Sunday, October 29, 2006


Give this man a Nobel Prize.

Or a Macarthur. Hell, give him an Oscar. Just recognize his genius in some fashion.

NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters Life!) - A new fast food is making its debut at U.S. fairs this fall -- fried Coke.

Abel Gonzales, 36, a computer analyst from Dallas, tried about 15 different varieties before coming up with his perfect recipe -- a batter mix made with Coca-Cola syrup, a drizzle of strawberry syrup, and some strawberries.

Balls of the batter are then deep-fried, ending up like ping-pong ball sized doughnuts which are then served in a cup, topped with Coca-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry on the top.

"It tastes great," said Sue Gooding, a spokeswoman for the State Fair of Texas where Gonzales' fried Coke made its debut this fall. "It was a huge success."

Gonzales ran two stands at the State Fair of Texas and sold up to 35,000 fried Cokes over 24 days for $4.50 each -- and won a prize for coming up with "most creative" new fair food.
Now other fairs in North Carolina and Arizona are following the trend, and other people are trying to emulate Gonzales' recipe.

Gonzales gave no indication of the calories in his creation and said he would not patent it.

"The best I can hope for is that it's the original and hopefully the best fried Coke out there," he said.

But Gonzales said the success of his fried Coke had inspired him. Next year's fair-goers can look forward to fried Sprite or -- for those watching their weight -- fried diet Coke.

"We are trying to cut a lot of the sugar out of it. It has less calories but it's still very, very sweet," he said.

Ray Crockett, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Co., said: "We're constantly amazed at the creative ways folks find to enjoy their Coke and make it part of celebrations like fairs and festivals. This is one is definitely different!"

Another victory for Texas.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Drinking and driving

In the interest of time, I'm going to have to spare the details. Just let me tell you this: after a couple of margaritas and a shitload of Tex-Mex from Chuy's, you should probably wait for a while before going to the driving range to hit golf balls. Trust me. The new rule is to wait half an hour before swimming and two hours before swinging metal rods in close proximity to total strangers.

And to the weird, chain-smoking, phone-call-making golfer next to me: damn you! After you gave me that bit of "friendly advice," I lost what little concentration I had. I was at least avoiding the trees before you helped me out.

And if you're watching the news and wondering: we're just fine. Though the apartment building two and a half blocks away is now flooding, we're several feet higher. As long as it lets up just a little, I should have no trouble getting to work in the morning.

Friday, October 06, 2006


In praise of Great Chefs of the World

The Food Network just gets worse and worse. They quit playing the real Iron Chef and replaced it with their lame Iron Chef America. They got rid of Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour for the same reason: because they want to focus more on domestic food. Luckily, Bourdain got picked up by the Travel Channel, and No Reservations is much better than Cook’s Tour was to begin with. But Food Network has also been pushing loudmouth Paula Dean and her loudmouth sons way too much. They also devote an inordinate amount of time to cooking contests involving sculptural cakes. I never thought I’d live to say this, but Emeril Live is now one of the best shows they’ve got. (Emeril’s Essence, his traditional cooking show instead of the loud live one, is actually really good. It only comes on weekends.)

So let’s take a moment to remember Great Chefs of the World, which still airs (I think?) on the Discovery Channel. No matter what Alton Brown may say, GCotW is the ultimate foodie show. A single camera captures a chef making a dish in his own professional kitchen, not a set. He—we’re dealing mostly with hotel chefs in Europe, so it’s almost always a he—explains what he’s doing as he does it. A pleasant woman’s voice narrates, though she doesn’t actually translate word for word. This gives plenty of great moments when a chef will speak for about 60 seconds in German or Greek, and the narrator will only tell us something like “he then adds the other ingredients.” One of the other things that I like about the show is that the executive chef will prepare the dish from raw ingredients, so he has to chop, whisk, and sautee himself rather that making his staff do it. Occasionally, you’ll see him unsure about where to find a bowl or which pan to use.

The ironic charm of the show, and Food Network won’t understand this, is that the chef NEVER seems excited about what he’s doing. Imagine you’re at work and some stranger walks up and asks what you’re doing. You give a polite but short reply and move on. GCotW makes an extremely watchable show out of that format.

And that’s it. Each show features an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. Each course comes from a different chef in a different city, and there’s no apparent connection between the three. The chef makes the dish, usually with some sous chef standing around in the background trying to look busy, a single shot of the finished dish gets displayed, and they move on to the next. No “bam!” or “mmmm, yummers!” or animal fats made from sock puppets. It’s not meant to be educational or even entertaining, unless you happen to enjoy great meals being prepared.

