste will work, the execution might not. I suggest doing a few trial runs and having a big bag of the old-standbys just in case.

So, please, have a safe and sane Fourth of July and don't ruin anyone's summer fun with your weird foodieness. Oh, and don't forget to shoot off lots of illegal fireworks! Happy Fourth!