There are several varieties of Great Chefs, but the "...of the World" version is by far my favorite. A lot of the fun is lost when the chefs speak in English and know that the audience may actually show up at their restaurant.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Why I have to go to chicago soon

Gourmet magazine named Alinea, in Chicago, the country's best restaurant. For the record, I've been to numbers 2, 3, 29, and 41. Part of the charm (and pathetic conspicuous consumption) of going to French Laundry was that it was the undisputed best restaurant in the nation. Oh well.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


The Strip House

First, a word about steak houses. As many people point out, grilled beef is grilled beef; you can only get so high in quality, and most steak houses overcharge for plain ol’ grilled beef. While this is somewhat true, we have to remember that it’s not just the beef you’re paying for. At The Palm is Dallas, you can get your shoes shined while you wait for your table. At Perry’s, also in Dallas, they have a tray of dozens of reading glasses in assorted sizes and shapes for people who need help reading the menu. Last night at the Strip House, I noticed that every time there was a waiter at a table, there was at least one other server behind him, and usually there were two guys in the background. When Amanda asked our waiter if he had a martini menu, he said he would have one out in just a minute. In less than a minute, some other server discreetly slipped the martini menu into our waiter’s hands and he produced it, as if by magic, without ever leaving the table. These are the little touches you pay so much for.

The Strip House, on McKinney Street downtown, does not look or feel like a traditional steak house. It looks more like a Las Vegas restaurant, and it sounds like one too, with house music playing over the speakers in the large dining room (there are two private party rooms as well). The periphery is lined with bright red leather banquets; the walls are covered in a bright red fabric; even the ceiling is red. I had heard that the restaurant’s décor is a collection of 1920’s-era nudie pictures…excuse me, erotic photography…but I was expecting them to be neatly arranged in wood frames, pretty much the same set-up as any other steak house only with the racehorse pictures taken out and black and white boobs put in. Instead, the photos are randomly arranged on the wall in a puzzle-like pattern. Some are actually on glass in boxes, some are lit up with spotlights, and some are backlit with red lights that add to the “damn this place is red” motif. Rather than comfortable or clubby, The Strip House feels slick and hip. Slick and hip is not what most people look for in a steak house, any more than they expect a DJ at a country club. The saving touch: the napkins, which match the wall upholstery, have a Victorian-ish Oriental pattern which, on closer inspection, appears to made up of silhouettes of James-Bond-into ladies.

The cocktails, as they should be, are perfect. My Manhattan, shaken and poured at the table, was perfectly balanced, and Amanda’s blackberry martini was, as she put it, yummy.

The wine list is extensive, but overpriced. There were some good deals, but the more recognizable the name, the more dollars were added on. For example, a 2002 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet was $140, while $120 is more reasonable. Strip House had a bottle of Flora Springs “Trilogy” for $140, but we’ve had the same bottle at Farrago for $85. Our waiter gave us a great recommendation, though. I like a very tannic Cabernet, while Amanda likes her reds softer. We ended up getting a 2003 Proveenance Cabernet, and it was the perfect compromise between our two tastes. He told us that only 600 cases were produced, while Amanda’s research found that 1600 cases were produced, but it’s still a small production. We also noticed that the sommelier is a woman, which remains a rare find.

Amanda ordered a 10-ounce filet mignon, medium rare, and I had the 14-ounce New York strip, rare. The beef was cooked perfectly, charred on the outside and juicy inside. But there are handfuls of places in Houston who can do a perfect steak. Strip House sets itself apart with the side dishes. We had a truffled cream of spinach (don’t worry, the waiter assured us, it’s made from frozen spinach) that came out in a small copper pot. Because of the truffle oil, the dish remained rich and soft without using too much cream. What we had was a strong bite of spinach, not a slightly green bite of cream. We also ordered the signature side, crisp goose fat potatoes. They take a mound of potato gratin and pan fry it in goose fat, so that what comes out is a crispy, browned, giant tater tot fit for the gods. I can say many many great things about the goose fat potatoes, but I should also say this: they’re not that much better than Hickory Hollow’s hot tots, and they’re twice as expensive.

For dessert we split a Grand Profiterole—a six-inch-tall cream puff filled with two types of chocolate ice cream and topped with warm chocolate sauce. We ordered a piece of 24-layer chocolate cake to take to Amanda’s sister. The reason we went to Strip House was for a thank-you dinner for Amanda’s sister and brother-in-law, but they couldn’t make it into town. Sorry we missed you, Toney.

Read other reviews of The Strip House here, here, and here.

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